Friday, January 13, 2017

Squid Cooks: Real Buttered Popcorn

On Saturday evening, my wife and I were discussing our plans for Sunday, a rare, completely open day on the family calendar.  "I think I'll make chocolate chip cookies," she said.

"Do we have any popcorn?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"I think I'll make some popcorn."

A moment of puzzled, disbelieving silence.

"Do you have a recipe for popcorn?"

"Yes," I replied enthusiastically. "There's one in the Mark Bittman book."

I know popcorn is barely beyond making toast or freezing ice cubes on the culinary challenge spectrum but the truth is, I'd never made popcorn on a stove top before.  Plus, the Bittman book - How to Cook Everything: The Basics - has a trick I wanted to try: putting three corn kernels in with the oil as test subjects. According to my wife, Alton Brown poo-poos this idea but if it's good enough for Bittman, it's good enough for me!

Wouldn't you know, I got impatient.  As soon as the first kernel popped, I got curious about the other two.  Was it remotely possible they could all have popped at the same time?  Well, of course not.  And naturally, one popped the instant I lifted the lid, ricocheted off my face on to the floor.

The popcorn turned out just fine.  Next time, I'll use a bigger pot for the half cup of corn in the recipe.  I used our largest sauce pan but it wasn't enough space.  Next time, Le Creuset!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Clone Wars: Massacre

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: "Massacre"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 19
Original Air Date: February 24, 2012
via Wookieepedia
Asajj Ventress is back.  Having been betrayed by her disciple, Savage Opress, she is seeking sanctuary with her family, the Nightsisters of Dathomir.  Count Dooku is out for revenge against Asajj and the Sisters for the recent attempt on his life so he sends General Grievous to Dathomir to wipe them all out.

If there is one Clone Wars story line worthy of its own spinoff series, it is the Nightsisters.  I really enjoy the exploration of the more mystical aspects of the Force's dark side.  I also appreciate the Tolkien allusions.  This time, it was the raising of an army of the dead.
via Wookieepedia
Said army was awoken by Old Daka, a Nightsister elder.  This episode marks her only appearance.  She is voiced by Kathleen Gati.
via Wikipedia
Kathleen Gati was born in Canada, August 13, 1957.  Her parents were Hungarian immigrants, both musicians: a symphony conductor and an opera singer.  She herself spent five years in the Hungarian film industry during the '90s.  Much of her most prominent work in the United States has been in soap operas: All My Children, General Hospital and Winterthorne, the latter a web series for which she earned an Emmy nomination.

Next week: "Bounty."

Monday, January 9, 2017

On the Coffee Table: The Buddha

Title: The Dhammapada
Author: The Buddha
Translator: Ananda Maitreya
via Amazon
The Dhammapada is a collection of sayings of the Buddha in verse form.  It is one of the most widely-read scriptures in Buddhism.  Each saying was recorded in response to a particular challenge in the life of the Buddha or his monastic disciples.  Most revolve around the basic theme of letting go of base, worldly concerns and giving over to the quest for enlightenment and nirvana.  It is a quick, pleasant read.  I am not a Buddhist but I enjoyed finding connections with my own experiences.

Given the cautions against decadence, The Dhammapada was an interesting contrast with another book I finished recently, M.F.K. Fisher's An Alphabet for Gourmets.  Says the Buddha:

The one who lives for sensation,
Indulgent in eating,
Lazy, and lacking in energy,
The tempter Mara breaks,
Just as the wind breaks a frail tree.

The Buddha probably wouldn't be impressed with Ms. Fisher's sensual frolicking through the world of food, nor mine.  On a more serious note...

The Japanese have a saying about religion in their society: Japanese are born Shinto but they die Buddhist.  This is based on the fact that their traditional ceremonies surrounding birth come from Shintoism, the ancient, animist religion that originated in Japan while the ceremonies associated with death come from Buddhism, the import from mainland Asia.  The Dhammapada helps me to appreciate the deeper meaning of the saying.

In his excellent book Being Mortal, Dr. Atul Gawande discusses how our interests focus as we approach death.  Our more superficial, worldly interests fall away as close family members and the simple pleasures of daily life grow more important.  This is exactly the sort of priority shifting the Buddha teaches.  He would encourage us to take this letting go a bit further in order to attain nirvana but it seems people naturally tend in that direction as the end nears.  Perhaps we all die Buddhists.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Squid Mixes: French 75

We had the Mocks over for New Year's Eve for food, games and general merriment.  The French 75 was our featured cocktail for the evening:
It's mostly champagne with bits of gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup (my own homemade) and grenadine.  The drink, often made with Cognac rather than gin, dates from World War I when the kick was said to be equivalent to being shelled with the French 75mm field gun.  I wouldn't say it's nearly that potent but it was pleasant enough - pretty, too.

I got my recipe from American Bar by Charles Schumann.  Interestingly, the book also includes a French 76 that subs out the gin for vodka.  The gin doesn't bring much flavor to the party but it might make for an interesting side-by-side comparison sometime.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Clone Wars: Crisis on Naboo

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: "Crisis on Naboo"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 18
Original Air Date: February 10, 2012
via Wookieepedia
The four-part, Obi-Wan undercover with bounty hunters story concludes this week.  What began seemingly as an Obi-Wan development tale with a bounty hunter showcase ultimately ended as yet another test of Anakin's limits by Palpatine and Dooku.  This final episode of the arc is dripping with foreshadowing.

*****
via Wookieepedia
Embo is one of the posse assembled to abduct Palpatine.  He is a Kyuzo from the planet Phatrong.  He first appeared in one of my favorite episodes, "Bounty Hunters," a send-up of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.  His species is, in fact, named for a Seven Samurai character.  His language is a combination of poorly enunciated French and the names of Italian soccer players.  He'll be back in a couple of weeks.  Embo is voiced by director Dave Filoni.

*****

It's been an eventful couple of weeks in the Star Wars universe.

RIP, Carrie Fisher.  You will always be my princess.
via Wikipedia
RIP to Debbie Reynolds, too.  Obviously, she was never in a Star Wars movie but - the familial connection aside - Singin' in the Rain is just as big at my house.  Isn't it interesting that both mother and daughter were cast in career-defining roles as teenagers?
via The Disney Wiki
And, of course, there's a new movie.  I've seen Rogue One twice: once in 2D here in Vermont, once in 3D on the curved screen at DC's Uptown Theater.  It's a solid four stars out of five by my reckoning.  Like the best Clone Wars episodes, Rogue One feels a lot like an old 1950s war movie once you get past the Star Wars trappings.  I love the new characters, especially Chirrut Imwe.  On my all-time list, I would rank Rogue One fifth overall, below Return of the Jedi, above Revenge of the Sith

Next week: "Massacre."

Monday, January 2, 2017

On the Coffee Table: An Alphabet for Gourmets

Title: An Alphabet for Gourmets
Author: M.F.K. Fisher
via Amazon
Long before the A to Z bloghop was a thing, M.F.K. Fisher created an alphabetized collection of essays, each devoted to an aspect of the eating experience: "A is for dining Alone," "D is for Dining out," "G is for Gluttony," etc.  Her writing is as witty and sensual as ever.  "W is for Wanton" is my favorite chapter.  What begins as a discussion of food used to seduce a lover becomes a much funnier exploration of how to construct a meal to unseduce - how to cool the jets, essentially.

With this book, I have now reached the end of Fisher's The Art of Eating collection.  My previous posts about the series can be found here, here, here and here.  All of the books are good.  Serve It Forth and The Gastronomical Me are my favorites among the five.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: January 2017 Blog List

Greetings to all!  I hope you'll join us for the next installment of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, an online gathering of bloggers who love books.  The next meeting is set for Friday, January 27th.  If you're interested, please sign on to the link list at the end of this post.

The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.  Please join us: