Monthly Archives: February 2014

Tip of the Hipster Spear- San Fran’s Toast Scene.

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The rich of San Francisco have found a new way to flaunt their wealth, buying artisanal toast. Bakeries and cafes in the city have been cashing in on the wealth of the resident Silicon Valley high flyers by selling gourmet toast made with ‘Josey Baker sourdough’, featuring toppings such as ‘small batch almond butter’ and ‘sour strawberry jam’.

As with much of America in the mid to late 1990’s up through the watered down Recession of 2008, there has been an upper-middle class lifestyle of consumerism, which I feel has run its course across most of this country.

However in technology rich San Francisco, home to such tech giants as Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Cisco, Ebay, Hewlett Packard and Yahoo to name a few, flaunting their wealth has been elevated to new lows. We overspend on the simplest facets of life such as artisanal toast., but wont go to a museum to admire great works of art nor to the opera house to enjoy heavy drama of Italian verismo opera.

This trend of American consumerism in San Francisco will obviously continue for a good while, does it spell the beginning of a movement, extending to other metropolitan cities? I wondered, how long before artisanal toast made it to Brooklyn, or Chicago, or Los Angeles? How long before an article appears in your local newspaper telling people all across America that they’re making toast all wrong? How long before the backlash sets in?
I felt compelled to go looking for the origins of the fancy toast trend. How does such a thing get started? What determines how far it goes? I wanted to know.
In part it all starts with the desire of having a consumer good that is better than your neighbor or your friend has. In some little way, to some people, it gives the feeling of superiority and being an expert in the field. Take audio equipment as a quick example. I live in NYC and had the opportunity to work with a high end audio shop for a short period of time. Most every customer that walked into the store could not make an accurate distinction in quality between a $2,000 system and a $8,000 system, yet the price sent the message that the latter is somehow of higher quality and therefore that much better.
The same applies to wine, bread, coffee, etc. So why do we pay more when we can’t tell the difference?
Again, in a word, we want to look smarter.

So, two slices of San Francisco toast will run you about $4.00 with no beverage. Is that a good deal when the bread is of exceptional quality? Having not tried this new era toast, I can not honestly answer that question, but if you consider the history of toast, it just seems a far fetched concept to me when the tradition of toast lies in preserving bread from going bad. So I thought to add a quick three points on toast and how inconsequential it seems to breakfast history or any meal for that matter.

A little history on toast.

>Toasting was originally used to preserve bread, with the trend for eating it spread throughout Europe by the Romans and then on to America by the British.
>The word toast comes from the Latin tostum, which means ‘something scorched.
>The first electric toasters arrived in the early 1900’s with the first pop-up toaster popping up in 1926.

I read many reviews about The Mill’s breakfast toast options. It just appears to me that if I were there for breakfast and got a black cup of coffee and a single slice of toast topped with butter and sour strawberry jam, for $6, I would still hungry.

This, San Francisco techsters, is all your fault.

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Mauvais café = Bad Coffee. But in Paris?

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Paris is a city of cafe culture, not a city of coffee culture. That may come as a shock to those who believe the refined French palate extends across the entire food and beverage spectrum. But while the sommelier is a revered position and Paris continues to be a hub for the gastronomic upper crust, more often than not you’ll find the end of your meal rounded off with an overly bitter shot made from mediocre beans.
I have a friend from Denver Colorado, who always tells me about spending some time on the French-Italian border for work. “We crossed over to France to get our croissants and went back to get our coffee. One country can’t do coffee, and the other can’t do pastries; you would think that they could get together and work it out.” I found these and other remarks so interesting I decided to check it out for myself with a little research and a planned trip to Paris this year.

Although the magazines and internet travel blogs paint a picture of bustling street side cafe’s, with a waiting list all in an effort to sit and enjoy watching the activity, or reading La Monde, while sipping on a latte is apparently not the reality. Coffee and coffee related hot beverages apparently just isn’t a French strong suit. What most patrons are ordering, the ones that have had the coffee and are apparently not satisfied are getting a beer or getting a glass of wine.

Through some of the initial poking and prodding around researching this topic, apparently in some areas of France the tide is turning specifically in the French capital, with a flood of new craft roasters and cafes that all believe in good coffee. As most of us are all too aware, the French are sensitive to change, especially in a city that’s known for its deep-rooted traditions and while this expanding coffee scene is welcomed by many, it also comes with a side of criticism. For some, local craft roast might be the sign of a city looking forward, yet for others it’s the sign of a city undergoing an irrevocable transformation in food culture.
But with such a tradition of excellence in food and culture, how could something as important as the coffee business be so sub par? Restaurants in NYC and all over the country try to make additional dollars by pushing bar beverages as well as dessert and coffee after the meal. In Paris, you’ll often find the end of your meal rounded off with an overly bitter shot made from mediocre beans.
As my friend in Colorado describes it, a classic cup of French coffee is “over perked and bitter to the taste buds”, which explains why locals love to drown their coffee in sugar. With the price of coffee being as low as it has been in years would have people believing that the coffee in Paris HAS to improve. Here is a link to a great YouTube video on the coffee market fluctuations. It was posted by a Austrian monetary think tank called the Mises Institute.

Still, that doesn’t mean that everyone likes the idea of new coffee roasters breaking into a market where the refined palates have become stuck in a quagmire of mediocrity. Some people seem to feel that although it is bad coffee, they have become used to it and as we touched on above, the French are not known for change in their beliefs. Perhaps the single largest problem is that French people have had a twenty to twenty five years heritage of dreadful coffee, and their palate is used to it which means that changing the coffee culture isn’t going to happen overnight. The chances are it is likely going to come about, one Parisian at a time.
How did French coffee get so bad in the first place?
First, it’s tied to France’s history of colonization, and secondly it has to do with larger, industrial-scale coffee companies. For a long time, coffee imported from the French colonies came in duty-free, making beans from the rest of the world more expensive. The French colonies produced mostly Robusta coffee, a cheaper bean with a stronger, harsher taste than Arabica, the other predominant coffee varietal. Because of the access to mostly Robusta beans, the French palate grew accustomed to this harsher varietal, and before coffee deregulation in the 1950s, Robusta comprised eighty percent of the French coffee market. More than sixty years later, that palate for a harsher bean still exists, and Robusta beans still account for around fifty percent of French coffee.


Foods to Avoid-The Short List

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Let me just start by saying that I am typically a believer in moderation when it comes to eating, unless it is a favorite dish of mine. In the pantry in my house there are foods, snack items more specifically that I purchase for entertaining guests and are off-limits for me.

The items on this list represent the latter. They are not evil. And your child certainly won’t be harmed by the occasional serving. But it’s still best to limit their consumption to rare situations.  

Here are some foods that all people and specifically our children should avoid:

Microwave popcorn.
Up until about five years ago, I had never even heard of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA. It’s the chemical used to line the bags of microwave popcorn that catch on fire. And while I’m a big fan of keeping flaming microwaves at bay, I’m alarmed by the fact that PFOA has been linked to cancer, postponed puberty, and high cholesterol in kids. Not to mention the chemicals that are used to get that “imitation butter” flavor so often found on microwave popcorn.

Processed Meats
Hot dogs, bologna, SPAM, and other forms of processed meats may sound like kid-friendly foods, but they are loaded with fat, nitrates, sodium and preservatives all things that are very unfriendly for kids. These foods have also been found to increase a kid’s risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer. If your kids love lunch meats, opt for preservative-free varieties whenever possible. Or make your own by thinly slicing chicken or turkey at home.

Canned tomatoes.
OK, this one may surprise you. But by now you’ve probably heard all about BPA, or bisphenol-A, the chemical additive found in everything from soft plastics to cash register receipts, to canned foods. The natural acidity of tomatoes means that even more BPA is leached out of cans when tomatoes are inside. BPA has been linked to childhood obesity, asthma, reproductive changes, thyroid dysfunction,diabetes, and liver problems. Bottom line: it’s a chemical you want to avoid whenever possible.  

Kids’ yogurt.
Yogurt is a wonderfully healthy food for kids. Kids’ yogurt not so much. That’s because it’s so loaded with artificial colors and sugar that it negates any health benefits the original food might contain. But that doesn’t mean you need to forgo yogurt altogether. Just buy the plain variety and sweeten it with frozen fruit, raisins, or honey.

Sports drinks.
Unless your kids are exercising heavily on a hot day, there really is no need for them to drink sports drinks. Experts say doing so may make them even less likely to choose water at other times of day because it will taste so bland in comparison. If they are thirsty, offer water. And for a great post-soccer game recovery drink, try chocolate milk, it has the perfect blend of carbohydrates and protein to help little bodies repair and replenish.

Sugary cereals.
There is no aisle more appealing to kids than the cereal aisle. With its rainbow of colors and variety of cartoon characters, sugary kids cereals are probably some of the most begged for foods in the supermarket. But don’t fall for labeling that claims these foods are “whole grain” or contain “extra fiber.”Brightly colored bit of oats or rice are not healthy, and no amount of sprayed on vitamins or extra fiber will make them so. In a recent analysis, Consumer Reports found that only Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, Kix and Life were low enough in sugar and high enough in fiber to be considered good foods for kids.