Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Squid Eats: Sotto Enoteca

Image result for sotto enoteca
via Sotto Enoteca
I appreciate any restaurant that embraces the intimate feel of a quiet, back alley, European bistro.  Such is the case with Sotto Enoteca, technically a wine bar sharing a kitchen with Trattoria Delia.   Sotto Enoteca feels like the sort of place in Palermo you'd only hear about through word of mouth but once you get there, you realize everyone else is in on the secret, too.  Tables are scarce but service is friendly and sincere. 

The food's nice, too.  We started with a salad, then pork belly with Vermont-grown rice.  For the entree, we split a mussels pasta dish followed by an enormous and delicious tiramisu for dessert.  Obviously the wine list is impressive.

It was date night for us, something I'm hoping we'll do more often.  As our daughter gets older and more independent, I would like to invest some time in enjoying each other as a couple.  As I told my wife recently, I don't want to be the couple who waits until the kids are gone to get to know each other again.  I don't think we are that couple but I want to enjoy not being that couple now.  After dinner, we made a stop at the bookstore for a leisurely browse, then home. 

Squid on the Vine

Paul Nicolle, Chablis Vieilles Vignes Chardonnay, 2017
My rating: 8.0
A touch of bitter
Pale yellow
Our most recent wine class was about Chablis.  The shop, Dedalus in Burlington, was quite generous in the bottles they shared for the class, allowing us samples from vintages way out of our usual price range.  It was nice to be able to witness the differences though, at least for me, it wouldn't be enough to justify the cost.  Mind you, still fun to try them.  The Paul Nicolle was a Dedalus Thirst Club wine for us.

Château Jouclary, Cuvee Tradition Cabardès Red Blend, 2017
My rating: 8.5
Dark chocolate
Starts fruity, finishes bitter.
Medium purple
Our second Thirst Club wine for the month, a highly promising red.

La Spinetta, Il Rosé di Casanova Rosé Blend
My rating: 8.5
Apple nose
Watermelon bubblegum
Dark yellow, almost amber
"You know it's a rosé, right?" My wife asked after I ordered it.  She knows I don't generally care for rosés.  They feel like an unreasonable compromise for me.  I guess I didn't realize it.  I just liked the description in the Sotto Enoteca menu.  I'd decided that I wanted to try one white and one red on the evening.  Rosé was not what I had in mind and, in truth, it wasn't especially pink.  Nice - bright, refreshing but with some dimension.  The menu suggested the watermelon hints.  I didn't pick it up until I thought of bubblegum - odd but pleasant.

Graci, Etna Rosso Nerello Macalese, 2017
My rating: 8.0
Recommended with the mussels
Smells sweeter than it tastes.
My red for the evening.  I had some buyer's remorse with this one.  It was okay but nothing earth-shattering.  Earlier, I'd had my eye on a different red - one described as "immense" which seemed a promising adjective - but I went with our waiter's recommendation.  He was right.  It did go nicely with the mussels.  I still wish I'd stuck with my original plan.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Star Trek: Where No One Has Gone Before

Episode: "Where No One Has Gone Before"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1, Episode 6
Original Air Date: October 26, 1987

Image result for where no one has gone before
via Wikipedia
An arrogant jerk engineer, Kosinski, comes aboard the Enterprise to run a test of his new propulsion system per Federation orders.  The more mysterious and significantly friendlier guest is Kosinski's assistant who states his name is unpronounceable by humans.  The test goes horribly wrong, sending the Enterprise to the extreme edge of time/space where thoughts - hopes, dreams, fears, anxieties - become reality.  Kosinski is proven a hack and the assistant turns out to be far more interesting than initially suspected.  Meanwhile, will our friends ever make it back?

I confessed to my wife that these stories about getting lost seemingly beyond retrieval make me especially nervous.  Thank goodness it all works out.

"Where No One Has Gone Before" marks the first appearance of The Traveler, the name by which Kosinski's assistant comes to be known.  He's essentially the stated mission of the Enterprise in superior being form.  The episode is also an important Wesley Crusher story.

Wesley is the first to recognize The Traveler's extraordinary capabilities and the visitor, in turn, is similarly impressed with Wes, sharing his predictions for the boy with Picard.  In so doing, he assigns a "Chosen One" narrative to the lad, a bit hard to take for the fans who were already finding Wesley painfully annoying.  Worth remembering: executive producer Gene Roddenberry saw the character as a projection of his own younger self.  What awkward youth would not want to be granted knowledge of his/her own exceptional future?  Hogwarts fantasy, anyone?

I think half of the problem with the Wesley character may be his sweaters.  The one for this episode is especially awful.  So again, don't blame Wil Wheaton.  In this case, it's Bill Theiss's fault, he of the memorable and often questionable costume designs of TOS, brought back on board for the new series (read more here).  If you'd care to enjoy more of the honorary ensign's pullover collection, see here.

Music Notes

One crew member's fantasy come to life is playing second violin in a string quartet, his fellow musicians decked out in late-18th century period costume.  The crewman is played by Byron Berline, an uncredited professional violinist.  The piece is the first movement from Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

The ballerina in another fantasy is credited: Victoria Dillard.  Her piece is called "Waltz of the Chocolate Donut," composed for the episode by Ron Jones.

Acting Notes

Image result for young michael dorn
via Wikipedia

Michael Dorn (Worf) was born December 9, 1952 in Luling, Texas and grew up in Pasadena, California.  After two years at Pasadena City College, he briefly pursued a music career with rock bands.  His biggest acting role before Trek was a three-year run on CHiPs as Officer Jebediah Turner.  Dorn has more Trek appearances to his name than any other actor: 272 television episodes and five films.  He has also directed four episodes.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Squid Eats: Pizza 44

Image result for pizza 44
via Pizza 44
Pizza 44 is a wood fired pizza joint in Burlington.  It's conveniently located for us as it's right by my wife's work so it's a great place for a quick bite and good beer if we're meeting downtown anyway.   The pizza's lovely: fresh ingredients in interesting combinations.  Sometimes circular, sometimes square, just to keep you on your toes.  On this latest visit, we had a local greens salad to start, then a Classic Margherita (circular) and an Angry Grandpa (square).  The latter included hot peppers, pepperoni and meat sauce.  Both were excellent.  A bit salty but nice.  Did I mention the outstanding beer list?  Definitely helps to wash it down.

We were in town for a concert, one of the Vermont Symphony's Jukebox series featuring its string quartet.  On the docket for the evening were several rock music arrangements and other rock-inspired pieces.  My favorites among the covers were Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" (arr. Vitamin String Quartet) and the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" (arr. John Reed).  Among the originals, I thoroughly enjoyed "Black Run," a solo piece composed by Norwegian cellist Svante Henryson.  Imagine virtuosic bluegrass cello and you'll just about have it.  "Black Run" is the first of three movements in a larger work entitled Colors in D.  Here is the composer himself performing the piece:

"Kashmir" - Vitamin String Quartet

"Paint It Black" - The Hampton String Quartet

The Jukebox series has been a fine supplement to our symphony subscription.  I love small ensembles, so much more intimate than a big orchestra.  The tickets are relatively cheap and the performances are at a hip restaurant/music venue, ArtsRiot, rather than a big concert hall.  Each concert is thoughtfully programmed with a wide variety of music, much of it fairly modern yet also accessible.  The audience is much younger than what we see at the symphony, too - great way to build the audience of the future.  I'd love it if they did more of these sorts of things.  Strings are great but how about brass or woodwind?  A wind quintet would be especially appealing for our clarinetist daughter.

Happy, Healthy Squid

As noted in this post, I'm working on amping up my breakfasts as a means of finding better food balance in my day.  For years, it's been cinnamon raisin toast and coffee - pretty light.  Recently I've added yogurt and granola bars.  I'm actually full after breakfast.  What a concept!  I'm still hungry by lunchtime.  It's a crazy busy morning every day at work.  Maybe I need to carve out time for a quick snack somewhere.

From my walks:

Friday, October 18, 2019

Star Trek: The Last Outpost

Episode: "The Last Outpost"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1, Episode 5
Original Air Date: October 19, 1987
Image result for tng the last outpost
via Wikipedia
The Enterprise follows a Ferengi vessel to the planet Gamma Tauri IV.  The Federation doesn't know much about the Ferengi, never having had direct contact before and they expect an uncomfortable encounter as they confront them about a stolen energy converter.  Both ships are disabled by a mysterious power drain.  While each initially suspects the other, the source of the drain seems to be the planet itself, previously presumed to be uninhabited.

The creative team intended the Ferengi to be the primary adversary in the new series so this first appearance was particularly meaningful.  Understandably, Roddenberry wanted to move on from the Klingon and Romulan animosities established in TOS.  There are interesting similarities between this story and the initial Romulan and Klingon tales in TOS.

The Romulans came first, in "Balance of Terror," one of TOS's best.  In both that episode and this, the visual reveal of the adversary is delayed.  A big deal is made of never having seen members of the race before.  While the moment of truth is deeply meaningful in "Balance of Terror," in this case it is underwhelming.  Long term, the Ferengi work well as a ruthless, capitalist annoyance but they're way too comical to serve as the big baddies.  Fortunately, it didn't take too long for the writers to realize their mistake.

The Klingons were introduced in "Errand of Mercy."  In both that story and this, there is a grossly underestimated third party involved.  Gamma Tauri IV was once an outpost of the long extinct Tkon Empire.  No one informed the guard of the extinction, identified as Portal 63 and reminiscent of the Bridgekeeper in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who activated the planet defense system now ensnaring the ships.  He challenges the two landing parties to justify their worthiness before/if he is to set them free.

The Portal 63 showdown turns out to be the more interesting part of the story as it provides an opportunity for Riker to lay out some Trek moral philosophy.  Portal, once convinced of our heroes' righteousness, offers to finish off the Ferengi but Riker, charitably and rather patronizingly, asks they be spared so they can learn and grow as a society.  It is the typical tell-rather-than-show telegraphing of material that can get tedious with Star Trek but it still manages to be touching it its way.

In the final analysis, "The Last Outpost" falls well short of both "Balance of Terror" and "Errand of Mercy."  The respect and compassion Kirk feels for the Romulan commander is far more satisfying than the near-jocular dismissal of the Ferengi.  As for "Errand of Mercy," the satisfaction of that story comes in its more ambiguous moral resolution.  It leads me to reflect, is the righteousness of Picard's Enterprise ever left so unclear by episode's end?  No such story yet comes to mind.  I'll be keeping an eye out for it.

Acting Notes

Image result for young denise crosby
via Wikipedia
Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar) was born November 24, 1957 in Hollywood, California.  Hers is the third generation in a famous showbiz family, her grandfather none other than Bing Crosby, sliver screen titan and owner of one of the most beautiful singing voices in the history of recorded music.  She went to Cabrillo College to study theater but dropped out, understandably hurt when a teacher shamed her in class for trying to cash in on the family name.

Her career survived, beginning with modeling.  She found smaller big screen roles in 48 Hrs, Trail of the Pink Panther and Curse of the Pink Panther.  On television, she had a brief run on Days of Our Lives.  She also appeared in two music videos:

"Dancin'" by Chris Isaak

"No Stranger to Love" by Black Sabbath

When the Star Trek gig came, she and Marina Sirtis were initially cast in opposite roles: Crosby as Deanna Troi, Sirtis as Macha Hernandez, the security officer character who would eventually become Tasha Yar.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Squid Cooks: Pan-Cooked Shrimp with Garlic, Cumin and Paprika

This is a variation on the Shrimp Scampi recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: The Basics (see here).  I really enjoyed this version, even preferring it to the original - lots of flavor, worth remembering as I look to pump up my other dishes.  I didn't realize until opening the drawer the wide variety of paprika my wife keeps on hand.  That would be a fun exploration sometime.  For the shrimp, I just grabbed the first one I saw - worked just fine.

Tinkering at the Bar

The other night, my wife came home excited by the idea of whiskey sours.  I've made them before (see here) with some success but still worth experimenting.  As noted in my previous post, the New York Bartender's Guide recipe was quite sour indeed and not surprising with a 2:1 ratio of whiskey to lemon juice.  Robert Simonsen's recipe in 3-Ingredient Cocktails isn't too far off: 8:3.  But rather than a mere teaspoon of sugar syrup, Simonsen recommends equal parts with the lemon, making for a significantly sweeter drink.

The result was quite nice, better balanced with a strong voice for all three ingredients.  I even got a bit of the bourbon fumes in the nose, a pleasant jolt.  Simonsen does not use a garnish but I did.  We like cherries.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Star Trek: Code of Honor

Episode: "Code of Honor"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1, Episode 4
Original Air Date: October 12, 1987

Image result for tng code of honor
via Memory Alpha
The Enterprise welcomes visitors from Ligon II.  This is no mere social call.  The Federation must establish good relations as the Ligonians have access to a desperately needed vaccine.  The leader of the delegation, Lutan, takes a liking to Tasha and, in a display of political daring intended to impress the folks back home, he kidnaps her.  Clearly, our heroes must get her back but, as they need the vaccine, they must do so without causing undue offense.  Tricky stuff.

You know how sometimes, when pondering the missteps of others - teenagers, for instance - we marvel at the number of points along the path when someone should have thought "maybe this isn't such a good idea" and yet they plowed right on through anyway?  Such is the case with "Code of Honor."

This week's story features prominently in Worst Episode Ever lists, not just for TNG but for the full Star Trek run.  Why?  The basic synopsis above doesn't sound so horrible, right?  Well you see, some genius thought it would be a great idea to cast all of the Ligonians as Black actors in a "1940s tribal Africa" theme.  The initial genius was episode director Russ Mayberry who was, in fact, fired before the end of filming, supposedly for the casting choice.  But the show was produced and aired anyway so none of the higher ups was so offended as to leave this one in the can.  So "genius" was not in short supply at this stage.

For the record, members of the regular cast did express objections - and later, regret - but, as we shall see over time, there were risks in complaining too vehemently about the scripts.

With the socio-political missteps of the original series (TOS), it was relatively easy to write them off as a product of their time, at least for me.  But I was a teenager in 1987 and I'd like to think I knew better - or at least, I can acknowledge that I should have.  For a show that depends on socially progressive thinking for much of its appeal, someone, somewhere along the pipeline should have nixed the "1940s tribal Africa" idea.

All of that said, there are some redeeming qualities in the story.  It provides the first TNG mention of the Prime Directive, easily one of the greatest plot devices in science fiction (read more here).  There are also some nice demonstrations of the group decision-making process employed by Picard among his senior officers, an essential theme for the Star Trek franchise.  But overall, "Code of Honor" is definitely a low point in the canon.

Acting Notes

Image result for young levar burton
via Wikipedia
LeVar Burton is a giant in the television industry and unlike the rest of his TNG castmates, he didn't even need Star Trek to establish his exalted stature within the medium.  Mind you, it hasn't exactly hurt.

Burton was an army brat, born in West Germany while his father was stationed at Landstuhl as a photographer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps.  He grew up in Sacramento, raised by his mother, a social worker, administrator and educator.  He entered Catholic seminary at age 13 with plans for the priesthood but thought better of it after reading a few important philosophers.  Instead, he went to Southern Cal on a drama scholarship.

Iconic television gig #1 came in 1977 with his first professional audition: African slave Kunta Kinte in the miniseries Roots, based on Alex Haley's novel.  The series finale still holds the third-highest Nielsen rating of any television series episode.  37 Emmy nominations, including one for Burton, yielded nine wins.

Iconic television gig #2 came in 1983.  Burton was the executive producer and presenter for Reading Rainbow, a public television program which encouraged children to read.  The show ran for 23 seasons and still lives on in computer apps.  Burton won twelve Emmys for Reading Rainbow: ten as producer, two as presenter.  For comparison, Jim Henson only ever won nine.

And, of course, iconic television gig #3 came in 1987 with the role of Geordi La Forge in TNG.  Seriously, any one of those iconic gigs would have made most careers.  Trek has also brought directing opportunities for Burton.  He has directed 29 episodes in total for TNG, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise, more than any other former regular cast member. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Squid Cooks: Broiled Boneless Chicken with Herbs

This is a variation on the Broiled Boneless Chicken recipe (see here) from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: The Basics.  My herb of choice was oregano.  To be honest, I don't feel it added much - either I didn't use enough, I didn't rub enough or it just doesn't make much difference.  The result was still fine, just not very exciting.

This is still a good starting point dish, I think.  It's quick.  It's easy.  Chicken breasts are a relatively healthy meat choice.  In the recipe's "Learn More" section, Bittman refers the reader back to the "Building Flavor" pages - may be well worth exploring for this and other dishes, especially my stir-fries which could do with some pizzazz. 

Squid on the Vine

Château Vrai Caillou, Red Bordeaux Blend 2018
A little spice (high alcohol)
Leggy (that refers to those little rivulets that run down the class when you tip it - reflects sugar content) but not so sweet, interestingly
Darker side of medium purple
Wife: "Not a lot of notes to it."
My rating: 8.0

Friday, October 4, 2019

Star Trek: The Naked Now

Episode: "The Naked Now"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1, Episode 3
Original Air Date: October 5, 1987
Image result for the naked now
via Memory Beta
"The Naked Now" was intended as an homage to the TOS episode "The Naked Time."   A strange ailment is spreading among the  Enterprise crew, reducing each of them to an intoxicated state.  Wouldn't you know, a collapsing star is threatening to wipe them away if they don't get clear in time.  A tipsy Wesley gains control of the ship and appears to be indifferent to the impending peril.

Enough preamble.  Anyone who knows the series knows why this episode is memorable: Tasha and Data have sex.  The seduction itself is certainly provocative but more impressive is the fact that Data is capable of sex at all.  Apparently he is both "fully functional" and "programmed in multiple techniques."  Lucky Tasha!

There are other more restrained - and less surprising - hookups amid the merriment: Riker and Troi; Picard and Crusher.  But as the Captain cautions in the end, "I think we shall end up with a fine crew... if we avoid temptation."  It's nice of him to reassure us that Gene Roddenberry's "Wagon Train to the stars" won't devolve into Love Boat to the stars.

In addition to the predictable blushing over "fully functional" Data, the episode was criticized at the time for being a rehash of a TOS story.  Understandably, the faithful were concerned that the new show would be too dependent on the old.  I'm not so bothered by that.  Obviously, I have the benefit of knowing the series will grow plenty in its own right and I am also grateful for the links to the past.  New is good but Trek should, in essence, remain Trek

More troubling to me is the character development shortcut employed.  Roddenberry, with both this story and the original, liked the idea of laying all of the characters' deepest motivations out in full view.  I would much prefer he have more faith in the writers and actors to impart all of that in more subtle ways.  Some of it's too easy anyway: Wesley wants to be taken seriously, colleagues want to get it on with each other, etc.  And some doesn't quite ring true: Geordi wants to be able to see like everyone else?  Long-term, part of what's cool about the character is that he doesn't seem much bothered.  Suggesting otherwise at this point is unnecessary clutter.

However, there is a more encouraging signal in this story, though perhaps one easily missed in the early going: not all of the material will run through Picard.  It took a long time for the TOS writers to catch on to the fact that Spock is actually a more interesting character than Kirk.  McCoy stories are easily counted on one hand.  Scotty stories?  One.  Anyone else?  Not a chance.  It is already clear TNG will be different.  It's definitely Picard's ship but there's plenty of room for the others.  The world building aboard the Enterprise is off to an excellent start.

Acting Notes
Image result for young jonathan frakes
via Wikipedia

Jonathan Frakes was born August 19, 1952 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, a town I drive through every summer.  In fact, it's where we got our marriage license.  He grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, though.  He was a theater major at Penn State, then got a Master's from Harvard.

As with Patrick Stewart, Frakes's career began on the stage, premiering on Broadway in Shenandoah.  Before Trek, he had television guest appearances on several shows, including The Waltons, Eight Is Enough, The Dukes of Hazzard, Hill Street Blues and, one of my own long-lost favorites, Voyagers!  He had a brief run as a regular on the daytime soap opera Doctors.  The prime-time soap opera Bare Essence was short-lived but it was a fortuitous gig for Frakes: he met his wife.  They've been married since 1988.

He really does play the trombone, though not as well as Trek footage would have one believe.  As Frakes puts it, "When Riker played badly, it was me, but when he was playing well, it was Bill Watrous."  Frakes did play well enough to march with the Blue Band at Penn State, though.


Frakes (feeds my theory: eventually, everyone plays "Summertime"):

Bill Watrous with Chick Corea, his solo starts at 2:40 (somehow, I always come back to "Spain"):

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Squid Cooks: Stir-Fried Beef with Vegetables

This is a variation on the stir-fried beef with basil and chiles from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: The Basics (read here).  I added onions, green peppers from my band director colleague's garden, red peppers and green beans.  It was fine but I think I'd like to find ways to boost the flavor of the sauce.  Basil, onion, garlic, crushed red pepper, lime juice and soy sauce should be plenty and yet, it still lacked the Wow! factor.  I don't want to resort to the corn starch that makes the bottled stuff so goopy.  Maybe just more of something?  More heat perhaps.  I don't know - might require some experimentation.

My wife did make one request: thinner slices of beef next time.  I thought the thicker pieces were kind of nice but she thought they were harder to eat that way.  Fair enough.  Duly noted.

Happy, Healthy Squid

One of my favorite exercise activities is racquetball.  I first learned the sport in college, actually took a class.  I hadn't played much since until a few years ago when some friends took it up and invited me along.  We have a reasonably consistent group of four these days, two of whom have been featured in The Squid before: Mock (sadly hasn't blogged in years) and Blue Liner.  Our fourth we shall call simply Racquet Man as he is the best player among us.  I generally run a comfortable second strongest, I think.  I try to keep RM's superiority in perspective: he's 15 years younger than I am and a far more active athlete.  It's a friendly group, though competition can get intense.

We try to play once a week.  Last year, that didn't work out so well for me but with a few shifts in the schedule, I think I can make it work better this year.  So far so good.  It's a fantastic way to pad the FitBit stats!

Otherwise, I can say it's definitely harder to stay motivated on the FitBit goals as the cooler weather and the shorter days creep in.  There were two nights this past week when I fell short.  In both cases, I chose going to bed instead.  Mind you, sleep's important, too.  But big picture, I want both the exercise and the sleep.  So, I'm trying to think of good motivators to stay up.  I think the baseball playoffs might help - something to do while jogging in place.  Plus, I have all of those Star Trek episodes to watch.

Happy Autumn!