Archive for the 'Offbeat' Category

Deep Fried Asparagus, Fast – The World Deep Fried Asparagus Eating Championship, Stockton, CA

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Fried Asparagus

Photo by FoodistaCreative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Ah, spring. This season, it’s a real one — with appropriate amounts of rain, gentle temperatures, and cool evenings. Ramps have come and gone, morels are revealing their bulbous delights to impassioned mushroom hunters, and asparagus await in proud, upright bunches in the local markets.

Do you like asparagus? Like, a lot? If so, you might want to consider eating them competitively. Indeed, the only thing separating you and the dinner table from Major League Eating is a little bit of training and a fearsome nickname. Meet Sonya Thomas, a.k.a “The Black Widow”. With her petite frame and lovely features, you wouldn’t take her for a gastronomist weapon of destruction, set upon the earth to reek havoc upon all things edible. But you would be wrong. Currently ranked number 6 in the world, Sonya’s impressive bib sheet includes the consumption of 8 pounds and 20 ounces of Wienerschnitzel Chili Cheese Fries in 10 minutes, seven and 3/4 pounds of Turducken in 12 minutes, and 65 hard boiled eggs in 6 minutes. My, my. And I thought my brother Brendan ate quickly.

The current king of gurgitation is a certain Joey Chesnut, known as “Jaws” by his peers. In addition to wolfing down 118 jalapeno poppers and 45 pulled pork sandwiches in 10 minutes (on separate occasions), he maintains a reputation for impeccable gustatory performance at the annual World Deep Fried Asparagus Eating Championship, which brings us back to flowering plant species I mentioned earlier.

Held each year in the end of April in Stockton, California, the contest pairs twelve contestants against over a hundred pounds of tempura fried asparagus. While the competitive eaters work diligently to obstruct their arteries, there are many fine asparagus-themed events taking place in the hinterlands that make up in entertainment for what they lack in original titles. The 5K “Spear-it Run” is hosted by the Mayor and the “Spear-its of the Valley” introduces local wines and microbrews to festival goers, along with the much loved “Aspara-Mary” (a bloody mary in which the celery stick is replaced by a… you guessed it.)

In 2008, “Jaws” Chesnut managed to eat 8.8 pounds of fried asparagus in ten minutes, a feat for which he was awarded $1,500. (Parents- here’s a great way to get your kids to eat their vegetables! Offer them some greenbacks!) A newcomer to competitive eating in 2003, Joey went on to win the asparagus competition four times before losing the crown this year to Pat “Deep Dish” Bertoletti. Currently ranked second in the world, he is poised to eat up another of Chesnut’s titles — that of the number one ranked competitive eater in the world.

Nobody’s saying you have to eat 8 pounds of asparagus, but you should know how to cook them. Here’s a recipe for Stockton Fried Asparagus that only calls for 3 pounds of spears. If you have leftovers, send ‘em to Chestnut.

Check out other seasonal activities in California.

- Courtney Maum

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Monkey on Your Back – The Lopburi Monkey Festival in Thailand

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Hungry Monkeys

Photo by sivanelleCreative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Paris has its pigeons, Manhattan, overpriced horse carriage rides, and Greycliff, Montana, its peppy prairie dogs- but the Lopburi Monkey Festival has these living attractions turning green with envy. Tourists! Whereʼs the love?

Part tribute to Rama, the hero of the epic tale Ramayana, part thank-you party for the townʼs most famous residents, the Monkey Buffet Festival brings together two dozen of Thailandʼs best chefs and 2,000 of Lopburiʼs best-behaved monkeys for a massive buffet in the provincial capital of Thailand each November.

In addition to the 4,500 kilograms of fresh fruit, vegetables, sausages, ice cream and sodas laid out in an elaborate spread for the macaque, visitors and residents bring their own edible offerings for the furry fellows in hopes that the monkeys will bring them luck and fortune in the coming year.

Whether they are climbing up the stone walls of shrines or the clothed back of a tourist, the charming antics of the macaque bring in thousands of visitors each year. Amusing to watch, lucrative to film, the monkeys provide endless fodder for budding YouTube directors, but itʼs not all fun and games with the largest primate genus in the world. In the late 1990ʼs, scientists determined that 90% of Macaques carry the herpes B virus. No problem for the monkeys; big problem for you. A second study by the University of Toronto proved that urban Macaques carry the simian foamy virus — and you know you donʼt want that.

So hereʼs a good plan for the last two weeks in February. Rather than risking your life and health in Lopburi, head to the Phuket International Blues Rock Festival instead. Rest, relaxation and rhythm on the gorgeous sands of Phuket, and all for a good cause. (The proceeds from the festival go toward a childrenʼs education scholarship fund.) Now thatʼs no monkey business!

Tempted by Thailand? Visit other fab fests here. Feeling courageous? If you think you can endure 5 minutes of the worldʼs most annoying music and an irritating copyright notice, visit the monkey festival here. Want to try your hand at creating an authentic Thai delicacy? Then check out famous Thai Chef Vichit Mukura’s recipe for Plaa Ghoong, which blends the marine flavors of fresh prawns with the rich aromas of Thai herbs.

- Courtney Maum

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A Smart Start for 2009 – The Lafayette Quaker Oatmeal Festival

Monday, January 5th, 2009

Quaker Oats

Photo by rakkaCreative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Unless you, dear reader, know something that we don’t, the Lafayette Oatmeal Festival is the only festival in the world dedicated entirely to soluble fibers. After the construction of a highway bypass in 1996, a group of local businesses got together to come up with a way to divert traffic through the historical center of Lafayette, Colorado. The solution they found was an unusual one, but with 3,500 participants in 2008, The Lafayette Quaker Oatmeal Festival has turned into a healthy tradition.

The festival begins with a gigantic oatmeal breakfast overseen by Colorado State Legislator Paul Weissmann. In addition to 200 gallons of oatmeal, 4,600 oatmeal pancakes and 1,400 fresh oatmeal muffins, the festival boasts the world’s largest oatmeal toppings bar with 140 choices.

The fun continues long after the cholesterol-lowering benefits of oatmeal kick in. After breakfast, there is a health fair with free screenings, interactive stations and the ever-tempting “fat vest”: a weighted apparatus that allows you to experience what an extra twenty pounds would do to your body.

Feeling energetic? The Quicker Quaker 5k Walk/Run is a smart way to show friends and family that you actually intend to keep your New Year’s resolution this time around, and afterwards you can reward yourself at the scrumptious baking contest while they’re not looking. Other attractions include an art fair showcasing the work of Lafayette students, a blood drive and the Quaker Smart Heart Start Challenge. Qualifying participants can challenge the FDA’s claim that 3 daily grams of soluble fiber can be beneficial to heart health and make off with a month worth of oatmeal and two free heart screenings if they pledge to eat a bowl of oatmeal every day for 30 days.

As if all this heart-healthy activity wasn’t enough, the Lafayette Oatmeal Festival is a “Zero-Waste” event and the recipient of a Bronze Environmental Achievement Award from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

For other feel-good festivals in Colorado, click here.

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A Pot-Porri of Fermentation – The Thorramatur Festival in Iceland

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Hardfiskur

Photo by Bruce McAdamCreative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

This week we are going to focus on a food festival that celebrates the glorious age of pre-refrigeration. The Icelandic festival known alternatively as Thorramatur or Þorramatur is celebrated from mid-January to the end of February and pays homage to the naturally preserved (read, unrefrigerated) food and drink the Vikings ate throughout the winter.

Although traditional Porri edibles appeared on the tables of student organizations and regional associations from the late 1800’s onwards, it took the daring minds behind the popular Naustið restaurant in Reykjavík to turn the traditional menu into a trend. By allowing both tourists and native Icelanders to rediscover the gastronomic traditions of the Vikings, the owners breathed new life into an otherwise comatose season in the restaurant industry and revitalized an interest in what many mainstream Icelanders consider to be an indigestible part of their heritage.

The traditional Porramatur menu isn’t for everyone, and it would be madness to take part in the festivities without a bottle of Brennivin by one’s side. The individual dishes are sliced into bite-sized portions, arranged on wooden troughs and served with toothpicks in a buffet style. Among the traditional selections, hakari has appeared on several intrepid food programs such as Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” (his motto? “Eat without Fear”) and Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods”. Hakari is referred to as “fermented shark” in guide books, but it is noteworthy to add that Greenland shark is poisonous when fresh, becomes “edible” after being buried underground for six weeks and smells like ammonia when it’s ready for consumption. Moving on…

Harðfiskur is a poetic dish that involves curing cod, haddock or seawolf in the wind. It’s served with butter — which is a very good thing. Lactic acid makes an appearance in at least four different Porramatur dishes, including Súrsaðir hrútspungar (ram’s testicles), Svið (jellied sheep heads), and Sviðasulta (singed head cheese). Blood pudding rolled in lard and sewn up in the stomach, liver sausage, blood-fat and seal flippers are several other treats that make the Thorrablot festival a truly unforgettable experience.

Well! The good news is that Rúgbrauð (rye bread) and Brennivin (Icelandic schnapps) are readily available on the buffet spread and over-consumption of the latter is heartily encouraged. You really have to hand it to the valiant Icelanders — not many people would continue to celebrate foodstuffs that even natives advise eating with a pinched nose.

Iceland has a lot to offer besides fermented shark. For other (more traditional) festivals in Iceland, click here.

- Courtney Maum

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The Turkey Testicle Festival of Byron, Illinois. “Have yourself a ball.”

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Testicle Festival

Photo by iluvcocacolaCreative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

It’s Turkey time in America. Perhaps you already have one picked out for your Thanksgiving throwdown, or maybe you’re going to try something more elegant this year, such as Turducken. Or maybe you don’t buy into the idea that a bunch of white guys in tights sat down and broke bread with a slew of Indians in loin cloths and you’re skipping the cockamamie holiday all together. If you make up part of this latter group of non-enthusiasts, but you still kinda like turkey — then you should get yourself down to Byron, Illinois for their annual Turkey Testicle Festival where you can, literally, have yourself a ball.

The first Turkey Testicle Festival was held in 1978, at a time when the host town had only one stop light. Now they have two. The Turkey Testicle Festival is one of those rare occasions that makes you realize that there are a whole lot of things you never think about. Whether this is because you are an ignoramus or because you’ve never considered the reproductive cycle of turkeys isn’t any of our business. This festival is important because it begs an age-old question. Turkeys have… balls? And yes — yes they do. They carry them in their chest cavity right near the gizzards. Around mid-October, turkeys are castrated so that they’ll be juicy and overweight in time for Thanksgiving. The Turkey Testicle Festival is always held on the second weekend in October in order to take advantage of the surplus of testicles available at this time.

For a reason that was not made clear on the Festival’s website, you have to be 21 to participate in the testicular fun. Whether this is because of the presence of alcohol, the sophisticated line-up of live music (“Grumpy Ole Men” and “Gulane and the Giddyups” make regular appearances) or because you need to have fully developed testicles in order to eat them — again, we do not know. What we do know is that the festival costs $5, there are raffles, karaoke, cold beer and lots of side-events for charity, and that like most things in life, when you bread and deep-fry a turkey testicle, it tastes like chicken.

For love of dry white meat, don’t miss out on the Festival’s Theme Song.

Learn more about other great festivals in Illinois.

- Courtney Maum

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