The first time that I began to notice it was a couple of years ago. It was while ordering a pizza. I had requested a small cheese-and-pepperoni but was informed that the pizzeria only offered medium and large. Somewhat surprised and thinking aloud, I muttered something about the fact that having two sizes simply meant large and small, a third is needed to qualify as medium. The person on the phone simply inquired again as to which size I wanted. Eventually I ordered the smaller of the two.
Around that same time I was waiting for a connecting flight at an airport in the Midwest. I decided to order a coffee from a restaurant in the food court. The attendant asked which size I desired. This time I wanted a medium, but all they had to offer was small, large and grande. After explaining to the person that large and grande meant the same thing -- it was simply two different languages -- I ordered a large, knowing I was actually getting a medium.
Currently, most businesses that sell coffee -- even supermarkets -- offer it in what I consider to be non-traditional sizes, some of which are based on height, such as short and tall. The en vogue description for large seems to be grande.
At a local coffeehouse recently, a friend and I each ordered a tall coffee (medium). As we sat down I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, but at closer inspection I realized they weren't -- his coffee was slightly taller than mine. I don't think his ceramic cup actually contained more of the life-infusing beverage, it was simply shaped differently. Being somewhat of a geek, I usually carry a ruler with me and I used it to measure the height of each cup. His cup was definitely taller, 1/2 inch to be exact. So in essence, the coffee I was served was taller than a short and shorter than a tall. Hmm ... I felt shorted.
All these terms made me start to wonder whether measurements as I knew them were going through an evolution (or devolution). It was, after all, around the turn of the last century that our country went through this sort of change. The famed Fannie Farmer taught the country to measure things accurately by using standardized measurements such as tablespoon and cup. Maybe eventually a cup will be referred to as a short, a pint a tall and a quart a grande. And if a coffee were accidentally spilled, it would only make sense to refer to it as a "flat".
To make matters even more confusing we also have to contend with packaging advertisements, such as "33 percent free," or "new and improved." The other day, for example, I purchased semi-sweet chocolate chips to make a chocolate mousse. On the bag of chocolate, in bold red letters, it proclaimed "Real Chocolate!" Well, I thought, if I'm buying a bag that is labeled Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, I could only hope that it is actually chocolate. But then in an age when a medium is actually a small and a small is a short and a tall is a medium, maybe the words "real chocolate" mean something entirely different.
An Incredibly Tall Mousse (Chocolate Espresso Mousse)
Yield: 8-10 servings
1-1/2 pounds semi-sweet chocolate, broken into pieces
1/2 cup strong espresso
4 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
8 egg whites
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. When the chocolate is completely melted stir in the espresso and remove it from the heat. Allow the chocolate mixture to cool slightly, then whisk in the egg yolks and vanilla extract. Let this mixture cool to just above room temperature.
Begin to whip the cream, in a stainless steel or copper bowl, while gradually adding the sugar. Continue to whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks; set aside.
In a stainless steel or copper bowl, whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold the whipped egg whites into the whipped cream.
Fold 1/3 of the cream and egg white mixture into the chocolate mixture, stirring gently until smooth. Then, very gently, fold in the remaining cream and egg white mixture, taking great care not to over mix or it will deflate the mousse.
Ladle the finished mouse into 8 or 10 cups or wineglasses and refrigerate for at least an hour.
To serve: garnish with whipped cream and/or fresh berries.
Joe George writes about food for the independent news service, Alternet