Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Adventures of Connor & Abby: Part 19

You know, sometimes worlds collide. Although it technically involves time travel, I wouldn't call Primeval a time travel show. But I was just thinking that perhaps, since the ARC team deal with anomalies through time, they might perhaps cross paths with the Doctor at some point. Maybe their observations lead them to find the TARDIS traveling through time? Let's send Connor and Abby to investigate. 

An example of one of the reasons why, years ago, I had to at least look up Doctor Who to find out what was the deal with different actors as the Doctor and subsequently find out what regeneration was, was because I saw people in YouTube comments nominating Andrew Lee Potts (Connor) for the next doctor. Now that I've met the Doctor, I heartily agree. So let's imagine what that would be like . . . 

Ah, travels through space and time.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reflection on the Blood Moon

It seems there are so few times for us now to really take in Nature and to experience its awe, beauty, and sublimity. "The world is too much with us," eh? So when I heard about the lunar eclipse, I thought, well, I can stay up that night, so I will, even though I don't know if it'll be a great sight or not, but at least it'll be an excuse to just go and sit outside and enjoy the night. Sometimes I forget to do that.

I set up my bench, wrapped myself in a blanket, and dug from a bag of tortilla chips. And I listened to the silence of the night, remarking on the absolute contrast of the calm quiet with the rapid, hurried chirp of the crickets. I watched as the night grew steadily colder and darker, as I could no longer see the outline of the bushes and as more and more stars appeared in the sky. And it was beautiful. 

 And I watched as a shadow steadily grew across the bright moon's surface and as the edge of the shadow grew faintly tinted in red. I watched the moon fade before my eyes, with a ragged and blended line unlike the line that appears on a normal night's partially eclipsed moon. It was like watching a full cycle of the moon right occur right before my eyes.

And then the moon was entirely covered and it was a glowing, matte shade of golden orange. It was less red than it appears in my poor pictures. It was orange like a a golden berry, or like the sun if it lost all its power. It looked neither like the moon, nor like the sun. It looked not of the sky. 

It reminded me of science fiction stories where another world comes with its own set of colors, except that the sky remained the same despite the altered shade of the moon. I thought to myself of C.S., of The Space Trilogy, particularly of Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, and also of The Chronicles of Narnia--not so much The Last Battle but more of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and the island near the edge of the world where Ramandu lives and swallows a bright berry from the sun every morning. 

The sublime is beautiful and stirring, as is the world. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

World Market: Dried Strawberry Bits with Pink Himalayan Sea Salt

Salty chocolate is one of the trends I'm starting to get tired of. But I do love salt and I do love chocolate, so I decided I might as well try one of the bars from World Market's "Exotic Collection of Sea Salted Chocolate." Goodness, "exotic." I should get out my Jules Verne volume for a background then, eh?

This bar is possibly slightly overpriced for its 85 gram size that is in the shape of 100 gram bars. But it's in a pretty card box instead of the simple wrapping of World Market's standard range, so it's pretending it's fancy. And, yes, the ingredients list isn't full of fillers--the worst item might be the strawberry flavor that accompanies the freeze-dried strawberries, and even that could be natural and not artificial flavor. So this isn't going to work out to be a downright terrible quality bar of chocolate. The question is just whether or not it's going to be very nice. 

The box folds out to an envelope, from which I wanted to slide out the bar. Instead, however, I had to pull on the glue marks once more to lift away the other cardboard flap and free the chocolate. World Market has used their standard mark and eight piece shape. The look is rather reminiscent of Ghirardelli, come to think of it. But Ghirardelli keeps to a simple standard that tends to work--while World Market tries to provide copies of quality chocolate with different flavor pairings that don't always come over flawlessly. 

The Dark Chocolate Dried Strawberrry Bits with Pink Himalayan Sea Salt bar does, in fact, appear very dark in color. It's a dark brown, almost black. But this being World Market, I wouldn't expect it to be any higher of a cocoa percentage than 75%. And, indeed, for all its dark color, it's a fairly sweet dark chocolate. I almost wonder if it's below 70%. Perhaps not. After eating a full square (which is around three pieces for me), I lose interest in the chocolate part of this bar. It's too lukewarm, sweet of a dark chocolate, with no texture of layered flavor. 

The chocolate aside, what's interesting about the added flavors is that the salt is pink Himalayan. Himalayan salt has been in fashion lately; I've been using it (but I started using the Himalayan salt lamps some time ago; they're so pretty). And I'm thinking that it's particularly well-suited to chocolate. When you first taste straight Himalayan salt, it doesn't taste very salty; then you get used to it and don't notice anymore. And since I've been getting tired of chocolates shoved full of salt, maybe this lighter flavor is a better idea. This isn't to say that World Market is the first company to use pink salt; I don't think it's the first time I've even had it in chocolate. But it's certainly a less common route. This also isn't the first time I've had salt and strawberry together in chocolate, but the other time was so long ago that it might as well be. 

Somehow I can't taste the strawberry much. I can see the little strawberry pieces, but I can't taste them all the time. The salt isn't horribly salty, so I'm not sure I can say that it's just a matter of the salt overshadowing the strawberry. I think it's more a case of the sweetness of the strawberry siding with the sweetness of the chocolate. If you look for the strawberry flavor, you can find it. But if you're not thinking of it, the salt comes to mind first. In fact, it's a rather interesting exploration of sweet and salty--or sweet and sour, if you will. It's pleasant. I only wish that the chocolate backdrop were a tad more developed; it would make the experience as a whole rather richer. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

In Memoriam

There will be some spoilers up to the current episode of Once Upon a Time.

You know, it's really sad. Anything is always possible in Once Upon a Time, so a character who dies might come back or turn out to have not really died or simply show up again in flashbacks. You just never really know. But after watching the latest death take place, I learned that, earlier in the year, they had announced that someone in the main cast would be dying. True, this character may not in fact be Bae; he might still come back and someone else might die instead. Or maybe he will only be dead for the rest of the season, and they'll bring him back later. It's all possible. But the fact is, his character is dead now--and I find that very sad.

There have been deaths before. Graham and Cora, and essentially Pinocchio (well, Pinocchio's still alive, but August is gone). Deaths do tend to make a show feel more real (although Once doesn't really need to pretend it's "real, real," anyway). Ever since I found out that Neal was Baelfire, I started to like him. So on one level, it's sad to see his character go. But my sadness is also something completely different. I'm sad for him.

If Bae is truly and forever dead, he had a terrible life. His mother abandoned him when he was young, then his father betrayed and abandoned him, then when he had just found family again with the Darlings he was taken away to Neverland, back in our world he found happiness with Emma only to have that taken away when August showed up, Tamara played him, his evil grandfather Peter Pan tried to kill his son, his father died, and then any chance of future happiness with Emma and Henry was taken away when he himself died.

Two hundred years of living and anything he ever loved was corrupted or taken away from him. Life sucks, and then you die? Poor Bae. If this is how his story ends, he never got to live a fairy tale. If he dies this way and when the show ends, it has a happy ending, I will be sad.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Departing Wonderland

As I suspected, the spin-off of Once Upon a Time, by name Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, has finished off after only one thirteen episode season. There will be no more episodes, and I don't think there need to be any more episodes. While Wonderland went off to a good start, it always had a much shorter scope than Once, and I did find its power over me waning as the season went on. Once has good and mediocre episodes, but it's those good episodes or scenes that keep me going.

I just started to get a little bored by Wonderland. Part of the beauty of Once is the game: trying to make connections, guess what's happening next, figure out character motives, and such. Because Wonderland had many fewer characters and many fewer plot points, there was less to ponder. And while I love to analyze the way in which Once interacts with fairy tale themes, Wonderland hardly ever seemed to interact in this way. In the final episode, the White Rabbit says that Wonderland is about finding yourself--which is completely true, if you've studied the book at all. Wonderland is all about the internal coming to have an external and physical representation. But just because the show threw in that idea at the end doesn't mean they fully explored it. (Sorry, I'm still quite partial to Nick Willing's Alice and can never seem to find anyone's interpretation of Wonderland quite as compelling.)

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland was essentially just a love story. Alice and Cyrus, and Will and Anastasia, stand in as the happy lovers who get to be together in the end. Jafar and Amara are the pair who just used each other. And then there are also other types of love. There is paternal love. While Alice is able to repair her relationship with her father, Jafar isn't, and so there is some interesting contrast there. There is friendship, most notably between Alice and Will. There is a brief bit in there with Cyrus and his brothers--although I think they introduced them rather too randomly and suddenly.

And love stories are good and all--that's one of the reasons why Once has been so successful. But why use Wonderland, with a hint of Agrabah, as the setting for this story? There has to be a specific reason why this story takes place in this world, and I'm not sure the show gave us one. Did we really see Alice learning about herself and becoming more herself as a result of her time in Wonderland? We only very briefly saw Alice without hope in the pilot. Otherwise, she has been optimistic, strong, quick-thinking, and kind. We're essentially told she has a character arc, but we don't actually see that development. And that's the only thing that pulls us specifically to Wonderland.

I ramble. I don't mean to say that the show was terrible. It was a nice thirteen episodes to watch for some Thursday night entertainment. Jafar and the Jabberwocky were great. Anastasia was also pretty good. Cora made a great couple of re-entrances. But this show just didn't have that spark of special something that the main show has; I didn't feel as invested in it all. Wonderland has been a nice little diversion, but now I'm looking forward to focusing on Once again (the second half of Once's season has been generally great so far, by the way).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Hobbit Chronicles: Book 2

So far, it has only been the second book in the Chronicles series for The Hobbit that I have actually pre-ordered from Weta in order to get a signed copy. It was a year ago that this book, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Chronicles: Creatures & Characters, came out. At last I've been able to read it. (Click here for my thoughts on the first book.)

The signatures on my copy, left to right and top to bottom, are: Kevin Smith, Daniel Falconer, Jason Docherty, and Mark Gee. Four signatures, not just one or two. Thank you very much, everyone. 

While the first book was more about concept art, this tends more toward makeup and digital work, along with dialects and stunts. So the imagery is more about production photos, maquettes, a little pre-viz, and digital characters. Although Daniel Falconer's intros for each section were generally shorter, the quotes tended to be longer, making this book feel even more in-depth than the first. Maybe it's just that there are a lot of technical aspects described in here, and those tend to need more words. If you're not seriously interested in learning about what the talented team did on these movies, you'll easily get bogged down. 

For me, though, it was mostly fascinating to read through all of this, even if I had to go slowly at times. There are, for instance, so many dwarves that the dwarf section can seem to go on forever (and I think they all delighted in grossing me out with so many goblin pictures). It also probably helps that I've been trying to wait until all three movies are out to buy them together, so I haven't really watched much in terms of behind the scenes. It's kind of nice to read it all versus watching it. And as with the first book, of course, we're getting all our information firsthand through quotes from the various team members who worked on these films. That firsthand aspect is really, really wonderful to have. So I'll say no more about this gift of a book. I'll take another break before beginning on the third in the series.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Adventuring into a Chocolate Discovery

I never knew such adventure could be so easy.

I never knew that even we common folk do not need to get brownies and cake from a boxed mix. I never knew it could all be so simple.

When I was around ten, I saw the recipe for chocolate cake on the back of our Hershey's cocoa powder. I decided to try it out. I have a vague memory of a flattish, burnt thing that came out of the venture. Even though I was young at this time, I have always taken this experience to mean that I am incapable of baking a cake that did not come from a box.

And then it happened, a few weeks ago, that I found myself making a brownie recipe from a smaller brand of cocoa powder. It was very simple, mixing in flour and cocoa powder and sugar and the like and putting it all in a dish in the oven. And the brownies tasted good. Everyone told me so. I grew encouraged.

For a birthday, I decided to venture into cake and frosting. (From Martha Stewart: click the links for the cake and the frosting.) I looked for simple, basic recipes that didn't look too intimidating. Nothing too fancy, either. After all, I already know that I can make great flourless chocolate cake very easily (the secret is that you have to use very good chocolate). These recipes, paired with some good quality, hippie-looking, organic cocoa powder from Holy Kakow (which was the same kind I used for the brownies) meant wonderfulness.

Sure, I took a little more time with these recipes than if I'd been using a box. I made a little more of a mess. I think probably I will go more quickly next time. But it was all fairly simple. Mix in this and that, bake it all. And the thing about this is that you can choose the ingredients. We all know that a boxed cake just has junk in it. If you mix in the ingredients yourself, you can choose the organic cocoa powder, the pure cane sugar, the good flour, the fragrant vanilla, the fresh eggs, the unsalted butter. I don't ever, by the way, want to buy Hershey's or Nestle cocoa powder again.

Chocolate is intimidating to work with because it's such a fussy substance. But I needed only to work with cocoa powder for the brownies, cake, and frosting. (And, hey, I guess I get along just fine with the chocolate when I make the flourless chocolate cake.) Cocoa powder is much more forgiving and so there is no reason for intimidating. I am amazed and in awe.

Tell me why, why do we think that brownies and cakes and frosting must all come from boxes?