Saturday, February 16, 2019

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--A Few Wacky Drinks

     This week's post features a couple of mundane edibles used in odd ways, as weirdo beverages.  Specifically, a beet juice energy drink and two kinds of "sipping vinegar."  The beet one is part of the Juice Performer line from CAJ Foods Products, Inc., and the vinegar drinks are from Vermont Village.
     I doubt there are many readers who have never eaten beets in their life.  This plant is a very common food, both its stems and leaves (the greens), and the taproot, the usually reddish bulb which is typically called the beet itself.  The young greens are eaten raw, in salads, and the older greens are usually cooked, like spinach.  The taproot, is eaten raw, boiled, roasted, or pickled.  Or in soups, like borscht.  They're also a common spiced side dish in Indian cuisine.  And I was surprised to personally learn that in Australia they're regularly put on burgers in fast food restaurants.  The beet itself is usually red, although it can be yellow or orangish, too.  The color is so intense that beets are sometimes used as a food coloring, to "punch up" the hues of jams, jellies, sauces, ice cream, cereals, and even tomato paste.  But, being featured as a beverage is still pretty rare.  I've read it is sometimes made into a wine, but I think this is even rarer still.
     The effects of beets are a bit contested.  Nutritionally they're decent sources of folate (27% of the U.S. daily recommended allowance), and manganese (16%), and they have small amounts of B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and zinc.  Historically, though, people thought that they had medicinal uses, such as for treatment of blood and digestive disorders.  Currently, many folks claim that beets can increase blood flow, lower blood pressure, and help people exercise longer.  And that they may be anti-inflammatories, and aid in digestion, brain function, weight loss, and even cancer-fighting.  The Beet Performer can I drank says the nitrates in beets, "quickly deliver oxygen to your muscles." and, "aid in cardiovascular wellness with their heart-healthy vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants."  However, as so frequently occurs, this is then followed by the asterisked, "This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA.  This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease."  So I'm sure beets are a pretty healthy consumable, but if you do have any of the ailments mentioned earlier, don't go throwing out your medicines in favor of beets just yet.
     As far as the company that makes the Juice Performers, CAJ (based in Indiana in the U.S.), the website and online information about it was pretty scarce.  Other variants of the drink line are a 100% beet juice one (the kind I had was a combo of beet and passion fruit juice in undisclosed percentages), and a tart cherry flavor.  The company also markets the Biotta drink brand, which is also various kinds of fruit and vegetable juices.  Some of Biotta's flavors include beet again, carrot, elderberry, celery, cranberry, cherry, and even sauerkraut.  Biotta was begun in 1934 by a Swiss man named Dr. Hugo Brandenberger, and they started making juices in 1957.  No details were given on if CAJ bought Biotta out, or when, or if they're just licensed to distribute Biotta products.  And, the label of the drink I got says it was made in Austria, but no further detail was provided.
     Apple cider vinegar is made from, obviously, apple juice, which has had yeast added to ferment it, and then bacteria turns it into acetic acid.  It's regularly used in salad dressings, chutneys, and to "pickle" many sorts of vegetables and fruit.  The nutrients in vinegar are almost none--it has 1% of the calcium you need, plus 2% iron, 1% magnesium, 1% phosphorus, and 2% potassium.  However, like beets, many folks, since as along ago as 3300 B.C., have thought that apple cider vinegar, and vinegar in general, has good medicinal properties.  Just online currently I read about how apple cider vinegar can help with intestinal gas, heartburn, weight loss, hair and skin care, blood sugar regulation, cholesterol, gut bacteria, and even cancer.  It's also said to treat warts, poison ivy rashes, seasonal allergies, and can even kill fleas and pests.  It's even billed as being an effective deodorant in a pinch!  But there's more.  By coincidence, the other day in the mail there was an advertisement for a book called, "Vinegar:  The King of All Cures!" by Jerry Baker.  Aside from claims that vinegar can effectively clean things, and the usual meal recipes, it made some very bold health boasts.  Most notably, it said that if you drink (famous 19th century historical figure) Sam Houston's Vinegar Texas Tonic, made from various concentrations of grape juice, apple juice, and apple cider vinegar, "you'll live whip-smart and pain-free your whole life....".  There's also a whole page of testimonials from (alleged) satisfied customers.  Sadly modern science is much more skeptical of all of these health claims, and the evidence for these is lacking, even more so than with the beets. Once again, apple cider vinegar, and vinegar in general, has its uses, such as an ingredient in many foods, and food preparation, but to think that it's some miracle substance is unfounded, and let's face it, absurd.  Think how much cheaper and easier it would be if simply quaffing some vinegar could make everyone intelligent, or ensure that nobody ever had to suffer from any pain again.
     Moving on, according to the Vermont Village website, the company employs about 35 people, but their products are sold in 12,000 stores nationwide.  It started as a co-op in the 1970's, and was incorporated as the Village Cannery of Vermont in 1995.  Initially the firm sold mostly organic canned foods, but now they sell vinegar products, applesauce, and apple butter.  Their products are proudly unpasteurized, almost completely organic (since they add Vitamin C for processing, legally they're slightly less than 100% organic), kosher, and allergen-free.  (Well, unless you're allergic to apples, I guess!)  The website was also oddly nonspecific about who exactly owns and runs the company, or who's a major shareholder, even.  They're referred to as "moms and dads," and "gourmet chefs."  So it appears that they're rather shy.

1) Beet Performer, Endurance-Enhancing Body Fuel, beet juice with passion fruit juice flavor:  Came in a 8.4 ounce (250 mL) can.  Ingredients were just lacto-fermented beet juice and passion fruit juice.  Only one lame pun on the label--"BEET them to the punch."  Listed nutrients included 3 grams of protein, 24 grams of sugar, 80 milligrams of sodium, 15% potassium, and 15% magnesium.  Had mine chilled, as directed, and as I prefer all my beverages.  The color, not shockingly was an intense blood red.  It was pretty bad.  I should say that I don't like beets in general, so the odds of me enjoying this were low.  The odor was unpleasant, too, and the drink had a negative aftertaste to go with the crappy before and during tastes.  It was hard to finish.  And I can only imagine how terrible the 100% beet juice kind must taste.

2) Vermont Village Sipping Vinegar, ginger and honey flavor:  Ingredients were raw, organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, organic honey, and organic ginger.  Bottle was 236 gram/8 ounces.  Two serving suggestions were to mix it with 8 ounces of either water or seltzer.  Not being big on seltzer, I went with the former, and chilled it first.  Its color was yellowish-brown.  The odor was like regular vinegar--strong and pungent.  It was like drinking vinegar, only slightly diluted.  Or, in other words, not good at all--unpleasantly sour and astringent.  I was barely able to finish this small amount.  I didn't really detect any honey or ginger flavors, either.  It makes me wonder whether anyone really likes this as a beverage, or if just about all consumers just choke it down because they think it's good for them.

3) Vermont Village Sipping Vinegar, cranberry and honey flavor:  Ingredients were the same as the other, only substituting organic cranberries for the ginger.  Bottle was the same size, too.  Color of this one was more reddish-brown, evidently from the cranberries.  This flavor was maybe slightly more palatable than the other, or, to put it more accurately, slightly less unpalatable.  But still not a tasty experience at all.  And once again the flavor additives weren't detectable.

     So, obviously I wasn't a fan of any of these, and won't be buying them again.  Especially because I find their alleged health benefits to be very alleged, and not real.  I did experience one common side effect from the beet one, too.  The results of a subsequent trip to the restroom were somewhat alarming, resembling the final scenes of the movies "Carrie" or "Dead-Alive."  (That's called beeturia, and  it is harmless.)  Also, be aware that consumption of apple cider vinegar can cause tooth decay or throat issues, since it's so acidic, and it can also lower a person's potassium levels and cause problems with blood sugar regulation.  Despite what Sam Houston probably asserted, I suppose. 







































Saturday, February 9, 2019

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Israeli Tea Biscuits

     I've written about some Israeli foods before (see March 11, 2017 post), and also about other country's biscuits before (see May 13, 2017 post, for one example), but this is of course a new topic.  Mainly, a couple of tea biscuits (cookies) I discovered in my local Shop Rite supermarket.  They were from Kedem, and were the chocolate and orange flavors.
     The company that eventually put out Kedem products was started by the Pluczenik brothers in New York City, back in 1948.  Initially it was known as the Royal Wine Corporation.  However, over in Czechoslovakia, the Herzog family started making wine in 1848.  They specialized in kosher wines, but also made some non-kosher varieties.  They were regarded well enough to become the exclusive wine supplier to Emperor Franz Josef (1830-1916), who at times was Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, and President of the German Confederation.  (More on Franz Josef later.)  However, being Jews in Czechoslovakia during the 1930's and mid 1940's was obviously very hazardous.  The Herzogs barely survived by hiding out, during which time they saw their family company get taken over by someone the Nazis approved of.  Then, shortly after World War II, the Communists took over Czechoslovakia.  So the Herzogs had enough, and immigrated to the U.S., to New York City.  Patriarch Eugene Herzog got a job with the Pluczeniks, and started amassing shares in the company along with his salary.  By 1958 he had the majority shares, and bought out the entire corporation.
     Kedem is therefore a brand of the Royal Wine Corporation.  As a whole the company makes or distributes many kind of alcoholic beverages, such as wine, vodka, tequila, bourbon, scotch, flavored brandy, and even specialty liqueurs such as chocolate, banana, amaretto, and chili pepper flavors.  They import alcoholic beverages from France, Italy, Israel, Spain, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Chile, Hungary, and Canada.  They also make or distribute juices, salts and seasonings, snacks, teas, candy and chocolates, organic chestnuts, gnocchi, and gefilte (see April 6, 2013 post).  Alternate flavors of the tea biscuits beside the two I tried include plain, whole wheat, vanilla, cappuccino, and sugar-free.  And as the blog title mentions, these cookies are actually made in Israel, and then imported.  Kedem sells over one million cases of kosher wine a year, to 16 different nations worldwide.  So they're obviously a large, successful conglomerate.

1) Kedem tea biscuits, chocolate flavor:  Roughly rectangular shape, with scalloped edges, measuring about 6.5 cm. by 3.75 cm. (about 2.5 inches by 1.5 inches), with a light brown color.  "Special Tea" was embossed on them.  Some hint of chocolate flavor, but pretty plain.  Slightly better after dipping in milk, but still boring.

2) Kedem tea biscuits, orange flavor: Same size, shape, and embossments as chocolate kind, although these were a yellow color instead.  Once again the advertised flavor was apparent, but only barely.  Pretty bland once again.  Milk dipping helped somewhat, but still not great.

     Therefore, it's once again demonstrated that I have "ugly American" taste in cookies/biscuits, preferring mine to be sweeter.  Evidently Europeans, and people from other areas of the world like their biscuits to be less sugary.  So if your palate is similar to mine, I wouldn't recommend them, but if you prefer blander cookies/biscuits, maybe you'll enjoy them.
     There is some disagreement about whether to count reigns started as a child, or as an adult, but Franz Josef is usually credited as serving the third longest reign of any monarch in European countries, and fourth overall.  Louis XIV of France reigned longest, followed by Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand,  and Johann II of tiny Liechtenstein.  (These records also don't make distinctions between "absolute" rulers and "figurehead" style monarchs.)
























Saturday, February 2, 2019

Underrated Horror/Sci Fi Films--"The Blob" 1988

     It's been a while, so I thought I'd focus on yet another movie which I feel hasn't gotten the credit it deserves.  Today it's "The Blob," which was the 1988 remake of the 1958 film of the same name.  As usual, I'll start with a brief, spoiler-free summary, then go on with a longer, spoiler-rich recap, followed by a discussion of some of the movie's themes, and ending with some background about the cast and crew.
     "The Blob" is about the titular monster, an amorphous mass of caustic goo which has crashed near a small town in Colorado.  Several teens--football player Paul, cheerleader Meg, and troubled punk Brian Flag, are among the first to encounter this bizarre creature.  The Blob quickly reaches town, devouring many people along the way.  The Sheriff and his deputy seem unable to combat this problem, since the Blob can change shape, and is impervious to normal weapons.  Will anyone be able to stop it, or will the Blob absorb the entire town, and perhaps even the world?
     (SPOILERS AHEAD UNTIL NOTED)  The film opens on a pleasant autumn day. Most of the town is watching the high school football game, where Paul Taylor is playing effectively, rooted on by pretty cheerleader Meg Penny.  Paul asks Meg out on a date for that night, which she eagerly accepts.  Meanwhile, outside of town, at Elkin's Grove, Brian Flag is riding and jumping his motorcycle by a wooded gorge.  In a local cafe Sheriff Herb Geller is also trying to drum up some romance, with waitress Fran.  After Flag damages his bike, he hitches back into town soon enough to encounter the sheriff, who reminds Flag that he'll soon be past the age for juvenile punishment, as Flag is about to turn 18.  Flag goes to the garage he works at sometimes, and talks with his boss, Moss, who's busy working on snowmobiles for the upcoming winter tourist season.
     As night falls, a local hobo sees an apparent meteorite crashing quite near him, in the same area of Elkin's Grove that Flag had been earlier.  At the same time Paul is picking up Meg for their date, which also includes an embarrassing meeting with her pharmacist father, who had an earlier misunderstanding with Paul at the pharmacy.  Then the bum discovers the meteorite crash site, where he sees a weird pinkish jellylike form amidst the debris.  When he pokes at the slime with a stick, it rapidly flows up and attaches itself on his hand, causing him severe burning pain.  The hobo run past Flag, who's retrieving his motorcycle, and out into the road, where Paul and Meg accidentally hit him with Paul's car.  Paul, Meg, Flag, and the hobo then drive to the hospital.  After a long wait, during which Flag gets disgusted and leaves, Paul goes for a soda and through the door happens to notice that the bum's blanket-covered body looks peculiar.  When he and the summoned doctor examine the hobo they see that the poor man is dead, and half of his body is dissolved.  Paul manages to make a panicked phone call to the police just before the missing blob, now much larger, falls on and envelopes him.  Meg arrives in time to see Paul killed, but she faints as the cops arrive.  The police decide that Meg is hysterical, and let her go home.  By this time they've also apprehended Flag, whom they think might be involved with the crimes.
     The blob next attacks and eats a couple parked in a lover's lane outside of town.  Over his deputy's objections, Sheriff Geller releases Flag, as there is no evidence to support the theory that he killed the hobo and/or Paul.  Outside the police station, Flag runs into Meg, who sneaked out of her house to bail him out.  They go to the local cafe.  The blob quickly strikes again, attacking and killing the cook in the kitchen.  Meg and Flag only escape by hiding in the freezer.  The coldness of the freezer is seen to actively repel the blob.  Fran escapes the cafe and calls for help in the pay phone booth outside the cafe.  Alas, just before she's absorbed by the blob she sees that Sheriff Geller (who was coming to pick her up for a date) is dead, and being digested in the blob's mass.  Meg and Flag leave the cafe and head for Elkin's Grove.  Reverend Meeker sees the blob descending into the sewer, and after inspecting the ravaged cafe he takes a sample of some frozen blob pieces in a glass jar.
     At Elkin's Grove Meg and Flag encounter a large group of hazmat-suited government agents, who announce that they're with a biological containment team, led by Dr. Meadows.  Back in town, the blob invades the movie theater, and starts to pick off the theater employees.  Meadows forces Meg and Flag into a van headed back to town, but along the way Flag escapes, while Meg chooses to stay.  In town the government agents are rounding up the citizens into one place, in quarantine.  Meg realizes her brother is at the movie theater, and she goes to get him, arriving just as the blob attacks and absorbs more patrons.  Meg, Kevin, and his friend Eddie narrowly get away into the sewer.  Flag returns to Elkin's Grove, and overhears that the biological containment team is actually involved with bio weapons, and the blob is an American-made virus that crashed back to Earth on a satellite.  Meadows states that the townspeople are expendable.  Flag is discovered, and escapes on his bike while the government agents try to shoot him.  He manages to get into the sewer as well.  Flag then comes upon Meg just in time, as she and some bio weapons men are trapped in the sewer, as Meadows has shut off all the manholes to try to trap the blob.  Eddie is killed, while Kevin flees the sewer through a small grate.  Flag opens up the manhole using what looks like a LAWS rocket carried by the surviving bio weapons man.  Meadows and his men are about to start a gun battle with Flag, but Deputy Briggs intervenes.  Then Dr. Meadows is grabbed by the blob and pulled into the sewer.  A round of bullets and a grenade appear to just irritate the blob, and it explodes out of the sewer.  A flamethrower attack on it fails, and severely burns Reverend Meeker in the process.  While putting out the flames, Meg notices that the blob once again retreats from cold things, in this case the fire extinguisher.  She and the survivors flee into the town hall, and beat back the attacking blob with their dwindling supply of fire extinguishers.  Just as the blob is about to burst in, Flag shows up, driving the town's snow maker on a truck.  He manages to partially freeze the blob, although it's able to counter attack and envelope the truck.  Meg leaves the town hall and grabs a fallen government agent's gun and explosives.  She distracts the blob from killing Flag, and with some later help from Flag is able to detonate the explosives, causing the blob to freeze completely in the snow.  As the townspeople gather outside, Moss rallies them to help him load the frozen blob into an ice house so it doesn't thaw out.
     A brief epilogue shows a religious tent revival going on, led by Reverend Meeker.  He's preaching about the end of the world in a fiery sermon.  Later when a parishioner asks him when the Day of Judgement will happen, he answers, "Soon" while glancing at the blob sample he still has, now thawed out and actively trying to get out of its glass jar prison.
     One of the things that strikes me the most about this version of "The Blob" is how it subverts the audience's expectations, but in a good way.  For example, the first character to be introduced is Paul, and we're clearly supposed to regard him as the film's hero, its protagonist.  But then he's abruptly killed off, in the opening 30 minutes or so.  Similarly, the characters of Sheriff Geller and Fran seem important, as sub-heroes, and while we expect them to be threatened, we also anticipate that they'll survive to the end, and probably start their romance.  But no--both are also killed off quickly.  It's a neat twist.  After these unexpected deaths, we don't know who'll be next.  It's kind of reminiscent of the HBO series "A Game of Thrones," in that we don't know who will make it.  Or there's Eddie.  Most horror/sci fi/thriller movies, no matter how brutal and graphic, usually draw the line at killing a child character.  But here a kid gets it, in a terrifying and disturbing way, most of it shown.  Clearly subverting expectations isn't always a good idea, but in a frightening movie like this, it can be, as it increases the tension, and seems more realistic.
     Another good aspect of the 1988 "Blob" is that it changes the story in an interesting fashion.  As I noted in my article on good movie remakes (see my April 18, 2015 post, which also mentions this movie in briefer form) the best ones actually have a point.  They don't just repeat the first one.  But, it's a fine line to tread, because if the story is changed too much that can be negative, too.  It's obviously a happy medium that's hard to hit.  The major improvement of the 1988 "Blob" is that it changes the blob itself.  In the original, it was simply an alien life form that crashed to Earth within a meteorite.  Completely random, coincidental.  But the remake blob is human-made.  American scientists created a bio weapon, and then, evidently panicked and shot it into space to get rid of it.  But somehow it evolved (from outer space radiation? Encountering another life form?), and got onto a satellite, which then crashed back onto Earth.  Clearly the concept of a blob is fairly ludicrous, but it being an intentionally engineered bio weapon is slightly more realistic, or probable, than a random alien crash landing. It's dangerous, and strong, and difficult to destroy because that's the way it was originally designed, in a more primitive form, of course.  Also, having the creature be human-made adds a villain, in the form of Dr. Meadows in particular, and the U.S. government/U.S. military in general.  Sometimes it helps a horror movie when the danger isn't just the monster(s), but one's fellow humans, who can't, or won't, cooperate to effectively fight the inhuman threat.  George Romero's "Dead" movies pretty much always had this.  Movies are affected by their time and place, too.  Making the government be the bad guy, or at least an alternate bad guy, wouldn't have seemed right to movie goers in late 1950's America.  But in 1988, after 30 years of government corruption such as Watergate, this seemed more depressingly plausible, and it added something to the movie.  When the government officials didn't care if the civilians live or die, it really adds to the pressure on these regular citizens to fight these multiple threats themselves.
    Another important element in a film is having likable and relatable characters.  There are exceptions to this, obviously, but in general it makes a movie better if we care what happens to the folks shown in it.  "The Blob" isn't a 3 hour character study, but it still accomplishes this pretty well, I think.  Brian Flag has a typical Han Solo/Titus Pullo (from HBO's "Rome" series) type "lovable rogue" character arc.  When first encountered he's a troubled youth, who's had numerous brushes with the law, and seems fairly selfish and anti-social.  But during the movie he seems to soften.  We see him caring about the stricken hobo, and then, more dramatically, looking past his impression of Meg as a vapid cheerleader to get to know her better, sympathize with her, and help out.  By the end of the movie he's risking his life to save the entire town.  The other characters are fleshed out well enough, too.  We like them, or at least can understand why they're acting the way that they do.  Even Dr. Meadows' actions made sense to him--he's trying to give his country a powerful weapon to fight the Communist Soviets, and this is more important than a few hundred American civilians' lives.  With one exception, I guess.  Paul's friend Scott is kind of scummy, as he's taking advantage of his drunk girlfriend, so there's one person who dies that we don't mourn!
     The character of Meg have some innovative traits as well.  True, she does faint, and is rescued by Flag at least twice.  But, she's not some useless damsel in distress.  She takes the initiative to leave the military quarantine area to rescue her little brother, and his friend Eddie, from the Blob while they're in the movie theater.  She leads them into the sewer, through it, and manages to save her brother.  Eddie dies, of course, but Meg bravely dives into the water to attempt to save him from the blob.  Then, at the end, it's Meg who leaves the safety of the town hall to save Flag from the blob, using the dead soldier's gun and bombs.  She does need Flag to help her out after, but she's still actively fighting this nearly unkillable adversary.  It's odd to say, but this 1980's horror flick is rather progressive in some ways.
     As I mentioned in my piece about movie remakes, don't take this as a harsh criticism of the 1958 version of "The Blob."  That was a fun movie, with a new, quirky monster.  The cast and crew did the best they could within the constraints of their budget, and the special effects of the time.  Here's another area where the remake excelled, though.  The 1988 "Blob" effects were really good.  The gore is well done, and appropriately disgusting.  And the blob enveloping and dissolving scenes are repulsive, yet convincing.  Characters are pulled into sink drains, phone booths are engulfed, weird protoplasm tentacles shoot out and grab people, and it's all real looking.  It's not perfect, mind you--there are a few quick moments when the effects of the creature aren't as strong, but the overwhelming majority of scenes are very effective.  If another remake is done, the effects would surely be mostly CGI, and most likely, be overly slick and video game-ish, and ultimately hollow and unrealistic, as these often are, in my view.  Score another one for practical effects.
     (END SPOILERS--SAFE FOR EVERYONE)  1988's "The Blob" was directed by Chuck Russell.  Readers with good memories may recall that I did an article about another Russell movie, 1987's "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" back on July 7th, 2018.  Other Russell credits include executive producing 1981's "Hell Night," co-writing 1984's "Dreamscape," and directing "The Mask" (1994), "Eraster" (1996), "Bless the Child" (2000), "The Scorpion King" (2002), and "I Am Wrath" (2016).  Again like "Nightmare on Elm Street 3," the Blob remake was co-written by Frank Darabont, best known for writing and directing "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994), "The Green Mile" (1999), "The Mist" (2007), and writing/directing/producing 2001's "The Majestic."  He also allegedly script doctored "Saving Private Ryan" (1998), "Minority Report" (2002), "Collateral" (2004), and "Godzilla" (2014), and developed the AMC television show "The Walking Dead," and produced, directed, and wrote some of the show's first season episodes.
     Brian Flag portrayer Kevin Dillon's credits include "The Delta Force" (1984), "Platoon" (1986), "Heaven Help Us" (1987), "The Doors" (1991), "Hotel For Dogs" (2009), and roles in both the television show and movie versions of "Entourage."  Shawnee Smith (Meg Penny) was in such movies as "Annie" (1982), "Summer School" (1987), "Leaving Las Vegas" (1995), television's "Becker" (1998-2004) and 6 entries in the "Saw" movie series.  Paul Taylor was played by Donovan Leitch (son of singer Donovan), who was also in "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo" (1984, also one of my favorite movie titles ever!), "Glory" (1989), "I Shot Andy Warhol" (1996), and "The Dark Knight" (2008).  Jeffrey DeMunn (Sheriff Geller) was in "Christmas Evil" (1980), "The Hitcher" (1986), and several other Frank Darabont movies, like "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994), "The Green Mile" (1999), and "The Mist" (2007).  Fran was played by Candy Clark, who was in "American Graffiti" (1973, and she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress for this role), "Q" (1982), "Cat's Eye" (1985), "Cherry Falls" (2000), and "Zodiac" (2007).  Joe Seneca (Dr. Meadows) was in such films as "The Taking of Pellham One Two Three" (1974), "Kramer vs. Kramer" (1979), "The Verdict" (1982), "Silverado" (1985), "Malcolm X" (1992), and "A Time to Kill" (1996).  The character of Deputy Briggs was played by Paul McCrane, best known for roles in "Rocky II" (1979), "Fame" (1980), "Robocop" (1987), "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994), and television's "ER" (1994-2009).  Horror movie stalwart Bill Moseley shows up too, in a small role as an injured soldier.  Among his credits are parts in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" (1986), "The Night of the Living Dead" (1990 remake), "Army of Darkness" (1993), "The Devil's Rejects" (2005), and "Grindhouse" (2007).  Reverend Meeker was played by Del Close, who was a famous comedian and coach/teacher of many famous comedians, such as Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, John Belushi, John Candy, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Shelley Long, Amy Poehler, Gilda Radner, Harold Ramis, and many others.  He also acted in "American Graffiti" (1973), "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986), "The Untouchables" (1987), and as far as I can tell, was the only person to act in more than one "Blob" movie, as he was also in the 1972 sequel "Beware! The Blob" (which was directed by, of all people, Larry Hagman, best known for playing J.R. Ewing on the TV show "Dallas").  Jack Harris, who produced the original "Blob," also executive produced and provided the story for the 1988 remake.
     So, all in all, I don't know why this version of "The Blob" isn't better known and regarded.  It was a box office bomb, earning only 8.2 million compared to its 19 million dollar budget.  It does have a cult following, but not enough of one, I think.  The 1958 version is still remembered, as a campy, cheesy 1950's monster movie, but its better remake really isn't.  But I highly recommend it to horror/sci fi fans.  It's frightening, and occasionally gross, with compelling characters, a good plot, and even some intentionally comedic moments.  So check it out.











































































Saturday, January 26, 2019

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Italian Piave Cheese

     As I've often said, cheese is my very favorite food in the world.  I regularly try new variants, but so far I've always at least liked these.  To paraphrase another expression, even "bad" cheese is pretty good.  This week's topic is Piave cheese, from Italy.  I located it in the imported cheese section at my local Shop Rite grocery.
     Piave is rather like tequila, or champagne, or bourbon, in that people claim it can only come from one place in the world, and has to be traditionally made, using the proper ingredients, etc.  In this case Piave must be made in the Italian province of Belluno, in the Dolomite area, and the Veneti region.  They're quite serious about this, too, as this cheese has a PDO, or Protected Designation of Origin.  I guess, essentially, if you try to sell "Piave" cheese made in like Arkansas, or something, you'll presumably be hearing soon from grim Italian lawyers.  The cheese gets its name from a river in this location.
     The way Piave is made is a little unusual.  After coagulation through the addition of rennet, the curd is then cooked.  Egg white is listed as an ingredient, too.  Then this is placed in a mold, salted in a brine bath, and then aged in a temperature and humidity-controlled warehouse.  (I can't reveal the exact temperature and humidity, as they are not listed--evidently they're trade secrets.)  As with some other cheeses (such as Manchego, see my August 29, 2015 post), Piave has several sub-variants based on how long it was aged.  As seen below:

1) Piave fresco:  Aged 20-60 days, comes in a package with a blue label.
2) Piave mezzano: Aged 61-180 days, also with a blue label.
3) Piave vecchio:  Aged 6-12 months, blue label.
4) Piave vecchio selezione oro:  Aged 12-18 months, red label.
5) Piave vecchio riserva:  Aged over 18 months, black label.
         (I don't know why the cheese mongers didn't come up with different colored labels for the first three kinds, but oh well.)

     Piave is a hard cheese, similar in texture to what many folks call "Parmesan," or Parmigiano Reggiano, to be more technical.  And it's always made using cow's milk.
     The company that makes the cheese in Italy, Cucina Classica, doesn't have much of a history on its website.  Basically, it just lists the products they sell, which are various types of Italian cheeses, like Pedano, Romano, Gorgonzola, Parmigiano Reggiano, and various sub-types.  The American importing company, Atalanta Corp., is amazingly diverse.  They handle meat, seafood, pasta, crackers, fruit, jams, vegetables, sauces, spices, cookies, desserts--just about every major kind of edible but beverages, from what I saw.
     Here's what I thought.
 Piave cheese, vecchio selezione oro style, red label:  This was light yellow in color, and was a hard cheese.  I had it plain, cut into slices.  It was very nice.  It was advertised as having a sweet flavor, but I didn't find this to be so.  I thought it had a savory, almost tart taste to it.  I quite enjoyed it, and would definitely have this one again.
    Later I discovered I'd broken the official rules about eating Piave.  You're supposed to leave it out of the fridge for 30 minutes before having it, to give it time to "breathe."  It's also suggested that consumers use a knife with a drop point blade to cut it, so you don't ruin the granule structure.  Allegedly breaking it upon its natural fracture points improves the flavor.  Well, call me cynical, but I seriously doubt this would have made a difference.  But, to be fair, I didn't try it both ways, so I'm not 100% on this.  Not being a cooking hobbyist, or a knife enthusiast, I wasn't even aware of the large number of types of knife blades, and what the effects are.  Finally, not too surprisingly given that it's an import, my Piave was a bit pricey, costing about $6.00 for a 142 gram (5 ounce) piece.
   




















Saturday, January 19, 2019

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Mouse Turds, Cigarette Butts, and Insect Filth

     Relax, I'm not confessing to some perverse sexual kink.  And I haven't "upped the ante," so to speak, by graduating to eating truly disgusting things.  I was just being a bit click bait-y.  Although, it is technically true--I have consumed innumerable pieces of rodent excreta, ground up pieces of bugs, and minute particles of cigarettes, sticks, and burlap bags.
     And so has every person reading this.  I'm referring to, of course, the realities of food harvesting and production.  As the American Food and Drug Administration (which monitors food safety) has mentioned, it's "economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects."  Therefore, like the government bureaucracy they are, the FDA has set maximum amounts for these "defects."  For example, peanut butter can have up to 29 insect fragments per 100 grams.  And whole ginger can have up to 3 milligrams of mammalian excreta (chiefly mouse or rat feces) per pound (2.2 kilos).  Ground cinnamon can have up to 400 insect parts and 10 rodent hairs per 50 grams.  Or take another defect, mold.  Cranberry sauce can consist of up to 14% mold, and still be legally sold and consumed.  Want more examples?  Tomato juice can have up to 10 fruit fly eggs per 100 grams.  Brussel sprouts can have up to 30 aphids or thrips (two tiny species of insect) per 100 grams.  Staying on aphids, beer lovers should note that for every 100 grams of hops, growers are allowed 2500 of these tiny bugs!  I didn't view any others, but I can only assume that other nations have similar guidelines, since I'm pretty sure that the U.S. isn't the only country with rats, mice, insects, etc.
     I'm not trying to gross anyone out here.  Well, okay, I am a little, but not enough to freak people out too much.  Not to the point of outright panic, and a subsequent refusal to eat or something.  These maximums are incredibly minimal, and not harmful.  And, like the FDA claims, it's pretty much impossible to avoid all "defects."  I suppose you could grow food indoors, and thoroughly wash and decontaminate every piece of fruit or vegetable or whatever, but the cost of money and time would be ridiculous, totally overkill.  (Also, to be fair, some companies have their own food inspectors, that might be stricter than the federal agency, so they might have less contaminates.  The point is even the strictest ones will surely have some insect parts, rodent feces, and the like.)
     It also got me to thinking about something.  Mainly, because of this ugly reality, there are no "true," 100% vegetarians or vegans.  No matter how thorough they are, these folks are surely eating some pieces of animal flesh, in the form of insect fragments.  I'm not trying to mock vegetarians/vegans here--I know they're trying their best, and are not voluntarily eating certain foods, but still, I do find it darkly amusing.
     On a similar note, many years ago I was visiting a friend who lived in Manhattan.  He'd discovered a Board of Health website, where you could put in names of restaurants and then view their safety violations.  So after we looked up prospective restaurants we thought looked interesting, we checked them out on this website.  And then we had to stop.  Because we quickly learned that every establishment had some violations.  I guess especially in a huge city like New York, no matter how clean you keep your kitchen, there's scores of rodents and roaches that will find a way inside.  So we decided it was best not to know.  We figured (hoped) that if the places were still open, they hadn't had anything too dangerous.
     Oh, and to stay consistent, I should get to my ratings/reviews.  Here they are--since I couldn't detect any of these "defects," I don't know what rat fur, mouse feces, or aphid chunks taste like.  Part of me wonders if 100% pure, contaminate-free food would taste weird, or worse, without the filth "seasoning."  I can tell what some of these things taste like, when I've had them deliberately, in substantial amounts.  See my post on civet crap coffee beer (October 13, 2014), crickets (February 13, 2014), grasshoppers (May 22, 2014), ants (April 3, 2014), giant water bugs (June 29, 2014) and larva (June 11, 2012) if you're interested.
























Saturday, January 12, 2019

Head Coaches Who Won NFL Titles

     Since we're currently amidst the NFL playoffs, I thought I would do a post that's pro football related.  I've already done pieces about title winning teams (see my February 17, 2018 post), unlikely heroes in NFL Championship Games (December 30, 2017), unlikely Super Bowl heroes (January 30, 2014), quarterbacks who won NFL titles (February 10, 2016), and general Super Bowl trivia (January 29, 2013), but I haven't discussed coaches much.  So today I'm listing every single head coach of NFL title winners, chronologically, followed by a few bits of title-winning coaches trivia.
    Just as a reminder, from 1920-1932, the NFL title winner was determined by winning percentage, and not a playoff game or series.  Also, ties were not counted in this winning percentage, which led to some controversies (eventually the NFL adapted the rule that ties count as half a win, as they are today).  From 1933 to 1965, the NFL was divided up into two divisions, and the winner of each played in an NFL Championship Game to determine the NFL title holder.  During this time, there were two successful rival leagues.  The All-America Football Conference (AAFC) played from 1946-49, and had its own Championship Game between its two division winners.  Three teams from the AAFC, most notably the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers, were absorbed by the NFL when the AAFC folded.  Then there was the American Football League (AFL), which played from 1960-69.  It had its own Championship Game from 1960-65, and then from 1966-69 the AFL champ played the NFL champ it what became known as the Super Bowl.  Then the AFL was absorbed into the NFL, and these teams made up the American Football Conference (AFC), while the original NFL teams were then designated as the National Football Conference (NFC).  (Three NFL teams were also moved to the AFC to make the number of teams in each conference even.)  Since 1970 the winners of the AFC and the NFL play in the Super Bowl to determine the overall NFL champ.  Also, many  playoff games, and all Super Bowl games are played in January or February of the following year.  So the 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers won that season's Super Bowl in early 1976, and the 1999 St. Louis Rams won their Super Bowl in early 2000, etc.  I just find it easier to render it this way.
     Anyway, here's the list.  I'll mark each by year, head coach name, and team name.  A "DNP" is short for "Did Not Play," meaning that particular coach didn't play in the NFL.  "Player-coach" indicates that the man both played and head coached that NFL title winner.

Pre NFL Championship Years:

1920 Elgie Tobin, Akron Pros, player-coach.
1921 George Halas, Chicago Staleys (later became the Bears), player-coach.
1922 Guy Chamberlin, Canton Bulldogs, player-coach.
1923 Guy Chamberlin, Canton Bulldogs, player-coach.
1924 Guy Chamberlin, Cleveland Bulldogs, player-coach.
1925 Norm Barry, Chicago Cardinals.
1926 Guy Chamberlin, Frankford Yellow Jackets, player-coach.
1927 Earl Potteiger, New York Giants, player-coach.
1928 Jimmy Conzelman, Providence Steam Rollers, player-coach.
1929 Earl "Curly" Lambeau, Green Bay Packers, player-coach.
1930 Curly Lambeau, Green Bay Packers.
1931 Curly Lambeau, Green Bay Packers.
1932 Ralph Jones, Chicago Bears.

NFL Championship Game Years:

1933 George Halas, Chicago Bears.
1934 Steve Owen, New York Giants.
1935 George "Potsy" Clark, Detroit Lions, DNP.
1936 Curly Lambeau, Green Bay Packers.
1937 Ray Flaherty, Washington Redskins.
1938 Steve Owen, New York Giants.
1939 Curly Lambeau, Green Bay Packers.
1940 George Halas, Chicago Bears.
1941 George Halas, Chicago Bears.
1942 Ray Flaherty, Washington Redskins.
1943 Heartly "Hunk" Anderson and Luke Johnsos, Chicago Bears.
1944 Curly Lambeau, Green Bay Packers.
1945 Adam Walsh, Cleveland Rams, DNP.
1946 George Halas, Chicago Bears.
1947 Jimmy Conzelman, Chicago Cardinals.
1948 Earl "Greasy" Neale, Philadelphia Eagles, DNP.
1949 Greasy Neale, Philadelphia Eagles, DNP.
1950 Paul Brown, Cleveland Browns, DNP.
1951 Joe Stydahar, Los Angeles Rams.
1952 Buddy Parker, Detroit Lions.
1953 Buddy Parker, Detroit Lions.
1954 Paul Brown, Cleveland Browns, DNP.
1955 Paul Brown, Cleveland Browns, DNP.
1956 Jim Lee Howell, New York Giants.
1957 George Wilson, Detroit Lions.
1958 Weeb Ewbank, Baltimore Colts, DNP.
1959 Weeb Ewbank, Baltimore Colts, DNP.
1960 Buck Shaw, Philadelphia Eagles, DNP.
1961 Vince Lombardi, Green Bay Packers, DNP.
1962 Vince Lombardi, Green Bay Packers, DNP.
1963 George Halas, Chicago Bears.
1964 Blanton Collier, Cleveland Browns, DNP.
1965 Vince Lombardi, Green Bay Packers, DNP.

Super Bowl Years, pre-AFL/NFL merger:

1966 Vince Lombardi, Green Bay Packers, DNP.
1967 Vince Lombardi, Green Bay Packers, DNP.
1968 Weeb Ewbank, New York Jets, DNP.
1969 Hank Stram, Kansas City Chiefs, DNP.

Super Bowl Years, post AFL-NFL merger:

1970 Don McCafferty, Baltimore Colts.
1971 Tom Landry, Dallas Cowboys.
1972 Don Shula, Miami Dolphins.
1973 Don Shula, Miami Dolphins.
1974 Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh Steelers.
1975 Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh Steelers.
1976 John Madden, Oakland Raiders, DNP.
1977 Tom Landry, Dallas Cowboys.
1978 Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh Steelers.
1979 Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh Steelers.
1980 Tom Flores, Oakland Raiders.
1981 Bill Walsh, San Francisco 49ers, DNP.
1982 Joe Gibbs, Washington Redskins, DNP.
1983 Tom Flores, Los Angeles Raiders.
1984 Bill Walsh, San Francisco 49ers, DNP.
1985 Mike Ditka, Chicago Bears.
1986 Bill Parcells, New York Giants, DNP.
1987 Joe Gibbs, Washington Redskins, DNP.
1988 Bill Walsh, San Francisco 49ers, DNP.
1989 George Seifert, San Francisco 49ers, DNP.
1990 Bill Parcells, New York Giants, DNP.
1991 Joe Gibbs, Washington Redskins, DNP.
1992 Jimmy Johnson, Dallas Cowboys, DNP.
1993 Jimmy Johnson, Dallas Cowboys, DNP.
1994 George Seifert, San Francisco 49ers, DNP.
1995 Barry Switzer, Dallas Cowboys, DNP.
1996 Mike Holmgren, Green Bay Packers, DNP.
1997 Mike Shanahan, Denver Broncos, DNP.
1998 Mike Shanahan, Denver Broncos, DNP.
1999 Dick Vermeil, St. Louis Rams, DNP.
2000 Brian Billick, Baltimore Ravens, DNP.
2001 Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, DNP.
2002 John Gruden, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, DNP.
2003 Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, DNP.
2004 Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, DNP.
2005 Bill Cowher, Pittsburgh Steelers.
2006 Tony Dungy, Indianapolis Colts.
2007 Tom Coughlin, New York Giants, DNP.
2008 Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers, DNP.
2009 Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints.  (Played only as 1987 replacement player during strike)
2010 Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers, DNP.
2011 Tom Coughlin, New York Giants, DNP.
2012 John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens, DNP.
2013 Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks, DNP.
2014 Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, DNP.
2015 Gary Kubiak, Denver Broncos.
2016 Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, DNP.
2017 Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles.

AAFC Championship Winners:

1946 Paul Brown, Cleveland Browns, DNP.
1947 Paul Brown, Cleveland Browns, DNP.
1948 Paul Brown, Cleveland Browns, DNP.
1949 Paul Brown, Cleveland Browns, DNP.

AFL Championship Winners:

1960 Lou Rymkus, Houston Oilers, played in AAFC.
1961 Wally Lemm, Houston Oilers, DNP.
1962 Hank Stram, Dallas Texans, DNP.
1963 Sid Gillman, San Diego Chargers, DNP.
1964 Lou Saban, Buffalo Bills, played in AAFC.
1965 Lou Saban, Buffalo Bills, played in AAFC.


Most NFL Titles Won:

6 George Halas (1 Pre-Championship, 5 Championship Era)
6 Curly Lambeau (3 Pre-Championship, 3 Championship Era)
5 Vince Lombardi (3 Championship Era, 2 Super Bowls)
5 Bill Belichick (5 Super Bowls)  (As of  now, still actively coaching)
4 Guy Chamberlin, (4 Pre-Championship)
4 Chuck Noll, (4 Super Bowls)
3 Paul Brown (3 Championship Era) (7 if you count AAFC titles)
3 Weeb Ewbank, (2 Championship Era, 1 Super Bowl)
3 Bill Walsh (3 Super Bowls)
3 Joe Gibbs (3 Super Bowls)


Coaches Who Won Titles With More Than 1 Team (not counting city/franchise name changes):

Guy Chamberlin, Canton/Cleveland Bulldogs (3), Frankford Yellow Jackets (1)
Weeb Ewbank, Baltimore Colts (2), New York Jets (1)


Coaches Who Won Titles in 3 Consecutive Years:

Guy Chamberlin, 1922-24
Curly Lambeau, 1929-31
Vince Lombardi, 1965-67


Coach Who Won 4 Titles in 5 Years:

Guy Chamberlin, 1922-24, 1926.


NFL Title Winning Coach Who Also Won a World Series as a Player:

Greasy Neale won 2 NFL titles with the Philadelphia Eagle (1948-49), and also played on the Cincinnati Reds 1919 World Series winner.  (In which he batted .357, had a .400 on base percentage, and slugged .464.)  However, that was the infamous "Black Sox" Series, when many of the opposing Chicago White Sox players were paid off by gangsters to lose the Series, so there's that.


NFL Titles Won by Co-Coaches:

    In 1943 the Chicago Bears were coached by both Hunk Anderson and Luke Johnsos.  (Regular head coach George Halas was fighting in World War II from 1942-45.)














































Saturday, January 5, 2019

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Some Obscure Beans

     I didn't realize there were so many different kinds of beans.  While I was in a Hannaford's grocery in Maine a couple of months ago, I saw some sorts I'd never seen before--yellow eye beans, soldier beans, and Jacob's cattle beans.  So it wasn't long before they were in my shopping cart.
    Soldier beans, like the other ones discussed in this post, and most beans period, take their name from their appearance.  They are whitish in color, with a distinct red pattern on them.  Some think this looks like a toy soldier, so there we have it.  (Personally, I can see a helmeted head shape.  But of course, the phenomenon of pareidolia, in which different people can interpret random or natural shapes as being something clear and distinct, such as those who see religious figures on their slice of toast, is obviously a thing.)  The history of the soldier bean is a little hazy, but one website posited that they originated in the New England area around the year 1800.   The New England climate is ideal for growing them, as this bean likes a cool temperature.  It's also resistant to drought conditions.
     The yellow eye bean's name is pretty easy to guess.  They're basically like black eyed peas, only with a yellow oval on them that looks like an eye, staring out from an otherwise whitish bean.  They appear to have developed in the Old World somewhere, in about 1860.  (Sorry I can't be more detailed, but that's all I could find.)  They are related to kidney beans, which I'll get into further, in the last paragraph.  This kind of bean is also very popular in the New England states (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine), especially in the region's signature baked beans.  They are also commonly used in soups, casseroles, and dips.  Some consumers grade them as being superior in taste to navy and great northern beans.  Yellow eye beans are also relatively easy to grow.
     The history of Jacob's cattle beans is disputed.  One website claims that the first to cultivate them was the Passamaquoddy Native American group in the area which is now Northeast Canada/Maine in the 1600's.  Another said that a different Native American tribe, the Nez Perce, domesticated them in the area which is now Washington State and Idaho.  One of the common alternative names for this bean is appaloosa bean, from one of the horse types that the Nez Perce used.  Yet another claim is made for a man named Jacob Trout who supposedly invented this bean in Virginia.  (Some people call them "trout beans" after his surname, and others just use his first name, clearly.)  And one final website said they were developed in Germany.  Anyway, the "cattle" part of one of the common names is because the bean's whitish color with mottled splotches of pink reminds some of the hide pattern of the Hereford cattle breed.  Anyway, whatever you call it, this bean is said to have a dense, meaty texture, and a fruity and nutty flavor.  It's also often used in soups and casseroles.
   
1) Bar Harbor Foods yellow eye beans:  These were baked beans, in their special sauce made from water, evaporated cane juice, fancy molasses, salt, and ground mustard.  I thought these were solid baked beans, both by themselves and mixed with Taco Bell Nachos Bell Grande.  Not great, but about average.   They did look a little strange, though, as their "eyes" were reddish, not yellow.  To paraphrase a Dave Attell joke, the beans looked as if they'd been up all night, trying to solve a murder or something.  (I'm guessing the sauce caused this color change for real.)

2) Look's Gourmet Food Company, Atlantic brand, New England style Jacob's cattle beans:  These were also baked, with a sauce made from water, evaporated cane juice (sugar), fancy molasses, pork, salt, and ground mustard.  Their appearance was as advertised, basically.  These were also good, but not spectacular baked beans, either alone or eaten with the Taco Bell Nachos.  The label also mentioned that these beans contained no artificial ingredients, MSG, or GMOs, and that the can that contained them was non-BPA lined.  (The label went on to warn allergy sufferers that the facility used also processes milk, wheat, fish, and shellfish.)

3) Look's Gourmet Food Company, Atlantic brand, New England style soldier beans:  Same ingredients, other than the bean type, obviously, and same lack of GMOs, BPA, etc.  I could see the alleged soldiery pattern on these, and the beans themselves were a bit bigger than the others.  I liked these the best of the three.  They seemed a bit tangier.  They were also eaten plain, and with Taco Bell's Nachos.

     Wrapping up, despite being such an ubiquitous food item for people all over the world, some beans can be dangerous to eat if prepared improperly.  I mentioned this in my post on lupini beans (See my post on September 15, 2018), but kidney beans also have a toxin in them, called phytohemagglutinin.  Raw kidney beans need to be boiled for at least 30 minutes, and slow cooking actually increases the hazard.  Moving on, to be a little crude, beans have the reputation of causing flatulence in consumers.  One website advised people to both soak raw beans in water for a while before cooking, or to rinse canned beans in water to combat this.  Also, the leaves of bean plants can help against bed bugs.  The tiny microscopic hairs can trap the miniature pests, kind of like a natural form of flypaper.  Dating back to ancient times, and even surviving up in the present day, some people have used beans to predict the future.  This practice, called favomancy, involves throwing a handful of beans and interpreting the results.  Or a PETA-approved alternative to reading animal entrails, I suppose.  Finally, I rather enjoyed many of the names for the various types of beans.  One of them is the"orca bean", since that sort has a black and white pattern which resembles the aquatic animal, and another is named, very dramatically, the "tongue of fire bean."