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Project Gastronome, Day 20: Miracle Fruit

4/30/2011

Tonight's food is something I've wanted to try for several years.  I'm a longtime fan of Rob Cockerham's excellent website, cockeyed.com, and he wrote a while back about attending a Miracle Fruit tasting party.  The Miracle Fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum) is a berry native to Africa which, when eaten, coats your tongue and makes sour and bitter foods taste sweet.  How?  This is the best part - nobody really knows!  There is a protein called miraculin found in the berries which scientists think bonds temporarily to your taste buds and changes the way that they perceive certain flavors.  Miracle!

The berries themselves are really expensive to transport, and perish quickly, so the easiest way for most people to try them  is in the form of handily packaged tablets, which I've shown a picture of here, and which I had on hand for tonight's party.

Although I had some vague ideas about other things that I wanted to eat during the course of Project Gastronome, this was the one that I absolutely knew had to be on the menu.  And since the minimum order is a package of 10, I knew that I had to share this experience with some friends!  Thus was born the idea of the Project Gastronome Wrap Party.

When I posted a request for people to enter for chances to come to the party, I was sort of dreading having to draw names and tell some people that they couldn't come, but as it turns out, I got exactly as many entries as we were able to handle.  Tonight's attendees were:
Since most of you have never eaten a holiday meal at my house, you probably don't know how bad I am at judging food quantities.  I make enough of everything to serve more people than will be coming, and the result is a very bountiful table with plenty of leftovers.  Here's what we had to sample from tonight.
Roughly from L to R: Apple cider vinegar, lemon and lime juices, port wine, sour gummy worms, limes, grapefruit, dried cranberries, oranges, Sour Patch Kids, lemons, dark chocolate, dill pickle slices (Also pictured: Jack's hand, looking like a stone-cold killer because it's covered in streaks of red marker)

I handed out the tablets, and we all had a laugh at how much it felt like we were about to take pills together.  The first one is always free, friends.  The tablets themselves were very tart.  I think the general consensus was that they tasted like those natural fruit Fruit Roll Ups or like sugarless Sweet Tarts.  And then the tasting began!

I'm still thinking of the best way to describe the experience of eating these things.  I think we all approached the table with suspicion, because once you've finished the tablet your mouth doesn't really feel any different.  But as we started eating, it quickly became evident that something very unusual was happening on our tongues.  Apple cider vinegar went down with a little burn (it's still vinegar, after all) but tasted like sweet nectar!  Lemons were not sour at all, they were like sunshine-flavored candy!  Grapefruit had no bite at all, just explosive sweetness!  The citrus really was the most interesting part, but the rest was interesting, too.  They didn't taste substantially different, but still noticeably different.  Sour dill pickles tasted like sweet bread 'n butter pickles.  The sour candies just tasted like ordinary gummy candies.  The dried cranberries tasted kind of like raisins, and the dark chocolate wasn't bitter - it tasted almost like milk chocolate.  Wine was interesting; the bottle we had was a pretty good one, but after the tablets, it tasted like Boone's Farm.
Jack camped out near the gummy worms until they were all gone



In about 30 minutes, the tablets began to wear off, and then things got even more interesting.  People started to ask me if I had leftovers from any previous nights, so I pulled out the Baconnaise, gefiltefish, century eggs, ants, and natto.  Nobody would touch the natto or gefiltefish.  The Bassetts and Holly all tried some Baconnaise on crackers.  Roy, John, and Jessica all tried ants.  I think they were all surprised by just how hard it is to get all of the little pieces out of your mouth.  And then John told me that he'd try some century egg if I would eat it with him.

Dammit.

Of course I did it.  I wasn't happy about it at all, but at least I knew what to expect.  John was very close to blowing chunks all over my kitchen, I think.

The evening was a great success.  To each of you who came, thank you so much for being a part of it!  Here's a little bit of video to give you a taste of the evening.  Check back this weekend for a wrap-up of Project Gastronome!


4 comments

Project Gastronome, Day 19: Gefiltefish & Baconnaise

4/28/2011

Thanks very much, everybody, for being so cool about me taking last night off.  I'm in a much better state of mind today, and there's a party to look forward to tomorrow night!  To feel like I've lived up to my self-imposed terms, though, I've got to eat two things tonight.  Here we go...

First up, gefiltefish.

This one was not my idea.  I was originally planning to eat some Circus Peanuts today.  I'd never tried them, have heard generally negative opinions about them, and knew they'd be easy to obtain.  They seemed like a pretty easy way to fill a spot on the calendar.  But then I heard from my friend Kelley, who had this to say:
I must recommend that you do a post on gefiltefish. My husband, Jewish, has asked me to make or buy this food 'from the old country' in the past and I can't pull the JELLIED FISH out of the jar without a visceral reaction. Sometimes love is just not enough.
Kelley and I used to work together, and her daughter used to go to preschool with Blake, where she decided that he was her boyfriend.  Also, Kelley is a former Houston Oilers Derrick Doll!  Now, guys, I ask you this: who among you, when asked to do something by a former NFL cheerleader, would be able to say no?  Yeah, that's what I thought.

In my head, I mixed up gefiltefish with lutefisk, and wasn't sure where to get it.  See, lutefisk is fish that is boiled in lye until the bones dissolve, so I'm sure not going to take the chance of preparing it myself, but I've also never seen it for sale anywhere.  Not to worry, because gefiltefish is something entirely different.  It is fish which is first poached, then minced, and then stuffed back into the fish skin or shaped into balls, usually with a thickener such as bread crumbs, matzoh meal, or onions.  It is, essentially, fish sausage.

Remember a couple of days ago when I mentioned the Thanksgiving dinner flavored sodas?  Like I mentioned at the time, the problem wasn't that they tasted wrong.  The taste was exactly right, but since the texture of the food wasn't there, it was just all off.  This is what the experience of gefiltefish is like.  The taste of fish is there, but the texture is like paté.  It's unsettling.  The taste itself really isn't bad, but eating those fish globs pulled from the murky fluid in the jar was just too much like eating cat food.


With the gefiltefish behind me, it's now time for the evening's second item: Baconnaise.  OK, it's not technically a food, it's a condiment.  But it's a thing that exists, and for that reason alone I had to try it.  Some of you may remember last year when I said on Facebook that what I wanted for my birthday was really expensive bacon.  That wasn't a joke.  And when my friends Steve, Wyatt, and Enusha actually sent me some for Christmas, I was over the moon.  True, I'm not as much of a baconhead as some folks out there, as a quick internet search will prove, but I do love the stuff.

Here was my question about this product, though - would it be a case of two great tastes that go great together (e.g. chocolate and peanut butter) or two tastes which should never have come close to each other (e.g. brushing your teeth and then drinking a beer).  The answer is: a little bit from Column A, a little bit from Column B.

This stuff is powerfully bacony.  A little bit goes a long way.  I mean, it's pretty good, but if you eat too much, the artificiality of the bacon flavoring starts to come through.  On a sandwich?  Awesome.  On its own?  It tastes like one of those Beggin' Strips that you give to dogs.

Video time!

0 comments

Project Gastronome, Day 18: In Which I Beg For Your Understanding

4/27/2011

I just don't have it in me tonight.  It's 9:30, and I'm just sitting down for the first time since I left work.  The kids have been (and as of this writing, continue to be) screaming nightmares all evening long.  I'm exhausted from this week, and I know that even if I start eating, recording, uploading, and writing right now, it'll still be nearly 11 before I'm done.

I really am sorry, and I promise to eat two things tomorrow night.  One of them is even really gross, OK?
4 comments

Project Gastronome, Day 17: Head Cheese

4/26/2011

I don't mind telling you that at this point in the month, I'm kind of looking forward to the end of this project.  This isn't really unique to Project Gastronome; there were also points in my two movie watching projects where I hit a wall, especially when I had to watch four days in a row of Julia Roberts.  I think I may have reached my capacity for self-inflicted revulsion, though, which is something that was not a factor in the other projects, except when I had to watch four days in a row of Julia Roberts.  To give myself incentive to power through this final week, I've promised Courtney a steak dinner on Saturday night.  And, of course, there is the Project Gastronome Wrap Party on Friday night!

<Self pep-talk>These are the moments that make us.  These are the moments that let us call ourselves men.  These are the moments when we will sit down in front of a video camera with our son and eat unidentifiable animal parts.</Self pep-talk>  Way back at the beginning of this thing, my friend Roy left a comment telling me that I should try head cheese.  Although I had a menu pretty much ready to go for the entire month, his suggestion was good enough that I decided to use the flexibility of the final week and try some.

I actually didn't even know what this was until I sought it out.  I mean, I'd heard of it, but the name was pretty much enough to keep me from pursuing more information.  Head cheese is not a cheese at all.  It's a cold cut made from bits of flesh from the head of a pig or cow, set into aspic (which is like a gelatin made from meat stock).  On one hand, this sounds really gross.  On the other hand, I used to think the same thing about barbacoa (which is cheek meat) until I tried it, and now I love that stuff.

If you just look at barbacoa without knowing what it is, though, it doesn't appear off-putting.  It looks like shredded brisket.  Here is a picture of head cheese.
It makes me think of those cadavers that they inject with a polymer and then cut into thin slices so that they can study the inside of the body layer by layer.  And craziest of all is that you can buy this at practically any grocery store that has a deli counter!

Speaking of buying this stuff at the store, here is a picture of my receipt.  Maybe it's only funny to me, but I like that if you buy Boar's Head brand head cheese, they economize on ink and just print "BOAR HEAD CHEESE" on the receipt.  Or maybe this was truth in advertising and the head cheese I am about to eat literally came from the head of a boar.  Free range head cheese!
The lady at the deli counter asked how I wanted it sliced, and I had no idea what to say, so I just came back with "Um, how do most people get it?"  Sandwich sliced was the answer.  I'm glad I got it thin sliced, because once I tried it, I can't imagine sinking my teeth into a big chunk of it.  Observe...


Like I said in the video, at this point in the month it's far from the worst thing I've eaten, but I feel that my tongue is still poorer for having tried it.  The best I can say about head cheese is that it is at least a resourceful use of animal parts which may otherwise go to waste.  Except that they could probably make dog food out of those parts, too, so by eating head cheese you are depriving some poor dog somewhere of a meal that he would probably enjoy.  Jerk.
1 comments

Project Gastronome, Day 16: Thanksgiving Dinner Gumballs

4/25/2011

The final week of Project Gastronome is here!  To recap, each of the last three weeks has had a theme - Animal, Vegetable, and Potable.  This week I just wanted to fill in the blanks with whatever I found, so I decided just to call it "Questionable" and have some fun.

I'm pleased to report that I still have intact vision after Friday night's experiment with prison wine.  I also have a ticked-off six year-old who didn't understand why I waited until he was in bed to record the tasting.  One of my regular readers is a police officer.  Not only a police officer, but somebody who I see at church every week!  As funny as I know it would be watching Blake tasting Daddy's silly juice, I just was not prepared to deal with those repercussions.  Not that he understood that.  Anyway, tonight's entry needed to be something kid-friendly so that I could bring him back into the loop.  Seriously, he asks me about this every night now, whether we're going to be recording something.  He's going to be crestfallen when the project ends.

Today's item is Thanksgiving Dinner Gumballs.  They come in three flavors, Turkey, Cranberry Sauce, and Pumpkin Pie.  I chose these for a couple of reasons.  Remember the miserably failed fizzy cupcake drinks?  I was drawn to those because they made me think of Willy Wonka, and so does a chewing gum that contains a meal.

The second reason is even sillier.  Have you ever seen the holiday packs that Jones Soda releases each year?  My big culinary weakness is trying different flavors of soda.  Most places have the same drab assortment in the cooler or in the fountain, but just ask Courtney - if we go someplace that has something unusual, that is what I'll be drinking.  A big, big dream of mine is to make a pilgrimage to Galco's Soda Pop Stop in Los Angeles someday...  Anyway, when my family got together for Thanksgiving 2005, I'd purchased that year's Jones Soda holiday pack at Target, and brought it along to share.  Only my dad and brother were brave enough to experience them with me.  The flavors were Turkey & Gravy, Wild Herb Stuffing, Brussels Sprout, Cranberry, and Pumpkin Pie.  Here is the thing - the problem wasn't that they didn't taste like those things.  The problem is that they tasted exactly like those things.  I like each of those foods, but there's something very unsettling about having the taste of brussels sprouts in your mouth in the form of cold fizziness instead of hot vegetableness.  Still, tasting them with Papa and Mark was a really fun holiday memory.  It's not Thanksgiving right now, but I think that trying these with Blake will still be a fun memory.

And I also think that I'll have to keep an eye out for this year's holiday pack and do a special holiday edition of Project Gastronome.

First the video, then additional comments.

Jones Soda set a very high bar.  I think I was expecting a similar experience with these gumballs.  They were fun, but the flavors weren't quite right.  The turkey tasted like something vaguely meaty, but it was more like ham.  Cranberry was fruity, but not tangy like real cranberries.  Pumpkin pie was sweet and a little bit like dessert, but tasted nothing like pumpkin pie.  I know this is all very nitpicky, so I should say that they were about as good as what I paid for them.
5 comments

Project Gastronome, Day 15: Prison Wine

4/22/2011

TGIF.  Seriously, it has been some week.  Although I have been smart enough not to fortify myself with a dual dose of energy drinks again, the general pace of my week has not let up at all ever since Monday.  I'm not usually much of a drinker, but if ever there was a week to unwind with a glass in hand on Friday night, this was it.  Courtney is out of town for a wedding, and won't be back until tomorrow night, so it's just me and the kids tonight.  Time to tuck them in and break out the hooch.

Special occasions call for special beverages, and honestly, what occasion is more special than the conclusion of Project Gastronome's Potables Week?  I didn't even drink at my own wedding.  For my silly little blog project, though?  Hells yeah.

You may remember that at the very beginning of Project Gastronome, I mentioned drawing inspiration from the very funny "Steve, Don't Eat It!" series at The Sneeze.  In what is perhaps his funniest entry, he homebrews his own prison wine.  Click the link and see, but when I say he homebrewed it, I mean he took actual ingredients that a prison inmate may have (trash bags, moldy bread, fruit drink, etc.) and homebrewed his own prison wine.  I seriously admire his dedication on this one.  It would never work in my house.  Jack would find those trashbags full of Chateau d'Alcatraz in about two minutes and rip them to shreds.  Instead, I turned again to ThinkGeek (seriously, ThinkGeek HQ - I am open to sponsorship offers), and ordered a DIY Juice to Alcohol Kit.

Here's the kit contents.  It contains instructions, six packets of yeast, six bottle labels, a rubber stopper, and an airlock.  Each packet can turn a 64 ounce bottle of your favorite juice into sweet, sweet ethanol in just two days!

The instruction book has a few handy recommendations for recipes you may wish to try, and different juices that work especially well.  I'm a novice oenophile at best, but I've never cared all that much for white wines.  I decided that you can't go wrong with the classics, so I chose a bottle of Welch's Red 100% Grape Juice and set a reminder on my calendar to start things in motion on Wednesday morning.

Here is where I have to pause for a moment to wonder what my mom's reaction is going to be when she reads this entry.  Last night, she and my dad met us at Blake's PTA program, and she gave me a good scolding for energy drink day.

I'm stalling a little bit because I'm nervous about drinking this.  If you ever see me in person, ask me to tell you my story about a guy who went blind after drinking his home stilled liquor.  It's actually MUCH funnier than it sounds.

Alright - bottoms up.



It was delicious!  I've got five more packets to use, and I think that there's a bottle of Ocean Spray CranApple out there calling my name.
1 comments

Project Gastronome, Day 14: Grass Jelly Drink & Strawberry Pearl Tea

4/21/2011

Sorry this one is going up kind of late.  Blake had a PTA musical program tonight.  After the show, my parents offered to let the big two kids spend the night at their house, since they have no school tomorrow, so I took them there and then took Jack and went to the gym.  A timeline:
5 PM: left work
5:45 PM: got to Blake's school
6 PM: Blake's program began
7 PM: Blake's program ended
8 PM: Started workout, realized partway through that I had not eaten or had anything to drink since lunchtime (don't worry, the kids had dinner before Blake's program)

All of that is to say that by the time I got home and got Jack to bed, I was very thirsty.  This was a good thing, though, because it made me much more willing to try a drink that I was very hesitant about: Grass Jelly Drink.  For good measure, I added a second drink, too, but also because they were side-by-side in the cooler at the Asian market.  (By the way, this is the last Asian market menu item, I swear.)

Here's the cans, nicely chilled and ready for drinking.
Here they are again, this time with the English side facing the camera.
Look at that can on the right!  It's got those bizarre green cubes all over it.  They looked like nothing so much as green Jello.  Maybe this drink wouldn't be so bad!  The can on the left?  Odd looking, but promising.  I mean, I love tapioca pudding, and this thing has tapioca balls right in it.

First up was the grass jelly drink.  Every comparison I can think of for this drink falls short, because it tastes not quite like anything I've ever had.  It's kind of like a very highly sweetened (almost sickeningly sweetened) green tea, with honey and hints of jasmine and mint.  Oh, and also a dude blew his nose in it.  (I know how very awful this is, but I can't stop thinking "Me Chinese, me play joke...")  I don't generally have texture problems with food, but taking a gulp of grass jelly drink was like having a mouthful of especially slick snot chunks in my food hole.

I had to get this taste out of my mouth.  Fortunately, there was still the pearl soybean drink.  You guys...  It was FANTASTIC.  You probably should avoid it if you're skeeved out by anything other than drink in your drink, but it tasted just like Strawberry Quik.  Quik and tapioca - it was like being eight years old and back in my mom's kitchen!  For only 99 cents!

OK, here's what you're here for.  Watch the monkey drink the crazy stuff.

4 comments

Project Gastronome, Day 13: Fizzy Cupcake Drinks

4/20/2011

These last couple of weeks have had their high points (Vegemite, jellyfish) and low points (CENTURY EGGS), but have left me feeling a little bit like I've been put through the wringer.  Tonight, I wanted to give myself a break from all of that, and try something that would be a little bit more fun, both for me and for the kids.  Enter the always awesome ThinkGeek website!  Really, if you ever need a gift idea for me or for any other nerd in your life, start with this website.  There is so much fun stuff there, much of it for very little cost.  (If I have any readers from ThinkGeek HQ, I would be more than happy to accept your sponsorship of Look What Danny Made!  I would even consider renaming it to Look What Danny Made!, presented by ThinkGeek.)

Here is why I thought that these would be fun:  Willy Wonka.  Remember the scene in the Gene Wilder version where Charlie and Grandpa Joe drink Fizzy Lifting Drinks?  Fizzy Cupcake Drinks seemed like they would be an acceptable substitute.  BONUS - it seemed like they would be fun to do with the kids.

Wrong on both counts, unfortunately.  Sometimes when Blake was little we used to buy Fizzies tablets at the candy store in the mall and let him have them as a treat.  They were really fun!  You just drop the little tablet into a cup of water, and it instantly fizzes into a yummy drink.  These were the anti-Fizzies.  Watch and see...



I'm bummed at what a lame entry this turned out to be, and I apologize that it's not a more interesting one.  I had to post it to keep up with my food a day quota!  I still love you, ThinkGeek, but this is an awful product.
8 comments

Project Gastronome, Day 12: Lychee Juice (and wrap party invitees!)

4/19/2011


If you've been following along, you know that I have relied heavily on Far East Supermarket as a supplier for Project Gastronome.  I decided to venture a little farther west down 34th Street and check out the Gandhi Bazaar Indian Market and see what they may have to offer.  The store itself offered a very different experience.  Of the two Asian markets that I've visited in Lubbock, there was an abundance of prepared products.  There were raw and bulk materials, too, but a great deal of what they had was essentially ready-to-eat once you broke the seal and did whatever you wanted to with it.  The Indian market was much more heavily focused on bulk and staple items.  I don't know if this is indicative of a larger cultural difference, or just a difference in how this particular subset of ethnic markets in Lubbock, TX operates, but it was something I noticed.

Something that's been helpful to me as I prepared to eat some of these things has been the conversations that I had with the people who sold them to me.  Unfortunately, although the lady working at this market was very friendly, she spoke no English.  I don't hold it against her - I mean, I don't speak Hindi, either.  Still, I like to think that if she did speak English, she'd have said something like this when I brought the bottle of cloudy liquid to the counter: "Danny.  Friend.  I read your blog and I love it.  Do yourself a favor and put that bottle back on the shelf.  It's a novelty item, and we don't really even like it."

Wikipedia tells me that the actual lychee fruit is known for its perfume-like flavor.  I should maybe have read that before I drank a bottle of its juice.  Guys, think of your wife/girlfriend.  Think of how great she smells when she walks by you after she's sprayed on some of her favorite perfume.  Now, has that experience ever made you want to rush to her cosmetics drawer and chug down the rest of the bottle?

Anyway, here's me drinking a bottle of perfume.




On a more pleasant note, I'm very happy to announce the people who will be attending the Project Gastronome wrap party!  They will be receiving invitations in the next day or two, and they are:
  • Roy & Meranda B.
  • John & Jessica Q.
  • Zeb & Michelle A.
  • Holly N.
  • Ann H.
More details soon!
8 comments

Project Gastronome, Day 11: Energy Drinks

4/18/2011

Two weeks down, two to go.  The first two weeks of Project Gastronome covered Animal and Vegetable, but since I couldn't think of a good way to finish the 20 Questions trifecta by eating a week of "Mineral," I decided instead to go with Potable.

Millions of people begin their days with some kind of caffeine, whether it be in the form of coffee or tea, or, more recently, energy drinks.  I am not a habitual coffee drinker.  In an average month, I may drink two or three cups, and one of those is usually at church.  I don't know if science bears this out or not, but I feel like that way it's both more of a treat and it packs more of a punch when I really need it to, because I haven't built up a tolerance to it.  I keep a one liter stainless steel bottle on my desk at work, and fill it with water once when I arrive in the morning, and again after lunch.

Before today, I had never tried an energy drink.  I decided that Monday would be the ideal day of the week to have one, and not just any Monday, but one that came after a weekend of traveling.  To ice the sleepiness cake, I stayed up until about 1 AM last night, playing videogames (BioShock 2, in case you care.  I already can't wait for BioShock Infinite next year...).

Not having shopped for energy drinks before, I had no idea what a huge array of them there were.  It's like a visit to the toothpaste aisle, where there are 200 different kinds, and you just want to find the one that tastes good and will keep you from getting cavities.  I bought two of them, a grape Five Hour Energy and a Rockstar Juiced, and figured I'd decide which one to try later.

I usually save the video for the end, but for what I'm going to type after this to make any sense, I need to go ahead and put it in at this point.


Sometime between the purchase and the consumption, I got the idea that it would be really funny to drink both of them at once.  This was STUPID.  Luckily, I'm a pretty large guy and my body eventually absorbed everything I'd put into it, but it turns out that what I did was actually a medically dangerous thing to do.  If you read the manufacturer's recommendations for both of these brands, they recommend consuming no more than two a day, and no closer than about six hours apart.  Now, I'm not trying to be overly dramatic here - I don't think I was at risk of having to call an ambulance or anything, but seriously, don't do what I did.

Also, watching these different videos all at once is weird to me, because I'm not sure why I keep looking over my shoulder.  I'm standing in front of a storage shelf in one of them.  What did I expect to see when I looked back?!?  I don't know, but it was an uncontrollable impulse.  I felt like if I didn't look over my shoulder something very bad would happen.

Here's a little liveblog section that I kept throughout the day:
8:15 - am logged in and have responded to all emails that came in while I was out on Friday.  Made a task list, ready to start on it.  Feeling hyperfocused.
9:20 - head started swimming, flush of heat, alert but paranoid
9:40 - responded to 15 Words With Friends games in 5 minutes
9:50 - everything I do feels more urgent and dynamic.  I didn't just buckle my belt after using the bathroom.  I buckled the SHIT out of my belt.
10:00 - diuretic effects of caffeine kicking in.  Have just visited bathroom for fourth time since arriving at work.
10:15 - constant low-grade buzz in my ears, short bursts of attention but having trouble staying with one thing
11:00 - hectic morning - co-worker on vacation, server crashed, error on another system, multiple vendors asking for information - feeling very irritable, especially with idiots who can't remember passwords
12:00 - tremors in hands, nausea
12:30 - feeling better with some food in stomach, but easily distracted
2:30 - ZZZZZZZZZZZZ...
6:30 - thought I had things back under control, but then I went to the gym.  I was on the elliptical, letting Pandora choose my music for me, and realized that TEARS were coming down my FACE in front of PEOPLE, because "Don't Stop Believin'" came on.

I don't think these are a drink I will be having again.  I'm not sure how much of their effect on me was actual, and how much was placebo, but I didn't like the feeling.  Even when I was getting a lot done this morning, I had kind of a mean edge to my thoughts.  Plus, at a time when I've been trying to eat more conscientiously, I couldn't escape the feeling all morning long that I had poured something (two things!) that looked, smelled, and tasted so artificial into my gut.
7 comments

Project Gastronome, Day 10: Vegemite

4/15/2011

I'm posting a little earlier than usual today because we're hitting the road for my brother-in-law's wedding!  The kids are excited to see their grandparents and to see Uncle Jarrad get married.  I'm excited for both of those things, and to take a day off of work.

But first, there's a job to be done, and that is to eat one more thing this week.  I've mentioned already that I had a few foods in mind at the start of this project, and one of those was Vegemite.  In case you've never heard of it, let me just describe it to you so you can decide just how appetizing it sounds.  From Wikipedia: "Vegemite is a dark brown food paste made from yeast extract."  I know all of the words in that sentence, but they just don't belong together.  "Food paste"?  That sounds like what they feed you if you're in the hospital on a liquid diet.

It is most famous in the USA for being mentioned in the second verse of the Men At Work song "Down Under."



Where was I to find this brown, yeasty spread?  Thanks to the song, I knew it was primarily popular in Australia, so I called the one person I know who has ties to that country (though I think she actually grew up in New Zealand), my friend and former co-worker Carly.

"(After explaining my project to her) Carly, I know that I'm engaging in a complete stereotype by even asking this, but do you know anybody who could send me some Vegemite?"
"You can get it here, in Lubbock, at the World Market, but you shouldn't buy any."
"Huh?"
"It's eight dollars a jar, and you're going to hate it."
"Well, I haven't even tried -"
"You're going to HATE it."
"Thank you?"
"I have a jar at home.  I'll bring you a little bit of it to try.  You're going to hate it."

It's good to have friends who will be generous with you.  I only begrudgingly share my Nutella with my children, and they are my own blood.  But here's Carly, who is an awesome friend already, sharing her very expensive Australian imported chow with me, and even warning me about it.

I decided that since I'm only going to be home for one meal today that the best way to have this would be on a bagel, and planned to do a side-by-side taste test with Vegemite on one half and Nutella on the other.  Both are brown spreads, will my tongue be able to tell the difference?  (He asked, stupidly.)

Here's a not-very-great picture of the Vegemite that Carly gave me.  Since you can't see it very well, I'll describe it in a way that will make the most sense to parents.  Think of when your child was a newborn.  I'm talking like a day or two old.  Remember what their first few diapers looked like, when they were expelling all of that pre-natal stuff from their intestines ,and it was black and thick like road tar?  Vegemite looks remarkably similar.  And then, of course, I had to take a side-by-side picture of the two halves.  Can you guess which is which?  Highlight the text between these two brackets to see if your guess was right.  [Nutella on top, Vegemite on the bottom.]

OK, time to eat.



You know what?  I did NOT hate this!  It is definitely a dining experience of its very own, and a little bit of it goes a long way, but it was, well, kind of good.  Like I mentioned in the video, it's like very salty beef buillon.  Oooh!  You know what would be good?  If you found a way to mix this into a Bloody Mary.  I think I know what drinks I'll be serving at the wrap party.

And speaking of the party, this is your last weekend to put your name in the drawing for an invitation.  The deadline is midnight on Monday.  I hope to see you there!
9 comments

Project Gastronome, Day 9: Habanero

4/14/2011

So far, all of the foods in Project Gastronome have been merely odd, but tonight we take a turn for the extreme.  Tonight I will be eating a habanero pepper.  Actually, two of them, because that's how many Courtney bought for me at the store.  The nice thing about this one is that it should be easy to write up, since everybody already knows what a habanero is, and getting one doesn't require visiting a store any more exotic than WalMart.  The bad thing about this one is that I expect it's going to hurt a lot.

I'm sure that habaneros have been around for a long time, but the first I remember hearing about them was about ten years ago, when they started being sold and billed as the hottest peppers that were widely available commercially.  Since then, there have been a few peppers that have been rated as hotter, but the habanero is still near the top.

If you're not familiar with the Scoville Scale, it is how they measure the heat of peppers, based on how much capsaicin (the chemical that gives them their heat) is present.  The picture below is too small to see very well, but if you click on it, you'll get a picture of the scale.  A jalapeño is 2,500-8,000 Scoville units.  A habanero: 100,000-350,000.
It's getting a little bit late, and I have to pack for a trip tomorrow, so I'm going to keep this more brief than usual.  I'll just say that I ate the peppers about 3 hours before I wrote this sentence, and my throat still kind of burns.  BUT!  Well, first let me set up some background.

Some of you know this, others probably didn't, but I used to have a few body piercings.  Oh, they're gone now, and they weren't in places you'd have seen if you worked with me, but they were there.  When people found out, one of the most frequently asked questions was, "Didn't that hurt?" to which my favorite answer was a completely stone-faced "Yes."  Here's the thing about the pain, though - it's immediate, it's sharp, and after the initial stab it kind of throbs for a while, but it also brings an immediate rush of adrenaline and endorphins like you've never experienced.

The same thing happened while I was eating the peppers.  It hurt so much, but as I rode through it, my brain went to this really excellent place.  The pain subsided, but the calm remained.  I was breathing easier, thinking clearly, and kind of euphoric.  It hurt, but I would do it again.  Much like the piercings...

4 comments

Project Gastronome, Day 8: Natto

4/13/2011

True confession: when I was still in the planning stages of Project Gastronome, there was one food that I wanted to try very, very badly - whale meat.  Believe me, I know all of the horror stories about how whales are killed, and the excuses that the remaining countries that permit whaling have had to make on its behalf.  I saw The Cove.  I'm fully aware of the moral weight attached to whale meat.  Doesn't matter.  Sometimes you get an itch, and you've got to scratch it.  Reading this article at Slate made me even more curious.

My (admittedly limited) research about how to get some whale led me to this conclusion - it is not legal to purchase whale meat in the USA.  However, if you happen to have friends who are in Japan or are members of Alaskan Inuit tribes (who are still allowed to hunt whales on a limited basis), it doesn't appear to be illegal for them to send you some out of the kindness of their heart.  Having lived in Texas my whole life, I have no Inuit friends, but I do have two friends who live in Japan!  I wrote to both of them to ask if they'd be willing to assist me with this.  I admitted that I didn't even know the forms that whale meat comes in, but I'd be happy any way I could get it, jerkied, canned, or even in a cooler full of dry ice.

I sent my messages on a Thursday, the day before the horrible earthquake.  Friday was the quake.  And on Saturday, like a flower out of rubble, came this message from my friend Nick:
See what happens when you ask a vegetarian in Japan to send you whale meat? The whole planet jerks with revulsion! Ha!
<assurances that he and his wife are OK, some discussion of my project>
Might I suggest though that you try something nice and vegetarian like natto, though?
This is my very roundabout way of explaining how natto found its way into Project Gastronome.

Natto is fermented soy beans.  When you put it like that, it doesn't even sound so bad, right?  When I opened the package, I saw that they had even been kind enough to include some little flavoring packets for me!
The past week of experiences have taught me to brace myself for an offensive smell when I open a package, but I needn't have worried with natto.  It had kind of a nutty fragrance, crossed with the scent of soy sauce.  I added the flavor packets and stirred them in, and... I don't want to spoil what happened next before you have a chance to watch it.



You know how salty soy sauce is?  Now imagine that it wasn't in liquid form, but was instead in solid little pellets that you had to chew and swallow, and also it has been sitting in a bacterial culture for a long, long time.  Salty, saltier, saltiest - it was like being mouth-raped with a giant wiener made of salt.

Just a reminder, don't miss your chance to take part in the finale of Project Gastronome!  Set your mind at ease, you won't have to eat anything disgusting.  It's going to be a treat!
12 comments

Project Gastronome, Day 7: Huitlacoche

4/12/2011

Since posting yesterday's entry, I've heard tons of feedback about the legendary durian.  Just when I was ready never to think of it again, somebody told me that there is such a thing as durian ice cream, which I now pretty much have to track down and try.  The taste of it just would not leave my mouth.  Even the muffin I had for breakfast this morning tasted like durian.

Living in Texas, I thought that today's food would be pretty easy to find, since it comes from Mexico and our local stores do a pretty good job about keeping Mexican products on the shelves.  Still, I searched three different supermarkets without success.  Finally, Courtney said, "Why don't you try that carniceria out on the Clovis Highway?"  Success!  Employees at the other stores had looked at me like I was crazy when I described what I was looking for, but the kind people at La Michoacana Meat Market were able to walk me right to it.

Tonight's food: Huitlacoche (aka corn smut, corn mushrooms, Mexican truffles)

The Wikipedia link above gives a little more information on what this is, but the short version is that huitlacoche (sometimes spelled Cuitlacoche) is a fungal disease which invades corn crops, causing the kernels to become blackened, swollen, and filled with disease.  If you are thinking that this is not the first time you've read "blackened, swollen, and filled with disease" on my blog, you're right.  I also used those words when describing the staph infection on my hand after I was bitten by a spider.  But more on that in a minute.  Oh, yeah - just wait and see where I go with it.

Another fun bit of trivia from the Wikipedia article is that although there is disagreement about the etymology of the latter half of the word, there is general agreement that the first half of the word ("cuitla") comes from a Mesoamerican word meaning "excrement."  Yay!

There's one question that I can't shake from my mind.  Roy, you read this blog, and you're a narcotics officer.  Isn't the description of huitlacoche more or less the exact same thing as naturally-occurring (not lab-synthesized) LSD?  A fungal infection (ergot) growing on an otherwise useful crop (wheat)?  I just imagine some poor Mexican farmer thinking that his crop is ruined, but at least he's going to get really high, only to find out that all he's got is funny-tasting corn.

Anyway, we had some leftover chicken from dinner last week, so we made some quesadillas for tonight's dinner.  The serving suggestion on the can seemed to show that putting huitlacoche inside a tortilla-based food was the best way to go.

I opened the can and emptied it into a bowl.  It looked like road tar with corn stuck in it, but it didn't smell bad.  It smelled like, well... like corn.  It had kind of a funky, earthy undertone to it, but it wasn't offensive.
I put some into my quesadilla as it cooked, and decided that I'd also try some straight from the bowl.  I steeled myself to take a bite, and popped it in.  To my surprise, it really is not anywhere near as bad as it looks.  The main thing I tasted was just sweet corn, albeit with a strong musk.

Step one of the tasting accomplished, I moved on to the quesadilla.  Pretty good!  The other flavors in the meal blended with and masked the huitlacoche pretty well.  I was actually enjoying it.  But then...

Oh God.  Let me get back to something I mentioned earlier.  That thing that happened to my hand, the thing I linked to above?  I never told you about the treatment for it.  At first, they thought they may have to cut the infection out, but then they determined that it could be treated with a strong course of antibiotics and frequent hot compresses, to draw the infection out.  One night, several days into this, I had just removed a compress from my hand after about 15 minutes, and saw that the thing on my hand had CHANGED.  Its entire surface was one giant head, tight, sickly colored, and throbbing.  I held it to the light to see it better, and placed the fingers of my other hand around it, so as to steady it and get a better look.  Without even applying pressure, the thing on my hand violently erupted into a geyser of escaping infection.  The one detail I will spare you is just how much came out.  It was a LOT.

Prepare yourself, if you eat huitlacoche, for this experience to happen IN YOUR MOUTH.  Not all of the kernels are equally swollen and infected, but eventually, you will get some that forcefully explode into jets of fungal infection between your teeth.

Here's the video of the taste test, which (probably for the best) does not include the scene I just described.
11 comments

Project Gastronome, Day 6: Durian

4/11/2011

Week One of Project Gastronome went well!  I've had some very fun feedback and participation from many of you, and I'm looking forward to our second week of dietary excitement.  Last week I worked out my canines with foods from the Animal Kingdom; this week it's time to get the molars in on the act with foods from the Vegetable Kingdom.

When I was in college, I dated this girl whose dad's job with Mobil Oil had relocated them all over the world.  She had graduated from high school in Indonesia, and told me about a fruit which was really popular in Southeast Asia.  Although she'd never tried it herself and couldn't remember the name, the flavor was supposed to be phenomenal.  What had made it stand out in her memory, though, was its odor, which she described as being so pungent that it was often banned in public places.  My curiosity was piqued, but without more details to go on, I put it out of my mind.

That was the mid '90s, before you could Google a phrase like "stinky fruit banned in public" and instantly learn that your girlfriend was talking about the fruit called durian.  It is known principally for the two things I mentioned above, its allegedly heavenly taste and custard-like texture (which has earned it the revered title of "King of Fruits") and its allegedly hellish smell.  There are many, many stories on the web about people trying durian, but a really good one ran on Salon just as I was getting ready to launch this project, titled Durian: The King of Fruits is an angry king.  The novelist Anthony Burgess (best known for the book A Clockwork Orange) described it as "like eating sweet raspberry blancmange in the lavatory."  Clearly, this is a food that people have a love/hate relationship with.

Here is a picture of the noble durian, with sharp spikes on its outside, trying to warn you not to eat it.  Also, here is a sign forbidding you to eat it in public in Singapore.

When I started Project Gastronome, this was one of the foods that I most wanted to include, but was also least certain I'd be able to obtain.  It was one of the foods that I specifically had in mind when I visited the Far East Supermarket.  I know I've already mentioned this, but the lady who helped me that day, Nancy, was so incredibly friendly.  The only moment she looked at me like the idiot that I am was when I asked her if it was possible to get fresh durian.  I wanted the experience of actually cutting one of these suckers open.  As it turns out, though, durian is only in season for a brief period during the summer, so I had to settle for frozen, packaged durian.  If I'm being honest with myself, that's probably the best option for a lazy American gourmand.  I asked her if I needed to thaw it or prepare it at all, and she told me, "Nope, just take a spoon and eat it like ice cream!"  I asked if the smell was as bad as I'd heard, and she said, "No!  It's a natural smell.  An earthy smell."  Yeah, well, horse manure has a natural, earthy smell, too, but I'm not going to eat it with a spoon, sister.

Courtney banished us outside to eat this one, which was the right call.  Opening the container instantly released a smell so tangy and putrid that it was like finding a dead animal on a hot day.  It was as though the fruit itself was saying to me, "You think you're gonna eat me, mofo?  Good luck with that."  This, I told myself, was the part to be powered through, so that I could be rewarded by the taste.

Actually, let's run with that reward metaphor for a minute.  Imagine, for instance, that you have just won the Academy Award.  You're wearing a suit that makes you look the best you've ever looked.  You walk up to the podium and are gently, but sexily, kissed on the cheek by Charlize Theron.  Aw yeah...  That is the experience I had hoped for with durian.

The experience I received was more like being told to approach the bench to hear your sentence, while being dressed in burlap, and getting kicked in the nuts by Jet Li.

I see now why people have such a difficult time describing it.  The flavor actually started out OK!  It had the feel and some of the taste of a light melon, like honeydew, but with some pineapple-citrus notes, too.  It even kind of effervesced in my mouth a little.  But then it started to grow in my mouth, and felt as though it was releasing some kind of vapors.  Flammable vapors.  Not like my mouth was on fire, but like my mouth was full of the kind of chemicals that people use when they want to burn something.

This also led to the most potent aftertaste of any item I've eaten thus far.  As soon as I was done, I came inside and had a glass of juice, which helped for only a moment.  I brushed my teeth, which finally took care of the rest.  But then I burped, and oh sweet Mary...

Here's the eating experience.


I have been on a weight loss plan since January, and weighed in this weekend to find that I have dropped 25 pounds!  This is almost halfway to my goal of 60 pounds.  I've been using a very handy iPhone app/website called LoseIt to accomplish this goal.  It's got a pretty large database of foods to choose from when you are recording a meal, and tonight I found out just how large.  Here is a screenshot of my iPhone:

Also, in case you didn't see it this weekend, don't miss your chance to attend the Look What Danny Made! Project Gastronome wrap party!  Even Courtney is going to be there, so you know that I'm not going to force you to eat anything gross.  For details on how you can be a part of it, please see this post.  I hope you'll be there!
7 comments

Mutton Bustin' and Ghostbusting

Since I didn't have to choke anything down for Project Gastronome this weekend, I had to figure out other ways to keep the kids entertained.  Here's a quick recap of the weekend that was.

FRIDAY - Blake recently found a CD of Peter and the Wolf, and has been listening to it nonstop.  He loves this piece of music.  I'm happy that he's finally requesting something to listen to in the car other than Kidz Bop.  I found a really great stop motion animated version of PATW available to stream instantly on Netflix, and after the kids had dinner and kissed Mommy goodbye for a night of work, we got in pajamas and watched it.  It was a hit!

That night, long after all of them should have been asleep, Ava got up and was crying by her door.  I usually give her a few minutes to work it out, because usually when she wakes up to cry it's because her lip hurts, or she forgot to tell her teacher that she loves her when she said goodbye.  When she was still crying several minutes later, I went to check and found out that it was because she had seen a ghost.  Here was one of those moments where I realized that I could either catch the fish for her (turn on the lights, check under the bed, etc.), or teach her to fish (let her dispel the fear on her own).  I brought her a slotted spoon from the kitchen and told her it was magic - if you slap ghosts with it, they will die!  I gave her a kiss and smoothed her hair, and as I walked away, I heard a grunt, a swish, and a triumphant laugh, and then she went right to sleep.

Here she is the next day, looking intimidating with the magic spoon.
I ain't 'fraid of no ghosts
SATURDAY - Lubbock's arts festival was this weekend, so I took the bambinos and met my sister Kristen and the junior Lewises there.  This event has really grown since I was a kid.  There's so much there now for the children to do, and they had a great time doing different art projects, checking out the model train layouts that the railroaders club set up (not sure what it has to do with the arts, but whatever...), and playing with cousins.  Jack was the only one who I could convince to get within two yards of a guy in a Cat in the Hat costume, and only because he was strapped into a stroller.
His face shows his uncertainty about this whole thing
Linda, one of my coworkers, gave us a very generous invitation for Saturday night.  Her boyfriend, Charlie Thompson, organizes and promotes rodeos, and she often works the door.  She told me that if I wanted to bring the kids, she'd let us in for free, so I took her up on that offer.  The kids have never been to one, and I haven't been to one since grade school, so it was exciting for all of us.  I aked Blake if he'd be interested in trying the Mutton Bustin' event (where young kids ride a sheep), and he excitedly agreed.  Here he is in his self-selected cowboy outfit (cut the kid some slack, we're not really western wear types).
Ava insisted that she needed to change clothes for the rodeo, too, which is why she's wearing different pants above.  Once we got there, the kids were completely fascinated by everything going on.

Then they called the mutton busters down to the arena, and here is where I had another parenting moment.  You guys, Blake is entirely like me.  This makes him both easier for me to read and harder for me to watch, because his hopes and hurts are so much like mine.  He and I both dream a dream all the way, the only difference is that I've learned to temper mine with reality.  Blake walked into that arena fully believing that he'd be walking out as King Of The Rodeo.  Here is his ride.


Considering that the longest ride was about three seconds, I was awfully proud of his 1.5, especially because he had tried something new.  The landing was kind of hard, and he climbed out covered in dirt, a bruise on his back, and tears in his eyes.  He was trying SO HARD not to let those tears come out in front of the cowboys.  I brushed him off, hugged him tight, and told him how much I had enjoyed watching him.  Then I got some popcorn for all three kids to share and let Blake play with the video camera for a while.
 
Ava told me that she reaaaally wanted to talk to one of the cowgirls who competed in the barrel race, so I held her hand and walked over there with her.  The girl was so nice to Ava, asked her name and age, and listened as Ava told her that she thought the cowgirl's shirt was pretty and that Santa had brought her a kitchen for Christmas.
 
As it turns out, Jack also had an eye for cowgirls.  Once we had popcorn, I could not keep him close to me to save my life.  He took his little box of popcorn, found two cute teenagers to sit next to, and offered them popcorn and conversation for like the next ten minutes.  Both of my boys love attention, they just seek it differently, I guess.
 
SUNDAY - After church and naps, my kids were begging me to go to the Texas Tech Museum.  It's been about six months since our last visit (at which time, I just noticed, Blake was again wearing his favorite orange striped shirt).  Usually, the kids are the most interested in the dinosaur exhibit.  This weekend it seemed like they were mostly interested in telling me about all of the nipples they could see in the gallery of African tribal sculptures.
 
There is a temporary exhibit about eugenics called Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race, produced by the Holocaust Memorial Museum.  I fully recognize that this is not funny subject matter, but this picture still makes me laugh.
Blake certainly looks like a "healthy seed" here, doesn't he?
 
11 comments

Come and be a part of Project Gastronome!

4/09/2011

I'm very excited to announce the first Look What Danny Made! live, interactive event, and to invite you to be a part of it!  In just about three weeks, on Friday, April 29, I'll be eating my last Project Gastronome food, and I have enough to share with a few lucky readers.  I don't want to spoil the surprise by saying in advance what it's going to be, but I promise that it will not be something gross.  It will be something unique and fun, and that I am almost certain you will not have experienced before.

How can you take part?  Simple.  Leave a comment on this blog entry telling me about one of your most memorable food experiences, either a great one or an awful one.  It can be as long or as short as you choose.  At the end of your comment, indicate whether or not you would like to be entered into the drawing for an invitation, and whether you will be coming solo or as a couple.

Example:
One time I ate an entire donkey.  I'd have gone back for seconds, but it was just terrible.  Please enter me in the drawing!  I will be joined by my wife.
That's it!  I will accept new entries through midnight on Monday, April 18.  Then I'll print the names of everybody who entered, drop them in a hat, and have Blake draw them out until I have sixteen attendees.  Then I'll contact you for a mailing address so I can drop your invitation in the mail and you'll have time to make plans to come.

Even if you can't come (or don't want to), it will still be fun to read your tales of culinary adventure, so please leave a comment!

Here's the fine print:
  1. Obviously, you must be able to come to my house in Lubbock, TX for this on the evening of April 29.
  2. I will be taking photos and video, and asking for your opinions of the food, all to be posted on the blog.  I'll give you the choice to opt out of those, but a big part of this event's fun will be in sharing the reactions.
  3. If you attend, I'd appreciate you sharing a link to the blog post, either on your own blog (if you have one), on Facebook, or just with some friends by email.
OK, I think that's it for now.  If I have leftovers of any Project Gastronome foods that are still OK to eat by then, I'll put those out, too, for anybody who's curious enough to try them.  And yes, I do have leftover century eggs.

Leave a comment!  Come join us!  And just so I don't leave you without a video to watch today, here's Louis CK talking about a food adventure of his own at the Asian market.  (He is hilarious, but uses rough language, so you may not want your kids to hear this one.)
    34 comments

    Project Gastronome, Day 5: Century Eggs

    4/08/2011

    UPDATE: If you are reading my blog because of the story on CNN, welcome!  I invite you to read this post, too, as it will give a little more explanation about my trying the century eggs.

    I'm starting to think that I should maybe have called this series Project Asian Grocery Store, because this is my third item that I picked up at the Far East Supermarket (with two more coming next week).  I can't help it!  There was such an exotic variety of strange and new foods there!  I went in looking for two specific things (both of which I'll be eating next week), and walked out with an armload of others.  I'm a textbook example of an impulse buyer.

    Actually, today's item was exactly that - an impulse buy.  I was scanning the shelves after picking some other things, and when I saw century eggs, I knew that I had to try them for Project Gastronome.  At the time, my line of thinking went something like, "No way!  That will make such a great blog entry!"  What didn't enter my head at the time is that I would actually have to eat them.  My first clue to what this experience was going to be like should have been the cashier's reaction, an incredulous "Do you like these?"

    Perhaps I should back up for a second and tell you some more about tonight's food.  From Wikipedia:
    Century egg, also known as preserved egg, hundred-year egg, thousand-year egg, thousand-year-old egg, and millennium egg (or Pidan in Mandarin), is a Chinese cuisine ingredient made by preserving duck, chicken or quail eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice hulls for several weeks to several months, depending on the method of processing. Through the process, the yolk becomes a dark green to grey colour, with a creamy consistency and an odor of sulphur and ammonia, while the white becomes a dark brown, transparent jelly with little flavor.
    Here's a picture...

    There are some culinary discoveries that make perfect sense to me.  Imagine the first caveman who held meat over a fire and realized that it was delicious!  Or think of the first person who said, "These plants smell good.  I'm going to try grinding them up and putting them on my food."  These are innovations that make sense!  The same can not be said of a person who woke up one day and thought, "I've got more eggs than I can use right now, so I'm going to encase some of them in clay and bury them for a few months."  As the start date for this project grew nearer, this was the single item that I most dreaded eating.  Just look at that picture - the egg white is brown and translucent!

    I have read that the best way to approach eating century eggs is to think of it as a big piece of cheese.  You wouldn't just pick up a block of cheddar and take a huge bite out of it, you'd slice it or shred it and eat it with something.  Still, I wanted to experience this thing.  I decided to go at it both ways, by taking a bite out of one, and by slicing one and having it with crackers.

    Peeling it only added to the dread.  There is a strong ammonia smell, much like animal urine.  Strangely, it still felt exactly like an ordinary hard boiled egg.  I took a bite, and...

    As it turns out, my initial dread was well founded.  Put simply, this was THE STUPIDEST MOTHERFUCKING THING I HAVE EVER PUT IN MY MOUTH, and that includes a night of ill-advised experimentation in college.  Again to my surprise, the texture was exactly like that of a hard boiled egg, but the taste...  You know what?  Just watch the video.
    It tasted like a hard boiled egg that had been boiled in pee.  Amazingly, there was practically no aftertaste once I had it out of my mouth, which was the one positive thing about this experience.

    That's it for the foods this week, folks.  I'm going to cleanse my palate over the weekend and start again on Monday, except the theme will no longer be Animal, it will be Vegetable.  Just because I'm not eating anything this weekend, though, is no reason for you to stop checking - tomorrow I will be posting details of how YOU can take part in a very special Look What Danny Made! live event!
    6 comments

    Project Gastronome, Day 4: Toasted Leafcutter Ants

    4/07/2011

    I try, as much as I can, to be an objective and level-headed guy, and not to be swept along by the hysteria of our age.  One fear that I have always lived with, though, no matter how many counterarguments I hear, is that we are headed for a Malthusian catastrophe.  In case you napped through high school economics, Thomas Malthus is best known for his theories on overpopulation and resource depletion.  In other words, too many people, not enough food/room/supplies.  Without steering this blog in too dark of a direction, signs of this are already starting to crop up, as parts of the world enter food crises and we enter the era of peak oil.  (Incidentally, this is also why I'm perfectly cool with the idea of the world ending in 2012, although I don't believe it will.  At least we'll all go out together before we all start to starve, and I won't be the only person not to see how future seasons of "Dexter" play out.)

    What does this have to do with Project Gastronome?  The future of food is sustainable food.  Better get ready to eat some bugs, my friends.  (Click that link and read it after you read this.  It's a pretty interesting article.)  Tonight, I'm going to pop open a can of ants in anticipation of having the last laugh when our world devolves into Mad Max or The Road.

    Of course, a guy as big as me can't just go into the backyard and capture some ants to eat.  The task itself would be simple enough, but I'm a hungry guy.  I need the Hungry Man dinner of the ant world.  I need Atta laevigata, the largest ants int he world!  You may know them better by their Spanish name, "hormigas culonas," which translates into "ants with big asses."  I am not making that up.

    It turns out that there are some benefits to eating the humble hormigas culonas.  They are high in protein and low in fat.  They are a delicacy in South America.  And they are thought to be an aphrodisiac, which is why they are a common wedding gift, and which is also why I made sure to eat them on a night when Courtney wasn't scheduled to work, IFYOUKNOWWHATIMEANANDITHINKYOUDO.

    Gently shaking the can made a sound like a can of nuts.  Not dense nuts like peanuts, but something smaller and more airy, like pine nuts or shelled sunflower seeds.  Opening the can let off a smell that I can't really classify as pleasant or unpleasant, just unique.

    The can was so light, I thought it would have been about half full, but it's just that ants don't weigh much.  That was one full can of ants.  Big ants.  Big, dead ants.

    I poured some into a soup mug, and got Blake, who's been asking me all day long what we'd be eating tonight.  Just for your reference, here's one next to a ruler, so that you can get an idea of their size.

    The experience of eating these raised several questions.  First, how could something so light and insubstantial take so long to chew up and swallow?  Seriously, once it was in my mouth it felt like it was in there forever.  Second, how do I describe the taste of something that tastes wholly unlike anything I have ever had before?  The texture was kind of like extra crispy bacon, but not the kind that breaks down nicely in your mouth, the kind that you have to chew and chew to make it go down your throat.  The taste was someplace between "nutty" and "burnt sawdust."

    I'll let the video tell the rest of the story.