Sunday, September 28, 2014

Interview with Danny Adams

    Today I'd like to welcome Danny Adams, who's a fellow Musa Publishing author.  Aside from his Arthurian Musa Offering, "Lest Camelot Fall," he's also the co-author (with Philip Jose Farmer) of the short science fiction book "The City Beyond Play."  Some of his magazine credits include Asimov's Science Fiction, Ideomancer, Not One of Us, and Paradox.  Also, the Journal of the American Chestnut Foundation, which amazingly, is just what it sounds like.  Danny's blog is at:   You can follow him on twitter at:    And his Facebook page is:
     Also, you can find both a blurb and an excerpt of "Lest Camelot Fall" after the interview, below.

1)      What’s the first book you remember reading?


The Ice Cream Cone Coot and Other Rare Birds, by Arnold Lobel. It’s like a bird bestiary for kids. Even in preschool I was reading fantasy!


2)      Do you have any “guilty pleasure” reads, and if so, what are they?


It’s hard to say, since I don’t feel particularly guilty about anything I read, or that I should feel that way. At least not now. I will grit my teeth and admit, though, that I felt guilty some years ago for reading young adult books. I bought into the propaganda that adults were silly for reading them – until I discovered how much better some of them were than adult fiction, particularly when it came to character development. I have Tamora Pierce and J.K. Rowling to thank for slicing the guilt out of that guilty pleasure reading.


3)      What book do you wish you’d written?


I despair over my not writing some of the books (or series) that were influential to me: Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld series was my first introduction (at age 11) to writing history, and historical characters, into fiction. Centennial by James A. Michener kicked off my love of epic historical fiction; to some degree all the historicals I’ve written are an attempt, conscious or otherwise, at imitating Michener’s scope. And I know that David Eddings’ Belgariad gets a lot of flack nowadays, but Eddings wrote a sense of fun and enjoyable characters into that series in a way I haven’t seen a lot of other fantasy authors do over the last few years.


4)      What do you do to break a case of writer’s block?


It depends on how severe the block is. Mild: I can punch through it by thinking about the story while walking my dog around the neighborhood. Moderate: Go have lunch or dinner somewhere and pour over the book. Bad: Jump ahead in the story to a point where I know what happens, then get back to the earlier part later. Severe: Work on something else! At least for a little while.


5)      What are three things you wish you hadn’t done in your writing career?


First and foremost: Stop writing. I went for five years where I did next to no serious writing. Part of the reason, for the first half of the time anyway, was that I went back to college, but mainly it was lack of confidence. I didn’t think I was any good and was afraid to be proven right. I finally got kicked back into gear when my wife got tired of hearing me talk about a book I wanted to write when I wasn’t doing anything about it, and had a conversation with me that amounted to “Start writing or shut up!”


Two, not trying to publish an early fantasy series I wrote. I won’t go into details, but it used a concept that would be easily recognizable as a particular series by a well-known author now, and if I tried to publish it now, it would just be considered a rip-off.


And finally, when I wrote the first epic historical fiction I’d had in my head for years, I initially tried to sell it as an epic Michenerian-sized novel. Three hundred thousand words! I burned through a lot of agents and publishers that way, who might have later been willing to consider it as a series.


6)      What are your five favorite novels?


Well, I covered three above, if I can include series as a title. Beyond those it often shifts back and forth, though some will keep making it back to the list. Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth slips back on there from time to time, for instance. And Lindsey Davis’ Marcus Didius Falco mystery series, set in ancient Rome, is always close to the top.


7)      What is your favorite quotation?


I have two. The first is “Never take counsel of your fears”, by George S. Patton. Though it being a favorite quotation doesn’t always mean it’s easy to do. The second was from my friend Jess Goode: “Study hard, work out hard, play hard...for the rest of time, amen!” That was her last status post on Facebook before she was killed by a hunter two weeks before she would have graduated from college, and so it’s not only good advice for me, it’s also my way of remembering and honoring her when I follow it.


8)      What is your favorite beer/alcoholic drink/wine?


That’s a good question, since I don’t really drink alcohol. I used to saturate myself with Dr. Pepper (especially while writing) before a kidney stone explained to me last year that this wasn’t a good idea. But I’m planning my first trip to Europe next summer, and am looking forward to at least sampling German Dunkelbier on the Rhine, Moselle wine along that river, and a half-pint of a London pub keeper’s favorite brew.


9)      Do you have any writing rituals, and if so, what are they?


I’m not sure if they’re rituals or just more of a habit. Walk Tucker (my dog) first – not just for his sake, but also because walking is a good way to get my brain working. My writing is usually better after a walk. Eat, grab something to drink and sometimes a dessert to take with me into the Writing Room, and then call my cat Vegas (if he’s not already following me by now). Vegas is my writing assistant, and usually guards the room and/or the window for me when I write. Occasionally if I haven’t done any writing for awhile, or I’m getting a late start, he’ll come harass me to remind me that it’s time to get to work.


10)   How long did it take you to write your book, and how many drafts did it take you?


Lest Camelot Fall took about eight months in the research and writing combined…maybe two months research and six to write, if I remember right. Two more drafts followed on my own. Then when Musa Publishing bought it, my editor and I went through another two drafts – plus a line edit afterwards. As I recall the editoral-driven drafts took about another two months.


11)   Do you have a favorite character from your book?


Merlin – the version of him in the story is based on some of the early Welsh tales of him. The Merlin who was both practically a holy man but also a very fallible human being whose grief led him to becoming a “wild man of the woods”. The Merlin in Lest Camelot Fall still is somewhat unbalanced – wise, learned, devoted to order and civilization, but also with moments where lucidity and reason desert him almost completely thanks to traumas he suffered in past years. And one who knows how badly he failed Arthur, but is trying his best, despite his problems, to salvage something from his failures.


12)  What’s the best stunt, lie, or practical joke you’ve pulled off?


One that I’m not sure anybody fell for, and will probably will never know if anyone did. When I lived in Northern Virginia I was a relatively short ride away from D.C., and for a few months I would occasionally leave behind fake “classified” documents in folders and such around various public places in the capitol, like bathrooms in the Smithsonian Museums. All of these were so wild I can’t imagine that anyone would have fallen for them – like keeping secret how close we came to war with Iran under the Reagan administration over their refusal to export toilet paper to us and thus risking a critical toilet paper shortage – but considering how often people seriously cite The Onion and similar joke sites as a source, you never know.  But then 9/11 happened, and suddenly leaving any unknown object in random public places in the nation’s capitol no longer seemed like such a smart idea.


13)   Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?


Pretty basic and yet the core of it all: Don’t stop writing. Don’t let anyone else or any trends tell you not to write what you want to write. And if you try to get published, money always flows to the writer. Those first two did me some serious damage for a long time, and the third could have if others hadn’t warned me about it early on. (Also see my answer to finding inspiration.)


14)   What life events most influenced your writing?

Every event, I suppose, finds its way into what I write one way or another. But the biggest influence came from how I decided that this was what I wanted to do. At the age of twelve I’d done a bit of writing but mostly was interested in drawing cartoons, until I spent a couple of weeks that summer visiting family in Illinois, including my great-uncle, the science fiction author Philip Jose Farmer. He would start writing in his basement every morning, break for lunch, then write into the afternoon. And I would…very quietly…sit on the basement steps listening to him type for as long as an hour at a time.


And this was an epiphany for me. Of course I knew that people wrote books. But the process was new and a mystery to me. Him sitting down and creating these words, and doing it in such a disciplined and yet creative way, was like a whole new world opening up to me. From that point on I knew writing was what I wanted to do, and that desire has never changed.


I also had a years-long longing to write something with him, and that finally came true when we co-wrote The City Beyond Play when he was 87 – and which turned out to be the last book of his to be published while he was still alive. I would have been heartbroken if this project had never happened. So that in itself taught me not to wait if there’s something you really, really want to do, then don’t wait, especially if it’s something creative.


15)   Do you have a specific genre you prefer to write?


More like a specific subgenre: One way or another, everything I write has an historical element. Sometimes it’s because the book is straight-up historical; but other times, like a fantasy novel I’m halfway through now, I’ll pull in elements from history to incorporate in the story. Said current novel yanks some bits and pieces, for instance, from the Holy Roman Empire and Renaissance Italy.


16)  Where do you find inspiration for your stories?


I realize how unhelpful this answer is for many people, but the answer really is – Everywhere. I’m interested in almost everything, and thus almost everything might spark a story or poem idea, or find its way into a story, whether that elements is a phrase I overhear, or a story from a medieval war, or just people-watching. The more I “collect”, the more I find that anything can be inspirational if you pay close enough attention. Now and again I also try putting together two or three things that seem completely unrelated just to see what will happen when they’re combined.


17)  Do you prefer writing short stories, novellas, or novels?


I used to love writing short stories, but my love of writing novels has almost completely crowded that out now. I like painting on large, broad canvases; the novel form is thus a lot easier for me than short stories. I have done a handful of novellas – some people consider The City Beyond Play, which I co-wrote with Philip Jose Farmer, a novella – but for the most part haven’t had much luck with those (either writing something I like or being able to publish it).


I still write the occasional poem, though, and have pretty decent success at publishing those. My poem “Picnic at the Trinity Test Site” just appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction this past summer, for example.


18)   How long have you been writing fiction?


I’ve been writing fiction, really, almost since I could read. At five I wrote a “book” called A Trip to the Museum, when I took some cut-out dinosaurs that were supposed to be a 1st grade class assignment and made them into a book instead, with me as the protagonist, seeing these dinosaurs in a museum. By eight I was writing short stories. Age twelve was when I got serious about writing though, deciding then that I wanted to be a writer, opening with a science fiction novel (one hundred and twenty pages handwritten on notebook paper) that was a rip-off of the TV show Voyagers! called The Logs of Stuart Harding, Modern-Day Time Traveler.


19)   How does your writing process work?


I do a lot of the standard stuff: Outlining, world-building, note-taking, and writing most every day for at least an hour. But really, there are three things critical to my process. First, I let the story play around in my head before I sit down at the computer. Sometimes this works so well I’m not so much writing as I am retyping what my brain already came with. Second, and as the flip side of this, I have to write. I know that sounds silly, but many of my story ideas come to me in the process of writing the story. I may sit down not knowing what happens next or having only a general idea, but the ideas start flowing as I’m typing. And third, I always try to be ready to write down any idea when it comes to me. I almost always have a pen and scraps of paper to write down these flitters of ideas, no matter how trivial they seem – trivial can become supremely important in the right context. I believe the idea that most people have ideas this way all the time; it’s just that writers have learned to recognize and capture them before they disappear.


20)   What project are you currently working on?


The fantasy novel I mentioned above, which I actually decided to write for fun as a break from an otherwise still-in-progress historical fiction series about Arizona. Aside from transformed historical bits and pieces, this was meant as a fun experiment with minimal research, and different ways of writing (like not outlining, though I still wrote plenty of story notes). The title is No Word in Death’s Favor, a line I swiped from Homer’s Odyssey.


21)  Did you learn anything from writing your book?


I learned that research didn’t need to be confined to books, magazines, and the Internet. I like to visit the places I write about, but in this case I couldn’t afford to travel to southwest England, and I didn’t initially find many reliable sources about post-Arthurian / early medieval England. I had talked to local folks before when I would write stories set where I live, but this time, for the first time, I gritted my teeth and started contacting people who were authorities in their respective fields about the places and times I was writing about. What I learned was that if you’re passionate about the subject, treat it and the person you’re contacting with respect, and the authority isn’t too busy to reply, they’ll very often be happy to help you.


And similarly, I learned ways to think outside the research box when other sources failed. For example, I wanted to write a large battle taking place around what is now the city of Exeter, but for some reason I couldn’t locate a topographical map of the area. So instead, I used Google Earth, which will tell you elevations along with the photos of the sites. There are all kinds of ways and resources out there in this Golden Age of Research, if you are just diligent about seeking them out.

Blurb for "Lest Camelot Fall"

Millions of people around the world know the legend of King Arthur, but the stories always end with Arthur’s death and never reveal what happened to the surviving Knights of the Round Table—or Camelot itself. Lest Camelot Fall begins with Arthur’s death and tells of the survivors’ struggle to keep Camelot’s flame of freedom burning against the darkness both of Saxon invaders and native British would-be tyrants.

Lucian Aurelianus is a descendant of Roman emperors and British kings alike, as well as being Arthur’s cousin. He receives an urgent summons to Camelot from Merlin only to arrive after the slaughter of the Battle of Camlann, in time to see Arthur’s body taken away to Avalon. Soon afterward Lucian’s brother, Constantine, claims the right to be High King of Britain—and exiles anyone who challenges him, including the surviving Knights. At the same time, the sons of Arthur’s nephew and mortal enemy, Modred, have joined forces with the Saxons, along with soldiers from a reborn Roman Empire with designs on Britain, for a final attack against Camelot.

Lucian decides he must stay to help Merlin and the Knights—and his increasingly despotic brother—if anything of Arthur’s dream is to survive. Ultimately he will do whatever it takes to keep Camelot alive, even when that means challenging the armies of southern Britain, enduring Saxon slavery, and the possibility of taking what is left of Camelot and leaving Britain behind forever.

Excerpt for "Lest Camelot Fall" (this and a fair bit more can also be read on Amazon's preview):

Prologue: The Land After Arthur
December, 580 A.D.

When I was a young man I often heard—though I did not usually listen—the complaints of my elders about age. They bemoaned the failures of their bodies, of strong warriors now long withered, and how their very thoughts would break down like dust in a river. But only now, as an old man, do I understand what they meant when they said their greatest burdens were memories.

I have owned several names and titles in my lifetime, a few more important than others—though I usually mistook their importance at the time. The name I have gone by since birth, however, is Lucian. Short for Lucianus Flavius Aurelianus. I am the grandson of Ambrosius Aurelianus, who was High King of Britain a century ago, himself son of Constantine the Great, the Roman emperor who made it safe for Christians to worship in the Roman Empire. I am a descendant of Magnus Maximus, who brought strength to Britain as emperor toward the last days of Rome’s occupation of our island. I am the cousin of Arthur Pendragon, who was Britain’s greatest warrior until his death four decades ago. And I am the last surviving Roman in Britain.

My friends and foes alike care not for my genealogy; to them I am at once both much and little. I am a horizon for them, a bridge between the earth of what has been and the sky of what could be. I am more than they know and less than they make me out to be.

I am seventy years old in this winter at the end of the year 580, and have little time left. No point in wasting it with riddles and ambiguity, is there? I bless you, Merlin, my old friend, for teaching me the Druidic art of memory so all these things may be preserved.

I will not tell of the dark days when the Romans left this island forever, chopping the musical name of Britannia into Britain, a hundred years before I was born. Those are stories well known. Nor will I recount the numerous legends, true and false and those with a healthy stew of both, of the tyrant Vortigern or the Saxon invasions from across the sea, both of which crafted our need for freedom that ultimately gave rise to Arthur. Nor will I, God help me, recount the more voluminous and vigorous tales of Merlin’s extended life or Arthur’s sadly shortened one—though people have already nearly forgotten that Arthur never took the crown of the High King of Britain but only called himself the Dux Bellorum of Britain, the Lord of War. And that he fought to become what the ancients and Merlin called the Restitutor Orbis—Restorer of the World. The one who would return the light of civilization to Europe.

No, mine is the tale of those of us who struggled to preserve freedom across this great island when Arthur died and the world nearly ended.

By the terrible Battle of Camlann in the spring of 537, Arthur was nearly sixty and exhausted by many years of war and self-imposed hardship. Yet even so, he may have yet survived but for the Long Winter—the freezing that descended upon Britain late in 535 and gave us no warm days for a full year—and the Great Famine that followed. Nature herself had turned against Camelot, it seemed, and armies moved against it.

With Arthur’s death at the hands of his nephew Modred at Camlann during what the bards now call the Lost Spring, the songs ended.

But only the songs. There were still a few of us who survived and were forced to deal with the aftermath. We hoped to rekindle the flame of Camelot. How we fought all our days thereafter to keep alive the smallest of lights against the greatest darkness. And I, Lucian Aurelianus, a descendant of kings and emperors who was once a prince of Camelot, vow my life to the truth of the events I am about to relate. For I was there to witness them all and would in my last days relieve this greatest burden of my memories.

    Sunday, September 21, 2014

    Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Kiwi Berries

         The other day I was wandering through the fruit section of the local Whole Foods grocery, and beheld something new.  Kiwi berries.  Or, according to the package label, “passion poppers,” which are, “nutrient dense super fruit.”  Well, that sounded intriguing to me, so I handed over my $3 or so, and took them back to the “home-tel.”
         At first, I figured that these were some sort of berry that was vaguely kiwi-like, but after doing a little checking, the name is actually pretty accurate.  Kiwi berries are a relative of the better known kiwi fruit.  There are, however, some screamingly obvious distinctions.  Kiwi fruits, of course, are about the size of a chicken egg, and they have greenish, tart flesh, which is heavily seeded, all surrounded by a weird, brownish, hairy rind.  Kiwi berries, on the other hand, are small—about an inch (or about 2.5 cm.) in diameter, and from the outside they look like tiny, unripe (green) apples.  (They actually remind me a lot of crab apples in their outside appearance—see May 14, 2012 post.)  Inside, though, they look remarkably identical to kiwi fruit—the same greenish flesh, and a ring of black seeds in the center.  Unlike their larger relative, you don’t have to take the rind off.  You can just bite into them as is.  So, in effect, the kiwi berry is the Mini-Me to kiwi fruit.
         Kiwi fruit, and kiwi berries, are rather odd, when you think about it.  Fruit, especially those packed with Vitamin C (as are all the kiwi types), tend to be delicate, surviving mostly in tropical environments.  Not so for our kiwi friends.  Kiwi fruit is originally from Northern China, and the berry form is indigenous to Northern China, Japan, Korea, and even Siberia.  Yes, the place probably best known for being the most infamous home of the gulag, one of the harshest climates on Earth.  Kiwi fruit and kiwi berries have gone through many name changes in their existence.  Yang tao, Chinese gooseberries, melonettes, and arctic berry are just some of them.  Once they were introduced and thrived in New Zealand, marketers decided to name them after the famous New Zealand bird, and that’s been the most common name title ever since.  And, in addition to Vitamin C, kiwi fruit/berries are good sources of fiber and Vitamins B, E, and K.
         But, on to the important point—how were they?  Pretty good, as it turns out.  Folks often claim that they’re slightly sweeter than kiwi fruit, and I can agree with that.  The rind gives them a slightly different texture, and taste, too—kind of an apple-ish tint to them.  I don’t eat much kiwi fruit, because due to living mostly in hotels, without access to food processing equipment for easy peeling, (and also out of laziness), I find getting rid of the hairy rind to be a bit annoying.  Happily, the edible skin of the kiwi berry is a winning compromise.  Convenient, and in an easy bite size.  This is the first and only time I’ve ever seen them for sale, but I will certainly buy them again if I have the chance.
         Kiwi fruit, and the berry form, do have one final odd quirk, though.  They have a significant amount of an enzyme called actinidain.  This enzyme readily dissolves protein, so much so that it’s used as a meat tenderizer.  Therefore, if you put raw kiwi fruit/berries in desserts containing milk or gelatin, it might dissolve them.  (Part of me wants to deliberately do this, just to observe the unusual site of fruit “consuming” the rest of a dessert.)  This enzyme is probably also the cause of food allergies to bananas, pineapples, and papaya, and the non-food, bodily contact allergy to latex.  So if you’re allergic to any of these, you’ll probably also be so for kiwi fruit/berries.

    Sunday, September 14, 2014

    Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Meat Substitutes

         Even occasional readers of this blog know that I’m a decided omnivore—recent posts have included pieces about me dining on rabbits, and pythons, for example, which are clearly not species of fruit or vegetables.  But, as always, I wanted to give the other side a try, and see for myself what some different foods taste like.  Obviously, for some people avoiding certain species of animal for food, or all animals, is the norm.  (And vegans take this a step further by refusing all animal products, such as dairy or eggs, and fruitarians take it even more extremely by refusing to eat any plant parts, save for fruit, seeds, and nuts, and stricter fruitarians won’t even consume these unless they’ve fallen to the ground on their own (i.e., they won’t pick them off the branch or stem.))  But here in the U.S., the average person does eat meat, so calling vegetarian substitutes “exotic” is, I think, fair.  However, please don’t take this post as a mockery of vegetarianism.  Even though I clearly don’t agree with their philosophy, I can understand their reasons, and respect their principles.  (And their commitment.  I can recall a coworker of mine (Hi Rob!) who years ago tried to be vegan in rural Tennessee/Kentucky/Virginia (the Cumberland Cap area).  If he hadn’t broken down and eaten dairy and eggs I think he would have starved to death.)
         I’ve had, and still have, many vegetarian/vegan friends over the years, and in hanging out with them I’ve tried several meat substitutes.  The best, by far, was the taro-based “moctopus” I had in a Manhattan restaurant (perhaps Vegetarian Paradise?) quite a while ago (see November 25, 2012 post for more information).  I can remember thinking that a couple of gardenburgers were okay, but that the “not dogs” were terrible, very artificial and plastic-y tasting.  But I wanted to reacquaint myself with meat substitutes.  Fortunately, I’m currently near a Whole Foods grocery, which is renowned for its organic and vegetarian friendly selection.  So I was able to get a pretty fair variety.
         There’s a wide range of products used for meat substitutes.  The king, of course, is the soy bean, as the tofu made from it can be shaped and molded into approximately pretty much any type of meat.  Funguses are also used, particularly Fistalina hepatica, and Lactiporus (which is thought by some to be a good chicken imitator).  A Glenmorgan sausage (made from cheese, leeks, and bread crumbs) is fairly old, dating back to at least the mid 19th century.  “Mock duck” is derived from wheat gluten, oil, sugar, soy sauce, and salt.  Quorn comes from a mix of soil molds and eggs.  Other substitutes are still being developed, and perfected.  Leaf protein concentrate is one of these.  The other, more dramatic example, is the “in vitro meat” (a.k.a. “shmeat”), which is basically test tube animal flesh, tissue grown in a lab that has never been part of an animal.  This invention, which requires fetal calf serum cells, and stem cells, has long been a staple of science fiction stories, but seems to be a realistic option for the future.  Some vegetarians balk at it, since it uses the fetal calf cells, while others embrace it.  (Religious dietary lawmakers are divided on the concept as well.)  An in vitro burger was made in 2013, and taste tested.  It was pronounced as being more meat-like than any other substitute, but still somewhat lacking.  (In vitro meat doesn’t, at this time anyway, yield fat or bone tissue, so the flavor that these add is impossible to recreate.)  In vitro meat is still absurdly expensive at this time, but perhaps in the (near?) future it will be a viable, if weird, dining option.
         But let’s get to the food itself.  As I often do, I’ll grade these using the U.S. scholastic system, which is F for failing, D for barely passing, C for average, B for good, A for excellent, with pluses and minuses as required.
    1)      Sol Cuisine Sprouted Quinoa Chia Sliders with sweet potato.  Vegan, uses non-GMO’s, and is wheat and gluten free.  Made from quinoa (See May 1, 2014 Superfoods post), sweet potato, sunflower oil, brown rice, chia, onions, and assorted spices:  C-.  Appeared as a light brown hamburger patty, with visible plant chunks.  It was okay, not great.  Edible, certainly, but didn’t dazzle.  Didn’t taste like beef, and the texture wasn’t meat-like.
    2)      Engine 2 Poblano Black Bean Plant Burger.  Gluten free, non-GMO’s.  Made from black beans, brown rice, tomatoes, oats, poblano peppers, pumpkin seed, cilantro, and spices:  C.  Brown patty with visible bean and pepper chunks.  Better than Sol sliders, but still just alright.  Didn’t chew or taste like beef.  Very bean-y, as advertised.
    3)      Go Veggie! Pepper Jack pasteurized process cheese food alternative.  No lactose, soy, or gluten.  Product of skim milk protein (casein), canola oil, rice, jalapeno and bell peppers, carageenan, and vitamins.  Not really a meat substitute, admittedly, but you get the point:  C-.  Looks like cheese, and texture is about right, but the resemblance ends there.  Doesn’t taste like cheese.  Way too mild, even with the peppers.  Average at best.
    4)      Tofurky Peppered.  Vegan.  Made of wheat gluten, tofu, soy sauce, canola oil, corn starch, pepper, white and garbonzo beans, lemon juice, onion, celery:  F.  Was brown deli slices.  Tasted gross and nasty.  Very plastic-y.  Not like turkey at all.
    5)      Lightlife Smart Deli Bologna Style Veggie Protein Slices.  Vegan.  Produced from wheat gluten, soy protein, cane syrup, carageenan, rice flour, spices:  D.  Looked similar to bologna, only a slightly darker color.  Tasted roughly bologna-ish, but had unpleasant undertaste.  Sticky and pasty.  Pretty bad.
    6)      Tofurky Chorizo Style.  Vegan, non GMO.  From soy flour, canola oil, apple cider vinegar, spices, etc.  Billed as being for quesadillas or tacos.  Heated this one up, in a microwave, as my hotel had this at least:  D-.  Looked like shredded chorizo, I guess.  Marginally better than Tofurky Pepper, but not much.  Hidden, but definite plastic-y taste under the spice.  It tasted “off” somehow.  I just rewatched David Cronenburg’s 1986 movie remake of “The Fly” and it reminded me of the scene where Geena Davis’s character tries steak that has been teleported, before Jeff Goldblum’s scientist character fixes his machine.  She’s grossed out, and claims it tastes artifical.
    7)      Sophie’s Kitchen Vegan Toona.  Vegan, gluten and soy free, non-GMO.  Made of pea protein, olive oil, potato starch, seaweed powder, agave nectar, apple cider vinegar, konjac powder, ginger, and salt:  D-.  This one was bizarre.  Evidently they weren’t even trying to look like tuna, but the result looked a lot like ground beef.  It had more of a beefish flavor, too, and not like tuna at all.  But, to be a broken record, this had an underlying, nasty, plastic-y quality that totally ruined it.

         So there we go.  As you can read, I wasn’t impressed by any of them.  Even the best of the bunch, the Engine 2 burger, was only okay.  I’d still probably try different meat substitutes, but I won’t be optimistic about the chances that I’ll like them much, if at all.  Now I did enjoy the moctopus, so maybe a vegetarian restaurant could prepare something I think is tasty.  And admittedly, I was sampling non-fresh, store bought, pre-packaged meat substitute examples.  But in the unlikely event that I ever become a vegetarian or vegan, I think I’ll stick with regular fruits and vegetables.  These meat substitutes seem mostly to be a cruel tease, as they initially approximate a type of meat, but ultimately, are missing something vital.
         I do, though, appreciate many of the meat substitute names.  Moctopus, tofurky, and “not dogs”, etc. amuse me.  But I think my favorite is the simple, yet funnily effective, “facon.”


    Sunday, September 7, 2014

    Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Pythons

           Obviously, to get topics for these types of blog posts, I typically deliberately seek them out, combing through the ethnic food aisles in groceries, looking up restaurants that serve exotic foods online, etc.  But sometimes, sheer luck helps me out.  While looking for public tennis courts in Albany, NY recently (futilely on that day, as it turned out), I happened to see, out of the corner of my eye, a restaurant called “Dave’s Exotic Burgers.”  A few were listed on the sign outside—kangaroo, bison, wild boar, and others.
         Well, it should surprise no one that I looked up the place online, and sure enough, it was genuine, and open for business.  The next day I convinced some coworkers to join me, and we checked it out.  I was impressed to see an extremely rare kind of meat on the menu—the python, those large, constricting snakes.  Needless to say, that’s what I ordered.
         Python refers to a snake type, of which there are twelve species, and several subspecies.  The owner didn’t know the exact kind of python I’d eaten, but he did know it came from Vietnam.  Looking it up, assuming he was correct, and that it came from a python indigenous to that country, that narrowed it down to two candidates—the Burmese python or the reticulated python.
         The Burmese python has been in the U.S. news of late, because of events in the state of Florida.  Due to either escapes from zoos or warehouses, careless and jerky owners letting too-big pet pythons go in the wild, and/or the damaging of a python breeding facility by Hurricane Andrew, enough Burmese pythons have made South Florida their home, so many so that they’ve been declared an invasive species.  Over 1300 have been caught so far.  Scientists seem divided on how big a problem this is.  Some contend that the pythons may spread to other hot weather neighboring states, and may seriously disrupt the local animal populations.  Others claim that these Florida pythons will likely die out during the next semi-cold Florida winter, and that feral pigs are a much bigger issue to Florida ecology.  Whatever the case, it still must be pretty alarming to come upon a 12-19 foot snake while hiking through the Everglades.  Especially because juveniles are talented climbers, and all ages swim well.
         The reticulated python is credited as the world’s longest snake.  Not the largest though—the green anaconda tends to be heavier.  The heaviest reliably weighed anaconda was 215 pounds, while the heaviest reticulated python was 165 pounds.  Although, I was sad, in a way, to see that the reticulated python’s lengths have been exaggerated.  The old champ, an individual named “Colossus,” was always billed as being 29 feet long.  However, scientists went back and measured his skeleton, and it turns out he was “only” 22.8 feet long.  Evidently measuring huge snakes while they’re still alive is difficult, as they don’t like being extended completely out, and judging body length on the dead snakes’ skins is problematic because they can be accidently (or intentionally) stretched by as much as 50%.  In fact, if you happen to have a living 30 foot plus snake, presenting it to the Wildlife Conservation Society in the U.S.A. will net you $50,000.  No one has come even close to getting this reward.  Like its Burmese relative, the reticulated python is a skilled swimmer, and can even cross the ocean and colonize islands.
         Also, to debunk another myth, even the largest snakes can’t actually consume an adult human being.  Snakes can temporarily dislocate their jaws and open them absurdly wide, but even so an adult’s shoulder width is too much.  A giant snake could conceivably eat a preteen or child, but I couldn’t find any authenticated examples of this.  Not to say they’re not dangerous—large constrictors have killed people.  (And even comparatively small ones occasionally kill careless pet owners.)  So suffice to say, I wouldn’t let a 20 foot snake babysit your toddler, but tales about folks winding up in a snake’s stomach are almost certainly fictional.
         But back to Dave’s.  While it was billed as being a burger, it didn’t really resemble a typical one.  Instead of the traditional, firm, disc-like shape, it was instead small, maybe one inch by a half inch separate chunks of meat, along with lettuce, tomatoes, and sauce, on the bun halves.  As usual, I made sure to try the actual python flesh alone, and unadorned, to get the more accurate assessment of the meat.  The texture was fairly chewy, but not overly so.  The taste was decent.  Not spectacular, but not unpleasant or bad, either.  In short, it was a positive dining experience, and I would both recommend it, and would try it again.  Perhaps not very often at this particular establishment, as the price was very steep--$25 for the base hamburger, and about $5 more for the special spices and sauce.  The owner did show me the raw python meat, too.  It looked rather unappetizing—a sort of sickly, pale whitish color.  But, as I said, in this case the looks were deceiving.
         Dave’s had many more exotics aside from the python, and the ones I already mentioned.  So I’ll be posting further selections from it in the future.