Paul has the best money making idea, ever.
Think about it. We’d make millions, and criminals would run away screaming, “MAKE IT STOP!”
The snow is mocking me.
After nearly a month of being buried under a foot of the stuff, it all melted immediately after Chirstmas and has stayed away during the entire time I’ve had to ski.
So Paul and I watched Steamboy last night. It made me really sad.
If you’ve not seen it yet, you’d best turn away — I’m going to spoiler the heck out of it. You’ve been warned.
Steamboy’s the most recent effort by Katsuhiro Otomo, the same director who did Akira. Others have done better reviews of it than I, so I won’t bother doing a recap of what happened in the movie. I’ll only tell you what made me so disappointed.
So, Steamboy’s father and grandfather, representing the two sides of science — progress at all costs, and progress in the name of humanity, respectively — wind up sending this gigantic floating war-castle rampaging through London. The castle depowers and winds up crashing through the city as it falls from the sky. The grandfather, though in opposition to his son’s warlike urges, realizes he must work with his son to extricate the faltering castle from downtown, where it’s endangering countless thousands. So the pull some levers, and the castle sprouts mechanical legs, and they walk it through the city, destroying several city blocks in the process, back to the Thames whereupon it explodes, showering the city with superfrozen water. The movie ends with the father and grandfather mysteriously escaping, and as the credits roll, we see that the grandson, the eponymous Steamboy, goes on to become a great warrior in the name of science, and the spoiled rich entrepreneur’s daughter goes on to become a great pilot-warrior int he name of science.
This ending, despite the brilliance with which it was executed, made me terrifically sad. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen too much destruction in the last calendar year — from the tsunami, to the Pakistani earthquake, to New Orleans — but I simply could not stomach the destruction of half a city being laughed off by the protagonist. Steamboy’s father and grandfather blew up half of London, killed thousands of people, invoked the wrath of the British Navy, and left countless citizens homeless. The protagonist’s response? “Oh well, that’s science for ya. Ain’t it great? I’m gonna be a fighter pilot!”
The odd thing is that Otomo’s previous film, Akira, was decidedly in the pacifist camp; behold the horrors of nuclear war. This film was far more ambiguous — both the father and the grandfather’s arguments were very persuasive, and the audience, like Steamboy, was forced to make up their own minds about which was correct. However, all the senseless destruction with no ramifications really made me queasy. I mentioned to Paul that this is one of the few reasons I like Mark Millar’s “The Ultimates” — when a creature goes berserk in a city and kills a thousand people, there’s huge sociopolitical fallout for it. Here, just on a rough guess, probably a hundred thousand people are dead, injured or homeless, and the ten-year-old kid just shrugs? That’s not just bad scriptwriting, that’s fucking insane. I don’t even care that the movie didn’t turn out to be a pacifist epistile; I just want some sort of acknowledgement that war has consequences.
Another issue was young “Scarlett” O’Hara, who was an absolutely atrocious character. She set the progress of more enlightened animated female heroines (please see every single Miyazaki movie ever made) back by about fifty years. Scarlett was so awful that the mere suggestion that Steamboy might have romantic inklings toward her was utterly laughable — I literally kept rooting for Steamboy to push her off the roof.
The movie, in its defense, is one of the most utterly beautiful, well crafted films I’ve ever seen. The artwork is breathtaking, revolutionary, astounding– and I think that’s why the ending hurt so bad. It wasn’t just muddy, ambiguous storytelling; it seemed like Otomo veered away from the message that he was trying to deliver throughout the entire film, and not sticking the landing completely devalued everything he spent the entire movie building up.
Otomo brought another layer of depth and relevance to story by setting his movie in London; it’s easy to blow off Godzilla when he’s stomping through a city you can’t relate to — but his London was so brilliantly rendered that anyone who’s so much as seen postcards of Big Ben would be affected by its destruction. However, when the explosions and destruction are so beautiful that their sheer magnificence nullifies the pacifist message that Otomo tries to deliver, a lot of that power is lost.
The sad thing is that it wouldn’t have taken very much to redeem the entire film. The final five minutes and the credit reel, if subtly altered, could have made this a magnificent story. Paul and I discussed this over breakfast this morning: What would Miyazaki have done with this story? Honestly, the entire film, right up until the end, had the distinct whiff of Our Hero Hayao. Here’s how we decided the ending to a Miyazaki-directed version of Steamboy would have played out:
Steamboy and Scarlett look out over the devastation of London. Their expressions veer from the exhaltation of survival to the realization of the destruction their relaitives have caused. Faces set in grim determination, they re-enter the city as credits roll. Through a series of highly-detailed, sepia-toned paintings, we see Steamboy repurposing his father’s siege engines to rebuild the city: The high powered “Steamtrooper” armor is used to heft fallen walls, the Leonardo-inspired flying backpacks are used to lift girders back into place, the aquasuits remove the wreckage from the Thames and rebuild London Bridge from below.
As years pass we see young Scarlett, inheritress of the O’Hara munitions empire, using her family’s dirigibles to airlift food to the poor, or wounded behind enemy lines. She is still a gladhanding young harridan, but she’s seen the horrors of war at age eight, and has no desire to spend the rest of her life selling people things used to destroy one another.
The final scene is an older Ray Steam and Scarlett working together in some sort of famous reconstruction scene, such as the rebuilding effort after the Spanish Civil war (Guernica placed strategically in the background), or the destruction of a French city during World War I.
Fade to black.
There, that’s far more satisfying, isn’t it? And not sappy at all. Redemptive. Way better than the two kids going on to be warmongers.
Anyway. I’m done ranting now. I gots more art to do. Final analysis: Incredibly brilliant, beautiful film. Shitty ending.
I’ve got a surprising amount of art done in the last couple days. Know why? I left the house. Three separate evenings, I went out to the Rocket Star and hung out. I probably got three times as much done than if I’d stayed in my studio. I’ve been trying to stay on an internet fast through the holidays — considering I usually spend between 8 and 12 hours a day on line (work and then Fiery Studios work), only logging about a half-hour a day is pretty good. What’s best is getting the heck away from the blasted thing, and remembering that the internets will still be there tomorrow in all their electronic glory.
So the Holiday season is finally over, as of tonight. Sorry I’ve been out of touch recently, but I’ve had a positively heavenly week off from work, and I’ve been doing my darndest to stay the heck off the internets. If you’ve not received a response to your email, please forgive me; I’ve been doing a stress-detox cocktail that involves a lot of drawing, reading, and hanging out with my husband. We’ve been enjoying wine in front of the fireplace rather than watching TV in the evenings, and it’s been just what we’ve both needed.
The holidays themselves went very smoothly. We have a rule against visiting multiple places on one day, so we spent Christmas Eve Eve with Paul’s brother and sister, then did our own gift exchange, spent Christmas Eve with Paul’s family, Christmas Day with my family in Chelsea, and spent another post-Christmas with Paul’s nieces and nephews in Milford. Rather than go into long boring details of the days, I’ll just say: Every one was happy and wonderful in its own way. Paul has a really, really nice family, and I enjoy all his sibs and parents very much. My family was in great good spirits, and we had a surprisingly deep and strident theological discussion after dinner — complete with strongly opposing positions — and everyone came away both calm and enlightented. It was really great.
Paul’s parents gave me a very thoughtful gift indeed — after hearing me talk at length about my gram’s old Finnish Steam Juicer, the found one at Target and got it for me. Now I’ll have a way to make the wonderful concord grape juice my mom used to make. It’s a really useful tool, and I can’t wait to get started using it this summer. Sour cherry juice is high on my list — no pitting, and a fantastic tonic for arthritis! Hooray!
My mom gave us a ton of beautiful matching pottery with the most lovely glaze ever. We have a big bowl and platter and two gigantic soup mugs. We lurve them! Tom and Jim were very thoughtful and got us a power drill with all the trimmings, so now we can do the two dozen projects we’ve had sitting around waiting for a bloody drill.
At the end of all the holiday running round, though, I’m left pretty drained. Even though I haven’t been to work since last Friday, I’ve only had about three actual days off to relax. I’ve had emails from a half-dozen friends asking to hang out, but I’ve been a horrible evil greedy person and haven’t been returning phone calls or running the errands I should. I’ve been drawing, reading, and smooching Paul.
And that’s the bestest present of all.
If Democrats win the House in ’06, and it takes that long to unseat both Cheney AND Bush . . .
Ladies and Gentlemen, President Nancy Pelosi.
This past summer, my li’l hot pepper plants far outdid their larger, sweeter bretheren, and I still have literal dozens of jalapenos of varying hotness in my freezer. They’re all mixed in together, so using them’s a bit like pepper roulette: sometimes you get a Numex No-Heat, sometimes a Ring-O-Fire.
So the other night, I decided to use some of them up by making Jalapeno Poppers. First I made a slit in each and scrubbed out the seeds and ribs. Running them under the tap proved to be an error; soon I was sneezing like a dog, shaking my head, bent double with the need to get the burning sensation out of my mucous membranes.
The real error, however, came when I briefly steamed the peppers in the microwave to soften them before stuffing and deep-frying. I stuck my face right in the steam cloud to see if they were done, and holy Moses, I maced myself.
Don’t ever do this. It took a while before I stopped sneezing and clawing at my eyes and could finish the recipe.
On the other hand, the poppers were quite yummy.
Lord knows you don’t have many fans who are bigger sycophants than I am. But good Heavens above, that face-fuzz you’re sporting on the new website is not good eats.
So! Today was the day of baking.
I made three things: German Christmas Pretzels, Black and Tan cookies, and merangues. The pretzels are an annual thing that my mom and I started about ten years ago; we opted for a more savory tradition because we got sugared-out with everyone we knew giving us sweets at holiday time. They’re a metric butt-ton of work, and I almost didn’t do them this year — Instead of my usual three batches, I only made one regular-sized batch, and we got maybe five dozen smallish pretzels. Paul helped immensely, rolling half the pretzels and helping me stage the pans for each baking.
Here’s the dough on its second rise, right before we started rolling:
I learned a while back to split the dough into two containers for the second rise — otherwise it’ll try for a takeover of the kitchen.
Here’re the rolled pretzels. For those of you keeping score at home, this is their third rising time:
Now, on to the sooper seekrit ingredient:
Yes, that’s right. The secret to German Christmas Pretzels is poisonous caustic drain opener! Seriously, though. A quick dip in a lye bath is what gives the pretzels that nice, shiny brown skin. Plus when you dump the stuff down your sink, it clears those pesky clogs right the heck up.
For those doubters amongst you, here’s the recipe, lovingly written in the family cookbook by my own mother, as it was passed down to her by my Gram Irwin’s cousin, Margaret Grieb, a Gute Tcherman Vuman if there ever was one.
Skipping the lye bath is not an option. We’ve tried it; without the lye, the pretzels just don’t taste right.
After their dunk in the lye bath (if you try this at home, make sure to use ONLY A NON-REACTIVE VESSEL — use corningware or an enameled butcher’s pan and stainless steel spatulas), the pretzels are then transferred to a NON-TEFLON cookie sheet that’s been heated, then lightly rubbed with a cake of beeswax. This, like the lye, is an unskippable step. Mom and I have experimented with just spraying the cookie sheets with oil, and the results were less than spectacular. The wax makes the pretzel-bottoms set up into this lovely, honey-flavored skin of goodness, and anything else is unacceptable.
Oh, a brief note on the cookie sheets — we tried this last year with cheapo teflon sheets and it appears that either the beeswax or the lye (I’m guessing the lye) dissolved the teflon and made it come off attached to the pretzels. Considering that overheating a teflon frypan can kill a parrot in an adjacent room, I must implore anyone trying this at home to use only stainless steel pans.
Anyway. Here’s how they look once we’re past the poison step:
And there you have them: German Christmas Pretzels.
Now on to some of the less lethal entries for the day, Black and Tan cookies:
How to? Make a double batch of this recipe and a double batch of this recipe, leaving out the chips and nuts. Put a bag of chocolate chips in the peanut butter cookies, and a bag of peanut butter chips in the chocolate cookies. Drop 12 half-size balls of peanut butter dough on to a sheet, then drop a half-sized ball of chocolate dough next to each one. Press them together with your fingers. Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes.
Lastly, here are the merangues. I used this recipe. I had no piping bag, and so I used a ziploc bag instead. They’re really yummy, and look all pretty and swirly. I’m very, very glad that I didn’t opt to add cocoa to the recipe, considering their shape.
So yeah! Big Day o’ Baking here at Clockwerk Haus. Thanks again to the luvverly husband, who helped out a ton. Having him help roll cookies and pretzels made the work go about twice as fast — we got all this baking done in about five hours, start to finish.
Many moons ago, a Dominican coworker brought in the most outrageously good dish one weekend when we were pulling overtime. It was salt cod, black beans, onions and peppers in a faintly tomato base. Now, I know what you’re thinking — hot beans, tomatoes and fish — YUCK. Trust me. It’s wonderful. I don’t have the exact recipe, so I improvised today.
Salt cod’s also way-expensive, but I had an old flounder in the freezer from a previous trip to the fishmonger. Paul hates little bones, and I hadn’t felt like eating a whole flounder by myself, so it just sat there till today. I broiled Miss Flounder (it was a she-fish) until soft, then removed the skin and flaked the meat off the bones, carefully mashing the meat to check for any pin-bones. I’d had a crockpot of black beans going since the previous evening, cooking up from dry beans. In went the fish, a healthy dash of cumin, some diced onion, green bell pepper, dab of tomato paste, sage, oregano and garlic.
It’s nowhere near as good as the DR Salt cod and beans, but it’s pretty darn yummy. There’s less fish than beans, and the flavor’s mild and delish. Cheap, too — a whole flounder’s only about $4, and there’s enough here for two full meals for Paul and I. Add some rice, and we’re stylin’.
For the record, the otters made me cry, too.
I found out something sad last night. One of my favorite bands ever, Barachois, broke up in 2003. No more “Coop drum kit”, no more marching sousaphone during a ticky-tack version of Paul Simon’s “The Boxer”, no more duct-taping their chairs down so they didn’t scoot them around while they did foot percussion, no more zizzing window-screen rhythm section during “Oû allez-vous ma petite femme”.
And worst of all, no more Albert balancing an axe on his head.
On the ride in to work today, the side windows fogged up a bit from all the snow that melted inside the car. On said window, the moisture gathered to reveal an oddly shaped patch of leftover stickum — the previous owner of my car was a member of the NRA. Next to the residue of the gun-toting eagle is my Trogdor sticker.
They’ll have to pry my Burninator out of my cold dead hands.
Apparrently, my hormones have all gone berserk today. Apologies to anyone who has to deal with me for the next 24 hours or so. Bear with me, it’ll pass. Love you all.
I got so depressed last night. I went to the session and hung out with the gang — Whiskey Before Breakfast, the Brooks Farm Band and a few assorted, very talented others — it was so much fun while we were playing, but after I left, I wanted to start crying.
I have no time left in my life for music anymore, and no way to carve out time; not with the dayjob and the comic and the marriage and the occasional sanity-saving night out. The place that Paul occupies in my life is where my music used to live, and while I wouldn’t trade him for the world, I miss the music something terrible. Worse, I miss the competency I used to have with my whistle, and to a (highly) limited degree, the mando.
I was never a gifted player, like Cara is — someone who truly connects with the heart and draiocht of the music, but I was competant player and could hold my own in a session, when busking, or even onstage. Now, unless the tunes creep along at a glacial pace, I’m all over the map. Can’t hit notes, can’t keep tempo. I miss being able to careen along with a melody, just avoiding crashing and burning from the speed. That’s long gone.
In many ways, going to the session is more depressing than it is enlivening. It serves to highlight the fact that I’ve no time to practice, and am losing my ability at a horrifying rate; this past summer I could still play a few competent tunes. I enjoy the hell out of the people at the session and their camaraderie, but I can’t stand feeling inadequate amongst them.
I need a clone.
Sunday, I went out skiing with my buddy Jane S. It was amazing; literally the best cross-country skiing I’ve ever done. We found this hidden entrance to a bunch of old trails that were once used by WMU for cross-country track, before the sport was cut from the budget. Now the university’s trying to develop the land, so we’d best get skiin’ before it’s gone. We were out for 2 1/2 hours, and wound up clambering up and down heavily wooded hills in addition to just shooshing around having fun. Jane’s a great ski-partner, and she took us around back of the mint factory (no kidding. toothpaste, candies, baking — mint extract.) where all the water in the retaining ponds are this crazy teal-green, like dilute mouthwash. We found a cool old hunting cabin, still in use (the new outhouse gave it away) but only saw one other skiier the whole time.
Jane’s suggesting we get some headlamps and try night-skiing. I’m all over that.
So a few weeks ago, I ordered a book and some supplies from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. Some of their stuff was overpriced, and I wound up getting the citric acid I needed from Bell’s here in town. The rennet, cheesecloth, lipase and book arrived, and on Saturday, my buddy Becky and I set about making cheese. We started with two gallons of milk, and got three kinds cheese:
The first batch of 30-minute mozzerella was an abject failure. The curd didn’t firm up — at all. Instead, we got a runny, grainy paste that we eventually got to settle into something that resembled a mix of cream cheese and sour cream. It was delicious — but nothing even remotely resembling mozzerella. I suspected the lipase.
We had nearly a gallon of whey left over, so I set about making a batch of whey ricotta as outlined in the book. Heat the whey, add some vinegar, wait for the curds to coalesce, strain through cheesecloth. We got a full cup of ricotta out of the deal, and it tasted sweet and delicious — more tasty than any ricotta I’ve ever eaten before.
Then Becky and Paul abandoned cheesy ship and headed out to Target, so I started the last batch alone. This time I left out the lipase, and the mozzerella came together like a dream. I formed four tennis-ball-sized lumps out of the stretchy white lump of curds, and stored them in brine. DELICIOUS!
The remaining whey failed to make a good batch of ricotta, though I don’t know why. At this point, though, I’d been making cheese for close to three hours, and I was really tired of it, so I settled down to eat creamy cheese spread on toast.
Yay, cheese! This is definitely something I’ll do again.
So our good friend Mark Paulik, who was Paul’s best man in our wedding, just moved out to Portland with his lovely and talented wife Robin to persue a job with our buddy, the ubertalented Robert Lewis.
Mark’s now got his very own webcomic called Chümba and you should totally check it out. It’s beautiful, and captivating, and wordless. It’s like Miyazaki and Mobius and all sorts of other pretty things. Add this to the fact that we’ve been badgering Mark for years to get back into illustration, cartooning and animation, and you can understand how happy we are.
Now git on over there and read his comics! Tell him his work is priddy!
I bought some area rugs!
Sadly, a big oriental rug store in Ann Arbor is going out of business. I scored two rugs that each retailed for $1000 each for a total bill of $500. They’re gorgeous — one’s from India, and the other’s a folk-art lookin’ red one from Iran.
And now they’ve officially been accepted as part of the house — Brodie the cat’s already barfed on them.