Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Cold Cereals

Cereal Spoonful Strawberry Spoon Food Brea  Most kids grow up eating one of the popular cold cereals.  I really didn't eat that much until I went off to college.  I grew up eating oatmeal and rice.  Rice with cinnamon, or raisins, or butter topped with sugar and milk.

I remember going shopping with my mother and seeing the rows of cereals like  Captain Crunch, Life, Corn Flakes,  or  Fruit Loops but not usually getting to try them.

Its amazing that the first cold cereal made its appearance in a 1863 at a private sanitarium in  New York state.  The guy took dough made with graham flour, dried it, and then broke it into small chunks.  It was so hard, it had to be soaked in milk overnight.  Although it was rather tasteless, Granula was marketed by "Our Home Granula Company. 

In 1886,  Dr Kellogg was hired to help improve a sanitarium in Michigan.  After much research he renamed it the Kellogg sanitarium and he ended up marketing his own version of Granula but due to a law suit, he changed the name to Granola.  Then C.W. Post, a former patient of Kellogg, created and marketed Grape-Nuts.  Grape-Nuts was the first cereal to offer a discount coupon.  Post also used one thing Kellogg refused to - advertising.  That's right, Post advertised his product in magazine and newspaper ads.

The next cereal came out in 1896 when two Kellogg brothers found a way to create a cereal in flake form and marketed them as Granose Flakes later renamed them Corn Flakes.  Shortly after this the two brothers parted company and one went on to form the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flakes Company later shortened to Kellogg company.  they began marketing it in the early 1900's with the first toy prize.  Post made his own version and named it Elijah's Manna but changed it to Post Toasties after religious groups protested.

It was also in Battle Creek Michigan that a doctor figured out a way to puff rice and sold the method to Quaker Oats in the early 1900's.   Quaker Oats used this to get  into the cold cereal business when they commissioned a machine to place rice grains under pressure causing them to explode into puffy shapes.  Quaker applied this process to wheat so they could market Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat, advertised as "food shot from guns" and the "eighth wonder of the world." The phrase "food shot from guns" came about because the doctor originally puffed the rice by shooting them out of a cannon

Then in the 1920's a worker accidentally dropped a wheat bran mixture on a hot stove and Wheaties was born.  The slogan "Breakfast of Champions" didn't come out until the 1930's when it first appeared on a billboard for a minor league baseball team in Minnesota. Late in the 1920's, Rice Krispies hit the market  and provided real competition with Wheaties.

The 1930's brought us the earliest version of Wheat Chex called Shredded Ralston produced by Ralston Purina.  This particular cereal was designed to appeal to members of the Ralstonism movement who basically believed in the purity of the Caucasian race but in the late 1930's they marketed it as Wheat Chex.

The early cereals were all marketed as health foods because there was a strong health movement in the country but in 1936 that changed when Ranger Joe Popped Wheat Honnies, the first pre-sweetened cereal hit the shelves and sweetened cereals became the norm.

Of course Cheerio's made its appearance in the 1940's but under the name CheeriOats but it was quickly changed. Over time, Cheerio's has become the best selling cereal in the United States.  Beginning in the 1950's sugared cereals such as Frosted Flakes, Captain Crunch, Boo Berry, etc but it was in the 1970's when the FTC clamped down on how the companies promoted their cereals to the kids.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Ides of March????????

Krokus, March, The Return Of Winter  We've all heard that warning from Shakespeare, the one that says "Beware the ides of March.  I've read the play but the teacher I had never really explained the phrase when we stumbled across it in high school English.

My class slaughtered the written play as well as any class does when reading the Bard's plays. It wasn't until I had a chance to watch it done on the BBC that his words and plays made more sense.

The phrase "Beware the ides of March" appears in William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar when he is warned by a soothsayer of his impending death and  Julius Caesar is killed at the end of the play.  In reality, Julius Caesar was killed on March 15th 44 BC when 60 different conspirators stabbed him 23 different times on the steps to the Senate because he'd been declared "dictator in perpetuity".  They did not want him to become a tyrant and the Roman Republic died with him and ignited a civil war.

According to the Roman Calendar, every month had an ides or middle of the month.  In March, May, July and October, ides landed on the 15th while it was the 13th in all the other months.  The word ides itself means to divide.  In addition, the ides of March was the deadline for settling debts in Roman society because March was the first month in the original Roman calendar. Julius Caesar changed the calendar so January became the first month. 

The original Roman calendar was based off the lunar cycle so the middle of the month was supposed to coincide with the full moon but because the months were slightly longer than the lunar cycle, it wasn't long before the middle of the month no longer lined up with the full moon.  In addition, the days were counted in a strange way.  The first day of the month was Kalends. Days 2 to 6 were before Nones which was day 7.  Then days 8 to the middle of the month as before Ides.  Once they passed the middle of the month, the days became before Kalends.

The word "Ides" is one of those unique words that is both singular and plural at the same time.  Ides comes from Latin "Indus".  It is plural when referring to the middle of all the months but singular when used in reference to a specific month.

Is the Ides of March really a unlucky day?  You can find events that happened such as the Samoan Cyclone or the abdication of the Tsar in 1917 but the number of disasters is about the same as any other day.  So I'd say its just a saying, nothing more to make it stand out from the rest of the year.

Let me know what you think.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Happy Saint Patrick's Day.

St Patrick'S Day Saint Patricks Day Cauldr

Pizza vs Pizza.

Pizza, Meat, Dough, Greens, Olives  One time while visiting Indianapolis, several of us ended up eating at a restaurant where you entered through the kitchen to the dining room.  One of the ladies with us, grew up in Europe so she was accustomed to the way things were done there.

I ordered a pizza because there was one with eggplant Parmesan and other interesting vegetables.  It was strange because it arrived with a cracker like crust, no tomato sauce and only a sprinkle of cheese.

The European lady assured me, I'd received a real Italian style pizza.  At the time, I wondered about differences between American and Italian styles of pizza.  Even if you do not believe it, there are some fundamental differences including how its served.

First, American pizzas use a sauce of simmered tomatoes, spices, etc.  A sauce similar to spaghetti sauce which is what I usually use on my pizzas but in Italy, they use olive oil, fresh pureed or chopped tomatoes specifically San Marzanos, and fresh herbs made into a basic uncooked sauce.  If using cheese, it a good quality buffalo cheese is recommended for use or a proper mozzarella.

 In regard to meat, Americans love several types of meat on their pizza at once while Italians prefer only one type of meat so as to enjoy its unique flavor. 

As for the crust, it depends on where in Italy you are but you can have a crust that is cracker thin just like the one I had.  In addition, the crust is often made of a special Italian pizza flour, type 00, and allowed to sit at least 10 hours before being stretched out and made into a thin crust pizza, often cracker thin.  For the best pizza's, they should be cooked in a wood burning oven for exactly 3.5 minutes to get the signature blisters.  The size and shape is not always round.  I was told that Italian pizzas are often long and thin which was what I was served. They serve single slices folded in half and wrapped in paper, not like here where a single slice is placed on a paper plate.

The pizza started as workman's fare in Italy but has become something more here in the United States.  Now its the quick go to dinner when you are running late, need to feed an army, or  just want something for several meals.  Its gotten to the point, you can have just about anything on it.

Over the years, pizza has spread out to other countries and each country has placed its own stamp on their version of a pizza.  In Spain, the traditional pizza uses a lighter dough than that found in Italy, thinly rolled and topped with caramelized onions with chorizo, fresh vegetables, anchovies, and olives while the French use the same type of dough but top it with creme fraiche, caramelized onions,  and  lardons or a fatty bacon used to make lard.  Another variation of the French pizza uses a thicker dough with caramelized onions and anchovies.  They feel the salty anchovies balance the sweetness of the caramelized onions.

In Germany, they prefer using raw onions and bacon.  In Turkey, they use a flat bread base with lamb and middle eastern spices such as cumin and cinnamon.  If you get to Japan, their similar dish is Okonomyaki has a disk of cabbage cooked in a pancake batter topped with anything from sea food to eggs. 

As you can see, pizza has made its way around the world.  I am going to visit Germany this summer, so I'll look for their version of pizza to check it out.  I'd love to hear what you think.  Have a good day.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

5 Weird Cars

Auto Union, Dkw, 1000 Sp, Roadster  The other day, we saw one of those small two seater cars that looked barely big enough to be considered a car and the first words out of my father's mouth - 'accordion in the making'.  Throughout the history of automotive production, car makers have created some unique cars, some we've never heard of.

1.  The 1936 Stout Scarab was built by William Stout owner of the early Stout Airlines.  He designed airplanes before cars and wanted to combine luxury with leisure. This particular model was designed as a diner car with a V-8 engine in the back of this extended aluminum body.  At $5000 per vehicle, less than 10 were sold because it cost more than a Cadillac or Packard.
Car 1936 Stout Scarab Art Deco Automobile

2.  The 1946 Oeuf Electrique aka Electric Egg which looks like a glass covered small chassis similar to those motorized tricycles cars on Waikiki Beach.  The Oeuf Electrique only had three wheels and used battery power long after most engines became gas powered.  The bubble that encloses the two person bench is made of aluminum with curved plexiglass.  There were no gauges but visibility was wonderful. The concept for this car came out of the Nazi Occupation of Paris when there were already gas shortages forcing the reintroduction of horses and carts.  Paul Arzens, an engineer, created it so he could zip around the streets of Paris.  Even with the electric engine, the whole vehicle weighed all of 90 kilograms.

3. The1947 Norman Timbs Special which looks kind of backwards with the cockpit in front with curves leading to a raindrop shaped tail.  Norman Timbs who was also an Indy Car Racer designed and built this car using a Buick Straight 8 engine located at the back end that could take a 1200 pound car to 120 mph. The chassis was constructed from aircraft tubing material while the aluminum body was hand crafted.  Parts such as brakes, steering came from a Mercury brand car.

4. The 1953 General Motors Firebird 1 XP-21 was unique in that it was a jet fighter with four wheels, a tail fin, and a bubble cockpit.  This vehicle had the first gas turbine engine which could produce 370 horsepower.  Since it was not actually a jet, the engine was modified so the Whirl Fire Turbo Engine acted on the rear wheels through the transmission.  The body was composed of a fiberglass reinforced plastic body.  It was also designed to see if gas turbine engines could be used.

5. The 1955 Chrysler Streamlined X "Gilda" named after the Rita Hayworth movie by the same name.  The car was actually designed by Ghia. Although they were going to use a turbine engine, they ended up installing a 1.5 liter engine designed for touring.  The two tone body and huge fins set it apart from other cars of the day.  The cockpit was in the front but smaller for the size of the car. 

Most of these cars were never produced for the general public either because they either were concept cars or were too expensive for most people or due to a shortage of materials.  These cars are unique and have a place in history.

Let me know what you think. I'd love to hear.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

What is a PLU Sticker?

Apple, Granny, Smith, Green, Variety  A PLU or price look up number is assigned to every piece of fruit or vegetables.  If there is no sticker on the produce, the cashier looks it up in their list, assuming they know what it is.  Otherwise they ask the customer and hope they find it.  But what do the numbers really tell you?

The PLU is either a four or five digit number.  If its a four digit number usually beginning with 3 or 4, you know the produce has been grown the traditional way with pesticides.

The five digit PLU's provide additional information.  If the first number is 8, then the produce has been genetically modified in some way while a first number of 9 indicates the produce is organically grown.

These codes are maintained by the International Federation for Produce Standards (IFPS). These codes have been used by grocery stores since 1990 as a way to make check-out and inventory much easier and more accurate.   They are primarily assigned to for use with fresh produce and reduces the need for cashiers to identify various fruits and vegetables.

The thing about PLU stickers is their use is voluntary by retailers so its possible to find produce without any stickers on them.  Second, these codes were actually developed for producers and retailers to help sort and price produce, not for consumers.  Further more, the codes are randomly assigned within the 3000, 4000, and other series.  Once the number is assigned to a specific fruit or vegetable, it appears in a data base.  Some are retailer assigned which means that the retailers may assign these numbers to various varieties of apples, or oranges.and cannot be randomly chosen.  The unassigned numbers are available for the IFPS to use in the future.

As mentioned before, the system is totally voluntary and is not mandated by any governmental body but there have been over 1400 codes assigned so far. If the produce is bagged up and sold it does not use a PLU sticker.  Instead it is tagged with a Universal Product Code.

The Universal Product Code is a bar code used for produce that is sold with a fixed weight, count, or volume such as 10 pounds of potatoes.  The UPC is a barcode with a 12 digit number number used to identify the produce.  There are two types of UPC's.  The first is the generic UPC which is assigned a 033383 prefix to identify a single item.  The second is a company specific UPC which is assigned unique company specific prefix which identifies both the item and supplier of the item.

The 12 digit code is broken up so the first six digits is either a generic prefix or the company specific prefix.  The next five digits represents the item reference number provides information on the item such as variety, region where grown, grade, package size, etc.  The last digit is the check digit and is calculated from the other numbers in the barcode.

Furthermore the company specific prefix ranges from 6 to 10 digits which means the reference number ranges from 5 to 1 digit and the check is always one digit.  There is also a UPC data base which contains over 12,000 generic UPC numbers for fresh fruits and vegetables.

I didn't realize that PLU's are only for bulk.  I thought they applied to the packages of produce so I learned so much writing this.  Let me know what you think.  I'd love to hear.