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.