An atypical classroom

Ten years ago, I never imagined I would be taking a college class that involved sniffing whiskeys and playing with jiggers (not nearly as dirty as it sounds); in which the final evaluation tested my ability to free pour 1.5 oz. and mix 12 drinks in 12 minutes. But here I am, in that class doing those very things and more. The beverage labs at JWU were recently featured in a NYT article that characterized this component of the curriculum as a rarity, even for a professional culinary arts program. Its classes like this one, even though I often bemoan them, that convinced me to choose JWU in the first place. Even though I’m not actually preparing food, I’m learning about flavor combinations, regional specialties, interesting tidbits on concepts like terroir and aging that are useful in and of themselves and, of course, apply not just to beverages but to food as well. A culinary education that encompasses, or at least introduces, the broader context: how flavors, concepts, preferences, and techniques are informed by historical, geographic, and cultural circumstances (the history of sugarcane is the history of rum).

Three cocktails, two ways:


“Save a red, eat a gray!”

No doubt some of you have already come across this article in the NYT Dining section today.  Given that I like to think of myself as a squirrel b/c of my predilection for nuts, seeds, and other earthy foodstuffs (and because I can be beady-eyed, puffy-cheeked, and cute too), I cringed at the thought of masticulating on the meat of my fellow brethren.  But given all the yummy things they scrounge around for, I can easily imagine squirrel meat being gamey, succulent and delicious — perhaps worth a try.  Thoughts?

(from NYT)

Spam on you

One of the images loudly greeting NYT online readers today is this spam burger: 


The article this image accompanies discusses the increasing demand, and resultant production, of spam as a consequence of the economic recession.  This is hardly surprising, as are the rising sales of similar products like instant mac & cheese and ramen.  The article also briefly discusses the historical and cultural significance of this mystery meat.

It goes without saying that spam has acquired a bad rap.  One only need OED it to reveal that spam is a verb meaning ‘to give (a person) an unpleasant task,’ or ‘to flood (a network, esp. the Internet, a newsgroup, or individuals) with a large number of unsolicited postings, or multiple copies of the same posting’.  As a noun, it can refer to the specific Spam brand or to the generic concept of tinned, ‘luncheon meat’.  Even if I used it unconventionally, as in ‘spam on you’, I’m almost sure you’d get my gist.  No matter how you spin it, the negative connotations abound.

I’ve never developed a fondness for spam, but certainly understand its value as an affordable and convenient source of protein, especially in times such as these.  Moreover, I find it interesting that spam has strong personal significance for many Americans, usually as a staple ingredient in fondly-remembered childhood meals.  While frankly, the idea of ‘meat with a pause button’ scares me, this notion of it as a link to one’s past especially resonates with me.  Sure, I am one of ‘those people’ who rejects spam pretty much on principle, but I like to think that doesn’t preclude me from appreciating it more objectively: among other things, as a food object of historical and cultural import, social fascination, daily use, and personal relevance.  For all the spam lovers out there, know that the rest of us are not all haters.