Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Chayote

     First off, you should know that chayote is reported to have magical powers.  But more on that later.
     Chayote is a member of the gourd family of plants, so its kin include squash, cucumbers, and melons.  And "chayote" is just one of many names for this food--there are at least 20, including pipinola, sousou, vegetable pear, is-kush, and cho-cho.  So, to use a very obscure horror movie comparison, you could say that chayote is "The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue" of food names.
     Chayote is originally native to Mesoamerica, but it has spread over almost the entire globe.  It's enjoyed in both North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. So, essentially, save for maybe the scientific outposts in Antarctica, pretty much wherever you live, people are probably eating chayote fairly close by.  It's consumed in a variety of ways, too.  Some enjoy it raw and in salads, and other folks like it boiled, baked, fried, pickled, mashed, or stuffed.  Most commonly, though, it's cooked and served as a side dish, or mixed in with other foods, such as meat.
     The one I bought was from Costa Rica, which is a large producer of chayote.  They're fairly weird looking--about the size of a pear, with a pear-like light green color.  Mine had a bizarre cleft at its base.  Which, depending on your maturity level, either looked like a mouth or a butt crack.
     I started by cutting off a piece (there's no outer skin or rind to peel) and trying it raw.  And I have to agree with the general assessment--raw chayote is pretty unpleasant.  Somehow kind of tasteless and nasty at the same time.  Therefore, I broke my normal habit and did some cooking.  I chose a recipe that both showed up on the first page after I googled "chayote recipes," and one that promised a short cooking time.  Here it is, roughly:

Ingredients:  Chayote, olive oil, garlic clove, salt, pepper, and wine vinegar.
Directions: 1) Cut up chayote into narrow, bite-sized strips.
                   2) Cover bottom of medium-sized skillet with olive oil and put on low heat.
                   3) When oil is hot add chayote, salt and pepper to taste, and garlic.  Stir and cook on medium heat for about 5-6 minutes.
                   4) Add vinegar and cook another 4-5 minutes, until chayote is slightly wilted but still firm.
                   5) Taste, and add more spices as needed.

     I should mention I used garlic powder instead of a clove, and white vinegar instead of wine vinegar.  I also cooked it longer than the original directions, as I thought the chayote needed it.
     Anyway, I thought chayote was alright.  It's very squash-like, only perhaps a little blander.  I found ketchup really improved its flavor, although for what it's worth I think ketchup improves many, many foods.  Chayote made for a decent side dish.  Since I got this at the Union Market in Washington, D.C., and I've never seen it sold elsewhere, I probably won't have frequent opportunities to have it again.  But if you get the chance, and especially if you can find it at a restaurant (probably a Central or South American restaurant will be your best bet) it's not a bad choice, especially if you're a squash fan.
     On to the alleged powers.  Up in the mountains of Columbia, there's a small town named San Bernardo.  In the 1950's a flood washed through, which was destructive enough that the locals had to move a local cemetery.  During this removal, they discovered something strange--many of the bodies were mummified, with particularly good skin preservation.  Some of these mummies were put on display, and they became a tourist attraction.  Many of the people in San Bernardo think that the mummies are so well preserved because of the local diet, which is heavy on the chayote.  (Skeptics point out that the town's altitude, and local climate are probably the real factors.  Among other things, they mention that the bodies' clothes are also well-preserved.  It seems dubious than any consumed food would also cause your burial outfit to survive, too!)  Oddly, I couldn't find any claims that the chayote causes smooth and beautiful skin among the living in San Bernardo, only the dead.  So even if their chayote explanation is true, it seems like a fairly useless gift, even more so if you opt for cremation of your earthly remains.  But, if there is ever a worldwide zombie apocalypse, at least the citizens of San Bernardo can take solace in the fact that they will be eaten by unusually attractive reanimated corpses.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Danish Health Beverages

     I stumbled across these beverages in a West African grocery in Washington, D.C.  It was in the Union Market section, which is a several block square shopping area with many exotic food stores, some of which are open to the general public, and others which sell bulk food to restaurants.  You'll be hearing a lot about this wonderful shopping area in the next few weeks/months, and once again I have to thank my friend Keith for finding it and taking me there.
     Anyway, given where I was, I figured this beverage, two kinds of Vitamalt, was African in origin.  Therefore, I was somewhat surprised to read that they were produced in Denmark.  Their route to my hand was quite circuitous, too.  One bottle mentioned import companies from Trinidad, Jamaica, Panama, and Denmark, while the other noted all of these plus Columbia.  Further reading revealed that Vitamalt is most popular in the Caribbean and Africa.  Even the manufacturer, Royal Unibrew, admits that this product is only a niche product in Europe, and therefore Denmark as well.  So we have the strange situation of a product being more popular in other countries than in its own.  I tried looking up other examples of this, and only really came up with Fanta.  It's made by the American Coca-Cola company (and was developed by a Coca-Cola employee in Germany during World War II*) but is more heartily consumed in African and Latin American countries.  Perhaps one of the reasons for Vitamalt's popularity is because it's a non-alcoholic malt beverage.  So cultures that forbid drinking alcohol can still enjoy a beer-ish type beverage.  But, this obviously isn't the only reason.  Vitamalt, as the name suggests, gets a fair bit of mileage about its status as a healthier energy drink.  It contains many B vitamins, fiber, and some types also contain antioxidants.  (The caffeine in it is clearly not exactly healthy, but something has to give the drink a "kick," I suppose.)  Keeping with its healthy promoted image, Vitamalt sponsors various athletic clubs and events, especially in the Caribbean, and its website offers fitness tips, etc.
     I was able to locate Vitamalt Plus Acai/Guarana/Aloe Vera (which came with a purple label on a green, 330 mL (11.2 ounce) bottle), and Vitamalt Plus Aloe Vera/Ginseng/Royal Jelly (which had a yellow and red label on the same size green bottle.  The drink itself is a dark brown, and resembles a dark beer.  Sadly, it doesn't taste like a beer.  I absolutely despised both kinds.  Both sorts tasted the same to me, too--despite the difference in the ingredients.  I always try to finish a decent serving of the exotics I discuss on this blog, but I couldn't punish myself this time.  I drain poured both after only a few ounces.  They were totally gross, with almost a soy sauce-like flavor, only way off.  In an odd way I can understand that they're good for you--and just like many edibles that are good for you, they don't taste good at all.
     So, as you can probably tell, I won't be buying this these again, even if I do get another chance.  Instead I'll imbibe alcoholic malt beverages.  And then maybe I'll get my B vitamins by drinking a Gatorade or something.  And I like many of Bob Marley's songs, but I don't agree with his taste in beverages, it appears.

* I kept reading online articles about the Nazi history behind Fanta online.  Then a look at the urban myth-debunking website Snopes indicated that this isn't fair.  Evidently although inventor Max Keith was in Germany during the World War II era, he never was a member of the Nazi Party, and couldn't be shown to be a sympathizer, even.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A More Detailed List of My Available Writings

     Thought that this week I'd do a rare post about my writing (weird, I know).  Over the years I've been doing this blog (since February of 2012), I've updated readers on accepted magazine stories, anthologies, and ebooks, but I've neglected to mention some of my pre-2012 ones.  Many of the magazines that published my stories then have unfortunately long since closed.  I guess like restaurants, many/most small magazines don't survive that long.  In looking for some of these magazines, I was both sad and amused that when I googled their names, one of the very few mentions of them were in the publishing histories of my writing bios for other published stories.  Fortunately, my first publisher, "Bibliophilos," is still alive, and just as stubbornly Luddite-ish as ever.  They're so anti-technology that not only are online submissions forbidden, a writer can't even mention computers, the internet, or emails in any of their stories, unless it's to disparage them!  (Another odd coincidence is that Bibliophilos is located in the same town (Fairmont, West Virginia) where I was attacked by a rabid fox back in March of 2000.)  Anyway, some of these old publications are still available, so I'm listing them below, along with brief descriptions of the stories.  I'll also repeat the stories post 2012 to be complete.

Free stories, available online:

"Down in the Dirt" emagazine.  My story is "Unhealthy Extremes," a brief tale about the disturbing results of a prospective father who's a little too sensitive about his wife's pregnancy.  It's a little tough to find.  Go to , and then click on "Down in the Dirt Literary Magazine."  Then click on "issues" and then scroll down until you hit Issue #7, March 2004.

"Wild Violet" emagazine.  My contribution, "YAIAWLR," is my take on a cliche story idea.  A guy who's questioning his place in life discovers what would happen in the world if he wasn't around.  The results are bizarre, and not what he expects.  To find it, go to     Or go to and put my name or YAIAWLR in the search bar.

"In D'tale" emagazine.  I have three nonfiction pieces with this magazine.  "The Hilariously Odd World of Publisher Guidelines" is about some of the unhelpful, limiting, and just plain weird guidelines that magazines and publishers list.  "What's in a Title?" is about some early rejected titles of famous books, record long and short titles, and the sources for many acclaimed book's titles.  Also I mock dozens of strange and amusing book titles, some of which are truly unbelievable.  "The World's Thickest Skins:  Records and Anecdotes on Rejection," is more geared to writers.  I've always been curious about which books were rejected the most, and how famous writers dealt with the inevitable disappointments.  To read these, go to, then put my name in the search bar.  Directions will be given on how to sign up and read all the articles, and issues, for free.

"Carnage Conservatory" emagazine.  My story, "Holes," is probably the grossest one I've ever written--a complete splatterpunk-type tale.  An overweight man is kidnapped, and let's just say being killed is the least of his concerns.  To locate, go to:
, and then scroll down near the bottom.

"The Literary Hatchet" emagazine and paper.  (Online version is free, paperback copies are about $9 plus.)  Had two stories here.  "Sudden Death Overtime" is my oldest (adult-written) story, about a man who puts the "fanatic" in football fan.  Mayhem ensues.  "St. Vincent," tells how The Mob has come up with a new way to make a profit.  One of their hitmen now carves out an obscene niche for himself.  To find, go to:  , and then click on "issues."  Then scroll down to Issues #11 and #12 and follow directions for downloading.  Paperback copies available on Amazon.

Non-free stories, not available on Amazon:

"Mobius Magazine."  My contribution, "All for Naught," is about a pregnant woman who gets devastating news.  Every mother's nightmare keeps getting worse and worse.  Based on a true medical issue.  To find, go to:  , and then click on "store."  Ordering information is there--issues are $2 including shipping for the paper issues, before 2008.  My story was in the February 1, 2003 issue.

"Morbid Curiosity" magazine.  Had three nonfiction articles with this one.  "Nature is Trying to Kill Me" is an account of some of my work-related injuries and mishaps.  Field archaeology isn't as dangerous as being a police officer, or working on a commercial fishing boat, but there are definitely hazards, sometimes weird and awful ones.  In Issue #7.  Next, "A Natural But Sick High," is in Issue #9.  I used to get some intense fevers as a kid, which occasionally resulted in crazy hallucinations.  Some of these are recounted here.  To locate, go to:    I think the issues are about $7, and ordering info is included there.  The third story, "Exhuming Corpses For Fun and Profit," in the out of print Issue #8, can be found as the October 23, 2013 post on this blog, so clearly another free one.

Non-free stories, available on Amazon:

"Creepy Campfire Quarterly, Vol. 1", from EMP Publishing.  My story is "Sheol," about a guy who dies, and then learns what the afterlife is all about.  Sort-of-spoiler alert--it's pretty disturbing and I hope thought-provoking.  Paperback last time I checked was from $6.36, and Kindle edition is $2.99.

"Undead Living," from Sunbury Press.  My story is "Responsibility."   A man is tormented by vengeful ghosts.... a lot of vengeful ghosts.  Forget one priest, he's going to need thousands!  Paperback starts from $10.95, and Kindle edition is $6.99.

"Creature Stew," from Papa Bear Press.  My contribution is "The Existence Mezzanine."  It's a tale about vicious zombies--but with a distinctive twist.  KindleUnlimited edition is free, $2.99 to buy.

"Coming Back," from Thirteen O"Clock Press.  The name of my story is "Next to Godliness."  A weird group investigates and celebrates existence in all its form.  However, one of these searches goes horribly awry.  Kindle edition is $5.00.

"Under the Bed Vol 02, No. 10" from Fiction Magazines.  My story in this, "Unholy Spirit," was quite long--10,000 words or so.  So I have a longer blurb below.
     Keisha Cartwright is a misanthrope.  Not content with just idly hating her fellow human beings, she yearns to be more proactive.  She's also rich, cunning, dedicated, and ever so patient.  Her deliberate misinterpretation of an anti-war novel gives her obscene inspiration.
     Keisha's victims are a mix of ages, races, genders, and home states.  They do have one thing in common--the unspeakable atrocities that have been done to them.  They're prisoners held behind both literal walls, and within their own skin.
     The victim's agony, and Keisha's glee, continue on for years.  Her busy schedule results in still more "clients" for her twisted schemes.  Will anybody ever stop her?  And even if they do, is it even possible to truly save her victims?
     Kindle edition is $3.99.

     Hope to have some more stories out soon.  Should be at least 3 more in 2016.  I'll give details here when I get them.
     And to all those who celebrate it, have a great St. Patrick's Day tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Kale

     I've heard a lot about kale recently, much of it negative.  It seems like it's become like quiche in the 1970's and 80's--liking it is a sign that someone is wimpy or girly.  I recall a McDonalds' commercial that openly scoffed at the idea of someone putting kale on a burger.  This animosity from meat-based restaurants/products actually makes quite a bit of sense, as kale is touted as being a "super food," or even The Super Food, by vegetarians and vegans, and those of their ilk.  The type of people that the stereotypical "bro" macho guys call "pussies."
     Anyway, I figured it was high time I weighed in on this.  As even semi-regular readers of this blog know, I'm no vegetarian.  On the other hand, I'm willing to try alternative foods, I think the fairly recent "bacon, bacon, bacon" mindset is wildly exaggerated, and I fail to see how eating, or avoiding certain foods makes you unmanly. (I don't know if there's a similar issue among women.  If they taunt other women for not eating meat, and if so what insults they use.  Probably something like "dirty hippie," or "commie," or along those lines.)
     What I discussed in last week's post about goji berries applies readily to kale, too.  Kale is undeniably nutrient-packed--it has significant amounts of Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C, E, and K, as well as iron, potassium, antioxidants, and phosphorus (some of which are apparently diminished if the kale is cooked).  However, folks who maintain that it will cure or prevent serious diseases like cancer are engaging in wishful thinking, or at least are believing things that are unproven by scientific research to date.  So it's definitely not a bad idea to eat kale, but if you do, don't start throwing out the medicines for your diseases and conditions just yet.
     It's not definitively known, but some food historians think that kale cultivation originated in Asia Minor, and spread to Europe by 600 B.C.  Whenever it was, it sure kicked off in popularity on that continent.  It's also readily enjoyed in parts of Asia and Africa.  And despite the Beef Council's efforts, I suppose, even North America.  There are five main species of kale, and several subtypes.  I bring this up only because one of the types has a very inexplicable and disturbing name--"rape kale."  Don't know if this is related to "rapeseed," whose oil manufacturers wisely changed its title to "canola oil."  It's most often eaten as a raw green, but it's also put into soups, drunk as a juice (in Japan), and eaten with mashed potatoes and sometimes bacon and sausage, in both Ireland and the Netherlands.  (The Dutch one has an amazing name--"boerenkoolstumppot.")  Some people even grow it as a decoration, as various kinds produce pretty leaves and an almost literal rainbow of colors.
     I found my kale in a farmer's market, and then the alternative aisle in a local grocery.  All were kale "chips," meaning I didn't have to break down and prepare or cook anything, as is my strong preference.  The description on the bag said these are, "air-crisped under low heat, which maintains their natural enzymes and maximizes their raw nutritional potency."  Also, I believe this product has a record number of those marketing symbols--"raw," "certified gluten-free," "good source of fiber," "good source of protein," "vegan," "excellent source of Vitamins A and K," "non-GMO verified," and "USDA organic."  All were made by Rhythm Superfoods out of Austin, Texas.
      These are rated using the U.S. scholastic 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 necessary.

Rhythm Superfoods Kale Chips, Original flavor:  B-.  Oddly this had more calories than the cool ranch kind.  Green crunchy chunks with brownish-yellow seasoning on them.  Okay, but not great.

Rhythm Superfoods Kale Chips, Cool Ranch flavor: B-.  Didn't have strong cool ranch taste to them.  Kind of grew on me, though.  Also pretty good but not spectacular.

Rhythm Superfoods Kale Chips, Bombay Curry flavor: B+.  The best of the bunch.  Nice spicy bite to them, but not overly so.  Since I like curry, and Indian food in general, this wasn't a surprise.

     I was also amused to see that kale has figured into a couple of popular culture items.  During World War II, growing kale (along with other garden crops and raising livestock) was encouraged in the English propaganda film, "Dig for Victory."  And in 2013 Drew Ramsey and Jennifer Iserloh wrote a book called "50 Shades of Kale."  Alas, it's evidently just recipes, and a not a poorly written novel about S&M acts using a certain green leafy vegetable.  Which is a shame given that "rape kale" would have easily lent itself to such a theme.
     So, in closing, I thought the kale chips were pretty good.  They're not as great as potato chips, and other bad-for-you crunchy snacks, but not revolting or even disappointing.  I think I'll have them again.  If I see kale on a menu, or in other forms that don't require me to use the oven, I'll probably give them a try, too.  And I'd recommend kale to others.  Maybe just don't serve it when you've invited Ted Nugent to dinner.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Goji Berries

     Goji berries came well recommended.  Like ridiculously so.  It's almost tough to find a disease or medical condition that won't be helped or cured by goji, according to its adherents.  Everything from high blood pressure, diabetes, fever, eye problems, and even cancer.  My favorite story was about Li Ching-Yuen, who allegedly reached the age of 256 (1677-1933) in large part due to his daily consumption of these berries.  (If you're curious, and as I may have already mentioned on this blog, the confirmed record holder was 122, for Jeanne Calment of France (1875-1997).)  The package I bought touted the berries' alleged 5,000 year history of being used in Chinese and Tibetan medicine.  However, the bag also included the disclaimer, "These ingredients have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease." So, as is often the case for these, and other Super Fruits/Super Foods (see May 1, 2014 post), my stance on their supposed health benefits is, "That's nice.  Let's see the scientifically-proven evidence."
     Not to say there aren't definite healthy aspects of goji, just that they've been exaggerated, or at least are unproven as of yet.  They do have decent to good amounts of Vitamin C, iron, zinc, selenium, antioxidants, and fiber.  On the other hand, there are health detriments to them--they evidently interfere with certain diabetes medications, and a popular anticoagulant, warfarin.  Furthermore, some of their health marketing claims have been investigated by government agencies in Canada, the U.S., and the EU, and the result has been warnings against the Chinese producers/manufacturers.  So it's a fruit which also comes with various medical, marketing, and even political controversies.
     Goji berries are also known as "wolfberries," and for the life of me, I can't understand why they didn't stick with this exciting latter name.  Hell, your advertising team could mail it in, and go with the obvious spokesanimal, either with a tough, ominous wolf, or a friendly, cool, canine.  These berries are native to the Himalayan region of Asia--China, Tibet, and Mongolia.  They're part of the nightshade family of plants, meaning they're related to potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and tobacco, among others.  They're consumed in many ways.  Raw, dried, combined with rice porridge, soups, chicken and yam entrees, broiled into teas, or mixed up in yogurts, juices, and smoothies.  Even into a type of wine.  Finally, the goji plant's shoots and leaves are also edible.
     The ones I bought were called "Himalania" (with the "A's"looking like mountain peaks), which admittedly is an amusing name.  The berries were a product of China, by way of BrandStorm, Inc., out of California. They were raw and dried, so essentially like red raisins, or "gojasins," perhaps.  I had some out of the bag, plain, and then others that had been plumped by soaking them in water for a couple of hours.  I was unimpressed. They sort of tasted like off-raisins.  Not particularly good, with a too-slight tartness and a weird aftertaste.  The soaked ones were a little better, but still not that good.  I'm having trouble finishing even half of the 4 ounce package, and I don't plan to buy these again.  I'd still try these fresh if I got the chance, or see if the smoothies or drinks are any good, though, to give the berry a complete trial.  And, if medical science does find that goji berries do treat or cure diseases, then I'd change my tune, obviously, and scarf down even the lackluster dried ones by the pound.  But, I'm very skeptical of these assertions, as well as the outrageous claim that I could exist for centuries by eating enough of them, like some sort of bizarre fruit-vampire.