Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Squid Perks: Vivid Coffee

Farm-to-table is a big deal in Vermont.  Independent farms still make up a sizable portion of the industry here and the state's population is eager to support them.  Vivid Coffee seeks to tap into that mentality.  It's admittedly trickier with a tropical crop like coffee beans.  The company develops relationships with individual farms in places like Santa Barbara, Honduras (see blog post here).  Vivid sells its coffee through local retail stores and coffee shops as well as online.  They have their own cafe in Burlington, about half-a-block off of Church Street, the city's pedestrian mall.  We visited this past weekend.

Vivid owns a pretty big space, including a large seating area in a backroom.  The front room, though, is still pleasantly intimate.  The coffee's nice, too.  I got a cappuccino, my standard coffeehouse order.  

Friday, August 25, 2023

Star Trek: Shadowplay

Episode: "Shadowplay"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 16
Original Air Date: February 20, 1994

via Memory Alpha

Dax and Odo venture to the Gamma Quadrant.  While investigating an unusual particle field, they encounter a village where people are disappearing.  They stick around to help investigate.  In all, there are three stories going in "Shadowplay."  In the secondary narrative, Kira tries to stay one step ahead of Quark's nefarious activities while fielding the surprising though welcome advances of Vedek Bareil.  In the tertiary plot, Jake starts his first job, helping O'Brien in engineering.

"Shadowplay" is the strongest episode in a while with significant character development in all three stories.  The A plot is particularly sweet.  For the first time, we see a more tender side to Odo, with suggestions that he might be ready to let more people into his life.  The Kira-Bareil relationship will have important consequences for all involved moving forward.  Jake asserts his independence from Dad for the first time.  The younger Sisko also makes an important break from any confusion with Wesley Crusher's tale.  Jake makes clear that his dreams for his future, whatever they may be, do not involve Starfleet.  It's a moment of growth for the whole Star Trek concept.

Getting back to the village, I'd forgotten the plot twist until just before it was revealed.  What seemed initially to be too close to the previous week's story veers to a completely different tone.  

Acting Notes

via Wikipedia

Kenneth Mars played the role of Colyus, one of the villagers.  He was born April 4, 1935 in Chicago.  He attended Northwestern University.

His film credits included work with several high-profile directors: The Producers and Young Frankenstein with Mel Brooks, What's Up Doc? with Peter Bogdanovich and Radio Days and Shadows and Fog with Woody Allen.  Television work included Malcolm in the Middle, Love, American Style and Sha Na Na.  His voice credits were extensive.  He voiced King Triton in The Little Mermaid, Littlefoot's grandfather in The Land Before Time and King Colbert in Thumbelina.  

Mars died in 2006 of pancreatic cancer.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

State of the Blog 2023

Blogging Year 15, here we go!

As noted in my Squiddies post, the first year of the "empty nest" didn't go exactly as expected.  Our child definitely went off to college in western Massachusetts but not as enthusiastically as anticipated.  The adjustment - to both being away from home and the increased workload - was rough.  We were parenting hard for months.  Fortunately, they have gradually settled into their new world.  I'd still say they'd prefer being here at home cuddling with the cats without having papers and projects hanging over their head but who wouldn't?  College has become a home away from home and there are plans in place to make the work more bearable.  Fingers crossed for a positive sophomore year.

For my wife and me, while the kid's ordeal was certainly stressful for us, too, it helped emotionally to feel needed for a while.  It eased the transition to our new reality.

There have been other adjustments for me.  My social world took a big hit.  Important friends have moved away.  The year's developments have made me wonder if the longer one lives in New England, the more the geography of one's life gravitates towards Massachusetts.  So, in addition to my usual efforts to add to and expand upon my/our hobbies, I'll also be making a conscious effort to shore up my local support network.

Here at The Squid, the blogging schedule will stay the same...

Tuesdays: Family Adventures
Fridays: Star Trek
Occasional book posts

Food hobbies, particularly cocktails and restaurants, are likely to continue to be the main drivers for the Family Adventures posts.  For years, my wife has lobbied for us to take on the Vermont 251 project, in which one visits all 251 of our state's incorporated cities and towns.  I love exploring Vermont and 251 is as good an excuse as any.  It could be a great way to find new restaurants, too.

Movies are likely to take on a more prominent role.  Saying so almost feels like a jinx but I think it's a safe bet.  Our movie brackets have been great fun and going to the theater is more appealing now than it was a year ago.

Trek: I'll be reaching the end of The Next Generation soon.   While that's a little sad, the series wasn't at its best in its final season.  On the other hand, Deep Space Nine is only getting better and Voyager reflections will be kicking off soon.  Because of Trek's release timeline, I can almost guarantee at least one movie review this year.

As always, if any of you enjoys reading The Armchair Squid half as much as I enjoy writing it, we're all doing just fine.

Squiddies 2023

The Armchair Squid turns fourteen years old today.  It's time to hand out some hardware.  The Squiddy goes to...

Biggest Surprise: Punt e Mes

It's been a great year for interesting new additions to the liquor cabinet.  Armagnac and Empress 1908 Gin have both brought intriguing possibilities to my creations.  The best find of all has been Punt e Mes, a vermouth from the Piedmont region of Italy which blends sweet and dry in a 2:1 ratio.  The result in a Manhattan is a raisin-y flavor, especially combined with George Dickel Rye, I have found.  Punt e Mes has become the go-to in my Negroni and Leap-Year recipes, too.  I must credit Restaurant Poco in Burlington with introducing us to this exciting spirit.

Biggest Disappointment: Greenpoint

I didn't mind the Greenpoint so much but boy, did my wife hate it!  The cocktail combines rye, yellow Chartreuse, sweet vermouth, Angostura and orange bitters with a lemon twist.  Each of those is usually a winning ingredient for us (though truthfully, yellow Chartreuse never seems to dazzle the way green Chartreuse does) but this particular combination failed.  She reported it tasted like cough syrup and couldn't even finish hers.

You can't win 'em all.

Best Read, First Time Category: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

via Amazon

Pachinko is the multi-generational saga of a Korean family through the twentieth century, first in Korea, ultimately in Japan.  Shame is the narrative theme throughout.  Shame is a famously powerful force in Asian cultures, though I believe it is more potent in the West than many of us would like to believe.  Apart from being a beautifully written story in its own right, Pachinko tugged hard at my nostalgic heart strings.  The family lived in Yokohama, the same city where I lived myself 25 years ago.  

Soon after I finished the book, we watched the TV series.  As is often the case, many of the details were altered but overall, it's highly enjoyable.  A second season has been promised.  They did a pretty good job of covering the entire novel in eight episodes so I don't know what they'll do for material.  Still, I can hardly wait.

Speaking of Japan nostalgia...

Best Comics Find: Old Boy

via Amazon

Oddly, the best comic book series I discovered this year is one I can't say I fully understood.  Old Boy was a Japanese manga published in the '90s.  It's had unusual cultural reach, inspiring first a South Korean movie by Park Chan-wook, then a Spike Lee remake of Park's film.  I only have Volume 7 of the trades so I came into the middle of what is already a confusing story.  Goto, a gangster, has just been released from a private prison after ten years.  He knows neither why he was imprisoned nor why he was set free.  The series follows his efforts to piece everything together.

The story is expertly told and once again, images of 1990s Tokyo worked their sweet magic with me.  As baffled as I (along with Goto) am by what's going on, I can't help wanting to know more.  The books are out of print but they are available digitally on Comixology.  Reading the rest might be a fine way to spend a rainy day at some point.

Athlete of the Year: James Worthy

via Memory Alpha

Hall of Famer James Worthy retired as a basketball player in 1994.  The year before, he made one of the most surprising cameos in the history of Star Trek when he played Koral, a Klingon smuggler, in "Gambit, Part II."  Worthy had met Robert O'Reilly (Gowron) on an airplane and expressed an interest in being on the show.  The rest is history.

Over 13 professional seasons, all with the Los Angeles Lakers, Worthy had 16,320 points, 4,708 rebounds and 2,791 assists.  His teams won three NBA titles and he was the MVP of the finals in 1988.  He was a seven-time All-Star and a member of the NBA anniversary teams for both the 50th and 75th league anniversaries.  His number 42 was retired by the storied Lakers.  I was definitely a Lakers over Celtics guy in the '80s so I appreciated Worthy.  

via Wikipedia

However, I bear a grudge.  His NCAA title with North Carolina in 1982 came at the expense of my team, the Georgetown Hoyas, in a heartbreaking loss.  In the final seconds of what is considered one of the greatest college basketball games ever, Georgetown point guard Fred Brown threw an errant pass to an out-of-position UNC player, believing he was a Hoya teammate.  That UNC player?  James Worthy.

So, wherever you are, sir, this is no small gesture on my part.

Best Family Adventure: Scandinave Spa

It's been a stressful year.  Being a teacher is tougher than ever  these days and I had added responsibilities this year which, while gratifying in many ways, didn't exactly help.  Parenting a first-year college student proved more challenging that expected as well.  There have been some big hits to my social world here in Vermont, too.

That said, the year has also brought some amazing moments.  Two, in particular, gave me exactly what I needed: a (somewhat) spontaneous trip to Camden Yards for a baseball game in Baltimore and a visit to Scandinave Spa in Montreal.

I had never been to a thermal spa before, unless you count Japanese onsens.  My wife and I had certainly never been to one together before.  Scandinave's thermal spa area offers a sauna, a steam room and a hydrojet bath with thermal waterfall.  The latter was my preference.  Actually, the best part of all was the dark, quiet relaxation room.  Spas aren't exactly a cheap hobby but definitely a worthwhile occasional indulgence.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Squid Games: Poop

Blue Liner, Drama Guy and I recently tried Poop: The Game.  The concept is admittedly gross but simple.  Players lay down cards (poop) with numerical values.  If you clog the toilet - meaning, your total discard score adds up to the number on the clog card - you take the discard pile.  The object, like in UNO, is to get rid of all the cards in your hand.  Also like UNO, there are reverse cards, skip cards, 0 value cards, etc.  If you play certain cards, you have to make particular bathroom-related noises.

It took us a few rounds to get the rules right but once we got it, Drama Guy won our game.

I'd play again.  There's enough subtle strategy involved to be able to see beyond the disgusting concept.  It's recommended for 5 and up so definitely intended for families with the right sense of humor.  There are expansions and variants, too.  I'm a sucker for those.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Star Trek: Thine Own Self

Episode: "Thine Own Self"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 16
Original Air Date: February 14, 1994

Data is stranded on Barkon IV.  He'd been sent to retrieve radioactive materials from a crashed probe but evidently took a bit of a bump himself as he now has amnesia, not even remembering who he is.  He stumbles into a primitive village.  The locals welcome him at first but grow wary once several of them become ill soon after he arrives.  The radioactive metal is the cause, of course, but Data doesn't remember enough to realize that.  In the secondary narrative, Troi wants a promotion to Commander.  She struggles to pass the final, engineering portion of the exam.

The A-plot is solid Trek.  What happens when our high tech friends - not to mention the "highest tech" among them - encounters a pre-warp civilization, naïve to the perils such an encounter presents?  It helps that Data is basically a decent guy, eager to be helpful, especially when people start to get sick.  

The B-plot is a wonderful Deanna Troi story.  Evidently, there was much criticism at the time for her promotion over Data and Geordi.  Why?  Because they're in more technical positions?  Because more narrative focus has been on Data over the course of the series?  Because they're men?  Whatever.  I grew up near Bethesda, Maryland so I knew a lot of military medical personnel growing up.  People in different fields rise through the ranks for different reasons.  In truth, we aren't given much in the way of specifics regarding Troi's professional credentials apart from watching her work.  There's no reason to doubt she'd ticked all the necessary boxes for promotion apart from passing the exams.  The boys just hadn't gotten there yet.  That's on them.

One of the great pleasures of a NextGen rewatch is seeing Troi come into her own as a character - and Marina Sirtis as an actor.  She's so awkward in the early going: a beautiful woman in flattering clothing.  By Season 7, she's a lot more comfortable in her own skin.  It's been a journey for several of the principals, to be sure, but I don't think anyone improves more over the course of the series than Deanna.

And bravo for passing the Bechdel Test in "Thine Own Self."  Troi's discussion with Dr. Crusher on the bridge has nothing to do with men.

Acting Notes

Ronnie Claire Edwards played the role of Tarul, a teacher and scientist on Barkon IV.  Edwards was born in Oklahoma City, February 9, 1933.  

She is best known for playing Corabeth Walton Godsey on The Waltons from Seasons 3-9.  She was also in the principal cast for Sara, a short-lived Geena Davis vehicle, as well as Boone and Just in Time.  Films included Perfect, Nobody's Fool and The Dead Pool.

Edwards passed away in 2016.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Squid Mixes: Dirty Martini

As noted in last week's post, I've been curious about Dirty Martinis for a while.  A Dirty Martini combines gin, dry vermouth and olive brine with an olive garnish.  My favorite part of a regular Martini is the dregs at the bottom, so it makes sense to include the brine as a more prominent feature. 

 I got my recipe from The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan.  The author's blurb for the drink is funny:  "This is probably one of the world's worst drinks when made incorrectly, but when prepared properly, with not too much olive brine added, it can be a sterling potion."  I get the sense Regan's idea of "too much olive brine" is rather different from mine.  Bear in mind, I have been tempted more than once to drink pickle juice straight from the jar.

He suggests "olive brine to taste."  I could have added a lot more to mine.  My wife was surprised that I only included one olive - definitely could have done with more in that regard, too.  Regan suggests Dirty Sue's Olive Brine for those who want more exact measurements.  I may need to check it out.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Star Trek: Paradise

Episode: "Paradise"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 15
Original Air Date: February 13, 1994

via Memory Alpha

Commander Sisko and Chief O'Brien are stranded on an uncharted M-class planet.  The human inhabitants - apparently stranded themselves - have built a pre-tech utopian society.  Ben and Miles are welcomed but the two quickly learn that any transgressions against the founding principles are punished swiftly and brutally.  

"Paradise" is based on all-too-real-world cults.  Alixus, the community's leader, is a chilling antagonist:  charming, earnest and uncompromising.  She believes in what she's doing and genuinely pities our Starfleet heroes for their unwillingness to submit and join the cause.  The episode doesn't leave much to build on for future stories but certain elements, like the punishment box - very Cool Hand Luke-esque, stay with you.

via Memory Alpha

Acting Notes

via Night Court Wiki

Gail Strickland (Alixus) was born May 18, 1947.  To me, her deliberate, H-heavy delivery suggests someone working hard to cover an accent.  Yup, Southern.  Strickland is from Birmingham, Alabama.  

Films include The Drowning Pool, Norma Rae and The American President.  Strickland has numerous guest appearances on high-profile TV shows over several decades, going back as far as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, M*A*S*H and The Bob Newhart Show.  She has been married to Neil Baker since 1990.  The couple have one daughter.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Squid Mixes: Empress Martini

I got my Empress Martini recipe from the Empress Gin website.  It combines Empress 1908 Gin with Lillet Blanc.  The recipe suggests a grapefruit twist garnish.  Not having a grapefruit on hand, we went without.

My wife has a puzzling attitude towards martinis.  She requested this drink.  In fact, I generally only make martinis - or really any cocktails - at her request.  And yet, she doesn't actually like martinis, describing them as "a chore to drink."  She feels she should like them, even though she doesn't really.  This one was alright, she said.  I feel a touch of citrus helps a lot with gin so the Lillet's a winner.  As standard practice, I add orange bitters to a martini.  I didn't this time but see no reason not to should I make an Empress Martini again.

The trouble is, I'm deeply curious about dirty martinis at the moment.  I've liked them quite a lot when I've had them in restaurants or bars.  I might just have to make one for myself sometime.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Star Trek: Lower Decks

Episode: "Lower Decks"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 15
Original Air Date: February 7, 1994

"Lower Decks" is told from the perspective of four junior officers and their bartender buddy.  Through them, we learn what it's like to work for our usual heroes.  We also learn what life is like aboard the Enterprise when you don't understand everything that's going on because you're not involved in the top secret meetings in the observation lounge.  

I love "Lower Decks" for so many reasons.  Just as the creators seem to be running out of gas in the stretch run, they knock one out of the park [I enjoy mixing sports metaphors].  The new characters are a breath of fresh air and the behind-the-scenes view of a familiar world is ingeniously executed.  In hindsight, one imagines this could have been a path forward for NextGen.  For the first time in what feels like ages, we're left wanting more - not better, more.  Big difference.  Thank goodness, the concept was finally resurrected 26 years later with the delightful, self-parody animated series Star Trek: Lower Decks.

How can one not be charmed by the episode's principals?

L to r: Taurek, Ogawa, Ben, Sito, Lavelle via Memory Alpha

Fortunately, we already know Nurse Ogawa (Patti Yasutake).  In "Lower Decks," she gets both a promotion and a fiancé.  Originally, her first exchange with Dr. Crusher was supposed to be about a mistake Ogawa had made in the lab.  Instead, it was about her love life.  Bechdel Test fail!  Ogawa is the only one of the junior officers we'll see again.

Sam Lavelle (Dan Gauthier) is a mini-Riker: handsome, talented and ambitious.  Unfortunately, he doesn't have his CO's calm self-assurance just yet.

Taurek (Alexander Enberg) is a bright, young Vulcan in engineering.  A bit of a know-it-all, he clearly gets on La Forge's nerves but Geordi does, grudgingly, admire Taurek's creative problem solving skills.  There was talk of bringing Taurek back as a recurring character but it never happened.

Ben (Bruce Beatty) is the new bartender.  Seriously, why didn't we get more of this guy?  A town gossip who could give Riker a run for his money at the poker table?  Yes, please.  Especially with Guinan out of the picture for Season 7, a new face in Ten Forward is most welcome.  Alas, this is Ben's only appearance.

And the greatest gift of all: the story of Sito Jaxa (Shannon Fill).  The character was previously introduced in "The First Duty" as a member of Wesley Crusher's scandal-ridden flight team at the Academy.  Once she convinces Picard she has the nerve for it, he assigns her to a dangerous mission.  Spoiler - she doesn't survive.  The loss is one of the most genuinely painful moments in all of Star Trek.  The initial expectation was that her death was final but, in the end, the creators fell in love with her, too.  We never see a body, only taking the Cardassians' word for it that she died.  There has been talk of bringing her back over the years, particularly as a Cardassian prison survivor in a DS9 episode.  But it hasn't happened.  Yet.  Even in Memory Alpha, she's listed as "presumed KIA."

Game Notes

On top of everything else, "Lower Decks" is a fantastic episode for a game enthusiast.  When the junior officer group first appears on screen, they're sitting around a Terrace board in Ten Forward (see top photo).  Riker and Troi, seated seperately, have a board on their table, too.  Terrace is a frequent prop on NextGen.  It's a real-world strategy game, invented in 1950 but not published until 1991.  It's futuristic-looking but plays a lot like chess.  I've played once.  In the mid-'90s.  I lost.

Poker games feature in the story: one game for the junior officers, one for the seniors.  Ben, a civilian, floats comfortably between both.  

And then, in the final poignant scene, Worf, Sito's CO, sits mournfully at a table by the window with a 3-D chess board in front of him, no opponent to play the other side.

Acting Notes

Dan Gauthier was born in Prineville, Oregon, December 2, 1963.  He went to San Diego State University, recruited by the track team.  He was a decathlete.  He worked as a model after graduating.

In primetime television, Gauthier had recurring roles on several shows including Tour of Duty, Melrose Place and Friends, in which he played Rachel's high school boyfriend Chip.  From 2003-2006, he played Kevin Buchanan on One Life to Live, earning an Emmy nomination in his final season.  Films include Teen Witch, Son in Law and Groom Lake, written and directed by William Shatner.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

On the Coffee Table: The Customer Is Always Wrong

Title: The Customer Is Always Wrong
Writer and Artist: Mimi Pond

via Amazon

The Customer Is Always Wrong is a continuation of Over Easy.  The two books combine to form a memoir (with a few artistic liberties) of the author's experiences as a diner waitress in 1970s Oakland.  Ideally, one should probably read the two books back-to-back as no reminders are given at the beginning of the second book about story details from the first.  No matter.  Nothing is so complicated that it isn't easy to catch up quickly.  Most of the other diner employees are quirky at best, drug-addicted at worst.  The world is held together by Lazlo, the philosopher/manager/father-figure.  Madge's goal is to save up enough money ($2,000 is the goal) to move to New York and have a real go at an art career.

I found myself less sympathetic towards Madge in this second book.  She's highly judgmental of people she shouldn't be: "whores and drunks" who call for cabs when, in her opinion, they should have friends or family to come pick them up.  Then she's not judgmental enough of the people she should be: a loser, lying boyfriend first and then more tragically, her heroin-addicted colleague/neighbor Camille who constantly takes advantage of her.  In short, she's over-trusting and still expects other people to take care of her.  She's an entirely believable character.  I simply don't like her very much.

Even so, I'd read more Mimi Pond books if she writes them.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Jeff Lemire

Title: The Underwater Welder
Writer and Artist: Jeff Lemire

via Amazon

Jack is an underwater welder for an oil well off the coast of Nova Scotia.  He's about to become a father and he's not handling the impending life change well.  He'd rather spend time fixing the rig than with his imminently expecting wife.  Meanwhile, he's haunted by memories of his own father who drowned in the ocean when Jack was a boy.

Jack has an accident on the rig and while he's blacked out, his subconscious dances between the present, the past and a supernatural dreamscape in which he's the only one left in his quiet coastal town.  The latter is seemingly what he wants, or at least the sort of existence his choices have been leading him to: no commitments, no betrayals, no emotional risks.  

via Goodreads

Lemire's style generates an intimate atmosphere.  People are crudely drawn, almost ghoulish, befitting the story.  The backgrounds are deceptively simple, suiting the desolation of the Nova Scotia seaside.  I would say the promotional materials - the back cover blurb and the intro - oversell the supernatural aspects of the story.  The dreamscape is clearly an hallucination, probably oxygen-depravation inspired.  Even so, the story is well told, based in raw emotion.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Squid Mixes: Empress & Elderflower Tonic

The English Prof recently introduced my wife to Empress 1908 Gin, an 85-proof, Canadian concoction dyed indigo with butterfly pea flower.  My wife liked it enough to score us our own bottle.  I'm always delighted to add a splash of color to the liquor cabinet.  The gin pairs nicely with Fever-Tree's Elderflower Tonic Water.

I used 2 ounces of the Empress and the full 6.8-ounce bottle of the tonic.  The gin flavor is gentle and the elderflower brings delightful sweetness to the mixture.  No doubt, it's also quite pretty.