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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Omnivore's Hundred

While I was playing Scrabble on Facebook tonight, I was chatting with my friend, Ina. A native of Hawaii, Ina was lamenting her inability to find decent poi in New Jersey. Our conversation ran through some of the various cusine that we had sampled in our various travels and Ina asked me if I had heard of "The Omnivore's Hundred." I hadn't.

At it turns out, "the Omnivore's Hundred" is a list of 100 foods that British food-blogger Andrew Wheeler put together. It is sort of a "bucket list" of foods that he believes people ought to at least think of eating at some point in their lives. Some of it reminded me of the missionaries who used to come to my church when I was a kid and tell us about all of the places they went and how they had to eat all sorts of foods so that they wouldn't offend their hosts.

Below is the text of the original Omnivore's Hundred post from, with my highlights and notes. I've eaten 73 of the foods on the list, though there are plenty of other "unusual" foods that I've also eaten over the years, including fox, swan's feet, fufu, egusi stew, pigeon, and several others. I'll eat just about anything, but, oddly, I don't like mayonaise-based salads. How about you? Let me know.

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. (I've had to use red text.)
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred (With Paul's Responses):
1. Venison (I haven't had this since I was a kid, but I loved it.)
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros (Yum!)
4. Steak tartare (I'm a bit concerned about foodborne illnesses.)
5. Crocodile (I'm going to count this as "yes" though it was alligator.)
6. Black pudding (Along with boxty and white pudding in an Irish breakfast platter.)
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush (I love this stuff!!)
11. Calamari (My wife was frying squid when I met her at a Jr. High Latin Club banquet!!)
12. Pho (Another favorite! There's a pho-only restaurant just north of DC that I like to stop at.)
13. PB&J sandwich (Not gourmet, but it packs well.)
14. Aloo gobi (A favorite at restaurants and at home.)
15. Hot dog from a street cart (I DO live just outside of NYC, after all...)
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (Blueberries!!)
19. Steamed pork buns (Steamed are good, but the baked ones in Macau are to die for.)
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries (Blueberries on the coast of Maine... blackberries in the field when I was a kid... Happy memories!)
23. Foie gras (Expensive and I've got issues with the way the geese are treated, but I'd eat it if offered.)
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese (Maybe next time I go to a pork store.)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche (Now, I can die happy.)
28. Oysters (Raw, roasted, wrapped in bacon and grilled. What's not to love?)
29. Baklava (The owner of my local Greek restaurant, A Taste of Greece, gives this to me for free whenever I come in. For that matter, the owner of my local Turkish restaurant, Babylon, often does the same. Life IS good.)
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas (Just finished a bag...)
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (Midway food at The Big E.)
33. Salted lassi (I like sweet better.)
34. Sauerkraut (Two words: German ancestry...)
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (Air Fance served some nice cognac on a non-smoking flight...)
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O (Not particularly interested...)
39. Gumbo (Whether made with okra or filé powder, this is grand stuff!)
40. Oxtail (both French and Jamaican versions)
41. Curried goat (with pigeon peas and rice and fried plantains!)
42. Whole insects (chocolate covered ants. Also the odd gnat.)
43. Phaal (Sure, I'd like to try this.)
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more (I have this friend who has more money than I do...)
46. Fugu (I'm not really that interested in poison fish...)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel (Lots of unagi at sushi restaurants and moray eel when I was in China.)
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (These tasted better when I was a kid.)
50. Sea urchin (uni sushi)
51. Prickly pear (Nopales!)
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer (I've even made it at home.)
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (I'm not proud of it, but I did eat it...)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV (There are some really nice Scottish ales out there...)
59. Poutine (Twice now. Once with fries, cheese curds and gravy and once with fries, curds and barbecue sauce.)
60. Carob chips (If I'm not going to eat chocolate, I'd rather not pretend...)
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (Mineral clay? I think not.)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian (Smelled awful and tasted like rotten onion custard.)
66. Frogs’ legs (My 2nd grade teacher made these for the class.)
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis (Two words: Scottish heritage...)
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette (I had these in Richmond's Hillside Court housing projects.)
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini (Separately.)
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill (What kind of a question is that???)
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail (Garlic and butter will make ANYTHING taste good.)
79. Lapsang souchong (Delightful on a cold winter night.)
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum (Asian soups are so good!)
82. Eggs Benedict (One of my favorite diner breakfasts, but I avoid it at the River Edge Diner.)
83. Pocky (Hai!)
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare (Lots of times. The rabbit stew at the King's Arms Tavern in Williamsburg is particularly nice.)
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab (Not a favorite, but I've had it.)
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano (¡Qué bueno!)
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake (I thought I was eating cobra once when I was in China, but it turned out to be moray eel.)

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

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Culinary Success, Literary Failure

I hate admitting defeat, but I'm going to do it.

Back in August, shortly after I set up this blog, I created a companion blog, Food in the Balance, that was going to document my culinary adventures. One of my personal reasons for wanting to blog about food was so that I could keep a record of my cooking successes and failures. The reality turned out differently.

Despite my best intentions to be a creative cook, I quickly realized that only a small percentage of my cooking was really blog-worthy. After all, while the first post about making latkes in my new B I G skillet may be newsworthy, another post a couple weeks later about a repeat performance isn't really that interesting. Beyond the problem of repeat meals not being exciting to write about, I found that a lot of my best cooking went unblogged because it was happening when my life was just too busy to slow down and write. Trust me, though, you would have loved the post about the cochinita pibil that I cooked and how I then used the leftovers to make Cuban sandwiches and, ultimately, pozole rojo, that I fed to my family on Christmas Eve, if only I had slowed down enough to write it.

So, here I am, looking back over the whopping 15 posts that I have made, and realizing that I bit off more than I could chew when I set up a food-specific blog. I am, therefore, officially announcing the demise of Food in the Balance. In the next few days, I will transfer all of the posts from that blog to this one. I will continue to write about food and cooking from time to time in this blog. Maybe, I'll even write about this past Thursday's baked mahi-mahi with tomato-habañero salsa that I served with sautéed dandelion greens and rice pilaf. It was REALLY good!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King, Barack Obama and a White Southern Boy's Journey through Race

I grew up in rural Virginia in the days after Jim Crow was officially dead. Little did I know that the body was still warm.

Back then, the Monday following January 15 was celebrated as "Lee-Jackson Day" in honor of the Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson. In 1983, that was expanded to become "Lee-Jackson-King Day," an ironic combination that pleased neither the progressives who wanted to celebrate Dr. King's legacy nor the old-line conservatives who believed that the South would rise again and who would joke, "I've got nothing against black people. I think everybody should own one."

My family attended a Southern Baptist church where the members had helped their former slaves to start their own church following the Civil War. Whether that help was out of altruism or out of a desire for a racially segregated church depended on who told the story but, regardless of how the story was told, the congregation remained lily white.

The schools were integrated, at least technically, but the reality was that students were put into academic tracks and, in my advanced classes, there were only a couple African American students. I don't recall any Hispanic students and the only Asians in the school were exchange students. Race was, quite literally, a black and white issue.

My parents took a more progressive view of race, teaching my brother and me that people of all races were equal. The social reality, however, was that black and white people lived lives that were essentially separate.

When I went to college at Virginia Commonwealth University, my horizons rapidly expanded. As a state university in an urban center, VCU had an incredibly diverse student body and I found myself in classes and in social settings with people who challenged me to view issues of race in new ways.

While volunteering at the Hillside Baptist Center in the Hillside Court housing projects in Richmond's southside, I really began to understand how my faith called me to work for racial justice. I was guided in this learning process by two wise mentors: the center's directors, the Rev. Valerie Carter and Gracie Kirkpatrick.

One of my earliest experiences at Hillside was with a young girl, Aisha, who was attending an after-school tutoring program. She was having trouble with her math homework and I sat down next to her and asked if I could help her. She refused and, when I asked why she didn't want me to help her, her answer was, "because your're white." It took several minutes of talking with her and a bit of deception -- I told her that I wasn't white and put my hand down on a piece of white paper to prove it -- before she would finally let me help her.

Before long, Aisha learned to trust me and, during my four years at the center, I learned firsthand the social and economic realities of racism in the United States and why Aisha would have perceived me as an enemy, even though I was there to help her. I came to understand the concept of white privilege and quickly saw that I was able to speak with police officers, apartment managers, and medical professionals and find myself listened to, while the African Americans with whom I worked often found themselves stonewalled by these same people. Recognizing the unfair, though very real, advantages that my race conferred upon me, I determined to use whatever advantage I had to work for justice for all people.

In seminary, I spent a summer as an intern with the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board, working in Elyria, Ohio, with the board's Black Church Extension. (Why the SBC felt that African American churches needed to be appended onto the work of their mission board rather than simply included is another discussion.) That summer was a real eye-opener, as I experienced a more insidious side of the African American experience than I had in the projects in Richmond.

One afternoon that summer, I found myself at a street fair being run by the Nation of Islam, where actor Dick Gregory was speaking. Gregory, who certainly had more than enough proven incidents of racism that he could have discussed, held forth for quite a while on a variety of alleged conspiracies, including his assertion that the U.S. government intentionally spread AIDS in the black community. I listened as he whipped the crowd into near hysteria with a recitation of imaginary evils and I lamented how he drew uncrossable lines between the evil whites and the blacks that they victimized instead of building bridges that we could all cross to a better future. Dr. King, with his desire to draw us all together regardless of race, would have wept.

Since then, due to theological, social and political reasons, I have left the Southern Baptists and become a United Church of Christ pastor. In the UCC, I have enjoyed being part of a multi-racial, multi-cultural denomination that sees struggle for racial justice as one of the central callings of the church. I have been able to travel to Africa with the Freedom Schooner Amistad. I have had the opportunity meet civil rights giants like the Rev. Andrew Young. I was present to listen to a certain freshman Senator from Illinois when he addressed the UCC's General Synod in the summer of 2007, talking about the relationship between faith and politics (video here and audio here).

Today, as we officially celebrate what would have been the 80th birthday of Dr. King and as we prepare to inaugurate Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, the excitement is palpable. As the first African American President of the United States, Obama is burdened with much more than is fair to expect of any one person. For so many, President Obama is the embodiment of generations of longing and it is not uncommon to hear people speak of him with almost messianic expectation -- and that's what has me worried, not because I fear that Obama will not do a good job, but because I fear that our expectations may be higher than what anyone could achieve.

I'm worried that we'll forget that Barack Obama is just a man, with all of the limitations and failings common to every human being. As a president, he'll do things with which we disagree. He'll let us down. He'll stumble. And that's just fine.

We can't expect him to bring about world peace. We can't expect him to fix the economic problems that have been so long in the making. We can't expect him to make racism a thing of the past. Those tasks are all bigger than anything that any one person can accomplish, even if they do happen to the the President of the United States.

What we can do is to offer our prayers for him, that God will bless him and grant him wisdom to lead our troubled nation through difficult times. What we can do is to take responsibility and be active participants in the political process, contacting our elected officials and letting them know what is important to us. What we can do is to reach across lines of race, to build relationships with those who are different from ourselves, to transform our society one relationship at a time. It is only then that we'll be able to arrive in that promised land of which Dr. King spoke back in the days before I was born.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Theology in the NY Times!

It has been quite a while since I posted anything here on my blog, but I trust that you'll forgive me. After all, you've all been enjoying your various and sundry holiday celebrations. Perhaps, you've even taken some time off to go cross-country skiing in the Berkshires like my family did last week. At any rate, I'm certain that you haven't been slowing down to read blogs. You haven't, right?

Well, now that you're back, taking the time to read my blog, allow me to offer you a tasty tidbit that I came across this morning on the New York Times' website : an editorial by Prof. Stanley Fish of Florida International University, entitled Roland Burris and St. Augustine. Fish writes, concerning the issue of the Burris nomination being "tainted" by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's attempted sale of Barack Obama's former Senate seat,

This last question is not new. It was debated in the 4th and 5th centuries in the context of what is known as the Donatist controversy. This debate was about the status of churchmen who had cooperated with the emperor Diocletian during the period when he was actively persecuting Christians. The Donatists argued that those who had betrayed their faith under pressure and then returned to the fold when the persecutions were over had lost the authority to perform their priestly offices, including the offices of administering the sacraments and making ecclesiastical appointments. In their view, priestly authority was a function of personal virtue, and when a new bishop was consecrated by someone they considered tainted, they rejected him and consecrated another.

In opposition, St. Augustine (rejecting the position that the church should be made up only of saints) contended that priestly authority derived from the institution of the Church and ultimately from its head, Jesus Christ. Whatever infirmities a man may have (and as fallen creatures, Augustine observes, we all have them) are submerged in the office he holds. It is the office that speaks, appoints and consecrates. Its legitimacy does not vary with personal qualities of the imperfect human being who is the temporary custodian of a power that at once exceeds and transforms him. (Read the entire editorial here.)

I have to admit that I don't have the answer to Mr. Burris' problem. On the one hand, he WAS appointed by the Governor of the State of Illinois, who, despite obvious malfeasance and the likelihood of impeachment, is still serving as the governor and has not, at least not yet, been convicted of anything. In the United States, where people are innocent until proven guilty, it seems that Gov. Blagojevich would have the power to appoint a replacement Senator, at least until that power has been taken from him by due process of law.

On the other hand, it seems to me that anyone accepting a nomination from Gov. Blagojevich would be, shall we say, "shortsighted." By accepting the governor's nomination, Burris is tying himself to Blagojevich's scandal and, quite probably, damaging his chances for being elected by the people of Illinois in two years' time. Of course, there's the further question of whether Burris would have a chance of being appointed by the Illinois legislature, should he withdraw from his status as Senator Designate. I certainly don't envy Mr. Burris as he stands between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

At any rate, it isn't every day that one reads about the Donatists or St. Augustine in the New York Times. I was delighted to see Prof. Fish examine the question of the Burris nomination through a theological lens, particularly since political decisions are discussed in terms of patriotism or partisanship. Fish's discussion of the larger issue of authority and office is just one more example of ways that having a solid foundation in theology can help us to frame other issues.

Note: Between writing this post and actually getting it posted, the Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that Burris' Senate appointment is valid and the Illinois House of Representatives has voted to impeach Gov. Blagojevich by a 114 to 1 vote.