Nov. 25, 2005

Turkey, Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce and Eyeball Soup

After spending Thanksgiving Day with my friends, I have to say I'm pretty damn thankful to be here right now with these folks. We stuffed ourselves silly, then watched "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" on the telly. Later I went home to watched a marathon of James Bond films. I've been battling one of the worst colds I've had in quite some time, and am feeling a bit drained. But I'm happy to report that I still have my sick sense of humor intact.

As a special feature for, I decided to write about the rather vomit-inducing dinner scene in the film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in the article: "Fearsome Feast: A Closer Look at Pankot Palace Cuisine."

You remember that scene at Pankot Palace, don't you? The crunchy bug appetizer, the Snake Surprise, the steaming eyeball soup, and of course chilled monkey brains for dessert, are all dishes that I don't think my impressionable mind ever erased when I first saw it on a big screen as a kid.

So I figured why not write about it for Thanksgiving? I decided to pick apart each dish -- as it were -- and write about the history behind why people would want to eat bugs, or live baby eels, or heaven forbid -- simian gray matter.

Now I have to be honest here. I'm fascinated by entomology. Heck, I almost wanted to drop my whole career as a writer and go back to school to study forensic entomology -- the study of insects on corpses. (Let's just say C.S.I. influenced me). So when I started to research entomophagy -- the eating of bugs -- I was equally intrigued. Little did I know that there was an entire community of Westerners who not only approved of dining on bugs, but they encourage folks to try gnawing on a seared beetle, at least once.

With over 1,500 different edible species of insects to choose from, I discovered that people from all over the world can be found snacking on everything from skewered grasshoppers sold by Thailand street food vendors to roasted ants available in concession stands at South American movie theaters. Sounds tasty doesn't it?

Well, if I can't convince you to start gobbling up spiders by the handfuls, maybe recipes from contemporary cookbooks such as Eat-A-Bug Cookbook by David Gordon and Creepy Crawly Cuisine: The Gourmet Guide to Edible Insects by Julieta Ramos-Elorduy would. In fact, I put the entomophagy book Man Eating Bugs: The Art and Science of Eating Insects by Peter Menzel on my Amazon Wishlist this year. I can't wait until my family sees that one.

Of course, bugs weren't the only thing Indy's sidekicks were served. They also had Sanke Surprise -- a dead boa constrictor filled with live, baby eels to eat like wiggling suishi. Yum...not. Hey, I prefer my unagi seared not slithering. I learned in my research that in Thailand, where snakemeat is considered a staple not just for its taste, but for its apparent medicinal qualities, that the King Cobra is near extinction. And that raw consumption of snakes could make you a host to an entire legion of deadly parasites. Good times.

Eyeball soup, another delightful dish on the Pankot dinner table, isn't such a rare entree. In fact, just when I thought that only Asian countries served this dish (mostly fish eye soup), I quickly discovered that many Central and South American countries still serve Caldo de cabeza, or "soup of the head" as it is sometimes called. It consists of boiled sheep head parts including eyeballs floating in salty broth. And closer to home -- Chicago's Maxwell Street Market to be exact -- actually offers goat eyeball tacos complete with optical nerves still attached. I wouldn't be too shocked to discover that dish in my own hood's taquerias.

Last but not least, my research led me to the dessert of the meal -- chilled monkey brains served in their own skulls. Not exactly apple pie ala mode. When I first saw that scene in the theater as a young child I thought that's why the film made parents wish for a PG-13 rating. Not because the Thugee cult leader rips a still-beating heart from a man's chest during a human sacrifice. THAT I can handle. But the idea of a monkey's brain being served to me in its own head seemed too cruel for little midwest kiddie eyes like mine. And I got goosebumps thinking of the poor guys. I was pro-monkey from then on. I was a "BJ and the Bear" kinda gal. I understood why Clint Eastwood would rather act with apes. Heck, I even liked that space monkey character more than I ever loved the Wonder Twins. But I digress.

Anyone that thinks of monkey brains and Indiana Jones, probably can't help but recall one of the worst pseudo snuff VHS tapes ever passed around any high school in the late '80s -- Faces of Death. Most of it was fake footage of people drinking goats blood, or being electricuted on death row, or being hit by trains. But the worst of the worst showed the act of people eating monkey brains while the monkey was still alive! The film's narrator claimed that people, mostly in Asian countries like China, believed that by eating a monkey's brain you could gain some sort of extra wisdom and power. The helpless critter was secured in the middle of the table, and then had it's little cranium sawed open with a primative tool and then the contents (er...the brain) were scooped out by the savage diners dressed in business suits.

However as I tried to find any kind of proof online or in books about this horrifying act that would send any member of PETA in a tailspin, I began to question whether or not this was ever done at all or if it was some sort of elaborate and cruel urban legend. I read articles from every resource I could find from to The Japan Times and still couldn't figure out if it was true or not. But since the onset of kuru -- a disorder similar to Mad Cow disease -- it seems that most countries have since made the consumption of monkeys illegal. So score one for Mojo.

At any rate, after writing this article, I had to admit that eating my free Tofurkey courtesy of Lucasfilm, tasted that much better. I hope you all had a lovely meal this year -- minus the eyeballs and monkey brains, of course. Bugs, on the other hand, I'm still willing to try.

Nov. 17, 2005

Build Your Own Dagobah Terrarium

We just posted another of my craft projects on the kids section of here if you want to check it out. Build Your Own Dagobah Terrarium

It's pretty easy to make, plus it makes a great little dwelling for your Yoda action figure!

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