Category Archives: Books

Taste: What You’re Missing

Barb Stuckey, a professional food developer, has written one of the most interesting books about food I have read in some time. The book features a wonderful deconstruction of flavour components as well as plenty of information on how various aspects such as acidity interact to produce a pleasing overall taste.

One thing that struck me though, is that she mentions that from a flavour viewpoint, you leave the apex of enjoyment after a few bites. In other words, from a utilitarian standpoint, it should all be tasting menus. However, I have found that with some soups or stir fries, a suddenly deep and strongly satisfying flavour can emerge after eating a dish for a while (such as half way through the bowl of soup). What first seemed bland and unassuming suddenly blossoms into something remarkable. I have also experienced this with wine. It seems as though you are reaching some sort of critical mass with a subtle undertone.

I have written her to get her view on this.

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Best Food Writing in Recent Memory

Food Sichuan Pepper

Fuchsia Dunlop’s book of last year, is perhaps the best food book I have ever read. The content alone is entrancing but she takes food writing to a new level.

She describes how even someone with exposure to many unusual cuisines might still find Chinese cuisine daunting. Intrepid, she will eat anything but relates how it took her some time to endure, then appreciate and finally seek out those textures we in the West find appalling. The gristly and rubbery among them. Her art is in conveying not only the grotesqueness of some of these foods but also how one could find them appetizing.

Not only does she eat her way through China, she trains as a cook in the cuisine. Its a wonderful inside look, informative, eye opening,and above all, entertaining.

They’re Made Out of Meat by Terry Bisson

Its not the best thing ever but for some reason I find this story by Terry Bisson amusing. And it has absolutely no relation to my meditation on burgers. It comes via www.electricstory.com which for speculative fiction fans is worth becoming part of. Its free to sign up and one of the benefits is movie reviews by Lucius Shepard.

They’re Made Out of Meat

by Terry Bisson

“They’re made out of meat.”

“Meat?”

“Meat. They’re made out of meat.”

“Meat?”

“There’s no doubt about it. We picked up several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, and probed them all the way through. They’re completely meat.”

“That’s impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars?”

“They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don’t come from them. The signals come from machines.”

“So who made the machines? That’s who we want to contact.”

They made the machines. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Meat made the machines.”

“That’s ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You’re asking me to believe in sentient meat.”

“I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in that sector and they’re made out of meat.”

“Maybe they’re like the orfolei. You know, a carbon-based intelligence that goes through a meat stage.”

“Nope. They’re born meat and they die meat. We studied them for several of their life spans, which didn’t take long. Do you have any idea what’s the life span of meat?”

“Spare me. Okay, maybe they’re only part meat. You know, like the weddilei. A meat head with an electron plasma brain inside.”

“Nope. We thought of that, since they do have meat heads, like the weddilei. But I told you, we probed them. They’re meat all the way through.”

“No brain?”

“Oh, there’s a brain all right. It’s just that the brain is made out of meat! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

“So . . . what does the thinking?”

“You’re not understanding, are you? You’re refusing to deal with what I’m telling you. The brain does the thinking. The meat.”

“Thinking meat! You’re asking me to believe in thinking meat!”

“Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you beginning to get the picture or do I have to start all over?”

“Omigod. You’re serious then. They’re made out of meat.”

“Thank you. Finally. Yes. They are indeed made out of meat. And they’ve been trying to get in touch with us for almost a hundred of their years.”

“Omigod. So what does this meat have in mind?”

“First it wants to talk to us. Then I imagine it wants to explore the Universe, contact other sentiences, swap ideas and information. The usual.”

“We’re supposed to talk to meat.”

“That’s the idea. That’s the message they’re sending out by radio. ‘Hello. Anyone out there? Anybody home?’ That sort of thing.”

“They actually do talk, then. They use words, ideas, concepts?”

“Oh, yes. Except they do it with meat.”

“I thought you just told me they used radio.”

“They do, but what do you think is on the radio? Meat sounds. You know how when you slap or flap meat, it makes a noise? They talk by flapping their meat at each other. They can even sing by squirting air through their meat.”

“Omigod. Singing meat. This is altogether too much. So what do you advise?”

“Officially or unofficially?”

“Both.”

“Officially, we are required to contact, welcome, and log in any and all sentient races or multibeings in this quadrant of the Universe, without prejudice, fear, or favor. Unofficially, I advise that we erase the records and forget the whole thing.”

“I was hoping you would say that.”

“It seems harsh, but there is a limit. Do we really want to make contact with meat?”

“I agree one hundred percent. What’s there to say? ‘Hello, meat. How’s it going?’ But will this work? How many planets are we dealing with here?”

“Just one. They can travel to other planets in special meat containers, but they can’t live on them. And being meat, they can only travel through C space. Which limits them to the speed of light and makes the possibility of their ever making contact pretty slim. Infinitesimal, in fact.”

“So we just pretend there’s no one home in the Universe.”

“That’s it.”

“Cruel. But you said it yourself, who wants to meet meat? And the ones who have been aboard our vessels, the ones you probed? You’re sure they won’t remember?”

“They’ll be considered crackpots if they do. We went into their heads and smoothed out their meat so that we’re just a dream to them.”

“A dream to meat! How strangely appropriate, that we should be meat’s dream.”

“And we marked the entire sector unoccupied.”

“Good. Agreed, officially and unofficially. Case closed. Any others? Anyone interesting on that side of the galaxy?”

“Yes, a rather shy but sweet hydrogen-core cluster intelligence in a class-nine star in G445 zone was in contact two galactic rotations ago, wants to be friendly again.”

“They always come around.”

“And why not? Imagine how unbearably, how unutterably cold the Universe would be if one were all alone . . . “

Ottawa thoughts: January 2008

Spent the last few days mostly flying. To Ottawa for a meeting and all those sorts of things that go with it. Anyways, just a few rambling thoughts while enroute.

1. Security checks. What will they do when they find out you can make explosive clothing? Issue everyone hospital gowns for the flight? And those restrictions on toiletries….I think a smart airline would hand out packages of shampoo and toothpaste to everyone as they disembarked.

2. Flying in general. Each time there seemed to be a significant delay in getting off the plane. European low cost airlines had two used exits, like a bus. Great idea. Can you imagine if every time you took a cab you had to wait for three minutes to get out?

3. Airline entertainment. On Air Canada they have little screens on the back of most seats and you can pick from many movies, tv shows etc. And boy was I happy about the headphones on the trip back when a man slumped over his own not inconsiderable stomach (not obese enough to qualify for the extra free seat that has just been legally declared..and that is worth a rant elsewhere) slept and loudly snored for the whole flight. So anyway because things are so wonky with the system I watched In the Valley of Elah which seemed good but started stop go stopping and then ground to a total halt halfway through. Then watched Invasion with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig in German (which I can partially speak) with Japanese subtitles. The English would take me to French, and the French to German and the German to the Italian, and the Italian would just shut down the movie. I think it was good, and maybe it seemed even classier because it was now a foreign film though the soundtrack slightly preceeded the action so that when Nicole was maybe or maybe not shooting someone, she would still seem to be deciding as you heard a shot. It was still tense but in a different kind of way. Also I mean classy in as classy as you can get when the means of transmission is one person vomiting in the mouth of another. A remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers; has there ever been a really bad version of this?

Also saw a little of Jody Foster in The Brave One which ended because we were landing. (I did go through five selections in a row with all reporting “not available at this time”). Though in English this also had Japanese subtitles…looking around it just seemed to be me getting this special service…had I pressed some hidden control?)

4. Valet service, no less. So end up going to this function at the 18 club, which my Ottawa friend (who I’ve known from my schooldays) tells me is tres chi chi (though he would eat nails before ever uttering such a phrase). And yes, valet service in front. I have always had a hard time accepting that certain professions consist of doing things that not only can anyone do for themselves but things that aren’t all that unpleasant either. Its modernish inside and what they called Big Apples (Bacardi big apple rum, green apple Sour Puss, Asian Pear Liqueur & butterscotch schnapps) were in every hand. Then comes the endless parade of small portioned foods. Not exactly tapas; I’ve had those, and they can be of a size but things like a cheesecake drizzled with one thing and infused with another and served on a spoon. The biggest items were various small sate. They even had a very small hamburger held together by a toothpick and sporting a very small comical but precisely accurate bun. After sampling and sampling and a few too many Big Apples considering my friend was picking me up for drinks, he did.

5. The walk down tavern. We parked and walked down a seedy throughfare to what looked like a fourplex kind of entrance to a basement suite. I don’t remember seeing any sort of sign, and on entering, found a warm, happy and bustly neighborhood feeling pub with four different stouts on tap. Had a couple of oatmeal stouts and that kind of great conversation you can only have with someone you’ve know your whole life, and both of you long past the point where there is any need to hide anything at all. (I am going to find out what the place was called and post it…its worth a visit if you make to the capital.)

6. Cormac Redux. My takeaway reading was No Country for Old Men, a Cormac McCarthy book I had thought before not quite up to his usual standard but this time through I am finding line after line that seems really good. Haven’t been able to see the film yet and thought I’d do this in the meanwhile. Marquez’ Strange Pilgrims is waiting at home on the bedside table as well as my next reread Cees Nooteboom’s All Soul’s Day which I remember as the consummate modern European novel.

7. Irish weather. And lastly, and I cannot convey quite how much pleasure it gave me to turn on the BBC on the television only to hear the Australian weather report being delivered in a strong Irish dialect by a beautiful woman.