Monday, August 27, 2012

Tomato Sauce - The Yearly Ritual

The yearly ritual of making tomato sauce has been a part of my life since, well, since before I was even born. Its in my blood, literally, and I look forward to this time of year like a kid in the candy store. I can remember sitting across from my grandma and pouring ladle after ladle of freshly juiced tomatoes into jars. I remember watching my grandfather wrestle with that machine of his - a large metal funnel with a grinder and pulp filter attached to a nine volt battery, operated by a rubber belt and a large wooden club, pushing tomatoes through and watching the liquid pour out into 10 gallon buckets. I remember my mom and my aunts cutting through box after box of tomatoes passing them down the table to my grandpa, and I remember my father washing every tomato in 2 large metal drums, one box at a time. After everything was jarred, my grandpa would fire up two large propane burners with 5 ft tall metal drums filled with water and all of the jars we filled that day, letting the water boil the jars shut, thus allowing the sauce to be preserved for the whole year. This was like a family holiday every year, sure it was hard work, but it served as lunch and dinner for the whole family multiple times a week. It served as the base for all of my favorite childhood meals, from baked ziti, sicilian pizza, lasagna, meat balls, sausage and peppers, and the ubiquitous rigatoni with meat sauce. I may live a thousand miles away from any close members of my family, but the tradition lives on in my house, and I will hopefully be able to continue it my children. For now, I only have the time and back muscle to work with a box at a time, but after a couple of efforts I can have enough for the whole year for my house. I like to use it for pizza, salsa, chana masala, taco meats, and of course marinara sauce. I just went through my first box of the year and I would like to post some pictures for posterity. I visit my local farmer's markets weekly and watch the tomato stock come to life as the summer passes, and just the summer heat waves break and most people start to cycle off their air conditioners, I buy tomatoes. I bought two boxes (25 lbs each) for $15 a pop, and spent half the day on Saturday cleaning, cooking, milling, and jarring the tomatoes. I have adapted the process to fit my kitchen and my own needs, instead of cutting each tomato and pushing through a machine, I cook them down a bit to soften them up and use my hand-grinder (food mill). I then continue to cook them down to get as much of the water out as my bedtime will allow, then jar it hot so that the jars will seal by themselves. Here are some photos of the first effort this year:
I washed these in my sink and immediately threw them into the largest pot I had, which just barely fit the entire box. I also added a little water to keep the bottom from burning since I could not reach all the way down and turn the tomatoes until they were cooked a bit.
This is what they look like after they have cooked down a bit, maybe 1 hour later.
Before you know it, the tomatoes have broken down and then its just a matter of letting them cook a bit longer to get the water out. I estimate about half of the original volume is cooked out during the process.
I got this food mill from my mom as a birthday gift a few years ago, it works wonders. It has an interchangeable screen so that I can puree something more or less coarse, this helps keep the seeds and skin out of the final product. I transfer the milled sauce into another pot where I add some salt and let it cook down a bit further.
About the time when my wife and I can no longer handle staying awake, we start the jarring process, which wraps up quite quickly and leaves me with enough sauce for about 15 meals. This makes me so very happy, hitting the bed that night is a wonderful feeling. At this point is when I realize I do not ever want to work as a restaurant cook, a standing on my feet all day, sweating, and working hard for something that I will not be able to enjoy immediately hits me like a ton of bricks. But it is oh so worth it, and as long as there is still enough time left in the summer to get cheap boxes of tomatoes, I will be keeping my saturdays busy with sauce.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Testing is important, intuition...not so much

One of my favorite topics in economics has always been the idea of rational vs. irrational decisions and how we can understand why people do the things they do.  This is really at the heart of economics, as the monetary system is just another way to place a value on making specific decisions.  If you have ever heard of things like the prisoner's dilemma, the tragedy of the commons, or the concept of util's, then you probably know what I am talking about.  Dan Ariely takes it a step further into the world of social science and really challenges what we think about rational decisions and intuition.  Check out this TED lecture on his experiments on cheating, it might make you think twice about what your own intuitions.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Social Media as a tool for customer engagement

Lately I have been thinking a lot about social media's impact on the business world. Its not just 12 year olds out there just telling us they tied their shoes, its millions, and soon to be billions of people conversing and engaging each other. If you still think social media (SM) is for kids, here a few tidbits that might change your mind:

Facebook has over 500 million unique users, if Facebook were a country it would be the third largest country in the world.

A company called Zynga makes social games for Facebook and the like, and it has over 250 million unique users on its games, that would make it the 4th largest country in the world.

The fastest growing demographic on Facebook is 40-60 year old women.

Even if it is all kids, those kids are going to buying a lot of lollipops this year. Wouldn't you like to have your shiny lollipop staring them into the face every time they log in, don't you want to know how to tap into the vast array of information that people voluntarily(!) give to Facebook about what they like and don't like? Don't you want to hear what your customers are saying about your product in real-time and even interact with them to make their experiences more meaningful and important to them? This is the next wave, ride it or drown.

I would like to touch on each of these topics in my next couple of posts. First I would like to address engagement.

One of the best things about SM is that it makes the web accessible to anyone with a keyboard. No more reading "HTML for dummies" to put up a website, now you just sign up for a MySpace account and key in your age, gender, and favorite movies, select a picture that captures your essence, and boosh! - instant web page. This allows everyone to have a place on the web, its not just for Wikipedia, Google, and porn any more.

Not only is it accessible, but it is self-propagating, and therein lies the engagement. Once your friend builds a profile, he will send out emails to all his friends to connect and create their own profiles. Then someone will post on his wall, and he will post back, then someone will see that post and say they like it, then they will dig a little deeper and more people will get interested, then they will talk about it at the bar/school/water cooler, and new people will join the fray, its almost like a cheap, white powder my Colombian friends would be familiar with - addictive.

The conversations continue and propagate themselves, they add more users to the system, which thereby add more conversation and interact with each other more and more. Now they say the best way advertisement that one can get is word of mouth - why not stick the words in your customers' mouth's? Get on there, get active, participate, be apart of the ecosystem, bring new people on board, show them you are real people too, in short - Get Engaged!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Blog is Back! Adding some tech focus

Sorry for the long absence, but it was an attempt to cleanup my online profile for any potential employers. That whole situation is still in the air, but I have not been happy with the kind of success that I have had. Yes, some job offers have been forthcoming, but everything has been of the lackluster variety. I understand that the economy is still pretty rough and the luxury I have of being surrounded by employers through my graduate program is akin to an "adult Disney World" (as Dr. Rappa likes to put it) however, life is short. I am circling around the idea that I need to start doing some things at home and just trying to build myself out a little more in the industries I want to focus on. The world of social media is ripe for new businesses and new ideas, the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. have created a whole new ecosystem for startups and new business ideas. The only problem with this idea is the lack of health insurance that comes with it...

So to kind of help me frame some of the subjects I am interested in investigating, I would like to take a more technology focus with the blog. I have been thinking a lot about measuring effectiveness of social media advertising campaigns. There is some combination of click-through analysis, reach measurement, and sentiment analysis that needs to be done to effectively measure and understand your social media advertising strategy. My next couple of posts will surround these topics. Let me know if you have read any good books or any other blogs that talk about these subjects. I am ready to learn what is already out there and build on it.

Thanks for your patience, and I hope you come back and join the conversation after my long absence. You can also find me on Twitter @marcomascioli

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Job Search


I am cutting down who is allowed to read the blog. I am trying to trim down my image for the job search, so I want to make sure this blog is available to only people I trust for the time being. I know I haven't posted much recently, but just take it as a sign of how busy I have been with school. I will be around more in the next couple of months, for sure.


Monday, November 16, 2009