100 Foods To Die For (or not) Before You Die (41-60)

Honeycomb Building

Honeycomb Building

I took The Food List Challenge and scored 61% having tried 61 of the 100 foods (or drinks) listed.  So I’m going through each one, 20 at a time.  Here’s the third of 5 planned installments.

Fugu. I don’t know if you can get this outside of Japan, but there are two things to know about this fish  1) it’s delicious (they say) and 2) highly poisonous, that is, if prepared improperly, it can kill you.  I don’t like fish enough to take the risk.  No fugu sushi for me.

Funnel Cake.  I’ve eaten fried dough and churros, but never had funnel cake.  I think it might be a regional thing from a region of the country where I’ve never lived.  While I haven’t tasted the goodness of funnel cake, and it must be good (not good for you) because it’s deep fried, I have experienced the badness of funnel clouds having lived in tornado country for many years.

Gazpacho.  Love it.  My dad used to prepare it, I think or my grandmomma, maybe they didn’t.  The first time I had it outside the house, if I in fact I ever did have it at home, memory is a funny thing isn’t it, was at Au Bon Pan in Harvard Square one hot summer in the mid 80’s.

Goat.  I don’t think so.  Where I grew up, a good way to insult someone was to call them “an old goat”.  Goat as food first came to my consciousness after the Rolling Stones released Goats Head Soup in 1973.

Goat’s Milk.  I’ve had goat cheese, which I presume is made from goat’s milk, and I could be wrong, but if I’m not, then technically, I’ve had goat’s milk.

Goulash.  That word has been in my vocabulary from as early as I can remember, but I honestly don’t remember ever having the dish growing up.  I associate it with Hungary, a country I know very little about.  In fact, I have only met one or two Hungarians in my life. I do know that linguistically, according to the Ethnologue, the Hungarian language is a bit of an odd bird in that it is not classified as Indo-European.  All the major languages spoken in the countries it borders: Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Serbia, Romania and Croatia are genetically classified as Indo-European.  Classified as Uralic, Hungarian is part of the same language family as Finnish and Estonian.  But I digress.  Goulash.  The answer is no I have not.  The closest thing I’ve had to Goulash would be American Chop Suey, which I first had in a cafeteria-style eatery in Braintree or Quincy, MA.

Gumbo.  Yes, having grown up in a state bordering Louisiana, I was exposed to a considerable amount of Cajun cuisine and Gumbo was one of those dishes.  But I have a confession:  I never liked it.  The spices were ok, but I didn’t care much for shrimp, or crawfish then and still don’t now.  There’s something about a crustacean that gives me the creeps.

Haggis.  I have never acquired a taste for heart, liver and lungs.  And I don’t care how much it’s all spiced and everything niced, probably the only way to get me to eat some would be to gift me a fine bottle of single malt scotch whiskey, or tell me the haggis was something it’s not, like mincemeat pie.

Head Cheese.  Another no thank you.  The closest thing I’ve eaten to head cheese is pickle loaf which was honestly pretty awful.

Heirloom Tomatoes.  I love tomatoes of all kinds, the heirloom included.  I also love ketchup, tomato juice, tomato based sauces, and tomato relish:  finely chopped sweet onions, chopped tomatoes, salt and vinegar.  Goes great on black-eyed peas and fried okra.  Try some sometime, won’t you?

Honeycomb.  As a kid, I loved the cereal.  I like honey.  Nothing better than melted butter and honey on a hot roll.  Don’t think I’ve ever eaten the actual honeycomb; didn’t even know you could.  Can you?  The cereal notwithstanding, the closest thing to honeycomb I’ve eaten is a waffle.  Waffles with honey – now that’s an idea.  And I just remembered the honeycomb building in Chicago.  I didn’t eat it, but I did photograph it.

Hostess Fruit Pie.  How this made the list, I’ll never know, but I must confess to liking them and eating them with some regularity in the days of my youth and young adulthood.  I liked cherry the best.  I wonder if they still make these?  Haven’t seen them in a while.  My grandpa used to make fried blueberry pies for snacks when he took me fishing.  Were they ever good! I remember asking him if the fish might like some.  He just laughed…but I was serious.

Heuvos Rancheros.  I’ve had variants that I prepared myself, but never the real thing.  When I’m out for breakfast, I usually stick to eggs over easy, bacon or sausage and toast.  Plus, in my neighborhood, there aren’t many, perhaps not any, authentic Mexican eateries that serve breakfast.

Jerk Chicken.  I think I have had some jerk chicken, long ago, at either a picnic, or a Jamaican restaurant, but it doesn’t stand out in my memory.  I’m probably missing out on something extraordinary.  I do like Jamaican patties with coco bread, something that should be on the food challenge list in my judgement.  And another confession:  I like beef jerky.

Kangaroo.  Never.  As a kid, I loved Winnie-the-Pooh.  How could anyone eat the kin of Kanga and Roo without feeling some level of guilt.

Key Lime Pie.  Love the stuff.  Hard to find it on the Northeast coast, though.  My mom used to make lemon meringue pie to die for which I will assert is a variant or relative of key lime pie.  I made a key lime pie from a North Carolina recipe once with a saltine cracker pie crust.  It was pretty good and my family loved it, but it wasn’t the real deal.

Kobe Beef.  I don’t think I’ve had it.  I’ve seen the Iron Chefs cook with it though.

Lassi.  I don’t think I’ve ever ordered this sweet yogurt based drink for myself, but have sampled a few.  If I drink anything other than water at an Indian restaurant, it’s usually a beer.

Lobster.  I’ve eaten lobster in various forms, and I like it ok, although eating a whole lobster is a mess and I’ve never mastered  proper meat extraction techniques.  The thing is, I have a generalized fear of crustaceans.  Once, a friend gave us a styrofoam cooler full of lobsters.  When my then 3 year old saw them she said, “Papi, SPIDERS”.   That about sums it up.

Mimosa.  Oh yes, not the tree, the drink.  I don’t usually buy champagne, so a mimosa is a rare treat for me.  Just yesterday, I made a Mimosa with prosecco and orange juice.  I wanted to make a Bellini but we didn’t have any peaches.  So it was really kind of a bellmosa.

Stayed tuned for the fourth of a five part installment on the 100 Food List challenge where I’ll be writing about, among other things, okra, moon pies and Spam.

100 Foods to Die For (or not) Before You Die (21-40)

Churros and Absinthe

I took The Food List Challenge and scored 61% having tried 61 of the 100 foods (or drinks) listed.  So I’m going through each one, 20 at a time.  Here’s the second of 5 planned installments.

Chile Relleno.  It’s not what I typically order when we go for Mexican food but I did share some with my wife at a restaurant in Ft. Walton Beach.  We ordered two – one filled with pork, the other chicken.  Delicioso.  Unfortunately, because I was on meds for my badly sunburned feet, I couldn’t have a Dos Equis or a Modelo to wash it down.  Silly gringo me.

Chitlins.  Having grown up in the South, I had opportunities to try them, but knowing what they were, I could never bring myself to try them. As a general rule, I avoid intestines, stomach, hearts and other organs, but I have eaten liver (which I never liked) and tripe, which I liked even less. I know, I’m a picky eater.

Churros.  I like them ok, and recently had one at a Spanish restaurant, but to be honest, I’d rather have a fried Twinkie or a Krispy Kreme donut.

Clam Chowder.  Growing up, I may have had a can of Campbell’s or two, but didn’t have the real thing until I came to Boston.  I probably got my first decent bowl of clam chowder at Legal Seafood.

Cognac.  Too expensive and sweet for my taste and that goes for brandy and port too.  I prefer non-fortified wines…and bourbon.

Crab Cakes. I don’t remember when I first tried crab cakes or where I had the dish last, but I have had some good ones in the Boston area over the years.

Crickets. I’ve never eaten a cricket and never really wanted to either.  And I’ve never played cricket, although the game looks pretty interesting.  I’m not opposed to eating insects, and would in a survival situation, but as a rule, I won’t eat something I would use for bait when fishing.  By the sound of it, though, I imagine the chirping critters are quite crunchy and would provide a nice textural element on a salad, in place of, say, croutons.  And I also imagine lean cricket to be a healthy protein alternative to fatty meats and good for folks with high cholesterol.  One day, we may see a package of crickets in a snack machine.

Curryworst. I like curry, but worst.  What is worst? If worst is sausage and the dish a kind of curried sausage, I’d try it.

Dandelion Wine.  It has a nice ring to it, but I’ve never had it.  I’ve had floral tasting wines before, but never extracted from a weed.

Dulce de Leche.  I’ve had examples from different countries and especially like the version from the Dominican Republic.  It’s decadently sweet and creamy with a distinct caramel taste and the texture of fudge.  Great with coffee.

Durian. I don’t know what it is, so I probably have never had it.  The only thing that came to mind when I saw the word was Duran Duran, a band I never cared much for and always muted when their videos played back in the early days on MTV.

Eel.  I don’t eat anything that looks like it could kill me.  The closest thing to eel I’ve had was octopus in Chile.  I did not like it just as I don’t like squid.  Generally, I try to avoid eating things that have tentacles and suction cups.

Eggs Benedict. Love this dish.  Anytime we’re out for brunch, it’s my go to egg dish. S&S Restaurant Deli in Inman Square, Cambridge, cooks them “puhfectly” as Chef Gordon Ramsey would say.

Fish Tacos.  Indeed.  Had some in Venezuela that I’m going to call tacos, even though they were technically empanadas. Speaking of Venezuela, I don’t know why the mighty arepa didn’t make the list.  The first stateside fish taco I had was in Chicago at Big and little’s, a tiny dive with terrific reviews that proved spot on.

Fresh Spring Rolls.  So good.  Vietnamese students in my classes used to bring them at the end of a semester to share.

Fried Catfish.  A southern staple, I have had this many times with a side of hush puppies of course.  As we say down south, “it don’t get no better than this”.

Fried Green Tomatoes.  I can’t say that I’ve had them before.  The fried part doesn’t bother me it’s the green part I can’t quite process.

Fried Plantains.  Don’t like them.  Too sweet for me.  But I do like tostones, which are made from the unripe version of the plantain that when flattened and fried taste more like a potato than a banana.

Frito Pie.  I know I had this a few times as a kid, but it didn’t leave much of an impression on me.  I think I would have preferred to just eat a bag of Fritos with onion dip.

Frog Legs.  I doubt I have, but have had the opportunity as frog legs are fairly common in the cuisine of the American South.  I do know that ever since I dissected a frog in 6th or 7th grade, every time I see one or hear the word frog, I smell formaldehyde which is not exactly what I would call an appetizing marinade.

100 Foods To Die For (or not) Before You Die (1-20)


Absinthe packs a punch

I took The Food List Challenge and scored 61% having tried 61 of the 100 foods (or drinks) listed.  So I’m going through each one, 20 at a time.

Abalone.  I thought of TX at first.  Wait, that’s Abilene.  Never mind.  What is abalone anyway? I don’t think I’ve had it unless it was dressed as tuna in a can.

Absinthe.  I had one in the form of a flaming drink at Dali, a Spanish restaurant in Somerville. It tasted like licorice and made me hallucinate.

Alligator.  Never tried it and don’t think I will, willingly or knowingly.  There is nothing appealing about prehistoric meat, although I hear it tastes like chicken.

Baba Ghanoush.  My first encounter with it was at the Middle East Restaurant and Cafe, now Nightclub in Cambridge.  Loved it then, still do.

Bagel and Lox. My first encounter with it was at the S&S Restaurant and Deli in Inman Square in Cambridge.  Didn’t like it then, still don’t.  The lox that is.  Bagels I like and always have since I tried my first real one at Kupel’s in Brookline.

Baklava. My first experience with this sweet and delicate flaky pastry was at a Greek Pizzeria in Brighton.

Barbecue Ribs.  The best I had came from joints in Arkansas and Texas.  The worst, billed as the best, came from a rib place in Memphis. Honorable mentions to restaurants in Somerville and Allston. A place in Brookline called the Village Smokehouse served me some of the best and some of the most mediocre ribs I’ve ever tasted.

Bellini.  I’ve had prosecco, but never with a peach, although I have eaten a peach and admire the album Eat a Peach.

Bird’s Nest Soup.  Can’t say I have or would, but might, even should, if I could.

Biscuits and Gravy. My grandpa who I called Gagan lived in a little town in Northwest Arkansas and made the best biscuits and white sausage gravy you can imagine.  And I can only imagine and try to remember the taste because I have never been able to replicate it.

Black Pudding.  I’ve had Jello chocolate pudding, does that count?

Black Truffle.  Like the pudding above, I’ve had a chocolate truffle.  And then I had some truffle-parm fries with truffle ketchup, at this place called Grass Fed in JP.  At $600 a pound, the best I can hope for would be some shavings for my beef stew crockpot recipe.

Borscht.  I like the name.  I had a bowl at the Troyka restaurant in Harvard Square, served hot, if memory serves that I was expecting cold. I think my aunt, who was with me, said that I must have mistaken borscht for gazpacho.  I might have just made that up, but I don’t remember.

Bread Pudding.  The best I ever had was at Skipjack’s in Boston.  I was with my sister and her kids.  The fish served was serviceable, but the dessert, warm chocolate bread pudding, was to die for.

Calamari. I had some fried calamari for the first time in a little joint near my apartment on the Allston/Brighton line when I first moved to Boston.  Unlike the warm chocolate bread pudding, it was not to die for.  I am not a fan of fried rubber slices.

Carp.  When I first saw this on the list, I thought it said crap.  I actually have caught and eaten a crappie fish before (it is the actual name of the fish, not an adjective here), but I’ve neither caught nor tried carp.  I once saw a friend try to shoot a buffalo carp with a bow and arrow.

Cavier.  When I found out what I was eating, I lost my appetite for it.

Cheese Fondu.  Yes I have but I don’t like Gruyere cheese.  Velveeta melts better, but the question is, is it real cheeze?

Chicken and Waffles.  No thank you.  I like chicken ok, but not waffles.  Chicken and pancakes? Possibly.

Chicken Tikka Masala.  I had my first bite at Indian Quality restaurant at their original location in Kenmore Square, near Fenway and on the second floor next door to Planet Records.  This began my longtime love for Indian food.

Stay tuned, or not, for the next installment of 20 which will include, cognac, crabs and crickets.

Noise Pollution Allegation against Spanish Pianist


This BBC headline caught my attention: “Spanish pianist faces jail over noise pollution claims”.  What?  A pianist?  I can understand if it were heavy metal thrashers, or a kid with a guitar and a loud amp.  But a classical pianist? There must be something more to the story.  Turns out that there was a heated dispute between neighbors.  One apparently did not appreciate hearing the other practice 8 hours a day for years.  The article doesn’t give too many details except that the family of the pianist tried to sound proof their apartment. The “music critic” neighbor is suing the pianist to collect damages for prolonged exposure to noise pollution.

Could this pianist be such a bad player to have caused her neighbor so much suffering? What was she playing all those years? I have to confess that I like classical piano music, but there are some composers of it that I do not like, and one happens to be Joaquin Rodrigo, himself a Spaniard and world class pianist.  His music really is pretty out there in terms of accessibility.  I wonder if this budding noise polluter was banging out Rodrigo pieces 8 hours a day?  Another composer I am not in the least fond of is Liszt.  His stuff is virtuosic rubbish in my opinion and  it would be torture for me to be a captive listener for 8 hours a day.

If I were a conflict negotiator for the feuding neighbors, I would suggest that the pianist take requests.  Surely there’s some musical compromise possible here.  Everyone likes a little Chopin, right? I would recommend that the pianist play a Nocturne just before bedtime twice a week and alternate with the meditative and relaxing sounds of Ravel and Debussy on the other nights.  During the day, I would propose Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier which is perfect practice music and quite soothing.  If the complaining neighbor were not a classical music fan, I’d suggest Elton John or Billy Joel; if partial to jazz, Herbie Hancock or Bill Evans might help bring about peace.  Herbie Hancock actually is a peace ambassador to Japan.

I think the feud is all a big misunderstanding.  The two could be best of friends really if they just tried.  The pianist could even offer piano lessons.  Before long, they could be a famous duo playing Schubert: Piano Music for Four Hands.  And wouldn’t that be grand!

PS:  If you hit the links, they take you to Spotify where you can listen to any of the music I referenced here for free.  It’s well worth the minute or so it takes to sign up.  You can keep the free account or upgrade to a paid account.  I do not work for Spotify and am not paid a penny to say any of this.  I’m just a fan.

Red Rover, Red Rover send the Piping Plover Right Over….the edge

Photo by mdf (not associated with this blog)

Photo by mdf (not associated with this blog)

Well, the XL pipeline is back in the news.  You may have no problem with the concept of an oil pipeline, until it comes to your town and breaks.  All that crude and synthetic oil with nasty byproducts is not easy or even possible to fully clean up.  Just ask the good folks of Mayflower, Arkansas.  But the prospect of an expanded XL pipeline wouldn’t just be a threat to the people and the environment directly in its path.  There are critters too of concern – fish, birds and beetles, who would loudly object if only they could.  I’m not talking about the run of the mill variety.  Frankly, if the pipeline took out some of those invasive jumping fish and colonies of fire ants and swarms of killer bees and as many giant green flies as possible, I wouldn’t lose much sleep.  But I’m talking about some of nature’s finest and most obscure and endangered creatures who call our fair country home and who would be adversely impacted, perhaps even wiped off the species list entirely were the XL pipeline fully implemented, at least according to Noah Greenwald, Director of the Endangered Species Program at the Center for Biological Diversity as reported by Talia Buford in a Politico article.  Greenwald’s list includes the pallid sturgeon, the American burying beetle, the piping plover, “six geese a laying” (just kidding, but maybe, who knows?) the whooping crane and the interior least tern.

One would think the piping plover could thrive near a “pipe”line, and that the burying beetle would simply dig deeper and find comfy bedrock for shelter.  But they are not as resourceful and resilient as I imagined.  I am not at all surprised though about the pallid sturgeon, who has been looking quite faint and sickly for years. The same can be said for the whooping crane who has had a mighty cough now for a few generations running.  The least tern, as its name implies, is the smallest of the terns and is in need of constant protection, but despite it’s diminutive size, it has quite the bill for foraging, which could be a problem.  Curious by nature, the least tern might do some exploring of its own and encounter some slug or insect that had been marinating in a pool of toxic goop from a leaky pipeline.

Of course as more pipeline is built, more and more of these delicate and iconic creatures could lose their natural habitats and be wiped off the planet for good. So let’s stop this thing.  I say power to the piping plover, to the sickly sturgeon, to the shy burying beetle and last but not least to the tiny interior least tern, all of whom don’t depend on fossil fuels like their foolish stewards.