Category Archives: Food

The New, and Not Improved, Starbucks Rewards

My Starbucks Rewards operates on a fairly simple premise: go to the store and buy things 12 times, and earn a freebie (coffee, food, pastries, etc.).  The programme has changed a bit through the years – you used to be able to get free syrups in your drinks if you were a Gold member, but only got a freebie every 15 visits – but it’s always been about frequency of visits, not how much you spend.

Now that is changing.  The new Starbucks Rewards, according to an email sent out today, works as follows:

You’ll earn 2 Stars for every $1 you spend on coffee, food, drinks, mugs–and more. As a Gold member, once you earn 125 Stars, you’ll be able to redeem them for anything on the menu.*

Doing some quick math, you earn a free reward for every $62.50 spent at Starbucks.  Over 12 visits, that would average out to $5.21 per visit – which is far more than the average “handcrafted espresso beverage,” and, actually, more than almost any item on the menu excepting food items.

What does this mean for you?  If you typically go to Starbucks and order multiple items, you will earn freebies a bit faster.  For everyone else, it will take about 18 tall cappuccinos or mochas to earn a reward.

While this is being billed as a bonus for those who buy coffees for the whole office and now get extra stars for it, most customers will spend a lot more money to get the same rewards.


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Potatoes: the tubers of death

I’ve always been a dark chocolate person: the darker and richer, the better.  Some ten years ago, science vindicated me: dark chocolate was found to have all sorts of health benefits, ranging from improving memory to lowering blood pressure.  Same thing with red wine – I’m a red drinker, not a white drinker, and the red stuff is what is good for you.

As a lifelong hater of all things potato (I used to flush the things down the toilet when my parents tried to force me to eat them), I’m gratified to learn that potatoes contain carcinogens. (Hat tip.)   The undeniable grossness of the potato is nature’s way of telling us to leave the blasted things in the ground and eat real food instead.


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The Market Basket Saga: Thoughts

The Market Basket saga is coming to a close (hopefully): Arthur T. Demoulas will buy out the 50.5% of the company that he does not own, using financing from a private equity firm and his sisters.  Soon (if not now), he will take over as interim CEO while the deal is finalised.

Approximately five weeks after the first employees walked off the job, the massive protests succeeded.  For any aspiring activists out there, here’s why the protests succeeded where others failed:

Artie T. bought the place at a cost of almost $2 billion.  Hey, when you have a moneybags guy on your side, it’s easier to win.  But the Basketeers also won because they had a very simple, defined goal that was feasible and practical: reinstate the ousted CEO.  This wasn’t Occupy Wall Street’s “forgive all debt,” which would bring about worldwide economic ruin; this was asking to bring things back to the way they had been in June of 2014.

The nature of the protests had a very strong nexus with the demand.  “We are not going to work and we are going to encourage a boycott until you bring back our boss” is really logical: it took away the ability of the Arthur S. Demoulas side of the family to make a quick sale to a Cerberus or whomever. In fact, the chain was so crippled by boycotts that the only choice was to sell or go out of business. That is fundamentally different from Occupy Wall Street’s mantra of taking over a park until Wall Street did, um, something. The Wall Streeters didn’t care and didn’t take them seriously, but small businesses nearby were hurt and cities had to spend a bunch of money on the protestors.

That brings me to my final point: the Basketeers didn’t engage in needlessly divisive tactics.  It was the most adorable protest imaginable, with a giraffe mascot, employees who put up signs saying “Please excuse our appearance while we get our CEO back” (reminiscent of  12 year old girls who didn’t do the dishes because they were trying to find the neighbour’s dog), and strikers who took pride in being the admirable, stand-up employees that Arthur T. Demoulas taught them to be.  My friends from all over the country, who had never heard of Market Basket, were supporting the employees and the boycotting customers.


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I’m a dessert aficionado, not a business analyst

But I still called it on the failure of Crumbs Bakery. agrees with me on a few points, but I think that the real issue is low quality, high overhead, and the wrong product (or rather, too much product) for the business model (i.e. walk in, buy cupcake, eat cupcake while standing up).

As I wrote over a year ago, cupcake stores that thrive might lack seating, but their desserts are small enough to eat in a few bites.  They also have delicious cupcakes: fresh, gooey, and loaded with flavour.  Crumbs compensated for those things in size, generic sweetness (as opposed to actual, nuanced taste), and artificial food colouring.  I’m an engineer and a lawyer, not a business analyst, but if Crumbs is going to reopen under new ownership, I would be happy to consult on a better product for the business model.

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Navigational Aids

Last night, as Mr. Velociraptor was driving down Route 9, I asked him if he was near where the Friendly’s used to be. Then, as we were talking back to my house from JP Licks, I said something about the Brigham’s that used to be near me. Aside from the fact that navigating by where things once were is such an old person thing, it amused my beloved that my major landmarks involve sweets.

“Hon, ice cream is a subset of your internal map,” says he. “It is all part of the overarching Chocolate Navigational System,” as if I would ever develop a mental map based on chocolate, ice cream, and coffee.

Perish the thought.

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Love Your Body

Stacy McCain, who has an eye for crazy, found an internet exchange between Adam Richman, the former star of Man v. Food, and self-proclaimed fat activist Amber Sarah.  Long story short: Richman lost seventy pounds and showed off his new (and very hot) body in Cosmo; he tweeted it out and used the hashtag “thinspiration,” which is apparently some pro-anorexia (no, not making this up) thing; and fur flew. Here’s Richman in Cosmo:

Adam Richman

Anyway, fat activist Amber Sarah jumped into the fray, and Richman lost his show. So readers can get the human interest side of this story, McCain helpfully links to Amber’s blog, wherein Amber Sarah promotes fat acceptance and loving your body as it is (except when she doesn’t).

I’m all for loving your body, but love comes with responsibility.  I love my cat, which is why I feed him Taste of the Wild instead of Friskies, keep his litter box clean, and pet him and play with him. People who actually love their bodies will try to have something resembling a good diet (which is completely different than being on a diet), see a doctor every so often and make a passing effort at following the advice given at the appointment, and get some exercise. When you love something or someone, whether it be your car, your kid, or your body, you take care of it.

Screaming about discrimination isn’t cardio and carrying around grievances isn’t weight training.  Amber Sarah and I both agree that people should love their bodies, but she’s referring to an emotion, and I’m referring to actions.


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What’s with iced green tea these days?

I’m a green tea addict.  Love the stuff. Often buy the gallon jugs of it (with white tea and mint) from Trader Joe’s. I also really like the glass bottles of Honest Tea (especially Moroccon Mint). There is all of five grams of sugar per serving (ten grams per bottle), and the tea cleansing goodness really shines through. But if you get green tea in the plastic bottle, there are 18 grams of sugar – the tea version of Coca Cola.

Tazo is even worse, with thirty grams of sugar per bottle.  Panera’s medium iced green tea has twenty-two grams of sugar.  Obviously, there’s a market for this stuff – otherwise, it would never be sold – but it is a bit disheartening that the “Just green tea” market is better served by Dunkin Donuts (amount of sugar or sugar substitutes in iced green tea: zero grams) than by Tazo, Honest Tea, or Panera.


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Recipe: Shooting Star Cocktail

I heard of a cocktail named “Shooting Star” when I read Cocktails for Three and thought it would be a great pre-meteor shower dinner accompaniment.

An online search lead me to some horrific monstrosity invented by Kenny Chesney involving rum and energy drinks; a sweet concoction that is basically a Sex on the Beach with added grenadine and Sprite; and a cocktail involving gin, Peach Schnapps, and coconut milk.  Lacking lychee juice, I declined to make this version of a shooting star and grain alcohol “cocktails” are so under-21 universityThis recipe, however, seemed promising: champagne, bourbon (which Mr. Velociraptor and I both enjoy), and the citrus garnishes could be replaced by slices of starfruit.

Under the theory that a Shooting Star is apparently whatever the heck you want it to be, I tweaked the latter recipe a bit and came up with my own version of a Shooting Star cocktail for two:

1 small bottle of champagne (we used a 187 mL of Korbel)
3-4 shots of bourbon
juice of half of one lemon
a dash of sugar
slices of starfruit

In a cocktail shaker, mix bourbon, lemon juice, and sugar with ice. Strain into martini glasses; top with champagne. Put slices of star fruit on rim of martini glass or floating on top of the booze.

For those following along at home, it’s basically a Champagne Americana without the bitters and with the addition of starfruit.  It is also delicious and stunning with the starfruit and bubbles.

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The blatant political hackery of the “food desert” map

Austrian Anarchist points us to a USDA map which allegedly shows “food deserts” (i.e. places wherein it is hard for people to access grocery stores and food). (Hat tip.) I say “allegedly” because one such “food desert” in Knoxville includes a Food City grocery store, farmer’s market, Trader Joe’s, Target that has a grocery section, several ethnic food stores, and a bus system.

I perused the USDA “food desert” website and found that my beloved alma mater, Tufts, is a food desert!  So much for having two dining halls, a take-out dining hall, and four on-campus cafes: it’s a “food desert” wherein people are completely unable to access healthy food. Tufts, rated as having the second-best food in the nation, is a culinary wasteland.  Thank you, USDA, for bringing this travesty to our attention.

The USDA determines “food desert” regions primarily by having a large proportion of low-income people.  Then they also factor in grocery stores by distance (i.e. if you are in a low-income neighbourhood, then you are in a “food desert” if you are more than a half-mile from the nearest grocery store).

This is the sort of statistical nuttery that bears no relationship to reality.  People are considered to be in “food deserts” even if the bus or subway leaves from their front door and deposits them 0.6 miles later in front of a grocery store.  College campuses are “food deserts” because they have dining halls instead of supermarkets.

The entire concept of defining “food desert” as not being within a half-mile of a grocery store is absurd: there are precious few areas with the population density to support that concentration of grocery stores. There is no government policy in the world that is going to convince supermarkets to build so many stores so close together.  It also ignores other sources of food (e.g. farmer’s markets, ethnic food stores, dining halls) and means to access food (e.g. mass transit).

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Tofu, the easy and tasty way

When I first became a vegetarian, I tried to learn to cook tofu and usually ended up with either gelatinous and tasteless goo, semi-burnt briquettes, or over-seasoned salty not-so-goodness. For those learning to cook tofu, I recommend a different approach: learn from those who have gone before you.

Catherine Newman (not my fav mother blogger, but a lovely recipe-blogger) has a delicious  recipe for soy-glazed tofu. I used lime juice instead of lemon juice and cooked it in the oven in my Le Creuset – first with the butter, then with the glaze – and it came out beautifully.

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