Monday, October 27, 2008

"The Omnivore's hundred"

I was sent this list below today; I include it for your perusal.
It's from a British foodie-blog...
(Thanks, J. & M. from SC, for passing it along!)
And, following the instructions, I have bolded 'my' items. I'm curious what 'yours' would be...

Here’s a chance for a little interactivity for all the bloggers out there. Below is a list of 100 things that I think every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life. The list includes fine food, strange food, everyday food and even some pretty bad food - but a good omnivore should really try it all. Don’t worry if you haven’t, mind you; neither have I, though I’ll be sure to work on it. Don’t worry if you don’t recognise everything in the hundred, either; Wikipedia has the answers.

Here’s what I want you to do:
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

(PS. The list has generated a lot of questions, so I’ve created an FAQ for it over here!)

Monday, October 20, 2008

The four common factors...

The four common factors of most rattlesnake-bite-victims--wanna know what they are? We learned them yesterday at an exhibit/demonstration at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, where we took our out-of-town guests.

I'll get around to it in a minute...

This past weekend, some old friends came to visit--their first time to Arizona. So in addition to the obligatory culinary introduction to cheese crisp and Sonoran-style hot dogs washed down with horchata, we did the de rigueur drive over Gate's Pass, among the Saguaros on the way to the Desert Museum.

One animal I'd never noticed before--the tropical margay (tigrillo in Spanish), a nocturnal feline--a kitten-faced small jaguar-like animal with tremendous eyes that lives as far north as the southern edge of the Sonoran desert:

It took a moment to look up from its avian snack (ay ay ay, the crunch crunch crunch) to look our way...

...and, of course, more familiar creatures, the park's most famous residents; the mountain lions, whose exhibit has a thick glass window up in the craggy nook that allows visitors catnap views like this one:

...from cats to birds, now. Extreme southeastern Arizona--the Chiricahua mountain range--is the northernmost habitat limit for certain kinds of parrots. Very few, if any, remain (alas), but here's an example:

On a couple of our past visits, this guy has spoken, entertaining the tourists in the aviary...Yesterday he was silent, though.

I haven't had time to look these next couple of guys up, (maybe a more audobonically-aware reader can help us out?) but they sure are vivid:

...on to reptiles. We attended a lecture/demonstration on Gila monsters and rattlers. Gila monsters are one of only two truly venomous lizards in the world:

If you get bit by one, and can't detach it from your body, you're supposed to make your way to the Emergency room, where the staff will pry the gnawing critter off you. Then--you'll be ticketed. Seriously. These slow guys only bite in defense. If you get bit, it means you were harrassing it. And it's a protected species, so you'll be fined. Double owie.

They spend approximately 90% of their lives underground, so seeing them is a special occasion. About a year ago, I saw my first (and only) Gila in the wild; I was on a walk in Sabino Canyon with a friend visiting from France, and within one half-hour, he got a wildlife show: we saw the Gila monster, a rattler, several deer, many cottontail and jackrabbits, and roadrunners.

Okay, so now--I arrive at 'the four common factors.' As fearsome as rattlesnakes are, statistically you are more likely to be in a plane crash than to be bit by a rattlesnake, who will only ever bite in self-defense. The actual factual four common characteristics, now, that most rattlesnake victims share, according to anecdotal evidence from medical caregivers:

1. They are male. 2. They are tattooed. 3. They are not in possession of all their teeth. 4. They've been drinking beer.

'Seriously, I can't make this stuff up folks', the herpetologist-presenter told the laughing audience.

Hearing that profile, I felt pretty safe, then. But it did sober us, especially my wife, as we thought back to her close (one and only, so far) encounter with a rattler back in the spring...

A few more factoids about rattlesnakes--you canNOT tell their age by counting the segments on their rattles; that's a myth. And, unlike most reptiles, they don't lay eggs; they give birth to live young. And the average cost for each little vial of anti-venom, in case you're interested in medical costs, is three THOUSAND dollars. The average number of vials of anti-venom needed to treat a bite-victim: TWENTY. (All the rattlesnake anti-venom that is used in the US is manufactured in Britain, incidentally.)

From the deadly to the cute. Come on, you gotta admit it:

Prairie-dogs. Common in much of the Western U.S. Formerly common in the higher-elevation grasslands of Arizona; now extinct in the wild here.


And, tonight's last shot, taken this afternoon when I got home; the eastern sky was dotted with clouds and a few bands of isolated rain trying to make it to the ground, but evaporating before getting even halfway to the ground. The Apaches used to call this phenomenon "walking rain"...Yep, the air is just that dry right now.
C'est la belle saison...venez nous voir!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What's an "alp?"

So, after yesterday's receipt of the Swiss materials, and after last night's photo-posting, today I decided to show the Swiss-dvd to my classes--a last minute lesson-plan change, which worked out well since a good chunk of the students were gone for various testing reasons...

I thought I would begin by asking the remaining kids, "So, what comes to mind when you hear the word 'Switzerland'?" The inevitable chorus of responses: cheese, Swiss army knives, chocolate, cows...
But then with one group, mostly freshmen, I asked, "so, what do you imagine the country looks like?" I thought, surely, all the kids will say 'mountainous,' 'green,' 'the Alps,' you know...

Then I heard the question--"what's an alp?"
Seriously, they'd never heard of "The Alps."
I guess here in the Desert SW, we are somewhat far away from Europe...
...but really, not knowing or never having heard of 'The Alps'?!
Well, now, they have.
They actually oohed and ahhed at the cheesily-narrated but beautiful DVD, for example at the footage of gondolas floating over the peaks--such as the view from above the Schilthorn, above.
"What do they speak in Switzerland?"
"Umm, no, that's in a different country. Sweden."
Well, now they know that there are four official Swiss languages, depending on the region, but no "Swiss" language:
Also, very few kids had ever seen "The Sound of Music."
But they do know that the Governator (a.k.a. California's Schwarzenneger) is from Austria.
So, that's encouraging.

Random facts.
Geo-cultural disconnects.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

...inspired by Swiss-provided educator freebies...

...but first, I feel obligated to backtrack a bit, to our few days in Seattle at the end of last month...
before that, though, this cell-phone-camera-shot from Sunday evening:

It had been a while since we'd been to Sabino Canyon--just a ten-minute drive from home! Ahh...a sunny reminder of why we enjoy living in Tucson; good to remind ourselves of that as our few days in Seattle did tug at our hearts a little...

...while up there a couple of weeks ago, we squeezed in time to have an espresso at my old grad-school favorite: Café Allegro, a half-alley-block away from the University of Washington. "Friends don't let friends go to Starbucks," proclaim a few bumperstickers in Seattle...And this coffeeshop does indeed date from the indepedently-owned pre-$4-latte-era.

Our running around included a stop at H-mart, where my cell-phone allowed me to capture this charming example of 'engrish:'
...feeling 'snacky snacky,' anyone? Asian junk-food, marketed to children, to go-go...(I do miss the pan-Asian presence in Puget Sound...)

Of course, the primary reason for our trip was to attend my wife's brother's wedding. And my wife's sister, K--, did the flowers, so we were volunteered (seriously, we did volunteer) as flower-laborers. I was drafted to become boutonnière-boy. (Now there's a skill I never thought I'd pick up.) We were up until 2 a.m. the night before the wedding. K-- did a wonderful job on the bride's bouquet; what do you think?

The wedding was held at a lakeside community center/lodge. September weather in the Pacific Northwest is never a sure thing, so we all felt particularly smiled upon to have a sunny Satuday in the 70's for the wedding--uncommonly perfect, with fog lifting off Mt. Rainier's glaciers in the lake-and-evergreen-framed distance. A visual cliché, perhaps, but no less beautiful.

It was one of those days that Seattlites live for, one of those days that makes the months and months of a low grey ceiling worth it...(right?...and, I have to include a little bit of Tucson-pride here--it was one of those days that is as common in Tucson as it is rare in Seattle...of course, we have no glaciers and no lakes here...trivial detail...)

And so that brings me around to the 'subject line' of this entry--'inspired by Swiss-provided-educator-freebies.' Yes, teachers love pedagogically-useful freebies, and the cultural service of the Swiss Embassy recently made an offer to teachers to provide a packet of information, including DVD, CD, maps, booklets, etc...So I sent off for it, and it arrived today...After dinner, S-- and I watched the DVD--the obligatory fly-over panoramic sweeps of impossibly picturesque alpine meadows--more visual clichés, but it is almost impossible to overrate the scenicality (?) of Switzerland. It got me all nostalgic for the summer I spent in Switzerland on a study-abroad program--wow, I just realized it's been twelve years ago...

During the years that I lived in WA, I loved hiking the Cascades, and the northern section of it was often called "The Switzerland of North America." (Interesting how places in Europe are always the touchstone for places elsewhere--Beirut, the Paris of the Middle East; Korea, the Switzerland of East Asia; Bangkok, the Venice of Asia; Buenos Aires, the Paris of South America: etc. etc...) Well, here are a few scanned photos from the 'original' Switzerland.

The immensity of the Eiger-Mönch-Jungfrau massif is impossible to convey in a photograph. The verticality is overwhelming. Coming into the Lauterbrunnen valley from Interlaken (1864 ft. above sea level), you round a bend, and then immediately, you have to crane your neck to look to the top of the 13,025 ft-high peak of the Eiger; over eleven-thousand feet almost directly skyward, in your face. The setting is, forgive the unimaginative travel-writer-ese, seriously, one of the most beautiful spots on Earth:

(alas, the above photo is not mine; it is courtesy of this link.)

My 'home-base' during that summer was in the French-speaking city of Neuchâtel, built of butter-colored stone, stretched out for miles between the Jura mountains and Lake Neuchâtel, with the Alps off to the south. The lake actually produces a microclimate, so that vineyards and even the occasional palm tree line the shore, while just over the hills to the NW, the Jura valleys experience the coldest winters in Western Europe.

I remember very clearly, sitting on this stretch of lakeshore, writing a letter to my parents. It was heady to be a young American college student in Europe, studying languages, soaking up the architecture and the sun, traveling on scholarship-funds...heady, but bittersweet, while my father was undergoing chemotherapy across the Atlantic. My parents had insisted that I go--staying home wouldn't have really changed anything, they said; the chemo would end up being as good and as bad as it would be no matter where I might be. Fortunately, my father pulled through and would live another year...


Here's a postcard I scanned:
--the southern Swiss town of Sion, the medieval bastion garding the Rhône-valley. Two outcroppings topped with the two powers of the Middle Ages--temporal, a castle on the left; ecclesiastical, a church on the right. Climbing to the top of the rocky hill on the left, I got this view of the fields to the east, where the language changes to German a few miles upriver:

and this view to the west, through the gate, to another hill, covered in vineyards. This valley's northern slopes are known for their white-wines...

Several miles to the south of the town is the huge Grande-Dixence dam, built at about 8000 feet, above the tree-line. It contains more concrete in volume than the stones in the Great Pyramid in Giza; itis one of the tallest dams in the world, about the height of a 100-story building. Living downstream from it must be surreal...but the Swiss confidence in Swiss engineering is pretty high...

Tunnels, bridges...the metaphor of 'swiss cheese' is inevitable. And yes, you can set your watch by the train.

The city of Lausanne is famous for several things--headquarters of the Olympics being one of them. But the doorway of its gothic cathedral is also well-known for this statue of Moses:Note carefully his head. It's one of many depictions of Moses in European art based on a mistranslation of the Bible. When Moses came down from Sinai, it is said that 'face emitted rays' from having been in the divine presence. Up until the Renaissance, that passage was translated more or less as 'his head sprouted horns.' Oops.

Several centuries older is the Église Collégiale in Neuchâtel, with this Romanesque portal:

That's Paul the Apostle, being poked in his side by a demon-like figure. Recall how Paul writes of being tormented by a 'thorn in flesh'. Here's an ancient 3-D comic-book-representation of it. Many church façades in the Medieval period would have been painted in bright colors--truly comic-book-esque...

One Sunday, I found myself waiting to change trains in the town of Martigny, in the SW corner of the country. It was founded as a city by the Romans in the First Century A.D., to guard the road over the Great St. Bernard Pass, which was the main route from Italy over the Alps to the northern parts of the Roman Empire. I had a couple of hours to wait, so I decided to walk around a bit. Midsummer Sunday mornings in Switzerland are absolutely quiet. Perfect warm stillness. I didn't realize the Roman ruins were so close to the train station--I ended up walking on restored sections of the forum road, lined with apricot trees, heavy with ripe fruit--distilled sugary sunshine, juice dripping down my elbow...and then, unexpectedly, I ended up at the amphitheater, where a troupe of alphorn-players were rehearsing:

It's hard to top that, for a Sunday morning...I've tried, since...

Not far from Neuchâtel is Gruyère. Yes, as in the cheese. Gruyère is a village and a region, and all the Gruyère cheese in the world (if it's authentic) comes from these slopes and fields just beyond this castle garden:

...and finally, tonight: you can't look at images of Switzerland without thinking of cows. They are ever present in this mountain-bastion of dairy production. Hiking on trails above treeline, you'll hear their bells tinkling below you...and every morning with your black black black coffee there'll be freshly heated vollmilch to make your café au lait.

In the spring of the year I lived in Paris, my mother came to visit, and I was able to take her to Switzerland--one of her lifelong dreams. We paid the requisite visit to Heidiland, the region near the Austrian border where the famous stories are set. And here, on newly green pasture, were two happy cows.

Happy cows. Happy meadow. Alles gute...


Some local minutiae, now. The weather's cooled down enough to plant cilantro again. It actually got below 40 degrees the other morning. But warm afternoons...Sunrise is too late now for me to go on my morning jog--too dark. Hello gym. And my Saturday-morning bike rides will have to wait until next spring, when it's light at 5:30 again...This weekend a couple of childhood friends--who've been married to each other for ten years now--are coming for a visit, their first time to AZ...Looking forward to introducing them to the local joys of 'cheese crisp' and the Arizona-Sonora-Desert Museum, which was recently designated one of the best zoos/botanical gardens in the country...

Friday, October 3, 2008

ânes ou éléphants?

Some teachers are stridently political in front of their students; others are overtly sectarian.

I believe in being religiously and politically neutral in the classroom. Perhaps it's partly the influence of my having studied about the French educational system, and having lived and worked there, where the public schools are, constitutionally, secular.

(Incidentally, the 'slogan' for the French concept of public education is: gratuit, obligatoire, et laïque.
gratuit--free, obligatoire--obligatory, laïque--strongly secular, non-religious)

Anyway, so, this morning, in between classes, a former student of mine, J---, asked me:
"So, who're you gonna vote for?"
My reply: I don't discuss my personal political views in class, J---...
J---:, so really, though, are you a Republican or a Democrat?
Me: You'll get no partisan endorsement from me.
J---: well, you like donkeys or elephants? (!)
Me: friendly-eye-roll accompanied by bemused grin
J---: 'cuz, it's just, well, you kind of look like a Democrat (?! what does that mean?) but when you teach, you're kind of like a Republican.

I'm not sure how to take that.
But it's interesting.

Seriously, though, as a language-teacher, I'm finding the whole register-of-language thing very interesting, the way Palin insists on being folksy in her public statements (goshdarnit, youbetcha), the way Biden often sticks his foot in his mouth, and the marked difference in the way the candidates pronounce "Pakistan"--either the McCainian "pack-i-stan" or the Obamian "Pock-i-ston."

(By the way, ânes means "asses/donkeys" in French...)