Category Masticating With Mellzah

Burning Beast 2019

“Welcome to the world’s best feast in a field!” Held annually at Smoke Farm in Arlington, Washington, and organized by chef Tamara Murphy, Burning Beast celebrates all things carnivore, inviting chefs to compete with one another for the title of Ultimate Beastmaster glory and a plaque with a skull on it. Each chef is assigned a protein, but it’s up to them how to prepare it to stand out from their peers and win the accolades of the 500 hungry attendees. 

This was the first year I was able to get my hands on tickets (they typically sell out in minutes and though I purchased my tickets in a harried frenzy, this year they appeared to still be available on the date of the event itself), and I was eager to experience the beefy bacchanal for myself. The chefs generally arrive the previous day, camping at the site and preparing for the event. Ticketholders are invited in at 3pm, with the dinner bell ringing at 5pm or thereabouts. As ticketholders arrive, they’re handed a menu for the evening and a station at which to start.

The lineup:

  • Chicken, Jack Timmons of Jack’s BBQ
  • Beef, Michelle Pegues of Carnivore
  • Rabbit, Jesse Smith of Smith & Coleburn
  • Octopus, Tana Mielke of Votano Hellenic Tavern
  • Goat, Tamara Murphy of Terra Plata
  • Filipino Pinakbet, Melissa Miranda of Musang
  • Turkey Tails, Dylan Giordan of Piatti
  • Catfish, Dana Neely of Girls Gone BBQ
  • Beef Tongue, Mike Easton of Il Nido
  • Pig, Adam Hoffman of Adam’s Northwest Bistro & Brewery
  • Duck, Robert Killam of Bread and Circuses
  • Grilled Corn & Eggplant, Mutsuko Soma of Kamonegi
  • Ram & Ewe, John Sundstrom & Rosie Cisneros of Lark
  • Salmon, Sadie White of Staple & Fancy
  • Lamb, Tristan Chalker & Mollie Turner of Salish Lodge

 

We arrived around 3pm and spent some time wandering the grounds: walking to the river, checking out the creative ways chefs were preparing their dishes: roasted on a spit, buried underground, strapped to a rack above a cinder block pit with a vintage chrome car grill mounted to the front. Above it all loomed The Beast, a giant plywood coyote that would be set ablaze at the end of the day’s festivities. 

Our chairs were parked near some Burning Beast veterans (whom we’d both worked with indirectly at some point in the past: games are a 135B industry with a teeny-tiny social circle) who’d helpfully explained to us how it was all going to go down. All too soon, the bell rang. I was to start at the salmon, and Jason with the lamb. I had seen the salmon cooking on posts, the accompanying bread grilling on a grate over hot logs and I was definitely ready to put it in my mouth. The sole dish that I knew I would not be queuing up for was the octopus, as I personally feel it’s unethical to eat them (too smart, no bargain with humanity), but that left me with a whopping 14 other dishes to try. 

The lines were huge but moved snappily, and once you’ve visited your starter station, you’re free to select a line at will, with many people choosing to eat the dish they got from the previous chef while waiting in the next line. I personally found the food to be a mixed bag. The salmon was sadly unremarkable, nigh-flavorless and wetly lumped on a piece of bread so hard and cracker-like it was difficult to bite through. While cleansing my palate with the lamb dish, I then entered the line for the rabbit tinga tostada, but when I got to the front of the line and saw that the dish was cilantro city, with a cilantro tortilla and a cilantro queso fresco, I passed owing to my passionate distaste for the herb that tastes like chewing on soapy tinfoil and declared it was duck season instead.

The duck wings were deboned and stuffed with a mixture of chicken and pork along with what appeared to be glass noodles and served with a side of pickled veggies and were excellent, one of the standouts of the day. 

“Who wants a rib?” I eagerly volunteered, accepting what I thought would be a pretty special morsel that turned out to be…not, when the meat on the bone was slippery and chewy, but not chewable. 

The catfish was perfect, flaky and crisp and somehow fried on a barbeque grill, because Dana Neely is a chef, and I suspect, a wizard. The catfish got my vote for Best of the Beast: it was just that magical.

I also tried the turkey tails, which is a part of the turkey that I had never eaten nor heard of before. It turns out to be a gland that attaches the turkey tail to the body and is filled with oil that the bird uses to preen itself: fatty, delicious, and the USA mainly exports theirs to the Pacific Islands. Dylan Giordan cooked his turkey tails on cast iron skillets above the fire until they were crisp and golden and delightful.

While watching the chefs cook, I did occasionally wonder how the amount of food they were cooking was intended to feed 500 people, but assumed the chefs knew better how to dial in the correct amount so that everyone would get to try everything. This assumption was incorrect and items that ran out early included the tuscan beef, the pinakbet, and the corn, that last which, unlike having to slice off 1/500th of a side of meat, seems countable. I was only able to try seven dishes before I tapped out, and maybe chefs take stomach capacity into their calculations, too,  but running out of food early makes ticketholders have to play a game of weighing what they think will be most popular so they don’t have an option taken from them and/or encourages them to pound down their food as fast as possible. It feels both in-line and out of line for the event: it’s first and foremost a feast, primal, meat and flame, but so many chefs cook with a nose-to-tail mentality and with sustainability in mind that eating as much as you can as fast as you can feels like it runs counter to that ethos.

Still: stomachs were filled, votes were cast, the circle was cleared, and the beast set afire, howling smoke and then jets of fire at the sky, finally collapsing into a flaming pile as people danced and digested and the sun set. 

I’ll give you $10 for the lightbulb hut.

Mmm, Beast Butter. 

Salmon

Ram & Ewe

Goat

Tuscan beef

Chicken by Jack Timmons. Last year he took the trophy with his brisket and told me that if you win, next year you get assigned chicken. His chicken was bathed in mole for tacos, with a small snowy mountain of cheese.

Catfish 

Turkey tails


Paris: Boulangeries, Bones, Art Nouveau

We started our morning in the Latin quarter, drawn in by a boulangerie, Solques Bruno, whose window featured enormous frosted fly agaric mushrooms and fanciful ceramic cottages and animal masks among the platters of rustic breads. Inside, Jason bought a gingerbread owl and a pastry. I don’t know what the proper name of said pastry is, but I do know that it was warm, crusty with toasted coconut and tender from butter with occasional bits of melting chocolate. Like a macaroon but less densely coconutty. It was divine. This was Jason’s favorite pastry in France.

Solques Bruno

The aforementioned warm coconutty masterpiece.

Église du Val-de-Grâce

As someone who has spent a copious amount of time in goth clubs, wearing an inordinate amount of black velvet and writing bad poetry about death, and lately more time in the brightly lit Halloween aisle with 100% fewer clove cigarettes, the catacombs of Paris fits neatly in my Venn diagram of interests. Mine, and every other tourist in Paris at the time, as we stood in a queue that stretched down the block, whiling away the time playing Pokemon Go.

Atop the entrance to the catacombs a message is inscribed. Arrete: c’est ici l’empire de la mort. Stop: this is the empire of death. With six million permanent residents and the transient living population capped at two hundred, truly this is the realm of the dead. The bones in this labyrinth are stacked from the floor to nearly the ceiling, having made the move from Paris’ overstuffed cemeteries in the 18th century. Literally overstuffed: sometimes bodies became uncovered and once, horrifyingly, a strong rain caused a retaining wall to collapse and spill corpses into a neighboring property which is kind of a health hazard and probably not the most thrilling smell to ever accompany crêpes suzette to the table. Now interred into the former limestone quarries that yielded the stone for the city above, this ossuary is just a portion of more than 200 miles of tunnels under the city. And a smaller portion of that is what is displayed to tourists, with serious barriers in place to prevent anyone from wandering off and becoming lost, which does occasionally happen to people who enter from manhole covers. 

An entire class of urban explorer is devoted to these subterranean passages. Known as cataphiles, theirs and others’ illicit entry into the tunnels in turn created a new form of French police, the E.R.I.C., who patrol the tunnels, remove trespassers, and seal entrances. (Imagine attempting to exit where you’d entered only to find it blocked off from the other side.)  Given the zeal of others to get in there, I expected to feel something in the catacombs. A sense of unease or some body horror or at least like a Belmont on a vampire hunt minus the whip. But there, in that vaguely industrial lighting…nothing. I have no doubt I’d feel differently alone among the dead with only the light of my phone and its rapidly depleting battery to guide me. 

They were what we are, Dust, toy of the wind; Fragile like men, Weak as the nether!

These remains came from the cemetery of innocents, the cemetery with the aforementioned corpse-spilling problem.

Ah, color correction.

Nothing works up an appetite more than hanging around six million dead people and after climbing the seemingly-endless spiral staircase up to street level we were especially vulnerable to a beacon of ease, convenience, and rapidity. Motherfucking McDonalds. Those golden arches gleamed and we looked at one another and mutually decided we were not done rubbing shoulders with death for the day and went inside. Circumstances conspired to save us from ourselves as neither of us had enough cash on hand and our cards were rejected by the electronic ordering station because there was no way for us to sign for the charge, so we went royale-with-cheeseless.  

Still, the desire for food that we could eat snappily and be on our way was paramount, so we ended up in our second boulangerie of the day, Moisan. I kept to my oath to order a kouign amann every time I saw one, and theirs had a crackling crustiness to it that practically begged for an accompanying café au lait. 

Kouign amann at Moisan

After finishing our pastries, we walked through Luxembourg Gardens. Commissioned by Queen of France Marie de’ Medici*,  who grew weary of life in the Louvre, the palace and gardens were designed to remind her of her childhood in Florence, Italy. Statuary and benches are distributed down winding walking paths along with tennis courts, chess sets, and an apiary. 

In this palatial garden, a little bit of ‘murrica.

Le Triomphe de Silene, Aime Jules Dalou, 1885; Silenus is a companion of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, and his most notable trait is being constantly drunk.

The kid doesn’t seem to be having a great time, and that baby on the ground, even less so. 

I was set on reaching the Musee de Luxembourg, where they were hosting a special exhibit on Alphonse Mucha, a Czech artist who lived and worked in Paris in the Latin quarter for twenty years, the entirety of the period during which art nouveau was popular (1890-1910).  Art nouveau utilizes sinuous, asymmetrical forms and draws inspiration from nature. Mucha, though leery of the art nouveau label (how can one movement of art be labeled “new” when by its very nature art continually changes?) blended the line between fine art and commercialism, first becoming famous for his posters of the French stage actress with the golden voice, Sarah Bernhardt. He was a prolific artist, and his work was seen everywhere from champagne advertisements to calendars to cookie packages. That style became synonymous with his name, though in his later years he grew to despise its commercial nature, and returned to his homeland to work on The Slav Epic, a twenty painting series he considered to be his most important work. 

La Princesse Lointaine, 1900

A cookie box for cookies made in Nantes.

Zodiac, 1892

The Moon and the Stars: The Morning Star, 1902

The Moon and the Stars: The Moon, 1902

From Le Pater, an extremely rare symbolist work and illustration of The Lord’s Prayer that Mucha described to a reporter as “the thing I have put my soul into” and of which only 510 copies were originally printed, after which the plates were destroyed as Mucha feared they would be stolen piecemeal for advertising purposes against his will due to his popularity.

Christmas in America, 1919

The museum was packed, and while I did especially appreciate seeing the gilding illuminated on Zodiac, by the time we’d finished browsing, I was ready to be done with that crush of people and also for another snack, and Angelina Paris was there for me with a delightful pastry inspired by a Mucha painting that tasted like late spring and a hot pot of tea. 

Rêverie: raspberry and strawberry enrobing a light rose-flavored mousse with a deep red raspberry heart on a shortbread crust, topped with a wafer of fine dark chocolate and two load-bearing ripe red raspberries.


Fontaine Saint-Sulpice, fountain of the sacred orators

I thought, given the cement pillars and the nature of the ground and the fact that it’s in the plaza with the fountain meant that this was a pedestrian area but the car driving through here disabused me of that notion.

Notre Dame and the glittering Seine at night.

Fueled by sugar, we wandered the streets into the evening. It’s Paris: that’s what you do. Eat pastries and walk your ass off.

 

*Her grandson, Louis XIV, was no doubt inspired by his grandmother’s example when he, too, grew tired of the Louvre and commissioned Versailles.

Getting Medieval in Paris: Notre Dame, Unicorns, Chocolat

Place de la République, with a statue commemorating the French Revolution.

Our first stop when we arrived in Paris was our hotel for the remainder of the trip, the Hotel du Vieux Saule, in the Marais neighborhood. Of all the hotels we stayed at, this is one I would say I settled on, after shifting the budget to accommodate the palace-adjacent properties we stayed in earlier in the trip. When I think back, while I can’t say it with 100% certainty, this place springs to mind as the most likely candidate responsible for our brush with bedbugs and the deep cleaning frenzy* that ensued afterward.

Why do I point the finger in their direction? Given that I had many bites on different parts of my body, I have to assume that there wouldn’t have been enough time for it to take place on public transit (Through my winter coat? Not likely.), or really even any place where I was staying only one night. The only other hotel we stayed in more than one night was in Nantes, and just statistically based on population, it’s more likely that the Parisian hotel had bedbugs than the one in Nantes. Also, when we checked in, there was a half-consumed beverage and garbage in the minibar and some pubes in the shower that said cleaning might not be their top priority. That’s basically it. And I’m still salty that the one time we allowed staff to come in to make the bed (implying they cleaned would be a violation of my journalistic integrity), some things went missing, things with no value–souvenir ticket stubs and the like. Why? If you can’t throw away actual trash, why take it upon yourself to konmari my possessions while I’m still renting the room? Argh.

But we didn’t know about the bedbugs just yet so we commenced walking around Paris. 

Hôtel de Ville, the town hall

Science, Jules Blanchard, c. 1882

Before its closure, more than thirteen million people passed through the enormous wood and wrought iron doors at Notre Dame every year. People looking for absolution, people looking for peace, people looking for architecture, people looking for a medallion with the face of the Pope. It was the most visited monument in Paris by far, one of the most heavily toured monuments in Europe**.

This Gothic icon, built in the twelfth century, is so beloved now that it’s hard to believe that after the Napoleonic wars, it was almost demolished because it was in such a terrible state. Victor Hugo published Notre-Dame de Paris (better known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame) in 1831, which raised public awareness of its decay so that thirteen years later, “citizen-king” Louis Philippe I ordered that it be restored. (The same time period during which Les Miserables is set.)

Notre Dame took over twelve million francs to restore over twenty years. That restoration involved low quality stone and cement and even before the fire in April 2019, those restorations were starting to crumble, gargoyles cleaving from the structure to fall to the ground below, replaced with pvc pipe to drain water, the Catholic church (which permanently rents the building from the government of France, for free), not contributing nearly enough to its upkeep. Now, in the wake of the fire, it struggles more as people and businesses who vowed to donate to its restoration struggle to find their checkbooks as they already reaped the benefits of the public accolades and the news cycle has moved on. There are other practical concerns as well: how do you replace a roof made from an entire forest of trees when logging has all but eliminated the old-growth trees that would be large enough for such a project? 

That teeny tiny little speck on top of the cross on the spire is a rooster as big as an average adult human torso, filled with religious relics. 

The gargoyles/grotesques were added in the 19th century, some 600 years after the cathedral was finished.

Most of these biblical kings were beheaded during the French Revolution in a frenzy of king beheading after Louis XVI only had but one to give his country and the crowd remained unsatisfied.

Big Witch Energy

One of the rose windows, dates back to the 13th century; these survived the fire in April.

No word on whether these important relics were saved.

The doorknocker of Notre Dame; the 13th century wrought iron on these doors is so fine that a rumor began to spread that the blacksmith, Biscornet, had sold his soul to the devil for the ability to create them, because no one ever gets to be really talented at something without the credit going to someone above or way below.

Charlemagne et ses Leudes / Charlemagne and his Guards. Charlemagne laid the first stone at Notre Dame and almost assuredly no others.

Our route took us down Rue Dante, a street with many shops of general nerd interest: toy stores, comic book shops, purveyors of pulp fiction, and a creperie with intergalactic decor named Odyssey that advertised in its window its right to refuse service to Jar Jar Binks. Our destination? The Musée de Cluny, Paris’ medieval history museum, constructed on the remnants of Gallo-Roman baths, rebuilt in 1510, and currently open to the public while undergoing a major renovation.

The entrance to the Musée de Cluny was not designed with modern security in mind but a conveyer belt x-ray machine and metal detector are wedged in there regardless. Personal belongings are funneled into an alcove with a narrow entrance, passable by one person. When it was my turn, I went in to grab my things, and an impatient older woman crammed in right behind me–she couldn’t get at her belongings, and I couldn’t get out. There was literally nowhere for me to go and she’s trying to reach around me with freaking zombie arms and I’d had just about enough of being physically forced around by other human beings all week and that’s the story of how I ended up snapping “MOVE” at an old lady because “pardon” and “excusez-moi” weren’t getting through. Because honestly? Have some spatial awareness. Consider the fact that other people exist. Good grief. 

We were at the Musée de Cluny for their Magical Unicorns exhibit, along with what appeared to be every schoolchild in greater Paris. The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, having just returned from Sydney, were the centerpiece, a set of six enormous red weavings whose meaning yet remains a subject of debate; the most likely theory in my estimation is the one that posits that the series of six tapestries is the five senses, plus one to grow on. In addition to the tapestries were some seventy other pieces related to the licorne from the museum’s collection, a common subject in medieval art, when it was believed to be a real animal.

What the unicorn tapestries look like to people with undiagnosed myopia. 

Unicorn water vessel

Wild Woman with Unicorn, a chairback cover from about 1500, her dress is not made of skink tongues but hair.

Sight, The Lady with the Unicorn

Touch, The Lady with the Unicorn

A Mon Seul Desir, the final tapestry in the Lady with the Unicorn series

The only thought that went through my brain upon glancing at this display of ivory is “Look how many elephants had to die so we could collectively gaze upon more awful monk haircuts.”

Some of the original heads of the biblical kings of Notre Dame that had been removed, discovered in 1977.

This spectacular chocolate death mask of  Tutankhamun lured me into Maison Georges Larnicol though I didn’t end up buying any actual chocolate, leaving with an array of “kouignettes” and an obscene amount of tender, buttery salted caramels, both in assorted flavors . These mini kouign amann up the ante for richness. It’s the kougin amann equivalent of eating the center out of a cinnamon roll: the densest, softest part, with the highest ratio of filling to dough, except instead of cinnamon sugar, it’s a sticky-crunchy caramel swirled with raspberry, Grand Marnier, pistachio, or chocolate ganache. Given the abundance of butter, their petite size is just right. Their caramels are the best caramels I’ve ever eaten, with flavors like apple crumble, mirabelle plum, and sesame. 

Fontaine Saint-Michel, 1860

The Seine at sunset

The French term for “window shopping” is léche-vitrine, or window-licker.

The Louvre after dark

I’m not the biggest fan of the metro but I do love these swooping art nouveau entrances.

To The Smoking Dog

Amorino Gelato, mango gelato with a mango Santa macaron

We spent the rest of the day wandering around the city and snacking: croque monsieurs and frites, gelato, paprika chips…mmm, paprika chips.

 

* It was definitely a brush with bedbugs: I had six bites in a line from my upper arm to my elbow, and another four in a line on my opposite hip. The itch was so deep I could always feel the desire to scratch, over everything else. Since I never saw a physical bug and didn’t know until after I got home that I was bitten, this meant that I had to assume that my entire home was contaminated. Our luggage was garbage bagged and exiled. Our mattress was encased in plastic. Every single textile was laundered on super hot regardless of the care instructions and then quarantined in garbage bags until the entire job was finished. We vacuumed and vacuumed and vacuumed. I canceled social engagements in case there was a chance I could spread them. I warned people before they attempted to hug me. (That part was the hardest, feeling like the kind of dirty that can’t be cleaned with the people whom I most enjoy having that kind of closeness, which makes sense because it’s not like you’re often given the opportunity to hug an enemy or even a frenemy to infest them, like a Kiss of Death except it just psychologically tortures them for weeks.) The pest control guy could not find any evidence of bedbugs in our home (see: all the cleaning) but set some traps with bedbug lures which have never caught a single bedbug. I haven’t had any bites appear since and I have to conclude that I was bitten and either didn’t carry any home with me or that my quarantine and extermination efforts did the trick. Do I still feel uneasy any time I feel the faintest tickle on my body in the night? Damn right I do.

**Let’s be real, though: Notre Dame is smack in the middle of Paris, on an island in the Seine which splits the city in two, so it is in the primest of locations for foot traffic. If every time we walked by was a “visit”, Jason and I visited Notre Dame about twelve times.