All posts in Food

black-friday_1

We Brits are suckers for an American trend. Halloween, tooth whitening, childhood obesity – where America treads, the UK is usually not too far behind…forming an orderly queue of course.

Black Friday is yet another US-lead initiative that has wormed its way into our national consciousness. Given its intrinsic link to Thanksgiving, you’d think this would be one Americanism we’d be happy to ignore, but it would appear we are (once again) powerless to resist.

Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November. The following day has become designated Black Friday. With a moniker originally coined by the Philadelphia police department in the 1950s, Black Friday was so called because of the chaos that engulfed the city as shoppers, fuelled by surfeits of turkey and cranberry sauce, flocked to the high street sales to commence Christmas shopping.

Over the years, the meaning of Black Friday has changed, with it now being heralded as the first day of the year that retailers start making money, therefore propelling them from the red to the black.

Black Friday had no relevance in the UK until 2010.  Until then, the nearest retail phenomenon we had was the good old Boxing Day sales. Multinational retailers were the first to introduce the concept on this side of the Atlantic. Most notable of these was Amazon, who introduced Black Friday discounts four years ago. Last year saw Black Friday reach critical mass in the UK, breaking the previous record for a single day’s online trade.

Initially, the UK’s adaptation of Black Friday was very much a digital event; a key impetus in the retail shift from the bricks and mortar of old to the new, infinitely more convenient digital shopping experience.

Last year, however, things started to change.  Wallmart-owned Asda ran a series of flash promotions, with ‘pinch me – I must be dreaming’ discounts that propelled frenzied customers into their stores. The result was akin to the carnage synonymous with America’s Black Friday – people queuing in the early hours and rampaging for bargains. Asda sold a month’s worth of TVs in just 45 minutes and 16k tablets in an hour.

So what does that mean for us this year then?  Well, analysts are predicting that 28th November 2014 will be the biggest online shopping day in UK history, EVER. It is also likely to be much more of a bricks and mortar event too.  Asda’s success last year made the other supermarkets sit up and take note…and want a bit of that frenetic footfall for themselves.

Am I the only one that feels a bit uneasy about this new shift in retail behaviour though?  To me, this feels like a slippery slope. Consumers become conditioned to expect heavy discounting, the level of which is only achievable by the giant monoliths of retail. It is only the supermarkets and multi-national retailers, like Amazon, that have low enough buy prices and broad enough stock ranges to accommodate this loss-leading approach. The independents, once again, are priced out of the market, knowingly undersold, in a supersized world where bigger is always best.

And what about the stalwart of UK retail heritage – the Boxing Day sale? Can it compete with the brasher, younger, all-American rival?  Only time will tell, but I’m thinking our British penchant for the under-dog will be quickly discarded in favour of an iPad for fifty quid!

What’s occurring with the weather these days?  One minute it’s cold and wet, the next blisteringly hot.  Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce… SWINTER – a freak seasonal hybrid that’s throwing up a whole host of challenges – sartorial, culinary and even domestic.

I’m no Michael Fish/John Kettley/Ian McKaskill (no? #showingmyageagain) but something strange is afoot meteorologically speaking. Autumn is no more – it’s been bullied out of town by this brazen, insensitive upstart.

As you would expect a Google search on climate change spews up a plethora of sites – educational, political and charitable.  The effects of climate change are profound (as far reaching as ‘far reaching’ can ever be) and impactful and not to be trivialised in a ‘poor me, I don’t know what to wear/eat’ kind of way.

That said, I’m afraid that’s exactly how I’m rolling with this one.  The weather has always been a hot topic of conversation for us Brits.  Historically I’m not really sure why.  I guess it must be something to do with British restraint and needing safe fodder for polite chit-chat.  It certainly didn’t used to be the unpredictable atmospheric carnival it seems to have morphed into of late.

So, presumably, as a nation we’re talking about it even more now.  If the RumbleChat office is anything to go by, that is definitely the case. Every day starts with a dissection of our local climate and the impact it has on our daily meanderings.  We are human barometers who obsess about the weather with a farmer-like intensity.

What to wear?  Just yesterday I set off for an early doors meeting in the Big Smoke, sporting a thermal socks/ankle boot combo and clutching an umbrella. Leaving my meeting late morning, I was greeted by the sun, with his hat on, mockingly beating down on my winter-clad self. By the time I got back to the office I was very sweaty, a tad grumpy and in dire need of an outfit change.  It brings a whole new angle to the trans-seasonal wardrobe conundrum.

I am also finding it is playing havoc with my appetite, or more specifically, what I fancy to eat at any given time.  A hearty stew is just the ticket when you’re cold and bedraggled, whereas a super-food salad is much more befitting for a balmy Mediterranean eve.

Don’t even get me started on the ‘is it too early to put the heating on?’ debate.  As I work from home a lot, I threw caution to the wind a fortnight ago and took the thermostatic plunge…only to return home the next day to an uncomfortably furnace-like house and the kids running around topless in the pleasantly warm garden.  I just can’t seem to get it right on any front.

And my phone’s no use.  I constantly refer to it for weather hints and tips but Apple are clearly using someone even less in-the-know than I to inform their weather app. Check it in the morning and it says one thing, then two hours later (once you’ve set about starting your day) it’s completely contradicting itself… presumably after looking out of the window and realising how wrong its initial finger in the air prediction really was. Utter shambles springs to mind.

So, what about you RumbleChatters?  Are you struggling like me or can you give me some tips on climate management for beginners?

scandinavian-interior-design-showroom-in-stockholm-2012-2

The broad brush definition of Content Marketing is any marketing format that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire customers. So the formats that immediately spring to mind are blog posts, website updates and email newsletters, right?

In my opinion, the essence of content marketing is far broader than this.  It’s a strategy, not a tactic, and should actually encompass every single communication that your company utters online, including job adverts, one-to-one emails and absolutely anything you write on social media sites and forums.

Content marketing is one of the best ways of engaging with audiences and potential customers online. It is useful for improving search rankings, increasing brand engagement, loyalty and visibility and for facilitating social sharing and interaction. If you are a consumer-facing company, it is imperative that you  are actively embracing content marketing.

People in-the-know have even gone as far as to say that content marketing is the new SEO.  A big claim, but one that makes sense.   Content is the undisputed king in 2013. High quality content targets relevant keywords, boosts social sharing and increases the number of indexed pages on your website, all of which aid your search ranking climb.

Significantly, the focus for content marketing is not on selling, but rather on communicating with customers and prospects.  So it’s really all about improving your communication strategy and making sure you are communicating with your target audience on the right platforms, with relevant information, using a tone of voice that endears you to them.

What I’ve said so far obviously applies to any consumer facing company. But if you’re a food or lifestyle company you’ve got a distinct edge on the content marketing front and I’ll tell you for why (Gavin & Stacey repeats on Gold, anyone?).

Chances are your product is way more aesthetically pleasing than the majority out there.  People love to drool over images of food or beautiful interiors.  There’s a reason TV is flooded with food porn (Masterchef, The Great British Bake Off, Nigella) and house porn (Grand Designs, anything with Sarah Beeney).

They (those in-the-know bods again) say a picture speaks a thousand words. So you are at a distinct advantage in having access to delicious images that your audience will want to see.  Of course, you don’t want to be just firing incessant pictures of your brand at them, but having this content in your locker gives you a natural foundation for your content marketing efforts.

So what are you waiting for?  If you’re not quite sure where or how to start then either give us a call or pop back next week when my blog will give you a step-by-step guide to Content Marketing.

bacon flavoured coffee

Granted, I’m probably not in the most gastronomically objective of moods, given that at 1am today I was rounding off the evening (a quiet night in with a friend, don’t you know?) with a large tumbler of elderflower liqueur. It was one of those ideas that seemed great at the time, but now in the cold light of day, with pounding head and churning tum, was clearly a huge mistake. Not remotely big or clever…especially on a school night.

But even without a hangover, bacon flavoured coffee just seems wrong. I’m all for pushing the boundaries of flavour combinations in pursuit of the next taste sensation (well, maybe not today), but there is a line.  And that has crossed it. Created by gourmet coffee company Boca Java, they claim their Maple Bacon Morning blend is  ‘reminiscent of a hearty Saturday morning breakfast’. Even for a brand whose tagline is ‘redefining the perfect cup’ this has surely got to be a massive stretch?

I mean, I’m all for the nuances bestowed by different coffee blends – spicy, fruity, full-bodied, rich, smooth etc, but to my mind coffee should taste like coffee…and definitely not like bacon.

Now some flavour combinations, that seem plain weird at first, just work. Peanut butter and jelly (sorry, jam), chilli and chocolate are a couple that spring to mind. Discovering new taste sensations is all in a day’s work for the scientists at Foodpairing. They are slaving away to discover new ways to pair old ingredients.  Using a scientific flavour analysis, they pair together foods that share major flavour components, in ways that we couldn’t even dream of.

According to their findings, surprising yet winning combinations include: Heinz Tomato Ketchup and banana, dark chocolate and parmesan and French cheese and almond cookies.  What say you Rumblechatters? Do any of those tickle your fancy, or even your tastebuds?

I’m not keen on the first pairing, but on a better day I could see the appeal of the latter two. For now though, I just need a strong coffee-flavoured coffee…and maybe a little lie down.

Taste.  Now that’s a word with many meanings. Whether it’s the sensation of flavour perceived in the mouth, a small portion, a person’s liking for something, or the ability to discern good quality or high aesthetic standard, the concept of ‘taste’ is something that permeates modern life.

The most obvious association is food, but it extends to many areas of a Rumblechatter’s life.  You can have good taste or bad taste. But I’m assuming that, by virtue of you reading this, you fall firmly into the former camp.

Food-wise, there is a scientific explanation as to our preferences. When food and drink are placed in the mouth, taste cells are activated and we perceive one of five flavours: sweet, salty, savoury, sour, and bitter.

Sweet and salty foods were originally nature’s way of rewarding us for eating something nourishing.  There are natural sugars and salts in fruits and vegetables and all carbohydrates are broken down by our bodies to produce sugars that provide the main fuel for bodily function. Natural salts play a necessary role in regulating the pressure of all bodily fluids. Obviously in this day and age, a packet of Walkers Salt and Vinegar followed by a slab of Dairy Milk don’t really offer the same nutritional value, but still, it’s good to understand the origin of our (my?) comfort food cravings.

The taste of savouriness is derived from the natural protein component of foods like meat, cheese and mushrooms.  The main function of protein in the body is to build and repair cells and tissues – pretty essential, in anyone’s book.

Sour and bitter flavours work in the opposite way. Originally they alerted us to foods that might be toxic or harmful to us. Sour foods tend to only be good for us in small amounts. Take for example, the humble lemon. Whilst it has many beneficial attributes, such as antibacterial, antiseptic and supporting liver function, you couldn’t eat a whole one now could you? Bitter foods are ones that may be toxic, and so our taste buds (and dour, lemon-sucking faces) warn us immediately.

Vegetables, although very healthy, do have a component of bitterness to them. This is thought to be from a cunning kind of bitterness camouflage to delude predators into thinking said plant is toxic . Also, some of these bitter ‘toxins’ may actually be deadly to one animal species but another may have adapted to be able to digest these same ones.

Human beings developed innate taste preferences in prehistoric times.  In constant danger of starving, humans developed instincts to shun the plentiful but bland vegetables in favour of the extremely rare, overly sweet, high-fat treats such as honey, grubs, or bone marrow fat, which would sustain them in a famine. Our love of The Great British Bake Off shows that we really haven’t evolved that much

When it comes to aesthetic taste, well that’s a whole different ball game, and one grounded in sociology, not science. Sociologically speaking, taste is an individual’s personal and cultural patterns of choice and preference. Taste is about drawing distinctions between things such as styles, manners, consumer goods, works of art etc. and relating to these.

Aesthetic preferences are predominantly influenced by education and social origin. Different socioeconomic groups are likely to have different tastes. Social class is one of the prominent factors structuring taste. This theory suggests our parents and childhood experiences have a profound influence over our mature aesthetic taste.

I can confess I’ve just bought a green Egg chair that has definite echoes of an orange one my parents had in the seventies. But that’s as far as the shared taste goes.  For me the influence seems to have been more about driving me to create something different.  I’m pretty sure my abhorrence of all things matchy-matchy (in fashion, soft furnishings, décor…in fact, in anything) stem from my mum’s obsessive love of the very same thing?

The other pertinent thing about taste is that everyone thinks they’ve got it.  Just as no-one holds their hands up to being a bad driver, so no-one confesses to having appalling taste.  Which is probably a good time for a confession…I’m actually a terrible driver.

I may be a bit behind the times here (it wouldn’t be the first time), but I’ve just discovered the Suspended Coffee Campaign.  Born of an Italian tradition, the ‘caffe sospreso’ is a cup of coffee paid for in advance as an anonymous act of charity. The tradition began a century ago, in the working class cafes of Naples, where someone who had experienced good luck would order a sospeso, paying the price of two coffees but consuming only one. The remaining coffee would remain suspended for a poor person to claim later.

This heart-warming practice has been championed successfully on social media, igniting social consciences globally and subsequently being adopted by communities around the world. Suspended coffees represent an affirmation of the old English adage ‘Charity begins at home’ – supporting the ‘down on their luck’ people within your local community.

So far, about 150 British cafes have signed up to what has become a formal scheme, with coffee giant Starbucks recently signing up for the initiative. Ian Cranna, vice-president of marketing at Starbucks UK told Marketing Magazine the campaign “will provide warmth and comfort for those looking for food or a hot cup of coffee.”

The only problem I can foresee is that of the target audience (vulnerable people) feeling ashamed to pop in and ask for the off-chance of charity.  Some cafes across the UK have pre-empted this barrier, adopting the initiative in different forms, with some donating cash equivalents to local homeless shelters or providing tokens to be discreetly donated to those in need.

On a (frivolously) political note, if this is an example of what the EU brings us, who can knock it?

food app image

Following on from last week’s vociferous scourge on the new food app for lardy gamers, I felt it only right that I should offer up the worthier side of food related apps.  As Apple have drummed into our subconscious, whatever your [dietary] requirements, ‘there’s an app for that.  The plethora of sustenance related apps is astounding; there’s definitely no ‘one-size-fits-all’ ethos going on here.  Here’s a selection of the several million (I exaggerate…but only slightly) that I stumbled upon in the name of research.

 

Best for Foodies in training: Foodgawker

A veritable feast of food porn. The mobile counterpart to foodgawker.com, which collects recipes from various food bloggers, and presents them in a mouthwatering photo gallery format. Whether you want to make good food, or just drool over it, foodgawker is an excellent resource. It’s also a great way to discover your next favourite food blog.

 

Best for meal planning: FoodPlanner

Make it easy to swerve the crisp aisle next time you hit the supermarket. FoodPlanner organises your daily meals and allows you to upload your own recipes and download meal ideas from top recommended sites. This clever little app then compiles your shopping list of ingredients from the recipes you’ve chosen. FoodPlanner can store multiple lists and recipes to add variety into your healthy eating habits. Handy eh?

 

Best for wannabe Flintstones: Primal Paleo

It seems like every other person I meet is Paleo eating these days.  Maybe it’s the Game of Thrones effect, but this caveman diet is taking over the world! Billed as ‘the only nutritional approach that works with your genetics to help you stay lean, strong and energetic’ the ideology is more appealing than the reality (no coffee or cake). For those keen to give it a try, Primal Paleo offers the perfect pocket guide to succeed.

The app includes key information about the core principles of Paleo living, along with recipe ideas and a searchable list of Paleo foods. Find out which foods are in season and choose from a selection of exercises to complement the diet.Connect to the rest of the Primal community through the app to share your meal ideas, lifestyle tips and find words of wisdom from other users.

 

Best for eating out: Mint Nutrition

We all love to eat out, but it can be a sure-fire way of piling on the pounds. Mint Nutrition keeps track of your calorie chomping whenever you’re out for dinner and guides you to more healthy options. Search for foods at your favourite restaurants and also create your own virtual plate, detailing your most popular menu choices. So you can work out how much time on the treadmill you need to offset that sticky toffee pudding.

Best for vegetarians: Go Veggie!

This app is ideal for veggies wanting to keep their diet balanced and varied. Users can browse over 100 recipes ranging from basic to elaborate. Each dish is accompanied by a step-by-step guide. Additional features include an ingredient and recipe finder, recipe index and the ability to create individual shopping lists. Go Veggie! also explains how to transform protein-rich foods such as tofu, seitan and tempeh into tasty and nutritious dishes.

  

Best for staying hydrated: Carbodroid

Everyone knows that we should drink eight glasses of water a day, but if you’re anything like me, this is an abstract, rarely achieved target. You can set your daily goal for water intake and tap the cup or bottle icon to track your sipping habits. You’ll receive reminders to drink water at regular intervals and if you drink enough, the cute animated droid shares in your happiness. It’s a simple concept, but a brilliant one that motivates you to keep drinking water in a fun and accessible way.

 

Best for Healthy Living: Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker by My Fitness Pal 

Tap in your age, gender, ­lifestyle ­details and weight-loss goal and you’re away. It’ll set a daily ­calorie limit and help you track your food and ­exercise throughout the day. A ­potentially ­effective weight-loss tool, if you’re prepared to be ­brutally honest.

 

Best for garnering food safety knowledge: NutritionTips
Did you know that cut melon must be thrown out after two hours? Or that the leanest beef cuts include round steaks and roasts? Or that oysters contain protein, calcium, phosphorus and iron? This colorful app has fun factoids a-plenty to steer you towards a safe and healthy diet. Each tip is written on a sleek Post-it look-alike. Most visually pleasing.  Simply swipe the page or shake your device for a new tidbit.

 

So it seems Apple aren’t exaggerating.  Whatever your need or desire, there’s an app to match.  So, Rumblechatters, what’s your favourite food app?

 

Pizza hut app pic

Pizza Hut and Microsoft have teamed up to create a Pizza Hut App for Xbox, which allows video game players to order pizza via Xbox Live.  This means you can order dinner without having to abandon your beloved games console for a single second.

On a technological level this is a big achievement – it’s the first time an entertainment app has allowed for the purchase and delivery of goods. The app even connects to your Facebook account, allowing you to post details of your dinner order for your family and friends to see.

But Rumblechatters, the question I want to bellow at the top of my lungs is….WHY?  Is it possible to get so disconnected from reality that you think this is a good thing?  And don’t worry that this defines you as a total loser?  It’s a slippery slope after all – if cooking your own tea, or even picking up the phone to order it in, become too much bother, surely showering and the benefits of fresh air become completely obsolete?

Reassuringly this collaboration is only available in America at present.  But where the mighty US of A lead, Britain invariably skuttles behind. As UK couch potatoes rejoice, I can’t help but worry that this is taking slothdom to a new and disturbing level.

I’m having flashbacks to David Fincher’s Se7en.  Kevin Spacey’s nefarious John Doe character would have a (justifiable?) field day with this app.  He’d have to dream up a whole new world of pain to punish these slothful gluttons (2 deadly sins in one sitting).

Cue another media flashback, this time from the small screen. (I know I’m in danger of jeopardising my whole argument, given my points of reference reveal my eyes to be on the square-ish side, but bear with me please).  Do any of you remember a kids program called Why Don’t You?  It ran from the late 70s to the early 90s and ignited the careers of such celebs as Ant McPartlin, Pauline Quirk and Andy Crane (of Broom Cupboard fame….no? #showingmyageagain).

Its full title was Why Don’t You Just Switch off The Television Set And Go Out And Do Something Less Boring Instead? Clearly they weren’t inciting you to turn your telly off until the end of the show (when, handily, the kids programming stopped), but the ideology was sound.   We could learn a lot from the #goodolddays.

The sun is shining (for the moment) and the birds are singing….picnic anyone?

cupcakes

As a nation, last year we bought 110 million cupcakes. That’s nearly 2 each for every single member of the population.  And that stat doesn’t include all the cupcakes we whipped up at home – probably considerably more than that, given that 58% of us tried baking in 2012, a 27% increase from 2011.

I’ve just done a Google search for ‘cupcakes UK’ – it turned up over 46 million results.  So what exactly is this national obsession all about?

Cupcakes have become a symbol of hope amidst a backdrop of economic misery.  Where once hemlines were an indicator of financial prosperity (or otherwise), the humble cupcake flies the flag for affordable luxury. This bite-sized confection provides a comfort-food distraction from the economic rollercoaster (quadruple dip, anyone?)

Cupcakes are also emblematic of the rise of the small food producer. Start-up cake-making businesses have doubled in a year and sales of bakeware and ingredients have also shot up. Baking is becoming synonymous with the ‘make, do and mend’ psyche of a frugal modern Britain.

TV execs aided the cupcake’s rise to iconic status.  The launch of The Great British Bake Off in August 2010 fuelled our national obsession. A whopping 7 million viewers tuned in to watch the amateur bake-off at its peak. To contextualise it, that’s more than Eastenders gets these days.

It’s not just our taste-buds cupcakes are tickling. Their uplifting visual effects are being felt outside the food arena.  You can buy cupcake wallpaper, duvet covers, cushions and notepads, but to name a few.  The humble cupcake has its own range of licensed product – surely the ultimate sign of celebrity?

cupcake duvet cover

This morning I was privy to a conversation in Tesco Express that got me thinking. An older generation lady (for the purposes of this blog, let’s call her Elsie; she looked like an Elsie…or maybe a Hilda) was ranting (entirely good-naturedly) to the slightly bewildered cashier, about what the world was coming to, after said cashier informed her that they didn’t sell raisins, sultanas and dried fruit peel.
No prizes for guessing what Elsie’s making. Other customers gazed in bewilderment at this rare sighting of an actual real-life hot-cross- bun-maker. So, Rumblechatters, where do you sit in the make-your-own versus buy-them-in debate? And are you well informed as to the origin of this yummy food tradition?

I’d always blithely assumed that the origin of the hot cross bun was fairly clear cut – a Christian tradition celebrating the end of lent, utilising lots of tasty, forbidden by lent ingredients to make a yummy cake/bread cross-breed, stamped with the cross of crucifixion. In my head this was going to be a quick one – bit of history, bit of religion…job done. But no my friends, it appears that there is far more to the humble hot cross bun than meets the eye.

Did you know, for example, that way before the Christians staked their claim to the HCB, Pagans were merrily worshipping their goddess Eostre (after whom Easter was named), by serving up tiny, fruity, cakes, often decorated with a cross at their annual spring festivals.

The English word ‘bun’ evolved from the Greek ‘boun’, which was used to describe a ceremonial cake of circular or crescent shape, made of flour and honey and offered as a periodical thank you to the gods.

Superstitions regarding bread baked on Good Friday date back to pre-christian times, when people believed that bread baked on this day could be hardened in the oven and kept all year to protect houses from fires, sailors from shipwrecks and crops from perishing

So, given that the humble HCB is not actually that humble, imbibed as it is in a steep tradition of religion, history and culture, should more of us take a leaf out of Elsie’s book and get Good-Friday-Baking…or is this just another example of a time-consuming tradition best circumnavigated the modern way – by buying one and getting one free in a supermarket?

Don’t even get me started on the Easter Bunny!