Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Squid Eats: Troy Deli and Marketplace

The past two years have been rough for so many reasons.  The performing arts have been hit hard at every level.  Our daughter is quite a gifted musician.  In fact, setting parental modesty aside for a moment, it's fair to say she's been one of the best high school clarinetists in Vermont for four years.  She's made all-state all four years.  She's made the New England Music Festival all four years.  But due to COVID, neither festival was actually held over the past two years.  So, traveling down for this year's New Englands in Connecticut was quite a big deal - even more so than under normal circumstances.

For us, trips to southern New England usually include a stop in Worcester to see the English Prof.  And naturally, we have a favorite place to stop for dinner on the way: Thai Bamboo in the tiny town of Troy in the southwest corner of New Hampshire.  Wouldn't you know, on our most recent visit, they were full up when we arrived - probably a 45-minute wait for food, the proprietor said.  We were too hungry to wait so...

Fortunately, there's a convenience store/deli next door.  I'm not sure we'd ever set foot inside before but it was more than adequate to our needs.  My footlong turkey grinder was nice, though it would have been helpful if they'd cut it in half.  My wife enjoyed her BLT wrap, too.  The service was perfectly friendly.

The trip and the festival both went well.  As we move deeper into senior year, it feels like every event is the "last" something or other - bittersweet, to be sure.  She has big decisions to make soon.  Everything feels like a big deal.  I've already told everyone who will listen so I might as well say it here, too: the empty nest will not be easy for me.  I am not likely to handle it well.  Just owning it now.

Gotta make the most of the time that is left...

Monday, March 28, 2022

On the Coffee Table: Kenan Malik

Title: The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics
Author: Kenan Malik

via Amazon

The Quest for a Moral Compass is an ambitious project.  As the subtitle indicates, Malik follows the history of moral and ethical philosophy from Homer's epics to the present.  While "global" is a bit of an exaggeration, he does reach far beyond the usual Western subjects to acknowledge the contributions of India, China and the anti-colonialists of the 20th century.  

I never took a philosophy class in college.  After art history, it's probably the biggest gap in my own liberal arts education.  As such, the survey course of the big names - Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Descartes, Hobbes, etc. - is meaningful for me.  More comfortable ground for me are discussions about religion.  My own faithless upbringing left me deeply curious so I have studied the world's religions more eagerly, even if I've never been completely sold on any of them as a believer.  

Obviously, 344 pages is barely enough to scratch the surface of available material.  However, Malik's thesis is well presented and defended: morality is not absolute.  It shifts dramatically with both time and geography.  If I could encourage him to probe deeper, it would be further discussions of how philosophical thinking impacts the way people actually live.  I feel like I know plenty about how religion does that.  And we all know plenty about how both Marx's and Nietzche's musings shaped the 20th century and beyond, if more monstrously than either intended.  But those shifts from Socrates to Plato to Aristotle... how did they impact the daily life of the average illiterate Athenian?  Or did they?  Does any of it affect anyone beyond an intellectual few.  In reality, does philosophy reflect daily life more than it influences it?  Surely, someone has written that book.

I am especially grateful for Malik's inclusion of the anti-colonialist philosophers, about whom I knew exactly nothing previously: CLR James, Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon.  Reasonably, such writers questioned how Europeans could reconcile Age of Enlightenment morality with the realities of slavery and colonial oppression, questions still powerfully resonant in 2022.  Also relevant are Malik's examination of the evolution of the concept of "race" from the early 19th century to the present.  

We are all faced with moral questions as we confront our world both near and far.  Empathy for Ukraine is high and for good reason.  Meanwhile, those fleeing Mexico's horrific drug wars test our collective sympathy.  Why?  And what of our continual blindness to the violence and poverty within our own countries?  It's not a comfortable conversation - trust me, I've tried having it with people.  But the distinctions matter.  

Final analysis: it's a good book and I still have a lot to learn.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Star Trek: Man of the People

Episode: "Man of the People"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 3
Original Air Date: October 5, 1992

The Enterprise escorts Ambassador Ves Alkar and his entourage to peace talks.  Alkar takes a shine to Counselor Troi - don't they all?  Unfortunately, the guy turns out to be rather monstrous, using his telepathic powers to dump his negative emotions into others so he can carry on his peacekeeping endeavors unimpeded.  When his accompanying "mother" dies, he chooses Troi as his new vessel.  The story is based on The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

Man, how many of these episodes involve Deanna Troi being violated in one way or another?  I don't mean to imply that such stories aren't relevant because they certainly are.  And given that the writers were not able to address rape directly, metaphors were the only way to go.  But when Deanna as Victim and Deanna as Mislead Love Interest are the narrative defaults for the character, opportunities for her to grow beyond them are limited.  Who is she when she's allowed simply to be herself, no men involved whatsoever?

The limited dimensions of the female characters are a frequent and warranted criticism of The Next Generation.  In fact, both Deep Space Nine and Voyager developed as they did largely in response to such criticisms.  Here in NextGen's penultimate season, both Troi and Crusher have grown considerably since season one.  And Guinan may be the least confined character in the whole series.  But there's still clearly work to do.

"Man of the People" was, admittedly, thrown together hastily when "Relics," the upcoming Scotty episode, had to be put on hold due to James Doohan's schedule.  

Acting Notes

Charles "Chip" Lucia (Alkar) was born January 3, 1946 in the United States.  Film credits include Her Final Fury: Betty Broderick, The Last Chapter, Tank Girl and an episode of The District.  "Man of the People" is his first of three Trek appearances as three different characters in three different series.  Now retired from acting, he lives in Youngsville, Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Squid Eats: The Big Spruce

The Big Spruce, a Mexican restaurant in Richmond, Vermont, was the site of our recent St. Patrick's Day date.  Through the pandemic, it has been a frequent takeout choice though this was my first time dining in-person.  My wife had been once before.

They had oysters for 6 for $6 so obviously we had to start with a dozen.  Oysters have become our thing over the past few years - a must order whenever they're on the menu.  Then tacos for the entree.  I tried the hot chicken taco and the crispy chicken taco.  Both were nice but I preferred the former.  Churros for dessert - splitting a single order of five was plenty for both of us.  Decent beer list.  My wife enjoyed her margarita.

The service was friendly and professional.  The decor is predominantly green - not a bad choice for a drinking establishment, even if it only pays off in full one day a year.  I love their logo (see above).  We arrived early, thus missing the crowd - a benefit of middle age sensibilities.  Business was definitely picking up as we were leaving.

I still prefer Mad Taco but The Big Spruce makes for a nice change of pace from time to time.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Star Trek: Realm of Fear

Episode: "Realm of Fear"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 2
Original Air Date: September 28, 1992

Barclay episode!

Lt. Barclay has a transporter-phobia.  But you know what they say.  Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

It truly is amazing that more characters don't have an issue with the transporters.  What was originally conceived as a production cost saver has become an essential element of Trekdom.  And yet, the basic concept is undeniably creepy.  Dr. McCoy made clear that he didn't like it but most take it in stride as a normal part of the job.  Amazing!

It's not the greatest episode.  However, I love that Barclay is the go-to character for such stories and I love that actor Dwight Schultz is such a good sport.

Acting Notes

Patti Yasutake played the role of Nurse Alyssa Ogawa in 16 Star Trek episodes (including this one) plus two movies.  Yasutake was born September 6, 1953 in Los Angeles.  Other television work has included T.J. Hooker and Boston Public.  Her late sister Irene Hirano was the founding President of the U.S.-Japan Council.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Squid Mixes: Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Yes, I've had that pun locked and loaded for weeks.

Several weeks ago, I posted about Arcana Botanica's Brimstone Bitters.  The Vermont-based company also makes a do-it-yourself absinthe immersion kit.  Once again, the process is simple.  You throw the muslin bag in some booze and let it sit.  The recipe calls for 100-proof vodka for the job, not something I usually keep in the cabinet so I had to buy a bottle.  I accidentally left the bag in a couple hours too long but evidently, no permanent damage was done.

To test it, I set it against our usual, French-produced brand Absente, in a D-Day Swizzle battle...

Absinthe Battle: Absente vs. Arcana Botanica

Even with the extra two hours of steeping, the Arcana is milder in flavor than the Absente.  In truth, I couldn't even taste the Arcana in the cocktail.  If you can't taste it, what's the point?  So, the real deal won out.

Winner and Still Champion: Absente

Friday, March 11, 2022

Star Trek: Time's Arrow, Part II

Episode: "Time's Arrow, Part II"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 1
Original Air Date: September 21, 1992

The conclusion of the previous episode, bridging the end of Season 5 with the beginning of Season 6.  This time, the whole gang (minus Worf for obvious reasons) goes back to 19th century San Francisco to rescue Data.  In a time travel switch, Mark Twain gets to see the Enterprise, too.

It's a fun episode, a spirited kickoff for the new season.  The highlights:
  • The Jack London cameo
  • The exchange in the turbo lift between Twain and Counselor Troi regarding the future (Troi's past) of human civilization.  
  • The time-twisty interplay between Picard and Guinan.  The full depths of their relationship are never fully explained in the series but this story gives meaningful clues.  I also enjoy the genuine warmth between them.

Acting Notes

Pamela Kosh played the role of Mrs. Carmichael, the proprietress of the hotel where our friends find lodging while in the 19th century.  Kosh was born March 13, 1930 in Crayford, Kent, UK.  She's had a lot of television guest work including Northern Exposure, Alias and The King of Queens.  She is best known for the role of Miss Simpson in Saved by the Bell.  This was her first of two appearances on NextGen.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Squid Eats: The Grill from Ipanema

The Grill from Ipanema is one of my parents' favorite restaurants in their Washington, DC neighborhood of Kalorama.  I had been once before but our most recent visit was the first for my wife and daughter.

As the name suggests, the restaurant favors Brazilian cuisine.  My parents like it because it's quiet.  One can easily hold a conversation.  Popular date spot - there were lots of young couples.  One of the rooms was closed off for the evening.  A couple of NBA players were filming an interview.  No, I didn't recognize either of them.  My daughter commented, "they're so tall!"

The food's very nice, though my parents gave us some solid intel up front: you can't go wrong with the seafood dishes, the meat dishes are less dependable.  My father and I each ordered a paella.  It was delicious but huge!  We would have been better off ordering one to share.  Next time.

They have a full bar.  I ordered a Manhattan.  I'm pretty sure they used Martini & Rossi for the vermouth - had that distinct oregano aftertaste.  My daughter commented that it looked more reddish than mine (she's still too young to drink them but she has a discerning eye).  My guess is the vermouth to whiskey ratio was higher than my recipe.  My mother is a devoted fan of their caiprinhas.  

The service is both polite and professional.  Overall, it was an excellent experience.  We'll surely be back.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Star Trek: Time's Arrow

Episode: "Time's Arrow"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 5, Episode 26
Original Air Date: June 15, 1992

In a timey-wimey romp, Data's severed head is found in San Francisco, evidently buried there in the 19th century.  Obviously, the gang has to go back in time to check things out - or at least Data must in this first of two parts.  A full-on 1870s costume drama ensues.  Those are in vogue of late.

I won't delve into the time travel problems.  You already know how I feel about all that at this point.  Even so, I can't help finding the 19th century trappings endearing.  I also now have a better appreciation for a subtle homage to "The City on the Edge of Forever": Data building a futuristic contraption in his hotel room much the way Spock does in the original series classic. 

And, of course, I'm always a sucker for Mark Twain, played here by Jerry Hardin.

Thoughts on Season Five

General Impressions

Season Five is the best in the NextGen run.  There are still a few clunkers but the best episodes are unforgettable.  All of the principals get quality stories, even Wesley.

Favorite Episode: "Darmok"  

This was not an easy choice.  Both "I, Borg" and "The Inner Light" are similarly outstanding.  There are other strong candidates, too.  It all depends what you're looking for.  I imagine a friend asking me what Star Trek is all about but they only have time to watch one episode.  I'd pick "Darmok" every time.  (I would add TOS's "Balance of Terror" if they had time for two if you're wondering.)  It is a perfectly contained bottle episode and it provides a distillation of the franchise concept as no other single installment does.

Least Favorite Episode: "Cost of Living"

Paradoxically, there's strong competition for this distinction, too.   "Cost of Living" focuses on not one but two of my least favorite recurring characters: Lwaxanna Troi and Alexander Rozhenko.  It gets the nod.

Favorite Recurring Character: Guinan

Long live the queen!  She deserves it for her part in "I, Borg" alone.  Her exchange with Hugh is deeply chilling.

Favorite Blast from the Past: Spock

How could I possibly pick anyone else?  His entrance in "Unification I" is worthy of Orson Welles a la The Third Man.  

Favorite Guest Actor, One-Shot: Jonathan Del Arco

Hugh doesn't count as a recurring character yet.  They needed the right actor to make a Borg drone sympathetic and boy did they find him.  Del Arco had recently lost his first partner to AIDS and he channeled all of his grief into the role.


Without a doubt, Season Five was the pinnacle but the drop off was hardly severe.  Season Six includes some true gems.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Bitters of the Month: Lime

Fee Brothers Lime Bitters smells like disinfectant.  Fortunately, it tastes better than that - plenty limey.  I was a little worried it might not be sweet enough for what I have in mind but I think it should be fine.

As to my plans, I have mentioned several times here on the blog that one of my most exciting discoveries in the mixological hobby has been the magical combination of lime and almond flavors - definitely a greater than the sum of its parts situation.  I'm eyeing an as yet unopened bottle of orgeat syrup on my cocktail flavorings shelf.  Stay tuned.