That I hope to forget as quickly as possible in 2011:
My recent “Viking Five” was quite a difficult one to narrow down, and to be honest there are a few other styles that are probably just as good with food as the ones I chose. Hefeweizens come to mind, as do witbiers, tripels, oatmeal stouts, altbiers, and pilsners. But if I had to choose just one candidate for honorable mention, it would probably have to be porter.
The humble porter is often overshadowed by its mutant commie cousin, Baltic porter, and by its stocky younger brother, stout, a style derivative of porter in form as well as name: stouts started off as “stout porters” back in the day. Don’t get me wrong, I love stouts, and they’re good with food, too – especially desserts and red meat – but porters, which are just a shade lighter in color and flavor, cover more ground than stouts. Here’s a Venn diagram to illustrate, because hey, I can’t remember the last time I made a Venn diagram, so why the hell not?
I don’t drink a lot of porters, partly because I’m a sucker for the up-front bitter chocolate and coffee flavors of many stouts, but also because there is something of a dearth of porters on the market. In America, they are increasingly common, but even though London is the birthplace of the style, they are notably hard to find here.
So it didn’t really dawn on me that porters are awesome with food until I chanced upon a porter at – where else? – the Market Porter in Borough Market. The Market Porter is a haven for ale aficionados, with at least a baker’s dozen of casked beers to choose from at any given time. Most of these beers come from British microbreweries and encompass a range of obscure styles, like dark milds, real lagers, oyster stouts, and fruit beers. The clientele, mostly suits taking long lunches, culinary tourists, and CAMRA members, are jovial and unpretentious, as are the beer-savvy barkeeps. The inside is austere and plastered with ale paraphrenalia, while the façade, though cluttered with smokers, is impressively decked out with pretty flowers and ivies hanging from the second floor.
It’s a great pub in and of itself, but its location in Borough Market is what really makes it a personal favorite. You can grab a pint in a plastic nonic, then hungrily wander off into the stalls to try your beer with all manner of fantastic fare on offer in the market proper: Thai green seafood curry, Middle Eastern confections, British venison burgers, Toulousean cassoulet, Swiss cheeses, Spanish charcuterie, and the list goes on.
This is exactly what I did with my pint of Wickwar’s toffee-sweet, moderately hopped, satiny smooth Station Porter. It was brilliant by itself, and seemed to meld effortlessly with just about everything I ate with it. Its buttery character and roasted sweetness found a happy home in the cozy cheese and potatoes of Raclette. Its caramel notes and lightly spicy hops linked up nearly perfectly with the peppery pork fat of a chorizo and arugula sandwich. It brought forth hidden mocha and dark fruit notes for an encounter with a chocolate-covered raisin and shortbread bar. The only thing it didn’t work with was a Cornish oyster on the half shell, but overall I was extremely pleased to have such a versatile brew in my hand as I perused the market. The porter, and the Market Porter, are indeed very lovely companions to food.
The Market Porter
9 Stoney Street
020 7407 2495
Monday to Friday: 06:00-08:30 and 11:00-23:00
Well everybody, I’m getting married! You heard it here first. I proposed in a karaoke booth after singing “Happy Together” with Laura and she said yes. I’m so excited!
Now begins the annoying, convoluted, and potentially long process of getting myself a UK visa. The multifarious intricacies of the application process and of UK immigration law in general reminded me of a post I wrote on my embarassingly personal old blog, soulgrowl.xanga.com, when I was frustrated with the unnecessarily fiddly bureaucracy at my alma mater, Occidental College. Here it is, followed by a classic cartoon that also came out of my frustration. Enjoy!
Welcome to the Institution. We hope you enjoy your stay.
Your first week will be spent in rigorous and delightful orientation programs. You will be tickled, yelled at, washed, spun to dry, and fed. You will not be given maps, instructions, pamphlets, guidebooks, calculators, refunds, lemons, or access to our file cabinets. Please be aware that the Institution assumes no responsibility if you are unable to be oriented.
During the first week, you will attend mandatory socialization seminars, in addition to safety, health, sexual hygiene, oral hygiene, moral hygiene, awareness, recognition, and catharsis training sessions. You will not be briefed on protocol, expectations, disciplinary measures, animal husbandry, home improvement, “Home Improvement,” or authoring. Carnivals are provided free of charge every 10 minutes in the parking structure. Failure to engage in at least 3 carnivals by the end of the second week will result in automatic suspension of your identity. If you do not reclaim your identity by the end of the third week by filling out the requisite application form, with all required stamps and signatures, your files will be purged from the Office and moved into the Department, where they will come before a panel to decide on a date for their partial incineration. Applications to reclaim your identity will be unavailable after the third week. Thereafter, you may petition for a retroactive application with a minimum of 50 signatures (40 of which must be from people you have never seen before). Your petition will then be brought before the Committee, who will carefully review your petition and reach a decision by no later than 5:00 PM (HST) on the third Thursday of the following month. If your petition is accepted, you may apply to reclaim your identity, but you will incur a penalty fee of no less than 1/250 of the Supervisor’s projected salary for the next fiscal year (this is approximately equivalent to the cube of one month’s engagement fees). Retroactive applications will only be accepted after a thorough examination by the Office. You must explain all extenuating circumstances (including the number of igloos in which you have resided, and the length of time spent in each one) in an essay not to exceed five (V) words in order to prepare your retroactive application for the recommendable procedures.
For more information on orientation and identity reclamation regulations, please revisit Part B of your Institutional Handbook, Section 2, item J, psalm 4:23, line 3.
During your first year at the Institution you will be offered the opportunity to sit at a desk. It is recommendable that you accept this opportunity and thank the Supervisor with at least three (3) signatures in the log.
Approximately 55% (or 2/3) of your time at the Institution must be spent trying to destroy the other 45%. The Intranet will assist you in determining the most efficient and acceptable way to manage your percentages. Percentage negotiations are not permitted, except in the case of accidental death (excluding murder, suicide, Japanese “love suicide,” or spider bites), in which case your family will be reimbursed with at least 35% of your time. Time spent in mandatory orientation sessions, form completion exercises, spheres, or altered states of mind are considered extraneous and/or frivolous and will not count towards your time quota. The Department recommends that you attain your time quota by enlisting in activities specified by the Annual Report on Substantive Activities (ARSA) published by the Institutional Commission on Fulfillment and Development (ICFD). Activities listed in the ARSA database from previous years are considered problematic and will be discussed (we recommend discussing problematic activities with the Associate Mentor, who has access to this paragraph). Contradictions found between various ARSA publications should be reported to the Office, who will then audit the ARSA as well as the Institutional Handbook and the United States Constitution to determine the flavor of the activities in question (for more information on this process, please consult our page on ARSA Degustation and Digestion, located on the G drive, accessible through any Intranet outpost operating on LINUX or Windows 95). After the audit has been completed, you will be asked to undergo a routine physical examination from the Medical Center to test for psychosis, IBS, foreign languages, dental caries, and acne. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer or Remedial Pregnancy Disorder (RPD), we will be forced to (temporarily) revoke your identity until the Council on Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis has touched your genitals (occasionally, this may cause discomfort and possibly asphyxiation; you will be given more information on this during the mandatory health training sessions administered during the first week). Your physical examination can only occur after you receive your Institutional Insurance card, which is provided to all users of slang for approximately 113% of your current insurance premiums (or the square of two (2) months’ engagement fees). Please keep in mind that you will not be permitted to engage in any Substantive Activities unless you have verified your identity and stapled it to your identification badge, to be carried at all times.
If you wish to submit activities from other Institutions to count towards your time quota, you will be served a subpoena and a light brunch. In accordance with the Institutional Mission Statement and the Intranet User Agreement, you may not refuse the light brunch (free samples of this brunch are available upon request, but please be aware that you will only receive the most tasty morsels of the brunch usually reserved for the Trustees). Failure to attend the brunch or accept the free samples will result in immediate suspicion and cause unrest in the Department.
If you have any questions, please feel free to submit yourself to the Brig, located on the basement level of the Founder’s Hall of Symbiotics.
It’s often said that Eskimos have 50, 100, or even 400 words for snow, compared to English’s one, but this is not so. In the first place, there is more than one English word for snow in various states (ice, slush, crust, sleet, hail, snowflakes, powder, etc.). Second, it seems that out of all the languages of Eskimo groups, there are no more than four root-words for snow altogehter…. The number of basic word stems is relatively small but the number of ways of qualifying them is virtually unlimited. Inuit has more than 400 affixes, but only one prefix. Thus, it has many ‘derived words’ as in the English ‘anti-dis-establish-ment-arian-ism.’
John Lloyd, The Book of General Ignorance
Last Sunday evening, it began to snow. It snowed all through the night, a thick but gentle blizzard, and in the morning Orpington was covered in an eight-inch-thick duvet of heavy white flakes. Apparently, even though English winters are cold and wet, this is rare; it hadn’t snowed this much in greater London in two decades. And since it doesn’t happen very often, the powers that be were unprepared and under-equipped to melt the slush fast enough to keep the city running. Motorists shied away from slippery roads, and buses and trains across the southeast were canceled; no big deal for jobless me, but Laura got to take a snow day.
I was up till three in the morning the previous night watching the Super Bowl, so I slept in, while Laura wasted no time to frolic and snap photos.
When I finally rolled out of bed, I went down to lend a hand shoveling the driveway. In lieu of show shovels (which most people in England don’t own), we had to resort to badminton rackets, brooms, garden shovels, and spatulas to clear a path for the car. I hadn’t shovelled snow in probably seven years, but it came back to me like riding a bike; I don’t mean to boast, but I shovelled that snow like a champ. I knew that it was easier to push the snow than to toss it, and I knew to scrape up the stuck bits so they don’t turn to ice later on. I basked in the admiration of my English family, feeling as though I possessed a sort of mystical knowledge passed down from Wisconsinite to Wisconsinite.
Once the driveway was clear (for the time being, anyway – the snow continued to fall until that night), Laura and I went around back to make a snowman. The snow wasn’t wet enough to roll a proper snowball for the base, so we had to pile it up and then pack it down in an arduous process that made our snowman’s body look a bit like a fat parsnip. But when we got the head on and decked him out in a hat, scarf, shallot eyes, sage eyebrows, and the traditional carrot nose, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment and affection towards our snowy friend. The occasion called for hot chocolate.
We were out of hot chocolate, but a bowl of soup served as a fine surrogate. The whole day was quite nostalgic, and it made me realize that snow is just as much a cultural thing as it is a meteorological thing.
P.S.: Don’t you like my clever snow pun in the title? I was debating between that, “There’s Snow Business Like Snow Business,” and “Snow Buttons on Your Underwear.”
It seems to me that the English in general have a very high tolerance strange affinity for camp and kitsch. The four-meter-tall statue of Freddie Mercury on Tottenham Court Road, the Charles Dickens theme park in Kent, and the endless pages of High School Musical 3 coverage in the free papers all seem to suggest that kitsch is as much a part of English culture as kawaii is of Japanese culture.
Nowhere is this more apparent than at the Jorvik Centre in the charming city of York. York is so far north it may as well be in Scotland, and it has a castle, and cool old city walls, and attractive buildings dating back to some ridiculously early period. Of course, practically every sizable city in England seems to have a castle and cool old walls and buildings, so what what really makes York special is the Jorvik Viking Centre. Around the same time The Specials gained national fame for “Ghost Town,” York was making headlines for the discovery of huge amounts of viking bones and artifacts below the city streets. The vikings apparently pillaged York in the early 900s, and the chilly, wet Yorkshire soil acted as a sort of refrigerator for all their stuff, preserving it neatly for a millennium or so. In 1979, a bunch of archaeologists decided to dig it all up, and the unlikely outcome of this massive excavation is the Jorvik Centre, a viking museum-theme park that feels like something that could have been an EPCOT Center reject.
Visitors are taken into a time machine that dumps them in the year 927, a few decades after the initial viking invasion of York, at that time called Jorvik (pronounced “you’re Vic”). Here they are loaded into a helmet-shaped gondola that tugs them through the viking settlement, complete with horrible animatronics, considerably better architectural recreations, and weird smells. Actually, make that weird smell – the literature on the Jorvik Centre says that visitors will be able to smell distinct things – viking food, viking poo, etc. – but really there is just one, overbearing odor through the whole thing, a sort of musty, yeasty, vaguely cheesy odor.
Following the viking settlement tour there are cabinet-style displays and employees acting like vikings who give little talks and demonstrations about viking material culture. This part was actually pretty interesting. I especially liked the information about the vikings’ diet – who knew they ate so many oysters? – and the interactive “Are you a viking?” quiz, which allows visitors to see how closely they resemble the vikings physically, culturally, and gastronomically. There was a queue for this and I was too impatient to find out whether or not I am a viking by the Jorvik Centre’s standards. But screw them, anyway – I don’t need their seal of approval!
I also liked the viking skeleton they had laid out which detailed all his wounds and grotesque ailments. The skeleton had about a dozen injuries from spears, arrows, and clubs, and the placard merely stated that he “probably” died in battle. Really, probably? The man had a spear wound that severed two of his cervical vertebrae. Ouch.