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
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
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.
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.