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Popping Pupae

Popping Pupae

My friend Michelle and I eat bugs together. It all started about a year and a half ago. We went to see Cirque du Soleil's insect-themed show Ovo in Loveland, Colorado. We were so excited that we dressed up for the occasion, she as a bee and I as a mantis. We looked so good that other spectators thought we were part of the show. Some stood in line to take pictures with us during intermission. If what's left of my memory serves me correctly, some even tipped us. I was so inspired that I went home and wrote an insect-themed song called “Butterflies.” It's a bona fide ear worm.

The following day, I picked up a cricket protein bar from Natural Grocers and shared it with Michelle at an AcroYoga jam. My own personal interest in edible insects began with a book written by National Geographic-caliber photojournalists called Man Eating Bugs, but intensified after seeing Denver cricket rancher Wendy Lu McGill speak on the subject at a 2013 TEDx RiNo event. Michelle was one of the first to share my enthusiasm for entomophagy – the practice of eating bugs.

Thanks to social media, many of our friends are familiar with our fondness for six-legged fare. One such individual is a go-go dancer and aspiring pastry chef named Jessica. In the green room at Global Dance Festival, a long-running Denver EDM event we were all three involved with, Jessica mentioned that she'd eaten silkworm pupae before. I'd read about the delicacy and had been dying to try it. Jessica explained that her Korean-born father had prepared it for the family when she was young, and that he might be willing to make it for Michelle and I sometime. Music to my ears.

Jessica's dad was game. Michelle and I carpooled to his apartment on the designated day. Jess, Michelle and I soon found ourselves watching her father vacuum the hyperactive family Pomeranian. Once the dog was relieved of loose hair, the old man set about preparing his spin on Korean-style “beondegi.” He started with marinated pupae from small cans he'd gotten at the Asian market. Fresh green onion and diced pepper spiced up the exotic snack. Following an appetizer plate of yellow Korean melon, we were chopsticking the littler buggers into our curious mouths in no time. The brown segmented pupae are about the size of kidney beans (see above photo). Each pupa pops a little when you bite into it and they're definitely a smidgen chewy. This particular batch had a bit of heat to them, which Michelle and I definitely appreciated. Our insatiable thirst for culinary adventure had once again led us to an interesting place.

When Jessica was young, she was apparently clueless as to what beondegi consisted of. She apparently stopped eating it for years when she eventually found out. Fortunately, she's old enough now to once again appreciate the unique Korean grub.

Cricket Protein Bars

Cricket Protein Bars

It shouldn't be any secret that we can stand to learn a lot from Native Americans. Insects were a staple of many Native diets, especially when the hunters didn't bring home the bacon (or buffalo, as the case may be). Many of our primate ancestors ate bugs too (many modern primates still do). And it turns out that insects are incredibly efficient at converting plant matter into a healthy protein source for humans, while emitting minimal greenhouse gases and demanding significantly less land. To paraphrase Edible author Daniella Martin, cows are the SUVs of the animal agriculture world, while insects are the bicycles. How 'bout them apples? Cringe all you want, but insects are eaten by humans in 60% of countries around the world. America's aversion to eating bugs is actually strange. Some may remember that eating sushi was actually unpopular in America too before the 1970s, but we were able to overcome the psychological hurdles and gradually embrace the once-unfamiliar cuisine.

Pat Crowley is a rafting guide on the Colorado River. He's also a passionate hydrologist – someone that cares immensely about water conservation and the future of our water resources. The Colorado River that Crowley leads rafting expeditions on sadly no longer flows all the way to the Sea of Cortez due to the demands of high water-use crops grown as livestock feed in the middle of the desert. Crowley was listening to a TED talk about eating bugs when he learned that insects represented a nutritious protein source whose water needs were minimal. Thus, the cartoon lightbulb in his brain was illuminated. With the help of friends and family, Crowley conceived and founded a cricket protein bar company called Chapul. Deriving its name from chapulines, the spiced grasshoppers eaten in Mexico for hundreds of years, Chapul is dedicated to introducing edible insects into Western diets as a healthy and sustainable protein source.

The good news is, you don't have to eat cricket bars solely to save the planet. They actually taste good too – I buy boxes at a time, sharing whenever possible with those around me.


Giant Water Bug Bites


Giant Water Bug Bites

Insects bug most Americans. Captain Obvious strikes again. But a steadily growing number are opening their minds (and mouths) to potentially eco-friendly, often-nutritious six-legged grub. My bug buddy Michelle and I met one such fellow edible insect enthusiast while in Mexico to perform at a music festival. Tiffany was one of a group of performers and staff who'd decided to explore Teotihuacan, Mexico City's nearby pyramid complex, on the day before the show. Following the pyramid climb, Michelle and I wanted to patronize a nearby cave restaurant called La Gruta, and were ecstatic when we realized there were bugs on the menu. Tiffany was similarly excited, showing us a photo of her with a Giant Water Bug at a Seattle restaurant. Spiced caterpillars, chapulines (spiced grasshoppers) and escamole (ant eggs and larvae) were among the delicacies we dined on that day.

Fast forward several months. I'd gotten booked to dance on stilts at a Washington festival called Paradiso, and would be carpooling with Tiffany from Seattle. Patronizing the eatery where Tiff had imbibed Giant Water Bugs was a must. Upon arriving at Nue, the restaurant in question, I was hardly surprised to learn its menu is inspired by global street food (Linger, a Denver restaurant I blogged about recently, operates on a similar concept). In Japanese mythology, a Nue is a supernatural creature with the face of a monkey, the torso of a tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog), the limbs of a tiger and the tail of a snake. In other accounts, it has the back of a tiger, the legs of a tanuki and the tail of a fox (in yet other descriptions, it has the head of a cat and the torso of a chicken). It's an appropriate metaphor for Nue's menu, which is currently influenced by culinary treats from Bali, Barbados, Brazil, Burma, Cambodia, Ecuador, Holland, Hungary, Israel, Jamaica, Mexico, The Philippines, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Syria, Thailand and Vietnam.

Thailand is a hub of the edible bug world. No single country devours more insects. According to some accounts, vendors can barely keep pace with the demand, importing what they can't farm or harvest locally from neighboring countries. Unsurprisingly, Nue gets its Giant Water Bugs from Thailand. Flash frozen for the journey, the insects are thawed, blanched in salted water and served. My absolute favorite aspect of the experience was the smell. Giant Water Bugs smell intensely of flowers. I couldn't get enough. I probably inhaled the large insect's aroma for several minutes before even contemplating tasting it. A short photo shoot followed. To be clear, I don't pose with my bug bites to shock people. I do it to engage people in conversation, whether it's illogically biased bystanders, curious potential converts or hardcore entomophagists (edible insect enthusiasts). Being the only Giant Water Bug vet in our party, Tiffany demonstrated the ideal, shellfish-informed ingestion method (all insects are arthropods, which means they're related to shellfish).

Finally ready to dine, I tore the bug's wings off and broke open its body in order to suck out the insides. There are some 1900 species of insects known to be safe for human consumption. And it's estimated that about two billion people have intentionally tried at least one. Still, that's hundreds of flavors that many of us may never experience. Some of us refuse to sit idly by while global culinary adventures await. Nue's Giant Water Bugs certainly tasted strongly of the salt they were blanched with, but I have no words to describe the remainder of the unusual flavor.

If you find yourself in the shadow of the Space Needle, consider embarking on a culinary journey at Nue.



Sweet & Sour Crickets

Sweet & Sour Crickets

For some reason, insects bug Americans. Most would rather poison themselves with pesticides than admit to the nutritional value of terrestrial arthropods. I do not fall into that category. I was mostly vegan for two years, but even vegans eat insects. It's literally impossible to keep them out of our food. Why live your life resisting something that's inevitable? If you're a serious foodie like myself, edible insects represent some nineteen hundred new flavors. That's an awful lot of possibilities to ignore based on an illogical bias.

Denver restaurant auteur Justin Cucci obviously recognizes the opportunity that bugs represent. Crickets have been featured in several dishes at his global street food-inspired eatery Linger. The latest version of Linger's menu is divided into regions. You'll see Sweet and Sour Crickets in the Thailand section (black ant rice and spiced grasshoppers are other ingredients). Crickets are enormously popular in Thailand, so much so that they can barely keep up with the demand. In fact, it's estimated that two billion people around the world choose to eat insects consciously. Just because most Americans think entomophagy – the practice of eating insects – is strange, doesn't mean they're right. Insects are basically the terrestrial relatives of shellfish. Both are arthropods. Why is eating bugs any different from eating crab or shrimp? Some entomophagy enthusiasts will tell you that they taste similar.

So next time you find yourself at Linger, gift your palate an adventure and give the Sweet and Sour Crickets a try. You just might be pleasantly surprised.

Edible Mexican Insects

Edible Mexican Insects

My edible bug buddy Michelle and I have been fantasizing about entomophagy - edible insect -  adventures in other countries for a minute. I first spied La Gruta, a restaurant inside of a Mexican cave, two years ago before hiking the nearby pyramid ruins of Teotihuacan with a few of my fellow EDC Mexico performers, and have wanted to indulge my senses ever since. When Michelle and I realized we could check off two bucket list items with one exhilarating stroke, we were straight giddy. La Gruta's spiced caterpillars were airy and crispy; the escamole – ant eggs and larvae – was the most delicious bug dish we've imbibed outside the States to date. We also had guacamole with chapulines - Mexican spiced grasshoppers (pictured above). Our friend Geraldy ordered the chapulines margarita by accident, even though she speaks fluent Spanish, but ended up polishing most of it off. Even our longtime vegan friend Taylor got curious enough to sample the caterpillars. Although most Americans have illogical food biases toward nutrition-packed edible insects, they were on the menu at three out of four restaurants we patronized in or near Mexico City. Next stop: Japan:) 

Justin Timberlake's Bug Buffet

Justin Timberlake's Bug Buffet

You may have caught Justin Timberlake's recent performance during a certain high-profile sports ball game. You may or may not have heard he's got a new album out called Man of the Woods. In keeping with that theme, a recent NYC listening party featured fare that one might forage in the actual forest: insects. Click on the image to get the whole story.

Nicole Kidman Eats Bugs

Nicole Kidman Eats Bugs

In a new episode of Vanity Fair's Secret Talent Theatre, actress Nicole Kidman shows off her affinity for eating insects:)


A Year in the Life of OPM

A Year in the Life of OPM

2017. While many Americans may have been understandably depressed by the current quagmire that is U.S. politics, my metaphorical glass is almost always overflowing with sweet ambrosia. Four hundred singing telegrams were delivered via my singing telegram agency this year, the majority of which I personally performed. I entertained in Japan for the first time, explored Tulum, Mexico and witnessed my first total solar eclipse in Oregon. And I wrote and recorded my new insect-infused love song "Butterflies" with Nigerian producer Daniel Iyere. Below is a smattering of highlights cherry-picked from a bliss-filled year of playing dress up, enabling joy and hop scotching around Earth's curvaceous body:)

Bewitching California festival goers at Escape Halloween

Clowning on stilts in Japan & Mexico

Creating Australian male housekeeper character for California's Lightning in a Bottle Festival

Facilitating the delivery of 400 singing telegrams through my singing telegram agency:)

Exploring Colorado's Butterfly Pavilion with my 5 year-old nephew Kai

Filming singing Valentine segment for Channel 2 with Melissa Ivey

Finally being on the receiving end of a Custom Singing Telegram, courtesy of Miriam Andolini

Imbibing gourmet bug tapas at Denver's El Five Restaurant with Michelle Marie

Jamming ukulele with performer homies at Michigan's Electric Forest Festival

Lumbering around on four-legged stilts at California's Nocturnal Wonderland Festival with Sean

Making my Cirque du Soleil debut as a circus bike-riding stilt greeter for opening night of Luzia

Peeling “Orangami” citrus art for Dub Gypsy Kitchen patrons at Oregon Eclipse

Paying homage to David Bowie for hundreds of people in the Denver Tech Center

Performing singing Valentine on KYGO 98.5 FM with Melissa Ivey

Playing Hunter S. Thompson-inspired postmaster at Electric Daisy Carnival in Vegas

Practicing AcroYoga with my Flight Club Denver family

Practicing yoga at Red Rocks with Michael Franti and friends

Recording my new insect-infused love song “Butterflies” with Nigerian producer Daniel Iyere

Rolling through the streets of Tokyo in a Go Kart

Seeing Cirque du Soleil's insect-themed Ovo with Michelle Marie

Seeing the xx in Arizona with Amberosia

Singing at The Governor's Mansion for Best for Colorado

Singing “Under the Eclipse” at Steph J's self-commitment ceremony

Snorkeling ceynotes in Tulum with festival performer friends

Witnessing a mesmerizing total solar eclipse in Oregon

Witnessing the seizure-inducing absurdity that is Tokyo's Robot Restaurant

Working with my voice coach Casey Collins

Bugs Film Screening

Bugs Film Screening

Insects are everywhere. Like it or not, they outnumber us by the billions. And it turns out that's a good thing when it comes to global food resources. Experts warn that animal agriculture isn't capable of keeping up with our planet's growing population. In the future, eating meat might be a luxury not everyone can afford. Enter: insects. Insects like crickets require far fewer resources to raise, and the resulting food source is surprisingly nutritious. Cringe all you want, but eighty percent of the world already imbibes bugs on a regular basis. Insects are instrumental to the future of food - wouldn't you rather be a trendsetter than a late adaptor? Bugs, a documentary making its Colorado debut Wednesday, October 18 at Boulder's Dairy Arts Center, aims to educate viewers on the subject. 

Bugs follows Denmark-based Nordic Food Lab as they embark on a gastronomic adventure around the world in search of edible insects. Denver cricket farmer Wendy Lu McGill, of Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch, is hosting the post-screening talkback and providing six-legged snacks.