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The great fast food mystery. April 17, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. This morning, I read an article online called “A Brief History of Fast Food’s Greatest Innovations.” The article included a timeline, so you could follow along from the birth of the Big Mac and Subway (both 1968) to Taco Bell’s Waffle Taco and Domino’s Fried Chicken Crust Pizza (both 2014). In between, there’s a lot more junk food, from the Egg McMuffin and Doritos Loco Taco to Chicken McNuggets, Wendy’s Frosty, KFC Double Down (which subs two slabs of fried chicken for a bun) to the birth of Chipotle Mexican Grill (1993), the taco/burrito equivalent of Subway.

I can’t say that I know much about fast food—my mother thought it was trash and refused to let us eat any—though I have eaten Subway sandwiches (soggy bread, yuck) and once had a Chipotle burrito (bleh, why are people so worked up?). Still, I was surprised by what struck me as obvious omissions, such as my favorite fast food, a luscious hot Cinnabon. Or Dairy Queen’s soft-serve ice cream. Or Pizza Hut’s delicious cheese breadsticks with marinara sauce (extra sauce, please). Not to mention my all-time favorite fast-food restaurant, Saladworks, which, like Subway and Chipotle, lets you build your own meal (in this case, salad) from a slew of super-fresh ingredients and is the only place I know of that serves the iconic Green Goddess dressing.

I was also disappointed to see that the article didn’t address the origin of the most curious fast-food item I know of, Wendy’s square burgers in their round buns. I’ve never had a Wendy’s burger (or, I confess, anything from Wendy’s), but their ads showing square meat patties sticking out of round buns always struck me as grotesque. Eeeewww!!! Who’d want to eat that?!! I could see the point of square burgers—rather than buying rounds, you’d simply buy a gigantic slab of flattened ground beef, already pre-scored into squares, so you’d just have to slice them up and save a ton of money. But why wouldn’t you buy square buns to put them on, so they didn’t stick out like that?!

The company responsible for popularizing the hamburger in the first place—not to mention the slider, another omission from the list—made square buns for its square burgers. That would be White Castle, which started selling its burgers, aka sliders, in the 1920s for 5 cents a slider. Ditto for Krystal, which makes square burgers and buns in the South. But Wendy’s? Square burgers, round buns. What the bleep?!!

Our friend Ben didn’t blink when I asked him about Wendy’s square burgers and why they didn’t put them on square buns. “Having the meat stick out makes it look like you’re getting more meat for your money,” he explained. “Most folks who eat fast food don’t care about what it looks like, just how much they’re getting.” Oh. Maybe that explains the Five Guys Burgers and Fries phenomenon, where plenty of news outlets have shown the unspeakably disgusting cup of mashed-down, too-brown fries, yet everyone apparently keeps rushing to buy them.

Only last month, I watched a friend down a gargantuan plate of “Cheddar” cheese fries for lunch while I was trying to enjoy a salad. (Forget that; the fries looked so grossly revolting drowned in orange day-glo Velveeta glop that I had to take the salad home, and mind you, I love well-made fries, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Gack.)

I still don’t really know why Wendy’s serves square burgers on round buns. Do you? Do you have a favorite fast food? If so, please let us know here at Poor Richard’s Almanac.

‘Til next time,

Silence

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Fast food is junk food. July 9, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here, with a really, really weird finding. Nobody has to tell us that the burgers and fries and deep-fried everything sold by fast-food chains aren’t good for us. Supersize me!

But the attempts by fast-food chains to counter their unhealthy image have, according to researchers, had a most curious and unexpected effect: The more salads and other comparatively healthful items the chains add to their menus, the more deep-fried, sugarcoated junk people buy. And these findings especially hold true for people who describe themselves as “healthy” eaters, the ones who wouldn’t dream of deep-fat frying in their own homes, the ones who eat a salad every night.

In perhaps the most counterintuitive reaction of all time, apparently these people think “Gee, they have salad, so now it’s okay for me to order a Big Mac and fries!” They don’t order the salad, just the burger and fries, or the fried chicken or seafood, or whatever. Talk about bizarre!

So folks, you can expect a lot more healthy options to crop up on your local fast-food place’s menu. Apparently, it’s good for business.

‘Til next time,

Silence

A place for fast food. December 19, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Last night, I rushed home after a busy day of visits and errands. My mission, should I choose to accept it: to make a hot, delicious supper for six people in less than an hour. To say that this was stressful is an understatement, but I was undaunted: I knew I could do it, thanks to modern technology.

Armed with cans of black beans and crushed tomatoes, and several bags of various salad combinations, supper was a snap: Saute several diced onions and green peppers in olive oil with black mustardseed, cumin, oregano, lemon pepper, and Trocomare; toss in a huge can or two of black beans and a big can of crushed tomatoes; add some veggie stock and hot fresh salsa (two of my other favorite grocery convenience foods) and a big splash of lemon juice (I like bottled Key lemon juice); stir, mash, stir, and allow to mellow on low heat. Meanwhile, mix bags of Romaine lettuce and baby greens, add a chopped orange bell pepper, crumbled feta cheese, pepitas, olives, hard-boiled eggs, and scallions. Our friend Carolyn provided salad dressings and hot cornbread, and her brother Rudy brought wine. We brought sour cream and shredded cheese (yet another convenience food) for the soup, and before we knew it, the six of us were sitting down to a delicious dinner.

There are many arguments against prepared foods, and one of them is price. If you’re on a budget like us, spending big bucks for convenience is usually just plain stupid. We have friends who wouldn’t dream of buying canned beans when they could soak a bag of dried beans overnight and cook them for pennies a serving. We have friends we’ve never seen open a bag of prepared salad mix.

I say, keep your eyes open. I patronize a local grocery that often puts greens on sale for 99 cents a package (down from $3.99, and still perfectly fresh). Often, I’ve bought organic baby arugula, baby spinach, and many a salad mix for 99 cents when a head of chemically-grown iceberg lettuce was going for over two dollars. The same store has a “three for $5.99” section where I’ve bought packages of locally-grown apples, pears, tomatoes, green beans, sweet onions, mushrooms, garlic, new potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and many another yummy veggie or fruit for a fraction of the price in other stores. They often have big discounts on canned beans, tomato products, and dried pasta, as does another local grocery, so I compare and stock up.

I do consider myself a from-scratch cook. I use basic ingredients, not mixes. I don’t buy fast-food meals from drive-by stores like Mickey D’s or KFC. But I feel no shame about using canned, frozen, and dried whole foods when they’re reasonably priced and save me time.

All this came to mind when I received an e-mail with an attachment for an article called “In Praise of Fast Food” by Rachel Laudan in The Gastronomica Reader, excerpted by The Utne Reader (http://www.utne.com/). Ms. Laudan’s reasons for supporting fast food are different from mine—I suggest you read her article and draw your own conclusions—but the article strongly brought to light the dichotomy between today’s slow-food locavores and the rest of us.

I mention this simply because I often think of the past in terms of creating convenience without guilt. Which is to say, everyone viewed time-saving and shelf life as untarnished positive developments before modern storage, shipping, and globalization made fresh food universally available year-round.

Think back with me to this era of seasonal abundance and seasonal scarcity for a moment. Imagine the thrill of canning or freezing food so it would keep until you needed it! Imagine pickling or preserving food so you could eat it out of season! Imagine making luscious white bread and using white sugar without even a clue about calories or health issues! Imagine buying butter from the store instead of having to churn your own! Imagine  the joy of welcoming new developments without ever once thinking, “Is this bad for me?”

To me, this period—roughly from the mid-1800s through the mid-1900s—was The Age of Innocence. The age where we could enjoy food without worrying about its consequences on our health, simply because, with the sole exceptions of gout and obesity, no one had a clue that food was other than healthful. If it tasted good, it was good, end of story.

I can see housewives rejoicing over white flour that didn’t quickly go rancid like whole-grain flours (in the pre-refrigeration era), eggs and dairy products delivered fresh to your door or sitting chilled and conveniently packaged in the refrigerated section of the grocery, canned and frozen foods that stayed good practically forever so you could stock your pantry and freezer and just grab what you needed. I can see them celebrating cake mixes, tea bags, bagged bread, sugar and salt that stayed granular rather than clumping, dried herbs and spices. I can see it all.

Ms. Laudan points out in “In Praise of Fast Food” that the glory days of fresh, seasonal, from-scratch eating were only glorious for the wealthy, who could afford to buy all the food that the peasants produced, leaving them to try to get by on scraps and shavings. She didn’t add, but I will, that in bad years, even the wealthy went hungry as a result of crop failures, and everyone else pretty much starved.

And we’re not just talking about the Middle Ages here. Much as I loved Little Women as a girl—it was probably my favorite book—I was shocked and haunted by the March family’s obvious hunger and lack of even common necessities during the brutal winter that opens the book. Pre-convenience foods, the larder often was empty.

To me, eating locally produced produce and foods that support our neighbors and our local economy seems an appropriate and moral thing to do from every perspective. After all, if someone in my area wanted an expert editing job, I’d certainly appreciate it if they came to me rather than outsourcing their work to New York or L.A. In turn, I could put the money they paid me into other local enterprises, and with everyone’s cooperation, our little community might become more self-sustaining.

But I agree with Ms. Laudan that it’s a luxury, just as my being a vegetarian is a luxury, made possible by an abundance of delicious produce, dairy products, and grains provided daily to our grocery stores by modern technology. I can take the moral high road only because my choice is supported by an abundance of resources, from farmers’ markets and organic CSAs to health-food stores and groceries that stock local products.

Were it not for them, I would be forced to resort to the full range of my omnivore inheritance or starve: eating the squirrels in our trees as well as the nuts that fall from them, raising chickens to butcher instead of coddling them through their long lives and gratefully enjoying their eggs, roaming the countryside in search of edible roots, herbs, shoots, berries, mushrooms, and greens to supplement what I could raise at home. Trying to barter eggs, preserves, salsa, or spaghetti sauce for enough of local farmers’ wheat and corn to provide our friend Ben and me with bread and the chickens with feed. Praying that someone nearby would grow dried beans to take the rest of us through the year, and that the dairy farmers could give us milk, butter, and cheese in return for money or barter.

And what if you didn’t live in farm country like we do? What if you didn’t own a grain mill, yogurt-maker, butter churn, or canning equipment? What if you didn’t have the time to use them if you did own them, because you had a family and (at least one) full-time job? 

No, you’ll never see me in a Dunkin’ Donuts, Wendy’s, Chick-Fil-A, or Taco Bell, or spot our little red VW Golf in the drive-up line. But yes, I am grateful every day for the fresh, pre-bagged, canned, frozen, juiced, and ground products that make it possible to cook delicious, healthy meals every time without spending all day, every day, trying to make it happen.

          ‘Til next time,

                      Silence

Cooking from scratch. March 4, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. After watching the documentary “Food, Inc.,” the good folks over at Not Dabbling In Normal* have declared a challenge, the Real Food Challenge, for the month of March: “Challenging ourselves and each of our readers to eat fewer processed foods and focus on eating Real Food.” If you head over to their blog (http://notdabblinginnormal.wordpress.com/), you’ll find all sorts of informative posts and comments, giveaways, and more.

We tend to think of the ultimate processed foods as fast foods, the mega-burgers, oily fries, donuts, and hi-cal shakes and frappucinos that characterize “Fast Food Nation” and “Supersize Me.” But as the bloggers at Not Dabbling in Normal point out, processed foods aren’t limited to fast foods. High-fructose-corn syrup, trans-fat, and/or artificial sweetener-laden “convenience foods” line our grocery store shelves, from cereals and baked goods to frozen foods and deli take-out.

Fine, you say. So why are we all still buying them? Is it really about convenience? I’d say, mostly not. Product manufacturers know that consumers find foods tastier and more flavorful if they’re full of salt, sugar, and fat, the trifecta of comfort and satisfaction. So they give us what they know we want, no matter how much public outrage we proclaim against it.

Here’s what I mean: Would you rather eat a plain baked potato or a baked potato with butter, salt, chives, and sour cream? How about a head of plain lettuce versus a salad with lots of veggies, olives, shredded cheese, and salad dressing? A boiled skinless chicken breast or a piece of fried chicken? Whole-wheat spaghetti topped with fresh chopped tomatoes and steamed zucchini or lasagna with tons of gooey cheese and a rich, delicious, long-cooked tomato sauce? Fat-free whole wheat-carob brownies or housemade tiramisu? I rest my case.

So let’s get back to cooking from scratch, and let’s get over our preconceptions for a minute here. Yes, you absolutely can make wonderful, healthy, and delicious meals from scratch at home. You can eat great meals at home every night. But to do that, you have to get over three preconceptions: First, that in order to qualify as “Real Food,” homemade food has to be bland and tasteless, the horrendous “brown” health food of the ’60s. Second, that from-scratch food has to be unendingly time-consuming and involve hugely expensive exotic ingredients or it doesn’t qualify. And third, that various pseudofoods, such as Tofurkey, Tofu Pups, and texturized soy protein, must substitute for meat in recipes. Eeeewwww!!!!!!!

Please, everyone. Pseudomeat isn’t meat, never was, never will be. Just like carob isn’t chocolate and yogurt isn’t sour cream. Tofu, yogurt, and carob are foods in their own right, not pseudofoods, not equivalents to popular foods. Just say no!!! (To psuedomeat, that is, not to tofu, yogurt, and—if you like it—carob.) 

Let’s take an example of a from-scratch meal that’s so unbelievably fast, easy, and delicious. Rather than making whole-wheat spaghetti, which tastes bitter and has no possible texture resemblance to the elastic springiness that characterizes real pasta, look at your grocery, health-food store, or co-op for artichoke pasta instead. (DeBoles is one popular brand.) Made with Jerusalem artichokes, it ups the protein content while retaining the true taste and texture of conventional pasta.

While you’re boiling the water for the pasta, heat extra-virgin olive oil in a heavy sauce pan or Dutch oven. Add seasonings: Trocamare (hot seasoned herb-infused salt) or RealSalt, lemon pepper, dried oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme. Add a diced sweet onion, a diced yellow or orange bell pepper,  a box of sliced button or baby bella mushrooms, sliced black olives, and a can or jar of diced artichoke hearts.

Meanwhile, cut green beans or broccoli florets and boil in water to cover. When just done, drain and toss with butter and salt (and, for broccoli, lemon juice).

For the salad, use any combination of greens, such as arugula, Romaine, spring greens, endive, and/or radicchio, with slivered radishes, chopped scallions (green onions), diced red bell pepper, chopped paste tomatoes or whole cherry tomatoes, shredded cheese (sharp white Cheddar, Gorgonzola, blue cheese, Asiago, or Parmesan), and crumbled pecans or slivered almonds. Top with a Greek-style salad dressing or a simple olive oil/balsamic vinegar combo, and add salt and fresh-ground black pepper.

Before serving, add the sauce and shredded sharp white Cheddar or Parmesan to the pasta and combine; drain the broccoli or green beans and add the butter, salt, and (for the broccoli) lemon juice, tossing to combine; and dress and serve the salad. Provide red wine, salt and pepper, and dishes of grated cheese so the guests can add the finishing touches to their meal.  

Fast and simple? You betcha. Yummy? Oh, yeah. Real food? Yes it is. Total cooking time? Probably a half-hour, maybe 45 minutes max. It would take you at least that long to order and pick up a to-go pizza (trust me, we know). And you’d pay a lot more for a lot less.

I have recipe boxes full of other “Real Food” options that don’t break the bank or take endless hours to prepare, so let me know if you want more. Meanwhile, please: As my beloved mama always said, it’s as easy to eat real food as anything else, and it’s so much better for you. Real Food is not about being holier-than-thou. Real Food is not about deprivation. Real Food is not about elitism. Instead, it’s about delicious, wholesome food simply cooked from stuff people want to eat. Get it? Then head over to Not Dabbling in Normal and get with the program!

          ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

* We’re still confused by this blog’s name. In our experience, nobody dabbles in normal, but rather, they dabble in not being normal. Help us understand, please!