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September 2009

Culinary Breakdown

Listen up, Foodies: I've discovered a new service - an experience, really - that you'll want to check out: Culinary Breakdown.

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Billed as a "collective culinary experience for the at-home social cook," Culinary Breakdown is the brainchild of Douglass Williams, a renowned chef whose previous experience includes posts at the Smithville Inn in Atlantic City, Harborview Restaurant in the Trump Casino and Resort, and Boston's very own Radius.

Now Douglass has turned his culinary attention to much more intimate gatherings; more specifically, a variety of classes for cooks of all levels that are intended to inspire, motivate and build confidence in the kitchen. Simply tell him the type of cuisine or ingredients you're interested in, and he'll design a menu and cooking experience to suit your tastes. Programs are designed to get everyone involved - learning quick tips, tricks, and trade secrets - before sitting down and enjoying the meal together.

Douglass williams

I had the pleasure of meeting Douglass - and witnessing his kitchen skills first hand -  at a barbecue hosted by a mutual friend. He had us all peeling, chopping, grilling, and searing in no time (let it be known that my blistered tomatoes were a crowd pleaser!), all in the comfort of our friend's kitchen & backyard. And besides the menus and cooking tips, Douglass brings a great sense of humor and flare to the party, ensuring a fun event.

Visit Culinary Breakdown for details on organizing an event, class, or private chef dinner (wine/beer/sake pairings are included in the price!), sample menus, and even a short video on how to butcher fish.

And, see Douglass this Friday when he helps kick off Boston Fashion Week with a complimentary tasting menu at Phenomena 2009, an annual non-profit charity gala that raises money for local and international charities.

UPDATE
: Culinary Breakdown is now live on Twitter and Facebook, so be sure to follow them and get all the latest news and event information!

Mmmm...Camel Milk

Move over, Coconut Water. There's a new drink in town: Camel Milk.

A centuries-old staple in the Middle East and Africa, the drink has been called "liquid gold" for its healing and nutritional qualities (some even say it's an aphrodisiac). Camel milk has three times as much vitamin C as cow's milk and contains high amounts of iron, unsaturated fatty acids and B vitamins.

It hasn't been widely available in the US, mainly because camels aren't listed in the rules governing the sale of milk here (which apparently cover "milk coming from hooved mammals" - and camels don't have hooves). And also because there aren't a lot of camels here. And they don't like to be milked. CamelMIlkUSA

But that hasn't stopped Dr. Millie Hinkle, a NC-based holistic health practitioner, from creating Camel Milk USA, a company "devoted to the research, development, sales, and promotion of camel milk and camel milk products in the US."

She also founded the American Camel Coalition, an organization composed of camel owners and breeders here in the U.S. People like Larry Seigal of Ferncroft Farms, a breeder of rare white Dromedary and Bactrian camels (and, interestingly enough: French Bulldogs!!).

Camelbox500 They're all hoping to replicate the success of foreign camel dairies, like Dubai's Emirates Industries for Camel Milk & Products, which sells camel milk and camel-milk chocolate under the brand "Camelicious" - purported to be the Godiva of the Middle East. But the drink hasn't yet been FDA-approved here at home, so for now you'll have to settle for Hinkle's logo products, or take a trip abroad. Or, you could always buy your own camel.


Second Skin

Secondskin_dvd I watched a great documentary this weekend called Second Skin about the online game industry (massively multiplayer online role-playing games in particular) and the people who play them.

The DVD was actually sent to me by a film school student at Florida State University who is interning at Liberation Entertainment and helping with the film's promotion. 

I'm not really into MMORPGs (think World of Warcraft, EverQuest, SecondLife), but it's an intriguing documentary for gamers and non-gamers alike. Long-time readers of my blog know that I'm interested in technology and its impact on culture, and this film provides some eye-opening stories and statistics on both.

Among the subjects covered:

  • The strong friendships (and in many cases, romances) built among people who have met in-game, and then pursued their relationships offline, in the "real" world
  • The gigantic industry that has grown up around online games, including $20 Billion in virtual goods exchanged and the gold farmers in China who play around the clock in order to acquire and then sell these valuable items to other gamers (seriously: here's one with a US operation)
  • How online games have given new meaning to the lives of many disabled players, who may be wheelchair bound and unable to talk in the physical world, but can run, jump, talk and laugh in the virtual one
  • The increasing threat of gaming addiction, where some players become so consumed by the game that they miss work, ruin relationships, and lose their homes. A very real problem, it has led to the 12-step program Online Gamers Anonymous and last week's opening of the first Internet Addiction Center in the US.

Footage includes commentary from real gamers and their loved ones, game developers, and researchers who closely follow this emerging trend. Among them, members of the Daedalus Project, a long-running survey study of MMORPG players.

If it sounds intriguing, take a peek at the trailer below, and then check out the full-length film.


And Then There's This

Andthentheresthis Continuing with the social media overload theme from my last post, I went ahead and read Bill Wasek's book, And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture.

The book examines the ever-shortening life span of stories in our culture - whether it's news, gossip, or the latest best-seller - among the onslaught of email, RSS feeds, blog posts (sorry, I'm adding to that), and Tweets. He describes a world in which we have become so accustomed to a constant stream of new information, and so wary of always-encroaching boredom, that we tell stories about our society and ourselves, even when there is nothing new to say.

Besides the information glut, shortening attention spans, and overall exhaustion this creates, the really good content gets lost after its fleeting 15 minutes of fame (if that). And despite the broader array of news and opinion available to us, we have not necessarily broadened our horizons, but rather self-segregate ourselves into smaller & smaller niches of like-minded individuals.

Some of my favorite excerpts:

"Breaking news, fresh gossip, tiny scandals, trumped-up crises - every day we are distracted by a culture that rings our doorbell and runs away. Stories spread wildly and die out in mere days, to be replaced by still more stories with ever shorter life spans.

The rapid appearance and disappearance of young writers is a byproduct of niche sensationalism...the young writer comes into the public consciousness like this: he or she becomes the one must read just then, not because his or her work is good, but because it represents something about the moment, or about the youthful cohort from which the writer has sprung.

We like to fill our minds with information that confirms what we already believe; this information in turn doubles down our already existing support of what we think or dismissal of what we disbelieve. It is in this regard that the Internet and confirmation bias are conspiring to erode what remains of reasonable political discourse in this country. The Internet allows the like-minded to find one another so quickly, and with so little exposure to other points of view. Indeed, in this regard, the forward march of search technology threatens to balkanize our politics even further: the ability to ever more agilely find what we are looking for, while excluding the rest, is exactly what a citizen does not need in making his or her political choices.

This is a common meme-maker's lament: viral projects spread through decontextualized blog links and email forwards, and so viewers tend to pay no attention whatsoever to the domains that actually host the material - they never learn anything about the creators who entertain them.

In the Internet circus, a seemingly infinite cast of clowns, daredevils, and freaks each step into the spotlight, enthrall the crowd for thirty seconds or so, and then exit back into the dark with barely a bow.

We love our nanostories, their birth and death thrill us, and yet we know that they are devouring us."

The same themes were picked up in a Financial Times article last week, which noted that for many, social media has become "a more personal filter to the infinite world of the Internet." Where people use to turn to traditional portals like Yahoo! or AOL as their entry point, they are now turning to Facebook or their preferred feed aggregator, reading just the news & information that comes in from friends or other trusted sources. Ray Valdes, a media analyst from Gartner is quoted: “We are moving toward a world of ‘snackable’ news that can be shared like pieces of candy or a pack of gum...Unfortunately, we run the risk of losing substance and nutritive value.” 

Wasik closes his book with a brief look at some of the "solutions" to Internet fatigue. Among them:

  • Writer & editor Jake Silverstein's proposed Internet Ramadan, where people go offline for a month
  • NYTimes writer Mark Bittman's Secular Sabbath, an experiment in going offline for a mere 24 hours
  • Chip maker Intel's Quiet Time, where employees are encouraged to go offline each Tuesday morning in order to think (and work) more deeply

There are countless articles with similar themes:

Should we be concerned? Or is our fast-paced lifestyle just the new norm, and the attention-getting books & headlines just another example of the trumped-up crises we crave?