So this seems to be a phenomenon endemic to Brooklyn. Not having a TV because you don’t have the money? Completely understandable. But there seems to be some kind of pride amongst hipsters in Brooklyn in simply not owning a television set. They do not watch TV online using their computers, nor do they go to someone else’s house to catch a program. The implication is that TV shows are simply beneath them, and they cannot waste their time on such plebeian pursuits.
When asked why they don’t own a TV, they proceed to regale you with all their hobbies that make having a TV useless. “Well, I don’t own a TV since I spend most of my time out in my organic garden that I built in a rusty dumpster.” Or, “I go to a lot of little indie shows and galleries, you probably haven’t heard of them, and I just don’t have time for TV.” All this is said with a smug smirk of superiority. By revealing that they don’t have a TV (and trust me, they’ve been itching to tell you), they imply that YOU, by even mentioning a TV show, are a member of the unwashed masses.
There is a sense of pity in their eyes as they look at you, the sad slave to the TV. You are now part of the unenlightened class, and if only you knew the joy of composting or thrift stores, surely you too would give up on your TV. These are types of people likely to refer to the TV as the “idiot box” or “boob tube,” as if they are geriatrics who grew up in a time when radio was king. Though devoted to their iPods or vinyl records, they look upon television with nothing but disdain.
This really rubs me the wrong way since it implies that TV shows are somehow inferior to music, movies, books, or other forms of entertainment and expression. Turning your back on television has you missing out on great shows that are more than just trash. Are shows like Breaking Bad, Planet Earth, Sherlock, or Game of Thrones really not worth their attention? Is creating Etsy “art” out of objects found in the gutter such a superior use of their leisure time? Are those of us who watch and actually enjoy such programs simply to be pitied?
How did TV get such a bad rap?
Update: Of course, the Onion has been covering this since 2000. It’s an epidemic!
So I am really into forensic science. I’ve been plowing my way through Forensic Files episodes, of which there are many. The show started in 1996, and it details the detective work and forensic testing that goes into solving a variety of crimes, mostly murders. As a morbid individual, I find this sort of stuff endlessly fascinating, though my roommates are both concerned with and alarmed by my preoccupation with crime. In college, I bought a book about serial killers and left it conspicuously on the coffee table. I suppose I hoped it would spark conversation, but it mostly just made guests back slowly out the door.
But you really do learn some cool things while watching this show. For instance, a body, mostly decomposed, was determined to be a drowning victim due to the dried-out diatoms residing in what remained of her lung tissue. These little bits of algae were enough to show that she had indeed drowned, and the species of diatom even helped determine in which body of water she had been originally dumped.
One of the most interesting episodes I’ve seen so far has been the case of Dr. John Schneeberger. People these days trust implicitly the validity of DNA tests, and when Dr. Schneeberger successfully passed not one, but three such tests, he was judged to be completely innocent. But his accuser and victim, who maintained that he had drugged and raped her at the hospital, was adamant. She fought the results of the tests for seven years, until his deceit was finally discovered. He had managed to foil the DNA tests by implanting the blood, and therefore DNA, of another person within his arm. He always insisted that the blood for the DNA tests be drawn from only his left forearm, where he had hidden a tiny vial beneath his skin that contained the blood of another man, combined with anticoagulants to fool the technicians. Witnesses present during the time that the doctor’s blood was drawn testified that they saw the needle pierce his skin, which was absolutely true. However, it was what was beneath that skin that fooled investigators for so many years. After his trial, Dr. Schneeberger only served four years of his sentence before being released and deported from Canada to his native South Africa.
The show reveals the importance of footprints, the power of saliva in cigarette butts, methods for lifting fingerprints off non-porous substances (hint: it involves Super Glue), and the scientific revolution that was PCR. Forensic anthropology, as detailed in the fascinating book Death’s Acre, allows scientists to identify a body decades, and sometimes centuries, after death. The Body Farm, located near the University of Tennessee Medical Center, is a research facility that tracks and quantifies the process of human decomposition. Bodies are studied in countless scenarios, including buried, underwater, or simply left to the elements. Such research has proved invaluable in the quest to rapidly and accurately identify the time of death in a homicide. Also, cops are apparently permitted to lie a LOT when pressuring a suspect for a confession. You’re allowed to say you have whatever evidence against them that you want, but can’t say that if they don’t confess, they’ll be put to death. Eeks.
Anyway, you really should watch this show on TruTV. Reruns are on constantly, so go ahead and learn a little something. Who knows, maybe the knowledge you gain will allow you to commit the perfect crime one day. Though having watched the show for years, I doubt the “perfect crime” even exists. Even without a body, you can still be convicted. As the great animation Something Left, Something Taken illustrates, forensic science relies on the assumption that in every interaction, you either leave something behind, or take something with you, or both. A telltale carpet fiber on your coat, or a single hair of your pet dog left at the crime scene, can connect you intrinsically to a bloody murder. Even an angled speck of blood spatter on your shirt can reveal that you were present while blood was actively flowing, instead of merely touching the body after the fact. We can’t all kill amongst plastic sheeting like Dexter, after all, so forensic science will remain a powerful investigative tool for years to come.
Poisonings, and even deaths, by blowfish are not unknown in Japan. However, the incidents are rare, and chefs must undergo years of rigorous training before being licensed.
Anyway, I thought I would take some time to talk about the full fugu (河豚 – blowfish, pufferfish) dinner in Japan.
My host mother just recently returned from such a meal, thankfully unharmed. What can you expect at such a pricey dinner? The full fugu experience can cost upwards of $200 per person, so here is a guide to make sure you know what you’re getting into.
|Tessa (てっさ): Fugu sashimi
Raw fugu sashimi (刺身) is a delicacy, and is displayed like a work of art. The meat is sliced so thin that you can see the plate underneath.
|Karaage (空揚げ): Fried
Karaage is a term for all manner of fried foods, but here we have fried fugu. The taste of fugu has been compared to frog’s legs, so frying doesn’t seem like a bad match!
|Yaki-fugu (焼き河豚): Grilled fugu
Nothing like fugu over an open flame. As long as it isn’t full of deadly neurotoxin.
|Nabe (なべ): Stew or hotpot
As covered in my nabemono post, many different kinds of foods can be served in a hotpot, and fugu is no exception. At the end when there is only broth left, you can add cooked rice (gohan – ご飯) and egg (tamago – 卵) to make a kind of fugu risotto. Tasty!
|Hire (ひれ): Fin
In one of the more bizarre ways to eat fugu, you can make a flavored sake known as hire-zake (ひれ酒) with the grilled fin of a fugu. It is all served hot, and after drinking the sake, eating the fin is optional.
|Shirako (白子): Fish sperm
And here we have the only kind of fugu that I have personally sampled. Shirako (literally, “white children”) is the soft roe or milt of various fish, though pictured here is that of fugu. I’ve also seen it translated as “sperm sack.” Charming. The taste was actually not terrible, though I had no idea what I was eating at the time. I can still hear my host father trying to explain to me what it was in English while dining at a very fancy restaurant. His cries of “It’s SPERM!” echoed off the walls. Slightly embarassing.
My parents had a somewhat unusual policy when I was growing up. Essentially, they didn’t believe in censorship of any form. I was allowed to watch whatever TV shows or movies I wanted, and certainly delved into non young-adult books as a child.
And while I mostly cherished this policy, sometimes it backfired on me. I had to learn early on what I could and could NOT handle as a kid. I clearly remember watching Alien for the first time in primary school, and being terrified of an alien bursting from my chest. I was a big fan of some of the more supposedly violent, raunchy, or “adult” cartoons of the ’90s, including Beavis and Butthead, Dr. Katz, Ren and Stimpy, and South Park. Of course, I also watched these alongside more kid-friendly shows like Animaniacs, Bobby’s World, and Rocko’s Modern Life, so I guess it all balanced out.
By middle school, I had seen more “off limits” movies than anyone else I knew, and my references to The Godfather‘s bloody horse head or Silence of the Lambs‘ Hannibal Lecter were met with blank stares. I developed a reputation for being rather morbid, though I thought I was simply being cultured.
I do remember a period of time when I simply went to far. My dad had a collection of Stanley Kubrick movies, including titles like A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Lolita, and Full Metal Jacket. Though I had seen Kubrick before, and enjoyed Dr. Strangelove’s hand with a mind of its own, I was unprepared for the sheer violence in the rest of the batch.
I managed to make it through The Shining without too much trouble, and it remains one of my favorite horror movies. Lolita grossed me out, seeing as how I was in middle school at the time, and could barely process feelings about boys my own age, much less ones old enough to be my father. Full Metal Jacket scared the crap out of me, and I had nightmares about classmates shooting themselves for weeks. But none approached the psychological damage wrought by A Clockwork Orange, during which I saw a penis for the first time. It was middle school, and I was a shy thing. To see graphic gang rape and full frontal nudity, all to the tune of Singing in the Rain was too much for me. I sat there, slack-jawed but unable to turn away.
Before I had taken the tape off the shelf, I had asked my mom if she thought the movie was any good. “Oh, yes,” she replied. “Quite good.” “Do you think I should watch it, then?” I asked. She answered in the affirmative. Now whether you believe in censorship or not, this is still an intense movie to see alone as a 14-year-old. Drugs, rape, and violence paraded across the screen in a seemingly endless loop. Even when Alex is taken to be “rehabilitated,” the horror continues in that dark conditioning room.
I finished the movie, and sat stunned for a while. Then I came out of my room, thrust the tape in front of my mom, and asked what the hell she had been thinking. “Well, you asked me if it was good, and I told you! You didn’t have to watch it. That was your own decision.”
Oh, well. The no censorship rule benefitted me much more than it harmed me, so I still think it was a good policy. As it turned out, I could take a lot more as a kid than society expected or thought was “appropriate,” and I think it made me a better, more open-minded person today.
A surprising number of people I know hate brunch. The very concept of breakfast in the afternoon offends their delicate sensibilities. True, in New York City at least, it seems like a pretty bourgeois thing to do. Groups of friends, mostly white women, cram together at a table meant for only two, then proceed to get loud, obnoxious, and drunk. The waits for NYC brunch spots are atrocious, and can often extend for more than two hours for a table. The prices are more lunch than breakfast, and the more hoity-toity restaurants will charge upwards of $10 for a small cocktail. Another complaint I heard once was that brunch gives you a shitty menu that is neither breakfast nor lunch, then jacks up the price at least 20%. Also, as a girl, you’re for some reason expected to dress up for brunch and look “cute.”
This is bullshit, and it doesn’t have to be this way. I am here today to defend brunch, so without further ado…
- Belgian waffles and eggs benedict are the shit: Yeah, you can get these at breakfast places, too, but who the hell wakes up that early on the weekend? I don’t usually enter the land of the living until 1 pm or so, and damn it, I want fun breakfast foods, too!
- Day drinking becomes socially acceptable: Sure, if you’re still in college, day drinking is always acceptable. But once you start to have mortgages and 401Ks, wandering around with a bottle at noon becomes somewhat frowned upon. Brunch brings drinks into a sunny, quaint cafe that serves homemade baguettes. That makes the drinking sort of European and cosmopolitan, right? Instead of being the furtive habit of an alcoholic?
- Unlimited drinking deals: Hey, when’s the last time you got a meal and unlimited drinks for $20-25? In Manhattan, that’s a hell of a deal, and it’s a way to drink with your friends on the cheap without feeling like a hermit in your apartment.
- Sunglasses during a meal are expected: You are probably hung over at your brunch, and nobody wants to see your ugly-ass eyes. Keep ‘em covered, and know that many other so-called rules of etiquette are suspended during a brunch with friends. Feel free to text, or talk about inappropriate sexual exploits.
- Unhealthy foods are encouraged, and plentiful: Shit, did you just order a salad with your meal? Replace those with home fries. Who do you think you are?
- Unholy food creations are de rigueur: You want a hamburger with sausage, bacon, guacamole, AND a fried egg on top? Shit, that’s all? Any brunch kitchen has all that and more. Go ahead and mix your breakfast and lunch ingredients together! Shrimp and eggs, grits and pico de gallo, whatever.
- Dim sum: Possibly the best brunch of all. Sit in Chinatown, order possibly horrific items off a dozen carts, and eat until you can no longer walk.
Damn it, I guess I really am pretty white. Not that my paleness left anything in doubt, but still. I usually try not to act too much like a white chick, but here we are. Reading a post extolling the virtues of brunch. I am ashamed of myself.
America has some favorite fall foods like pumpkins and candy apples, and Japan is no different with certain dishes and ingredients strongly associated with autumn. How many have you tried?
|Satsuma-imo (薩摩芋): Sweet potato
These are very similar to yams, though the flesh is softer and the inside is more yellow than orange. The outside is often purplish in color, and satsuma-imo are often used in tempura or candied as a dessert (pictured). In Kyoto, I often heard the loud, broadcasted voice of the yaki-imo (焼芋 – baked sweet potato) man as his truck passed down the street during the fall evenings.
|Kuri (栗): Chestnuts
Though more associated with winter in the US, in Japan chestnuts are very much an autumn food. They can be roasted, boiled, or cooked with rice to make kuri-gohan. The related maron (マロン) chestnuts are mostly used in desserts.
|Matsutake (松茸): Matsutake mushrooms
Matsutake are a type of very expensive pine mushroom in Japan. They usually grow under the fallen leaves of certain varieties of pine tree, which makes harvesting a very painstaking process. As such, these mushrooms, like truffles, are quite pricey. The cost has gone up even more due to a pine nematode decimating the population of the necessary domestic trees in the past 50 years or so. High-grade matsutake grown in Japan can be up to $909/lb, though imported mushrooms average at $41/lb. In comparison, black truffles are usually $127-383/lb and white truffles are $2200-1000/lb (according to Wikipedia). Matsutake can be cooked with rice, put in soup, steamed, fried in tempura, and much more.
|Kaki (柿): Persimmon
Japanese kaki are most widely cultivated persimmons in the world. The sweet fruit can be eaten raw once ripe, or dried for later.
When I was little and people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always answered, “An alien.”
I wrote stories where I featured as an alien with special powers, though I spelled it “alian.” I ran around with a “tail” made of a telephone cord stuck into the back of my pants, and I wore those springy alien antennae headbands on a regular basis. Outside. In public.
One year for Halloween my mom rented me a scratchy full-body tiger costume. I decided it wasn’t unique enough, and so I added the antennae to become a “space tiger.” I dreamed of spaceships and the wonderful adventures I’d have flying around the universe, a la Flight of the Navigator. Maybe I, too, could time travel to the magical land of the 1980s and be smuggled around by a pink-haired Sarah Jessica Parker?
In primary school, perhaps second grade, our school play involved a horribly-written script about mice. My other frequent dream was that I’d one day fall asleep and wake up as an animal, so I was pretty pumped for this play. All the students needed mouse costumes, but the catch was that half the class would be regular mice, and half would be SPACE MICE. So here was a play that combined not only animals with TAILS, but ALIENS, too! I was so excited I thought I was going to pee myself. I’d be the best space mouse that ever strut and fret her hour upon the stage.
But alas, we did not get to choose our groups, and on the fateful day I was placed in the regular mouse category. I was heartbroken, and threw an absolute fit about the injustice of it all. I still insisted on wearing my alien antennae with my mouse costume around the house, but I sadly had to put it aside the night of the play.
Looking back on it all, I don’t understand why I was so obsessed with aliens, but there it was. I wore my mouse sweatpants on a daily basis for a while, despite the fact that a massive homemade satin rat tail emerged from the back. I was the coolest second grader EVER.
Every street has a Bad Choices Boulevard, or the BCB, as I like to call it.
It’s that dusty road in the vicinity of downtown, but not in the heart of the city. It’s off the beaten path, and you only ever travel it if something horribly wrong has happened in your life. You were faced with a choice at some point, and your decision at the time was fuck it.
It’s got your pawn shops, liquor stores, the county jail, the impound lot, bail bondsmen, drug dens, gun stores, and let’s say houses of ill repute. There is nothing for you on this road unless you are seeking, selling, or suffering the legal ramifications of hedonistic SIN. But you have to admit, it’s convenient that everything is grouped together. After posting bail, you can immediately go get hammered or high, maybe buy a firearm, and most likely end up back in jail that very same day.
In Las Vegas, the BCB is slightly off the old section of the strip, near the Golden Nugget. And this version has several extra perks, including blinding sand, dark dank casinos, and a taco stand that appears to serve tacos of the, well, human variety.
On this street, you begin to see hints of the Vegas that Hunter S. Thompson described. Only natives, or very unlucky tourists, venture here, and everyone is on a mission. You do not walk the BCB to soak up the local flavor, nor do you wander here with a plastic cowboy boot full of strawberry daiquiri. Cirque du Soleil ain’t gonna do a show here, and the only fountain you might see is being used to wash a hooker’s clothes.
So if you are meandering through a city and suddenly find yourself on the BCB, just turn around. Unless you’ve gotten your car impounded or something. Then just cut loose and have fun, and turn your shit into shitade. Or lemonade. Or however that goes. You get the idea.
Nabe (or nabemono 鍋物, なべ物), is a type of Japanese one-pot dish where a big pot is heated in the middle of the table, and the diners cook the food themselves. Nabe is usually served during the colder fall and winter months when families and friends gather together and share a big stew.
There are several different varieties depending on the ingredients added, and where in Japan the recipe originated. One of the most well-known types in the US is sukiyaki (すき焼き), which consists of thinly sliced beef along with many vegetables and tofu and is boiled in a teriyaki-like sauce of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. The ingredients are then dipped in beaten raw eggs before being eaten. At the end, udon or soba noodles can be added to soak up the flavorful broth.
Shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ, literally meaning “swish swish”) is very similar to sukiyaki, though the broth is more savory than sweet. The broth may just be water, or else lightly flavored with konbu (seaweed). Ingredients are then dipped in ponzu (see below) or sesame sauce.
Oden (おでん) is another variety where food can be added at any time instead of only at the beginning. Ingredients in addition to the ones below may include boiled eggs, carrots, potatoes, green onions, and more.
Common Nabemono Ingredients:
A large, mild radish native to East Asia. It can be eaten raw, cooked, pickled, or grated.
A tart, citrus-based sauce used for dipping ingredients in shabu-shabu or other dishes. It is made with mirin, rice vinegar, katsuobushi, konbu, and citrus juice (such as yuzu [like a grapefruit], sudachi, daidai [a bitter orange], kabosu, or lemon).
Dried, fermented, and smoked flakes of skipjack tuna, also known as bonito. It’s often used to make dashi (fish stock), and as a topping for many Japanese foods.
Edible kelp seaweed often used to make dashi soup stock in Japan. It can be pickled, dried, and even made into tea (which tastes like the ocean to me).
Fish or meat balls (if meat, usually chicken). The fish balls I’ve had have been gray and sometimes disturbingly crunchy (bones, fins, and eyes are all included). They are often featured in some miso soups as well.
Often seared or grilled, but sometimes just boiled raw in the pot.
Edible crysanthemum greens. It’s often used in Cantonese cuisine, but is popular in Japan as well.
Common Japanese mushroom used in many dishes. Can be dried, sauteed, or boiled. Usually only the caps are used.
Also known as enoki, these are available fresh or canned.
A type of thin buckwheat-flour noodle. They are often served chilled in summer and hot in winter. Can be made into many different kinds of soup.
A type of thick wheat-flour noodle. Like soba, these are often served cold in summer and hot in winter. Can be a part of many kinds of soup dishes, depending on the toppings.
Processed fish cakes made from varieties of whitefish and additives like MSG. Spiral-shaped loaves are often called “naruto” after the Japanese city which has a well-known whirlpool. The white fish paste is called surimi (擂り身), and is also present in fake crab in the US.
Another surimi product made with salt, sugar, starch, and egg whites along with the fish.
A mottled gray, firm gelatin-like substance which is mostly flavorless. The blocks can be cut into thin noodles and used in oden or sukiyaki. The gel itself is made from plants.