Succulent, Rollicking, Funny, Frenzied: the Reviews Are In!

Breakfast for Alligators

Stories from Guyana, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Panama, Canada, Trinidad & Tobago, and more countries in the Americas.

Breakfast for Alligators was released only five months ago, and I feel blessed that the Kindle version has reached #1 in Amazon’s Central America category twice. Meanwhile, the book has received a handsome collection of reviews. Here are a few excerpts:

“Succulent travel writing.”
  —Publishers Weekly

“An anthology of rollicking, sometimes baffling adventures (and plenty of misadventures)….A bunch of great stories.”
  —Spud Hilton, The San Francisco Chronicle

“Gritty, funny, street-savvy, boisterous, and informative.”
  —William Caverlee, Perceptive Travel

“Read Breakfast for Alligators: Quests, Showdowns and Revelations in the Americas for the loving attention to detail, the frenzied trips through muddy fields, in backs of SWAT vans, in boats, even submarines. Read it for the food, familiar and weird, but most of all, read it for the journey that one man takes, and his observations of the mundane in a world that is familiar, and yet unknown.”
  —Madhushree Ghosh, Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel

For those in the New York City area, I will be signing copies of Breakfast for Alligators at the Astoria Market’s final Holiday Event this Sunday, December 18, 2016 from 12 noon to 6 pm in Astoria, Queens at the Bohemian Hall. More information on the event can be found here.

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Winter: friend or foe? It depends on your latitude

Dogsledding on Ile d'Orleans, Quebec

For New Yorkers like me, the recent drop in temperature is a reminder to prepare for the mess of unshoveled sidewalks and grumpy faces that will reliably arrive in a few months. A couple winters ago, my wife and I traveled to Quebec, a place with deeper snowstorms and far chillier days, so we could experience a place where winter is not merely tolerated, but also put into one’s service, even embraced. The result is Learning to Befriend Winter in Quebec, a piece I wrote for The Expeditioner, in which I take in the city’s appreciation of the season via dogsledding, a night in an ice hotel, and a visit to a winery where frozen apples were being crushed to make ice cider. Put on a warm coat and enjoy!

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Back-To-Back Anthologies

Travelers Tales Best Travel Writing Volume 11
Look what arrived in the mail: Travelers’ Tales Best Travel Writing Volume 11!

For years, I’ve been inspired by stories in the Best Travel Writing compilations. I’ve found the stories engaging, moving, insightful, entertaining, hilarious, or some delicious combination thereof.

This inspired reader is now also a stoked contributor. My story narrating a quest to replace a Panamanian hat appears in Volume 11. In the introduction, Rolf Potts describes my quest as “quixotic.” I cannot disagree.

I’m thrilled to appear in the same pages as Amy Butcher, James Dorsey, Christina Ammon, Thomas Swick, Mara Gorman, Marcia DeSanctis, Kimberley Lovato, Erin Byrne, Jill K Robinson, Don George, Keith Skinner, and other talented storytellers. You can check out the introduction here: http://travelerstales.com/best-travel-writing-volume-11/

For those in the Bay Area who want to hear some of the stories read by the contributors on Thursday, October 6, head over to Hotel Rex (562 Sutter St., San Francisco). I cannot make the reading, but if you go, you can say hi to Christina Ammon, Keith Skinner, James Dorsey, and editor Larry Habegger.

…and there is more:

Vignettes & Postcards from Morocco - edited by Erin Byrne

In late August, Vignettes & Postcards from Morocco, edited by Erin Byrne, was released. Already praised by Tim Cahill as “a recommended read, unless you’re going there in the near future, it which case it is mandatory,” contains stories by Michael Chabon, Paul Bowles, Suzanna Clarke, James Dorsey, Rolf Potts, and yours truly. In the piece I contributed, I reflect on the array of emotions my 2002 journey to Morocco had invoked–an eye-opening cocktail of shock, warmth, and delight.

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This Week in Latin American Eats

mole_ingredients

The realm of mole sauce resists quantification, no matter what the authoritative tourist literature attempts to state. That is one of the takeaways I hold with me from my experience making black mole with Pilar Cabrera, an Iron Chef competitor, in Oaxaca, Mexico. Perceptive Travel just published my account, Crossing the Mole Barrier in Oaxaca, in which I endeavor to separate truth from tall tale in the story of Oaxacan mole.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Guatemala, macadamia nuts have taken root, thanks to the efforts of Lawrence Gottschamer, a retired fireman who moved to Guatemala’s highlands near the city of Antigua. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Gottschamer at his farm some years back to find out more about his sustainable project. The resulting story, in which I almost become hypnotized by macadamia nuts, appears in Breakfast for Alligators: Quests, Showdowns, and Revelations in the Americas. Gonomad just reprinted the chapter here. If you have been wondering where I took that picture of nuts in this blog’s title banner (on the top of the page), then wonder no more.

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A Medium Rare Vegetarian Burger: Impossible?

Impossible_burger
As the title of my blog suggests, I am an omnivore. I eat meat, but I frequently try the offerings of companies that attempt to make meat substitutes, in the interests of sustainability. And, of course, in the interests of an ever-curious omnivore.

The results are usually less than savory. Such lab-created frankenfoods often sport the flavor and texture of wet cardboard, Play-Dough, or dense, chunky tofu.

For me, the best successes in vegetarian meals that can satisfy this carnivore have been the ones in which no one tried to create any fake meat. In other words, the creator of the meal utilized vegetables and grains in their natural forms and enhanced their flavors via kitchen preparation, not by extruding them through a contraption and blending them with ingredients we can’t pronounce. Restaurants like Moosewood, whose chefs make use of quinoa, beans, fresh veggies, and clever combinations of spices, excel with such dishes. For a while I have wondered if fake meat could ever produce as memorable a meal.

A promising contender walked onto the fake meat stage last week. On July 28, Momofuku Nishi, the Asian fusion joint in Chelsea opened by chef David Chang (founder of Lucky Peach magazine), began offering the Impossible burger: a burger that bleeds. According to Impossible Foods, the manufacturer of the burgers (can I call a fake meat company a manufacturer? Or a fake slaughterhouse?), their vegan meat is the result of five years of reverse-engineering real meat—what gives it flavor, color, and texture. But more importantly, the company went after an integral element that makes meat taste like meat: blood.

The blood in Impossible burgers is heme, or hemoglobin derived from plants. That process sounds like an intriguing but creepy science experiment. But how does it taste? Articles praising the burger abound, such as when a writer for Vogue wrote “It Looks and Tastes Like the Real Thing but Is Totally Meat-Free” without any indication that she took a single bite of said burger, and instead just rearranged words from a press release.

So I had to try it for myself. And so was everyone else at Momofuku. And I mean everyone. Luckily, I arrived at the restaurant before they ran out that day. And I was rewarded with a handful of plant meat, as pictured above. As you can see, this burger is pink on the inside. Medium rare. My first bite yielded a vague taste of peanut butter, and I’m not sure why. But subsequent bites were as burger-y as any other burger. Neat trick, I thought.

I wanted to get to know this burger a little better. To isolate it, I broke off a little morsel, careful not to grab a piece with melted American cheese on it, and I ate it by itself. The charring was crunchy and pleasant, but it resembled more of a falafel-like crunch than a charred beef crust. While the meat was juicy (something I had never experienced before in my many jaunts of fake meat exploration) and the texture came close to the fatty chew of ground beef (a second milestone never experienced before in such jaunts), the flavor was missing a note—as if a musician forgot to show up at the meat melody recital—and the burger fell back to the usual dense, chunky tofu routine of some if its predecessors.

But let’s face it—picking a piece of burger out of the bun and eating it by itself is weird. And possibly un-American. So I kept eating the burger as it was meant to be eaten, with big, indulgent vampire chomps. When each mouthful brought a harmony of melted cheese, pickles, lettuce, potato bun, tomato, and a mayo-like burger sauce along with the meatless burger (and let’s not forget the aftertaste of the salty fries served with the $13 burger), the effect was unmistakable: I was eating a hamburger. Not the best burger I’ve ever had, but not the worst either. The effect could be analogous to that of mp3 compression of audio files: some information is lost, but the ear may not notice the missing sounds while hearing other frequencies at the same time, or the loss may be noticed but acceptable. A mind trick. But one that requires only a quarter of the water used to produce the same sized cow-based burger.

For me, the Impossible burger ranks up there with the fake pepperoni pizza at Vegan Pizza in Garden Grove, California, whose combination of oven charring, brightly acidic tomato sauce, and oil may have triggered a similar mind trick.

If you want to try the Impossible burger at Momofuku, be prepared for a line, and also be prepared for getting cornered by a chatty vegan evangelizer at counter (“Do you have Netfix? You should watch Cowspiracy, blah blah blah, etc…”). But the burger is worth the jibber jabber, and it represents an important step in the evolution of plant-based meat.

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