Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Squid Mixes: Lillet Reviver

A Lillet Reviver combines gin, Grand Marnier (or Coinreau or triple sec), Lillet blanc, lemon juice and absinthe (or Pastis) with a lemon (or orange) twist garnish.  I got my recipe from David Lebovitz's Drinking French.  Lebovitz admits the drink is also known as a Corpse Reviver No. 2 but he changed the name to emphasize the Lillet.  

Fortunately, absinthe is no longer illegal in the United States, its long-rumored hallucinatory properties disproved.  Even so, my wife has been skeptical as she is not a huge fan of anise flavoring.  It's not my favorite either though I'm less reluctant to experiment with it.  There's actually very little absinthe in the drink.  You pour a half-teaspoon into the empty glass, swirl it around, then dump out the excess.  There's just enough for a light scent and an even lighter flavor.  In my wife's words, it's a good drink for the absinthe shy.

She also suggested The Absinthe Shy would be a fantastic band name.

Otherwise, the drink is intensely lemony.  If I make it again, I might cut back a little on the lemon juice.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

On the Coffee Table: Xinran

Title: The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices
Author: Xinran

via Amazon

In the late 1980s, Chinese journalist Xinran started a radio program entitled Words on the Night Breeze.  She asked women of all walks of life to share their stories with her in order to explore the lives of women in China.  At the time, the country was beginning to open up, though many were still recovering from their experiences in the Cultural Revolution.  The program proved extremely popular and Xinran received hundreds of stories every single day.  In The Good Women of China, Xinran includes several of these stories along with her own experience in collecting them.  Some had been censored by Communist Party-controlled media and had to wait until Xinran moved to the West in order to be published.

As in most of Asia - indeed, much of the world - the status of women in China is very poor.  Even the egalitarian promises of Maoism did little to change that reality.  Men own everything.  Women have severely limited rights.  Culturally speaking, the best thing a woman can do in her life is bear a son.  None of this should come as a surprise to the reader.  The personal narratives Xinran shares reveal how it all plays out on an individual level.  There are stories of rape, sexual abuse, neglect, public shaming and more.  It is by no means an easy read but it's undeniably important.

If you're prepared to be shocked out of your comfort zone, The Good Women of China is certainly a worthwhile read.  Westerners tend to see Asia as culturally monochrome, often failing to recognize the diversity among its cultures, not to mention within individual nations.  China is enormous, the culture of any one region vastly different from others.  Indeed, Xinran's project expands her own concept, putting her in contact with parts of the country she would probably never have seen otherwise.  While Wild Swans by Jung Chang adheres to many of the same themes, Xinran's book covers a much broader cross-section of society.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Star Wars Comics: Crimson Empire #2-3, X-Wing Rogue Squadron #27, Shadows of the Empire - Evolution #1

Crimson Empire is a strong series so far.  It appeals to me for much the same reason Rogue Squadron does: it offers the perspective of a military grunt, though this one plays for the other side.  Development of the protagonist Carnor Jax is gradual which I also appreciate.

Shadows of the Empire - Evolution is about a droid.  No thanks.

My Recent Reads

Crimson Empire #2
Originally published January 28, 1998
Writers: Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley
Artist: Paul Gulacy
In-Story Timeline: 11 ABY

Crimson Empire #3
February 18, 1998
Richardson and Stradley/Gulacy

X-Wing Rogue Squadron #27: Family Ties, Part 2
February 4, 1998
Michael A. Stackpole/Jim Hall and Drew Johnson

Shadows of the Empire - Evolution #1
February 11, 1998
Steve Perry/Ron Randall

Friday, July 23, 2021

Star Trek: Half a Life

Episode: "Half a Life"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 4, Episode 22
Original Air Date: May 6, 1991

"Counselor Deanna Troi, personal log, stardate 44805.3. My mother is on board."

That might be the single greatest log entry of the entire franchise.

Yes, indeed, the generally intolerable Lwaxanna Troi is paying a visit.  But this is different from all previous Lwaxanna episodes in that it's not about Deanna, the eternally suffering daughter.  In fact, it's not about any of the principals.  Lwaxanna falls in love with Timcin (David Ogden Stiers), a visiting scientist from a dying world.  The trial run on an experiment to save his planet doesn't go well but that's not even the story's deepest tragedy.  Timcin is 60 years old, the age at which those in his culture must submit to ritual suicide.

Lwaxanna is crushed by the revelation but Picard won't do anything about it as it would violate the Prime Directive.  Timcin, wanting more time with Lwaxanna and also to continue his work, asks for asylum.  Picard grants it but, naturally, that leads to further issues.  An appeal from his daughter (Michelle Forbes, the future Ensign Ro) turns the tide.

"Half a Life" is a deeply sad episode, a new emotional note for the franchise.  It fleshes out Lwaxanna, too, and she desperately needed that.  The affection between her and Timcin is entirely believable and there's something satisfying, from a narrative perspective, in how things work out.  The tough choice is made and the loss is real.  Trek doesn't usually take us to that edge.  It's refreshing.

And of course, Stiers is wonderful.

Acting Notes

David Ogden Stiers... just thinking the name makes me smile.

Stiers was born October 31, 1942 in Peoria, Illinois.  As with so many in this space, the theater work came first.  He got his start in San Francisco, then moved to New York to study at Julliard.  He made his Broadway debut in 1974 as Feldman in The Magic Show.

The big break came in 1977 when he was cast as Charles Emerson Winchester III in M*A*S*H, replacing Frank Burns.  M*A*S*H was a masterful show for so many reasons, not least for the fact that whenever they replaced principal characters - and they did it three times - the series actually improved.  Each replacement brought new dimension.  Charles was not Frank just as Potter was not Blake and BJ was not Trapper.  They were never intended to be carbon copies of the originals.  Not only was Charles a more worthy foil for Hawkeye.  He had more range than Frank, by a long shot.  As arrogant and obnoxious as he certainly was, Charles was also compassionate, elegant and occasionally even vulnerable.  The character brought Stiers two Emmy nominations.  It's a shame he never won.

Right, this is a Star Trek post...

Later, Stiers played a recurring character on Perry Mason TV movies and a principal in The Dead Zone.  A third Emmy nomination came with his work in The First Olympics: Athens 1896.  There was ample film work over the years, too, most memorably for me as the father in Better Off Dead (read here).  His voice resume is impressive.  In fact, after Charles, his best known role is probably Cogsworth in Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

Stiers came out as gay in 2009.  Huzzah!

He passed away in 2018 from complications due to bladder cancer.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

On the Coffee Table: Yakitate!! Japan

Title: Yakitate!! Japan, Volume 1
Writer and Artist: Takashi Hashiguchi

via Amazon

Yakitate!! Japan is a food manga, originally published 2001-2007.  The protagonist Kazuma Azuma is young man out to convert the rice-loving Japanese to bread.  He wants to create Ja-Pan.  Pan is the Japanese word for bread, you see, and Kazuma feels the Japanese need a national bread like so many found in Europe.  A small town boy, he goes to Tokyo to follow his dreams.

It's fun - sort of like an inspiring sports story except it's about food.  His job interview is rather Great British Bake Off-like... or is it Iron Chef?  There's Kawachi, the goofy sidekick, and Tsukino, the (one presumes eventual) love interest who's also technically Kazuma's boss.  In the last chapter of this collection, we meet Matsushiro, the guru genius bakery manager.  He's a bit of a mess.  He'd be the Dennis Hopper character.  Kazuma even has a baking superpower: unnaturally warm hands that give him an advantage in kneading dough.

On top of it all, the text is genuinely informative about bread.

I'm definitely up for more.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Squid Mixes: Prairie Fire

A Prairie Fire combines white tequila and Tabasco sauce in a shot glass.  I got my recipe from The Architecture of the Shot by Paul Knorr.  Technically, because of the tequila, this is a Mexican or Texas Prairie Fire.  According to Knorr, it was invented as a punishment for losing a bar bet.

It definitely brings some heat!  The hot sauce creates a pretty little cloud at the top of the glass - you may be able to see it in the photo.  My wife said the drink looks like a heavily watered down Bloody Mary.  

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

On the Coffee Table: Michael Pollan

Title: The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World
Author: Michael Pollan

via Amazon

Before his career-defining treatise The Omnivore's Dilemma (read here), Michael Pollan wrote a book called The Botany of Desire.  He examines the complex and fascinating relationships between humans and four plant-based products: apples, tulips, marijuana and potatoes.  The book also inspired a PBS documentary hosted by Pollan.  We'd already watched it several years ago so I was already familiar with the material.  As is often the case, the book probes a bit deeper than the movie.

The basic premise: domestication is a two-way street.  Plants (and animals) often have as much to gain from their associations with humans as we do.  The four botanical stars of the book have been especially successful.  Each began in a remote corner of the globe (the first three in Asia, the fourth in South America).  Each has become world-famous, one even world-essential.  All four have been transformed biologically by the contact and each has a magnificent story to tell.


Johnny Appleseed was real.  Born John Chapman, he transported thousands of apple seeds into what was, in the early 19th century, the great American wilderness of Ohio and Indiana.  At the time, the greatest value in an apple was the cider, though alcoholic still safer for even children to drink than the local water supply.  The genius of an apple is its adaptability, allowing it to adjust to each new environment it enters.  However, over time, the capitalistic efficiency of monocultures has greatly reduced the varieties available to eat.  We'll come back to this problem in a bit.


Flowers (like fruit) exist entirely as an advertisement to animals: here, come swim around in my loveliness in order to help me reproduce.  As such, it's no surprise the relationship between humans and flowers goes back a long time.  Tulips are particularly interesting for the mania they inspired, particularly among the Dutch, in the 17th century.  


Perhaps not surprisingly, this is the most interesting chapter.  Humanity's history with intoxicating plants is long and intimate.  Quite convincingly, Pollan draws a direct line between intoxicants and the development of all major world religions.  The recent history of the plant itself is fascinating.  Harsh crackdowns in 1980s America forced growers underground where they developed new, more potent strains in the greenhouse than ever could have been raised in the garden.  Once a niche segment of the overall market, domestically-grown pot now dominates the American industry.


Potatoes kick the snot out of grains as an efficient food source.  They're easier to grow, easier to convert into food and more nutritious.  World history and human geography reflect this basic truth pretty clearly.  They are also a primary focus for biotech.  Pollan's exploration revolves around NewLeaf, a potato genetically-engineered by Monsanto to resist pests.  Whether chemically or genetically facilitated, the potato industry's biggest vulnerability is a result of monoculture.  All those McDonald's fries, not to mention all of the other corporately produced potato-based products that rule the snack food industry, all come from the same spud: the Russet Burbank.  Since all Russet Burbanks are susceptible to the same diseases and pests, the entire world food supply is vulnerable to them.  This is not an exaggeration.  This is exactly what happened in the Irish Potato Famine.  A farmer's entire field could be wiped out by blight, literally overnight.

The world has changed in the 20 years since Pollan wrote the book.  Marijuana is now comfortably on the road to legalization in the United States and many other countries.  Also, pushback against GMOs has been strong.  Pollan and others like him have actually had some political impact.  Still, one should never underestimate corporate power over our food supply.  Monsanto survived the lawsuits to be bought out by Bayer in 2016 for a cool $66 billion.  The broader concept isn't going anywhere.

Our daughter has both a strong interest in biology and a strong altruistic drive, though she doesn't yet know what she wants to do with either.  I think it's time to sell her on responsible agriculture as a cause.  I'll be giving her this book in a pile with Omnivore's Dilemma, Fast Food Nation and The Third Plate (read here).  Stay tuned.