TV Dinners

Pizza

Pizza

Earlier this year I experienced something that made me think about how we appreciate food. I tend to watch TV while eating meals, I have done for many years and on this particular evening I was watching The Worlds Most Dangerous Roads while eating a pizza, suddenly I realised that the pizza had pretty much disappeared. I didn’t remember eating it, by which I mean I didn’t remember what it was like.  I did, however, remember the TV programme.

I realised that because I’d been concentrating on the events on-screen my mind had simply allowed the eating to be done autonomously, as though it were simply food for survival rather than enjoyment.  I felt distinctly disappointed as it was a kind of food I like to taste and savour.  For some people the TV is more important than enjoying food but not me.

There are restaurants where you eat in the dark and when I first heard about the concept, about how it enables you to appreciate the food more and experience all the nuances of flavour fully without even the distraction of seeing the food I thought it was just a fad, until the lost pizza.

Perhaps this is why we enjoy food more in restaurants or outdoors, whether it be a bacon cob or a picnic, with fewer distractions.  TV is often a constant stream of events, taking your full attention as opposed to having it on in the background, or listening to music, or having a conversation with family or friends at the dinner table like we used to – all of which let you pay attention to everything in turn, including the food in front of you.

Electric Hands and Aluminium Kitchens

chisels

chisels (Photo credit: The Year of Mud)

I was watching a TV show which showed a restaurant and the customers kept talking about all this “home cooked” food, OK it was a family restaurant, owned by the same family for generations but I was sure that they just showed the food being cooked in a very shiny, very metallic, very up to hygiene standards industrial restaurant kitchen behind the counter.  Do they live upstairs?  I thought.  On other shows this pattern repeated, maybe it’s the decor that’s making people think “home cooked”, don’t they know it’s not the owner’s dining room.

Next up came the description of hand-made food items which again didn’t seem quite what I would call “hand”-made, although hands were involved in some ways, moving the ingredients, pushing the button, turning the handle.

“The meat is still prepared by hand” – the guy pushed a piece of meat into a machine.  No knife, no hammer.

“Hand-cut fries” – the guy pushed a potato into a device and pulled a handle.  Again, no knife.

It’s not just restaurants though, more and more (often expensive and exclusive) things are described as “hand-made” when they’re in fact made by a machine and assembled by hand.  A chair leg hand-turned on a lathe is still hand-made, the hand that guides the chisel, but a cabinet where all the joints are routed by a set machine rather than a hammer and chisel – is that still hand-made?

Eventually I’ve come to the conclusion that the term hand-made, along with home-cooked has come to mean the opposite of “made in a huge mass-production facility in China”.  TV shows have shown examples of some mass-production methods used by food producers, occasionally emphasising the less savoury looking aspects – the infamous “pink goo” – which doesn’t look appetising it’s true but restaurants don’t make food like factories, they mass produce just on a smaller scale, I’ve done a large spaghetti Bolognese at home but not enough for a table for ten at eight.

As well as that people know that fast-food or large chain restaurants have frozen food items shipped in nightly to be warmed up which are as such full of preservatives and evil whereas in a small restaurant the food is made properly, just like you’d have at home, hence home-made.  Even if the mass-produced stuff is 100% beef and the home-made one is just as bad for you if you scoff too many.

Maybe I’m being picky over semantics, again, but even home-made “home-made” food can come from a kit you buy at M&S these days.

In our world where just about everything is manufactured in a factory, see How It’s Made on TV, people are more often craving the hand made for its roughness, lack of uniformity – in things like cakes and chocolate bars, but if you phrase it differently “made by hand” or “hand finished by Barry” suddenly you can charge a fortune for it, whether it’s a watch or an Aston Martin engine.  The irony is that less than forty years ago Fiat ran a campaign for the new Strada expressing how amazing it was that it was Hand Built by Robots.

If you can market something as home-made or hand-made you can imply it’s more wholesome in some way, even if many of the ingredients still contain colourings and preservatives, when used deliberately this way it’s tapping into consumers’ resistance to “processed foods” which are full of salt, fat or MSG.  You can also sell to those following the current fashion of seeking out “authentic” experiences, like rustic furniture, timber sash windows, overpriced hearty bangers and mash or real ale at six pounds a pint – yes you read that right, a pub near here is offering an authentic real ale in a real pub experience for just six quid a go. Again they’re selling people the idea that the past was better, that retro is the way forward, so to speak.

I think I’ll stick to my real real pub across the town at half the price, followed by a decidedly not home-made battered sausage.

 

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Too Soon? (Er, No)

Mince Pies

Mince Pies Before Xmas

Well, it’s that time of year again, dark evenings, warm fires, mince pies.  Yes, it’s Christmas.

What?  Christmas is still in December?  Really, because I swear last week I bought some mince pies, all wrapped in Christmassy packaging and the best-before date was in November.

By now we all know that shops start selling Christmas paraphernalia around August and pubs have a little Christmas tree in the corner to advertise their Christmas lunches in September but why are they selling mince pies in November?  Yes, I suppose you could freeze them to get round the two-week best before limit but really, are we at risk of a shortage, are we facing a mincemeat deficit?

And yes I bought some, as you can see above, and have eaten them well before the big day.  Naturally, well it is (nearly) Christmas and I still have half a tub of ice cream to use up.

Just Browsing?

English: Four retailers, Newport Road, Cardiff...

English: Four retailers, Newport Road, Cardiff Located on the west side of Newport Road, close to the Colchester Avenue junction are Topps Tiles (their banner states “Britain’s biggest tile and wood flooring specialist” Halfords Currys PC World. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like looking round a real-world shop and if I can get something I want from somewhere that I can look at it first then I’ll often be happy to pay a few quid more for it – as well as being able to get that instant gratification feeling of having a new shiny thing straight away.  Sometimes you find something you didn’t know you wanted.  Some things we can buy based on a picture and a specification, somethings are more subjective, they need to be inspected closely, handled to see if they will fit into our life, or indeed hand – as in the case of my recent mobile phone.

The trouble is that so often that thing you see in front of you is cheaper online, and maybe it is worth waiting a few days to save money, so you go home and order it instead – I’ve heard of people using apps on their smartphones to order things while they’re still in the shop even.  I admit I did this when I bought my current phone but only because I had built up a small cash-back to use if I bought it online direct from the network.

Understandably high street retailers are not happy about this and it has even been cited as contributing to the failure of some big-name stores recently – added costs of bricks-and-mortar stores being named specifically as the reason they can’t match online prices.  Yes people need to save money these days but if we abandon local shops altogether our town centres are going to be awfully quiet.

To fight back some retailers let you buy online for collection in store, getting a web-exclusive price into the bargain, Currys PC World for example, which will tempt some away from Amazon et al with the carrot of convenience while some remaining retailers are either trying to match online prices to gain volume sales instead or emphasising the added-value of personal service, which is certainly a benefit to specialist retailers like camera stores where knowledgable staff are invaluable.  Choice, availability, service and a reasonable price are what high-street stores need to emphasise.

One specialist food store in Australia though has taken the same route as supermarkets have done with parking, to discourage people who visit but not buy anything (and then go online) they charge $5 entry which is refunded when you buy something.  Which is quite a carrot, appropriately enough.

Drinking Is Not The Answer…

A glass of red wine. Photo taken in Montreal C...

A glass of red wine. Photo taken in Montreal Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the question is “what will get rid of my cold?”  This post relates to my personal viral episode.

Gizmodo recently scientifically challenged the theories that alcohol can cure a cold.  Firstly they explained that to have enough alcohol in your bloodstream to kill the virus (60%-80% ethyl alcohol) you’d kill yourself first, as usually a concentration of 0.2% will render most of us insensible.

Then they showed that the alcohol doesn’t disinfect your throat, or soothe it but in fact simply numbs your pain response and can actually further dry out the tissues of the throat, making things worse.  Concluding with an “amusing anecdote” about a submariner gargling with 99% alcohol.

Lastly they reported on a study by Carnegie Mellon University in 1993 on the relationship between smoking, drinking and the common cold.  Those who smoked got sick more often, smoking and drinking brought average results whereas drinkers got sick less – with those who drank 14 glasses of wine per week, especially red wine, being 60% less susceptible to colds.  This is probably down to the antioxidants in wine and dark beers like Guiness – which is good news for me, I enjoy a good dark beer.

Roll on Friday!

[Gizmodo UK]

Fresh Thinking?

Fish and chips, a popular take-away food of th...

Fish and chips, a popular take-away food of the United Kingdom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like to cook but rarely have time to make a meal from scratch, it’s usually a case of assembling something from frozen or chilled components.  I do also sometimes indulge in fast food – usually chips, fish and chips, battered sausage and chips or a hot dog from a van in the market square on a Saturday morning.  It’s too far to go to McDonalds and I’ve never even ventured into Subway – in fact whenever I think “I must try Subway some time” I then remember that ours closed down sometime last year.

The fast food industry has been trying to reinvent itself recently, as the public called for more healthy, nutritious, “authentic” food, highlighting the quality of ingredients, how they’re reducing fat and sugar, introducing “healthy options” like salads, and most of all the “freshness” of everything.  In this country the claims by McDonalds and the like that the ingredients are sourced from local farmers and butchers are believable because of the size of our island, you could conceivably turn an Aberdeen Angus in the borders into a burger in Bristol in a couple of days but as an interesting article on Slate Magazine shows much of the use of the word fresh, particularly in America, is really just marketing – harnessing associations with openness, truth, wholesomeness and morality, while its true meaning quite often differs from the dictionary definition.

[slate.com]

Print Anything

3D Printed Cells Bowl - Math Art by @Dizingof

3D Printed Cells Bowl – Math Art by @Dizingof (Photo credit: Dizingof)

And I mean anything.  Trust me.

Whatever new technology comes along someone will use it, or combine it with something else, to create something unique.  And this is true of 3D Printing.  The technology has been around for a while, used by designers and engineers to create prototypes and demonstrations for shows, and has now matured to the point where desktop and portable devices are soon to be available although some, like the Kickstarter-funded Formlab Form1 have come up against patent issues that are ongoing.

The idea, of slowly producing three-dimensional solid objects layer by layer by laying down material one layer on the next or selectively laser-fusing or curing liquids to form the layers, at the moment produces solid parts that can be assembled like an Airfix model kit but there has also been an intriguing chocolate 3D printer which could prove popular too. Already there are online archives of things to download and print from models of the Eiffel Tower to AK-47s – as I said, someone will always find a use for such tech.

The hope is that in future the technology could combine multiple materials in a single object, extending the technique beyond plastics and further improving the detail achievable although at the moment the printers can create tiny details, and even using the materials to replace structures like steel beams.  One amazing use is a device called a 3D Bio-Printer that can print out a hybrid natural-synthetic cartilage which once implanted acts as a support for natural tissue to regrow.

Which medical miracles brings us to two Japanese uses for the technology:  firstly a 3D photobooth that can scan your body and create a plastic mini-me, perfect for those who are so into model railways they want to be in their model railways, and secondly Fortean Times this month (FT297 pp10) reports on a clinic in Tokyo that uses a “Bio Texture” process and MRI scans to give parents-to-be a chance to see and hold their baby months before birth.  The “Shape of an Angel” service is £800 plus the cost of the MRI scan.  Imagine the scene, a family get-together, the baby photos are brought up on the wall projection to embarrass the teenager as parents sometimes do…   “This is you when you were five… ah, when you were two… look, you were only a few hours old there…  go get the box…  this was you when you were minus three months”.

Eco Cow – Ruminent of The Future!

Cattle on the alp

Cattle on the alp (Photo credit: Darkroom Daze)

Methane emissions from cows (burping rather than farting, apparently) are a serious problem, contributing to climate change due to the huge numbers being bred for our insatiable appetite for a good steak and milk.  Now though researchers in Brisbane, Australia are investigating breeding low-methane livestock and modifying feeding regimes to keep the emissions low.

They will be monitoring gas build up using a small submarine like sensor with wings that keep it in the cows rumen – the chamber in the stomach where gas production is greatest.  Using infra-red sensors they can assess the conditions that create the most gas and adjust feeding accordingly.

Good news for those of us who enjoy a good sirloin.

[Gizmodo UK]

At Last – An Advent Calendar For Grown Ups

Scottish Advent Calendar

Scottish Advent Calendar (Photo credit: Brett Jordan)

Not that I’d particularly qualify as grown up some times, and I still like chocolate.  There have been many variations on this floating around the net just recently but these come via HUKD and there’s still time to make one especially as you can enjoy catching up with the days you’ve missed.

[HUKD]

Chocolate Shouldn’t Require an Excuse

This mean cat is me

This mean cat is me (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Someone who shall remain nameless said to me today that they’d opened a bag of sweets “because we needed something for the mousetrap”.  I replied that it was the best excuse I’d heard for opening chocolates and they then said “you’ll put that on your blog now won’t you.”

Yep 🙂

Also this month’s excuse for a cat picture.