Friday, May 30, 2008

Cupping: Describe That Joe

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A Cupping Coffee Tasting at Café Grumpy in Chelsea, NYC

Swirl, sniff...inhale the bouquet?

Well, even though wine tastings seem to have become less pretentious in recent years, it’s still rare to hear a popular choice compared to Cinnamon Almond Toast Crunch cereal. But at coffee tastings — known to aficionados as cuppings — there seems to be a lot more room for whimsy.

One Monday night at Joe, a West Village cafe, a group of coffee enthusiasts crowded around a coffee barista, as if they were graduate students and she were a professor. The eight New Yorkers, who had paid $20 apiece to taste three coffees, each from a different country, listened intently.

They sniffed and slurped. Then came the tricky part: finding the right words to describe the flavors.

"Cuppings used to be this professional-only activity that coffee buyers did," says Mark Overbay, the marketing manager for Counter Culture Coffee, a boutique roaster in Durham, N.C., that supplies cafes and restaurants like the Spotted Pig here in NYC. "But we see it as more of a taste exploration, more like a wine tasting."

For the curious, New York now offers more opportunities to cup than ever before. In 2004, the city had only a few third-wave coffee shops. Today, there are at least a dozen, 80 percent of which sponsor cuppings.

Read more about the art of "cupping," along with a video clip showing how it's done here

Friday, May 23, 2008

One Man's Scraps, Another Country's Feast?

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There's very little doubt that soaring gas prices are having a substantial affect on food prices, therefore sending grocery bills continually through the roof. Food banks are also running short of donations, and food shortages are causing sporadic riots in poor countries throughout the world.

But, it seems you’d never know this, especially if you saw what was ending up in your local landfills.

As it turns out, Americans waste an astounding amount of food — an estimated 27 percent of the food available for consumption, according to a government study — and it's happening at the supermarket, in restaurants and cafeterias and in your very own kitchen. And even with all the frenetic calls for more diet and exercize plans (to counteract all that food we American chubsters really DID wolf down) -- this works out to about a pound of "wasted" food every day, for every American.

Grocery stores discard products because of spoilage or minor cosmetic blemishes. Restaurants throw away what they don’t use. And consumers toss out everything from bananas that have turned brown to last week’s Egg Foo Young leftovers. In 1997, in one of the few studies of food waste, the Department of Agriculture estimated that two years before, 96.4 billion pounds of the 356 billion pounds of edible food in the United States was never eaten. Fresh produce, milk, grain products and sweeteners made up two-thirds of the waste. And, the study didn’t even account for the explosion of ready-to-eat foods.

America’s Second Harvest , a group of more than 200 national food banks, reports that donations of food are down 9 percent, but the number of people showing up for food has increased 20 percent.

A never-ending conundrum, for sure. And, reports show that the problem isn’t only unique to the United States.

Read more here
Also: Check out what author Jonathan Bloom has to say about wasted food in America over at: wastedfood.com
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Friday, May 16, 2008

Drink Mixology By Design

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Let's face it, if all cocktails were designed by Ryan Magarian and made by bartenders who have been through his training program, we'd be a country of seriously raging alcoholics.

But of course, it would be very expensive. And of course, he'd never want it that way.

"I’m not trying to get people to drink more. I’m not getting people to drink less. I just want you to drink better," he says. And his ongoing passion and conviction for the art of "The Cocktail," gives you no other recourse -- than to believe him.

The 10-plus years Magarian has spent concocting thousands of drinks and customizing cocktail menus for clients such as the Holland America Cruise Line, Fairmont, and the Sofitel Hotels chains, certainly hasn't dampened his enthusiasm one bit. But lately the "associates" in his firm, Liquid Relations, crisscross the globe when he needs to stay closer to home in Portland. Magarian's other venture, Aviation Gin, takes his ambition one step further by allowing him to formulate actual raw materials, not just ingredient combinations.

Ah, the life of a master mixologist in contemporary American cocktail culture.


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And just in time for a cool summer thirst quencher, is Ray Magarian with his creation, the "Kiwi Envy" (pictured here).

Kiwi Envy

A complete balance of fruity texture, mild sweetness and tiny tart aftertaste makes this one perfect for those warm, backyard grilling days ahead.

4 thin slices of peeled kiwi
1 ½ oz. dry gin
¾ oz. St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur (AKA "angel spit")
½ oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
½ oz. simple syrup
1 oz. soda
Kiwi slice (with skin on) and lemon wedge
1. In a pint shaker glass, add kiwis and hand press with muddler
2. Add spirits and mixers, fill glass with ice, cover with shaker tin, and shake vigorously for 6 seconds
3. Add soda and strain over fresh ice into Collins glass
4. Garnish with kiwi slice and lemon

Friday, May 09, 2008

Tim Horton's: Like Taking Timbits From A Baby

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Okay, maybe it's just me, and without a doubt, every merchant has every right to protect his or her inventory through whatever employee guidelines they deem necessary. Still, I can't help feeling really tempted here to file this one under my already overflowing: "Pulleeze, Gimme A Break!" file.

Recently at a Tim Horton's store in London, Ontario Canada, a single mom of four and three-year veteran of the Canadian doughnut seller (whose equivalent down here in the U.S. would probably be Krispy Kreme or Dunkin' Donuts), noticed that a regular customer's baby was getting a bit fussy and cranky. In an attempt to calm the baby down, the woman gave the baby a Timbit, a popular doughnut-hole pastry that sells for about 17 cents Canadian ($1.70 for a box of 10).

And so far, this all sounds like a simple, kindly gesture, and possibly even good for business in the case of one of Tim Horton's "regular" customers. Right? Wrong.

Three managers happened to notice this little transaction on a videotape they reviewed at the end of the day -- and fired the woman on the spot for theft. This, they said complied with Tim Horton's rules forbidding food giveaways.

"It was just out of my heart. I should have gone to my purse and got the change, but it was busy," the woman told the the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail.

She said that it was common practice to give Timbits to babies and pets, and that she'd noticed that the baby's mom (again, one of Tim Horton's regular customers) had been having a bad day.

But Tim Horton's district manager, Nicole Mitchell, told the paper:

"Employees aren't allowed to give out free products and that's the bottom line. She gave out free product and it doesn't matter if it is a Timbit or a coffee or a doughnut or 10 sandwiches or what."

Nice. (Not)

In any case, after receiving much (deserved) bad press after this incident, the company quickly rehired the woman, who has chosen to go to work at another Tim Horton's location just down the street. Tim Horton's hasn't decided what will happen to the managers who fired her, but offered both the reinstated employee and its customers an official apology.

However, the company hasn't decided whether it needs to revamp its nationwide rules on freebies.

So what do you think?

Is it really good for business in these isolated cases? Or... just plain old, outright, mean and awful stealing, perpetrated by burned-out moms and cranky kids?
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Friday, May 02, 2008

Salad Days

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It's May, and like always, it's a new Something Awareness Month.

So this month, looks like we're paying tribute to the very versitile and healthful dish simply known as: The Salad.

And as such, we're invited to make a pledge to eat more greens by the Association for Dressings and Sauces, a trade group representing manufacturers of salad dressings, condiments, and sauces. (Even though, if you're like me, you probably never knew such an association -- even existed.)

Anyway, for years I think something we've all known, is that eating a salad a day is directly correlated with higher nutrient levels, which are important for the body's defense against illnesses.

So for some of the best "Big Salad" main course ideas, check out Epicurious's feature on Healthy Main Course Salads with a dozen delicious salad recipes, such as the Turkey Chopped Salad with Spicy Avocado Dressing (pictured above).

This one's truly for the avocado lover in all of us (like myself!)

So think green, eat more salad greens, and enjoy them in the upcoming summer months ahead.