Saturday, March 28, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Schav

     Schav is a traditional Eastern European soup, made in Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, and the Ukraine.  It’s also served in Ashkenazi Jewish households, which explains why I was able to get it.  My supermarket (Shop Rite) at home has a section of shelves devoted to upcoming holidays, and schav was nestled in amongst the other Passover dishes.
     My coworkers and close personal friends are probably dumbfounded now, for reasons I’ll explain.  Among my eating eccentricities is that I hate hot liquids.  When I was a kid, I used to put ice cubes in soup to cool it down before eating.  Then after a while I realized, what was the point?  To me soup is a waste of time, and ingredients.  I’d rather take the food items I like from the soup, dump the stupid broth, and put the tasty ingredients on a regular plate.  (I also hate coffee because of its usual temperature AND its taste, as well as hot tea, hot chocolate, and, when I think about it, heat in general, not just for foods and beverages.)  Even stews are too close to soup, for me.
     After I explain this to new acquaintances and friends, they invariably throw out, “What about cold soups, like gazpaucho?”  I usually reply that I would give gazpaucho, or another cold variant, a fair trial, but I’m pessimistic about the chances of my liking them.  Which I mean sincerely, but by chance I can’t recall having the opportunity to try one of them.  (Obviously any soup could be eaten cold, but I’m referring to soups that are supposed to be eaten cold.)  Enter schav.  It’s traditionally served either cold or hot, so it enabled me to put my money where my mouth is, as it were.
     The schav came in a large glass jar, the same size and shape as that for its shelf neighbor gefilte fish (delicious, see April 6, 2013 post).  It had a greenish broth with many  green leaves suspended in it.  The leaves are the main ingredient, sorrel.  Looking at images of this plant on the internet, I realized that sorrel is an incredibly common plant, at least in the Eastern U.S.  I’ve seen it during work on hundreds, if not thousands of occasions.  It appears my store-bought schav was kind of basic—some times other vegetables are in it.  Also, it’s common to put dollops of sour cream in it, as this is supposed to cut the sour taste of the sorrel.
     I didn’t have any sour cream, so I just opened the jar and had at it.  The results were disappointing, to say the least.  It tasted slightly sour, as advertised, and that was it.  It was thin, and very insubstantial.  I made sure to eat some of the actual sorrel leaves, and while these had slightly more sourish taste, they still were pretty weak in flavor overall.  I can’t say I hated it exactly, since it just tasted like pretty much nothing.  It’s apparently the light beer of soups (Zing!  Yeah, I went there—see June 19, 2014 post).  Looking at the nutritional information, I saw that schav, unsurprisingly, has very few calories (only 20 total for a jar that was 16-20 ounces), but does have some B vitamins and Vitamin C.  Since I usually like my foods and drinks to have some significant taste, I can’t recommend schav.  I only had a few ounces of it before giving up on it, and my father seconded my opinion of it.  Maybe the sour cream makes a huge difference, but I’m not particularly motivated to try schav again.
     But, I did learn that there are many soups designed to be eaten cold—I discovered over 20 kinds with just a cursory look, such as che, diyabath, fruit soup, okroshka, and pistou, as well as, of course, gazpaucho.  So there are other possible candidates for the coveted position of A Soup That Paul Likes, and I’ll give them a shot if I see them.  But, if you’re a betting person, I would definitely wager against any of these being successful.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--European Chocolate Bars

     Fortune recently smiled upon me again, and I was able to revisit a Wegman’s supermarket.  For those that haven’t already heard me rhapsodize about this grocery store, Wegman’s is easily the best supermarket I’ve ever been to.  And that’s compared to quite a few supermarket chains, given that travel for my job has taken me to most of the states East of the Mississippi River.
     Anyway, this particular Wegman’s had a slightly larger than usual selection of candies in their International Foods aisle, so I took advantage.  Specifically, of their chocolate bars.  I ended up buying nine different kinds, which I think is a fairly nice representative sample.
     I almost used quotation marks on “European” in the post title, because the situation is a little complicated.  For example, one of the candy bars is made by an Irish company, but actually manufactured in Trinidad and Tobago.  And one of the German companies is owned by the U.S. megagiant Kraft.  Finally, several of the bars I found were from Cadbury, which is considered one of the quintessential British chocolate makers.  But, in 2009 Cadbury was bought out by Kraft, and then a few years later Kraft changed its global foods division’s name to Mondelez International.  All of these company ownerships probably don’t factor in much with the actual composition of the candy itself—as far as I can tell they’re still made in the same places as before, and using the same recipes.  I just let you know to give you the complete story.
     Moving on, I was only dimly aware of how seriously some folks take their chocolate.  It seems to go beyond the more normal, sort of innocent “food nationalism” most people exhibit.  To sum up, quite a lot of chocolate fanciers think that American chocolate is vastly inferior to European.  I checked into the possible reasons for this a bit, and came across a few websites.  One claimed that U.S. chocolate uses less cacao (10% minimum vs. 20% for European), use less butter and cream (resulting in lower fat content), utilize more sugar (causing a lighter, sweeter taste) and buy their chocolate beans from South America rather than from West Africa, as most of Europe does (some say that different beans have different flavors).  Others accuse American companies of using more chemicals, artificial ingredients, and controversial additives like emulsifiers, corn syrup, and vegetable oils.  And still others sources (probably American!) claim that the chemical additives, corn syrup, etc. charges aren’t true, and it’s just a conscious, or subconscious anti-American backlash.
     Well, I like a good brouhaha about trivial nonsense as much as the next person, and I’d love to fan the flames of an intercontinental candy war, but in my case my taste buds are preventing me from being either a traitor or a patriot.  I simply don’t notice much of a significant difference between the two.  As I mentioned in some of my earlier chocolate post (See August 20, 2012 and November 22, 2012 posts), I do have a marked preference for milk chocolate vs. dark chocolate (somewhat ironically, in that I like other bitter tastes, such as very hoppy beers), but whether the milk chocolate is American or European (or probably from other continents, but I haven’t been able to test this) doesn’t really matter much to me.  So in this quasi-battle I’m pretty neutral, like Sweden, or the active chocolate manufacturing Switzerland.
     As always, I’ll use the U.S. scholastic method for ratings, A through F, with A being excellent, B good, C average, D unsatisfactory but passing, and F for failing, with plusses and minuses as necessary.  Listed from worst to first.

1)      Cadbury (Irish made, for a British company, American owned) Flake.  Billed as “The Crumbliest Flakiest Mild Chocolate”:  B-.  Dry, and flaky as advertized.  Thin, narrow bar.  Okay, not great.  Very messy to eat, with all the flaking.
2)      Cadbury (also Irish made, for a British company ultimately owned by Americans) Wispa.  An “Aerated Milk Chocolate Bar”:  B-.  Aerated refers to a few air pockets scattered throughout bar.  Solid, and okay.  Flavor is similar to Flake.
3)      Cadbury (this time it appears to have been manufactured in Portugal, but company and owners same as above) Crunchie.  “Milk Chocolate with Golden Honeycombed Centre”:  B.  Again, tasty but unspectacular.  Has a crisp yellow core.
4)      Horst Schluckwerder Marzipan.  German company, as can probably be deduced from the name.  Marzipan is almond meal mixed with sugar or honey, that appears to be a polarizing taste.  B.  Large bar—like 7 inches long by 2 inches wide.  Marzipan covered in chocolate.  As it happens, I’m pro-marzipan, so I enjoyed this.  Not awesome, but decent.
5)      Nestle (Made in U.K. for a Swiss owned company) Aero Milk Chocolate.  “Feel the Bubbles”:  B+.  Like Wispa, with air pockets but more so.  Good, a touch bland, maybe.
6)      Catch (product of Trinidad/Tobago for an Irish company).  “Soft Caramel and Crisped Rice in Milk Chocolate”:  A-.  I rather like the rice base with the chocolate covering.  Very good—just shy of great.
7)      Nestle (same as #5) Aero Peppermint flavor:  A.  The honeycombed interior for this one is green, for the mint.  Really enjoyed, as I like mint flavors.  Better than the plain variant.
8)      Milka (German made, for American Kraft) White Chocolate Confection:  A.  I like white chocolate, too, so found it excellent.  Also, noticed later that “Best By” expiration date was 8 months overdue!  But didn’t taste stale or bad to me.
9)      Nestle (U.K. made, for Swiss company) Lion:  Is a cookie base, covered with caramel and then chocolate:  A.  Delightful.  Reminded me of one of my favorite American bars, Twix.  Like the mix of sweet flavors over the cookie crunch.

     Unlike every other food/beverage types I’ve rated before, you’ll notice my scores were very high.  The “worst” bars were still B-, which is still better than average.  It appears when it comes to chocolate bars, I’m hard to disappoint.  I guess, kind of like the line about pizza, or sex, even bad chocolate bars are still pretty good, to me.  (And just to quash some ugly rumors, I NEVER had sex with a pizza.  Second base once when I was drunk, but that’s as far as it ever went.)  But seriously, I obviously like some chocolate bars better than others, but it seems making one that’s truly terrible is too much of a challenge.  At least from all the ones I’ve tried.
     Finally, years ago a female friend ironically (I think) gave me a Nestle (U.K. made, Swiss owned) Yorkie bar, which had a wrapper that said, “It’s not for girls!” along with a circle with a line going through a woman’s picture, etc.  I didn’t include it in the ratings because I remember liking it, but it was some time ago, and I’m vague on the details.  I recall being sort of darkly amused by its gall in advertizing—I was sort of puzzled that they didn’t include the tagline, “Misogyny never tasted so good!” or the like.  Well, they’ve removed that bit of humorous(?) sexism and now it looks like a regular bar.  Maybe that new kind of Diet Dr. Pepper will soon follow.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Two Bits of Writing News

    Got some good writing news recently.  First, I heard from Grinning Skull Press.  My story, "Cruel to be Kind" was accepted for "Cranial Leakage:  Tales from the Grinning Skull Volume 2."  It's due out in the summer.  I'll pass along more concrete details and the cover as soon as I get them.
    Secondly, it's time for my annual article in In D'tale Magazine, I guess.  My piece about rejection will be in their May issue.
    Clearly, "Cranial Leakage Volume 2" will have its own blurb.  But to give you a taste of the type of outfit Grinning Skull Press is, and because I like its imagery, I'm posting the blurb for Volume 1.
     "Conceived in darkness, to feed off the host.  It is poked at and prodded, all the while growing within the confines of the authors' mind until it reaches the point where it will no longer be contained.  It forces its way through the porous openings in the skull, insinuating itself into the bloodstream, feeding into the very cells of its host, who has only one desire--to rid itself of this parasite before it is driven insane."
     Also, apropos of nothing, I recently learned I might have six lumbar vertebrae (the lower back bones) instead of the normal five.  I'll find out in a few days if I'm an evolutionary throwback to our Hominid and Australopithecine ancestors.  (It's actually not that uncommon a congenital anomaly, and usually doesn't give its bearers any advantage or disadvantage.  But as someone who is into bones and general weirdness, I kind of hope it is true.)  

Friday, March 6, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Ugli

     I think I first learned about ugli from doing crossword puzzles.  It is, for those that don’t know, a citrus fruit.  Like every citrus fruit aside from pummelos (see February 20, 2014 post), Mandarin oranges, and citrons, it’s a hybrid (see March 30, 2013 post).  It’s a cross between grapefruit, tangerines, and oranges.  Found growing naturally in Jamaica, it’s now evidently produced deliberately and artificially, and has become more popular in the U.S. and other areas, especially during the months from November through April.
     But there’s the name.  I was somewhat surprised to find out that it’s not a word in a foreign language (or an approximation of one), or the last name of the first person to discover this fruit.  It’s actually an alternate spelling of “ugly.”  Once you see one this moniker makes sense.  It’s a largish fruit, typically being bigger than a grapefruit, only its coloration is a mix of green and yellow.  The skin is similar to other citrus fruits, only it’s a bit rougher, and can be spotty and warty.
     But even if the name is arguably fair, it’s still kind of weird that the growers, who want people to pay good money to buy them (yes, the name is trademarked), went with this non-appetizing, insulting title.  It put me in mind of the old, 1970’s Saturday Night Live skit where they mocked a then popular jam ad campaign.  The ad line was, “With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good.”  Obviously, the folks at SNL took their parodies to amusing extremes, like, “With a name like Painful Rectal Itch, it has to be good.”
     So today’s tangent will be about other real, funny, product or company names, especially those involving food.  And be forewarned, many of these are quite tasteless and low brow.  Clearly, some of these are similar spelled words in other languages that mean different things, or are from other English-speaking countries which have different slang terms.  (I’m sure this works both ways, so if any bilingual readers have examples of English product names which sound hilarious and/or dirty in another language, feel free to explain these in a comment.)  Also, I should reference “National Lampoon Presents True Facts:  The Big Book,” which provided some of these.

1)      Pee Cola. A soft drink from Ghana.
2)      666 cold medicine.  Probably not a big seller in Christian countries.
3)      S & M Amusements.  For an amusement park.  In a time long before “Shades of Gray.”
4)      Cabbages & Condoms.  A Thai restaurant.
5)      AnalTech.  A Delaware business which makes chromatography plates.  An unfortunate combining of “analysis” and “technology.”  I would have gone with “Technolysis” myself.
6)      Hooker furniture.  A Virginia company, apparently based on the owner’s last name.
7)      Schwing America.  A Minnesota concrete pump manufacturer.  They must have gotten really sick of hearing “Wayne’s World” jokes in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s.  Also the owner’s last name.
8)      Soup for Sluts.
9)      Vergina lager beer.  A Greek brew.
10)  Urinal.  A hot drink.  (Ha!)
11)  Mortuary Affairs & Food Service.  One stop shopping, I suppose.
12)   A. Cockburn, M.D.  And the good doctor’s specialty was urology.
13)   A jam called Tastes Like Grandma.
14)  Ass Compact.  A German magazine about risk management.
15)   Ditcher, Quick, and Hyde, divorce lawyers.  Almost too perfect—did they change their names, or only hire Ditcher because of his name?
16)   Jack the Stripper.  An English wood stripping service.
17)   Only Puke.  Crackers
18)   Wack Off!  An Australian insect repellent.
19)   A home construction firm named Foster’s.  And their ad line was actually, “Put your family in a Foster home.  They’ll love it!”
20)   Frozen Corpse Ranch.
21)   An auto repair shop specializing in transmissions.  Called Tranny-Man.
22)   Herpes Pizza.
23)   The Golden Shower Restaurant.
24)   S.T.D. Contracters.
25)   Amigone funeral home.  I saw this one live, it’s in the Buffalo, NY area.
26)   A diet candy in the early 1980’s called Ayds.
27)   Staying with unfortunate, deadly disease coincidences, New Zealand had a drink named Sars.
28)   Finger Marie.
29)   Duke of Cumberlands Head pub.  The sign outside read, “Filthy Ale and Disgusting Food.”

     Anyway, back to the ugli.  Once again, my local Shop Rite supermarket came through.  The one I picked out was bigger than a grapefruit, green and yellow, a little oblong and warty, and not the most attractive fruit I’ve ever seen.  (A 2 Bagger, or a Coyote Ugli, if you’re a sort of misogynist fruitophile (don’t think this is a real term, but you get my meaning.))  However, maybe the slightly unpleasant rind helped, as removing it from the edible pulp was easier than with oranges, lemons, etc.—it kind of pulled away.  The inner pulp sections looked identical to oranges, and were even (boringly) orange in color.  The taste was….impressive.  Not bitter and nasty like a grapefruit, and better than the decent pummelo.  Its flavor was most like a tangerine.  Sweet, and very enjoyable.  It was a bit pricey—about $3 for a single one—but I do plan on having this again, when it’s available, every so often.
     Therefore, to paraphrase a Simpsons line, like Chief Wiggum, the ugli might not look great from the outside, but it, “has so much inner beauty,” where it counts.