Collegiate Zombie Defense

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The Undead have long been the subject of classes, even at the university level. I myself have taught several on the subject of area defense and removal strategies. I see now that the subject is making its way into the liberal arts realm: Exploring the undead: University of Baltimore to offer English class on zombies. I like the course description:

Is “Night of the Living Dead” a simple zombie film or a subtle antiwar statement? Precisely when did viral pandemic supplant nuclear radiation as the lead cause of zombification? And which sort of animated dead has the greater potential to frighten: shambler or sprinter?

I applaud this move.

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The Tyranny of the Recipe

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I once announced in the typically grandiose way I use when I pontificate:

All that is wrong with American food culture can be traced to the recipe. I am suffering under its tyranny.

Rather than eliciting the usual eye-rolling, a vigorous debate ensued. My wife quickly pointed to the glaring weakness of my proposition: Recipes teach you new ways of cooking. And yes, she is right, if you already know how to cook! She is a master and almost never follows a recipe to the letter. For her, it is a starting point that she’s riffs off of to produce an amazing meal. But therein lies the trap that recipes pose for the rest of us. Allow me to make my case:

  1. Recipes Set Unreasonable Expectations

    Things don’t always work out as planned. Even the best chefs have flops when they try something new, but they learn from their mistakes. That flawless salmon Gordon Ramsay plates on camera is probably the thousandth time he’s done that dish. Give him a recipe that uses an ingredient he’s never seen before in a style that’s new to him and, well, he’s probably got a better than even chance at success. But for the rest of us? I wonder how many potential cooks were turned off by an initial failure?

    I believe the overall quality of food in America would increase with the number of people who cook. I don’t think we need a nation of Michelin starred chefs, just people who know what it takes to make the basics. We’d be less likely to put up with crap from others.

    What can we do to get more people into the kitchen?

  2. Recipes Teach the Wrong Thing

    You cannot learn to cook from a recipe. There are too many variables at play for any one recipe to be the definitive answer: My oven behaves differently than yours. The meat I buy today is different from what I bought last week in size, shape and fat/connective tissue content. Etc., etc., etc… How can I be a success in the kitchen if I don’t understand these fundamentals?

    Rather than learning recipes, I should be learning techniques. How much easier would it be to follow a Coq au Vin recipe if you’ve mastered a basic roast chicken? Sure, they’re not same thing (braising vs. roasting), but you’ll already grok what heat does to connective tissue and the absolute lusciousness that follows.

    Also, if you master a technique, it becomes easier to branch out (for example, making your own stock with the left overs from a roast chicken). You have the building blocks that make good dishes. The more techniques your learn, the easier it is to assemble and reassemble these blocks into different meals.

    Pick a basic technique and a general ingredient, then keep doing it until you feel comfortable.

  3. Recipes Subvert the Shopping Process

    I ideally, you should go to the store with an open mind, to see what’s good today. A recipe driven approach makes this difficult. Unless you’re able to memorize hundreds or thousands of recipes, what are you going to do? Flip through every recipe you have to find a match for what you bought? Sure, the internet and recipe searches make this easier, but how much effort are you willing to put into tracking down something worth cooking? This would be more manageable if you limited the number of items you bought, but you may need to make a second trip.

    It’s more likely, though, that someone is jonesing for a particular dish and goes searching for the ingredients. This is how we’ve ended up with flavorless tomatoes that are available year round. And the meat department? How often do you see something with a bone in it? They’re usually arrayed in ready to use cuts. Please, don’t get me going on boneless, skinless, all white meat chicken.

    If you start with a technique, though, shopping becomes a zen-like journey of discovery. “Oh, look, duck. Hmmm, can’t be that much different to roast compared to a chicken.” You’ll find yourself asking questions of both staff and other customers and actually getting answers you understand.

    When you feel confident enough to take home a new ingredient, you’ll know that you’re beginning to master your craft.

Let me reiterate: There is a place in the world for recipes, but they should not serve as your entry point into the world of cooking. I find it interesting to leaf through Le Guide Culinaire. Most recipes are a few sentences, maybe 2-3 paragraphs. There are no lists or explicit steps. Here’s one selected at random, Sole à la Dieppoise:

Prepare the sole and shallow poach in a buttered dish with 1/2 cup white wine and the same amount of mussel cooking liquor. When cooked, drain and place in a suitable dish, surround with a Dieppoise garnish and coat the whole with Sauce Vin Blanc containing the reduced cooking liquid from the sole.

How many assumptions are built into this recipe? You can’t make money selling a book like this since only trained chefs will buy it. And that’s the answer to my conundrum. Cookbook publishers want you to buy their books. They need to appear to contain doable recipes. I think it would be antithetical to their business model, though, to actually produce a truly useful volume. Most people would then limit their purchases. I’m looking at 6 shelves of cook books and magazines in my study, most of which are pure lists of recipes. I’m guessing that we’ve averaged cooking 2-3 from each book.

These are the types of food books I’d like to see more of:

The Tex-Mex Cookbook

The Tex-Mex Cookbook by Robb Walsh
The Tex-Mex Cookbook by Robb Walsh

by Robb Walsh

Yes, there are recipes here with your lists of ingredients and steps. But that’s only a part of the book. The author goes into the history of Tex-Mex; how it came to be and how it straddles the border between Mexican and Anglo cuisines. Not only do I have a recipe for an excellent chili gravy, but I also have a counter move when someone swings the term “authentic” like a club. This is a cookbook that can be read cover-to-cover.

The Big Oyster

The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky
The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky

by Mark Kurlanksy

This is not a cookbook, though it does contain recipes (pickled oysters, anyone?). It’s a history of New York City told from the context of this bivalve. It’s a fascinating read (dang, the oysters were the size of dinner plates when Europeans first showed up), but I appreciate the insight it gives me to one of my favorite foods. I understand this shellfish better.

Well, enough of my rant. I need to figure out how to prepare a flatfish.

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TEotWaWKI Book Review: The American Plague

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The Amerian Plague by Molly Caldwell Crosby
The Amerian Plague by Molly Caldwell Crosby

by Molly Caldwell Crosby

When most people think of the end of the world, images of the recent zombie wars flood the mind. Understandably so since we lost nearly 90% of the world’s population. What people seem to forget, though, is that TEotWaWKI is a regular, albeit infrequent occurrence, from world-wide cataclysms to local events. The American Plague is a good example of the latter end of this spectrum as it delves into the Yellow Fever epidemic that swept through Memphis in 1878.

Consider the following from page 64*:

A number of nurses, doctors, ministers or nuns later wrote of the fear that accompanied them the first time they entered an infected home. They had nursed hundreds from the halls of sick wards, but it was something else all together to climb the steps of a porch and open a door with a yellow card swinging from a nail. The first thing to strike was the smell. It floated in the streets, a scent like rotting hay. The smell grew stronger and overpowering once the front door was opened, where it mingled with the soiled sheets, sweat and vomit. Inside, one never knew what to expect. Moans, cries, delirious screams, or worse, no sound at all. There was darkness, as windows were boarded shut, and there was the stagnant heat of imprisoned air. Then, as their eyes focused, they saw the bodies. At first, it was hard to tell which ones were living and where were not. If deceased, one could never know how long they had been that way or in what condition they would be.

Sound familiar? It gave me the chills. (Is that a headache I feel?) The similarities don’t end there:

  • Effective quarantine procedures had been in place, but they were rescinded several years before because it would, as the author wrote on page 48, “create panic, stifling river traffic and delaying cotton shipments.” Money always wins out over safety.
  • There were gangs roving through the city, robbing the homes of the defenseless infected.
  • Many did not die as a direct result of the disease, but rather of other causes exacerbated by the outbreak such as starvation and dehydration.

This happened before the dead rose and it will happen again. Be prepared!

* This and other quotes are from the September 2007 Berkley trade paperback edition of the book which is available from Amazon.com.

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TEotWaWKI Alert (UPDATE: False Alarm): Zombies Spotted in Portland Oregon

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“Zombies” crash on I-84 near Lloyd exit

I realize I’m an old fart, I just don’t see why anyone would want to look like a zombie. They’re lucky that someone didn’t unload on them at the time. Must be a sign that the Zombie Wars are firmly in our past.

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TEotWaWKI Book Review: The Long Emergency

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The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler
The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler

by James Howard Kunstler

This book is a rant written by a very angry man in a world that had yet to experience TEotWaWKI. His rage seems to get in the way of his arguments. (Good thing he didn’t know what was coming, how we handled zombies would have caused him a stroke.) Thing is, he makes some very good points, but they’re buried in his rambling prose. I much preferred his World Made by Hand — a book I strongly recommend.

I previous reviewed A Canticle for Leibowitz in which the end of the world is instant and massively violent. If you survived the nuclear war, it was obvious there was no going back. Mr. Kunstler, though, posits a world where the end is gradual and not at all obvious. Remember the beginnings of the zombie outbreak? Denial was strong through the first week or so. It took actual assault by the undead for people to wake up to the new reality and, yet, even that didn’t work for some. But the removal of the underpinnings of the pre-SHTF world — cheap petroleum — would have taken years if not decades to complete. The process described in The Unthinkable clearly apply here:

  1. Denial: People didn’t want to believe that oil was going away. Oh, sure, it will happen eventually, but by then the free market will produce something to replace it such as hydrogen or solar power.
  2. Deliberation: Once it was accepted that the days of cheap oil were behind us, the thinking went haywire. There were wars to secure supplies, attempts to invent something in a hurry (only to realize that it, too, would need vast inputs of petroleum), and don’t forget the blame. The finger was pointed at everything from ungodly behavior to communist subversion.
  3. The Decisive Moment: Well, we never got to that point. The zombies rendered it moot. As the Chinese say: It’s a truly ill wind that blows everyone evil. Reducing the human population by 90% did have some benefits.

I can’t exactly recommend The Long Emergency. If you have the patience, the nuggets you glean are worthwhile, but you’re better off reading World Made by Hand.

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Monsieur Haeringer, I Will Miss You

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Francois Haeringer
Francois Haeringer

I note with sadness the passing of François Haeringer. He introduced me, through his restaurant L’Auberge Chez François, to what a really good meal can mean. There is an obituary in The Washington Post that’s worth reading.

I first ate at his restaurant in the late Eighties, at a time in my life when sitting down to dinner was an event purely about eating. I grumbled when I had to put on a suit and tie, muttered various synonyms for quaint when I first glimpsed the place and panicked when I saw the menu. I don’t remember what I ordered, but I do recall that it had the element of randomness to it. The effect was immediate. I walked in as Saul and left converted to the total experience that a meal should be. The man himself said:

Listen, when people go to the restaurant, what do they want? A good time. A nice atmosphere. A good meal. It’s simple.

Frequently at home, when remembering a place, we’ll recall a great meal we had there or, just as likely, when making a dish at home, we’ll reminisce about eating it on vacation somewhere. The sensual experience that is a meal – flavor, aroma, the sights and sounds, the very feel of it – all work to tightly bind your memories.

I have not dined at L’Auberg Chez François for a while now. Twenty years ago, it was practically the only place of its kind. Now, however, someone looking for a high-end experience has many options. I moved on. I feel really guilty about that. I am happy to see that his sons will continue to run the place. I shall make a reservation soon.

Thank you François Haeringer, you made the world a better place.

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TEotWaWKI Book Review: A Canticle for Leibowitz

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A Canticle for Leibowitz
A Canticle for Leibowitz

by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

I have to be careful how I say this or I might come across as one who enjoys the end of the world: If the world must end, the swiftness and violence of TeoTWaWKI can be a blessing. You have no choice but to accept the fact that the world as you knew it is no longer. When the destruction is so complete and return impossible, you can look to the task at hand. Such is the case in A Canticle for Leibowitz.

This masterfully written novel posits a world in which we infer a nuclear exchange wiped out civilization sometime in the mid-20th century. The story is broken up into 3 parts taking place 300, 600 and 1,200 years post-SHTF. Unlike most stories I’ve reviewed here, you do not see what happens during the crisis, only after stability has returned. And the fact that we’re dealing in centuries should tell you the extent of the damage that occurred, that we’re talking sociological far more than physical infrastructure.

Nothing had been so hateful in the sight of these mobs as the man of learning, at first because they had served the princes, but then later because they refused to join the bloodletting and tried to oppose the mobs, calling the crowds “bloodthirsty simpletons.”

A common mistake for pre-SHTF planners is to assume reasoned behavior on the part of survivors, that even violent behavior would be guided by a rational sense of survival. That has consistently proven to not be the case. Beware the man who is having difficulty redrawing his mental map, especially if his is armed. You cannot appeal to his senses. You best get out of his way. Woe to the land over-run by a mob of such people.

The thon’s gaze seemed to clamp calipers on the abbot’s cranium and measure it six ways.

One other aspect of end of the world scenarios that this book covers well is that of scope. There is the short term: how do I survive the crisis? Then there is the long term: I have survived, now what? This book deals in the epochal, survival not just of a man, but of mankind. There are three stages to this process:

  1. Archive the Knowledge: Gather everything from the old world, wherever you may find it.
  2. Protect the Knowledge: Both from enemies who would seek to destroy it as well as time that would corrupt and erode it.

  3. Disseminate the Knowledge: When the time is right, release it back into society so that it may help humanity to grow and prosper.

I highly recommend this book. The characters are engaging and the issues raised provoke much thought after you done reading. Compared to the world the author describes, I feel we got of light. What’s a horde of zombies compared to full scale nuclear war?

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TEotWaWKI Alert: Zombie Attack in Nebraska

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Police: Woman bites man after being called fat

There’s been a lot of stupidity lately in dealing with the undead. Perhaps too much time has past since the catastrophe that people have forgotten how to handle themselves.

Don’t taunt a zombie! They don’t get it, you look like a fool and you’ll probably wind up a zed yourself. Leave it to the professionals.

Fat zombies, ugh! That brings back some unpleasant memories. They might be slower moving, but when they get a head of steam going, they can barrel through all but the strongest barriers. I had a particularly nasty encounter in a dark hall way in which the freaking thing, though finally killed, still blocked my exit. I still have nightmares about that.

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Viable Pre-SHTF Survival Tips

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This is a constant subject of conversation: What could I have done to improve my chances once we had an outbreak of undead? If you knew for sure that it was coming, yes:

  • Build a fortress
  • Stock it with a lifetime supply of food and ammo
  • Heck, build a solar array and a reverse osmosis water purification plant

Truly, though, even with 20/20 hindsight, you’d’ve been an idiot to do that. Taking such steps would have meant completely writing off a normal life. If the end of the world never came, you’d be broke and probably lose contact with your kids after they leave the nest, seeking a normal life.

This is not to say, however, that you couldn’t prepare in a way that would still be beneficial if you never encountered a single zombie in your lifetime. This is just general good advice.

  1. Get in shape: The ability to run long distances interspersed with quick sprints not only maintains a healthy cardio-vascular system, but also allows you to escape the hoards of undead giving you chase.
  2. Get regular checkups: The last thing you want in any TEotWaWKI situation is to experience a health issue. Make sure you’re always up to date on your vaccinations, get your teeth checked every 6 months and pay special attention to foot health. Zed would just love it if you had a bad case of plantar fascitis.
  3. Know how to use and maintain a fire arm: First, get a lesson on how to fire a weapon. You’re local gun shop or firing range should have classes. Once you’re comfortable with that, buy something. Become an expert in how it works. Keep it clean.
  4. Understand your local weather patterns: This means more than just reading the weather report everyday. You need to be able to rely on more than just your newspaper and be familiar with the whole region. Quick, tell me, when does the first frost usually happen where you live?
  5. Be the map: I know, you’re thinking, “I have no problems getting from point A to point B.” I’m telling you, post-SHTF, your points A and B are going to change. Can you navigate off road? What are some terrain features that could impede your progress? What if you’re half way to point B and learn you need to get your butt to point C?

Like I said, I believe this to be valuable advice whether or not the dead rise again.

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TEotWaWKI Book Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

This book changed my life. I realize people think me a curmudgeon and I’ll cop to that charge. I take my undead seriously and have witnessed the grisly result of those who don’t. I see nothing funny about them. So it may come as a surprise to some to learn that I enjoyed this book, found it to be a worthwhile read. Let me explain.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has been sitting in my To Read pile for quite sometime (I mentioned this about a year ago). The reviews made the book seem lighthearted. Not at all, the authors clearly show in serious tones what life is like in a world over-run by the living dead.

What makes this a great piece of fiction is that the zombies are not central to the story. I found myself more concerned about Mr. Darcy’s boorish behavior than how best to dispatch a ghoul with a katana sword. Perhaps this is best, because what is covered leaves me wondering about the authors. One of them seems not to realize that the musket is a weapon, even in the hands of an experienced user, that can fire only 3 rounds a minute. That’s a recipe for disaster. I’d stick with older technologies, like the battle ax or halberd. But then, I’ve never had proper training in the Asian martial arts. Maybe they provide courses in flint lock fire arms.

So, yes, read this book. Enjoy this book. And demand of other authors that they focus on the story rather than on how they can make their undead more outlandish. Oh, and don’t forget, my daughter comes from a fine family, has impeccable manners and is second to none with the machete.

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