I spotted Indexed, another blog-turned-book success story, in the Chronicle Books store the other day. Indexed represents two great ideas: first, it’s a novel use for index cards (other than, say, Getting Things Done with a Hipster PDA or other office applications), and it’s also an inspired concept for a blog. ThisIsIndexed.com is one of those brilliant ideas, like the Million Dollar Homepage — simple, clever, and enviably unique (which translates into lucrative).
Every weekday, author Jessica Hagy — copywriter, doodler, and philosophical statistician — publishes a diagram or an equation that succinctly captures an insight into modern life. The index card doodles range from the trivial to the thought-provoking, most often amusing and challenging in terms of how fast you can "get it." Hagy covers topics as diverse as shelter-versus-purebred canines, drifter cuisine, the boggling math of emotion, and undergoing water torture (both voluntary and involuntary). Hagy includes larger, more complex figures in the 5×7 section.
Kindred spirit Hugh MacLeod, author of gapingvoid, also admires Indexed. Chronicle Books published a couple of companion products, the Indexed book of postcards — (because, go figure, index cards are the perfect size for postcards!) — as well as the Indexed notebook.
Posted August 13, 2009 by Mariva in arts, blog-turned-book, books, business, entertainment, fun, gifts, humor, innovations, media
In San Francisco during February 9-13, 2010? Attend the Macworld Expo for free! (The Expo pass is a $25 value. Offer expires August 30, 2009.)
2010 will be the first year in which Apple, Inc. itself is not officially a part of Macworld Conference and Expo. This comes after a noticeable slowdown after last year’s Macworld, during which Steve Jobs was conspicuously absent due to serious illness, and Apple marketer Phil Schiller adequately — but unglamorously — filled in as keynote presenter. It’s up to David Pogue, tech pundit and pianist beloved and admired by much of the Apple community, to step in for next year’s keynote — (Pogue calls it the "The Anti-Keynote") — which, if nothing else, will probably be entertaining for geeks and music lovers.
At the Macworld Town Hall meeting last year, IDG World Expo vice president and general manager Paul Kent asked attendees what we’d ideally like to see in an Apple-free conference. I suggested making the event a little "scrappier" and more community oriented — following, at least in part, the "unconference" or BarCamp model of self-organizing with regard to user panels and discussions. Kent smiled and said he liked the word "scrappy," so hopefully I will have had a tiny bit of influence on Macworld 2010.
There’s been much conjecture among Macworld attendees and tech industry pundits as to whether Macworld is sustainable without Apple’s involvement. The fact is, it all depends on how well the event is organized and how much interest there is among Mac enthusiasts and sponsors — which no one will know until the event itself. At a small group gathering at last year’s Macworld, Ilene Hoffman opined that the Mac user group population is aging, simply because young people are no longer inclined to join user groups. A computer has become like a phone or TV or stereo; almost everyone in the industrialized world knows how to use one.
So, if the historical driving forces behind Macworld are absent on the one hand (Apple, and perhaps some key exhibitors or sponsors) and increasingly irrelevant on the other (user groups), what’s the draw?
What I’ve liked about Macworld has been only peripherally about Apple; the gathering is a focused industry conference that showcases technology for all kinds of purposes, many of which center around some type of creativity: music, video, photography, visual art, design, writing, programming, recreation, small business, travel, and education. If this aspect of the event — the general creativity — is enhanced, it’s possible that Macworld could be even more enjoyable for attendees. Kent himself remains optimistic, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results of his adept management.
I’ll see you at Moscone Center in February 2010.
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Posted August 12, 2009 by Mariva in business, city, community, innovations, social, technology, travel
Got vision? Ready to inspire others to do something big? If you’ve got an idea, what you need to do next is build a powerful network of like-minded enthusiasts to achieve a common goal. Yeah, you could create yet another Facebook group or Twitter hash tag — or you could try The Point, which has developed software technology that allows organizers to leverage tipping points. Specifically, you can use The Point to start a campaign to raise money (minus five percent for The Point — if the campaign successfully reaches a minimum threshold that you decide) or to enlist volunteers for a cause, such as eliminating high fructose corn syrup from soda or developing wind farms. Once you’ve launched your campaign, you can embed a widget on your site to publicize it.
Current campaigns are organized into channels, like Education, Music, Politics, Technology, and so on. The "Social Experiments" channel hosts some interesting and amusing campaigns, and compelling public dares and calls to action are filed under "Challenges". You’ll find the best organized campaigns in the "Popular" section, along with many Groupon deals (because Groupon, a successful commercial project, is The Point’s biggest and most successful "campaign").
Posted August 11, 2009 by Mariva in community, deals, innovations, media, resources, shopping, social, technology
Groupon is a refreshingly unique concept in deal-seeking, utilizing the power of collective interest. (Groupon is a successful commercial project of The Point, which has developed software technology to leverage tipping points.) The way it works is, every day Groupon offers a new deal on something you might want to purchase locally — entertainment, dining, recreation, fashion, products, health and beauty services, and other services — and if enough people commit to buying it at the discounted rate, then everyone in that lucky group gets the same discount. There are three catches: you have a 24-hour window in which to make the commitment, the offer could sell out, and if the number of interested consumers fails to meet the minimum threshold, the deal is off. So you must decide quickly, and it helps to get your local friends and associates interested in the same bargain you’re going for.
You can view deals at the Groupon web site or sign up for daily emails. Some of the discounted services featured at Groupon are intriguing, such as pedicures at cleverly named spas, cafes I’ve wanted to try, a whale watching trip, a Segway tour, a speed reading class, and a culinary tour of a historically Italian urban neighborhood. I’m still kicking myself for missing a one-month membership to the upscale Club One Fitness gym for only $25.
Small businesses looking for an interesting marketing opportunity may want to consider Groupon. The Groupon for Businesses section promises to deliver "motivated consumers" without risk of an up-front investment. Groupon acts as a broker in the transaction; it collects payments from customers, takes a cut of the profit, and cuts a check to the business — but only if the threshold of minimum commitment was met and the deal was realized. (Groupon claims that the "average check size is 60% greater than the Groupon’s value"; if this is true, it seems like a win-win-win for the business, customers, and Groupon itself.) Groupon also offers a free monthly newsletter on business promotion tips and tricks.
Groupon currently offers deals in seventeen major markets in the U.S.: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa, and Washington, D.C.
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Posted August 10, 2009 by Mariva in business, city, deals, innovations, shopping, technology
You may not get a hankering for peanut brittle often, but when you do, the yen can be inexorable. Making it yourself can be more trouble than it’s worth, and it’s not easy to find high quality peanut brittle in most stores, even in candy shops. (A quick search for "peanut brittle" yields mostly recipes, not readymade shopping sources.)
Enter Anette’s Chocolates by Brent, maker of arguably the best commercially produced peanut brittle in the world. Anette’s is based in Napa, the heart of Northern California’s Wine Country. Napa Valley and surrounding areas are known for their world-class vineyards as well as top-notch microbreweries, artisanal cheese, and gourmet food products. Thus, it makes sense that one of Anette’s most popular products is its Beer Brittle with Spanish Peanuts.
Honestly, mixing beer into peanut brittle didn’t sound especially appealing to me, but I gave it a chance. I was floored by how good it was, the blend of dark roasted Spanish peanuts, amber ale, butter, sugar, and a little sea salt. If it sounds weird, give it a try — that is, if a good, satisfying peanut brittle is what you really want.
The Beer Brittle is Anette’s signature peanut brittle, but more adventurous brittles include Buttery Chardonnay Wine Brittle, Firey Beer Brittle with Spanish Peanuts, and Triple Nut Bourbon Brittle with Pistachios, Almonds and Pecans. The Chardonnay Brittle is also excellent, but I found that the taste of white wine isn’t as perfectly suited to peanut brittle as beer is. (In the context of peanut brittle, chardonnay is surprisingly tame compared to the pungency of brewed hops.) The "firey" brittle, laced with chili peppers, is so spicy and hot that it’s hard to eat more than a mouthful or two at a time (which is probably a good thing). It’s therefore wise to reserve the firey brittle as an unusual treat, perhaps consuming it alongside Anette’s standard beer brittle. (I haven’t yet tried the Tripe Nut Bourbon Brittle, which sounds sumptuous.)
Because Anette’s is so close to an abundance of superlative wineries, it blends wine and liqueurs into other confections as well, notably chocolate truffles and sauces. The Tall Chocolate Wine and Liqueur Sauces set, for example, includes Chocolate Cabernet, Chocolate Port, Belgian Chocolate Brandy, Chocolate Raspberry Liqueur, Chocolate Amaretto, and Caramel-Butterscotch Scotch sauces. Other notable sweets include nuts, chews, and toffee, as well as what I’m eagerly looking forward to trying next: the S’mores Kit with Madagascan Vanilla Marshmallow, Rich Chocolate and Graham Cracker.
Anette’s Chocolates ships throughout the U.S. and Canada.
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Posted August 4, 2009 by Mariva in edibles, entertaining
To: Mr. Guy Kawasaki
c/o Garage Technology Ventures
Dear Mr. Kawasaki,
The manager of the Microsoft booth at Macworld was going to throw this away after you were finished with your book signing for Reality Check, and I couldn’t bear to see it go into the garbage, so I rescued it.
Then, at the GTD Summit, David Allen inspired me to go through my Inbox (a big pile of random papers) and do a Mind Wipe or a Mind Sweep or whatever he calls it, and I realized that as much as I enjoy looking at a photo of you — (who doesn’t?) — I simply have no use for this.
Again, though, I hate to see it thrown into the trash, so I’m sending it to you care of Garage. Perhaps you can add it to your souvenir collection of professional engagements.
On a personal note, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to your interview at the Commonwealth Club, and I got a kick out of you interviewing David Allen at the GTD Summit. I’m sorry my fellow attendees and I ineptly let the elevator door shut on you before you could get on, but we couldn’t find the "open door" button in time. (Probably designed by Microsoft.)
You mentioned at the GTD Summit that you feel guilty that you don’t have time to respond to all your fans, so I’m proactively letting you off the hook. You don’t need to write back. I won’t think you’re an @ssh0le.
P.S. I might blog this at mariva.com. It’s vaguely funny.
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Posted March 23, 2009 by Mariva in audio, books, business, celebrities, media, social, technology
Update: Now that the much-awaited film Milk has premiered, many politically astute observers have noted the parallels between the recent marriage equality demonstrations and the Gay Rights movement of the 1970s that Harvey Milk had come to represent. I will be seeing Milk at the Castro Theatre this weekend, but having participated in both the making of the movie and many of the recent anti-Proposition 8 demonstrations, I feel as though I’ve already seen it. What follows is my story of being one of many extras during the riotous crowd scenes.
* * *
The Castro District in San Francisco, just down the hill from where I live, is abuzz. It’s the most exciting time for the neighborhood since the annual Halloween street party (before it was recently banned) or LGBT Pride weekend, when tourists from all over the world make a pilgrimage to the famous "Gay Mecca." It’s as if the 1970s — when the Castro emerged as the world’s epicenter of the gay liberation movement — is coming alive again. And, in a sense, it is.
Filmmaker Gus Van Sant is in the middle of realizing his long-time dream of directing a biopic of Harvey Milk, a political activist instrumental in creating the gay community and culture of the Castro, as well as the first openly gay man to serve in a substantial political office as San Francisco city supervisor.
Van Sant had been wanting to make a movie about Harvey Milk for a long time. He rejected the original Oliver Stone version from the early ’90s (which was to star Robin Williams, who has since aged out of the role). And there was another reason he couldn’t make the film he’d wanted to: Warner Brothers, the studio he was negotiating with, balked at showing realistic depictions of gay relationships during the sexually liberated ’70s. When I met Van Sant in the late ’90s during a book tour for his debut novel Pink, he said that in making a movie about Harvey Milk, it was important to depict sex between men realistically, so he couldn’t abide by the studio’s prudishness. "They wanted to limit Milk’s sex life to something like just two little kisses, and I couldn’t do that," he explained, "so I walked away." Half-jokingly, he likened working with big Hollywood studios to being in a masochistic relationship.
The events of just the single decade that followed, however, made a difference in the potential for accurately telling gay stories. Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet, Will & Grace became a mainstream hit, and Queer As Folk and The L Word routinely depicted same-sex love scenes and a variety of intimate relationships. In the end, it may have been the success of Brokeback Mountain that convinced nervous studio execs to back a realistic film about Harvey Milk. In fact, all of a sudden — thirty years after Milk’s assassination — the story of the "Mayor of Castro Street" is in demand. Due to the writers’ strike, Van Sant’s version happened to make it into production before a competing version by filmmaker Bryan Singer and writer Randy Shilts.
Over the past couple of months, the production crew transformed the modern trendy neighborhood of the Castro into its 1970s incarnation — which, back then, had more resembled a small town.
- production crew begins work to change storefronts, re-create interior of Milk’s camera shop
- San Francisco Chronicle: "Harvey’s Castro" slide show
- CBS5: "On the Set of ‘Milk’" video
- Shae’s video tour
- NBC11: "Harvey Milk Film Sets in San Francisco" slide show, "Castro District Goes Hollywood with Sean Penn Movie," "Castro Merchants Are Sour Over Harvey Milk Movie:
Business Owners Say They Are Losing Money"
- Bay Area Reporter: "Castro Set for Movie Makeover, " "Film Crew Descends on Castro," "Harvey County, USA," "How He Got Milk: Castro Couch-Surfing with ‘Milk’ Screenwriter Dustin Lance," "Castro Merchants Bank on Movie Magic"
- Bay Times: "Milk Film Rules the Castro"
- Flickr group photo pool: "Castro vintage makeover"
- Steve Rhodes’s Castro set photos
- Boing Boing: Castro Street transformed for Harvey Milk movie
- Castro Shopper: "A Film on Your Milk," "Increased Milk Production," "Linkin’ Blogs," "This Little Movie Goes to Market" (all Harvey Milk-tagged articles)
- Bay Area Video Coalition: "Harvey Milk (the movie) Returns to the Castro"
- PBS P.O.V. blog: "San Francisco Happening: Remembering Harvey Milk"
- Screenwriting for Hollywood: "MORAL MILK for Gus Van Sant and Sean Penn"
- Castro Courier: "Movie about Harvey Milk to be Shot in Castro"
- SFist tags: Gus Van Sant, Harvey Milk, Milk
- Retro the Castro
- /Film: closeups of Aquarius Records storefront
- bulletin boards, storefronts
- vintage window flyers and cars
- Milk movie vintage car photo collection
- re-creating Toad Hall (the gay hippie hangout) and Castro Camera
- 1970s trash can
The building at Market and 16th Streets (now empty after the liquidation of Tower Records and Video) became Extras Holding, where young actors (and some middle-aged ones) are transformed into their 1970s counterparts. Rack after rack of ’70s plaid shirts, coats and jackets, jeans, suits, polyester dresses, large-knit sweaters are meticulously categorized and numbered, as are dozens of storage bins containing wool caps, wide neckties, scarves, large eyeglasses frames, bandannas, hoop earrings, and other period accessories.
Extras sit in front of high-end lighted mirrors at makeshift makeup tables to get their hair styled into long shags and severe side parts (for men) and, for women, face-framing barrel curls, afros (for black women), and plain long, straight locks. Those extras with hair too short or modern had to endure wearing cheap wigs. Rumor has it that the makeup department ordered thousands of fake mustaches and pairs of sideburns in assorted colors to apply to men who hadn’t been growing their own. Wardrobe and makeup is often open twenty-four hours a day to accommodate the aggressive film schedule.
San Francisco doesn’t host nearly as much filming as does Southern California, so the extras, happy to engage in a rare professional film acting opportunity (especially since it’s not easy to be cast even as a "background artist"), have an unusual sense of camaraderie. As fascinating as the quotidian details of making a film are to passersby, the extras themselves compare notes, even on the craft service food. The entire first floor of Extras Holding was converted into a dining hall with folding tables and a whiteboard displaying menu of selections that change daily. Morning extras and crew are treated to custom-made omelets from professional chefs; the dinner menu rivals that of an upscale restaurant:
- grilled flatiron steak
- grilled trout with lemon butter
- chicken cordon bleu
- bow-tie pasta
- bien cali rice [(I’ve never heard of it either)]
- gnocchi with tomato cream sauce
- mixed veggies
- baked brie
- prosciutto-wrapped asparagus
- stuffed artichokes
- dessert: "Cake Batter" ice cream
Casual observers in the Castro had the good fortune to watch the principle actors at work, including Sean Penn as Harvey Milk. I’ll admit that I was at first skeptical of the casting of Penn in the title role. Snapshots of Penn, however, in full wardrobe, makeup (including colored contact lenses and a nose prosthetic), and the long ponytail and scruffy beard he’d grown to depict Milk’s hippie look during the early ’70s, convinced me — not to mention how seriously he and co-star James Franco took the roles. Steve Carell, slated to star in the Singer/Shilts version of the Milk story, would have been an interesting choice in one of his first comedy-to-drama crossover rolls, especially since he played a sensitive gay character in Little Miss Sunshine so poignantly and delightfully. Adrian Brody might have fit the part, too — certainly physically — but he may have been too young to play the forty-something Milk.
- Harvey Milk and Sean Penn: one side-by-side comparison, another juxtaposition
- /Film: "First Look: Sean Penn as Harvey Milk in Gus Van Sant’s Milk"
- Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, early ’70s
- Penn/Milk, early ’70s: multiple snapshots, more
- Penn/Milk with James Franco (as Milk’s lover Scott Smith), early ’70s Castro
- Penn/Milk with Emile Hirsch (as young activist Cleve Jones), early ’70s Castro
- Eric Nielson’s entire Flickr photo set
- Penn with Gus Van Sant on the set
- other principle actors
- Josh Brolin (as the notorious assassin Dan White) video interview (starts at 1 minute, 5 seconds)
- supporting cast
- IMDb: full cast and crew
- About.com: interviews and info
- Tom Ammiano plays himself (Will no one notice that he’s thirty years older?)
- speculation as to who will play Dianne Feinstein
- actors at work video 1, 2, 3
- Day One of production (scene at Station 43, San Francisco Fire Department) video
As exciting as it was to observe an active film crew and famous actors using the Castro as a living movie set, I had the privilege of participating even more, as an extra in Gus Van Sant’s Milk.
[next: being an extra in the crowd scenes]
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Posted November 25, 2008 by Mariva in city, community, fashion, movies, social
If you’re in the market for a commuter bicycle, be on the lookout for the collapsible, theft-deterrent Biomega Boston. The Biomega Boston features a cable that locks into place as a structural part of the frame. In order for the bicycle to function, a key is inserted into a lock that keeps the cable taut and firm; without the key, the cable is slack and the frame collapses. The bike, once the cable is slack, can be folded for easy storage in the office or at home. (If a would-be thief cuts the cable, the bicycle is rendered unrideable via collapsing frame. For the owner of the bicycle, though, the cable can be replaced to restore function — although the ease of repair and theftproofness is debatable.)
The design of the Biomega Boston is so cool and innovative that it’s on display in the current San Francisco Museum of Modern Art exhibit 246 and Counting: Recent Architecture + Design Acquisitions. (When I came across it during a recent museum trip, the key was in the lock and I was half-tempted to grab the bike off the open display board and ride away. I’m guessing, though, that I might not have made it very far — and my museum membership would most certainly have been revoked!)
Biomega offers other lightweight but sturdy models that are popular with commuters and bicycle design aficionados. Keep in mind, though, that in aggressively hilly cities like San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, the limited number of gears typically on a commuter bicycle may not be enough (unless you enjoy consistently walking your bike up steep hills). If your commute involves a lot of ups and downs, I recommend investing in a bike with at least 18 speeds, and practice shifting gears effectively to ascend and descend those hills with ease.
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Posted October 17, 2008 by Mariva in city, fitness, gadgets, innovations, technology, travel
Really? There’s an election? Gee, I had no idea.
For anyone living under a rock, the United States is approaching the decision that initiates the peaceful transfer of power (or the Quadrennial Showdown between Good and Evil, take your pick). Some elections are more contentious than others; the race for the impending presidential election on November 4, 2008 may be one of the most heated.
MSNBC produced a slideshow of voter portraits. After viewing just a few photos, though, I could accurately guess the voter’s allegiance. For example, every single African American pictured is voting for Barack Obama. The lobbyist in a business suit is supporting John McCain. The hip young people tend to lean Democratic. The older rural white men are all Republicans. (Well, duh.) While I appreciate the diversity of American citizens featured, the voting populace is full of surprises, and I wish the slideshow reflected some of those instead of reinforcing stereotypes according to the conventional wisdom of demographics.
Tangentially, speaking of demographics, do you know about Generation Jones? Born between 1954 and 1965, “Jonesers” occupy the recently acknowledged generation between Baby Boomers and Generation Xers. For decades, Jonesers had been imprecisely lumped in with Baby Boomers, but their life experiences have been very different from those of Boomers. Instead of worrying about getting drafted into the Vietnam War or dancing in mud at Woodstock, Jonesers were listening to punk rock on their way to the unemployment office in the late ’70s and wondering when Ronald Reagan would get around to mentioning AIDS in the ’80s. (The name Generation Jones, according to Wikipedia, “derives from the slang term jonesing, referring to the unrequited cravings felt by this generation of unfulfilled expectations.”) Both Barack Obama and Sarah Palin are members of Generation Jones, and the Jonesers bloc comprises a potentially large number of swing voters.
For a look back at past elections, the Museum of the Moving Image presents Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952–2008. Some of the campaign ads in the ’50s up through 1960 were cartoon jingles, but the cartoons stopped in 1964 when the famous “Daisy Girl” ad scared voters into supporting Democratic incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson. Witness the entire range of tactics from blatant fear-mongering to pastoral appeal. Here are some other notable ads:
You can view the Curator’s Choice and playlists assembled by prominent journalists, authors, historians, and political consultants. (Register to create your own playlist.)
People from around the world are paying close attention to the U.S. presidential election. In fact, Economist.com put together an interactive Global Electoral College map, which reveals that except for Georgia, Macedonia, and Moldova, the entire world seems to be going blue. (Sadly, much of Africa seems embroiled in massive, intractable problems to participate in this international survey.)
International wonks may appreciate the Angus Reid Global Monitor, which tracks recent and upcoming elections around the world, or the Table of Electoral Systems Worldwide from International IDEA (Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance). In addition, the ACE Project: The Electoral Knowledge Network provides election-related information from the world, including electoral processes, ballot papers, and candidate vetting. You can even take quizzes on topics like vote counting and media and elections.
In the U.S., Project Vote Smart provides citizens with comprehensive information about the electoral process, including voter registration, biographies of elected and appointed officials, records of candidates from each state, and state ballot measures. You may also request the 2008 Voter’s Self Defense Manual. The League of Women Voters offers Vote411.org, which allows you to view your ballot and find your polling location, as well as Smart Voter, which provides the same service in a lower-tech text format. For assistance away from the internet, you can call the nonpartisan Election Protection service toll-free at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683).
Whatever you do, make sure to vote. There’s no good reason not to.
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Posted October 10, 2008 by Mariva in community, education, media, news, resources
This is a story about pancakes. It begins in one of my favorite places. Let me explain.
San Francisco is not the densest city by any means, but space is at a premium nonetheless. So when a single store occupies an entire city block — a large city block — that is a big store in San Francisco. The experience of shopping at the only Costco in San Francisco feels like half-privilege, half-pandemonium. Wheeling a ginormous cart around the street-width aisles of Costco, for me, is a guilty pleasure. There’s only so much paper towel and laundry detergent I really need, but I find any excuse to go. I would imagine that anyone who’d grown up behind the Iron Curtain might bask in the consumer abundance of Costco as a sort of earthly paradise.
In one of the refrigerated aisles, an entire case contained shelf upon shelf of bright golden-yellow spray cans. I thought nothing of the spray cans at first, assuming that the cans were just a brand of whipped cream I hadn’t seen before. But I did a double-take as I noticed something horrifying on the cans: the word batter. Costco, you’ve got to be kidding me, right? Batter — (pancake and waffle, that is, not cake) — in a spray can? Look, spray cheese is bad enough, but spray batter heralds the end of civilization.
Perhaps even more amazing was that the word organic also appeared on the can. I’ve been brainwashed by Whole Foods, I admit, but when I see the word organic, I automatically think healthy. (Or at least healthy-wannbe.) Was it possible for something healthy to be stored in spray can — which, by defnition, indicates processed food? Who could have predicted that I would stumble onto such a paradox in the refrigerated section of Costco? Organic and spray can seem like matter and antimatter: how can they simultaneously occupy the same space?
I went home with my jugs of dish soap and jumbo box of Spring Mix pre-washed salad greens and spent several days pondering the mysterious pancake batter in a can. Is this a viable business plan? Are enough consumers able to overcome the inital gross-out factor and purchase this product? Certainly there have been many times when I craved pancakes but had neither the ingredients nor the desire to engage in the time-consuming process of making them. And the yen for pancakes rarely justified a trip to a restaurant. So what to do? The solution to this conundrum may, in fact, be contained within the scary golden-yellow can.
Before I made any investment, I conducted some research on the cleverly named Batter Blaster. I watched the 1960-style demonstration video, which got me to sing the jingle repeatedly: Make a better breakfast faster: Batter Blaster!. (I can’t decide if the jingle is cute or annoying — or both — but it’s certainly memorable. Well done.) I read the canned — (sorry) — testimonials. I was prepared to experiment.
Costco offers a package of three 18-ounce cans for $9.99, which seemed like a good deal until I realized that I had nothing to compare it to. One can produces enough pancakes for a breakfast for two hungry adults or for three moderately hungry adults. In this era of escalating food prices, $3.33 for the bulk material of a breakfast for two doesn’t seem too bad.
Batter Blaster is remarkably easy to administer. Heating the frying pan to medium-low eliminates the common problem of the inedible "first pancake." (To avoid any burning at all, I recommend a quick spray of PAM between each pancake frying.) In fact, if you’re hungry for just a single pancake — and no more — you can fry a shot of Batter Blaster, rinse off the nozzle, and return the can to the refrigerator. (For this reason, and because of its ease of use, the product appeals to empty-nesters as well as to non-cooks.) Waffle lovers can also spray Batter Blaster onto a waffle iron.
In the frying pan, the batter bubbles surprisingly well for a mixture that doesn’t include fresh whipped egg whites; while they aren’t the most ethereal pancakes I’ve ever had, they definitely qualify as fluffy.
The most important question is, of course, how do Batter Blaster pancakes taste? The answer, in my opinion, is: solidly mediocre. Mediocre, however, is better than disgusting, which is what I’d initially expected from pancakes out of a spray can. The batter comprises a few simple ingredients: wheat flour, sugar, dried egg products, soy powder, leavening agents — and something I’m not sure I want to know about called "propellant." The bland taste is probably explained by what’s missing from the list: flavorings (like vanilla or almond extract) and spices. To be fair, I should mention that it’s the pancakes made from the plain batter, without any added ingredients, that are mediocre. Bisquick pancakes, or even pancakes made from scratch that contain no flavoring or spices, are also mediocre. The way to make them not mediocre is to add something to them.
For the purpose of livening up the batter, recipes are available at the Batter Blaster web site. Following the recipes, however, requires squirting the batter into a bowl and mixing in other ingredients. This defeats the whole point of Batter Blaster, which is ease of use and avoiding the whole mixing-batter-in-a-bowl procedure.
Here’s a tip I discovered after some trial-and-error: mix only the additive ingredients in a bowl and add a small amount of the mixture to the pancake while it’s frying. For instance, I mixed a cup of chopped pitted cherries with chopped walnuts and almonds, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. To each pancake, I scattered a spoonful of this mixture while the pancake was frying. The result was a plateful of uniquely flavorful pancakes. To skip any mixing process entirely, scatter a handful of rinsed-and-dried blueberries and/or sliced bananas into each frying pancake.
Hopefully in the future, if Batter Blaster is succesful, proprietor Sean O’Connor will add new lines of flavored batters, such as cinnamon-apple, spiced pumpkin, blueberry, lemon-ricotta, strawberry-banana, chocolate-peanut butter, savory herbs (for brunch or dinner crepes), and so on. (O’Connor has already tested strawberry and blueberry, as well as a sprayable brownie mix.)
I’ve been enjoying pancakes on weekend mornings, despite annoying myself with the catchy . . . better breakfast faster . . . jingle. I returned to Costco for another set of Batter Blaster cans. The refrigerator case was half full, which bodes well for the company — and for the future of easy pancake-making across America.
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Posted September 9, 2008 by Mariva in business, edibles, health, innovations, kitchen