Food History Products

Cheerios, Who Knew?

We need to talk about Cheerios. I recently received an email explaining that the new cool thing is to make a Cheerios necklace for your friends (I think they thought I was still in high school, bless them). The Cheerios necklace recipient eats a Cheerio off the necklace every time she sees the guy she likes at school and voila, he will like her after she finishes the necklace and all the Cheerios have been ingested. Now, that’s marketable. I mean remarkable. A cereal that can guarantee a boy? Works for me.

But Cheerios don’t stop there. They cure your heart disease. And, if you don’t have heart disease but you do have high cholesterol, they cure that. And, if you don’t have either of those maladies, no worries, Cheerios will start your day with oats, the cornerstone of our health pyramid. Let’s see, boys and two out of the top ten dangerous things to one’s health. Cheerios could be the best food ever.

But, we are not finished. I also received an email that had fun projects for the winter and one of them was to make a Cheerios bird feeder. Not only will Cheerios cure us, but birds need Cheerios too. This is all a lot of responsibility for one cereal.

So, of course, you know me, I had to go to the history of Cheerios. Cheerios was first produced on June 19, 1941 and is marketed by the General Mills cereal company of Golden Valley, Minnesota as the first oat-based, ready-to-eat cold cereal. It was called Cheeri Oats at first, later changed to Cheerios because of a trade name dispute with Quaker Oats. The name fit the “O” shape of the cereal pieces. In other words, Cheerios was the first fast food, possibly the beginning of the American health crisis. Hmmm. We are celebrating Cheerios today and not going to the dark side of things this early in the new year, so we won’t go down this road at this time.

I was with friends for New Years and had Cheerios for breakfast at their house. When I poured it out of the box, I got the prize inside. I was so excited. It was the cutest plastic hippo you ever saw with a little wheel on the bottom for easy rolling on the breakfast table. I used to love to be the first to open a box of cereal and get the prize inside. In our house, you were not supposed to search through the box for the prize, you were supposed to wait and see who got it naturally through just pouring out your portion. I’m sure this was the first setup by my parents for cheating between my siblings and me. This type of rule does not build joint cooperation.

There is actually a book out about the prizes in cereal boxes. It’s called Cereal Boxes and Prizes: 1960s – A Tribute and Price Guide. This just goes to show you that you can write a book about anything and someone might publish it. Apparently the coolest ever cereal box prize was the Captain Midnight secret decoder rings that must have been before my time, because I don’t remember them.

Anyway, back to Cheerios. I want to thank Cheerios for being so many things to so many people. For those of you who wish to become Cheerios aficionados, Cheerios is on Facebook and you can become a Cheerios Fan, not to be confused with a friend, who we all know might not work as it could be unfriended when you are sick of them and move back to Frosted Flakes. I’m glad we had this little Cheerios chat.


Holiday Fruitcakes

Let’s talk about fruitcakes. “Why would we want to do that?” I hear you query. Well, because it’s that time of year and it came up at dinner with friends the other night. I have been thinking about them ever since.

“I made fruitcakes today,” my friend Cathryn said when we sat down to dinner after a movie.

“Why would you do that?” I then looked down at the menu.

“I like making fruitcakes.”

“Well, no one likes eating them,” I said impatiently. “So, what’s the point?”

“Victor likes fruitcakes.”

Victor is her husband and was with us in the restaurant. He rarely listens to us when we are talking so you have to start the conversation as if the prior sentence was never spoken when needing his participation.

“Victor,” I said pointedly. “Do you like fruitcake?”

He looked up from the menu, paused and said, “No.”

I looked at Cathryn across the table, raised my eyebrow to make my point and looked down at the menu at the macaroni and cheese with truffles that was beckoning to me. Fruitcake be damned.

“Victor, you do so like fruitcake!” Cathryn was indignant.

“I learned to like it because you make it, but I didn’t start out liking it.” Victor was actually an ambassador to somewhere or other during the Carter years. I think that was where he learned to reply to those kinds of traps with such finesse. Not bad.

At that point, our conversation went in a different direction, but I’ve been thinking about fruitcake ever since.

Johnny Carson said, “The worst gift is a fruitcake.  There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.” I miss Johnny Carson. And, I think he was a very smart man.

Fruitcake is also the heaviest food per square inch to be sure. While I am making this up, I’m quite certain it could possibly be true. Tell me something we eat that is heavier? It may even be in the Guinness World Book or something. It should be. It also has the longest shelf life ever, surpassing even Twinkies which we know are not real food.

The role of the fruitcake in American history is dubious and cloudy. One theory presented by a historian who couldn’t quite locate his credentials dates back to the days of the American Revolutionary War. Commander in Chief George Washington asked Benjamin Franklin to come up with an easy barricade material to guard against incoming British cannon fire. Benjamin Franklin thought about it, went to bed early and rose early, healthy, wealthy and wise enough to tell the waiting general about his mother-in-law’s fruit-loaf. Her attempt at some kind of bread had been so hard that his uncle had broken a tooth while biting into it at the previous year’s holiday dinner. It is not known if the general followed Franklin’s advice. It’s more likely that he never asked him again. I like this story. A lot.

Here is the bottom line. Please don’t bring me a fruitcake, talk to me about the fabulous fruitcakes you make, or suggest for any length of time that anyone you know likes fruitcake. Thank you and Merry Christmas.


My Friend Feeds 10,000 on Thanksgiving

Bet you thought I was kidding. Nope, my friend, Liz Neumark, owner of Great Performances, one of the foremost catereres in New York City, fed 10,000 people yesterday on Thanksgiving. Ok, she didn’t do it all by herself. But she was the force behind it. She writes a blog on the Huffington Post, and I wanted to reprint it today. In the spirit of this season, she inspires me. We all need our friends to do that now and again. Congrats Liz and Co. Well done.

Still Intimate at 10,000 by Liz Neumark


24 hours from now, I will be “elbow deep” in turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, green beans and more. Only it will not be at a traditional family gathering; it will be on Washington Avenue in the South Bronx. This Bronx venue is just one of 10 where Great Performances, under the auspices of the Salvation Army, will be feeding 10,000 New Yorkers a traditional – healthy and wholesome – holiday meal. My team will prepare and serve 900 meals, in quantities not familiar to most people. (We will serve 360 lbs of turkey alone and over 2,000 of food in total.)

I heard some industry buzz that our participation in feeding 10,000 hungry people was not a good reflection on our brand. That a true high end, boutique, catering company would not embrace or proudly talk about this “mass feeding” opportunity. That stopped me dead in my tracks.

2009-11-25-row1Feeding New Yorkers has been my job for close to 30 years. It is the gala social and non-profit events, glamorous movie premieres, intimate CEO level private dinner parties, celebratory life cycle events from cradle to matrimony, and Fortune 500 events that we specialize in. Politicians, movie stars, rock stars, sports stars, star CEO’s – our client list is pretty cool.

And yet, I feel honored to be part of the catering company that is bringing this delicious meal to the tables of thousands of hungry, some homeless, some just down on their luck neighbors – a table we will decorate and serve with the same warmth we bring everywhere.

Our 4,000 sq ft commissary is not the largest in the catering industry, but it has seen many days of multiple events and our culinary staff knows how to make magic happen. Our cooks, chefs and dishwashers have spent the past several days (which would have otherwise been quiet for us) cooking turkey after turkey after turkey. Sure, they are happy for the work, but I think they are so proud to be a part of this effort.

Over 250 co-workers and business associates of the company will join together tomorrow from early in the morning through the afternoon to make the meals happen. The trucks will start to roll to the various destinations beginning at 5:30 AM. Crews will load the trucks in the middle of the night – in about 12 hours.

And the same care that goes into creating a glamorous gala dinner will go into 10,000 dinners.

One thing I have learned above all else, being able to give to others is the richest form of getting. I cannot believe that what we are doing should be commended for being the right thing to do any more than it should be criticized for being the wrong thing to do. And if this act has negative impact on our high-end brand equity, then there is something wrong in thinking that the elite are worthy of better food than anyone else.

I am so proud of my co-workers, friends and family who have chosen to give up their holiday to help serve others. And whenever the day ends tomorrow, and wherever we all go to put our feet up and rest, it will be with a sense of true thanksgiving for what we have, a good feeling for having shared the day with others and a small measure of humility and guilt for our good fortune.

Food History

Wonder Bread and Hostess Twinkies

twinkie-5-1I was driving in Denver with my family this past weekend, and we drove by the Wonder Bread factory. The smell was to die for. I commented that I remember my childhood when we would cut the crust off the bread, roll the rest of the bread into a ball and eat it. It was a giant glob of thick bread. After you ate it, it was with you for days. Days I tell you.

They said there was an outlet store there where you could get Twinkies and other Hostess treats. I told them you should never eat a Twinkie because the ‘cake’ is not cake at all and they grow it; they don’t bake it.

“You made that up!”

“No I didn’t. I read it a long time ago, I swear.”

No one believed me so I did a little research when I got home.

In the 1920s and ’30s, Continental Bakeries sold baked snacks under the Hostess brand name. Many of the snacks were seasonal, with fruit filling. Hostess Little Shortbread Fingers were made with strawberries, so for several months of the year the equipment used to make them sat idle because strawberries weren’t available.

The company vice president, James Dewar, wanted to make a product that could use that equipment and improve efficiency. His idea was a simple sponge cake with a flavored cream filling. On the way to a marketing meeting, he saw a billboard advertising Twinkle-Toe Shoes. And so, the Twinkie was born in 1930.

The first Twinkies were quite different from the ones we know. For one thing, they were made with banana cream filling, not vanilla. But in World War II, there was a banana shortage, and vanilla became the standard flavor. The eggs, milk and butter in early Twinkies gave them a shelf life of only two days. Dewar had his salesman replenish store shelves every other day, but the practice was expensive. So, the need for a longer shelf life led to many changes in the Twinkie recipe.

Today’s Twinkie has a much longer shelf life than the ones made in 1930, but not as long as some people think. A variety of myths and urban legends have sprung up around the Twinkie’s longevity, claiming that it stays fresh for decades, would survive a nuclear war and that the company is still selling off the original batch made in 1930, still fresh almost 80 years later. In fact, a Twinkie’s shelf life is officially 25 days. It’s also a misconception that Twinkies are chemically preserved. Most of the chemical ingredients are replacements for the ingredients that allow a Twinkie to spoil, but they aren’t strictly preservatives. Replacing eggs, butter and fats is what keeps Twinkies from going rancid. In fact, the airtight plastic packaging does far more to keep the cakes fresh than any of the actual ingredients do.

There are claims of Twinkies that have “lasted” for decades, such as one kept in a high school science classroom for 30 years. While it is true that the Twinkie continues to exist (like pretty much anything in a sealed plastic wrapper would), it is described as brittle. Reports that it is probably still edible are dubious, since no one seems willing to put that theory to the test.

Now, why is this important you ask? I am clueless. But a little nostalgic trivia now and then is a good thing.


Food Health Movies & TV Women

Movie Review. Precious.

I really hate it when Oprah tells me I have to like something. I get her exitement. But, first of all, her track record in film is less than stellar, and she pushes, pushes, pushes. And, then she calls someone in the film and tells them they will be nominated for an Academy Award. Just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. No offense, and I’m an Oprah lover, but she needs to not jinx people with her methodology of hyping a film on her show and then watching it bomb.


Precious isn’t going to bomb. The topic includes everything that is at the height of societal review; incest, obesity, education. And it’s all in one film. How could it lose? Well, it could have. Biting off so much and not going over the line where someone wants to look away – needs to look away – is an art, and they mastered it this time.

Stunning performances by everyone in the cast makes this all come together in a precious few hours of time well spent by each of us. Mariah Carey – well done. You clearly have a soul that has suffered. It’s written on your face. And, Mo ‘Nique, who plays Precious’ evil mother, brings a rawness to the screen that shows she is not afraid to stand naked – butt ugly naked – in front of the world. I guess comics have that strength, they just don’t use it normally in a serious place and time. Gabourey Sidibe, who plays the large Precious, was made for the role. She takes her time with it, hurries nothing and brings a real sense of layers to the person beneath the fat. I loved her and know that she brings to the part the pain that hides underneath obesity. Trouble is, there are no roles for people her size and thus this might be her finest hour on screen, which would surely be a shame.


Precious is about someone’s awakening from that which has been thrust upon her, to that which she chooses to go out and find. What is it about some people that enables them to rise above adversity so great they should be buried beneath it? There was the homeless girl who lived on the subway and ended up at Harvard. There is Oprah herself who came from abuse, mother rejection and other challenges to become the most powerful woman in media. These are not accidents, but there is something in these people that helps them rise above.

I had the name of the film with me throughout. The fact that her mother named her Precious when she was born tells us that she loved her at the start. The road her own life took created the hatred for Precious. I’m not sure that is so unusual in terrible situations. For me, it wasn’t about Precious finding the precious part of herself as much as it was her mother losing it. Don’t you just love titles that take you to the questions?

See it. If nothing else, it puts your own life in perspective and gives you the inside look into others that are just inside the windows of the houses you pass as you drive through the Harlems of our country’s cities.

Food History


Halloween is one of those holidays that you don’t really have to prepare in advance to get through. Did you know that 1/4 of all candy sold annually is sold for Halloween? This does not surprise me in the least. I’m sure I buy most of it. For years, I have started buying Halloween candy a month before the night when kids come knocking. “Get it now and you won’t have to worry about it,” I say while traveling through the store aisles. It’s really amazing I can kid myself over and over again and I still don’t get it.  You’d think I had no brain. I eat the candy the next day – or maybe over the next two days – and then buy it again. And so on all during the month of October. This year, I really tried to remind myself that I am one big ‘fat’ liar, and I will not get it early for the kids, and so I didn’t get any candy this year.

Did you also know that Halloween is the second highest grossing holiday after Christmas? That’s gross. Truly. What is the point?

Now that I live in LA, I wasn’t even sure if the kids go trick or treating here. From what I’ve seen about LA eating habits, they might go biking instead; dress up and ride five miles with their parents on their bikes in the perfect weather. Or, maybe they give out granola bars if you go from house to house. I dunno. I can comfortably say that I doubt very much if it’s business as usual on Halloween. Nope. I do believe that they give out little Tootsie Rolls if they give them out at all and the kids eat one a day or something. Whatever. Suffice it to say that I didn’t buy candy or put the paper on my door welcoming kids from the building.

And, last but not least, the original jack-o’-lanterns were made out of turnips, not pumpkins, which actually are fruits. And, that wraps up my Halloween information. Happy Halloween.


Christine Goes to IHOP

Who knew? Who knew you could get blueberry pancakes, or pumpkin pancakes, or apple pancakes, or a zillion other pancake flavors at IHOP. I live in LA now where IHOP is an around the corner staple.

Having never been to an IHOP, I was excited when my friend Cathryn suggested we stop on our way to Palm Desert for the weekend. “Victor and I always stop on our way.”

We headed in and there was much to be seen. First there was a placard on the table touting pumpkin pancakes as the special. This is my cheap friend, and she was complaining that there was no price on the card.

“How much could it possibly be?” I asked with irritation. Sheesh. The rich get richer. “I’ll pay for breakfast. Don’t worry about it.”

“I just think they should put pricing on the cards, it’s not right. You’re in marketing. This is so they get us to order them and then charge an extra dollar or something.”

I thinks she needs to work on her issues. She proceeds to tell me – I couldn’t make this up if I tried – that she was irritated the day before because she came out of a store where she parked and put a quarter in the meter. As she went to her car another car was just pulling out of the space next to hers. She noticed that he still had almost an hour in the meter and if she had arrived just a little later she would have gotten the prepaid space. I, who always have thoughts on any issue or comment, was without words. Can any of you actually say you notice how much is on the meter of the car next to yours in a parking lot?

Then she pulls out a small bottle of maple syrup that has a tag from a fancy hotel on the east coast on it.

“What is that?”

“I carry maple syrup with me because they don’t have real maple syrup here at IHOP, and it’s bad. Victor actually called me from the road yesterday and was sad because there was none in his car and he stopped for pancakes too.” Victor drove down the day before us because he had a meeting. “Can anyone really be this organized,” I thought as I sat there staring at her? Since I was afraid you wouldn’t believe me, I took a picture of her and her maple syrup from her handbag. She carries it wherever she goes. Just in case.

See, I told you so… It’s the bottle on top of the coffee pot. And yes, I know she’s cuter than me. We were roommates in the ’70s and once we went to dinner and the maitre d’ actually came over and said that a man so enjoyed looking at her over dinner that he picked up her check. I have mentioned before the bitterness I have that she didn’t split the remaining check with me, instead of me paying for my dinner. After all, it would have only been fair. Whatever. I’m almost over it.



Anyway, back to the pancakes I got. I ordered blueberry pancakes and sausage. I got SIX sausage links and a huge plate overflowing with blueberry pancakes. There are four more pancakes under the stack that shows up in the picture. Is it any wonder that America is fat? I kept thinking about Little Women and Christmas dinner and how this one plate of pancakes would have fed all the Marsh girls as well as the poor family they took their Christmas breakfast to. I know my mind wanders, but really, have you ever seen one portion this large? And, it was only $7.99. How do they make money?

So, now I’m an LA IHOP girl and loving it. I recommend them highly, but only order one portion for the whole table. LA is a bevy of new experiences.


Cheerios, Who Knew?

Remember when Cheerios was just a cereal? You always had it in the cupboard. I’m not saying it was the fun cereal or anything. Frosted Flakes, now that was a fun cereal. You could eat Frosted Flakes with milk or without. Either was still sensational, but Cheerios were just there, like the quiet sister. You couldn’t really put things on Cheerios; like blueberries for example. But let’s face it, fruit on cereal really belonged to Corn Flakes.

Anyway, the reason I want to talk about Cheerios is that they have become so much more than a just a staple cereal in your pantry.

First, they will now cure your heart disease, and if you don’t have heart disease, they will lower your cholesterol, and if you don’t have a cholesterol problem, voila, Cheerios will assist your digestion. These are the important things Cheerios can do for you. But it doesn’t stop there.

When my daughter was a toddler, I had plastic sandwich bags of Cheerios with her at all times. I had them in the diaper bag, in my coat pockets, in the car, and in her room. It was the perfect snack. No fake coloring and you could pretend they were healthy. A generation later, I see mothers still using them when I’m out and about. Oh, we also played counting games with them, and while she is not in mathematics, she tests well in math, and I’m sure I have Cheerios to thank for that.

Today, I received an email that gave me a ‘recipe’ for making a bird feeder out of Cheerios. Apparently, birds like and need Cheerios as much as we do, and if you make it for them, they will come. Who knew? I am not going to make the bird feeder because I don’t want bird kaka on my small terrace, no matter how much it will help them.

A few week ago, I read that girls were making Cheerio necklaces and giving them to friends to wear and eat the Cheerios one by one during the day. Every time you see the guy you like, you eat one and voila (this is really cool), he will like you back. I have no idea who is doing Cheerios’s marketing, but Obama should bring them to the White House.

Cheerios has a history, even though you probably don’t care about it. Cheerios was first produced on June 19, 1941 and was marketed by the General MIlls cereal company as the first oat-based, ready-to-eat cold cereal. It was called Cheeri Oats at first, later changed to Cheerios because of a trade name dispute with Quaker Oats. The new name fit the “O” shape of the cereal pieces. Now, aren’t you glad you know that?

Personally I liked it better when they tried to sell you cereal by giving you fabulous things in the boxes. Like Cracker Jacks, but your mother didn’t mind buying it. Someone actually wrote a book about it. (Just goes to show you that you can write a book about anything and if you are first to market, you can create a market. Strange.) The book is called Cereal Boxes and Prizes, 1960s : A Tribute and Price Guide, and you can buy it on Amazon. I was going to download it to Kindle so I could tell you what some of them were, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. If any of you buy it, let me know what the prizes were. I can’t remember. I do remember, however, that the first to open the box of cereal in my house got the prize. You shook it until it came out, even though we weren’t supposed to do that. We were supposed to wait and when it fell out naturally into someone’s bowl, that child would get the prize. Let’s be real. Setting up those kinds of rules, sets your child up to become a cheat. But, that’s another blog which I’ve already done.

I am done with the Cheerios Chat. But even though you are probably saying I am running out of things to blog about, you mark my words. You will never look at Cheerios the same again, and you are going to notice them now in their new forms.