Using Positive Peer Pressure to Influence Kids' Eating

Four young boys and a mom were walking down the sidewalk. Three of the boys, I'd guess, were around 10 or 11 years old. They looked like two brothers and one friend. The fourth kid, likely another brother, seemed about 6 or 7 years old. The mom was holding his hand.

Suddenly, the older boys darted ahead, galloping a few yards down the road, kicking up their heels, doing jump-spins, and squealing the way excited 10-year old boys do when their in a group.

The younger kid peered up at his mom, let go of her hand, and said something about how he was going to catch up with the older boys and play with them, too. His excitement was palpable. In that moment, I remembered how it felt to look up to my older sister and her friends and think the world of them, no matter what they were doing. Because they were older, and by definition cooler, their activities had an aura of mystique and allure. To be included meant everything.

And then the mom on the street, the stupid cow, said, "No. You stay with mommy..." and grabbed hold of his hand once more.

In an instant, the young boy was crushed, humiliated, and ashamed to be who he was. He faced crinkled with a welling of imminent tears, but he must have thought better of it. Crying would only make matters worse, only make him seem more of a baby. Maybe instead he should say something nasty back to his mother, as if rejecting and defying her would prove he is not a child anymore.

What an awful age to be, old enough to desire acceptance among your slightly older peers, but barely young enough for your mother to still baby you.

Positive Peer Pressure
Peer pressure can be subtle, especially at that age, and I think this fleeting moment in this little boy's life perfectly encapsulates that notion.

Kids, especially in the 6-13 age range, want to do anything that the older, cooler kids are doing. If you let a 7-year old boy just be around his older siblings or schoolmates and let him observe them, without the watchful eyes of parents or teachers to oppress him, he will almost always aspire to be like them by imitating their behavior and actions.

In working to improve children's eating habits, dietary knowledge, and in particular school lunch programs, the leaders of these movements have to tap into positive peer pressure. They need to remember that the people who will have the greatest influence on these kids are their slightly older peers.

Review: 5 New York City Wine Shops

With my newfound interest and desire to learn more about (and question the practices of) wine and wine culture, I've paid closer attention to how wine store staff treat me and other customers. Here are 5 short reviews of wine shops in New York. (See below for a list of the shops and their locations.)

Trader Joe's Wine Shop
Trader Joe's Wine Shop in Union Square (New York City) has been my preferred wine shop in New York City because bottles that I've seen elsewhere in the city typically sell for $1-$2 less there.

On a recent visit, an employee asked, "You need help with anything?" and quickly moved on when I answered, "Nope. I'm still looking." I listened in on a few other exchanges. One customer asked about a specific bottle, and the staff member said she hadn't tried it, but would go ask her colleagues who had. When she came back, she said, "No one has had this particular vintage, but everyone liked the other one we had." What to make of that response? On the one hand, it's unpretentious and honest. On the other hand, could it be more vague about how the wine smells and tastes, or what to eat with it?

At a little table in the back, another Trader Joe's employee poured a half ounce of two different kinds of wine into a few dozen miniature plastic cups: Acacia Chardonnay (I think it was 2006, for about $17) and Stag's Leap Merlot (about $26, and I think it was also 2006). I tried them both and asked if the Chardonnay was oaked. "I don't know, but I would think so, judging by the taste." That was a very generous way of saying, "Uh, ya think?"

I ended up with a 2007 Sancerre Rouge for $15.99 (a helpful note card suggested this would be a good pairing for mature cheeses) and a Penfolds Koonunga Shiraz for $9.99, which I'm saving for the next time we have barbecue for dinner.

Trader Joe's Wine Shop boiled down to its essentials: 1) best prices, 2) a focus on budget wines (there are some wines in the $45 range, but not much beyond that), 3) having some staff members on hand who know some things about the products, 4) completely unpretentious, 5) almost always packed to the gills with customers.

Absolute Wine & Spirits
Absolute Wine & Spirits in Astoria is not the closest wine shop to my house, but it's within walking distance, and I stumbled into one evening accidentally and have gone back two more times since. Oddly, the shop doesn't have a web site, but it has a video tour on Youtube (hold onto your lunch; this one comes with free kinetosis!).

Absolute's selection included dozens of labels I had never seen in Trader Joe's before, and a good number of highly rated wines in the $20 and under group. The two employees on hand (I have a hunch one of them was the owner, or an owner) offered help a few times but wasn't at all pushy or intrusive, letting me take my time pouring over all these new bottles.

I picked up a 2007 Domaines Les Yeuses Syrah les épices ($12). "Very spicy, that wine!" the shopkeeper said. "Sounds about right," I said. Again I could tell he wanted to converse more, but I was just too timid.

Boyfriend and I drank that spicy wine with merguez and Moroccan-style chickpeas, and it was excellent, a bright garnet color with plenty of spice, black pepper, and berry.

A few days later, we returned to Absolute together, but this time we were kind of in a rush. "I felt bad not making small talk with that guy," Boyfriend said. "He seemed really nice, and he was obviously trying to make conversation." Rushed as we were, we managed to find a 2008 Domaine de Larzac Roussanne and Charonnay for $11.99, another very good deal from southern France.

BottleRocket is a wonder to browse. I've gone back a few times, even though the prices are a touch higher than elsewhere. At some point, the dollar or two or three that I might save gets washed out by the education I can get just reading the staff recommendation cards in a well-designed store, or the travel time I save by going somewhere local (BottleRocket is close enough to my office to make a trip on my lunch hour).

BottleRocket had a tasting over the weekend, which I attended: a wine and chocolate pairing. Heaven. I got to try a sparkling Australian red called The Chook ($19), a rare treat for me and highly educational.

Chelsea Wine Vault
Chelsea Wine Vault also holds free tastings, and even more often than BottleRocket. The selection is geographically comprehensive as well as a bit more focused on wines that cost more than $20. An entire bookcase of half-sized bottles is a nice touch for neophytes like me who don't want to commit to 750ml of something untried.

The staff is helpful enough, but the store is so busy on weekends (when I've been there at least) that there isn't an intimate atmosphere. Dialogue is more about efficiency than enjoyment. Sure, I've seen some customers corner and employee so they could show off their knowledge, but by and large the approach doesn't favor intimacy. And for many people, that's a good thing. Some of us cringe when we feel compelled to fake a bit of chit-chat.

Oddly enough, out of all the wine shops listed here, I've probably been to Chelsea Wine Vault the second most number of times (second to Trader Joe's), but I don't think I've ever made a purchase.

I went out of my way to visit the sunny and clean Appellation Wine & Spirits on 10th Avenue in Manhattan after a number of people recommended it. It specializes in biodynamic, organic, and sustainable wines.

The day I visited, at 5:30 on a weekday, I was the only one there. Browsing the medium- to small-sized store takes time, as each bottle is accompanied by a good deal of written information about its taste and its producers. Two employees manned the store, one hefting boxes and tables around to set up for a visiting winemaker (they were holding a tasting that evening, purportedly at 5:30, but everyone was behind schedule), the other quietly and meticulously reviewing paperwork at the register, librarian-like. They both asked if I needed help or had questions, and both approached me with the ease of someone you run into frequently but don't necessarily have a close friendship with, like a neighbor.

A decent amount of the store's stock fell into my $10-$20 price range, though they also had more than a few bottles that cost upward of $100. I bought a sparkling Cristalino Rosé ($7.99); I'm a sucker for sparkling rosé, and while I wouldn't pull this out for any major celebrations, I would drink it with dinner any day of the week. For $12.99, I picked up a bottle of Domaine Barou vin de pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah, a much bigger red than I had anticipated, but nice.

At the register, the librarian-like clerk chatted with me for a minute or two, asking how I had heard about the store, and thanking me for coming. Of all the shops, I felt the most relaxed here, maybe because I was the only customer at the time, and maybe because the attitudes of the employees meshed with my personality best.

To be honest, I probably will end up at Trader Joe's any time I need to buy more than a bottle or two, like for parties, because the prices are the lowest and I feel extremely confident in my ability to navigate the sections that I know best: California red blends, California Zinfandels, Italian reds, and sparkling wines. I also know that when I shop for a party, efficiency is key. I don't want to browse and read and chat.

On the other hand, if I'm just out shopping for shopping's sake, I'd be most likely to swing by BottleRocket. It's a fun shop.

Appellation is definitely where I'd go if I were buying a bottle as a gift or for my own celebration. I would probably drop by more often if the store were situation in my work-live-play geographic triangle. I know myself well enough to admit that hoofing out to 10th Avenue just to browse wines isn't something I'll do regularly.

Near to where I live, I might actually start going slightly out of my way to hit up Absolute. It's two heads above the other shops I frequent, and only 10 minutes out of the way.


Absolute Wine & Spirits
34-13 30th Avenue
between 34th and 35th Streets
Astoria, NY

Appellation Wine & Spirits
156 10th Avenue
at West 20th Street
New York, NY

BottleRocket Wine & Spirits
5 West 19th Street
between 5th and 6th Avenues
New York, NY

Chelsea Wine Vault
75 9th Avenue
located inside Chelsea Markets
New York, NY

Trader Joe's Wine Shop
142 East 14th Street
between 4th and 3rd Avenues
New York, NY

Recipe: Flourless Chocolate Cake with Ganache

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Ganache Glaze
Inspired by/adapted from Bon Appetit's 1999 recipe

Flourless Chocolate Cake
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
6 medium or large eggs, separated and at room temperature
12 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
75 grams (or about 2 to 3 ounces, or 1/3 cup) semisweet chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Using cooking spray or butter, grease a 9-inch-diameter springform pan, and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper.

If your pan is flimsy or thin, you may want to wrap the outside in aluminum foil to protect the cake from too much direct heat. The pan I used had thick sides, so I left it bare.

Over a bane marie, melt the butter and 12 oz. chocolate, slowly, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula, until smooth and glossy. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, but do not refrigerate.

Using electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with 6 tablespoons of sugar in large bowl until very pale, at least 3 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, fold and blend the lukewarm chocolate mixture into the yolk mixture.

Using clean dry beaters, whip egg whites plus 1/4 teaspoon salt in another large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 6 tablespoons sugar while whipping. Turn off beaters, lick, and then using a rubber spatula, fold the whites into the chocolate mixture in three batches. This step may take some time, but the batter should remain voluminous! Keep folding until all the streaks have disappeared and the batter is one even chocolate color.

Gently pour the batter into prepared pan, making sure the parchment stays in place. Set on the middle rack of the oven.

Bake cake until top is puffed and cracked and you can smell a strong chocolate aroma, about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool cake in the pan on a wire rack. The cake will fall, which sounds sad until you realize you can nibble the broken edges, which are the most delicious part, without anyone knowing. Do try to refrain from eating all the crackled top, as it makes the finished cake yummy as well.

Gently press down the crusty top to make evenly thick cake. Loosen the cake from the pan by tugging the edges of the parchment. Remove pan sides. Place a 9-inch-diameter plate or cardboard circle (covered in foil if you like) on top of the cake and invert it. Peel off the rest of the parchment paper slowly.

Make the ganache over a bain marie. Add the cream and sugar first, stirring to dissolve, then add the chocolate pieces. Stir until smooth.

Once the cake has cooled, set it on a wire rack over a baking sheet, or on a serving platter with strips of wax paper tucked just under the edges (to catch the drips, but be removed before serving). Pour the ganache onto the center of the cake, then smooth it slowly toward the edges until it drips over. Use a spatula to smooth all surfaces, and if necessary, refrigerate for 15 minutes to firm. Serve at room temperature, but store in refrigerator.

Regional Differences in Taste

English chocolate has always tasted better to me than run-of-the-mill (that is, not "boutique") American chocolate, and I always assumed it was because the Brits use real sugar rather than corn syrup. But that may not be the only reason.

In reading The Taste of Sweet by Joanne Chen, I've been learning about how large food manufacturers will change not only the type and amount of sweetener in a product, but also the profile of the artificial flavors that are added to try and match regional preferences. Chen mentions that the U.K. market tends toward about the same sweetness level as Americans do, but prefer more caramel notes in many of their snacks and treats.