Marketing Metastasis

It All Started with Coca Cola

In 1985, the Coca Cola Company came out with New Coke, which never really took off. To recover from their gaffe, they decided to keep the old formula as Coca Cola Classic. In the process, they discovered that taking over more shelf space with other products bearing the Coke logo was a win-win for the Corporation. So now today you can buy Coke with exclusive new chicken liver flavor, with crushed pretzels, with overtones of sulfuric acid, and with extra corn syrup.

At the same time, all the other old brands have similarly metastasized. Ritz Crackers. Doritos. Ocean Spray. Reese’s. Cheez-It. Cheetos. Triscuit. The list goes on and on. Note, however, that the brands involved in multiplying themselves are products with a long shelf life. You can’t achieve the same success with celery, parsley, Gravenstein apples, or dragon fruit.

When I had to buy some Ocean Spray cranberry juice a couple of weeks ago (it’s good if you have a urinary tract infection), I had a hard time find just plain original cranberry juice. Needless to say, I was not swayed by the new Clam*Berry flavor or the one with sauerkraut flavoring added.

I suppose the idea is to make smaller brands scared by the multiplicity of variations—though what happens when you run out of all the popular variants?

Even Trader Joe’s has gotten into the act, with a kind of dill pickle flavored popcorn. It really wasn’t very good.

At some point, a lot of these *NEW* flavors will be duds. Then maybe we won’t be presented with so many weird options.

A Modest FODMAP Success

Here’s the Skinny on What You Must Avoid If You Have IBS

Although Martine keeps telling me not to worry about cooking for her, I feel challenged by the difficulty of preparing a meal that she can eat without triggering her IBS. So I made a ground sirloin and fusilli dish with celery, sweet red pepper, Chinese eggplant, fresh tomatoes, and tomato sauce with basil.

Missing were onions and garlic, which are two baddies. I naturally thought that without onions, the dish would be as yucky as last week’s ghastly FODMAP stew, consisting of ingredients that just didn’t belong with one another. I actually didn’t miss the onions, and I added garlic powder to my portion.

The big surprise was the quinoa pasta that actually tasted pretty good. I’ve had quinoa soup in Peru and Ecuador and liked it. This pasts contained no wheat or rice or corn, yet it was acceptable.

I can’t guarantee that all my FODMAP cookery will please Martine. At least, it shouldn’t disgust either of us.

The FODMAP Follies

Big No-Nos on the FODMAP Regimen

With the very best intentions in mind, I tried to prepare a beef and vegetable stir-fry for Martine as a first attempt at creating a FODMAP-free dish. It consisted of shredded beef, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, and a yam. But no onions, garlic, or chiles to give it flavor.

Never before had I cooked a dish that I didn’t want to taste. For myself, I just had buttered corn on the cob, while Martine bravely confronted the tasteless muck I prepared for her. I called it FODMAP Stew. I will never make it again.

I realize now that seasonings are important in a dish with multiple ingredients, and that the best seasonings are expressly forbidden.

I think that in future, when Martine needs to adhere to this regimen, she should have a piece of meat (most are OK) plus a steamed vegetable, such as carrots, squash, and some rare Himalayan herb that can only be found on the northern slope of Mount Everest.

If you haven’t read yesterday’s post, which explains what this is all about, I urge you to click here.

How I Like Them Apples

Bags of Apples from Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, VT

The best apples I ever ate were from Vermont and New Hampshire. Sorry, Washington State, but you’re a distant third. I remember when Martine and I went to New England and Quebec in September 2012. We flew to Boston, rented a car in Salem, and drove to Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, where we bought several bags of apples. I swear that for the next three weeks, our car smelled of the tangy Vermont apples.

As good, when we could find it, was unpasteurized apple cider from Vermont and New Hampshire. The pasteurized stuff is just like supermarket apple juice—a big yuck!—whereas the unpasteurized stuff had a tang and a bite that went down well. We indulged at the cost of diarrhea during the early part of our trip, but it was worth it.

We hoped to find good apples in Quebec, but we were sorely disappointed. I guess there’s something about the soil of the Connecticut River valley that separates Vermont from New Hampshire that makes for great apples.

I dream of going back and spending more time in Northern New England.

The Only Way To Be a Vegetarian

Chick Pea and Spinach Pilau

I am a frustrated vegetarian, mostly because Martine wants me to cook more meat dishes. But every once in a while, such as when her irritable bowel syndrome acts up, I will prepare for myself a vegetarian curry dish redolent with chiles and other spices.

Why do most people become vegetarians? I suspect the answer is that they feel a certain Yuck Factor when it comes to meat. At that point, they usually turn to the boringly bland and unimaginative diet that seems to characterize many Americans. I’m talking about lots of salad (which Martine calls “rabbit food”) and plant-based meat imitations.

To me, it makes more sense to use an existing vegetarian cuisine which is flavorful and exciting. That describes Indian cooking to a tee. I like food that is rich with layers of flavor. Coming from a Hungarian background, I find most bland food more than slightly offensive, as if no one cared to make it good.

When I visit Latin America, I have no trouble settling into a comfortable routine of vegetarian food and my one meat craving, fresh seafood. I remember an octopus ceviche in Progreso, Yucatán, and a filete de pescado Veracruzana in Champotón that sent me into ecstasy.

In Ecuador, I fell in love with the soups, particularly an avocado-based soup in Quito and an egg soup in Cuenca. Insofar as salads are concerned, in Latin America I love the fruit salads.

The Quarantine Makes Us Boring

An Empty Restaurant

Things being as they are, I have a hard time thinking of interesting things to write. During the quarantine, I am involved primarily in four activities: food shopping, cooking, reading, and film viewing. There isn’t much I can write about food shopping and cooking, primarily because of Martine’s irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), most of what I cook is pretty bland. When I cook a dish for myself, I tend to go crazy with spices and chiles—because I can!

I would love to write more about places that I have visited recently. Except I have not visited many places recently. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Restaurants are usually closed, and the weather does not encourage picnicking.
  2. If you have to go to the bathroom, you pretty much have to buy gasoline.

I’d love to go driving in the local deserts, but I am uncertain as to filling these two basic needs which all travelers have. Let’s say I want to go to Boron, California, home of the Twenty-Mule-Team Museum. Not only is the museum closed, but I have no idea where I can get food locally, and whether the local restaurants are serving diners outdoors. There is just too much uncertainty.

Sometime this February, I will pay another visit to my brother in Palm Desert. My last visit there was at the end of October. There are some places we can go, and he knows which local restaurants are serving food. (Though the best food there is likely to be cooked by my brother.) To be sure, I will take my camera and try to find some places I can write about.

Until then, you will hear more about my reading and film viewing.

Meals To Go

It Looks So Good in the Photographs, But …

I know that people are being urged to have restaurant meals delivered during the quarantine, and I know that restaurants have to survive somehow, but it’s just not the same. When the food is delivered, it is by someone who is not associated with the restaurant and does not care in the slightest what you think of the meal. Even if you pick up yourself, you seem to be one remove farther away from the person who assembled the meal.

Yes, that’s it! The food is merely assembled, and it is not the same high quality it was when you ate at the restaurant. And the food is usually assembled in a slipshod manner emphasizing speed over taste or looks.

Today I had a Japanese meal of pork gyoza with chashu rice rolls. I couldn’t finish it, as it had an off taste. Oh, it was prepared quickly all right, but I have no intention of ever going back there.

A secondary problem is that every take-out or delivered meal comes with a ton of plastic waste. If Martine and I ate that way on a regular basis, we would not only be spending a fortune, but having to take out our garbage every other day rather than twice a week when I prepare food at home myself.

No doubt there are outstanding exceptions among L.A. restaurants. When doing take-out, however, I am confined to the restaurants in my West L.A. neighborhood.

Masque of the Red Death

Death Is Stalking the Land in Roger Corman’s Masque of the Red Death

I cannot help but feel that Covid-19 is inching ever closer. The son of one of my friends probably has it; and all the holiday socializing that has been going on is leading to a crisis in Los Angeles. Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times had a headline in which paramedics can refuse to pick up a patient if he or she appears to be near death in their judgment. Emergency rooms and intensive care units are packed to overflowing such that local hospitals are casting about for hallways, chapels, and other rooms in which to deposit patients. And hospital morgues are overflowing with the dead.

Tomorrow, I was planning to ride the train downtown to return some library books. With the coronavirus news becoming worse day by day, I will wait two or three weeks until the maskless fools who have been socializing during the Christmas and New Years holidays come down with the virus and isolate themselves.

Because of their behavior during this outbreak, I am becoming reluctant to associate with young people in any capacity. I have numerous preexisting conditions that make me a prime target for the Red Death. Thankfully, all the young people in my family live out of town.

Instead of going downtown, I’ll take a walk to Bay City Imports in Santa Monica to get ingredients for a Calabrian Chile Pasta dish that looks interesting. As long as this outbreak lasts, I will be intent on working on my cooking skills. I know I’ll never catch up to my brother in this regard, so I’ll just have to reconcile myself with accepting second place in a family of two.

Breakfast

My Favorite Meal of the Day? Breakfast!

I have written in the past about my love of Indian black tea, hot and iced. Even in the heat of summer, I love to start the day with a pot of Darjeeling, Assam, or Ceylon—or my personal blend of same. In the picture above, you can see my cheap Japanese metal teapot, which has an insert for the loose tea leaves so they don’t end of floating in my cup.

Of late, I have drunk my breakfast tea with either mesquite or desert wildflower honey, and a squeeze of fresh lime.

Accompanying it is usually one of the following:

  • Quesadillas with pickled rajas de jalapeño chiles
  • Huevos à la Mexicana: Scrambled eggs with chopped onions, garlic, serrano chiles, and (when available) tomatillos
  • Toasted English muffin with melted cheddar cheese and Indian red chile powder
  • Slices of cheese with crackers, the type of cheese varying with the season
  • Jimmy Dean’s frozen biscuits with sausage
  • Steel-cut oatmeal with dried cranberries or cherries and a dash of maple syrup
  • Hominy grits cooked with a chicken bouillon cube with butter, sausage, and fresh ground pepper
  • Sourdough toast with butter and garlic (for when I have a sore throat)

I would love to have grapefruit, but, like many men of my age, I am on Lipitor (generic Atorvastatin) to reduce cholesterol. It doesn’t work when you eat grapefruit.

Accompanying breakfast is my home-delivered copy of the Los Angeles Times. I scan the national, international, and local news, but spend most of my time with the puzzles and comics page.

When I have a good breakfast—and I usually do—the rest of the day starts of on a good footing.

Ceviche

Ceviche de Pescado con Limon

My last meal in Mérida before returning to the U.S. was at a grungy little seafood dive on Calle 62 called the Blue Marlin (Marlin Azul). It was a raw fish dish called ceviche de pescado that is “cooked” with the addition of fresh lime juice. Also it contains cut-up tomatoes, chiles, and cilantro. It is served cold and is an ideal lunch dish.

In Progreso, a few days earlier, I had a ceviche de pulpo made with the same ingredients, except that octopus replaces the fish. I was in hog heaven.

Actually the seafood dish I ate the most in Yucatán this last trip was filete de pescado veracruzana. It was a grilled filet of fish in a tomato sauce with onions, olives, and capers. I never got tired of it, especially when I was near the sea and knew that the fish was super fresh.

During this awful coronavirus outbreak, I dream of traveling by bus between various seaport cities in Baja California and living on fish tacos and other local specialties.

Baja Style Fish Tacos

When I was growing up in Cleveland, I didn’t think much of fish. Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes, was for all intents and purposes a body of water noted for dead fish floating on its surface. I have had some good seafood in Los Angeles, but avoid shrimp and lobster, as I seem to be allergic to them—possibly because of the pollution of the Pacific Ocean around the coast of Southern California.

Traveling to places like Iceland or Mexico where the seafood is so fresh and interesting makes me dream of travel again. Sigh.