I got a beer-making kit this Christmas and have run out of excuses for not using it.

Making beer (and I’m assuming most alcohol) involves an ordered set of stages similar to those immediately preceding and following its consumption:

  • hard work and/or fear
  • a period of relative relaxation
  • euphoria/misery

The beer kit comes in a nice brown box that reveals none of its content (I understand printed pornography once arrived similarly concealed). This means that, prior to opening, the imagination may run rampant (again, see prior reference). To wit: inside is my magic beer kit. There’s a large container and some magic powder; you put the powder in the container with some water and then you have beer a bit later. Or, possibly: inside is my beer unicorn. I will keep it tethered in the back yard and milk it every night for pints and pints of delicious unicorn milk stout.

Predictably it is more the former than the latter and the first step is to sterilize everything (see “fear” from list above) and then do something several times with the rather large bag of grains as well as the chestnuts which you have remembered to purchase, roast, and peel in advance (see “hard work”) after which you may play with the alchemical pipes and rods and read up about “wort” for a week or 2 (see “relative relaxation”). Finally after another few weeks you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor (or shake your tiny fist if something has gone amiss: see “euphoria/misery”). The beer kit is from Brooklyn Brewshop. I will report back. If you want to snoop ahead you may read the instructions here.


A recent early morning discussion between W and myself has determined the following:

Unicorns are raised on farms where they subsist on a diet of Reisling, oatmeal, and carrot cake. The food is consumed inside the farm’s “man shack”, entry to which is actually available to all genders. Unicorns additionally fart rainbows. The gases are employed in the production of non lead-based rainbow paint: all the colors in one can. Unicorns are, finally, distantly related to Jesus.

Carrot cake aside none of this much relates to food or art (politics, perhaps?) and yet . . . I am reminded of some of the finer aspects of Molecular Gastronomie.

The Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn Representing Annunciation, Circle of Martin Schongauer

I’ve never cooked anything sous vide (dans un vide, peut etre, but we will not speak further of my kitchen) but there’s often a mythical quality to the recipes. Nathan Myhrvold’s hay smoked chicken (cooked, in part with a blow torch) or all those foams that make your dish sound as if Beowulf’s mum leered appreciatively over them just prior to their delivery by the hapless server.

Molecular Gastronomie seems emblematic of late-stage capitalism with the twinning of food production and mechanized technology. Yes it all sounds marvelous and yummy, but: no, dear service counter worker, you will not be scampering off home, post-shift, to start shoving things into plastic bags to cook slowly till the next Millennium. It’s not so much a question of costly ingredients as the time, space, and equipment needed. It’s also a bit like a sect: only the anointed may partake and I half expect there’s a secret MG reliquary somewhere with the sliced-off tip of Ferran Adrià’s forefinger or maybe sweat from the brows of the chefs at Alinea. Perhaps on the unsettlingly-named campus of the CIA??

Vernacular/ regional cuisine is usually the product of years if not centuries of gently probing and poking at an existing formula or staple: ragout sauce or the humble naan, for example. But Molecular Gastronomie pours man-power and research into the picture like a duck press on steroids or an angel backed startup: new thingie?? Voilà, new food. I’m not against this, just a wee bit jealous. Then again, all you need for caviar is a spoon.

So new to my Xmas list that it will have to be for next year:
Food in Early Modern England: Phases, Fads, Fashions, 1500-1760