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:

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: December 2016

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the works they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: Night Soldiers
Author: Alan Furst
via Amazon
Night Soldiers is the tale of Khristo Stoianev, a Bulgarian who is recruited by the NKVD, a precursor to the Soviet Union's KGB.  The book follows his path from his hometown on the Danube to training in Moscow to the Spanish Civil War to preoccupation Paris and beyond, covering the years 1934-45.  The story was meticulously researched and certainly piques my interest about the time period.  Once again, World War II proves to be a bottomless narrative treasure trove.  I feel the inspiration for Khristo's story might have come from Furst wondering how a Soviet spy could have survived Stalin's purges.

I enjoyed this one.  I appreciate the Soviet perspective on the espionage game.  Furst also does a nice job portraying the loneliness of the work and the occasional disappointment of not being able to tell people what you actually do for a living.  The language is frequently beautiful.  I love this passage describing 1937 Paris:
At first, the tide of secrecy that rippled through the streets had made him tense and watchful, but in time he realized that in a city of clandestine passions, everyone was a spy.  Amours.   Fleeting or eternally renewed, tender or cruel, a single sip or an endless bacchanal, they were the true life and business of a place where money was never enough and power always drained away.

I'm up for more.  Furst's Night Soldiers series now totals 14 books, all of them covering the spy game during this same time period.  Dark Star is the next installment.

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post January's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is January 27th.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Clone Wars: The Box

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 Box"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 17
Original Air Date: February 3, 2012
via Wookieepedia
"The Box" is the third part of a four episode arc in which Obi-Wan Kenobi goes deep undercover with a couple of bounty hunters scheming to kidnap Chancellor Palpatine.  This time Kenobi and his new pals participate in a contest - the aforementioned Box - to determine who will actually participate in the abduction.  As much as I've enjoyed the story to this point, it goes a bit off the rails this week.  The contest is awfully gimicky, a cross between video game and Japanese game show.  Perhaps this helped to compress what could easily have been another three episodes into one but I'm guessing the writer had the Box idea first, then built the rest of the arc around it.  Just a hunch.
via Wookieepedia
Derrown, a Parwan, is one of the other bounty hunters competing in the contest.  He is the first Parwan to appear in the Star Wars universe, though the idea for the species goes back to unused concept art from the cantina in A New Hope.
via Wookieepedia
Derrown is voiced by Matthew Wood.

Next week: "Crisis on Naboo."

Friday, December 23, 2016

Squid Eats: Holiday Party

My wife's office holiday party was last Friday night.  The DJ held a music trivia contest to determine which table would head up to the buffet line next.  It was a perfect combo for me: a test of musical geekiness with food as the primary motivation.  I knew my table mates were counting on me.  First song...
via Wikimedia Commons
Elvis.  In truth, I'm not an Elvis guy.  I knew the singer straight away but it took me a second to come up with the song.  Off I ran to the DJ booth. "'All Shook Up,' Elvis Presley," I yelled.  Alas, I had run to the wrong place.  There was a microphone on a chair on the dance floor.  That's what I get for not listening to ALL of the instructions.  I slunk back sheepishly to my table.  Second song...
via Wikipedia
The Beatles.  My band.  There's no way in hell I'm losing out to anyone on the Beatles!  I ran over and stole the mic right out from under another hand about to grab it: "The Beatles, 'Eight Days a Week.'"  Triumph!

I had earned my keep.  For the rest of the night, I was "the music trivia guy."  My table companions were most appreciative.

Just in case anyone's following our Scotch adventures, we tried the Ardbeg 10 Year on Sunday.  It was definitely smokier than the others, and strong.  I'm not a huge fan of smoky Scotches - not sure why not.  I certainly like smoked meats and a smoky Scotch certainly has bacony tones about it.  Perhaps it's an acquired taste.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Clone Wars: Friends and Enemies

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: "Friends and Enemies"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 16
Original Air Date: January 27, 2012
via Wookieepedia
"Friends and Enemies" is the second of a four-part arc in which Obi-Wan Kenobi goes deep undercover with a couple of bounty hunters scheming to kidnap Chancellor Palpatine.  Last week, Kenobi, disguised as Rako Hardeen, escaped from prison with Cad Bane and Moralo Eval.  This week, he's struggling to earn the trust of his new associates.  Bane is especially suspicious.

The fugitive trio make their way to Nal Hutta, crash-landing the ship to throw their pursuers off the trail.  They head to the Bilbousa Bazaar to resupply a new ship.  Meanwhile, Anakin and Ahsoka, still believing that Obi-Wan is dead, are out for revenge.
via Wookieepedia
Pablo, a Rodian with an awfully pedestrian name for a Star Wars character, is the owner of a pawnshop where Bane and company stop for weapons.  "Friends and Enemies" marks his only appearance in the Star Wars universe.  He is voiced by Matt Lanter.

Next week: "The Box."

Monday, December 19, 2016

On the Coffee Table: L. Neil Smith

Title: Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon
Author: L. Neil Smith
via Wookieepedia
Lando's back, once again finding himself an unwitting pawn in someone else's game.   One of his Sabacc opponents draft's him to take part in a drug bust of a political rival.  There are also a couple of other parties who, entirely independent of the narc story, seem to have it in for our gambling scoundrel friend.

There's a little more character development for Lando this time, though not much.  The Millenium Falcon is still a fairly recent acquisition for him and we see how the ship is the beginning of a more stable, responsible life for Calrissian.  There are glimpses of a backstory, though one thin on details.  We get more Sabacc rules, too, though it's still a highly confusing game.  The phone app hasn't done much to help me understand it.

The Flamewind of the title is a more violent version of the Northern Lights and is a similar draw for tourists.  We do get one intriguing character: Waywa Fybot, an avian/humanoid from Uaua.  One, I believe fan-generated, image of the character looks like this:
via Wookieepedia
My own mental image was more like this:
via Wikipedia

Friday, December 16, 2016

Squid Mixes: Scotch and Soda

For Advent this year, my wife came up with a wonderful hobby for the two of us: exploring Scotch whisky.  This was an easy sell for me.  I adore whisk(e)y in all its forms, far and away my favorite liquor.  It was, however, a surprising suggestion from my wife.  While she likes most whiskeys, especially rye and Irish, I was under the impression that she did not care for Scotch at all.  Lucky me, she was keen to give it a go.
We started our adventure with three bottles, all recommendations from Becky Paskin's "Top 5 Scotch Whiskies for Beginners":  Chivas Regal 12 Year Old, Glenmorangie 10 Year Old and Glenlivet 12 Year Old.  The first is a blended whisky while the others are single malts.  The difference?  Single malt is made strictly from barley at a single distillery.  A blended combines several single malts along with wheat and/or corn whiskies.  Obviously, this a very modest sample for comparison but I would say that of what we've tasted, the single malts have more dimension than the blended.  Mind you, the Chivas Regal was still most pleasant.  Of the single malts, the Glenlivet was a bit sweeter.

As for pairing scotch with its classic mixer, the Chivas Regal is best.  The nuances of the single malts were lost when diluted.  It was still a pleasant drink with the Glenmorangie (see top photo) but better to save it for sipping.
We have since acquired a fourth bottle to try, a recommendation from my wife's colleague:  Ardbeg 10 Year Old.  While Glemorangie and Glenlivet are both Highland whiskies, Ardbeg is from Islay.  We haven't tried it yet but we're looking forward to it.  In his Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch (7th Edition), Michael Jackson rates the Ardbeg at 87.  The Glemorangie is an 81, the Glenlivet 85.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Clone Wars: Deception

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: "Deception"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 15
Original Air Date: January 20, 2012
via Wookieepedia
"Deception" kicks off a four-part arc in which Obi-Wan Kenobi - unbeknownst to Anakin and Ahsoka - goes deep undercover with a band of bounty hunters out to kidnap Chancellor Palpatine.  He switches places with his own assassin, Rako Hardeen (slight spoiler but if I don't say it, I can't say much else), before he gets sent off to prison.  Once there, he meets Moralo Eval, the plot's mastermind.  Cad Bane is in on the scheme, too.  We also get to see our old friend Boba Fett in the prison.

I thoroughly enjoy the trips that The Clone Wars takes through Star Wars's underworld so I'm excited for this one.  It should also be a good story for watching Anakin control his rage and seeing how Obi-Wan balances his Jedi morality with his new role as a baddy.
via Wookieepedia
Moralo Eval is a Phindian from the planet Phindar.  As a child, he killed his own mother out of boredom.  This story arc marks his only appearance in the Star Wars universe.  He is voiced by Stephen Stanton.  Stanton had a recurring segment on the podcast ForceCast called "Uncle Moralo's Bedtime Stories."

Next week: "Friends and Enemies."

Friday, December 9, 2016

Squid Mixes: Lime Sparkling Water

This recipe for lime sparkling water came from Homemade Soda by Andrew Schloss.  With the zest and juice of half a lime in each, it was quite limey indeed.  I was expecting it to be a bit sweeter but it was pleasant enough.  My daughter wasn't so impressed.  She didn't even finish hers.  I'm not sure it was worth the effort when when one can so easily pull a Poland Spring seltzer out of the fridge but this is the beginning of a process for me.

I have set a goal to brew my own root beer and ginger ale.  I have brewed alcoholic beer before.  I've managed to do it three times, in fact - successfully without poisoning anyone or even making a huge mess.  But it's a lot of work, especially for a beverage that can only be consumed by 2/3 of my household.  While I'd like to get back into brewing, I'd like to supplement it with beverages my daughter can enjoy, too.

Turns out, making soda's pretty easy.  The only tricky part - at least so far - is making the simple syrups.  The lime soda involved a basic sugar syrup combined with the limey stuff, then add seltzer.  My next project, orange honey ginger ale, is a little more involved.  The syrup itself is already done and sitting in the fridge.  It'll keep for a couple months.  I'll brew once we're through the holidays.

Has any of you tried to make your own soda before?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Clone Wars: A Friend in Need

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 Friend in Need"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 4, Episode 14
Original Air Date: January 13, 2012
via Wookieepedia
Lux Bonteri is back and he's out to avenge his mother's death.  He believes, correctly, that Count Dooku was behind the assassination of Mina Bonteri, a Separatist Senator.  After a public accusation, Lux is brought before a holographic projection of Dooku who commands Lux be executed for treason.  Fortunately, Lux's old pal Ahsoka is on hand to help get him out of the jam.

The story brings back a lot of strong narrative threads from Seasons Two and Three.  In addition to the Bonteri family, we venture back to the Mandalore saga as well.  In his efforts to get back at Dooku, Lux has fallen in with Death Watch, a Mandalore splinter insurgence group.  We are soon reminded, they're not so nice.
via Clone Wars Wiki
In "A Friend in Need," we hear the voice but don't yet see the face of Bo-Katan, one of the Death Watch fighters.  She will be a more significant character with a more interesting back story when she returns in Season Five (I peeked).  She is voiced by Katee Sackhoff.

Katee Sackhoff was born April 8, 1980 in Portland, Oregon.  She was a competitive swimmer with a promising future before those ambitions were derailed by a knee injury.  At that point, her interests turned to yoga... and acting.
via Wookieepedia
Sackhoff is best known in the geekverse as Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica.  Other television work includes the Robot Chicken, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and 24.  Big screen credits include Halloween: Resurrection, Riddick and Oculus.  Sackhoff is a thyroid cancer survivor.

Next week: "Deception."

Friday, December 2, 2016

Squid Bakes: Butter Cookies

I won big time brownie points at home with this recipe, yet another from How to Cook Everything: The Basics by Mark Bittman.  Butter cookies are my wife's favorite and these turned out well.  I was a little worried they'd be too soft as they came out of the oven but they hardened as they cooled.