Archive for the 'Food' Category

What am I missing about 2.5-buck Chuck?

Posted in Food on July 17th, 2013

Look, I’ll be honest: For a variety of reasons, most nights I drink relatively inexpensive white wine (my system doesn’t get along well with red), mostly chardonnay. I get a lot of my wines from Trader Joe’s and Grocery Outlet, and a lot of those from Trader Joe’s are clearly produced by Bronco, the same company that produces Charles Shaw (“Two Buck Chuck” in California, “Three Buck Chuck” in less enlightened states–but it’s up to $2.49 in California now.) My wife keeps Purple Moon on hand as a reliable little wine; my most common repeat wine is Santa Barbara Landing. Both, based on UPC codes, are from Bronco. (Both cost $3.99 in California.)

But the last time I tried Charles Shaw, I wasn’t impressed. Oh, like most Bronco wines, it didn’t have the usual “cheap wine” flaws–it was cleanly made and entirely drinkable. But when compared to wines costing a mere $2 more…I was willing to spend the extra $2.

Then my favorite consumer magazine, the one you can’t quote in ads and that only runs in-house ads, did a “summer whites” review. And Charles Shaw’s 2011 chardonnay(which I hadn’t tried) was one of the eight Very Good wines, along with Bogle (which I like quite a bit when it’s on sale) and a few others, including a $23 Sonoma-Cutrer and a $29 Frank Family.

So I decided to give it another shot. I had the usual two glasses with dinner last night; my wife had enough of a taste to suit her. I’ll have most of the rest this evening.

And, well, compared to $3.99 and $4.99 chardonnays, and even $5 to $7 chardonnays (on sale)…I think 2.5-buck Chuck is a little overpriced for what it is. It was clean but harsh, and really not very interesting.

So what is it about 2.5-buck Chuck that I’m missing? Yes, I know, it got a Double Gold at one commercial wine tasting, and it’s beaten some Napa chards in tastings. (I’m not a great fan of Napa chards, by the way–even if I was willing to spend $15-$25, I find Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, Monterey, Mendocino and Lake County wines all more interesting, at least for real-world prices. That’s me.) But I just don’t get it.

 

In praise of stone fruit

Posted in Food on June 20th, 2013

My wife loves fresh fruit, even more than I do, but a lot of it doesn’t love her: She can’t cope with apples or citrus, just for example. And we’re generally not thrilled about buying fruit from thousands of miles away, If possible, especially for the “dirty dozen,” we’d really prefer organic. I’m really not fond of apples, and I’m deathly allergic to bananas.

We both get pretty tired of pears at some point, and kiwis only go so far. I thoroughly enjoy navel orange season–I’ll have one a day during the whole season–but that’s been gone for a while.

So for both of us, June/July (sometimes a little earlier) is a special time:

Stone fruit season!

When the farmers’ markets we go to are filled with competitively-priced fruit that both of us enjoy, some organic, some no-spray (but not certified organic), some conventional.

We’re in the heart of it now. And we’re loving it.

  • Brooks cherries showed up early this year, and they were pretty good, but…
  • Bing cherries are plentiful and absolutely first-rate at this point; Rainiers are here, and some of them are first-rate, but they seem to bruise awfully easily. (In both cases, we’re paying $4/pound for low-spray, $5 for organic; unfortunately, the best cherries at this point aren’t the organic ones.)
  • Peachcots. Peachcots. Peachcots. Did I mention this cross between peaches and apricots? Two years ago, one vendor had them for two weeks. This year, two vendors have them (but the one we used two years ago has the best ones), and for two or three weeks. They are wonderful. Just plain wonderful.
  • Oh, and as with all the other store fruit (except cherries), $2/pound seems to be the running number for conventional and pesticide-free, $3/pound for organic. (There’s one oddball vendor who lowballs everything–$1.50/pound for apricots, for example–but the produce and the vendor are both a little questionable.)
  • Apricots are very good at this point. Apriums are OK.
  • Pluots are all over the place, as usual–some superb, some good, some still a little tart. There are so many varieties of pluot (and plumcot) at this point!
  • And two vendors are selling peach/apricot/plum hybrids, also very good. But not as good as the peachcots.
  • When these start to fade away, we should still have some time with peaches and nectarines. We buy a few of them now, but focus on the shorter-season fruit.
  • Yes, I’ll probably buy Washington/Oregon cherries in a few weeks when the local season’s through, but there’s something special about local produce. (“Local” typically means within 100-150 miles, which around here covers a lot of orchards, mostly around where I grew up.)

I’ve been reading about farmers’ market produce being so much more expensive than grocery store produce. That hasn’t been our experience, by and large–but we’d probably pay the difference anyway.

 

 

 

Dear “daring” wine directors and restaurateurs

Posted in Food on March 25th, 2012

I just love reading the local wine critic’s admiration for those daring, forward-looking, inspiring wine directors in local restaurants, and restaurateurs in general, who:

  • Don’t have any Chardonnay or Cab on their winelist because, you know, that’s so boring.
  • In California, explicitly don’t have any California wines on their winelist because, you know, that’s so boring.

I really wish that such restaurants would have little notices saying that they despise California wines, so that I could be aware of their forward-looking nature before spending my cash there.

Odd how restaurants are always praised for locavore tendencies–sourcing the food as close to the restaurant as possible–but equally seem to be praised for their one-finger salutes to a vibrant, incredibly varied wine industry by saying local just isn’t good enough for their golden palates.

In case the above wasn’t clear enough: I won’t knowingly dine at a California restaurant–that has a wine list, that is–that makes a point of shunning California wines.

I wonder: Are there high-end restaurants in France that pointedly reject French wines? Are there famed restaurants in Italy that will have nothing to do with Italian wines?

I’m guessing not. I could be wrong.

It would be one thing if California simply didn’t make any world-class wines, or didn’t make anything but overoaked Chardonnay and high-alcohol Cab. Those are such caricatures of the diversity of what’s made here that a wine director believing them should be sent to direct wine traffic at a liquor store, not in a restaurant. (I don’t say “supermarket” because, in the Bay Area at least, many supermarkets have excellent wine collections. I’m thinking of the small traditional liquor stores that have astonishingly poor wine selections, probably because they know their clientele.)

When I travel out of state, I’ll make some effort to try the local wine, since every state has at least one bonded winery (although not every state grows wine grapes). Many states have some good or excellent wines, even if you leave out Washington, Oregon, New York and Texas, all of whom have first-rate wines by any standard.

I think a Texas restaurant gets extra points for seeking out a few of the first-rate Texas wines to serve. Ditto for New York. Ditto for Virginia. Ditto for states with more than a handful of wineries turning out quality products, although those may be fewer and harder to find. At the other extreme, I’d find it odd for a Washington or Oregon restaurant in the white tablecloth category not to have some of the state’s wines.

But in California? To explicitly exclude the state’s own wines? Sorry, but I’ll take my food dollars elsewhere.

Local supermarkets

Posted in Food on January 26th, 2012

Reading an article in the local weekly about Wal-Mart’s attempt to open a supermarket in a neighboring city, noted some comments about “local” markets, which Wal-Mart is anything but.

The interesting note in those comments is that, after citing a couple of true locally-owned groceries (the kind with one to ten stores in a small area), the article noted that Safeway is in fact “local” since the headquarters are in Pleasanton–the neighboring city in question.

That got me wondering about the other places we might use as supermarkets or grocery stores.

  • Lucky, the only one in walking distance, I already knew: It’s part of Save Mart, and Save Mart is headquartered in Modesto, CA, my home down, about 75 miles from here.
  • Trader Joe’s is headquartered in Southern California–but it’s owned by a German family.
  • Our only other real option is Nob Hill, which is part of Raley’s…which is headquartered in Placerville, probably 90-120 miles from here.

I suppose there’s Target (their food prices are awfully good), and that’s headquartered in Minneapolis. There’s Whole Foods, headquartered in Austin, TX, but even if there was one around here (there isn’t), we couldn’t afford it.

Interesting. Every place we’re likely to buy most groceries is headquartered in California–and, to be sure, we buy most produce at local farmer’s markets.

No deeper significance. I know supermarkets are typically regional: That’s why Consumer Reports food reports include store brands from stores I’ve never heard of, but never Safeway store brands.

Tiny little food post: Peachcots

Posted in Food on July 4th, 2011

One of the few things unfortunate about going to ALA Annual in New Orleans is that it meant four days without this year’s crop of stone fruit–a crop that’s generally been unusually good.

How good? Last year, there were no Bing cherries at all from local orchards. This year, the Bings are first-rate–and the Brooks cherries aren’t far behind.

New pluot varieties keep popping up, and some of this years’ (such as Flavorosa) are wonderful. Ditto the Modesto apricots, not all that much less glorious than Blenheims.

And then there are peachcots.

Peachcots? We’d never heard of them until a year or two ago. At this point, precisely one vendor at one of the two Farmers’ Markets we go to has them–and for all of one week. We got ours last week. We probably won’t get any more. This is sad.

You can guess the cross from the name: A cross between peach and apricot. What you can’t guess is either the look or the taste.

The look? Smooth skin like an apricot, size larger than most apricots but smaller than most peaches…and color like an apricot with red tinges that’s been rendered using oversaturated artificial colors. An apricot the way Andy Warhol might paint one, or perhaps what you’d get taking a picture of an apricot using high dynamic range filtering.

The taste…heaven. Just plain heaven. Very strong apricot flavor, some peach flavor, almost sweet enough to be candy, with a great texture. As with most apricots, it’s a freestone fruit, which makes cutting and serving easy.

I just finished off lunch with two apricots, ten cherries and a peachcot. The apricots were excellent. The cherries were better. The peachcot…well, it was in a category all its own. I’ll miss them.


Followup, July 8: To our considerable surprise and pleasure, the same booth had peachcots again yesterday. So it will be another week before I start missing them…

Spring is really here

Posted in Food on May 7th, 2011

Late spring, that is, as in:

Farmer’s market today: Organic apricots, white peaches. (Also cherries, but not yet Bings or Rainiers).

In other words,

It’s stone fruit season!

 

Plonk and circumstance

Posted in Food, Stuff on April 18th, 2011

Lifehacker has a story entitled “Why It May Make Sense To Reach for the Cheaper Wine.” It references a BBC report based on blind taste tests among 587 people at the Edinburgh Science Festival, tests indicating that people were only about 50% successful in deciding which of two wines was more expensive, based only on the taste.

The BBC report has a misleading title–“Cheap wine ‘good as pricier bottles’ – blind taste test”–and a highly questionable concluding paragraph:

Lead researcher psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman said: “These are remarkable results. People were unable to tell expensive from inexpensive wines, and so in these times of financial hardship the message is clear – the inexpensive wines we tested tasted the same as their expensive counterparts.”

Without seeing the full study and what wines were involved, it’s impossible to provide a full critique, but right off the bat a couple of things should be obvious:

  • As stated, the test was not whether people could tell a difference in the taste of two wines. It was whether they could accurately say which one cost more. Those are entirely different things.
  • On the other hand, this paragraph is almost certainly correct–but also almost certainly blindingly obvious: “University of Hertfordshire researchers say their findings indicate many people may just be paying for a label.” Wow! Some people buy more expensive X because of the label, not the quality (or think that because X2 costs more than X1, it must be better). I can think of dozens, probably hundreds of values for X where that’s true; that it might be true of wine as well should come as no surprise.

There’s another related story at StackExchange, and I link to it not so much for the text as for the comments, which are relatively few and in some cases fairly interesting (even if the first one is flatly wrong–some of France’s most expensive and best-known wines are blends, as a fast response points out).  Come to think of it, the third and fourth comments on the Lifehacker story–as I write this–are also worthwhile, if somewhat less formal. (Also the fifth and sixth if you expand the comments.)

I labeled the story and study “silly” in a Friendfeed thread. I did so because, at least as reported, the study doesn’t really lead anywhere.

Why? Because we should know this, and it’s true not only of wines but of many, perhaps most, products that engage subjective evaluation. It boils down to this:

Different people have different tastes and different sensitivity levels–and for many people, subjective response is based on more than a narrow objective reality.

I believe that’s exactly as it should be. I’m occasionally offended by reviews where I believe the reviewer is overstating objective differences because of subjective preferences that may have nothing to do with actual performance–thus, my occasional My Back Pages comments on some high-end stereo reviews.

Which is to say: There’s nothing wrong at all with a wealthy person paying $25,000 for an amplifier with badly substandard frequency response and low wattage because they like the way it looks, or they love the warm glow of tubes, or they like the maker, or they just like having a rare amplifier. I’m mildly offended by reviewers asserting that the $25,000 amplifier is Clearly Superior to a $500 amplifier, and worth every cent, when it appears from the article that they’re as much influenced by their friendship with the manufacturer as by the actual sound. Understanding that blind testing of audio products, as with many other products, is inherently flawed, I’ve always wondered what a “Radio Shack test” would yield–that is, a testing regimen in which the reviewer can take as much time as he or she wants, but the device being tested is encased in a cabinet that makes it indistinguishable from the cheapest device sold by Radio Shack.

The general case: Sensitivity and acuity

On one hand, it should be obvious that most of us aren’t terribly sensitive to differences in most areas of daily life, and that’s probably as it should be.

Would most beer drinkers–or, even worse, most non-beer drinkers–properly guess which was more expensive (or which was “better”) if served Brew 102 (if it still exists) or Fisher and, alongside, the most expensive beer of similar style in the world?

I suspect most people who don’t drink high-end Scotch wouldn’t be better than random chance at determining whether a $10 Scotch or a $250 Scotch was “better” or “more expensive” or even different–I don’t think I would be able to make those distinctions, and if I did, I might well prefer the simpler character of the cheap Scotch. (This may not be a fair comparison–it appears that the price differentials in the wine test were as small as 2:1, not 10:1…or in the case of sparkling wine, only 1.7:1. I suspect I couldn’t reliably tell you which of two sparkling wines, one costing $29 and one costing $46, the dollar equivalent of the stated pounds prices, was the more expensive–that’s a price range in which I’d expect the wines to both be excellent with subtle differences. Given that our favorite sparkling wine, Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc, is in the $24-$27 range, I can comfortably state that I wouldn’t expect to reliably tell whether a $46 blanc de blanc was better or more expensive.)

It’s not just drink. Can you really tell me that most people could tell whether a pair of shoes cost $75 or $150 based on how comfortable or well-constructed they are? (Or, let’s say, a good pair of Rockports vs. a pair of designer shoes costing four times as much.) That most people could tell whether a painting is worth $10 or $200 based on nothing more than the image? That most people hearing a stereo costing $2,000 and one costing $1,000 can tell which is which or which costs more? (Especially if the only difference between the two is in either a digital frontend or the amplification…tell me that the average listener can tell which of a $12,000 CD player or a $200 CD player is more expensive, given only audible clues!)

The specific case: Price in wine is a complex proposition

That’s true in many other fields as well. If you think there’s a direct ratio between cost and either quality or “driving experience” in automobiles, I’d beg to differ. A VW Golf is a 50% better car than a Honda Fit? A BMW 750LI will give you three times the driving pleasure of an Acura TSX and 4.5 times the pleasure of a Hyundai Sonata? Really?

With wine–as with many other products–the price involves a whole bunch of things, all of which can affect worth for some consumers: Rarity (size of producer, size of production), complexity, time spent in production, deliberate marketing decisions…

There are lots of California red wines priced at $75/bottle and up because the tiny little wineries that make them have based their business plans on such high prices. I’m not likely to try any of them, and not worry about what I’m missing. In many cases, those pricey wines are also very high alcohol because that’s what Robert Parker and some other wine critics seem to like; if I was to taste one of these 14.5-15% $75 wines vs. a decently-made $12 wine with 13.5% alcohol, I’d probably prefer the “cheap” wine–and might even assume it was more expensive.

There’s a reason Two Buck Chuck is so popular. It’s not terrible wine. It’s simple wine without lots of pretension. That makes it preferable to more expensive wines for many buyers. I don’t buy it these days, but I don’t disdain it.

I do buy $4 Chardonnays at Trader Joe’s, and $5 Chardonnays and $6 Chardonnays. In general, I find them to be better values and better wines than quite a few $8-$12 name-brand Chardonnays, partly because they’re usually 12.5%-13% alcohol, partly because they’re well-made with no marketing budget. But we also picked up a $26 Chardonnay at a Livermore winery; it’s probably worth the money–but I’d rarely want to drink a bottle that expensive. I’ve certainly had $12 and $15 wines that simply didn’t taste as good as $4 wines–and I’ve tasted $30 and $40 wines that I wouldn’t serve on a bet.

There’s no accounting for tastes–and there’s very little accounting for taste sensitivity. That makes most studies of these sorts not terribly useful, except for those who want to convince themselves that there really aren’t any differences between different products. Sometimes, even that’s true–but not generally.

You love your high-end Cognac? Good for you. I simply wouldn’t appreciate the difference between it and E&J. I might or might not be able to tell the difference but I wouldn’t appreciate it. So, for me, it’s not worth the substantial extra cost. That’s partly because cognac and brandy don’t interest me (same with most booze, actually). It’s also partly because it’s not a sensitivity I’ve chosen to cultivate, and might not have even if I did so. Doesn’t mean there are no differences.

Oh, and as to cars? There’s a reason I’ve never owned anything but Honda Civics, and if that changes, it would change toward a Fit, not a Mercedes or Lamborghini…even if I won SuperLotto.

 

 

 

 

Watching weight: Not just for others

Posted in Food on December 2nd, 2010

I took part in an odd exchange a couple of days ago on Facebook; I won’t link to it because it was truly trivial. But it did make me think…

The exchange had to do with one person saying they could stop worrying and let the natural expansion that comes with age take place–in other words, pudge out at least a little.

I offered a snarky comeback (knowing the person was a lot younger than I am) noting that I’m 65 and prefer not to allow “natural expansion”: how old did I need to be before weight no longer mattered?

The person responded with their actual age. And another person, just a couple years younger than I am, offered a comment saying that they no longer cared what others thought about how they look or what they weigh.

In all cases, I’m paraphrasing, possibly badly, but I’m also not naming names or offering links. Both of the others involved are good people, and I have no quarrel with either of them.

Not just for others

I do pay reasonable attention to my weight–which is currently, and has been for a couple of years, within two pounds of 160 at any given point, one way or the other. (I’m roughly 5’10″; I was 5’11”, but have shrunk a little, which does seem to be a common consequence of aging.)

Reasonable attention? Only this: I have dessert frequently and eat as much as I want to. If my weight started creeping up past 162 for more than a day or two (or for more than two weeks after a vacation or other trip), I’d probably cut back…just a little. (If my weight started falling below 158, I’d wonder if anything else was going on. Below 155, I start losing energy reserves.)

Although I’m sure my wife wouldn’t be happy if I started “natural expansion” back to the 165-170 I weighed for years or beyond that (175 appears to be my BMI touchstone–that is, above 175 and I’d be in the slightly-overweight category), that’s not my primary reason for staying at a good weight.

My primary reason boils down to wanting to be healthy, active, and ideally still free of prescription drugs when I’m 85, and with luck when I’m 90.

I know I’m lucky: Genetics has a lot to do with all these things. I also suspect that being able to walk far enough, briskly enough and with no assistance when you’re truly getting on in years has much to do not only with how much weight you’re carrying around but with whether you were walking a lot in earlier years. And I’m reasonably convinced that, all else being equal, maintaining a reasonable weight will serve me well in the long run in other ways.

No, I’m not a health nut. I do try to eat at least 2-5 servings of fruit & vegetables every day (but don’t do nearly as well as I should), but I’m also an omnivore, eating meat with some frequency. Bacon? Oh yes, from time to time. Cheeseburgers (well, bacon cheeseburgers)? Not often–maybe once a month–but oh yes. (Fast food burgers? Not so much: I avoid fast food in general, partly as a matter of taste, partly because I think the calorie/enjoyment/nutrition/taste balance is better elsewhere.) Alcohol? Wine pretty much every day with dinner and, very infrequently, with lunch…and that’s about it.  I suppose I’m really lucky in that I lost any taste for soft drinks decades ago. Candy? Similar to fast food: most of it just doesn’t taste all that good any more; I’ll take a handful of my dried fruit mix (five flavors of cranberries, two varieties of dried cherry, maybe a mix of other dried fruit) over most any candy any time. (Exception: Trader Joe’s 72% Dark Chocolate bars, but I rarely even eat those, and savor one-quarter bar at a time instead of chomping through the whole thing.)

(Supplements? Plain old senior vitamin pill, calcium citrate ‘cuz I’m lactose-intolerant so don’t drink milk, fish oil ‘cuz I don’t eat enough fish, and a half-dose glucosamine/chondroitin tablet because, while it might well be a placebo, taking it seems to keep away the shoulder pain I had at one point, and it appears to be a cheap and harmless placebo if it is that.) [As to the lactose intolerance, which is probably a lot more common among adults, even those of Northern European stock, than people think--if you're passing gas all the time, that could be one reason--while I don't drink milk, I do eat things containing dairy: lactase tablets as needed to the rescue.]

As far as I can tell, I’m not denying myself anything that I want. I am making a point to stay active, between the weekly 5 to 7-mile hikes and the 6x/week 1.5-mile “walks around the block” and, of course, walking for errands when that makes sense. I do try to avoid eating as an idle activity, snacking for the sake of snacking, and that turns out to be easy once it’s habitual: you’re not avoiding anything.

I’m not suggesting how others should live. There are lots of reasons for being a given weight, many of them not under personal control (I’m guessing), and I respect other people’s situations.

Incidentally, there are also lots of reasons some people are perhaps thinner than you might consider normal, and in many cases the reasons have nothing to do with vanity or with trying to feel superior. I can assure you that some underweight people would rather not be that way. It’s as offensive to sneer at people who are thin as it is offensive to sneer at people who are fat or fatter than you consider ideal.

I am saying that, for me at least–and, I think, for quite a few others–maintaining a given weight is for ourselves, not for how we look to others.

Free lunch

Posted in Food, Libraries, Stuff on May 10th, 2010

Yes, I read Heinlein decades ago, including The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. He didn’t coin TANSTAAFL, but that novel certainly publicized it.

TANSTAAFL? There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

Digression The First: As is so frequently the case with Wikipedia these days, the discussion on the article you wind up at–linked from TANSTAAFL, which apparently doesn’t meet Sacred Wikipedia Article Naming Conventions–is considerably more interesting than the article itself. Particularly when “Chuck” keeps arguing that “ain’t no” is a double negative and, thus, that TANSTAAFL means there is such a thing as a free lunch. End of Digression the First.

But That’s Silly

Yes, I understand the context Heinlein used, as part of the libertarian undercurrent running through much of his work: A saloon that provides free lunch when you buy a drink is likely to charge more for the drinks than one that doesn’t.

But…

  • Later this week, probably, I’ll buy one of Safeway’s excellent special sandwiches, hand the checker a coupon, and walk out paying not a cent for lunch. Then, after paying for six sandwiches, I’ll do the same thing in a few weeks. (The ongoing promotion says “buy seven, get one free”–but, in fact, the one that you get free counts as a purchase, so after that it’s really pay for six, get one free.) Yes, it’s a loyalty program; no, the sandwiches don’t cost any more than sandwiches of equivalent quality I buy elsewhere. If they did, I wouldn’t buy them.
  • We find that Marco’s pizza is better than any other chain pizza we’ve had, and have it for dinner roughly every other Saturday night. Three Saturdays from now (I think), I’ll walk into Marco’s and hand them a little card with six holes punched in it instead of the $17.50 I’d normally pay for a pizza. Since a medium pizza leaves enough left over for my Sunday lunch, I will indeed have a free lunch on Sunday…and we’ll both have a free dinner on Saturday. Yes, it’s another loyalty program; I think the pizza is fairly priced for its quality.
  • “But you’re indirectly paying for those loyalty programs, so, you know, TANSTAAFL.” Maybe–if you can show me that I would get comparable quality for a lower cost (at a business that I’m willing to deal with) elsewhere. If not, then the lunch really is effectively free: I’m getting it for no added cost.
  • Let’s take a more extreme case, back from Mountain View days. Pick Up Stix (a chain of “fresh Asian” restaurants, where almost everything’s prepared in woks when you order it) had just opened a new location and sent out cards to neighborhood houses offering a free entree. No gotchas, no “buy one, get one free,” no nothing–just hand them the card and walk out with what turned out to be a pretty good meal. The restaurant did the same thing a few months later. Those free meals were essentially a form of advertising, so somebody paid for them–but I’d be hard pressed to show that the restaurant would or could charge significantly lower prices if it didn’t do advertising. After all, many people probably returned to pay for meals after getting the freebies.

Yes, There are Lots of Other Cases

OK, I know about such “free lunches” as–

  • Free meals that come with investment or retirement lectures, where you’re paying for the meal with your time and quite probably hard-sell marketing. Never signed up for one, never plan to.
  • Free vacations that require only a mere 90-minute marketing session on time-share vacations. Ditto: Never signed up for one, never plan to.
  • “Free drinks” on most ultra-luxury cruise lines and “free shore excursions” and “free airfare” on Regent Seven Seas, where “free” really means included and, for non-heavy-drinkers, the difference in fare may be significantly more than the inclusions are worth.

I’d rather see the third case, and many others like it, listed as “inclusive” rather than “free”–and, in fact, luxury cruise lines tend toward “inclusive,” just as all-inclusive vacation resorts do. In practice, actually, for some lines “free air fare” is an interesting way of handling discounts–the offer’s usually time-limited, but they don’t call it a discount as such.

TANSTAAFL and Win-Win Economics

Yes, I know, I’m being a literalist. Those who use TANSTAAFL don’t literally mean there’s never a free lunch (or maybe they do)–they mean that every form of refuge has its price, that we live in a closed universe, that there must be some form of cost or payment somewhere.

What I find a little too often–and why I’m writing this post (other than procrastinating on something else)–is that various forms of TANSTAAFL are used to argue zero-sum economics. I don’t buy that all or even most transactions must or should be zero-sum games, where A only “wins” because B “loses”: Where the lunch is only free because the business is overcharging, and in the end overcharging by more than the worth of the lunch.

I believe in win-win economics–not always, but often. In win-win economics, A and B make deals that are mutually beneficial: The benefits to each party outweigh the costs. Loyalty programs can work that way. Ideally, public libraries represent win-win economics: The cost to the community to prepay for library services through taxes is more than made up for by the benefits to individuals and to the community as a whole from library services. Benefit to the community as a whole is one reason that some people support public libraries that they don’t use–they recognize that a good library makes their town or city a better place to live. (The same can be said for parks and other non-emergency community services.)

I don’t have some stirring conclusion to wrap this all up. Hey, it’s Monday: Don’t expect miracles.

Grapefruit and changed expectations

Posted in Food on May 1st, 2010

Last weekend, Safeway had a really good price on Ruby Red grapefruit from Texas–and they looked like pretty good grapefruit as well. So my wife picked up a couple. (Which I eat all of–she can’t cope with the acid in citrus, by and large.) Had one this morning–as usual, with the segments sectioned out as part of the breakfast fruit medley and the remaining juice squeezed into a glass.

The juice was good, in a way that only freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice seems to be–with a fair amount of pulp, an engaging flavor, and only mildly tart.

A year ago, I would have said “wow! great grapefruit juice.”

This time, I said “not bad.” And, later, “probably about as good as Ruby Red gets, at least around here.”

What’s the difference? The yellow organic grapefruit we get at the farmer’s market from Lone Oak Farms–around 40-50 miles from here, I think. I have no idea what the variety is.

I mentioned that grapefruit earlier: The juice really is lemonade-sweet, but also richly flavored, a more complex flavor than you might expect from grapefruit.

That’s raised the bar–it redefines really excellent grapefruit juice. I suspect it’s like having a good “varietal” dark chocolate or even just a good 70%+ dark chocolate when your previous exposure has been Hershey’s Special Dark. Special Dark is pretty good–but once the bar’s been raised, it’s tough to go back.

(After seeing them for weeks, I finally tasted one of the pummelos from the same vendor. The kind way to put it is that it has a subtle taste. The honest way is that, compared to good grapefruit, it’s…well, boring. As always, your mileage–and your pummelos or pomelos–may vary.)

Today’s Farmer’s Market was also a revelation for a highly-desired seasonal change: The first apriums of the season–with cherries on their way next week. In other words, it’s stone fruit time! To my tastes, the most wonderful fruit time of the year, at least in these parts. (The rancher was slicing off pieces of an aprium to sample…it may be early in the season, but it was absolutely first rate.)


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