Tuesday, May 29, 2012


     I’ve long been a big fan of using parentheses, those curved symbols used to separate additional information that’s not necessarily relevant to the immediate sentence’s point.  A few teachers in my life noticed this, and tried to dissuade me, but I’m unrepentant, and unmoved.  I don’t use them gratuitously—that is, I’m not using them just for the sake of using them (with rare exceptions, like maybe in this post).  I think I always use them in the correct manner.  It’s just that additional but not immediately relevant information often springs to mind when I write, whether it’s a short story or an email to friends.  (I do, admittedly, use postscripts gratuitously, but that’s another story.)
     The (small) amount of research I did for this post informed me that I’m not alone in this—William Faulkner was evidently another parentheses proponent (say that five times fast), especially in “Absalom, Absalom!” and “The Sound and the Fury.”  E.E. Cummings was another notable practitioner (although unlike him, I’m not against the use of capital letters or periods after initials in personal names).
     There are several types of parentheses, too.  Often, all of these types are labeled as being various types of brackets, although in the U.S. the kind I use is usually considered the distinct, and different, parentheses.  For example, the sort I’ve mentioned are the curved, half moon-shaped symbols--) and ( .  Then there’s the squared off brackets—[ and ], called “square” or “closed” brackets, used mainly in quotations (to indicate missing material provided by a later editor), in chemistry, or in certain types of math.  Other types are curly brackets—{ and }; angle or chevron brackets (I can’t include examples of this kind—my keyboard is unfortunately lacking); inequality or pointy brackets--< and >; angular quote brackets--<< and >>; and corner brackets (also not on my keyboard).  Most of these latter types are rarer, and used largely in linguistics, math, hard sciences, or computer programming.  Curly brackets seem to have the most, and sometimes silliest names, called, among others, “birdie brackets,” “Scottish brackets,” “squirrelly brackets,” “fancy brackets,” “seagull brackets,” and “DeLorean brackets.”  (I didn’t look up the reasoning behind this last one, as I want to believe that it has to do with the car maker/accused (but acquitted) drug trafficker John DeLorean in general, and “Back to the Future” specifically, and I don’t want to lose my plausible deniability.)
     I also enjoy that within parentheses, all punctuation is independent—you can have an exclamation pointed sentence, and then another sentence with a question mark, etc., within the original sentence ending in, say, a period.  This appeals to the rebellious side of me.  (Perhaps paradoxically, I’m a strict constructionist on quotation marks, though—I hate, HATE it when stream of consciousness type books don’t include them, as I wish to conclusively know if someone’s talking, or if it’s instead a thought, or the narrator, or something else.)  I’ve also learned that parentheses are uncommon, and discouraged, in formal writing.  This hasn’t affected me much, as my formal writing days ended in college, but, still, good to know.  Finally, I was amused to see that something I sometimes do, having parentheses within parentheses, is okay (or at least they’re as okay as parentheses ever are) and even has a name—the inner set is “nested,” and is typically made into a square pair of brackets within the rounded, parentheses to better separate them.
     So, if you’re new to my writings, in whatever form, I should warn you:  You’re going to see parentheses, and most likely a whole slew of them (this might be wrong—I know it’s a “pride” of lions, a “band” of gorillas, a “murder”(!) of crows, and a “business” of ferrets, but I’m not sure of the proper group name of parentheses).  By the way, I considered making this entire post one immense parenthetical aside, enclosed within parentheses, but I realized it wouldn’t be grammatically proper so I didn’t.  (That’s a lie.  I thought it would be too “on the nose,” so to speak, and it would only really look cool with two giant parentheses, and alas, my keyboard doesn’t have these either.)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Brains


     The eating of brains probably calls up a few cinematic images in most people, whether it’s the undead consumers of the “Return of the Living Dead” movies, or the creepy chilled monkey brains, served inside their owner’s heads, in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”  I’m guessing the reaction of the average person is revulsion at the thought of emulating these films, even if the brains in question aren’t human, or of another primate.
     However, throughout history, and worldwide, this organ has had its fans.  The biggest ones appear to be the French, Portuguese, and Greeks.  Species commonly eaten are cattle, horses, pigs, squirrels, monkeys, chickens, goats, and evidently, in parts of New Guinea up until the mid to late 20th century, humans.  In the U.S. the hotbed (actually that’s an exaggeration these days, let’s say the lukewarmbed) is the area around St. Louis and the Ohio River Valley.  Two of the major dishes eaten using brains are eggs’n’brains (with scrambled eggs), and a fried-brain sandwich.
     Probably the prominent reason for brains’ loss of popularity as a food source is, of course, disease.  Various prion diseases, like mad cow, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, chronic wasting disease, scrapie, and kuru, are all extremely nasty and incurable.  To be fair, the odds of getting these diseases are rare to infinitesimally low (for example, we still, fortunately, have had no human mad cow cases in the U.S.), but it’s still a risk.  Even with animals who don’t have these diseases connected with them, mainly pig, there are less serious, but potential health issues—namely, brain tissue is very high in fat and cholesterol.
     I’ve tried brains on two occasions.  The first was of cattle, I think, in a taco in a Mexican restaurant in Iowa (the same place I had tongue and tripe in tacos, too).  The second was canned pig’s brains with a milk gravy.  Both were uniformly awful.  They tasted like I thought they would based on their appearance—slimy, and tasteless, with what little taste they had being somehow blandishly dreadful.
     To sum up, then—I couldn’t recommend brains as cuisine any less.  Both for the health concerns, and even with safer animals, for the taste.  So if you do find yourself turned into a zombie, I would advise consuming other parts of living people—it’ll taste better, there’s more meat, and you don’t have to break/bite through that pesky hard skull.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Cave Creek Chili Beer

     Truly, the present day is the golden age for beer drinkers.  When I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s I can recall that beer varieties were fairly limited.  The large breweries dominated (with comparatively few types put out by each individual brewery), and while there were imports, they were also few, with only a small number of different types of beer.  Since then, a wonderful thing has happened—microbreweries have sprouted up seemingly everywhere, both domestic and foreign.  And these microbreweries have embraced experimentation—it’s not uncommon for one brewery to make dozens of different kinds of beer.  Stores have responded, too.  Many have taken it upon themselves to stock dozens, or even hundreds of different kinds of beer.  Often they even sell single bottles, so you can try out a new possibility without having to buy an entire six pack.
     One of the best ways to research these innumerable beers, and help you find out which ones to try, is http://www.beeradvocate.com/.  There are many beer blogs, of course, some quite good, but Beer Advocate (B.A.) seems the most comprehensive.  Taste in beer is subjective, obviously, so I don’t always agree with their ratings (for example, I’m not big on stouts, while B.A. definitely is), but it’s hard to beat as a detailed, general guide.  Although I have to admit, I do sometimes snicker at some of their member’s evaluations.  They occasionally resemble the type of incredibly precise, adjective-mad, pretentious reviews of the most snooty wine taster, as they drone on about “head retention,” and scores of grains they supposedly can discern in the beer’s odor, or taste.  But, this is a very minor complaint, as the site does its homework, and their enthusiasm and appreciation for beer is impressive.  Also, their attempts to objectify a subjective practice appeals to the scientific, practical side of me.  And hey, maybe their raters really can identify mango, pineapple, and grapefruit in the aromas, and tinges of earthy pine and vegetal sweetness in the flavors, and my nose and palate are just inferior.
     But moving to the topic of today, B.A. also includes their bottom 100, of the most lowest rated, terrible beers.  One of these (currently holding down the #17 spot) is Cave Creek Chili Beer, which literally has a chili pepper bobbing about in it.  Seeing it at my local liquor store, I had a masochistic compulsion to purchase it and give it a go.  You know how sometimes two good but markedly different foods or flavors combine to form a third, wonderful taste?  This was most assuredly not one of these times.  This beer was horrendous.  The two flavors fight each other viciously, and the loser is the drinker.  I could only manage about a third of it before I had to stop punishing myself and pour the rest out (and I felt sorry for the drain).  I like chili (both the pepper, and the dish) and I enjoy beer, but the two together was an abomination.  It makes me wonder, how many bottles of Cave Creek Chili Beer are sold to people trying to appear culinarily macho, or to those who were just morbidly curious, like me?  As I’ve already mentioned, taste is subjective, but I have a hard time believing that there are many folks who drink this more than once.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Crab Apples

     As their name implies, crab apples aren’t commonly enjoyed for consumption.  Usually their trees are planted for ornamental reasons, as their whitish blossoms are quite attractive.  When the fruit is eaten it’s typically as a jelly, after being processed, and mixed with a lot of sugar to offset their sour taste.  Rarely, they’re made into a cider.
     We had (and still do) a pair of crab apples trees in my parent’s front yard.  Probably a minute after I was told I could, that they weren’t poisonous, I gave the small, reddish, cherry-sized fruit a try.  And they’re not great—they have a kind of bland taste, and a sort of woody, unpleasant flavor to them.  Also, the insect loved them, so it was rather common to get one infested with larva of some kind, a bit of added revolting protein to your fruit.
     However, after a couple of years, I made an important discovery.  The secret was to eat them earlier in the year, when they were still green.  I should have guessed this sooner, I suppose, since I tend to like sour tastes.  The nicely sour unripe crab apples were pretty good—they made a decent snack on the way to a neighbor kid’s house.  Eating them earlier also mostly eliminated the chance of getting a fellow maggot diner in your apple.  There were limits, though—if you ate more than a few at a time, it was a bit tough on the stomach.
     As I got older, a funny thing happened—a branch on one of the trees was hybridized with a regular apple tree (maybe from the one in our backyard).  From that point on, that branch looked out of place, with its mutated, hugely large crab apples next to the regular, cherry-sized ones.  These “X-Men apples” were an improvement over their tinier kin—more fruit to eat, and some of the mealy-ness had been reduced.
     A crab apple has another use, too.  In late fall they make excellent ammunition.  They become little fruit grenades, which burst open rottenly upon impact.  I used to cover the adjacent street sign with their decayed pulp, and I’m sure, many of the kids who got within range of our yard received unwanted, messy accessories to their outfits.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

"Kaishaku" Update

     I'm pleased to announce some more details about my second story with Musa Publishing, "Kaishaku."  It's scheduled to be released on August 24th of this year.  It will be published in the "Thalia" category (Paranormal/Horror).  And, finally, its price will be $1.99.
     I'll be submitting my tagline, blurb, and excerpt proposals today, along with some cover ideas.  Once these are all finalized, I'll be sure to post these, too.
     I expect I'll start the actual editing soon.  Can't wait to get to it.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Snails

     I first tried snails, or to be cosmopolitan and classy, escargot, in 2003, in a Russian restaurant in north Jersey.  I was (and still am) a little surprised to see escargot on the menu in a non-French restaurant, but since I’m always a sucker for exotic foods, I ordered it straight away.  (I’ve since learned that a fair number of countries eat snails—many of the places, European and African, that border the Mediterranean, along with several Southeast Asian countries.  Although apparently, Russia is not traditionally one of them.)
     The snails were cooked in a garlic butter sauce, and with some sort of cheese.  The result was excellent—I finished all of them with great relish.  However, upon later reflection, I realized that this maybe wasn’t an entirely fair test of this exotic animal’s meat.  I mean, I’d probably enjoy just about anything, even a turd, if it was cooked in garlic butter and cheese.  (Just to eliminate the tension, I’m exaggerating here—don’t look for a later post where I pull a Divine and consume feces.  I like trying exotic/disgusting foods, but even I have my limits.)
     Happily, another opportunity presented itself.  During the last several years, I’ve noticed that many supermarkets (regular, not specialty) have started stocking canned escargot, so I wasted no time.  Predictably, I ignored the recipe on the label and simply opened the can and dug in with a fork.  Again, I came away impressed.  The restaurant-prepared snails were undeniably tastier, but the plain canned ones were pretty good, too.  They have a different flavor to them—weirdly egglike.  A little salt and pepper compliment them nicely.
     So I was sold.  Now I basically buy them whenever the area I’m currently staying in has them for sale.  On one project, I even semi-forcibly had all of my coworkers try them.  I went from room to room at our hotel, with an ever increasing group of people, and offered/peer pressured everyone into giving a canned snail a try.  About half of my coworkers liked them, and the other half thought that they were disgusting, and cursed me for plying these mollusks on their unsuspecting palates.
     One word of warning though—eating them from a can, naked, as opposed to in a restaurant has other drawbacks besides the taste.  Professionally prepared snails are covered in the cheese, and butter, so you can pretend you’re eating something else if the thought bothers you.  But with the canned escargot it’s obvious what you’re chowing down on, as you can see the distinctive snail flesh, leathery “foot,” etc.
     To sum up, put me definitively in the pro-snail column.  To borrow the punch line of the joke told by the pompous stock market official and friend of the Duke brothers in “Trading Places,” (the one whose trophy girlfriend is heavily flirting with Eddie Murphy’s character), “Look at that ‘S’ car go!”