I was listening to the Freakonomics podcast recently. Specifically, an episode about hitchhiking. They speculate about the various reasons that hitchhiking has largely gone away. It’s a great episode; check it out. But an important detail was brought up: many people drive around in mostly empty cars. That is, a typical car has capacity for 4 passengers, but only usually carries 1. This means that there’s a lot of wasted capacity.
On the day I write this, I am currently recovering from a medical issue that prevents me from driving. I’m sure there are many others in a similar situation: they have no car, no license, a medical condition, etc, that prevents them from driving themselves. Compare this to all the wasted capacity, and you have a market inefficiency (or a market opportunity, depending on how you look at it).
One of the problems with hitchhiking your person around is unreliability. Maybe I can hitch a ride to Chipotle, but will I be able to hitch back, all within a reasonable time? But what if my burrito could hitch a ride instead of me? There are many food delivery services in Columbus, but few are suitable or affordable for a single person’s meal. So, I posed my idea to Twitter.
I soon received a response that there’s a service called Zaarly, that could act very much like a service that I imagined. I placed a somewhat silly order: $10 to deliver me a Chipotle burrito. I say silly because Zaarly looks like a new service, has very few participants, not to mention I was asking for someone to deliver a burrito to me for about $3 in profit. However, if there were a critical mass of Zaarly users, then there’s gotta be at least one user already going to be driving near both a Chipotle and my house anyway, then the $3 is almost free money for someone with a mostly empty car. And this could work not just for food, but for anything that needs delivery: documents, groceries, anything. Or maybe there’s some sort of crediting that could (hypothetically) happen: you deliver to me today, and you’ll get one free delivery credit to use later, or something like that. This is similar to the concept of “slugging“, or ad-hoc carpooling, as mentioned in the Freakonomics podcast episode, except it’s stuff instead of people.
Realistically, Zaarly hasn’t reached this level of critical mass, at least not in Columbus. I shouldn’t have gotten my burrito. Some smart aleck placed a $40 bid to make this point.
Fortunately for me, the CEO of Zaarly Columbus decided to make his own point: that Zaarly is a business that cares about and needs customers (like me) to be successful, and he accepted and delivered my $10 Chipotle burrito offer. I’m not saying he’s going to be your personal Chipotle delivery man for $3 a pop (I tipped him a little more, by the way , but I’m saying in cities bursting with commuters (like Columbus), let’s put our wasted capacity to work, and start using Zaarly!
So maybe you’ve heard that Mexican Coke is made with ‘real’ sugar (i.e. cane sugar), unlike Coke from the USA, which is made with evil, corporate sugar (i.e. corn syrup). Mexicans who drink USA Coke often claim that it’s not as good as Mexican Coke, and older people from the US claim that Mexican Coke is the Coke that ‘they remember’ from the pre-government-meddling-in-sugar era. Go check out Snopes or Google for more background about the whole ridiculous controversy.
I’m not interested in any of the political nonsense (though I am against corn subsidies and sugar tariffs/quotas) as much as I’m interested in Coke itself: I drink a lot of Coke. A lot. Just ask anyone I know, and the first thing they’ll mention about me is their concern for the abusive amounts of Coke that I drink. Between this word and the last period, I just drank some. It’s a relatively large part of my dietary life, so naturally, I’m interested in all kinds of Coke lore, and even the promise of a better Coke from below the border.
One day, bottles of Mexican Coke showed up in the convenience store in the lobby of the office where I work. In the interest of science, I bought 6 of them. I drank a few, and put a few in the fridge for later testing. I wanted to do a taste test to see if I could tell the difference, and which I preferred. Here is the science:
Question: What’s the big deal about Mexican Coke and real sugar?
Background Research: See above. Additionally, I have tried some other drinks (namely Hank’s Root Beer) made with cane sugar, and found them to be very tasty.
Hypothesis: Despite all the context I’ve mentioned, I was skeptical that I could tell the difference.
Experiment: I purchased glass bottles of Mexican Coke and put them in the fridge to chill. To isolate the variable (sugar/corn syrup) as much as possible, I also purchased glass bottles of US Coke and put them in the fridge to chill. When the bottles were chilled enough, I asked my wife to pour three shot glasses of Coke: 2 of them with one type, and 1 of them with the other type. It was up to her what to pour in what, as long as both flavors are in there at least once. She hid the bottles from me. I drank each shot glass and drank water between each glass.
Results: The first glass was really good. The second glass seemed wrong. Not terrible, but wrong. I was excited that I already had a result! The third glass also seemed wrong. I guessed that the first glass was US Coke and the second two were Mexican. I was exactly right!
Conclusion: There is a difference in taste! Even Coke maintains that there is no taste difference, but that clearly is not the case. However, as much as I tried to isolate the variables, there are still many differences that I can’t account for: water differences, carbonation amounts, the effect of transport, etc. If I were in Mexico, I would not hesitate to drink their Coke–it’s very good. But, given the choice, I’ll stick to good old US Coke.
I hate onions: the smell, the texture, the flavor. I find the very idea of them being consumed as food offensive. I find everything about them offensive.
For instance, did you know that the chemical responsible for the wretched odor that onions give off is the same chemical as found in the defensive spray that skunks secrete?
That’s right: Thiol. It’s in skunk spray and it’s in onions.
Just think about that next time you bite into an onion. This message brought to you by the Anti-Onion Council.
Occasionally, when I am at Chipotle and I get a burrito ‘to go’, I will stuff a bottle of the Chipotle Tabasco sauce in my bag and abscond with it.
My esteemed colleague, Joe, has indicated to me that this is theft, and that I am a thief. And furthermore, he intends to “drop a dime” upon my backside and inform the authorities.
I retort that my action is akin to taking a bunch of ketchup packets, horsey sauce, etc from the condiment stand, and thus, is not theft!
So which is it? Submit your treatise of the subject below.
Have you had a volcano taco from Taco Bell yet?
I’ve had a few…dozen of them. I love them. Actually, it’s just a regular taco with “lava” sauce and an inexplicably red shell (which tastes just like the non-red shells). So, I guess what I love is just the lava sauce.
Incidentally, before the lava sauce comes out of the bottle, it’s referred to as magma sauce.
I’ve recently learned that the volcano taco will soon be discontinued, so I thought I would soliloquize it here, in iambic pentameter.
Volcano taco missing from my life,
Erupting thy way into my lone heart.
Shall I compare thee to the summer’s heat?
Thou art more lovely and more delicious.
Rough winds do shake my glad taste buds anon:
Your retail lease hath all too short a date.
Good bye, volcano taco, and may a flight of angels sing thee to thy rest.
One of the skills that my father taught me early on in life is the fine art of making pancakes. Because my whole family is proficient in this skill, I took it for granted. However, the more pancake-related interaction I have, the more I realize that pancake making is perhaps a lost art.
And it is for the greater good that I publish my “secrets” on excelling in your pancake creation. Note that these are just guidelines, and your methods may ultimately vary by taste.
First step: mixing up the batter. I find that this isn’t as crucial to making a great pancake as are the other steps, but if you have a lousy batter, you’ll get lousy flapjacks. You can buy a batter mix at any grocer. Most baking mixes (Jiffy, Bisquik) also have a recipe for pancake batter, or if you are really adventurous, you can also mix up your own.
The key to a good pancake batter is getting the thickness just right. Don’t be afraid to add water or dry mix to get it just right, but do so in small increments, because a little goes a long way to changing the viscosity. You want it be right around the same consistency as tapioca pudding (except not as lumpy, of course). You’ll really have to experiment multiple times to get it just the way you want.
Feel free to put in fruit, cinnamon, etc as you wish–I prefer a standard johnnycake myself, though I’ll never turn down apple cinnamon or blueberry pancakes. I’m not a fan of the chocolate chip cakes–too rich.
I’ve recently been experimenting with The Magic Bullet for quick mixing, but a wire whisk or even fork should work just fine.
Cooking the pancakes is by far, the most important and difficult part of the process. You will need the following equipment to do it right:
A flat, wide spatula, preferably with a nice beveled end. Don’t skimp on the spatula!
A nice-sized skillet…
…no, not that one. Get a nice big one. Don’t get the shiny stainless steel ones. Some people like the cast-iron, but do not use cast-iron skillets on glass-top stoves! I prefer the black ones (aluminum, maybe?) without teflon or any of that malarkey. I don’t know what they’re called, but they make a good “booong” sound when you bang on ‘em.
Okay, now that you have the proper equipment, here’s how you cook pancakes:
First, spray on some non-stick spray. The butter-flavored stuff is what I prefer, but then I’d eat my own arm if it was butter-flavored. Turn on the heat to around medium or a little higher, and wait for the pan to heat up a bit.
Next, pour the batter right into the center of the skillet. Keep your pour stationary until the batter has spread out to the desired radius. Sometimes I make ‘em huge and sometimes I make about 3 to a pan. If you are going to make huge pan-sized cakes, make sure your batter is thin enough so that it will chase itself all the way to the edge, or else you will have to use a non-stationary pour (which is fine too).
The next and most crucial decision is when to flip. This is possibly the most important step. As you watch the pancake cook, you can’t see the side that’s being browned, so you must take your cues from the visible side. You should start to see a number of tiny bubbles form and then pop slowly. After that, you should also start to see an outside ring of the pancake start to form where it appears the batter is drying. Somewhere between these two events is when you should flip the pancake.
You only get one chance to make a good flip, so make it count. A wide, bevelled spatula increases your chance of success. Be gentle, no need for an aggressive flip. The goal is for the flipped pancake not to slide when it lands. With a perfect slip, you should not be able to see any batter coming out the sides. Each additional cake you have in the pan increases the difficulty, so start with 1-per-pan until your confidence builds up. The best part of cooking pancakes is to check out the results after you flip.
Anywhere from deep golden brown to darkish brown is what all true pancakers strive for.
The other side should not take as long to cook, and will have a slightly different appearance because of the bubbles that I talked about earlier. It should have a “softer” look. Don’t be afraid to use your spatula to “check” on the pancake at this point.
Finally, when both sides are fully cooked, use the spatula to remove the pancakes and place them in a holding area. A designated pancake plate is fine. If you have a large group of people, you can even serve them sequentially if you like.
You should probably respray the pan with non-stick spray between cakes, or every other cake at most, because the cake will tend to absorb the spray, and you will lose some to evaporation as well.
A trick that I learned recently is to use a tortilla warmer to store the pancakes between cooking time and serving time. This does an incredible job of keeping the moisture and heat in.
Serve with butter and syrup. One of the things I like to do with butter/margarine is to put a small amount between each cake in my stack, and let the heat of the pancakes melt the butter.
If you have excess pancakes, you can freeze them for a later snack if you like. Next time you may want to consider a smaller batch of batter.
Thank you for reading, and I hope this makes your next pancake experience more enjoyable!