Thursday, November 29, 2007

And So It Begins - Again
After posting about Christmas music, I went into my iTunes and re-activated my Christmas playlist which is shut off as of the end of December as a matter of principle. And I've had my first song shuffle up: John Fahey's "Medley: Deck The Halls With Boughs Of Holly-We Wish You A Merry Christmas" from his "Popular Songs of Christmas and New Year's" disc. It is, in reality a bit early to hear it but it's a gorgeous guitar solo. Wonderful. His loss was a significant one for folk music.
Also, if you've never heard Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas," you're missing something. It's a great contemporary Christmas song. It was used to good effect in the movie "Love Actually." I usually detest Ms. Carey as a waste of considerable talent but the song is wonderful.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Recent Netflixery
Oh how it pains me to admit the depth of my shallowness some times. To wit, the last two movies I rented were "Next," the Nicolas Cage fantasy adventure and the Transformers movie. Let me deal with the former first. Actually better than I expected. Nic Cage is nothing -ever- but Nic Cage but he makes passing fair action adventure movies so I took a chance. If you have an hour and a half to spare and haven't seen it, you could do worse. Skip the extras though. Total waste of synaptic electrons. I have one serious beef. At one point Cage tells the old joke about the Zen Master at the hot dog stand ("make me one with everything"). And he utterly screws the pooch on it: "I'll have one with everything." That ... makes ... no ... sense!
Let me preface my remarks about "Transformers" by saying that I hate Michael Bay. "Armageddon" was the biggest colonic product I have seen in forever. Massive poopage. And I like just about all the actors in that show. As much as I love Kate Beckinsale, I couldn't even bring myself to watch "Pearl Harbor" because of my antipathy to the Bay person. But Lileks posted a brief rave about the robot movie and I am in an action adventure mood so, all right already. Damn. I could not have enjoyed it more. Thank goodness I have the new speakers with the subwoofer! Loud and thumping (a problem in "Armageddon") was just what the non-stop slam-bang of this flick needed. It could easily lose fifteen minutes of Shia LaBeouf's family, Anthony Anderson and his family but once this ramps up, it just doesn't stop. The robot transformations are nothing short of amazing but they're actually too complex. The fights are massive but, again, too complex. There's to much debris flying around to make sense of what's going on. It's the opening space battle from the last and most craptacular of the Star Wars movies all over again. Just because you can doesn't mean you should.
But then there are FX shots like two massive robots crashing through a building shown from the outside of the structure with offices full of scurrying people in full view. That was a 'wow' shot no question.
So as much as I hate myself for saying this, I loved "Transformers." And I resent that. I still hate Michael Bay though. I can't let that go.
Pre-Christmas Bleg
As I have noted in the past, every year I add one CD of Christmas music to my collection. Last year I finally got the great Vince Guaraldi Charlie Brown Christmas disc. But this year I'm out of ideas. I only have one CD each from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Mannheim Steamroller so there are great possibilities there. But perhaps readers could make suggestions in comments that might direct me to something unusual and excellent. Don't worry about suggesting anything Christmas-y from John Fahey. I have all his holiday albums already.
UPDATE: Thanks for the suggestions. I took advantage of the rift in space time to add Tom Waits to my collection. Not the song - Tom Waits himself. I altered history so that slavery was never outlawed and made sure that my family owned his family. If you think slavery is outlawed, please wait for the ripples in the continuum to work their way through the universe.
OK, kidding aside, I bought the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "The Lost Christmas Eve." But I'm keeping my notes of the suggestions for next year. I also added a couple of Jethro Tull CDs to my collection so as to qualify for free shipping. Gotta love free shipping.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Best Use Of A Christmas Carol In Advertising
Goes to Garmin for its use of "Carol of the Bells:" give a, give a, give a, give a, give a Garmin. Nicely done.
And the embed that surely condemns me to perdition:

The Foxborough Juggernaut
Earlier on the blog I made a comment on the risible attempt by the Washington Redskins to take on the New England Patriots. After laughing my way through that game, I've been trying to make it a point to watch the Pats play this year since this team will go down in Niffle history as one of the greatest teams ever. Tom Brady will be spoken of with Elway-like reverence when he is finished winning Super Bowls.
Which means I have to say that last night's Eagles-Patriots game rather surprised me. The Pats' mere three-point win was as shocking as the confident, muscular play of the Iggles. I was of the opinion that having gotten past the Colts earlier, New England was ready to roll through the rest of their schedule. But I forget sometimes that there are games that sneak up on a team. The Eagles had every reason to be sky-high for the game having just taken a game flat away from the Redskins (that sound you hear is my distant laughter) and really, nothing to lose in laying every drop of testosterone and every cc of steroids on the line for the game. And they did a helluva job. The Patriots, on the other hand, really had no reason to be jacked up for the game. They have been just crushing opponents and the Eagles haven't shown themselves to be terribly fearsome competition.
The fact that the Pats didn't let a game slip that easily could have been stolen from them shows just what a gutty team they are. I think once Tom Brady realized that the game was at risk, there was no way he was going to let it go.
And, I think, therein lies the story of the New England Patriots this year. Any team that goes up against them had better be prepared to bring it hard. Because the Pats and their almost pathologically truculent coach are setting out to make this team a team that will be talked about with awe in the history of the game. They've won Super Bowls; that's not a goal to energize a championship team, strange to say. But to go undefeated, to set scoring records by multiple dozens of points (possibly even a hundred give or take), to set touchdown records for Brady and possibly for Randy Moss as well - now there's something to make the team leap onto the gridiron and batter their opponents into submission.
They only scored 31 points against the Eagles. Expect scores in the 50s against any team that can't gut it up like Philly did. Let's see if other teams can raise their level to meet the Pats because the Pats are not about to play down their opponents. They may go undefeated into the next season if injuries to key players don't take them down. It's beautiful and almost scary to watch.
And by the way, Red Sox win the World Series, Pats look to run away with the NFL crown and the Celtics have put together the best team they've had in years. Boston should be a happy, happy sports town these days.
Late Thoughts On Cranberry Sauce
Having not made a test batch of maple syrup sweetened cranberry sauce - Hey, I made five different variations on the recipe with one of those being a double batch - I will say first that I am well pleased with my recipe. Secondly, the orange blossom honey variation is better than the sugar-sweetened type. But I don't think it's necessary to use a scant cup as I did. 3/4 of a cup, an equal measure of the sugar in the original, is all that's needed. However, I once again add that the better the quality of orange blossom honey you can find, the better it will work with the sauce.
On Saturday night I had dinner with friends who served a ham and I'm not being modest in telling you that the cranberry sauce works as well with ham as it does with turkey.
My one note on the cranberries themselves is that the Ocean Spray bags that are sold in supermarkets everywhere are great to use. I wash them and pick over the berries as I don't want to use mushy, going-bad berries in the sauce. I only had to toss about 8 berries per bag.
Finally, as Christmas nears, I am going to make a batch with maple syrup and I will post a note on how it turns out. And it's likely that with that batch I'll use up the orange flavored sorta-brandy so next year's change will be the use of Cointreau, as I noted below. As is my wont, I'll post about that when the time rolls around.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Cranberry Sauce Post
I have always loved cranberry sauce. My late mother made an uncooked cranberry sauce that was, in essence, raw cranberries, honey, orange juice and orange peel all blitzed together in a blender. One of the beauties of her sauce was that you could adjust the ingredients on the fly. Too tart? Add more honey. Soften the cranberry flavor? Add more OJ. I like it a lot. But I like a more jell-ified sauce even better.
Heck, I even like the tradition ridged cylinder of canned cranberry "sauce" but that doesn't mean I'd actually like to have it on my table. But don't let my culinary elitism deter you if you want to slice a disc of that to put beside your slice of turkey.
With all as prelude, this year I decided that I wanted to make "my" cranberry sauce. And, as is my wont these intarwebnet days, I first went to and searched on (you can see it coming, right?) "cranberry sauce." And what came up almost first in line was Cranberry Sauce with Port and Tangerine. Here is the nub of the gist of the recipe:
1 (12-ounce) bag fresh or frozen cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup ruby Port
3 (3- by 1/2-inch) strips tangerine zest
1/3 cup tangerine juice (from about 2 tangerines)

Bring cranberries, sugar, Port, and zest to a simmer in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until cranberries burst, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in juice. Cool completely.
Please do click the link though for some more information and to give the good folks at Epicurious another page view.

I made one batch of this recipe as written. And it was good. Very good. Very, very good. Port really (I mean really) works well with cranberries. But as I said, I wanted to make this my own. My first thought was, "wouldn't chopped walnuts be nice in this?" So I added a half cup just as I removed the mix from the heat. I wanted the nuts to be touched by the heat enough to be softened but still with some crunch. And I was right. It worked. worked for me at any rate.
I'm not sure that the amount of zest I use is particularly what the recipe calls for but I zest one entire tangerine. And I keep the zest pieces small as taking a spoonful of cranberry sauce with a five-inch long piece of citrus zest dragging behind is just wrong. And the zest is cooked enough that its easily edible.
For my next batch I added a half cup of an orange-flavored brandy-ish thing I was given too many years ago to count. In my first try, I added it with the tangerine juice which meant the alcohol didn't have a chance to burn off. It was good but I thought the alcohol gave it a bit of an unnecessary edge. So in future batches I added the "brandy" (orange-flavored I jump to point out again - I would not have used plain brandy) at the same time as the port. And with those changes, I have arrived at "my" cranberry sauce.
I have made another batch in which I substituted a scant cup of orange blossom honey for the sugar. It's cooling in the fridge so I can't say that it's a radical improvement but I think a really nice orange-blossom honey is a superior sweetener to cane sugar. And when I finally kill the orange fake brandy, I would probably use Cointreau instead. Cointreau is so wonderfully complex a liqueur that it might be a superior choice.
One other variation that I'll probably try, though I'm not sure it would be a superior change, is to sweeten the sauce with maple syrup instead of the sugar or the honey. It's a change that cries out for empirical testing nonetheless.
PoW Thanks You For Your Patience
Happy belated Thanksgiving to one and all. I will shortly be putting up a post about the cranberry sauce which I will now consider my "signature" cranberry sauce, although there is one variation yet to try. Let's just say that I brought a batch to friends for the turkey dinner and it was snarfed up in short order.
And good luck with your shopping.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sound Baby! Sound!
For the longest time I've been running off the built-in speakers on my iMac to play iTunes music. They're very good speakers for their size and their built-inedness. But they're not exactly earth-shaking when, say, I've tried to play someone a song while I was on the phone. I have now entered a whole new realm of sonic bliss.
I bought these Altec Lansing speakers which were on sale at good old Amazon for $25 less than they're selling for now (Gold Box deal - some real bargains there). I haven't run the puter masheen with a sub-woofer before. Oh glory! I can feel the music in my diaphragm. And the satellite speakers are compact yet crisp and clean. If they were articulate, they'd be Barack Obama.
Well, actually, you could say that they're articulate. But I'd vote for these speakers.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I so want a tuna sub today.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

If You Want To See What Paul Reed Smith Is All About...

By the way, "GAS" is "Guitar Acquisition Syndrome." All PRS owners suffer from GAS.
Sketch Comedy
File this under "things I'd like to see that no one is ever going to do:" A bit that takes off on the old "Johnny Quest" cartoon with just about everything the old series had in situ but with one significant difference. "Hadji" in the original is Indian and, though it's not made explicit, I say a Sikh inasmuch as his last name is "Singh" and he wears a turban. However in my version, he's some stripe of Middle Easterner and is a committed jihadi. His entire purpose in being withe Quests is to steal technology, information and otherwise promote Jihad against the infidel.
Hilarity ensues. I think my good friend the Enigmatic Misanthrope could write a few chapters of that book....

Monday, November 12, 2007

I Promised To Be Discrete
I read the Consumerist blog regularly and, despite their anti-capitalist inclination (which explains the lack of linkage), one thing that really matters to them is customer service. And it matters to me too, even though I consider myself to be a very even-tempered and moderate customer. So when something extraordinary happens, being a blogger I want to blog it.
Something extraordinary happened but I promised that I would not reveal the specifics. Let me see if I can figure out a way to explain without providing any identifying details....
I have been patronizing a local business for a number of years. Said business has a timing restriction at times due to huge demand. Orders have to be in by a specific date in order to have the service performed in a timely fashion. This year I was blithely going along and not thinking of deadlines and the advancing of the calendar. When I shook off the unconsciousness, I found that I was two days past the deadline for orders. Drat, Hosed myself. But I have great affection for the business and the proprietors so I dropped an e-mail saying, "My mistake- sorry to have missed the timing, hope your busy season doesn't swamp you, best, Me." And much to my delight, I got a return e-mail saying, "We expected you to order and have you down for a few units anyway. How many do you want?"
Wow. I was down for three and asked if I could get five. And I could. There are good, no, great folks in the wider world and finding how great they are can be a real blessing.
And do not ask me for the business because I gave my word that I would not admit that the rules were bent. They can't do that for everyone.

Friday, November 09, 2007

LOLbug #3

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Almost Live From The Snack Shack
Oof-ah! I am stuffed (stuffed! I tell you) with steamed dumplings. I made a new batch and must report on a couple of tweaks to the recipe (which I have never posted here mwah-haha!) which worked rather well if I do say so myself. First, I left the shiitake mushrooms out because they have a somewhat delicate flavor that I didn't expect to come through in htis mix. Then, instead of using blanched bok choy, I chopped up about a cup and a half of napa cabbage kim chi. I love kim chi. I've even had tofu and kim chi for breakfast. And loved it.
Finally, I had to address a problem I've had with my dumplings. When they steamed, the meat filling would shrink leaving the cooked dumpling a sort of baggy sack. Tasty but not a nice, plump dumple. The fix turns out to be very simple - egg whites. One egg white per batch. I suppose you could use two egg whites. I may try that next time.
The result: in a word - superb. Best dumplings I've yet made. My dinner was a heaping plate of dumplings dipped in sauce of sesame oil, soy sauce and Chinese black vinegar. I need to resupply my rice wine vinegar and get some mirin too.
Tomorrow there will be ginger custard made. I can hardly wait.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Latest Netflixing
I've just dropped "Spider-Man 3" in the mail to return to the warm bosom of the secret Netflix "processing facility" nearest me. Stick a fork in the franchise. It's done. I have nothing against Tobey Maguire save for the fact that he looks sort of younger and goofier in this flick than in the previous iterations. Not too fond of Topher Grace. But it's Kirsten Dunst who really lights up the screen. Like a flaming bag of poo lights up a door on Halloween night.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Guilty Pleasures
C'mon ... fess up.
I'll start. This is actually about TV guilty pleasures. I am loathe to admit the joy I take in watching "Scrubs." But I sure do. It is unredeemedly stupid and Zach Braff's character acts in such a way that no even approaching normal human being would. But it is still laugh-out-loud funny. Dr. Cox's rants, the occasional instances of decent human behavior, the absurdities, the relationship of Turk and Carla. It's a much better show than i want to admit. And Sarah Chalke can look stunning at times - knockout blonde when they tart her up. So there you have it. My guilty pleasure.
What is it you watch that you're not proud of? C'mon. Use an alias, post a reply. Let the world in on your secret shame. You'll feel better.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Jake Alert! Jake Alert!
The superbly talented Jake Armerding is going to be at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage on Sunday evening. You should be there. You'd better be there! You're really going to miss something if you're not there.
Just go dammit! Listen to me now and hear me later. If you miss his show I'll be mad at you. And you'll regret it.
He'll be in Richmond on Thursday but DC is closer.
Hollywood "Writers" Strike
Wizbang Pop has a pic of the "writers" milling around on a sidewalk in what I suppose is supposed to be one those expressions of the working man that's supposed to make the little Monopoly guy with the top hat howl as he were being violated by a sharpened MontBlanc Starwalker. Tcha! Yeah, right. Look at the signs. What's on the signs? "On Strike." How (sarcasm) original! (/sarcasm)
Yeah, you need writers like that Hollywood. Then again, if the writers really did write their signs, they'd probably be worse than "On Strike."
The Wonder Of The Intarwebnet
Yesterday afternoon I had the distinct pleasure of having lunch with a long-time friend whom I'd never met. We have been in e-mail contact for something like ten years, back to the days when I used to post on a Usenet newsgroup for a local radio show. We both have (I say with great humility and self-effacing modesty) great senses of humor and became, long ago, as fast friends as this electronic age allows.
She is a Murrliner but had reason to swing out to the wider environs of NoVa this weekend and, as luck would have it, was coming pretty much in my direction. So we had lunch at my favorite local place. And I got to meet her son who was a pleasure to have in the (nominally) adult conversation. It's actually rather nice to see the affection between mother and son expressed so easily when teenagers these days can be so sullen and anti-parental. Good kid. Speaks well of the family.
Marisa, darling, I had a great time. Love ya.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

If This Doesn't Make you Laugh...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Detail - The Grill
Aluminum foil and craft store crystals. A daub on the upper left of undried Elmers glue. The learning process continues.
Magazines Are So Specialized These Days!
The late Spikerman makes Pug of the Year. Of course it helps to have an "in" with the magazine editorial staff.
If you want to be an editorial staff, make your own magazine.
Hat tip to XMBD and the NMSE for the image.