Thursday, January 30, 2014

Unlikely Super Bowl Heroes

     The Super Bowl is once again almost upon us, so today I’d like to discuss some of its unexpected stars.  Clearly, when players like Bart Starr, Larry Csonka, Joe Montana, Richard Dent, or Emmitt Smith have great Super Bowls, no one is really that surprised—they were all Hall of Fame players, and they played up to their superior abilities.  The players I’ll talk about were not Hall of Famers—in fact, for some of them, characterizing them as “mediocre” would be over complimentary.  But each had at least one big moment on football’s greatest stage.  (Also, if you’re jonesing for Super Bowl trivia, consult my January 29th, 2013 post.)  And as before, I’ll sometimes abbreviate “Super Bowl” as “SB,” and instead of typing out the Roman numerals I’ll just use regular numbers.

1)      Jim O’Brien.  Placekicker/wide receiver for the Baltimore Colts and Detroit Lions.  There’s no kind way to say this—O’Brien was a pretty lousy kicker.  In his four year career he made 109 of 112 extra points, and 60 of 108 field goal attempts (or 55.6%), which even by the much lower standards of the early 1970’s was terrible.  He did okay as a spot starter at wide receiver (14 receptions for 305 yards, 21.8 average, 2 touchdowns), but not well enough to stay in the NFL.  Even in the Super Bowl he played in, SB 5 (after the 1970 season), he didn’t play that well—he had an extra point attempt blocked, and missed another field goal.  But, to give him credit, he made the 32 yard field goal to beat the Dallas Cowboys in the waning seconds of the game, 16-13.  And, he was a rookie, so the pressure must have been even more intense on him.
2)      Clarence Davis.  Running back for the Oakland Raiders.  During Davis’s eight year career he was a spot starter (31 of 88 games) who got a fair amount of carries.  In the 1976 season Davis was the backup to 1000 yard rusher Mark van Eeghen.  However, in Super Bowl 11 Davis played great—16 attempts for 137 yards (8.6 average), helping the Raiders to a beat down of the Minnesota Vikings by a score of 32-14.  His career stats are decent, but unremarkable.  804 rushing attempts for 3640 yards (4.5 average) and 26 touchdowns, and 99 catches for 865 yards (8.7 average) and 2 touchdowns.  He did have one other glamorous moment—in the 1974 playoff game against the defending champion Miami Dolphins he caught the “Sea of Hands” touchdown pass in the final moments to win 28-26.  Not bad for a guy derisively nicknamed “Hands of Wood” for his poor receiving skills previous to that.
3)      Rod Martin.  Linebacker for the Oakland Raiders.  Martin was a solid, sometimes great linebacker for his twelve year career, as he started 147 of his 165 games, and went to 2 Pro Bowls.  In his career he totaled 33.5 sacks, 14 interceptions (of which he returned 4 for touchdowns), and scored another two touchdowns on fumble returns.  However, his best game was in Super Bowl 15, against my Philadelphia Eagles.  He intercepted 3 Ron Jaworski passes (for 44 yards).  To date he’s the only player with 3 interceptions in one game, and tied with Larry Brown and Chuck Howley for most Super Bowl interceptions in a career.
4)      Alvin Garrett.  Wide receiver for the New York Giants and Washington Redskins.  Garrett’s career was short (five years, 55 games, 6 starts), and mostly uneventful—career totals of 32 receptions for 412 yards (12.9 average) and 2 touchdowns.  During the Washington Redskins 1982 season (shortened by the strike to only 9 games), he amassed only a single catch, for 6 yards.  However, when starter Art Monk got injured before the playoffs, Garrett stepped in.  In three playoff games (because of the shortened season, there were 8 playoff teams in each conference) he caught 13 balls for 231 yards (17.8 average) and 4 touchdowns.  Then, in Super Bowl 17, versus the Miami Dolphins, he added another 2 catches for 13 yards and a touchdown, and ran a reverse for 44 yards.  But Garrett is unfortunately probably best known for a later scandal the following season, on the Sept. 5, 1983 Monday Night Football telecast when the Redskins were playing the Dallas Cowboys.  Famous (and infamous) announcer Howard Cosell declared about him, “That little monkey gets loose, doesn’t he?”  Cosell maintained that his statement was about Garrett’s small stature (5 foot 7) and not a racist remark (Garrett is black), but the resulting furor paved Cosell’s departure for the broadcast booth.  Interestingly, Jesse Jackson, Muhammad Ali, and Garrett himself supported Cosell, who despite being a controversial, bombastic, and hated-by-many-viewers announcer, was known for being progressive on racial matters (he was one of the few sports reporters who supported Ali during his conversion to Islam and refusal to submit to the military draft, for example).  Bolstering Cosell’s claim was a 1972 preseason NFL broadcast, when he called white and short player Mike Adamle a “little monkey” as well.
5)      Derrick Jensen.  Running back/tight end for the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders.  Jensen was about as obscure as it gets in his eight year NFL career.  In 106 games (22 starts) he managed only 224 rushing attempts, for 780 yards (3.5 average) and 5 touchdowns, and 44 receptions, 384 yards (8.7 average) and 3 touchdowns.  He was mostly a special teamer, and served as the captain of such for much of his tenure.  And it was in this capacity that he got his brief moment of fame, in Super Bowl 18 against the Redskins.  He blocked Jeff Hayes’s punt and fell on it in the end zone for the game’s first touchdown.  (I bet few people won the prop bet that year for the player who scores the game’s first touchdown.)
6)      Jack Squirek.  Linebacker for the Raiders and the Miami Dolphins.  Staying with Super Bowl 18, we have Squirek.  If anything, he was less known than even his teammate Jensen—he had a brief five year career, in which he started only 8 of 55 games.  In these he accumulated 3 sacks and 1 interception (for 3 yards).  His one moment was pretty big, though.  With only 12 seconds left in the first half, with the ball on their own 12 yard line, and down 14-3, the Washington Redskins (rather foolishly) decided to throw a short screen pass to running back Joe Washington, as a similar play had worked very well in their regular season win against the Raiders.  Squirek stepped in front, intercepted the ball at the 5 yard line, and easily ran it in for a touchdown, wreaking havoc on both the scoreboard and the Redskin’s morale, and helping the Raiders to a 38-9 blowout final.  Squirek was on the cover of the next “Sports Illustrated,” and then……..that was essentially it for his fame.
7)      Phil McConkey.  Kick and punt returner/wide receiver for the New York Giants, San Diego Chargers, and St. Louis Cardinals.  McConkey’s career got a late start (age 27), as he was completing his navy obligations.  His six year receiving totals were marginal—84 games, 0 starts, with 67 catches for 1113 yards (16.6 average) and 2 touchdowns, as he was mainly a (mediocre at best) punt and kick returner.  But in Super Bowl 21, he had 2 big catches.  The first was a 44 yarder off of a flea-flicker, which he took down to the Bronco’s 1 yard line.  Then, later in the game, a pass bounced off of Giants tight end Mark Bavaro, and McConkey was there to nab it for a 6 yard touchdown.
8)      Timmy Smith.  Running back for the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys.  Smith’s rookie year in 1987 was mostly uneventful—29 carries for 126 yards (4.3 average) and 0 touchdowns, and 1 catch for -2 yards.  (Because of another labor situation, most players only played 12 games that year, as 3 were played by replacements and union picket-line crossers, and 1 was cancelled.)  However, coach Joe Gibbs liked him enough to give him the bulk of the carries in the two playoff games, and then surprise started him in Super Bowl 22 against the Denver Broncos.  Smith simply had the best day any running back ever had there—22 carries, 204 yards (9.3 yard average), 2 touchdowns, and 1 catch for 9 yards.  The 204 yards in a game has never been beaten, or even seriously threatened since.  Alas, the fame evidently went to Smith’s head, as he reported for the ’88 season out of shape, and was out of the league shortly thereafter.  His three year career totals were bad—22 games, 9 starts, 190 rushing attempts, 602 yards (3.2 average), and 3 touchdowns, with 9 catches for 51 yards (5.7 average) and 0 touchdowns.  His post NFL life was negative, too, as he served nearly two years in federal prison for cocaine dealing in 2006-8.
9)      Larry Brown.  Cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders.  Brown was a 12th round draft pick who nonetheless started 75 out of 95 games, in an eight year career.  Included in these were 3 starts in Super Bowls, numbers 27, 28 and 30.  Shockingly, mediocre cornerback Brown was SB 30’s MVP, as he intercepted 2 passes for 77 yards, setting up key touchdowns for Dallas.  If you haven’t seen these before, I urge you to check them out on YouTube or wherever.  You’ll be hard pressed to find interceptions that were easier, that looked like Steeler quarterback Neil O’Donnell was intentionally throwing right to Brown.  (O’Donnell claimed the first one slipped out of his hand, and he blamed the second on wide receiver Corey Holliday running the wrong route.)  Anyway, after the hoopla died down, Brown used his new fame to get a huge free agent contract with the Raiders.  Where he flopped miserably—if you look up “Worst Free Agent Signings in the NFL,” his name will surely be high on any list.
10)  Mike Jones.  Linebacker for the Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams, and Pittsburgh Steelers.  Jones had a long (thirteen years) but pretty average career, as he started 99 of 183 games, and had 9 sacks, 8 interceptions for 132 yards and 2 touchdowns, and recovered 2 fumbles for touchdowns as well.  However, his tackle of Tennessee Titan wide receiver Kevin Dyson on the Ram 1 yard line on the game’s last play saved Super Bowl 34 for the Rams, as a Dyson touchdown (and the presumptive extra point) would have tied the game.
11)  Dwight Smith.  Cornerback/safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions, and Minnesota Vikings.  The well traveled Smith had a steady but unspectacular eight year career, as he started 83 of 117 games, and accumulated 2 sacks, and 22 interceptions for 301 yards, and 1 touchdown.  In Super Bowl 37, though, he did something that no other player ever did—he returned 2 interceptions (for 94 yards) for touchdowns.  Amazingly, Raider quarterback Rick Gannon threw a third Pick Six interception in that game, to Derrick Brooks, to round out his record 5 interceptions.
12)  Dexter Jackson.  Safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, and Cincinnati Bengals.  For all his efforts, Dwight Smith wasn’t the MVP of Super Bowl 37.  Instead his secondary teammate Dexter Jackson was, as he picked off Gannon twice as well, for 34 yards.  Jackson’s career was rather like Smith’s overall—ten years, 86 starts out of 118 games, with 5 sacks, and 17 interceptions for 339 yards, and no touchdowns, and no Pro Bowl selections.
13)  Mike Vrabel.  Linebacker/tight end for the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, and Kansas City Chiefs.  Vrabel had a good career with 3 teams—fourteen years total, with 140 starts out of 206 games.  He got 57 sacks, and 11 interceptions, for 73 yards and a touchdown.  He also was named to a Pro Bowl.  What made him unusual was that he also occasionally served as a tight end on the goal line, as he caught 10 passes for 14 yards, and 10 touchdowns, in his regular season career.  In Super Bowls 38 and 39 he contributed using both his skills.  In SB 38, against the Carolina Panthers, he got 2 sacks and caught a 1 yard touchdown pass.  In SB 39, against the Philadelphia Eagles, he got another sack, and caught a 2 yard touchdown pass.  Thus he joined William “The Refridgerator” Perry as the only defensive players to score offensive touchdowns in a SB.
14)  Dominic Rhodes.  Running back for the Indianapolis Colts and Oakland Raiders.  Rhodes was a spot starter for much of his eight year NFL career, starting 33 of 99 total games.  He did set the rookie rushing record for an undrafted player (1104 yards), but the rest of his career was typical for a mostly reserve running back, with totals of 814 rushes, 3286 yards (4.0 average) and 26 touchdowns, and 147 receptions for 1025 yards (7.0 average) and 4 more touchdowns.  He was at his best in the rainy Super Bowl 41 against the Chicago Bears—21 carries, 113 yards (5.4 average) and a touchdown.  Alas, repeated drug test failures effectively ended his NFL career.  I read he’s one of 4 players that both won an NFL title and a UFL title (that’s the other, lesser pro league, the United Football League).  Which is one of the most depressing feats I’ve ever learned, at least in that order.
15)  David Tyree.  Wide receiver for the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens.  Tyree was kind of Phil McConkey redux for the Giants, as he started only 5 of 83 games in a six year career.  His receiving totals were 54 receptions, for 650 yards (12.0 average) and 4 touchdowns.  He did make a Pro Bowl, but as a special teamer.  In 2007 he caught 4 passes for 35 yards (8.8 average) and no touchdowns.  So he shocked the Super Bowl viewers by having the game of his life in SB 42, versus the previously unbeaten New England Patriots.  He caught 3 passes for 43 yards, which included a touchdown and the famous miracle, against-the-helmet catch to continue the Giant’s final, game winning touchdown drive.
16)  Jacoby Jones.  Punt and kick returner/reserve wide receiver for the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens.  Unlike the others mentioned in this list, Jones is still active.  To date he’s started 33 of 103 games in a seven year career.  He’s most known for being an excellent punt and kickoff returner, as he’s scored an incredible 4 touchdowns on punt returns, and 4 more on kickoff returns.  His one Pro Bowl was as such a returner.  He’s also a reserve wide receiver, totaling 194 receptions for 2602 yards (13.4 average) and 14 touchdowns.  The playoffs seem to bring out the best in him, as he caught the “Mile High Miracle” 70 yard bomb from Joe Flacco with 31 seconds left to tie the Raven’s divisional playoff game against the Denver Broncos (and the Ravens won the game in overtime).  Then, in Super Bowl 47, versus the San Francisco 49ers, both of his skills were on display.  First he caught a 56 yard touchdown pass from Flacco shortly before halftime.  Then he opened up the second half by returning the kickoff 108 yards for another touchdown.  And yes, he’s the only guy to score a return touchdown and a receiving touchdown in the same SB, and his return was the longest scoring play in SB history.  Flacco was a reasonable choice for MVP for SB 47, but Jones wouldn’t have been a bad pick either (or wide receiver Anquan Boldin).

     So there you have it.  Sometimes the heroes aren’t the starting quarterback, or the star running back or wide receiver, or the feared Pro Bowl pass rusher or defensive back.  Will it continue this year?  Will Bronco reserve tight end Joel Dreesen, or Seahawk defensive end/linebacker Bruce Irvin make huge contributions?  We’ll just have to watch.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Beef Heart

     As some readers may have noticed, I'm rapidly running low on organs to write about.  I've already done brains, ears, tongue, gizzards, liver, stomach, intestines, feet, hocks, and kidneys, as well as dishes which contain a mix of exotic cuts/organs, like scrapple, haggis, head cheese, and potted meat.  Fortunately, my local supermarket (Shop Rite), came through for me again, with beef heart.  Technically I've probably already had heart, in haggis, or perhaps some hot dogs, sausages, potted meat, etc., but obviously in these examples the organ was combined with other organs or meat, so I wasn't able to fairly judge the seperate heart tissue itself.
     Heart consumption has a fairly rich tradition in folklore.  To start with, in general terms, the heart was often seen as being the location of an individual's courage and bravery, and so the thinking was if you ate a vanquished enemy's heart, you stole and absorbed theirs.  The Aztecs, among others, believed this.  Others credited the heart (and not the more logical brains) with containing wisdom.  So Pliny, for example, wrote that if a person ate a still beating mole's heart, they would gain the power of divination. Some Hebrew myths were amazingly contradictory--one held that eating hearts gave the consumer wisdom, while others claimed that doing so would cause one to forget things that they already knew.  In some versions of the Snow White story, the evil queen tells the huntsman to bring back Snow White's heart, both as proof that she's dead, and perhaps to gain her beauty by eating it.  (This, of course, backfires, as the huntsman doesn't want to murder an innocent girl, so he lets her go and gives the queen a boar's heart (or lungs and liver in some versions) instead.  So I guess the lesson here is that if you're an amoral, insanely jealous and vain royal woman, get off your ass and kill your potential rivals yourself, to make sure.)  Finally, there's the Danish myth about valravne (also valravn).  One version of this story was that ravens that ate the bodies of slain kings or cheiftains became embued with supernatural powers.  The one(s) that ate the heart made out even better, as they gained human knowledge, and the ability to lead people astray.  These valravne were usually evil, and were sometimes portrayed as being half wolf/half raven.  Which, I think, is a pretty cool monster.
    Anyway, back to the actual beef heart.  Alas, the meat I bought was not already prepared, so I had to actually cook once more (the first, and most likely the only time I'll do so in 2014).  One popular recipe I read was for stuffed beef heart with bread crumbs, like a mini Thanksgiving turkey, I guess.  However, the grocery butcher had already cut up the heart I bought, and quite frankly, that sounded too ambitious for my laughably primitive cooking abililies, as well.  Otherwise, the recipes seemed to be to bread the heart and fry it quickly, or slow cook it for hours.  I opted for the latter.
     First off, I cut the heart into small, bite sized pieces.  Depending on the butcher/store, you might have to remove fat and/or vessels yourself--those on mine were done previously.  Then I put these in a pot  with water and added salt, pepper, marjorum, peppercorns, and onion powder.  I brought this to a boil, and then turned the heat down to low, and simmered it for three hours, stirring occasionally.  Near the end I threw in some mushrooms.  The result was okay, but not dazzling.  The heart itself was a bit chewy, and rather bland.  Worchestershire sauce definitely improved the flavor.  It didn't taste  that organ-y.  On the plus side, and in marked contrast to several of my recent posts, it was incredibly cheap--I got the close to two pounds of heart for $1.02!  I probably won't make it again, given my disdain for cooking, but if I saw it on a restaurant menu, I might give it a try.  Also, unlike some other organs, I didn't hear any accounts of foul smells while cooking, and mine certainly didn't have a negative odor.  Oh, and almost forgot, I've had chicken and turkey hearts many times in giblet gravy, and I recall liking them.
     As for other effects, I haven't noticed any as of yet.  I don't feel any more courageous, or any wiser, or, contrastingly, any more forgetful or stupid.  And no new supernatural knowledge of future events, either, which is a shame, with the Super Bowl coming up soon.  (On that note, I'm very amused to see that this year, in addition to taking more traditional wagers on the game's point spread, the first player to score a touchdown, the MVP, etc., some sports books are also taking bets on the (outdoor, northern New Jersey) game's temperature (I recall the spread I saw was an over/under of 32 degrees F. at kickoff).
    One final note--cult rock/blues/psychedelia musician Captain Beefheart's real birth name was apparently Don Glen Vliet.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Ackees

     Ackees are a fruit, and are related to lychees (see November 15, 2013 post for more info).  They’re originally native to West Africa.  However, they were introduced to the Caribbean several hundred years ago, and many of these islands, particularly Jamaica, took to them in a huge way.  Ackees are both the national fruit of Jamaica, and (with saltfish) the national dish.  The fruit’s scientific name (Blighia sapida) honors William Bligh, who introduced it to England’s scientific world.  And yes, this is the same Captain Bligh famous (or infamous, depending on whether you sympathize with the Captain or much of his crew) for the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789.
     Once again, I have the superlative Wegman’s supermarket to thank for this one, from their extensive foreign foods section.  I was about to chow down as usual, when I happened to do a little research on this exotic fruit.  And that’s when I found out that eating ackees is not without its risks.  If the fruit is eaten before it’s sufficiently mature, or if the seeds or their covering (the arils) are consumed, the diner may develop hypoglycemia or Jamaican Vomiting Sickness.  In extreme cases, especially with children, this can even be fatal.  So, in trying ackees I had one of the Top 10 Most Dangerous Foods, as printed in a list by Time Magazine in 2010.*
     Upon opening the can, I discovered that the ackees resembled scrambled eggs—they were small, yellowish pieces.  As regular readers know, I rarely to never prepare foods, so I didn’t cook up the actual ackee and saltfish dish.  (By the way, as far as I can tell, the salted fish species most commonly used is cod.)  Instead, I opted for a substitute of ackees with (canned) chopped clams and sardines (herring) in a mustard dill sauce.  And I made sure to get pieces of both seafood and fruit in the same bites, as well as trying the ackees just by themselves.  Oddly, the similarity to scrambled eggs didn’t end with the appearance.  Ackees have a mild taste, and aren’t very sweet.  They were okay, but I preferred them with the fish or clams.  Which is kind of weird, when you think about it—meat/fruit pairings aren’t very common.
     Two other things to consider.  Again, rare for a fruit, ackees are high in fat—the nineteen ounce can I tried had 27 grams.  And, it was expensive.  The can I bought was around $14!  It was imported (from GraceKennedy Ltd. in Jamaica), but still, this is pretty steep.  Therefore, to sum it up, I would be willing to try ackees again.  However, given their price it won’t be that often.  Actually, for my next time I think I’d like them to be in the actual saltfish and ackee dish, served in a Jamaican restaurant.

*  I’m sort of hoping most readers won’t notice the asterisk, because then I’ll look more badass.  But, full disclosure, the list I noted is real, but it was determined by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and it refers to the most dangerous foods for children.  Some of the other members of this list were hot dogs (as they’re a common choking hazard), peanuts (because of the sometimes serious allergy), and leafy greens like lettuce, cabbage, and spinach (because they sometimes have e. coli, salmonella, etc.).  In all seriousness, though, ackees can be dangerous, but like with mushrooms, if the person who harvested them knows what they’re doing, they’re fine.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Story Announcement

     I'm happy to announce that a horror short story of mine, "Holes," is now available online courtesy of "The Carnage Conservatory."  Their address is:   One word of warning--my story is pretty nasty and brutal.  And given what I've seen of "The Carnage Conservatory," it fits in well with the other stories they publish.  So hope to see you over there!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Pizza Beer

     When I first saw this beer, I was amazed—I may have even pinched myself to see if I was dreaming.  Then, after I picked it up and checked it carefully, I was struck by how perfect it was.  The label might as well have said, “Fodder for Paul Stansfield’s blog about weird and/or gross consumables.”  Plus, it was a single, reasonably priced (about $2) bottle, meaning I wouldn’t have to choke down a six pack if it was terrible (or an entire case in most of Pennsylvania); it was an ideal sample size.  So all in all, there was no way I was going to leave the store without buying this.
     According to the label, and website, Chef Tom Seefurth of Illinois invented Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer in 2005.  However, evidently the demand has been such that the bottle I bought was made for the Pizza Beer Company by Sprecher Brewing, out of Wisconsin.  And it’s an ale brewed with, literally, oregano, basil, tomato, and garlic.  The Seefurth family isn’t lacking in confidence either, as the beer’s slogan is “Beer so good it deserves…a wine glass!”  (To make an obscure, Dennis Miller-esque type reference to a “Seinfeld” episode, Elaine’s ex-boyfriend Jake Jarmel would be seething at this bottle’s label punctuation.)
     I was nervous giving this one a try.  And this is coming from a guy who willingly drank both the Rogue Voodoo Doughnut beers, both the Maple Bacon and the Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana (see Sept. 10, 2012 post and Sept. 8, 2013 post, respectively, for more information).  Somehow, combining pizza flavors with beer seemed riskier.  Sure, eating pizza with beer to wash it down is common, but together, in the same glass?!
     Well, to end the “drama,” it was actually pretty good.  And unlike some strangely flavored beers, there wasn’t just a hint of the odd taste—it was very discernable.  It had a tomato-y and basil-y odor, and the beer itself definitely tasted pizza-y.  Surprisingly, this worked out okay.  It’s a very bizarre taste, but it’s a good kind of bizarre.  I finished it happily.  It’s not the best beer I’ve ever had, by a long shot, but it’s even further from the hideous abomination I was afraid it would be.  One of my beer clich├ęs, said about various fruit flavored beers, and pumpkin beers, smoke beers, etc., is that I wouldn’t want to drink it all night, but one or two every once in a while is a nice change of pace.  So it is for Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer.  I plan to occasionally grab the odd single bottle of it whenever it catches my eye.  To be fair, “your mileage may vary,” as the saying goes—I looked it up on Beer Advocate, and its average rating was “poor,” so many drinkers will surely disagree with me.
     Next time I may even try it in a wine glass, as its slogan suggests.  I underestimated it before, after all—maybe this will improve the experience.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Zero Calorie Foods

     First off, I’d like to wish everyone a Happy New Year.  Obviously, a common tradition is for folks to make New Years Resolutions.  And, easily one of the most common resolutions is to lose weight.  Alas, I’m no stranger to this wish, including at the present time (too much exotic/disgusting foods and beverages, evidently).  Clearly, there’s a lot of debate on the best ways to lose weight—some people maintain you should focus on cutting out fat, others say carbs, and some people tout diet pills, or so called miracle fat-burning foods, etc., etc., and I don’t have the time, or inclination, to explore this in more depth.  Personally, I’ve found that the best method is to eat less and exercise more.
     But that’s the trick, isn’t it?  Hunger is a powerful urge.  And I think most people would agree that the foods that taste the best are often the ones that are the worst for our waistlines.  The foods I’ll discuss today are quite strange, in that they have no, zero, nada calories.  Which, when you think about it, is pretty amazing.  Plenty of foods (mostly fruits and vegetables) have relatively few calories—but to have none is kind of incredible.  To fill your belly, and help satisfy that appetite, for nothing, seems almost like magic.  By the way, in case you’re wondering, some foods are rumored to have negative calories—that is, the assertion is that the energy expended in chewing up and digesting the food is greater than what the food gives you.  Unfortunately, this is a myth.  Sorry.
     We’ll start with pickles.  Picked cucumbers, of course, are very low in calories.  The type I’m discussing here, Mt. Olive brand Bread and Butter Chips, go this one better.  Mostly because they contain an artificial sweetener, Splenda (a trade name for sucralose).  I’m kind of a pickle aficionado, so I like pretty much all its forms.  Regular sour-ish pickles are nice, flavored with dill is cool, too, and sweet pickles are also a tasty treat.  These Mt. Olive ones aren’t as good as regular sweet pickles, but they’re a decent approximation.  They’re a nice weapon in the dieters’ arsenal—filling yet absent in calories and fat.
     I’ve already gone on quite a bit about my love of sushi in general, and one of its garnishes is on this list, too.  Pickled ginger is an excellent mix of the sour taste of vinegar, mixed with the spicy tang of the ginger itself.  Like with the pickles, I eat this in an unusual way—I consume the entire jar, by itself, usually in one sitting (it’s another of my eating eccentricities).  But be careful—some sushi pickled ginger does have calories (usually not that many, but still).  The brand I like comes from JFC International, Inc., and is called WEL-PAC sushi ginger.  One of the reasons it’s calorie-free is that it contains the sugar substitute aspartame.  Additionally, while there’s no fat or calories, there is a lot of sodium (300 mg. per ounce), so you kind of have to pay the piper in that way.
     The final food products are a collection of sweet dips from Walden Farms.  The dips are intended for fruit, mostly, and come in chocolate, marshmallow, and caramel flavors.  But here’s the weird ingredient.  They contain cellulose, or, in other words, processed wood pulp.  Yes, you read that correctly, processed wood pulp.  And in case you readers are smiling smugly, and thinking to yourselves that eating wood (albeit highly processed wood chunks) is weird, and you’d never do that—well you might have already, too.  Quite a few large companies use cellulose as an additive or thickener.  Aunt Jemima (in their frozen blueberry pancakes), General Mills (in their Log Cabin syrup), Kellogg’s (in some of their waffles), and KFC (in their popcorn chicken), to name just a few examples.  Not surprisingly, a lot of people are put off by this, and also wonder if this is safe.  Thus far the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) hasn’t found any reasons to ban the use of cellulose.  But anyway, I tried all three of the dips.  Remaining consistent, I didn’t really use it as a dip, but dug in with a spoon, like it was pudding.  It’s okay—I finished several of each without problems, and I’ve heard that used as a dip it tastes better.  It does have an odd texture, though, as it’s thinner than a regular pudding, or dip.  It’s okay, but far from great.  The taste is chocolate-y, or caramel-y, or marshmallow-y, but it falls a tad short.  Let’s put it this way—I doubt many non-dieters consume it, and I don’t expect to see it utilized in any fondue pots any time soon.
     All the items I mentioned contain sugar substitutes (the Walden Farms dips also had sucralose), so I read up on these a little.  The most popular current one, sucralose (popular trade name Splenda), is fairly noncontroversial.  It’s sweeter than most other substitutes, and holds up better when cooked.  And no probable health problems have been linked to it that I could find.  Aspartame (trade name NutraSweet) is another story—there are many claims of it being bad for human use.  Although, to date, lab studies haven’t found any proven health problems with it, as long as the appropriate daily intake levels aren’t exceeded.  Then there’s saccharin.  This is one of the oldest sugar substitutes (trade name Sweet N’Low) and had a cigarette-like warning pasted on when I was younger, about how it had been linked to a rise in bladder cancer in rats.  Happily, as of 2000/2001 this warning has been rescinded.  Further studies indicated that rat urine contains certain proteins that react with saccharin to cause the increased chance of bladder tumors.  Since humans don’t have these proteins in theirs, saccharin doesn’t have this negative effect on us (or in any other way).
     The expression “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” (sometimes rendered in the grammatically risky way “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”) sort of relates to most weight loss strategies.  This expression is applied to science (the second law of thermodynamics), economics, and life in general.  I’m familiar with this expression, but I didn’t realize its popularity, or that it’s even abbreviated to TNSTAAFL (or TANSTAAFL).  Apparently it dates from the early 20th century, when taverns would advertise, and give out free food to patrons.  The expression came into play as people had to buy drinks as well, and the food itself was often salty, meaning thirsty customers would then buy more drinks, and the bar would make its money in this sneaky way.
     Well, in these examples, and probably others, the expression is bent a little, but not really broken  Calorie wise, the pickles, ginger, and Walden Farms dips do give you something for nothing.  But, to be blunt, these are side dishes at best, and in the dips’ case, mediocre.  It’s not like you’re eating an awesome meal, with no calorie intake.  For some, they will be a pleasant change of pace, in addition to the moderate meals and added exercise.  Just don’t let the Walden Farms dips confuse you, and cause you to start chewing on your dinner table.