Friday, March 24, 2017

Squid Eats: East West Cafe

via yelp
Saturday night was Vermont Symphony night for us.  We went to East West Cafe for our pre-concert dinner.  A relatively new Thai place in downtown Burlington, East West is tiny with seating room for maybe 15.  It's popular, too.  We had the place to ourselves when we arrived around six but it was full when we left, with a steady stream of take out customers, too. 

No wonder.  The food was great.  We shared gyoza and duck salad for appetizers.  I had pad kra pow for my main course.  They are not wimpy with the spices!  Mind you, I like heat but this was just short of painful.  I expect we'll definitely be back but I'll request medium spicy next time.  Of course, mango sticky rice for dessert makes everything better.

It was a nice concert, too: the Adagietto from Mahler's 5th, Beethoven's 2nd Piano Concerto and Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony.  The Mahler was especially lovely.  Joseph Kalichstein was the pianist for the Beethoven.  His is a wonderfully elegant touch.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Clone Wars: A Test of Strength

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 Test of Strength"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 7
Original Air Date: November 9, 2012
via Wookieepedia
This week's featured episode is the second in a four-part arc following a group of Younglings in their Jedi training.  Having successfully found their Kyber crystals in the previous episode, they now receive instruction from the droid Huyang in how to assemble their lightsabers.  The similarities between Huyang's workshop and Ollivander's Diagon Alley wand shop assuaged my suspicions of a Rowling influence upon this story arc.

In fact, this episode represents a convergence of elements from several science fiction and fantasy idioms.  We've got the Potter thing going with the lightsabers/wands.  The ship they're traveling on gets boarded by Hondo and his band, bringing with them elements of Star Trek (Hondo's voice is modeled after Khan's) and, of course, good old-fashioned pirate tales.  There's one scene with a definite Monty Python flavor to it.  Plus, Huyang's voice seems awfully familiar...
via Wookieepedia
The saber builder droid is voiced by none other than David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor in the Doctor Who series.   Tennant was born David John McDonald on April 18, 1971 in Bathgate, West Lothian, Scotland.   Tennant is a lifelong Whovian, first inspired to become an actor at age three because of the show.
via Wikipedia
At 16, he passed an audition for the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama to become one of their youngest students.  He already had a considerable resume by the time the Doctor gig came his way in 2005 including, wouldn't you know it, an appearance in a Harry Potter film: Barty Crouch Jr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  He's got major Shakespeare cred, too.  With the Royal Shakespeare Company, he was Touchstone in As You Like It, Antipholus of Syracuse in The Comedy of Errors, Captain Jack Absolute in The Rivals and Romeo in Romeo and Juliet.

Doctor Who was the big score.  The role catapulted Tennant to major, international superstardom.  He did plenty for the show, too, as he was easily the most popular Doctor since Tom Baker (#4).  Even two Doctors later, Tennant is still the Doctor for many Whovians, especially those who discovered the show in its 21st century relaunch.

Tennant won a Daytime Emmy for his performance as Huyang, the only acting Emmy for The Clone Wars.

Next week: "Bound for Rescue."

Friday, March 17, 2017

Squid Brews: Rooty Toot Root Beer

Ladies and gentlemen, we have root beer...

Yet another recipe from Homemade Soda by Andrew Schloss, this "Rooty Toot Root Beer" is quite intensely flavorful: not especially sweet, though.  My daughter, while she liked it, even described it as a little bitter.  For me, it was alright but not as satisfying as the orange honey ginger ale from a couple months back.  We still must see if it passes the ultimate root beer test: floats!

The carbonation process is a bit mysterious.  The way it's supposed to work, after you add the yeast and bottle, the plastic bottles sit for a few days.  You know the yeast has done its job when the bottles harden - and they're really supposed to be rock hard.  That worked beautifully for the ginger ale but not as well this time.  They were harder after a few days but not quite what I expected.  I saw bubbles, though, so I figured the soda was, in fact, carbonating.  Once the bottles harden, they go in the fridge for a week to slow the carbonation down.  I took a chance and put them in, hopefully not prematurely.

I needn't have worried.  The bottles were downright explosive when I opened them.  I don't know if it's worth looking into reducing the carbonation.  I have the same issue with the beer.  The mess is a drawback, of course, but I also regret losing so much of the liquid to foam.  On the other hand, I don't exactly understand all of the microbiological processes involved so perhaps best not to tinker until I learn more.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Clone Wars: The Gathering

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: "The Gathering"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 6
Original Air Date: November 2, 2012
via Wikipedia
To kick off a new four-part arc, we are introduced to a group of Younglings (including a Wookiee - huzzah!) about to embark upon a crucial step in their training.  They must build their own lightsabers.  Ahsoka brings them to the planet Ilum where Yoda sends them into their Crystal Caves to find the Kyber crystals they will need.  Just as with the wands at Ollivanders in Diagon Alley, each crystal is Jedi-specific so each Youngling must find his/her match.  Naturally, each must overcome his or her own personal weaknesses to fulfill the quest.

This is not the first time I have sensed J.K. Rowling's influence on The Clone Wars and, knowing something of what's coming as we near the home stretch, I expect it won't be the last.  It's hardly surprising, perhaps even inevitable.  Hogwarts has been one of the most powerful forces in pop culture over the past 20 years, arguably attaining Star Wars-like status.  A nod to the Potterverse is appropriate, even if unintentional.  If anything, I'd love to see more of this idea in science fiction.  I have long thought that Star Trek, for instance, would do well to create a series set at Starfleet Academy.
via Wookieepedia
Katooni is a female Tholothian Youngling.  In the cave, she must overcome her fear of heights to get her crystal.  She is voiced by Olivia Hack.
via Hey Arnold Wiki
Hack was born June 16, 1983 in Beverly Hills, California.  She started young in the business, getting her first commercial spot when she was eight months old.  She is best known as the voice of Rhonda Wellington Lloyd in Hey Arnold! and as a highly authentic Cindy Brady in the Brady Bunch films.

Next week: "A Test of Strength."

Friday, March 10, 2017

Squid Eats: Montreal 2017

A couple weeks ago, our family made its annual winter trip to Montreal, just a two-hour drive from our home in northwest Vermont.  For me, the highlight of these visits is nearly always the food.  One of the world's great cultural crossroads, Montreal boasts top-notch restaurants across a broad range of cuisines.  Here are a few of my favorites among our new discoveries:
  • La Taberna - Potuguese - Chicken piri-piri is the star of the menu. 
    The bird is perfectly cooked and had us plotting future visits.  It's Montreal so, of course, the restaurant offers its own version of poutine featuring said chicken.  We didn't try it but we will next time.  They offer pastéis de natas: lovely but overpriced.  There are more reasonable Portuguese bakeries in town, including the one I wrote about here.
  • Otto - Japanese - There are a couple aspects of Japanese culture that I will miss for the rest of my life: good train service and great bars.  Izakayas are magical places for me and North America facsimiles rarely live up to my memories of the real thing.  Otto comes pretty darn close.  For starters, it smells right.  The music's a little loud but the food's great and not outrageously priced at all.  Kawa (chicken skin) yakitori was my favorite, not included in the photo as we'd already gobbled it up before we thought to take pictures.
  • Mei Yuan - Chinese - Our daughter loves dumplings of all varieties so we generally try to find at least one good dumpling restaurant when we travel.  Mei Yuan has many to offer, including soup pork dumplings.  My favorite was the curry dumplings, a little soupy themselves and yummy.
  • Café Reine Garçon - café - True to its French roots, Montreal has a thriving café culture.  There are Starbucks around, though they seem more than a little silly with so many high-quality local options.  Café Reine Garçon was right around the corner from our hotel, a delightful spot for breakfast.  The offerings are simple and wonderful.  I had the smoked salmon bagel and pain chocolat both mornings we went.
And yes, we did find a few things to do between meals.  Our top museum discovery was the Stewart Museum which focuses on Montreal history, particularly the early European influence.  The current featured exhibit is called Curiosities, basically an organization of various smaller items from the museum's collection in "cabinets of curiosities."  Lots of fun.

We also attended part of the String Quartet Marathon held as part of the city's Montréal en Lumière festival.  The group we saw was quite capable, though the selections a bit too modern for our tastes, even our daughter who likes the weirder stuff.  Modern string music is interesting for its exploration of the full instrument, using harmonics and other unusual techniques.  Three of the composers were in attendance, too, which is always fun.  But afterwards, I could have used a heavy dose of Vivaldi to bring me back to equilibrium.

As always, we were sad to leave but happy to get home.  We'll be back.  There's talk of gathering the family in Montreal for Christmas, in fact.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Lee Lowenfish

Title: Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman
Author: Lee Lowenfish
via Amazon
It's no stretch to say that Branch Rickey was one of the most important figures in the history of baseball, particularly among executives.  He will always be best remembered as the man who signed Jackie Robinson, thus paving the way for integration.  However, his contributions extend far beyond that one extraordinary moment.  As general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals from 1919-1942, he developed a farm system of minor league teams, the first of its kind in baseball.  His idea of using affiliated teams as a development system for players contracted to the major league club has since become standard practice, even spreading to hockey and, more recently, basketball.  I knew both of those things before reading Lowenfish's book.

What I didn't know was Rickey's role in advancing Major League expansion beyond the original 16 teams.  It's worth noting, however, that he didn't get quite what he wanted in that instance.  He wanted to start a new eight-team circuit, the Continental League, for which he would have been president.  While that didn't pan out, the pressure exerted by Rickey and his backers did force the existing leagues to expand.

Lowenfish's biography is certainly thorough, covering all 83 years of Rickey's life over 598 pages.  Glimpses of baseball history are always fun for me and in particular, I learned a lot about the politics around expansion that I didn't know before.  Following the sport from an executive's perspective is certainly different from the player view one usually gets in biographies.  As can be expected of a book of such length and breadth, the text does frequently get bogged down in details - there's no way I was going to remember all of the players mentioned, for instance, apart from the most colorful superstars.  Lowenfish's overuse of words like paterfamilias suggest that more heavy-handed editing might have been in order, too.  The writer does lapse into hero worship from time to time, always a danger with biographies, but he succeeds in providing a multi-dimensional view of the subject.

Overall, Branch Rickey is an engaging book that reads surprisingly quickly.  I don't know if it holds much interest for anyone not already a baseball fan but I enjoyed it.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Clone Wars: Tipping Points

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: "Tipping Points"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 5
Original Air Date: October 27, 2012
via Wookieepedia
The four-part Onderon civil war arc concludes this week.  There are several interesting developments, though not all of them can be shared just yet.  In less spoilery news, Hondo shows up again and serves an important narrative purpose, too.

The Onderon arc has quite a lot going for it.  It revives the interesting Ahsoka/Lux Bonteri relationship.  It introduces Saw Gerrera, who resurfaces in Rogue One.  Most importantly for the series, it provides essential character development for Ahsoka in regards to her loyalties.  Most importantly for the franchise, it supplies an early history for the Rebel Alliance.  Not bad for 92 minutes of material.
Dendup image via Wookieepedia
Ramsis Dendup is Onderon's true king and the rebels fight on his behalf to oust the pretender, Sanjay Rash.  This arc is Dendup's only appearance in the series.  Dendup is voiced by Barry Dennen.
Dennen image via Muppet Wiki
Dennen was born February 22, 1938 in Chicago and his career path is one of most interesting I have come across.  He dated Barbra Streisand for three years in the early '60s and helped her to develop the nightclub act that started it all.  He spent years doing stage work in London, including the master of ceremonies role in Cabaret.  He also played Mendel in the film version of Fiddler on the Roof.  His best known role is that of Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar on the original album, in the Broadway production and on screen.  In addition to Clone Wars, he has voice credits on The Dark Crystal, DuckTales, Batman: The Animated Series, Animaniacs and Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Next week: "The Gathering."