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All the Small Things

July 22, 2010

My bet is that I’m alone on most of this.

Let me start by saying I’m not a dainty man.  I am just over six feet tall and after this D.C. trip I am weighing in north of 180 pounds.  It’s hard to find shoes in my size.  Extra large baseball caps look a bit too small on my jumbo noggin.

All the same, I like small things.  Not preciously small.  I enjoy a good amuse bouche, but I wouldn’t want a full meal of those tiny portions because they just keep me wanting more.

Which actually is their point.

What I’m trying to say is that the sizes of certain culinary delights were created for a reason.  Over time too many of these things have gotten bigger and bigger.  In some cases this is caused by the same drivers that have pushed restaurant entrée portions to the point of providing enough fat and calories for a family of four.  In other cases the causes are different.

Regardless of the cause, here is my top ten list of thing that are too big, and just to show you I’m not completely unreasonable, three things that have gotten too small.

1)    Chicken Wings
I know that there are people out there who prefer big, juicy and meaty wings.  Just last night for dinner, I had ten of these monsters.  I shudder to think of the gargantuan chicken those wings were plucked from.  It is redolent of the scene in Food, Inc. where the chickens were too large to support their own weight.  But ethical issues aside, these big wings completely befoul the magnificent ratio of crispy skin to meat of normal-sized wings.  If you want something more meaty eat a frickin’ drumstick.

2)    Glasses of Beer
Yes, the British have likely been drinking pints since before they ventured out to the American colonies.  And that’s fine if you are drinking warm English ale.  But if it’s hot, and you are thirsty, and you want a cold crisp beer, pints are far too big.  Half pints are the obvious answer, but not every place offers these much more sensible glasses.  That leaves twelve ounce bottles, which will just have to do.

3)    Soda
This same eight-ounce versus twelve-ounce battle played out a long time ago in the soda marketplace.  Somehow the fifty-percent-larger version became the standard size in sugary beverages until it was eclipsed by a bottle 250% the size of the original.  It suffers a similar mode of failure to large beers, they get warm, either that or they get watered down if you drink them over ice.  But also this was something formulated to be a small indulgence (or patent medicine, depending on who you believe) but never as a beverage to be consumed morning, noon and night.

4)    Cappuccino
There is no such thing as a large cappuccino.  For that matter, they don’t come in medium or small either.  A cappuccino is a thing.  The World Barista Championship has a definition that I endorse, which we can talk about later.  Their prescription is that a traditional cappuccino is a beverage between 150 to 180 mL in total volume (5 to 6 fl. oz.).  Regardless of whether you buy into the specifics, a twelve-ounce paper cup with a shot of espresso and steamed milk and foam is a terrible excuse for a cappuccino.

5)    Teacups
A long time ago, I had a great tea book, The Agony of the Leaves.  I’m sure Helen Gustafson has some very strong feelings on the proper size of teacups.  But at my favorite café here they serve tea in these gigantic cauldrons.  They must be sixteen ounces.  Yes, I don’t have to keep going up for refills of hot water.  But I also can never make it to the bottom of my mug before it gets tepid.  Certain teas benefit from multiple steepings, and with cups this big the exercise is a major strain on one’s, shall we say, capacity?

6)    Cocktails
I’ve mentioned this one before. The vast majority of cocktails are all about being icy cold.  And even well-made cocktails eventually wilt.  I want a four-ounce Manhattan.  But just try to find four-ounce cocktail glasses.  It’s almost as difficult as finding a nice seven-ounce single old-fashioned glass.  When large cocktails have ice in them, they get watered down.  Jumbo cocktails that are served “up” just get warm.  Blech.

7)    Chickens
And another thing about chickens, it’s not just the wings that are getting big, but the birds themselves.  It’s not even just “conventionally” farmed birds bred to grow big fast.  At the Troy farmer’s market a vendor was selling six-pound chickens.  Yes, officially they are the same kind of bird, but chickens are classified by age and weight.  Birds over five pounds are sometimes called stewing chickens, mature chickens or hens.  They are delicious, but benefit from different cooking techniques.

8)    Ice cream portions
A serving of ice cream is four ounces.  It’s about the size of one small scoop of ice cream.  One.  Small.  Scoop.  Just try to get that out anywhere.  I dare you.  It is next to impossible.  Sometimes you may be able to convince an ice cream parlor to sell you a kid’s portion.  Like soda, ice cream was created to be a very special treat.  I mean, it’s frozen cream.  The magnitude of that statement is completely lost in this day and age.

9)    Frozen Yogurt Bowls
In the current incarnation of frozen yogurt, customer are given enormous bowls as they enter a self service queue of several tart flavors of soft serve frozen yogurt and a salad bar of interesting toppings.  When charging by the ounce, this strategy makes perfect business sense.  A reasonable serving of yogurt looks like a little turd in the bottom of the cup.  Me?  I’ll take that little tart turd, drizzle a bit of honey on it and be delightfully happy.  But I seem to be the only one.  Others end up with something like this.

10) Restaurant Portions
I’ve beaten this to death, but I couldn’t not include it on the list.

One must never forget that there are some things that do get smaller.  But smaller isn’t always better.  In the below instances smaller is bad as well.

1)    Individual Cups of Yogurt
You may have forgotten, but these used to actually be cups.  And by that I mean eight ounces.  Now they are only six ounces.  I wouldn’t exactly call the old size a filling snack.  So what does that make the current incarnation?  Given they are now as sweet as candy, perhaps the entire food has gone through a complete metamorphosis.

2)    Häagen-Dazs “pints”
If it worked for yogurt, maybe it would work for ice cream.  Fourteen is the new sixteen as Häagen-Dazs shaves off a couple of ounces to keep their prices competitive.  It is still the only mass-market ice cream without any food gums or stabilizers, which is great.  So great.  I would say it would even be worth spending more for a full pint of the stuff.

3)    Girl Scout Cookies
I can’t even look at a box of Samoas anymore, because I got sick and tired of sounding like this person.  Year after year, they kept getting smaller and more expensive.

Clearly I’m leaving things out.  Feel free to add to these lists.  But your FUSSYlittleCURMUDGEN is signing off.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2010 8:19 am

    Saw that you linked to my blog. Just to clear something up– my cup was filled about 10% with frozen yogurt and the rest was fruit. Yes- it was expensive. Next time I probably won’t fill my cup up as much. But it was my first time at a self-serve frozen yogurt shop and I went a little crazy!

    I totally agree that the cups are too big. I know people who would have filled the whole thing up with frozen yogurt, but this was not the case with me.

    I’m with you on the portion-size thing. I don’t go to restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory anymore because I’m totally against their portion sizes.

    Thanks for linking to my blog, even if your purpose was to express that I eat too much froyo…I mean fruit.

    • July 22, 2010 10:11 am

      My intent was simply to show that people fill the cup, and it can get crazy expensive. I never meant to imply that you are a little piggy. Obviously you are not.

      • July 22, 2010 10:26 am

        Yes- I understood your intent.

        I do eat a lot though, so you can technically call me a ‘little piggy.’ No big deal.

  2. Ellsbells permalink
    July 22, 2010 9:05 am

    Sadly, even on a hot day, I can down a pint before it gets warm. In the getting-larger-but-shouldn’t category, just include all fast food servings. I’ll admit, every once in awhile, I like me some french fries. But in 1950, McDonalds served the kiddie size. Now some McDonalds won’t let me buy that size if I don’t have a toddler in tow. Which means sometimes I have to borrow children and that might get me in trouble with the law someday. (Yes, I once at a McDonalds had to ask a mother if I could give her cash for the kiddie size so she could pretend they were for her little girl.)

  3. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    July 22, 2010 9:46 am

    I agree with everything on the list. Here’s another, although it probably would be on your “restaurants portions” list: the half-lb. burger! When did this become the standard? Bring back the quarter-pound burger. And while we’re at it, why are fries ALWAYS included, whether I want them or not?

  4. beck permalink
    July 22, 2010 10:12 am

    I don’t know why, but for some reason I’m surprised you’re so tall, Daniel. Maybe because I’m a mere 5’2″ and thus expect everyone else to follow suit.

    I am appalled by the size of beverages in general. I occasionally go through the fast food drive through for a drink (or food, too, but mostly drinks) and will ask for a small iced tea. Either they tell me they don’t have a small, or the “small” is a minimum 32 ounces.

    Regarding Samoas, a friend of mine told me that Keebler has created a cookie very similar to the Samoa, much like they’ve imitated Thin Mints with their Grasshoppers. They’re called Coconut Dreams. I’ve yet to try them, but they’re surely a better value than the Girl Scout Cookies.

  5. Sarah M. permalink
    July 22, 2010 11:22 am

    Is no one going to comment on the title of this post?!

  6. July 22, 2010 12:21 pm

    About half an hour ago someone ordered a cappuccino to go (my least favorite to-go beverage to serve). We use 8oz cups when they are to-go, but I am usually left in a quandary, because it throws off how much milk and foam goes into it. If you leave room at the top so that it’s a proper size, people get miffed. Durr.

    I love big teacups. I would drink tea out of a pool if it were easy to do. I also prefer *most* of my teas at room temperature or even a bit cooler (that is, black teas like Mariage Freres ‘Eros’ which tastes much better cooled). If it’s a tea that I put milk in, it should be quite hot, but otherwise I can taste the tannin better when it’s cool.

    I’m really torn on ice cream. A scoop from work is more than enough most of the time, but I will down the whole ‘like it’ size at coldstone in about twenty seconds and enjoy it to my very soul. On the other hand, no one NEEDS that much ice cream, so I normally try to just get a kid’s size there, but you know.

  7. Ellen Whitby permalink
    July 22, 2010 8:04 pm

    There’s a Jimmy Buffett song called Fruitcakes that begins with a spoken introduction, part of which is a rant about portion sizes. Have a look:

    “Take for example when you go to the movies these days, you know. They try to sell you this jumbo drink, 8 extra ounces of watered down cherry coke for an extra 25 cents. I don’t want it…..
    …. I don’t want a 12 lb. nestles crunch for 25 dollars. i want junior mints!!!

    It’s a great song…his point (and yours) is well taken.

    And I’ve never thought of Jimmy as curmudgeonly.

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