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Archive for December, 2012

Penne With Mushroom Ragout and Spinach

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Penne with mushroom ragout and spinach.


Published: December 24, 2012

Mushrooms and spinach together is always a match made in heaven. I use a mix of wild and regular white or cremini mushrooms for this, but don’t hesitate to make it if regular mushrooms are all that is available.

1/2 ounce (about 1/2 cup) dried porcini mushrooms

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 medium onion or 2 shallots, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 pound mixed regular and wild mushrooms or 1 pound regular white or cremini mushrooms, trimmed and cut in thick slices (or torn into smaller pieces, depending on the type of mushroom)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup fruity red wine, such as a Côtes du Rhone or Côtes du Luberon

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or a combination of thyme and rosemary

6 ounces baby spinach or 12 ounces bunch spinach (1 bunch), stemmed and thoroughly cleaned

3/4 pound penne

Freshly grated Parmesan to taste

1. Place the dried mushrooms in a Pyrex measuring cup and pour on 2 cups boiling water. Let soak 30 minutes, while you prepare the other ingredients. Place a strainer over a bowl, line it with cheesecloth or paper towels, and drain the mushrooms. Squeeze the mushrooms over the strainer to extract all the flavorful juices. Then rinse the mushrooms, away from the bowl with the soaking liquid, until they are free of sand. Squeeze dry and set aside. If very large, chop coarsely. Measure out 1 cup of the soaking liquid and set aside.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy, nonstick skillet over medium heat and add the onion or shallots. Cook, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes. Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the fresh mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, until they begin to soften and sweat, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and salt to taste, stir together for about 30 seconds, then add the reconstituted dried mushrooms and the wine and turn the heat to high. Cook, stirring, until the liquid boils down and glazes the mushrooms. Add the herbs and the mushroom soaking liquid. Bring to a simmer, add salt to taste, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the mushrooms are thoroughly tender and fragrant. Turn off the heat, stir in some freshly ground pepper, taste and adjust salt.

3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Fill a bowl with ice water. Add the spinach to the boiling water and blanch for 20 seconds only. Remove with a skimmer and transfer to the ice water, then drain and squeeze out water. Chop coarsely and add to the mushrooms. Reheat gently over low heat.

4. Bring the water back to a boil and cook the pasta al dente following the timing suggestions on the package. If there is not much broth in the pan with the mushrooms and spinach, add a ladleful of pasta water. Drain the pasta, toss with the mushrooms and spinach, add Parmesan to taste, and serve at once.

Yield: Serves 4

Advance preparation: The mushroom ragout will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator and tastes even better the day after you make it.

Nutritional information per serving: 437 calories; 9 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 2 grams polyunsaturated fat; 5 grams monounsaturated fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 73 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams dietary fiber; 48 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste or Parmesan); 17 grams protein.


Janet McCracken’s Rib Roast with Tapenade

Janet McCracken's Rib Roast with Tapenade



  • 1 cup brine-cured pitted black olives (such as Kalamata)
  • 1 cup brine-cured pitted green olives (such as Picholine)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 anchovy fillet packed in oil, drained


  • 1 four-bone standing beef rib-eye roast (about 11 pound), chine bone removed, fat trimmed to 1/4 inches-1/2 inches thick
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt plus more
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup dry red wine (such as Merlot)
  • 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken or beef broth
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour



  • Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until a coarse purée forms. DO AHEAD: Tapenade can be made 1 week ahead. Place in a small bowl. Cover; chill.


  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap, leaving a long overhang on both ends. Place roast on top. Season meat with salt and pepper, then rub tapenade all over roast. (If fat cap is thicker than 1/4 inch, cut in between fat and meat, starting on side of fat farthest from bones and continuing to within about 1 inch of bones; your butcher can do this for you. Peel back layer of fat, leaving attached; season meat and spread some of tapenade under fat. This will help seasoning penetrate the meat. Lay fat back over meat.)
  • Tie 2 pieces of kitchen twine crosswise and 2 pieces lengthwise around roast to secure. Wrap tightly with excess plastic wrap and chill overnight. Let roast stand at room temperature for 1 hour before cooking.
  • Preheat oven to 425°. Unwrap roast; set on a rack inside a deep roasting pan. Pour 2 cups water into bottom of pan. Roast meat until deep brown, about 40 minutes. Reduce heat to 325° and continue to roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of meat registers 120° for medium-rare (temperature will climb to 125° after removed from oven), about 1 1/2 hours longer. Transfer rack with roast to a cutting board; let rest for at least 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, pour off fat from roasting pan; discard fat. Add wine to pan, set over medium heat, and cook, stirring to dissolve any browned bits from bottom of pan. Transfer liquid to a medium skillet and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until wine is reduced to 1/4 cup, 7-8 minutes. Add broth and thyme sprigs; cook until reduced to 3/4 cup, about 15 minutes.
  • Stir 1 tablespoon butter and flour in a small bowl until well blended. Whisk half of butter mixture into pan sauce. Return to a simmer and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon but still runny. Whisk in remaining butter mixture to thicken more, if desired. Whisk in remaining 1 tablespoon butter.
  • Carve roast. Serve sauce alongside.


Just got a new Android device? Download these apps first

android jdhancock flickr

If Santa dropped off an Android device for you this Christmas, you might already be reading this on your shiny new device and the next few hours of your day might well be spent browsing through hundreds of apps trying to work out what you would like to kit out your new toy with.

Let us help you along with a few suggestions that might turn your phone or tablet into a go-to tool for everyday use and amusement.

If you’re using Android then you might as well take advantage of the ways in which Google can link together the things you need and use each day. Google’s apps are free to download and use.

Choose from the entire suite including, Chrome to Phone – a  Chrome extension that adds a button to Chrome which means you can push links, maps and selected text or phone numbers to your Android device; Google Play MusicCalendar, this will mean your phone will alert you to upcoming events on your calendar, EarthDrive, to sync your documents; Translate,Google+Goggles, which allows you to search by taking a picture, Finance,Google Play Books and Street View.

Using Google’s products is a pretty easy way to manage your data. It all depends on how much you like Google and how much of your data you want to share or store on its services.

gtasks drop down on gmail Just got a new Android device? Download these apps first

For quick notes and shopping lists, GTasks is a neat way to sync your thoughts. From a desktop or laptop, you might want to create a shopping list – which can be done from your Gmail page.

Start a list and this is then synced to your mobile device and you can edit it wherever it is. No more forgetting items at the shops.

For note taking in general AK notepad by catch sync is a pretty decent addition. It’s nice to use on a tablet like the Nexus 7 and offers a few neat features like the ability to lock your notes, set themes like the colours and fonts, adjust the lines on a page and add clickable links.

AK notepad list Just got a new Android device? Download these apps first

There’s also an option for setting reminders so once you have your notes, you can make sure they are to hand when you need them.

Android mobile devices also mean Google maps pretty much as a default. You can change over if you want, but as we found out via the Apple Maps debacle, it might be worth sticking with the big G for mapping for now.

If you love your cartography, you might also be excited by Google’s Sky map too. Admittedly I’m a huge nerd for stars and so this is just delightful if you get a cloudless night and a chance to look up.

Using the accelerometer and GPS, the sky map shows you what’s up in the firmament and provides handy labels. Constellations become clear and you can even see where Messier objects, meteor showers, stars and planets.

That’s cool of course, but one thing that makes the app a bit more special is the ability to travel in time. Yes travel in time!

sky map Just got a new Android device? Download these apps first

The movement of the stars can be predicted and of course the history of where they show up in the sky where you are can be looked back upon. Just add the date and time and with a cute animation, the app will take you there and show you a different map of the sky at that time.

Who is Siri?

So having an Android means having to skip Siri, but all is not lost if you are looking for an assistant with voice command functions.

alice and evi Just got a new Android device? Download these apps firstAlice (AIVC – Artificial Intelligent Voice Control) free (ad supported) andpro (£1.74) provides a lot of Siri-like services and a male or female voice to read the answers to your queries. With the free version you can make calls, dictate and send SMS and email, find translations, use navigation, alarms and your calculator, check the weather and more.

If you ask for a food type found in a restaurant, the app will open up Google maps and offer you the nearest eateries offering what you are looking for. From there, Google Maps reads directions to you. The pro version adds calendar updating and options for playing music or video.

Evi (free) is another solid alternative with a slightly amusing British accent. The automatic preset when testing provided a male voice – even though the description on Google play describes Evi as ‘she’. There is US and UK information available and to help Evi understand you over time, each result can be rated in the hope that it will improve.

According to its product description, Evi has 10 billion facts it can draw upon from its database without the need to search and if it cannot find something immediately, it provides links to sites like Yelp and Wikipedia to help you along.

Expectations for voice command assistants tend to be quite high. With most of the apps, like Siri, you need to hit the mic button to use the voice service and there is text input too. Don’t expect hands free AI miracles yet, but it’s amusing to talk to a device and find out how much of your accent it might understand.

Check the basics and look for an app

When you’re thinking of fun ways to explore with your tablet or mobile, it’s worth considering what the object can actually do. Packed into the little device in your hands is likely to be an assortment of sensors, possibly including a gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, ambient light detector, GPS and barometer, depending on the device you own.

By combining sensors, app developers can create so many useful tools that will change the way you use your device. A nice feature on this convergence can be found here if you fancy an in-depth read. The point, being of course, if you think about what your device can do, it might help you decide what you want to do with it.

Camera action

When it comes to editing, uploads and fun with your camera, the playing field is somewhat evening out as the main players sort out their sharing and filter options. If you are still cross about the Instagram ToS even though they did roll the new ones back, we have a whole host ofalternatives here.

For a long time, one of my favourites for filters though has been Vignette (1.60). The app provides the usual frames and filters you can find via Flickr and Instagram, but it also offers the ability to make some recipes. Add frames tweak a filter here and add another there, then save what you have and give it a name so that you can use it later.

Once you have created your own favourite filters, they will appear in the menu of all the filters you can choose from.

photo editor screen Just got a new Android device? Download these apps firstIf you want a little more control over how you present your images and processing, you might also like Photo Editor (free). It has more granular options for cropping, filtering, changing the effects, adding frames, correcting images, resizing and even drawing on top of them. It’s handy for those odd moments when you really want some control over how a picture looks. Once you’re done tweaking your masterpiece, the images are saved to your SD card or phone and you can share them in the usual social ways.

Depending on which model Android you have, there are many options for sharing video from YouTube to Dropbox depending on what you would like to do. You can of course also add a IFTTT recipe and share things all over the place.

It’s worth adding something like Dropbox or a cloud storage account if you intend to record a lot of clips though, this way you’re less likely to fill up your phone and you can still access the clips you need while you are out and about.

Update your keyboard

If your new device is your first smartphone or a change from a more familiar model, you may benefit from an app that makes text input a bit easier and intuitive. Swiftkey is worth the price if you pay and equally worth the free trial so that you can judge the difference for yourself.

There are versions for tablets and phones (free or £1.49). The app learns about the way you type and makes adjustments to your style which in turn should result in fewer errors. It might indeed save you from muttering “damn you autocorrect” (NSFW) as you text, email or update your status online.

The paid-for version of Swiftkey is 50% off for the holidays and it even has a rather seasonal colour scheme available  for those who like their keyboards to be merry and bright.

swiftkey Just got a new Android device? Download these apps first

Audio sharing

There’s a tonne of music apps to choose from for Android from Google’s own, through Amazon MP3 to and Spotify. But for uploading your own and listening back to others socially, it’s hard to beat SoundCloud at the moment.

Often seen as a place for podcast and user-generated music playback, the mobile app for SoundCloud is a beautifully designed and easy to use application that easily contends with services like Audioboo and iPadio.

Record sounds, comments, music performances, memos, anything you like; top and tail in the edit mode and then share it all over by hooking the app up to your social media accounts or keep it to yourself.

soundcloud screens Just got a new Android device? Download these apps first

Although the company saw some criticism about its latest layout and features, the mobile application is really rather lovely and very simple to use.

The ability to record anywhere, cut the audio and then post it should be intuitive and if you’re trying to capture something live, it has to be easy enough to start recording so you don’t miss all the action.

Soundcloud for Android manages all this and then offers options to share to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Foursquare so there’s plenty of ways for audiophiles to share what is going on around them.

Keep calm, find your files

astro files Just got a new Android device? Download these apps firstYou’re bound to be messing with all sorts of data and files before long with your new smartphone or tablet. Downloading images tends to automatically mean pictures end up in your phone’s gallery, but on occasion, a file will slip the net and you’ll spend some time tracking down where it went when you downloaded it.

A simple file manager will help you and if you’re not happy navigating on your phone’s storage menu, you might like something likeAstro File Manager to keep things neat and tidy.

The app helps you navigate folders, manage your files and can be synced to Facebook, Dropbox and Google drive, making it a one stop shop for finding the thing you need when you want it.

Alarming apps

You’ll likely find an alarm built into your phone – but it might not be to your taste or carry alarm sounds that can wake you from your deepest slumber.

One app that deserves a mention for Android is Alarmdroid. It does the usual, set sounds and times to wake you up or set reminders, but it also has a rather nice ability to input text with reminders and or using the original settings it will tell you in its quirky robotic voice what the time is and what the weather is like as you wake up.

The app is available for free or for £1.34 which works as an add-on (you need to install the free version first) you can remove any ads.

Data monitoring

If you are concerned about your data usage and like a little control, you can of course switch 3G and WiFi on and off as you please through your device’s settings menu. A simple way to toggle your data usage though is to simply download a button for this purpose.

If you don’t tend to need data while you are out apart from when you need particular apps to work, it’s a fair way to control what you use and ensure that background applications don’t start using up your provisions. You can find switches for Bluetooth, 2G/3G/4G and WiFi on Google Play. All this does is change the amount of clicks that you need to turn things on and off, but it certainly makes things a little bit easier.

Turn your device into an e-reader

One of the joys of having a tablet is that you can browse magazines without squinting and revel in the rather lovely user interfaces you get from apps like Flipboard or Pulse.

However, if you chose an Android device over a Kindle, you can still capture some of that e-reader’s functionality with the Kindle app. It works as you might expect, hook it up to your Amazon account and download the things you want to read and store them on your device.

There are settings for brightness and fonts, bookmarking and notes. So although your device won’t be a dedicated reader, you’re not entirely losing out by choosing an alternative.

Of course if you like a nice relaxing read, one thing you should be adding isTNW Magazine – which looks especially nice on the Nexus 7.

Most of the apps we have listed here are free, so you can experiment and see what you like before taking the plunge and emptying your bank account into your mobile device.

So long as you keep an eye on the quality reviews and double-check if an app is suitable for your device, there’s literally hundreds of thousands of applications to choose from that will turn your Android into a Swiss Army device for the digital age. Happy browsing!

We’re bound to have missed some apps that other experienced Android users will count as essential. So if you have a good suggestion, chime in with a comment and share what you know.

Image Credit: / Flickr

The Next Web

Simple eye scan can reveal extent of Multiple Sclerosis

The retina sits at the back of the eye and houses the cells that provide us with vision

A simple eye test may offer a fast and easy way to monitor patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), medical experts say in the journal Neurology.

Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) is a scan that measures the thickness of the lining at the back of the eye – the retina.

It takes a few minutes per eye and can be performed in a doctor’s surgery.

In a trial involving 164 people with MS, those with thinning of their retina had earlier and more active MS.

The team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine say larger trials with a long follow up are needed to judge how useful the test might be in everyday practice.

The latest study tracked the patients’ disease progression over a two-year period.

Unpredictable disease

Multiple sclerosis is an illness that affects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord causing problems with muscle movement, balance and vision. In MS, the protective sheath or layer around nerves, called myelin, comes under attack which, in turn, leaves the nerves open to damaged.

There are different types of MS – most people with the condition have the relapsing remitting type where the symptoms come and go over days, weeks or months.

Usually after a decade or so, half of patients with this type of MS will develop secondary progressive disease where the symptoms get gradually worse and there are no or very few periods of remission.

Another type of MS is primary progressive disease where symptoms get worse from the outset.

There is no cure but treatments can help slow disease progression.

It can be difficult for doctors to monitor MS because it has a varied course and can be unpredictable.

Brain scans can reveal inflammation and scarring, but it is not clear how early these changes might occur in the disease and whether they accurately reflect ongoing damage.

Scientists have been looking for additional ways to track MS, and believe OCT may be a contender.

OCT measures the thickness of nerve fibres housed in the retina at the back of the eye.

Unlike nerve cells in the rest of the brain which are covered with protective myelin, the nerve cells in the retina are bare with no myelin coat.

Experts suspect that this means the nerves here will show the earliest signs of MS damage.

The study at Johns Hopkins found that people with MS relapses had much faster thinning of their retina than people with MS who had no relapses. So too did those whose level of disability worsened.

Similarly, people with MS who had inflammatory lesions that were visible on brain scans also had faster retinal thinning than those without visible brain lesions.

Study author Dr Peter Calabresi said OCT may show how fast MS is progressing.

“As more therapies are developed to slow the progression of MS, testing retinal thinning in the eyes may be helpful in evaluating how effective those therapies are,” he added.

In an accompanying editorial in the same medical journal that the research is published in, MS experts Drs Robert Bermel and Matilde Inglese say OCT “holds promise” as an MS test.


The gift that goes on giving

A seasonal offering for rich-world governments to give their people—and everybody else



THE holiday season is a time for expansive thoughts, and not just about waistlines. It allows people time to step back from the daily grind and think about how they could do things differently. Has lack of imagination blinded them to simple solutions? With a little effort, could they make 2013 a lot better?

For the rich world’s governments, the answer is yes. We offer three ways to improve confidence and increase growth in what otherwise looks like being a pretty bleak year. Regular readers will not be astonished to hear that all three involve trade liberalisation. This is, indeed, a theme we have returned to with some frequency since this newspaper was set up in 1843 to oppose Britain’s protectionist Corn Laws. But the gains to be had from sluggish rich countries opening their borders to each other’s goods and services look enticing. The world is less integrated than most people realise (see article). And trade also offers a chance for liberal democracies to re-establish their credentials as the world’s guides towards prosperity.

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me…

According to the IMF, in 2013 America’s economy may grow by around 2%, Japan’s and Britain’s by 1% or so, and the euro zone’s will be lucky to grow at all. Policymakers in each of these economies could do plenty of things to improve this dour prognosis, but most involve unappealing choices. A further monetary boost may help add zip to the recovery, but risks producing asset bubbles. More fiscal expansion could help growth but could weigh governments down with extra debt.

Freer trade, by contrast, does not involve spending any money. It demands nothing of participating governments other than a bit of leg-work and a lot of political courage. And even if some lobbies, such as farmers, will fight hard, the benefits for the overall economy of cutting barriers—the tariffs, subsidies and red tape that gum up international markets—are large. Workers’ wages will go further as the cost of imported goods and services falls, exporters’ markets will expand and productivity will improve as the helpful consequences of freer trade filter through the whole economy.

The three big barrier-bashing opportunities are the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade agreement that straddles the Pacific; an Atlantic-spanning free-trade deal between America and the European Union; and a true single market in services within Europe. Each of these initiatives has recently moved from the politically fanciful to the just-about plausible, with serious progress possible over the next year or two. Each in isolation would improve confidence and increase prosperity. Together, they would transform the rich world’s prospects.

In an ideal world a big trade deal would be global, since dismantling barriers for all is far better than lowering them on a bilateral or regional basis (see article). But in the real world, the last set of global trade talks, the Uruguay round, was concluded back in 1994, and its successor, the Doha round, is moribund. Rather than flog a dead horse in Geneva, it is time to make progress in places where trade negotiators have momentum and politicians have interest. And that is across the Pacific and the Atlantic.

The TPP is already well under way. Eleven Pacific countries are taking part in the negotiations, including Mexico, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as well as America. South Korea might join them next year. So, too, could Japan if Shinzo Abe, the new prime minister, is serious about boosting his country’s economic potential. With Japan and South Korea, the TPP countries would account for some 30% of global trade in goods and services. And the TPP has aspirations to do much more than cut tariffs: the goal is to hash out a far bigger joint rule-book, from regulation to competition policy. One study reckons a deal could raise the region’s GDP by more than 1%.

The transatlantic trade agreement is still just an idea, albeit one that is being pushed hard by European politicians, and which has been cautiously embraced by Hillary Clinton, America’s secretary of state. Here, too, there is plenty of potential: to streamline supply chains and raise productivity by getting rid of tariffs and to ease the burden on business by harmonising regulatory standards, so that a car or drug deemed safe in Europe need not be tested again in America. One analysis suggests that just getting rid of tariffs could raise Europe’s GDP by around 0.4% and America’s by a percentage point.

The really big gains will be reaped if these deals spur broader global liberalisation, particularly with the fast-growing big emerging economies. That cannot be taken for granted: the TPP and an EU-US deal could split the world into competing regional blocks from which China, especially, would be excluded. But that can be avoided by making sure that both deals are easily knitted together and easily opened to others. Both should be based on a similar template, should avoid unnecessarily restrictive prescriptions—whether on capital controls or intellectual property—and should create a set of rules that China or India can plausibly embrace.

…a boost for the rich world’s GDP

As for domestic markets, there is no shortage of American industries where Barack Obama could start to remove needless red tape. But the opportunity is greatest in Europe. The single market still largely excludes services, which make up more than 70% of the region’s GDP. Customs formalities, for instance, add inordinate bureaucracy and costs to the 40% of goods that are shipped within the EU by sea. Rail companies in one EU country cannot operate domestic services in another. The online market is another bugbear: it is often easier for Europeans to buy things online from America than from their neighbours. Depending on how many barriers are dismantled, the EU’s GDP could be raised by 2.5% or more. All the politicians know this; most (outside France) pay lip service to the idea of expanding the single market. Now is the time to act.

By championing freer trade and open markets, the West taught the rest of the world how to grow. Nowadays, globalisation is associated with the surging middle classes of the emerging world, and some illiberal dictatorships. Let 2013 be the year when the West claims back its creed—and its oomph.


7-Eleven Shifts Focus to Healthier Food Options

Chang W. Lee/The New York Times


The chain that is home of the Slurpee, Big Gulp and self-serve nachos with chili and cheese is betting that consumers will stop in for yogurt parfaits, crudité and lean turkey on whole wheat bread.

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times


7-Eleven, the convenience store chain, is restocking its shelves with an eye toward health. Over the last year, the retailer has introduced a line of fresh foods for the calorie conscious and trimmed down its more indulgent fare by creating portion-size items.

The change is as much about consumers’ expanding waistlines as the company’s bottom line. By 2015, the retailer aims to have 20 percent of sales come from fresh foods in its American and Canadian stores, up from about 10 percent currently, according to a company spokesman.

“We’re aspiring to be more of a food and beverage company, and that aligns with what the consumer now wants, which is more tasty, healthy, fresh food choices,” said Joseph M. DePinto, the chief executive of 7-Eleven, a subsidiary of the Japanese company, Seven & i Holdings.

Convenience stores have typically been among the most nimble of retailers. In the 1980s, they added Pac-Man arcade games as a way to keep customers in stores longer and to buy more merchandise. They installed A.T.M.’s a decade later, taking a slice of the transaction fees. More recently, they built refrigerated dairy cases, with milk, eggs, cheese and other staples.

But just as they have taken business from traditional supermarkets, convenience stores have faced increased competition from the likes of Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks, which offer a basic menu of fresh foods for consumers on the go.

At the same time, a major profit driver for convenience stores — cigarettes — has been in steady decline over the last decade as the rate of smoking has dropped in the United States.

Fresh foods can help offset some of those losses. The markup on such merchandise can be significant, bolstering a store’s overall profits. It’s also a fast-growing category.

“If you can figure out how to deliver consistent quality and the products consumers want, fresh food is attractive because margins are higher, and it addresses some of the competitive issues you’re facing,” said Richard Meyer, a longtime consultant for the convenience store industry. “But it’s not easy to do.”

7-Eleven has been selling fresh food since the late 1990s. But much of its innovation has been limited to the variety of hot dogs spinning on the roller grill or the breakfast sandwiches languishing beneath a heating lamp.

As 7-Eleven refocuses its lineup, the retail chain has assembled a team of culinary and food science experts to study industry trends and develop new products. Such groups have been around for a while at fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s and packaged-goods manufacturers like Kraft. But it’s a relatively new concept for players like 7-Eleven, which have typically relied on their suppliers to provide product innovation.

“We’re working to create a portfolio of fresh foods,” said Anne Readhimer, senior director of fresh food innovation, who joined the company in May from Yum Brands, where she had worked on the KFC and Pizza Hut brands. “Some will be for snacking, some for a quick meal, but we hope everything we offer our guests is convenient and tasty.”

One new menu item just hitting stores is a Bistro Snack Protein Pack, which includes mini pita rounds, cheddar cheese cubes, grapes, celery, baby carrots and hummus. The meal in a box, similar to one carried by Starbucks, is part of a broader menu with healthier items under 400 calories.

The company is also taking existing products and retooling them for single portions. For example, customers can now buy jelly doughnuts and tacos, in mini sizes.

“There are definitely customers who want healthy options, but there are also lots of customers who are excited about the new sandwich options that aren’t low calorie — and minidoughnuts are doing very well,” said Lori Primavera, senior manager of fresh food innovation at 7-Eleven, who previously worked for Food and Drink Resources, a consulting firm for restaurant companies.

Norman Jemal, a franchisee, said sales of the new products are growing steadily in the three 7-Eleven stores that he owns in Manhattan. “At first, people are surprised when they come in here and see a bag of carrots and celery,” Mr. Jemal said. “They say, ‘I came in here for a bag of chips — I can’t believe you have fruit cups or yogurt cups.’ ”

He said the Yoplait Parfait, a cup of vanilla yogurt topped with fresh strawberries or blueberries and granola, is his best-selling fresh food item, while the 7 Smart turkey sandwich is his top sandwich.

The fresh food in Mr. Jemal’s stores and other locations around the country are supplied from a system of 29 commissaries and bakeries that fulfill orders from 7-Eleven. They tailor menu items for specific markets. In the Miami area, they produce a hot Cuban sandwich with ham, cheese, pickles and mustard. The Turkey Gobbler with turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce sells in Northeastern stores around the holidays.

Each store has a data system that allows it to see exactly what is selling, which helps manage waste. Stores can track consumers’ purchase habits over a month, and adjust their orders based on those behaviors.

“In this 28-day cycle, I know I sold 3,563 bananas to customers in this store,” said Tom Ferguson, who owns five 7-Eleven locations in Las Vegas.

Mr. Ferguson has owned 7-Eleven franchises since 1986, and he said the variety of fresh food options in the stores is far better than before. The category already accounts for 20 percent of his sales, and his goal is to reach a quarter of sales volume.

“We used to be a place for people to buy beer, wine, cigarettes, candy and chips, and people would occasionally ask where they could go to get something to eat,” Mr. Ferguson said.“We’re no longer getting that question because now you can get something to eat right here.”

The New York Times

Olympic dream for bone cancer survivor

Chris playing with the GB wheelchair basketball team
Playing with the GB wheelchair basketball team has given Chris a new lease of life

“I thought I was going to die,” says 20-year-old Chris Chapman, as he recalls the day he was told he had osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer.

“But they caught it at an early stage so I knew I had a fighting chance.”

That fighting spirit has seen Chris through eight months of chemotherapy and a year of operations – first to amputate his left leg above the knee and then to remove tumours from his lungs.

But learning to live with one leg at the age of 15 has not been enough of a challenge for this young man.

It was then I decided the best option would be to have my leg off above the knee.”

Chris Chapman

Now he has set his sights on being part of the GB wheelchair basketball team at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio after being inspired by this summer’s events in London.

“I can’t describe how it felt. It made me want to go and achieve my goals. I thought ‘one day I want to do that’. I want to get to Rio.”

‘Sports mad’

Chris took up the sport just two years ago and quickly discovered he was pretty good at it.

“I was always sports mad as a youngster but when I first had my amputation I didn’t think about sport for a good two years.”

It was only an invitation to attend a regional wheelchair basketball game and then a training camp which convinced him to embrace sport again – and focus on an even bigger goal.

Chris Chapman
Chris is aiming for Rio

Chris could be forgiven for being pessimistic about his survival chances at the outset.

Osteosarcoma, the most common form of primary bone cancer, has a five-year survival rate of just 42% – worse than for leukaemia, ovarian cancer and bladder cancer.

According to a recent report from the National Cancer Intelligence Network, over half of those with the disease are aged under 24.

It is also a rare cancer. Around 400 people in the UK are diagnosed with primary bone cancer each year and 150 with osteosarcoma, says the Bone Cancer Research Trust.

Scientists do not yet fully understand what causes a normal bone cell to become cancerous. Ongoing worldwide research to understand the difference between normal bone cells and osteosarcoma cells should enable experts to find treatments which target the abnormal cells in time.

Best option

Chris discovered he had bone cancer soon after he was injured playing football at school. The searing pain that developed in his leg would not go away and his parents took him to the GP, who found a lump on his knee and sent him straight for an X-ray.

The next day he was referred to the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham for a bone scan.

There was a chance that the tumour and diseased bone could be removed and replaced with a prosthetic bone, but the tumour was discovered to be very close to Chris’s knee and entwined with muscle, nerves and blood vessels.

“It was then I decided the best option would be to have my leg off above the knee.”

Chris playing with the GB wheelchair basketball team
Chris spends his free time training hard

Chris does not regret that decision for one moment.

Road to Rio

He owns a prosthetic leg and although he can’t run with it yet, it is comfortable for walking short distances. But it is in a wheelchair, playing basketball alongside friends and team mates, where Chris has really found his comfort zone.

“It’s improved me a lot, confidence-wise. I got very shy during my treatment.”

Chris is now fiendishly busy and very focused on the next four years. He currently plays for Sheffield Steelers and will compete in the Euro Cup in Germany next year and in the Under-22 world championships in Turkey with Great Britain, if everything goes to plan.

Although his week is packed full of training sessions, gym sessions and matches, he does have a sales admin job – and a girlfriend “who I fit in when I can”.

He has now been clear of cancer for two-and-a-half years – but it is the next four that really matter to him.

“It’s going to be very competitive. If I put all my effort and strength into it, I think I can get to Rio.

“But it’s going to be a long, hard four years.”

Who would bet against him getting there?









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