Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Blog Biz

Here are all of the posts that I'm working on/planning/thinking about.

I know I normally don't do this, but I need to help remind myself as much as entice you.

- Disney Movie Review # 2 (Pinnochio). The Tofu Muchacha won't watch this one with me, because we tried watching it last year right after I got it on BluRay and she couldn't get through it. Of course, the fact that it was after 10pm when we started and her feet were turning back into pumpkin vines and her skin was becoming a familiar orange color may have had something to do with it.

- A brief rundown of the movies from my "2010" list (over to the right). Sort of as a summary of why they stand where they stand, and also as a chance to really re-evaluate where I'd place them. For the most part, my method has worked surprisingly well, and has stayed true to form.

- A deeper discussion of the movie "Inception". Maybe not the best movie I've seen this year, but certainly among the most thought provoking. This may also finally be my chance to discuss Hot Tub Time Machine in an organized way.

- A review of Victor Gischler's book "Vampires A G0-Go". I should be done with it shortly. I do really like his books.

- A recap of the creativity event the TM and I are attending in Michigan this coming weekend. I'm really looking forward to this, if just to spend some time in Three Oaks, Michigan, but not just that... The event sounds really sweet.

- I'm debating whether or not to discuss LeBron James. Here are the cons: 1) It's been discussed a lot already. 2) I never get any comments on my sports blogs, which leads me to believe what readers I DO have aren't really sports fans. Do any of you have any thoughts?

Oh.. and lastly a question for you all to answer in the comments...

If I were to drive cross country from Seattle to Cincinnati, what route would you take, and why? Let's say I have 9 days.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sweat Shop

Sing it Brother.

Some of you may know that the Tofu Muchacha has one of the most popular blogs in Cincinnati. Her blog is all about her daily fashion, and over the past (almost) 4 years she's developed a really unique flair and style about her.

One of the staples of her fashion is this thing called "Swapping". No.... not that kind of swapping. The idea is that people keep more clothes than they really need in their "rotation", so they put these clothes out into this market of swapping and someone else takes that piece off their hands in exchange for a piece of clothing (or shoes, accessories, etc...) of their own. It is not at all unusual to come home to a soft package on the doorstep sent by some random clothing swapper from Texas or Norway or wherever.

I actually think it's a really cool way to get new clothes without spending a dime (except on postage), AND without overstuffing your closets... You always end up giving away the same amount of clothing you accept. It's very yin and yang.

So... this past Saturday evening there was this swapping event down in the "Brighton" area of Cincinnati, and The TM and I went.... Well.... TM went, and I stood there feeling uncool.

Uncool in just about every possible interpretation of the phrase.... because while I was clearly, painfully, tragically, devastatingly uncool...

I was also sweating my fucking balls off.

That place was the hottest store anyone has ever... EVER been in. It was like we were transported to the hippest Indonesian communal bath you can imagine, and let me tell you... When I imagine Indonesian communal baths, I imagine hotness? I dunno... It was hot.

The TM had been looking forward to this thing for a couple of weeks. She picked out 10 pieces to bring (the max) and we barreled in like Augustus Gloop diving into the river of liquid chocolate. That's when we were hit by the heat-wall. It was like walking into the mouth of some moist hipster. I mean... damn it was so fucking hot in there. I was sweating. TM was sweating. The random strangers walking around the gallery of swappable clothes were sweating. As more clothes-thirsty swappers arrived, the temperature in the room escalated in kind. It became this firey hellish offshoot of Urban Outfitters. It was a trip Sweat Shop... or Sweat Swap, if you will. Sorry... Had to.

This is not to say I was miserable. I really enjoy watching TM shop. It's interesting to see her thought process when she picks up some weird thing. When it comes to clothes, I have a difficult time seeing how things come together to create an outfit, so when she holds up something that I can't possibly imagine looking good on her, and 2 weeks later she wears that thing to work and just absolutely KILLS it, I'm amazed. The process is fascinating. So there's that.

I have nothing else to say. It was an interesting experience highlighted by being in the hottest room (not featuring lava rocks in the corner) of any room I've ever been in.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Orange You Glad I Made More Pie?

So I did some baking this past weekend, and I felt a little rusty. It's been a while.

The last thing I baked was the first thing out of the pie book I bought in Boulder way back in March. The Tofu Muchacha, my cousin Abbey, and I combined to make a caramelized pear pie. I really enjoyed it, but damn... that was so effing long ago. I don't even remember blogging about it, and I'm feeling too lazy to go back and check...

Anyway, this past Sunday we had our final Play Reading Committee meeting for our theatre group (The Drama Workshop) . I kind of kicked off the dessert making for the group back in March when I made the Mad Men pie (the pink one with the cherries). Since then we've had 3 other meetings with other folks bringing their baked goods, and they were all very tasty. When the time came to decide who was baking for the final meeting of the year, I volunteered. I viewed it as a good chance to try out a new pie from the pie book...

I spent a while thinking about the type of pie... It's hot as hell here in the Summer, and I didn't want to make an overly sweet pie, or a really dense pie. I wanted something that was light and fresh and Summery.

I decided on, with Tofu Muchacha's urging, an Orange Chiffon Pie with a chocolate crumb crust..

Now let me just get it out of the way... I am NOT a huge fan of fruit and chocolate mixed. I make an exception for raspberries and cherries but that's pretty much it. Possibly my LEAST favorite combination is citrus and chocolate, so... I was thinking I had a challenge on my hands.

Here we go...Pretty standard stuff, really... You got your eggs, milk, graham crackers, butter... all that.

The biggest challenge I had was the gelatin. I'd never used it before, and I don't fully understand how to manipulate it. I'll talk about that later.

So, I think I mentioned this on previous pie blogs, but on all of the crumb crusts I've had in my pies, I had a helper. The Tofu Muchacha is my "Pie Sensei" and she's especially helpful with the crusts... This was my first attempt all on my own, and I think all in all, it was fairly successful in both action and result. I took the advice of the book and used a big plastic bag and a rolling pin, and I found it very effective. I was kind of amazed at how many chocolate graham crackers it took to make 2 cups of crumbs. I'd even venture to say that I could have used slightly more than I ended up with.

Oddly, I really enjoyed the process of pressing the wet, buttery crumbs into the pie plate. That sounds a little dirty (and it kinda was). I also really liked the tip the book gave me to bake the crust for a few minutes to set it or "solidify it". I'm not sure that many cold pies with crumb crusts suggest baking the crust.

First off, it smelled awesome. Second, It made me feel like the integrity of the crust was a little more secure.

The next bit was kind of complicated and so I don't have a ton of pictures...

It involved gelatin.

I sort of didn't really think through the gelatin aspect of the pie at all until I was pretty far along. I had to combine a bunch of ingredients (The orange juice, lemon juice, orange zest, Sugar, milk, egg yolks, and salt) along with gelatin (!) and then I heated it all on the stove to create this sort of creamy, steamy concoction. The book was extremely specific about letting it steam but NOT boil. I assume that has to do with scalding the milk, but maybe someone can shed more light on that. I had to whisk the slurry pretty much non-stop for about 9 minutes.

It was kind of weird... I was told I had to let it cook until it became "foamy", and it didn't happen at all until very suddenly. At which point I poured it into a bowl: and threw it into the fridge:It smelled amazing and citrusy and still had that creamy feel (and even scent) to it.

Then came the most interminable cooking task I've ever had. I now had to whisk this stuff every 10 minutes until the mixture solidified enough to leave a little gloppy mound when dripped with a spoon. I may be paraphrasing a little. The book estimated it would take about 90 minutes.

More like 2 hours.

I think the biggest issue was that the mixture wasn't cooling quickly enough, so I took a big silver bowl and put the mixture bowl inside of it. Then I put ice cubes all around the bowl and put it back in the fridge. Once I'd done this, the process sped up considerably.

When I felt the mixture had about 10 minutes left before being ready, I started whipping cream. I never know exactly when to stop whipping. I was instructed to whip to "stiff peaks" (which sounds a little like a porno version of "Twin Peaks" which itself sounds like a porno version of "Twin Peaks".) The whole stiff peaks thing is so subjective to me, and I always feel like I under-whip. So here's what it ended up looking like before I mixed in the goop: As you can see... not stiff enough. (also... I was, like, fucking DONE with taking pictures so I didn't get the lighting right. Sorry.)

So then I was in the home stretch... This pie has, at this point, taken me 3 hours to bake this damned pie. I think I was maybe a little impatient with the whipped cream. I also really wanted to finish quickly because the kitchen had become really, really humid, and I worried about how the whipped cream and gelatin stuff would hold up in the warm environment.

I folded the whipped cream on the goop together quickly, and poured it into the crust. I wasn't especially pleased with it...I felt like it could have been fluffier. See the picture from the pie book:As you can see, it almost looks like meringue. It has this fluffiness to it that I really coveted.

Here's what my completed pie looked like...Really, it came out pretty well. It wasn't as fluffy as I'd have liked, but people really liked it. The orange flavor was there, but no too overpowering, and the chocolate was pretty subtle too. It may be my favorite pie I've made so far... (I'm not counting the pumpkin cheesecake).

So far, I'm especially pleased with the pie book. It's two for two.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Disney Revisited: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

As I was saying back on June 29th, I've decided to re-watch every Disney Animated Feature and review them. I'll be watching them in chronological order of their original releases...

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Released 1937
-- It had probably been 10 years since I last watched Snow White all of the way through and I was struck with the pacing of it. It's very deliberately paced. (That's a nice way of saying that it's slow). I started thinking about how that's likely the typical reaction of a Gen Y cry-baby. "Oh no... It's sooooo boring. When does the action start?"... Well... It really IS slow, and really not a whole lot happens. There are long sequences of 4 or 5 minutes that in more modern story telling that would be 10 to 20 seconds. The long sequence of the Dwarfs forcing Grumpy clean, the long sequence of the dwarfs figuring out that Snow White was the "monster in their beds". These are pretty long sequences.

-- Snow White is one presumptuous bitch. She just lets herself in to the private home of the dwarfs, rearranges their stuff, and then when they STILL welcome her into their homes, she bosses these old (Tiny) men around like she's their mommy. Let's just say I wasn't as charmed by Snow White as the Huntsman was...

-- Is "White" the last name?

-- I found the portrayal of Dopey really interesting. Both because he's a cute, fun character who is universally beloved, and it's hard to get away from that... but also because Disney made a fortune featuring a, clearly, mentally retarded character who is tricked and taken advantage of on multiple occasions by his "friends".

-- I love Grumpy. I mean... It's probably predictable that he'd be the one I'd like the best, but whatever. He's awesome. Though, where did that hillbilly accent come from?

-- There's some hardcore shit in this movie. The Queen wants to have Snow White's heart in a fucking box. That's fucked up. Kids were clearly much tougher than they are now, because I'm sure most of today's movie makers would make it a "lock of her hair" or something. I applaud Disney for being as graphic as they wanted.

-- I talk about the pacing and I talk about how weird Snow White is with the Dwarfs, but somehow I feel like the pacing especially really allowed the connection between the characters build better. This build makes the end of the movie with her in the casket extremely affecting.

Clearly there are some iconic pieces of music in this movie, but I'll be honest and say it's not my favorite. Almost without exception I like the Dwarf songs the best. Heigh-ho is awesome. Also, for some reason I had misremembered that "Whistle While You Work" was sung by the Dwarfs in the mine, but that is the "Dig" song... which I liked.

I mean... I'll stand by my feeling that only a great villain can make an animated movie great. The Queen is pretty awesome. She's scary and mean and fucking crazy. Did I mention she wants Snow White's heart in a box? They talk about this quite a lot. I found it interesting that in order to insure she'd be the Fairest, she makes herself as ugly as possible to kill Snow White. She's single-minded, crazy, and pretty scary. I'm getting the feeling that I'll have to revisit the Villains Tournament when this movie quest is all said and done. I'd give her, at the least a 7.5 out of 10. She's almost too unrelentingly bad.

The Dwarfs can barely be called sidekicks, because they're easily the best part about the movie. I love them all... The gags with Sneezy I'd forgotten about entirely. I was especially entertained by Grumpy constantly being right, but being ignored just as constantly. I felt consistently bad for Dopey, because those other dude abused him so badly. The Dwarfs are awesome.

I was going to say the "Fleeing into the Forest" scene would be easily the most visually stunning, and probably was the point in the film where people were like.... "Whoa. This is something new." That and the sequence with the Queen transforming into the Old Hag... Both are big and showy and really impressive.

But through the whole thing, I kept going back to the start of the movie when Snow White is wishing in the wishing well... and we see her from under the well water as it ripples along with the vibrations in her voice. It's so incredibly realistic. For the life of me, I can't figure out how they did it. I assume it was the multi-plane camera. That's an incredible effect. Something people had likely never seen executed that smoothly.

Final Thoughts...

I can see why this movie was a sensation. There's an absolute ton of heart to it, especially at the end when the Dwarfs are just so devastated by the "death" of Snow White. It's a really simple, but engaging story. It's an achievement in hand-drawn animation, even now.

Aaaand it IS really slow. It's only 84 minutes, but you do feel every single one of those. Not that I disliked it, but I definitely think there's a change in taste/preference from the 1930s to now.

It's a classic. I didn't LOVE it as much as I love some others, but it's a classic.

I'd give it a 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, July 5, 2010

I Saw "Eclipse" and it Dawned on Me.

Quote of the day:
Beefy Muchacho: "I'm writing a blog about Eclipse"
Tofu Muchacha: "Is that the movie we just saw?"

What is it about vampires that compels us to write novels and shoot movies and sing songs about them?

When you think of vampire what do you think about? I think of blood. I think of seduction. I think of sex. I think of death. The great vampire stories are those that interweave the duality of vampires NEEDING the blood that keeps us alive to keep them dead. The stories that bring the characters to the knife’s edge between life and death and play with the eroticism that can only be found right on the tip of that blade. Vlad the Impaler became a vampire to avenge the death of his one true love. Elizabeth Bathory bathed in the blood of virgins to give the illusion of her own purity. It’s all about sex and blood, the givers of life. And the lack of blood and sex, the creators of death. Vampires are the literature’s deadest reminders of lifes' animal urges, and that’s what makes us read on.

And then came, charging into the lexicon, the Twilight Saga. So immensely popular. So pervasively in our faces at all times. I read all 4 books at once, in a straight line, and I was entertained. And I liked them. And I watched the first movie. And I liked it.

And then, perhaps incongruously, I thought.. “Wow… I never want to hear anything about these stories ever again.”

So, why did I suddenly get bored with something that should be decidedly not-boring?

Because Stephenie Meyer created the first book about vampires where their teeth were made of putty. She created these vampires with dazzlingly sparkling skin made of marble and eyes of amber, but with no life at all. She created stories told from the perspective at the one person whose point of view makes the vampires uninteresting. There’s no conflict or fear in Bella Swan. Not with the vampires, at least. She finds out that Edward is a vampire and instead of recoiling against her desires and finding the conflict there, she runs straight toward them. Instead of experiencing conflict between her disgust with the very nature of what it means to be a vampire and her urges for Edward, she just is all “yeah.. this is fucking awesome.”

The possible taboos of being violated by these two long pointy teeth and finding it both repulsive and pleasurable can’t be explored when the protagonist is essentially fucking begging for it from the first 100 pages of book number one.

And why shouldn’t she be? Edward is perfect. He’s in a clan of the only vampires in the world who can withstand the smell of human blood. He is the only 17 year old guy who, when faced with an adoring girlfriend that wants him to ravage her, is all “Aaaaactually…let’s wait until we’re married.” He’s got perfect skin, perfect ethics, perfect memory. He’s a genius. He writes her music. And despite what he claims, he doesn’t ever want to bite the girl and suck her blood.

Why would Bella want anything OTHER than being just like them. They don’t stink of death or die in the sunlight or dislike garlic. They turn into vampires and become creatures who are indestructible (except by another vampire or werewolf…don’t even get me started on the werewolves…), perfectly intelligent, kind, NOT thirsting for blood, immortal, and oh..did I mention also the physical embodiments of perfection. This happens after they get bitten.

Hell… I want to be THAT.

How fucking boring does it get?

Stephenie Meyer spends hundreds of pages building up to battles and confrontations. Thousands of words telling us how desperately all of these natural dead killers want Bella to join them in the ranks of the soul-free. Millions of breaths discussing how each of twenty five characters more powerful and interesting than her will break their own necks to defend her and her precious, clumsy honor.

Then…. When the time comes to see these battles and confrontations, Meyer keeps the action far, far away. In Eclipse, they spend all of this energy training and preparing for the battle with the Newborn Vampire (a concept that is ACTUALLY interesting), and when the battle finally comes, we hear about it like it’s on the fucking radio, while we sit with boring ass Bella and perfect Edward (whose family is so awesome they all put their lives on the line to protect his dumbass girlfriend who is all but throwing her neck at his teeth so she can be a vampire anyway. Why are they even fucking bothering? And if they are going to bother, why can’t Stephenie Meyer throw us a bone and show Emmett (The purported beast of a vampire) ripping the arms off a newborn. Or Jasper (easily the most compelling character in the entire series, simply because he actually has seen some shit go down) show that he’s a badass warrior for once instead of being this mental invalid because he actually wants and has urges for human blood… as is in his nature. Instead to hear about it all from a field far away from the action, where no danger exists.

It just makes me want to throw the book against the wall. It makes me want to walk out of the movie.

I just don’t understand it.

I was talking about this with The Tofu Muchacha on the way home from the movie, and she contends that the books aren’t about the blood and the sex on purpose. It’s about the romance of the relationship between Bella and Edward. Well… the 17 year-old girl’s idea of romance, where the ideal is a shining, living statue of their own father figures, wrapped up in a tight-abbed little ball to pant at their doorsteps and watch them sleep, and tell them that they know what’s best for her, and have neutered little fights about here while she sleeps in their cumulative arms. It’s gross and weird, but in that light.. the lack of sex is actually comforting, because while the idea of holding hands and being protected by a father-boyfriend is nice, the idea of sex with him is icky and weird.

But honestly, if Meyer had pushed that a little more and confused Bella all to hell by having her sleep with her daddy-boyfriend… maybe the whole thing would have been more interesting. That’s the kind of fucked up, twisted sexual confusion that a good vampire story might have. But no…

Anyway… I’d been having a hard time putting my finger on exactly why I went from liking it to disliking it, and it’s because it doesn’t stick with me. There’s no real conflict. It’s told from the perspective of the least interesting and least self-possessed character. And I enjoyed the story… It’s just the completely bloodless telling that turns me off. I want to be titillated and grossed out and offended by a vampire story.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not a psycho. I love a good biography. I like a really good adventure novel. I mysteries and zombie books and books of weight… it all depends on my mood. It’s just that when I’m in the mood for a vampire story, I don’t want to be bamboozled into reading a book about 2 angsty teens…

The most recent episode of True Blood ends with 2 vampires having violent sex born out of hatred and weird familial ties, and in his hate the male vampire literally twists the female vampire’s head clean around as her mouth drips with blood. It’s disgusting and weird and brutal and not at all tender in any way… And it was kind of awesome, because it was the kind of taboo that only an immortal couple of vampires can explore.

If only Edward had popped off Bella’s head like a dandelion in a fit of uncontrolled passion.