Sunday, June 29, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Giant Water Bugs (and some Thinkgeek info)

     This is the final post I’ll get from the Edible Bugs Gift Pack, which also included the crickets (see February 13, 2014 post), ants (see April 3, 2014 post), and grasshoppers (see May 22, 2014 post).  The bamboo worms and armor tail scorpions will be included in the updates for their posts (see June 11, 2012 post and December 30th, 2012 post, respectively).  And thanks once more to Emily for the link.
     Giant water bugs are pretty fascinating creatures.  For starters, they rival the North American mountain lions in the category of “Most Common Names For One Animal.”  They’re also known as toe-biters, electric light bugs, alligator ticks, and (confusingly, since this is an entirely different species) fleas.  They’re common worldwide, too, as they are native to North and South America, Australia, and Asia.  The “giant” part of their title isn’t a misnomer, either, as they’re huge by bug standards.  The largest ones can get up to nearly 5 inches long (or about 12-13 centimeters).  Giant water bugs are typically ambush predators, as they hide on the bottoms of their watery homes, and surprise attack prey if it gets too close.  The bigger ones even occasionally take out snakes and baby turtles.
     But my favorite attribute is their wonderfully gross and disturbing way of eating.  They inject their prey with their corrosive saliva, which promptly liquefies the victim’s insides.  The water bug then slurps this up.  They have a couple of defensive strategies.  If a potential enemy is larger, they sometimes play dead, and also squirt a nasty fluid out of their butts to discourage further attack or investigation.  If this doesn’t work, they lash out with a potent bite.  Although their bite isn’t venomous, or otherwise dangerous to humans, it is reportedly quite painful.  On a more cuddly note, though, they are at least nice to their children—usually the males carry the eggs around on their backs until the young hatch.
     Since my particular water bug was once again Thai, it was probably of the Lethocerus indicus variety.  There are many ways to prepare them—frying, sautéing, roasting, and often with onions and garlic.  My giant water bug was ground up and included in a chili paste.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to discern separate body parts, etc.  There was a slight crunch at times, but that was about it.  Alas, the chili paste was extremely hot—really all I could taste was fire.  My stomach can handle moderate spice, but this one caused me some digestive issues.  So all in all I definitely didn’t enjoy it very much, but I don’t feel like I got a fair and authentic giant water bug experience.  The Thai describe its taste as being like shrimp or sweet scallop.  Therefore, I’d like to try this again, served in a different way.  Maybe I’ll get lucky and find a Thai restaurant which likes to take chances on the menu.
     I’d like to close by discussing the website that sold me the Edible Bug Gift Pack—Thinkgeek (  They seem to be fun.  Perfect if you’re a nerd with a decent amount of disposable income, or are friendly with some.  Looking over their selection I mental noted a few items for Christmas and my birthday.  Aside from the Star Wars/Star Trek/Doctor Who/Minecraft t-shirts, toys and gadgets, I was amused by the following:
    Zombie Apocalypse Garden Gnomes (they’re armed, and/or decayed).
    Monty Python Wafer Thin Mints (yes, from the Mr. Creosote sketch in “Meaning of Life.”)
    Tactical Bacon (it’s canned, of course, and allegedly lasts over 10 years!)
    A “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” parody book called “The Very Hungry Zombie.”
    Pixel Heart Heat Changing Mug (the opposite of the Coors cold-activated can—a black heart turns red when you pour in a hot beverage).
     Also, the Edible Bug Gift Pack itself is currently on sale, for only $19.99.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


     I'm please to announce that I have another story out coming soon.  It's called "Unholy Spirit," and it's in the July, 2014 issue of Under the Bed.  Sufferers of coulrophobia will no doubt be alarmed by this cover.
     Obviously I'm happy when any of my stories are published, but I'm particularly satisfied about this one.  The main character, Keisha, has to be the most vile, evil character I've ever written.  As such, she was fun to write.
     I'm including a few comments about this story written by Lester Billings, Jr., who was the editor of the (now defunct?) magazine "The Psychic Radio."  He wrote, "your story freaked a lot of people out.  As a tale of horror; "Unholy Spirit" is an unqualified success."  And later, "I've got a question that's been burning a hole in my soul and that is:  How were you able to live with your character long enough to get the story written?  Do you write from some deep, dark wellspring of depravity or are you a professional who was looking for just that effect?"
     Well, that was nice to hear.  Funny and gross movie director John Waters once said that he considered a viewer vomiting in disgust at viewing one of his films to be like a standing ovation.  And I think every horror writer considers freaking readers out, and even causing them to speculate about whether the author is criminally insane to be the sincerest of compliments.  (Note:  I was unable to find a way to contact Mr. Billings, and ask if it was okay that I used his reply as a promotional tool.  If you're reading this, Mr. Billings, and you're unhappy about this, please say so and I'll of course remove it immediately.)
     The issue is due out in a couple of weeks, on July 4th or 5th.  I'll include an excerpt and blurb then.  Until then, I'll leave with the taglines:  The phrase, "A fate worse than death," is usually an exaggeration.  Keisha Cartwright actually delivers this to her victims, and then some.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Light Beers (Updated)

     One of the things I find most irritating is when people criticize products or creative endeavors that they haven’t tried or experienced, whether it’s a movie, musical group, artist, book, food or beverage, or whatever.  Because, essentially, their opinion is useless—how do they know?  What’s particularly annoying is that I’m not better than these people, as I’m just as guilty of doing this throughout my lifetime.  However, I have become aware of the folly of criticizing without experiencing, and of late I’ve stopped.  So now I’ll qualify harsh opinions by saying something like, “From all I’ve heard about them, I don’t think I would enjoy the “Twilight” series, but since I haven’t read the books or seen the movies I can’t say for sure.”
     One of those products I’ve railed against is light beer.  As regular readers have probably picked up on by now, I’m quite the beer aficionado, or more unkindly, a beer snob.  And in these circles light beer is considered the bottom of the list, right down there with malt liquor (that is, American style malt liquor.  In some places, like parts of Europe, “malt liquor” is a different type of beer, and one which is much more reputable).  I’m no stranger to light beer.  For example, during my freshman year of college, I drank a lot of Coors Light.  This was because the only person who had a fake I.D. in the group I normally hung out with was at least a borderline anorexic.  Even then, when I’d only had probably about 6-8 different brands of beer, I considered it pretty weak.  (To illustrate my beer novice-ness, at one point in college Miller Genuine Draft, which is mediocre at absolute best, was my favorite beer.)  Since then I’ve had others, usually only in situations where it was the only beer available at the bar, or the party, etc., and I really had no option.
     But, for this post I decided to grit my teeth and give light beer a fair, open-minded shot.  So I bought up all the light beers I could find.  There were practical considerations, though—I wasn’t going to buy a 12 pack, or even a 6 pack of a light beer, since I strongly suspected I wouldn’t like them much.  The area I’ve been in for quite some time, South Central Virginia, doesn’t have much in the way of beer stores (with rare exceptions), so I wasn’t able to get all that I wanted to try.  For example, I’ve heard Yuengling Light, Sam Adams Light, and especially Amstel Light are considered to be among the best light beers.  Also Miller 64 and Michelob Ultra, (and Budweiser Select, and Becks Light) are currently the “lightest,” both calorie and alcohol content wise of the light beers, but I couldn’t locate them here.  Anyway, when I’m able to find these in single bottles or cans I’ll try them and update my list.  (Update:  I was able to finally get some single bottles of most of these, all but the Yuengling Light.  See my additional ratings below. Also, readers might notice my reviews get a little nastier with these updated ones, as I got more frustrated with drinking these poor excuses for beer!)
     When I’m referring to light beer, I mean the modern, American version of this.  Technically lighter beers are at least hundreds of years old.  In the days when water could be unhealthy due to bacteriological contamination, beer (which is boiled during its brewing) was often a safer choice for drinking.  Therefore, most of this was low alcohol beer, often called “small” or “session” beers.  To illustrate, an average beer is about 5% alcohol, while session and small beers might be less than 4%, or even 3%.  During Prohibition in the U.S. (1920-1933), the only legally available beer was of the non-alcoholic variety, defined as being less than .5%.  Even up to the present, certain U.S. states only allow sales of “3.2 beer” (3.2% alcohol) in some stores or counties.  But these aside, I’m talking about modern light beer, which was invented by Rheingold Brewing employee Joseph Owades in 1967.  The recipe for this concoction, called Gablinger’s Diet Beer, was purchased first by Chicago brewery Meister Brau, and then in turn by Miller Brewing.  Miller released this as Lite Beer in 1973.  Other major breweries gradually stepped into the fray.  Budweiser release Natural Light in 1977.  Coors released their version (Coors Light) in 1978.  Then Budweiser released Bud Light in 1982.  By 1992 light beers were the top selling type of beer in the U.S.  And by 1994 Bud Light was the best selling beer, period, in the U.S.
     But enough background, let’s get to my ratings.  They’re on the U.S. scholastic code, meaning A is outstanding, B is good, C is average, D is bad but passing, and F is failing.  (Update:  By the way, I realize that there is no official "F-" in U.S. schools grading systems, but I don't care.  The beers that got this made-up rating were abysmal!)

1) Lite Beer (Miller Brewing) 4.2% alcohol, 96 calories per 12 ounces:   D-.  Okay odor.  Tastes like a regular lager that’s had water added.  Light, inoffensive, dull, slightly sour at end.

2) Coors Light (Coors Brewing) 4.2% alcohol, 102 calories per 12 ounces:  D-.  Remarkably like Miller’s Lite Beer—watery, sour-y taste at end.  Drinkable but bland to the extreme.

3) Bud Light (Anheuser-Busch Brewing) 4.2% alcohol, 110 calories per 12 ounces:   F.  Tastes almost literally like water.

4) Natural Light (Anheuser-Busch Brewing) 4.2 % alcohol:   D-.  Also terrible.  Also watery.  A tad better than the regular Bud Light.

5) Keystone Light (Coors Brewing) 4.2% alcohol:   D-.  Thin. Watery.  Sour at end as well.

6) Genny Light (Genesee Brewing) 3.6% alcohol, 100 calories per 12 ounces:  F.  Still watery, very sour, nasty.

7)  Budweiser Select 55 (Anheuser-Busch Brewing) 2.4%  alcohol, 55 calories per 12 ounces:  F. tastes like a glass of water with a shot of beer added.  What's the point?! This isn't beer!

8)  Miller 64 (Miller Brewing) 3.0% alcohol, 64 calories per 12 ounces:  F-.  Even worse.  SO watery!  I've had non alcoholic beers with more taste.

9) Michelob Ultra (Anheuser-Busch Brewing) 4.2% alcohol, 95 calories per 12 ounces:  D-.  Still bad and weak, but a little bit of taste.

10) Becks Light (Anheuser-Busch Brewing) 2.3% alcohol, 64 calories per 12 ounces: F-.  Horrendous.  Watery-est of them all so far, and that's saying something!

11) Amstel Light (Amstel, The Netherlands) 3.5% alcohol, 95 calories per 12 ounces: D-.  Slight upgrade, because again, some iota of taste.  This taste was kind of weird and unpleasantly sweet,  but still.

12) Sam Adams Light (Sam Adams Brewing) 4.0% alcohol, 119 calories per 12 ounces: C-  Okay.  Best of the light beer bunch by far, but still not great.  Nearly tastes like a real beer. 

     So, as you can see, my prior opinion of light beers was born out.  In general I think they’re pretty awful.  It’s weird that something so bland and watery can somehow still taste bad.  A friend of mine (Hi Candice) was a big fan of light beer, and explained it thusly, “It tastes like water, but it gets you drunk.”  And that is my view of why it’s so popular.  I think its fans don’t really like the taste of actual, real beer, and choose the most mild and watery alcohol vehicle to drink.  On one of my trips to the late, lamented bar The Brickskeller (in Washington D.C.), I observed a customer ordering a Bud Light (or Coors Light, it was a while ago).  Mind you, this was a bar with a phenomenal selection, over 1000 different kinds of beer, many different beer types, from dozens of countries, from every continent of the world (except for Antarctica, of course).  And he chose the same damn (crappy) beer you can find anywhere!  I wanted to slap him.
     On the other hand, to each their own.  Many (most?) light beer drinkers might claim they really do like beer, they just prefer the milder taste, fewer calories, and lower alcohol content of light beers.  I’m can sympathize with working to cut back on calories, but personally I’d rather drink less of a good beer, or even none at all for a while, rather than drinking what’s essentially water with a hint of beer taste.  Clearly, multitudes of people disagree with me.  Here is a list of the most popular beers in the U.S. (based on total volume of beer sold) for 2012.
1)      Bud Light
2)      Budweiser
3)      Coors Light
4)      Miller Lite
5)      Natural Light
6)      Busch Light
7)      Busch
8)      Michelob Ultra
9)      Miller
10)  Keystone Light

And here’s the list for the entire world in 2013.
1)      Snow (made in China)
2)      Tsingtao (China)
3)      Bud Light (U.S.)
4)      Budweiser (U.S.)
5)      Skol  (kind of a group effort, made by Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, the U.K., Canada, and Brazil)
6)      Yanjing (China)
7)      Heineken (The Netherlands)
8)      Harbin (China)
9)      Brahma (Brazil)
10)  Coors Light (U.S.)

     Finally, I find it telling that Coors Light is so innovative in their container designs.  They were the first beer to come out with “wide mouth” cans in the late 1990’s (Mountain Dew was evidently the first soda), and recently (2009) they introduced the “cold activated” can and bottle.  When the Rocky Mountains on the can or bottle turn from a white color to blue, that means the can is down to 4 degrees C, or 39 degrees F.  Kind of a neat development, but if I’m allowed to be catty one more time, that’s like putting an ornate, awesome, technologically superior frame around a putrid painting done by an art school dropout.
     In a weird way, although I disliked them more (they were “drain pours,” meaning I couldn’t finish them), I respect beers like sahti (see July 30, 2012 post), Cave Creek Chili Beer (see May 20, 2012 post), or even Rogue’s Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon Beer (see September 10, 2012 post) more than light beers.  They tasted worse, but at least they tried.  They didn’t just put out a pale, safe imitation of a beer, like the light beers do.  Light beer is the Velveeta Cheese, the Wonder Bread, the plain rice cake of the beer world—it appeals to the lowest common denominator, and it doing so, is hopelessly dull.
     Best of all, now I can brutally criticize light beer with a clear conscience!  And I plan to.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Annoying Expressions

     Expressions are, of course, a pretty fundamental part of language.  And when particularly interesting and/or amusing ones are coined, and begin to be used, they often become popular.  Then, the next step is that they sometimes become clichés.  And let's face it, many clichés just become done to death, and irritating.  Deciding this is obviously subjective--one person's witty comment may be another's dull and lazy expression.  Here are five that I find particularly annoying.
     1) "It is what it is."  Determining who came up with (or most popularized) an expression is sometimes quite tricky, like figuring out who came up with a joke.  This one is obscure.  I read about many candidates for it.  Some of these were a 2001 movie of this name by Bill Frolick, a 2007 autobiography title by David Coulthard, and going way back, a 1982 album title by the Australian rock band "The Hitmen."  Personally, I've only noted it in the past 6-8 years or so.  But it's become entirely overused in athlete's interviews--it seems like every other player uses it, sometimes more than once in a single piece.  There has to be a better, more creative way of getting across the sentiment that a particular object or circumstance is unable to be changed.
    2) Speaking of yourself in the third person, instead of using "I."  Using "I," especially repeatedly, can be rather arrogant. But somehow referring to oneself by one's name is even more arrogant.  I learned that a person who does this a lot is called an "illeist."  I think the best example (or worst practitioner) was baseball player Rickey Henderson, who played for many teams (but mostly the Oakland A's, the New York Yankees, and the Toronto Blue Jays) in the late 1970's up until the early 21st century.  Don't get me wrong--Ricky was a spectacular player, who holds the all time records for runs scored and steals, and is (almost) inarguably the best leadoff hitter ever.  But in interviews he came across as being insufferably conceited.  Other serial illeists are hip hop artist/reality show regular Flavor Flav, the wrestler The Rock (aka Dwayne Johnson), actor Mr. T., and puppet Elmo.  Although most of these examples came across as more comical, and therefore less bothersome.
     3)  Using "barometer" as a metaphor.  An example would be "Grammy awards are a good barometer of a musician's success."  My friend Vince brought this one to my attention, and I can see his point.  For the record, a barometer is a device used in meteorology to measure atmospheric pressure.  Why it's used as a catchall for comparisons is strange.  As long as you're using scientific measuring devices wrongly, why not use others?  Why not "thermometer," or "Geiger counter," or "tire pressure gauge?"
     4)  Saying that you'll give "110%."  Again, athletes are some of the worst users of this. I understand the point they're trying to make, but it's lazy, and makes them sound moronically stupid.  Were they sleeping during elementary school math classes?  By definition, 100% is the most you can give--period.  If you find yourself trying harder, and having more success in a subsequent game, or series, or season, it doesn't mean you gave 110%, it means that before you were only giving 99% or worse.  And why 110%?  As long as you're making up impossible numbers, why not 120%, or 150%, or 100,000%?  In short--if you don't understand basic numbers, just say, "I'm going to give my all," or "I'm going to try my absolute hardest."  (The "Simpsons" addressed this opinion well in their second or third season episode about softball, wherein a hypnotist futilely tries to get the players to give 110%.)
     5) "I could care less."  This is probably the expression that annoys me the most, because it actually expresses the opposite assertion that a person is trying to make (and almost always, not in a fun, sarcastic way).  "I couldn't care less," is a fine expression--kind of bitter, and it gets the job done.  But being careless and saying "I could care less," means you're saying you care at least some, since you could care less.  The "not" or "n't" is vitally important in this case.  Incidentally, this (correctly said) expression evidently originated in England, and crossed over to the U.S. in the 1950's.  And we "Americanized" it to the incorrect "Could care less," by the 1960's.  As in previous examples, I realize what people actually mean when they use this incorrectly, but it still really sticks in my craw for some reason.

     I know a lot of people my age or older are particularly annoyed by internet and texting abbreviations, like "YOLO," and "LOL," or by emoticons.  Since I don't text, these don't bother me that much.  I invite readers to share their own hated expressions/sayings--I'm sure there are many examples that I'm forgetting.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Japanese Desserts

     Today's post is about a couple of Japanese desserts that I've had.  I could be a bit lame and include things like, say, green tea flavored ice cream, but I won't.  Instead I'll go with some more authentic ones.
     I'll start with a brief aside about the azuki bean.  This bean is ancient, as it's evidently been cultivated in East Asia for about 6,000 years.  It's fairly nutritious, too, having significant amounts of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc, along with the usual bean high amount of protein.  Why am I going on about beans in a post about desserts, you may ask?  Because azuki beans, made into a red bean paste, and often flavored with sugar, are a very common ingredient in Japanese desserts, including the ones I'll be talking about.  This might sound a little weird to Westerners (at least it did to me the first time I heard it), but it works out pretty well.
     First up is yokan.  I first had this at a friend's house several years ago (Hi Jackie!).  Yokan is usually made from our friend azuki, but sometimes from a white kidney bean paste.  Some types are colored and flavored with green tea powder.  According to what I read, this dessert was actually invented by the Chinese, and introduced to Japan in about 1191 A.D.  The original recipe was made of gelatin derived from boiled sheep (their hoofs, I presume).  Buddists changed the recipe to non-animal products--wheat flour and azuki.  Then by about the year 1800 agar was used instead of the wheat.  Currently, sugar is usually added to the red bean paste and agar.  Anyway, the kind I had (can't remember the manufacturer, alas) looked like red and green gel rectangles, which were broken into small (like an inch by a half inch) blocks.  So apparently I had the red bean paste (azuki) type, and the same flavored with the green tea.  The texture was firmer than gelatin.  They were good--not extremely sweet, but enough to qualify as a dessert type treat.  I would certainly try these again with pleasure.
     The second dessert is mystery.  Another friend (Hi Dave!) gave me this one, which came from a friend of his who'd recently been to Japan.  Unfortunately, we weren't told the company name or the food's name, and I can't read Japanese.  So I'll have to just describe it, and show the photos of it, which are courtesy of Dave again.

   The actual cakes themselves were about 2 inches by 2 inches.  One was shaped like a human (?) figure and another was shaped like a horse, complete with a saddle and reins shaped into it.  The outer coating was reminiscent of sponge cake, while the filling was red bean paste again.  As with the yokan it was less sweet as a dessert than I'm used to, but still tasty.  Don't know if/when I'll get a chance to try it again, but I would--it's a definite recommend.  Further attempts to discover what I'd had exactly were inconclusive.  Manju is described as a flour, rice powder, and buckwheat pastry filled with azuki.  Daifuku is listed as being a glutinous rice cake stuffed with sweetened red bean paste.  Taiyaki is a fish shaped cake filled with either red bean paste, cheese or custard.  Even something called a mooncake seemed like a remote possibility.  So I'm guessing my dessert was a variant of one of these, but I can't say for sure.  I'll try to find out more.  If any reader can help out, I'd appreciate it.
  (Update)  Evidently these are called Haniwa cakes, and they're shaped like some famous Haniwa terracotta clay figurines, which date from 200 to 500 A.D.