Sunday, July 27, 2008


I'm going to take one for the team. While my childhood brainwashing in the harsh lands of Australia has resulted in me finding there to be nothing odd about the consumption of Vegemite, the whole idea behind eating vegetable yeast extracts can be quite strange to the inhabitants of the rest of the world.

vegemite jar

Vegemite is effectively an offshoot of beer making and, for those who don't know, beer is a very popular beverage in Australia. Made from leftover brewer's yeast extract with vegetable and spices, Vegemite is a savory spread rich in B vitamins and certain amino acids (and deliciousness).

vegemite on toast

When confronted with questions concerning the nature of my favorite spreadable foodstuff, a common mistake is to compare it to peanut butter.

"You see... uhhh... Vegemite to Australians is like peanut butter to Americans... you know, one of those staple commodities that you're supposed to spread on bread... yeah, something like that."

This doesn't work. The questions get stranger and more off target as they try to gauge the flavor. So my current approach to the question goes something like this:

"Ummmm... yeah... uhhhh... oh, you've tried Guinness, right?"

Blank stare implying an affirmative quickly followed by a "duh".

"Well, imagine a very thick Guinness, like peanut butter thick [again, the peanut butter comparisons], but with lots of salt... lots and lots of salt."

This is followed by an unsubstantiated assertion that Vegemite is gross. But the facts are on my side. Observe a snapshot of the Wikipedia article on Vegemite correctly stating that Vegemite is both delicious and far superior to its competitor Marmite.

vegemite vikipedia

I rest my case.

If there are any curious individuals out there who would like to give Vegemite a try, it can be found in stores like World Market that carry international foods. I recommend making a Vegemite sandwich for your first experiment. Get two pieces of bread, toast if you wish, spread a layer of butter/margarine (unless you can't stand either) and a then a thin layer of Vegemite. Do not, I repeat, do not go overboard with the Vegemite; it's strong and incredibly salty. You can gradually increase the amount used if you find yourself actually enjoying the stuff but take it easy the first few times. If you give it a try and find you don't like it at all, please get in touch... I'll be more than happy to take the remains off your hands.

vegemite on toast

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Soft Shell Crab

Staring down at my plate I find myself immersed in a surreal situation, simultaneously questioning my own sanity and wondering if perhaps I'm still stuck in a dream. There's a whole crab on my plate covered in batter and nestled between two buns, a meal delivered straight from whatever dark place spawns nightmares. I'm half expecting the beast to start waving his claws at me in protest of the situation and if I move my face closer, which one of us will bite first?

soft shell crab

I firmly hold the beast between the buns and lunge at a claw, ripping at it rabidly like a stark raving lunatic... how apropos. The flesh is soft and the appendage offers little resistance to my jaws as I rip it from the socket.

Oh soft-shell crab, you delicious nightmare. When a crab outgrows its shell and needs to form another, it molts and shortly thereafter (approximately four days) can be eaten whole.

soft shell crab

So I eat the limbs as they dangle lifelessly, yet still threateningly, off the sandwich so the little bastard can't escape. The meat is sublime... moist, flavorful, and easy to chew, like those really expensive crab legs you actually have to crack open to eat. Once I render the crustacean a decadal amputee then I get to work on the body. A word of advice for anyone else venturing to try soft-shell crab, rip off the limbs first and put them aside while you devour the body, save the best for last. The body is not bad bet there is far more thin shell material present and can be a little bland and feels strange to chew. Overall a great experience that was both delicious and disturbing.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Raw Oysters

I'd heard just as many awful things about raw oysters as I had good so my curiosity had been piqued for quite some time. My prior attempts to order these strange creatures at restaurants had been thwarted by them being out of season or not in stock at the time so I jumped at my recent opportunity to indulge while patronizing a local shack at the end of a dock.

And when the six monstrosities arrived on a plate I was fully expecting to enjoy my experience. I love raw fish and like cooked oysters so how could this be much different?

raw oysters

The sensation had been described to me before but I'd thought it an exaggeration; eating raw oysters is like swallowing a mouthful of phlegm. But not just any phlegm, mind you, but the kind coughed up in the midst of a horrid bacterial infection or after a long bender involving smoky bars and student parties. I was instructed to swallow them whole, sliding the grey ball of mucous down the back of my throat with a few shell particles and pieces of sand. Wanting to get a complete experience, I even chewed a couple of them but the gelatinous texture was far too disgusting, particularly with all of the grit scraping against my teeth. And what to say of the taste? I guess it wouldn't have been much different from cooked oysters if it weren't for the thick mucous membrane that tasted like, well, mucous.

raw oysters

The last couple mollusks were a challenge but my pyloric sphincter is strong and I was able to prevent them from hurtling back up, despite the nausea and slight heaves. I can't fathom the appeal and won't be volunteering for a repeat experience any time soon but I'm happy to have tried them nonetheless. For now I'll stick with the cooked variety.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Yerba Mate

It's a real surprise that yerba mate hasn't become more prevalent in the US as it has many highly marketable qualities. These include relatively high caffeine content for an "energy" boost and the fact that it is an "all natural" botanic used for hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of years by people in South America. It is used to make a tea-like infusion and this ought to be popular in a time where herbal teas are all the rage. Celestial Seasonings actually has a tea, Morning Thunder, where roasted mate is mixed with black tea but there aren't any major providers of pure yerba mate.

sack of mate

I don't quite remember how I came to be familiar with yerba mate but I was excited to find that many little coffee shops started providing a mate-latte drink where it was prepared much like a chai. Inspired by the signs of availability we sought out a provider online where my wife bought some pre-made infusions and mixtures while I opted for a bag of lightly roasted, crushed leaves.

mate spoon

As opposed to tea, mate is prepared with hot water, not boiling water, after a light soaking in cool water to help protect against the breakdown of some of the desirable chemicals in the leaves and prevent the infusion from becoming too bitter. Initial steeping doesn't take very long and the same foliage can be used repeatedly (I get at least three good drinks out of the same leaves). The traditional method of brewing mate uses a hollowed out calabash gourd as the brewing and drinking vessel with a silver straw, called a bombilla, being used to sip the liquid. Because I don't have these items I use a french press to do the brewing and the results are fine. I'll try pick up a gourd and bombilla when I visit Peru this autumn.

mate brew

The aroma and flavor of yerba mate is very similar to green tea but stronger, more pungent, and with distinct notes of green vegetation, like fresh grass clippings. If steeped too long the brew can sometimes be a little bitter but adding a tiny bit of sweetener or drinking it with milk can counteract this. Overall it is a very tasty beverage and provides a reasonable dose of caffeine. Prices for the loose leaf variety can seem a little high compared with certain other teas but a little can go a long way, particularly if you use the same leaves for multiple infusions.

mate infuse

If you're a tea drinker, you ought give yerba mate a try... and if you're not impressed, please send me your leftovers.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Some things simply should not be. Some ideas are so repulsive that to make them manifest ought be an abomination worthy of incurring the wrath of each and every tempestuous deity dreamed up throughout the history of man. One such vile monstrosity is the Koolickle.

The Koolickle, or Kool Aid Pickle, is made (at the hands of the wretchedly insane, no doubt) by emptying a jar of pickles of all pickling fluids and adding double strength Kool Aid and some extra sugar in its stead. I'm not sure how many days it takes for the Kool Aid to ruin the savory dills, one source in the New York Times says a week, but you may notice the color of the pickles has been completely warped by the sickeningly sweet solution.


I had the... pleasure... of being introduced to Koolickles through the generosity of my wife's coworkers who, in some psychotic fit of madness inspired by the New York Times article on the phenomenon, decided to make a batch at work using grape Kool Aid. They may not have left the dills in the solution for an incredibly long time as they were still rather green but decorated with disturbing purple stretch marks.

The aroma wasn't wholly unpleasant but still quite disturbing. Artificial grape flavoring is fairly disgusting itself and was the dominant scent while the vinegar smell lingered low in the mix giving the impression that the grape flavored dill had soured and adding to the nausea factor.

koolickle bitten

Eating the Koolickle is an increasingly difficult task. My first bite was bearable, I dare say even pleasurable. The strange combination of flavors was curiously appealing with that initial taste. However, every subsequent bite became exponentially more repulsive. I tried to soldier on for honor, duty, and because I was hungry but I had to abandon mission mid chew with approximately one-third of the pickle remaining. My dry heaves threaten to turn into something more vicious so I quickly tossed the last of the Koolickle into the sink and left until I could stomach delivering the remains to the trash can.

But don't take my word for it. This could be the first edible oddities home experiment. Go get a jar of pickles, empty out the fluids, add double strength Kool Aid and some extra sugar, leave it all sitting in the fridge for a week, then eat and enjoy. Just don't blame me for any projectile vomiting that ensues... you can't say I didn't warn you.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Persimmons always look like they're rotting during their short annual stay in the produce section. This probably has a lot to do with the small window of edibility during its transition from wood to mush.


The persimmon tree is part of the ebony family and is not closely related to any other commonly found fruits despite appearing to be an odd tomato/pumpkin hybrid. The skin is thicker than a tomato's and the fruit firmer when at the ripe stage but there is a similar quality to the appearance and texture of the flesh.

There is a sweet, festive, and perfumed quality to the persimmon's aroma which reminds me of autumnal celebrations and a mingling of vanilla and pumpkin scented candles. The mouthfeel is rather unique and can be quite unpleasant if the fruit isn't ripe enough. The name persimmon is said to be an adaptation from a Powhatan word (an Algonquin language) meaning "dry fruit" and this is certainly due to the paradoxically moist yet desiccating nature of the flesh. There is also a feeling of density not found in many other fruits in both the tactile and gustatory senses. The flavor is rich and sweet yet, like a well made dessert, still palatable and not overwhelmingly sugared. Like the scent, there are definite notes of vanilla and spiced pumpkin with hints of magnolia. It's hard to describe the unique flavor but imagine a tree engineered to bear fruit containing sweet potato pie filling.

persimmon cut

Despite the sometimes hefty price tag, persimmons are a nice little all-natural dessert to treat yourself to.