Buckeye country

November 26, 2007

I had big plans for reading and writing over the Thanksgiving holiday, but I got sidetracked by an unusually active visit to family in Columbus. (These visits usually involve moving from couch to couch between random snack consumption, but we kept going places and doing things. I’m not complaining.)

First up was a touring production of Spamalot, which was amusing if not life-changing. By pure coincidence, I happened to be there on the same night as Mark Evanier, so I’ll just point to his description of the evening. (No matter how many Thanksgiving holidays I spend in Columbus, I always manage to forget that the Mid-Ohio Con is going on at the same time. It doesn’t really seem like the kind of convention I’d enjoy, to be honest.)

We had dinner before the show at Thai Taste. If you’re in Columbus and you like Thai food, GO. If you like pomegranate martinis and Thai food, GO OFTEN.

A large group of us hit a matinee of Enchanted on Saturday. I’m normally very pro-musical, though this movie wasn’t really on my radar before a niece or two expressed their profound interest in seeing it. A lot of reviews have described it as subversive, though I think they might have mistakenly identified cleverness. The real world that’s juxtaposed to the cartoon landscape isn’t really any more realistic, and there’s a weirdly retro vibe to everything. (It’s still reaffirming conventional relationships as much as any other Disney princess musical, so I’m not sure where the progressive, edgy underpinnings are supposed to be.) Amy Adams is spectacular, though. I’m getting sick of seeing the finest actresses of a certain generation (Michelle Pfeiffer, Meryl Streep, and, in this case, Susan Sarandon) reduced to playing vicious, oppressive harridans who hate youth even as they covet it, to be honest. And Patrick Dempsey’s appeal is entirely lost on me, apparently. He’s just grumpy.

That evening was spent at a hockey game, of all places. As far as interesting, fast-paced sports to watch, I’d rank hockey fairly highly, though I’m never going to be the target audience for any of them. And there was interesting people-watching to be done, especially if you sat there and looked for parallels to comic fandom in the puck head set. (There was this guy in front of us who was maniacally, microscopically attentive throughout and seemed utterly miserable to this casual observer, but everyone has his or her own idea of fun, I suppose.)

I did manage to work in a visit to The Laughing Ogre, one of my favorite comic shops in the entire world. Maybe it was just because I was outnumbered by staff three to one, but they were tremendously helpful and friendly and readily admitted that none of them were really big manga experts though they were happy to look stuff up for me. See how that works?

And while I did get some reading done, this week’s Flipped will still be a day late because I’m lazy and tired.


Monday linkblogging, etc.

October 22, 2007

J.K. Rowling has revealed that one of the characters from her Harry Potter series of books, Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, was gay. It’s nice, but I’d have been more impressed if she’d actually revealed that in the text, ideally before the character died.

On the one hand, she seldom devoted any space to the private lives of the Hogwarts faculty unless it was essential to the narrative (Snape) or factored heavily into a thematically linked subplot (Hagrid and Madame Maxim). On the other, it seems like his one relationship was pretty punitively disappointing. On another hand, I still think poor Tonks was the biggest beard in the fantasy canon, and that anyone who thinks Sirius and Lupin weren’t totally in love is kidding him- or herself.

*

While not everyone agrees on the tenor of that Tigra sequence from New Avengers #35, there does seem to be general consensus that Matt Brady’s Newsarama interview with writer Brian Bendis was the kind of tounge-bath seldom seen outside of the cozy, secluded nests mother cats create to welcome their newborns. Here’s one of my favorite responses, and probably the most comprehensive.

*

So I don’t seem completely grumpy, I’ll like to two reviews of books published by Dark Horse that made me happy, both the books and the reviews. First is Greg McElhatton’s look at Kazuhiro Okamoto’s far-more-interesting-than-it-sounds Translucent, and second is Ken Haley’s praise for the first two volumes of Adam Warren’s better-than-it-has-any-right-to-be Empowered.

*

I love this sauce. I think it would be good on just about any kind of protein, and probably many vegetables as well. (Maybe someday I’ll point you to a healthy recipe. Don’t hold your breath.)

*

Speaking of cooking, wow, I gave up too quickly on Kitchen Princess (Del Rey). I thought the first volume was pretty uninspiring, but I caught up with more recent installments via complimentary copies, and it definitely picks up steam. It’s still not life-changing, but there are lots of pretty pictures of food and some reasonably moving story material.


The Monday randomizer

October 15, 2007

I didn’t get around to putting together a Flipped column for this week. I read lots of horror manga, but I ended up being too paralyzed with fear to write about any of it! (Okay, the truth is I had a day-job event and a delightful houseguest. Sue me.)

*

I also made oatmeal cookies, and after considerable scientific research and extensive comparison, I’ve decided that they just taste better with dried cranberries in them. Sorry, raisins, you dried fruit of the average palate. (I’ve never made them with dried blueberries or, dare I suggest it, dried cherries, so Craisins could be bumped off of the throne any week now.)

*

Not long ago, I was pondering ‘tween-friendly musicals like Legally Blonde, and MTV was kind enough to broadcast a taped performance of the show. It was pretty awful, so of course I watched all of it. Aside from “Gay or European,” the songs were incredibly uninspired, and the performances were really competent but not quirky in the ways they needed to be to really sell the resolutely so-so material. The audience for the performance ate it up, though, cheering on cue like the center of the basketball team just walked on stage.

*

I knew I wasn’t the only person who found the “Poor, Poor Tigra” stuff creepy, but there’s something incredibly reassuring about seeing that it also bothered Graeme McMillan. Not that I want him to be bothered, obviously, but you know what I mean.

*

“This is the worst column ever by the way Chris. I’m going to build an underground railroad just to get you out of this column. To help you escape.”

— From Part 2 of Chris Mautner’s interview with Tom Spurgeon over at Blog@Newsarama.

It’s not true at all, obviously. If you want to see Spurgeon in action as a critic, he thoughtfully provides more comics reviews in a single weekend post than I seem to manage to write in a year. Not that I’m feeling inadequate or anything.

*

Still on the subject of reviews I enjoyed reading, check out Katherine Dacey-Tsuei’s look at With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child over at Manga Recon.


Death by chocolate

October 5, 2007

While I really enjoyed this season of Top Chef, I have to take issue with the choice of winner.

Spoilers after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »


Elk’s run

September 27, 2007

I’m really pleased with this season of Top Chef. Maybe it’s partly due to the fact that last season was such a parade of personality disorders with little or no content that focused on cuisine, but there’s a much better balance this year. People still get to be obnoxious and dysfunctional, but rarely at the expense of what they’re cooking. More often than not, obnoxiousness actually results in a contestant’s downfall, as opposed to carrying them to the finale.

Speaking of the finale, spoilers after the cut:

Read the rest of this entry »


Bad aftertaste

July 16, 2007

I don’t make a point of watching it, but every time I see a bit of an episode of The Next Food Network Star, I become depressed. It’s such a celebration of camera friendliness over anything resembling a culinary sensibility, and it symbolizes everything that bothers me about the network’s recent programming trends. Just give me one half-hour with a serious cook who will actually talk about culinary techniques and food and not try so hard to charm me.

As for the third season of Top Chef, I’m just not engaged. The second season seemed like a particularly unpleasant year on The Real World, so maybe I’m gun shy. The contestants aren’t as obnoxious as they were last year, but I just can’t get into it. Maybe it’s the Miami setting. It seems too trendy.

Okay, ending on a more positive note, I’ve had really good luck with Giada De Laurentiis’s dessert recipes. I like these cheesecake squares a lot and have made them twice. They’re good with the limoncello, but they work nicely with lemon juice if you don’t have that particular liqueur on hand and don’t feel like buying a bottle. (I used up the last of the bottle we had the first time I made them and didn’t expect to be able to find it at any of the local liquor stores, so I improvised. Limoncello is yummy, though, especially during the summer.) I’ve never used biscotti for the crust, as I didn’t have any in the house either time, but vanilla wafers work well, and ginger cookies work even better. It sounds kind of weird, but the flavor really blends well with the lemony cheesecake.

The limoncello results in a creamier consistency, and the plain juice makes them cakier, so it might just depend on how you prefer your cheesecake. I like it both ways, so I found them equally good. Don’t be alarmed if the batter looks like it’s curdling after you add the juice, though. It comes out fine.


Bake day

May 13, 2007

I don’t usually get inspired to cook by Giada De Laurentiis’s dessert recipes. She’s too fond of combining chocolate and orange for my tastes, and I’m not keen on mascarpone or amaretti cookies. But I had to try these almond blueberry cookies, and they’re good to the point of evil.

I went with dried blueberries instead of fresh or thawed frozen ones. It’s a stiff batter, so I’m glad I did, because I’m not a patient or gentle folder. Softer blueberries would have been mush. I used skim instead of whole milk, and vanilla instead of almond extract. I also found that they didn’t need as much cooking time as the recipe suggests. I would start checking them at around ten minutes, particularly if you’re using a convection oven.

And hey, blueberries and almonds are nutritionally packed, so they must surely overcome butter and sugar.


Smoke-filled rooms

May 7, 2007

I bailed on local Free Comic Book Day activities on Saturday, which was very lazy of me. In my defense, the local shop invests as much as it can in the event, but I still end up feeling like I’m taking comics out of the hands of casual or potential readers. And since my interests run towards the comics intended for kids, I feel extra guilty.

What I did instead:

  • Made naan for the first time, based on this recipe. The local Indian restaurant has closed, not for want of customers but because the owners’ kids graduated from college and none wanted to take over the family business. This has left a serious naan shortage in my diet, so I decided to give it a shot. The process doesn’t really play to any of my culinary strengths, so I’ll factor in some shortcuts next time I make it and hopefully not set off the smoke alarms. But it was really, really good.
  • Eagerly watched to see which of several hundred hats Queen Elizabeth would wear to the Kentucky Derby. Frankly, I’m a little disappointed.
  • Noted a strange flurry of birds I’d never seen at our feeders before (including the thrilling Indigo Bunting) and immediately attributed it to climate change.
  • Wrote what is surely a superfluous Flipped column, especially in light of Brigid Alverson’s excellent piece on Naruto Nation in last week’s PWCW. But Viz contacts had already gone to the trouble of tracking down sources and answering questions, so it seemed rude not to use them.

  • Life and thymes

    March 22, 2007

    After seeing Food Network’s Chefography on Sandra Lee, I feel like she’s been placed squarely off limits for ridicule or criticism. As Thelma Ritter’s Birdie said in All About Eve, “What a story! Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end.” (Great. Now I’m hearing Bette Davis’s Margo issuing her rejoinder about third-rate vaudevillians.)

    Last night’s look at Nigella Lawson only confirmed my opinion that she’s an international treasure. I’m a little puzzled about the vintage of episodes of her show that airs on Sundays. The bio seemed to indicate that she was producing new episodes for Food Network, but I’d be willing to swear that they’d aired previously on a different network. Maybe she’s repurposed some recipes and menus from old shows and used measurements familiar to U.S. audiences (cups instead of grams and the like) instead of starting from… well… scratch. I don’t really care, because I love her and would happily watch her make instant oatmeal in the microwave.

    I’d love to see a Chefography on Alton Brown, who is probably the only Food Network male I want to know more about. (I already feel like I know too much about Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali, and the less I know about Bobby Flay, the better.)

    Anyway, there’s a Chefography marathon on Sunday, though Food Network’s web site is so difficult to navigate and slow to load that I can’t be bothered to find out who’s on the schedule.


    Mayo clinic

    March 2, 2007

    From time to time, I’ve wondered what the food desk at The New York Times thinks of the celebrity chefs of The Food Network.

    Mario Batali could probably open a hot dog stand and get at least two stars, but he seems to have moved out of the network’s harsher glare. I don’t know if they’re still producing new episodes of Molto Mario or not, though he is an Iron Chef. Nigella Lawson used to contribute a delightful column to the Times food pages, and her relationship to the network seems limited to rebroadcasts of her charming BBC programs. (I can’t see her taking a gig as a guest judge on Food Network Showdown: Puddings!)

    The Times takes the occasion of the imminent publication of Paula Deen’s autobiography to fry her up in a stick of butter. (Free registration may be required.)

    “‘Now I’m done fightin’ and I’m done hidin’,’ she said last week, gazing raptly into a mound of ham salad as if it might contain an offer to be a guest host on ‘The View.’”

    The whole article is characterized by bemused, horrified admiration. If you’ve seen Deen flailing her grandchild at you from the cover of her lifestyle magazine, you can’t help but sympathize with writer Julia Moskin’s perspective.

    And Deen isn’t the only target of Moskin’s questionably affectionate contempt:

    “Rachael Ray, who is hardly known for hermit-like tendencies, conducted her 2005 wedding off-camera; not so Ms. Deen, who married for the second time in 2004 with a Food Network crew filming every moment from bridal shower to prenuptial spray tan.”

    “Like her Food Network colleague Sandra Lee, Ms. Deen is an unabashed fan of cake mix and instant pudding.”

    I admit to liking Deen initially, before The Food Network machine decided that, if a little Paula was good, a lot of Paula was better. But she has become the queen of the over-share, going so far beyond merely communicating a culinary technique that it’s hard to remember anything she’s actually cooked.

    At the same time, Deen seems like the celebrity chef least likely to be bothered by this kind of derision. Heck, she could probably make a special out of it.