Saturday, February 24, 2018

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Belgian Beverages

     Today we'll be heading back to one of the Low Countries in Europe--Belgium.  I've returned to North Carolina for work, and the local grocery contained a few surprises, a few exotics.  I saw three kinds of Belgian fruit drinks for sale from Looza--mango, peach, and pear.
     The origin of the Looza company is a farm in South Limberg owned by Lord de Laminne de Bex.  The farm was the Comte de Looz, and he started the company in 1947.  It was one of the first to apply pasteurization techniques to apple juice.  The company's drinks grew in popularity, and by the 1960's Looza was exporting to other countries.  Reportedly Looza is so big in Belgium that its name has become synonymous with fruit juice drinks there.  In 1998 Looza was bought out by the American conglomerate PepsiCo.  In 1999 the company began marketing a "smart," vitamin-enriched beverage called Looza ACE.  Currently Looza makes 26 different flavors of juice drink, including orange, apple cherry, tomato, and passion fruit, in addition to the ones I already mentioned.  The logo switched from a cannibalistic apple man in 1949 (he was shown drinking his own, or presumably other apple men's "blood") to the current brand where the two "o's" in Looza resemble fruit, with a leaf coming off of them.
     My bottles were distributed by another of Pepsi's holding, the Tropicana brand.  All three of the bottles were 1 liter (33.8 ounce) and made from glass.  Also, all three had "from concentrate" printed on their label, which seemed unusual to me--usually drinks are proudly proclaiming that they are not.  Each contained the respective fruit puree concentrate, water, and sugar.  And for the peach and pear ones also ascorbic acid.  Here are my impressions.

1) Looza fruit drink, pear flavor:  This one was a cloudy, yellow hue, much like pear juice, clearly, which made up 42% of the total.  It tasted exactly like I thought it would--like pear juice.  Since I'm not a fan of pears, or their flavor, I wasn't very taken with it.  It wasn't terribly undrinkable or anything, just bland and boring.

2) Looza fruit drink, peach flavor.  This one was 38% juice, and was a cloudy yellowish-orange color.  Once again, it closely resembled the fruit it's made from.  Since I like peaches, I also liked this drink made from them.  Much better than the pear kind.

3) Looza fruit drink, mango flavor.  About the same cloudy yellowish-orange tint as the peach one, and also was made of 38% actual fruit juice.  Decent, but a little thinner than I wanted.  It was certainly tastier than the peach, but not as rich as the peach.  However, yet again, it's like the fruit it's made from--mangoes are okay to me, but not one of my "go to" fruits.

     Just to flesh this out a little, I'll close with a brief list of some of the more famous Belgians.  Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin were excellent tennis players, and each was recently elected to the Tennis Hall of Fame.  Some of Belgium's famous painters include James Ensor, Peter Paul Rubens, and Jan van Eyck.  The creator of the Smurfs also came from here--Peyo (real name Pierre Culliford).  Finally, there's famous cartographer/geographer/cosmographer Gerardus Mercator, of the famous projection maps.  There's a bit of a controversy, though, as both Germany and Belgium claim him as one of theirs.  I'll let these countries argue that out.
     So, I thought two out of the three Loozas were pretty good.  They were a bit pricey, though--about $5 per bottle.  I am definitely intrigued by the Looza ACE variety.  Aside from the vitamins, it contains sausage juice.  I'm very curious about how this flavor works, or doesn't, when mixed up into a fruit juice drink.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

A Complete List of NFL Title Winners

     Since the NFL season just ended, I thought I'd give a comprehensive list of how many NFL titles each team has won.  I know I sometimes forget how many titles each team has won, and when their last one was, so I thought it would be convenient to have this all down in one place.  (And yes, in case anyone is wondering, I was extra motivated to do this because my Philadelphia Eagles just won the Super Bowl.)
     Just as some background, the NFL started in 1920 (under a different name for the first couple of years, but it was the same organization).  From 1920-32 the NFL title winner was determined by the best won-loss record, with tie games not counted.  Then, from 1933-65, the two division/conference winners met in an NFL Championship Game, with the winner being the NFL title holder.  An alternate league, the All America Football Conference (AAFC) played from 1946-49, and determined their own title winners.  Three of these AAFC teams, with the Cleveland Browns being the most notable, joined the NFL in 1950.  The American Football League (AFL), started in 1960.  From 1960-65 its two division winners met in an AFL Championship Game.  From 1966-69, the respective winners of the AFL and the NFL met in what was eventually known as the Super Bowl, with that winner being the pro football champ.  In 1970 the AFL merged with the NFL, and became (with 3 former NFL teams) the American Football Conference, while the old NFL teams became the National Football Conference.  The Conference winners then meet in the Super Bowl to determine the NFL title winner.
     Hope that's not too confusing.  Anyway, I'll list each current team below, grouped by Conference and current division.  Then I'll include any Pre-Championship NFL titles (1920-32), then NFL Championship Titles (1933-65), then Super Bowl Era titles (1966-2017), AFL titles (1960-65), and then all time titles.  I'll use city and team name abbreviation to save some space.  Also, I'll use the year expressed as a two digit number--64 is 1964, 12 is 2012, and so on.  Since all Super Bowl era titles are well past the NFL Championship titles years, and Pre-Championship Game years, I hope this isn't confusing, too.  Also, bear in mind that before since about 1970 playoff games, and the Super Bowl, are played in January or February of the following year.  So for example I'm listing the Miami Dolphins as the 1973 NFL title winners, but they actually won the Super Bowl in early 1974.

Team                    Pre-Champ.       NFL Champ.        SB titles       AFL         Total Titles   
                             NFL titles             Titles                                     Titles

NE Patriots                                                                01, 03,04                        5 (all SB era)
Buff. Bills                                                                                        64,65        0 (but 2 AFL)

Miami Dolphins                                                           72, 73                          2 (both SB era)

NY Jets                                                                          68                               1 (SB era)

Pitts. Steelers                                                            74,75,78                          6 (SB era)
                                                                                  79, 05,08

Cleve.Browns/Balt. Ravens               50,54                 00,12                            6 (4NFL, 2SB)

Cincy. Bengals                                                                                                  0

Cleve. Browns (New)                                                                                       0         

Jack. Jaguars                                                                                                     0

Houst. Oilers/Tenn. Titans                                                            60,61           0 (but 2 AFL)           

Houston Texans                                                                                                0

Indy/Balt. Colts                                 58,59                70,06                              4(2 NFL, 2SB)

Dallas Texans/KC Chiefs                                            69              62               1 (but 1 AFL too)

SD/LA Chargers                                                                            63               0 (but 1 AFL)

Oak/LA Raiders                                                      76,80,83                            3 (all SB era)

Denver Broncos                                                       97,98,15                           3 (all SB era)                         

Phila. Eagles                                    48,49,60               17                                4 (3 NFL, 1SB)

Dallas Cowboys                                                       71,77,92                           5 (all SB era)

Wash. Redskins                                 37,42              82,87,91                           5 (2 NFL, 3 SB)

NY Giants                   27                34,38,56           86,90,07                           8 (1Pre, 3NFL,
                                                                                     11                                     4 SB era)

Minn, Vikings                                                                                                    0

Detroit Lions                                  35,52,53                                                     4 (All NFL era)

GB Packers           29,30,31           36,39,44            66,67,96                           13 (3 Pre, 6NFL,
                                                       61,62,65                10                                      4 SB era)

Chi. Bears              21,32              33,40,41                85                                  9 (2 Pre, 6 NFL,
                                                      43,46,63                                                          1 SB era)

NO Saints                                                                    09                                  1 (SB era)

Carol. Panthers                                                                                                  0

Atl. Falcons                                                                                                       0

TB Buccaneers                                                            02                                  1 (SB era)

Cleve./LA/St.L                               45,51                     99                                 3 (2 NFL, 1SB)

Seattle Seahawks                                                          13                                 1 (SB era)

Chicago/St. Lou./      25                   47                                                              2 (1 Pre, 1NFL)

SF 49ers                                                                  81,84,88                             5 (all SB era)

Note:  The Cleveland Browns (the original version) won all 4 AAFC Championships (1946-49), so for folks that want to count these, that would bring their total championship titles won to 10.  Also, staying on the Browns, readers will notice that I'm grouping the original Cleveland Browns with the Baltimore Ravens, which is unlike what the NFL does.  In short, the Browns relocated and became the Baltimore Ravens starting in the 1996 season.  Then, an expansion franchise was granted to Cleveland, and they were named the Browns once again, starting in the 1999 NFL season.  In all these lists I refer to the later, 1999 version of the Cleveland Browns as the "new" Browns.  For teams that kept the same players, coaches, team name, etc. but moved to another city I include all the city names, with a slash, such as SD/LA Chargers.  The Dallas Texans became the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Houston Oilers eventually became the Tennessee Titans, but they are considered the same teams, historically, so I've grouped them together, accordingly.

    And just for fun, here's the five teams that won a pre-Championship Game NFL title but disbanded.

Akron Pros                          1920
Canton Bulldogs                 1921, 1922
Cleveland Bulldogs            1924
Frankford Yellow Jackets   1926
Providence Steam Rollers  1928

     Let's express this list in another way, this time from most titles to least, with many ties, clearly.
Once again, this is NFL titles only, not including AAFC or AFL titles, and not including defunct teams.

13  Green Bay Packers
9    Chicago Bears
8    New York Giants
6    Pittsburgh Steelers
6    Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens
5    San Francisco 49ers
5    New England Patriots
5    Dallas Cowboys
5    Washington Redskins
4    Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts
4    Philadelphia Eagles
4    Detroit Lions
3    Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders
3    Cleveland/Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams
3    Denver Broncos
2    Miami Dolphins
2   Chicago/St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals
1   New York Jets
1   Kansas City Chiefs
1   New Orleans Saints
1   Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1   Seattle Seahawks
0   Buffalo Bills
0   Cincinnati Bengals
0   Jacksonville Jaguars
0   Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans
0   Houston Texans
0   San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers
0   Minnesota Vikings
0  Carolina Panthers
0  Atlanta Falcons
0  Cleveland Browns (new)

Now let's move on to other lists.  Here's one of the 6 current teams that haven't won any titles of any kind, NFL, AFL, SB, etc.

Cincinnati Bengals
Jacksonville Jaguars
Houston Texans
Minnesota Vikings
Carolina Panthers
Atlanta Falcons

     And here's a list of the teams that have never won a Super Bowl.

Buffalo Bills
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns (new)
Jacksonville Jaguars
Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans
San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers
Minnesota Vikings
Detroit Lions
Carolina Panthers
Atlanta Falcons
Chicago/St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals
Houston Texans

   The teams that have never even appeared in a Super Bowl

Cleveland Browns (new)
Jacksonville Jaguars
Houston Texans
Detroit Lions

     My Philadelphia Eagles just ended a long stretch without an NFL title, going back to 1960.  Not quite the Chicago Cubs, but still an extensive period of misery.  Here are the teams with the longest current title-less droughts.

1947  Chicago/St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals
1957  Detroit Lions

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Pigeon Peas

     Although I had never heard of them before, pigeon peas have been consumed by humans for quite a long time.  The evidence indicates that this legume was domesticated in India 3500 years ago.  Since then, this plant has spread around the world, being grown in suitably tropical/subtropical environments in Africa, South America, Asia, and North America.  The current biggest producers of this plant are the Indian subcontinent and Africa, accounting for over 90% of the total.
     Pigeon peas are eaten in three main ways.  Some folks pick them early in their development, and remove the peas from their pods and eat them as green vegetables.  Others let the plant go longer, and then harvest and dry the older peas.  And some then take these dried peas and grind them up into a flour.  These varying formats result in some nutritional changes, but in all ways the peas are still very beneficial.  They're good sources of protein, B vitamins, folate, potassium, zinc, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and manganese.
     The plants are also relatively easy to grow.  They show admirable resistance to drought-like conditions.  And their planting requirements are evidently quite loose.  One website I looked at, Tropical Permaculture, amusingly put it, "planting depth is whatever.  Just stick them in the ground, they'll grow."  The non-pea parts of the plant are useful as well--the pods, flowers, and leaves make for decent animal fodder.  The wood is reportedly excellent for starting and maintaining fires.  Plus the peas are good nitrogen fixers for the soil.
     I was able to buy two containers of pigeon peas, in twin 15 ounce (425 gram) cans.  Both were grown in Peru.  And both were from NJ-based companies that I've mentioned on this blog before, Goya and Wakefern.

1) Goya.  I tried to branch out a little and not just eat the peas plain.  Since I'm fairly ambivalent at best about regular peas, I thought mixing them up in other meals might be more interesting and productive.  The peas themselves were light greenish or brown, and were the same size and shape as "normal" peas.  Just out of the can, alone, they were pretty bland, and similar to their regular cousins.  I ended up putting them in a couple of microwaved frozen meals--Healthy Choices' steamed chicken and broccoli with alfredo sauce, and the same company's parmesan penne pasta with spinach and portabella mushrooms.  In both cases, being in a sauce, with other foods, was an improvement.  The chicken, broccoli and alfredo sauce pairing was definitely the better one.  To be sure, though, I think I'd find just about any food to be good when it has alfredo sauce on it, so there's that.

2) Wakefern.  The pigeon peas in this can looked identical to the Goya ones in color, shape, and size.  I did notice a taste difference, though.  Although the Goya and the Wakefern selections both consisted of of the same ingredients--peas, water, and salt--the Wakefern peas were markedly inferior in flavor--less zest.  (Maybe they used different kinds of salt, or water, or less fresh peas?)  Anyway, I put these in with two other microwaved frozen dinners--Smart Ones ham and cheese scrambled eggs, and Lean Cuisine's sweet sriracha braised beef with snap peas, broccoli, and bell peppers, in a sriracha sauce.  Pigeon peas with the ham and cheese scrambled eggs weren't very good--it wasn't a triumphant pairing.  And with the beef, peppers, snap peas broccoli and sriracha was also disappointing, somewhat surprisingly since another kind of pea was already in there.

     In summation, then, if you're a fan of peas in general, you'll probably like the pigeon variety, since they're not that different.  But I certainly recommend mixing them up in multi-component dishes, rather than eating them by themselves.  And clearly, which meal you put them in can make a significant difference.  As you might expect, they are very cost effective, since each can was like $1.  But if your choices are Goya or Wakefern, I'd obviously go with the former.
     I was also intrigued by the pigeon pea's biochemical makeup.  They're kind of like less intense, plant versions of Highlanders, from the 1986 movie of the same name.  (Yes, I'm aware that this was actually a long movie series, and television series, but I don't like to acknowledge these!)  Pigeon peas are allelopathic, meaning that they give off chemicals that can negatively influence the germination, growth, and survival of other plant species in their immediate vicinity. (Some other plants that exhibit this trait are black walnut, tree of heaven, an garlic mustard.)  So bear that in mind if you decide to grow them.  But the only dramatic sword fights between the pigeon peas and other plants will be in your imagination, alas.
     Oh, almost forgot, I wasn't able to find out the answer to the most obvious question--why are they commonly called "pigeon" peas?  Some people theorize it's because they can be used as feed for these birds.  Others think this answer is too simple.  No one seems to know for sure.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Treats From Ireland, Northern Ireland, and England

     Recently I kind of struck myself, because I realized there's an Irish-themed store near my home and I haven't really properly taken advantage of the opportunity.  This store, called "A Touch of Ireland," sells mostly clothing, knick-knacks, and other non-edible items, but they do have a few shelves devoted to candy and snacks.  So I picked up a few--four different kinds, to be exact.  They were a Guinness Luxury milk chocolate caramel bar, a pack of Cadbury dairy milk buttons, a pack of Rowntree's fruit pastilles, and a bag of Tayto cheese & onion potato crisps (or "chips" to Americans).  However, despite the name of the store, they obviously sell things from Ireland's neighbors in the U.K.  Guinness is made in Ireland, obviously, but Cadbury and Rowntree are made in England, and the Taytos I got were made in Northern Ireland.  Hence, the somewhat unwieldy title of today's post.
     Rowntree's was started by a guy named Henry Isaac Rowntree in 1862.  The fruit pastilles line was developed in 1881.  Some of their other products include fruit gums and jelly tots.  They also invented the Aero chocolate bars back in 1935.  Rowntree's was bought up by Nestle in 1988.
     I found Tayto to be a little confusing.  That's because there's a Tayto company in Ireland that specializes in making potato crisps.  But, in 1956 the Hutchinson family started their own crisp company in Northern Ireland.  They licensed the Tayto name from their Irish neighbors, and used the same recipes, too.  Technically, they're separate companies, but they're obviously very similar, even down to having nearly identical potato-headed men corporate logos.  Anyway, the type I got, cheese & onion, is their signature brand.  Some of their alternate crisp flavors include beef & onion, pickled onion, roast chicken, spring onion, smokey bacon, salt & vinegar, worchester sauce, prawn cocktail, and autumn onions mixed with onion.  (Okay, I made the last one up, to make fun of their apparent obsession with onions.)
    Cadbury, of course, is a gigantic company.  A John Cadbury opened up a grocery in Birmingham, England back in 1862, and started experimenting with cocoa products, including a drinking chocolate as an alternative to alcoholic beverages.  The candy manufacturing company started in 1831, and prospered heavily up through the present.  In 2010 Cadbury was bought up by Mondelez International (nee Kraft Foods). The dairy milk buttons were developed in 1960.  Besides the U.K., they're also sold in Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.  There's also a white chocolate variant of the buttons. 
     Finally, Guinness is clearly a famous and popular brewery, best known for their stout beer.  This company has been selling their beer since 1759, and has been exporting to the U.S. since 1817.  Additionally, since 1955 the company has been putting out the annual Guinness Book of World Records.  (Sadly, the long, 400-500 page, text-based, incredibly comprehensive and detailed books I remember fondly from my adolescence have changed, and not for the better, in my opinion.  Since the mid 1990's this book has become a coffee table-type book, with less actual records, and way more photographs.  It's now more shallow and glitzy, I find.)  I did see that the isinglass controversy appears to be settled, though.  Isinglass is made from fish bladders, meaning strict vegetarians and vegans didn't drink the Guinness beers that contained this substance.  Guinness has been fazing out the use of isinglass over the past several years, and I think by now all of their beers of free of it.  (Although if you're a vegetarian/vegan I advise double checking on this, to be safe.)  The chocolate for this candy was made by Lir Chocolates, Ltd., also out of Ireland.  Other flavors of this candy are Luxury milk chocolate solid bar, Luxury dark chocolate solid bar, Luxury dark chocolate truffle bar, and mini Guinness pint chocolates.  In 1997 Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan to form Diageo, PLC.
     On to my reactions:

1) Guinness Luxury milk chocolate caramel bar:  This bar was made up of 12 separate "pockets" stuck together.  Each pocket was about 1.5 inches by an inch (about 3.5 cm. by 2 cm.), for a total length of 15 cm. by 7.5 cm. (about 6 inches by 3 inches).  The color was a typical milk chocolate brown.  The filling in the pockets was the caramel.  I found it "meh," or average at best.  It wasn't as sweet as I would have liked.  There is actual Guinness in it--the amount is surely not enough to get someone drunk, but the label does stress that this candy isn't for children.  Since I'm not fond of Guinness's various stouts, or stouts in general, maybe this flavoring agent explains my lackluster response.

2) Rowntree's fruit pastilles:  This was a roll of small discs, each about 1.75 cm. (about .75 of an inch) in diameter, with a sugar coating on the outside.  There were supposed to be five flavors--black currant, lemon, lime, strawberry, and orange.  My pack didn't have any lemon pastilles.  As with the Guinness, I was rather disappointed.  The black currant one was the best, but even this one was only alright.  The flavors were rather weak and bland.

3) Cadbury dairy milk buttons:  These looked like, well, buttons--thin disc-shapes, with diameters, once again, of about 1.75 cm. (about .75 of an inch), light brown in color, with the company name etched on them.  I enjoyed these.  They reminded me of Hershey's chocolate kisses, even though I recognize that European chocolates contain more cocoa, etc.  I thought this was a solid chocolate candy.

4) Tayto cheese & onion potato crisps:  These looked like a typical potato crisp, or chip.  Yellow and thin, with some being a wavy shape.  I could definitely detect  the onion and cheese flavors.  I liked these--a respectable snack.

     So, overall, I enjoyed two out of the four.  The two I didn't particularly appreciate weren't awful or anything, just not worth having again.  And I'm definitely intrigued by some of the more unusual flavors of the Tayto crisps--I'd like to give those a whirl, and will if/when I can.  I'd also like to get a hold of some of the Irish Tayto crisps, and compare and contrast these with the same flavors of their Northern Irish cousins.

     Switching topics, the Kickstarter campaign for the anthology I've been discussing for the past month or so, "Hidden Animals:  A Collection of Cryptids," is over.  As I mentioned, they met their initial funding goal, so things should be moving along smoothly.  I should be receiving the edits for my story in it very soon, and the two volumes will presumably be out as scheduled in May of this year.  Updates will follow.  And thanks for the support!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Breadfruit, Plus Anthology Update

     The other day I received a big shock at my local Shop-Rite supermarket.  They had breadfruit for sale.  I could barely contain my excitement.  I'll explain.  Years ago, way back in 2012 or 2013 or so, this Shop-Rite also had breadfruit.  I noted it, and considered buying it, but ultimately I passed, thinking I would get it another time.  (Maybe I was in a hurry or something, too--I can't recall.)  Which turned out to be a big mistake.  Because there wasn't another time.  For years I looked for it, futilely, both there, and at the other groceries I went to in my travels across much of the Eastern U.S.  Even Wegman's didn't have it!  I repeatedly berated myself for not buying it when I had the chance.  And this experience prompted me to almost always snap up exotics as soon as I see them, whatever the circumstances.  Suffice to say, breadfruit became a much less dramatic, food version of Moby Dick for me.  But, finally, I caught sight of my white whale.....
     Breadfruit is quite delicate.  It requires very high temperatures, and a whole lot of rainfall.  Which it gets on its ancestral homelands, on various tropical Pacific islands.  Currently, it's been successfully introduced to other areas with suitable climates, such as parts of Central and South America, and many islands in the Caribbean.  It's a very valuable tree for humans, as it has several uses.  The wood is often used to make boats.  As a bonus, the wood is also resistant to shipworms and termites.  The breadfruit tree's sticky latex sap is further useful in making watercraft, as it makes for an effective caulk to waterproof seals and joints.  The latex can also function as a sort of "bird paper," to trap these creatures for food, or for their feathers.  And then there's the fruit.  A single tree is capable of producing dozens of individual, grapefruit or pumello-sized fruits, even up to 200 in a single season.  Finally, the discarded parts of the fruit, and the tree's leaves, can be used to feed farm animals.
     As a historical aside, its' almost difficult to discuss breadfruit without mentioning William Bligh, and the infamous Mutiny on The Bounty.  The whole point of the 1787-89 voyage was to transport breadfruit trees from Tahiti to Britain's West Indies possessions, as food for the slaves there.  Probably most people know about this from the several movies made about this incident.  While these films have their artistic and entertainment merits, as history they're lacking.  To whit, it appears that Bligh was unfairly portrayed, and is now remembered as being a villain, obsessed with the breadfruit trees at the expense of his poor crew.  The mutiny is shown as being justified, a rebellion against a tyrannical, cruel leader.  However, historian Caroline Alexander (and others) makes a compelling case for an alternate view in her excellent book, "The Bounty."  Among others things, she points out that Bligh actually punished his crew less than the average ship captain of the time, and was actually obsessed almost to the point of absurdity with keeping his crew healthy.  He did have a temper, and was known for occasional profane outbursts (although these seem laughably PG-rated to this modern reader), it's true.  But it appears that the main reason for the mutiny was not Bligh's cruelty, but the crew's love of the long months spent on the island paradise of Tahiti, which in addition to its other benefits had women with much more liberal ideas of sexual activity.  Long story short, after reading this book, I'm of the mind that Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers were the villains.  Plus Bligh's long voyage back to a European-controlled port in a tiny lifeboat with the barest of navigational equipment is nothing short of amazing.  Also, there's the bitter irony that the attempt (which was eventually successful after a second voyage) to bring breadfruit to the British islands in the Caribbean was a waste of time--the slaves refused to eat them.  Anyway, I'll end this tangent to say that it looks like William Bligh got a bum rap, reputation-wise, and I strongly recommend Caroline Alexander's book to anyone interested in the subject.
     But back to the actual food.  My disdain for cooking is surely well known by now to even occasional readers.  Alas, this time my hand was forced.  Evidently you can eat breadfruit raw, but consumers vastly prefer it cooked.  I checked out several recipes online, and there were three main options noted--roasting, frying, and boiling.  I chose the latter, since it was by far the easiest, plus I was advised that roasting might dry out the fruit too much.  The fruits themselves were roughly spherical, and about 4 inches (about 10 cm.) in diameter.  The outer rind was a greenish-brown, and it was covered in little indentations that reminded me of a golf ball.  The inner flesh was whitish, while the inedible heart was brownish, and rather stringy.  First I soaked the fruits in cold water for several minutes, to remove debris and the whitish sap, which was as sticky as advertised.  Then I cut up each fruit into quarters, cut out the heart, and removed the outer rind.  I placed the quarter pieces of pulp in a large pot of water, and then boiled them for an hour.  Periodically I turned the pieces, and added salt.  When they were finished the pieces had turned into a light brownish color.  I tried some breadfruit plain, and then tried other pieces with ketchup, then taco sauce, then brown mustard, then peanut butter, and then almond and cashew butter (the last two are talked about in last week's post).  My parents were game, too, and had their samples with butter, and peanut butter.  All of us found breadfruit to be pretty good.  As the common name suggests, this is not a typical, sweet and juicy fruit--it's more like a vegetable, much like a potato.  Plain it was rather bland, but with additives it was tasty.  It also had a pleasant odor.  I preferred mine with the mustard or ketchup--the savory flavors seemed to go better with this starchy fruit.  But with the sweeter additives it was still okay.  I'm guessing it's probably also good prepared in other ways, too, but of course that's only slightly informed speculation.  So, I would recommend breadfruit.  It was even relatively cheap for an imported fruit (mine was from Jamaica), being 2 for $4.

     As for the writing update, I'm happy to report that the anthology I've been talking about in the past several weeks, "Hidden Animals:  A Collection of Cryptid Fiction" recently met its monetary goal on Kickstarter.  There is, though, still about a week to go for this campaign, and Dragon's Roost Press recently added a "stretch goal," and a new pledge level.  You can read about it in the "Updates" section at:

     And thanks for the support.  With the goal reached (even exceeded a bit), this bodes well for the book making its estimated May 2018 publishing date.  I'll provide more info about this as I get it.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Alternative Nut and Seed Butters

     While I was in my local supermarket recently, I found myself in the "spreads" section.  Just about all I saw were types of jams, marmalades, jellies, and such that are very common, or else aren't, but were ones I'd had before (see the May 22, 2015 and November 23, 2016 posts).  But this time I took more notice of the other nut and seed butters besides the normal peanut butters.  I didn't retry the hazel nut ones, since I consider these, especially Nutella, to be fairly common.  I went with almond butter, cashew butter, and sunflower seed butter.
     Almonds, as I learned, are native to North Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent.  Now they're also grown in places with a warm enough climate, such as Spain, Australia, and California in the U.S.  Also, if there are any botanist reading this and becoming enraged (and in a weird way I kind of hope that's true), yes, technically the almonds we eat are not nuts, but are drupes.  Wild almonds are toxic to humans, so people should only stick to the domesticated kinds.  Nutritionally, almond butter has more manganese, potassium, fiber, and calcium than does peanut butter, and it's also a good source of magnesium, copper, iron, riboflavin, and Vitamin E.  On the negative side, some folks have criticized the growing of almonds in times of drought, since the plant requires unusually high amounts of water.
     I recently discussed another part of the cashew plant in my post about Brazilian beverages (see my October 21, 2017 post).  Cashew butter is high in protein, Vitamin B, and unsaturated fats.  During the Cold War Era in the U.S. (after World War II to the fall of the Soviet Union) cashew butter was a staple of many U.S. Civil Defense survival kits  Consumers sometimes dip apple slices in it as a dip, or add it to smoothies and oatmeal.
     In the U.S., sunflower butter was first tried commercially in the early 1980's.  However this attempt didn't catch on, probably due to the spread's overly bitter taste, and unappetizing greenish color.  In 2000 a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture teamed up with Red River Commodities to come up with an improved version.  They altered the degree of roasting, experimented with different amounts of added sugar and salt, and used canola and cottonseed oils as a stabilizer.  (And, they must have done something to diminish the green color, too.)  The result was SunButter, which rolled out in 2002.  This product did well enough that by 2011 it was available nationwide in big chains like Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Walmart, Super Valu, Kroger, and Target.  Sunflower butter is a good source of protein, Vitamin B, iron, fiber, and zinc.  It's also eaten as a dip, or mixed into sandwiches.  And once again, to quell the plant scientists' fury, the sunflower "seed" is actually a cypsela.
     All three of the above are often used as other spread choices for people who have serious peanut allergies.  But on to the ratings.

1) Barney smooth almond butter.  Barney & Co. is California based, and the jar was 10 ounces (284 grams).  Ingredients are blanched roasted almonds, organic and fair trade cane sugar, palm fruit oil, and sea salt.  It's also Non-GMO, gluten-free, made in a peanut-free facility, kosher, certified vegan, and BPA-free.  By color and texture this butter closely resembled peanut butter, as it was a light brown hue and a thick texture.  I also thought it tasted a bit like peanut butter.  I'm guessing the salt and sugar helped the flavor, too.  I thought this was the best of the bunch.  I had it plain, on Wheat Thins crackers, and then as a "AB & J", or a almond butter and (Welch's grape jelly) jelly sandwich.  So pretty good overall.

2) Crazy Richard's cashew butter.  Crazy Richard's is based out of Ohio, and the jar was 312 grams (11 ounces).  Ingredients are only dry roasted cashews and sunflower oil.  Product is gluten-free, non-GMO, BPA-free, vegan, and has no cholesterol, palm oil, trans fat, or salt and sugar.  This one was light brown, and extremely oily in consistency.  At room temperature it was almost a liquid, and even after being in the fridge for days it was still a thin goo.  As with the almond kind I had this plain, on Wheat thins, and then with grape jelly as a sandwich.  It was just okay--a tad bland.  I suspect I would have liked it better if it had had salt and sugar in it.  It did taste best in the CB & J format.

3) Wholesome Pantry organic sunflower butter.  This was specially made for Shop-Rite supermarkets, and distributed by Wakefern Food Corp., out of New Jersey (no word on where the sunflowers were grown.)  The ingredient list for this one is even more succinct--only sunflower seeds.  The label further boasted that the product was certified organic, and didn't use processing methods like ionizing radiation and genetic engineering.  Came in a 16 ounce (454 gram) jar.  This butter was also very oily--soupy at room temperature, slightly more gooey after being chilled in the fridge.  The color was a darker brown--reminiscent of darker mustards.  Its flavor was a bit bitter and astringent.  It was better on a Wheat Thin than plain.  But definitely the weakest of the three.  After reading about it, I wonder if I would have liked SunButter brand better, as once again, the bitter taste is presumably cut by the sugar and salt.

     I should probably state that when it comes to the dry roasted nuts or seeds, I love cashews, think sunflowers are just okay, and only like almonds chopped up and mixed in other things, like in cookies, for example.  Furthermore, peanut butter is my second favorite food, period, after cheese, so it was very unlikely that any of these would exceed, or even equal, my love of this food.  But, none of these were completely horrible, either.  Given my lukewarm-at-best reaction to them, coupled with their high prices (each was about $6-7), I don't think I'll get these again.  Although I should say that my parents tried these, too, and liked them better them me.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--German Butterkase Cheese

     I stumbled upon this one while shopping in my local Shop-Rite grocery.  I selected it both because I'd never heard of it, or had it, and also because I haven't had many German cheeses in general.  Evidently, England, France, Italy, and The Netherlands in particular are more proactive about exporting their cheeses, at least in the supermarkets and stores that I've checked.  The brand I bought was made in Germany, by King's Choice, and imported/distributed by the DCI Cheese Company out of Wisconsin in the U.S.
     Butterkase means "butter cheese" in German.  It's a semisoft cheese made from cow's milk.  It's mostly produced in Germany, Austria, and in Wisconsin.  The history of this dairy product is surprisingly brief.  It was invented in 1928, as a variant of an Italian cheese called Bel Paese, which in turn only dates back to 1906, from the town of Melzo.  Butterkase is known for its buttery taste (of course), and consumers often compare its flavor to Muenster and Gouda.  Its hues range from white to yellowish-orange, and its aging time is a scant 3-4 weeks.  One website which I looked at called it a "new secret weapon for recipes or your next wine and cheese party," which I found amusingly dramatic.  That website also touted its flavor as being mild enough for kids to enjoy, but sophisticated enough for adults.  Butterkase is sometimes called "damenkase," ("ladies cheese" in German) because of its lack of odor and delicateness.  You don't often see cheese-related examples of sexism, but I guess this is one, albeit a fairly innocuous one, I suppose.
     The King's Choice website notes that they sell cheese from Denmark and Holland.  But they don't mention Germany, nor is butterkase included on their product list.  I'm pretty confident that this is the right company, as their logo is identical to that on the label for the cheese I got, so apparently their selling of butterkase is fairly recent, and the website hasn't been updated.  The American distributer, the DCI Cheese Company, sells cheeses from Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, and the U.S.  One of their products is the Spanish Manchego cheese, which I posted about on August 29, 2015.  Also, this was the first time I recall seeing the flag of the Isle of Man, and I immediately liked its design.  It's rather stylized and strange, being three legs stuck together in a wheel shape.
     Anyway, the butterkase I purchased was a light yellowish color.  I cut it up into small pieces and ate them plain.  As reported, it was semisoft in texture.  Also as advertised, I did think it had a mild, and buttery flavor.  It had a slight tang to it as well.  Overall I found it very pleasant.  My father tried some too, and came away similarly impressed.  So no real surprises here--the guy who adores cheese more than any other food in the world, who's never found a type of it that wasn't at least decent, enjoyed yet another.  I certainly recommend it, and will probably buy this again.  It was a tad expensive, being about $6 for an eight ounce (226 gram) chunk.

     Also, forgive the repetition, but the Kickstarter for the "Hidden Animals: A Collection of Cryptids" horror anthology (in 2 volumes) is still ongoing, and I encourage folks to check out the book's information video, and consider contributing to what is shaping up to be a fun, interesting book.  Thanks!  The address is below: