Sunday, December 27, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Canary Melons

     Wegman's supermarket came through again.  Because of course it did--it's the best grocery I've ever experienced.  I was strolling through the produce section when I saw something odd.  It looked like a smallish melon, only yellow in color.  It's outer rind was smooth like a watermelon's.  The name was peculiar, too--a Juan canary melon.
     Once I got it home, I did a little reading.  Its origins are a bit mysterious.  One website theorized that it was Persian in origin.  Wherever it started, now it's grown elsewhere.  It's a sensitive plant, needing a hot and arid climate, and is particularly susceptible to mildew, sun damage, and plant diseases in general.  Brazil is currently a major producer of them, and that's where mine hailed from.  The "canary" part of the name is simply due to its canary yellow hue.  Alternately it's known as just a canary melon, or a winter melon.  Like many melons it's high in fiber, and has significant amounts of Vitamins A and C.
     Eating the Juan canary melon was pretty easy.  I used a sharp knife, but I think even a dull butter knife would have done the trick in cutting it open.  As is common with melons (except watermelons) the inner core contained a space with all the seeds, which were suspended in kind of a lattice-work.  Some websites mentioned roasting and eating these seeds, but, not surprisingly, this non-chef didn't bother with all that noise.  The inner flesh was a light greenish/whitish color.  The texture was soft and wet, like a watermelon.  A spoon was sufficient to scoop out the flesh.  The taste, for me, was okay.  Sweeter than a cantaloupe or honeydew, and also better than watermelons.  But, there's a huge caveat:  I'm not a melon guy.  I flat out don't like the taste of honeydews and cantaloupes, and watermelon is so, well, watery and essentially tasteless that I don't see the point.  Since I was home for the holidays, I gave some to my parents to try.  And their reaction indicated that taste in fruit is not genetic:  They raved about the Juan canary melon, really loved it.  There was even talk about asking the local supermarket if they'd consider stocking them.  So, all in all, it appears that if you like melons, there's a good chance you'll really be impressed with the Juan canary type.  If you don't than it probably won't change your mind.
     I do, though, really like the concept of giving melons people names.  Perhaps we should rename them "Vladimir watermelons."  Or for fans of alliteration, "Cornelius cantaloupes."  "Hezekiah honeydews."  You get the idea.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Cabot Cheese

     I recently ended a long, 5 and a half month tour of Vermont for work.  Which I really liked.  As a fan of cooler temperatures, you can't beat Northern New England for more bearable summers (except maybe Alaska, or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan).  Also, Vermont is undeniably an attractive state--great views of mountains and forests, and pretty much every cute little town resembles something that Norman Rockwell would have painted.  And if you're into craft beer like I am, Vermont is awesome.  Beer snobs have all heard of The Alchemist, Lawson's, and Hill Farmstead, but there are many other good to great breweries, including Frost, 14th Star, Otter Creek, etc.
     One more thing Vermont, and New England as a whole, is known for is Cabot Creamery.  With good reason--with sales over $300,000,000 per year, they are one of the most successful dairy corporations in the country, and the world.  Cabot dates back to 1919, and it takes its name from the original dairy in Cabot, Vermont.  After struggling in the late 1980's, there were revitalized after being taken over by Agri-Mark Cooperative in 1992.  They consist of about 1200 individual dairy farms, scattered across New England and New York state.  They're world renowned for their cheese, and other dairy products.  Just staying recent, their cloth-bound cheddar was included on the list of the 100 greatest cheeses in the world in 2008 by Wine Spectator,  Also in 2008, their Monterey Jack received an award from the American Cheese Society.
    Although, to give the full story, there is a dark side.  I was surprised to read that the organization has been negligent in several cases.  An ammonia spill from one of their dairies killed thousands of fish and other aquatic creatures in the Winooski River in 2007.  And in 2011 the Vermont Attorney General Office declared that their products indicated use of the taboo hormone rBST.  In both of these cases Cabot paid five figure fines, and in the 2011 incident they were forced to also donate $75,000 worth of dairy products to local food banks.
     I decided to go with what must be their flagship brand, cheddar cheese.  Specifically their sharp cheddar.  And it was good.  Sharp as indicated, and I had absolutely no problem finishing the small block, most of it plain, by itself.  However, I must admit that the Australian version of this same cheese type (Old Croc, see November 22, 2015 blog post) was a little bit tastier.  So not to be unpatriotic or anything, but for this cheese I'm afraid the Land Down Under had the superior product.
     If you're interested, Cabot has a website, of course.  Even a blog, which contains recipes, info about individual dairy farms, and news about their charitable endeavors.
     So, if effect, my sort of quest to find a cheese I don't like continues.  At this point I'm pretty confident that this "goal" will never be attained.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Pre-Packaged Paleo Products

     While at the same alternative grocery in Williston that I found the dairy products/yogurts that I talked about in last week's post, I also saw a "Paleo" section.  Which piqued my interest.  I'd heard about the Paleolithic Diet in general, but I'd never seen Paleo items on sale at a store.  Needless to say, I bought up a nice sampling.
     The Paleo Diet is a fairly recent one.  It appears to have mostly been inspired by gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin in the 1970's.  Most credit Stanley Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner (along with Konner's wife Margorie Shostak) with developing the Diet.  Then Loren Cordain's 2002 book "The Paleo Diet" popularized the Diet to the general public.  Since then, like many diets, its received a boost from some celebrities' adoption of it, such as singer Miley Cyrus and actor Matthew McConaughey.
     In essence, the Paleo Diet contends that many of humanity's current health problems, like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, can be traced to the modern diet.  Proponents think this conditions are caused by (or at least made worse by) the foods humans started eating about 10,000 years ago, with the advent of modern agriculture.  They argue that human physiology and metabolism havn't changed much in those 10,000 years, so we should eat the foods that humans evolved to eat over millions of years.  Therefore, we should go back to what these Paleolithic people ate--mostly meat, nuts, fruit, and non-starchy vegetables.  Taboo foods include dairy, grains (wheat, barley, rye, etc.) legumes (beans and peanuts), coffee, alcohol, processed oils, salt, and refined sugar.  In addition to archaeological evidence of diet, Cordain and others studied six modern groups which are largely hunter/gatherers (as our Paleolithic ancestors were), such as the Eskimos (Aleuts) in the Arctic, and the !Kung San of Africa.
     Well, like any diet, there are dissenting views.  Many of them.  The British Dietetic Association included the Paleo Diet on its list of the Five Worst Celebrity-Endorsed Diets of 2015, calling it, "unbalanced, time consuming, and socially isolating."  Evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk of the University of Minnesota said Paleo Dieters could miss out on vital nutrients that could lead to long term health problems later in life, like young women risking higher incidents of osteoporosis due to a lack of calcium.  The University of Zurich's Christina Warinner is a particularly rabid critic of the Diet.
     To sum up the counter argument, these proponents claim that first off, we don't know exactly what our Paleo ancestors actually ate and didn't eat.  Also, that there is some good evidence that Paleo humans processed flour over 30,000 years ago, and did eat some legumes.  Going on, the anti-Paleo side points out that human physiology has changed in the past 10,000 years--the ability of many groups of people in the world to digest lactose past infancy being one example.  And that the plants themselves have changed in the past 10,000 years--often due to human interaction, such as causing the ancestor of the corn plant to grow incredibly larger, with correspondingly huge kernels.  Furthermore, to say that there was one Paleo Diet is problematic, as people in different environments naturally exploited different animals and plants.  Humans are nutritionally flexible, they say.  And finally, Paleo people may have had less incidents of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease because with their average life spans being shorter, they may have died before they could develop them.  Although, it should be said that the anti-Paleo Diet side agrees with the Paleo Dieters that people should cut back on the sugar, fried foods, and "junk food" in general, and replace these with more fruits and vegetables.  They just don't think these products in moderation are necessarily catastrophic.
     Anyway, with this brief summary aside, let's move to what I got.  I purchased three protein bars from the Jorge Cruise line, in conjunction with the Julian Bakery and Paleo, Inc.  (According to the wrappers, Mr. Cruise is a celebrity fitness trainer, a #1 NY Times bestselling author, and host of a show that boasts an audience of 12 million people.)  I also got a box of Caveman Cookies, from the Caveman Bakery, out of NY.  Once again, I'll use the U.S. grading system of "A" for excellent, "B" for good, "C" for average, "D" for unsatisfactory but barely passing, and "F" for failing, with pluses and minuses as needed.

1) Paleo protein bar, Jorge Cruise/Julian Bakery/Paleo, Inc., Chocolate Mint flavor:  C-.  Wet and greasy brown bar with white chunks/globs sticking to it.  Hard, firm texture.  Presumably dark chocolate since milk not on ingredient list.  Not very good.  Not terrible, but disappointing.

2) Paleo protein bar, same companies as above, Glazed Donut flavor: B.  Waxy in texture and appearance, like a Power Bar.  Honey colored.  Did have a donut-like taste.  Good.

3) Paleo protein bar, same companies as above, Cinnamon Roll flavor:  B.  Also waxy, light brown in color, and shiny.  Cinnamon-y, definitely.  Similar to the Donut kind in quality--pretty good.

4) Caveman Cookies, Pumpkin/Maple/Cranberry flavor:  A.  Really tasty cookie.  Soft texture.  Odd, uneven appearance.  Enjoyed these quite a bit--sweet and chewy.

     So, all in all, I liked these Paleo products.  Even the worst one (the chocolate mint bar) wasn't horrendous or anything.  But, I should point out that these were extremely expensive.  Each individual 2 to 2.3 ounce bar was over $4!  The Cookies were over $3 for a box of eight moderately sized cookies.  I was further amused by the concept of pre-packaged Paleo items.  It seems against the whole macho, back-to-nature, hunter/gatherer caveman theme, to pick up wrapped food items in a suburban store, that were accumulated and prepared by others.  Readers can probably guess from this post's tone and content which side of the Paleo Diet I stand on (more to the anti side, clearly).  But Paleo Dieters, like all other dieters, or "regular" eaters, should be aware of potential health risks and concerns with it.  But, as always, when it comes to what people want to eat, to each their own.  Unless you're a cannibal (folks reduced to cannibalism of already dead companions in starvation situations, a la the Uruguayan rugby team in the Andes in the 1970's excluded).  That I can't support!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Unusual Yogurts/Dairy Products

     Yogurt is, of course, a very pedestrian, common food, at least where I live.  However, there are some twists on it that I was not aware of.  This was brought home to me recently, when I visited an alternative, health food grocery in Williston, VT.  There I was able to pick up a few of these new ones.  Additionally, I saw a dairy drink that I'd heard about but never had a chance to sample--kefir.  And, while I was thinking about dairy and yogurt I recalled another one I've tried--lassi.
     Let's get some background.  Kefir is a fermented milk drink which originated in the Caucasus Mountain region in Eurasia.  Essentially, it involves putting kefir grains/cultures into regular milk.  This causes most of the lactose to be converted into lactic acid.  Meaning that lactose intolerant people can usually enjoy kefir without problems.  Kefir can be used to make sourdough bread, as a buttermilk substitute in cooking, or as an additive to cold borscht.  Sometimes, being fermented, it's mildly alcoholic.
    Australian yogurt differs from regular yogurt in that it's unstrained, and is typically made using whole milk.  As a result, it usually has a higher protein content.  Often it's infused with honey as well.
     Lassis are a traditional yogurt drink from India.  They're made with yogurt, water, and then either spices (for the savory type) or fruit (for the sweet kind).  Chaas is another type of Indian dairy beverage. And one kind of lassi, the bhang type, has the liquid derivative of cannabis.  So for that one I guess you have to check your local marijuana laws.
     As usual, I'll score these based on the U.S. scholastic system--"A" for excellent, "B" for good, "C" for average, "D" for unsatisfactory but barely passing, and "F" for failing, with pluses and minuses as necessary.

1) Lifeway (Illinois) low fat kefir--pomegranate flavor.  No alcoholic content listed:  B-.  Pretty good, but not great.  Fruity overtones.  Tasted like a slightly sour yogurt drink.  I do like the pitchline on the bottle--"The Champagne of Dairy."

2) Wallaby creamy Australian style yogurt, lime flavor (despite the style, it's made in California):  C+.  Thin, almost watery.  Slight lime taste.  Okay, but not as good as most other yogurts.

3) Maple Hill Creamery (New York) drinkable yogurt--maple flavor.  Appeared to be a slightly thinner, yogurt beverage:  F.  Terrible.  I usually like sour tastes, but this was way too much.  It almost tasted spoiled (thankfully it wasn't).  I didn't detect the slightest hint of maple, or any sweetness.  A drain pour.

4) Lassis.  I've had dozens of these, as I have them pretty much every time I go to a Indian restaurant.  I like mango lassis the best, but the other flavors I've tried were tasty, too:  A+.  Lassis are delicious--really top notch.  Like a yogurt milkshake.  They taste like awesome.

     So there you have it.  I would definitely advise against the Maple Hill drinkable yogurt, but would recommend kefir and Australian style yogurt with mild enthusiasm.  And I can't recommend lassis enough.
     I am curious to try more kefir, especially the alcoholic version.  Plus, Iceland has a different take on yogurt, too.  Don't know if/when I'll have the opportunity to try this one, but I can hope.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Jicama

     Just to get it out of the way, first off, jicamas look unappetizing.  Like you'd imagine an ent's testicle would resemble.  Or, less graphically, a warty, old potato.  Nevertheless, I was excited to see them, as I knew they were grist for my blogging mill, so to speak.
     As the name probably suggests, jicamas are native to Mexico.  Alternate titles for it are yam bean, Mexican potato, and Chinese potato (the last one because the Spanish took jicamas to the Philippines hundreds of years ago, and from there they spread throughout parts of Southeast Asia).  Botanically they're a legume.  The plant itself is almost comically dangerous--every part of it save the root is poisonous, and even the skin of the root is toxic, too.  They tend to be a roundish or oval shape, and about the size of a large orange or a grapefruit.
     They're a fairly versatile food.  Jicamas are often eaten raw, with salt, chili powder, and lemon juice.  Some folks put them in salads.  Other methods are slicing them and frying them into chips, adding them to soups, or stir frying them.
     Given my extreme aversion to cooking, or even doing much food preparation, it should surprise no one that I chose to eat mine raw.  Alas, due to moving around for the holidays and work, I didn't have any chili powder or lemon juice available.  So I tried some pieces plain, some with mustard on them, and some others with a salt coating.  The results were pretty unimpressive.  As I'd read, I found the texture, and flavor, to be similar to a bland apple.  The mustard, and especially the salt definitely helped, but even with these the jicama was mediocre at best.  I would consider having them again, but I think only if it was cooked up in a restaurant dish.
     But, to give them credit, these root vegetables are healthy to eat.  They're low in calories, as well as in fat and sodium.  Plus they have decent amounts of fiber, potassium, and Vitamin C. 
     The source for my jicama was Frieda's of California, although it was grown in Mexico.  Frieda's tagline was ,"Inspire.  Taste.  Love."  Which is much more dramatic and positive than my experience with them was. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Australian Crocodile Cheese

     Okay, I was being a little sneaky with this title.  As everybody probably knows, crocodiles, and other reptiles, do not suckle their young.  And if they did, man, that would be quite a dangerous trick to milk them!  What I did have was cheese made in Australia, from cow's milk, called Old Croc Extra Sharp Cheddar.
     According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, cheddar is the most popular kind of cheese in the world, and the most studied cheese.  It takes its name from the English village in Somerset where it originated.  When it was initially developed isn't conclusively known, but there are good historic records of it being around since at least 1170 A.D.  Some researchers think that the Romans brought the recipe in, by way of France.  The caves in the Cheddar Gorge provide excellent cheese-aging storage areas.  Flash forward to the 19th century, when Joseph Harding revolutionized cheddar production.  Through the use of his new time-saving revolving breaker to cut the curds, and other technological innovations, Harding was able to modernize and standardize cheddar cheese.  Which is why he's known as the "Father of Cheddar Cheese."  This cheese type also got a boost during World War II.  Because of rationing, most of the milk produced during this time was earmarked for "Government Cheddar."
     Cheddar is usually an off-white, to yellow, to orangish color.  It's usually designated as a hard cheese.  One of the common flavorings for it is annetto, which provides a sweeter, nutty tinge to it.  The word(s) "sharp" and "extra sharp" are often used to describe it, and these mean the cheese has a more acidic taste.
     The Old Croc cheese I got boasts that it is GMO-free, all natural, and aged for 18 months.  The logo has a crocodile, of course, and the tagline "Careful.  It Bites!"  As it turns out, Old Croc is doing a bang-up job of exporting--this brand is available all across the U.S., for example.
     Anyway, as advertised, the cheese was sharp, with a nicely sourish flavor.  It was good.  Maybe not the best cheddar I've ever had, but certainly far from the worst (and in my cheese-crazy opinion, even the "worst" cheddar, or any type of cheese, for that matter, is still at least decent).  The seven ounce block I got was about $5--a tad expensive, but not ridiculous.  I will probably buy it again, and would recommend it to others.
     Finally, if you have a mind to get the record for making the world's biggest block of cheddar cheese, better get milking.  The current holder is a 36,850 pound (25,790 kilo) monster made by cheese makers in Oregon, U.S.A. in 1989.
     Also, the story I mentioned a couple of weeks ago was accepted for the "A Thousand Tiny Knives" charity anthology from KnightWatch Press.  I'll provide more details when I get them.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Unusual Flavors of Usual Snack Foods

     As I was wandering the snack food aisle of the local gas station/minimart the other day, I noticed some flavors of familiar brands that I'd never seen before.  Not surprisingly, I couldn't resist picking some up, and giving them a go.  The ones I settled on were Sweetos (from Cheetos, obviously), Sweet & Salty Chocolate Peanut Butter Bugles, and two kinds of Combos--Sweet & Salty Vanilla Frosting Pretzel, and Sweet & Salty Caramel Creme Pretzel.
     Now I'll jump to some brief backgrounds of these brands.  Cheetos are a puffed corn snack dusted with cheese made by Frito-Lay out of Texas, a division of PepsiCo since 1965.  Frito-Lay is actually the world's largest snack food company in the U.S. and the world, accounting for 40% and 35% of total sales, respectively.  Some of their most popular brands are Fritos, Lays and Ruffles potato chips, and Doritos.  Made since 1968, Cheetos are sometimes given different flavors in other countries, such as Steak and Strawberry Cheetos in Japan, and American Cream Cheetos in China.  Their mascot is Chester Cheetah, a sunglass-wearing cool defender of the downtrodden.  On a more comic note (to me anyway) Cheetos thought to resemble Michael Jackson and Jesus (named "Cheesus") have been sold on Ebay in the past decade.
     Bugles are a General Mills product.  This Minnesota based company owns many brands, such as Yoplait yogurt, Haagen-Dazs ice cream, Old El Paso Mexican food products, and many breakfast cereals, among others.  Bugles were invented in 1966, along with sister snacks Daisies, Whistles, Buttons, Bows, and Pizza Spins, each designed to have a shape like their name.  Only Bugles lived past infancy, so to speak.  Other unusual Bugles flavors are Sweet & Salty Caramel, Ketchup, and Coriander.
     Combos are the youngest of these snacks, being developed in the mid 1970's by Eagle Snacks, the snack food division of Anheuser-Busch.  Since 1996 they have been owned by Mars, International, out of Virginia, which mainly markets sweet candies and chocolate.  Combos are hard hollow pretzels filled with cheese.  Combos are heavily involved with NASCAR, as they sponsor driver Kyle Busch, and are the official cheese-filled snack of NASCAR.  (I don't know what is the official cheese coated snack of NASCAR, or official potato-based snack, pickle-based snack, sugar-based snack, etc.)
     Growing up, I had all of these brands, and developed my own opinion of them.  Cheetos are decent cheese snacks, but I prefer the softer, puffier Utz, Herr's, and Wise brand version (called cheese curls/doodles).  All of these are messy to eat, as the orange cheese dust coats your fingers after only a couple of them.  Bugles were okay, but not one of my favorites  Their cone-shaped form is undeniably fun, though--I'll bet few kids who had them could successfully fight the impulse to put them on the ends of their fingers and pretend they had witch's nails, or monster talons.  Combos were strange.  The first time I had one I really liked it.  But I quickly learned that a little goes a long way.  Invariably I got sick of them after I had only a few.  Finishing even a small bag was typically a chore.  This is probably partially due to my feelings about pretzels.  As a native of the Philadelphia area, I'm inclined to prefer the larger (about hand-sized, or bigger), soft, mustard-coated version of a pretzel to the smaller, hard pretzels.  Combos are the smaller, harder pretzel type.
     Anyway, here's my take on these four new flavors, worst to best.  As usual, I'll use the U.S. scholastic system of grading--"A" for excellent, "B" for good, "C" for average, "D" for unsatisfactory but barely passing, "F" for failure, with pluses (+) and minuses (-) as necessary.

1) Combos Sweet & Salty Caramel Creme Pretzel:  D.  Look like regular Combos, only the filling is whitish instead of yellow.  Much more salty than sweet.  Caramel flavor isn't very good.  This marriage of two differing flavors doesn't work.

2) Combos Sweet & Salty Vanilla Frosting Pretzel:  D+.  Appear like regular Combos, only with a brown filling.  Similar to the Caramel Creme, this was pretty nasty.  Again, more salty than sweet.  Slightly better than Caramel Creme, but still bad.

3) Sweetos (Cheetos) Cinnamon Sugar Puffs:  B+.  These are rings, about an inch and a half in diameter.  Not cheesy or savory, just sweet.  Reminded me strongly of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, and that's a good thing.

4) Sweet & Salty Chocolate Peanut Butter Bugles:  A.  These looked like regular Bugles except they're brown instead of yellow.  Very chocolate-y and creamy.  Really enjoyed these.

     To sum up, then, I liked two and disliked two.  Unlike with the regular Combos, I disliked these new kinds from the first one, and didn't finish more than a few of them.  For the Sweetos and Bugles I finished the bags happily.  But, I still do give credit to Combos for trying something new, even if these innovations didn't work this time.  I will certainly try other exotic flavors of Combos (and other snack foods) if/when I get the chance.  If you're interested in trying out the Sweetos, though, be forewarned--they're listed as being available only for a limited time.  (Although that would presumably change if they sell well, I guess.)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Alligator

     Since our father was a geography professor, my family quickly got used to long vacations every summer.  Because of these (and my later travel for work), I think I've been in every one of the lower 48 States save for maybe North Dakota.  Anyway, on one of our Florida trips we took a bus tour in the Everglades.  At the midway point we stopped and were given a choice:  To get back on the bus and go back to the visitor' center after a break, or walk around the Everglades on our own, and make our own way back to the center.  My brother and I quickly ran out and decided we would walk around on our own, and headed for the nearest dirt path.  We'd only gone a short distance when we saw something.  A big something.  A large alligator was right beside the path, its head resting on the edge of the path.  As if daring us to try to get past it.  Not surprisingly, that changed our decision, and we got back on the bus.
     Many years later, I was working down in Georgia, near Savannah, from late November into early March.  Which was bizarre--they don't have winter down there.  The temperatures were in high 50's to the 70's (Fahrenheit), and some days it even got into the 80's, in February.  Even with these (to me) freakishly hot temps many of the animals still found these too cold.  The giant spiders, snakes, and other reptiles had gone dormant, out of sight.  Which was good, since some of the crew needed to canoe over to some islands to dig.  Then, finally, near the end of the project, we saw it.  A large adult alligator, on the road.  It was big enough to take up an entire lane by itself--at least 7-8 feet long.  Luckily we were in our vehicles at the time.
     Although they're smaller than their crocodile relatives, American alligators are still pretty big, and formidable.  Adult females average about 8 feet in length, and males 11.  The largest ones can reach 14-15 feet long (the record one being 19 feet), and weigh 1000 pounds.  The other species, the Chinese alligator, is much smaller (up to 7 feet long), and alas, critically endangered, as only an estimated several dozen wild individuals exist.  The American variant lives in the Southern U.S. States--Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and North and South Carolina.  The U.S. is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles live side by side.  The two can be distinguished from each other by the alligator's shorter and wider head, smaller size, and the crocodile's protruding 4th tooth on its lower jaw when it's mouth is closed.  Also, despite their size, and weapons, they don't attack people very often.  They'll usually avoid humans unless they feel threatened, or if they're especially hungry.  Their jaws have an odd quirk, too.  Most of the muscles in it are designed to give the alligator an incredibly strong bite.  However, their power to open their jaws is relatively weak--an adult person can keep them closed with their bare hands.
    Alligators are one of the rare success stories from an ecological standpoint.  Once they were seriously endangered, enough so that they were protected from hunting by the federal government in 1967.  Happily, this worked--their population has boomed since then.
     This creature has a strange issue with its eggs as well.  The gender ratio is not pre-determined, as in most animals, but by temperature.  If the temperature in the nest stays at 86 degrees (F) or lower, all the eggs will become females.  If it's 93 and above, they will all turn into males.  In between will result in a mix.  This usually works out to a 5:1 sex ratio in favor of females.  80% or more of the babies will be eaten, either by other predators or other alligators.  The mother gator is very unusual among reptiles in that she cares for her children--assuming they stick around her, she will viciously protect them for the first year of their lives.
     I first got a chance to eat alligator in Louisiana in 1994.  I think it was battered and fried, and I don't recall it making much of an impression.  Years later I had a much better test, at a Portuguese tapas-style restaurant in NJ.  The gator there was roasted, I think, so I got to taste the meat itself in a more pure manner.  It was good.  I would certainly try it again, and recommend it.  Most folks say it has the cliche "tastes like chicken" flavor, but I thought it was much more reminiscent of fish. It's a good choice health-wise.  It's high in protein, and has decent amounts of potassium, phosphorous, B-12, and niacin, while having a relatively low fat content.
     Finally, in the nature-run-amok subgenre, the 1980 Lewis Teague-directed film, "Alligator" was quite effective.  It stars Robert Forster, Robin Riker, and "Frank Pentangeli" himself, Michael V. Gazzo.  It's both tensely frightening, and intentionally funny.  And despite the movie's age, the special effects hold up pretty well.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

More Horror Movie Trivia

     As I mentioned in last week's post, as a mini-homage to the late, lamented Coffin Blog Hop, I'm doing a couple of Halloween-themed posts, including another round of horror movie trivia.  As before, feel free to post your answers in the comments section.  I'll post the correct answers in the comments section in a week or two.
     Also, it looks like I might have another anthology acceptance.  If things go well I'll be posting the details soon.
     And of course, Happy Halloween!

1) What actress appeared in the "Kids in the Hall" comedy series, as well as on "MADtv," before starring in a horror movie series?

2) People often assume that Dr. Frankenstein's assistant was named Igor.  However, in the original "Frankenstein" (1931) he was named "Fritz," and in the sequel, "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935) the assistants were Karl and Ludwig.  What was the first Frankenstein movie where an assistant was named Igor (sometimes spelled Ygor)?

3) Actor Steve Hytner is arguably best known for playing bad comedian Kenny Bania in several episodes of "Seinfeld."  What horror series did he also appear in?

4) What state was the original 1958 version of 'The Blob" set and shot in?

5) What films make up Italian horror movie maestro Dario Argento's "Animal Trilogy"?

6) This one's dark.  What horror/comedy director was charged with involuntary manslaughter as a result of the tragic deaths of 3 actors in a film sequence he shot?  (He was later acquitted.)

7) What actor battled a Terminator, a Xenomorph from the "Alien" series, and a Predator (and was seen killed by at least one of these) and later directed a horror movie starring Matthew McConaughey?

8) Doug Bradley played the main villain in the first 8 "Hellraiser" movies, who goes by the names "Lead Cenobite," "Pinhead," and "The Hell Priest."  What was this character's original name, when he was born as a human?

9) What 80's horror movie did famous (and infamous) actor Charlie Sheen mistake for a real snuff movie in 1991 (He called the FBI, which did an investigation.)?

10) The 1970's and 80's saw the mini-genre of the "Cannibal Boom," mostly filmed by Italian directors and studios, and reaching its biggest success with "Cannibal Holocaust.".  Which movie is credited with starting this genre?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Announcement and Horror Movie Trivia

    I'm happy to report that I am now a member of the Horror Writers Association.  Readers may recall that this is the same organization that gives out the Bram Stoker Awards, the "Oscars of Horror Writing."  Thanks is due to Jennifer Word of EMP Publishing for helping me out with this.  I'm hoping that the HWA's programs and contacts, etc., will result in more publications and benefits.
     Also, normally this time of year would see my blog attached to the Coffin Hop bloghop.  Alas, as I mentioned in a post several months ago, this great hop, which connected 80-100 horror writers/poets/film makers/artists with each other and with their fans, was sadly discontinued.  But, I'm still going to put up some Halloween-themed posts, in the form of more horror trivia.  These aren't contests anymore, so readers will be getting personal satisfaction and/or bragging rights instead.  If anyone wants to post their guesses at the answers, you can do so in the comments.  I'll post the correct answers in the comments in a week or so.  Check back on Saturday, October 31st for another round of trivia.
     So, with that out of the way, let's get started.  Oh, and for the purposes of this quiz, a horror "series" means three or more movies.

1) Legendarily brutal movies "I Spit on Your Grave" (1978) and "The Last House on the Left" (1972), aside from brief scenes in New York City and Long Island, were both shot in which state?

2) Staying on movie locations, the original "Friday the 13th" (1980) was shot in what state?

3) We just recently saw the date when Marty and Doc Brown went into the future in "Back to the Future Part 2."  The actor who played Marty's dad George McFly, Crispin Glover, was a victim in what famous horror movie series?

4) Robert Kerman starred in "Cannibal Holocaust" (1980), "Eaten Alive" (1980), and "Make Them Die Slowly" (aka "Cannibal Ferox") (1981), and also appeared in movies such as "Night of the Creeps" (1986), "No Way Out" (1987), and "Spider Man" (2002).  What is he also best known for?

5) Before he starred in the original "Star Trek" series as Captain Kirk, what horror movie, shot entirely in the constructed language Esperanto, did William Shatner star in?  (In case you're curious, I was only able to discover a grand total of 4 Esperanto movies.)

6) Actors Lia Beldam, Billie Gibson, Lisa Burns, Louise Burns, and Danny Lloyd all were in only one movie in their careers, not counting television movies.  (I'm not being too tricky with this--all of these roles were either substantial, or at least very memorable.) What famous horror movie was it?

7) The cannibal clan in the Wes Craven-made 1977 classic "The Hills Have Eyes" mostly have the same names as planets (or Roman deities).  Which planets/gods are represented?

8) Due to the actions of a distant ancestor, Josiah Harlan, in the 1830's, the star of a horror movie classic is technically the Prince of Ghor, which is now a province in Afghanistan.  Who is this?

9) One person wrote 1986's "Highlander," 1991's "Backdraft," and wrote and directed 1995's "The Prophecy."  Who is this?

10)  This actor appeared in "The Verdict" (1982), "Tootsie" (1982), "Mississippi Burning" (1988), "Goodfellas" (1990), "The Firm" (1993), "In the Line of Fire" (1993), and a "Seinfeld" episode before starring in a popular horror series.  Name them.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Absinthe

     I'd always heard dramatic things about absinthe.  Bad, dire things.  Like it could cause people to hallucinate, and then often go permanently crazy.  Such as notable user Vincent Van Gogh, who infamously cut off part of his ear as a macabre gift to his prostitute love before committing suicide.  I recall reading that noted drug and alcohol user Lemmy from the band Motorhead marked it as being one of the most dangerous and potent things he'd done in his checkered life.  I also heard stories about it from people I knew.  They were usually something like, "I was in Eastern Europe, and the cab driver knew a guy who had some.  He drove us into a terrible neighborhood and came out of a dilapidated building holding a dirty-looking bottle.  When we drank it we all went wild and nearly got arrested."  So essentially it seemed like absinthe was a beverage you took before being committed into an asylum for the criminally insane.
     But let's back up a little, and get into its history.  Surprisingly, it's not that old.  Some of the details about its creation are well known, others are a little hazy.  Its creation was in the 1790's, in the town of Couvet, Switzerland.  Either a Dr. Pierre Ordinaire (originally from France) invented it and gave it to the Heriod sisters, or the sisters themselves came up with the recipe themselves.  Either way, a Major Dubied got the formula and opened up the first absinthe distillery in Couvet in 1797.  The drink grew in popularity over the decades, across Europe.  By the 1860's in France, 5 p.m. was known as the "Green Hour," or a more specific Happy Hour (absinthe traditionally has a greenish color).  Due to its popularity more and more people began to make it, which drove the price down.  Many of the new producers were unscrupulous, and added toxic chemicals like copper salts to give the drink its green color, rather than using the slower, more expensive natural methods.  Gradually, in the late 1800's and very early 1900's the drink became popular with, and associated with, the liberal, bohemian writers and artists.  Social conservatives became angry at this bunch of people, and the drink that they so enjoyed.  Also, the temperance movement was flourishing, and their members obviously wanted absinthe (and all other alcoholic beverages) banned.  Stories of absinthe's ill effects began to circulate wildly.
     Then came the event that put the nail in the drink's coffin.  In 1905 a Swiss man, Jean Lanfray, murdered his family.  This was blamed on his consumption of absinthe.  The case made national, and then international headlines.  By 1908 absinthe's home country had banned it.  Most of Europe and the U.S. followed suit, and by 1915 absinthe was illegal save for a few exceptions (most notably, Spain and Portugal).
     As science progressed, absinthe was studied more in depth.  One of the main ingredients, grande wormwood, was pinpointed as being the root of its danger.  And more specifically, a chemical called thujone, which is present in wormwood.  Some later studies posited a link between thujone and THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
     However, absinthe still existed, albeit in a more limited fashion.  A few adherents still drank it, either legally in the countries that allowed it, or illegally.  In the 1990's some folks in the U.K. took advantage of an odd loophole--absinthe had never been technically banned there.  Still more studies were done on absinthe, and wormwood, and thujone.  The results were fairly conclusive--absinthe's ill effects were almost completely overblown.  Thujone can be dangerous, but not in the relatively small concentrations  in traditional absinthe.  It's also not psychoactive, or hallucinagenic.  Not to say it's entirely safe--it is a potent (45-75% alcohol) drink, meaning it's as potentially harmful as any other hard liquor.  Most of the stories about absinthe's  alleged effects can be readily explained by the alcohol, or by the toxic chemicals added to cheap absinthe.  (Jean Lanfray, for example, was an alcoholic, and was extremely drunk on the day of the killings.)*  Anyway, between about 2005-10 most of the bans on absinthe were lifted.
     Unlike a lot of drinks, there isn't a legal definition of what constitutes absinthe.  Traditionally it was made by distilling white grapes, and then adding (and further distilling the result) the "holy trinity" of botanical flavors--grande wormwood, green anise, and florence fennel.  Other botanicals sometimes used were peppermint, coriander, petite wormwood, and others.  But, some producers use other bases, like grains, potatoes, or even beets, and others don't even distill it, but just add the appropriate flavors to commercial alcohol, in a process called cold mixing.
     The manner of drinking absinthe is ritualized as well.  The most popular is the "French Method."  In this a shot of absinthe is poured into a glass.  Then a special slotted spoon is placed over the glass, with a sugar cube on it.  Iced water is then slowly poured or dripped through the cube and into the glass, until a ratio of about 3:1 water:absinthe is achieved, and the resulting murky result is called the "louche."  Another way, the "Bohemian Method," is somewhat similar, except the sugar cube is pre-soaked in absinthe and set ablaze.  The water is used to simultaneously extinguish the flames and mix in with the absinthe.  Finally, there's the Ernest Hemingway "Death in the Afternoon" method, in which a shot of absinthe is put into a champagne flute, and icy champagne is added until the glass is full.  You're supposed to drink 3-5 of these beverages, slowly.
     I hadn't been aware of absinthe's de-banning in the early aughts, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it on sale in a liquor store in NJ in late 2010.  Some friends and I (Hi Jess, Sara, and Quinn) went in on the $60 bottle and tried it out.  I was quite favorably impressed.  The main flavor, anise, is one I like, being very similar to licorice, and in other drinks like Ouzo, Sambuca, and Jagermeister.  I also liked the little ritual involved with it, and eventually I tried both the French and Bohemian Methods.  I sort of felt badass, like I was a drug-addict character in a Tarantino movie or something.  And, despite the old rumors, neither my friends and I hallucinated, and we didn't end up in jail or anything.  The effects were identical to drinking any hard liquor--as long as you don't drink and drive, or overindulge, you should be fine, as my friends and I were.
     Doing this post has reinvigorated by interest in absinthe.  I looked up some other websites dedicated to it, such as the Wormwood Society's site.  I'm realizing I should branch out more on the types I buy (since 2010 I've bought several other bottles).  I've been drinking Absente brand, made in France, and as the name suggests ("absent" in French), it was lacking the crucial grande wormwood ingredient until 2009.  Since, it has the wormwood, which is clearly printed on the bottle that I have, sometimes with an exclamation point.  The reviews of Absente by the Wormwood Society's members aren't great--they mostly range from bad to mediocre at best.  So, evidently I've been drinking the Budweiser or Miller of absinthe, as it were.  Alas, getting the better examples will be a bit tricky--I've only seen at most 3 brands for sale at any one store, and these others were more expensive than the Absente, being about $70+ (Absente has gotten a little cheaper since 2010, but it's still about $50 for a 750 milliliter bottle).  Maybe I can convince a friend or two to share the cost again.  (Also, staying with the Wormwood Society, they contend that the Bohemian Method is a modern fraud, invented in the 1990's or so, and that the burning can ruin the taste of the drink.)
     In closing, then, if you like anise flavor, you'll probably like absinthe.  And even if you don't like it much, you can rest assured that the stories about it making consumers hallucinate or go insane are fictional (save for the effects of the high alcohol content, of course).

*  Reportedly on the day in question Lanfray drank 7 glasses of wine, 6 glasses of cognac, 2 brandy-laced coffees, 2 creme de menthes, and 2 absinthes before shooting his pregnant wife and 2 small children to death.  He unsuccessfully tried to kill himself on the day, but survived to go to trial.  Because of his condition he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.  He hung himself 3 days later.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Unusual Major League Baseball Playoff Events/Records

   The playoffs just started recently for Major League Baseball, so I thought I'd do a post about them.  Most of these events/records are for the World Series, but a few are about the playoffs.  A note about statistics--the number/number/number "slash" is, respectively, batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage.  OPS+ is on base percentage plus slugging, adjusted for ballpark, time period, etc., and 100 is average.  Similarly, ERA+ is earned run average adjusted for the time period and ball parks, etc., and 100 is average, too.

1) Shoe polish and the surname "Jones" have had important impacts in two World Series.  Vernal "Nippy"Jones was a journeyman, mostly reserve player from 1946-57, hitting .267/.304/.392 with an OPS+ of 82.  However, he managed to make a difference in the 1957 Series vs. the New York Yankees while playing for the Milwaukee Braves.  In Game 4, with his Braves down 2 games to 1, he led off the 10th inning.  A low pitch was called a ball, but Jones insisted it had hit his foot.  When he retrieved the ball and showed home plate umpire Augie Donatelli a bit of shoe polish on it, he was awarded first base.  This opened the door for a Braves rally of 3 runs, which resulted in the Braves evening up the Series, which they would go on to win in 7 games.  Twelve years later a similar thing happened, in the 1969 Series between the New York Mets and the Baltimore Orioles.  Cleon Jones was a better player than Nippy, batting .281/.339/.404 OPS+ of 110 in 14 seasons.  In Game 5 with his Mets up 3 games to 1, he led off the 6th inning with his team down 3-0.  Once again, Jones claimed he was hit on the foot with the pitch, while the umpire disagreed.  And once again an examination of the ball showed a telltale patch of shoe polish, and Jones was awarded first base.  The next batter, Donn Clendenon, hit a 2 run home run, sparking a Mets rally that resulted in them winning the game 5-3, and the Series in 5 games.

2) Playing in a World Series is a crap shoot for players.  Sometimes little known, modestly talented players are on Series rosters, while great, Hall of Fame players have the bad luck to be stuck on bad teams for their entire career.  The following is a list of players who played the most games without ever playing in a World Series.
     a. 2831 Rafael Palmeiro, in his 20 year career from 1986-2005.
     b. 2671 Ken Griffey, Jr. in his 22 year career, from 1989-2010.
     c. 2627 Andre Dawson in his 21 year, Hall of Fame career, from 1976-96.
     d. 2528 Ernie Banks in his 19 year, Hall of Fame career from 1953-71.
     e. 2527 Julio Franco in his 23 year career, from 1982-2007.
     f. 2488 Billy Williams in his 18 year, Hall of Fame career from 1959-76.
     g. 2469 Rod Carew, 19 years, from 1967-85, also a Hall of Famer.
     h. 2425 Bobby Abreau, 18 years, from 1996-2014.
     i. 2422 Luke Appling, in his 20 year, Hall of Fame career from 1930-50.
     j. 2409 Mickey Vernon, 20 years, from 1939-60.
         (Note that Ken Griffey will surely be a Hall of Famer when he's eligible, and Palmeiro would have been if he hadn't used performance-enhancing drugs.  Also, Torii Hunter and Ichiro Suzuki may make this list if they play next year and don't make the Series.

3) This one's tragic.  Donnie Moore was a decent reliever in his career, posting totals of a 43-40 won-loss record, with a 3.67 ERA, 89 saves, a 1.350 WHIP ratio (walks and hits per inning pitched), and an adjusted ERA of 111.  In 1986, his California Angels were up 3-1 in the ALCS versus the Boston Red Sox, and were up 5-2 in the 9th inning, at home.  However, the Sox closed the lead to 5-4 when Don Baylor hit a 2 run home run.  Closer Moore came in with 2 outs, and Rich Gedman on first.  Moore had a 2-2 count on Dave Henderson.  One more strike and the Angels are in the World Series.  The fans are going nuts.  However, Henderson goes deep, giving the Sox a 6-5 lead.  A gloom settles over the stadium.  However, the Angels aren't done.  They manage to tie the game up in their half of the 9th.  Moore is still in the game, and he gives up a run in the 11th, on a sac fly to......Dave Henderson again.  The Angels lose the game.  They also lose the next two games, 10-4, and 8-1, so the Red Sox go to the Series (where they have arguably a more gut-wrenching loss to the Mets).  Moore is crushed.  He plays two more seasons with California, but he loses his closer's job and is not a fan favorite anymore.  He's released, and picked up by the Kansas City Royals, who assign him to their minor leagues.  Pitching badly, he's released from there, and his career is over.  Then on July 18, 1989 he gets into a fight with his wife, and shoots her 3 times.  Then, while she's been taken to the hospital, he fatally shoots himself.  Fortunately, his wife at least survives.

4) Figuring out who the worst player who ever won a World Series is obviously a matter of opinion.  But I'd like to put up Billy Bates, of the 1990 Cincinnati Reds.  He did very well in the Reds' unlikely 4 game sweep of the heavily favored Oakland Athletics.  In Game 2 he beat out an infield single in the bottom of the 10th off of highly regarded reliever Dennis Eckersley, and then scored the winning run on Joe Oliver's single.  But let's look at his career numbers, in 2 season, mostly with the Milwaukee Brewers.  He went 6 for 48 at the plate, with 4 walks, 11 runs, 1 double,  2 rbi's, and 8 stolen bases (in 9 attempts).  So he slashed .125/.189/.146, with an OPS of .335 and an adjusted OPS of -5!  There's many pitchers who do better than that!  I don't mean to be nasty--after all, he did make the Majors, which only a scant few players do.  But still.  I'm amused that he does have his fans, though.  On the Baseball Reference website, people can sponsor a player's page, and if they do they can include a brief sentence or two about the player.  Bate's is, "One of the greatest double-baggers who has more World Series rings than Ken Griffey, Barry Bonds, and Frank Thomas--COMBINED!  Ask Dennis Eckersley if he remembers Billy."

5) Here's another list.  These guys played the most games while never playing in the postseason at all.  (Remember, until 1969 there was only the World Series, played between the American League and National League champs.  From 1969 to 1993 each league split into 2 divisions, and the leader of each played each other in a Championship Series (with the winners meeting in the World Series), meaning there were a total of 4 playoff teams.  After 1993 each league split into 3 divisions, and added a wild card, meaning there was a total of 8 playoff teams.  And then in the past few years a 2nd wild card team was added, bring the current total up to 10 playoff teams.  A few of these are repeats from the previous list.
      a. 2528 Ernie Banks, 1953-71, 19 seasons, Hall of Famer.
      b. 2422 Luke Appling, 1930-50, 20 seasons, Hall of Famer.  
      c. 2409 Mickey Vernon, 1939-60, 20 seasons.
      d. 2405 Buddy Bell, 1972-89, 18 years.
      e. 2243 Ron Santo, 1960-74, 15 seasons, Hall of Famer.
      f.  2209 Joe Torre, 1960-77, 18 seasons, Hall of Famer as manager.
      g. 2155 Toby Harrah, 1969-86, 17 seasons.
      h. 2147 Harry Heilmann, 1914-32, 17 seasons.
      i. 2109 Eddie Yost, 1944-62, 18 seasons.
      j. 2093 Roy McMillan, 1951-66, 16 seasons.

6) The 1920 World Series between the Cleveland Indians and the Brooklyn Robins (later Dodgers) saw something unique.  In Game 5 second baseman Bill Wambsganss made a play with men on first and second.  The batter, Clarence Mitchell, hit a line drive that Wambsganss caught for an out, and then Bill stepped on 2nd base to force out Pete Kilduff, and then tagged out Otto Miller who was near second as he was running on the hit and run play.  To date, this is the only unassisted triple play in Series history (and one of the rare ones across the board).  People seemed to recall this well, almost too well for Wambsganss, it seems.  He was quoted as saying, "You'd think I was born the day before and died on the day after."  So let's buck this trend and go a little deeper.  Wambsganss was considered a great fielder, but clearly was a weak hitter, going .259/.328/.327 with an OPS+ of 78 in his 13 year career from 1914-26.  (And in the 1920 Series he only went 4 for 26, or .154/.214/.154.)  The Indians 1920 season was tragically memorable as well.  Their shortstop Ray Chapman, was killed after being hit in the head by a pitch from Yankee pitcher Carl Mays.  (To date, luckily, the only such fatality in Major League history.)  Game 5 otherwise saw some firsts and oddities.  Elmer Smith hit the first grand slam in Series history, and Jim Bagby hit the first home run by a pitcher in a Series.  Also, on the day of the game Brooklyn pitcher Rube Marquard (later a Hall of Famer) was arrested for scalping tickets!  (He was released to play in the game, and pitched in relief.  Later he was found guilty but fined only $1 and court costs (for a total of $3.80).  But the Robins released him, and his wife divorced him.)  Wambsganss later managed for both an attempted pro indoor baseball league, and then for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League for 2 seasons (the league featured in the movie "A League of Their Own").

7) Since the Series started in 1903, there have been two years that it hasn't been played.  The first was 1904, when the National League champs, the New York Giants, decided it wasn't worth playing the American League leading Boston Americans (later the Red Sox).  The National League, around since 1876, considered the 1901-born American League as young upstarts, and hated that their young rivals had signed away some of their players.  The Giants' opinions were short lived, though, as they decided to play the next year against the Philadelphia Athletics (and won).  Even during World Wars 1 and 2 baseball managed to play the Series, albeit sometimes with many of their star players away at war.  Alas, in 1994 a labor dispute saw the season, and the playoffs and Series, cancelled.  In case you're curious, the leaders at the time of the abbreviated season's end were the Yankees, White Sox, Rangers, and the Indians as the wild card in the American League, while the Expos, Reds, Dodgers, and the Braves as wild card would have represented the National League.  Also, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Matt Williams were on pace to challenge the season home run record (then Maris's 61) and Tony Gwynn may have hit .400, as he was at .394.

8) Pinpointing who the worst teams were to make, and then win a Series is of course also a matter of opinion.  But going by season records the worst pennant winner was the 1973 New York Mets, with a 82-79 (.509 winning percentage), and the worst Series winner was the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, 83-78 (.516 winning percentage).

9) Bill Bevens was a decent, but unspectacular pitcher for 4 years, going 40-36, with a 3.08 ERA, 1,298 WHIP, and an adjusted ERA of 113.  But while playing for the New York Yankees in the 1947 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers he came agonizingly close to throwing the first no-hitter in the Series.  (Yankee Don Larsen threw a perfect game in 1956, and Philadelphia Phillie Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter in the NLDS in 2010 for the only postseason no-hitter/perfect games to date.)  He was up 2-1 and had two outs in the 9th inning.  Men were on first and second due to walks.  One more batter till history.  And then pinch hitter Cookie Lavagetto hit a double, breaking up the no-hitter, scoring two runs and losing the game for Bevens and the Yankees.  (The Yankees went on to win in 7 games.)  But actually, Bevens did set a Series pitching record, one which I think will never be broken.  He walked 10 Dodgers in the game!

10) Mike Andrews was a solid infielder in his 8 year career, from 1966-73.  He was part of the Red Sox's "Impossible Dream" 1967 pennant winning team, and later played with the Oakland Athletics.  In the 1973 Series against the New York Mets, things got ugly, and weird.  Game 2 went into extra innings, tied 6-6.  Andrews had come in to play second in the 8th inning.  In the 12th inning the Mets scored 4 runs, helped by Andrew's 2 fielding errors.  The Athletics ended up losing 10-7.  After the game, flamboyant and controversial Athletic's owner Charlie Finley had a doctor perform an impromptu medical examination of Andrews.  Saying it was for the best of the team, Finley badgered Andrews into signing a document claiming he had injured his shoulder.  In this way Finley could put Andrews on the injury list, and call up another player to replace Andrews, namely, Manny Trillo.  The league, the Athletics players, and fans all could figure out that Finley was acting sleazy, and shortly thereafter, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn disregarded the injury claim and forced Finley to reinstate Andrews.  Andrews told the press the whole story about how he was pressured to lie about the injury.  When Andrews pinch hit later in the Series, even the opposing Mets fans at Shea gave him a standing ovation.  That was Andrew's final moment in the Majors, but the A's did win it in 7 games.  Later Andrews became a highly regarded director of the Jimmy Fund, a cancer-fighting charity.

11)  To date, 8 teams have never won a World Series.  The Texas Rangers (formerly the second incarnation of the Washington Senators), Tampa Bay Rays, the Washington Nationals (formerly the Montreal Expos), the Houston Astros, the Seattle Mariners, the Colorado Rockies, the San Diego Padres, and the Milwaukee Brewers (formerly the Seattle Pilots) are still waiting to claim baseball's title.  The Nationals and Mariners haven't even been bridesmaids, so to speak, as they have never even played in a World Series.  (Clearly this is as of this moment--the Astros and Rangers are still in the playoffs as I write this.)  (Update- cross the Houston Astros off this list, as they won the
2017 World Series.)
     Oh, and for any foreign readers, admittedly the name "World" Series is a bit of a misnomer, and rather conceited on Major League Baseball's part, as aside from Canada, there are no other teams from other countries.  Unlike say, the World Cup for soccer (football), which is truly representative of the entire world for that sport.  But, it is the name of the event here, so I'll use it anyway.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Truffles

     Last week I had some food-related excitement in my life.  Since I started this blog three and a half years ago I've naturally identified a few special exotic/disgusting foods and beverages on my "bucket list."  Some of these are Beluga caviar (which I think is now banned from being imported into the U.S. due to the sturgeon's rarity, and is ridiculously expensive), bird's nest soup (not sticks or anything--it's made from the hardened saliva of certain birds in Southeast Asia, and is very rare and pricey), Rocky Mountain "oysters" (animal testicles), fugu (puffer fish, which due to its extreme toxicity if prepared incorrectly I'll probably save for a death bed meal), and various tough-to-get beers, like Trappist Westvleteren 12 (Belgium), Russian River's Pliny the Younger and Pliny the Elder (California), and Tree House Brewing's Julius (Massachusetts).  One of these other foods, obviously is truffles.  So I was pleasantly surprised that the Hannaford supermarket in St. Albans, VT had some.
     Truffles are a form of fungus that lives underground.  They're closely associated with, and grow on the roots of various species of tree, like pine, beech, poplar, oak, and birch, among others.  They're native to parts of Europe, including France, Italy, Croatia, and Slovenia.  Historically they've been difficult to acquire, since you can't see them like you can mushrooms.  It was discovered that dogs can be trained to detect their odor, and that female pigs can do so naturally.  Therefore, short of digging randomly around the appropriate trees, people used these animals to find the truffles.  Once they do, the trick is to stop them from eating the truffles themselves, as dogs and pigs find them tasty, too.  As such, truffles became a delicacy, and very expensive.  As of 2009, certain types of truffles could set you back over $14,000 per kilo!
     Now, readers might be asking the same question that I did, mainly, "Why don't farmers just learn how to grow them, instead of relying on trained pigs and such?"  Well, the answer is that they did.  As early as 1808 people in Europe had developed ways to cultivate them.  By the late 1800's and early 1900's truffle cultivation was at its peak.  Alas, among their other horrible effects, the World Wars really hurt truffle cultivation, as they destroyed the trees/fields, many of the farmers themselves, and therefore, some of the knowledge about how to grow them most efficiently.  By 1945 truffle cultivation had plummeted, and people were left more and more with the classic put-a-muzzle-on-a-sow-and-follow-her-around-until-she-starts-digging method.  Things have improved somewhat in the past few decades, though, and now they're grown throughout Europe, parts of the U.S. and Canada, and in India, China, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
     There are several different sorts of truffle.  The most prized is the white truffle, which has a distinct strong odor and flavor.  Next is the black truffle, which is thought to have a milder and more refined taste.  These two are considered the classic types of truffle.  However, in more recent years a couple of others have been utilized.  A kind found in the Pacific Northwest, the garlic truffle, is gaining some popularity.  A Southern U.S. variant, the pecan truffle, is also starting to be sampled.
     Because of their scarcity and price, truffles are frequently divided into smaller pieces and added to other foods as flavoring.  Some stuffings, cheeses, and pates are made in this way.  There are even truffle flavored honey and salt.  I was disappointed to learn that so called truffle oil is usually a misnomer, as it's commonly made with artificial flavoring and not real truffle bits.
     As readers can no doubt guess, since I didn't recently win the lottery or see my writing career suddenly blossom to the extreme, the truffles I had were not whole.  I got them in a mousse (like a pate) that was mostly pork and chicken livers, and was about $6 for a 5.5 ounce serving.  The manufacturer was Les Trois Petits Cochons, Inc. (The Three Little Pigs, in French) out of Brooklyn, NY.  My truffles were apparently grown in the U.S., as the label didn't mention anything about them being imported.  Now I realize that this is a bit of a cheat, since probably 1-5% of the total mousse consisted of truffle parts.  It's a bit like judging, say, a fine rare champagne or whiskey based on an eye-dropper's worth of liquid.  But, with this limitation admitted, I did technically try some truffles.
     The truffle mousse looked a lot like liverwurst, as it was a pinkish brown color, and had a soft texture which could be spread with a knife.  Scattered throughout the mousse were the small pieces of black truffles.  I tried some of the mousse plain, and then some on potato chips, and finally some on a roll as a truffle mousse sandwich.  I also separated some individual black truffle pieces from the mousse as best I could, and ate these by themselves.  The mousse was very tasty--it was like a creamier liverwurst.  The individual truffle chunks were underwhelming, though.  They didn't taste bad, but they didn't blow me away with their dramatic excellence.  They were like regular mushrooms--good certainly, but not like I'd imagined given truffle's reputation.
     However, as I said, my truffle trial was minimal--I'm sure even foods I love might not taste that special if they're cut into tiny pieces, and also placed in another, stronger tasting food.  So I haven't given up on truffles, and would jump at the chance to try some again, especially in a purer, larger format.  But to do so will evidently require me to invest really well, and/or marry a millionaire heiress or become an organized crime lord.
     (Also, I just recalled I might have had truffles before.  Again, it was another food item which had small pieces mixed into it--in this case, cheese.  (Thanks to Ricky for this.)  I seem to remember that my opinion about truffles that earlier time was the same as this recent time.)  Update:  It turns out that my memory was a little off (which seems to be happening more and more as I age).  Ricky reminded me that the cheese in question had morel mushrooms in it, and not truffles.  So the mousse was the first and only time I've ever had truffles.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Anthology News and Some Nerdy Dissection of "Star Wars"

    Recently found out that another story of mine has been accepted, in the anthology whose cover is just above this.  This is another one of EMP Publishing's books, who readers may recall is publishing another story of mine in their Creepy Campfire Quarterly, Issue 1, due out in January of 2016.  The Prison Compendium will be published in December of 2016.   It's also open to submissions until September of 2016.  So if any writers out there are looking for a home for a story, or want to write a new one, you can check out the guidelines at the EMP website, which is:
This anthology was inspired by several famous books/movies/television programs, such as "The Green Mile," "The Shawshank Redemption," "Dead Man Walking," "Escape From Alcatraz," "American History X," "Cool Hand Luke," "The Experiment," "Caged Heat," "Stir Crazy," and "Orange is the New Black."  My own contribution, "A Ray of Hope," is about an inmate who's dealing with a new cellmate, who happens to be a religiously devout killer who specializes in killing babies and young children.  So I'd like to thank the folks at EMP Publishing once again, and I'll provide more details as I get them.

     Moving on, last week I mentioned a little Star Wars trivia, in my post about exotic dark chocolates.  I got to thinking about the series a little more, and a small detail about the original Star Wars (AKA "A New Hope," or Episode 4).  (SPOILERS on a 38 year old movie ahead) To review, in the movie Luke, Ben, C-3PO, R2D2, Chewbacca, Han, and Leia are all on the Death Star.  After Ben sacrifices himself to Darth Vader, the remaining six escape on Han and Chewbacca's ship, the Millennium Falcon.  Leia wants to go to the Rebel Alliances's secret base on Yavin 4, where specialists there can look at the complicated plans of the Death Star, and in doing so hope to find a weakness for this incredibly powerful space station.  After the Falcon leaves, it's pursued by 4 TIE fighters.  They manage to inflict some, but not major damage to the Falcon (and no character is killed or destroyed), before Han and Luke destroy all of them using the Falcon's guns.  They then make their way to Yavin 4.  At the time, Leia seems very suspicious of this token pursuit, thinking the Empire is up to something.  As it turns out, she's right--the Empire has left a homing device in the Falcon, which they use to locate the last remaining large Rebel base.  Only because Luke manages to destroy the Death Star (using strategy figured out by the Rebel's analysis of the Death Star's plans) mere seconds before the space station can destroy Yavin 4 is the Rebel cause preserved.
     The more I think about this, the weirder it is.  First off, it seems odd that Leia would risk going straight to the Rebel base if she is so suspicious about how easy their escape was.  But putting this aside, the Empire's plan of attack is strange in many ways.  I understand why they put the homing device in the Falcon, of course, and I also get why they want to (slightly) cover up their ruse by sending out a small attack force of TIE fighters to make it look like they were trying to attack the Falcon.  But how does that work?  Specifically, how does this make sense to the TIE fighter pilots?  If the pilots aren't told anything, then presumably they will fight as well as they can, and there's a chance they could have destroyed the Falcon.  Which means the Empire wouldn't know where the Rebel base is for some more time, until their spies can find out, etc.  And if the pilots are told, basically, "this is for show--don't actually blow up the Falcon." why would they obey this?  They don't call off the attack at any point, they keep firing on the Falcon until they're all destroyed.  The pilots would know they're doomed.  Even if they're clones, or super patriotic soldiers, doesn't pretty much everyone have strong urges to save their own lives, or at least not utterly waste them?  True, there were real life Earth examples of this, like the kamikazes of Japan, but I think there's a crucial difference in the situations: the kamikaze were willing to kill themselves, but by trying to destroy enemy ships, not by acting like it, to pull off a rather unconvincing ruse.  So I guess what we're left with is that the Empire either deliberately sent out 4 of their worst pilots, in the hopes that they would fail (and so the Empire could follow the Falcon to Yavin 4), or that the Death Star had a bunch of clinically depressed pilots on retainer who were perfectly willing to commit suicide by enemy guns, as characters in a not very compelling one act, space play.
     And I know, I know, it's just a movie, and I'm almost certainly overthinking this.  Pretty much every movie has at least a few plot holes/logic inconsistencies in it.  Also, don't think this nit-picking means I don't like the movie--on the contrary, I think the Star Wars series (at least Episodes 4-6) is one of the very best ever.  But, with movies I like especially, I enjoy thinking about all the minutia, and reading about wacky fan theories, and the like.  Plus, I thought I needed something else to flesh out this blog post.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Environmentally Conscious, Politically Progressive, Dark Chocolates

     I've obviously done several posts about chocolate before (See the March 21, 2015, the December 22, 2012, and the August 20, 2012 posts), but recently I decided to try some more.  The difference this time was that I went with various smaller companies (or in one case a small division of a huge company) which announce their commitment to various political or socially conscious movements.  Also, I was not particularly fond of dark chocolate the few times I've had it, but I decided to give it a more extensive, fair trial once and for all.
     Just for a quick review, what we refer to as chocolate usually consists of cocoa solids, fat in the form of cocoa butter, and sugar, along with other preservatives, flavors, etc.  "Dark chocolate" has these ingredients, and although the numbers vary from country to country, the minimum cocoa solids percentage is usually 35% and up.  "Milk chocolate" also includes milk, of course, and has lower percentages of cocoa solids--in the U.S. a minimum of 10%, in other places 20%.  "White chocolate" has the sugar, cocoa butter, and milk, but lacks the cocoa solids.  These distinctive chocolate types are easy to tell apart, as white chocolate is, as the name suggests, white in color, milk chocolate is light brown, and dark chocolate is dark brown or even almost black.  Dark chocolate appears to be the healthiest option of the three.  It has higher percentages of fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, potassium, manganese, selenium, zinc, phosphorus, and antioxidants, and is alleged to help in lowering "bad" cholesterol, improve blood flow, protect the skin versus the sun, improve brain function, and lower blood pressure.  (I used the word "alleged" as these effects aren't yet scientifically proven.)  But, even dark chocolates' biggest fans will admit it (and the other forms of chocolate) is high in calories and fat, so moderation in consumption should be observed.
     On to the companies that made the chocolate I bought.  I was struck by the level of detail on the packages.  Much of which was about issues unrelated to the food itself.  For example, Alter Eco advertises that it is Fairly Traded and organically grown.  They claim they worked with the U.N. to enable Peruvian rainforest inhabitants to change from growing coca (for cocaine, with all the associated illegal drug trafficking dangers) to growing cocoa instead.  They are also replenishing the forest by planting native trees, which helps protect against soil erosion, and captures carbon to fight against global warming.  The Divine company is also big on Fair Trade, with a co-operative with farmers in the Kuapa Kokoo company in the West African nation of Ghana.  The Endangered Species company is Fair Trade, gluten free, non-GMO, and certified vegan.  But their major cause is in their name, as 10% of their net profits are donated to help endangered animals.  Dagoba is a division of The Hershey Company, but is also organic and uses cocoa from the Rainforest Alliance Certified farms.  So, to sum up, basically all these companies would cause "South Park" character Cartman to go on a rant about how much he hates hippies.
     But enough about nutrition and morality.  Let's get to the reviews.  As usual, I'm using the U.S. scholastic system of grading, with "A" being excellent, "B" good, "C" average, "D" unsatisfactory but barely passing, "F" for failing, and pluses and minuses as necessary.

Dagoba lavender blueberry flavor, 59% cocoa solids:  D+.  Didn't like this much.  Couldn't taste the blueberries, or the lavender (I think--don't really know what lavender tastes like).  Just bitter and fairly unpleasant.  I was excited by the name though--more on that at the end of this post.

Dagoba eclipse--extra strong dark chocolate (87% cocoa, the most I could find):  D.  Bad, and overly bitter, but not as terrible as I anticipated from the high cocoa content.  Could finish, barely.

Endangered Species dark chocolate with blueberries, 72% cocoa:  D.  Similar to the Dagoba, I couldn't taste the blueberries at all, or anything resembling sweetness.  Worse than the Dagoba version, probably due to the higher cocoa content.

Divine dark chocolate with ginger and orange, 70% cocoa:  C-.  Ginger chunks very noticeable, and kind of stuck to my teeth in an annoying way.  Orange could be detected as an aftertaste.  A little better than the others, but still far from great.

After Eco dark quinoa (See post about superfoods, March 1, 2014), 60% cocoa:  B-.  Reminded me a lot of Nestle Crunch, which is made with crisped rice instead of quinoa.  Still overly dark and bitter, but by far the best of the bunch.  Its slightly lower cocoa content was presumably a factor.

     As you just read, my opinion of dark chocolate hasn't changed.  I love milk chocolate (and white chocolate is pretty good, too), but dark chocolate just has an unappetizing bitter taste to it.  Which is unexpected, I guess, since I adore the hop bitterness of many India Pale Ales, for example.  But there we have it.  Maybe my taste in chocolate has been ruined by constant exposure to the lighter, sweeter, American style chocolate.  Whatever the reason is, I don't see my position ever changing.
     To end on another note, I was severely disappointed that the Dagoba company takes its name from the Sanskrit word for "temple," and not from the planet Yoda was hiding out on in "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi."  And just FYI, according to Wookieepedia, Dagobah is located in the Sluis section of the Outer Rim Territories, near the Rimma Trade Route.  Its sun is Darlo, and its sister planets are Ness, Undar, Bubbok, and Sty.  Dagobah is the second planet, as determined by proximity to Darlo.  The entry goes into a lot more detail about Dagobah's "day," "year," ecology, history, geology, etc.  Reading it I felt oddly interested, under-informed, and relatively less nerdy.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Agave Sweetener

     The agave is one of the most useful plants I've ever heard of.  (And the common beliefs that agave is a cactus or else related to aloe, are incorrect, as it is neither.)  Practically every part of it can be used, either for foods/beverages, or else for various household items.  Its flowers are edible.  The nectar from these flowers can be used as a sweetener.  A tea can be made from the leaves, which is thought to be useful medicine against constipation, or for a diuretic.  Its juices can be made into a traditional alcoholic beverage called pulque, or also as a sweetener.  The sap can be fermented into mezcal, or most famously, tequila.  The dried stems can be used as natural razor strops.  The fiber can be made into rope.  The sharp leaf tips are fashioned into awls.  Finally, the dried stalks make good didgeridoos.  So, it appears that if there is an apocalypse, zombie or otherwise, hope you're near an area where there's agave (basically Mexico and parts of the Southwestern U.S.), as basically all your food, tool, and even entertainment needs can be satisfied by this wonderful plant.
     As I've mentioned many times before, I'm not one for cooking, or even doing basic food preparation much beyond telling a waiter or pizza parlor employee my order.  So I don't typically carry around sweeteners like sugar or honey.  (Just thought of one exception--I do carry around some sugar packets for adding to absinthe.)  But when I saw the agave sweetener in the Shaw's grocery, I decided to give it a try, anyway.  It was even some kind of reduced calorie agave, as it only contained 5 calories per teaspoon.  It also billed itself as being non-GMO, organic, vegan (because unlike honey, of course, it's not an animal product), gluten-free, and BPA-free (I assume, and hope this refers to the plastic container that housed it, and not the agave itself).  It was made by Madhava Natural Sweeteners out of Colorado.  Other ingredients included stevia and monk fruit.
     It was, as advertised, very sweet.  I tried some on other foods (crackers, and some granola-type bars) and plain.  It was good.  Also noticeably less viscous than syrup, or honey.
    However, when I looked into it some more, I learned some potentially disturbing things about it.  There are a host of health concerns with agave sweetener.  Most of them hinge on its high fructose content, which is higher even than high fructose corn syrup.  Detractors claim consuming too much can cause fructose malabsorption, hypertriglyceridemia, decreased glucose tolerance, metabolic syndrome, hyperinsulinemia, accelerated uric acid formation, and insulin resistance.  Also, the high triglyceride levels in it are a heart disease risk factor.
     As it turned out, my crew and I switched hotels, so I had to throw the remaining agave out (like 95% of the bottle), because once opened it needs to be kept refridgerated.  But, reading off all those potential health problems it evidently can cause did give me some concern.  So while I enjoyed it just fine as a sweetener, I would also definitely advise prospective customers to go easy on it, especially if they have blood sugar issues.  And part of me is mad at myself for forgetting to try it with absinthe, to see how that tastes.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Creepy Campfire Quarterly and Some Thoughts About Wes Craven

      As I just put up in the previous post, the cover for Creepy Campfire Quarterly has been created.  The names of all the authors whose work will be featured are included on it.  We've also started the editing process, so things are going well, and I think the announced publishing date (in January of next year) will be easily reached
     Moving on, the horror community has recently lost one of its greats--Wes Craven.  Mr. Craven succumbed to brain cancer earlier this week at the age of 76.  He was one of the best horror directors/writers out there.  He made four incredibly influential classics--1972's "The Last House on the Left," 1977's "The Hills Have Eyes," 1984's "A Nightmare on Elm Street," and 1996's "Scream."  (Of the rest of his films, my personal favorite is probably the underrated 1991 movie "The People Under the Stairs.")
     Like many other hugely successful horror movie directors, Craven seemed the opposite of what you'd expect.  The same guy whose movies had the most extreme, most dark and disturbing events and characters in them always came across as being so nice, shy, modest, and intellectual.  This presumably was shaped by his childhood.  He was raised in a strict religious family, and wasn't  allowed to see practically any movies throughout his early life.  After receiving his undergraduate degrees in English and psychology (from Wheaton College in Illinois) and a Masters in philosophy and writing from Johns Hopkins, he settled down as a teacher and began to raise his own family.  But, his marriage struggled, and he found himself professionally unfulfilled, so he turned to the film industry.  Only a few years later, he had edited porn movies, and then made some of the most controversial and horrific films of our time.  I remember reading that, not surprisingly, his mother never saw any of his films, and was puzzled by his dramatic life and career change.
     One of the things I most admire about Craven was his durability.  He had many periods where he was unsuccessful, with long stretches without any movies, or with some that were both critically and popularly reviled.  But he was kind of the John Travolta of horror movie directors--every time people thought his career was about over he would come up with a new, great film.
     So, RIP Wes Craven.  And for anyone out there looking for an effective, chilling horror movie, you might want to check out one of his movies, especially his classics.  Several of his best ones have been remade in the past decade,  But, as if usually the case, these are usually pale retreads of the awesome originals, in my opinion.

Cover Reveal For Creepy Campfire Quarterly

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Manchego Cheese and Some Sheep Information

     Manchego cheese comes from Spain.  Like tequila (which only officially comes from certain parts of Mexico) and champagne (which must come from the region of the same name in France), there are very specific conditions that must be met before it is designated "Manchego Cheese."  It must be made from whole sheep's milk, of the Manchego breed of sheep, and originate from registered farms in the La Mancha region of Spain.  Furthermore, the cheese must be aged 60 days to 2 years, usually in caves, and be pressed in a cylindrical mold with a height of 12 centimeters, and a diameter of 22 centimeters.  Other countries, like Mexico and other Latin American nations, sometimes call cheese made from cow's milk similar to Monterey Jack "Manchego," but this is not considered official.  Manchego is very old--it's been made for over 2000 years.
     There are actually four subtypes of Manchego, based on how long the cheese is aged.  "Fresco" style is only up to 2 weeks old, and so it's a soft variant.  This is basically only found within Spain.  "Semicurado" is aged 3 weeks to 3 months, and is semisoft, with a mild flavor.  "Curado"is aged 3-6 months, is also semisoft, and is considered to have a nutty and sweet flavor.  Finally, "Viego" is aged over 1 year, is a hard type of cheese, and consumers report a sharper, peppery flavor.  (I realize these aging number have some gaps in them.  For example, what subtype is a 9 month aged Manchego cheese considered?  Evidently these labels aren't superstrict, and some "wiggle room" is allowed.)
     The label on the package I bought didn't note which subtype of Manchego I had exactly.  But since it was aged 3 months, and its flavor seemed mild rather than sweet and nutty, I'm guessing it was "semicurado."  It was made by Corazon De Ronda in Spain, and imported by ANCO Fine Cheeses out of N.J., U.S.A.  The price was steep--a half pound of it set me back almost $10.
     It should surprise nobody, given my extremely vocal appreciation of all cheeses in general, that I really liked Manchego.  The texture was firm, and it was slightly flaky.  It was salted the perfect amount--enough to give it some zest, but not too much.  It had a distinct flavor, but reminded me slightly of Parmesan.  It was good on crackers, or plain.  The price of it is admittedly high, but I would still have it again, and I definitely recommend it to others.
     While reading up on this cheese, I also took some time to look up sheep.  Evidently they're not as stupid as I'd thought.  They're considered to be about the same intelligence as cows.  (Which isn't saying much, but still.)  They are capable of recognizing other sheep faces, and human faces.  With training, they can even learn the names given to them by their farmers.  Like "steer" for cattle, and "capon" for chickens, there is a separate term for a castrated adult male--"wether," as opposed to "ram" for an intact male.  There's also an odd condition that arises when a sheep is pregnant with twins that are male and female.  Because of cellular material transfer in the womb, the female fetus gains male XY chromosomes.  As a result, after it's born, this female sheep is infertile, with nonfunctioning ovaries.  It will also display masculine sheep behavior.  This individual is then referred to as a "freemartin."  This condition also occurs in cows, pigs, and goats.  The opposite effect doesn't seem as potent; the male fetus usually has smaller testicles from the mixing with its female twin, but it's not otherwise infertile or feminine in behavior.  Apparently up to even a couple of hundred years ago it was sometimes thought that this same twinning situation would cause the same freemartin effect in humans.  However, this belief is not true.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Literary Hatchet #12 is Now Available


     I'm a bit late on this, but the August Issue of The Literary Hatchet is now available.  As before, you can either pick up a free online copy at, or get a paper copy (for $14) on Amazon (, of course).  Once again, I'd like to thank the staff at the Hatchet for publishing my story--Publisher/Executive Editor Stefani Koorey, Short Story Editor Eugene Hosey, Poetry Editor Michael Brimbau, Humor Editor Sherry Chapman, and the rest.
     My contribution, "St. Vincent" concerns a Mob hitman, with a big twist.  This one is definitely not for the kiddies!  I'm sharing the magazine with some illustrious authors, too.  Bruce Boston is an awards magnet--4 Bram Stoker Awards, a record 7 Asimov's Reader's Awards, a record 7 Rhysling Awards, and a Pushcart Prize.  And it runs in the family, as his wife, Marge Simon, kicks in another Rhysling, and 3 more Bram Stokers.  Wayne Scheer and AJ Huffman have each been nominated several times for Pushcart Prizes.  Other writers include Rick McQuiston, Lawrence Buentello, Ryan Falcone, Michael Fantina, Gary R. Hoffman, Matthew Wilson, and Michael Lee Johnson, to name just a few.  It all adds up to dozens of stories, poems, and nonfiction articles--300 pages, all for no cost to the reader.  And while you're on the website you can pick up the earlier 11 issues (also for free online), or learn more about the infamous Lizzie Borden double murder case, and/or the history of Fall River, Massachusetts.  Enjoy!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Lebanese Soft Drinks

     Recently I noticed a small, non-chain grocery near the area where I'm currently located.  It's Nadia International Market in Winooski, Vermont (a suburb of Burlington).  I was hoping to find lots of new products for post subjects.  Alas, it wasn't as fruitful as I'd hoped.  Most of the foods were either foreign brands of common things I've already had, or were things that needed more preparation than I could accomplish with only a microwave oven.
     Fortunately, there was an exception in the beverage section.  I was able to get some exotic soft drinks.  Oddly, I think these were basically all Lebanese, even though, true to its name, the rest of the market includes foods typically eaten by Somalis, Congolese, Bosnians, Turks, and folks from various Middle Eastern countries.  I went with a fair sampling of sodas-- 4 total, from two different companies.  Both of these produce both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.  Most of the breweries that survived Prohibition in the U.S. were forced to switch to soft drinks and other products during that time, but since then, that isn't that common here in America.  But it's evidently more common in the rest of the world, especially with Japanese companies (Kirin, Suntory, Asahi for example) and in the Middle East (where due to religious restrictions many countries don't allow the production of alcoholic beverages, of course).
     Anyway, let's get to the ratings.  I'm using my usual rating system of "F" for failing, "D" for unsatisfactory but barely passing, "C" for average, "B" for good, and "A" for excellent, with pluses and minuses as needed.

1) Freez Pineapple flavor, made by Kassatly Ghtaura:  C+.  Has a strong, distinctive pineapple taste (it does contain 2% pineapple juice).  Since pineapple isn't one of my favorite fruit flavors, this was a bit of a risk going in.  It was okay, but not dazzling.  The serving was a little smaller than I'm used to--9.3 ounces, or 275 milliliters.

2) Freez Lemon Mint flavor, also from Kassatly Ghtaura:  C+.  I was a little surprised by this flavor pairing--I've never seen this before.  The lemon definitely dominated.  It tasted kind of like 7UP or Sprite.  Rather like its comrade, I had a "meh" reaction to it.  It was alright, but neither great nor terrible.  I could pick up on the slight mint tinge as an aftertaste, which did bump it up a bit to a C+.

3) Laziza Regular, made by Brasserie Almaza S.A.L.  Listed as an 0.00%, non-alcoholic malt beverage:  D-.  This was strange.  It had barely any taste.  Like water with a hint of corn, with vaguely beer-ish undertones.  It was like the lightest of light beers (See June 19, 2014 post for more information).  Also, according to Beer Advocate, there might be false advertising going on, as they list an alcohol content of 0.10%.  (This is barely worth mentioning, as this would mean that 40-50 of these would equal the typical "real" beer's 4-5% alcohol content, meaning I think even a premature baby could probably drink a six pack of Laziza and not get drunk, but still.  I couldn't discover if Beer Advocate's assertion is true or not, but I pass it along just as a possibility.  (Also, for legal reasons, I don't recommend giving Laziza to infants for real.))

4) Laziza Raspberry flavor, again made by Brasserie Almaza S.A.L, again listed by them as 0.00% alcohol, and by Beer Advocate as being 0.10%:  B.  This was definitely the pick of the litter.  Unlike the Regular type, this one did have a significant taste, and it was pleasant.  Mild yet tasty.

     To sum up, then, the Regular Laziza was bad, the Freezs' were just okay, and the Raspberry Laziza was good.  I would consider buying the latter again, and perhaps trying the other fruit flavored Laziza's that Nadia carries.  Furthermore, I did have one of Almaza's alcoholic types, their Pilsner.  I found it to be mediocre at best, maybe a D+, or a C- if I was feeling generous.
     Finally, when I googled Nadia International Market, I got an unusual amount of background about the family that owns and runs it.  According to the U.S. Committee to Refugees and Immigrants, they're political refugees from Iraq, by way of Jordan.  Not shockingly, they found the colder temperatures of Northern Vermont (especially in winter) to be quite a switch from the hot desert climate of their homeland.