Food & Drink

When a pint is not a PINT

Morning essay on drinking beer in American bars & brewpubs compared with the British pub experience (after learning to appreciate really good beer in Germany in my youth – mostly lagers and weissbiers – and living on and off in Oxford, England since 2012):

After another in a long line of disappointing beer experiences in American brewpubs and bars, I decided to finally look into this comparative pint and pint glass situation, and it is worse than I feared. First, an American pint is 16 ounces or 473 ml, while a British/Commonwealth/Irish Imperial pint is 568 ml. Who cares, you say? Because we are talking about beer and whether or not you are getting your money’s worth!

It gets worse. Because there are no laws and no effective nationwide advocacy groups like CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) looking out for the public, American pints of 16 ounces are often underpoured to 14 ounces to allow for the foamy head inside the top of a glass that may or may not even be 16 ounces! I was once even served in a cognac glass at a microbrewery when I ordered their darkest beer!!! Then factor in that even decent American micro-brewery beers and lagers (much less all the more popular “light beers”) generally have a good bit less alcohol than the stronger British and Irish beers, ales, bitters, porters, and stouts, and that just finding a dark beer in most bars is an impossibility (much less one on draft).

This leads to the conclusion that drinking beer in the US is pretty sad and pathetic compared with the exalted Vallhalla-esque experience of drinking locally-made real pints of much stronger beer all across the UK from Kent in England to Cardiff in Wales and from Land’s End in Cornwall to Culloden in Scotland. Now here’s an area in which Britannia still rules! And it’s in no danger of seeing its Empire of Ale crumble, largely thanks to CAMRA, which basically has been saving the British beer industry, pubs, and the beer-drinker’s experience from Corporate Bollocksism for the last 40 years or so!

Now, the state of Michigan appears to be ahead of the curve on such things due to its rather large number of microbreweries, but the US essentially needs its own nationwide version of CAMRA to begin to rectify this awful situation. Until then, I’ll just have to continue drinking my Guinness when and if I can find it on the drinks menu. Even out of a can.

Categories: England, Food & Drink, Pubs, Uncategorized, United Kingdom | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Broken Glass


The ruby river of tears, bloody tears

tastes like port flowing from a broken glass

at a picnic table sitting on Wolvercote Green

where laughter rings and glasses clink together

in a garden where dogs and boys are running wild

and little Clara Rose chases them down

until she falls and scrapes her knee and

I wipe the port away and you refill

and heal our shattered spirits with a gentle kiss.

Categories: England, Food & Drink, Literature, Poetry, Pubs, United Kingdom | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

At the Twelve Pins

Twelve Pins Pub, Islington

Taxis and tourists, ice cream girl

waiting to cross with flowers in hand, crying,

while Daddy chases daughter in pink cap exploring, learning

Islington’s ways; working class guys and foreigners

walk with Irishmen, Arabs, and Africans; the quiet American

smoking his pipe at a table on the pub sidewalk –

first a Guinness then a Strongbow while he watches and waits – for what?

The Ginger Beauty? The Ice Cream Girl?  He exchanges

knowing looks with the daddy, baby daughter imprisoned

again in her pram; buses of red roaring down

Seven Sisters Road where Blackstock turns

downhill.  Just sit and watch and London

passes for the price of a pint or two at the Twelve Pins.

Categories: England, Exploration, Food & Drink, Poetry, Pubs, United Kingdom | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Dine like a Gentleman or a Lady on your Remote Archaeological Expedition

Howard Carter and field team dining in Egypt at the Valley of the Kings in a tomb near King Tutankhamen's.  Photo taken by Lord Carnarvon

Howard Carter and field team dining in Egypt at the Valley of the Kings in a tomb near King Tutankhamen’s. Photo taken by Lord Carnarvon

In late 2014 a colleague and I went to a lecture at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England on what can only be called “How to live like a gentleman whilst exploring the remotest corners of the world.” The talk was by the archivist from Fortnum and Mason’s, the elite London store catering to the culinary needs and wishes of aristocrats, gentlemen, and ladies the world over. F & M is especially known for its gift hampers full of chocolates, teas, wines, and jams, and it is definitely a thrilling experience to be on the receiving end of one of these hampers! Lord Carnarvon had crates of food and wines routinely delivered via ship from F & M while he and Carter were in Egypt searching for King Tut’s tomb. Today archaeologists and explorers can still get this kind of delivery on their expeditions no matter where they are in the world. One day I shall have to partake of this excellent service, though it would help immensely if I had a patron of that ilk!

Fortnum & Mason Christmas Hamper

Fortnum & Mason Christmas Hamper

“In the 1920s, Fortnum and Mason was the only store (oddly enough) to have a department that functioned solely to service ‘Expeditions’. This way, true English gentlemen could make their great discoveries in the far corners of the earth whilst never relinquishing the essentials of butter knives and foie gras. Fortnum and Mason not only supplied hampers to Howard Carter’s 1922 expedition, but thereafter empty wine boxes were employed to store and catalogue the finds. The intrepid amongst us will be happy to know that Fortnum and Mason still sponser expeditions, ensuring that no matter how far into the unknown one ventures, marmalade and fudge are not far behind. Unfortunately it would appear that the more recently catered adventures are those instigated by the children of the board.” Quoted from…/underthevaults/…/25/week4/

Categories: Archaeology, England, Exploration, Food & Drink, Museums | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Making Asi, Or How to Drink Tea the Southeastern Indian Way

The White Drink of the Hitchiti Creek of Georgia

The White Drink of the Hitchiti Creek of Georgia

About 350 years ago a refugee group of Muscogee-speaking Indians arrived in what later became Georgia, and began a protracted struggle for dominance with the native Hitchiti-speaking Indians. The Hitchitis “made them Black Drink as a token of friendship” and took away the Muscogees’ tomahawk and buried it under a house as part of a peace ceremony. Then they adopted them as one people with their own, and gave them white feathers. This is told in the Kasita Migration Legend, as recounted in Savannah in 1735, and describes an event that probably took place sometime just prior to A.D. 1662.

The Carolina traders, who mostly translated such speeches, called it the Black Drink because of its dark black hue, but since white was the color of peace and friendship to the Southeastern Indians, for them it was always the White Drink regardless of its color. In Hitchiti the word for this drink is asi (leaves). The Apalachee Indians of northern Florida, who spoke a related language, also had this custom, but called it cassina, in which you can see “assi.” And the Catawba Indians of North Carolina called it yaupon, the common name of the plant today. Botanists call the plant Ilex vomitoria, since the Indians drank this tea before any important decisions were made, and then to symbolize ritual purification, they regurgitated it on the ground at will. At other times tea made from “the leaves” were merely drunk for social reasons, but only ever by the male leaders and warriors of a village or their honored male guests, whether from other towns or tribes or from the European colonies on the American seaboard.

Healthy Yaupon Leaves from an Archaeological Site in Middle Georgia

Healthy Yaupon Leaves from an Archaeological Site in Middle Georgia

Although Ilex vomitoria (the horrible scientific name botanists gave the plant) is native to the coastal South from Virginia to Texas, it can still be found throughout the places where Southeastern Indians lived within the last 500 years or so, including numerous river and creek valleys hundreds of miles into the interior coastal plain and piedmont. So having decided to try my hand at making asi and advice from my friend Jim Preston on where to find some, I gathered my yaupon leaves, and let them dry out for about a week. Then I parched them in the oven in a stainless steel pan until they were brown and crunchy. Thirdly, I let them cool a bit, and crushed them as much as possible with the bottom of a coffee mug. Next I put “the leaves” in a stainless steel pot and filled it with water and boiled them on medium for about 20 minutes. Finally, I strained the leaves out and poured a mug of this dark black tea for my very first taste.

Delicious! Americans have no need to import tea from China or India (or Great Britain for that matter)! We have a source of caffeine in the native yaupon plant, and it makes a lovely spot of tea! Although some may like to add sugar (and/or milk – yuck) to their Black Drink, I prefer it au naturel, without any additives. It is definitely a jolt of caffeine, and the literature all says it’s a natural diuretic, although I can’t claim to know this from my experience. It does give a whole new meaning to drinking tea down South however, and puts us back in touch both with nature and our Native American forbears.

Categories: Archaeology, Exploration, Food & Drink | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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