The Very Best of Casual Kitchen 2016

It's hard to believe another year is about to wrap up, and it's even harder to believe this is Casual Kitchen's tenth anniversary.

When I started this site back in late 2006, I had no clue what I was doing: I just had some ideas I wanted to share about how to cook healthy food efficiently--and for very little money. Little did I know this humble little site would take me in all kinds of directions, and I'd address all kinds of topics: from understanding the tricks and tactics of the consumer products industry, to addressing various facets of consumerism, to addressing cognitive fallacies and excuse-making scripts, even sharing insights from my professional domain: stock market investing. This humble little site turned out to be a significant growth experience for me on many different levels.

So, readers, let me thank you for coming along with me on this journey (and, of course, for generously supporting my work with your kind purchases at Amazon via the links at this site)!

With that, let's share the best posts of CK 2016. Enjoy!
************************************

10) How to Use Grocery Store Circulars To YOUR Advantage, Not Theirs
Your grocery store's weekly circular is the most underappreciated tool in an empowered food shopper's toolbox. Here's a quick and easy two-step method to capture maximum value from it.

9) Raw Milk: The Irony
The controversy over raw milk illustrates an irony about food regulation: sometimes a more heavily-regulated food industry brings us precisely the foods we don't want.

8) The REAL Story of the Bumblebee Tuna Recall Controversy: What it (Subtly) Teaches Us About Branding, Product Differentiation and Third-Party Manufacturing
Not my most concise headline. But Bumblebee's tuna recall earlier this year gave consumers a deafening reason to ignore branding--completely.

7) Money Sundays: How Much Money Do I Need To Retire?
A popular post about a (hypothetical) conversation... that went sideways in a hurry.

6) Where Can I Find Low-Cost Sources of Protein and Fat?
If you're not careful, a low-carb diet can cost a lot more. Here's a useful collection of the most cost-effective proteins and fats money can buy.

5) Psychological Hunger... Compared to the Real Thing
How to really understand the "feeling" of hunger, how to feel around its edges, and how to differentiate it from true hunger (the two are most definitely not the same). Includes free bonus humor from Louis C.K.

4) "Nobody Listens to Me in Real Life, But on the Internet Everyone Does"
Why your friends and peers cannot be experts, and why we denigrate and ignore them when we should be emulating them.

3) Virtue Signalling
Is virtue-signalling the same as practicing actual virtue? Your answer says a lot about what kind of person you are. Also: after reading this post, you'll never think about political statements the same way again.

2) The Old Lie: Breakfast Is the Most Important Meal of the Day
How often have you eaten breakfast only to be hungry again just an hour or two later? This post explains why, and offers two surprisingly easy dietary tweaks that will change your life for the better. Casual Kitchen's most widely-read post of the year.

1) What Underwear Teaches You About Saving Time AND Money
Don't worry! This post isn't really about my underwear. It's about how we assume there's an unavoidable trade-off between saving time and saving money--that in order to save money, you have to waste time, and vice-versa. Back when I was young and broke, however, I made a discovery that proved quite the opposite.


[Honorable Mention!] "Learn to Live on Lentils…"
How a beautiful little story about Diogenes (and a staggeringly condescending remark from a food "journalist") turned lentils into a metaphor for solution-minded thinking. See also the unexpectedly popular follow-up post Subservience.

*************************
Last of all: If you're a new reader and you'd like to look over Casual Kitchen's best work over the years, a great place to start is the "Best Of" posts from each year:

Best of Casual Kitchen 2015

Best of Casual Kitchen 2014

Best of Casual Kitchen 2013

Best of Casual Kitchen 2012


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

CK Links--Friday November 25, 2016

Among my USA-based readers, I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Enjoy this week's selection of Friday Links!

Don't forget: The easiest way to support Casual Kitchen is to buy your items at Amazon using the various links here. Just click over to Amazon, and EVERY purchase you make during that visit pays a modest affiliate commission to support my work here. Best of all, this comes at zero extra cost to you. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

*************************
How can you not love homemade noodles that only take 20 minutes? (Beyond Salmon)

Fourteen low-carb fears and whether you should worry about them. (Diet Doctor)

A family dinner ritual guaranteed to spark good conversation. (Dinner: A Love Story)

Can hydroponic farming be organic? Organic farmers say "nope" ...and frankly, they appear rather greedy and anticompetitive in saying so. (New York Times)

How the snooze button messes with your mind--in more ways than one. (Science of Us)

Developing a truth-seeking, "scout mindset" to feel intrigued, not defensive, when encountering information contradicting our beliefs. (Abnormal Returns)

When you lose your confidence, you focus on your fears, not your hopes. (Points and Figures)

Book Recommendation: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. A friend recommended this book to me and, I'll admit, I was suspicious at first. What could possibly be life-changing about "tidying up"? But this book really surprised me on a few different levels, and it's given me some new ways to think more deeply about the things I own--and the value I get (or in many cases don't get) in owning them. Highly recommended!




Got an interesting article or recipe to share? Want some extra traffic at your blog? Send me an email!


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

Judgment of Paris

Readers, I'm still taking a bit of a mini-break from writing, so for this week I'll run one more post from Casual Kitchen's archives. Today's post is a fun one that shows how "experts" sometimes know a lot less than they think. 

Once again, thank you for all your support!
****************************************

The Judgment of Paris

Today's post is about a 1976 winetasting competition that made a roomful of French wine judges look like fools.

It used to be an article of faith among wine experts that the world's greatest wine came from one place: France. Back in the 1970s, for example, winegrowing regions like Napa and Sonoma California were thought of as producers of decent jug wines and not much more. And if you were to flip through a typical wine guide back then, you'd see barely any mention of Australia, South Africa, New Zealand or Chile.

Never mind that several leading winemakers in California were already making world-class wine. Nobody knew or cared. The best wines came from France, and that was that. This was the received wisdom of the world's wine authorities.

Until 1976. That's when a minor British wine merchant named Steven Spurrier held a winetasting event that changed everything. Spurrier was looking to publicize a Paris-based wine store he had recently purchased, and he dreamed up a seemingly ridiculous idea: invite a group of well-known French judges to blind taste France's best wines against several relatively unknown wines from California.

Spurrier thought he might be able to show the Paris wine community that some of these up-and-coming California wines could hold their own against the world's best. But of course the California wines would lose. Duh. If anything, the French judges would easily recognize their own wines--and probably score them higher out of pride.

And then the impossible happened. The California wines won. The French judges chose them over their own wines.

Today, we take for granted the idea that California's best wines are as good as any. But back then? The idea was laughable. But even more laughable was the fact that the judges at this tasting--among them some of the foremost tastemakers in French culture--literally could not tell which wines were from where. There's an amusing passage from George Taber's book Judgment of Paris that lays out the scene:

Raymond Oliver, the owner and chef of the Grand Vefour restaurant in Paris, one of the temples of French haute cuisine, swirled a white wine in his glass, held it up to the light to examine the pale straw color, smelled it, and then tasted it. After a pause he said, "Ah, back to France!" I checked my liste of wines twice to be sure, but Oliver had in fact just tasted a 1972 Freemark Abbey Chardonnay from California's Napa Valley.

Soon after, Claude Dubois-Millot of GaultMillau, a publisher of French food and wine books and magazines, tasted another white wine and said with great confidence, "That is definitely California. It has no nose." But the wine was really a 1973 Batard-Montrachet Ramonet-Prudhon, one of Burgundy's finest products.


Things went downhill from there. After the tasting was over and it was hideously apparent that these French wine "experts" had betrayed their own country's finest wines, they did what any self-respecting French person would do. They complained. One of the judges, Odette Kahn, furiously demanded her ballot back--once she learned she'd awarded her highest scores to two California reds.

Later, the entire French wine industry retaliated by banning Steven Spurrier from industry events and wine tours. And several of the judges refused to talk about the event at all--even after years had passed. It was too painful to discuss.

All of which raises a question: why would grown adults behave like this?

Think about it this way: if your ego was entirely invested in the success of your own country's wine, and you saw your precious national wines defeated in front of your eyes--and by your own hand!--you'd probably be capable of embarrassing and immature acts of rationalization too.

And the French wine community continued to rationalize. Later, they argued that the contest unfairly pitted "young" French wines against "less young" California wines. This actually wasn't true--all the wines were from similar vintages.

However, this complaint did raise the entirely valid question of which regions' wines would age better. Which is why Wine Spectator magazine ran an anniversary tasting ten years later with the same wines.

And the California wines won again--by an increased margin of victory.

So what is this story really about? Well, first, it's evidence of how blind-tastings can make even world-renowned wine experts look like dopes. More importantly, it's proof that we as consumers should drink what we like and never let experts tell us what to like.

Finally, it's about how our egos can go to embarrassingly great lengths to protect us from the truth. Here's what the now-infamous Odette Kahn--our wine judge who demanded her ballot back--later wrote in a French wine magazine:

The only lesson to be drawn from this tasting, in my opinion, is that certain winegrowers in California can produce (in small quantity, if my information is correct) wines of good quality, agreeable to taste.... I believe it is interesting for the French wine world to know this, but from this to proclaim (or to fear it to be proclaimed) that the California wines 'beat' our great wines, that is a leap, a very great leap.

This must be what they mean by "backhanded compliment."


For Further Reading/Viewing:
1) Judgment of Paris: The Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine One of the best books I've ever read about wine, and the definitive history of this event.
2) Bottle Shock: A 2008 film dramatizing the 1976 tasting.
3) An excellent article from The Guardian about the tasting and its aftermath
4) Wikipedia on Odette Kahn.


One quick postscript for readers: I simply have to share one more scene from Judgment of Paris, where a French customs agent refuses to clear five cases of English wine into France. With the wine sitting on the floor in front of him, Steven Spurrier angrily asks the agent why he won't stamp the importation papers:

"Because English wine does not exist," the customs agent replied. "Here is my list of goods that can be exported from England to France. There is no wine. There is no such thing as English wine, so I cannot clear it through customs. I cannot clear what doesn't exist."





How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!

CK Links--Friday November 18, 2016

Links!

Don't forget: The easiest way to support Casual Kitchen is to buy your items at Amazon using the various links here. Just click over to Amazon, and EVERY purchase you make during that visit pays a modest affiliate commission to support my work here. Best of all, this comes at zero extra cost to you. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

*************************
Ever wondered what makes different cheeses melt differently? (Lucky Peach)

Twelve money-saving, flavorful food swaps you can make to clean up your diet. (Greatist)

Did you know there's clear evidence of discrimination... against white wines? (1 Wine Dude)

Surprising food- and ag-related results and referendums from the recent election. (Jayson Lusk)

[Short video] Bridging the "self-acceptance gap" in personal photography. (Peter Hurley)

Optimize your sleep tonight from the moment you wake up today. (Sprezzaturian)

The world is full of buttons and controls that do nothing, except make you feel a little better. (Nir and Far)

Related: The illusion of control and how it's used against you. (Casual Kitchen)

Anything is better than browsing Facebook. (50 by 25)

I see you. I'm sorry for what you're feeling. How can I help? (Seth's Blog)


Got an interesting article or recipe to share? Want some extra traffic at your blog? Send me an email!


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

The Collapsing Economics of Food Blogging

There was an old joke in the internet's early middle ages, back when "Web 2.0" used to be a new phrase:

Web 2.0: You make the content, they make the money.

Food bloggers are learning this for real right now. All bloggers are.

Spend a few minutes on the Get Off My Internets site and you'll see dozens of food and lifestyle bloggers of all stripes launching GoFundMe and Kickstarter campaigns, as the standard blogging income mechanisms of advertising, Amazon links and sponsored posts produce less (and less consistent) income. One particularly high-profile example: Gluten Free Girl, at one point one of the most widely read food bloggers out there[1], just took a part time job to supplement her income.

Yes. It's true.

Breathe.


Bloggers simply aren't making the kind of money they used to. And nowhere is this more true than in food blogging. The question is: why?

Here's why. There are zero--absolutely zero--barriers to entry. Literally anybody can start a blog. And for a while there it seemed like everybody did.

Don't get me wrong, the fact that anybody can start a blog is one of the best things about blogging. It just also happens to be the worst thing about the business of blogging.

And as circular as it sounds, when a profitable marketplace is easy to enter, people enter it. And then more people enter it, and then more, and then more... until the economics are destroyed by too many people having entered it and competed away all the profits.[2] We are well past this point in food blogging.

Worse, most of us (and this includes me) don't really treat what we're doing like a business, making a bad competitive environment even worse. My income from Casual Kitchen these days is perhaps one-tenth (a tenth!) of what it was at peak, which was back in 2010-2011. Admittedly, I am vastly undermonetizing this site, and over time I've eliminated quite a lot of the advertising and other monetization programs I used to use in the past. Maybe this is a mistake and maybe I'm needlessly leaving money on the table, I don't know.

It's a strange business, this blogging. In theory, content over the internet scales nearly perfectly. It costs me nothing, literally zero, to add an incremental reader, or for that matter to add ten times or one hundred times the readers I have. And more readers mean (theoretically at least) more income. So the business "should work" as long as there's low or non-existent competition for those incremental readers. And, likewise, low or non-existent competition for advertisers, sponsors and keyword buyers who will pay for access to those readers. Like I said above, we are well past this point today.

The lack of barriers to entry is the key. I don't mean to be negative or to bring anybody down. But these worsening economics of food blogging? They are here to stay.


Footnotes: 
[1] In an upcoming post I'll talk more about how bloggers like Gluten Free Girl and Vani The Food Babe managed to garner enormous pageview stats in spite of (or better said, because of) things like recipe errors, bad writing, and horrendously unrigorous thinking.

[2] This is foundational insight for investors too. You want to avoid investing in companies with low or no barriers to entry, and focus on investing in companies with high barriers to entry. Warren Buffett uses the phrase “moats” to describe this: he tells anyone who will listen to seek out companies with wide moats about their business.


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!