7

Somewhere Under the Sea

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The Pacific Ocean Survivors’ Society is holding its quarterly meeting. The members have each lost a family member or close friend to human interaction other than subsistence fishing.

Moderator: What are the Society’s rules?

Octopus: No killing.

Shark: No maiming.

Blue Fin Tuna: Only target the guilty.

Sea Turtle: Brains, not brawn.

Group: No acting like humans!!

Moderator: Excellent! At our last meeting, we decided to find creative ways to get back at the humans without resorting to violence. Did you have any luck?

Dolphin: We took your advice and tried to work in groups. Remember how I was telling you about my cousin who was netted by a fishing boat going for “legal” catch? Mr. Sawtooth Shark came up with a plan. It was wicked awesome!

Shark: It really wasn’t a big deal. We found the same boat and waited for them to begin to raise their net. A few friends and I surrounded the net and sawed through it.

Tuna: Not only did they save the dolphins, they saved all the tuna! It was epic!

The dolphin, shark, and tuna stand up and slap fins. The rest of the group applauds.

Shark: The best part for me was that Mr. Dolphin rounded up a bunch of his friends and saved my group from becoming Shark Fin Soup.

Dolphin: It seemed the least we could do. When the fishermen got close to the sharks, we came up out of the water. Humans think we’re cute so we put on a show. By the time the humans got bored, the sharks were miles away.

More applause.

Moderator: That’s outstanding! Anyone else?

Pufferfish: Mr. Electric Eel and some of the jellyfish helped me. There was a boat fishing for some of my friends. Mr. Eel had climbed up one of the ropes and into the leg of the fisherman. He gave him a little shock.

Eel: It was pretty funny. I couldn’t do any damage, but you would have thought I’d cut off his leg. He let go of his part of the winch and the net started to fall into the water. A couple of the humans reached over the side of the boat. They didn’t know the jellyfish were waiting for them. You should have heard them howl and swear. They started the engine and left, net trailing behind.

Jellyfish: We only stung each human one time. No danger. But how could we resist? Humans are so stupid. Eating a fish just to prove it won’t kill you?

Moderator: Outstanding! You have all definitely got the right idea. We have time for one more story. Anyone?

Barracuda: Mr. Octopus and I teamed up against one of those humans in the funny suits who tries to pretend they’re one of us under the water.

Everyone snickers.

Barracuda: One of them got near me with a spear gun. Octopus tapped him on the shoulder. The human totally freaked. Stared looking around. Octopus managed to stay behind him. I tried not to laugh.

Octopus: Finally, I got tired and swam in front of him. He looked terrified. I squirted a little ink on him. When it cleared, he started to come toward me. I stopped. He stopped. Mr. Barracuda tapped him on the shoulder and hid in some grass by the time the human turned.

Barracuda: The human didn’t know whether to watch for Octopus or me.

Octopus: I came up and put a tentacle around his shoulder to explain that we could be friends if he put the gun down. Before I could say a word, he was almost up to the surface.

Cheering and laughing all around.

Moderator: I’m so proud of all of you! This has been a great meeting, and I think we have all learned a lot.

All nod.

Moderator: Before we break for snacks and conversation, I want to remind everyone that our next meeting will be [TOP SECRET]. In the meantime, anyone who can lend a fin, claw, tentacle, whatever at the Great Barrier Reef is encouraged to do so. The corals and their neighbors really need our help. Thank you all for coming.

Everyone moves toward the food, laughing and talking.

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.