6

So Ugly I’m Cute?

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(ed. note – Due to the reaction humans have to blobfish looks, Bob has requested that we only use one picture. Therefore, the rest of the pictures will not be of blobfish.)

Hobart, Tasmania – Greetings. Ahab the Whale here. As you may recall, Cat wanted each of us to report on an unusual animal this year. Recently I received a reader request to know more about blobfish. Since Oceania is my beat, I thought I’d do both at the same time.

Easier said than done. Blobfish live far, far under the sea. They move along just above the ocean floor. Way, way too much pressure for a guy like me. No Internet. No cell phones. I talked with my colleagues. Someone knew a guy who knew a guy who had done something with blobfish. It was the best I got.

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The guy suggested I set up a relay to get the questions down and the answers up. I needed three intermediaries between me and Bob the blobfish, with an equal number of translators. I hope I didn’t lose everything in translation.

Ahab: It’s nice to meet you Bob.

Bob: Thanks for talking to me.

Ahab: Pardon me for asking. Do you look like a blob?

Bob (sighing): No I look pretty much like any other fish down here. But because it’s so deep I don’t need much in the way of muscle or bone to keep my shape. Those stupid humans have never seen me down here.

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Ahab: You’ve never met a human?

Bob: No it’s way too deep for them. They only see us when one of us gets caught in their fishing nets.

Ahab: That’s a shame. I’ve seen some of them after they’ve been in the water for a while. Not a pretty site. Just like them to judge though.

Bob: Since they can’t come down here, they can’t see what we really look like. I’ve heard them say we’re about 12 inches long and 20 pounds. I don’t know what that means, but I’m guessing it’s dead weight. (A little blobfish humor, I think.)

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Ahab: So is the food good?

Bob: Not bad. We mainly eat crabs, sea urchins, and shellfish. We just move along and wait for it to swim into our mouths.

Ahab: That is a good deal. Do you have to worry about someone else swimming along and getting you?

Bob: We’re pretty much top of the food chain down here. Except for the humans of course. I’ve heard we don’t even taste good to them. They think we’re “rubbery.”

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Ahab: That’s probably good. I’ve heard they’re rather tasty.

Bob: Hmm, that’s interesting. (I think this might have been a side comment from one of the translators.)

Ahab: Do you have a partner or children?

Bob: I don’t believe the humans know anything about our reproduction, and I’d prefer to leave it that way. Once they know anything, they always want to know more.

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Ahab: I understand completely. It’s really rather embarrassing the amount of time they spend discussing the sex lives of other species. The other thing is how long we live. What difference does it make to them? We don’t care.

Bob: Exactly! It’s not like there’s any way to tell down here.

Ahab: You’ve been a wonderful guest. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Bob: I would like to suggest that it’s not very polite for the humans to have a contest for the ugliest animal.

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(Canadian Mr. Rude)

Ahab: Don’t let it bother you, Bob. They only do it to take their minds off how funny looking they are.

Bob: Thanks, Ahab. It was nice talking to you.

Ahab: Take care of yourself, Bob.

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(pictures courtesy of Google Images)

2

Attention Velveetistas!

At work, we have been getting callers anxiously wondering whether we still have any Velveeta left. As you may be aware, Kraft is warning that there have been production problems which may create a shortage of the pseudo-cheese affecting Super Bowl parties. No problem, you think, I’ll switch to guacamole. Wrong. Avocado shortage due to drought in California. Maybe I’ll go retro with a fondue theme. Wrong again. Cacao bean shortage due to poor growing conditions in Africa. It’s starting to sound like a crisis.

My first instinct was to send you to Facebook. You may not be aware, but you can “friend” Velveeta. It has thousands of “friends”, and I am sure that some chat group has addressed the possibility of a Velveeta-free Super Bowl party. They might also point out that there is something called Queso Blanco Velveeta. You might consider making your queso dip out of Queso Velveeta which does not enjoy the popularity of “real” Velveeta and is still plentiful.

However, I have a better idea. Why don’t you use the opportunity to try out something really unique? I have done a little rooting around and come up with some foods that should make your party the talk of the water-cooler (or ER) for days. I’m not really sure where to get some of this stuff, although I would guess that most of it can be found for sale on the Internet. I found the foods at BootsnAll.com, a travel site. It’s too late to make most of them at home, so try a sampler before you plan for next year. And don’t forget the beer. Lots and lots of beer.

We can start with the insects. We all have bugs flying around. Why not make them useful? In Southeast Asia, you can get silkworms, grasshoppers or water bugs fried, roasted or toasted. Since it’s been so cold and snowy this winter, I would recommend ordering out, but you can probably go to the pet-food store and have a do-it-yourself kind of thing during halftime.

Staying in the Far East, you may want to try the Cambodian treat of deep-fried tarantula. You need to keep them in the deep-fryer until the legs are stiff. You may season them however you wish. Although obviously you cannot dip them in Velveeta this year. You probably stand the best chance of getting fresh tarantula in the Southwest this time of year. Do not use your room-mate’s pet.

Korea is the home of the next dish. Sannakji is made by chopping a live baby octopus into several pieces, seasoning it with sesame seeds and oil, and serving it immediately. If prepared and presented correctly, the parts will still be wriggling on the plate. This dish is properly served with chopsticks. The suction cups on the tentacles are still active and will stick in your mouth or throat until thoroughly chewed. If a tentacle gets caught in someone’s throat, it may very well choke them. Please watch your guests closely if you serve this dish.

If you want to wash your Asian foods down with an authentic beverage, you could try some Vietnamese snake wine. A venomous snake is left to steep in rice wine for many months to let the poison dissolve in the wine. The ethanol makes the venom inactive, and the snake is said to have significant medicinal value. The wine may be classified as a rose due to the snake blood imparting an attractive pink color. There are variations on this wine across Southeast Asia, including one where the belly of the snake is sliced open to let the blood drain into the wine and served immediately. Of course you could also try some plain rice wine. Some folks will still opt for Coors (especially the Denver fans).

Lest you think I am fixated on the Asians, I will move on to Europe. Sweden gives us surstomming, fermented Baltic herring. The herring is caught just prior to spawning and fermented in barrels. After a couple of months, the fermentation continues in the can. You may want to open it outside or the house will smell like fermented fish. It can be eaten with flat crispy bread and boiled potatoes. Ritz crackers would probably work. It is popular with beer, so it is the perfect Super Bowl treat.

The Ukraine brings us salo. It is a slab of cured fatback sliced and served on a piece of bread. Once again Ritz is an option. It is generally served with vodka. But it sounds pretty close to some of the things my grandma ate in upper Michigan, so I imagine it would go just fine with beer.

Here’s something that may not taste any better than it sounds: lutefisk. It’s from Norway and Sweden, and is very popular there. I’m told they also eat a lot of it in Minnesota and the upper Midwest. Must have something to do with being in the snow so much of the year. Fish, traditionally cod, is aged in lye for several months. I have heard that it has a strong odor, but have never heard the odor described. It becomes gelatinous in the lye (so you may be able to eat it on a Ritz with some effort).

Still looking? Let’s go back to insects. Or insect larvae. In more proof that we really are a global village, I have larvae snacks from both the Old World and the New. First, from Sardinia we have casu marzu, also known as maggot cheese. The farmer introduces the larvae of the cheese fly to the sheep’s milk cheese. Fermentation is caused by the larvae digesting the cheese fats. It must be eaten while the maggots are alive or it becomes toxic. The EU has banned casu marzu, but you can still get it on the black market in Sardinia and Italy. We do have an extradition agreement with the EU which could be an added cost.

On this side of the Pond, we have Mexican escamoles. Escarmoles are ant larvae which are eaten in tacos with guacamole. They are said to taste nutty and buttery. Since guacamole may also be pricey this year, you would be serving a true delicacy.

My next three foods are found in the U.S., so they may already be known to you. We have scorpion suckers, Rocky Mountain Oysters, and pickled pigs feet. Scorpion suckers are exactly that: scorpions in candy on a stick. Pickled pigs’ feet are pork bits in brine. And Rocky Mountain Oysters are a type of seafood.

Not so fast. To make the oysters, you take the testicles of bulls and peel them. Coat them in flour and seasonings; deep fry them. Then serve them up with dipping sauce. It sounds like the perfect macho snack for the Super Bowl. You can follow them up with fish and chips gelato from Australia, which is what it sounds like: ice cream flavored as fish and chips.

After all these choices, you’re gonna sound kinda lame if you opt for cut-up vegetables or chips and dip.