Wine From Outer Space

Wine From Outer Space is intoxicating, unearthly and surprising. It's also where I write about whatever I choose, and that's nice.

30 April 2009

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good Night

Survival in the modern age has become a perilous and exhausting affair. We escaped nuclear apocalypse at the hands of the dastardly Soviets (depicted in The Day After). We avoided invasion at the hands of the dastardly Soviets, and the devious Cubans (depicted in Red Dawn).

A supercomputer did not turn our own nukes against us (WarGames), our palnetary orbit did not collide with a comet or asteroid (Deep Impact, Armageddon), and so far, the seas have not drowned us like so many finely attired rats (The Day After Tomorrow).

There is another doomsday scenario, however, whose Hollywood foretelling has not yet met with a confident trouncing: The Andromeda Strain. 28 Days Later. Outbreak.

H1N1, the virus formerly known as Swine Flu, is this year's bugbear deluxe. Admittedly, the economy has held that position since September 2008. But we live in an era of change, and so nearly five months into 2009, here we are, looking to stock up on face masks and bottles of hand sanitizer.

CNN's Anderson Cooper, with whom we have become so accustomed to tramping around jungles and along dusty alleys of war zones, is now confined inside a studio, soberly discussing basic sanitary habits with representatives of the NIH and CDC. Now, we know, this is serious. "Don't use your hand to cover your mouth when you cough--cough into the crook of your elbow." I hoped to live to at least see 40.

President Obama took time out of his recent press conference to review a few grade-school aspects of proper hygeine (in case you missed Anderson Cooper): wash your hands, cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough (though he didn't specify the precise method), stay home if you're sick.

Vice president Biden destroyed the already fragile economy and sent hapless citizens leaping out of windows and diving in front of subways when he gravely warned the American populace that he would not willingly go into any confined area. Planes and, yes, even Joe's beloved trains, were now off-limits while the SuperBug of the millenium had its way with these defenseless, soft organisms--otherwise known as human life.

We are a resilient people, and we have accomplished much. We obtained our hard-won freedom from the British (thank you France). We reconstructed the fractured and blood-soaked pieces of a shattered union after the Civil War. We got around to letting black people vote, and eventually let them marry non-black people. We survived as a nation without sit-coms for probably 100 years or more.

There is hope. Previous global deaths have been averted, and it's possible, just possible, we may yet carry on as a species. The threat of a collapsed civilization grown too dependent upon computers wsa overturned on January 1, 2000 (and again on January 1, 2001, depending on how you interpreted the calendrics). Nature turned against its rightful master--man--with an alarming rise in KILLER BEE attacks, but we persevered, and now the cowardly bees are loathe to show their ridiculous little faces (/flex). Geopolitical instability still exists, but the lurking shadows of terrorists around every corner and under every bed have diminished over time. H5N1, the avian flu to end all flus from a few years ago, passed without eradicating half the planet's population. So far. . .

Ours is a culture that seems to require a certain amount of fear and terror, both imposed upon us and imposed outward on citizens of other nations. Fear is tied deeply to our national character. It started with fear of bears, Indians and witches. Haha, we were so primitive and naieve then. Our fear curve surpassed those passe elements, and moved on to encompass Soviets, communists, bees, germs, computers and space debris.

What's next is anybody's guess, but for every fear, terror and bump in the proverbial night, there will be a host of quick-fix consumer products to provide us with relief and embolden our nerve. Guns are still probably the most popular, and a well-stocked pantry of batteries, canned food and bottled water is nothing to sneeze at (into the crook of your arm, of course).

We are strong. Our mettle is true and our spines are hardy. And there are 1,330 shopping days left until December 21, 2012.

14 April 2009

Hog Heaven

I've neglected posting for far too long, so to make up for it, I give you....HOT DOGS!!

Hot dogs, without argument, are an ubiquitous American food. I always assumed the hot dog was a descendent of the Wiener Schnitzel, but a quick wiki search revealed that the Wiener Schniztel is not a sausage but rather a thin, crumb-coated veal cutlet that is fried. Here's to wiki-learning!

From whence, then, does the hot dog derive? Wiki reveals that the Wienerwurst or Vienna sausage, of Vienna, was born in the 15th century, and "given to the people on the event of imperial coronations, starting with the coronation of Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor as King".

However, as is often the the case in claims to fame, Wiki reports that "the hot dog has also been attributed to Johann Georg Lahner, a 18th/19th century butcher from the Bavarian city of Coburg who is said to have invented the 'dachshund' or 'little-dog' sausage and brought it from Frankfurt to Vienna."

Sold at baseball games and from carts on the streets of cities, hot dogs constitute a major cornerstone in American fare. As a kid I would eat them naked--that is, without a bun--and slathered in mustard and ketchup.

Hot dog purists will argue that ketcup (or catsup) is anatema to the hot dog; mustard (yellow mustard only, please) is the only acceptable accompaniment. Chicago holds quite a few food traditions as part of its diverse heritage, and the hot dog is no exception. Superdawg on Milwaukee is an iconic bit of Chicago--and American--history.

Established in 1948, Superdawg has been cranking out traditional Chicago dogs for over 50 years: hot dog, mustard, onions, hyper-green relish, pickled tomato, pickle, sport peppers and celery salt, all on a poppy seed bun. That's the Chicago way, and obviously the "mustard only" purists are mortified when they see a salad bar atop their beloved dog.

Beyond mustard, the only topping I usually seek out is sauerkraut, and finding the right kind of kraut can be a culinary odyssey in itself. First of all, the "major" canned/jarred brands such as Hunt's or Libby's simply won't do. They are not nearly pungent enough. I remember using Frank's brand with some success, and now Gundelsheim is my kraut of choice. And it must be plain kraut; Bavarian style, which is peppered with caraway seeds, is simply unacceptable.

Hideous aberrations exist in the hot dog world, which is not surprising given that most of us don't think too deeply about just how a hot dog is made, with good reason. Nevertheless, Frank-n-stuff hot dogs were a favored treat of mine when I was around 10 or so years old. The central core of the hot dog was hollowed out and replaced with "chili" or "cheese".

Spaghetti-Os with franks was a somewhat puzzling addition to the Chef Boyardee line...Spaghetti-Os with meatballs at least tried to sell the illusion of spaghetti and meatballs. Who eats spaghetti with cut up hot dogs? Maybe they were trying to "ineternationalize" the hum-drum meal of beans and weiners, but in the end the Spaghetti-Os with Franks was simply disgusting (and given that we're talking about Spaghetti-Os, that's saying something).

My college fraternity had their own kitchen and meal plan, and one of the regular freezer items was something called a Bagel Wurst. This was some sort of smoked hot dog or sausage, infused with "cheese," and then cocooned inside a soft and seemingly rye-like dough...presumably this was the "bagel" portion of the sobriquet. I usually ate it hung over, and in silence, serving a Sunday penance drenched in mustard.

Nothing, however, compares to the wonderment of a grilled hot dog. I could eat these plain, with no topping, on the bun. And I could eat ten of them. Preparation is probably the most important part of what makes or breaks a hot dog. "Lips and assholes" is how a friend of mine referred to hot dogs, rightly noting that the dog's constituent materials were really not choice cuts.

Symmetry is also important--I can't eat a hot dog whose ends overlap the bun, it's probably Freudian and I simply can't. Appearance goes a long way as well. Frankfurters tend to be "tied off" at the ends, what one friend calls "balloon knots." This makes the prospect of eating it impossible. Hot dogs must have innies, not outies.

Perhaps nothing has made the hot dog as famous as the hot dog eating contests on Coney Island, sponsored by Nathan's Famous. Held every July 4, this tradition is approaching its centennial. A more American contest--one of unrepentant (indeed, celebratory) gluttony--I cannot conceive. Somehow, America's fattest champions of competetive eating are not lately up to the challenge, however.

Normal-proportioned Japanese citizens have been taking the top prize in recent years, their lack of chins and jowls marking a somewhat puzzling and incongruous can they out-eat the morbidly fat Americans? They can see their feet and walk without panting!

Summer approaches, and so too the Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest. Perhaps out there is a true American hero, a real red-blooded son or daughter of liberty, who is up to the challenge and is brave enough to claim the hot dog eating honor for 2009. Pick up some clothes with elastic waistbands, and get training. FOR FREEDOM!!