Monday, January 25, 2010

Start your celebrations now, haggis is back!

That's right, haggis.  It's been banned from the USA for 21 years.  What is haggis?  I'm glad you asked.  Basically it's offal and oats stuffed into a sheep's stomach.  Offal.  Not awful, offal.  Well, actually, awful.  But that's not the point.  It's utter genius to take a sheep's heart, liver and lungs, chop it up with onions, suet, spices, salt, pepper and shove it right back into that sheep's own stomach!   Like a round little handbag stuffed with offal goodness.  Folklore suggests they were carried by Scottish cattle drovers on their long treks to take their herds to market.  Perfect packed lunch.  Here's a nice photo of a whole lot of them, note they appear to have belly buttons, creepy!

Haggis is fascinating stuff.  It's history dates back to at least 1520, the first record of a poem written about it.  Never before has a food item inspired such devotion.  Poems have been written about haggis ever since, most famously by Robert Burns, known as Scotland's national poet.  On Burns Night, traditionally held during the week of January 25th, poems about haggis are recited, songs about haggis are sung, everyone will be expected to eat the haggis, either before or after a lot of whiskey drinking (preferably after, so you forget what's actually in the haggis).

You may be asking yourself right now, why do I say haggis is back?  I'm glad you asked that as well, good question!  Haggis was banned from the US in 1989 at the height of so called "mad cow" disease hysteria.  All offal was seen as possibly infected with mad cow disease.  Presumably, sheep would have been fed other sheep, indeed perhaps they were even fed haggis, which would result in "mad sheep" disease.  This was never proven, but pretty much all meat from the UK was suspect.  What's truly sad about this is that we American's were robbed of not only eating haggis, but also haggis hurling (sorry, that's not actually what happens after you eat it, but competitive throwing of haggis), haggis eating contests and indeed, Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner, the fusion of Burns Night and Chinese New Year (brilliant!).  

The World Organization for Animal Health recently ruled that sheep's lungs are safe to eat.  Which is good news for anyone who was really hankering for sheep's lungs, because as a result, the US Department of Agriculture is currently drafting new regulations to allow the UK to import haggis into the US once more. 

As good old Robbie Burns said himself, in his "Address to a Haggis":

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

If you'd like to read the whole thing, try to make sense of it, and get a translation, go here:

I couldn't have said it better myself.  Really, I couldn't. I have actually eaten haggis, and all I can say is that it was kind of bland and crumbly.  Since I no longer eat meat, I wouldn't touch the stuff with a ten foot cattle prod, but it's still fascinating.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dear California, I will miss you...kind of

I will certainly miss living in LA, it's been very unique.  The quirky local characters, the acceptability of shopping your pajamas, what's not to love? The locals are generally friendly, plenty of hellos, especially if you're walking a dog, even a surly Chihuaha.  In Arizona, passers by usually view you with suspicion, and neighbors can be outright hostile, especially if they're unsure of your political leanings.  The only folks here that don't return a smile or hello are the celebrities spotted at the nearby upscale grocery store, clearly annoyed at having to do their own shopping.  Ron Glass, probably best known for Barney Miller but lately for the underappreciated Firefly, why so glum?  Pictured is exactly the look I got when I gave him my "I'm a fan" smile.   Bob Odenkirk, funnyman and other half of David Cross, what's the deal?  So they're not following the number system properly at the deli counter, you're next in line after me dude, you can wait.

Everything changes when the locals get behind the wheels of their large automobiles.  Driving a small car, I quickly fell into a kill-or-be-killed mentality.  Survival of the fittest was never more evident than on the streets of LA.  Want to change lanes?  Just do it.  Don't signal beforehand as that will give them time to speed up and close the gap!  One morning I missed being t-boned by inches as a giant SUV raced through a red light at Franklin and Argyle. Who could be in that kind of hurry?  Funny thing was, by the time this happened I had experienced enough other close calls that it didn't even phase me.  No butterflies, nothing.  I just continued my drive to work as if nothing had happened.

I will really need to dial it back when I get home.  Need to have a road rage detox or something.  The only thing that even remotely compares to driving in LA is crossing the street anywhere near the Fashion Square Mall in Scottsdale.  Remember, if you see a luxury SUV approaching the crosswalk to turn right, don't assume that car will stop.  She's rich, in a hurry to shop, talking on the phone to someone really important and will not notice you.  She's had so many plastic surgeries, she probably can't even turn her head. I'm sure there's no one like that here.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Not the fat face diet, but it should be

Greetings from LA. Yes, my profile indicates I'm located in Mesa, AZ, however by strange twist of fate I find myself temporarily in LA. To be specific, Hollywood. I'm typing away from my mother's apartment on Beachwood Drive. It's probably the road you're most likely to run over a tourist on. They just stand in the middle of the road, trying to get that perfect photo with the Hollywood sign behind them.

Back to diets. I normally do not succumb to diet mania. Yes, I have some extra flab. I am American after all. The thing is, diets are a waste of time. How long do I want to eat grapefruit? Surely even a so called "cookie" diet would get old quickly (and I do love cookies). You're doomed to fail because you haven't made a lifestyle change, you're just denying yourself what you truly want, a sort of punishment really for letting yourself get podgy in the first place. We beat ourselves up all the time for the weakness that gets our bodies looking like the Michelin Man. We take horrible care of ourselves in this country. Constantly bombarded by images of fattening food and lolly-pop shaped actresses, the mixed messages are maddening. Anyone watching the Golden Globes from outer space must have wondered why Ricky Gervais didn't stop the whole thing and just passed out some sandwiches. Some of those actresses looked like they hadn't eaten in YEARS.

But I digress. I am not a dieter. I try to eat healthy, but I have a sweet tooth. I gave up meat about a year or so ago. No, I'm not a vegetarian. The technical term is pescetarian. Tell someone that though, and they'll look at you like you have 3 heads, or worse, think you said Presbyterian, or want you to explain why that differentiates you from vegetarianism. I prefer to just say I don't eat meat.  I've lost all patients with these people. You know, the ones who ask loads of questions, but do not listen at all to the answer you give them, preferring instead to just ask more inane questions.

Still, I haven't gotten to the point. I'm staying here with my Mom, quality time you see. She's a bit of a shut in, due to the fact she's going gray and has gained some weight after triple bypass surgery in 2008. No happiness can be had until weight has been lost. She constantly frets about her weight, trying various diets without success. Some were pricey home delivery of pre-prepared foods, one called Susan's Healthy Gourmet, cost per month, approx $900. Another, the Zone diet from Fresh Direct, cost per month $1000. Adkins diet, this one also got pricey as well, as she ended up eating loads of Parma proscuitto. Susan's Healthy Gourmet had tasty salads (I tried one myself), but the rest of the food was pretty horrible. Bland. I didn't try the Zone (again, don't buy into these fad diets), but according to Mom, the food was pretty good. Adkins, well don't get me started on that. No one stays long term on any of these diets, especially one where you eat loads of proscuitto and end up not being able to poop properly.

This is where everything goes in a surprising direction. Mom has a new diet book. I feel myself overcome with the urge to mock it, why another diet book for your fat belly?  No one wants a fat ass cure diet, that's for sure.  Fat asses are very much in demand, except by lolly-pop shaped actresses.  What about the fat face diet?  Many of us suffer from the fat face, head like an orange, etc.  The back boobs and/or back fat?  They are rampant.  What about the dreaded cankles?  There is a serious lack of diet books targeting these areas, not sure why.  With only a couple of weeks to go before Mom is in NYC and I'm back in AZ, I figure, have a look at it, don't be so judgemental. It's called The Fat Belly Cure Diet. A fellow named Jorge Cruise is grinning mercilessly on the cover. He looks kind of buff but has a strange hairdo. I do notice the book is spiral bound, which I like. I've always thought more books should be spiral bound.  Nothing more annoying than forgetting to mark your page and the non-spiral bound book shuts itself (just to spite you), losing your page.  anyway, Mom starts telling me about the book, how it has easy and tasty looking recipes, easy to follow, and then, she starts talking about what you can eat on the diet. Clearly the diet has been based on the glycemic index. Whole grains, good carbs, strict limits on sugar. I'm instantly interested. Could this be a diet book that actually encourages a healthy eating plan? I've been trying to turn Mom on to these concepts already, so I immediately volunteer to go on the diet with her. Everyone knows that a true lifestyle change only works if you get everyone in the household to go along with it.

We've just finished the first week. I am 4 pounds down, Mom a couple. She's not convinced it's true weightloss from the diet, as she's also had the squits a couple of times this week. Not connected with the diet, I assure you.  Only one problem so far, I think I have lost 4 pounds from my ass.

So, dear reader, I am sharing with you our progress on this so called diet, which I hope it will be a life-style change.  Here's a link to aforementioned book, and stay tuned: