I am an inveterate honey lover. I’ve written about comb honey and chestnut honey, but one of my favorites is forest honey.
Unlike regular honeys which are manufactured by bees with collected nectar from flowers, forest honey is made from honeydew, excreted by sap-sucking insects. In short, aphid poop.
While it might be off-putting to think of eating the excrement of bugs, otherwise known as frass, honeydew is in a separate category. And are honey-lovers any more disgusted by the thought of eating bee vomit?
Wikipedia describes Forest Honey thus:
Instead of taking nectar, bees can take honeydew, the sweet secretions of aphids or other plant-sap-sucking insects. Honeydew honey is very dark brown, with a rich fragrance of stewed fruit or fig jam, and is not as sweet as nectar honeys. Germany’s Black Forest is a well-known source of honeydew-based honeys, as are some regions in Bulgaria, Tara in Serbia, and Northern California in the United States. In Greece pine honey, a type of honeydew honey, constitutes 60–65% of honey production. Honeydew honey is popular in some areas, but in other areas, beekeepers have difficulty selling honeydew honey, due to its stronger flavor.
Taco Bell’s new Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco is “not quite a sandwich, not quite a taco,” the Yum! Brands, Inc. subsidiary said. The taco features all-white meat crispy chicken marinated in jalapeño buttermilk, seasoned with Mexican spices and rolled in a crunchy tortilla chip coating. The chicken is served on a warm flatbread folded into a taco form and flavored with Taco Bell’s creamy chipotle sauce. The taco may be ordered regular or spicy with the addition of crunchy jalapeño slices.
I love chicken sandwiches, and I’ve long enjoyed Chick-fil-A’s offering but I’m not in favor of their social policies, so I’ve kept my antenna up for alternatives. Apparently Popeye’s has a relatively good one, but we live in the northeast so I’m out of luck until I can manage to get south of the Mason-Dixon line.
So when Taco Bell started offering these, I had to try one. We went twice, and my wife liked hers; then we went to another location and this is what happened:
I ordered from their online menu and customized the item with tomatoes and onions – but what I got was light-years from what they advertised. Instead of a puffy flatbread, they used a standard flour tortilla, and instead of three chicken tenders, there was only one, with a piddling amount of plain cheese sauce. Bitterly disappointed, to say the least.
Next time I swung past Taco Bell, I noticed that the item had vanished from the menu. If franchises were having difficulty consistently preparing this item in a satisfactory manner, it’s no wonder they pulled it. According to a Taco Bell spokesperson,
“The Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco was a limited time menu offering. Innovation is core to Taco Bell and offering some menu items as limited time offers allows room on menus for even more new, craveable creations for fans. Like all great limited time menu items from Taco Bell, there’s always a chance we can see it return to menus.”
If they bring it back, they are going to have to make sure their stores can get the right ingredients and know how to prepare it properly, or else this will happen with greater frequency, the result of a little feedback to Corporate Headquarters:
Don’t get me wrong, I know that fast food is a challenging business, and consistency and quality across franchises can be a bedeviling task – but it’s probably one of the most important thing any national chain can focus on.
I still love Taco Bell for a fast, cheap, filling, and tasty meal. And it’s not like they haven’t weathered storms before.
This post is cobbled together from a couple of different entries at my Livejournal back in 2009
Leigh Callaway, wherever you are, I owe you dinner.¹
The year was 1965, I was 14, and it was my senior year at Camp Wildwood in Bridgton, Maine.²
In this my 4th year at camp, the pinnacle of the year was, prophetically, travel. I sucked at team sports – still do – but loved traveling, camping, the woods and individual challenges; in short, I lived for tripping. Not that kind. Shut up.
My yearbook blurb quoted, “However unorganized his body of knowledge may be, he still is a source of many bits of information and despite his mere 85 lb. bulk, was one of our most energetic and determined trippers.” By the dessicated skull of Mogg’s grandfather, how prophetic was that?
After a 5-day canoe trip to Rangeley Lake early in the summer, six of us, accompanied by several counselors, took another 5-day trip in canoes from Lobster Lake down the Penobscot River to Chesuncook Lake in Maine. It was a trip never to be forgotten.
What does all this have to do with Tabasco Sauce? Hush. We’ll get to that.
The year, as I mentioned, was 1965, and inland Maine was still pretty untouched in most places. It was five days of canoeing, camping, 20 miles of river, camping, 4 miles of rapids, camping, portages, camping, woods, camping, absolutely glacial pools and waterfalls which we reveled in as a test of manhood, more camping, and breathtaking scenery.
Are you starting to see a pattern?
When you camp, you cook whatever you have along. That means a lot of dehydrated chicken soup and noodles carbonara and canned stuff and interesting stuff and things you might never fix at home.
One of the counsellors that accompanied us on this trip was a young man named Leigh Callaway.
Now to a 14-year-old, all our counselors were ageless. If they were counselors, they were adults – so I can’t tell you how old he was at the time, but he was probably not much more than a kid himself. So all I can tell you about him was that he was extremely kind to me (huge points!) and had a BMW motorcycle (more huge points), and that I worshiped the ground he walked on. And he could cook.
One night, whether out of inventiveness or desperation, Leigh fried up a huge cast-iron skillet full of rice until the grains were golden brown, and then filled the pan with water. When the rice was cooked soft, he threw in a can of tuna or three, sauteed it up a bit longer, and then seasoned the whole thing with Tabasco™. Lots and lots of Tabasco™.
Now my mother, bless her soul, took me to many ethnic restaurants in New York while I was young, and one of our favorites was this little Aztec-Mexican hole in the wall called Xochitl.³ They had a hot sauce there that would rival much of what Blair offers (certainly not their 16-million scoville pure capsaicin insanity, but highly effective nonetheless.) I remember that a tiny drop of this stuff on a toothpick, applied to the tongue, was enough to bring tears to the eyes. So I was no stranger to odd and savory foods. (Hm. How that I’m thinking of it, perhaps I should give Mom some credit at my Banquet from Hell.) That said, cooking at home was pretty basic meat-and-potatoes fare, and there wasn’t a lot of exotic stuff around, so I had never used Tabasco™ before.
Well, anyway. When you’ve been paddling a canoe for 12 hours, and you’re exhausted and starving, it doesn’t matter much what’s on the fire. I think if Leigh had fried up a beaver tail, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. As it was, we had fried rice and tuna with Tabasco™ – and I tucked in like a trencherman. Mogg’s teeth – it was so good. It would be easy to say that my enjoyment was born of famine, but given that I have prepared this concoction and many others like it many times in my life thereafter, I can discount that theory. Simply put, I was hooked on Tabasco™.
Now, I like Frank’s Original Red Hot too – it’s got a nice flavor, and I always keep a bottle of it handy, but there’s something about Tabasco™ that just can’t be matched.⁴ Yes, I’m well and truly addicted.
So Leigh, wherever you are, know that you made a huge impression on me that summer, and your influence is still being felt *mops brow* 44 years later.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
PS – I still remember the taste of black coffee sweetened with maple syrup, too…
¹ Leigh, bless his heart, saw this post and actually responded with a bit of information about his subsequent experiences. He recommended that since I loved Tabasco I should try Sambal Oelek, an Indonesian chili paste that apparently puts Sriracha to shame. I was grateful for the recommendation, but would have loved some hint about how to contact him. Which he did not provide, the rascal. I would have loved to renew the acquaintance and catch up in person.
² Camp Wildwood is a superb boys’ camp run – at the time – by Leo Mayer and Ed Hartman, which is still operating in Bridgton, Maine, although it has passed through other owners since then.
³ Another one was “La Fonda del Sol”, a very upscale place which I loved eating at. Now gone. *snif* But there are some memories here.
⁴ In fact, as I was typing my earlier post at Livejournal and thinking about a nice dish of fettucine with tuna and hot sauce, my ears were burning and I was experiencing all the symptoms of a good solid capsaicin flush. Which confirmed my theory. I love hot food; there’s nothing like a good capsaicin burn. The last two times I had prepared spicy foods, though, I had a very unusual experience – the flush to the face began as soon as I had opened the bottle of hot sauce – and hadn’t even eaten it yet. The first time it happened, I thought I was “imagining things.” But it happened again… as I was liberally lacing some burritos with Tabasco, I started getting the burning and vascular dilation that I always experience with certain peppers – very much like a Niacin flush, if you’ve ever experienced that. And, what’s even stranger, I experienced a repeat as I typed this. Just thinking about it was sufficient to recall the physiological response.
Now that’s just weird. Maybe if I salivate enough, I can get my doorbell to ring.
This post is taken from a series of tweets by Dr. Sarah Taber (@SarahTaber_bww). I’ve collected the tweets, edited them for clarity and brevity (sometime abbreviations help you meet Twitter’s length limit), and bowdlerized them just a bit for a family-friendly audience. If you don’t mind a bit of language, you can, of course, view the original thread here.
Most “ugly” produce gets turned into soups, sauces, salsa, jam, ice cream, etc. You think that stuff gets made from the pretty fruit and veggies?! Jeebus, think about it for a minute.
The amount of produce wasted because of labor problems (can’t get a crew to harvest) and bad weather (melons that rot in the field because it’s too hot and wet, etc) WAY outstrips produce thrown out because it’s “ugly.”
Because again… we eat a LOT ugly produce. You just wouldn’t know it because it’s salsa.
As someone who works in produce, this whole “ugly fruit” movement is actually kind of enraging because it’s completely disconnected from what really happens in the supply chain. It’s a big honkin’ wad of fraud that self-promoting foodies get away with because nobody knows better.
After it leaves the farm, most produce goes to a packinghouse. This is where they cool, wash, sort, and package it. In other words, it’s where the ugly fruit people think all this “waste” is happening.
he only time packinghouses throw out fruit is when IT’S ACTUALLY INEDIBLE. Like it’s either rotten or (in the case of one watermelon field that one time) it had rained so hard that the melons filled up with water and were completely tasteless. Also about to explode.
Produce gets graded by size, prettiness, and (sometimes) flavor/eating quality.
Know what happens to most of the produce that’s edible, has enough shape to survive in transit, but looks funny?
IT GOES TO THE GROCERY STORES THAT POOR PEOPLE SHOP AT.
In the broke times of my life I did not shop at farmers’ markets, because they’re at bizarre times when working class people are usually working or sleeping (late service sector nights = no 7 AM Saturday farmer’s market for you). Farmer’s Markets are built around the “9 to 5” white-collar schedule.
Most of your real poor people, when buying produce, get it from shops white collar people don’t go to.
Those shops stock ugly produce.
[The shops] that white collar people don’t go to. Then conclude, looking at their nice stores stocked with pretty No. 1 produce, that nobody’s eating the ugly stuff.
So there’s one beef. The “eat ugly fruit!” movement is as classist as it comes. You’ve got to have a debilitating level of ignorance to assume that if Whole Paycheck Market doesn’t stock ugly fruit, it must be getting “wasted.”
Back to the packinghouse. When produce is EXTREMELY UGLY, it goes into cull bins.
My fave cull bins to date:
Sweet potatoes. Did you know that they make a *lot* of giant, freaky-shaped spuds? Like a rat king of sweet potatoes, somewhere between football and basketball sized. What happens to these ugly, unloved sweet potatoes? OH WAIT THEY GET LOVED, THAT’S WHERE EVER-LOVIN’ SWEET POTATO FRIES COME FROM!
Apples. We love to say we don’t mind “spots on our apples,” but actual sales data tells us we really, really do. And honestly, we should. Even “cosmetic” lesions can make micro-breaks in the apple’s skin, allowing fungus to enter. One rotten apple, barrel, etc. Fugly apples ARE WHERE APPLE JUICE AND APPLE SAUCE AND APPLE CIDER AND APPLE BUTTER AND APPLE JELLY AND APPLE PIE COME FROM! “Wasted” my eye.
“But some apple variety are better for fresh eating, not processing!” D’ya think Hy-Vee brand apple juice from concentrate really cares at all that today’s shipment of cheap juicing-grade apples are not The Optimal For Juicing?
NO THEY’RE GONNA JUICE THAT STUFF!
Did you know: Honeycrisp apples are extra prone to a mostly-cosmetic skin defect called bitter pit?
Ergo, most Honeycrisp apples become apple juice. That’s why whole, fresh, pretty Honeycrisp apples cost so fricken’ much.
Because most of them become cheap bulk juicers.
Yes, every once in a while you’ll run into a variety of produce that only really works for fresh and doesn’t lend well to processing. This mostly happens with leafy greens (we don’t make … lettuce sauce), which is such a minuscule amount of the produce tonnage grown per year.
When produce is too far gone to sell and there’s no processing market (say, melons), it often gets fed to livestock.
That’s… actually a lot of the point of livestock, historically. They eat stuff we can’t and turn it into meat, milk, and eggs that we can.
Feeding crop and food waste to livestock also means we’re not having to use as much livestock-only cropland. Just assume that most years a certain percentage of human food crops will get messed up and become livestock feed, and that’s less pasture/grain land needed for livestock.
That Listeria outbreak in cantaloupe back in 2011? As best we can tell it happened because they fed ugly melons to cattle.
Which, in itself, is fine.
The problem is they kept driving the truck back into the cantaloupe shed AFTER getting its tires caked in cow poop during deliveries.
This whole “ugly fruit! uwu”¹ thing is bewildering because in order to believe that retail consumers can change the world by buying ugly fruit, you have to believe that the entire supply chain is made of numpties² who make a regular habit of leaving money on the table.
The food system is a hot mess but using ugly produce is one thing it’s actually really good at. Using every single part of what’s grown, if there’s any possible way to sell it.³
The one big source of food waste that I do worry about is crops that are perfectly good, and rot in the field because the farm can’t get anybody to harvest them. (Orrrrr they don’t want to pay enough for people to come harvest them.)
These labor shortages come down to 2 things:
Bad immigration policy
Farm business models that can’t survive a competitive labor market
(which kinda tends to feed back into that first one)
We SHOULD be worried about THAT. And “buy ugly fruit!” does virtually nothing to address it.
But those aren’t fun problems to fix, because they’re not the kinds of problems that the everyman consumer can fix by just making a simple yes/no choice in the supermarket.
They’re like … systemic or something.
Anyway, that’s my semiweekly grinching about shallow attempts to reform the food system that completely miss the point and at this point the ugly fruit thing is such an accepted belief that. like. you can’t even blame people for believing it, it’s absolutely everywhere.
I originally saw this posted on Facebook. What follows are some comments from a friend of mine who spent his entire career as an agricultural consultant and extension agent for a large midwestern university. I thought these contributed to the discussion.
Story 1: In college, I spent a couple of years in Cooperative Education working as a USDA fruit and vegetable inspector. My job was to examine a shipment of produce, pass or fail it on both cosmetic issues as well as actual decay. After the receiving company got his money back from the shipper (thanks to my report), he’d then sell the produce for top dollar. And I watched how the ugly produce would be separated and sold to organic food coops (because “that’s what organic produce looks like”…mind you, this was back in 1980, when organics were not regulated). I remember one case where we went to a pickle factory outside of Boston. The load of cucumbers came in with over 50% rotted. Have you ever seen a rotted cucumber? It’s basically a green water balloon…touch it and it explodes. After we finished the inspection, we sat in the receiver’s office while he negotiated with the shipper. After he got almost all of his money back, he hits the intercom and says “OK, run them!”. About 10 tons of rotted, slimy, water-balloon cucumbers were dumped into the pickle juice. It was nearly 10 years before I could eat pickles again.
Story 2: Early in my career with Extension, I had a farmer in southern Indiana who wanted to start an organic apple orchard. He was extremely well-educated, knew a heck of a lot more about apples and apple pests than I did. He fought this for 7 years before giving up. Because in the humid Ohio River Valley, you MUST use fungicides to prevent fungus diseases, or every fruit will develop unsellable spots. His entire crop, year after year, was only good for cider. And you cannot make a living growing cider grade apples. You MUST have a high percentage of US Number 1 apples that the fresh-eating public buys. And despite what all of my organic-gardener friends tell me…if you put out two bins of apples: 1 bin with perfect-looking fruits that are labelled “sprayed every week all season long” and 1 bin with spotted apples labelled “organic,” the sprayed bin will always be bought out quickly. Always.
Story 3: When younger, I took my kids to my local strawberry farmer for U-Pick berry picking. And I watched as the general public would only pick the biggest and most perfect berries. They would leave unpicked the smaller berries (which actually are sweeter than the big ones); they would leave the misshapen ones. And that’s if they were being generous…because the farmer could always pay his workers to go back over the field and pick the skipped-over fruit. But no…the public would pick the less-than-perfect fruit, and toss it or smash it because it wasn’t good enough for them. And that is waste.
¹ “UwU” is an alphabetic emoji representing a cute or smug face. You might see it as this:
² British for “morons.”
³ Just recently I saw this ad show up on my Facebook wall:
The numbers have changed a bit since 𝑁𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑇𝑜𝑛𝑔𝑢𝑒𝑠 was published by Charles Berlitz in 1982, but the principle remains sound.
Among the several thousand world languages, only 101 count over 1 million speakers. Of these, the fourteen most important in number of speakers are, in approximate order:
Chinese English Hindi/Urdu Russian Spanish Japanese German Indonesian Portuguese French Arabic Bengali Malay Italian
All of these have at least 50 million speakers, including dialects. Chinese is definitely the number-one language, with almost 1 billion speakers. English, second by several lengths—with approximately 300 million native speakers is nevertheless much more widely spoken over the world’s surface than Chinese. Perhaps 200 million additional speakers around the globe use English as a second language.
Since most of the world’s population either speaks or is familiar with one of the fourteen languages listed above, or with one of three other widely spoken languages—Dutch, Greek, Swahili-or with a language in either the Scandinavian, the Turkic, or the Slavic group, it is possible for an individual with the time and inclination to be able to communicate with the great majority of the inhabitants of this planet by learning to speak these 20 languages.
Berlitz, Charles, Native Tongues, 1982, Grosset and Dunlap
It’s an interesting concept for someone who might want to travel the world and speak to just about anyone.
I regret that the days ahead are fewer than those behind; I would need another lifetime to master all 20 of these, but I have attained conversational facility in English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian and I have made progress in Japanese, Mandarin, and Arabic, along with a bunch of others not on this list like Irish, Norwegian, Croatian, Farsi, and Hebrew.
Some people have great musical skills. Others can do artwork that will knock your eyes out. Or write captivating stories, or all sorts of talents. This one is mine; I’m neither boasting nor do I apologize, and I’m not even a hyperglot like so many others in history. Learning languages was a career, (that’s where the little bit of profit comes in) and also became a hobby. For me, it’s sheer enjoyment.
Q: What do you call a person who speaks three languages? A: Trilingual Q: What do you call a person who speaks two languages? A: Bilingual Q: What do you call a person who speaks one language? A: American
I can’t count the number of times while traveling for work or enjoyment that I encountered people who were delighted that an American would take the trouble to learn a bit of their language. It has generated more goodwill than I could describe.¹ Even a few phrases will usually get a smile.
There is, on that note, one other way to get the natives of another country to like you: Enjoy their food. That’s a subject for another essay, but I can share that my stock in the books of the good people of Kinshasa rose precipitously when the learned that I thoroughly enjoyed their fufu, plantains fried in red palm oil, and chicken moambe.
If you’re going to travel, make the effort. Even a rudimentary effort will pay large dividends. For ease of acquisition, [and I’m not a paid shill] I recommend the Pimsleur courses, many of which are available through local libraries. Listen at home, or in your car, or in the great outdoors and by the end of 10 lessons (or 30, for more popular languages) you’ll have a feel for the language and be able to produce and understand some common useful phrases. Another useful site is Omniglot, and there are some great apps out there – Duolinguo is very popular.
Just do it.
Il vecchio lupo ha parlato.
¹ Note: In Paris it doesn’t matter how well you speak French, they’ll be rude to you anyway.
“In 2004, [Kellog’s Korea] advertised a public vote for a new product: chocolate-flavored Cheki or green onion-flavored Chaka.” (AP)
Cheki won, but per the article there was a vote-stuffing scandal. Now, the injustice has been corrected.
And as odd as it might sound to people who don’t know me, I think I would eat these. It’s a darn shame that unique things like Pepsi-flavored Cheetos™ only surface in the Far East (a big-hearted colleague of mine sent me a couple of bags from Japan, I thought they were awesome); if I were richer than God I think I’d hop a plane to Japan every month just to gather up new bits of strangeness to try. (But not until there’s an effective vaccine for Covid19.)
Sadly, by the time I can afford a trip to Korea and the health crisis has passed, these will probably be gone – limited time offering and all that. But if I ever get over there, I’m sure there will be a host of other bizarre foods that I can sample.
Inspired by a facebook post from a friend of mine, a translator and long-time resident of Japan.
Disclaimer: I’ve been teetotal since 1969 and have no personal experience of sake, other than it smells divine to me. If I were a drinker, I would love to sample sake in all its many permutations.
One thing to note: the Japanese word sake (酒) encompasses all types of liquor. The official word for the fermented rice wine that is under consideration here is 日本酒 (nihonshu), literally “Japanese liquor.”
One of the charms of Japanese sake is that it can be tasted at a wide range of temperatures, from cold to warm. In fact, sake changes its fragrance and taste depending on the temperature. For example, when cooled, the fragrance becomes gorgeous, and the mouth feel becomes sharp. In addition, the umami¹ becomes lighter and the alcoholic sensation may be less. On the other hand, warming spreads the scent, makes the mouth feel mellow, increases umami, and spreads the sweetness. In this way, the same liquor has completely different aromas and flavors depending on the temperature. If you understand this, you will be able to know at what temperature to drink depending on the type of sake.
The above screen capture shows the various temperatures at which sake can be served. From the same Japanese website linked above, a key to understanding:
Other charts include other temperatures, and there may be still more that I’m not aware of:
-10° C (-10° F) 霙 mizore (sleet cold)
A simple search on the internet for facts about sake will turn up encyclopedic volumes of information, guides, suggestions, and opinions about the various kinds of sake, how they are to be served, what rituals to observe and in what circumstances, what temperature they are best enjoyed at, which foods various kinds of sake should be served with, and on and on to the lemniscate – clearly the oenophiles and beer afficionados have their enthusiastic Japanese counterparts.
For myself, I won’t be able to explore all of these wondrous variations in this life, but if you can, I hope that you find great joy in the exploration.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
¹umami is often referred to as the “fifth taste,” along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Meaning essentially “savoriness” in Japanese, according to Merriam-Webster, “umami can be experienced in foods such as mushrooms, anchovies, and mature cheeses, as well as in foods enhanced with monosodium glutamate, or MSG, a sodium salt derived from glutamic acid.”
I touched upon brand imitation in a previous post, but a recent image posted on Facebook by an acquaintance of mine made me want to revisit one such example in detail.
While Wikipedia relates many details about the brand and its history, apparently the original owners failed to trademark the “Dr.” part of its name, and as a result there are almost more doctors in grocery stores than you can find at an AMA convention.
Hannaford’s version of Dr Pepper. Not bad, actually, and half as expensive as the real thing. Sadly, the diet version has recently disappeared from shelves in the 12-pack form, and can only be found in 2-liter bottles. Hannaford was both obscure and uninformative when I pressed local management and national customer service as to reasons why.
I have found two fairly complete lists of Dr Pepper clones out there.
The origins of Dr Pepper are fraught with rumors; what is known is that the formula was originated by pharmacist Charles Alderton of Brooklyn, NY in Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas. The Dr Pepper FAQ reports that “Dr Pepper is a unique blend of 23 flavors.” Prune juice, despite popular opinion, is not one of them. There is a suggestion that Alderton wanted to come up with a soda that had the smell of walking into an old soda shop. Its formula is as closely guarded as that of CocaCola™.
Whether these alignments are based on the names or on one person’s assessment of the relative accuracy of the flavor, I have not been able to determine, but I thought it was funny at any rate.
As for who owns Dr Pepper, that is also a tale of the ages. It’s now marketed by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, a business unit of the conglomerate Keurig Dr Pepper. (You can see Dr Pepper on the far left in the image at this post – it was at that time still a part of Cadbury Schweppes.)
But regardless of who owns it, or who distributes it (sometimes it’s the local Coke distributor, sometimes it’s the Pepsi people), as long as it continues to be available in some form or other I’ll be happy.
I love Asian foods; Chinese, Japanese, Burmese, Thai, you name it. And with many cuisines (but not all… not all…) soy sauce is either an ingredient or provided table-side as a condiment.
Long before I did any research at all, I knew that there was a stark difference between the two major brands that are commonly known in America: Kikkoman and LaChoy.
The first, my preferred sauce in the kitchen, is a Japanese-type sauce, brewed in the traditional manner over a period of six months (although traditional Japanese soy sauce can take 18 months to make, or much longer):
Fermenting soy beans and wheat at the Kikkoman factory in Wisconsin – from the July 1987 National Geographic article, “The Prodigious Soybean.”
Chemical soy sauces: These are made over the course of about two days by hydrolyzing soy protein and combining it with other flavorings. Their flavor is far removed from traditional soy sauces made with fermented soybeans.
Harold McGee explains the process in On Food and Cooking by saying:
Nowadays, defatted soy meal, the residue of soybean oil production, is broken down—hydrolyzed—into amino acids and sugars with concentrated hydrochloric acid. This caustic mixture is then neutralized with alkaline sodium carbonate, and flavored and colored with corn syrup, caramel, water, and salt.
LaChoy is popular, but it’s pretty much in harmony with their old jingle ¹- “LaChoy makes Chinese food… swing American.” It’s what you’d expect to pour on a can of their store-bought Chow Mein. I’ve never seen it in a Japanese restaurant anywhere, they either use Kikkoman or one of the many national brands available now – even in traditional grocery stores. Somehow it just tastes… wrong. But as in all things, that’s just my opinion – and your mileage may vary.
National Geographic also has a lovely 5 minute video on how soy sauce is made in the town of Yuasa, Japan.
Another article at Yum of China by Tiana Matson lists some of her favorite sauces, most of which could probably be found at your local oriental grocery store if you’re fortunate enough to live close to one.
A lot of local Chinese places here in Maine provide little packages of “soy sauce” (those scare quotes are there for a reason) made by Kari-Out Co. If you want brown salt water with hardly a hint of anything else – think LaChoy cut to homeopathic levels – by all means feel free to use it.
As for me and my house, .
The Old Wolf has spoken.
¹ And, if you’re old like me, you might recognize the ubiquitous voice-over tones of Mason Adams (“With a name like Smucker’s, it’s got to be good!”) who was a friend of my mother back in the day.
There was a time when I didn’t know what a film or restaurant critic was. These were in the halcyon days of my youth, when I would go to restaurants or movies in New York City with my mother, the internet didn’t exist, and the only critics I knew about were “us.” [Of course, my mother, being a stage and commercial actress was well acquainted with reviews since the earliest days of her dramatic career, beginning in the 1920s (I think she appeared in an elementary school play at age 4), but she charitably kept me insulated from their mercuriality.]
We had successes and failures. As I have written about before, we loved Fonda del Sol, Xochitl, Mamma Leone’s, Proof of the Pudding, and many others.
We loved Peter Sellers as a comedian, but when we went to see “Only Two can Play,” my mother was mortified and I – at age 11 – was uncomfortable – we left the theater and mom demanded a refund.
Bottom line, we knew what we liked.
Then came the electronic age, with Rotten Tomatoes, Flixster, Yelp!, Wikipedia, UrbanSpoon (much better than Yelp, but sadly defunct), and access to reviews from hundreds of sources. And because these things are highly subjective and largely a matter of personal opinion¹, reviews varied widely from one pole to the other, and I often found that if reviews of a movie were negative I would come away from a movie I had enjoyed, wondering what the critics were talking about.
The best summation of a critic’s rôle I think I ever heard came in the beautiful soliloquy of Anton Ego in the dénouement of “Ratatouille,” for which credit must be given to the inestimable Brad Bird:
In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.
Over time I came to see that most critics indeed would shred films because negative publicity got more traction, more buzz, or in modern parlance, more clicks – and hence more exposure for their particular brand. (There were exceptions of course – Siskel and Ebert’s point/counterpoint usually gave a good feel for consensus, and the Deseret News’ Chris Hicks tried to be honest without being snarky, meaning that I usually found myself in agreement with his assessments.)
But without question, the most savage movie reviewer of all time was Mr. Cranky, otherwise known as Jason Katzman.
From 1996 until 2008, Mr. Cranky reveled in writing the snarkiest, most deprecatory reviews one could imagine. His rating scale was only negative, with “one bomb” being the best one could hope for:
I once wrote to him, asking if there were any movies he liked, and he responded, “I don’t like movies.” As I learned when his website came to a close, this was simply part of his online persona. Much was revealed in his departing essay, making clear that his efforts over time were less about shredding movies than they were about shredding reviews and reviewers in general. I reproduce the entire essay below:
Mr. Cranky says “Goodbye!”
MESSAGE FROM YOUR HOST: In the summer of 1995, Hans Bjordahl and I were sitting in a friend’s dining room drinking beer when he posed this question: “Do you have any good ideas for a web site?” Hans was the creative director for a small internet firm about to build its first internet mall. I was the film critic for a local newspaper. After a few more beers for creative inspiration, Mr. Cranky was born.
The site began building in October of 1995 and was launched in February of 1996. It was an instant hit and the mall’s most frequented property. Traffic skyrocketed within the first three months. Emails came in fast and furious. Some were actually furious – mad at Mr. Cranky for trashing some recent film. There were death threats. However, most emails were ecstatic, thrilled that finally somebody was out there not blowing smoke up the ass of Hollywood, but dragging it over the coals for its failures. Mr. Cranky received mention in “The New York Times”, “The Guardian”, and many, many others. We were the “Cool Site of the Week”. When books printed lists of the best movie web sites, we were on them. The phone started ringing with offers of advertising revenue and such.
Much of the reward for doing Mr. Cranky all these years has been the excitement it created. There was a lot going on during the 1990’s and we frequently found ourselves in the midst of all kinds of developments. We were flown to San Francisco and wined and dined by an up and coming Internet company. We had our pictures taken for the Hollywood issue of “Vanity Fair”. We found ourselves with an agent and discussing book deals. Like most things that seem “pie in the sky” when you hear them, most of them fizzled out. Like most things, the excitement was never met by the potential financial rewards that seem to be mentioned in the same breath. That being said, Mr. Cranky did turn into a pleasant hobby with a small financial reward at the end of the year.
Even after the end of the Internet boom, Mr. Cranky still got by. We were excited to be picked up by “Redeye” in Chicago, a new type of daily directed at Gen Y. The feature was so well received that the editor of the Chicago Tribune mentioned it in one of her meetings. Google contacted us to assign our account its own ad representative – something they probably do for most accounts or groups of accounts, but still, it made us feel important.
Well, as they say, all good things…. Let’s face it, Mr. Cranky has been dying a slow death for a number of years now. It’s increasingly irrelevant, if not completely irrelevant. We’d rather sign off before that becomes the case and we’re probably already too late. Are there other reasons? Well, it’s not bringing in the revenue it once did. The time it takes to keep the site going is substantial. There’s too much other stuff to do. When I first started writing Mr. Cranky, I would sometimes see 8 movies in a week and make 6 trips to Denver from Boulder (70 miles RT). That was great when gas was $1.99. Now, not so much.
Before we retire Mr. Cranky, there are some questions that seem worth answering. Did one person write all the reviews? The answer: about 98% of the reviews were written by me, Jason Katzman. The other 2% were written by others, but mostly Hans, who took up the mantle when I was too tired or had a conflict. Not a single person ever figured out who wrote what even though we got many emails from people asking where “the real Mr. Cranky had gone”. In every instance, they were comparing two reviews I had written, just in very different styles.
Another question that was asked of me often was “Are there any movies you like?” I’m proud to say I never once answered that question and we never tried to pander to the people who just didn’t get it. Not only are there movies I like, I usually enjoy most movies in some way, shape or form. It’s actually pretty rare when I watch a film that has no redeeming value. Is there anybody out there who really thinks that I would spend as much time as I do watching movies if I didn’t enjoy it?
That being said, the reasons we started Mr. Cranky are more than simply “we like to make fun of people”. There are the simple ones, like we wanted to reject the culture of celebrity worship, which is utterly repulsive. Unfortunately, it’s only grown larger since Mr. Cranky started. During my time as a film critic, I did tons of interviews and went on lots of junkets. I can tell you, generally-speaking, most actors aren’t that interesting and aren’t that smart and will rarely tell you the truth about something, particularly what they think about another person in the industry (there are some exceptions, of course: John Sayles, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Guillermo del Toro come to mind. There are also the few stars one meets before they’re stars. I met Kate Winslet when she was 19, before the release of “Heavenly Creatures” and she told a story that I doubt she ever repeated).
A less obvious reason we started Mr. Cranky also emanates from some of these experiences. Film critics, in general (myself included), are full of themselves. They believe that their opinions actually matter. They also believe that somehow there’s a right and a wrong when it comes to film criticism. Mr. Cranky was started to thwart that notion by making fun of film critics and film criticism and pointing out that film writing could be subjective to the point of a critic who didn’t like anything. Besides, if these junkets proved one thing, it’s that most film critics could be swayed by nothing more than a plate of donuts (watching a group of largely fat film critics charge toward a free plate of food while in the midst of a junket in which they’re supposed to form unbiased opinions of the film is its own form of hell). And if the Internet has proved one salient Mr. Cranky point, it’s that anyone can be a film critic. The forums were put in place for just this reason. Mr. Cranky was the first site to invite the reader to challenge the film critic, in fact, to make that challenge a founding principle of the site.
And how could I depart without mentioning the site’s many fans – the Crankizens. There’s no doubt that the activity in the forums have powered the site over the years and become larger-than-life and something we never expected. Over the years, I’ve met a fair number of fans of the site and have been overwhelmed by it all. One of the people I met and befriended through Mr. Cranky is now a successful screenwriter in Hollywood. Early on, a fan from Perth, Australia embarked on a Mr. Cranky World Tour, visiting various places around the world populated by Mr. Cranky fans, culminating with a surprise visit by me in Los Angeles. Then there were the numerous Crankycons that spawned. I went to two: one in Toronto and one in Cedar Point in Ohio where I rode every roller coaster I was challenged to ride (keeping my cool on the world’s fastest, highest coaster, I might add). Heck, people met on Mr. Cranky and got married. I was truly humbled by the invitations and the interest in Mr. Cranky.
And we don’t want to completely close the door on this whole thing. For dedicated Crankizens, there is one sliver of hope: August 31 is our deadline to discontinue the site, but also the deadline to see if there’s any last-ditch means of selling or saving it. We’ve had ‘big plans’ for Cranky 2.0 many times over, but other priorities (not the least among them our “day jobs”) have always intervened, and at some point you’ve just gotta break that cycle and put up or shut up. Serious inquiries along those lines (i.e. those backed by serious levels of funding or remuneration) should be directed to email@example.com. Until that time, there won’t be anymore reviews, but the site and the “Goodbye Mr. Cranky” forum will be open for fans to search and recall the past.
Thanks to Randall Gaz for keeping the site going all these years. Thanks to Holley Irvine for all her design work. Thanks to Hans Bjordahl for all the hard work and 12 years of a partnership that was 99% fun with virtually no conflict whatsoever. And most of all, thanks to all the Mr. Cranky readers past and present who made writing Mr. Cranky so rewarding. It’s been a pleasure. We feel like Mr. Cranky introduced a certain style into the Internet world and we hope to hear Mr. Cranky mentioned when the history of the web is written. If not, we’ll be sure to contact whoever is doing the mentioning and tell them to stick it where the sun don’t shine as only Mr. Cranky can.
The site is now passworded, but thanks to the miracle of the Wayback Machine, all of Mr. Cranky’s reviews are still accessible; if it ever comes to the Zombie Apocalypse and our electronic information vanishes, 100 of his most snarky reviews were published in a dead-tree edition. The reviews are interesting to peruse, especially the one-bomb category – if Cranky “hated a movie less than most,” it was usually guaranteed to be pretty good. That said, we didn’t always agree. The most scathing review he ever wrote was of “I am Sam,” and I thought that was a pretty tender film. (Note: Don’t read it if you either like the movie or have a sensitive soul.)
Nowadays, Rotten Tomatoes gives one a pretty good idea of which way the wind is blowing. A movie can have good critic reviews but be reviled by the general public, or vice versa. But for myself, it’s rare that I’ll read a review one way or another and decide to see or not see a movie based on critics’ opinions; I’ll generally give more credence to how the movie was received by viewers.
And in the end, like Mr. Cranky said, there are few movies that I don’t like on some level or other. Only rarely do I see a film and say at the end of it, “I want those two hours of my life back.” The last one to do that to both me and my wife was “The Lobster,” despite its 87% rating at RT, but an earlier one I actually took the time to write up myself at my Livejournal was “A Sound of Thunder;” my wife agreed.
Mercifully, those are few and far between.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
¹ My opinions about food are, in the eyes of many people, questionable. Visit my Banquet from Hell for a taste.