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What If I Told You That Expensive Bottle of Burgundy…

Friday, May 8th, 2015 - by Robert Wargas
Photo via: Flickr

Photo via: Flickr

Here’s another dent in the “wine expert” status game, from Money:

A new study in the Journal of Marketing Research confirms what prior research (and, in some cases, gut feeling) has told us for years: Most people can’t really taste the difference between cheap and expensive wine.

These new findings, by INSEAD marketing professor Hilke Plassmann and University of Bonn neuroscience professor Bernd Weber, go a step further than previous studies in explaining why people get more enjoyment from a wine they’re told is expensive and less pleasure from one they’re told is cheap—even if they are actually drinking the same wine.

“Expectations truly influence neurobiological responses,” write the authors.

But how much we’re swayed by that influence ranges from person to person. One key factor, the researchers found, is the structure of your brain. Everyone is somewhat suggestible to the placebo effect from being told wine is cheap or expensive, but some brains are more suggestible than others.

As critical as I am of “wine experts,” I do think certain wines are obviously cheap. The low-end stuff usually tastes like kids’ grape juice with some ethanol added to it: simple, cloying, flat, and, well, cheap. That’s at the really far end of the scale, however. In my experience, any wine $10 a bottle and over is not likely to have that grape-juice swill flavor.

Nevertheless, as this article notes and as everyone knew already, the power of suggestion is considerable. I’m sure that, given the right circumstances and the right words, we all could be fooled into thinking that Welch’s with rubbing alcohol mixed into it was an expensive Syrah.

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Turns Out You Can Survive On a Diet of Girl Scout Cookies and Cheese Puffs

Monday, April 27th, 2015 - by Paula Bolyard

Colorado Daily Life

From the Associated Press:

Two sisters from Oklahoma and Nebraska said Saturday that they survived in a remote part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on love for their family, melted snow and the little food they had in their snow-crippled SUV.

A day after being spotted by a police helicopter in Luce County, Leslie Roy, 52, and Lee Marie Wright, 56, offered thanks to their rescuers and others involved in the nearly two-week search after they disappeared earlier this month…

…State police Detective Sgt. Jeff Marker told The Associated Press that Roy and Wright wore layers of clothing to stay warm, melted snow to drink and ate Girl Scout cookies and a bag of cheese puffs.

And the important part, “The sisters were examined Friday at an area hospital and released.”

Since they’re in season now, this might be a good time to add some Girl Scout cookies to your bug-out bag. After all, we now practically have scientific proof that they’re a bonafide ‘survival food.’ Throw in a few cheese puffs while you’re at it, just in case.

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The 5 Greatest Dad Beers in America

Thursday, April 16th, 2015 - by Jeremy Swindle

1. Bud Heavy


Whether you just finished mowing the lawn or your favorite sportsball team is losing the big game, Budweiser always hits the spot.


2. Colt 45

Why listen to me when Lando Calrissian, the real captain of the Millenium Falcon, will tell you that Colt 45 works every time?


3. Hamm’s

When you’re going for sheer volume, accept no substitutes. Hamm’ is the smoothest of all Dad Beers.


4. Olde English 800


The king of all 40s would still be at the top of the game if only they hadn’t put it in a plastic bottle. Dads don’t drink plastic beer.


5. Coors Banquet

Coors Banquet makes the list for the reason that it tastes so great even the biggest rookie can drink it warm.

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‘It’s Like Scientology Minus the Aliens!’ & 5 More Reasons to Go Gluten Free Even if You’re Already Healthy

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 - by Michael T. Hamilton


Thinking about taking the GF plunge? Here are 6 reasons you should kick gluten for a month, even if no one is making you.

1. You’ll Think Before Eating That Thing You’re Holding

Think of your crunchiest, most granola, all-natural, all-organic, grass-fed, grass-fed Kobe, nitrate-free, hormone-free, non-GMO, never-came-close-to-processing, we-could-eat-our-clothes-if-we-had-to friend.

That’s not me—at least, not yet. Since kicking gluten, I’ve broken several promises I once made to my wheat-eating former self. And they say if it quacks like a duck. . . .

There’s a lot of new quacking at my house lately. It takes the form of triple-checking every label—not only for FDA-regulated allergens, but for sneakier ingredients that may have touched microscopic traces of wheat en route to my pantry. Why not just look for a certified GF label, indicating that a product regularly tests for less than 20 parts gluten per million? Unlike folks with life-threatening sensitivities, I am confident that the occasional 21st ppm won’t poison me, which grants me a slightly bigger shopping cart.

Either way, whether kicking gluten out of love or fear, you’ll be likelier to think an extra five seconds about what you’re eating.

2. People Will Ask Why You’re So Cool

For every person you annoy with your gluten freedom, there are two who are dying to meet you. You’d think that waiters and waitresses would be bored with us by now. They’re not. After all, you may be the 100th GF they’ve met, but there’s a good chance you’re the first they’ve served that week.

In my experience, literally half the servers who pick up your GF vibes will grow visibly excited—so much that if you’re really hungry, you’re hosed. Every trip to your table between now and when you leave them a fat GF tip will include questions about how your body reacts to breadcrumbs, stories about their friend’s epi-pen/anaphylaxis show-stopper, or awkwardly audible speculations about what’s causing their own maladies. Drink it in, GF apprentice. All these are for you.


3. You’ll Make New Friends Without Even Trying

Last week I visited a local brew store to attempt a mostly legal swap of some non-GF craft beer for cider that doesn’t taste like a Riesling. The former was a gift from friends who apparently don’t read PJ Lifestyle (or, more probably, need an invitation to dinner). The managers declined my offer but rewarded me with a rundown of their none-too-shabby GF offerings. Better yet, both of these lads have GF-girlfriends, so they’re immersed in the scene. The kicker: two days after dropping my incredibly sleek business card on one of these guys, I earned an email from his girlfriend that clued me in to 16 hip local restaurants, niche grocers, and GF brands to try.

It’s uncanny how frequently and randomly this can happen—a little like Scientology a la Going Clear. Here you are, walking around with a physical or emotional “ruin” (i.e., your gluten tragedy). And there they are—your soon-to-be friends—conveniently standing around the corner, waiting to help you find and repair your ruin. How? By purging your molecular chemistry of those nasty “body thetans,” i.e., thousands of extra souls lingering inside you after an ancient alien attack. In our case, these are wheat granules.

What are friends for?


4. You’ll Discover New Restaurants (& New Ways to Order at Old Ones)

Observe: “Do you have a sweet, gluten-free, yellow cornmeal patty topped with steak, Cotija cheese, creamy cilantro sauce, and habanero and serrano salsa? Oh, you do? I’ll have that.”


5. You’ll Shop and Cook More Creatively

My wife is like a gorgeous, shorter version of Julia Child who has the option not to speak in her falsetto. Creativity, audaciousness, moxie—these live in our kitchen and are constantly reincarnated in her dishes. Throw a GF lemon at such a chef, and you’ll get limoncello. It’s like watching Chopped, minus the weirdness, plus entrees you actually want to eat. So it’s like watching Iron Chef.


6. Your Skin Will Feel Closer to Your Bones

That’s the best description I can offer friends (and strangers) who ask whether I “lost a bunch of weight” or “gained a ton of energy” or “feel so much better” now that I’ve broken up with gluten—all things I was promised would happen. Did I lose five pounds in two weeks despite eating more meat than a caveman and dairy than a baby? Sure. Do I feel healthier? Let’s go with that. Do I think faster? Possibly. Am I funnier? Obviously. But truth be told, at first I felt cheated. “Going off gluten totally changed my life,” I had heard.

Is that true of me? I’m still deciding.

The fact is I totally changed my life to go off gluten. Maybe I was listening poorly, distracted by the psychedelic facial expressions and wild gesticulations that accompany GF diehard testimonies, but I thought kicking gluten would be like burning two weeks’ pay on Keno or Powerball before landing the big one. It’s more like two weeks of orientation at your new job, followed by quiet growth that impresses you once a month when you look over your shoulder.

In other words, it’s like real life. Who shouldn’t try that?

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Hey Pop-Nutritionists, Stop Using the Word ‘Toxins’

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 - by Robert Wargas

I’m about to link to Gawker, so please, perpetually aggrieved Internet dwellers, do feel free to leave some indignant “Why are you linking to Gawker??!!1!?”comments below.

To those of you still reading: An analytical chemist—that’s the writer’s self-description—has written a piece criticizing Vani Hari, apparently a popular food blogger, for her trendy, pseudoscientific nonsense. It’s a solid, sensible piece and an introduction to the many scientific, logical, and rhetorical holes in the “organic”-obsessed, pop-nutritionist sect. One target is the overuse of words like “toxic”:

The word “toxic” has a meaning, and that is “having the effect of a poison.” Anything can be poisonous depending on the dose. Enough water can even be poisonous in the right quantity (and can cause a condition called hyponatremia).


Hari uses this tricky technique again and again. If I told you that a chemical that’s used as a disinfectant, used in industrial laboratory for hydrolysis reactions, and can create a nasty chemical burn is also a common ingredient in salad dressing, would you panic? Be suspicious that the industries were poisoning your children? Think it might cause cancer? Sign a petition to have it removed?

What if I told you I was talking about vinegar, otherwise known as acetic acid?

I have endless contempt for “alternative medicine,” which is certainly alternative but most certainly not medicine. The alternative crowd loves the vague word “toxins.” If you are sick, you are full of “toxins”; you must therefore “detox.” Everything from pancreatic cancer to bipolar disorder is due to “toxins.”

One way to know you’re talking to a quack is that, no matter the problem, he always has one diagnosis and thus one treatment.

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Why the Government Nannies May Be Right When It Comes to Eating Meat

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Like my PJ colleague Liz Shield, I dislike government nannies of any kind. Yet, I can’t help but be pleased with the latest recommendation from the Feds: “A dietary pattern that is higher in plant(s) … and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact.” And it has nothing to do with the quantity of methane in cow farts.

The reality is that a plant-based diet is better for your health. Note, I did not say vegan, nor vegetarian. “Plant-based” is a style of diet that puts plants before meat and any other processed product you’d put into your body. Mediterranean diets proffering fish, poultry and other lean meats are highly plant based and continue to prove to be one of the best diets for optimal health. And we aren’t just talking physical health, either. Mental health is hugely impacted by the quantity and quality of vitamins and minerals we take in on a daily basis. Both psychological studies and personal experience testify to the fact that kids and adults who eat veggies are happier, healthier, and less likely to be drugged on behavioral medications. What’s going to be a richer, diverse source of nutrients, a dinner that is 75% greens or 75% processed cow parts?

Yet, we cringe at the idea of public school kids being fed salad for lunch. Salad isn’t a bad thing, having the government tell us what we can and can’t eat is a bad thing. In our resistance to government interference, we risk missing the greater point: What we eat matters. Studies come and go and the factors that go into these studies, especially from a funding and lobbying point of view, are never adequately addressed. Surely this latest line is a political one meant to motivate environmentalist legislation above all else. But that doesn’t turn the grain of truth, the reality that a plant-based diet is good for you, into a lie. If anything, it abuses the truth for a political point. That abuse, not the recommendation to eat plants, is the sin in the conversation.

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A Skeptic’s Guide to Kicking Gluten: 3 Promises I Broke When Going ‘Gluten Free’

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - by Michael T. Hamilton

Broken Promise #1: I’ll Never Be One of Them

Last night, as we were finishing dinner, my wife described the worst dessert she’s ever eaten:

“You take pears–canned pears, in heavy, heavy syrup. Fish out one of the halves and slide it into one of those little white bowls your mom has—not a ramekin, but a step up. Then [shudders] you top it with—are you ready?—mayonnaise. MAYONNAISE. Next, take a piece of extra sharp cheddar cheese, and a strainer, and you hold them like this [hands in front of her], and then you [with vengeance] push the cheese through with your thumbs, to make tiny curly cues. Then you sprinkle the curly cues on top of the mayonnaise and syrupy canned pear—and you eat it, in a house with cats.”

[Silence. Then—] “That’s revolting. You eat that with a fork?”

“You eat it with a spoon. If you eat it with a fork you miss some of the mayonnaise.”

That—right there—what you’re feeling now. For years, that’s how I felt about going “gluten free”: the concept itself, the food, and (on rare occasion) even some of the people—until, on January 5, 2015, I became one of them.

Someday I’ll tell you why. For now, though, I’m cleaning up some GF-certified broken promises.

Broken Promise #2: I’ll Never Let My Gluten Freedom Dominate Literally Every Conversation in the Room

I’ve learned a lot in the last five years about the ignorance, prejudice, and snobbery with which I once regarded my gluten-free brethren—excluding, of course, those actually diagnosed, by a medical professional (bigoted of me, I know)—with Celiac or a legitimate gluten allergy.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve found that most of my prejudices were unfounded. But not all.

There are two kinds of biscuits in the gluten-free bag. The first: well-adjusted people, in charge of themselves and of their gluten freedom. These people I term “GFs.” A sub-sect of these, however, have lips as loose as cannons sliding all over a gluten-free warship, spilling gluten-free facts about their gluten-free lives, shortening the fuses of their wheat-eating friends, until the friends are ready to blow themselves up just for the chance to slip Nut Job over there a Saltine. Such people aren’t just gluten free; they’re Gluten Freaks.

GFs can be the coolest people you’ll ever meet, like the homeschooler whose parents gave a rip about their son acquiring human friends. Gluten Freaks, by contrast, walk into your life out of Gulliver’s Travels. They get to educating you, and everyone you used to like, until your eyes cross. But they’re nothing compared to the Gluten Jedis. These captivate you so that you actually want to stand there listening to your favorite childhood food memories get tortured, contaminated, and destroyed as chaff. They spellbind you over dessert with quasi-religious, gluten-free incantations. They have their own sacred myths:

In the beginning God made everything very good. Except for the gluten. And he bade the man, ‘From every tree you shall eat, except for the Gluten Tree.’ And the man said, ‘Clearly you’ve never tasted Eve’s yeast rolls. Let me tell you, they’re sinfully good’—and ate unto damnation.

That’s Gluten Freakishness. I know, because I’ve done it.

Broken Promise #3: I’ll Never Abandon Craft Beer, Having Already Done It Once and Experienced Dark Sadness

One month before we left Boston for Dayton, I stood with my fellow English teacher friends in a dimly lit, wildly renovated basement-turned-scotch bar that was profiting by making chairless dining appear charming. During a lull in the electronic music enveloping us, I told them I would soon be giving up alcohol because my next school had a temperance clause in its contract. (Temperance not as “moderation,” but as “You’re actually signing this? Are you that unemployable?”)

Right then the musical humming swelled something fierce, so I couldn’t hear my friends—who for three years had schooled me in the art of home brewing, helped me buy my own equipment, and taught me the value of hops. But the messages on their faces were clear:

“Good God, Mike, what are you gonna do?”

“You need a stiff drink.”

“You’re turning into worse than one of those anti-gluten fanatics.”

By then I had home brewed enough small batches and toured the Samuel Adams and Harpoon breweries enough times to know how to really appreciate a microbrew for its myriad complexities: color, clarity, aroma, mouthfeel, maltiness, hoppiness, bitterness, carbonation, and packaging.

So, rich as my next three years of teaching were, a portion of my gluten-loving soul slept through them until my exit. My Second Great Awakening included a return to spirits clear and spirits oaken, but it centered on my return to brewing. Home brew. At my home. I returned to glory last summer, brewing ten gallons (96 bottles) of an Imperial IPA. Then, as winter approached, I invented my own Molasses Oatmeal Stout recipe, brewing and storing 52 bottles in my basement.  “And knowing how way leads onto way / I doubted if I should ever come back” to temperance.

Well, two months later, I came back, at least from beer, for as anyone acquainted with 16th-century German purity laws knows, a beverage properly called “beer” must consist of exactly four ingredients: water, yeast, hops, and malted barley or wheat. And as anyone acquainted with natural law knows, barley and wheat contain gluten.

I should be telling this with a sigh, considering that I’ve been reduced to bartering off my home brew for half-respectable bottles of whiskey.

Instead, however, just 80-some days after kicking gluten, I’m finding the “free” in “gluten freedom.” Soon I’ll explain how. I promise.


image illustration via here

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What Did Jesus’ Wine Taste Like?

Friday, April 3rd, 2015 - by Robert Wargas


I do remember, during religious instruction as a child, hearing the constant references to wine in the Bible and wondering what it tasted like. Being quite young then, I imagined it was like my delicious grape juice. As I grew older and began to love dry red wine, I still wondered whether ancient wines tasted anything remotely like my Pinot Noir.

From the Orange County Register:

Grapes were the first cultivated plants mentioned in the Bible, she said. In her book, [author Kitty] Morse writes: “Grapes grew in even more abundance than olives… Wines from the Holy Land provided a significant source of income, especially during Roman rule. The wine from Bethlehem was of particularly high quality and considered a gift worthy of royalty.”

Still, she thinks it couldn’t have been delicious.

“It wasn’t intended for the Roman emperors,” Morse said, explaining that the peasants in the Middle East weren’t as sophisticated about wine as the ruling class. “They were happy if it fermented and if it cured some ailments.”

If that’s the case, then the wine served at the Last Supper would have been peasant table wine. Much more rustic than the wine enjoyed at the wedding at Cana, a special drink reserved for a stately occasion. The difference between the two would come down to farming and styling.

That peasant table wine can’t have been any worse than some of those horrendous pseudo-wines they sell in the supermarket. There are some great wines that are very cheap—one of my favorite Chiantis is about eight bucks—but most cheap things are cheap for a reason.

The article also mentions that Romans liked to spice their wine with cinnamon. Who else wants to try this immediately?


image illustration via shutterstock / 

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The Real Problem with American Coffee Isn’t the Beans, but the Culture

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

I’m far more of a wine connoisseur than a coffee drinker. Years ago I cut back to half decaf in order to cut back on migraines and stomach trouble. The hi-test sludge my editor prefers could never cross my lips for fear of bodily damage. The one thing I associate with brutal American coffee is brutal American stress: the need to meet a deadline, please a boss, do more, say more, be more with vim and vigor. Just as any alcoholic uses cheap trash, downing brutally burnt beans has become a lousy, albeit necessary way to get a much-needed fix. And that’s where we get coffee wrong in America.

Tel Aviv is littered with cafes and kiosks serving Euro-style coffee. I never got the hang of what to order to balance out my pathetically minimum caffeine requirement, but at Cafe Nachmani I not only learned how to order the right tasting brew, I learned how to enjoy it. I’ve never seen a windowsill in Starbucks lined with art magazines. Not Cosmo or People, literal professional art magazines you’d see in big city galleries and be afraid to touch. The Barnes & Noble cafes are filled with geeks on their laptops, chugging down brew in order to use the free WiFi. At Cafe Nachmani, patrons sipped on cappuccinos and the Israeli favorite, espresso, while lingering over literary mags heavier than half the books lining our chain’s clearance aisle.

Tel Avivans work like mad in a city that never sleeps. They’ve just learned how to enjoy a frenetic pace better than we ever could. It’s amazing how much more you enjoy life when you view it as a pleasure to be lived instead of an obligation to be fueled through.To better answer the question of what you’re drinking, you need to start with why you’re drinking it.

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This Traditional Turkish Coffee Beats The Heck Out Of Some Weak Italian Cappuccino Everytime

Saturday, March 21st, 2015 - by Michael van der Galien

No Dave, Italian coffee definitely isn’t the best coffee in the world. That cappuccino you show looks like the same one you can get anywhere in Europe. There’s nothing even remotely special about it.

Want to see what real coffee is supposed to look like? Well, just take a look at this wonderful Turkish coffee I drank earlier today. Now that’s the kind of boost you need in the morning.

No Dave, THIS is what real coffee looks like

A photo posted by Michael van der Galien (@michaelvandergalien) on

Editor’s Note: Tweet or Instagram pics of your morning beverages to @DaveSwindle on Twitter or @DaveSwindlePJM on Instagram to be featured as we continue the search for the ultimate caffeinated wake-up.

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This Cappuccino From An Italian Instagram Acquaintance Looks Much Tastier Than Our American Motor Oil

Saturday, March 21st, 2015 - by Dave Swindle

My very first cappuccino ♥

A photo posted by Arianna Bonardi (@the_blair_witch) on

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Who Needs Michelle Obama’s Healthy Diet? 104-Year-Old Woman Drinks 3 Dr. Peppers a Day

Friday, March 20th, 2015 - by Paula Bolyard

A woman in Fort Worth, Texas, is celebrating her 104th birthday and she proudly told reporters this week that despite her doctors’ admonitions, she has been drinking three Dr. Pepper sodas a day for 30 years.

“People try to give me a coffee for breakfast,” Elizabeth Sullivan said, “but I’d rather have a Dr. Pepper.”

“I started drinking about 40 years ago — three a day — and every doctor that sees me says ‘It’ll kill you’ but they die and I don’t, so there must be a mistake somewhere.”

Elizabeth is living proof that the doctors — and the food police in the White House — don’t always know best. Many people manage to live long and productive lives even when they don’t subsist on a diet of twigs and acorns.

“I’m feeling good! I’m glad I’m still here and I’m glad I’m not in a rest home,” Sullivan told reporters. “I’m glad I can read books and watch TV and have people come by to say hello.”

I raise my can of Dr. Pepper to you tonight, Mrs. Sullivan! Wishing you a Happy Birthday and many blessings in the coming year!

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How to Drink Like an American: In Defense of Cheap, Crappy Coffee Every Day

Friday, March 20th, 2015 - by Dave Swindle

This morning I think I might write a defense of bad, cheap #coffee….

A video posted by Thoth, Ma'at & Husky Familiar (@thothandmaatmarried) on


“American coffee is now and always has been revolting, and it behooves us to look deep into our souls to understand why we overpay for muck at Starbucks. There’s a sucker born every minute, and he’s almost certain to be American. We are boosters, enthusiasts, tent-evangelicals, fly-by-nighters, snake-oil salesmen and honky-tonkers as a people, and get swindled every time.”

Well, yeah. This is the way it’s supposed to be. The coffee so many of us drink reflects who we are.

Here’s something I’m going to argue that isn’t going to make much sense to many people: I don’t want my morning coffee to taste good. I *want* it to taste bitter and “disgusting” as hell. Damn right!

That’s part of its magic — the knock-you-on-the-tongue kick in conjunction with the caffeine rush and the heat at a reasonable price.

Coffee and caffeine #addiction continues! How do you take your morning villainy?

A video posted by Thoth, Ma'at & Husky Familiar (@thothandmaatmarried) on

I alternate between a tea routine and a coffee routine every six months or so, using one or the other to help keep energy up and stay focused throughout the day. Right now I’m usually on about one pot of coffee a day, generally done by noon. I haven’t decided yet which is better…

What about you? How much coffee or tea do you drink? How do you prepare it? What’s the best dollar-for-caffeine ratio? Bonus points for anyone who surpasses the wit of “The 3 Most Hilarious Comments Responding to Spengler’s Anti-Starbucks Rant.”

Have a coffee, tea, or other food/drink you’d like to see considered at PJ Lifestyle? Please get in touch: DaveSwindlePJM AT Gmail.com

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The 3 Most Hilarious Comments Responding to Spengler’s Anti-Starbucks Rant

Friday, March 20th, 2015 - by Dave Swindle


Yes, I agree with David P. “Spengler” Goldman that it’s “Time for a National Conversation About Why Starbucks Coffee Is Disgusting.”

I’ll try and have my rebuttal up shortly in defense of cheap, crappy coffee, [Updated: now here] but in the meantime, I found these 3 comments very amusing, in particular Fred Z’s:

What do you think? Is American coffee terrible? Is Starbucks a symbol of Americans’ pathetic palate or does it hint at something darker, our gullibility at being able to be manipulated into spending ridiculous amounts of money for a lame product? Or is Spengler just being his usual cranky self and expertly trolling you?


image illustration via shutterstock / 

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Cold Temps, Warm Metal and Buttery Flesh: How To Do Winter BBQ

Saturday, February 28th, 2015 - by Audie Cockings


Your grill called. He’s cold and hungry. Fire up that alloy ally because gelid air temps offer noteworthy benefits in curing major bovine muscle groups. Low and slow heat delivers smoldered exteriors with pinked interior rings and buttery flesh by way of the sympathetic smoke.

Those of you who routinely scorch steaks on the grill can’t possibly get smoking wrong. If you can read a thermometer, you can smoke meat. It’s infinitely more palatable than a scorned Porterhouse at the hands of a meat arsonist, and a heck of a lot cheaper. Meat prices are higher than ever and it’s time you get better acquainted with humble Chuck.

Many traditional cuts once smoked for their economy are now nearly as expensive per pound as their provender contingents. Not to say that a twenty dollar prime rib “hamburger” or an ten-dollar haute dog aren’t worth a try.  It’s just that the American BBQ isn’t a solitary kind of event, it’s a party.  And having friends over to break bread shouldn’t break bank.

This week, beefretail.org, who establishes national averages for beef prices, quotes wholesale price for flat cut brisket at just over six dollars per pound. That’s nearly two dollars more per pound than this time last year not including retail markup which averages 26%, even higher in metro areas.

As such, I suggest we scrap traditional cuts that routinely inhabit the smoker and venture out into roasts previously confined to the Crock Pot or Dutch Oven (as in roasting pan, not captive undercover outbursts).  Enter “Chuck”, the shoulder area of the cow. This portion of the carcass generates nearly 25% of the edible rations, bearing a great deal more meat than bougie steak or rib portions. And like my spouse, Chuck is tough but loveable given the right conditions.


Wholesale prices for Chuck hover around $3 per pound. But even with retail markup you can secure a great three pound chuck roast, enough to feed a family of four, for about twelve bucks—The price of one bone-in ribeye.  Three pounds may sound excessive for four diners, but one must consider shrinkage– Fat and water melted away, leaving a dense beautifully hued protein (because dense and beautiful are the perfect combo in the meat kingdom).

Prep and cooking time is lengthy so consider buying bulk Chuck. Slice into three-to-four pound sections before marinating. Leftover smoked Chuck can be shredded for stellar tacos, sandwiches or enchiladas.

My own fore into smoked chuck was entirely by accident. I’d have never thought to throw such a girthy, oleaginous cut into the drum. But one morning when the husband was prepping the smoker for some whole chickens, I remembered thawing a roast that wouldn’t be prudent to eat if left another day in the fridge.  A dull fleshed, less than spritely three pound chuck that I just couldn’t bear to toss.

You see, I went to an angus farm and ordered half a bull. I saw the damn thing galloping about a field of butterflies and named it “Fred” before solidifying his slaughter with my signature (death warrant) and credit card number.

I purposefully made eye contact with death row Fred a week prior to his poor throat being slit by a rabbi, wanting to better appreciate where my food comes from and be less inclined to waste former living things.  As such, my near-ripe chuck (Fred) was messaged with salt and spices then nestled into a quad of chickens on the smoker vice being ravaged by raptors at the landfill.


Smoking meat does not require a Texas-style steel Trojan of a grill favoring a sawed off MK-16 torpedo. These offset smoker boxes are great if you have one, but a standard charcoal grill with a tight-fitting lid will suffice.

The easiest method involves soaking wood chips (six cups) or small branches overnight in clean water then tossing them right atop your hot charcoal when ready to smoke. Apple, cherry, mesquite and hickory are all good.

Don’t buy wood chips if there’s an orchard nearby or a neighbor with a few fruit trees. Ask to be present when they prune (you could of course, offer to help). There’s no reason to spend seven bucks on a tidy bag of ethically-harvested smoking wood at Williams-Sonoma. Only a liberal would do that. Pruning is very ethical and free is always better.

While your grill is getting hot, marinate Chuck in any style bath you’d normally offer beef.  If you don’t have a go-to, see my blog for a basic marinade recipe. Use a gallon-sized zipper bag for each three-to-four pound chuck roast. Leave at room temp for an hour or up to twelve hours in the refrigerator.

Smoke chuck at between 225 and 250 degrees for five to six hours, or 200 degrees for seven hours, generously enveloping chuck in foil at the halfway mark (wrap your meat snuggly—leaks could prove problematic later). Chuck is ready to rest when his internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. The more you peek, the longer the process will take, so please refrain. Juices will be redistributed to the finished meat while resting for several hours in a cool, dry place. The longer it has to rest, the more tender and tasty it is.

Are you a chronic overachiever? Then tackle the entire process a day ahead placing the finished foil-wrapped meat straight into the refrigerator to eat the next day. To serve, thinly slice and gently heat in the microwave or oven and finish with BBQ sauce — Lefty’s is my personal fav. Finished foil-wrapped smoked Chuck can also be put straight into a freezer bag and into the freezer for a later date (or a hot date?). Serve with slaw or my five cheese sweet potato gratin (recipe on my blog here).

Wintery weather offers ideal conditions for curing meat through smoking. And the humble Chuck, once predestined for pot roast proves a worthy alternative to traditionally smoked cuts… he’s tasty, easy to find, and economical. Even our Dallas blood brethren love my smoked Chuck. And that’s a good thing because they eat a lot and visit often.

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3.5 Million People Seek Kosher Foods in the U.S. and Not All of Them Are Jewish

Saturday, February 21st, 2015 - by Arlene Becker Zarmi


Being kosher is an important part of the Jewish religion.

The rules of kashrut (pertaining to kosher, being fit or proper) appear in the Old Testament in both Leviticus and Numbers. Jewish people were told they should eat only animals that chew their cud and have hooves — like cows — and fish with scales and fins. Thus pigs and crustaceans, among other creatures which don’t fit into these categories, were forbidden to the Jewish people as food. Bugs were also forbidden (with the exception of two species of kosher locusts, designated by name).

There are many ramifications aside from these basic prohibitions, including the method of slaughter of any of the above-listed animals, and there are a number of organizations with individuals who go into food-processing plants, slaughterhouses, and meat-packing plants to ensure that all kosher tenets are met.

The largest of these kosher-certifying organizations in the world is the Orthodox Union.

Many products carry the OU symbol, thus certifying the products as being kosher.

According to Rabbi Dovid Jenkins, the rabbinical coordinator of the Orthodox Union, there are 3.5 million residents of this country who choose to purchase kosher products and many, he said, aren’t Jewish. The OU kosher supervisors travel all over the world to certify products that will be imported and sold in the U.S. Jenkins said that the OU has even gotten a request from Pakistan to certify their products. However, it was deemed too dangerous to send a kosher supervisor to that country.

Next: 12 Fascinating facts about a kosher diet

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Here’s A Creative Way to Make Sure Food Stamps Aren’t Wasted on Weed, Booze, & Lap Dances

Saturday, February 14th, 2015 - by Stephen Green
Marijuana Welfare

An ATM is positioned inside a marijuana store, in Boulder, Colo., Friday, Jan. 30, 2015. Colorado state lawmakers this year are poised to pass a law clarifying that public benefit cards can’t be used at pot dispensary ATMs. A bill facing its first hearing next week in the state Senate would add marijuana businesses and strip clubs to the list of Colorado businesses where public benefits cards – called EBTs – can’t be used to withdraw cash. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Colorado is stuck between a hookah and a hard place on preventing welfare recipients from using their EBTs to buy legalized weed:

Despite mounting evidence that “welfare for weed” is more than an urban myth, Democratic legislators are balking at a bill that would add marijuana dispensaries and strip clubs to the list of places, along with casinos and liquor stores, where debit-style benefits cards cannot be used to withdraw cash from automatic teller machines, or ATMs.

Democrats killed a similar bill last year, but now the stakes are higher. States had two years to align their statutes with a 2012 federal law banning the use of electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards at gambling and adult-entertainment venues.

As of this year, states that fail to take action risk having their federal grants under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program reduced by 5 percent.

While pot shops aren’t on the federal list, Colorado officials are concerned that failing to disable ATMs at marijuana dispensaries for EBT cards would violate the spirit of the law and provoke the ire of the Justice Department, which is keeping the legalized pot industry in states like Colorado and Washington on a short leash.

Democrats don’t want to offend the tender sensibilities of their most devoted voters — people on the dole. Republicans don’t want local businesses at the tender mercies of Washington’s jackbooted thugs.

But is removing ATM machines from poor neighborhoods — where pot stores are mostly located — the answer? Before we get to that, maybe we need to look at the real problem, which in this case is not legalized marijuana.

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23 Fascinating Facts about America’s Condiment Kings: Ketchup, Mayonnaise, and Mustard

Saturday, February 7th, 2015 - by Arlene Becker Zarmi


I come from a family of ketchup lovers. I don’t know how we became one, but here we are.

We would have ketchup on hot dogs and hamburgers, as well as on cottage cheese, hard cheese, green beans, meat, fish, eggs, and an assortment of other foods. We always favored Heinz; however, when then-presidential candidate John Kerry, whose wife is the Heinz ketchup heiress, was running for president, I started to explore other brands to show solidarity with his conservative opposition. I even bought an unnamed generic brand at Walmart, and it was just as good, and a lot cheaper.


1. Ketchup wasn’t always red! When you go shopping for ketchup now it’s easy to spot the bright red bottles. However, when it was invented it was sort of brown, and it wasn’t until the 19th century that it began to be made with tomatoes.

The Chinese, the industrious inventors of so many western items like gunpowder and paper, created the ancient form of ketchup as well.

The word ketchup is derived from the Chinese ke-tsiap, a pickled fish sauce. It made its way to the Malay Archipelago, where it became ketchup or ketjup (in Indonesian). The Chinese product was more like soy sauce.

In another version, in 300 B.C. texts began documenting the use of fermented pastes made from fish entrails, meat byproducts and soybeans. The fish sauce, called “koe-cheup” by speakers of the Southern Min dialect, was easy to store on long ocean voyages. It spread along trade routes to Indonesia.

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Israelis—and Conservatives—Are Going Vegan

Sunday, February 1st, 2015 - by P. David Hornik


It turns out that Israel—which is a frontrunner in many fields including hi-tech, medicine, agriculture, defense, and others—is actually leading the world in the field of veganism.

The nearly 5 percent of Israelis who are now vegans is the highest per capita total in the world. Another 8 percent are vegetarians. This is a very dramatic rise from just four years ago, when Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics found that only 2.6 percent of Israelis were either vegetarians or vegans.

And the trend is apparently growing. The Times of Israel quotes Israeli vegan activist Omri Paz:

The makeup of the community is the biggest change…. In the past, maybe they were more spiritual, or people society viewed as a little different, a little strange. A lot of the new vegans are mainstream—vegan lawyers, vegan teachers.

The Times goes on to note:

Israeli veganism took root in secular liberal circles, but religious Israelis are joining the movement, too. Many note that the biblical Adam and Eve were vegetarians in the Garden of Eden.

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And as another report notes:

Even the IDF [Israel Defense Forces], in which most Israeli young men and women have to serve, now offers soldiers leather-free boots and a small allowance to buy themselves alternatives to the food in mess halls.

To some extent Israelis’ vegan tendency could be rooted in the kosher laws, which take meat-eating seriously and set restrictions on it.

Meanwhile, an article by Mary Eberstadt last month on National Review Online reports:

Conservative circles in Washington and New York include a growing number of…animal softies, ranging from mindful carnivores to all-the-way vegans. As the respectful treatment accorded theologian Charles Camosy’s recent book For Love of Animals goes to show, Catholic/Christian hangouts harbor fellow travelers like that too.

Eberstadt goes on to note:

within American conservatism itself, a growing coalition of newly attentive carnivores, vegetarians, and vegans is steadily acquiring new momentum. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that the freshest thinking on animal welfare these days is emanating not from the Left but rather from writers who are Christian or conservative—or both.

As both an Israeli and a conservative, I welcome both these trends. I’ve been a vegetarian for about twenty-five years, and in more recent years, a near-vegan.

The reason is simple. You’ve had dogs, or cats, or both? So you know how sensitive and emotional they are. Why would you think the cows, pigs, chickens and so on that people slaughter and eat are any different? Why put them through ordeals and death?

I used to think this didn’t apply to dairy products, since animals aren’t killed to obtain them. But modern dairy farming—like modern factory farming in general—is actually full of appalling cruelty to the animals involved.


But even if there were a sweeping reform of factory farming, and farm animals were allowed to live more or less decent lives before being subjected to “humane slaughter,” I would remain a near-vegan (and I may make it to full veganism). Should we be killing animals so we can eat their dead flesh? Is it civilized? And is it much more civilized to have a cow’s milk on my table?

I would agree that it was justified if people, like cats, needed animal products for their health. But that, of course, is not the case; there are many millions of perfectly healthy vegetarians and vegans in the world. My quarter-century of increasingly stringent vegetarianism finds me at the peak of health. And I will never forget the light, pleasant feeling I had as soon as I stopped eating meat; by now, of course, I take it for granted.

So if health isn’t the justification for meat, that leaves two others: it tastes good, and it’s what people have been doing for a long time.

Yes, I recall that it tasted good—and so do all sorts of delightful non-meat dishes, including ersatz meat products if you miss meat. Is a good taste really a reason to kill a living being?

And as for the fact that people have been eating meat for a long time, that, of course, is not a strong argument. Other “traditional” human practices have included cannibalism, human sacrifice, and slavery. Longevity is hardly a justification.

What I’m saying is best summed up by the image of a vegan soldier with non-leather boots. There is, lamentably, still a world of belligerent, murderous humans out there whom one has no choice but to fight. But by going vegetarian-vegan you link yourself with the world of peace, harmony, and respect for life, and you expand it.


image illustrations via  jorisvo /  /  / Shutterstock.com

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Why Whiskey Is Better Purchased with a Wingman

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 - by Audie Cockings

Exhibit A

When one has indoor plumbing some things are simply better purchased with a wingman. Not the proverbial “wingman,” but an oversized, fortified male accompanying the said female in procurement of goods, minimizing her mocking for sheer amusement of purveyor staff.

In my experience these purchases include fast cars, Cuban cigars in Paris (Churchills not cigarillos), and high-end spirits. Never have I been so unabashedly snickered at as when inquiring about whiskey.

It all started four years ago. My husband was having a major birthday and I desired a distinctive offering. I thought about a really ripe Cabernet Franc (his favorite) but we already had enough garnet-hued libations in the basement. Collecting red wine involved more babysitting and added expense than initially anticipated.  It’s an indulgence requiring quick consumption after opening as it begins to decline soon after. And wine has obstinate storage needs. If you have something special waiting to peak, it can easily become soured in less than ideal conditions.

A good example was the much-anticipated 2004 Merryvale Profile finally opened on our anniversary last month–an utter disappointment. The bottle had been too close to the radiant heat floor and consequently the cork dried out, allowing air to filter through. We took a sip and puckered up, promptly committing the remaining tainted wine to the crock that houses my French Mother. What a waste.

My husband is incredibly difficult to buy for and rarely gets excited about anything—the only downside to his even keel. Before he was into wine, he really enjoyed whiskey, which was at the time absent from the liquor cabinet. I began my internet search for a spirit to parallel a major birthday for such a man and came across the annual “spirit” awards (as in alcohol, not cheerleaders).

The mentioned imported whiskeys (spelled “whiskies” in Scotland, Canada and Japan) were the Scotch and Irish bottlings, Canadian and, surprisingly, some Japanese. There were several standouts, but no solitary bottle that prompted a Hallelujah. So I headed to the American offerings in which one bourbon (we’ll get to a whiskey/bourbon comparison in a sec) won seven notable awards in 2010 and a score of 97 points by Wine Enthusiast. That bottle was the 20-year Pappy Van Winkle, referred to by loyal devotees as “Pappy.”

That solitary distilled spirit commandeered recommendations and reviews from every possible venue: lowly college kids that accidentally found a bottle hiding in the local liquor store to chefs in Manhattan to bourbon gurus in Kentucky. The 20-year Pappy seemed the overwhelmingly obvious choice, and I was relieved to find my husband’s soon-to-be birthday gift.

Then came the crushing reality. I was tremendously naïve regarding process acquisition of the illusive “Pappy.” There were thousands of folks (generally men) on wait lists across the country trying to land a bottle, and no respectable liquor store in Maryland was willing to sell to some girl wanna-be whiskey connoisseur sans wingman. The fact that shipping alcohol to Maryland was illegal at the time only upped the ante.

Three weeks later the exchange took place. Within arm’s reach was not one, but two bottles of Pappy Van Winkle in trademark velvet bottle sleeves. I had managed to talk an unnamed someone out of both a 15-year and a 20-year Pappy for the agreed price of $500. My blue-collar background objected via inner dialogue but was snuffed out the second I cradled that plain brown box in my arms. I had closed on a Hail Mary, securing honorary sainthood among future generations of American wives.

Finally the day came. He opened the box, at once astonished. After putting his jaw back into place, he snapped a photo with his iPhone and off it went to his brother in Dallas, who’d been trying to get his hands on any bottle (or even just an ounce) of Pappy Van Winkle for well over a year.

That first Pappy procurement swiftly launched me into the “Wifee Hall of Fame” (his words, not mine). I’ve never seen a tough guy act so dorky. He texted photos of himself posing with his Pappy to nearly every drinking buddy he’s ever had. But my victorious endowment also created a problem… He was hooked.  The limited supply of Pappy merely tickled the scratch of increasing consumer demand in the following years.

I again called all the liquor stores who might obtain an allocation, usually one case or less, in late November. After booking my parents’ babysitting services for Pappy allocation day, the hubby and I hit every liquor store (like Bonnie and Clyde) that was expecting at least six bottles.  We went in each location separately as there was a one-bottle limit per person. At the end of the day we had four new bottles. The following year we obtained another four bottles to add to our modest collection (see exhibit B below). Pappy allocation day had become a standing date between us… like a treasure hunt for grown-ups with OCD.


Exhibit B

This past November, we were down to eight bottles and hoped to pick up two or three more. But the UPS trucks had all arrived at liquor stores with lines forming outside and the few bottles sent to each location sold immediately upon arrival. Didn’t even make it to the shelves. Other stores that were expecting a modest delivery got the big goose egg and were consequently pretty pissed off. Despite five well-managed attempts, we went home empty handed (sigh).

A few hours after returning home defeated, one of my husband’s employees called with intel regarding someone who might sell us a bottle of the Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye. When my dedicated spouse arrived at the nondescript liquor store, the 80-something owner looked him up and down, asked him a few questions and made small talk. After all, the guy wasn’t about to sell Van Winkle to a jerk (or worse, an unworthy palate). Luckily, my husband passed the interview. They had bonded over a mutual interest, hockey.

The older fellow then discreetly disclosed that he had rye in the back. My husband followed him to a room of what seemed to be boxes full of easily attainable American whiskeys. But the contents of the boxes did not correspond with their entry-level housing.

Not only did my husband secure a Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, he also came home with a unique bottling of Colonel E.H. Taylor, and the humdinger… the 18-year Sazarac Rye that I’d been trying to get a hold of for two years (see exhibit A). The Sazarac Rye had been the second most absurd request I made at local liquor stores. And it is absolutely delicious! Not nearly as angry as the Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye because the smooth toffee-like Sazarac had another five years to mellow into an uber-refined gentleman.

So, here’s a quick education on American whiskey and bourbon. There are actually laws that specify what they can be made of, what they are aged in, the temp of the fluid when entering the barrels, and how high the alcohol content must be for each. It’s a lot of info, but Maker’s Mark generated a great visual that presents the basics in a rather unconfusing manner.  I wish I would have found this back in 2010:


An unforeseen bonus to our rather tantric Pappy fixation is that it has only increased in value, nearly three-hundred percent. And, it keeps for ages, unlike the red wine stewing on our heated floors.

The Pappy purchased and opened several years ago is just as enjoyable, if not more so. And the best part? I get between twenty and twenty-five servings per bottle, under $15 for a 1oz. pour of 23-year Pappy, the brand’s flagship. In contrast, our big reds cost more per pour, offering only six servings per bottle. Buck for buck, our whiskey is by far a superior value for initial investment.

We’ve still got four ounces left of that first 20-year bottle I bought back in 2010. Those last well-loved milliliters will be finishing a long distinguished life in form of a bourbon cake in the next few weeks. I realize this is spiritual heresy, so feel free to protest should you feel led.

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This Had Better Be Some Damn Good Beer…

Friday, January 16th, 2015 - by Stephen Green


Via The Guardian:

Icelandic brewery Stedji, which is producing the beer in time for the country’s mid-winter festival, Thorri, said the Hvalur 2 beer was made with the testicles of fin whales – which are classified as endangered on the conservation Red List – smoked in a “traditional way” with dried sheep dung.

Stedji may very well be redefining “on tap.”


Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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What to Do to REALLY Upset White People at Brunch…

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015 - by Stephen Green


Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The 8 Most Ridiculous Yelp Reviews of Kosher Restaurants

Monday, December 29th, 2014 - by Bethany Mandel

Being somewhat of a foodie of the kosher variety, I find the online review service Yelp indispensable when choosing where to eat. To be fair to restaurants, Jews can be somewhat discerning (read: picky and somewhat cranky); thus no restaurant I’ve ever read the reviews of totally came off smelling like roses. The best reviews on these kosher restaurants, though, are not from Jews, but from non-Jews who accidentally stumble upon kosher restaurants and all of their quirks. To keep kosher means to abide by certain rules of the Jewish faith. For the purpose of this post, it’s only necessary to lay out those which apply in restaurants:

Milk and meat are separate: In reality, this means in a kosher restaurant they only serve meat or dairy, never both. If you order a cheeseburger in a kosher restaurant, one of the items is a “fake” — either the burger is  made of vegetables or the cheese is made of soy.

No pork or shellfish: If you’re looking for a shrimp scampi or bacon, you’ve come to the wrong place if you’ve chosen to eat in a kosher restaurant.

There are a lot of Jews: You would think this goes without saying, but in a kosher restaurant, you will find yourself among a lot of religious Jews. Observant Jews are only able to eat in kosher restaurants, which are not nearly as numerous as non-kosher; thus, when choosing a place to eat, Orthodox Jews tend to come in groups as there are few options to choose from.

1. House of Dog in Boca Raton, Florida

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It’s somewhat incredible that someone can live among so many Orthodox Jews in Boca Raton and be completely ignorant of what Orthodox Judaism is, and what it entails, but this woman has managed the impossible. I recently visited House of Dog and the menu now has small notes on it to indicate that the bacon isn’t really bacon and that the cheese isn’t really cheese. I shared this review with my husband and we laughed, wondering if the menu was altered because of people like this woman. Outside of what appears to be some latent anti-Semitism on her part, I was also confused when I first saw the House of Dog menu, wondering if it was actually kosher because cheese and bacon were listed without any clarification.

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Why Peanut Butter Is Awesome and Amazing

Friday, December 19th, 2014 - by Arlene Becker Zarmi

One of my husband ‘s favorite sandwiches is peanut butter and a pickle on rye. Elvis Presley liked his peanut butter sandwiches with banana and bacon, and Hemingway liked thick onion slices in his. Ninety-four percent of American households have a jar on hand. The stuff lasts forever, so in a nuclear war situation you can always rely on it for sustenance. It can be stored safely unrefrigerated for two years.

I, on the other hand, have a love/hate relationship with it, and if I do ever eat it, I do so in the traditional manner, as a solo spread or with its mate, jelly! At other times, I abhor the stuff and, even when scrounging around for something to eat, will bypass it.

Who invented Peanut Butter?

I had always thought that peanut butter was as American as apple pie and mom and was never eaten before we Americans took over from the British. Not true. Peanut butter was actually an Aztec dish, but eaten as a paste, not a spread. I bet they didn’t eat it with jelly either, or put it into their kids’ lunch boxes.

The modern form of peanut butter was invented by Canadian Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Montreal. According to Wikipedia, he was the first to patent peanut butter, in 1884. Peanut flour already existed. His cooled product had “a consistency like that of butter, lard, or ointment,” according to his patent application. He included the mixing of sugar into the paste in order to harden its consistency.

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