Meet Cute

Every now and then McDonald’s gets it right. In 1973, they introduced the Quarter-Pounder because customers demanded more than a 10 oz. patty inside of a boring bun. In 1987, McDonald’s added “PlayPlace” indoor playgrounds to suburban locations: crawl tubes, slides, and ball pits contributing to countless happy childhoods.  This year, the restaurant chain is stepping it up with its McCafé Bakery offerings. The Apple Fritter, Blueberry Muffin, and Cinnamon Roll will step back to give the spotlight to the newest McDonald’s kid on the block: the adorable Glazed Donut.

Seriously, just look at this little guy.  Isn’t he the cutest donut you’ve ever seen?  The McCafé Glazed Donut looks like a happy gathering of donut holes, all nestled up against each other for warmth and protection.  The Donut is pleasingly symmetrical.  Even the spelling is cute (instead of the more substantial “doughnut”).  And the best part: its “donettes” pull apart the way you would a hot, flaky croissant.  It’s like getting seven for the price of one.  And it’s cute to boot.

I admit I didn’t wake up this morning intending to write about cute donuts.  Even the headline about this doughnut’s upcoming debut didn’t really catch my eye.  But then I saw the photo and I was utterly smitten.  It’s the same way I felt when I first saw a package of those colorful little Plink garbage disposal cleaners.  I just had to have them.

Some would describe this as a “meet cute” moment.  Meet cute is the early-on scene in television or movies where two people connect for the first time and you just know they’re headed for romance.  The Hallmark Channel is all about meet cute.  Any scene where Hallmark movie man meets Hallmark movie woman, combined with something funny or unusual is 99% headed towards future romance.  It’s like you’re ten minutes into the story and you already know how it ends.

Plenty of “meet cute” in this one

And that’s how it’s gonna go with the McCafé Glazed Donut.  We had our meet cute this morning.  Now I have two weeks of anticipation and heart palpitations before I can actually buy one.  But I already see it.  I (almost) already taste it.  And the whole pull-apart thing?  Pure sex(y) appeal.

Meet cutes don’t always lead to predictable endings.  After the meet, the movie leads you to believe the characters are destined for romance.  But sometimes they’ll throw a curve (usually in the form of a third character) and the story goes in another direction.  Could happen with the Glazed Donut too.

Let’s use supermarkets as an example.  You stroll into the store, grab a basket, and think about your shopping list.  But before you even reach the aisles you’re greeted with front-of-store marked-down day-old doughnuts.  They’re just sitting there like little round orphans, begging you to spend another $0.69 to “adopt” one.

They’ll be front-of-store by tomorrow

So you do.  And you make sure the little guy’s placed in your basket as an easy find.  Then you slide behind the steering wheel and polish him off before you even leave the parking lot.  Tastes great, right?  Maybe now.  Later you’ll reflect on the slight, sickly feeling in the pit of your stomach and wonder why you caved.

That’s my thinking with the McCafé Glazed Donut.  I can cruise past the Fritter, Muffin, and Cinnamon Roll without so much as a passing glance.  But mark my words, next month I’ll find any excuse to be near a McDonald’s during McCafé Bakery hours.  I’ll purchase the Glazed Donut and my meet cute will blossom into a full-on romance. When I consider the Protein Shake I have most mornings, I’ll feel like I’m about to cheat on my mainstay.  Heck, this scandal could go viral! I see the headline now: Man Opts for Sweet & Sexy over Cold & Icy.  But can you blame me?  My Protein Shake really IS cold and icy, and there’s nothing satisfyingly pull-apart about it at all.  Meanwhile a small, soft, almost UFO-looking donut beckons.

Forgive me, my beautiful, healthy breakfast-in-a-cup.  Looks like I’m gonna stray.

Some content sourced from the CNN.com article, “McDonald’s is adding a sweet new treat for fall”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Tale of the Little-Dog

When my son and his wife visited with their daughters last week, the consensus for dinner was hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill.  These choices were noteworthy in that I honestly can’t remember the last time I ate a hot dog.  Sweet Italian sausage?  A couple of times a month cut up into a stir-fry of vegetables.  Beer brats?  Also delicious, hot off the grill with a little mustard.  But a hot dog is child’s play by comparison.  Or should I say, a “dachshund sausage”?

It’s true.  The Germans, who by all accounts can take credit for the invention of the hot dog (five hundred years ago!) nicknamed their frankfurters “dachshunds” – or “little-dog” sausages because, well, they looked exactly like the dog breed.  The only history Americans claim is the re-nickname “hot dog”.  Even the hot dog bun – which really took hold at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 – points back to the Germans, who always ate their sausages with bread.

Are hot dogs a staple in your diet, or like me are they simply a distant memory?  If they weren’t hot off the grill in the backyard or at a summer picnic, perhaps you had one at a baseball game (but not so much football or basketball, go figure).  You’ve probably also seen hot dogs on the midway at carnivals and county fairs.  Wherever you get your franks today, they’re just not as likely to come from established restaurants.

In the 1970s, America seemed to have hot dog stands on every corner.  The most popular of these was the distinctive drive-thru Der Wienerschnitzel’s, but you also had – at least from my California-based memory – Pup ‘N’ Taco, Ben Franks, Tail o’ the Pup, and the walk-up Hot Dog on-a-Stick booths you’d find at amusement parks.  Today’s retail hot dog is at a Sonic Drive-In or the food court at Costco.  If you live anywhere near New York’s Coney Island, you can also include “Nathan’s Famous”, or at least the annual hot dog eating contest of the same name.

A hot dog may be “a cooked sausage eaten in a long, soft piece of bread”, but its secondary meanings are less definitive.  “Hot Dog!” is something you used to say when you were VERY happy about something else (“used to”, meaning sixty or seventy years ago).  A “hot dog” is also a person “who makes fast, skillful movements in skiing, snowboarding, or surfing to make people notice them”.  That last definition still stands.

Speaking of “used to say”, we also used to sing about hot dogs, didn’t we?  Oscar Mayer’s jingle convinced us we should BE hot dogs (so everyone would be in love with us).  But the better song came from Armour, which asked us what kind of kids eat Armour hot dogs?  Per the lyrics, “…fat kids, skinny kids, kids that climb on rocks… tough kids, sissy kids, even kids with chicken pox…”  Today’s version of the Armour jingle would probably be censored just for using the word “kids”.

“I wish I had a million dollars. HOT DOG!” (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and “It’s A Wonderful Life”)

Hot dogs will always be a childhood memory more than a dietary preference in my book.  My mother, raising five hungry boys, developed several dinner recipes when time and ingredients were in short supply.  These included canned baked beans and weenies (two ingredients = dinner!), and a truly odd creation from the Betty Crocker cookbook made up of hot dogs, mashed potatoes, and cheese (three ingredients!).  Whether it tasted good or not – I honestly can’t remember – dogs, mash, and cheese conveniently covered the protein, carb, and fat categories, all in one broiler-blasted casserole.

The Oscar Mayer “Wienermobile”

My most vivid childhood hot dog memories are not the dinners mentioned above.  Instead, I can’t forget snacking on raw hot dogs from the refrigerator (which sounds awful now, but hey, I was a kid).  My mother was faithful to the Oscar Mayer brand so I ate a lot of their hot dogs raw.   Speaking of Oscar Mayer, here’s the better memory.  They built a motorized advertisement which to this day may be the coolest vehicle on wheels.  The “Wienermobile” cruised the streets of Los Angeles, stopping every now and then in a parking lot so you could view it up close.  The driver handed out tiny plastic replicas of the vehicle, appropriately labeled “Weenie Whistles”.

(Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures and “The Santa Clause”)

Let me conclude with a solved hot dog mystery.  Your grocery store sells most brands in packages of ten.  They also sell hot dog buns but in packages of eight.  Why?  Because hot dogs weigh about 1.6 ounces, which makes a package of ten a convenient sale of exactly one pound of meat.  On the other hand, hot dog buns are baked in trays of four, which work best with conveyor belts and processing.  An odd number of buns – trays of five – is a model of inefficiency.  So until one or the other manufacturer changes their standard, you’ll always have leftovers for snacks.  Or better yet, for your dog.

The hot dogs I served my granddaughters last week were comically advertised as healthy: no fillers, no preservatives, and so on.  They weren’t very good.  Maybe the worst part of a hot dog is what makes it taste so good?  Or maybe hot dogs have simply lost their appeal to me?  No, wait, that can’t be true.  Anything my granddaughters ask me to eat has instant appeal.

Guess I haven’t eaten my last little-dog sausage just yet.

Some content sourced from the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) website, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Ketchup Catch-Up

At the Communion rail in our pre-COVID, in-person church days, my wife and I would sometimes laugh at the size of the hunk of bread they’d tear off the loaf. The pieces were so big I’d often be chewing all the way back to my seat (and think I should’ve asked for seconds). On the other hand, today’s “drive-in church” Communion amounts to hermetically-sealed plastic capsules handed gingerly through the car window. Peel back the plastic to reveal the tasteless wafer and half-swallow of grape juice inside. No, it’s not breakfast by any definition, but at least we’re still achieving the higher purpose.

Communion and ketchup are strange bedfellows but I’m about to explain why they belong in the same sentence.  If you’ve followed the headlines lately, you know – just below the latest details of the Myanmar conflict – we’re all worried about whether there’ll be enough ketchup packets for our next take-out meal.  That’s right, the world is currently lacking in – not ketchup – but ketchup packets.  If we don’t address the situation soon, buildings will burn and looting will run rampant.  Even worse, we might have to top everything with mustard instead.

It’s the pandemic to blame, of course.  As soon as traditional sit-down restaurants shifted to pick-up and delivery, their demand for packeted condiments jumped up to the level of Wendy’s and McDonald’s.  In fact, Wendy’s and McDonald’s removed ketchup packets from their front counters, not because customers were taking too many, but because other restaurants were raiding their supplies.  Yep, it’s gotten that kind of desperate out there in burger land.

Heinz, the undisputed king of ketchup, recently committed to increasing packet production by 25% to fend off potential mayhem in the streets.  125% of Heinz’s typical annual production amounts to, well… let’s just say there’d be enough to place a packet in the hand of every man, woman, and child on the planet.  Dang.  That’s a whole lot of processed tomato spread.

Speaking of processed tomato spread, here’s my favorite ingredient in ketchup: mustard (powder).  It’s true.  Go check the ingredients list on the bottle I know you have in your refrigerator.

Will there be enough to go around?

But I digress.  Let’s get back to the global packet shortage.  Call me highbrow but I’m having a hard time caring, because honestly I can’t remember the last time I used a ketchup packet.  The restaurants of my choosing always bring the bottle to the table when you ask for it.  Furthermore – burgers aside – I don’t have a lot of use for ketchup.  Not on my fries, not on my meatloaf, neither eggs nor hash browns.  And while we’re at it can we all agree: mustard only on a bratwurst or a hot dog?  It should be a cardinal rule.

But I digress… again.  FOCUS!

If I don my eco-friendly hat for a moment (and don’t I look sharp?), the last thing I want to hear about is Heinz upping ketchup packet production to 12 billion a year.  That sounds like enough plastic to Ziploc a small country many times over.  But I get it.  In these times of please-pass-the-virus (or better yet, don’t), we demand individually wrapped one-and-done solutions.  Like ketchup packets.  Like Communion elements.

Handy host

Good things come in small packages, so the saying goes.  Yeah, well, they come in big packages too.  Like ketchup from a bottle instead of a plastic packet.  Like Communion from a loaf of freshly baked bread instead of hole-punched from a sheet of Styrofoam. And seriously, who uses just one ketchup packet?  Picture a baby burger you can balance between your finger and thumb and maybe it’s enough.  Anything larger and you’re grabbing packets by the handful.

Let’s wrap this topic on a personal note.  If ketchup packets disappear, my granddaughters won’t understand a really good bedtime story, the kind where they’ll giggle every time they talk about it.  You know the story, the one where my buddies and I pocket ketchup packets from our school lunch trays, take ’em out to the playground asphalt, and stomp on ’em to give some unsuspecting kid a tomato facewash?  Oh please, drop the mock horror.  You know you were out there on the playground too, doing the very same thing.

Some content sourced from the 4/8/2021 CNN.com article, “America is facing a ketchup packet shortage”.

Sham Sandwich

Back in my high-school burger-flipping days at McDonald’s, I worked countless shifts at the “quarter-pounder” grill, which involved a whole lot of beef. McDonald’s standard hamburger was a little brown disc – barely a tenth of a pound – and you could grill fifty at once like a big array of domino dots. The quarter-pounder, on the other hand, was a real burger. Those big boys required higher temperatures and more real estate; hence their own grill. Even the ever-popular Big Mac – a double-decker of the smaller ones – couldn’t tip the scales like the quarter-pounder patty. But no matter the weight, at least we were cooking up beef (and hooking an occasional Filet-O-Fish). On today’s fast-food menus, beef is getting a little scarcer; nudged aside by… well, the “impossible”.

McDonald’s Quarter-Pounder

“Veggie” burgers have been around in one form or another for the past forty years – mostly a quiet nondescript option at the bottom of the menu. Lately however, they’re starting to crowd the stage alongside beef. Maybe they’re just the same ol’ veggie burger, and today’s consumer is more tolerant because he/she is more health-conscious. But that can’t be true, can it, or I wouldn’t bother covering this topic today. Hey, when the New York Times makes a headline out of Burger King’s latest offering, it’s hard not to notice.

Impossible Foods (IF) is a small but rapidly-growing “burger” maker headquartered in Redwood City, CA. IF’s production takes place in a single factory across the bay in Oakland. After their latest contract, IF executives may be looking for more factory locations. They just signed a deal to add their product to the home of the Whopper. As you should figure by now, the IF burger is anything but meat. Not a “moo” to be heard anywhere in the building.

The Impossible

If we were only talking about Burger King – and only a handful of pilot stores in Missouri and Illinois at that – the “Impossible Whopper” wouldn’t be such a big deal. But here’s what makes me pause. “The Impossible” is also about to appear on every Red Robin restaurant menu in the U.S. (over 500 locations). White Castle already sells an Impossible Slider in all of its restaurants (380). And Carl’s Jr – albeit with a competitor of IF – offers a veggie burger in 1,000 of its restaurants. Every one of these chains prides itself on beef burgers. Yet if the Burger King pilot is a success, we’ll see the Impossible Whopper in over 7,200 locations. What the heck is going on?

A reasonable alternative, and demand from a health/environment-conscious consumer – that’s what’s going on. We finally have a tasty veggie-competitor to the all-beef patty. The Impossible (also a great country song by Joe Nichols, by the way), has the endorsement of not only fast-food chains and the media, but food critics as well. Apparently, one cannot distinguish said imposter from beef. You don’t need so much as a sprig of lettuce on this one, because you’re already getting plenty of “vegetable”.

I could list the ingredients, technology, and environmental benefits of the Impossible, but it’s more fun to watch the company’s informational video. See if you aren’t inspired after spending a couple of minutes with Impossible Foods:

IF puts a lot of science into “beef taste”, and the numbers don’t lie (see below). Less cholesterol and saturated fat. Far fewer calories. And, consuming one Impossible instead of one Whopper saves the equivalent of a ten-minute shower in water. It also saves eighteen combustion-engine miles of greenhouse gases. Look at you, eating fast food with an empathetic nod to Mother Earth.

The Impossible

To play devil’s advocate – despite the healthier ingredients and gentler impact on the environment – the success (or demise) of the Impossible will surely come down to taste. On that topic, I am not yet an expert. In fact, I am a skeptic. On one regrettable visit to Red Robin, I opted for their salmon burger over beef, thinking I was doing my body (and Earth) a favor. Mistake. Is it any wonder Red Robin no longer offers that sandwich?

I can’t use salmon burgers as an excuse not to try the Impossible. We have a couple of Red Robins in the neighborhood, and a local organic foods cafe already has one on the menu. No reason I can’t go down and give it a go. Also, “ground Impossible” will appear in grocery stores later this year (alongside the meats?), so I can even make my own patties. In other words, watch out McDonald’s. This veggie burger is no impossible dream.
Some content sourced from the New York Times article, “Behold the Beefless ‘Impossible Whopper’, and the Impossible Foods website.

Foods are Something Else!

Let’s talk about hamburgers. Depending on your druthers a carefully-proportioned build of the bread, meat, vegetables and condiments makes for an American classic that – despite trendy variations – hasn’t changed in over a century. But here’s a curiosity for you: Why does every ingredient in a burger also serve an entirely different purpose in the English language? Let’s disassemble, shall we?  Top to bottom, I now give you the eleven essential ingredients.

64-druthers

The bun comes first of course; the capstone to lock all other burger components into place. But a bun is also an element of a hairstyle, is it not? You have that coil of hair on top of the head or at the nape of the neck and you call it a bun.  We even have the man-bun.  Er, not me.  The only bun I identify with is on my burger.

Below the bun we find a very small vegetable garden.  For today’s purposes we include onions, tomatoes, lettuce and pickles.  But did you know, if you know all there is to know about a topic, you “know your onions“?  Did you also know a tomato is old-world slang for a woman or a girl?  Lettuce is today’s language for cash – dollar bills if you will.  And a pickle, well that’s one of those predicaments where you say, “how did I get into this?”

Here’s a favorite ingredient.  I like bacon on my burger.  But not only are we all trying to bring home the bacon (i.e. make a living), but we’re also occasionally trying to save someone’s bacon (i.e. they desperately need our help).

Time for condiments.  In no particular order, squeeze on a little mustard, relish and ketchup.  Now, if I approve of your hamburger I tell you it “cuts the mustard“.  And when you sit down to enjoy your burger I assume you relish the taste.

(Confession timeout: ketchup exists for the one and only purpose of serving as king of the condiments.  Call it ketchup or catsup; all I know is the Chinese claim its invention.  So opportunity knocks; let’s get ketchup out of the bottle and into an alternative use in the English language!)

Now add a slice of cheese.  Think about that ingredient for a moment.  Where else do you use cheese outside of the food world?  Why, in front of the camera of course!  And when you “say cheese” let’s also agree it has nothing to do with the food, but rather the way the word forces your mouth into the requisite smile for the photographer.

We’re almost there.  The beef (patty) that is the essential ingredient of the hamburger is so much more than ground round.  It’s a reference to muscle or brawn (but not to be confused with “beefcake” as this blog is rated “G”).  Having a beef is about a complaint or an argument.  Building something in size or amount means beefing it up.

Let’s not forget about the bottom bun.  If we combine it with the top bun we have the plural, and that of course refers to a certain part of the human anatomy.  Pursue your “buns of steel” if you must; I will settle for my buns on burgers.

That’s all for today’s enlightenment on the vocabulary of the hamburger.  For extra credit check out the spice rack (“salt”, “pepper”, and so many more) or the bakery case (“cookies”, “rolls”), Foods are chomping to be more than just something to eat!