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Friday, October 31, 2008

Save the pumpkins! Alternative Jack-o-lanterns examined

Apple, watermelon and pineappleEvery year, millions of pumpkin-Americans are gouged with knives and subjected to having their innards scooped as they are crafted into Halloween Jack-o-lanterns. After their one big night, they’re eaten by squirrels, unceremoniously discarded, or splattered on the roadways. Those that escape the annual slaughter are allowed to live for another month until, if they are fortunate enough to be selected, they realize a pumpkin’s ultimate calling: being transformed into a delicious pie.

Pumpkins haven’t always played the role of Jack-o-lanterns. Long before the tradition came to North America, European Celts carved faces out of hollowed-out turnips and rutabagas and used them as lanterns to fend off malevolent spirits. The name is most commonly attributed to the legend of an Irish farmer called Stingy Jack who tricked the devil a couple of times and was cursed to wander the night forever with only a turnip lit with a candle as his only light. Jack-o-lanterns made the leap across the pond to the United States in the middle to late 19th century, and since pumpkins were plentiful, bigger and easier to carve, they got the job.

But a group of British, um, researchers has determined that a wide variety of fruits and vegetables can be pressed into service in the absence of or in addition to a pumpkin. They experimented with a pepper, a mango, an eggplant, an apple, a watermelon, a pineapple, a rutabaga and a butternut squash, as well as a control pumpkin. The fruit scoopings were utilized to make tropical rum smoothies, with no apparent adverse effect on the results of the experiment. The whole project was documented on a just-launched blog .

There must be something around here that would accommodate a candle — I wonder if there’s still a cucumber in the fridge...?

The OCD Diet: Eating foods that rhyme

Here’s another apparently successful British experiment: The OCD Diet. Created and chronicled by b3ta denizen Oucheh (also known as Kate), this diet doesn’t require any calorie counting, carb avoidance, or any of those other tiresome details. All one needs to do is combine foods that rhyme — beans and sardines, for example, or (shudder) Lamb’s Heart Treacle Tart. It seems to be effective — Kate lost three pounds in five days. (And no wonder!)
J. Silverheels Gray, 9:13 AM | link | 1 comments |

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tuesday Briefs

Tuesday BriefsYes, I’m still here! Posting has taken a back seat to life and real deadlines lately (hi, Jim! hi, Eric!), but the resumption of a more regular pattern is on the horizon.

In the meantime, nibble on these tidbits:

The Center for Food Integrity reports that 60 percent of consumers are more concerned about food prices than they were a year ago. And the sales growth of private-label organically-produced foods is slowing, according to a recent study by the Nielsen Co.

Sales of craft beers continues to romp along at a double-digit pace, but a shortage of hops is almost certain to start pushing prices up. On the other hand, MillerCoors LLC has pulled the plug on Zima. In the unlikely event that you’re a fan of that particular beverage, existing stocks should be on shelves through December.

According to a recent story in Advertising Age (registration required), advances in product packaging technology have made it possible to offer animated product labels. Before too long, motion-activated store displays and even individual products may be audibly clamoring for your attention.

A panel of tasters assembled by the Dallas Morning News has sampled Wal-Mart’s $3 wines and pronounced them palatable. The non-vintage Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio and Merlot are made by The Wine Group, which also produces wines under the Franzia, Concannon, Glen Ellen, Mogen David and Corbett Canyon labels, among others. Wal-Mart’s wine is sold under the Oak Leaf label — not nearly as imaginative as some of the tongue-in-cheek suggested names.
J. Silverheels Gray, 8:54 AM | link | 0 comments |

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Yat’s an emerging chain to watch, trade mag says

Yat’sRestaurant & Institutions magazine profiles 10 emerging restaurant chains to watch in a recent article, and first on their list is Indianapolis-based Yat’s.

Yat’s already made the transition to “Indianapolis-based” when it opened its satellite locations in West Lafayette and Chicago’s Loop. The company plans to open nine more of its Cajun-Creole restaurants in Chicago, which would bring its total number of locations to 15.

Yat’s was founded in 2001 by Joe Vuskovich, who previously ran multiunit restaurants in New Orleans then operated a wholesale food company. The restaurants cater to young urban professionals and students with flavorful entrées priced in the $4.50 - $6.50 range.
J. Silverheels Gray, 10:52 AM | link | 3 comments |

Monday, October 13, 2008

Food Fight

J. Silverheels Gray, 10:49 PM | link | 0 comments |

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

New Gmail feature helps prevent morning-after regrets

GmailGoogle has implemented a feature for its Gmail intended to help prevent people who have been drinking from sending email messages they later wish they hadn’t.

While many people who have had occasion to wish for such a thing envisioned a Breathalyzer-type hardware solution, Mail Goggles uses math. Once the feature is enabled, the user must correctly answer five simple math questions within a specified time in order to send a message. By default the feature only is active late on weekend nights, but can be adjusted in user preferences.

More information about Mail Goggles is available on Google’s Gmail Blog .
J. Silverheels Gray, 8:10 AM | link | 3 comments |

Monday, October 06, 2008

Wired NextFest 2008

WIRED NextFestWe hopped in the car with some friends yesterday and went on a little day trip to Chicago to take in WIRED magazine’s 2008 NextFest , an annual exhibition of emerging technologies.

While not nearly as grand in scale as the 2005 event on Navy Pier, this year’s show in Millennium Park still packs a lot of wow factor in its exhibits — and admission is free. We were greeted outside the tent by a whimsical, grass-clipping electronic sheep (which later had to be corralled inside after a light rain began to fall). Once inside, there were exhibits relating to about every aspect of modern life, including clothing, art, design, health, transportation, communication, entertainment and the environment.

Toyota, which along with Xerox and Citi is one of this year’s major sponsors, brought along a range of transportation exercises ranging from personal vehicles (imagine a luxurious Segway) to its plug-in Prius, a pre-production model that is currently undergoing real-world shakedown tests. Toyota also is showing its 1X concept vehicle , a lightweight (980 lbs.), fuel-sipping (90 mpg) four-passenger vehicle suitable for urban environments.

Xerox focused on green technology, including its solid-ink printer technology that reduces waste by 90 percent and is much more cost-effective than conventional color printers and a paper that printing fades from over a 24-hour period so that it can be reused. Those who value the permanence of print might find this a strange product, but Xerox was motivated to develop it after determining that more than 40 percent of office printouts are discarded the same day they are printed. Obviously, the potential savings in money and resources made possible by such a technology are enormous, particularly for school systems, large corporations and governmental entities.

In the energy and environment section, a technology that rapidly makes diesel fuel from algae and ultra-efficient photovoltaics that convert 40 percent of the sun’s energy to electricity — up from 15 percent for conventional solar panels — were the standouts. For photographers, the Gigapan technology developed by NASA and Carnegie Mellon University is exciting, and apparently will be surprisingly affordable. And while it seems unlikely that you’ll ever see them at Bed, Bath and Beyond, the food-delivery systems created by designer Martin Kastner for chef Grant Achatz will give foodies something to drool over.

Nextfest’s run will continue October 7 through 12 (the show is closed on Mondays). If you get there early, you could have time to wander through the Art Institute across the street or head down to the Museum of Science and Industry to tour the modular, green smart home which will be on display through January 4 of next year. If your route to Chicago takes you up I-65, be advised that major highway construction will cause you to take a detour , whether your preferred route is the Tollway or I-80/94.
J. Silverheels Gray, 10:07 AM | link | 0 comments |

Friday, October 03, 2008

Country Life butter is Rotten butter

John Lydon has found something besides Sex Pistols residuals to butter his bread — adverts!

J. Silverheels Gray, 12:22 PM | link | 0 comments |

The Cube (1969)

Created by Jim Henson, this made-for-tv movie broke new ground. It aired in 1969 on NBC’s Experiment in Television, a one-hour, commercial-free show that ran on Sunday afternoons and featured drama, comedy, and documentaries peppered with such personalities as Frank Langella, Nanette Fabray, Fritz Weaver, Bernadette Peters, Verna Bloom, Frank McHugh, Jack Gilford, Nancy Walker, David Steinberg, Mildred Dunnock, Donald Pleasance, Richard Briers, John Gielgud, George Plimpton, Christopher Plummer and Diana Rigg. Documentaries featured people like Marshall McLuhan, Frederico Fellini, Arthur Penn, Al Capp and the Beatles.

Set aside an hour and watch it....

J. Silverheels Gray, 11:05 AM | link | 0 comments |

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Marquis Philips S2 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Marquis Philips S2Wine rating systems are imperfect, but often useful. To get the most out of them it helps to be familiar with the reviewer’s palate — if he or she consistently likes the same sort of things you do and has similar criticisms of those you don’t, then you can give their opinions a higher degree of credence.

Consider, then, the Marquis Philips S2 Cabernet Sauvignon. Since its first vintage in 2001 through the 2005, Robert Parker’s newsletter, The Wine Advocate, has rated it in the 90s. Parker really liked the ’05 vintage and awarded it 94 points, making it a really good deal at about $35 per bottle. And that vintage is indeed a Parker-style wine — big, jammy and highly extracted, with lots of fruit and complexity.

Then came the ’06, and the Advocate gave the S2 an 89-point score and a vague review. But it wasn’t a Parker review; it was written by Jay Miller. Regardless of who actually wrote the review, the effect was the same: Now S2 was perceived as an expensive 89-point wine.

So, the ’06 didn’t sell as well as previous vintages. The result: If you look around, you can find it on sale for a lot less than $35 (I got mine for $19.99). And for twenty bucks, it’s a helluva wine!

This is an Aussie Cab that a Californian could love, with cedar on the nose and blackberries and cassis on the palate. Its tannins provide structure without pucker, and its finish is long and dry. It’s a big wine but a refined one, less jammy and more elegant. And it carries its 15.9 percent charge of alcohol gracefully, with no hints of bitterness or heat.

It benefits from half an hour in a decanter, and continues to open and develop in the glass. Short-term cellaring would achieve the same thing — this would be a good wine to buy a case of and revisit every six months. And I’ll bet that even if you paid full price, you wouldn’t be sorry.
J. Silverheels Gray, 10:46 AM | link | 1 comments |