urbpan: (dandelion)
Who was the first person to eat _____ and how did they know it would be tasty?

This is a humorous question that circulates endlessly with the blank filled in with foods like: beehives full of honey, maple syrup, various sea animals, animal milk, fermented juice (or really any fermented food), even eggs. Truly, if you stripped a modern human of their historical and scientific knowledge and dropped them into the wilderness, how indeed would they know any of this stuff is edible?

But that’s not how humans came to discover foods. We have a rich history of many millennia of passing knowledge to future generations; before writing we passed knowledge along with storytelling. Before that we were still very smart very resourceful omnivorous animals—anything is potentially edible to us.

Some of the above foods we ate before we were even human. Probably every omnivore and carnivore on earth eats the eggs of other animals. It’s not even a decision—that thing came out of something edible (an animal) and isn’t running away—I’d be a fool NOT to eat it. Sometimes there is a fetal animal inside; bonus!

Likewise our closest non-human relatives raid social insect nests to gather the food inside. Most of the time that means worker insects, helpless fatty larvae, and once again, eggs. But some species of insects collect and concentrate nectar into honey, a densely caloric food that is impossible to ignore. So of course over millions of years honey-making insects and honey-eating animals engaged in an arms race resulting in bees that sting and bears and honeybadgers with thick skin and fur. Humans lack sting-resistance but are keen and interested observers of other animals. Even today humans who don’t wear protective clothing are brave enough or clever enough to dare steal honey from the bees, for the rare taste of pure sweetness.

In northern forests, some trees store sugar energy in their sap. Deer and other plant-eaters are driven to eat difficult-to-digest bark to get through the winter. Sometimes they are rewarded with sweet running sap. Prehistoric humans made it to these forests and were not stupid, but they were very very hungry. They probably tasted everything they saw other animals eating, and what a happy day when they found that maple trees bleed sweet. A culture that uses fire to cook food doesn’t have to make a huge conceptual leap to know that the faintly sweet flow from a damaged tree can be boiled down into something spectacular.

As for the products of ferment, first there are wild-collected fermented fruits. They might taste funny, but the fermentation process preserves them with a fairly high calorie content (alcohol = 7 kcal per gram) that makes a little light-headedness worth the effort. Wild songbirds get themselves berry drunk on a regular basis, when such food is available. Once humans developed tools for storing food, occasional seasonal abundance could be carried into leaner times. Put all those grapes in a clay-lined basket now, and we can consume their calories when they are gone from the vine. The magic ingredient of wild yeasts turning fruit sugar into alcohol was not understood until modern times, but the fact that one microorganism was keeping others from destroying our food and extending its useful life was exploited hundreds of times across almost every culture.

Humans are mammals, meaning that for millions of years our ancestors have been consuming milk, from our mother’s bodies. The shift to drinking the milk from other animals only requires animals tame enough for us to take it from them. Before animal agriculture there were pregnant and lactating female mammals killed in the hunts—their milk would not have been wasted. Once there were sheep, goats, mares, and eventually cattle that would allow humans to milk them, milk surpluses were possible. Under the right conditions—and humans are smart enough to notice remember and record those conditions—the milk would change into something that could be eaten much later. Yogurt and then cheese were reasons enough to make humans settle down and raise livestock full time.

And as for sea life, I simply don’t know. I still can’t bear the smell of any water creature cooked as food, nor marine algae dried to be eaten. I’d sooner eat a hive full of bee larvae than crack into a lobster, but my personal preferences are those of a human with nearly limitless choices and superabundant food. The humans who first colonized North America did so along a very long and productive coastline. They traveled from one supercontinent to another, fed on mollusks (that they could observe walruses and otters eating), turtles, sea mammals, bird and turtle eggs, and whatever fish they could catch with their technology. Modern human tastes may be more selective than early humans, but that is a result of the ludicrous availability and variety of foods at our hands today. Somewhere on earth at this moment a human is eating a termite and wondering how hungry and crazy someone would have to be to prefer to eat a salad.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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This plastic liquor bottle was found at the base of an oak tree, in a staff-only section of the zoo, a good distance from the perimeter fence. Sometimes I'll find bottles near the fence--some drinker in the park decides to discard their container up and over. This one wasn't in throwing distance. My first thought was that some coworker was drinking bourbon on the clock; oh dear.

 photo P1020038_zpsmhjwkvn2.jpg
Then when I picked the bottle up, I noticed the cap had these markings on it. The cap was screwed on tightly, so some creature with very strong and sharp incisors had to chew through it to make this hole. It seems that this winter got to the wildlife as well as to the human population.
urbpan: (dandelion)
Read more... )
urbpan: (dandelion)
 photo IMG_7038_zpsc5fb2e4a.jpg
This craptastic selfie is my 3:00 snapshot, like it or not. Someone in the bar saw me doing it and came over to do it right.

Read more... )
urbpan: (boddingtons)
 photo tmg-slideshow_xl_zps143289d4.jpg

This has been floating around facebook lately, a map of the Boston rapid transit system with the station names replaced with nearby bars. It appears to come from a website called thrillest.com about which I know nothing. I can't seem to find a very good resolution image to post here (subject to change) but it's clever enough that I want to post it now.

I do go to a lot of bars in Boston, but looking at this map it looks otherwise. Mostly that's because I have favorite watering holes near the ones they list here. Most of these are very big, very loud places.

Bars I've been to:
Red line: The Burren (good), The Field (pretty good)
Blue line: The Black Rose (my dad loves it, in a touristy part of town I avoid), Bill Ash's Lounge (basically the only choice on Revere Beach).
Orange Line: Brendan Behan (great, but no kitchen), Bella Luna (haven't been to the new location, but pretty nice back in the day), Fireside Tavern (Alexis hates it but my dad and I had a real nice time there--a little pricey for the neighborhood)
Green Line: The Haven (Scottish restaurant kind of expensive--right across the street from the Brendan Behan), Corrib Pub (okay), The Publick House (overrated, had a really bad experience there with lemonade, of all things), CornWalls (haven't been in a really long time but I liked it--only English pub in town), Paradise Rock Club (it's a rock club, doesn't really belong on the list), White Horse Tavern (gross, many better choices nearby), Wonder Bar (pretentious and nasty, I'd much rather walk the 4 blocks to The Model cafe than go in that place again).

Not on the list are my favorite bars Flann O'Briens (instead they have the Mission Bar and Grill, which I've never been in, because Flanns is right there, and has really good cheap food) and The James's Gate (which is a ways past the Behan, not super close to the T lines).

The bike ride today was great, lots of great company and laughs. We did get soggy and despite having 5 million raffle tickets none of us won anything. Great massage though. In a few hours I'm off to Providence for Bowling for Rhinos!

Edited to add: I really like this song, might as well make it easy for you to listen to. Firewater are known for melding genres; this is a Gospel/Drinking song.
urbpan: (dandelion)
If I don't write these things down they will not happen.

I'm giving up sweets again this year, mainly to avoid compulsively eating whatever garbage my coworkers put on the desk nearest mine. Cookies, candy, donut holes, cinnamon bread, it's been a constant stream of sugary crap all year but climaxing with the Halloween/Xmas vortex. The last sweets I ate off that desk were some stale anise cookies (which I don't really love even when fresh) that I had to power through in order to chew and eat them. It's ridiculous.

I'm giving up fried potatoes for the year, since I actually love fried potatoes and I could take or leave sweets. I had french fries with almost every meal on my trip with my dad and I could see myself get fatter with every selfie.

I intend to hold to being vegetarian on Thursdays. Seems pretty stupid since I was veg 7 days a week for 15 years, but it's so damn easy to eat meat. It's fatty and salty, and it's already cooked and edible, unlike plants, which are bitter and tough and awful until you cook them in butter and salt. So yeah, meat-free Thursdays, which will coincide with yoga class. I actually don't feel like eating meat (or drinking booze) after doing yoga. It probably releases the same feel-good endocrine system dope that meat and booze do.

Yes I should probably do something to moderate my alcohol intake. Not on the list this year.

I should also go to the doctor for a regular check-up. Haven't done that in several years. They will likely tell me to do all of the above, plus knock out the drinking. I really need that albuterol fix, and maybe they'll give me some of those sweet anti-dementia drugs before it's too late.

Stay healthy everyone!
urbpan: (Drinky crow)
Since my father's heart attack, I've thought about some of my habits, and how to modify them. I like to drink, not always in moderation. Probably being more moderate boozebag (doctors say no more than two drinks for men is healthy) is the right way to go. Also, I seem to remember that red wine is considered heart-healthy for some reason (the American Heart institute says don't start drinking it if you aren't already a boozebag, but if you are, go ahead--have no more than two) compared to other stuff you can drink. I'd guess it's the rich blend of phytochemicals and tannins that are in it, as compared to liquors, which tend to be filtered and distilled until they are mostly a solution of delicious poisonous alcohol. Where was I? Oh yeah, so I've been drinking red wine lately. Trader Joes sells perfectly drinkable bottles of it for three bucks. Seriously, it tastes much nicer than the crap that we used to drink in art school that came in gallon jugs.

A few years ago, my friend Joey went on a tour of Europe in a Rock and Roll Band. He brought back many stories (I seem to recall the band claiming that it was a form of animal abuse to allow the border police dogs to smell the contents of their tour van) but one thing always stuck with me. I don't even remember what country they were in, but in some warehouse or basement somewhere in Europe, the young music fans were drinking a cocktail of red wine and Coca Cola. Joey was revolted by the idea, it probably offended him on more levels than just the mingled flavors, being an aesthete and man of culture as he was and is. I supposed that in Europe people drink red wine all the time, the way that North Americans drink slurpees, and that Coca Cola has an exotic American cache to it. I kind of wondered what it would taste like, but was afraid to try it. Who wants to spoil an expensive bottle of wine by pouring coke over it?

Then came Three Buck Chuck. It occurred to me a few days ago, that even if the drink was wretched, I wouldn't be out much if I used Charles Shaw to make it. So I did, and you know what? It's not bad. Really. Both drinks are very rich, but the combination isn't overwhelming. Depending on what kind of cola you use (we tried a variety--thanks [livejournal.com profile] belen1974) the drink suggests sangria, and has some chocolaty notes. I prefer it with diet cola--for my health, after all.

Of course, the main benefit of it--the addition of stimulant caffeine to a sedative alcoholic drink--makes it not such a heart-healthy choice. But it's gotta taste better than Red Bull and vodka. I've never tried it, but I assume it tastes like Frat boy spit and Flintstone's vitamins.

According to Wikipedia, this wine and coke cocktail is called "Callimocho," from the Basque kalimotxo, as it's been drunk in Basque country since at least the 70's. This is a particularly dodgy wiki page so I don't know exactly how much of this is true. It claims that Callimocho is popular in Spain, goes by several other names (and therefore must exist) in the former Yugoslav republics and the Czech Republic, and is known in Chile by the name "Jote" which means "vulture." I can't imagine why Chilenos would call the drink "Vulture" unless it has to do with the color.

I think I'll call it Jote (pronounced Ho-tay, for you gringos), because I like to honor the vulture this way. Plus I can't remember "Callimocho" to save my life.
urbpan: (dandelion)

Yesterday morning I took Charlie swimming at a pond behind a warehouse on RT. 9. In the median strip in rt. 9 in Brookline, in the areas they haven't rebuilt yet, there is a thick monocultural herb garden of blooming chicory, my favorite wildflower. It's raining right now, for the first time in over a week. The plants Alexis put in our front area were starting to wilt and shrivel, so hopefully this will help.

more personal stuff )


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