Saturday, September 28, 2013

Anthology News

     I'm happy to announce that one of my short stories, "Responsibility" has been selected for an anthology.  As you can see from the cover printed above, the anthology is called, "Undead Living" and it's being published by Sunbury Press.  It will be available around Halloween of this year, or mid to late October.  The link is:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Guest Post

     Tomorrow, September 25th, I'll be guest posting on Karen Kennedy Samoranos' blog.  It's an interview of me, and Karen is a fellow author.  Her blog is "Unfiltered Speech in a Politically-Correct World."  Address is:   So I encourage readers to stop by.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Lingonberries

     I just finished up a stint in Iowa, which has a population with significant Scandinavian ancestry, so here's one more of their delicacies--lingonberries.  These berries, which come from low shrubs, thrive in cold environments.  In addition to Scandinavia, they're avidly consumed in Canada, Poland, and Russia, and have been recently introduced to the Pacific Northwest.  However, the jar I tried was Swedish-made, and due to the popular, worldwide Swedish store, IKEA (which sells lingonberry products), probably many folks associate this food mainly with this country.
     It's not uncommon for foods to go by several names, but lingonberries take this to extremes.  Just staying with the English versions, alternate titles are redberries, mountain cranberries, mountain bilberries, and red whortleberries.  Then we move to animal names--foxberries, beaverberries, bearberries, quailberries, cougarberries, and partridgeberries.  Why folks didn't keep going, and identify them as muskoxenberries, mooseberries, yetiberries, etc., I'll never know.
     Lingonberries are eaten in various ways--raw off the bush, in jams, cooked and paired with meats (elk and reindeer are two popular choices), with potato pancakes, or as dessert items.  They're also sometimes made into a type of soft drink in the simplest way possible, by putting the whole berries into bottles of water, leaving them for a while, and then enjoying the result, which is called vattlingon.  They're also occasionally used to flavor vodka.
     Healthwise they're an excellent option.  The berries are high in Vitamins C, A, and several of the B's.  They're also rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.  Folk medicines claim several uses for them as well, including as a treatment against urinary tract infections.
     I had lingonberries as a jam.  I tried a spoonful or two plain, and then on bread.  I came away impressed.  It's tart, but not overly so.  They're very reminiscent of their close relative, cranberries.  Family members who sampled some also were very enthusiastic.  So once again--it's a winner.  Unless you dislike berries, or tart-ish flavors, get 'em if you can.  To paraphrase/mutilate a famous bit of poetry, "A lingonberry by any other name would taste as delicious."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Sharks

     This post topic gives me another excuse to revisit some history from my home state.  Much of this information I got from Richard G. Fernicola's 2001 book, "Twelve Days of Terror," which I highly recommend, as it's both interesting and readable.
     Sharks are mysterious creatures.  Even today, many aspects of their lives are unknown to us.  This was even worse back in the early 1900's.  At that time, scientists thought that sharks wouldn't attack a living person, at least in temperate (non-tropical) waters.  American Museum Director, and respected shark researcher Dr. Frederic Lucas opined in April, 1916 that even a 30 foot shark couldn't even directly bite off a human bone in one take, and asserted that a shark "is not particularly strong in the jaws."
     A few months later these statements made the scientists look ridiculously and tragically incorrect. On July 1st in Beach Haven, NJ Charles Vansant was attacked by a shark while swimming in the ocean, and died from his wounds.  Then, just five days later in Spring Lake, NJ, another man, Charles Bruder, had the same thing happen to him.  Predictably, panic ensued amongst the summer vacationers, and across the country in general.  But it wasn't over.  On July 12th, while swimming in Matawan Creek, a brackish tidal river well up from the ocean, preteen Lester Stillwell was brutally killed by a shark.  When adult Stanley Fisher was trying to recover the boy's body he was then set upon by the animal, and like the men before him he later succumbed to his wounds.  Then, shortly afterwards young Joseph Dunn, who was swimming slightly down Matawan Creek, was also attacked.  His friends literally pulled him for the shark's jaws, and although his injuries were serious, he did survive.
     In the aftermath, many sharks were killed, and various theories abounded.  Various possible culprits were put forward.  The arguments continue into the present day.  Historically, three types of sharks are the most likely to attack humans in shallow waters--the great white, tiger, and bull shark.  Many think that the Jersey Maneater was a bull shark, since this species has the very rare ability to live in fresh or salty water, meaning it would have had no problem swimming up the Matawan Creek, especially.  However, author Fernicola, and some others think that a great white was responsible as among other things a 7.5 foot great white was killed two days later, and human flesh and bones were found in its stomach.  In those pre- modern forensic days, there wasn't even a clear consensus on which particular bones were recovered.  And nowadays DNA testing could have solved the mystery pretty quickly, of course.
     The great novel "Jaws" by Peter Benchley, and the awesome Spielberg movie based on it, were largely inspired by the Jersey events.  The scientific, and fun TV show "Mythbusters" explored some of the events in the film, and came back with a mixed bag of results.  A sufficiently large shark could possibly pierce a boat, and break a shark cage, they found.  However, while a large shark could temporarily submerge multiple barrels, it couldn't keep them down, nor could it tow a boat the size of the "Orca."  Most notably, a scuba tank struck by a bullet doesn't really explode, so poor Sheriff Brody would have been screwed.  (None of these revelations affect my enjoyment of the movie, though--but I do find them interesting.)
     The "Jaws" series declined fairly quickly, however.  I consider "Jaws 2" to be decent, but "Jaws 3" and "Jaws 4 : The Revenge" were atrocious.   (Spoilers, if anyone cares) "Jaws the Revenge" took a throwaway funny line from the 2nd one, "Sharks don't take things personally, Mr. Brody," and created a movie around this.  A shark has declared a vendetta against the Brody family, and follows Sheriff Brody's widow, Ellen, from the New England area all the way down to the Bahamas.  To add to the absurdity, Ellen seems to have a psychic link with the killer animal!  Later, before it expires, the shark is heard to roar like a lion (which of course they can't do)!  I do enjoy actor Michael Caine's quote about "Jaws the Revenge" though--"I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible.  However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific!"
     But let's get to the shark I ate, finally.  While vacationing in England as a boy, I (of course) had some fish and chips, one of their staples.  It's simple fare--breaded and fried fish, with fried potatoes ("chips" to the English, "French fries" or just "fries" to Americans), but it's usually effective.  While other fish species are sometimes used , such as cod, the English also commonly use a type of shark, which they call "Huss."  This is a small (2.5 to 5 foot) shark that's also known as the spurdog, mud shark, or spiny dogfish.  Their spines are rather nasty, too--they contain a venom that is mildly toxic to humans.  Anyway, it was long ago, but I remember liking shark, preferring it to the regular cod.  Since I wasn't as experimental about trying exotic foods as a kid, this is somewhat surprising.  I wonder if my folks told me it was shark before or after I ate and enjoyed it, even.  I would certainly recommend it on taste, but alas, the mud shark has been overfished, and of late its population is threatened.  Hopefully, it will rebound, and more can enjoy it without devastating effect.
     To recap then, shark itself, "Jaws," (book and movie), "Jaws 2" and "Twelve Days of Terror" are all good to great.  "Jaws 3" isn't worth your time, even though it was in 3-D.  "Jaws 4:  The Revenge" was watchable only in an ironic, "so bad it's good," sort of way.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Banana Ale

     A  couple of weeks ago I was walking through the beer/wine/liquor section of the local grocery, Hy Vee, when I did a double take.  There on the shelf was a large, Pepto Bismol pink bottle.  I chuckled to myself, remembering a scene from about a year ago.  Readers may recall that I essentially tore Rogue's Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon beer a new one in my blog post (which I stand by--it was awful).  Looking a little closer, though, I realized I was mistaken.  This was in fact a different beer, albeit a close relative.  Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Banana Ale, to be exact.  Aside from the identical color of the bottle, the cartoon Voodoo character was still represented, too.
     This go round I did a little checking, and learned a bit about this offering.  Voodoo Doughnut is actually a doughnut shop, an Oregon-based company with a couple stores in that state.  Rogue brewing is also based in Oregon, so the two establishments teamed up.  The Voodoo store is, to say the least, not your typical doughnut place.  They experiment with a lot of unusual flavors, for one.  Customers can get doughnuts which have cereal, like Fruit Loops and Captain Crunch, embedded in them, as well as maple bacon, and chocolate/peanut butter/banana doughnuts (which the beers are approximating, of course).  The store is also quite, shall we say, adult-themed.  Their Diablo Rex doughnut is a chocolate doughnut with a vanilla pentagram drawn on it.  The Maple Blaze doughnut is made to look like a marijuana blunt, complete with red sprinkles on the end to represent burning embers.  And finally, they sell a doughnut that is deliberately shaped like genitalia.  They have a challenge for competitive eaters, too--if you can finish a Tex-Ass doughnut (which is six doughnuts fused into one giant one) within eighty seconds it's free.  Their food warning states, "products may contain eggs,..... and voodoo magic."  To sum up, then, it sounds like a fun store.  Alas, since they're only situated in Oregon, I don't know when I'll get to try them, if ever.  "The Magic is in the hole," as their slogan says.  For those looking to be amused, or offended, depending on your point of view, their website address is:
     Anyway, back to the beer.  Unlike the previous sampling, this time I didn't go door to door at my hotel, foisting the unusual beer on the rest of my crew (some folks are still a little angry with me for the Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon debacle).  Only myself and two friends (Hi Mike and Justin) partook.  And I was pleasantly surprised.  Chocolate dominated--the odor and color were chocolate-y, as was the overall flavor.  I detected the barest hint of another taste (presumably the peanut butter and/or banana) at the end of each sip, but only a hint.  The only other chocolate-flavored beers I've seen and had were always stouts, and since I don't enjoy the stout style I never liked these.  But this was different.  As the name suggested, it was an ale, so basically it was a chocolate ale.  I easily finished at least half the bottle, so no drain pouring or suffering again.  I wouldn't go so far as to call the beer great, but it was definitely solid, and decent.  So Rogue should be proud--after a horrendous start with the Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon beer, they recovered nicely with their second try.  I plan to have it again, although probably not that often, as its price ($12 for a twenty-five ounce bottle) was admittedly steep.  And if you live in the Oregon area, it sounds like Voodoo Doughnuts might be worth a shot, too--at the minimum it'll be a new doughnut experience.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Finnish Squeaky Cheese

     Today we head back to Scandinavia, specifically Finland.  Readers may recall that I did a post last summer about a Finnish beer variant (sahti, which unfortunately I wasn't a fan of) as well as one about the Norwegian Gjetost, a truly unique type of cheese.  I found Finnish Squeaky Cheese in Iowa, by way of Wisconsin, two states with significant populations of folks with Scandinavian heritage.
     The topic of today's post goes by many names.  It's called "Juusto," "Leipajuusto" (they're not on my keyboard, but there should be umlauts over the "a"), "Juustoleipa," "Ostbrod," "baked cheese," and "bread cheese."  I opted for titling this post Finnish Squeaky Cheese because I thought this was by far the most entertaining name.
     Juusto is traditionally made from a different type of cow's milk, colostrum.  Colostrum (also called "first milk" and, oddly, "beestings") is the milk produced by a cow that's just calved.  It has a lower fat content and higher protein content than later, regular milk, and most notably contains crucial antibodies that a calf needs for its burgeoning immune system.  Juusto is also made from reindeer and goat milk.  Some people believe that the antibodies in colostrum may be beneficial for athletic training.  Also, research is being done with colostrum as a possible weapon against antibiotic resistant pathogens.
     As one of its names suggests, after being made Juusto is then baked or grilled, which gives the cheese its distinctive brownish charred markings.  It's eaten in a variety of ways--in salads, plain, and sometimes in a cup with coffee poured over it.  But the most common way seems to be heated up, then combined with cloudberry jam or jelly.  I'd never heard of cloudberries, and I've never seen them for sale, but a website suggested blackberries or raspberries as an acceptable substitute.  As per directions I heated mine for twenty seconds in a microwave, which was long enough to make the cheese warm and soft, but not enough to actually melt it.  I then had some slices plain, and some with blackberries on top.  It should come as no surprise to readers who have heard me go on and on about how much I adore cheese to learn that I really liked it.  It has a mild flavor, and the baking gives it a nice, firm-ish rind.  Juusto was fine plain, but eating it with the tart blackberries was a nice combination, too.  Really, my only (minor) complaint is that the cheese doesn't squeak on its own--you do have to bite into it to get that effect.  So congrats is due to the Finns for coming up with an innovative take on what to me is the very best food in existence.