Local science teacher loses weight eating McDonald’s, I struggle to stay awake


“Some men just want to watch your stomach turn.”

I have nothing against McDonald’s, nor its Juggalo-with-ambition mascot. I am rather libertarian when it comes to food, and although I try to live by Michael Pollan’s commandment, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” I admit that I head down to the Golden Arches once in awhile to wallow in the french-fry scented sadness of grease-soaked dreams.

Sometimes, a 10-piece Chicken McNuggets with hot mustard hits the spot.

McDonald’s has a hard time being itself, though. When I was a kid, McDonald’s was the garish red-and-yellow treat that my grandparents would sometimes give us. We’d eat limp hamburgers, barely tasting them, and then go crawl around inside the the empty head of a cheeseburger cop. It was a simpler time.

This was what passed for

This is what passed for “fun” before the internet.

These days, the company is working hard to reinvent itself, much like an aging movie star who thinks plastic surgery is the fountain of youth. Oh sure, there have been other identity crises over the years (seaweed-based McLean Deluxe, anyone?), but it’s gotten way out of hand lately. The last time I pulled into a Mickey D’s drive-thru, the signs were going on about something called “Chef Burgers” and talking about ground sirloin. It was a bit surreal. If I wanted pretentious fast food that pretends to be more than it is, I’d go across the parking lot to Chipotle to get a side of Jonathan Franzen with my gut busting slop. Just give me my quarter pounder and shut up.

And now that I’ve effectively buried my lede under a pile special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions, allow me to pull back the sesame seed bun and get to the point. I got an email today from McDonald’s of Central Arkansas, a local franchisee that always stiffs me one package of mustard when I order my nuggies. Apparently, “local science teacher” John Cisna ate nothing but McDonald’s for six months, and OMG lost 60 pounds! No word in the email if it was because of vomiting and dysentery, but one wonders.

Look, people. Supersize Me came out in 2004. Are we still doing this? Did Subway Jared teach us nothing? The only thing this proves is that humans are very adaptable creatures–but since we have managed to survive in basically every environment this planet has to offer, we already knew that. I once spent a semester of college living on little more than coffee and goldfish crackers. I lost so much weight that my mother was worried I might have a terminal illness. If representatives from Pepperidge Farm and Folger’s would like to feature me in an ad campaign, my contact information is over on our “About” page.

I do have to admit that the “Before” and “After” shots of Cisna that McDonald’s sent with this email are quite compelling. You judge for yourself the effectiveness of six months of nothing but McDonald’s:

On the left, Cisna's

On the left, Cisna’s “Before” picture. On the right, Cisna after eating nothing but McDonald’s for six months.

In any event, a reception and special dinner is being held to honor Cisna next Tuesday, October 20 at 6 p.m. But not at McDonald’s. Instead, the chefs at Forty Two, an actually good restaurant here in Little Rock, will be doing the cooking. No word yet if there will be groovy shakes or hot cakes on the menu, but a boy can dream.


Yum! Brands announces new Hunger Relief Effort, partnership with Christina Aguilera; still pays low wages and serves garbage food

world hunger

This is a family blog, so I’ve used the Yum! Brands to cover Ms. Aguilera’s naughty bits.

Yum! Brands, the company that brought us such culinary delights as the Doritos Locos Taco Supreme and the KFC Double Down announced a new hunger relief program this week. Grammy Award-winning assless chaps model Christina Aguilera is also on board to, like, totally stop hunger.

The program is called “Feed the World,” (or maybe “Hunger to Hope,” the website is not clear) and that’s something that Yum! doesn’t really know much about, despite their history of stuffing pizza crusts with hot dogs. Sure, a couple of questionable pieces of cod, battered and deep-fried to hell and back by a surly teenager might seem like a good idea after a night of binge-drinking your wife’s perfume, but I just can’t see it as the answer to a problem as large as world hunger.

Full disclosure: In my youth, I worked for Yum! Brands subsidiary Taco Bell, where despite long hours and low pay, I learned nothing at all about cooking. I did, however, learn a lot about how it feels to pour 5 pounds of reheated ground beef directly onto my groin, along with sage pieces of advice like “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” It was a magical time.

The Yum! Brands press release I received about the program was chock full of numbers. They tout their program as the “largest private sector hunger relief initiative,” claiming that it covers 125 countries. Neat. It may even be true. But it honestly doesn’t change the real fact of the matter: A Yum! Brands hunger relief program is basically so much lipstick on a pig. A greedy, disgusting pig that keeps employees impoverished and struggling to make the bills–including, you know, money for groceries. In addition, as purveyors of disgusting unhealthy garbage, it’s rather rich to hear Yum! Brands discuss ending world hunger. Perhaps they’re planning on doing it with root beer and neon orange nacho cheese.

You see, the real answer to world hunger must go far beyond one corporation’s PR campaign and into real, systemic change. Giving people jobs with good wages and benefits can do more to alleviate food insecurity in this country than any late-90s pop tart prancing about for photo ops in Ecuador. And here’s the great part: Yum! Brands could certainly do more to help decrease poverty and food security by actually paying their hourly employees more money. But that’s too much like right.

If Yum! Brands really wants to help people, they can can immediately empower an entire class of people all around the world–those 1.5 million associates they mention in their press release. Because if you’re a company that makes billions by poisoning people with terrible food, the people doing the grunt work should at least make a livable wage.

“Whole Paycheck” becomes “No Paycheck” as Whole Foods cuts 1500 jobs

Whole Foods

Whole Foods on Bowman in Little Rock

Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods, home of the $6 Asparagus Water, announced today that they’re cutting 1,500 jobs over the next two months.

“We believe this is an important step to evolve Whole Foods Market in a rapidly changing marketplace,” Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb said in a statement. If I had to venture a guess, it would be that the “rapidly changing market” refers to customers who are finally wising up to the price gouging that Whole Foods is so famous for. It’s just unfortunate that the result is employees losing their jobs.

When a new-and-improved Whole Foods opened up in West Little Rock last year, I noticed a definite shift in how the place was being marketed. Sure, there were still groceries, brands of vegan dog food and artisanal chocolate bars, but it the corporate tour guide that walked me around the store a week before it opened didn’t really talk much about that. Instead, she focused on the prepared foods side of things like a barbecue bar, pizza kiosk and a fully functional bar where customers can get drunk enough to make paying $15 for two chicken breasts seem like a good idea.

This is a company, after all, who admitted in July, 2015, that they routinely overcharged customers at their New York locations, something that co-CEO John Mackey called “mistakes.” And if any of you believe that the price gouging really was a mistake, I’ve got some lovely beachfront property in Arizona I’d like to talk to you about.

Gawker writer Hamilton Nolan has posted a copy of the severance letter that employees received from their corporate overlords. It isn’t a great package, but it’s definitely better than what employees of Walmart or Target would probably get in similar circumstances. It’s just a damned shame that store employees are the ones made to suffer because their delusional bosses decided that gimmicky products and overpriced groceries were a good business model. And don’t even get me started on how little they really care about local farmers and artisans. That’s a story for another day.

Getting my liver on in Denver

IMG_1495Man, oh, manischewitz I love me some chopped liver, and it’s something that only shows up in all its delicious glory once a year in these parts — at the Little Rock Jewish Food and Cultural Festival. It’s rich, earthy, and somehow creamy while still being kosher. Total alchemy.

Where you can’t get it in Central Arkansas is in a decent New York-style deli, mostly because we ain’t got one. This seems to me to be one of the biggest oversights in my part of the world — we’ve got decent sandwich shops, sure, but we don’t have an honest-to-Jehovah deli. It’s a shame.

Well, for Thanksgiving this past year, we trekked ourselves out to Colorado to spend the holiday with Jess’ brother and his wife, and one of the “must try” places that my brother-in-law took us was New York Deli News, and there, on the menu, I saw it: pastrami with chopped liver, available on pumpernickel. I may or may not have squealed like a little girl.

The sandwich was a monster, full of flavorful liver, salty pastrami, and all tucked between two slices of dark, rich bread. In the end, it was too much for me to finish, but I made a damn good try at it. The liver wasn’t too strong or gamy, and while the proportions of this sandwich were almost cartoonish, it was still one of the best sandwich experiences of my life. The rest of the family had equally as delicious of a time with their respective orders, and we all left the restaurant groaning and stuffed to the gills.

Liver might make you squeamish, but I say eat more of it. Eat it until you learn to love it. And if you get the chance, eat it with some pastrami at Denver’s best deli — because you sure can’t eat it in Little Rock. Happy Eating!

New York Deli News on Urbanspoon

Happy New Year!

HENTwo months.

Yes, friends and neighbors, it’s been exactly two months since I posted anything here, the largest gap of time without content that’s gone down in four years. Ain’t that terrible?

Not really.

A lot has transpired in the past two months, and I’m afraid that this poor blog has been my neglected child because of it. Owing to the success of Arkansas Food and Farm magazine last year, the Arkansas Times has not only expanded our issue count from two to four, they’ve also tapped me to edit a new publication, Arkansas Made, which will be coming out in June. And there’s still the Eat Arkansas blog, which has expanded to include some new writers (and will hopefully expand more in the coming weeks).

Because I make actual money doing those other things, I’ve put them first. I’m sure you all understand.

But perhaps the best thing that’s come of the past two months is that after several years of peddling my ass all around the freelance market, I’ve been hired on to do all these things full time. Which means that I’ll have more time for my personal writing — which means that we shouldn’t have another two month gap here on Foodies.

If you’ve kept up with us since we first started this thing from a 450-square foot apartment in wilds of Saline County, I’d like to thank you. It’s been a fun journey, with only insignificant bumps along the way. Things are better than ever, and 2015 looks like the year that I finally get to do what I’ve always wanted in terms of promotion of the great state of Arkansas and all the wonderful food folks who live, breathe, grow, cook, and eat Arkansas food.

You guys rock, and we’re going to rock along with you. Cheers, everyone, and here’s to the happiest of new years!



Keurig 2.0 is hot garbage


A French press — my favorite way to drink coffee.

I like coffee, and I’m not all that snobby about it. Now, I don’t want my coffee to taste like hazelnuts or chocolate raspberry — I want coffee flavored coffee, usually back, sometimes with cream, never with sugar. But I like pretty much any kind of coffee, whether it’s the Folger’s I run through my drip pot at work, the house-roasted beans I take pour-over style at my local coffee shop, or the various varieties I make for myself at home in my French press. I’ve had lovely cafe au lait in the French Quarter of New Orleans, beautifully poured lattes in Seattle’s Pioneer Square — and on the flip side, I’ve had more than a few cups of wretched vending machine coffee in the English department building at the University of Arkansas. What I haven’t had — until today that is — is a coffee maker that dictated what coffee could be put in it.

Picture this: you grab your French press, and instead of that Fair Trade, lovingly roasted coffee that you normally buy, all you have is the can of Maxwell House you keep in the back of the pantry for emergencies. You plop a few tablespoons into the press, pour in the hot water…and your French press flashes an error at you for using an unapproved coffee and refuses to brew. Sound crazy? Sound far-fetched? Sounds like the Keurig 2.0 to me.

Now, the Keurig craze has never really caught on with me — I normally like more than one cup of coffee at a sitting, and the entire process of k-cups seems to produce a lot of wasteful trash with its single-use cups. I’ve also never had a cup of Keurig coffee that rated much better than instant — although I admit that most of my experience with the machines comes from hotel rooms, so I’m sure decent Keurig coffee is out there. But with the invention of reusable k-cups and Keurig pods that could be filled with any sort of coffee, I softened my view of the machines; they seem great for people who only like one cup at a time, especially if those folks are pressed for time. So when my mother-in-law bought a Keurig machine, I was happy for her, and looked forward to trying some of the varieties she’d bought to go with it.

Then she hit a snag: some of the K-cups worked in the machine, and some did not. She had purchased two types of reusable k-cups; neither type worked. About three minutes of internet sleuthing gave us the answer: Keurig 2.0 machines only work with Keurig brand k-cups. Instead of using their vast technological resources to build a machine that made a better cup of coffee, Keurig engineers installed a little sensor located right on the left of where the k-cup sits that can detect the foil ring around each official k-cup — and only then will the damn thing brew.

Are you freakin’ kidding me? DRM (digital rights management) in a flippin’ COFFEE MAKER? Welcome to America in the 21st century, folks — your damn coffee maker can pick and choose what coffee it’s going to brew, and it doesn’t matter that you’ve already handed the folks at Keurig an amount of money TEN TIMES what my French press cost, you’re going to have to keep shelling out money for their special k-cups forever and always if you want to use the machine.

Of course, you can hack the thing, something that took me about 5 minutes to accomplish. I cut one of the rings off of an “official” cup, taped it over the sensor, and had some bootleg coffee pouring in no time flat. And there are already third party k-cup makers who have supposedly managed to bypass the sensor in order to keep selling their own brand of cups. But the sheer fact that I had to break out the utility knife just to get my mother-in-law’s Keurig to make a cup of fresh-ground Caribou coffee makes me want to break stuff. And it still wasn’t as good as my French press.

The way I see it, this can only damage the Keurig brand. They’ve aggressively marketed the 2.0 with little to no mention that the machine will only brew approved pods. That’s not how you build trust in your brand. As for me, I’ll stick to the French press — or just buy this Bunn Multi-use coffee maker that uses pods (of any type), loose coffee, tea bags, or any number of other methods of getting a hot beverage in the cup. I know one thing for sure: my next coffee maker purchase won’t be a Keurig.

A tale of two rubs

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetAh, an Arkansas autumn Saturday — there’s really nothing better. And while there are a ton of people tromping through my neighborhood because the Razorbacks are in town, making it impossible to get out without some yokel stealing my parking spot, I’ve been through this all before: we stocked up on a weekend’s worth of goodies in advance.

But it’s beautiful, and as a nod toward the tailgating culture here in Little Rock, we decided to fire up the world’s tiniest grill and make some chicken, brats, and ribs. The chicken turned out particularly nice, and it was all due to a couple of dry rubs I used, a Mexican mole rub and a Southwest barbecue rub. Each was tasty in its own way, so you might want to give one of these a try next time you feel like cooking outside.

Mole rub for chicken

  • 1 tsp espresso powder
  • 1 tsp cocoa
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2-1/2 tsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground dry ancho chili
  • 1 tsp Mexican oregano (dried)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp warm water

Mix the espresso powder with the warm water until it dissolves. Mix each dry ingredient in, then add the olive oil. Blend until a thick paste is formed — I used a mortar and pestle. Adjust water and oil depending on how thick you’d like the rub — I find that a thicker rub stays on better. Rub your chicken with the mole and let marinate for an hour, then grill.

Michael’s Southwest rub for chicken (with advice from Louis Williams of Next Level Barbecue)

  • 10647051_599701496819452_3697122387361654800_n1 tbs sweet paprika
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 3 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp ground mustard (I used Coleman’s)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

Mix all ingredients together, making sure that everything is blended well. You can add some oregano, thyme, or even some powdered sage to this, and it’s quite nice. A touch of cumin can add an interesting flavor, and smoked paprika can be good, too, although I find that it overwhelms things sometimes.

Just work the rub really well into your chicken, let marinate for an hour, and then grill. Enjoy, and happy cooking!