Sunday, August 22, 2010


I had to get the fussy one out of the way because the Cake Mistress was preparing a birthday cake for the child's best friend, little Evie (happy birthday Evie). The cake deserves a post of its own, which will happen shortly.

So I took the fussy one to the movies instead, where we watched Toy Story 3 in 3D. Now, for me, a movie experience is incomplete unless it involves popcorn. The only exceptions are when I'm going to see a movie in either the Cameo or the Dominion, in both of which cinemas you can bring beer. But basically, for me, going to the cinema is an excuse to eat huge amounts of popcorn. I get bored in the cinema. (I actually dozed off during "Misery".) The only thing that can keep me awake is a gigantic amount of popcorn. Popcorn is of course mostly air, so that's one good reason for eating it. Another is that it's fairly high in fibre. According to this website that I found, 1 cup of popcorn contains 1 gram of dietary fibre, whereas 1 cup of cooked chickpeas contains 12 grams of fibre. That may make popcorn seem relatively low in fibre, but 1 cup of cooked popcorn is very much less than the average portion because popcorn has a very high volume indeed in relation to its mass, whereas 1 cup of chickpeas represents about as many chickpeas as the average person is liable to consume during the course of one meal that involves chickpeas (unless he or she is having falafel with hummus, in which case you'll be having even more).

I've just read back that last sentence to myself and a part of my brain has gone 'What?!' Let me go through it again.

Anyone who has ever cooked popcorn is aware that it starts with you introducing a relatively small amount of popcorn kernels into your cooking device (in my case, a great big saucepan with a thin film of oil and a little butter at the bottom). These kernels will usually form a layer one kernel deep. My guesstimate is that this represents the amount of kernels you would get off about 1.5-2 corncobs. That's not very much food, and it's low-fat to begin with. When you cook popcorn, what happens is that the moisture inside the kernels heats, boils and explodes the kernels into large, fluffy, crunchy fragments. When you open the saucepan, it's suddenly half-full of delicious popcorn that only needs a skilful pinch or two of salt to become a perfect movietime snack. When you decant all that popcorn into a bowl, you can see that that small initial handful of kernels - which represents all the food that you are actually eating - has become an enormous volume of popcorn. If you tried to eat the same volume of, say, chickpeas, you wouldn't get very far because chickpeas, compared to cooked popcorn, are many times heavier and denser. But, mass for mass, they have quite similar fibre contents. So eating a huge bowl of popcorn will deliver you about as much fibre as eating a side order of chickpeas. See? (The rest of the mass in chickpeas consists mostly of things like carbs, protein and fat.)

Fortunately, it's not just one website advising us to eat popcorn. The high-fibre nature of popcorn is also pointed out here. Both of these sites share an American assumption that we're eating air-cooked popcorn with neither fat nor salt, but I for my part am assuming that you, being a sensible person, do not eat high-fat, high-salt snacks all day and so a little butter and salt won't hurt you. Not great slathers of melted butter poured over it - just the use of butter as part of the initial cooking medium, and a couple of pinches of Maldon salt to wake it up at the end.

The art in cooking popcorn lies in making sure that all the kernels pop, and I am still working on this. If the heat is too high, you will burn the corn. If it's too low, you will be left with an annoying quantity of unpopped corn. Like cooking a steak, cooking popcorn is something that you only get good at from much practice. If you think that getting a home popcorn machine will help, apparently it doesn't.

Historical gobbet: popcorn, although well-known to native Americans, only achieved mass popularity during the Great Depression, when it became a popular food in cinemas because it was cheap, and also because of Charles Cretors' invention of the commercial popcorn machine. To this day, Cretors are major players in the commercial popcorn machine industry.

I bought my popcorn in Brougham Street's fine Real Foods, where I think they have some kind of hiring policy that you can't work there if you don't have a piercing. They also recycle plastic bags, which is cool. I ate most of the popcorn myself because the fussy one turned it down, until the penultimate reel, when she started asking for it. I was forced to hand-feed her the remaining bits. The movie was great. I almost cried. 3D, however, is a crock. I was impressed for about five minutes and then stopped noticing it.

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