If you need something to read with breakfast or lunch

This will do, from the Sun-Times.

United Airlines’ December 5, 1967 Baltimore-to-San Francisco flight was a good one for a hungry passenger. The in-flight meal began with the French shellfish dish Coquilles St. Jacques, followed by a choice of lobster thermidor, grilled beef tournedos or double French lamb chops with mint jelly. There was soup and salad, of course. Dessert offerings included lime tartlette, chocolate torte and almond rum bar.

Sure, that was in first class, but the economy class food of the period was nearly as extensive. Brunch for coach passengers on a 1969 United flight from San Francisco to Omaha featured a mushroom omelette, broiled ham and brandied hazelnut mousse. That same year, a Pan Am New York-to-Barbados flight treated economy flyers to stuffed Rock Cornish Hen with madeira sauce and a separate cheese course before dessert. A split of champagne? A buck, even.

Or this, from the Northwestern website.

A 1970 Western Airlines flight from Honolulu to San Francisco included scallops of veal and chilled vichyssoise soup. A 1971 American Airlines flight from San Francisco to New York boasted a brunch of Kaula omelet with filet mignon or crepes lomi lomi. And a 1964 American Airlines menu (bound with gold string) served filet mignon with bordelaise sauce to its San Francisco to Chicago/Detroit passengers.

International trips offered even tastier fare. In 1966, a passenger flying BOAC economy class from London to Tel Aviv enjoyed a lunch of foie gras, fresh Scotch salmon, salad, cheese, fruit and coffee, followed by afternoon tea. And one had only to ask for a complimentary Martini — sweet or dry — and free in-flight cigarettes in plain or filter tip.

TWA travelers flying first class from London to Chicago that year chose their cocktails, whiskies, highballs or champagne from a menu in the form of a scroll that doubled as a souvenir. Their dinner of curried squab chicken or Maine lobster Newburg began with fresh Malossol caviar, and was capped off with assorted French cheeses, pastries or ice creams. Diners with less rarified tastes could substitute a hot dog and malted milk.

If you’ve missed the coverage until now, the world-class Northwestern University Transportation Library has a new online exhibit featuring airline, ship and train menus from 1929 to the present. The glamorous line trends in the direction you’d expect. But then again, I’m eating Cheerios and a banana for breakfast. If I were the Sausage and Fancy Omelet King of Chicago, then I could complain.

Chocolate-covered Cheerios

They exist. They really do.

When I wrote in August about imagining “the taste of my Christmas and Easter mornings,” my brother apparently already knew such a product existed. Such was SkyMall and an i-banker’s flight schedule.

But while the chocolatiers at Jacque Torres had beaten me to the idea, I didn’t lose out entirely. Rob sent me four bags this week.

Initial review: Delicious.

There should be a Skynyrd song about cereal

Before I began writing On Deadline*, several of my bosses told me what they expected out of the blog. The posts were not to be about what I had for breakfast, they said. Cereal was mentioned a couple times. Being a co-creator of the blog’s concept, I knew as much. But I understood where they were coming from. Aside from a half-dozen stories at CNN, my only writing of length in preceding years had come in this blog. And this blog was no stranger to cereal.

My brother understands this history, and that’s why when he reads about a new cereal restaurant beginning to franchise across the country, he promptly sends me the story. Amid the revamping of Cereality’s business model and the reported failure of the company’s Evanston branch, I’m a bit disillusioned with the entire cereal restaurant industry. The nexus of my pain? The ground floor of the condo down the street has been empty for probably a year now. There’s a “retail parking” garage, but inside is only a expensive spa. My dreams of a neighboring Cereality and Krispy Kreme have long died.

With this other cereal chain’s expansion, the article tells of 16 stores — I like to think of them as restaurants, to think otherwise cheapens the cereal experience — under development. “Looks like Cereality is going to get a run for its money,” my brother says. But the story doesn’t name the locations, and I’m a little distrustful. Until I see my city’s name on paper and next to cereal, I can’t raise my spoon.

In other news, I have a new great idea. Chocolate-covered Cheerios. The taste of my Christmas and Easter mornings! A soft pitch at Sunday night’s festivities has no doubt left the gathered Leongs and Strahotas dreaming of endless bowls. How this idea took 27 years to strike, I have no idea.

*On Deadline turned out fine. I think I only wrote about cereal twice: “Drink your Trix, Cocoa puffs” and “Be like Mike? Be liking milk.” Ha.

Strawberry fields? Nothing is real

The lost cereal of my youth is blueberry shredded wheat. I don’t remember enough of the name to put anything in capital letters. The shredded wheat packed with real blueberries is long ago, but each trip to the grocery store still brings a heart-wandering in the cereal aisle. Nothing on the outside, no free-floating blueberry-like things, no booberry, just a square packed with real blueberry flavor.

It was that feeling that led me to Frosted Mini-Wheats Strawberry Delight, and I regretted it from bite one. I don’t want to get sued, so I won’t make any assertions as to the cereal’s natural-ness. I’ll just say I didn’t enjoy it. I’ll also say this: It’s the cereal equivalent of Breakfast Beatles or Beatles Brunch or any one of the B-based Sunday morning classic rock-format programs that are a tad too programmed for even big Beatles fans.

Anyhoo, in upcoming cereal news, I’ve got a box of Multigrain Cheerios in my kitchen, probably a few boxes away from opening. I’ll let you know what happens.

I am a Cheerioian

Writes John Warner on McSweeney’s:

Lucky Charmers hold their spoons overhand-style and make slurping noises as they eat. Sometimes, they even try to pluck the marshmallows out with their fingers, because the marshmallows bob up and down in the milk, which makes it very hard to get them out with just a spoon. Sometimes, they don’t even pour the cereal into a bowl and eat right out of the box.Cheerioians, on the other hand, often eat their cereal entirely unadorned, even with sliced banana or strawberries. They use bowls from Pottery Barn, hold their spoons correctly, and read a major metropolitan newspaper or watch cable news while eating their breakfast cereal. They are lured by the boxes that promise lower cholesterol or healthier colons. They often drink orange juice from a glass, or coffee out of a mug.

Read the rest, enjoyable as he loses his point.

I don’t remember where I found the link, but I’d like to credit wherever it was. They are good people.

Related past entries:

-Aug. 2, 2004: Spilling Cheerios, Dem convention

-Mar. 25, 2003: Cheerios Berry Burst bust

-Nov. 27, 2002: Fighting Cheerios sogginess

-Sept. 4, 2002: Cheerios and a new pair of pants

-Aug. 21, 2002: Elvis and Cheerios

Post-convention coverage

When the taxi driver welcomed me to Boston (“Welcome to Boston!”), I was surprised.

Let me start over. I’ve just spilled half a cup of Cheerios all over my keyboard. The cereal was dry, so the piece hasn’t shorted, but Cheerios dust can’t be good for any keyboard, even mine. For my part, I am not too disappointed. Cheerios come and go and come back underfoot when I hear the crunching sound. Anyone who eats cereal as a snack understands the difficulties. Bowls and spoons both have their purposes, and ignoring them leads to great dysfunctions of purpose.

Like spilling Cheerios all over the keyboard.

The reason I was eating just now and with such discombobulation was Boston, back where we began, where that taxi driver had met me Tuesday morning with great and unexpected exclaimation. The encounter was the last time I would eat well for days. Not that I was eating at the time, but the taxi driver popped the trunk roughly three hours after my breakfast and anyone with minor knowledge of rumblings and grumblings, the agriculture and technology of the stomach, would have placed the blame also squarely on his shoulders.

It was a good thing then that I realized none of this at the time. The surprise came first. “Welcome to Boston” zzzip phftt. The last time I was in the city, college-hunting eight years ago, no one was welcoming. Not anyone at Faneuil Hall, not anyone along the appropriately neverending Freedom Trail, not anyone in traffic down on the maze of streets or above on the Central Artery. The worst were a floor below at the Daystop Inn, chewing away at heavy metal songs in the bar off the lobby. Complimentary doughnuts by the desk helped some, but the Daystop lost me at the bar’s Guns ‘n’ Roses, or at least whom I assumed to be them. To prop up the few bar patrons to the discomfort of lobby families was no way to run a hotel, and the proprietors’ failure at Hotel Management 101 was no way to start or end a day in the city.

But here was this taxi driver and zzzip phftt. We rode from Logan and through the tunnel to the bottom of Staniford Street, and my bags and I piled out at the FleetCenter’s Jersey and cyclone fence barriers. I was there to replace a coworker with a family illness. Security was tight: airport level at the gates, near-constant helicopter presence overhead and occasion troop teams passing by. Inside the fences, on the close-in side of the green el tracks, police were at the traditional arena event level.

The narrative was going to continue here, but I decided to be the troll under the bridge and demand payment. Not having a great enough payoff, the narrative was denied further passage into the land of Yarn.

Basically, the days ran from 9 in the morning until midnight or one, where the nights then took up the nominating process and went for another hour or two at the nearby Hill Tavern. After years of allegiance to the Tom Collins, I finally had several in Boston proper. The links went Irish dockworkers to J. Anthony Lukas’ Common Ground to some college reading list to me, and whatever the weak links in that chain, I’ve passed them by. If you’ve been put off by the cherry or slice, you haven’t been thinking enough about the dockworkers.

But as you could’ve counted, the days went long. I spent most of my time as the USA TODAY/Gannett part of the media tent, a two-level affair, lit unnaturally bright like one of those newer gas stations. (The power of halogen.) The tent functioned much like a camping tent — hot in the day, cool at night — but without the benefit of camping-quality food. Patties were big in the tent. Fish and chicken patties were there, but strangely beef ones weren’t, at least not from Tuesday morning onward. With potato chips running $2 a bag at the tent’s official food stand, meals involved many trips to the arena McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donut stands.

I did make it into the hall for a while. I saw Cate and Elizabeth Edwards speak, then watched the running mate take the stage. The crowd roared. At no point did I see Ben Affleck, Michael Moore or Nomar and his suitcases.

My trip ended with a ride back to the airport Friday afternoon, but not before I had a great cheeseburger in the hotel restaurant. Unasked, the cook melted on Swiss, the same kind the Cheers-inspiring Bull and Finch put on my burger that last time I was in Boston. This time around, I was happy to eat the burger and not see it as a peace offering from the people of Boston.

Berry Burst bust

I am not anti-Cheerios. I am a Cheerios guy. The cereal satisfies. But I draw the line at the yellow box. Any venture beyond that line brings extraneousness. Honey Nut, Frosted, Apple Cinnamon, Team, MultiGrain — they all take the O to places it should not go. At least not comfortably, in my opinion.

Briefly holding my opinion as premise, sit atop my kitchen counter. Perch yourself next to the box of Berry Burst Cheerios, Triple Berry variety. It looks enticing, yes? The holistic circle of grain, the pictured fruit “bursting” with the essentials of life.

But open the box and ignore the Betty Crocker points. Open the inner bag. Have a bowl with milk and then have a second. Unless your tastes run wildly toward the synthetic, you will be disappointed. A diluted Cheerio cannot ease the yearn.

Fighting soggy cereal

Lindsay and I were talking last weekend about the world’s soggy cereal problem. If you don’t know about this problem, you don’t eat enough cereal. Me, I’m a big cereal fan. I’ve been eating Cheerios since I had teeth. There have been sporadic and enjoyable forays into other cereals, but Cheerios has always struck around. As a food product, it’s just the right mix of good and good-for-you. It’s also equally functional as a meal or a snack.

Unfortunately, the sogginess problem has remained just as consistent. General Mills does not tout Cheerios as staying strong under milk, and I give them credit for their honesty. Mixed with Cheerios, milk is instantly on the attack. Within two minutes of pouring, the liquid has won the day. It’s a tragic situation. The cereal comes away as a limp Superman, weakened by a dissolved and delicious white Kryptonite.

“It’d be an improvement if the milk came from the top of the bowl,” Lindsay said. Then a breakfaster could have better access to the milk and thus better control over its distribution in the bowl. This idea was a good one, but how could it be brought to life? Anti-gravity milk research has always been low priority for federal funding, and with the war on terror continuing to draw dollars, change seems unlikely in the near future.

So what are cereal supporters to do? Our suggestion: turn to the spoon. Yes, turn to the sweet food cradle. The world’s spoon industry is a vast and largely stagnant industry. It is ripe for innovation. The time for the Milk-Dispensing Spoon has arrived.

Picture it with me now. Tubing — similar to beer-hat tubing — runs from the milk container to three-quarters of the way down the handle of the spoon. Milk flow could be controlled by an Iglooesque light-pressure tap mounted at the end of the handle.

With this system in place, you could add milk at the times you deemed best. You could also choose the location within the bowl to dispense the milk, enabling you to focus on areas known to have received milk recently. After a few uses, dispensing milk in your bowl would become natural. Pavlovian, even. Want milk? Press the tap. Repeat as necessary.

Such an eating experience would seemingly be fit only for Mount Olympus. But maybe some day in the future the Milk-Dispensing Spoon could appear at your table. How could you explain it to your household? Simply. “I am Zeus,” you could say, “and this is my spoon!”