Saturday, August 31, 2013

Why Did It Have To Be Snakes?

Sometimes a Mai Tai just isn't exotic enough. Sometimes, you need a drink to show how hard core you are when you're traveling abroad.

Really, there is only one answer: a tall glass of snake wine.

For such a bizarre beverage, it's actually pretty simple; it's rice or grain alcohol, with the added benefit a snake or two in the bottle, typically highly venomous snakes like cobras.

This concoction is common in Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam and is frequently sold as a cure-all. The snake venom and assorted juices mingle with the liquor, which is drunk in shot glasses due to its high alcohol content. Though it should be pointed out that the venom is presumably neutralized by the alcohol, making it safe to drink. Also, the snake inside is rarely eaten, unlike the mythical tequila worm.

Snake wine is used to cure everything from hair lose to poor eyesight and is even said to improve virility. Comparisons to snake oil are presumably unwelcome.

Generally, there are two ways to produce a bottle of the stuff. The most obvious method is take a whole snake and drop it in whatever bottle of rice liquor you have handy, with garnishes like medicinal herbs or other, smaller snakes. But some prefer to include just a select few bodily fluids like blood or the contents of a gall bladder. In any case it doesn't change the fact that you're basically drinking fermented snake juice.

Of course it's not just snakes. There's a wonderful variety of venomous animals you can buy immersed in their own brine (though you can't export them to most countries). Besides snakes there's tarantulas, scorpions, seahorses and even pangolins; all of them staring at you from the other side of the bottle. Judging you.

With that in mind I don't think anyone would judge you if you stuck with a Mai Tai.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Reason For The Season

In the distance comes the Stygian cries of unnameable things; the sky blackens, the rivers boil. All around me the land becomes parched and barren, the birds of the sky and beasts of the land flee as all is enveloped in primordial darkness. As I hear the mournful cries of the sea itself and gaze on those in the city, who groan and ache in despair I realize what has come to sow it's terrible benediction...

It can't be... is...

...album covers.

Marry Xmas by Korla Pandit

I guess Jambi had trouble finding work after Pee-Wee's Playhouse went off the air.

Tormato by Yes

You know things have gone bad when the band is throwing tomatoes at themselves. Oh, sorry; tormatoes.

The Fury by Gary Numan

Yeah Gary, I can really feel the rage. Nice bow tie.

Keep The Fire by Kenny Loggins

Kenny Loggins died for your sins.

Stay Hungry by Twisted Sister

Dee Snider has a very different idea of what "baby back ribs" entails than most.

Stronger Than Evil by Heavy Load

Featuring artwork by the Winchester Middle School Dungeons and Dragons Club.

Cool As Ice

Vanilla Ice won't let something as minor as a crayon factory explosion get between him and his artistic vision.

From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots by dälek

If you liked this, you should take a look at the artist's other works; Rememberence of the dälek, Planet of the dälek, Revelation of the dälek...

Return to Pooh Corner by Kenny Loggins

Kenny Loggins is back! this what the Danger Zone is supposed to look like?


Heino has come to spread yuletide merriment and to destroy all who oppose him. None can resist his death-ray tree.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Beware Of The Blob

I'm very picky when it comes to what I'm willing to eat. Most people I know have no problem eating cheese or oysters, but I'm put off by the strange methods that go into their production, or in the case of shellfish, their lifestyles. They're bottom-feeders you guys. They eat the dendrites of the ocean floor, that can't be good for you.

But reading about nasty food is a whole other thing entirely. I love delving into the horrifying mysteries of foreign cuisine; cataloging a growing menagerie of terrible, nigh-inedible monstrosities from around the world. To me, these delicacies aren't meant to be eaten. They're meant to be studied, kept in a glass jar and put on a shelf. Then you can safely watch them as they squirm inside their prisons, trying to escape.

But of all the food I've researched (and subsequently refused to eat), none seem as unappetizing, or as potentially dangerous as Kefir.

To understand Kefir, one must first understand it's more docile relative: Yogurt. Yogurt of course is fermented milk, using colonies of bacteria to convert lactose into lactic acid and other helpful byproducts. Now this is a fairly normal process in itself; fermentation is just a fact of life. After all, it's how you make cheese and beer. But like so many of life's little blessings, you can take this too far and start creating monsters.

See, yogurt is typically fermented with a single microbial species, almost always some variety of Lactobacillus. This isn't the case with Kefir, which is fermented with a venerable microcosm of bacteria and yeast, drawing from a multitude of diverse species across a variety of phyla. There's so many microbes living in any given Kefir colony that it's almost impossible to keep track of them all. Really, the only criteria for what goes into making the stuff is that it be a probiotic or a variety of yeast. That's it.

The result of all this is the Kefir grain: a gelatinous slurry of bacteria and yeast suspended in a matrix of proteins, lipids and sugar. It's essentially a community of living, growing microbes held together with stretchy goo, expanding to truly enormous proportions and becoming something not unlike a Portuguese Man O'War or The Blob.

Once a sizable colony has been cultivated, the grain is dropped in milk in a loosely-covered glass jar or other suitable container. With some periodic agitation, the milk is allowed to ferment over the next twenty-four hours, the grain acting like some sort of gene-seed. The container has to be loosely covered to allow built up Kefiran gases to be released. It should also be kept in a dark cupboard, as sunlight can break down the vitamins and kill bacteria.

After about a day, the liquid is run through a sieve and the grains are recovered, what you're left with is a thick, milky liquid absolutely filled with microflora. At this point you can drink it, pour it on cereal or let it continue to ferment, at which point it will only become thicker and more sour as more and more bacteria continue to grow in the liquid's saucy depths. But regardless of when you decide to drink it, expect Kefir to have a sour, tangy taste.

Kefir is most common in East Europe, including Russia, but it can be found all over the world from the Middle East to Chile. Perhaps this has to do with how easy it is to make; just take a grain and plop it in the milk of whatever animal is close by. You could make Kefir from cows, goats, yaks, even camels. And since there's no set limit on how long it can ferment for, there's a lot of room for experimentation.

That's all fine and good, but what happens to the grains afterwards? My sources tell me they're used to grow more colonies and ferment more of the drink. Good, but where did it come from in the first place? Somewhat suspiciously, Wikipedia points out that you cannot make your own grains from scratch, that you need to get them from someone who already has some stewing in their cupboard. Why is this? Is it unsafe to make your own? Who made the first Kefir grains and how long ago was it?

Apparently, no one actually knows where Kefir grains first came from. We as a species have been cultivating them for so long that their origin has been lost in time. For all we know these things could have arrived in a meteor. Although some claim they were extracted from the intestinal tracts of sheep. But I'm not convinced.

Especially not after reading about what they do when they're not immersed in milk. Since the grains are colonies of living bacteria, they themselves are arguably alive, showing traits more common to slime molds than any mere dairy, going so far as to move on their own accord and even split like giant amoebae. It can't be any coincidence that they look like tiny albino Hortas.

I'm not trying to alarm anyone out there. After all, there's plenty of evidence pointing to Kefir's health benefits. It's just...

...I don't know, I guess there's no such thing as being too careful.