Monday, June 25, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Rauchbier

     As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've consulted the Beer Advocate website quite a bit since I discovered it.  (And I "discovered" it just like Columbus did America, in that I found something that many thousands of other people had already known about and actually discovered many years before.)  (And yes, I stole this joke from a Simpson's episode.)  One of these exotic beer types I read about was rauchbier ("rauch" is German for "smoke").  This is a beer that is German in origin, and according to some sources has been made for about 500-600 years.  It gets its name because it's made from malted barley which has been dried over an open, beechwood-fueled flame.  The city of Bamburg in Bavaria, Germany is considered the home of smoke beer, and its many breweries often make a version.  The Schlenkerla brewpub is the most lauded producer.
     I was able to locate this champagne of smoke beers, and gave one a try.  There are actually three subtypes--Urbock, Marzen, and Weizen.  I bought the Marzen style, or using its full name, "Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier--Marzen."  It was uniquely bizarre.  The smoke odor is very intense--you almost think it will set off a smoke alarm, or be illegal to drink in public in California.  The beer tastes like smoked meat and beer at the same time.  Perhaps surprisingly, this marriage of two distinct tastes is very good.  Kind of like my earlier Gjetost post, sometimes when people experiment with foods or beverages they end up with a new and original winner.  I've gone back to it since, and am eager to sample the Urbock and Weizen types.  I also look forward to trying other breweries' versions of this.
     Mind you, I just had one in any particular evening, and I kind of suspect that it's the sort of beer that you probably don't want to be drinking all night.  It's such an exotic, strong flavor that I think it might get a little overwhelming.  But, for people who like smoked meats and beer, I would definitely recommend this.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Story Behind My First Ebook

     I thought I should have another rare blog that wasn’t about food, so here’s my account of Dead Reckoning’s history.
     I first began to get serious about writing in the mid to late 1990’s.  Like many authors, I went through many years, and many rejections, before my first sale, in early 2002.  Following that, I had some more, albeit limited success:  short stories in various small magazines, often only for a free copy(s).  There were a couple of magazines (“Morbid Curiosity” and the wonderfully named “Cthulhu Sex Magazine”) which I did find on the shelf in Tower Books in NYC, which was awesome.  However, my submitted novellas and novels didn’t find homes.
     In the spring of 2009 all of this changed.  A small ebook publisher accepted one of my novellas.  I won’t use its name, for possible legal issues, but the details which follow will probably make it pretty obvious.  I’d been burned by a scam agent before, so I was more careful this time.  I followed advice I found online and did some research.  The publisher had a decent reputation, and the authors who worked for it had good things to say when I contacted them.  (I did make one embarrassing mistake here—I chose names from the publisher’s author list pretty much at random, and as a result, accidently asked the owner what she thought of her own company through her pen name—whoops!)  Since everything seemed okay I signed my first contract, and was elated.  It was nice to finally have more significant news about my writing to tell family and friends.  I couldn’t wait to get started.
     Then months passed.  And still more.  I started to get a little antsy.  I certainly didn’t want to piss off my first publisher so quickly, by appearing high maintenance, but it had been about six months with no further contact.  Therefore I sent a brief email, essentially checking in and asking if there was anything I should be doing in preparation, say some preliminary editing.  No response.  I waited a respectable amount of time and tried again, this time using another staff member’s email address.  Again, no reply.  More time passed.  Periodically, every six months or so, I would try again, to no avail.  Now I was getting very concerned.  Granted, I was brand new to publishing, and I knew that sometimes publishers didn’t print books for a year or two after signing the contracts, but this was pushing it.  More to the point, a lag in publication would have been understandable, but to never answer emails at all seemed rude and troubling.  I continually checked the website, and it was still up and running, and everything seemed legit.  On a personal level, it was quite humiliating, too—friends and family had asked what was up quite frequently at first, then less so as time passed and I never had any more info.  I’m guessing some may have questioned whether I’d been lying, or had fallen for a scam again, etc.  I had paranoid thoughts about the latter myself.
     Finally, over two years later, I heard back from the publisher.  Sort of.  Actually I heard back from someone working with a sister publisher who was acting on behalf of my publisher.  This woman (Celina from Musa) explained that she was helping out due to the original publisher’s family and health issues.  But no matter—everything started to run smoothly.  I was assigned an editor, started choosing a book cover, began to devise taglines, blurbs, etc.  Perhaps most surprisingly, when I emailed questions, they were actually answered in a timely manner.  How refreshing!  My credibility was repaired, as I informed friends and family that now, after such a long wait, the book was finally coming out soon.
     Then, just as we were finishing up readying my book for publication, I got a strange email.  It was couched in vague terms, but the gist of it was that there had been some sort of disagreement, or falling out between the folks from the other publisher I’d been dealing with, and my actual publisher.  I didn’t know what to make of this, but I figured things were still going okay.  Everything was set, and my story was second on the “Coming Soon” list.
     Then it happened again.  The weeks passed, and my book stayed in second place, unpublished.  I once again carefully emailed the publisher to see what was up, and nothing.  Finally, after about six weeks or so, I contacted my book’s editor (again, from the other publisher) and learned crushing news:  My publisher was closed down.  Technically “temporarily”, but perhaps forever.  She nicely gave me the information to my publisher’s authors’ forum.
     This was a revelation, too, all of it negative.  My publisher (in this case, “publisher” refers to the individual owner/publisher) came off extremely poorly.  The authors reported unpaid royalties (allegedly up to a year in some cases) and complete lack of communication.  Personal things, too—words and actions that sounded literally crazy, all wrapped up in 1980’s televangelist-style religious hypocrisy.  Every day brought more messed up stories.  Much later, even allegations of reporting false tax info.  I realized, as bad as my experience was, it could have been much worse.  I’d dodged a bullet by a hair, since if my story had been published before this hiatus the legal complications could have been stickier.  The most important detail, though, was the news that if sixty days passed without the publisher being active, as per our contracts, our stories were ours again.  Emails and certified letters to the publisher formally asking to be released from the contract were, you guessed it, ignored.
     One again time passed, but on this occasion I eagerly counted down the days.  The two months were eventually up (on my birthday, too, how’s that for a coincidence?) and “Dead Reckoning” was mine once again.  More good news—Celina responded to my email by telling me that Musa was adopting the stories from the closed down publisher.  I was contracted, and put on the fast track to publication.  Since my editing had already been done (by the same editor, now working with Musa), aside from switching to Musa’s format we were basically finished.  And while my former cover was good, the new one was much better—excellent, in fact.  About six weeks after I signed the contract my book was published.  Well, six weeks, and over two and a half years, sort of.  Thus far, Musa has been nothing but very fair to me, across the board.  So this tale has a positive ending.
     Hope I don’t come across as being whiny—as I said, I’m well aware that some authors have had much worse experiences.  And in some ways, this experience may have helped—I got the bad part out of the way, so now things can’t help but be improved.

P.S.  To date, still no answer to any of my post contract-signing communications with my original publisher, with some emails being close to three years old.  Part of me hopes to receive a reply to one in like forty years, when I’m sitting in some rest home somewhere.  But I think I can be forgiven for not holding my breath.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Aloe Vera

       I was very surprised when I realized that people eat aloe vera.  Like probably a lot of folks, I was under the impression that its only use was medicinal, in skin creams, sunblocks, etc.  (I'm reminded of the "Seinfeld" episode when Jerry talks about how aloe is the treatment for every possible skin affliction.)  But no, people also eat it.  Many evidently for the taste, as well as for other medical benefits it allegedly provides.
     But there it was, an aloe beverage, sitting in a bottle within a cooler at a Thai restaurant.  I immediately bought some.  It's appearance was strange--a clear liquid with many solid, gel-like chunks floating in it (I learned later that these were actually the pieces of aloe).  The odor was very citrus-y, in a good way.  The taste was very good--kind of a combination of citrus (again) and apple juice flavors.  The jelly-like pieces within were a little off-putting at first, but I quickly got past that, and finished the drink happily.
     A couple of years later, while looking for weird and/or repulsive foods at my local supermarket, I saw an odd long green leaf in the produce section.  There it was again, and fresh.  I actually broke my cooking embargo, and did it up, as per recipes I found online.  This entailed chopping up the leaf into one inch by one inch sized squares, boiling these pieces, and letting the results cool for an hour.  The water in the pot took on a distinct reddish tinge.  Many people just remove the leaf portions and drink the solution, but in addition to that I tried one of the gel chunks raw.  Sadly, both of these were awful.  Extremely bitter--I couldn't manage to finish much of either.
     On the plus side, the supermarket also had the aloe drink, so I had that for a second time.  This was refreshingly excellent once again.  (It's called Salutti, from JJ Martin distributing, originally made in South Korea, for anyone interested.)  So, to sum up, when it comes to aloe vera--leaf bad, drink very good.  Although to be fair, it's entirely possible that I got a bad leaf, or messed up in the preparation, so there's that.  Also, while the drink does contain actual aloe vera, it also has fructose, citric acid, sugar, etc., which may explain (or at least partially explain) why I enjoyed it in beverage form.
     Finally, it may be a coincidence, but afterwards I noticed that my esophagus has never looked so smooth and shiny.

Brief Announcement

    I'm guessing most of you already know this--but for those that don't, today I have a guest post on the Musa Publishing blog.  Sundays are their Top 10 List days, and mine is a list of things that I like ironically.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Larva

     Given that field archaeologists dig in the dirt every day, we encounter earthworms and various larval forms of insects very frequently.  Given the occasional boredom at work, and the relative immaturity of our crew, it's not uncommon for us to toss worms at each other or dare each other to eat them.  One enterprising coworker of mine (Hi Gordie) made it a semi-regular event; in exchange for five dollars he would eat one of the whitish grubs we were constantly finding on an Iowa project (not sure what they mature into--grasshoppers?  Crickets?).  He couldn't cheat and just swallow them whole either--he had to chew them thoroughly.  When questioned he said they didn't taste strongly, mostly like dirt (a flavor we all were unavoidably familiar with, due to winds).
     Some years later, another coworker (Hi Hope/Johanna), ate earthworms on three separate occasions.  (I realize that earthworms are different, adult animals, and not insect larva, but they're both obviously "wormlike" and therefore roughly identical for the purposes of this post.)  For free, too--if she'd held out, we probably would have offered her some cash, but perhaps she wanted to retain her amateur status in case worm-eating ever becomes an Olympic event.  She rinsed them off, and chewed as well (I think), and reported that they tasted horrible.  The third time she only did it if I simultaneously ate two baby carrots (I'm renowned for my complete and utter hatred of these orange nightmares).  I still maintain I probably got the worst of that tradeoff.
     I was finally tempted myself when I had the opportunity to eat professionally prepared larva.  The fact that they wouldn't give me a disease, and were presumably made in a way to make them tastier were effective selling points to me.  I found these at a store called "Evolution" in New York City (more on that wonderful store in a later post).  They were prepackaged larva in a cheese powder.  Alas, the insect type was not specified.  They were smallish larva--about one half to three quarters of an inch long, off white, segmented, and hollow.  And they were awful--there were only about twenty of them, but I had a tough time finishing them.  It's possible that this might have been partially or totally due to the cheese powder they were in, but with my adoration of that dairy product  I think this is unlikely.  I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, so given another chance (particularly if they're prepared differently), I'll try them again.  But I won't be picking one up at work and chowing down, unless I'm offered like twenty bucks or more.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Gjetost

     When people ask me what my favorite food is, I always answer, “Cheese,” (or sometimes, “Cheese!!” if I’m feeling especially energetic at that moment).  When they follow this up by inquiring what kind, I reply with, “all of them.”  This is a bit of an exaggeration—I certainly like some cheese types better than others.  But here’s the thing—even the weaker cheese types, like bleu, frequently are still pretty good.  Or even limburger—it smells like stinky feet (or whatever negative odor comparison you wish to throw out there), but on a nice cracker, every so often, it’s not without its charms.  Cheese, to me, is almost literally magical.  You can take the most boring, blandest food, like say, a lot of vegetables, and add cheese—blam!—you have a respectably tasty dining experience.  To borrow a cliché junkie’s quote (William Burroughs?  Charles Mingus?  I couldn’t find out conclusively.), “If God made anything better, He kept it for himself.”  If a maniac forced me at gunpoint to have sex with a food item (people in my hypotheticals are often extremely violent and unusually specific about their perversions), it would certainly be a cheese (a brie maybe?  A sharp Gouda?  You know what—I brought this topic up, but even I think I’ve taken this too far, so let’s move on).
     Now that you have some idea about how I feel about cheese (and I’m being very restrained—I could go on for pages), I’ll go into the subject of today—Gjetost, a Norwegian cheese.  When I removed it from its wrapper, and saw the dark brown rectangle, I naturally assumed that this was a rind, and cut into it to expose the actual cheese.  But there was no rind!  This was it.  The taste was definitely unique.  It was a combination of caramel and cheese (I’m guessing the Norwegian commercials for it have people bumping into each other while they’re holding these respective items, and the one says, “Your caramel went into my cheese!” while the other says, “Your cheese went into my caramel!” and then they try the result, like it, and laugh inanely).  So what did I think?  It was really, really, weird.  Not bad—I finished about half of it, (the other half consumed by my dad) without disgust, or discomfort, but the whole time you’re acutely aware that you’re eating something very strange, if that makes sense.  It’s what I imagine an alien race would produce for us to eat after observing us for centuries—bizarre, but good in its way.
     After I tried it, I did a little research on it.  Gjetost is the American name for the Norwegian cheese Brunost (literally meaning, “brown cheese,” in their language).  It’s made in an unusual manner—goat (and/or cow’s) milk, cream, and whey (but not curds) are boiled until all of the water is removed, and the milk sugar is caramelized (giving the cheese its color and sweet flavor).  While variants of it are ancient, a farmer’s wife named Anne Haav (or Hov) is credited with inventing it in 1863.  She later received the King’s Medal of Merit in silver for this feat.  This food is an important part of Norway’s cultural heritage.  It’s also popular as a skier’s snack, which explains one of its brand names, “Ski Queen.”  Proponents describe its flavor as being similar to Dulce de Lec or pal Kova.  Evidently its appeal is growing in the U.S., since I was able to find it in our neighborhood grocery store (a Shop-Rite, which has an okay, but not earth-shattering selection.)
     Therefore, I have to say to our Norwegian friends that I admire their culinary creativity, and the result is decent.  But it’s so weird!  Did I mention that already?