Monday, July 30, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Sahti Beer

     As a beer aficionado, one of my quests is to try at least one beer from every country in the world.  Or at least every country in the world that actually brews beer.  Even this goal is ambitious, of course, as even the well-stocked beer stores I’ve discovered have their limits.  But aim high, right?
     One of these countries I was missing was Finland.  Therefore, I was quite excited when I found not only a Finnish beer for sale, but a new and unique beer type—sahti.  This traditional concoction is beer flavored with juniper berries, and often filtered through juniper twigs.  I’m not a fan of juniper—for example, I’m not fond of the smell or taste of gin—but I was still eager to give sahti a chance.  Sahti is a top-fermented ale, and the brand I tried was Lammin Kataja Olut, which I assume is one of the more popular types.  It’s also very strong, with a 7% alcohol content.
     Alas, my misgivings about the juniper proved completely founded.  It was pretty awful—very sour, not like any beer flavor I’ve ever had, and not in a good way at all.  I tried to finish it, but was unable to—it became a drain pour at least halfway through.  It wasn’t as horrible as Cave Creek Chili Beer (for more detail, see earlier post), but it wasn’t that much better, either.
     I looked it up on Beer Advocate, and read through some of the reviews.  Some of the folks agreed strongly with my assessment of it.  Unlike Cave Creek, though, Lammin Kataja Olut did have a good percentage of appreciators, perhaps as high as 50%.  Various other breweries around the world have tried out their own versions of sahti, again confirming that the type has its fans.
     In closing, while I emphatically don’t recommend sahti, I realize that some people enjoy it.  I respect the fact that the Finns experimented and came up with their own special contribution to beer.  If you like juniper, you might like this beer.  I won’t, however, be joining you.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Kimchi

     Kimchi, aka kim chee, gimchi, and others, is a traditional Korean dish made from fermented vegetables seasoned with spices.  It’s a very ancient invention, being over 1400 years old.  Originally it was made from fermented cabbage and beef stock only, but modern variants can be made from radishes, scallions, and cucumbers as the base ingredient.  In the late 16th century the Japanese introduced New World red chili peppers to Korea, and this has been the main source of kimchi’s spice ever since.
     The Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul lists 187 varieties of kimchi (and I, certainly, am willing to take their word for it).  Different types are made seasonally, and in various parts of the countries.  South Korean kimchi is characterized as being saltier, more solid, and spicier than the Northern variants.
     But enough of the dry history—what did I think of it?  I first had it in the mid-nineties, at an office potluck lunch.  Everyone was supposed to bring in traditional dishes from their country(s) of origin.  Since my place of employment was fairly diverse, we had a lot of different choices, many new to me.  (Given my lack of cooking skills, I basically cheated and brought in store-bought German raspberry strudel.)  Anyway, one guy, John, brought in kimchi.  I was put off at first, not being a big fan of cabbage in general, but I still gave it a try.  And I was impressed—the spice more than made up for cabbage’s normal blandness.  Since that time, I’ve revisited it several more times, both from the grocery store and from restaurants.  A couple of times it was too hot, but usually it was spicy enough to add pleasant zest, but not so much so that you could only taste fire, and not the flavor of the food.  Therefore, if you can tolerate moderate to very spicy food, I would heartily recommend it.
     Furthermore, it’s very nutritious.  It’s low in calories, high in fiber, and packed with vitamins and nutrients—C, thiamine, riboflavin, calcium, and iron.  Health Magazine rated it in the Top 5 of the World’s Healthiest Foods.   

Monday, July 16, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Venison

     I was surprised to learn that “venison” has been used as a catchall term for the meat of any game animal, including wild pigs and hares.  In this post I’m referring to its most prevalent definition, that is, deer meat.  Venison is healthier than beef, lamb, and pork in several ways, in that proportionally its got less fat, fewer calories, and lower cholesterol.  Sometimes this lack of fat is a disadvantage—deer burgers usually have to artificially introduce some, using olive oil, bacon, or cheese.  The major downside of venison is the prospect of contracting chronic wasting disease, essentially deer’s version of mad cow.  This has been found at deer farms in the U.S. and Scandinavia.  However, a new test makes this transference even less likely.
     Growing up in the NJ suburbs to a non-hunting family, I didn’t have venison until I was about thirteen, at a church charity dinner.  I was immediately impressed, but there’s a problem in the U.S.—it’s very rarely sold in supermarkets (probably in large part due to the need for USDA inspections) or served in restaurants.  Fortunately, as an adult some of my archaeology friends were avid hunters, and I was able to have it at their parties.  During one year the deer population had exploded so much that each hunter was allowed to take fourteen deer, so lots of freezers were well stocked.  At one cookout our hunter host showed us some portions hanging in the barn.  It was interesting on a professional level because he showed us certain common meat cuts, and what cut marks they would leave on bones, which helped us since we sometimes found animal bone remains on the job.  He finally offered us “deer sushi” after explaining it was safe because he could identify parasitic infections.  I wasn’t quite bold or drunk enough to take him up on this.
     Also around this time, I happened to hit a deer with my Grand Marquis when I was in Delaware.  Since I was close to my hotel, I drove my dented but functioning car back to it.  Later, I felt a little guilty, wondering if the deer was just wounded, in need of mercy-killing, so I asked a coworker to drive me back.  Because I’d hit it coming off of a highway with tolls, my friend and I had to park at a closed plumbing supply store about a quarter mile away from the accident spot.  We walked out and confirmed that the deer was dead, then returned to the vehicle.  Six police cars were surrounding it—they thought we were robbing the place.  After explaining the situation (and later showing the police my dented grill with deer hair still embedded in it), we were allowed to leave.  The police said I could keep the deer, but since I didn’t have the equipment, storage, and know-how to dress a deer this seemed unfeasible.  Plus, I was told that if I didn’t take it, it would be given to the poor, so that seemed like the best option all around.  Years later, a coworker of mine road-killed a deer too, but he chose to take it in his truck before anyone saw him.  Then, amazingly, he put it in the bathtub of his hotel room, and went to work the next morning without even putting his “Do Not Disturb” sign on.  The maid looked in quickly, saw a bloody dead body, and understandably freaked out.  This clearly wasn’t one of my coworkers blessed with a large supply of common sense.
     Later still, on my trip to New Zealand (which was great—if you get a chance, and can afford the plane ticket, I couldn’t recommend it more), I discovered that venison is huge there.  We passed numerous venison farms (with unusually high fences encircling them) and it was commonly on the menu.  So in addition to great hikes, walking on glaciers, and getting close enough to hug a yellow-eyed penguin, I had venison several more times.
     Okay, enough background and personal asides.  You may be wondering, what do I think of venison?  I absolutely love it—it may be my favorite meat.  Some folks complain about the slightly gamey flavor, but to me that’s a plus.  I’ve had it in stews, as a steak, even in jerky form—all top notch.
     Two final points.  For any Orthodox Jewish readers out there, venison can be made kosher.  In the U.S. big cities like NY and Chicago are your best bets for this availability.  Also, the expression “humble pie” is supposedly venison-based, as “noumbles” is the term for deer organs.  Evidently eating this meat pie was considered more modest than consuming a deer steak.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Spotted Dick

     It would appear that a popular pastime in the British Isles is to create new dishes and give them silly and/or repulsive names.  Here is a very partial list:
1)      Bubble and Squeak—fried potatoes and cabbage.
2)      Toad in the Hole—no actual toads in it, unfortunately, it’s sausage in Yorkshire Pudding dough.
3)      Clapshot—turnips with potatoes and chives (and no gonorrhea, thankfully).
4)      Cullen Skink—again, it’s a tease.  There’s no skink flesh included, it’s a Scottish smoked haddock/potato soup.
5)      Cock-a-Leekie Soup—made with chicken and leeks, and traditionally, prunes.
6)      Fool—sweetened, pureed fruit folded into whipped cream.
7)      Herpes-afflicted Slang Term for Genitals—mashed potatoes with—okay, I made this one up.
     Spotted Dick sounds like something that would be involved with Cock-a-Leekie Soup, but in reality it’s a type of cake with raisins in it.  The first documented reference to it was in an 1849 cookbook, “The Modern Housewife,” by famous Victorian Chef Alexis Soyer (who was French by birth).  The actual reason for its weird name isn’t conclusively known:  Theories range from corruption of the words “dough” or “dog”; corruption of the last syllable of “pudding”; or that the German word for “thick” (dick) was borrowed.  Also, of course, “dick” being slang for “penis” is a late twentieth century development.  A few places in England clearly were embarrassed, and changed its name to “Spotted Richard.”  Which I find cowardly—if you give a food a ridiculous name, one that lends itself so easily to double entendres, at least have the balls to respect tradition and stick with it.
     I’ve had Spotted Dick twice.  The first time was years ago, and it was bought for me by friends who (very correctly) assumed that I’d try it out of legitimate curiosity, and immaturity.  The second time was last week.  Both times it was of the canned variety (from Heinz), found by my friends in a British specialty store, and by me in the ethnic section of Wegman’s (a great supermarket in the Northeast).  It’s okay—it tastes like sponge cake with raisins.  Kind of molasses-y and a tad dry.  Not great, but far from terrible.  And, to be fair, this was canned—I’m sure fresh is better.
     British cuisine has a poor reputation.  Sometimes it’s deserved (the general blandness, all the boiled vegetables) and sometimes not (Yorkshire Pudding, Fish and Chips, their pastries and candy).  Despite its absurd name, Spotted Dick definitely falls into the latter category.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


     While researching (and I use that term loosely) parentheses for an earlier blog post, I was reminded of another, more obscure punctuation symbol—[sic].  Intrigued, I decided to check up on this.
     Apparently, a lot of people don’t know the derivation of this, as many think it’s an acronym for, “spelled in context,” “said in copy,” or “spelling is incorrect,” etc.  This is actually incorrect, and I was further amazed to learn that ascribing an acronym when one isn’t intended has a name, it’s a “backronym.”
     “Sic” is actually Latin for “thus,” and it is a shortening of the full expression, “sic erat scriptum,” or “thus was it written.”  Used properly, it indicates that a written or oral quoted passage contains a spelling or grammatical error.  On the rare occasions that I’ve seen it, that’s what it was used for.
     Some folks are definitely against this short punctuation.  Back in 1876, a Dr. Enoch Mellor complained, in a letter to the editor of Literary Churchman, about, “the cheap insinuation of ignorance which can lie in a bracketed ‘sic.’”  Others have expanded [sic]’s use, to include marking what they think are logical or factual errors, say after quoting a politician they don’t like.  This ridicule is also controversial, and sometimes condemned.  Simon Nowell-Smith and Leon Edel, among others, spoke out against its use in the twentieth century.  I like to picture fistfights at literary parties, but alas (I guess), it mostly seems to be written criticisms.  (I have to admit, now that I learned about this latter use of it for ridicule, I might start using it some, as it appeals to my snarky nature.)  The Chicago Manuel of Style now recommends just quietly copy-editing away the mistake unless it’s inappropriate.  So this obscure punctuation might be as endangered as the white rhino.
     I also saw that there are a few other sic’s, like the regional code of Sicily, and the (real) acronym for the Shetland Island Council.  Used more relevantly to our discussion, it’s also the name of a hardcore band, and a Slipknot song.  In closing, if any writer has considered being clever and using it as a book title, I’m afraid at least six other authors have beaten you to it.  Martha Brockenbrough also titled her 2008 book, which mocks/corrects the grammar in advertising, politics, and Hollywood quotes, “Things That Make Us [Sic].”  According to its reviews, it’s very funny.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Long and Short Reviews

     I have two brief announcements about the website Long and Short Reviews.  First, I received my first website review for "Dead Reckoning" last Friday in their Mystery section.  Fortunately, the review was very positive.  So it was nice to get a review, and doubly nice that it was complimentary.  Secondly, I have a guest post on the site's blog that will be posted tomorrow morning.  It's about my first camping trip.  That link is:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Tripe

     Tripe is stomach lining, usually from a cow.  People do eat other animal’s stomachs, but when they do they sometimes have different names—pig’s stomach, for example is called, “paunch.”  Readers might be saying (doubtful, but it’s possible), “but cows have four-chambered stomachs because they’re ruminants—which chambers are eaten?”  Actually, three of the four chambers are commonly eaten.  The rumen section is called “smooth tripe,” the reticulum is called, “honeycomb tripe,” and the omasum is referred to as “leaf tripe.”  The fourth chamber, abomasum, or “reed tripe” is typically not eaten due to its high percentage of glandular tissue (I suppose even people who are willing to eat animal stomach draw the line at glandular tissue).
     To divide this even further, there are two states of tripe—washed and unwashed.  Unwashed (sorry, this is a bit revolting) is tripe which still has partially digested food in it.  Since we’re talking mainly about cows, this means it’s grass, and correspondingly unwashed tripe is also called “green” (to answer the question being asked by no one—it’s apparently really a grayish-brown color).  Green tripe, not surprisingly, has a pungent odor, and is not considered to be fit for human consumption.  Animals, though, especially dogs, love it, and it’s an ingredient in some pet foods (evidently it contains extra nutrients from the grass that some people think is extra healthy for dogs).
     As I said, humans typically only eat washed tripe, so that the stomach contents are removed.  In some places, there’s a person who does this full time, called a “professional tripe dresser.”  I’m guessing that IRS accountants are seeing this job description more rarely on W-2 forms these days.  For sadly (I guess), tripe has passed its peak of popularity (the late 19th and early 20th centuries) and while it’s still eaten worldwide, it’s not done so as frequently.
     I’ve had tripe in an Italian restaurant and from the supermarket, in canned menudo form.  Both were decent.  In both cases I believe I had the “honeycomb tripe,” as that pattern was discernable—the chunks of it looked like Honeycomb Cereal, only meat.  It’s definitely a weird texture, but with the tomato-based sauce (Italian), or with hominy and spices (Mexican menudo) it’s good—I’ve gone back for more.
     Speaking of menudo, I was curious about the awful 80’s boy band of the same name, (which at one time had a young Ricky Martin) the one that apparently kicked out members and replaced them whenever they got pubes.  I was hoping that they were randomly and bizarrely named after this dish, but probably not, as menudo is apparently also slang for “thin,” “small,” “worthless,” “vulgar” and “change” (as in money change) as well as “cow stomach.” (Now that I think about it, “tripe” is also slang for many of these things.)
     Also, evidently Fred Sanford, of 70’s TV show “Sanford and Son,” was a major fan of menudo.
     Finally, one website listed tripe as being thought of as a good hangover cure.  Which amuses me—I’m picturing shoving a plate full of tripe into a hungover friend’s face, and then jumping back to avoid the inevitable vomit splatter.
     So, to sum up, I would recommend tripe to adventurous omnivores, and culinary meta fans.  (And sorry for a probably more disgusting than usual post.)