Stealing Cookies and Borrowing Stories

March 26, 2017 § 2 Comments

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I recently listened to a TEDx talk by Scott Geller, a psychology professor at Virginia Tech, entitled “The Psychology of Self-Motivation.” In it, he recites “The Cookie Thief,” a poem by Valerie Cox.

Wait a minute. Hadn’t I heard that a-stranger-stole-my-cookies-in-an-airport story before? In fact, several years ago, as I recalled, I had seen an actor on a late-night talk show telling how the thievery had happened to him . . . but maybe it had taken place in a train station. I was unclear on the details. I also couldn’t remember which show it was on, but I was pretty sure it was a British actor, since he called the cookies “biscuits.” It’s a funny story—with a great punch line—and I’ve retold it a few times. But is it true, or too good to be true? And regardless of its truthfulness, who can lay claim to its origin?

I did a little digging, and here’s what I found (with thanks to those who’ve dug before me). . . .

First of all, the British “actor” was actually a British author: Douglas Adams, who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He was a guest on Late Night with David Letterman, and videos of his appearance on the web give the show date as February 14, 1985. Adams was there to promote his novel, written in 1984, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, “the fourth volume in the Hitch-Hiker Trilogy.”

Letterman asked him if he used his own life experiences in his writing, which was, I’m guessing, a pre-planned question to set up what came next. Adams answered,

Yeah, well occasionally. Actually there’s one story I put in this book, which I fi— I wanted to put in print, because it’s something that happened to me a long time ago. And I’ve told the story pretty regularly now, with the result that other people are beginning to use it, so I wanted to put it in the book to say, “Hands off, guys.”

The gist of his story (minus Adams’ comedic flair) is this: At the train station, Adams buys a newspaper and package of cookies (biscuits). He puts his purchases down on a table and sits down across from a stranger. The man across from him opens the package of cookies and proceeds to eat one. Adams is perplexed, but saying nothing, eats a cookie himself. Back and forth they go, with Adams wondering how anyone could have such gall. Finally, the cookies are gone and the stranger leaves. When his train arrives, Adams picks up his newspaper to depart, and, much to his surprise, finds his unopened package of cookies lying there.

In 2001, Adams again recounted the story in a speech to Embedded Systems, saying that it had occurred in Cambridge in April of 1976. After Adams’ death in 2001, the Embedded Systems retelling was included in The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time, a collection of Adams’ previously unpublished works.

So Adams’ story predates Cox’s “Cookie Thief,” which was published in 1996 in A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul. But his rendering is still not the beginning.

Jan Harold Brunvand writes in The Choking Doberman: And Other Urban Legends that the biscuit/cookie story is one of many variations on “the unwitting-theft legend,” a general category for which he finds examples from as far back as 1912. Though the origins of Adams’ account don’t seem to be quite that old, they still precede his 1976 timeframe. Brunvand points to a letter written to the editor of the journal Folklore, in 1975. In it, A. W. Smith writes that he has seen the story in print three times, in July 1974, July 1972, and some indeterminate time earlier. The sources are, in that order, London’s GuardianOxfam News, and (possibly) London’s Evening Standard. Smith notes that in all these versions, the traveler is British (in Oxfam News he’s the director of Oxfam Scotland); the encounter takes place in a train station, near a train station, or in a dining car; the offending stranger is from another country, a West Indian, African, or Pakistani; and the foreigner kindly offers the Brit half of the last cookie. On the last two details, Smith asks, “Does the essence of the story concern the patient and indeed saintly character of the often despised and rejected?”

While Adams’ and Cox’s version leave out the cross-cultural aspect, Cox’s telling does include the stranger’s kind (but irritating) act of breaking the cookie in half.

Back to where we began, here’s Cox’s “Cookie Thief” in video form.

(Douglas Adams, appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, NBC, February 14, 1985; Adams, The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time, Del Rey, 2005; Valerie Cox, “The Cookie Thief,” A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul: 101 More Stories to Open the Heart and Rekindle the Spirit; Jan Harold Brunvand, The Choking Doberman: And Other Urban Legends,  Norton, 1984; A. W. Smith, “Letter to the Editor: Yet Another Modern Legend?” Folklore, vol. 86, issue 2, 1975)

[photo: “dark chocolate digestive BISCUITS,” by SimonQ, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Krispy Kreme: Going Global with a Strategy That’s Full of Holes . . . and Topped with Green-Tea Icing

March 17, 2017 § 2 Comments

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In September of 2015, CNN posted a story with the horrifying headline “Krispy Kreme Krashes”! (exklamation point mine), announcing that KKD stock had dropped 12% following poor sales and earnings reports. The problem? Lackluster profits on their packaged doughnuts sold outside their Krispy Kreme stores. The solution? Opening more Krispy Kreme stores overseas.

Fast forward to today, and the eatery has outlets in over 25 countries. That means fewer people making overseas Krispy Kreme runs and wondering if they can get their purchases through airport security and transport them as carry ons.

It also means plenty of new creations to appeal to global palates. Take, for instance, the new “premium” doughnuts at Krispy Kreme Japan, which, RocketNews24 reports, just became available this month. They include the Premium Matcha Azuki, filled with green-tea flavored whipped cream and red-bean paste and topped with matcha green-tea icing; and also the Premium Sakura, which has a multi-layered filling of cherry paste, strawberry-raspberry-cranberry puree, and whipped cream. (If either of those sound good to you, you’ll need to head over to the Krispy Kreme JR Nagoya Takashimaya store in Aichi Prefecture in the next few weeks—it’s a limited-time offer.)

Seeing that news got me wondering what else one can find at Krispy Kremes far and wide. And so that you don’t have to wonder, too, here’s a list of some of the tasty offerings from Krispy Kremes around the world.

My mouth is watering as I type. . . .

(Paul La Monica, “Krispy Kreme Krashes,” CNN Money, September 10, 2015; Oona McGee, “New Krispy Kreme Premium Range Includes Sakura and Matcha Green Tea Doughnut Cakes,” RocketNews24, March 8, 2017)

[photo: “Free for All,” by Bokeh-licious, used under a Creative Commons license]

Tea, 2, 3, 4

March 11, 2017 § Leave a comment

[an animation made from tea leaves]

“Tea Tuesdays: Kenyan Farmers See Green in the Color Purple”

Across the picturesque highlands of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, fields of tea shimmer in shades of emerald, lime and moss under the equatorial sky.

Some of these fields, though, are now darkened with patches of purple. The purple comes from leaves with high levels of anthocyanins, natural pigments that also give cranberries, blueberries and grapes their color.

These purple leaves are Africa’s newest—and most intriguing—tea.

At the moment, they are being made into a handful of different styles. . . .

As pleasing as the unique flavors might be, [purple tea] was never developed for its taste.

Instead, [state-run Tea Research Institute] breeders were most interested in creating “a high-value medicinal tea product.” A number of scientific studies done inside and outside Kenya on purple tea suggest that its anthocyanins may help protect against neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.

“Anthocyanins have capacity to scavenge for free radicals and thus are good antioxidants,” says Stephen Karori Mbuthia, a biochemist at Egerton University, Kenya’s premier agricultural public university, and lead author of a recent study.

Jeff Koehler, Tea Tuesdays, NPR, March 3, 2015

Those Friendly, Friendly Drive Throughs and “Food Houses”

December 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

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It’s that holiday time of the year, which means lots of traveling and probably some quick meals along the way. If you’re wanting to up your grabbing-a-bite-to-eat game, take a look at Business Insider‘s list of the top 25 US limited-service restaurant chains, published earlier this year. Below are the ten restaurants with the highest customer-satisfaction scores. (By the way, if you’re wondering, “limited service” means pay before you eat and includes fast food and fast casual.)

  1. Firehouse Subs
  2. Chick-fil-A
  3. Papa Murphy’s Pizza
  4. Ben & Jerry’s
  5. In-N-Out Burger
  6. Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers
  7. Krespy Kreme
  8. Fuddruckers
  9. Jersey Mike’s Subs
  10. The Habit Burger Grill

I guess you could say this is a pretty congenial group of eateries—offering good food at a good price with good service—but if you want to know just how friendly the American food-distribution scene is, you need to look at it from an outsider’s point of view. In his book End of the Spear, Steve Saint tells about his friend Mincaye’s first trip to the States. Mincaye is from Ecuador, a member of the isolated Waodani (Waorani, Huaorani) tribe.

After he and Steve return to Ecuador, Mincaye describes grocery stores to members of his village. To him, “food houses” are wondrous places with endless amounts of food (people take it out but no one brings it in), and taking it out is oh so easy:

The only thing you have to do is when you are leaving, you have to go by the place where the young foreigner girls stand. They look at you very seriously. But if you just stand there and smile, when they smile back, you can take all your food and go eat it happily.

At this point, Steve corrects Mincaye’s story by explaining that the food needs to be paid for and shows the group a credit card.

“Don’t worry,” Mincaye explains. ” They just give that thing right back to you, and then you can go and eat all your food!”

But someone wants to know how food can be gotten when you’re out driving and not close to a food house. Mincaye knows the answer. That’s not a problem for Babae, as he calls Steve:

Babae has friends everywhere. Whenever we are away from the big, big food house and my stomach hurts, telling Babae, he just stops at one of his friend’s houses. They open the little windows in their walls and hand us food. Those people really like Babae, just like we do.

I really feel special now. I guess those people really like me, too!

(I’ve written about Steve and Mincaye before, but if you’d like to know their full stories, read Elisabeth Elliot’s Through Gates of Splendor and Saint’s End of the Spear, or watch the movie of the same name.)

(Emmie Martin, Tanza Loudenback, and Alexa Pipia, “The 25 Best Fast-Food Chains in America,” Business Insider, May 9, 2016; Steve Saint, End of the Spear, Tyndale, 2005)

[photo: “Service with a Smile,” by Broken Piggy Bank, used under a Creative Commons license]

Airport Chocolate: The Triangle and the Sphere

December 31, 2015 § Leave a comment

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For me, they’re the airport candy: Toblerone and Ferrero Rocher. If you forgot to pick up a souvenir on your travels, you could always impress the kids with exotic chocolates from the airport. Even now that you can get them at Wal-Mart and Walgreens, to me they’re still the airport candy.

Toblerone
According to the Toblerone website, in 1900, a confectioner in Bern, Switzerland, Jean Tobler, handed his chocolate factory over to his son Theodor. Eight years later, Theodor, along with his cousin, created Toblerone, a chocolate bar made with honey and almond nougat and formed into a distinctive triangular shape. The name comes from Theodor’s family name and torrone, Italian for the type of nougat used in the bar.

Toblerone is now owned by the US company Mondelēz International, formerly Kraft Foods.

You can impress your friends by showing them the bear hidden in the picture of the mountain on the candy’s package. The bear has long been a heraldic symbol on the Bern coat of arms.

Ferrero Rocher
When it comes to chocolate, Ferrero Rocher has its own distinctive shape. Wrapped in golden foil, each candy is a small sphere made of a hazelnut, chocolaty cream, a crisp shell, and milk chocolate, sprinkled with chopped hazelnuts—in order, from the center out.

Italian confectioner Pietro Ferrero began selling chocolates in 1942, and the Ferrero company was founded four years later. But it wasn’t until 1982 that Ferrero Rocher was born. The Ferrero Group, now headquartered in Germany, has grown to become the third-largest producer of chocolate confectionaries, behind Mars and Mondelēz, and before Nestlé.

In the forty years before Ferrero Rocher was born, the Ferrero company was anything but dormant. During that time it introduced Nutella and Tic Tacs, as well as the Kinder line of candies. Kinder, of course, includes the Kinder Surprise, or Kinder Egg, an egg-shaped chocolate candy with a hollow center that contains a small toy.

While Kinder is also a staple of many airport stores, don’t make the mistake of trying to bring them into the US. If you do, and you’re caught, the candy will be confiscated, and you could get tagged with a fine. That’s because they’re considered a choking hazard and are banned in the States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports that in 2011 they seized more than 60,000 Kinder Eggs coming in with travelers and in international mail.

(“The Chocolate Industry,” International Cocoa Organization, January 23, 2015; “Don’t Be ‘Surprised’ by Kinder Eggs: Seizures Double,” April 5, 2012)

To Eat or Not to Eat, That Is the Question

December 18, 2015 § Leave a comment

If it looks back, don't eat it!

Here’s my December post for A Life Overseas.

I need your help to crowd source this post. Let me explain.

In every culture, there are some foods that those on the outside don’t understand. In fact, many on the inside don’t understand them either. Maybe they were first eaten during a time of shortage, and then, after that time had passed, they were passed down from generation to generation, not because the need was still there, but because they had become a part of the people’s identity.

Maybe they are terrible-tasting things that we eat because they’re supposed to be good for us. (Maybe we think they’re good for us because they taste terrible?) And then there are those things that years ago, before refrigeration, were fermented—or prepared in some other way—to keep them from spoiling. And now, even after electricity, we still have them. Maybe it’s because over time our tastes just develop in different directions. Or maybe it’s because of extravagance: we’re wealthy enough to eat something odd and rare, just because we can.

Regardless of what put it on the menu, what food in your home-away-from-home gives your palate pause? Or, on the other hand, what have you tried that now has become part of who you are?

Go to A Life Overseas to read the rest of the post, enjoy a photo of fruitcake, leave your feedback, and see what others are eating saying. We want to hear from you!

[photo: “Have a Look,” by Malte Vahlenkamp, used under a Creative Commons license]

Tea Has Charms to Sooth the Savage Breast

October 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

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East Asian tea ceremonies. Chai in India. Iced tea in the US. North African mint tea. Tea time in the UK.

Tea is a cherished part of cultures around the globe. But why?

One reason is its standing as a stress reliever.

“Would you like to join me for a cup of tea?” Just the invitation itself sounds soothing. Though science can’t explain all the whys, researchers have been able to bolster tea’s reputation as a cure for stress.

One study, published in the journal Psychopharmacology in 2006 shows the effects of black tea on stress. In it, researchers from University College London removed tea, coffee, and caffeinated beverages from the diets of 75 men. They then gave them caffeinated fruit mixtures to drink four times a day for six weeks. For some, the drink was a placebo, but for others, it contained the active ingredients of black tea.

After subjecting the groups to stress-inducing situations, the researchers found that the “tea” drinking group, when compared to the placebo group, had lower levels of the stress-hormone cortisol. Those participants also reported higher levels of relaxation during the recovery period and showed lower levels of blood platelet activation, which is associated with the risk of heart attacks.

Andrew Steptoe of UCL says,

We do not know what ingredients of tea were responsible for these effects on stress recovery and relaxation. Tea is chemically very complex, with many different ingredients. Ingredients such as catechins, polyphenols, flavonoids and amino acids have been found to have effects on neurotransmitters in the brain, but we cannot tell from this research which ones produced the differences.

Nevertheless, our study suggests that drinking black tea may speed up our recovery from the daily stresses in life. Although it does not appear to reduce the actual levels of stress we experience, tea does seem to have a greater effect in bringing stress hormone levels back to normal. This has important health implications, because slow recovery following acute stress has been associated with a greater risk of chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease.

Nada Milosavljevic, of the Harvard Medical School, writing at The Daily Tea, describes two possible ingredients that could lead to stress reduction. One is L-theanine, an amino acid found only in tea, which can decrease one’s heart rate and lessen the sympathetic response to stressors. It also increases the brain’s levels of dopamine and serotonin.

And there are polyphenol antioxidant catechins. Polyphenols, Milosavljevic writes, “positively affect neurotransmitters in the brain, making it easier to maintain mental balance.”

Psychologists Malcolm Cross and Rita Michaels, of City University London, say that tea’s calming effects are not just chemical, but cultural as well. In their study, commissioned by Direct Line insurance, they gave 42 individuals a stress-inducing task, then served half of them a cup of tea and half of them a glass of water. While the water group reported elevated stress levels, the tea group’s levels of stress were even lower than before the stress activity.

Some in the tea group said that they saw drinking the tea as something relaxing that marked a break from their anxiety. Some reported feeling “cared for” by those who prepared the tea for them. And the group as a whole conversed with the tea maker and fellow tea drinkers—while the water group drank in silence.

Cross tells The Telegraph,

This study shows that the social psychological aspects of tea enhance the effects of its chemical make-up on our bodies and brains. It’s possible that this culturally rooted, symbiotic function between mind and body explains why Britons instinctively turn to tea in times of need.

Put simply, the findings illustrate what most mothers would tell us: if you’re stressed, anxious or just feeling blue, make yourself a nice calming brew.

(Andrew Steptoe, et al., “The Effects of Tea on Psychophysiological Stress Responsivity and Post-Stress Recovery: A randomized Double-Blind Trial,” Psychopharmacology, January 2007; “Black Tea Soothes Away Stress,” University College London, July 16, 2010; Nada Milosavljevic, “An Antidote to Stress: Calming Teas & Tisanes,” The Daily Tea, August 5 2014; Malcolm Cross and Rita Michaels, “The Social Psychological Effects of Tea Consumption on Stress: Executive Summary,” 2009; Richard Alleyne, “A Cup of Tea Really Can Help Reduce Stress at Times of Crisis, Claim Scientists,” The Telegraph, August 13, 2009)

[photo: “Tea Time,” by Taidoh, used under a Creative Commons license]

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