Archive for March 2018

I studied philosophy in college, but as much as I enjoyed it, I had to choose a different profession. If I hadn’t, I risked a fate that seems to befall most philosophers sooner or later: having one’s name turned into an adjective. Think about it: Platonic, Socratic, Aristotelian, Augustinian, Cartesian…I’ve even heard Husserlian and Wittgensteinian. Of course, it’s not just philosophers who suffer this fate. So do psychiatrists (Freudian), novelists (Orwellian), filmmakers (Kubrickian), physicians (Hippocratic), and explorers (Columbian). With all due respect to those who will no doubt wish for a concise way of referring to my system of thought or writing style, I would be very unhappy to think of anything or anyone being referred to as “Kissellian.” I’m not sure why, but the whole notion of adjectivizing names has always bothered me (whereas verbing nouns does not). If my name is to be immortalized, I would prefer that it be kept intact, preferably in close proximity to the name of a food. Peaches Melba…Crêpes Suzette…how about Cherries Kissell? Instead of Quiche Lorraine, try Shrimp Kissell. You can even wash it down with a Joe Kissell on the rocks. (See my forthcoming book The Joe of Cooking for recipes…)

The Color of Money
Of course, the ultimate tribute food is Oysters Rockefeller. This dish was invented in 1899 by Jules Alciatore, son of Antoine Alciatore, the eponymous founder of Antoine’s in New Orleans. The dish consists of oysters that have been topped with a purée of mixed greens and then baked. The dish was deemed so rich that it could only take the name of the richest family in the country at that time, the Rockefellers. (It is no coincidence, I’m sure, that the color approximates that of U.S. currency.) The recipe has been kept a closely guarded secret at Antoine’s for over 100 years, though there have been countless imitations.

I tried Oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s and it was good, but in my opinion it didn’t live up to its hype. On the other hand, if it had been called “Baked Oysters with Greens” I wouldn’t have given it a second glance on the menu. It was the legendary name that made it sound especially appealing. Well, that, and the mystery of what the dish actually contains. While Antoine’s has never revealed their original recipe, they have stated categorically that the one ingredient it doesn’t include is spinach. This is significant, because it looks like it contains spinach, and the majority of imitators use spinach in their recipes. But as with Colonel Sanders’s recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken, it doesn’t matter what the specific details are or whether the recipe is better than all the rest, it only matters that it can claim to be original and unique. The game of trying to guess how Antoine’s Oysters Rockefeller is made has driven many thousands of customers to the restaurant over the past century.

Everybody Loves a Mystery
The shrewdness of this marketing ploy cannot be overstated. Antoine’s has benefited enormously from the great mystery surrounding their recipe. Quite a few journalists have tried unsuccessfully to bribe ex-employees for information. One author claims to have smuggled a sample to a lab for analysis. Even if it turned out that the ingredients were corn flakes and food coloring, the simple fact that they are a mystery has contributed to Antoine’s status as one of the most respected and popular restaurants in the city. There’s just nothing like free publicity.

What various researchers have been able to piece together from a variety of sources is that there are probably 18 ingredients in Oysters Rockefeller, among which are watercress, scallions, parsley, fennel, garlic, butter, and bread crumbs. It also likely contains Pernod or Herbsaint, brands of pastis that substitute for the absinthe that was almost certainly used in 1899. I have yet to see any research, though, as to why the spinach-based recipes with only 10 ingredients taste better. —Joe Kissell

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More Information about Oysters Rockefeller…

Visit the Antoine’s home page and history page for the complete story of the restaurant and Oysters Rockefeller.

Other Oysters Rockefeller resources and recipes:

Although you won’t find recipes for Antoine’s Oysters Rockefeller, you can find many examples of reverse-engineered restaurant recipes in Copycat Recipes Cookbooks and Secret Restaurant Recipes.

Related Articles from Interesting Thing of the Day

Source: Interesting Thing of the Day

the pirate supply store at 826 Valencia

San Francisco has no shortage of trendy restaurants and interesting shops. If you want to get a good taste of what the city has to offer, and especially if you don’t want to spend lots of money doing it, head to the historic Mission District and stroll up and down Valencia Street. Amidst the art galleries, taquerias, and retro furniture stores you’ll find all sorts of quirky little gems with that quintessential San Francisco character. Perhaps the best example is a store named after its location: 826 Valencia. Its unassuming exterior gives you little clue as to what’s inside, and even after you start looking around, it may take you a few minutes to figure out that you are standing in a pirate supply store. It’s true: if you need to get an eye patch, a Jolly Roger flag, a spyglass, or even a bucket of lard for—well, whatever pirates use lard for—you’re in the right place.

At first, everything in the store seems to be completely serious, as though they expect real pirates to sail in on a daily basis for provisions. A closer inspection reveals that they’re having a good time at their own expense. Take, for example, the signs scattered around the store, such as “Have You Got Scurvy?” (with a list of symptoms), “Goals for the Voyage” (Plunder. Meet new people. Learn valuable new skills.), and even a helpful list of suggested uses for that lard (including “mast greasing” and “fingernail softening”). There’s also a little curtained-off area with a handful of old movie-theater seats facing a large aquarium; you can sit there for as long as you like and watch the residents, including a puffer fish named Otka.

Buried Treasure
Odds are, if you have even the slightest appreciation for whimsy, you’ll think 826 Valencia is a very cool place to browse. Once you know the joke, it’s great fun to go there just to watch the expressions on people’s faces as they walk in for the first time and realize where they are. But you’re also likely to wonder, “How exactly does a pirate supply store stay in business—even in San Francisco?” If you come at the right time of the right day, you may also wonder, “What are all those kids doing with those computers in the back of the store?” The answers to these two questions are connected: 826 Valencia is really a nonprofit organization devoted to helping children aged 8–18 learn how to write, and the store is just the front portion of a large area that’s mainly classroom space. The organization offers free, volunteer-led workshops and tutoring in creative writing, expository writing, and English as a second language. The pirate store helps raise money, as well as being a very effective gimmick for drawing the attention of children and adults alike to the writing center.

The 826 Valencia organization was founded in 2002 by novelists Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida (who, incidentally, were married the following year). It rapidly took off, and has attracted the support of numerous other well-known authors. In fact, in just a few brief years, the organization has been such a runaway success that people in several other parts of the country wanted to create similar programs. So 826 Valencia started an umbrella organization called 826 National, under which several local 826 chapters operate. Most of these chapters have their own weird theme stores. The New York chapter, for example, is home to the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. (“featuring fully serviced capery”!). 826 Chicago runs a secret agent supply store called “The Boring Store” (everything is sold in plain, boring wrappers so as not to give away any secrets). There’s also the Echo Park Time Travel Mart (Los Angeles), the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company (Seattle), and Monsters Union Local 826 (Ann Arbor, Michigan). More chapters are under development.

Not that anyone should need an excuse to open a store catering to superheroes or secret agents, but if you must have an ulterior motive, teaching kids how to write is certainly a good one. Yes, you could argue that 826 National encourages children to participate in piracy, but at least they’re doing their part to fight plagiarism. —Joe Kissell

Permalink • Email this Article • Categories: Clever Ideas, Language & Literature, Society & Culture

More Information about 826 National…

To find out more about 826 National in general, see its official Web site, the Wikipedia, or The Secret Approach to Helping Kids in Engineer This!

For more about specific chapters, see:

826 Valencia (San Francisco):

826NYC (Brooklyn, New York):

826LA (Venice Beach, California):

826CHI (Chicago):

826 Seattle (Seattle):

826 Michigan (Ann Arbor):

Both Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida have entries in the Wikipedia too.

Related Articles from Interesting Thing of the Day

Source: Interesting Thing of the Day

the pirate supply store at 826 Valencia

San Francisco has no shortage of trendy restaurants and interesting shops. If you want to get a good taste of what the city has to offer, and especially if you don’t want to spend lots of money doing it, head to the historic Mission District and stroll up and down Valencia Street. Amidst the art galleries, taquerias, and retro furniture stores you’ll find all sorts of quirky little gems with that quintessential San Francisco character. Perhaps the best example is a store named after its location: 826 Valencia. Its unassuming exterior gives you little clue as to what’s inside, and even after you start looking around, it may take you a few minutes to figure out that you are standing in a pirate supply store. It’s true: if you need to get an eye patch, a Jolly Roger flag, a spyglass, or even a bucket of lard for—well, whatever pirates use lard for—you’re in the right place.

At first, everything in the store seems to be completely serious, as though they expect real pirates to sail in on a daily basis for provisions. A closer inspection reveals that they’re having a good time at their own expense. Take, for example, the signs scattered around the store, such as “Have You Got Scurvy?” (with a list of symptoms), “Goals for the Voyage” (Plunder. Meet new people. Learn valuable new skills.), and even a helpful list of suggested uses for that lard (including “mast greasing” and “fingernail softening”). There’s also a little curtained-off area with a handful of old movie-theater seats facing a large aquarium; you can sit there for as long as you like and watch the residents, including a puffer fish named Otka.

Buried Treasure
Odds are, if you have even the slightest appreciation for whimsy, you’ll think 826 Valencia is a very cool place to browse. Once you know the joke, it’s great fun to go there just to watch the expressions on people’s faces as they walk in for the first time and realize where they are. But you’re also likely to wonder, “How exactly does a pirate supply store stay in business—even in San Francisco?” If you come at the right time of the right day, you may also wonder, “What are all those kids doing with those computers in the back of the store?” The answers to these two questions are connected: 826 Valencia is really a nonprofit organization devoted to helping children aged 8–18 learn how to write, and the store is just the front portion of a large area that’s mainly classroom space. The organization offers free, volunteer-led workshops and tutoring in creative writing, expository writing, and English as a second language. The pirate store helps raise money, as well as being a very effective gimmick for drawing the attention of children and adults alike to the writing center.

The 826 Valencia organization was founded in 2002 by novelists Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida (who, incidentally, were married the following year). It rapidly took off, and has attracted the support of numerous other well-known authors. In fact, in just a few brief years, the organization has been such a runaway success that people in several other parts of the country wanted to create similar programs. So 826 Valencia started an umbrella organization called 826 National, under which several local 826 chapters operate. Most of these chapters have their own weird theme stores. The New York chapter, for example, is home to the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. (“featuring fully serviced capery”!). 826 Chicago runs a secret agent supply store called “The Boring Store” (everything is sold in plain, boring wrappers so as not to give away any secrets). There’s also the Echo Park Time Travel Mart (Los Angeles), the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company (Seattle), and Monsters Union Local 826 (Ann Arbor, Michigan). More chapters are under development.

Not that anyone should need an excuse to open a store catering to superheroes or secret agents, but if you must have an ulterior motive, teaching kids how to write is certainly a good one. Yes, you could argue that 826 National encourages children to participate in piracy, but at least they’re doing their part to fight plagiarism. —Joe Kissell

Permalink • Email this Article • Categories: Clever Ideas, Language & Literature, Society & Culture

More Information about 826 National…

To find out more about 826 National in general, see its official Web site, the Wikipedia, or The Secret Approach to Helping Kids in Engineer This!

For more about specific chapters, see:

826 Valencia (San Francisco):

826NYC (Brooklyn, New York):

826LA (Venice Beach, California):

826CHI (Chicago):

826 Seattle (Seattle):

826 Michigan (Ann Arbor):

Both Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida have entries in the Wikipedia too.

Related Articles from Interesting Thing of the Day


Source: Interesting Thing of the Day

Voodoo Museum

On my first walking tour of New Orleans, our guide promised us chilling stories of ghosts, vampires, pirates, horrific murders, and all the other dark elements of the city’s past—some real, some fictional. And as if to show that these dark forces were still alive and well, he said that our very last stop would be a genuine, functioning Voodoo temple. At that point, everything I knew about Voodoo had come from bad films and TV shows. I gathered that it had something to do with black magic, curses, and sticking pins in dolls. So a chance to meet real Voodoo practitioners seemed a bit exciting and a bit scary.

To Grandmother’s House We Go
When we finally got to the temple, it was a bit anticlimactic. The building was just a converted house, the rooms were bright and cheery, and there wasn’t the remotest suggestion of any evil undercurrents. Yes, there was the smell of incense in the air; yes, there were a bunch of altars piled high with offerings and candles; and yes, there were a lot of unusual images on the walls. But then, the same could be true of a Buddhist temple. Wasn’t Voodoo supposed to be, like, wackier? Then we met the resident clergy, Priestess Miriam. In retrospect, the Voodoo priestess reminds me of the Oracle in the Matrix films—friendly, down-to-earth, maybe even grandmotherly, and not what I was expecting. She gave a short talk and answered all our questions. Her mild manner and warm smile seemed to say, “Sorry if you were expecting animal sacrifices and gibberish. I get that a lot.”

Most educated westerners are familiar with the world’s major monotheistic religions, at least in broad strokes. But Voodoo holds a much different place in the public awareness, because sensationalized fictional accounts of Voodoo practices are so common. Even the word “Voodoo” has become slang for “scary,” “silly,” or “nonsensical.” Unfortunately, what books and films say about Voodoo is mostly misleading if not downright false. Zombies, devil worship, and human sacrifices all make for a scary story, but they have nothing to do with Voodoo as practiced by 60 million people worldwide.

Voo Who?
The term “Voodoo” is an unfortunate Americanization of a word that originally was more like “vodu”; alternate spellings, each of which is championed by one group or another, include Vodun, Vodoun, Voudou, Vaudoun, Vodou, Voudoun, and probably quite a few more. The religion as practiced in Haiti, where it has the largest number of adherents, is usually spelled “Vodou” (pronounced “vo-DOO”). Voodoo (under one name or another) is practiced in several Caribbean countries and is the official religion of Benin in western Africa, but also has a large following in the United States. New Orleans seems to have earned a reputation as the unofficial Voodoo capital of America.

Far from being a set of evil practices, Voodoo is actually a complex religion with a rich set of beliefs and rituals. Although there are many different varieties of Voodoo (comparable, perhaps, to the variety of Christian churches), they share in common a belief in a single God, called Bondye (from the French Bon Dieu, “good God”). This God is, however, remote and normally inaccessible, so interaction with the spirit world is generally by way of contact with lesser spirits called Lwa (or Loa), pronounced “l’wah.” The Lwa, of which there are many, are often referred to as a “pantheon,” but that term is a misnomer because Voodoo practitioners think of the Lwa as more like saints than gods. In any case, the spiritual business of Voodoo—healings, prophecies, blessings, prayers, and so on—requires contact with the Lwa, who often possess or “mount” worshippers during ecstatic rituals. Another central tenet of Voodoo is veneration of one’s ancestors. Their spirits are believed to influence one’s life, so proper respect and sacrifices (of food, generally) are seen as important to stay in their good graces.

The Beat of a Different Drummer
Rituals play a large part in the practice of Voodoo; most are presided over by a priest or priestess in a local temple. Drumming, singing, and dancing are almost invariably part of Voodoo rituals, and in the versions of Voodoo practiced in some areas, animal sacrifices do occur regularly to appease the Lwa. But the main focus of Voodoo rituals is on positive desires such as healing, prosperity, and protection. As in any religion, most practitioners seek a harmonious relationship with other people as well as with the forces of the unseen world. But as is also true of other religions, there are smaller, more extreme groups of believers who practice a darker and more violent version of Voodoo. Even that version doesn’t quite live up to the Hollywood picture, though.

And what about the infamous Voodoo dolls? They do exist—but mainly as souvenirs for tourists. There are some Voodoo practitioners, particularly in the southern United States, who use Voodoo dolls in their rituals, but generally the idea is not to make an enemy cry out in pain by sticking a needle in a doll’s eye. Rather, the dolls are used as a symbolic proxy for attracting good things and dispelling bad things from one’s life—your own or someone else’s.

Animism Meets Catholicism
Voodoo as a modern religion evolved in the second half of the 18th century in Haiti. Yoruba slaves from West Africa developed a system of religious practice based on animistic beliefs that can be traced back thousands of years. But in the 19th century, a series of crackdowns by the Catholic church drove Voodoo underground. Since Voodoo could not be practiced openly without serious repercussions, worshippers began to associate Catholic saints with Voodoo Lwa. In other words, while they appeared to be praying to, say, St. Patrick, they were really just calling the snake Lwa Dumballah by another name. There is some disagreement as to whether this mapping amounts to syncretism; it’s not so much an absorption of Catholic beliefs as an openness to alternative terminology. Nevertheless, distinctive ritual elements of Catholicism and various African religions are easily found in Voodoo—particularly in the variety practiced in the southern United States. And in Haiti, despite the fact that Voodoo is no longer outlawed, a large percentage of the population practices both Catholicism and Voodoo with equal earnestness, and without feeling there’s any tension between the two belief systems.

Voodoo doesn’t fit neatly into the categories of modern religions. It doesn’t have a bible or other set of universal codes. It gives the appearance, at least, of mixing and matching elements from other religions. And it has, let’s face it, a funny-sounding name. But when you get right down to it, Voodoo beliefs are no more (or less) wacky than those of any other religion. —Joe Kissell

Permalink • Email this Article • Category: Philosophy & Religion

More Information about Voodoo…

For more information on Voodoo, see Vodun (and related religions) on the ReligiousTolerance.org Web site. The Vodou Page also has extremely detailed information, including a series of Vodou “lessons,” a discussion on the spelling of the name, a section on Vodou and politics, and much more.

Introduction to Voodoo in Haiti by Bob Corbett is just an outline, but it still contains useful information that applies, for the most part, to many different brands of Voodoo.

An article on African Religion Syncretism by Eshin Fun discusses the relationship (or lack thereof) between Voodoo and other religions of African origin, especially Santeria.

The Voodoo Spiritual Temple in New Orleans, which I visited, has its own Web site. Of course.

And if you really must own an “authentic” Voodoo doll, check out Voodoo Authentica of New Orleans.

Related Articles from Interesting Thing of the Day

Source: Interesting Thing of the Day

Voodoo Museum

On my first walking tour of New Orleans, our guide promised us chilling stories of ghosts, vampires, pirates, horrific murders, and all the other dark elements of the city’s past—some real, some fictional. And as if to show that these dark forces were still alive and well, he said that our very last stop would be a genuine, functioning Voodoo temple. At that point, everything I knew about Voodoo had come from bad films and TV shows. I gathered that it had something to do with black magic, curses, and sticking pins in dolls. So a chance to meet real Voodoo practitioners seemed a bit exciting and a bit scary.

To Grandmother’s House We Go
When we finally got to the temple, it was a bit anticlimactic. The building was just a converted house, the rooms were bright and cheery, and there wasn’t the remotest suggestion of any evil undercurrents. Yes, there was the smell of incense in the air; yes, there were a bunch of altars piled high with offerings and candles; and yes, there were a lot of unusual images on the walls. But then, the same could be true of a Buddhist temple. Wasn’t Voodoo supposed to be, like, wackier? Then we met the resident clergy, Priestess Miriam. In retrospect, the Voodoo priestess reminds me of the Oracle in the Matrix films—friendly, down-to-earth, maybe even grandmotherly, and not what I was expecting. She gave a short talk and answered all our questions. Her mild manner and warm smile seemed to say, “Sorry if you were expecting animal sacrifices and gibberish. I get that a lot.”

Most educated westerners are familiar with the world’s major monotheistic religions, at least in broad strokes. But Voodoo holds a much different place in the public awareness, because sensationalized fictional accounts of Voodoo practices are so common. Even the word “Voodoo” has become slang for “scary,” “silly,” or “nonsensical.” Unfortunately, what books and films say about Voodoo is mostly misleading if not downright false. Zombies, devil worship, and human sacrifices all make for a scary story, but they have nothing to do with Voodoo as practiced by 60 million people worldwide.

Voo Who?
The term “Voodoo” is an unfortunate Americanization of a word that originally was more like “vodu”; alternate spellings, each of which is championed by one group or another, include Vodun, Vodoun, Voudou, Vaudoun, Vodou, Voudoun, and probably quite a few more. The religion as practiced in Haiti, where it has the largest number of adherents, is usually spelled “Vodou” (pronounced “vo-DOO”). Voodoo (under one name or another) is practiced in several Caribbean countries and is the official religion of Benin in western Africa, but also has a large following in the United States. New Orleans seems to have earned a reputation as the unofficial Voodoo capital of America.

Far from being a set of evil practices, Voodoo is actually a complex religion with a rich set of beliefs and rituals. Although there are many different varieties of Voodoo (comparable, perhaps, to the variety of Christian churches), they share in common a belief in a single God, called Bondye (from the French Bon Dieu, “good God”). This God is, however, remote and normally inaccessible, so interaction with the spirit world is generally by way of contact with lesser spirits called Lwa (or Loa), pronounced “l’wah.” The Lwa, of which there are many, are often referred to as a “pantheon,” but that term is a misnomer because Voodoo practitioners think of the Lwa as more like saints than gods. In any case, the spiritual business of Voodoo—healings, prophecies, blessings, prayers, and so on—requires contact with the Lwa, who often possess or “mount” worshippers during ecstatic rituals. Another central tenet of Voodoo is veneration of one’s ancestors. Their spirits are believed to influence one’s life, so proper respect and sacrifices (of food, generally) are seen as important to stay in their good graces.

The Beat of a Different Drummer
Rituals play a large part in the practice of Voodoo; most are presided over by a priest or priestess in a local temple. Drumming, singing, and dancing are almost invariably part of Voodoo rituals, and in the versions of Voodoo practiced in some areas, animal sacrifices do occur regularly to appease the Lwa. But the main focus of Voodoo rituals is on positive desires such as healing, prosperity, and protection. As in any religion, most practitioners seek a harmonious relationship with other people as well as with the forces of the unseen world. But as is also true of other religions, there are smaller, more extreme groups of believers who practice a darker and more violent version of Voodoo. Even that version doesn’t quite live up to the Hollywood picture, though.

And what about the infamous Voodoo dolls? They do exist—but mainly as souvenirs for tourists. There are some Voodoo practitioners, particularly in the southern United States, who use Voodoo dolls in their rituals, but generally the idea is not to make an enemy cry out in pain by sticking a needle in a doll’s eye. Rather, the dolls are used as a symbolic proxy for attracting good things and dispelling bad things from one’s life—your own or someone else’s.

Animism Meets Catholicism
Voodoo as a modern religion evolved in the second half of the 18th century in Haiti. Yoruba slaves from West Africa developed a system of religious practice based on animistic beliefs that can be traced back thousands of years. But in the 19th century, a series of crackdowns by the Catholic church drove Voodoo underground. Since Voodoo could not be practiced openly without serious repercussions, worshippers began to associate Catholic saints with Voodoo Lwa. In other words, while they appeared to be praying to, say, St. Patrick, they were really just calling the snake Lwa Dumballah by another name. There is some disagreement as to whether this mapping amounts to syncretism; it’s not so much an absorption of Catholic beliefs as an openness to alternative terminology. Nevertheless, distinctive ritual elements of Catholicism and various African religions are easily found in Voodoo—particularly in the variety practiced in the southern United States. And in Haiti, despite the fact that Voodoo is no longer outlawed, a large percentage of the population practices both Catholicism and Voodoo with equal earnestness, and without feeling there’s any tension between the two belief systems.

Voodoo doesn’t fit neatly into the categories of modern religions. It doesn’t have a bible or other set of universal codes. It gives the appearance, at least, of mixing and matching elements from other religions. And it has, let’s face it, a funny-sounding name. But when you get right down to it, Voodoo beliefs are no more (or less) wacky than those of any other religion. —Joe Kissell

Permalink • Email this Article • Category: Philosophy & Religion

More Information about Voodoo…

For more information on Voodoo, see Vodun (and related religions) on the ReligiousTolerance.org Web site. The Vodou Page also has extremely detailed information, including a series of Vodou “lessons,” a discussion on the spelling of the name, a section on Vodou and politics, and much more.

Introduction to Voodoo in Haiti by Bob Corbett is just an outline, but it still contains useful information that applies, for the most part, to many different brands of Voodoo.

An article on African Religion Syncretism by Eshin Fun discusses the relationship (or lack thereof) between Voodoo and other religions of African origin, especially Santeria.

The Voodoo Spiritual Temple in New Orleans, which I visited, has its own Web site. Of course.

And if you really must own an “authentic” Voodoo doll, check out Voodoo Authentica of New Orleans.

Related Articles from Interesting Thing of the Day


Source: Interesting Thing of the Day