The Historically Boozy Woozy Benefits of Hooch

As a person who works within the spirits industry (the drinkable not ghostly kind), I am often told of the detriments that accompany imbibing alcohol. We are reminded by our physicians, by our parents, by well-meaning, health-conscious friends, and by finger-wagging party poopers as to the many harms, dangers, and hazards that accompany a tipple or two, and are firmly advised to give hooch a wide berth lest we fall prey to its evils.

As a researcher by heart and by nature, I am always looking for an argument to counter the above—a dataset, a study, some persuasive proof that as long as one employs an element of good sense and restraint, one can find great joy and enrichment from the quaffing, the swilling, and the indulging of giggle water.

And I have found one.

In fact, I have found ten.

In truth, I have found more than ten, but I have narrowed the list to my ten favorites.

It takes a sturdy and determined nature to search through bland and archaically worded historical documents, but 15th century German physician, botanist, and alchemist, Hieronymus Brunschwig’s work deserves not only an unearthing, but a spotlight shined upon his analysis. So please, allow me to sing the praises of the unsung.

As Hieronymus sees it, the benefits to drinking alcohol are thus:

  1. It comforts the heart.
    • Agreed. Nuff said.
  2. It heals all old and new sores on the head.
    • Perhaps this is simply a slip of translation from German to English, but most of us might agree that alcohol is the cause of most sore-headedness and not the cure. *shrug
  3. It gives you good color.
    • This is no doubt true, as how many of us have sat across from an individual at a pub—one who’s all rosy cheeked and glossy-eyed from an elixir’s effect—and so much the better for it?
  4. It cures baldness, body lice, and fleas.
    • Currently, there is no data to support this theory, although perhaps we’re still in the infancy of further research.
  5. Dr. Brunschwig also believes it cures toothaches, bad breath, and cankers.
    • This, I believe, explains why my dentist always smells of hooch when I go in for my annual cleaning.
  6. It causes the tongue to become well-speaking.
    • Now who of us have yet to attend a party where some individual, perhaps having become a bit too free with the firewater, will toss off his tie, leap upon the nearest coffee table, and begin spouting off a soliloquy worthy of Shakespearian applause?
  7. It eliminates belching, farting, and the painful swelling of breasts.
    • As these were my late Aunt Marge’s three most vociferous daily complaints, I feel somewhat cheated in missing the opportunity to aid her ailments.
  8. It dissolves bladder stones.
    • Alas, I feel the Mayo may not be fully behind Herr Hieronymus on this one, but likely there exists one or two urologists out there who skipped this chapter in med school and would stand behind the tipple treatment versus cystolitholapaxy.
  9. It provides courage.
    • There is ample historical evidence to endorse this argument simply by counting the number of battles won and marriages proposed.
  10. And lastly, my favorite medicinal remark in favor of partaking in the boozy bevies is that “It cures the bites of rabid dogs and heals all stinking wounds.”
    • *sigh. Pure poetry, right?

And there we have it. Scholarly legwork is ongoing and appears to be just as contentious as the arguments for and against eggs, vitamins, and checking the morning headlines.

Surely at some point science will parse out the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to the advantageous effects of ethanol and not simply roll collective eyes when we argue with limp proof of merely the desirable ones. Until that time, may I suggest you take heed from the sage words of the late, great Johnny Carson:

I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex, and rich food. He was healthy right up to the day he killed himself.

So, cheers to you all, and to Heironymus Brunschwig for all his efforts. I toast to your good health with, Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Kill No Weevil

Last week, one of my cats did something weird.

That statement, in and of itself, is a little unusual, as this particular cat is always doing something weird—talks to lamp shades, tests the running water temperature from a faucet before agreeing to drink from it, and as she’s left-handed, she insists on ergonomic southpawed Fiskars, so for me to notice … well, I think you get my point.

This new particularly weird thing was her staring at a small crack in the wall. A puncture wound of sorts, straight through the plaster. And then the next day, she put both her paws on either side of that wound, standing meercat style, and began a new phase of the “what’s behind the wall” festival.

I sat there with her for a while one day. Heard nothing, smelled nothing, and I certainly didn’t get any of the creepy, hair-raising, goosebump inducing feelings she’s produced in me before when discovering that she’s likely communicating with someone who died in that general vicinity (I spent a fair amount of time this last year in an old cottage that once served as a hospital for a Civil War arsenal compound, and this cat—along with all the house cats—spent countless hours with wide-eyed expressions, howling at a stairwell.).  

This time was still just a mystery waiting to be solved.

But as of last night, my dog joined her in the wall staring competition. Now two furfaces were trying to convince me that I should take a sledgehammer to that plaster work just to see what has taken up residence there.

Again, I sat with them both as they studied the inner cladding of my laundry room, its blinding whitewash lacquer revealing nothing and instead simply generating the occasional cock of one of their heads. Alas, we must remember, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

I would have agreed without argument that both could hear something my ears were not privy to—the pattering of mouse feet, the fluttering of insect wings, the terrifying audio NASA has just released from a black hole at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster—if it weren’t for the fact that one of them was stone deaf.

But maybe there is scent as well as sound, as the deaf hound can certainly still identify from three rooms away the fact that I ate a piece of bacon twelve hours ago.

I’ve called the pest company I have a quarterly contract with, and they gave me the choice of a visit from someone on their varmint team or a technician within their paranormal investigations department, but either way, they’ll be dressed in a hazmat suit and would be spraying some sort of exorcistical holy water. I’m still deciding.

At one point, during one of the bewhiskered gatherings, I joined in. I sat on the floor, stared at the plaster puncture, and focused. Things grew a little blurry and I began to feel like I was searching and waiting for a Magic Eye image to appear—some 3D illusion requiring patience and perhaps a lost instruction booklet to successfully view.

Image credit: Sally Flicker

Then I closed my eyes and simply focused on sound. The hound is barrel-chested; therefore, his breath is so audible, one can nearly hear all the pleural friction taking place in his ancient lungs. The cat has a habit of licking her lips and swallowing frequently, which to me indicates that whatever’s behind the barrier is either worthy of salivating over or she is fostering a nervous tick revealing how she’s trying not to freak out. It might also point toward dental disease, but that’s a next month’s problem.

While the three of us concentrated on something only two of us were truly aware of, a second cat slinked in. She looked about the room, quietly assessed the vibe, and then crawled into my lap, wedging one bony shoulder into the crook of my knee and keeping one eye open whilst the other took a break. The next few minutes of silence was equal parts unsettling and soothing.

The next afternoon I came upon the weird cat, again, simply paying homage to the drywall. I sat down, assumed the position, and waited for the wooden floor patter of the remaining eight softly padded paws to make their way to our small, shared space—which they shortly did.

And whether everyone was intrigued by the invisible entity, waiting with curious anticipation as to its reveal, or some were simply there to catch half a face full of shuteye, what was clear was that this chunk of fading linoleum was becoming a slightly sacred space.

And apparently, we were settling in for a spell.

And perhaps a spell is what we were under, as the next thirty minutes escaped unnoticed. Maybe this was the point—maybe that peaceful half hour was meant to be experienced in a state of heightened oblivion. Not asleep, not awake, just present, like the thing we could not see.

A ringing telephone brought us out of our stupor with the answering machine announcing, “Hey, this is Marvin from the Ratty Shack. I hear you’ve got a problem. Give me a call and we’ll get rid of it.”

I then stared down at the blinking, watery, and in some cases, cataract clouded eyes of my fur family and said, “I vote we wait on Marvin. Same time same place tomorrow?” We left in tacit agreement.

Life goes on. Pestful but peaceful.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Problems with One’s Nose: It Just Doesn’t Make Scents

I think we can all agree—that whether you’ve experienced it firsthand or not—having Covid is no fun.

I can’t think of any illness that would actually fit into the “fun” category, so perhaps the above statement is a bit of a no-brainer declaration.

Still … there is an aspect of this affliction that is forcing me to do something I do find to be pleasurable—research­­—as I (along with millions of other humans) are desperate to determine when, if ever, our sense of smell will return to our bodies.

The symptoms of SARS-CoV–2 are dizzying, to be sure—one of them including experiencing dizziness. That evidentiary concurrence aside, other symptoms include the typical sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever, so you can’t rest for lack of medicine annoyances. Some of these ailments arising to the level of not just vexing irritations but life-threatening pathologies.

The non-life-threatening, but definitely life-depressing disorder of anosmia—or smell blindness—is a fairly reliable indicator for the Average Joe lacking an at home Covid test to determine if they have been infected with this miserable and unrelenting virus. As an individual whose job relies upon her sense of smell, I long ago created a list of all maladies of the disease that I knew might reliably express themselves and highlighted in yellow and then orange and then pink the one that I absolutely, under no circumstances could tolerate. And then promptly began agonizing over its possible appearance until, I’m guessing, my brain finally took to heart all those self-help, yogi meditations I spent years fostering and “manifested” my thoughts into intentions.

Here you go. You think it, you become it.

The loss of smell for most people is dispiriting—especially if you’re a human who likes to eat.

The loss of smell for a person who is surrounded by hundreds of small alcoholic vials filled with aromatic compounds that are no longer aromatic is panic-inducing, terrorizing, and humbling in a collapse into a puddling heap on the floor type of way.

What now? Is the question of the day, although it really wasn’t a daily query as much as it became an hourly one.

So much of my life’s work is dedicated to identifying odorants—the good the bad and the ugly. They’re all incredibly fascinating to me and important to the labors I’ve been employed to pursue. I have never taken my ability to smell for granted—in fact, I’ve protected its presence and fostered my olfactory skills like a zealot chasing after the title of “Olympic medalist” in that category.

I walk into a room and the first things I notice are the odorants—the primary, the secondary, the tertiary. Has someone burnt toast? Has a dog passed gas? Is that woman wearing the same scarf from yesterday when she slipped outside into the alley to have a quick cigarette?

I walk into a patch of someone else’s presence and can oftentimes flesh out a rhinal history. The cologne they wear, the detergent they use, the curry they ate. It’s a Sherlockian mystery that unfolds itself one odorant at a time.

And now it’s gone. Poof.

Coincidentally, two weeks ago, I noticed a side-effect to a new medication I’m on which revealed that I may experience hyperosmia—an increased sensitivity to odorants. Hot diggity, I thought. A dream come true, right? Until I’d been stuck in a car with a person who, whenever speaking, gave off the exhalating perfume of someone who had perhaps dined on the soup made from the sewer on a hot August day. It wasn’t their fault. Their stomach was appropriately breaking down breakfast with the human chemicals assigned to that job—it’s just that it felt like I was in that organ with them.

Being on the opposite ends of the scent spectrum in such a short period of time provides—along with a bit of whiplash—an opportunity to experience the edges, to assess this bodily sense with the effect of a volume dial. Too much and you whirl with nausea, too little and life becomes monochrome—a dull gray, monotony that snatches away all color, absconds with your anticipation, and tosses you into a steeply descending pit of “why bother?” (Or, at least, for me it did.)

I have a phrase—a formula—I use to describe a concept when teaching on developing the skills of nosing and tasting: scent + taste = flavor.

Scent involves our olfactory epithelium—a small patch of tissue high in the nasal cavity that houses around 400 of our body’s olfactory receptors. When aroma molecules attach themselves to the receptors—either singularly or in combination with others—we can identify somewhere between 100 million to 1 trillion different odorants.

Taste is defining sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami compounds.

Putting the two together is how we experience flavor. Strip one away and the pow and wow factor of food is crippled. Hamstring both and you’re left with … what??

If I allow my freaked out, blubbering inner doomsayer to answer that question, it would be search for a cliff tall enough to leap from. If I am to respond more appropriately, more hopefully, more like an individual who gravitates toward solid science than pointless hysteria, I would say, a not unsubstantial amount.

I am forced to hunt for the other. To seek out what else contributes to the sensory experience of flavor, as there are a few more things than one might expect to include.

  1. Viscosity – a measure of thickness, glossiness, syrupiness, adhesion.
  2. Chemesthesis – this occurs when the receptors on the skin react with a chemical placed upon them—where your mouth and nose are concerned, we have the examples of:
    • Menthol (a cooling sensation—your toothpaste, gum, or minty herbs)
    • Capsaicin (a thermal impression—your hot sauce, spicy peppers, or chili powders)
    • Carbonation (a tingling of the receptors—think soda, sparkling water, fizzy champagne)
    • Alcohol (a prickling phenomenon—might as well go for the gold and make it high proof)
  3. Sounds – the oral and sonic experience that comes from the crunch of your sugar snap peas, the squeak of your cheese curds, the crackle of your potato chips, the smacking stickiness of your peanut butter, the effervescence of those Pop Rocks.
  4. Temperature – No need to explain, you know the scale.
  5. Mindfulness—It has been studied and believed that “expectation” contributes to flavor as well, as scent and taste stimulate the limbic system and ultimately stir up memories.

I cling to the fact that the nuances of what contributes to flavor is fairly rich with examples. And paying particular attention to the extra sensory “we’ve always been here, but you’ve just ignored us” elements highlights their contribution to an experience rich with stimuli.

Is it the same?

Nope. Not even close. For me, anyway.

Will it suffice?

It will have to. At least until biology rights itself, a stem cell transplant program is offered up by my GP, or Mark Zuckerberg finds a way to “meta” my olfactory receptors back into reality. But for now, I will sniff, sip, slurp, and swirl everything I find—to invite back into my brain, to welcome back into my realm, to appreciate with renewed vigor the one thing my mental health hinges upon.

Until all returns, I will remain annoyingly and worrisomely … scent-o-mental.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Life’s Luck: From Lemons to Sour Grapes, Mine is Weirdly, all Fruit Related.

Last month sucked. I mean really, really came out looking like an ugly puckery lemon.

I smashed a finger in between two 75lb boulders (yeah, while trying to do that rock wall myself—from last month’s blog).

I got a wicked thrashing from a wrathful, hell-bent-on-sparing-no-one poison ivy plant.

I got diagnosed with a second basal carcinoma (treatable skin cancer that plagues many pasty white Midwesterners who are unfamiliar with this thing local people call summer).

I broke my lawnmower.

I was stung by a wasp whose last dying wish was to leave a flesh wound and memorial to himself the size of an award-winning walnut.

And I got a UTI.

Okay, none of this stuff actually happened last month. That was a lie.

It happened this month.

Month and candor aside, the reality of so many calamities all at once did not bode well under the “Thank God, I got my Covid vaccine—it’ll sure be great to get back to normal” mindset I was cultivating.

Those thoughts ultimately tanked, and in their place crawled splints, bandages, skin grafts, physicians, lab techs, prescriptions, pills, ointments, potions, and spark plugs.

It was often hard to keep track of what went where, and on one miserable afternoon I found myself visiting the library to pick up a book I was hoping would take my mind off my miseries.

I was in line, waiting in the lobby for my turn to come in and approach the desk, when I heard someone triple tsk from behind me. I turned to see a woman as wrinkled as an old crabapple, her white hair braided and wrapped into a bun, held together with what looked to me like a couple of birch twigs and a meat thermometer.

I smiled, nodded politely, and turned to face forward again, only to hear her sigh and utter, “Dear me,” under her breath. She tapped me on the shoulder and when I turned, pointed to one of the many bandages wrapped around my arms and said, “You really should let that breathe.”

“Let what breath?” I asked.

“Your poison ivy.”

I looked down at the book she was holding in her arm. Kitchen Witchery: Spells, recipes, and rituals for something something magical something enchanted something something. I narrowed my eyes at her and tried to ascertain how this witch had discovered one of my ailments. “How do you—”

“You haven’t quite covered all your blisters,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Yeah, I really got walloped this time.”

She shook her head. “What did you do, roll in it like a dog in a cowpie patty?”

“No, I was weeding, but I bet my dog had a hand in spreading it.”

“Do you hug your dog?” she asked, pointing for me to move forward in line.

“All the time. He’s the best dog I’ve ever—”

“Stop doing that.”

“Exactly. I know. The oils on his fur transfers to my skin …”

“Not where I’m going. Stop doing it because dogs hate to be hugged. It makes them feel like they’re being devoured, and they’re helpless in that arm lock of stupid humans.”

“Oh.” I stared at the floor for a second before catching sight of her book again. “Well, I’d have to say that I truly feel like I’ve been cursed with something these last few weeks. Just one thing after another.” I looked up at her with a crooked smile. “Any hex breaking spells in that library book of yours?”

“You’re hoping some magic wand will wave away your poison ivy?”

I shrugged. “And my rock-smashed finger, wasp sting, skin cancer—anything that can alleviate those scourges?” I pointed out the ailments around my person.

The old woman studied me for a second or two, opened her book, thumbed through a few pages, and then slammed it shut with a crisp snap. “The book suggests not so much any incantation or elixir, but it is very precise on one specific action.”

“Oh?” I felt my eyebrows raise with hope.

She rolled her eyes. “Stay inside.”

I felt like an idiot.

She looked at me like I was an idiot, so I suppose my feelings were justified. “Ah, well. I suppose most of those wonky spells are simply drivel and gibberish. Are you just reading the book for fun?”

She glanced down at the book again and then spread it wide open to a page with a black iron caldron holding a bounty of vegetables from the garden it sat within. “Nope. I wrote this little beauty—there’s only one copy, and I convinced the librarian to put it here on the shelves. The problem is, I lost the original recipe for my mother’s tomato soup, and every time I want to make it, I have to come back and check out the book. Now that,” she pointed at the page, “is a cure-all for just about everything.”

I gave her a wary look. “How about a urinary tract infection?”

She cracked a smile and spat out, “Ha! That, my friend, is just a curse on all womankind. And no amount of kitchen witchery can make much of a dent in its presence.”

I shrugged. “I guess sometimes we’re just unlucky.”

“As I see it, your dog is going to get a bit luckier with no more hugs. Although sadly for you, I’d say it’ll be some time before anyone is going to want to wrap their arms around your bandaged body.” She searched the ceiling and then said, “Maybe try a bottle of wine.”

“Hug a bottle of wine?”

“No. Drink it. It won’t cure anything, but it’ll sure keep you from being cranky while Mother Nature deals with all your ailments.”

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Otolaryngologists: They Sound too Good to be True

“Pardon me?”

This was phrase I was uttering with more and more frequency. Along with huh?, what?, and For Pete’s sake, speak up!

I knew something was amiss. I used to pride myself with the fact that I could hear a truck coming up my mile-long driveway before my dog could. I used to consider unplugging the refrigerator, two rooms away from my desk, because its electrical hum was hugely bothersome. I used to be able to hear a mouse pass gas at fifty paces.

But it all came to a meteorically headlong halt, upsetting my world and disrupting my work.

And by fast, I mean over the space of about 3 months. But it seriously felt like lightning speed if I don’t pay too much attention to the fact that I refused to pay too much attention to it.

This is what I told the otolaryngologist when I first went to see him—the part about sudden deafness being a near overnight happenstance. The fact that he raised one eyebrow clear up to his hairline makes me think I was less than convincing, but we’d never met before, so it’s likely he was unfamiliar with my “fiction author”-like ways of creating more tension in fairly bland scenarios.

Wording is everything.

But so is hearing, because without it, I must use my third eye—or third ear—to metaphysically conjure up the sound of those sweet words I love.

“It’s not too bad when I’m on my own and the world is quite silent, but the second any sound is a part of the landscape, I’m keenly aware I’m going profoundly deaf.”

The doctor narrowed his eyes at me.

“It’s a massive challenge to read people’s lips on any good day, but it’s near impossible to read my dog’s lips now as he’s way behind on facial grooming.”

Again, the doctor said nothing, but his own pursed lips spoke volumes. He motioned for me to lie back and turn my head so he could investigate one ear. After a muffled bit of rooting around, he grabbed one of the smallest vacuum cleaners I’ve ever seen and deftly earned his fee.

I sat up, wide-eyed and thrilled.

Sound is amazing after you’ve lost most of it. Everything is distinct, crystalized, and heightened. Likely I would welcome the hum of the fridge once I got home. But we still had one other defunct ear to attend to, and I also had questions.

“I’m actually really glad I was forced to come see an ENT, as part of what I do for work is teach people about aromas and flavors, and we spend a fair bit of time discussing my favorite part of the body—the olfactory epithelium.”

“Really?” he said, as he motioned for me to switch sides for the second ear.

“So, as I’m here, I was wondering if you could tell me what you would say are the most important things the average person would find interesting about this organ?”

He leaned down to peer into my ear and said, “That … is a wonderful question. I would definitely make sure they know—”

And then I heard nothing but the sound of the world’s tiniest Hoover.

I panicked a little, as this was my one chance to chat before being rushed out of the building so that the physician could continue seeing the long line of people fearing they’d gone deaf, all pacing the waiting room.

I tried lifting my head just a smidge, and he suddenly paused the Miracle Ear Electrolux. “Did that hurt?” he asked.

“Nope. I just missed what you’d said.

He chuckled. “I said—”

The doll-sized Dyson started back up again.

Surely, he’s doing this on purpose, I thought. Perhaps he feels his service fee should not include a month’s worth of his schooling crammed into a five-minute lecture.

He sat back and gave me a smile. “Did you get all that? There’s some marvelous science to share, for sure.”

I felt my face arrange its features into a bleak visage. “Nearly,” I tried to say convincingly.

He turned to his assistant. “Go grab the packet, please.” The doctor then turned to me as his assistant slipped out the door. “No worries. I’m having Charles bring you one of our anosmia sourcebooks. It’s a fat pamphlet full of everything I tried to tell you, plus some remarkable scratch and sniff pages that help identify whether you’ve lost your sense of smell or taste. You’ll love it. Everything you need and a ton of stuff you’ll want to share.”

I smiled, thrilled. Both because I could mostly hear now and because I was getting a free bucketload of captivating science. Scratch n Sniff! I couldn’t wait.

Charles returned and happily handed me the packet. “We’ve only got one left,” he mentioned to the doctor.

The doctor reclaimed my prize. “Pardon me,” he said apologetically. But now I was positive he was enjoying the tease. “Maybe next time, as this packet is hard to come by.”

I sighed. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Ah!” he patted my knee as he moved swiftly toward the door. “A pun! Very good!”

And then I knew I had my sharp-eared sense back because I could hear the sound of my own eyes roll skyward.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.