Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Grass Jelly Soda [Drink]

I am an adventurous eater, and sometimes, that can backfire.

Every now and then, someone asks me about my least successful food experiences, and I only have one answer for them: grass jelly soda. Sometimes the name is so inexplicable that they're stuck, and don't bother to ask about it. Other times they're intrigued, and want to know more. But despite myself, I've been unable to give them an adequate explanation of my horror. It just seemed like too much. But at long last I've decided to, if not conquer my fear, at least put it into words.

During high school, my chemistry teacher, who despite acting as a professional taste-tester for Coca-cola for a several years (which I thought sounded cool), was mind numbingly, and perhaps competitively boring, managed to impart only one interesting piece of wisdom:

"If you want to eat really healthy, just eat brightly colored [natural] food."

I bring this up, because the color of grass jelly soda, and particularly the grass jelly, is almost utterly devoid of brightness. I think it's the darkest green a semi-opaque substance can be without turning black. It stands to reason that grass jelly soda is in no way healthy, but it goes beyond that. While the colors of other foods are inviting, the color of grass jelly soda is a warning. It's a color with glittering, malevolent intent, like the eyes of an attacking swamp monster.

For the taste, imagine blending a bunch of grass, bitter-glossy leaves, a child's handful of potting soil, with a hint of mint. Add to that the same cloying sweetness of the liquid amoxicillin doctors prescribe to children.

Finally, "grass" "jelly" "soda" contains no grass (it's made from some sort of mint-like leaf) and no soda (it was a syrupy liquid. To be fair, "Grass Jelly Drink," is far more common. My can had no English on it, and so the store where I bought it was responsible for that element of false advertising). As for the jelly, that's where words really fail. It's not so much jelly, as gelatinous-substance, and also, it's chunky.

Ultimately, truth in advertising wouldn't have mattered: I still would have bought it had it been called "Malevolent Chunky Gelatinous-substance in Leaf Syrup" (not that far-fetched if you've ever wander around a Super 88 market). Apparently there are many different kinds, and I feel like I should give another variety a try, but it's hard. Very hard. I'm just not sure I'm ready yet.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Reading the Street

Lilly, my parents' dog, is a sweetheart. When you're sick she'll lie down on the floor next to your bed and keep you company. She very rarely barks, and instead communicates using a variety of whines, all with different pitches and tones, to let us know she's hungry, wants to go outside, or is excited to see someone. When her food bowl is brought to her outside she prances merrily until it's put down. She occasionally jumps up to greet people, but usually she returns to the ground quickly. Certainly, there's no question: Lilly has many admirable traits. She is a good dog.

However, despite what might be expected of a German Shepherd, she's never struck me as particularly smart. She completed an obedience school class, and then returned for remedial work when she was about two years old. Of course, practice makes perfect, and while they strongly encouraged me to practice my trumpet every day for a couple of years, my parents haven't done much to ensure that Lilly continued her education and practice at home.

Now, at over 4 years old, it's not clear what Lilly remembers/learned from her training. She sometimes acknowledges her name by lifting her head, but rarely comes when called. She's trained my father to play a form of fetch in which he throws, she brings the ball or stick back to within about fifteen feet, and only relinquishes it once another ball is thrown. After the final walk of the night, we have successfully conditioned her to sit and wait for her treat, but outside of that context, and without a treat forthcoming, Lilly simply looks on quizzically as I encourage her to do tricks.

Despite not retaining much memory of her schooling, I still hold out hope for Lilly, because I believe she's an inquisitive reader, and as I always tell my writing students, reading can make you better at just about anything. While the house is filled with books, I'm not suggesting that Lilly is a big fan of literature, rather she's a street reader, a reader of scents.

When my parents take Lilly on her final walk of the night around 10, they let her sniff around a little, but especially as Autumn descends and it becomes colder, the walk is more of a march. We complete the .75 mile loop in about 15 minutes, however we have to pull Lilly away from her reading in order to make it in around that time.

Once I had the idea of Lilly reading in my head I couldn't get it out. I hate being bothered while in the midst of a book, and if some tried to pull me away while I was reading the last few sentences of a page, I might snap at her. Lilly never does, which I think is a testament to her good nature.

So when I was dog-sitting a few weeks ago I decided that I would give Lilly all the time she wanted to Read the Street. That same .75 mile loop that usually takes 15 minutes, took us nearly an 1.5 hours, but I'm sure Lilly was satisfied with her read. I have yet to determine exactly what constitutes a page, but I like to imagine each area she sniffs as a poem that she's studying carefully so she'll remember every detail. Lilly is especially lucky to read a book that's constantly changing, and I hope to give her another chance to read it in full the next time I visit.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Audio Piece in Anomalous 3

I have a piece in the latest release from Anomalous Press.

The piece is a multi-track Michael Martone interview remix,in which Martone elucidates his thoughts on becoming a writer, the purpose of MFA programs, and the nature of authorship. Despite these heady concepts, the piece clocks in at a mere one minute long.

Michael Martone is the author of many books, including his latest release Four For A Quarter. Buy the book and follow Michael's meditation on fourrays (ha!) on Twitter.

Bonus Points: Can you identify all the writers in these Four For a Quarter photos?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Book Review #15

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party BrideThe Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Do you remember playing Oregon Trail in middle school? God, I loved that game. You earned some outrageous score for completing it as a school teacher, but I think I only managed that a couple times. Beating it as a banker was a foregone conclusion. You just bought extras of everything wagon related, lots of ammo, and made your party the maximum size. Sure, Mary-Ann, Todd, and Uncle Biff were almost certain to get lost, come down with malaria, or get bit by a snake, but if you had enough people in your party you were all but guaranteed to win.

The first third of the book covers familiar territory for any one who loved Oregon Trail (or the Little House on the Prairie series). Daniel James Brown is an excellent lister. He loving describes all the supplies that each family brought, including food, and extra axles and tongues. He also described the fire arms that people would have brought, as so essentially archaic that it made me question the hunting dynamic of Oregon Trail. That was one of the most fun parts of the game, but as it turns out a good bow and arrow probably fired with more speed and accuracy.

After about the first third of the book, the book becomes misery followed by more misery with a misery cherry on top. It's Christmas: let's boil a little more buffalo hide and have a handful of nuts! It doesn't get better from there. Around page 200 there's a cliffhanger a la "but his troubles were just beginning." I nearly stopped reading right there. I mean enough is enough. But while the writing left something to be desired, the author's research was excellent. While exhausting, the content was as compelling as a suspense-thriller-horror story.

One small note: I think the title of this is pretty misleading. Okay, so I can't verify whether the stars were in fact indifferent, but the subtitle concerning the bride felt pretty irrelevant to me. It's possible the story spent a little more time on her, but mostly she just felt like one more in a fairly long list of characters.

Anyway, it all makes me wonder, with the many upgrades to Oregon Trail over the years, why did they never release a Donner party edition?

View all my reviews