There’s the *Good* Going Viral and Then There’s the *Bad* Going Viral

As a blogger, an artist, and a writer-type person, it almost goes without saying that a I would find it beneficial, if not outright pleasing, to have my work catch on like wildfire for some (or no) reason. Few people, I’d guess, get into blogging in the hope that no one ever notices them.

Nobody who spends any time on the interwebs, of course, has any excuse for not seeing and understanding that what ‘goes viral‘ is often nasty, lowbrow, and destructive stuff. We all still fall for it, but that’s a failure to accept experience, observation, and logic, not one of lacking evidence: tell me there aren’t a dozen topics, from celebrity rumors to fake medical claims and offers of specious Free Fabulousness galore that are patently impossible. And our collective gullibility, willful or not, leads us to pay attention to such lunacy, even to buy—or buy into—it, until the Likes and Shares, the Tweets and Pins reach critical mass. Fans and friends are lost over this stuff, health and fortunes risked, and even governments stand on the edge of oblivion over it. This is not the pretty side of going viral.

Yesterday I was reminded of the sense of the word “virus” I first knew: bugs. Ugh, bugs. Not insect-type bugs, which in the abstract sense I admire greatly. Germ-type bugs. Which I really, really do not.

Apparently, they don’t like me much either. Yesterday when I went grocery shopping around dinnertime, I was not feeling especially perky, but didn’t think much of it. I was a bit hungry, and attributed my discomfort to having let dinner wait too long. I got home, started having a little pain around my midriff, fixed a quick dinner, felt much more awful all of a sudden, left dinner in the kitchen, and curled up on my bed like a snail.

I won’t go into further details, but by 10 last night I was feeling lousy enough that I asked my dear spouse to call the 24-hour nurse line to see what the person on duty would recommend I do. Go to the Emergency Room, she said. And so I did, with a lot of help from my sweet chauffeur, of course. After the examination, a couple of nice refreshing pints of rehydration, a small whack on the head from a dose of morphine, and a long morning’s sleep, I am intensely glad to say that the flu bug that knocked me for a loop appears to have been the classic 24-hour variety. Viral gastroenteritis sounds so much more interesting and magical than Flu. It can, obviously, still knock me for a loop. This was only my second-ever trip to the ER (my first, for stitches over a tiny hockey-acquired slash on the chin when I was in grade school), and I hope it’s my last-ever, but I am grateful that the personnel there diagnosed and helped me so quickly.Photo: Detritus of Enteritis

And boy, am I glad that I had what looks like a narrow escape from the 3-8 day version that the paperwork tells me is the norm. Going viral sucks. Bugs suck.

That kind, anyhow. I haven’t by any means lost my admiration for insect-sorts of bugs. Real bugs, by definition, are only a smallish portion of the insect population, but since I’m recovering from an illness that I grew up knowing as a Bug when it was really a viral infection, I shall indulge my childhood terminology and leave you with a few pretty pictures of insects that, though they are not bugs, cheer me up whether I’m bug-bedraggled, bugged, or just a bit buggy.Photomontage: Pretty Insects

Foodie Tuesday: Yummy Bugs

I am neither an avid gastronomic adventurer of the mad-scientist or TV food show host variety nor a very tough customer when it comes to things creepy, crawly, and wriggly occupying my kitchen, let alone my dinner plate. But since I do love eating a fairly wide variety of foods and I read about them enough to stumble on a few I’m more than willing to try along the way, I find occasion to be reminded that many of the things I do like or love to eat and drink might just be as strange and off-putting to others as their regional special treats or foods, especially those born and developed over generations of poverty, hunger, privation, and desperation can seem to me. Both times and people in them change, and so do our tastes, as a result. If I were to have a time machine, my first inclination might not be to hop in and create world peace, but to dash off to a fortuitous point in history that’d suit my greedy appetites, like perhaps the era when lobster was considered throwaway food to the rich and worthy only of a pauper‘s table.

Because, after all, my Southern countrymen are not wrong in revering a diet full of tasty crayfish, also known as crawfish, crawdads, or among some Southerners, mudbugs. And the latter nomenclature is perfectly apropos: I find crawfish delicious, too, but when I think about it, I’m well aware that crustaceans, some of my very favorite foods, are indeed also arthropods, just like crickets and grasshoppers, I realize that I might be exceedingly silly in my selective squeamishness about eating insects that are popular in many other cultures and cuisines. So much meaning lies in the tiny spaces between name and nation, between  attitudes and recipes and what we’re used to seeing on a plate. Yes, I am very happy I can buy bags of crawfish tails, ready to put into Étouffée or gumbo or perhaps just cleaned and piled on buttered bread with a squeeze of lemon juice and washed down with a cold beer, even though I can look right there in the heap of cooked crawfish and see perfectly clearly that I am about to serve and devour a bag of bugs.

Photo: Crawfish Tails

Calling mudbugs Bugs doesn’t change that they’re highly edible crawfish protein. That little white “smile” in the lower right corner is the thawing tail meat of one such insect of the sea, and a mighty edible one at that.

I’ve told you how obsessed I can be with the very thought of all sorts of magnificent sea treats that have the obvious connection with their land-borne arthropod cousins: classic northeastern lobster rolls, Dungeness crab in virtually any available form, tempura prawns, San Francisco style Cioppino loaded with crustacean charms, Steak Oscar, Vietnamese shrimp rolls. My eyes almost roll back in my head as I swoon the minute I get thinking of such glorious stuff.

None of it has to be especially fancy, either, though I’m still a little iffy about eating the bugs of the aquatic world raw, let alone their turf-tied relatives. Unless and until you convince me you’re a five-star sushi chef or an aboriginal expert in your local insect cuisine, I will still tread lightly around these treats. But a quick roast, simmer, or—often my favorite with the smaller fellows, as it can make even their exoskeletons not just crispy enough to eat but quite delectable as well—deep fry, and suddenly what I was inclined to swat away as a nuisance might have me stalking it with equal vigor. The arthropods themselves don’t often require complicated prep, merely great care in avoiding unintentional eating of the cartilage and other bits that are either too hard to bite or to digest. Steam. Pick apart. Eat.

Photo: Nekkid Prawns

Dry ice certainly adds to the drama, but really, is there much nicer than sweet, sea-fresh, naked prawns?

So I devote more of my attentions to figuring out just which fantastic vehicle I crave for giving full reverence to their tender and fresh attractions, which altar is the one on which I’ll lay their treasure before I eat. Cooked and chilled entirely naked [yes, the seafood, people], with a mere squeeze of lemon or a nip of cocktail sauce to highlight them? Piled high on a grilled cheddar cheese sandwich? Gracing a bracing Louis salad (so wonderfully easy at home)? Or one of the perpetual best and most over-the-top fatteningly satisfying, mac and cheese with name-your-crustacean-favorite?

Last week, the latter was the choice of the day, so that I could serve dinner to a roomful of friends who were all arriving at different times and I could keep the meal mostly warm with all of the comings and goings but it didn’t have to stay sizzling hot. Somehow, macaroni seemed apropos anyhow, for a table with an international crew of diners passing around both dishes and jokes in a variety of languages. I base my macaroni and cheese recipe on the ever-fabulous Amy Sedaris‘s paean to arteriosclerosis, because it’s ridiculously yummy and quite flexible, but also given its flexibility, it’s never exactly her recipe either.

In my house, it means that to my al dente pasta I add equal (large) amounts of Monterey Jack cheese, which I did have on hand; a good sharp cheddar (Tillamook extra sharp white, my go-to choice); a buttery, very mild but also smoked cheese (sometimes smoked Gouda, but smoked fresh mozzarella, this time). Along with the vast quantity of butter and other dairy—mine: 1 part heavy cream, 1 part whole milk yogurt—in the mix, I add several eggs to bind it all a bit better. Then I throw in the seasonings. Amy’s is generally an unseasoned casserole except for salt and pepper; mine has a combination of my perennial favorite, smoked paprika, plus ground mustard, a good grating of fresh nutmeg, and a little cayenne pepper. Once I’ve grated the cheeses, stirred in the eggs, cream, and yogurt and the spices, I spread it all in a big glass casserole dish and sprinkle the top with grated Parmesan cheese and heat it slowly at a low temperature in the oven until the top just begins to brown.

A very handmade dish, since my most effective food processor is a pair of clumsy tools at the ends of my arms. All of that intensive cheese grating, at least, worked off enormous quantities of calories so I wouldn’t have had to worry about the wickedly high number of them in the dish. Of course, mac and cheese is a completely calorie-free entrée, as everybody knows. Just ask any self-respecting insect you happen to find swimming in the residual butter at the edge of your plate. I’d let you test mine for proof if the seven of us hadn’t wiped out the entire quantity in no time flat. Even the bugs couldn’t get there faster.

Photo: Macaronic Bugs

Clockwise from top left: warm mixed crabmeat and crawfish tails, baked macaroni and cheese, smoked Texas sausages cooked in hard cider, green beans, and carrots and celery steamed in white wine and dill.

Flea, Fly, Flew

I am not bugged by insects as much as many other people seem to be, but there are limits to my tolerance. I do not enjoy, for example, finding them taking blood samples from any portion of my anatomy without a doctor’s referral, nor do I appreciate having any of them buzz around my head with the persistence of a news helicopter hovering over a celebrity wedding site. But they can be intriguing looking characters, and the majority of them most certainly seem to lead fascinating lives, among their many and varied species, so as long as I can study them from a safe distance I am happy to either learn about them or merely continue my childish and fantastical speculations whenever the mood strikes.Drawing + text: Flea, Fly, Flew

The Darker Side of Kid Scientists

Photo + text: Too Bad for the Bug

I know it’s generally preferred that scientists take a detached and dispassionate approach to their subjects so as not to skew their studies or experimental data, but I rather think that even entomologists should show a little respect for their subjects. But kids will be kids. Also, I happen to know from my own youth that if you let on that you find something creepy or gross, it’s pretty much guaranteed that some other child will eventually figure out how to use it to torture you. Kids are charming that way.

Why Wait?

Digital illustration + text: Itch

I hope, at the least, that the ibex lives in Washington state or somewhere it’s been legalized, for it’s rotten enough that Irv’s being such a nuisance makes anyone prone to overindulge in anything at all, let alone that they should get locked up for it. Lousy lizard.

I do realize that it’s a long time yet until St. Patrick’s Day returns, and no, I am not Irish. But sometimes one just needs to emit a silly Limerick or two, and who can stand the suspense of holding off until mid-March? So I’ll just go with the urge—the itch, if you will—and let my Limericks out to play a little early. Or very late, as the case may be.

Digital illustration + text: Quick & the Dead

PS—Foie gras is one of those foods I never had an urge to try, if you happened by here during my Tuesday recitation this week. But it sounded funnier in the Limerick than pâté, even though the latter *looks* cooler with its accents sprinkled on top.

 

And let this be a reminder to all of us to avoid being pests and nuisances to others. As my young nephew once shouted at the screen during an epic animated film in which a number of insects were being exceedingly awful to a number of other insects, “Be NICE, Bugs!” Or you could get in big trouble. Nicer is definitely safer.

Just Press this Button and Be Amazed!

I’ve told you that I am enamored of digital photography. How could a person who loves taking pictures—but is too confused by the functions and uses of a ‘real’ camera, and far too lazy to do anything like the intensive study required to become skilled with said functions and uses, let alone learn how to process photos afterward—how could I not love digital cameras and photo processing?

One of the bonuses of the ability to revise and improve my photos digitally is the element of surprise that comes when I’ve taken very dark photos (at night or in poorly lit places), open up what looks like an entirely black image in one of my favorite editing programs, brighten it and change the contrast, and voila! there’s that thing I was looking at and had entirely forgotten by then. Sometimes the photo turns out to be something I had no idea I’d shot, too, but even those pictures can be interesting in their own ways.Photo: Gnats 1

Take this particular black rectangle from our recent time in Prague. I knew I’d taken photos on a couple of evenings when we were out and about with our compatriots, but couldn’t necessarily say exactly what the subject of them had been. A little tweaking brought the memory out of the dark.Photo: Element of Surprise 1

Gnats! There was a flurry of gnats flitting around a lamppost and making a tiny but lovely little display of sparkling fireworks, and when I took the photos I had no clue whether they would actually show anything at all, given the intensity of the surrounding darkness. But my hopes were rewarded, if not with a magnificent set of photos, at least with a welcome memory of that beautiful evening that even a clueless picture-taker like me could enjoy.Photo: Element of Surprise 2

No Man is an Island, and Sometimes Going to an Island is a Good Reminder

photoWe had this adventure, my man and I. Went to an island. A lovely one called Puerto Rico. We spent a week on that beautiful piece of Caribbean land and enjoyed the break from our everyday Real Life, the immersion in nature and its marvelous native birds and insects and flora and the wash of its rolling waves on luxuriant green shores.

The quiet was exceedingly welcome.

But our reason for the trip wasn’t isolation and retreat. We went for the wedding of dear friends. And the wedding of a Puerto Rican woman with a big, loving family and a lot of friends to a North American man bringing his own contingent of supporters from Canada and the US is not a place to go and lie low with the covers pulled up over one’s head.

As if it weren’t already too warm and humid to be curled up under a duvet.

So we had the fantastic experience of being drawn into this jolly, joyous gathering and treated like more members of the extended family, and along with our enjoyment of being on that wonderful island, we had the perfect reminder of what’s so great about being surrounded by dear and tremendous people and how the pleasures of the place, the travel, the newness and beauties not previously experienced, all are enhanced so richly by the good company.

It’s why I spend so much time in the good company of my blogging and blog-reading companions, of course, but as always, it takes a change of scenery to remind me of what I should already know. It’s good to be home, and all the more so when I’ve been away. Here, I am once again awash in a sea of friends and loved ones, and I am doubly glad.