I haven’t ordered something from Red Envelope, the online luxury gifts company, in many years. But what I do remember is that they have a wide selection of high quality, expensive gifts that would be perfect for special occasions and important people in your life. So when the folks at Red Envelope invited me to find and review one of their Memorable Gifts for Dad, I obliged.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as well as I’d hoped.
I received the item in a very timely fashion, but I was disappointed when I’d opened my box. There were some very noticeable greasy green spots right on the front of the gift box that almost looked like olive oil or some other food stains. It would’ve been a bit unseemly if I had actually decided to order the Cubist Chips and Dip tray ($69.95) and send it directly to my Dad. I expected a little bit more attention to detail from them.
It was packed very well and looked nice. The weight of the glass bowls were good and looked of high quality.
However, I wish I could say the same about the wood tray itself. The moment I picked it up I was disappointed. It lacked the weight that good quality wood would have. It was almost flimsy. And then I noticed two long cracks down the length of the tray, one of which was a very noticeable split in the wood. Again, had my Father actually received this for Father’s Day, I would’ve sent it right back. And at almost $70, it was severely overpriced. I could find something for much cheaper that would certainly suffice. It wasn’t good enough for gifting.
So, I will use the tray when I have company come over, but I was extremely disappointed in the presentation and quality of the product. It wasn’t worthy of the quality I had remembered from Red Envelope. I don’t see myself ordering from them again anytime soon, unless I hear of some improvements, overall.
I got the chance to moderate one of the most diverse panels of speakers I have ever encountered while I was at the BlogHer Food Conference in Atlanta, recently. The subject of the talk was “Food Blogging for Change”. It’s a lofty subject that can be slightly overwhelming.
I introduced Bettina Luescher, Chief Spokesperson for the United Nations’ World Food Programme, which distributes food to over 70 countries; Andrew Wilder of the blog Eating Rules in Southern California, which offers tips and information for eating healthier; Michelle Ferrier of Locally Grown News in North Carolina, who sees food as a pathway to community and social change; and anonymous blogger, Mrs. Q of the blog Fed Up With Lunch in Illinois, who gained fame by blogging about her year-long project eating the school lunches that were served to the kids at the school she works at (hence her anonymity).
They all work passionately in their chosen communities, be it globally, nationally or locally. What they have in common is that they’re all working to promote changes in food policy, food education and the way we see food. They’re also aware of the power of using your voice for change. Here are some highlights of what we discussed.
Elaine: I wanted to pose three words to the panel: budget, taste and health. Can all three values coexist? Can it be done and does it become overwhelming for the average person to achieve all three in their daily lives?
Andrew: Taste is the number one reason people choose something to eat. Folks know they need to eat healthy, but time is a factor for many of us. But change starts with knowledge and knowing what is healthy for you. With budget, a recent study showed that many local farmers markets can be cheaper than going to the big box grocery store. Good food is everybody’s right. And it’s important to focus on ‘better’, not ‘best’. There’s no such thing as a ‘superfood’.
Elaine: Is safe, healthy food hard to access for certain populations, and is it realistic to assume that everyone can get access to it? MF: The Food Environmental Atlas online now has information available to help people find safe, healthy food communities that are developing food hubs for gathering, processing and distribution of healthy foods, such as community gardens. And food trucks are now being used in different communities to deliver safe and healthy food to communities where they don’t have good access to it.
Bettina: On an international scale, we are using some of those same ideas and methods. As an aid organization, we have buying power to purchase from small scale farmers (generally women) and support the farmer to pool food from other farmers and produce larger scale distribution. And in Haiti, we are buying milk from local farmers so they have an income and then we give it to children in school meal programs, which keeps it local and makes a huge difference.
Elaine: We’ve heard over the Conference that change can start with a hashtag. Do you believe social media can have that big of an impact on the various food communities you work with?
Michelle: One person’s website or blog can lead to a Facebook page, which can then lead to a Twitter account. Social media can allow one person to communicate to different audiences with different content. Twitter can provide fast facts, Facebook can give more information, your website can give personal opinions.
Andrew: Change happens one person at a time.
Bettina: I appeal to everyone in this room to be a voice. It’s not a guilt trip, it’s a power trip. It starts with knowledge, how to share and tell stories and present solutions. There are simple tricks to use with huge rewards.
Michelle: We all have images of hunger that we get from television and the media. But we have to turn that story on its head and recognize that all of our children are starved for good food.
Elaine: If you could come up with a “wishlist” of three changes you could enact in this country’s food policy, what would they be?
Mrs. Q: There needs to be legislation changes to our school lunch programs. 1) I think French Fries should no longer be considered a vegetable (applause breaks out). 2) Chocolate milk needs to go. 3) We need to ban processed meats in schools.
Michelle: 1) Local governments need to recognize that food security and access to healthy food needs to be viewed as something just as important as every other issue. 2) We need to bring back Home Economics classes at the elementary school level. 3) We need to change school lunch policies to a “last child-first child” policy.
Andrew: 1) The ideas of “organic” and “conventional” labeling requirements need to be swapped (applause breaks out). 2) Take any marketing language off every food package. 3) Stop subsidizing corn and instead subsidize fresh fruits and vegetables.
Bettina: I have one big one: No funding cuts for child hunger programs…EVER.
*For notes from the entire session, please visit this link.
The mere mention of a grilled cheese food truck tends to evoke one of two responses:
1) How hard can it be to make a grilled cheese at home? Why do you have to find a truck to go get it?
2) Damn, that sounds good.
Sure, you can make it yourself at home. But can it be easier, not to mention tastier, if you get it from the folks at Toasty Melts.
Business partners, Tiffany Lam and Alex Rando, started the Toasty Melts food cart in 2009 after being inspired by other popular carts like The Magic Curry Cart and The Creme Brulee Man. They also figured they could donate a portion of their earnings to the San Francisco Food Bank, where they were frequent volunteers.
So why switch from part-time food cart hobby to full-fledged food truck? “Matt Cohen wanted us to come to Off the Grid, but we weren’t that ambitious because we both had day jobs,” says Lam. She was a project manager for Marin company, Republic of Tea, and has since quit to devote herself completely to Toasty Melts. Rando is still at his day job. “We heard rumblings last year that the permit process was going to change. So last September, we finally started looking for a food truck to transition to,” says Lam.
Just this past March, they finally debuted their shiny new bright red food truck, ready to take on the already crowded food truck space.
But here’s the kicker: neither of them have any professional culinary experience. None! And that’s exactly how they came upon the decision to focus solely on the simplistic grilled cheese sandwich. “There’s no way we could do something fancier. It was definitely something we could execute. If we could do it, anyone could do it! It was the most realistic food avenue for us to take. But it’s also very versatile. We could be creative with the grilled cheese sandwiches and blend quality ingredients to make different variations.”
This simple sandwich requires no special equipment. They make the sandwiches on the truck’s grill, cooking up evenly and to a perfect golden brown.
I tried their two signature sandwiches: The ABC, which has thin apple slices, bacon from Zoe’s Meats and cheddar cheese; and the 3 Cheese, made up of smoked gouda, jack and cheddar cheeses. Both were served on Panorama bread, made locally in San Francisco. Most of the cheeses they use are from Kerrygold.
Both had the perfect amount of toastiness with the right amount of crunch. But the interior of the bread was also soft and pillowy with just enough buttery goodness.
The 3 Cheese stood out because it was amazing to me how distinctive all three cheeses were even when melted together. The jack cheese was smooth and creamy, the cheddar gave it the classic flavor, and the smoked gouda provided a wonderfully sharp punch that made it stand out. I absolutely loved it.
I have to admit, though, that I wanted more from the ABC. The best thing about it was the thinly sliced apples, which gave the sandwich additional texture and a subtly sweet contrast in flavor. The bacon, unfortunately, was a bit dry and rubbery. I would’ve loved if it were more crunchy. And I longed for a cheese with a tad more flavor. The jack cheese just couldn’t hold its own.
Regardless, their sandwiches are still worth going back for, especially if you’ve got a hankering for a good grilled cheese. It’s fresh, perfectly toasty and gooey, affordable at $4-$6 a pop, and easier than making it yourself. “Who would want to shred and blend three different cheeses for one grilled cheese at home? We also provide the novelty and the convenience,” says Lam.
For now, you can find them at Off the Grid on alternating Mondays at Civic Center Plaza and on alternating Tuesdays at UN Plaza, along with possible regular stops in San Mateo and Brisbane. Lam wants to have a firm presence in San Francisco, though, despite the food truck permit drama that seems to happen frequently these days.
“We’re going to continue to pursue all our permits for various locations in San Francisco. And Alex and I would love to expand our menu at some point. For now, it’s just the one truck. My Dad owned a restaurant and I don’t know if I really want to own a brick and mortar restaurant. This one truck takes every ounce of my energy!”