Saturday, August 29, 2015

Twelve not-entirely-unsurprising health 'benefits' of drinking whisky. Or whiskey.

....written in response to this article 


(1) Injury to the consumer and to others. Motor function, hand-eye co-ordination, impaired vision, hearing and inability to assess distance and/or speed can all contribute. This is due to the high levels of alcohol found in whisky.

(2) Memory loss and brain damage. Alcohol’s effect on brain function is well-researched and anecdotally familiar to all users. Damage to the brain can be permanent and severe. Any so-called improvement in memory function due to ‘antioxidants’ is insignificant in comparison. This is due to the high levels of alcohol found in whisky.

(3) Cancer. Sustained consumption irritates mouth, gullet, oesophagus, gut and indeed nasal passages should you become a profligate dram-sniffer, and has been proven to provoke the growth of malignant cells, particularly combined with highly toxic burnt or burning carboniferous compounds, for example tobacco smoke. This is due to the high levels of alcohol found in whisky.

(4) Emotional disturbance and consequent violent altercation, often resulting in injury (see (3) above and/or court appearances and/or imprisonment. See ‘effect on brain function’ in (2) above. This is due to the high levels of alcohol found in whisky.

(5) Loss of creative abilities in the fields of music, art, literature etc. This may be accompanied by an initial euphoria that one’s creativity has actually been improved, but the toxic physical effects attested to above and the drink’s essentially deceptive qualities, tend to breed overconfidence in one’s abilities. In the medium to long term this always leads to an objective diminution of skill and insight, due to the high levels of alcohol found in whisky.

(6) Depression. Whisky is a  noted depressive. This is due to the high levels of alcohol found in it. Alcohol, despite the initial sense of euphoric happiness it may imbue, is a depressive drug. Whisky, though, is thought to be particularly mood-lowering due to the presence of... 

(7)... toxic compounds produced during the traditionally crude distillation process (congeners and phenols such as Furfural and Ortho-Cresol) and also during ageing in wood (lactones). Furfural is lethal in large quantities and also found in beer, as it is a product of malting barley. Ortho-Cresol is corrosive and poisonous, and is used as a disinfectant and solvent. It is most apparent in Islay single malts. These also contain high levels of alcohol.

(8) Diminution of intellectual ability/increase in dogmatism. Whisky (see (2) and (5) above has an effect on mental processes which combines an increased certainty of rectitude with a slowing of function and decrease in ability to argue effectively. Flexibility of thought is hardened and may cease altogether due to the high levels of alcohol. Also...

(9)...control over bias, bigotry, dislike and deep-seated hatreds, normally moderated by logic and manners, often disappears. This can result in, at the very least, social discomfort and sometimes assault, injury or even violent death depending on how much alcohol (and whisky contains high levels of it) has actually been consumed.

(10) Hangovers. A whisky’s taste and character essentially comes from variations in its impurities (see (7) above age, and the quality of the distillation process (not all distilleries are the same, are well run or operated with a punctilious attitude towards, err...cleanliness and precision). While the hangover or ‘morning after’ syndrome may simply be caused by the high levels of alcohol, the toxins in whisky can exacerbate the situation severely. 

(11) Cost. An enthusiasm for single malt whisky may, simply because quality malts are expensive, restrict consumption on economic grounds or - and this is more common - lead to  over-expenditure and financial difficulties or even bankruptcy. This is not due to the high levels of alcohol but the greed and malevolent, grasping market manipulation of many companies who trade in the stuff.

(12) Ill-advised sexual and/or emotional attachment, coupled with short-and-long-term performance inadequacy. This is due largely to the high levels of alcohol contained in whisky.

Apart from that, it’s great. Slainte!

(Please note; there is no functional health difference between drinking whisky and whiskey (with an ‘e’). But spelling ability is also an historical problem related to high alcohol consumption.)


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Friday, August 28, 2015

Pseudo-lasagne and why I had a terrible time in Italy. Twice.

Italy. Oh, Italy.

My two experiences of actually being there were both awful, throbbing loudly in my memory as:

(1) Being flown out to a five star hotel near Rome for the launch of an incredibly tedious Volvo cabriolet of some description, missing the car-hack freebie outing to dinner at a vineyard (whence Jeremy Clarkson returned, braying, with a complimentary six-pack of vino) and being served tinned fruit in a cold and deserted dining room. Not even with custard. Next day we sweated a lump of crop-topped Swedish steel to the Coliseum, endlessly circling what is essentially, a large and very ruined roundabout. Give me the Whirlies in East Kilbride. 



We drove out into the countryside where we lunched at a roadside caff on what I assumed was a local delicacy - blue bread. But no, it was just a mouldy loaf served by staff ingrained with laziness or malevolence.  I did get a Volvo pen. Launching a Swedish car in Italy - presumably an attempt to absorb some Latin glamour - only resulted in my falling out with my TV crew, falling out with Italy, and falling out of bed while trying to get into it, drunk. A typical motoring press launch in other words.

(2) Going on holiday with wife and daughter to ‘Tuscany’. We were a day too late. It was October, and everything was shut. The holiday complex swimming pool was empty, which was probably wise as  the weather was dreadful. It was plumb in the middle of stubbled fields and mad hunters with shotguns tried to annihilate sparrows in the fields below our windows. The supermarkets were hideously expensive, the restaurants were closed, closing or wished they were closed, and most of ‘Tuscany’ consisted of industrial estates connected by motorways which were, admittedly, lined with nice trees. And then there was Florence - The city of expensive queues; Pisa - the City of rip-off car parking and tippy tower tat, and Lucca. Lucca, walled town of surpassing quaintness where I almost had a nervous breakdown trying to escape its winding lanes in a rented VW Golf.  A year after the event, I was pursued through the courts by the Lucca council which claimed I’d committed a traffic offence (driving in a Luccals-only area). And yes, to grind a cliché into the red Tuscan earth,  the traffic was universally psychotic and the inhabitants ridiculously rude. The coffee was average and the cakes only bearable.

The thing is, I love Italian food. Or the kind you don't get in Italy. My favourite eating-out experiences are Glescatalian: La Lanterna, about as traditional a checked-tablecloth establishment as you could hope for, even if it doesn’t actually have checked tablecloths. Fast, careful, honest, generous food. My first pizza ever was in O Solo Mio. I lament the passing of super-rude, occasionally sloppy Dino’s, wish Fratelli Sarti had waiters who respected their customers, love late night espresso in Byres Road’s Little Italy.

Then I went to Big Italy and hated it.

At home, I cook basic Bolognese, and that’s it. Of late I’ve been avoiding Lerwick and shopping at our local community store, and consequently ingredients have been limited. Today, though, there was fresh beef mince, but I couldn’t be bothered cooking properly and bought a jar of what I thought was Dolmio creamy stove-top fakery sauce. Which I promptly smashed on the floor next to the counter. There was another one on the shelf, though, and I headed home, there to find that it was actually Dolmio  cartoon pasta bake treatment splodge. And if there’s one thing I hate, it’s pasta bake, which is to Italian food what The Velvet Underground is to Good Rock.

So I thought: thin this out, add some red wine, maybe an Oxo cube, tin of carrots, chopped, bit of finger (human; I’ve grown clumsy of late. It’s the heart drugs I think) But it didn’t look right. What about lasagne, which is pasta bake only done properly? Except I’d never made it before, having gone off lasagne since destroying a tooth on something of that name served up superheated (by microwave) in Lerwick’s Islesburgh Centre. It was like biting Araldite, only more destructive. Molars splintered. Dentists rejoiced. 

Back in the present, something had to be done to encase, or at least disguise this dull opaque brown mincey stuff bobbling stickily in a wok. I’m no pot bigot.

Quick net surf: Avoid Jamie -  the site’s rubbish, stop this wide boy joking, matey, I’m in the middle of a food emergency. BBC - bechamel sauce. OK. Call it cheese. Flour, butter, milk, cheese (whatever’s handy) half a Knorr veggie cube. More cheese. No net recipe explains how you layer this stuff up. Whatever, I found a packet of old ‘oven ready’ lasagne sheets (somebody in this house has made lasagne in the past; not me), and then just tiled a dish, added the mince, more tiles, white stuff, tiles, white stuff on top. 

Oven at 180, half an hour, waiting for Susan to come home, thinking: I have absolutely no idea how this will taste.

It was fantastic. Better than anything I ate in Italy. But then, that's no surprise. And according to Susan: “probably your best tea ever”. Huh. Bet she says that to all the cooks.