one man's ceiling
Saturday, September 30, 2006
  on the high cost of movie snacks
i recently ran into this over at slashfood and have been trying desperately hard to bite my tongue. so many people out there sneaking food into movies, and who can blame them? you drop a day's worth of pay for a two-hour experience that, often, could be better spent going out to a fancy dinner and taking a stroll along some scenic piece of real estate.

as you can read elsewhere, there are economic justifications for the price of popcorn and soda being so high but as true as all this is there is a larger problem that concerns the business model used for determining these prices.

theatres survive by the concession stand. in order to defray operational costs and make enough profit to survive they must increase the retail prices of the items they sell. as with the restaurant business, food prepped on the premises (popcorn and soda) allows for a greater profit than those delivered ready-to-eat (candy, ice cream) due to storage and production costs. a sack of raw popcorn has a shelf life of months where an ice cream treat may have only a few weeks. that raw corn is going to cost around a dollar a pound where a box of ice creams may cost five times that. finally, a pound of raw corn is going to yield up to fifteen large tubs of corn where a pound of ice cream my be no more than four individual servings.

prices have changed since i last checked these things but one day i sat down and made a calculation for two separate concession items: a large 132 oz. tub of popcorn with real butter and a 3 oz. box of plain m&m's. at the movie theatre end of things the popcorn sold for $3.50 and cost a total of $0.08, a profit of astronomical percentages. on the other end the m&m's retailed for $1.75 and were purchased from a wholesaler at $0.43, still a profit but nowhere near as great as for popcorn. this is why theatres are shoving corn and soda down our throats despite the cry for healthier snacks. in truth, there is very little in the snack world that can compete in profits to what soda and popcorn can yield.

the economic problem is that in order to remain operating and profitable theatres must earn a certain dollar amount per person in attendance. depending on the theatre, it's size and relative costs this can amount to around $1.75 per person, often referred to as the ppa, or per-person average. now, if everyone dropped by the snack bar and plunked down $1.75 that would be great but the numbers show that as few as only one in five people makes the pit stop. so in order to hit that ppa you need to be sure that one person is covering four others as well. buy a medium corn and a soda and you've just helped a theatre make it's ppa for those sneaking in cookies and drug store candy.

so the ppa is determined by the number of people attending against the dollar amount spent.

this is all wrong. never mind that a small corn and soda exceeds the rda of calories for two large adults, the problem is in the expectation that 20% of theatre attendees economically supports the rest. one school of thinking is that a surcharge of $2 get added to the admission ticket, eliminating the need for the concession stand or subsidizing it to the point that it can offer snacks at a reasonable price -- after all, it is a business and still needs to make a profit.

another idea is to consider the question of volume, upping the number of units sold and reducing the cost. imagine a theatre selling the same sizes they do now, only a small would sell for $0.50, a medium for $1.00 and a jumbo sized vat of corn with butter would set you back $1.25. sodas for the same price. it's not only possible but still very profitable provided three out of five people purchased an item at the snack bar. i imagine that if people showed up at a movie house right now and saw those prices they'd be settling in with the largest of larges and giggling that they just walked away with a trough of snacks for less than a burger at mcdonalds.

these ideas aren't mine, they come from two sources: david friedman's book hidden order: the economics of everyday life and observations from my nearly two decades managing movie theatres. while i don't agree with all of what friedman says, i am certain that if movie theatres took the radical move toward volume and not per-person averages they'd come out ahead of the game in a big way.

i tried to convince the owners of the theatre chain i worked for to simply try these prices for a special admission midnight show, as an experiment, just to see if the ppa would mirror those of the higher price sales. no dice. the model was too "unstable" for them, there wasn't anything similar to compare it with. in short, they were afraid to break from and redefine the economic model despite the fact that they would stand to benefit from a likely increase in sales and the nationwide publicity of setting a new trend in theatre concession sales.

if ever there was a time for theatres to do something radical to increase attendance, this is it.

personally, i can no longer smell popcorn. unless it's burning. those years in the trenches have made me as immune to the smell as sanitation engineers to the smell of their trade. both of which are similar after a while.
Friday, September 29, 2006
  disney dining - part two: meat on a stick
originally we had hoped to dine at the blue bayou, the new orleans themed restaurant that is actually connected to the beginning of the "pirates of the caribbean" ride, but reservations weren't available until late in the afternoon so we opted try again the next day. so when lunchtime rolls around what sort of semi-healthy family fare does the magic kingdom offer us?

surprise! it's the bengal barbecue grill, located just across from the entrance to the indiana jones ride, probably the busiest bottleneck in all of disneyland. the grill is a counter service deal, order up and take you food to one of a half dozen tables or a nearby standing bar. food is basically x-on-a-stick flame cooked on a grill. there was chicken-on-a-stick (sweet), beef-on-a-stick (regular and spicy), vegetables-on-a-stick (potato, onion, mushroom, zucchini, yellow squash) and a thing called the safari skewer which is asparagus, wrapped in bacon, on a stick (yum!). i was particularly fond of the safari stick, and it took two meat-sticks to fill my protein needs for amusement park stamina.

all good, all around $6 a stick. it adds up when you look at 2.5 sticks per person (sharing veggies) but it was one of the least food service tasting places to pick up a fast bite on the go.

trying to remember the name of the place (the bengal grill? tiger grill?) i hit the 'net which, when it comes to all things disney, is awash in reviews of disney dining (making me wonder if my contributions aren't like spitting into the wind) and recipes for recreating park favorites. the following recipe for the beef skewers appears identically on no less than five different web sites. if it ain't an authentic diseny recipe it's at least consistent among the throng.

soak the bamboo skewers in water to avoid burning
combine all of the ingredients except beef above and bring to a boil, adding cornstarch to thicken
place 3 pieces of beef on each skewer and cook on the grill 3 minutes on each side or until desired doneness
brush with sauce and serve.


as far as i'm concerned there has never been a time where i felt granulated garlic was preferable to the real thing. unless you have problems with garlic, use it. also, if you really want kick, replace the cayenne with an equal amount of red pepper flakes.

want is sweet and hot? add 2 tablespoons of honey

the recipes all claim 6 portions or servings, but i am a huge fan of thin meat on skewers and that will bump the number of skewers and serving sizes. i think they cook faster and taste better when thinner. i would get the sirloin as a piece, freeze it until just frozen, then slice 1/4 thin strips and skewer once thawed. alternately, you can place the pieces (not frozen!) between two sheets of plastic wrap and whomp it with the flat bottom of a cast iron skillet. i have flattened out chicken this was as well and it's amazing how flat you can get meat with just a few good solid whacks. our neighbors must love us.

and while i'm rambling, a word or two about cornstarch. this binding agent, a bi-product in the production of high fructose corn syrup (hfcs), is really not something i like to use in my cooking unless absolutely necessary (as in, i'm out of arrowroot or agar). when the science finally gets the weight behind it, i am convinced that this country will come to discover that corn-based sweeteners and bi-products are one of the chief causes of many american health problems. i may rant on this more in the future, suffice to say that as innoculous as it seems we really should be looking to remove cornstarch from our diets along with artificial sweeteners.

end of rant. end of post.

my zuska, my love, has informed me that i have the prices all wrong. "they were really reasonable, like $3 or $4 each." since she paid, she'd know, but i was sure they were higher. *sigh* if only i had the photos i took on the digitial camera left behind in that cab...
Thursday, September 28, 2006
  disney dining - part one: fritters
the first in a series recollecting dining experiences had while on a recent vacation at disneyland. surprises abound.

from the start i'm going to have to admit that this isn't exactly the post i wanted it to be. for one thing, i had photos i wanted to share for most of the items listed but as my cameras (yes, plural) were lost along with everything else inside my carry-on bag from our recent trip (also lost: cell phone, ipod, brand new tilly hat, personal notebook from the last few months including the original dining notes, favorite pair of walking shorts, a book i was reviewing) i am forced to complete this from memory.

shorter sentences from now on.

deciding not to spend a tonne of money on overpriced, mediocre breakfasts at the resort we brought instant oatmeal that we made in ziploc storage containers with hot water from the coffee machine in the hotel room. it was yummy maple and cinnamon and hit the spot just before rushing out. cheap, easy, all we really needed.

but two hours later your in the park and the snack beast attacks. and you've just gotten off "the pirates of the caribbean" and you're sizing up you options. lo, just at the edge of new orleans square facing the water beneath the overhang of the disney gallery is a hole in the wall joint with a few tables offering disnified pots of gumbo in a bread bowl and fritters with a fruit dipping sauce. as we weren't ready for lunch-type food, or gumbo, the fritters seemed the way to go.

just to interject, about 16 years ago i went to disneyland with a bunch of friends from high school. at the time this little hole in the wall wasn't serving gumbo and instead of fritters was offering a similarly fried dough pastry filled fresh with banana creme. on the counter was a large bubble dispenser filled with several gallons of lumpy banana creme attached to a base with a little phallic rod that jutted out in front. when you ordered one of these things they would take a pre-fried dough blob, shove it on the end of the rod, step on a pedal and there'd be a large hydraulic sounding whomp as banana creme was shot inside, doubling the size of the pastry. my friend dave ordered one and regretted it instantly when he bit into it a got a good mouthful of banana creme. "it's warm," he said. "oh, you mean it doesn't just look like semi-solid snot?" i replied. no one took another bite.

disney must have learned something in the intervening years. the fritters we ordered with the size of large plums, fried a light brown and dusted with granulated sugar. the apple dipping sauce was served on the side, though you could hardly drag a finger through it much less a soft dough as it was cold and thickened with who-knows-what. sort of like apple pie filling, only the apples tasted fresh. well, they were at least a bit crisp. perhaps that was the chilling. zuska and the girls didn't really like the apples that much and i was content to scoop it out with my fingers and wedge it into pieces of pastry.

but the surprise was the fritter. a fried egg batter that was dense but not heavy -- i realize that sounds contradictory. my zuska had assumed there was a rich egg creme in the center but it was nothing more than the dough, steamed in the deep frying process, fluffy and thick like an artisan bread. it was sweet enough to not really need the sugar on the outside but i suspect that's partly presentation: a fried dough ball just wouldn't look as appetizing.

served in bags of three for $5.95, one is enough for a snack so share.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
  fromage du jour: asiago fresco
as detailed elsewhere, tonight was cheese night. tonight's cheese was a soft, two-months-aged young asiago cheese made from the same alpine milk as the hard stuff we usually grate over pasta. creamy, full of tiny little holes like a swiss lace, slightly sweet, slightly tangy and yummy.

i dumped a pile of organic apricot and ginger chutney on the top but i think i was the only one who liked it. sorry, no pictures. everyone devoured the cheese too fast, and besides, my digital camera was lost in a taxi recently.

i'm thinking that next week, for cheese night, i'd like to pair a cheese with chocolate. time to do some research!
  the birthday candle question
last night we had a small family birthday celebration for e. after some discussion the night before she had decided on an orange creamsicle cake: orange flavored cake with vanilla frosting. knowing full well the chemical burn of artificially flavored cakes i opted for grating fresh orange peel and adding orange oil into a basic white cake mix. nice and subtle, and no doubt better tasting than the mix i saw in the store that contained a chemical bath that you poured into fork holes of an artificially colored cake.

but just after the candles were blown out and we were getting ready to cut i was struck with a confusion i hadn't remembered having before: what to do with the candles? it was one of those displacements where you've done something a million times before -- entering a PIN number at the ATM, signing your name on a form -- where at first you aren't quite sure what you're doing and then you question what you've done, even when it's correct.

so there i was, wondering what one does with the birthday candles. obviously they don't get eaten (though edible candles might be a good idea) but; do they get removed before cutting? does the birthday person get to lick the frosting off the candles? are the candles saved for future use or thrown away? if they get both licked and saved are they cleaned first before being put away? the cutting and eating of the cake removed the inquiry from my mind but it was still with me this morning, nagging at me.

it's a faint memory, but growing up it seems that there was always jockeying for a piece of cake with a candle in it, meaning it was better than those without. and, of course, if it contained both a candle and a desirous piece of decoration then it was supreme. but in more recent memory i seem to recall candles being removed before the cutting of cake and -- like licking the mixing spoon, beaters or frosting knife -- slurping the frosting off the ends of the candles. but is that the priviledge of the birthday person or does everyone share? in cutting a cake with candles in it the recipient got to lick their own candle, so if there were plenty to go around why wouldn't they be shared?

i'm almost afraid to consider that we licked the candles growing up and that they were saved for future birthdays without being cleaned of saliva or residue. i know at least once, while young, i found a candle with a candied bit of frosting still on it, nowhere near any birthday, and i nibbled it off like a little mousie. who knows how old it was, i didn't seem to care at the time.

yeah, it's a pretty silly set of questions, but the dissonance is there. what say you? candles on or off before cutting? do they get licked, and by whom? do they get reused? cleaned or tossed?

the things i wonder...
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
  salsa, papaya salsa
certain people make fun of me because i pronounce salsa with a soft 'z' sound on the second syllable. but that doesn't stop those same certain people from devouring this salsa like the ravenous bugbladder beast of traal. this is a summer recipe that freezes well -- perfect for mid-winter blahs -- offered in this final week of summer in the hope you can still find some ripe papaya and enjoy.
combine papaya, bell pepper, red onion, serrano or jalapeno, cilantro and orange juice in a bowl
season with salt to taste
best if it sits refrigerated a bit


with regards to the hot peppers, if your market carries fresh jalapeno or serrano peppers there's no reason not to use them. i have a box of disposable gloves that i use for handling peppers -- the oils can really sting sensitive areas around the eyes and nose. you need to dice them very fine so the heat get disbursed throughout. serrano are the next step up in heat from jalapeno. also, the heat is in the seeds and membrane, so remove those if you want less heat.

this stuff is good with chips.
it's good on nachos.
it's good on top of turkey burgers.
i would eat it on baked fish.
i would pair it with strong cheese.
i would top grilled meats with this.

i would not recommend it as a smoothie base.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
  the best garlic press
i hear people rant and rave about the zyliss garlic press but i found that this is the king of them all. what you can't tell from this photo is that the basket flips out on the same axis that the press backing is on, exposing the entire press for easy cleaning; no special cleaning tool required. it's hard to explain but once you see it you'll know what i mean.

the basket itself is generously large enough to handle two or three cloves at once. i even mashed the juice out of a thumb of ginger in this thing -- not easy, but rugged enough to handle it.

five clams, and worth triple that.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
  toasty dawgs -- food of the gawds
part of the impetus for starting this blog comes from the idea that i wanted a more public way to share recipes with friends (and now strangers). an equal influence was discovering slashfood, and in particular a recent conversation about memories concerning favorite hot lunch items from school days.

i said it before and i'll say it again, two words: toasty dawgs. spelled just like that.

i'd like to think that back in the day my school lunch was better than what's being served now, but with so much health consciousness going on it's hard to say. on the one hand i'm certain we never ate anything that was anywhere near close to passing as organic; on the other hand, i was eating school lunches in the days before high fructose corn syrup (which, as a consequence, meant i grew up before there was such a thing as rampant childhood obesity. but i digress). i won't argue that tater tots were healthier, or that fish stix didn't taste like reconstituted paper pulp with a bread coating, but there is no doubt that one of the most beloved items on the menu at my elementary school was the toasty dawg.

simplicity at it's best: a piece of soft white bread, buttered on both sides, lined with a slice of american cheese, wrapped around a hot dog and held together with a toothpick, oven toasted to golden perfection. yes, they even trusted us enough to serve it with a toothpick. can you imagine how many helicopter parents would raise a stink to protect their little babies because they couldn't be trusted to not puncture the roof of their mouths with a toothpick?

but there it was, a meal-sized, low-rent pig-in-a-blanket. if you were lucky you might get a served a toasty dawg whose cheese melted out a bit and browned to a crust clinging tenaciously to the bread. chances are good i missed the news story about how nearly burnt processed cheese causes cancer, but it still tastes good. and the only appropriate accompaniment to the toasty dawg is a potato in fried form, either french or the aforementioned tot. which meant lots and lots of little foil ketchup packets squirted over everything.

as much as i loved them it was decades before i decided to reintroduce the toasty dawg to my diet. at the time i had not only learned about organic foods, i was deep into artisan breads, had sampled dozens of the world's cheeses, and came to prefer unsalted butter made from the milk of cows who had no rBST in their systems. i found a nice, soft potato bread, buttered it with sweet cream butter, lined it with a slice of locally produced yogurt cheese and slapped on a chemically free hot dog and baked until it was melty and golden and smelled just like i remembered.

too bad it tasted like crap.

the crust of the bread had hardened in the oven to the point that when i bit into it i couldn't tell if the crunching sound was the bread or my teeth. the large, open holes in the bread which, under the normal conditions of morning toast would yield nice little kettle pools for melted butter, had grown sharp along the edges and tore deep into the roof and gums of my mouth. cheese continued to melt and ooze and drip long after it was out of the oven and tasted like nothing more than slightly sour milk. and while the hot dog had the right flavor it was still missing something in the spice department that matched those memories long ago. it may be a deep memory of those chemicals, i don't know.

since then, lesson learned. toasty dawgs require the softest, spongiest, least healthy white bread you can stand. currently i'm happy with what's called in these parts canadian bread because it's almost soft enough to wrap without cracking, doesn't look totally like wonder bread, and has the least amount of crap in it. toasty dogs require a processed cheese square, the kind individually wrapped which(fortunately) come in american, chedder and white chedder varieties that do not alter the flavor or texture of the final outcome. toasty dawgs also demand an all-beef hot dog of quality that include nitrates and nitrites. i hate to say it, but i can taste the difference and it makes a difference. i may wake up the next day with a chemical headache but that's the price one pays for a piece of rekindled food memory.

for better or worse, i've introduced the toasty dawg to my loved ones and they have embraced them like a lost food cousin. easy to make and satisfying in a comfort food kind of way. what more could you want?

oh, right. tater tots are a must.
Friday, September 15, 2006
  the easiest mole chili in the world
when i told her i was making this my zuska said "mole chili scares me. but i'll trust you." to be honest, i had doubts myself but i decided to wing this as i went and it turned out great.

the following is a crock pot recipe; stove-top instructions in the "notes" section at the end. with the exception of the onions, all ingredients were trader joe's branded items:
line the bottom of the crock with the onions.
spread the meat in an even layer on top of the onions.
drain all three cans of beans into a strainer and rinse, then layer on top of the meat.
in a medium bowl mix the mole, broth and tomato paste until combined, then pour evenly over the top of the beans.

cook in the crock for 4 hours on high setting or 6 hours on low. add the corn five minutes before serving.
adjust seasoning after it's cooked, a little pepper was all i added but you can add salt as well.

serve topped with more chopped onion and grated cheese.


okay, next time i make this i'm trying it with chicken. chicken mole is great

if you're making this on the stove you'll need to start with a large pot.
saute the onion in a tablespoon of olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes.
add meat, turn up the heat and cook to sear the sides of the meat, 3 to 5 minutes.
add the mole mixture, turn heat down and simmer for 10 minutes.
stir in beans and simmer another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. naturally, the longer it cooks the better the flavors meld.
as above, add the frozen corn five minutes before serving.

this recipe was kid tested and approved.
adults went back to the trough, and wished they had a nice cerveza to go with.
recipes and musings on food -- and anything else for that matter -- from a guy with a sticky brain who likes food. perhaps he likes food too much.

My Photo
Location: right coast via left coast
  • slashfood
  • 101 cookbooks
  • food network
  • the food section

  • deserts
  • library thing
  • mod*mom
  • librarians' internet index
  • barnacle press
  • cinematical

  • dirty dishes
  • i'm out
  • 2 B or not 2 B
  • das Fünftel von Mai
  • days five and six
  • veggie week, day 3
  • day 2, something new (and mint pesto)
  • the experiment and the menu
  • beer & cheese & a bag of chips
  • what constitutes a national tragedy?
  • top-o-yer-corn

  • leftovers
    September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 / May 2007 / June 2007 /

    Powered by Blogger