Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Worms: are our nation's children getting enough?

Apparently, according to yesterday's New York Times Health section, our children are consuming neither enough dirt nor enough worms. The consumption of dirt by young children and infants programs and trains the new immune systems to respond to various bacterial and viral vectors. Introduction of microscopic (and not so microscopic) worms to the human body has also worked in a similar way to foster a healthy digestive tract. The physicians and researchers mentioned in the article obviously did not mention tape, ring, round, or other kinds of worms detrimental to one's health. Nor do they mention the unbridled consumption of filth/dirt (a psychological disorder called allotriophagy). Hopefully this isn't a carte blanche for parents to allow their children to start eating animal droppings but at least it reinforces the fact that the United States should, as a society, ween itself off of anti-bacterial soaps.

Monday, January 26, 2009

St. Louis Style Pizza: Tradition, Religion, Ethos

This is not the first time that I've mentioned St. Louis Style Pizza (nor the last time that I will mention it). I came across a nice little video put on by the local PBS station here about our very own style of pie. It's not that extensive BUT it's a nice introduction for those who have never experienced the local delicacy! BEHOLD the power of processed Provel cheese!

More on Pizza in St. Louis this week!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Private Chefs: Cooking for 900

As it turns out, the Obamas are not currently planning on introducing a celebrity chef into the White House kitchen... at least for now. Clearly the introduction of a celebrity chef would underscore excesses that at this point in the economic history of the United States should be repudiated (at least where public servants are concerned). I'm sure White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford's salary (between 80,000 and 100,000 in 2005) comes in at a bargain compared to hiring someone like Mario Batali whose net worth I'm sure is most likely $everal hundred million. (The Mario Batali scenario is only an extreme example).

Read the full NY Times article HERE.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Deep Culture: Ivo Furman: Tasseography or the art of speaking the unspeakable

Anyone who has been to Balkans or Near Eastern restaurant has probably tried that little cup of caffeine often presented as Turkish, Greek, Byzantine, Serbian or Armenian coffee. The nationalistic associations aside, coffee functions as the main catalyst of conversation in the former territories of the Ottoman Empire. In these areas, coffee can be consumed at any hour and social circumstance, it functions as a soft drink or a beer would in western societies. In doing so, the coffee itself is subject to numerous traditions and ceremonies generated for centuries in these societies. Amongst these ceremonies, I would like to examine today the act of tasseography, or as it is more commonly known, the act of coffee fortune telling.

Usually coffee is consumed in a social context with more than two people present. When the coffee is completely consumed, the remnants of the brewed coffee remain at the bottom of the cup. This is often called the "mud" or the "clay" at the bottom of the mug. The act of fortune telling often begins with one person taking the role of the fortune teller and the other of the listener. These roles are mutually assumed and are performed within the enchanter/enchanted dichotomy, the "real" power relations inherit between the fortune teller and the listener are discarded under the contract of mutual fortune telling. This contract is implicit and is never mentioned, however the application of the contract often begins with the enchanter uttering something similar to "so let us take a look your kismet." From this point onwards, the ceremony of fortune telling has begun.

The enchanted performs an act (slightly different in every locality) of "enchanting" the coffee cup with a series of pre-defined motor functions and then sets the coffee to rest upside down on a saucer in front of the fortune teller. After a few minutes, the "kismet" of the enchanted is ready, the coffee cup is removed from the saucer and the fortune is revealed. What is said as fortune is very interesting, as usually taboo conversation subjects such as sexuality, relations and monetary affairs can be "discussed" under the guise of fortune telling. The private sphere of the individual can be discussed as the social power structures are cast aside in the act of tasseography. Quite often, the unspeakable is spoken in guise, for example if the fortune teller has some sort of sexual or emotional ambitions towards the enchanted, these can be uttered through phrases such as "I see someone in your near future" or "Someone in your near future will make you very happy." Or if the enchanter wants to warn the enchanter about a third party, this can also be done through this ceremony. So basically, the tasseography functions as a social contract through which both parties can comment on the private affairs of each other.

Naive sounding as it is, fortune telling still plays a huge role in both rural and urban environments. It provides a medium through which social taboos can be sidestepped through a play acting sequence. So next time someone offers to read your fortune, listen carefully to what they say. As we say in Turkish, "one cup of coffee keeps a good memory of 40 years."

Friday, January 2, 2009

Travel Tips: Istanbul

If you ever have the chance to visit Istanbul you will certainly be bombarded with an infinite array of choices regarding where and what to eat. It would take a month of eating out 3 times a day to even begin to scratch the surface of what there is to offer. Luckily not all of the gems are hidden.

Güllüoglu makes the best backlava around - from pistachio to their hallmark chocolate the backlava is unbeatable.

Apparently they have also opened a branch in New York - so it looks like you don't have to travel 6000 miles to try this. I'll have to try it next time I'm there in the spring.