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Planters Peanuts

7 Jun

“The Nickel Lunch!” Through the 1930s and 1940s, Planters used this tagline to market the affordability of their peanut products. Today, the company’s website has “Naturally Remarkable” emblazoned over a link to their environmental sustainability initiatives. While Planters’ advertising campaign has changed multiple time over the past century, there is no doubt that Planters has been enjoyed by generations of Americans as a good ‘ole American product.

In 1906, the Italian immigrant, Amedeo Obici discovered a new method for blanching peanuts in Pennsylvania and Planters was born. Though his firm was purchased by Standard Brands in 1960, which then merged with Nabisco Brands in 1981 and then was acquired by Kraft Foods in 2000, Obici’s focus on “quality” and “brand name” has lasted generations.

Planters Peanuts is distinguished by one of the most recognizable icons in American advertising history, Mr. Peanut. The character was first created by a fourteen year-old schoolboy, Antonio Gentile, who won the company’s logo contest in 1916. An artist later added Mr. Peanut’s trademark top hat, monocle, and spats and Mr. Peanut became the symbol of the peanut industry. Go ahead and try to name another icon from the nut industry.

Peanuts as a product is deeply rooted in American food culture. In 1906, the song, “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” debuted. The verse, “buy me some peanuts” connected Peanuts to America’s Favorite Pastime. During World War II, Mr. Peanut became a symbol of the American war effort and from 1939-1945 promoted war saving stamps. In 1991, Mr Peanut went political and visited Capitol Hill on his 75th birthday and in 1999 became the official snack of NASCAR.

Mr. Peanut is more than just a food icon but a generational symbol of the American spirit. Cheap enough to feed the hungry during the Great Depression, bold enough to raise money during World War II, and charismatic enough to be a popular icon in sports as well…who knew a food icon could do so much.

Though I am allergic to peanuts and will never be able to enjoy them, I can appreciate the great work Mr. Peanut has done for our country.

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Wheat Flour, Salt, and Water – Authentic Udon

28 May

There are few pleasures in life comparable to that of slurping a piping hot noodle from a pair of wooden chopsticks. Beads of broth cling to the noodle like glistening gems of gustatory delight. Then, there are those who, caught in the rush of modern life or simply to save a few dollars choose to consume a pack of instant udon.

The noodles from such a pack are as pleasant as rubbing sand paper along the palette of your tongue. The boiling water added to a tiny pack of artificial flavor is tinny and thin. The tiny flecks of freeze dried vegetables look more like goldfish food than something fit for human consumption.

While studying abroad at Waseda University last semester, I was on a quest to find a bowl of authentic udon. One evening, when the world smelled of wet pavement and the rain tapped at your umbrella like an impatient lover, I found myself walking back from campus hungry for something filling, delicious, and cheap. After passing a flower shop and a lantern suspended in a puddle, I came upon a quiet wooden door. The script for “udon” flowed across a polished plank like an elderly woman’s ambulation through a quiet park.

I entered the small shop and found the waitress and her parents bustling about in a cloud of steam, shining wooden boards, clinking bowls, and a torrent of slurps. I ordered a bowl of meat and tofu udon and listened to the sound of the water dripping from an umbrella stand bursting with a bouquet of color.

At last the udon arrived.

I had found it. A veritable dinner of authentic udon. The noodles were tender, the broth seasoned with time. The meat and tofu were succulent and the Japanese pickles had a satisfying crunch. I had to know how the old woman in the kitchen with an apron of embroidered petunias had achieved such a feat, a masterpiece of taste and tradition.

“The secret,” she said with a smile, “to making a real bowl of udon is the simplicity and purity of the ingredients. Flour. Salt. Water. And don’t forget patience. Pour the salt little by little into the flour and don’t rush or you’ll have a bowl tasting like a puddle of tears.  Now, none of those mechanical contraptions that mix the flour with a harsh metal whisk. Hands! Keep them washed and soft and dig right in and knead the dough! Then, I use this blade here that was made from a master sword-smith who used to serve only the most highly ranked samurai. This blade here has never failed me. Sprinkle some flour to prevent the noodles from sticking. And there you go my dear. The perfect noodle.”

She returned to the kitchen with a smile on a face like a wrinkled apricot.

“But, wait!” I called. “How do you make authentic udon broth?” I asked as she emerged from a kitchen, a constellation of cutlery, collectible calendars and flower aprons.

“That my dear is a family secret,” she chuckled as the rain tapped at the door as if saying, “tell me more old woman, tell me more!”

Meat and Gas, a Sensory Experience

24 May

The harlequin pattern of the metal plate lining the Kogi truck reflects a fun house like image of the hungry patrons queued along the pavement. Strolling up to the infamous truck serving a hybrid of Korean and Mexican fare is an experience of curious synesthesia. A faint cloud of exhaust cleanses the palette, while the smell of sweat and dripping meat catalyzes a primal urge to consume. Like a scent hound, your nose detects a smell then moves to an associated color.

The smell of sweat.

Ah, that must be the Mexican laborer in the sweat stained blue polo. Does such a foul odor make the blue hue of his shirt even more vivid?

The noxious, yet addictive smell of gasoline.

Yes, that must be the chrome tail pipes. Why does the smell of gasoline trigger a nostalgic yearning for barbeques and outdoor adventure?

What other motley smells fill the air? I close my eyes and count them. The aroma of cheap perfume from the girl from the pharmacy. Her face is caked in makeup and the oily residue of a taco hangs from her protruded lip like a tear. Does the sweet perfume make the meat taste sweeter?

A man with a cracked thumbnail lights a slim cigarette. The thick Kogi dog in his hand contrasts starkly with the narrow cigarette.

The smell of tobacco.

A memory flashes through my head of the Korean businessmen shrouded in the shadows of the skyscrapers of Teheran-ro in Seoul.

At last, the spicy short rib taco is in my hand. The warm simmering fat drips into my palm. I open my mouth and chew.

Sweat, gasoline, cheap perfume and tobacco. The pungent aroma of roasted meat.

This is the essence of Kogi.

Cheap gourmet.

The pharmacy worker’s delight.

The smoker’s respite from a cigarette.

The fat drips like a tear.

Afterword: I chose to focus on the sense of smell for my blog entry because I believe it is a sense often trumped by the sense of sight. Sometimes in life we forget to pause and take a good whiff.