Friday, January 06, 2006

Sigur Ros: Live in Iceland

Check out this Sigur Ros concert, recorded live in Iceland. It's perfect music to put on when you have to snap a lot of green beans or knead dough, eerie and meditative.

Jeff kept making the sound of toilets flushing and then whenever there was a pause in the music he was all, "Is it over?" and then when it was over he compared them to Yanni. But I liked it and hope you do too.

Click the picture to be taken to the Webcast while it's still up on the web.

Oatmeal Recipe

It's hard to believe there's such a thing as instant oatmeal when the real thing is so quick and simple to make. It's a totally delicious, totally bargain, totally vegetarian breakfast.

I realize that most of you probably already know how to make oatmeal, but I'm writing this to empower my vegetarian peeps who don't. Oatmeal takes about ten minutes to make and, if you buy the oats in bulk, costs literally pennies per serving.

To make oatmeal simply use twice as much water as you do rolled oats. 1/2 cup of rolled oats and one cup of water makes a good serving for one. (But it really is so delicious I usually go up to 3/4 oats to 1 1/2 cups water. This makes enough for seconds.) For two people, try 1 1/2 cups oatmeal to three cups water.

Bring the water to a boil in a pot over medium high heat. Add a pinch of salt and then the oatmeal. (At this point, you can also add some raisins or other dried fruit, ground cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice, or best of all: sliced banana). Turn the heat to low and let that baby simmer real gentle for about five minutes.

At the end of five minutes, remove the pot from the heat and cover with a lid. Let sit undisturbed for another five minutes.

While that's waiting, you can assemble your toppings bar. Take everything that's kind of sweet or oatmealy in your pantry and fridge and put it on the kitchen counter. Think: honey, maple syrup, jellies, jams, milk, soymilk, cream, butter, slivered almonds, toasted walnuts, etc. I love Dulce de Leche and this Brazilian coconut jam I get at the Farmer's market.

When the five minutes is up, ladle the oatmeal into bowls and top, as desired, with a few of the items from the toppings bar. Enjoy!

Goofus and Gallant: A Film Stock Extra

Remember Goofus and Gallant? I just thought of these guys the other day for no apparent reason.

For those of you too young to remember the original Goofus and Gallant, I hate you for being younger than me. Goofus and Gallant were two characters in a cartoon meant to teach etiquette in Highlights Magazine for Children.

Highlights Magazine was harmless enough, I suppose, but in my mind, it just has this network of really creepy, foreboding associations because the only place I ever read it was in the waiting room at the dentist or doctor's office.

Full of dread, I flipped through that strangely old-fashioned kid's magazine, always dripping with subscription cards. I tried to distract myself by looking at page after page of puzzles already filled in sloppily with crayon, obscene appendages scribbled onto the little cartoon rabbits in the story illustrations, inky newsprint fingerprints on the cover from all the kids who had waited where I waited, flipping through the same exact magazine.

Anyway, in the strip, Goofus did things badly and impolitely. He pushed in line, talked loudly at the movies. Gallant was Mr. Perfect, offering his seat to old ladies on the bus, helping blind people cross the street. The idea was that kids would want to imitate Gallant, and shun the Goofus that lurks inside of each and every one of us.

The captions always ran like this: "Goofus pushes in line. Gallant waits his turn." underneath an illustration of said behavior. If I'm not mistaken, sometimes it was two pictures, sometimes it was the same picture: ie Goofus and Gallant waiting in the same line, Goofus pushing, Gallant and his oh-so-perfect friends looking on in shock and moral approbation.

Goofus and Gallant have remained cultural touchstones, but, sadly, I don't think many people are exposed to the original anymore. A Google search for images turned up lots of little G&G parodies and satires, but very few original images. There's no Goofus and Gallant homepage.

Like with a lot of things you saw when you were a kid, there seemed to be an unspoken back-story to the little strips. I mean, why were they always doing the same things? Gallant takes a drink of water, and there's Goofus, doing the same but in his own inimitable style. Gallant takes a swim at the beach and who shows up? Yep, You guessed it. Goofus, making a mess of things as usual. You'd think that with their totally opposite moral leanings they'd be more inclined to avoid each other. What was going on? What was the strange link between them? Total opposites in every way, and yet kindred brothers beneath the skin? How was it possible?

And if I'm not mistaken there were minor characters who made cameo appearances from time to time... Girls, grandparents, friends, etc. as in... Gallant offers his jacket to Mary Jane. Goofus says "The world's a cold place, bitch. Deal." How could these people make room for both of them, such polar opposites, in their lives?

And who were all these people anyway? I mean, the world they inhabited--tree-lined sidewalks and kittens in trees and smiling policemen and boys carrying girls' books home--seemed old-fashioned and removed even back then.

And what do you suppose happened to them when they grew up? According to my calculations, they'd be in their early forties now. I'm not so sure the straight and narrow path turned out to be the right thing for Gallant.

First of all, I bet Goofus ended up getting way more chicks than Gallant. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I suspect most girls say they want a Gallant, but secretly desire a Goofus.

Highlights really should have followed the two into adulthood for a more complex, in-depth moral instruction for American youth:

Gallant gets fired for blowing the whistle on the shady business practices of his corporate bosses.

Goofus gets named vice-president of a Fortune 500 company.

Gallant stays faithful to his wife even after she tells him she doesn't love him anymore.

Goofus gets a divorce, pays palimony and dates a supermodel.

In the extensive research I did for this little essay, I took a look at the Highlights web-site. Goofus and Gallant have made a comeback in the magazine. Eerily, they're still young, but they've got a whole new hipper, cable-cartoon-friendly look. The old cartoon captions are gone and now it's a sort of "choose your own adventure" style story where you have to decide whether to follow Goofus or Gallant's advice.

Here's a hint for you, kids of today, learned from my years of reading Highlights when I was your age. Just do what Gallant says. It's a sure way to win the game.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Wok Update

Still waiting... Sigh.

Today, before going down to the lobby of our apartment building to check the mail, I said to Jeff. "Wanna come see if the wok is here?"
"It's not here yet. You just ordered it on Monday."
"Maybe it's here," I said.
"It's not here."
"Just admit it's possible it's here."
"I really don't think it's arrived yet."
"Just admit it's possible, Negative Nancy. It's a possibility."
"Okay. It's a possibility. But I just don't think it's come yet."

I went down to check for the wok alone. It hadn't arrived.

Read about my wok.

La Ceremonie: DVD Review

La Ceremonie (1995) by Claude Chabrol tells the story of the members of a wealthy family living in an isolated villa who hire a new maid. Although the family is, for the most part, generous and kind, even socially progressive, Chabrol focuses on the tensions, the casual class assumptions and delicate unspoken social agreements which facilitate such a servant-employer relationship. Best of all, he tells this story by playing with the genre of the thriller: Bernard Hermann-like score, tightly unfolding plot, and scenes full of paranoia and suspense, which threaten to explode into violence.

Sandrine Bonnaire is amazing as the maid: she has an aura of quiet, reserved mystery, essential to the element of suspense in the film. She has a cold, emotionless look about her--is it bitterness we're seeing or subservience? Is she absorbing every injury, every unintended insult and condescension or shrugging them off by remaining detatched? Isabelle Huppert is great as always as the town's more uninhibited postal clerk with a pathological grudge against the family, who befriends and eventually manipulates Bonnaire.

Chabrol is wonderful with rich and suggestive detail. Little scenes that would be glossed over in a Hollywood film take on great s
ignificance here, such as when the family matriarch gives Sandrine a first tour of the luxurious house or when the teenaged children in the family--who ostensibly object to their parents' hiring a maid due to a more socially progressive outlook--ask her to do chores for them. "I was going to iron my clothes later, but if you're not too busy?" They're scenes that are rich in suggestion without hitting the viewer over the head with any one particular meaning we're meant to take away.

I'll try not to give any spoilers but I'll just offer a warning that the end is a real shocker, pretty violent. It was a conclusion I wasn't expecting, and, although it wasn't entirely unsatisfying, it
didn't quite feel like that last piece of the puzzle, the way a really good thriller ends: everything should feel as if it's fallen into place. And in the end--again I don't want to give away too much--the film might avail itself too much of the social paranoia and discomfort it's trying to expose.

Nonetheless, Chabrol has made a tight, interesting "faux thriller" which throws a light on the violence, resentments and anger which often seethe just below the surface of hierarchacal, social relationships.

FilmStocker Rating: B

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Haute Couture: LSD not included

This has nothing to do with vegetarian cooking or DVD reviews, but I just couldn't help linking to this anyway.

At right is a photograph of the new Viktor and Rolf boutique in Milan, Italy. And no I haven't been dipping into the cooking wine before blogging again. The picture is posted right side up.

You see, those crazy kids Viktor and Rolf designed their boutique with the ceiling on the floor and the floor on the ceiling.

Click on the picture to go to a slideshow at their web-site.

Their web-site has a very original design (read: It's confusing). After the flash stuff, go to the upper right hand corner and then click the red "V&R" stamp, then click Boutique for the slideshow. It's worth it.

Stir-fried Brussels Sprouts and Tofu

If you think you don't like Brussels Sprouts (or tofu), you've obviously never tried this recipe.

Brussels sprouts and tofu are probably the most misunderstood foods in America. They gross some people out, but it's really not their fault. When prepared correctly, they're delicious.

If you get into the habit of making this a regular recipe, when some non-vegetarian hears that you're a vegetarian or vegan and asks, "What do you eat? Sprouts and Tofu? Har-Har-Har!"

You can be all, "Yeah. And I love 'em. Wanna make something of it, calf breath?" Hurray for vegetarians!

This recipe came out pretty good last night even though we don't have our optimum wok yet. (see previous post)

1 lb. Brussels Sprouts

1 block tofu (12-16 ounces)

1 Tbsp minced ginger

1/3 cup Vegetarian broth

1 1/2 Tbsp. Cooking Wine (preferably rice cooking wine)

1 tsp salt

3/4 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp. Vegetarian Oyster Sauce (optional)

Corn starch or tapioca starch

1 tsp sesame oil

1. Place the tofu between two plates to squeeze out some of the water for about 20 minutes.

2. Wash the Brussels sprouts and dry well (preferably in a salad spinner or kitchen towels). Remove the tough outer leaves, trim a bit off of the bottom and cut them into quarters.

3. Cut the tofu into blocks about the size of small playing dice.

4. Mix the broth, wine, salt and sugar together.

5. Heat the wok on the stove until it's VERY hot. Swirl in the oil, and once it's hot throw in the ginger. Stir-fry for 10 seconds.

6. Throw the Brussels sprouts into the wok and stir-fry for 4 minutes. If they start to too very dry, sprinkle a teaspoon of the broth mixture on them.

7. Pour the broth mixture over the Brussels sprouts and cover them with a lid. Cook for 3 minutes or until sprouts are tender and done.

8. Stir in the tofu and cook until it's heated through.

9. Most of the sauce should be thickened by now, but if not, ie if there's watery sauce in the bottom of your pan, you'll need to fix that. Push the veggies and tofu to one side and then sprinkle 1 tsp corn or tapioca starch into it, quickly whisking together and heating through until you have a thick sauce.

10. Remove from heat and sprinkle with the sesame oil. Serve over rice.

The Waiting Game

Jeff and I ordered a wok on-line from the Wok Shop in San Francisco this weekend. On the right is a picture. (I recommend looking at it with sunglasses to avoid being blinded by its intense beauty and perfection).

I can't wait for it to get here. I mean, I really, really can't wait. I'm already thinking of how I'm going to season it and what I'm going to cook as my first meal.

We already have a decent wok, but apparently we don't have the optimum style wok for our stove. I just got done reading Grace Young's Breath of a Wok which I checked out from the library. It goes through all the different styles and which ones are best for which stoves, etc. (I agree with Ms. Young in calling the wok the most essential and versatile piece of equipment in the kitchen.)

When my new wok gets here, I'll give the full report. When my new wok gets here, I'll also post more elaborately about the different styles of wok and their seasoning and care and why they're great. When my new wok gets here, there'll be a great swelling chorus of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" and a choir of angels will dance around me as I open the box, beginning a new period of blissful wok perfection in my world.

Until then, life will go on as it is. Ordinary. Bleak. Wokless.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Matthew's Sweet Potato Cake with Banana Frosting

We celebrated my nephew's first birthday on January 1. He was actually born the day after Christmas last year, but his mom decided that a New Year's Day brunch would be a good way to celebrate.

He's not old enough to pick his own cake flavors like his cousins do, so his mom suggested two of his favorite baby food flavors: sweet potato and banana.

At first I was a little hesitant about the flavor combo--it sounded a little strange--but it turned out to be one of the best cakes I've ever made. My family of eight adults, two kids and a baby finished the whole thing!

Somehow the rich, slightly spicey, moist sweet potato cake is perfectly matched by the buttery banana frosting.

Sweet Potato Cake

2 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice or cloves
1/2 cup butter, softened at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup mashed sweet potato (about 1 medium sweet potato, baked then mashed)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans. (I lined the bottom with parchment which made getting the cake out very easy).

2. Sift the flour together with the baking powder, soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves/allspice.

3. Mix together the buttermilk and sweet potato in a small bowl.

4. Cream the butter in a large bowl. Slowly add the white and brown sugars, creaming well, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add one egg at a time, beating. Alternately stir in the flour mixture and the potato mixture in four parts.

5. Pour or spoon the batter (it's pretty thick) into the cake pans. Spread so the batter is even.

6. Bake on a center rack for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool for ten minutes before turning out. Cool completely before frosting.

Banana Frosting

1/4 cup butter
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mashed banana
1/4 teaspoon white vinegar
4 cups confectioner's sugar

Cream the butter with the salt. Stir in the banana and vinegar. Add the confectioner's sugar in parts until the frosting has achieved a thick, spreadable consistency.

The frosting is very sweet so spread it on the cake in a pretty thin layer.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Scar

The Scar (1948) is a near-forgotten small gem of a movie for serious fans of film noir. When I say "small gem" there's a slight emphasis on the small, as in small budget. The dialogue is a bit clunky, the story gets going in fits and starts and the plot is so convoluted as to be ridiculous (I suppose there were B-writers in Hollywood along with B-actors and B-directors.)

But, surprisingly, at its best, the film totally unfolds with all the best elements of film noir in full flourish.

In The Scar--also marketed as Hollow Triumph and The Man Who Murdered Himself--Paul Henreid plays a sinister, coldly pathological psychologist (a possible model for Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs?) who kills a nearly identical man and takes his place to hide from the mob. In order to pass himself off as his "double," he has to give himself a scar, but due to a reversed negative, he puts the scar on the wrong side of his face. (Well, I did warn you about the plot, didn't I?)

If you can suspend your disbelief (and I realize that's a big if), you'll be rewarded with some really awesome noir. Once Henreid takes the other man's place, the film begins to take on a surreal nightmarish absurdist tone as he struggles to fit into his new role, walking a dangerously narrow tightrope, blindly feeling his way through the new identity.

The B-picture production values actually work for the movie: the eerie lack of detail in the sets and backgrounds only heightens the film's sense of paranoia, claustrophobia and inevitability.

It's hard to call the film a "meditation on identity" or such: it's more of a jumbled creepy, funny, existentialist nightmare thrown onto the screen.

Jeff and I found a copy of The Scar as part of a $9.99 film noir boxed set at the Hilton Head Outlets (That should in no way be read as an endorsement of Hilton Head or outlets). I've seen it for sale on the net for even less. The set comes with 8 other film noir "classics" including Orson Welles' The Stranger and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

FilmStocker Rating: B

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!

I love this e-card of Hello Kitty's distant (and cuter) cousin Pochacco zipping around on a moped.

The music is rocking and unforgettable. His timelessly cool outfit is off-the-charts hot.

I used to send this card all the time for birthdays, but unfortunately, Yahoo Greetings started charging for it (lame).

Click the link... and in your mind, just replace the word "birthday" with New Year. Pretend where it says "Your personal message will appear here" that I've written something totally nice.

Happy New Year!


A hunter, by way of stampeding the game, set fire to the woods around them. Of a sudden, he saw a man emerging from a rock.

The man calmly walked through the fire. The hunter ran after him.

"Tell me, there. How do you manage to go through rock?"

"Rock? What do you mean by that?"

"I also saw you walk through fire!"

"Fire? What do you mean by fire?"

That perfect Taoist, totally effaced, saw no difference between things.

-Henri Michaux, Un barbare en Asie