exploded views

Oh, You Lonely Hunter.


I had some sort of idea, some sort of time ago, that I’d like to start a series of posts with the theme of demystifying offal. In fact, I may not be the right guy for the job. I am lazy, fickle in my appreciation for the stuff, and my lack of pedagogical zeal fatally undercuts whatever culinary aptitude I might have in the first place. I am almost pathologically incapable of following instructions, and similarly disinclined to issue them with anything approaching the rigour necessary for them to be of any use at all to the type of person who follows instructions. Moreover, infected as we are with the intermingling spirits of artisanal vertically-integrated capitalism, nose-to-tail butchery, the fetishization of craft, etc. etc., there are probably more middle class white twenty- and thirty-somethings experimenting with organ meat these days than ever before. Google it. I just did and almost stopped writing this right now.

And yet I persist. There are certainly people better-equipped than myself (see above Googling. Probably literally anyone) to guide one on so gruesome a journey, and it is to them you should turn with your practical questions. But it occurs to me that this is more about taking up a thread, following a trail (of blooooooooooooooood, obvs) back into the interiority of the edible, and sometimes for some people, inedible, body – food as organ, organism, animal – that in exploded view displays a striking semiotic and emotional fecundity. Heads and hearts. Hearts and bones. Blood and guts. All of which, with their histories of uneven resistance to domestication, threatening to re-anatomize the body by dispelling the fantasy of the food animal as just a bunch of steaks taped together.

So, on the one hand this is for the fickle and lazy who just need a little kick in the ass more than they need hand-holding. Like, “Hey, eat a gross face, it’s not so hard!” Or, for example, say I, go buy some hearts, because they are cheap and flavourful and not very weird. Start with chicken hearts, maybe, because they are just wee. You barely have to clean them. Just hack them up and huck them in a ragu, or marinate ’em and put ’em on a skewer (my favourite brewery in Toronto does grilled duck hearts with burnt jalapeño oil and it is awesome).

Or try lamb hearts, because they are far less daunting than beef hearts, which while still fairly cheap are often closer to face size. If you live near a halal or an Asian market with a butcher, they are bound to have these (or chicken hearts) on hand, and they will likely be reasonably fresh. You’ll want to slice them open and trim the fat cap and all the little bits of cardiac machinery (this will be a quick and relatively simple process with lamb hearts, which are about the size of smallish beets; but it gets pretty interesting when you’re dealing with a cow heart the size and heft of a child’s baseball glove) – the valves, aorta, connective tissue, and gristly collagenous bits like the chordae tendinae, which are literally (and I suppose figuratively) the heart strings. You may also have to give it a rinse in case there are any blood clots lying around (there will be), which is, in its own way, pretty cool.

After this point, you can really do whatever you want with the stuff. For a first attempt with lamb, I suggest cooking it like a steak, fairly rare so it doesn’t get tough. It is a well-worked muscle but the heart has a sheerness, a smoothness, that reminds one that it isn’t just a steak or any other muscle. There is also a slight gamey quality (all but absent in chicken hearts) although it is well short of the peculiarity of even more familiar organ meats such as kidneys or liver.

On the other hand, I am very into complicating matters as much as possible. It is also about disgust. And horror. And not necessarily about getting over one’s disgust and horror. So rest assured I won’t always make it this easy. It probably shouldn’t be.




of a literary bent

Next Things.


Anna Leventhal (who rules) recently tagged me and some other people who actually write books as part of this literary-self-reflection-chain-letter, wherein one answers a set of questions about what one is working on and then tags 5 writers whom one admires, the do the same, and then we are all magically connected by networks of reference and presumably in the end i finally get a house with a gas range and at least one crenellated turret and that diamond as big as the Ritz i’ve always wanted*.

i have been sort of resisting participating, mostly because thinking about it highlights the dissonance i feel between the (semi)public perception that exists of me as an “author” and my own complete failure to inhabit that role in my own mind, but also because i haven’t seriously been working on my writing for some time. nevertheless, i -am- going to participate because i think that there is value in rethinking what that means – to “be an author”, to have something that can be referred to as “one’s work”, and our various comfort levels with what qualifies as  “creative output” and “creative process.”

consequently, the answers i am capable of giving make a poor fit for many of the questions, and many of the people i am tagging below i am tagging because i think they are awesome, and think that anyone who is paying attention to me should also be paying attention to them. as such, while for the sake of the form i am retaining these book-emphasis of the questions, i am really more interested in using this as a What are you thinking about / What do you wish you were writing a book about right now? sort of project.

What is the working title of your book?

i don’t have a book. but in an application for a grant i didn’t get, to write this book that doesn’t exist, my working title up until the very last minute was Into The Bloodstorm. some day i will actually call something that.

What genre does your book fall under?

food literature? creative non fiction?

Where did the idea come from for the book?

there are two ideas that have been haunting me, that i have yet to flesh out to the extent they require – one has to do with investigating how culture-bound is the memory-work that is done by potato chip flavours. specifically BBQ, a flavour that strangely does not refer to an actual food item but rather a method of cooking, and so in a sense is a flavour based less in mimicry or correspondence to a real thing-in-the-word, and more a set of associations organized around a non-existent object, an absent centre. the inspiration for this line of thought came from two places, 1) how in the current vague/vogue of expanded chip flavours, most of them still taste like variations on shitty BBQ chips, and 2) in my European travels, the comparative scarcity of “BBQ” chips (maybe because BBQ per se is an American culinary tradition?), and the absence of this phenomenon of most chip flavours just tasting like BBQ variations.

the second has to do with the history of butchery traditions in different countries and cultures. inspired by realizing there are not only names of cuts that can not be translated across languages, but that the cuts themselves often to not cross linguistic boundaries – while looking for poire de boeuf as an inexpensive substitute for tenderloin to make tartare, i discovered that the French cut appears not to exist in American or English butchery, and is uncommon even in Québecois butchery. drawing a parallel with the historicization of objectivity and histories of scientific ways of seeing, this got me wondering about the extent to which these different butchery traditions could be seen not merely as local interpretations of a fixed, universal, anatomy of meat animals, but as bound up with the production of local anatomies, in the way that how bodies are put together and of what they are made have been historically quite variable. it seems to me that butchery might offer an interesting vantage point for thinking about the non-deterministic (handi)work that is involved in making up organisms.

Which actors would you choose to play you characters in a movie adaptation?

no comment.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

i’m not sure, but i’m pretty sure one could be strung together with the phrases “food”, “literary pretences”, “impenetrable fog of jargon,” and a string of ellipses.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

uhhhhh….. no comment.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

this is exactly why i didn’t want to do this interview.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

i am having a difficult time separating out conceptual problems from sensual enjoyment. this is how i try to work these things out, -not- separate them out. some times we eat our emotions, some times we think our food. i don’t think either are irrelevant to pleasure.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

i promise that inside: no one will find in food the hidden meaning or purpose in their life, or reconnect with timeless traditions, or come to understand the true meaning of hospitality,  in the simple gestures of preparing food. no one will get their groove back. there will be only uncomfortableness, and blood. possibly jokes.

The five (six, in fact!) writers I’m tagging:

Joey Comeau
John Semley
Drew Nelles
Laura Broadbent
Nicola Twilley
Tim Maly

* funny aside – what I am actually devoting the majority of my time to is someone else’s book. since last spring, when i got back from touring singing for someone else’s metal bandi’ve been working as a research assistant for two different professors; one writing a history of state and international chronic disease programming in the 20th century, the other putting together a book on Cold War psychiatry, the role of the Intelligence community in the development of the behavioural sciences, and the covert CIA funding of some harsh experiments conducted at McGill in the 1950s. in the course of which i learned that in ’51 there was a perhaps pivotal meeting between representatives from Canada’s Defence Research Board, the British Ministry of Defence, the CIA, and some luminaries of the Canadian psychology world about the potentials of brainwashing research at the Ritz-Carlton in Montréal, which building i walk by on a weekly basis and think to myself “That looks like a really nice cocktail bar.”