Sunday, January 8, 2012

Non-Fiction, Beer and Cooking

I've been reading alot of non-fiction lately. At first, I wasn't sure why. Usually I dislike non-fiction. It bores me. When I read, I want story and characters and action, and non-fiction just isn't as good at that sort of thing as fiction. Non-fiction is good for some things though, namely teaching you things, opening your experiences, and at times, creating a good story as well. Not to mention, the writing can be very good and just as interesting as fiction. 

It started with Anthony Bourdain, who, only a couple months or so ago, I knew next to nothing about. He was a guy who had a show called No Reservations, on the Travel Channel. I'd seen the show a few times, and enjoyed it. In it, each episode he travels to a different country or area, experiencing these cultures and talking about them. He interacts with all sorts of folks, eating a grilled lamb with some farmers as well as enjoying fine dining at fancy establishments. Food is a pretty big deal for him, something he talks about with passion and extensive experience. So, a little while ago, I realized he was an author, so I decided to check out a few of his books, because I liked the way he monologued on the show, the way he spoke of other cultures and people, and the way he drank and ate anything he could get his hands on. 

I started with Kitchen Confidential, his first work, I believe. Turns out he was a chef for many years, which isn't a big surprise considering his obsession with good food. Kitchen Confidential is part biography, part exposure, of the crazy intense and hectic lives of chefs, and the life-style of those who work in restaurants, those who serve you your medium rare hamburgers and fries, your steak-frites, and your chicken parmesan. It was a really interesting read. His writing is quite good, sounding exactly like the way he talks on his show. He is a kind of no bullshit tell-it-like-it-is guy, an angry ex-chef who knows the biz and knows food, and the story of his life as a chef is compelling. Then I read his fiction, two novels, Bone in the Throat and Bobby Gold's stories, both of which were pretty good. Unsurprisingly, the main characters are involved in restaurants, and they read almost like hard-boiled mystery tales. From there, I read A Cook's Tour: In Search of a Perfect Meal. Basically, Bourdain realized he didn't want to be a chef after writing Kitchen Confidential, gave a proposal to his publisher, where he said he would travel around the world searching for the perfect meal, doing crazy shit and eating crazy food, and he would write about it. Which he did. It also became a television show. It was also really good. His description of food and places and people and culture is just interesting, at least to me. He comes across as a pretty normal guy, ex-heroin addict chef, no bullshit kind of a guy, now turned writer and traveler extroadinaire. I'm jealous. 

I've also read some Hunter S. Thompson, currently reading his book about the Hell's Angels. One of my professor's used the term 'creative non-fiction', and that fits Thompson perfectly. He was a reporter of sorts, but he also told stories, drug and booze-filled hilarious adventures. They are good simply for the story, but they also have a point to them and make you think about certain things. I guess that's one place where non-fiction can trump fiction. It can really make you think about the world around you, maybe in a way you hadn't before. You can learn shit. Fiction can do this as well, but it's more difficult. Fiction is more about escapism, escaping from this world to get lost in another, more fantastic and exciting world, following wild characters into dangerous situations. Non-fiction shows you new things about the real world around you, makes you realize how exciting and strange it can be. I've always thought of the line "Truth is stranger than fiction" was bullshit, and I still do. "Truth can be stranger than fiction" makes more sense to me. 

Regardless, one reason I think I've been reading alot of compelling non-fiction, is because I'd like to write some interesting compelling non-fiction. I don't really mean publishing articles or journalism, more about improving my writing on this blog, making it more interesting and exciting and new. Hopefully, by reading some good non-fiction, my own non-fiction writing will improve as well, and this blog will get better and better. So there's that, I guess.


It's almost been a week. Tomorrow is when I should bottle, I think, from what the directions say. Should be a fun and interesting process. Fermentation has definitely been going on. Bubbling in the airlock, foam and stuff on the top of the wort and a general brown color are all good signs I think. All I need are bottles and caps and I'm good to go. It's been fun, watching it, thinking "I am creating something!" The foam has gone away somewhat, which I'm not sure if that's a good or bad or nothing sign, so I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing and we'll see what happens. 

Here's more pics!
First few days of fermentation. Look at those goddamn beautiful bubbles!

Last couple days before bottling! Look at that delicious amber liquid!

So that's going well, I think. I'm pretty excited, actually. There really is something about creating something, putting things together to form a wholly complete end-product, that feels good. No bullshit. Making shit yourself feels good. Which is why I think I enjoy cooking. 

Yes, I enjoy cooking and I'm not afraid to say it. I shouldn't be, either, nobody should. Cooking is an incredibly useful skill, one that can cut food costs and increase the deliciousness and nutrition of your diet. I'm not going to lie though, if I didn't have someone to cook with...Well let's just say I'd be eating more C-17 General Tso's Chicken and Buffalo Wings. 

Cooking is like a puzzle. You must take basic ingredients, use them, combine them, and change them in such ways that you end up with a delicious solution. Add to this the fact that there are a nigh-infinite amount of variables to add and subtract, methods of cooking, that can change the deliciousness of the end solution. 

Now, to be honest, I don't stray from recipes very much. At all. But still, it kind of reminds me of building a model airplane or something. You start with the pieces, follow the directions, put it together and at the end you have a cool looking plane, or a delicious meal if you follow the recipe correctly. If you mess up a piece here or there, the airplane may fall apart, or it may not even matter. 

So maybe that's why I like cooking. Or maybe I just like delicious food. In one of Bourdain's books, he talks about how basic cooking could and probably should be a skill learned by all in high school, and I'd have to say I agree. It's cheaper and healthier and works your brain. Like I said, following a recipe, cooking something, is like a puzzle, you have to work your brain to figure it out and get it right, and we can all agree working with our brains is a good thing. It takes more thinking than say, ordering takeout or delivery or getting fast food. And when you make something delicious, when you get it right, it feels good. 

Anyways, that's about it for today. 


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