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    You can’t let me into Safeway

    (Again from Jack at www.ForkandBottle.com)

    I was in Safeway yesterday (cub reporter, taking notes) and came across what I think is a new product: Weight Watchers Chocolate Cake w/Chocolate Icing. On the box it states in a good-sized pt font “Real Food, Real Life, Real Results.ˮ Reading the ingredients, #4 is: Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (transfat). PHO! Just amazing, huh? No wonder the Weight Watchers website doesn’t list the ingredients of their own food products.

    Oh, and let us not forget Newman’s Own “Virginˮ Lemonade. Apparently Virgin is Newman-ish for High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), as it’s the first ingredient after water.

    Walking through the Frozen Food aisle, I checked more than a half-dozen unfamiliar products at random. Every one had PHO in them. Except for the frozen vegetables, I wouldn’t have been surprised every single item in that aisle had some amount of transfat. You have to wonder if their buyer refuses to buy products that lack PHO? What other explanation can there be?

    Not one cheese in their sizeable cheese section was something I would buy. I can’t recall the last time I found a cheese section that didn’t have even five that I would be happy to eat. This is just inexplicable to me – I guess industrial cheeses really rule the day at Safeway.

    There was no milk from either of the main local suppliers, Clover Stornetta and the small one, Straus Family Creamery. I was quite surprised to see the Safeway in-house brand as the only milk you could buy.

    Stouffer’s French Bread Pizzas – I remember eating them long ago. A double: HFCS and PHO.

    Nestea Ice Tea (half gallon carton): Tea is the fourth ingredient. Glad they put some in. HFCS is #2.

    The cereal aisle is divided (labeled) into two parts: “Family Cerealˮ and “Adult Cerealˮ. The Adult part has only about 20 cereals, many of which you can find at Whole Foods, etc. The Family part has all of the HFCS/sugared cereals…are they saying that kids don’t get enough HFCS/sweeteners already? Apparently, too, “familiesˮ can’t live without having chocolate chips in their cereal.

    There’s a sizable section for kids drinks that come in Tetra Paks near the checkout area. Every single one of them, from a bunch of different companies, contained HFCS as the second ingredient (water being the first). Just what are parents thinking giving this to their kids to drink?! And yes, kid-friendly beverages in Tetra Paks exist, but not here (…Whole Foods stocks them. So do our local independent supermarkets.).

    And the funniest thing: It’s toward the end of Heirloom tomato season here. Still, there’s at least two food weeks to go. I found the heirloom section – 11 tomatoes really well hidden. (Yes, 11 – I’ve never even seen a farm stand with that few.) The funny part: They’re labeled “Emeril’sˮ brand – yes, that Emeril!

    Big Chain Supermarkets vs. Whole Foods

    Hi! I’m Jack from www.ForkandBottle.com. Kate has asked me to be her guest writer for the next few days. My posts won’t have her look, style or superior writing ability – but they are on subjects that I think will be of interest to her readers. So here goes…

    Big Chain Supermarkets and Whole Foods: How do these opposites compare? Below you’ll find very biased analyses of what I think are the plusses and minuses of the Big Chains and Whole Foods. As you’ll see, I’m not in love with Whole Foods, yet compared to Big Chain Supermarkets, for me, there is only one choice.

    Big Chain Supermarket

    The Good

    • They’re likely to be open (i.e, long store hours).
    • Clean stores.
    • Recognizable products ie. “ it seems like every big name is there. (Not good to me,  but it is to the average shopper.)
    • It’s not hard to find the store.

    The Not-So-Good

    •  Produce: Farmers in Chile must love them, some Central Valley guys, too. Small farmers? Sustainable agriculture? Who? What? Huh?
    •  Employees: Compared to Whole Foods employees, Big Chain Supermarket employees just don’t seem to understand food.
    •  Often the store is so big it takes forever to get an item you forgot, like milk. Also it takes longer to get everything you need.

    The Bad

    •  Accepts slotting fees. Big-name producers keep out smaller guys, new guys, etc.
    •  Soda aisle is the High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) Emporium.
    •  Actually, every food aisle is the HFCS/PHO (Partially Hydrogenated Oils) aisle. I could not find, during a visit today, a processed frozen food that (excluding milk-based products) didn’t contain one or both.
    •  Proudly stocks as many candied breakfast cereals as possible.
    •  In the Tetra-pack drinks (for kids!) section (in the front of the store) all have HFCS as their second ingredient (water is first). Perhaps the ones without HFCS were hidden elsewhere in the store.
    •  Three words: Farmed Atlantic Salmon.
    •  Most products are from big-name producers.
    •  Low cost is always more important than taste, distance shipped, etc.
    •  Fruit & Vegetables look great but many (like those perfect looking strawberries) come up way short in the smell and taste department.
    •  Lack of food standards: Impossible to not get your daily dose of bad ingredients like HFCS and PHO.
    •  Lots of disposable products. One store had a full aisle of them.
    •  Fish department sells fish of questionable origin, catch method, or which is endangered. It’s very sad that the very endangered Chilean Sea Bass (patagonia toothfish) is now “Sea Bass (big letters), Chilean (small letters), wildâ€.
    •  No shortage of over-sweetened products.
    •  No stocking of ecologically safe cleaning products (such as Ecover, 7th Generation).
    •  Abysmal stocking of healthy foods for kids.
    •  Artisanal food products rarely stocked.
    •  No butcher’s department in some of the huge stores. (Can this be true in general?)

    The Very Sad (- based on what they stock¦)

    •  They must be assuming kids aren’t getting enough HFCS and other sweetners in their diet, as they seem to offer no alternatives.
    •  They must be assuming that low carb, zero carb, no fat and low fat products are indispensable health products to their shoppers. Watch for No Trans-fat products with less than 0.5g of transfat per serving, coming soon.
    •  They must be assuming that soap, itself, isn’t naturally anti-bacterial. Instead, they have what seems like the complete range of anti-bacterial products “ that remove the good bacteria as well as the bad.
    •  I didn’t find labeling as to which products are GMO. Did I miss it?
    •  The Organic produce and Natural Foods department is always small, filled with less attractive-looking items and priced not-to-sell in a price-conscious store. The organic produce was housed in the mushroom cooler in the last store I was in.
    •  The meats and poultry mostly come from huge industrial farms/plants (that are serious polluters). If you saw the living conditions of these animals, you’d, – well, let’s just say there’s a reason people become vegetarians.
    •  The incredible abundance of ready-to-eat meals discourages people from buying food to cook. Why bother when you can just microwave, etc.
    •  Some unbelievably stupid products stocked. (Weight Watchers products that have partially hydrogenated oils, for example.)
    •  For some products, portions are too big. (Example: Huge BBQ Rib racks are packed two(!) to a package(!!!).)

    The Funny

    •  If you regularly shop at Whole Foods you won’t be able to shop at a Big Chain Supermarket as they won’t have practically any of the products that you’re looking for.

    Whole Foods

    The Good and The Great

    •  Some piece-of-mind about what you’re buying. They stock very few bad or stupid products. This is one reason why their shoppers shop there  and are willing to pay more.
    •  Very good organic produce  both quality and variety.
    •  Their Fish Department is the best of any chain store in the country (that I know of).
    •  Wine Department is superior to most any chain grocery I’ve been to (Larry’s Market in the Seattle area was pretty good, too). The Wine Department varies widely from store-to-store, as each store has its own buyer.
    •  They stock the right diapers and detergents. And not one anti-bacterial soap.
    •  You can buy healthy food and snacks for kids here.
    •  Real foods can be found, like raw milk, raw butter and grass-fed beef.
    •  Carry many artisanal food products, but I feel they have a ways to go here.
    •  Excellent cheese department.
    •  No slotting fees. This enables them to choose what products are in each store. And a much bigger selection of new products.

    The Not-So-Good

    •  Sometimes (or is it often?) higher prices for the exact same items found at other stores. I’ve seen the same Del Cabo tomatoes for half the price at Trader Joe’s. (In fairness, I saw those Del Cabo tomatoes priced just as high at a Safeway recently.)
    •  The quality of pre-cooked fish from their deli-area has been inconsistent and discouraging; almost as if it’s not the same fish the fish department has, or that it’s just the oldest fish getting cooked. (This is a standard grocery store practice cooking or marinating unsold fish (or meats)  but I don’t know if this is normal practice for Whole Foods.)
    •  The produce is generally not as good as the Farmer’s Markets. (Certainly not as fresh.)

    The Bad

    •  Continues to stock products from vendors such as Hansen’s Sodas and Newman’s Own, both of which still have HFCS in their products (but not all of them) at Whole Foods. Something about being grandfathered in is what I read somewhere. I just don’t understand why they haven’t phased these out.
    •  Whole365 brand eggs are shipped in from Texas(!)(!!!) to Santa Rosa. What Wile E. Coyote came up with that?
    •  Too much produce comes from Chile.
    •  Too much emphasis on stocking products from the big names in Organics that are now mostly owned by Big Food.
    •  Higher prices on some items than even independent grocers, for no apparent reason, other than people will still pay it.

    So here’s the thing: when/if you switch to shopping at Whole Foods, it does take time to figure out the hundreds of different products you’ve probably never seen before. (Curiously, the independent supermarkets where I live have a mix of products Whole Foods and ones that the big chains carry.) And there’s some trial and error. For instance, which is the good raisin bran cereal? (It’s Barbara’s¦ it even tastes better than Post!) And if you’re super price-conscious, forget-about-it. But if you care about what you feed your family, it’s hard not to shop at Whole Foods.

    Also see Kate’s article on slotting fees, Why Whole Foods Matters (or Safeway Hurts Innovation) from August 9th.

    Side note: I’ve love to see a study comparing the weight of shoppers at Whole Foods vs. Big Chain Supermarkets, by age category (healthy weight should be – to actual weight). The study would weigh in every six months over a three year time period. Waving magic wand, futilely.


    An Extended Weekend and Guest Writers

    For the first time in a while, I’m taking more than one day off from this site. I’m heading back to the mountains in Whistler, British Columbia for an extended weekend, and will be away from this site.

    But fret not when it comes to content. Jack and Joanne from Fork and Bottle will guide you through the next few days. Treat them well.

    Meanwhile, I’ll be back on Monday with pictures of fine Canadian…er…cuisine.

    We get Letters – v. 8: How do Rice Cakes hold together

    I got a short, but sweet e-mail in my inbox this morning, that I thought I would address.

    Why does the rice used in rice cakes stick together?

    Thank you


    Thank you for the terse e-mail Lowside. I am envious of people who can get directly to the point in their missives. It’s a talent that I obviously lack. For example, it’s taken me 40 words to simply say “Thanks”.

    And oddly enough, you’re not the first “lowside” I’ve ever thanked in my life. But that’s a story for another post.

    Ahhh… Rice Cakes The ubiquitous product for dieters across the country. Personally, I enjoy mine with several dollops of whipped cream and a bit of caramel sauce.

    To answer your question, there’s basically two answers.

    Firstly, Many varieties of rice are naturally glutinous. This does not mean they contain ‘gluten’ but rather that they are, by their nature, sticky. More specifically, they have a chemical component known as amylopectin, a naturally occurring polymer. For those of you who may have fallen asleep in Chemistry, polymers are long molecules consisting of structural units and repeating units strung together through chemical bonds.

    Puff the rice correctly, and they’ll hold their cohesiveness naturally…excepting for those rice cakes that may need a little help in sticking together. This leads to the second way rice cakes are held together…

    …through science! Or, more specifically, through the use of a carbohydrate called maltodextrin. Maltodextrin is a moderately sweet polysaccharide produced from corn starch and is usually found as a creamy white hygroscopic powder. It’s a member of the Dextrin family, which are used as water soluble glues, as thickening agents, and as binding agents.

    To answer your question, rice cakes are held together naturally, except for when they are not. When they are not, they are held together through maltodextrin.

    You can see examples of both of these by checking the ingredient lists of the rice cakes found on the Quaker Rice Cake web page, once again proving that you can find anything on the Internet.

    As always, if you have a question you would like answered, e-mail me at kate AT accidentalhedonist DOT com.

    Roero Arneis – 2004 Bruno Giacosa

    Roero Arneis - 2004 Bruno Giacosa I could have picked any number of wines when choosing one from the Piemonte region of Italy. I ended up selecting a Arneis, simply because I had never heard of this varietal before, and I was struck curious.

    The Arneis grape variety takes its name from a word in Piedmontese dialect which means “whimsical”, which I presume to mean that’s how they look at the grape…as “whimsical”. Instantly my mind turned to images of a grape whistling care-free and ready with the humorous anecdote about their Uncle Louie.

    This is simply how my mind operates. If I haven’t said it before, I’ll say it now: I did way too many drugs when I was in college.

    Arneis are dry white wines. They are best served chilled, between 45-50 degrees F. They are renown for how well they go with seafood.

    Eyes: A good straw yellow color. The rim is nearly translucent, but when you give it a swirl, it holds onto the glass very well, with thick droplets slowly crawling down the side of the glass.

    Nose: Almost an apricot aroma, with also the distinct smell of sand. Very peculiar.

    Taste: Sharp and crisp. Tastes like a cross between a pear and a very tart apricot, with a small kick at the end. Very nice finish, with a long slow decline.

    Overall: My bias is against dry whites, but this is very nice. Flavorful, and not overwhelming dry. I would buy this again in an instant. I give this a 3 on the 1-3 scale.

    Torta di Nocciole (Hazelnut Cake)

    Torta di Nocciole (Hazelnut Cake)

    This is the dessert recipe from Piemonte that I have simply been putting off. I opted for a cake only because I haven’t made one of those of late either.

    Keep your eye on the cake while it’s in the oven. The trick is ensuring that the middle is golden brown, while the outer is only a little darker.

    • 1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
    • 3 eggs,seperated
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 8 Tablespoons melted butter
    • 1 3/4 cup flour
    • 2 cups toasted hazelnuts, chopped
    • 4 Tablespoons Whole Milk
    • Grated rind of 1 lemon

    Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F.

    In a larger mixing bowl, combine the Baking Powder with three egg yolks. Fold in the melted butter, then adding the sugar, flour, hazelnuts and milk. By this time you should have a very thick and sturdy batter.

    In a seperate bowl, beat the egg whites until thick and stiff. Add the lemon rind. Gently fold the whites into the batter.

    Pour the batter into an 8-inch cake pan. Place in oven and bake between 35-45 minutes, keeping said eye on said cake. Essentially bake until browned.

    Beluga Caviar Banned…

    …Americans are nonplussed.

    For the 6 of you out there who purchase beluga caviar on a regular basis, you are now S.O.L when it comes to purchasing the fish eggs legally.The government is preparing to ban imports of beluga caviar in an effort to help prevent extinction of the sturgeon that produces the prized eggs.

    And remember, when caviar is outlawed, only outlaws will have caviar.