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Pity the Blind in Palate

 Frederick the Great used to make his own coffee, with much to-do and fuss. For water he used champagne. Then, to make the flavor stronger, he stirred in powdered mustard.

Now to me it seems improbable that Frederick truly liked his brew. I suspect him of Bravado. Or perhaps he was taste-blind.

Almost all people are born unconscious of the nuances of flavor. Many die so. Some of these unfortunates are physically deformed, and remain all their lives as truly taste-blind as their brother sufferers are blind to color.  Others never taste because they are stupid, or, more often, because they have never been taught to search for differentiations of flavor.

They like hot coffee, a fried steak with plenty of salt and pepper and meat sauce upon it, a piece of apple pie and a chunk of cheese. They like the feeling of a full stomach. They resemble those myriad souls who say, I don’t know anything about music, but I love a good rousing military band.”

Let the listener to Sousa hear such music. Let him talk to other music-listeners. Let him read about music-makers.

He will discover the strange note of the oboe, recognize the French horn’s convolutions. Schubert will sing sweetly in his head, and Beethoven sweep through his heart. Then one day he will cry. “Bach! By God, I can hear him! I can hear!”

That happens to the taste-blind in just some such way. He eats apple pie, good or bad, because he has always eaten it. Then one day he sees a man turn his back upon the cardboard crust and sodden half-cooked fruit, and eat instead some crisp crackers with his cheese, a crisp apple peeled and sliced ruminatively after the crackers and the yellow cheese. The man looks as if he knew something pleasant, a secret from the taste blind.

“I believe I’ll try that. It is – yes, it is good. I wonder——“

And the man who was taste-blind begins to think about eating. Perhaps he talks a little, or reads. All he really need do is experiment.

He discovers that cream is good in coffee in the morning, but after dinner black coffee is better. He looks for the first time at soup, and pushes it away if it is too pale, too thick or too thin.

Potatoes become more to him than the inevitable companion of meat, and he finds unsuspected tastes in the vegetables he has been gulping since his infancy.

He is pleased. He is awakened. At last he can taste, discovering in his own goodtime what Brillat-Savarin tabulated so methodically as the three sensations: (1) direct, on the tongue; (2) complete, when the food passes over the tongue and is swallowed; and most enjoyable of all (3) reflection – that is judgment passed by the soul on the impressions which have been transmitted to it by the tongue.

Yes, he can taste at last, and life itself has for him more flavor, more zest.

Of all the present nations, France has the simplest school of cooking, in spite of the complicated subtleties of her great chefs – simplest in the sense of primitive and natural. Herbs, much sweet butter, cream and long heating in pots of earthenware, give the Gallic cuisine its characteristic flavors, and the juices from boiled and roasted meats are the base of almost every one of its sauces.

It has been said that the foundation of all of French cookery is butter, as that of the Italian is olive oil, German lard and Russian sour cream. In the same way water or drippings may be designated, unfortunately, as the basis of the English cuisine, and per haps the flavor from innumerable tin cans, of American!

France today possesses what is probably the most intelligent collective palate. I do not mean that her crudest ragamuffin can name each nuance in Fruits aux Sept Liqueurs, or give the year of a vintage wine from its bouquet. Indeed, there are many Frenchmen as callous to the harmonies of taste as any American hotdog-gobbler or English connoisseur of teashop Cornish pasties.

In general, though, France eats more consciously, more intelligently, than any other nation. It may be quails financière, or it may be a stew concocted from the rabbit that Papa Jacques caught you yesterday under the hedge. Whichever France eats, she does it with a pleasure, and open-eyed delight quite foreign to most people.

The quails are an artful lure to the most refined of palates, and the rabbit stew, steaming, aromatic, is made just as tempting with an onion or two, pepper freshly ground, a little bacon, and a dash of cheap pure wine.

In Paris the gourmets eat with quiet deliberation, rolling each mouthful slowly toward their gullets. In Jacques’ little cottage three or four friends inhale the stew’s rich fumes, and eat it down like the hungry workingmen they are. In Paris and in the village there is a gusto, a frank sensuous realization of food, that is pitifully unsuspected in, say, the college boarding-house or corner café of an American town.

In America we eat, collectively, with a glum urge for food to fill us. We are ignorant of the flavor. We are as a nation taste-blind.

Cautiously we blink at a faint glimmer in the gloom,. It seems, just now, that we have become conscious of a few subtleties. There is a faddish demand for roomy salad bowls, for pepper mills, which might bring a permanent light to our national palate. Already an occasional shamefaced protest is heard against calling a California white wine “dry” Sauterne, or a mild titter over some such synthetic gastronomy as prompted an advertisement saying, “This is a vintage year for maple syrup.”

These feeble but encouraging signs must survive as best they may, however, while ten million men rush every noontime for their ham-on-white and cherry coke. Those ten million men may die taste-blind as well as stomach-ulcered, unless they are shocked into recognition of their own powers of enjoyment.

It might be good if you could go to them, quietly, and say, “Please, sir, stop a minute and listen to me. Can you imagine eating bananas and Limburger cheese together? You have never thought about it? Then think. Taste them separately in your mind, the banana, the Limburger. Taste them together. Ah! Is it horrible? Then how about mutton chops with shrimp sauce? And try herring soup with strawberry jam, or chocolate with red wine.”

Some of those ten million men would listen. Some of them would eat with their minds for the first time. You would be a missionary, bringing flavor and light to the taste-blind.

And that is a destiny not too despicable.


– M.F.K. Fisher, Serve it Forth, 1937.


Yeah Yeah Yeah, We All Liked Music This Year…

2011 as a year in good music really snuck up on me.

The beginning of 2011 saw me at a very difficult time of my life. I was continuing an internship in Dietetics/Nutrition with Northern Health, being based in Prince George with a 3 week stint in Fort St. John under my belt, still with 4 weeks in Terrace and 2 weeks in Quesnel to “look forward to”. At this point, returning from a two week Christmas leave having spent time in Penticton with my family and Vancouver with my friends, it was time to return to Prince George; also known to me as “the place that eats my soul”.

At this point I was spending a lot of time alone. The most therapeutic things I could have had was someone who would a) lay in bed and listen to ambient electronica with me (a la Pantha Du Prince, Aphex twin, Ulrich Schnauss,  Balam Acab, Salem, How to Dress Well, CMYK-era James Blake) b) drive around with me and pump hip-hop (a la Gravediggaz,, Yung Joc, Shine, EARL, Curren$y, ODB, Das Racist,) or c) go out and dance with me to some electro/rap (a la Gucci Mane, Robyn , Matthew Dear etc.). I was lucky to have a support network of the Dietitians I was working with, as well as my intern/partner-in-crime and another friend, but that was essentially it. Everybody else I knew and loved was an 8-9 hour drive away.  The problem was that most people I knew were not interested in any of the music I was interested in.

The solution at the time was to do all of these things I wanted to do, but alone in my car or apartment. The good news is that I got to listen to a LOT of different music and had plenty of time to scour the internet for new finds and experiment with music I may not have otherwise. I also harassed my friends to send me playlists/albums/artists (which allowed me to develop a few interesting musical friendships along the way). This paved the way for a 2011 that was full to the brim with a variety of music and many many obsessions. What follows is my favorite releases of 2011 and a short description of the mindset/scenario surrounding each of them.

James Blake – James Blake

Picnics in bed with some of my best girl friends

The Antlers – Burst Apart

Laying in the back of my car, hungover to the nth power, gazing out the sunroof on the way back from a trip to Jasper. Also, relationships that fell apart and the general bummer accompanying.

The Weeknd – House of Balloons

An incredible makeout session with someone to remain anonymous. (borrowed link)

Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner

A roadtrip to Vancouver began late in the day such that this album found us with the sun setting south of Cache Creek, thinking only of the beauty of twilight.

Destroyer – Kaputt

Oddly, I don’t have a particular memory of anything that goes with this album, only a calm and cozy vibe.

Nicolas Jaar – Space is Only Noise

This was the soundtrack to my life for several weeks. This evokes memories of sitting alone in the woods overlooking the city, marveling at all of the lights and being extremely thankful for my collection of heavy jackets.

Tim Hecker – Ravedeath 1972

The drive home from Terrace, reflecting on the changes I had experienced, not only in scenery, but also perspective on nutrition and dietetics.

Tyler the Creator – Goblin

Wildin’ out with my girl Campbell after a 9 hour roadtrip to Vancouver, arriving at 2 AM, and picking her up from the bar, only to cruise the streets of Vancouver with this album.

Com Truise – Cyanide Sisters

Sitting in bed. Nothing further.

jj – Kills

Getting house-party dancy with friends due to the fact that EVERYONE knows ALL of the beats from this mixtape.

Washed Out – Within and Without

Early morning conversations over coffee with a very drunk houseguest seeking a place to stay.

Active Child  – You Are All I See

Cozy jackets in the snow.

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Having a date with my headphones on the way to work.

Modeselektor – Monkeytown

Discussions about music with a friend at his sound studio.

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

Elaborate intimate dinners with just a few friends.

A$AP Rocky – Live Love A$AP

Getting ready for work in the morning.

Four Tet – Fabriclive.59

This mix followed me around for weeks. I found it to fit with my life in so many ways. Walking, doing dishes, sitting in bed, drinking wine, cooking dinner etc.

So goes the soundtrack to my life for another year.

The Risks of Dry Martinis

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Stankoff 2011 (via 500 Days Asunder)

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This is awesome. That is all.

Stankoff 2011 For the past 5 years, I've spent 95% of my time away from my home. Because of that, every now and then I feel forced required obliged compelled to do something to prove my unwavering love for Atlanta. Another thing I often feel compelled to do is aggressively "take it there". What better way to celebrate your blog being a weekend away from 100 straight days of posts (1/5 of the way to completion) than to work until sunrise on a single post. Peopl … Read More

via 500 Days Asunder

Prince George Film Festival (yes – for real)

Saw this Friday night at the Prince George Film Festival:

Incendies, a great film, comes highly recommended. Very disturbing insight into Lebanon’s political landscape in the ’70s but also a very interesting personal story of the most prominent character, and an insight into her bizarre behavior at the start of the film. A woman dies and leaves two letters for her twin children to deliver: one to their (previously thought to be deceased) father, and one to their brother (of whose existence they were unaware). They end up looking for answers in their mother’s home country of Lebanon and learning about her past/involvement in the civil war about which she has never spoken.

Also saw Heartbeats (or En Francais: Les Amours Imaginaires/ Imaginary Loves) directed by 21 year old Xavier Dolan (who also stars), which was a funny film about best friends (a gay man and a straight woman) in Montreal who fall in love with the same ‘Adonis’-like man. They both befriend him and each begin to fancy a relationship with him, their competition eventually crushing their friendship. The party scenes and liberal use of The Knife’s music would make wine a great companion for this movie. Maybe even arrange to go to a raging party afterward.

Both films are in French with subtitles (thank goodness, my French is shaky at best).

The Molecularly-Redesigned Perfect Burger

The Mouthwatering Culmination of Generations of Scientific Inquiry.

Tender Hamburger bun made from scratch and toasted in beef suet.

Hamburger glaze of suet, pureed tomato confit, beef stock, and smoked salt.

Maitake mushroom sauteed in beef suet.

Romaine lettuce infused sous vide with liquid hickory smoke.

Vacuum-compressed heirloom tomato.

Cheese single made from aged Emmental, Comté, and wheat ale.

Short-rib patty ground to vertically align the grain.

Crimini mushroom ketchup with honey, horseradish, fish sauce, ginger, and allspice.


Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine via NYTimes’ Freakonomics:

An Unsettling Surprise…

I was sitting in my bed listening to some James Blake, all mellow and sleepy-like when I glanced up to see THIS:

Snake Eyes.

This is scary to me for two reasons:

1) I once read a short story about stuffed animals that were mistreated by their owner (i.e. the owner did not spend enough time with them) and they exacted a bloody revenge entailing the terrifying murder of the owner’s family while she was in the shower, culminating in a truly ‘Hitchcockian’ murder scene, except in place of a knife there were about twenty stuffed animals showing off their abilities with their new found teeth. From then on I showered my stuffed animals in love and attention, slept with the lights on and never forgot the wrath of a stuffed animal scorned.

2) I don’t quite recall propping him up like this?

I think I’m plugging the nightlight in tonight.

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