Sunday, May 26, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Goose

     This is going to be one of the posts where “exotic” is definitely in the eye of the beholder.  For example, I understand that goose is a frequent meal in Europe, especially Northern Europe, and is fairly common in many Asian countries.  However, here in the U.S. it’s not common at all—I’ve never seen it for sale in grocery stores, and aside from the restaurant I reference in this post I’ve never seen it offered.  Here I’m referring to roast, entire goose—pate, which often includes goose liver, is sometimes available in the U.S. supermarkets that I’ve visited.
     Therefore, I was quite excited to try goose.  I got the opportunity in 2011, while I was working in the Chicago area.  My friends Ricky and Michele took me to a local German restaurant for my birthday, and there it was on the menu.  So after an appetizer of Oysters Rockefeller, and washed down with some good German beer (Edelweiss, among others), I gave it a shot.
     I’d like to digress for a moment and discuss my feelings about poultry in general.  I’ll never understand why white meat is considered superior to dark meat.  Whenever you read a poultry entrée description on menus they almost always proudly mention that’s it chicken or turkey breast (white) meat.  Well to me that’s not a selling point.  I think white meat is dry and bland, whereas its darker cousin is delightfully moist and flavorful.  (I realize that dark meat may be fattier, greasier, and therefore less healthy than white meat, but I’m just talking about taste here, and, in this case (like many) unhealthier trumps healthier.)  So when we’re carving up the Thanksgiving turkey, it’s the drumstick or thigh for me, and others can fight over the breast.
     Goose left me favorably impressed.  It was very good.  I found it to be rather like a cross between turkey and duck.  Its meat was distinctly darker, juicier, and even a little gamier than turkey, which all added up to a superior taste.  (As it turns out, I like all poultry, but I would rank them, best first, as duck, goose, turkey, and chicken.)  So all in all, goose helped make that a very enjoyable birthday.
     Geese themselves are known as being among the most aggressive of birds.  Due to this and their large size they’re sometimes used as watch/guard animals.  In the wild, they’re also pretty territorial, and occasionally even stand up to/attack human trespassers, especially if they’re guarding their young.
     Most people probably know that a group of geese is called a “gaggle,” but apparently a group of them in flight is called (among others) a “skein.”  My dictionary defines skein as “A quantity of yarn, thread, silk, etc. put up after it is taken from the reel in a loose twisted shape.”  Meaning, this stays consistent with the tendency of animal group names to not make any damn sense.
     (Oh, and in case you were wondering, I’m a fan of pate as well.  Not too surprising, considering I like liver in pretty much all of its forms.)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Underrated Horror Gems--"Scarecrows"

     “Scarecrows” has to be the most obscure underrated horror gem I’ve written about.  As far as I can tell, this 1988 movie wasn’t even released theatrically.  Like a lot of low budget flicks it has a no-name cast, director, producer, etc.  To illustrate, the box for the VHS copy which I still own only touts the special makeup effects artist, Norman Cabrera, who went on to work on bigger films like “The X Files,” “Hellboy II,” and “Drag Me to Hell.”
     The plot of “Scarecrows” is fairly simple.  A group of five mercenary types (Corbin, Curry, Jack, Roxanne, and Burt) have committed an audacious armed robbery of military base Camp Pendleton (near San Diego, California).  Following this, they kidnap a father-daughter pilot team (Al and Kellie) and force them to fly them all to Mexico, and freedom.  However, along the way Burt double crosses his friends by dumping the money out and following in a parachute, D.B. Cooper style, while trying to blow up the plane with a grenade.  The gang manages to survive this murder attempt, and three of them follow Burt and the cash in their own chutes.  The remaining trio quickly land the plane, and join the search.
     Burt and the money have landed at an abandoned, condemned farm owned by the Fowler family.  And here’s where things get weird.  The group notices numerous strange scarecrows hanging about the decaying farm.  After a bit of a buildup it becomes clear that the scarecrows are animate, intelligent, and extremely violent.  The bodies start to pile up.  Will any of the gang survive to enjoy their ill gotten gains?
     This movie really works for me.  True, the production values are sometimes limited—the grenade explosion effect, for example, was noticeably fake looking.  And the actors aren’t Olivier or Hepburn.  However, these are pretty minor quibbles—the rest of the effects are decent.  And while the actors aren’t stellar, their roles aren’t that demanding, so they do an alright job.  The director wisely limits the scarecrows’ screen time to usually brief scenes, making them seem more mysterious, frightening, and convincing.  And I can see why the makeup guy (Cabrera) went on to bigger jobs—the violence and gore scenes are well done.  The robbers are equipped with night vision goggles, which are used effectively in several scenes.
     (SPOILERS AHEAD)  I think one of the movie’s strengths is its lack of explanation—we never find out why or how the scarecrows exist, or what they’re after.  The credits list their names as Jakob, Norman, and Benjamin Fowler, we see a photo of three bearded country type men in the house, but that’s about it.  Are the Fowlers possessing the scarecrows (and later the robbers, etc.), or are their corpses being possessed by evil spirits, “demonic demons” as character Jack says (redundantly) at one point.  The fact that the scarecrows are hanging on giant crosses (when they’re not running around and stabbing folks, that is), symbolically crucifixions, seems like an obvious bit of religious subtext, too.  Character Curry, after observing some of Burt-scarecrow’s bizarreness, throws out the thought that the group didn’t succeed in their robbery, and were shot by the military, and are now in Hell.  (There are a few problems with this—most notably, Al and Kellie weren’t part of the robbery, and therefore aren’t guilty and deserving of punishment, and according to the radio broadcast at the end Kellie survives.  Of course, Al and Kellie might be demons, too, and/or the broadcast might be false, or something, so you could still make the (far-fetched) case for the Hell theory.)  But my point is, this lack of explanation makes the movie more interesting, and frightening, as is often the case in horror and thriller films.  For example, the original 1978 “Halloween,” with its bare bones, vague, Michael Myers-is-evil-for-no-good-reason was vastly superior to Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” remake, where we see Michael was mostly the product of domestic abuse and bullying.  Or, to my mind, Hannibal Lector was a much more compelling, terrifying figure when you didn’t know why he was driven to kill and cannibalize people (we learn in the sequel and prequel to “Silence of the Lambs” that he was abused, and tortured as a child during World War II, and tricked into eating his beloved sister).  Understand, I’m not always against explanation in horror stories, but sometimes, less is definitely more.
     The scarecrows’ abilities and nature are similarly mysterious.  Sometimes they’re up on the crosses, sometimes not, and it’s confusing where these places actually are.  Some of the scarecrows seem like regular, real life, non-animate dummies, while others move around and kill.  We never see more than two or three at one time (and only three Fowlers are named), but we’re not sure of their exact number.  They’re very clever, too.  They’re able to mimic other peoples’ voices (sometimes verbally, sometimes perhaps telepathically (?)) and they’re able to “magically” influence inanimate objects.  The farm truck operates, temporarily, with no engine, objects like a flyswatter and a key appear and disappear, the house generator turns itself on and off, and Roxanne’s dice rolls keep coming up snake eyes.  And then there’s the weird way they reproduce, by gutting victims and stuffing them with straw (and in one case, money), and somehow apparently possessing them.  The very end alludes to another possibility—some sort of biological spread, akin to many zombie movies, as we learn that Dax the dog is evidently crazed (possessed?) after licking up Al-scarecrow’s blood.
     (END SPOILERS)  Alas, most of the people involved in “Scarecrows” didn’t go on to much more.  Michael Simms (Curry) and Richard Vidan (Jack) have been working fairly steadily since, albeit mostly on TV or in supporting movie roles.  Ted Vernon (Corbin) is apparently a minor Florida celebrity, as he’s been an auto dealer, pro boxer, producer, and occasional actor.  Probably the biggest name in the cast isn’t even seen—the broadcast announcer was Don Herbert, better known as TV science pioneer “Mr. Wizard.”
     Director William Wesley’s career stagnated.  He had an atypical start—born Jose Rolando Rodriguez in Cuba, he was an actor in the erotica series “Red Shoe Diaries” and a go-go dancer in Janet Jackson’s “Rhythym Nation 1814” music video.  IMDB only lists three more director credits—two obscure TV shows and a 2001 horror movie, “Route 666,” starring Lou Diamond Phillips and Lori Petty.  I did catch this last one, and while I found the idea potentially intriguing, ultimately I thought the finished product was lackluster.  (This movie also features robbers, and people returning from the dead in creative ways, so apparently Wesley has a type.)
     Therefore, if you’re looking for a fun, nasty, horror movie and/or you’re sick of the friendly, dim-witted Scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz,” you might want to give this one a try.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Ottumwa, Iowa Cuisine and Guest Blog Info

     Just finished up a project in Ottumwa, Iowa, so I thought I’d discuss some food items I found there.  For those not up on that part of the world, Ottumwa is a small town in southeastern Iowa, about 20 miles west of Fairfield, which is known for its Maharishi University (the guru associated with the Beatles, at least for a time).
     First up is Wild Bill’s Bacon Jerky.  To be fair, I’ve also seen this in Ohio, so it’s apparently more of a Midwest treat.  And a treat it is—unlike most jerky, it’s not tough and dry.  Somehow it’s comparatively tender and even moist.  It’s not as great as bacon off the stove, but as far as bacon processed in a bag, suitable for no preparation snacking, it’s very good.  The cartoon pitch-cowboy on the package proclaims, “It’s Bodacious!” and I for one am not inclined to argue.
     Next up are pine nuts.  These are a commonly eaten food worldwide, popular in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the American Southwest in particular, of a variety of pine species.  However, this was first time I saw them in a grocery store, so I snapped them right up.  Traditionally they’re mixed in with entrées, or are part of salads, or even desserts.  Given my almost total lack of cooking/food preparation, I simply opened up the jar and had at them.  They’re okay—not as tasty as cashews, peanuts, pistachios, or macadamias, but decent.  Rather sesame seed-ish in their flavor.  And, to be fair, a better test would have been mixed up in a meal, etc., so I’ll give them another try when I can.  One word of danger, though.  Pine nuts can cause a condition called “pine nut syndrome,” or “pine mouth,” a distortion of the taste buds.  This temporary affliction can last for a few days up to a couple of weeks, and results in a bitter, metallic taste for all foods eaten.  Scientists are still studying this, and preliminary results suggest it may be caused by the chemical used to shell certain Chinese pine nuts.  Finally, the jar of nuts I bought had something unique about it—it listed them as coming from “Turkey or China.”  Usually food locations are a little more precise…
     Continuing on, I sampled some sweet pickled watermelon rinds.  With some trepidation—I’m not a big watermelon fan, as I think it’s mostly tasteless and not worth the bother.  As with the pine nuts, the jar mentioned putting them in with meats, salads, or even wrapped in bacon as an appetizer.  And once again, I ignored this and just stuck a fork in the jar and started chowing down.  Happily, I really liked these—the pickling process really added a nice tart “zing” to them.  They were akin to gherkins (or sweet, bread and butter pickle chips), but with their own spin.  Pickled watermelon rinds are actually a Southern (U.S.) delicacy (the brand I tried was “Old South”), although I haven’t seen them for sale in my travels down there.  The jar mentioned that the first U.S. cookbook ever contained a recipe for them (although it neglected to include an author name, title, or copyright date).
     Finishing up, there’s the chocolate cheese.  Not be confused with chocolate and cheese separately (or the Ween album of that same name), but mixed together.  Really.  Cheddar cheese, cocoa, and walnuts all living in harmony, made by the folks at Shullsburg Creamery in Wisconsin (of course).  Sounds weird, I know.  Anyway, it was very good—tasted a lot like chocolate fudge.  In face, I’d like to do a blind test with the two to see if I could differentiate them.  The cheese itself seems to add more texture than flavor, although it’s possibly a little sharper than regular fudge.  So a little strange, but definitely worth a try.
     Also, I’d like to give a shoutout to Ottumwa’s bowling alley, Bridge City Bowl.  Their Sunday special had a deal of 10 games for $5.  Yes, $5!  I’ve spent more than that for one game at some alleys.  And their pitchers of New Belgium’s Fat Tire were $6.50 before 5 p.m., so cheap all around.
     And in writing this I realized I missed an opportunity—next time I’ll have to try rolling a pickled watermelon rind in a Wild Bill’s Bacon Jerky slice.
     One more note—tomorrow I’ll be guest blogging on Musa Publishing’s blog with a post about some humorous and bizarre 2013 Writer’s Guidelines.  The address is:

Saturday, May 4, 2013

NFL Draft Trivia

     With the NFL draft having just occurred last week, and me being an obsessive fan, I thought I’d toss out some draft trivia.  (In a few examples player were picked by or played in the AAFC or AFL, but I’m including them, since the NFL does for Hall of Fame inclusion, etc.)

1)      In the early days of pro football and the NFL, players could sign with whoever they chose.  Not surprisingly, they often picked the teams who offered them the highest salaries.  Philadelphia Eagles co-owner Bert Bell (later NFL Commissioner) proposed a fairer system of a draft in 1935.  By 1936, they instituted his suggestion.  Each team submitted a list of college seniors, and all of these names were put on a draft board list, and teams could pick in reverse order of success (the worst teams from the previous year picked first, and the best teams last, just like today).  After a few years they ditched the submitted list idea, so teams could draft some surprise and obscure players from smaller schools, etc.
2)      The first ever NFL draft pick, Jay Berwanger, a halfback from Chicago University, refused to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles and so his rights were traded to the Chicago Bears.  (This was actually pretty common—only 24 of 81 drafted players that year did sign.)  They also declined to meet his then high demand of $1000 per game.  Rumor had it that he didn’t want to sign, as he wanted to retain his amateur status and compete in the 1936 Olympics in the Decathlon.  However, he didn’t make the Olympic team, and still couldn’t agree on a contract with Bears owner George Halas, and so never played in the NFL.  Incidentally, in a college game versus Michigan, Berwanger reportedly gave future U.S. President Gerald Ford a distinctive facial scar.  He also was the first Heisman Trophy winner, although it was then called the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy.
3)      Staying with the early days, halfback Byron “Whizzer” White was the first pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates (later Steelers) in 1938, and was given the then huge salary of $15,000 a year (the other owners were pissed at Art Rooney for paying White so much!).  He proved to be worth it, however, as he led the NFL in rushing in his rookie year.  He repeated this feat with the Detroit Lions in 1940.  He’s most famous, though, as being a Supreme Court Justice from 1962-93.
4)      In 1972 the Atlanta Falcons wanted to add some levity with the 17th round pick, and chose John Wayne from “Ft. Apache State” (fans will recognize this school as being in the Fictitious West Conference).  Commissioner Pete Rozelle didn’t find this humorous, though, and disallowed the pick.  Actually, before he injured himself bodysurfing, Wayne (nee Marion Morrison) did play football at USC, although in 1972 he was in his sixties.
5)      The title of Worst Overall #1 Pick Ever is, of course, a matter of opinion.  Here’s a list of some good candidates, though, in chronological order.  I invite you to look up their statistics and see why I chose them.
A.     Frank Dancewicz, QB, first pick in 1946 by the Boston Yanks.
B.     Bobby Garrett, QB, 1954, by the Cleveland Browns.  A tragic story, he evidently had all the physical skills, but his severe stutter prevented him from calling the signals in time, so he was cut and his overall  NFL career was only nine games.  Too bad the guy from “The King’s Speech” or someone like him wasn’t available.
C.     King Hill, QB, 1958, by the Chicago Cardinals.
D.     Randy Duncan, QB, 1959, by the Green Bay Packers.
E.      Terry Baker, QB, 1963, by the Los Angeles Rams.
F.      Walt Patulski, DE, 1972, by the Buffalo Bills.
G.     Kenneth Sims, LB, 1982, by the New England Patriots.
H.     Aundray Bruce, LB, 1988, by the Atlanta Falcons.
I.        David Carr, QB, 2002, by the Houston Texans.
J.       JaMarcus Russell, QB, 2007, by the Oakland Raiders.
6)      Since 1977 the NFL has an annual Supplemental Draft for players who didn’t file the proper papers on time, or had disciplinary problems, etc.  A bigger one was held in 1984 for former USFL/CFL players.  Four of these men made the Hall of Fame.
            A. Cris Carter, WR, 1987, by the Philadelphia Eagles (he signed with an agent
                       too soon).
                  B. Steve Young, QB, 1984, by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (USFL player).
                  C. Gary Zimmerman, T, 1984, by the Minnesota Vikings (USFL player).
                  D. Reggie White, DE, 1984, by the Philadelphia Eagles (USFL player).
      7)  Three men have been chosen in three different sports drafts.  There's Mickey McCarty, who played one forgettable season as a tight end with the Kansas City Chiefs while being drafted by the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, and the other pro basketball league, the ABA.  Then there's Dave Logan, (NFL, MLB, and the NBA) who had a decent nine year career as a wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns.  Finally, there’s Dave Winfield, who like McCarty was drafted by the ABA, NBA, MLB, and the NFL, and had a Hall of Fame career as an outfielder with the San Diego Padres, New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, California Angels, Minnesota Twins, and Cleveland Indians.
     8) ESPN has been airing the NFL draft live since 1980.  Allegedly when they first asked Commissioner Pete Rozelle if they could do this, he responded with, “Why would you want to do that?”  I’m sure his doubts about the idea were pretty short-lived.
    9) On at least two occasions, teams haven’t gotten in their pick on time, meaning the next team can jump ahead and potentially steal their choice (they don’t lose the pick overall, just have to wait if other teams can go).  The 2003 Minnesota Vikings let two teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Carolina Panthers go before them.  Then in 2011, the Baltimore Ravens took too long negotiating a trade, and the Kansas City Chiefs beat them to it.
   10) In 1976 Paul Salata, an ex-NFL wide receiver, started the Irrelevant Week, when the last player chosen in the draft is dubbed “Mr. Irrelevant,” and feted at a golf tournament, regatta, and a roast in Newport Beach, California, and given a Heisman Trophy satire of a guy fumbling the ball.  Some of these men have gone on to productive careers, however.  Marty Moore (1994) was mostly a special teams player for the New England Patriots, and the first Mr. Irrelevant to play in a Super Bowl (31).  Jim Finn (1999) was a starting fullback for the New York Giants.  David Vobora (2008) was a starting linebacker for the St. Louis Rams.  The unfortunately-named Ryan Succop (2009) is the current Kansas City Chiefs kicker.  Fullback/tight end Jacque MacKinnon (1961) was an AFL all star in 1966 and 1968 for the San Diego Chargers.  Finally, Jimmy Walker had the weird experience of being the first overall pick in the 1967 NBA Draft (Detroit Pistons), and Mr. Irrelevant in the NFL in the same year (New Orleans Saints).  He had a good career in nine NBA seasons, and is the father of ex-NBAer Jalen Rose.  Finally, after the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers waged a bizarre battle to chose Mr. Irrelevant in the 1979 draft (the Rams, and then the Steelers kept passing on the pick, wanting to be last) Pete Rozelle instituted the “Salata Rule” and now the last team to pick in order gets it no matter what the previous teams do.
   11) Here’s some examples where the scouts and general managers, etc., got it wrong.  The following are NFL Hall of Famers who weren’t drafted.  (This obviously doesn’t include players who joined the league before 1936, or who were chosen for the Hall as coaches, league officials, etc.)
  A. Willie Brown, CB, undrafted in 1963, played with the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders.
 B. Jack Butler, CB, undrafted in 1950, played with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
 C. Frank Gatski, C/LB, rookie year in 1946, played with the Cleveland Browns.
 D. Lou Groza, K/OT, rookie year in 1946, played with the Cleveland Browns.
 E. Dick “Night Train” Lane, CB, rookie year in 1952, played with the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Cardinals, and Detroit Lions.  Not only was Lane undrafted, he only played one year of junior college, and made the team as a walk on.  His season record of 14 interceptions (in only 12 games, set in his rookie season!) still stands.
 F. Jim Langer, C/OG, undrafted in 1970, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings.
 G. Dante Lavelli, E, rookie year in 1946, played with the Cleveland Browns.
 H. Larry Little, undrafted in 1967, San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins.
 I. Warren Moon, QB, undrafted in 1978, played with Houston Oilers, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, and Kansas City Chiefs.  Probably would have been drafted if not for racist views about black quarterbacks.
 J. Jim Otto, C, undrafted in 1960, Oakland Raiders.
 K. Joe Perry, FB, rookie year in 1948, played with the San Francisco 49ers.  Also an apparent victim of racial views.
 L. John Randle, DT, not drafted in 1990, played with the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks.
 M. Jan Stenerud, K, rookie year in 1967, played with the Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings.
 N. Emmitt Thomas, CB, not drafted in 1966, Kansas City Chiefs.
 O. Emlen Tunnell, DB, rookie year in 1948, played with the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers.  Same situation as Moon and Perry.
 P. Bill Willis, G, rookie year in 1946, played with the Cleveland Browns.  Presumed racial issues once again.
 Q. Willie Wood, S, undrafted in 1960, played with the Green Bay Packers.
    12) Finally, here’s some examples of times when the scouts, general manager, etc., got the picks right.  The following are all overall #1 picks of their draft who are Hall of Famers.
  A. Troy Aikman, QB, first pick of 1989 draft, played with the Dallas Cowboys.
  B. Chuck Bednarik, C/LB, 1949, played with the Philadelphia Eagles.
  C. Terry Bradshaw, QB, 1970, played with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  D. Earl Campbell, RB, 1978, played with the Houston Oiler and New Orleans Saints.
  E. Bill Dudley, HB/DB/P/K, 1942, played with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Lions, and Washington Redskins.
  F. John Elway, QB, 1983, picked and traded by the Baltimore Colts, played with the Denver Broncos.
  G. Paul Hornung, HB/S/K, 1957, played with the Green Bay Packers.
  H. Lee Roy Selmon, DE, 1976, played with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
  I.  O.J. Simpson, RB, 1969, played with the Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers.
  J.  Bruce Smith, DE, 1985, played with the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins.
  K. Charley Trippi, HB/QB, 1945, played with the Chicago Cardinals.
  L.  Ron Yary, T, 1968, played with the Minnesota Vikings.  Also first offensive lineman chosen #1 overall.