Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Big Ants 2008!

It's True. The Great Penny came through for the second year in a row!! Her weekend off from work coincided with a thunderstorm or two in Southern Texas, and she was able to gather a mess of queen leaf-cutter ants. In fact she included [on her livejournal] a description of what she had to do in order to get them, and I'm most grateful.

The difference between last year and this one is that she's gotten a little tired of waiting for me to send her some 'authentic' Colombian-prepared ants, and decided to throw an ant-tasting party of her own. I'll still send her some of the pre-packaged sort, really I will, but it's fantastic that she and her friends went ahead and ate their own.

Have a look for yourselves:

This is just the kind of thing I'd like to see others doing. These good people found out that yes, insects can be very tasty. It's time that others learned the same.
I'll let you all know when the ants arrive.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bread and Vodka (and new friends)

Among the several new projects at SLS are two that have me working with new colleagues!

The first is insect flour. I'd worked with it a few years ago and wanted to do more with it. This speaks to the question of, "is it okay to transform the insect as part of processing it into food, or is that 'selling out?'" For a while I was against 'hiding' the bugs, but I've come to realize that if people are aware and content to benefit nutritionally, environmentally, etc from the experience of eating insects, that's what matters. Besides, it's good to meet people half-way. If eating a slice of toast (ground-up insect and all) is easier than chomping on an entire insect body, then why not help the people out in that regard?

The process is simple: take your thawed crickets out and dry/toast them in the oven. Then grind into flour.

A couple weeks ago I dropped off the flour at Liberty Elm Diner at 777 Elmwood Avenue in the glorious city of Providence. Liberty Elm is a relatively new establishment and they're multo cool -- not just because they're willing to bake with insect flour. Their food is great, they've got live music, and they're friendly and wiki-enabled. You can learn more about them at

Here's the flour and what we made with it.

In fact the diner's baker made the wheat-flour/potato bread both with and without the cricket flour, for comparison's sake. The dark one contains the cricket flour; it was also quite a bit denser. I'm mildly embarrassed to say that I don't yet know exactly how she worked that recipe -- how much flour was called for, and how much cricket flour was used, and did the latter simply replace the usual flour or was added to? Questions like these need answering, but the more important details are that the cricket rolls were very tasty, with a sort of parmesan cheese taste to them; AND that even though the rolls were not officially on the menu, several people ordered and paid for them! Most cool. With a little more effort I could help Providence reach the forefront of entomophagic cities in this country...

The other project: BOOZE!

I am fortunate enough to be in contact with the illustrious Baron Ambrosia, who creates some pretty amazing stuff in NYC. He's classy, enthusiastic, and he excells at staying presposterous. You can get a taste -- nay, a banquet! -- at

I have no images yet, just this link to the episodes of Underbelly. As can be seen upon a perusal thereof, each of the episodes concludes with the proclamation, "Stay Preposterous!!" From what I can tell he's all about the high life, and to that end he's got some very interesting ideas about capturing the essence of insects [particularly the giant water bugs, for example] in distilled spirits such as vodka. This is just the kind of thing I want to work with, since it's another way of making the concept of entomophagy a viable option. But in terms of the Baron himself, there is a good deal more going on.

Granted, at first blush it looks like he's only playing around, there's a serious message too. The Baron has filmed not only in the gritty 'first-world' of The Bronx, but in Liberia and Sierra Leone as well. He and his crew plan to visit Somalia and Chechnya in the coming year. When I asked him about his predilection for travelling to places wherein he's likely to have his ass shot off, he said something like, "The Baron loves the world. I want to do things the other shows won't do, which is to show how beautiful people really are." Granted this was a telephone conversation, so I can't claim to quote verbatim, but the gist is that in the service of humanity there is no danger to fear. I was moved. And I look forward to working with him.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Finally: Two important links!!

Hey there, everyone.

Although these things happened about two months ago, and though all of my friends have found them already through simple Google searches, here's the links to those two milestones:

the New York Times article of 2/10/08, written by the great Sam Nejame:

and, following the above, my 2/13/08 guest appearance on The Colbert Report:

Maybe it's just taken me this long to get used to the idea that these things have really happened. That said, though, it's not like they've propelled my little company into any stratospheres of prominence and/or success. Yet. But they have been efficacious. My webmaster tracked the "bumps" in the hits, and suchlike marketing details.

More big things ahead...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Thailand II

The first insects I had eaten were in the evening market on Sunday, the first day I'd gotten into CM. The mixed bag was about 60 cents U.S. and contained six kinds of insect. They were all pretty good, but a few kinds were delicious.

I'd bought them at this table; there was only one such vendor at the market that late afternoon.

I'm aware that pictures like this are kind of a tacky standard subject for foreign tourists, and I felt a little strange shooting away like this, just as if I was some gawker. But I tried each kind of insect and then bought a second bag for later, and some of these were very tasty. For my money, the best of all were the BIG grasshoppers.

The conference,

Edible Forest Insects: Humans Bite Back

took place on a Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday. Presentations took up the first day, and that evening there was a banquet of sorts. The main courses were beef, pork, chicken, and fish; before these dishes were many insects. I tried all of them.

The Bamboo Caterpillars

and grasshoppers were among the best. Unlike most of the other conference-attendees, I tried all of the insects on offer, though several of them weren't fantastic:

Of these, the ones in the lower right quadrant -- the bedraggled sphinx moth, the rhinoceros beetle, and the longhorn beetle cut off by the edge of the image -- were pretty bad. The Giant Water Bug also was disappointing. But the large crickets (genus Brachytrupes) in the upper right area, and the house crickets on the left side of the plate, were quite good, as were the two varieties specified already. After finishing the great majority of this plate I will admit that I was ready for the vertebrate selections that evening.

The second day consisted of a driving tour full of stops related to the development of insects in one application or another, but mostly as foods. We went to an insect zoo; a cricket farm; a bee farm; and another market -- where I sampled some deep-fried scorpion.

One of the 39 cricket pits housed in an unwalled area the size of a four-car garage -- a concrete circle a meter across and half as high. It's a self-contained cricket utopia (except for the part about being harvested as food, but then the crickets themselves never know about that part). There's plenty of hiding places, food [chicken feed], and water [two plastic water-bottles laid on their sides, with paper towels out of the holes punched to let the capillary action draw the moisture up for the insects to drink -- brilliant in its simplicity!] There's even a handy laying-tray with the right kind of substrate: coconut husks and potting soil. The eggs can hatch in a new pit and thereby start off the next generation. Seven weeks later, harvest time.

The scorpion (Heterometrus spinifer, looks a lot like the emperor scorpion that's a somewhat-popular pet choice among certain circles here in the U.S.) didn't have a lot of real flavor, but the texture of the exoskeleton was unique, and a fairly pleasant eating experience. But it was hardly as much fun to eat as some already mentioned items.

The last day included some papers (including mine, which went pretty well) and group meetings.
Afterward I hit the night-markets, as I'd done several times by then. The next two days were spent with new friends on a driving tour -- we drove Northwest-ish from Chiang Mai towards Myanmar, and stayed at the Cave Lodge. It was amazing: a large cave with thorough tours, a five-minute walk from the Lodge.

Best of all: after the tour, we lay ourselves on the dry riverbed and watched the hundreds of thousands of cave swifts speeding through the evening air, back to their perches in the cave. Spectacular!! The shots I took didn't do them justice, but a charming Montrealean named Madga sent me some video she had shot. If anyone just has to see it, let me know and I'll try to send it to you.

Too soon I had to return to Chiang Mai and fly home, to Bangkok, where I wasn't able to see a thing because I didn't plan it into this trip; then Tokyo, where I had sushi in the airport; and back to Chicago, Boston, then home at last to modest, cozy Providence. I'm looking forward to my next trip to Thailand; we'll have to see how soon I'll be able to go.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

What's going on these days

I'll be posting more about Thailand soon, but for the moment I want to just run through current projects:

I’m trying to be patient during some heavy-duty business negotiations.

Bugstock 3 will take place in rural Louisiana at the end of May: I’m deciding whether I can make it.

I’m trying to write a book, at last, on my life as an entomophagy guy.

I’m busily making cricket flour for baked goods, and a couple days ago I dropped off some at a diner here in Providence. I'm told they'll make some oatmeal raisin cookies with it, and I'm definitely hoping they'll use it in bread as well.