Tuesday, December 30, 2008

She's Got Taste

When I bite into a cherry cordial I have to make sure everything gets halved. I hate to have the whole cherry get sucked out in the first bite, leaving a drippy milk chocolate shell with no prize inside. I hate milk chocolate. I watch the severed cherry half perched in its liquid nest expanding back to a candy red circle within a circle, having been momentarily squashed by the work of my careful incisors. Then I drink the juice out, and chomp the rest of the treat.

I hate commercials that sell milk chocolate to women. It's not good for us. And it's not even really chocolate. It's milk solids and butter with some brown on it. But they paint a picture of us all coming home from work and diving into a sea of sickening light brown that washes our cares away, or a velvety mud-colored blanket that ribbons around us, satsifying an itch for bliss that no scented candle or romance novel can deliver.

Chocolate -- real chocolate -- doesn't advertise. I hunt it down in the health food store's baking aisle, or in the pretend "natural" section at the supermarket. My chocolate, when not made palatable by maraschinos, must be espresso colored and preferably dotted with savory treats like pistachios or raspberries.

I have the TV on for noise. A male announcer just referred to a beautifully thin black woman's "wavering willpower." She turned down cheddar chips and chewed a one calorie stick of gum instead. She did what she was supposed to do, I guess.

After the cherry I ate an orange. A real orange, with a peel and everything. I pulled the most spotless fruit I could find out of a box labeled "Bonnie - Navels." My Aunt Bonnie and everyone in my family gets loads of navels for Christmas. We would go to the mantel to find our stockings weighed down with suspicious swollen toes. A friend of mine once compared an old lady's rack she saw by accident to "oranges in socks." I just pictured my sister and me staring up at the oranges in socks on Christmas morning, and tucked it away as one of my favorite disturbing associations.

Navels don't skin easy. I got impatient picking off all the white orange crusts and removing sour strings and seams. I arranged the sections in a white finger bowl ringed in stylized flowers of a distinctly nineteen-seventies mustard color. I plucked out a section that was starting to drip out its juice and stuck it between my upper teeth and gums. It was cold. While I chewed it around I piled the rest of the oranges in a blue bowl and situated it on the round kitchen table, slightly off-center. The navel section was refusing to go down. I stared at the bowl of oranges and the view made the tough, stringy citrus cellulose taste better.

I thought I might try that sort of trick with all foods from now on. I wondered if it would work with magazine pictures. I could eat a flavorless soy nugget and stare at a BHG recipe card showing a crusty-skinned, seasoning-dotted roast chicken, or eat the last questionable dollops of greek yogurt, separating at the bottom of the container, while gazing at dairy ads showing waves of ice-cold cream sloshing from white ceramic pitchers. All my food experiences would be enhanced to approach the expectations aroused by the food-photography spectacularity.

I did not bathe today. I wore two bathrobes, one on top of the other. I shredded bank papers for three hours. I finished reading a novel. I shredded some poems. And these tasteful moments with food-stuffs kept me alive.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Burpy


Explaining how to pour. (Beer is good in warm places too.)

When you live in a cold place you must drink beer to survive. The southerners in this country, they drink bourbon whiskey. The southerners in Europe, they drink lots of wine. We northerners, all over the globe, need our beer.

My toes are freezing, and I am imbibing a dark chocolatey brew called Edmund Fitzgerald. You all know the reference? It's a ship that sank in Lake Eerie in 1975. Old Gordon Lightfoot sang about it the next year. The bottle even has a sense of humor: "...our Edmund Fitzgerald will taste smoky, robust, dark and bittersweet. Thanks to our environmental efforts, if you take a swig of Lake Eerie it won't taste smoky, robust, dark and bittersweet." I like raillery in a beer. Plus it's got that Guinnessy flavor, without the dogfood aftertaste.

Another beer I can't live without is your over-hopped IPA. That's India Pale Ale for you oenologists who have neglected your beer studies. And it's not Indian at all. It was originally brewed with extra hops so it would last the journey to India from Great Britain, back in the good old days of British Imperialism.

Hops are a preservative as well as a steroid. Drink an IPA if you want to have a long life and fight off inflammation. Dogfish Head Brewery has a 60 minute and a 90 minute IPA that will make you cough and burp a lot.

Speaking of Dogfish Head, they make an ancient brew called Midas Touch. It is based on a recipe that was supposedly derived from examining the contents of beer barrels that were dredged up with a shipwreck. It is quite heavenly. I think the "ancient brews resurrected" category of beers is my absolute favorite.

Another good one is 1554, which is New Holland's Belgian black ale based on a recipe found in someone's 16th century notebook. A flood destroyed the orginal research, so they had to travel to Belgium and find the recipe again by sifting through old manuscripts! I love tasting something that possibly tastes exactly like what stinky enlightened men of yesteryear used to drink by the fire.

It's funny, but anything but the alcohol of yore would probably be quite disgusting to our modern palates. I know this from experience because I checked out a medieval recipe book from the library and cooked some of the dishes. The only edible meals were the ones made with nuts or potatoes. Every other recipe called for way too much calf's blood, dandelions, and tree bark.

I will try any beer once, whether it is a sickeningly thick tar-ale or a bargain basement old-man can that says something about crystal clear waters. I tried just about everything when I lived in Canada. I miss the trips to the beer store -- a semi-socialist phenomenon where the names of beers are listed on a board (no pictures) and your purchases get anonymously sent out on a conveyor belt, the only outlet from the corrugated steel warehouse hidden behind the flapping plastic curtains. That was the only time I ever gained weight -- I ate chocolates and beer for six months solid.

In my ten or so years of tasting adventures I have come across a few nasties, so here's a short warning list.

Miller Chill. This is Miller's "Mexican" beer, pre-limed and with a dash of salt. Stick to Corona if salt and lime are your thing. This beer tastes like it was poured through the urine-soaked streets of Tijuana and scooped back into the bottle, making sure to include the hearty flavor of cigarillo butts. Budweiser answered this with Bud Lime, which causes a slightly less intense gag reflex than its competitor.

Sprecher Pizza Beer. A local invention we Fox River Valley residents should be ashamed of. How did this guy get Sprecher to brew his beer? It is actually made with pizza ingredients: tomatoes, garlic, oregano, and basil. Sounds intriguing, but 9 out of 10 beer enthusiasts only try it once. I am saving you the trouble. Pizza burps without the full pizza belly are no fun. Plus, as many critics have mentioned, beers are paired with food because they complement the foods, not because they taste exactly like them. Yuck.


Tom Seefurth thinks he's "all that."


What next, wasabi beer to go with your sushi? Actually that sounds good...

It is perfectly fine to put spices in beer, but you can't just choose them based on the foods you like. Most men who would never admit to sniffing coriander and juniper go head over heels for these aromas in their liquor! Same for the fruity aromas in various weiss beers -- fruity drinks with twists are ok for boys if the fruit is suspended in the four magical ingredients.

Rogue Chipotle Ale. I actually like this one, but it is intense. It is actually smoky and spicy. It comes close to being too food-flavored, but not close enough to make it disturbing like the orange pizza water. If you like spicy, go for it. Otherwise, avoid this brew. Rogue's Dead Guy Ale is one every drinker can appreciate. And it hasn't even a whiff of formaldehyde.

As usual I am procrastinating on my homework, so I'll pick up my beer reviews later. I'm supposed to be writing about the problem of free will. Well, the problem of alcohol and the problem of free will are not entirely unrelated subjects!


Friday, December 5, 2008

Fragments of Foolishness

I spent an evening with an old Moleskine, and wondered what disjointed knowledge the world might have of me if that little leatherbound pocket journal was all I left behind. If I was posthumously published in fragments, I might look something like this:

-- Brainstorming: A silly word, but no one has ever gone out of their way to think up a passable replacement. How about ACTION THINKING?


-- The dregs of December. Our logical Roman calendar loses sight of the important events in nature and life.


-- It's like legal heroin, only it doesn't let you sleep it off.


-- I have accepted the earth as my spiritual place.


--DROP academic writing. ADD philo religion.


-- 10:10am. I have an office. I have a phone line. I didn't think this position warranted such grandiose accomodations. They are buying me a new computer.


-- The man is the most self-aware yet completely relaxed person I have ever had the pleasure of observing.


-- Blisters on my feet from Friday's ten-mile walk in Jesus sandals. I don't know how Jesus did it.


--Why is there such a thing as "modern latin"? It can't be modern because no one speaks it.


-- Alliteration? Rhyme? Have they any place in fiction?


-- 12:15 am. My eye is watering from coughing on smoke and on my own words, not original because they were quoting my own words of the past. Days of future past. Past futures.


-- And Henry says, "Circumfused. As in, being confused by own's own circular thinking."


--Is anything a paradox for God?


-- I should be dead by now. (As you can tell from my handwriting I am nearly dead already.)


-- John 3:16 - For God so loveth the world that he gave us three dimensions in which we can go forth and multiply: forward, sideways, and up.


-- John 1:1 - In the beginning was the word, and some people took it way too seriously.


-- Bernays = Evil Genius


-- Two men's voices: 1. Resonant 2. Mellow


--The vending machine fizzed out a perfect crest of bubbles (not foam) and now they trace themselves on the wax coating that most probably is coating my stomach. Warm and gritty. The finish leaves a hint of gardenias. One should always be suspicious of floral notes in food products.


-- And I quote, "Her area of expertise was the complexity of solitude."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Head Traffic


I'm on the second floor of the library (that's the first floor in France) listening to Traffic and trying to do homework that should have already been done. Or, that I should have already done, to be more specific and culpable. No passive voice is to blame.

Every student has a week like this. Even bona fide grad school material like myself. There I said it. I'm bona fide.

I run a small risk by keeping this public blog, where curious and thorough admissions folk may find evidence of my frequent misspellings, sometimes Frasier-esque verbosity (recently exacerbated by French lessons), and my incriminating tones and voices that point to a blatant disregard for university administration, a childish preoccupation with words, and yes, a "work ethic" in retrograde. Worst of all, they will surely discover that I am not at all sérieuse!

So far, most of this journal does not detail my scholastic mishaps, you know, the kind that actually affect my grades. Tonight I will be(come) the most honest person I know and tell you all about them. Since they never affect my grades anyway.

Maintenant, instead of getting started on my Queen Elizabeth I paper, I'm listening to Traffic and writing to you. The organs and flutes keep my fingers tapping the borrowed keyboard (ancient library loaner laptop), but they are probably not conducive to scholarly outputs. I can picture myself composing some good fiction with 60s and 70s music as my background noise. But not academic work.

I don't listen to music when I write for school. I think that's the most idiotic thing I've ever seen.

Here's my secret: I'm a great procrastinator. And by great I mean I do a lot of it. And by great I mean I'm damn good at it.

I have lots of ideas. I keep everyone entertained and happy with my ideas. And my "insights." Then, eventually, when I get around to it, when I have no other choice, I actually write the ideas down one after another, throw in a couple of those insights here and there, until the collections of words miraculously form a "paper."

But I can't get started on things. Poe called it the "imp" of procrastination. His imp was bad enough he had to write about it when he should have been writing other things. So mine is that bad too.

I guess I don't feel too badly about this because I don't have a lot of nasty habits that waste time. I think I busy myself with habits that are enriching but aren't exactly what I should be doing en ce moment. Like this. And like managing the Philosophy Club, reading novels for pleasure, attempting to read random philosophy for pleasure, doing French lessons over and over, writing letters, or researching things online like how to make my own cider. All enriching activities, for sure.

I just made myself out to be an overachiever. I'm really just a glutton. I stuff myself with all the gooey, chocolaty knowledge eclairs I can get my mitts on, and I neglect my brain broccoli. It gets yellowed and crumbly in the crisper drawer, until I realize it's due the next day.

Sometimes I feel very guilty. I am overwhelmed with guilt. Should I be? Some people are good at some things. I am good at writing. If I wait until the last minute to produce it, that is between myself and my letters.

But I'm supposed to be writing about Liz I and her letters. So that's what I'll do. As soon as I help these guys in my head kill some dude named John Barleycorn. I wonder if he's friends with Jethro Tull?