Friday, February 17, 2017

Squid Eats: Mad Taco

There are two restaurants in Vermont which inspire instant salivation for me and both are in Montpelier.  One is Royal Orchid, the best Thai restaurant in the state boasting a crispy duck dish that is just about the most fantastic thing I've ever eaten.  The other is Mad Taco.
via TripAdvisor
We live closer to Burlington than to Montpelier so we are usually more likely to head west than east for our weekend adventures but our charming state capitol has plenty going on for a town of its modest size (smallest state capitol in the US: 7,755 people).  The Savoy is one of the best artsy movie theaters in the state and is currently screening both the animated and live action Oscar-nominated shorts.  On Saturday, we decided to take in both, stopping in at Mad Taco for lunch.

Montpelier is actually Mad Taco's second location.  The original is in Waitsfield.  The simple, order-at-the-counter restaurant aims to provide authentic Mexican tacos with locally farmed products and in-house smoked meats.  The beer list is excellent and also predominantly local. 

I always order the same thing: kimchi tacos.  I consider being more adventurous but why mess with success?  The restaurant also makes a range of salsas, served in squeeze bottles, rated 1-10 for heat.  I love heat and can say that in my experience, anything rated at 3 offers plenty.  5 is heading towards danger territory.  On this visit, I tried a 3 and a 4, both lovely.

As for the movies, this was our first time seeing the live action ones.  We've been going to see the animated shorts for several years now, figuring they're more child friendly - not necessarily so.  In fact one of this year's animated nominees, Pear Cider and Cigarettes, came with a not-for-kids warning.  Wife and daughter (13) left the theater for that one - last in the program - but I stayed. 

All of the nominated films in both categories were really strong - not always the case.  My favorite among the animated ones was Pearl, a six-minute, essentially wordless story about a girl growing up with her single, free-spirited but ultimately responsible father.  Daughter preferred Pixar's offering: Piper.  Wife liked Blind Vaysha, a Canadian-produced parable about living in the moment.  The objectionable aspects of Pear Cider and Cigarettes are many: nudity, objectification of women, violence, lots and lots of substance abuse.  But mostly, it's sad as addiction stories usually are.  The artwork was excellent, as it was for all five.  Any of the five would be a deserving winner.

So too, for the live action works.  My favorite was Timecode from Spain, the Palme D'Or winner for short film at Cannes: two parking garage attendants find a wonderful way to amuse each other.  We all enjoyed Sing, a Hungarian film about a children's choir and poetic justice.  Two of the nominees deal with immigration issues: the Danish Silent Nights and Ennemis Intérieurs from France.  If timeliness is worth anything, Ennemis Intérieurs will win.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Clone Wars: A War on Two Fronts

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "A War on Two Fronts"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 2
Original Air Date: September 21, 2012
via Wookieepedia
This week kicks off a four-part arc in which we return to the Lux Bonteri story.  We first met Lux in Season Three as the son of Separatist senator, Mina Bonteri.  A kind, thoughtful, principled - not to mention handsome - young man, his very existence is a revelation for Ahsoka and indeed for the viewing audience.  Up to that point, we had all been led to see the Separatists as purely evil but the Bonteri story shows that some, at least, are good people with legitimate gripes.  Lux and Ahsoka develop a personal friendship with hints of something deeper.

Since that first meeting, Lux has switched sides.  Lux suspects (correctly) that Count Dooku was behind the conspiracy to assassinate his mother and accused him publicly.  Now effectively exiled, he has joined a group of insurgent rebels on the planet Onderon.  As we join the story, Anakin, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka and Rex are on their way to train the rebels.

Enter the Gerreras, Steela and Saw, sister and brother.  The Gerreras are Onderon natives, fighting alongside Lux.  Saw clearly doesn't trust the new guy but Steela is fond of him - a little too fond.  Ahsoka carries her own torch for Lux though she does her Jedi best to fight and conceal it.
Steela Image via Wookieepedia
Steela is voiced by Dawn-Lyen Gardner.  Gardner was born in Los Angeles in 1980 and was trained in both acting and music from a young age.  She got her first television work as a child, appearing on both Viper and ER.  She went to Julliard for college which led to stage work: For Colored Girls, The School of Night and The Seagull.  Currently, she has a lead role in the Oprah Winfrey Network's Queen Sugar.
via Twitter

Next week: "Front Runners."

Friday, February 10, 2017

Squid Eats: Shalimar of India

via Twitter
When my wife was pregnant, 13+ years ago, Indian food was her most frequent craving.  I would pick her up from work and be informed of the evening's new dinner plan.  Shalimar of India was our favorite place in Burlington: a simple, family run restaurant with good service and a dependable menu.  Somewhat surprisingly, we hadn't been back in the years since.  As new parents, we didn't have much money for eating out and we've since moved out to the exurbs.  We haven't even pushed Indian food on our daughter too much, though it seems inevitable that she'll come around to it eventually.  As they say, she was cooked on it.

One recent evening, when the girl, now a teenager, had other plans, my wife requested Shalimar for our date night.  I'm pretty sure we had the same friendly waitress we had all those years ago.  Same order, too: non-vegetarian thali with extra nan.  It's a good choice for trying a little bit of everyone.  There was also a lovely goat curry on offer that night.

Our lives have changed a lot in the years since.  We still do a lot together as a family but the girl grows ever more independent.  High school is right around the corner, college (hopefully) not too long after that.  I get in trouble talking about such things around my wife.  I've never been one to wish my child would stay young forever.  Watching her grow up is fun and exciting to me, to a point.  Knowing we have a limited time as a family of three makes it all the more precious.  I remember enough from my own teen years to know that nights just the two of us will be more frequent rather than less so.  It's nice in some ways.  But there is sadness, too.

Can't help it.  I was born a sentimental old fool.

After dinner, we went to a Vermont Symphony Orchestra concert.  We've been going to a lot of such concerts, partly spurred by the girl's own ever expanding musical exploits.  The program: Dreamtime Ancestors by Christopher Theofanidis, Barber's Violin Concerto and Beethoven's Symphony No. 8.  The featured soloist for the concerto was the VSO's own concertmaster, Katherine Winterstein.  She was amazing, leading me to wonder why symphonies don't give such opportunities to their own personnel more often.  I suppose there are political and commercial advantages to hiring freelancers but it seems a shame.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Clone Wars: Revival

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Revival"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 1
Original Air Date: August 24, 2012
via Wookieepedia
Savage Opress and Darth Maul are on a violent rampage around the galaxy.  They come across Hondo Ohnaka and his band of pirates, even recruiting some of Hondo's minions and turning them against the boss.  The Sith brothers' antics also draw the attention of Obi-Wan Kenobi and fellow Jedi Adi Gallia.

Again, not a fan of the Darth Maul story but I won't belabor the point.  I'm delighted to see Hondo, still my favorite new character in the series.  He's even smooth in handling the betrayal of his own men, recruiting them back to the fold without retribution.
via Wookieepedia
Jiro is the leader of the small Weequay pirate band who betray Hondo in favor of Maul.  Jiro's only other appearance in the Expanded Universe is in a short story entitled "Kindred Spirits," published in Star Wars Insider.  He is voiced by Matt Lanter.

Next week: "A War on Two Fronts."

Friday, February 3, 2017

Squid Mixes: Squid Ball

Two weeks ago, I posted about my latest brewing adventure, orange honey ginger ale from Andrew Schloss's recipe in Homemade Soda.  Schloss's book also includes cocktail recipes for several of the sodas.  For the orange honey ginger ale, he recommended combining with dark rum to create what he called ginger honey rummy.

The result was okay but we prefer whiskey to rum at our house.  My wife is a long-standing fan of a traditional highball, combining ginger ale with rye whiskey, preferably Old Overholt.  So, we tried that too.  One of the joys of mixing drinks is the exploration of flavor combinations.  Almond and lime, for instance, are dazzling together - definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.  While the rum brought out the fruitiness of my soda, the whiskey emphasized the ginger.  For both of us, the rye cocktail was superior.

So, this means I get to name the resulting drink, right?  Ladies and gentlemen, I present the Squid Ball:
2 oz. rye whiskey
Orange honey ginger ale

In a highball glass, pour the whiskey over ice, then top off with the soda.  Stir well and serve.

(I could/should probably tinker around to develop a recipe that doesn't require homemade soda but this is what I've got for now.)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Clone Wars: Season Four

We have reached the end of Season Four in our exploration of The Clone Wars.   Episode posts resume next Tuesday with Season Five.  But first, a quick reflection...

General Impressions

I won't mince words.  Season Four was disappointing.  I was feeling so great about the series after such a strong Season Three but here, it stumbled.  Formula is starting to creep in.  Too many droid stories, too.  A character is resurrected unnecessarily.  There are good stories here and there but it seems to me like the series has passed its peak and is now on the way down.

Favorite Episode: "Plan of Dissent"
via Wookieepedia
The best arc of the season is the General Krell story.  Pong Krell, a Besalisk Jedi, takes command of the 501st Legion when Anakin is recalled to Coruscant.  Krell is a tyrant with little regard for the well-being of the clone troopers.  The narrative is told mostly from the point of view of the troopers as they chafe under his leadership.  "Plan of Dissent" is the third in the four-episode story arc.  I choose it as the best for its strong similarities with the first season episode "Rookies" in its climactic scene.

Least Favorite Episode: "Nomad Droids"
via Wookieepedia
Not just a droid story but a two-part arc?  Really?  Must we?  Good grief...

"Nomad Droids" is the second part of said arc.  Artoo and Threepio escape in a Y-wing when their cruiser comes under attack.  They find adventures laced with Wizard of Oz and Gulliver's Travels allusions.  Normally, I'd be giddy about Oz references but here they just leave me tired.  Enough with the droids already!

Favorite New Character: Pong Krell
via Wookieepedia
Krell's a bastard but he's fascinating.  The relationship between the Jedi and the clones is the most interesting story going in the Clone Wars and the Krell arc shows that relationship at its worst.


On to Season Five next week.  I'm definitely hoping for improvement.  Hondo Ohnaka is back in the first episode.  That seems like a good sign.

Please visit my friend Andrew Leon today for his Season Four recap.  Next Tuesday: "Revival."

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Clone Wars: Revenge

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Revenge"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 22
Original Air Date: March 14, 2012
via Wookieepedia
Now that Darth Maul has resurfaced, he is out for revenge.  Obi-Wan Kenobi must pay for slicing him in half back in the day.  Fortunately, Obi-Wan has an unexpected ally.  As I wrote last week, I'm not happy about this story line at all and this episode - Season Four's last - has done nothing to improve my outlook.  So let's talk about something else: ghosts!

The implication of a meaningful existence beyond death has been part of the Star Wars saga from the beginning.  In A New Hope, during his duel with Darth Vader, Obi-Wan says "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."  Let's be honest, we never truly learn the extent of what he means.  Perhaps he is alluding to the impact of his martyrdom.  Perhaps there's more to the Force than anyone, even the filmmakers, fully understands by the end of the first movie.

Here's what we do learn: while Obi-Wan technically dies, he doesn't leave the story.  He reappears in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as a Force ghost, doing his best to steer young Luke to the right path.  Yoda and Vader/Anakin also appear to Luke as ghosts.  Apparently, it's part of the Jedi contract.

Ghost Ben can't really do much, though.  He speaks and he certainly has no trouble getting around but otherwise seems unable to impact the physical universe.  So, what power does he have beyond guiding Luke?  Is that all he means?  Is that all he needs?  Or is there more to it?


"Revenge" is directed by Brian Kalin O'Connell.  O'Connell attended Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.  He has been working within George Lucas's empire since 1995, first for Industrial Light & Magic, then Lucasfilm Alimation.  He has big screen art and visual effects credits for The Mummy, Unbreakable, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Wild.  In total, he directed 20 Clone Wars episodes.

Next week: "Revival." This Thursday, we'll be recapping Season Four.