Choosy Beggar Bonanza #1: Winner!

Before we get to the big announcement, I’d just like to take a quick minute to very publicly and happily wish my sweet fiancee a wonderful and happy birthday.  She’s the only woman I know who would spend an entire day cooking food for her own birthday party, simply because it’s what makes her happiest:  making food, giving it to everyone she cares about, and getting them all fat and happy for a night.

People look at me a bit funny when I tell them the kinds of things I buy for Tina on occasions like this.  Back over last Christmas, I got all sorts of confused reactions after I shared my gift of a meat grinder with everyone, ranging from the pitying to the nearly-outraged.

“Wow,” was the typical reaction, followed by a comment like, “What’s next after a dazzler like that?  A leaf blower?”

“Ha ha, no, that’s crazy,” I would reply.  “Tina likes the one she already has.”


But despite how it may sound, I am actually interested in the continued success of my relationship, and the ongoing full function of all my appendages.  So while it might sound as though buying a stainless steel, five pound manual meat grinder from a former Soviet client state that may or may not still exist is a risky proposition, in fact it was a roaring success.  I have been growing fat off the proceeds for nearly a year now, and so the time came to step up a notch.


Yes, when you want to spell “romance” around our household, it starts with an “S” and ends with a “Moker.”   A four-rack digital automated smoker that does something with pre-formed wood pucks or whatever, I think — I frankly don’t fully understand the process of not quite immolating things in pans below other things in order to cook them indirectly.  I’m sure it’s all very logical and reasonable, and that if I took the time I could fully appreciate the intricacies of applewood versus a chickory; however, I feel that simply understanding how this modified refrigerator, hosting controlled fires in the presence of meat, will bring joy and happiness to our household is insight enough.

Even if it means that, God help me, someday soon I will have to eat home-made smoked tofu.  I, and many of my internal organs, shudder at the thought.

But on that happy note I can turn this into an opportunity, both for Tina and I to recover from a debauched celebratory weekend, and for you to learn the winner of our inaugural Choosy Beggar Bonanza.  As you recall, we asked you to share with us your most adventurous, novel, bizarre, terrifying and/or rewarding venture outside of your culinary comfort zone you’ve taken — anything qualified.  We had a number of entries, and even some enterprising souls who went the extra mile to add Choosy Beggars to their Twitter, all of which showed us what kind of courageous and enterprising readers we have.

It was obvious from the beginning that all of your stories were too good to make this easy on us, so Tina and I sat down to compare how we would evaluate them.

Tina’s rating system:

Category Novelty Pain Endured Decision Making Twitter Bonus
Value 20 10 5 1

Mike’s rating System:

Story was: Gross Totally Gross Ew, like, ugh Twitter Bonus
I don’t know how: That’s a food People could eat that I’ll ever sleep again To use Twitter very well

After extensive consultation (read: arguing about how I’m too subjective about things and there’s real value in being properly systematic and numerical), deep readings and a particularly vigorous debate on the dangers of projecting one’s own anxieties on foodstuffs, we were able to reach a verdict. But before we announce it, let me say that everyone who entered went for the gusto with their details: the stories of rancid seafood, the nightmares of foods that spontaneously transform into other more terrifying foods, the shattering physical after-effects of culinary surprises… it is a crying shame that we do not have cookbooks to award you all, you brave, brave people.

But in the end, it was Jan’s tale of culinary tourism gone horribly wrong that touched our hearts the most. According to Tina’s byzantine scoring system it racked up just enough points to edge the competition; by Mike’s huggy-squishy subjective feelings, it captured that dark road down which we’ve all traveled at least once in our lives:

  1. Innocence, and the desire to try everything
  2. Momentum, where a few successes spur your sense of adventure to ever greater heights
  3. Confidence, where just enough experience is gained to totally underestimate that innocent cup of orange-looking juice
  4. Horror, as you consume something that surely no human would actually eat for pleasure and yet here it is in your mouth possibly ruining it forever
  5. Helplessness, as you realize you are trapped in a social context that allows you no opportunity to spit, vomit, rinse thoroughly or even just pitifully weep
  6. Resignation, as you muster the will to force whatever-in-God’s-name-this-is down your throat and swear that somehow your character is built as a result
  7. Acceptance that you will never do anything that horrible to yourself ever again, or until the next time you go out

Jan, for the suffering you endured at the hands of something so innocent that turned out to be so terrible, we award you with the Julie Le Clerc triple set and the honor of winning our inaugural Choosy Beggar Bonanza.

And to the rest of you, I can only say thank you for sharing your stories of courage, horror and flavor… and:



  • Tina

    Congratulations Jan!! Spin off an email to with your mailing address and we’ll get it shipped out to you!!

    By the way, I know *exactly* the salty dried plums that you were speaking of. I bought them one time thinking that they were candy. That was….a very unhappy surprise. I truly can’t imagine drinking a Big Gulp of that after it’s been pureed…..yeeesh.

  • Tara

    Happy Birthday Tina!

  • Jacquie

    Happy Birthday! and I AM SO JEALOUS OF YOUR SMOKER. I currently have a supremely ghetto “little chief” luhr Jensen that my dad bought in 1975 and I inherited when I moved to Alaska. Bradley smokers are awesome /covet.

    Congratulations Jan!

  • Carolyn in CT

    @Jan: As my Japanese relatives would say, “Umeboshi, desu NE?”

    • Mike

      Bablefish translated this to, “Pickled plums and death north east?”

      Which sounds like the middle of a haiku.

      Jan did choose poorly.
      Pickled plums and death north east?
      Well, at least she won.

  • Ivy

    Happy birthday Tina. That smoker looks fantastic!!

  • Jan

    THANKS! I’m so excited! I’ll email my address over right now. Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TINA!

    Also, all you Torontonians; I’m in your town for the next couple of days; what do I need to eat? I (sadly) do not have limitless dollars, but I do have a limitless gullet.