Monday, December 29, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Buddha Hands

     I know I’ve probably said this before, in posts such as the ones for lychees (see November 15, 2013 post), and mangosteens (see March 27, 2014 post), but this time I really, really mean it—Buddha hands are the strangest looking fruit I’ve ever seen.  The most common term for them is pretty apt:  As someone who’s exhumed many graves, and seen many de-fleshed hands, take it from me, it’s a decent resemblance.  I’ve also heard “Cthulhu fruit” as a nickname, and that’s fair too.  Or, to continue our parade of similarities, it looks kind of like a lemon and an octopus had a baby.  (Does this mental image challenge the internet’s Rule 34?  Maybe.)  Anyway, it’s roughly hand sized, of course, has a lemon-ish outer rind, and about 6-10 fingerlike tendrils coming off of it.  Oh, one more comparison—it resembles one of the “facehugger” aliens from the movie series of the same name.
     In a funny way, the “Cthulhu fruit” moniker is appropriate, too, as Buddha hands are a type of citron, which is one of the three original citrus fruits (Mandarin oranges and pummelos (see February 20, 2014 post) are the others).  Every other citrus fruit is a hybrid of these O.G., parent fruits.  Or “Old Ones,” as H.P. Lovecraft would have put it.  They are believed to have originated in Asia, either China or India.  As with many fruits, now they’re grown in other places which have hot enough climates.  Evidently they’re not that common, though, at least here in the U.S., because they’re very expensive.  They go for as much as $24 a pound, and the regular sized one I bought was $10.
     As for what people do with them, eating them is rather low on the list.  They’re prized as ornamentals, for both their tree and the fruit themselves.  But their most valued attribute is their odor—they’re used as religious offerings (“closed” fingered, more immature ones are considered best, as they’re mimicking praying hands), in perfumes, to freshen laundry, or to simply give a room a nice smell.  Because here’s the thing—they don’t really have pulp:  Under the outer rind is basically just inner rind, like the yellowish-white coating on an orange’s pulp.  Therefore, to consume them people usually use them as twists for drinks, or made into jams, or candied, or juiced and drizzled over salads.
     As even semi-regular readers know, I’m adverse to cooking foods, or even doing much preparation.  I checked out some of the complicated recipes for candying them, or jamming them (is that a proper verb usage?  It is now), and just laughed.  I didn’t feel the yearn to use the stove top, or, as I like to call it, the “little room underneath the burners” (i.e. the “oven”).  Instead I tried some of the quasi-pulp (inner rind) plain, and then attempted to make “Buddha hand-ade” by putting chopped up ones in water for a couple of days, and adding sugar.
     The results were awful.  I couldn’t even swallow the inner rind, and the drink was weak and barely had a taste, even with sugar.  Maybe the jams and candied varieties are decent, but I have to admit I’m not optimistic.  I can’t recommend these as food.
     However, this may be a unique case where I nonetheless recommend buying them anyway.  The odor, which is activated by cutting into them, is as pleasant as advertised.  But, mainly, I think they’re fun for pranks.  In my household, we pretended the Buddha hand was conscious, and evil, and told jokes in that vein, and put notes in its “fingers” that “it” wrote.  Or, it would probably freak people out if you substituted one for a lemon overnight.  They might think, “Did my lemon get syphilis or something?”  They’d probably make for effective Halloween decorations, too.  Yes, they’re definitely overpriced, but if you get some friends to chip in, maybe, I still think they could be worth it.  Just think twice (or three times) about eating them.
     (Oh, and finally, I don’t get the sense that the name is considered insulting to those who are Buddhists.  But if so, I apologize.  My intent was to try a new fruit, and write an entertaining post about it, and not to mock anyone’s spiritual beliefs.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"Creature Stew" Cover Reveal

     Here it is!  As luck would have it, this picture could be showing a scene from my story in the anthology ("The Existence Mezzanine").  I think the publication date is basically any day now.  Obviously, I'll post more information here when I get it.
     And to those that celebrate it, Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Dogfish Head Brewery's Ancient Ales

     Dogfish Head Brewery (out of Milton, Delaware) is one of the more famous craft breweries in the U.S.  (Don't know if they export much to other countries--hope so, for their sakes.)  And with good reason--they're excellent.  My personal favorites include their 60 Minute and 90 Minute IPA's, as well as their Saison du Buff.
     But one of the things I like best about them is their willingness to experiment with different beer styles and ingredients.  If you take a look at their brewery's offerings over the years, it's well into the dozens, if not three digits.  Essentially, pick a beer style and they've probably already produced a version, or are presumably planning to.
     Given my profession, it seemed appropriate for me to try and rate beers from their Ancient Ales series.  Starting in 1999, Dogfish Head has partnered up with Dr. Patrick McGovern, from the University of Pennsylvania Museum, who specializes in studying ancient beverages.  One of Dr. McGovern's methods is to chemically analyze drinking vessels from archaeological sites and determine what was in the beverages.  Sometimes the results indicate that the drinks were alcoholic in nature.  So, looking at these chemical results, as well as from botanical samples, pollen samples, and written documents, McGovern has been able to roughly figure out recipes for some of these.
     The first Ancient Ale put out by Dogfish Head was Midas Touch.  This is a beverage somewhere between a wine and a mead, based on information found in a tomb in Turkey believed to be that of the real King Midas.  (Clearly, the myths and stories about him, such as his cursed ability to turn things to gold by touching them, are fictitious, but there does seem to have been an actual ruler.)  This beer is flavored with honey, white muscat grapes, and saffron.
     Chateau Jiahu is based on evidence found in a tomb at the 9000 year old Neolithic site of Jiahu in the Henan province of China.  Other highlights of this site include some of the earliest examples of writing, and some of the oldest playable musical instruments, in the form of their distinctive flutes.  The beer, which may be the oldest example of alcohol ever, is made with barley, honey, hawthorn fruit, and sake rice.
     Moving to Central America, another Ancient Ale, Theobroma, is based on analysis of pottery found at a 3000 year old site in Honduras.  It's flavored with honey, cocoa, chilies, and annatto.  It's inspired by the chocolate drink that was reserved only for the ruling elite, and the gods.
    Ta Henket is based on Egyptian hieroglyphics.   It consists of a wheat and bread base, with chamomile, doum palm fruit, and Middle Eastern herb flavoring, using yeast from Cairo.
     Birra Etrusca Bronze is based on the chemical analysis of drinking vessels found in 2800 year old Etruscan warrior tombs in Tuscany, Italy, along with botanical evidence from the same.  Flavorings include the ubiquitous honey, hazelnut flour, heirloom wheat, myrrh (appropriate for this season), gentian root, raisins, and pomegranate.  Additionally, it's also listed as being fermented in bronze.
     Kvasir is inspired by evidence found in a drinking vessel in the tomb of a leather-clad woman believed to have been either a priestess or a upper class dancer.  The tomb is Danish, and is 3500 years old.  Ingredients include wheat, lingonberries, cranberries, myrica gale, yarrow, (of course) honey, and birch syrup.
     Other offerings, some of which were discontinued, were their versions of sahti (see July 30, 2012 post), the African, honey and tree root flavored tej, and chicha, a traditional South American brew.
     I was able to locate some of these, and my opinions are below.  As before, if I find any of the missing ones, or when Dogfish Head inevitably makes more kinds, I'll of course try to find these, try them, and update this post.  As I often do, I'll be using the U.S. scholastic system of A (excellent), B (good), C (average), D (poor, but passing) through F (failing, awful), with pluses and minuses as necessary.

1) Midas Touch:    C-.  Okay, but a little too barley wine-ish (barley wine is a beer style I don't usually like).  The honey sweetness helps.

2) Chateau Jiahu:  C+.  Weird.  Almost like a wine, or a barley wine.  Taste is hard to pin down, and describe.

3) Theobroma:  D.  Didn't like.  Unpleasant.  Bad tastes include metallic, chalky, and plastic-y.  Couldn't really detect the chocolate or chili.

4) Birra Etrusca Bronze:  B.  Nice.  Some weird flavors--fruity, almost like a golden ale.  Very solid.

5) Kvasir:  B-.  Pretty good.  Finishes nicely--tart.  Fruity, in a good way.  Hides alcohol well.

     As further explanation, except for the Midas Touch, which I did find in 12 ounce bottles, all of these were only sold in 25 ounce "bomber" bottles.  And the prices for the bombers were steep--$12 to $13 each.  So if you're not reasonably sure you'll like it, maybe split one with a friend.  Also, these are all very strong in alcohol content.  The weakest is the Etrusca, and even that's 8.5%!  (The others are 9-10%.)  Looking at my scores, you can see I didn't love any of them, but really only disliked one.  Most were at least alright.  And I don't regret even the Theobroma--I didn't enjoy it, but I was trying something new, and different.  The expression "Variety is the spice of life," is one I try to adhere to, at least with foods and beverages.  And at the risk of sounding cliché and cheesy, imbibing any of the Ancient Ales is like reliving the past, embracing liquid history, if you will.



Saturday, December 13, 2014

Writing Updates

     Just went through the first round of edits on my story for the "Creature Stew" anthology, and it went very well.  As I mentioned in a post a couple of months ago, this horror anthology is being put out by Papa Bear Press, and will probably be available in January or February of next year.  My contribution, "The Existence Mezzanine," is a tale about vicious zombies--but with a distinctive twist.
     Also, I'm please to announce that another story, "See?", was recently accepted for an anthology from NoodleDoodle Publications.  This anthology will be Volume 2 of "Fear's Accomplice."  Volume 1 of "Fear's Accomplice" has done very well, and hopefully this bodes well for the sequel.  This book is scheduled for a mid February release.
      And as usual, I'll continue to update new information on both of these, such as when the covers are chosen, and when the release dates are made official.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Kiwano

    (I'm writing this while at the local laundromat, which contains paintings of Darwin, Karl Marx (?), and an anonymous figure who looks clinically depressed, head in his hands.  Just to explain if the tone of this post goes awry.)
     Kiwano (aka horned melon, hedged gourd, and my personal favorite, blowfish fruit) is an extremely distinctive fruit.  It's roughly fist-sized, oval, and is a bright orange color (or, inside joke to my field archaeologist friends, a "strong brown" tint).  It also appears to be daring you to eat it--it's covered in multiple, fairly sharp thorns.  So when I saw it in the Tops supermarket in Wysox, PA, I knew I had to try it.
     I pretty much had it quickly, and proceeded to cut it open.  The inside was unusual, too--4 chambers with light yellowish/whitish walls, filled with green, very seedy pulp.  I dug in with a spoon.  Then, after I ate half of it, I looked it up on the internet.  Here's when I had a brief moment of terror.  The first couple of mentionings of it on the world wide web posited whether or not the seeds were poisonous.  I immediately kicked myself for being lazy and sloppy, perhaps with extreme consequences.  I enjoy doing these short essays every week, but I don't want an obituary which relays how I accidently killed myself while trying out wacky foods.  Well, since you're not reading this, letter by letter, on a Ouija board, you know I survived.  Later websites confirmed that the seeds aren't deadly toxic.  Which is a good thing, too--there are so many, and they're so mixed in with the pulp, that picking them out would be tediously time consuming.
     Kiwano is of African origin, but now it is also cultivated in other hot climates, like in the Southern U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and Chile.  Westerners have been slow to embrace it (except for rural Pennsylvanians, evidently (!)).  It's important to those that live in the Kalahari Desert, since it's a rare source of water during the region's dry season.  Nutritionally it contains significant amounts of iron and magnesium, and smaller amounts of B vitamins, phosphorus, and zinc.
    Anyway, kiwano was decent.  The taste is tart, but not overpoweringly so, certainly not similar to a lemon.  Others maintain it's like a cross of cucumbers, zucchini, and lemons, or like bananas, but I didn't agree with any of these.  I wasn't dazzled by it, but it was alright.  I wouldn't leap to buy it the next time I see it in the store (which if history is any indication, might be quite a long time), but I would probably pick one up again every now and then. 
     Additionally, like I was discussing before, it served as an important reminder that I should research exotics before consuming them, a lesson I should have already learned by now.  Supermarkets don't always include warnings and detailed preparation instructions with their offered foods.  And, most of us aren't callous dictators with food tasters on the payroll.