Friday, July 21, 2017

Squid Mixes: Old Pal Cocktail

The Old Pal Cocktail, according to The New York Bartender's Guide recipe I used, combines rye whiskey, Campari and sweet vermouth.  Apparently other versions use dry vermouth instead.  I have no idea who the "old pal" is but the drink first appeared ABC of Mixing Cocktails, a 1922 book written by Harry MacElhone.

To me, the flavor resembles that of a cranberry.  The Campari brings the bitter (and the color), the vermouth the sweet and the whiskey the warmth.  My wife enjoyed it so we may try this one again.  Maybe I'll try with dry vermouth next time.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Clone Wars: Orders

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Orders"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 4
Original Air Date: February 15, 2014
via Wookieepedia
"Orders" is the final installment of a four-part arc.  Fives is brought back to Coruscant along with the body of Tup, a clone trooper who murdered a Jedi.  Last week, Fives and his droid buddy AZI-3 discovered the inhibitor chip implanted in all clones in their embryonic stage.  Fives believes (correctly) that the chips are there for nefarious purpose and is eager to share what he's found with the powers above.  Unfortunately, Palpatine knows Fives is right and is just as eager to deflect suspicion back to the trooper himself.  Fives is on the run once again.

I'll talk more about the clone troopers when we wrap up the series but they merit some discussion now.  As I have said before, the clones themselves are the best story thread going in The Clone Wars and that thread concludes with this arc.  Without knowing the rest of the story, if I told you one side fought a war with a genetically engineered slave army, you would assume said force belonged to the bad guys.  But no, the clones side with the Republic.  While we are taught to see the relationship between Jedi and clones as benevolent and near-parental, it doesn't change the fact that we're talking about a Brave New World approach to warfare.  Look a little deeper and the more interesting stories in this thread reveal a more complicated relationship, and for reasons that have nothing to do with Order 66.  The inhibitor chips and their link to the eventual attack on the Jedi are a deeper, darker manipulation, of course, but the basic ethical dilemma of the clones is inherent from the beginning.

This is one of the best arcs of the series, right on the heels of the strong one that finished Season Five.  Like the Ahsoka on the Run arc, this Inhibitor Chip arc is strong on its own but is helped considerably by the stories that come before it.  Fives is the star and his background in particular enhances the tale.
via Wookieepedia
Mas Amedda is a Chagrian politician from the planet Champala.  At the time of this story, he is Vice Chair of the Galactic Senate under Palpatine.  He was first introduced in The Phantom Menace when he was played by Jerome Blake.  He was played David Bowers in Attack of the Clones and by both actors in Revenge of the Sith.  In The Clone Wars, he is voiced by Stephen Stanton.

Next week: "An Old Friend."

Friday, July 14, 2017

Squid Mixes: Campari Soda

Campari is a deceptive little liqueur.  The bright red fools one into thinking the flavor would be sweet like grenadine.  Instead, it is intensely bitter.  One of the primary ingredients is chinotto, a citrus fruit native to the Mediterranean region.  As with Campari, it looks like a sweet orange but the truth is otherwise.  The liqueur also includes cascarilla, a Caribbean herb employed as a tonic and used in Vermouth.

The bright red color is produced artificially.  Until 2006, carmine, a dye made from crushed insects, was used.  Now, the dye is synthetic.

My wife is a Campari fan.  She especially likes Negronis.  The Campari soda made for a fine summer drink and was awfully pretty.  It looked especially nice in our cobalt blue glasses but alas, that was more difficult to capture photographically.  My recipe comes from The New York Bartender's Guide.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Clone Wars: Fugitive

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Fugitive"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 3
Original Air Date: February 15, 2014
via Wookieepedia
Fives and his medical droid conspirator AZI-3 continue to dig for the truth in this, the third of a strong four-part arc.  Last week, the two removed a tumor from the brain of Tup, a clone trooper who had gone berzerk and killed a Jedi during a battle.  Tup subsequently died.  Fives was arrested.  This week, he escapes custody and springs AZI, too.  Snooping around the Kamino labs, they find that Tup, Fives and in fact all clones are implanted with an inhibitor chip, purpose unknown - at least to them.  Along the way there are enlightening and uncomfortable arguments between Nala Se and Shaak Ti over whether the clones "belong" to the Kaminoans or the Republic.
via Wookieepedia
AZI-3 is short for AZI-345211896246498721347.  The full designation comes up in a discussion between the medical droid and Fives (aka ARC-5555) about whether the numbers are demeaning to the clones or the droids.  This arc marks AZI-3's only appearance in the series.  He has quite a number of talents that come in handy in this episode.  In addition to being an expert surgeon, he doubles as a jet ski.  He is voiced by Ben Diskin.

Next week: "Orders."

Friday, July 7, 2017

Squid Mixes: Highball


All else being equal, a highball is my wife's drink of choice.   A highball is actually a broad category of drinks: an alcoholic spirit combined with a larger portion of a non-alcoholic mixer.  At our house, a "highball" is rye whiskey, preferrably Old Overholt, with ginger ale or ginger beer.  Ginger is big with my wife in general and the whiskey is a wonderful complement.

Highball also describes the tall glass in which the drink is served.  The name of the drink and the glass may derive from train dining cars.  A steam engine running at full throttle was said to be "highballing" in reference to the ball rising in the pressure guage.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Family Book Swap: Caddie Woodlawn

Title: Caddie Woodlawn
Author: Carol Ryrie Brink
via Amazon
For our summer book swap, our daughter gave me Caddie Woodlawn, a fictionalized memoir of a girl growing up in Pioneer Era Wisconsin.  Yes indeed, the premise is remarkably similar to that of Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, yet this book has a strong legacy in its own right.  Caddie Woodlawn was awarded the Newberry Medal in 1936 and was one of the inaugural winners (along with Little House) of the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1958.  Just like the Ingalls house near Pepin, Wisconsin, the Woodlawn home near Menomonie is preserved as an historic site.

Caddie's story is as much about her tomboy adventures with her brothers as it is about the frontier experience.  She prefers exploring the woods more than the more "ladylike" pursuits embraced by her mother and older sister in the house.  The traditional gender roles defined in the book are more than a little uncomfortable in light of 21st century sensibilities, though less so than the stories about Native Americans.  Those issues aside, the stories are charming enough.  Caddie's growing up moments center around the development of empathy: empathy for her Native American neighbors, for her tattle-tale younger sister, for her more refined Boston cousin, etc.  Overall, I'd say the book is better than Little House, which I've begun several times but never finished, though far inferior to Anne of Green Gables.

Our daughter has long expressed an interest in the Upper Midwest, particularly Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Her affection for this book helps me to understand why.  Brink's love for the northern woodlands is obvious.  We're hoping to make a cross-country journey sometime in the next few years and that part of the country seems a likely target for exploration.

For my part of the swap, I gave her A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony.  I first read the book when I was about her age, 13.  I'll be interested to see what she thinks of it.  She's a far more sophisticated reader, especially of fantasy, than I was.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Clone Wars: Conspiracy

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Conspiracy"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 2
Original Air Date: February 15, 2014
via Wookieepedia
"Conspiracy" is the second in a four-part arc in which the Jedi are trying to unravel the mystery of why a clone murdered a Jedi while the Sith and their conspirators already know.   Tup, the offending clone, has been taken back to Kamino for examination.  Fives, who accompanied him back, is also being held in quarantine just in case whatever caused Tup to wig out is affecting him as well.  Initial tests reveal nothing unusual.  Shaak Ti wants to send Tup to the Jedi for psychological tests while Nala Se wishes to terminate Tup and dissect his brain.  Unbeknownst to Shaak Ti, Nala Se already knows what will be found and wants to get to it before the Jedi.  Fives, fearing for his pal, enlists the help of his own medical droid, AZI-3, to get to the truth before Tup is killed.
via Wookieepedia
We need to talk about Fives.  With a few exceptions like Cody and Rex, we don't get to know many of the clone troopers individually.  Fives, however, is rather quietly one of The Clone Wars's most interesting characters and has been attached to several of the series's best arcs.  We first met him as part of Domino Squad in the excellent first season episode "Rookies."  He also joined the Citadel prison rescue in Season Three and the attack on Umbara in Season Four.  He is especially devoted and compassionate towards his clone brothers, a distinction which in this story gets him into heaps of trouble but also comes damn near to uncovering the truth.
via Wookieepedia
Lama Su is the prime minister of Kamino and the overseer of the creation of the clone army.  He was first introduced in Attack of the Clones.  He was originally intended to be a female character but has always been voiced as male.  In the movie, he was performed by Anthony Phelan; in The Clone Wars, by Bob Bergen.
via Wikipedia
Robert Bergen was born March 8, 1964 in St. Louis.  He has one of the more impressive voice actor resumes I've seen.  He is currently the voice of both Porky Pig and Tweety Bird for Warner Brothers.  He has had prominent roles in several Miyazaki films: Lupin in The Castle of Cagliostro, No-Face in Spirited Away and Father in Ponyo.  He is the official voice double for Mark Hamill, a fellow Ponyo voice cast member.  Bergen voices Luke Skywalker in several Star Wars video games.

Next week: "Fugitive."

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: July 2017 Blog List

Greetings to all!  I hope you'll join us for the next installment of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, an online gathering of bloggers who love books.  The next meeting is set for Friday, July 28th.  If you're interested, please sign on to the link list at the end of this post.

The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.  Please join us:




Friday, June 30, 2017

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: June 2017

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the works they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: Strong Poison
Author: Dorothy L. Sayers
via Amazon
My wife is a huge mystery fan.  Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Hercule Poirot: she loves them all.  In fact, I'm a little surprised that she hasn't chosen one for a book swap with me before this.  She is especially fond of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries of Dorothy L. Sayers and chose Strong Poison as the best choice for introducing me to that series.

Lord Peter is an English aristocrat, circa 1930, who solves mysteries basically because he's good at it and has nothing better to do.  He strikes me as a cross between Holmes and Bertie Wooster of the P.G. Wodehouse novels.  In fact, this book references both of those other works.  Fortunately, he is more grounded than Sherlock and far more useful than Bertie.

Strong Poison begins in a courtroom.  Harriet Vane, a successful mystery novelist, stands accused of murdering her lover.  Nearly everyone is convinced of her guilt but Peter is sure she didn't do it.  When a hung jury suspends the trial, Peter pledges his services to the accused.  To make things more interesting, he's in love with her, though as the story opens, he hasn't actually met her yet.

As far as the mystery itself goes, I figured most of it out fairly early.  The story's appeal, though, is more in the characters than the plot.  Peter's delightfully zany, if brilliant.  Harriet is understated, yet charming - a perfect complement.  Bunter is Jeeves to Wimsey's Wooster.  Police inspector Parker is the practical everyman, also in love with Peter's sister.

The most clever part of this series, though, is the "cattery."  Peter maintains a typing service - I suppose an early version of a temp agency - employing women to use as his own stable of spies.  If nothing else, I think it was a brilliant way for a woman of Sayers's era to involve more female characters in the dirty work of the narrative.  Miss Climpson, who runs the cattery on Peter's behalf, is an engaging personality in her own right and plays a particularly important role in putting the pieces together for the current case.

I'm definitely up for more of this series.  I am inclined to go back to the beginning.  Strong Poison was, in fact, the sixth of the series published by Sayers, though the first to introduce Harriet Vane.  Now I want to know the established principals better, especially Peter, so it's back to the origin story.  Our shelves are bursting with mystery novels so it's a genre that could keep me occupied for years to come.

For my half of the swap, I gave my wife my Coffeehouse book from last month: Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper (reflection here).  

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post July's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is July 28th.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Rick Riordan

Title: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)
Author: Rick Riordan
via Amazon
Our daughter loves mythology and is quite knowledgeable on the subject: Greek/Roman, of course, but also Hindu and more recently Norse.  As such, her discovery of and affection for the Percy Jackson series was practically inevitable.  Percy's world is a lot like Harry Potter's.  Percy's age is about the same as Harry's in the beginning.  He also doesn't know the secret of his extraordinary parentage - in his case, he is the son of a Greek god.  He has never fit in well in the "real world" but he discovers a place - a summer camp - where other kids like him gather and flourish.  Like Harry, Percy is a superstar upon arrival and doesn't entirely understand why.  Percy has two friends - one male, one female - who join him for all his perilous adventures.  Riordan's language is as American as Rowling's is British but the influence of the one on the other is unmistakable.

While derivative, the book is fun.  Percy gets to meet several of the gods, including his father - I won't spoil who that is but it's not difficult for the reader to figure out.  Even the series logo offers obvious clues.  The modernizing - not to mention Americanizing - of the concept is cleverly handled.  Riordan tries too hard with the kid-speak but overall, the pace of the storytelling is strong and suspense for details is well maintained.  The Purple Penguin has gone through all ten books - two five-book series - over the past year.  I don't know if I'll follow the story that far but I'm up for more.  It's not as good as HP or the Howl series but it's better than The House of Secrets.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Clone Wars: The Unknown

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "The Unknown"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 1
Original Air Date: February 15, 2014
via Wookieepedia
The Lost Missions kick off with a clone troopers story, pretty much always my favorite.   During a combat offensive, clone trooper Tup goes into a strange trance state and kills Jedi Master Tiplar.  Neither Tup himself nor anyone else seems to understand what has happened.  Dooku and Darth Sidious have an inkling.  When word gets back to them about the incident, they move quickly to get to Tup so they can find out what has gone wrong with his "programming."  We as the viewers know what this is really all about: Order 66, the operation carried out in Revenge of the Sith in which the clones simultaneously slaughter nearly all of the Jedi.  This is the first episode of a four-part arc.
via Wookieepedia
Tiplar was a Mikkian.  Her twin sister Tiplee, also a Jedi, was with Tiplar at the time of her death.  The design for the two characters originated with an unused concept for a female Sith Lord developed for Attack of the Clones.  Both of the twins were voiced by Anna Graves.

Next week: "Conspiracy."

Monday, June 26, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Mahmoud Dowlatabadi

Title: Thirst
Author: Mahmoud Dowlatabadi
via Amazon
Dolatabadi is Iran's most revered living writer and one who has certainly earned his repressed artist street cred.  He was jailed by the Shah's regime for two years in the '70s simply for the fact that his books were always found in the homes of others arrested by the secret police.  Subversion was assumed.  Thirst, published in English in 2014, has never been published in the original Persian.

Thirst is an account of the Iran-Iraq War as told by two writers: one Iranian, one Iraqi.  There are three (or four? five?) story threads going on at once and the text weaves in, out and between them constantly and seamlessly.  At the heart of it all is one story about warring soldiers stalemated over a patch of earth, a water tank between them.  Neither side can approach the tank without being gunned down by the other: a perfect metaphor.  The political and historical messages are many.  Those in power control truth.  The Persian/Arab rivalry goes back well over a thousand years.  Soldiers are human.  War is absurd.

By design, the stories are difficult to follow.  As such, the overarching themes are emphasized over narrative details.  I sensed elements of other works: In the Labyrinth by Alaine Robbe-Grillet (review here) and All Quiet on the Western Front.  It's a good book with the playful, florid language I've come to expect from all Asian literature. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Squid Mixes: Italian Soda

Left to right: grapefruit, raspberry and almond
I had simple desires for Father's Day this year.  I wanted to watch a movie ("Ferris Beuller, you're my hero.").  I wanted to play games.  I wanted to go for a walk.  I wanted to mix drinks.

Round one was non-alcoholic, of course, so my daughter could enjoy it, too.  While we had some Torani syrups in the house, the supply was running low so a Saturday trip to the store was in order.  Unfortunately, that adventure was disappointing.  The Torani site's store locator sent me to Price Chopper.  I was hoping for the vast array one sees on a shelf behind the counter at a great coffeehouse:  lychee, blood orange, passion fruit, etc.  Unfortunately, PC's modest selection catered to more predictable tastes: vanilla, hazelnut, caramel and raspberry.  We have gotten more exciting flavors in the past, though always through mail order.  I guess that's what I'll need to do in the future.  We were low on raspberry so the trip wasn't a total loss.

Yes, I know I could make my own and I have in the past but that requires more effort than I was looking for on Father's Day.  Plus, the bottled variety is more shelf-stable.  That probably speaks to icky chemicals but I can live with it.

Italian soda is actually an American invention, first introduced in San Francisco in 1925.  I got my recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide.  They turned out well, though not quite as sweet as I would have liked.  Now, I seem to recall that when I've made them before, I have used 1.5 oz of syrup rather than the 1 in the recipe.  I'll have to remember that for next time.  Mind you, they still hit the spot in our recent sweltering heat.  Plus, they're pretty.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Clone Wars: Season Five

We have reached the end of Season Five in our exploration of The Clone Wars.   Episode posts resume next Tuesday with The Lost Missions.  But first, a quick reflection...

General Impressions

Season Four was so weak overall that it's been great to see the series rebound with interesting tales of consequence both for The Clone Wars and for the broader Star Wars saga.  Season Five belongs to Ahsoka Tano. The season's two best arcs - the Onderon civil war arc and the season's final stretch - both focus on the Padawan.  There are down turns here and there, including an unfortunate four-part droid story arc and the full-on return of Darth Maul.  In fairness, while I'm not a fan of Maul's resurrection in principle, his story arc is actually pretty good.


Favorite Episode: "The Wrong Jedi"
via Confessions of a Serial Wordsmith
You got your spoiler alert on Tuesday.  Now, it's fair game...

Ahsoka goes through a lot in Season Five.  First, she gets caught up in the civil war on Onderon where she comes perilously close to falling for Lux Bonteri.  More importantly, she gets a taste of the broader struggle on her own terms, away from Anakin and the Jedi Council.  In the season's final arc, she is exiled from the Order, then invited back when cleared of her alleged crimes.  Her decision to leave anyway is downright shocking, an axiom-challenging twist worthy of a franchise that once turned the villain into the hero's father.  As we have seen in the Star Wars story, anyone abandoning the Jedi Way is dangerous, if not galactically catastrophic.  And yet as the viewer, it's not difficult to see her choice as justified.  This isn't just the strongest episode of the season.  It's a strong challenger for best of the entire series.


Least Favorite Episode: "A Sunny Day in the Void"

I love the droids but I hate the droid stories.  What madness led those in charge to believe that a four-part arc led by the droids would be a good idea?  "A Sunny Day in the Void" is the worst of the four because it has the robots getting lost in a flat, empty desert - not even the elegant, rolling, Tunisian dunes we get on Tatooine.  This is Utah Salt Flats emptiness without the mountains in the background.  Just awful.


Favorite New Character: Gregor

Amazingly, the four-part droid arc was not a total loss.  In Part 3, "Missing in Action," we meet Gregor, a former clone trooper now working as a dishwasher in Pons Ora, a sketchy town on Abafar.  He has amnesia, having sustained a head wound in battle.  He remembers nothing of his soldier past.  Fortunately, he comes around in time to see that he has to help the droids and their leader, Colonel Meebur.


Onward

The Clone Wars series was pulled by Cartoon Network in March 2013.  However, the production team already had 13 Season Six episodes in the can.  These shows, dubbed The Lost Missions, were released first on German television in February 2014.  Netflix released the shows to American and Canadian audiences in March of the same year.  We're in the home stretch, folks.


Please visit my friend Andrew Leon today for his Season Five recap.  Next Tuesday: "The Unknown."

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Clone Wars: The Wrong Jedi

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "The Wrong Jedi"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 20
Original Air Date: March 1, 2013
via Wookieepedia
What is the true moral position of the Jedi Order within the Star Wars universe?  For me, this is the question that lies at the heart of the best Clone Wars episodes and what, in fact, makes the series more interesting than the prequel movies themselves.  All of the movies are set upon an obvious Jedi vs. Sith conflict, with Jedi the unquestioned good guys, the Sith the unquestioned bad.  We know that Anakin ultimately abandons one for the other but that is due to his personal failings and Palpatine's manipulation.  We are never left to question whether the Jedi might, in some instances, actually be in the wrong.  In The Clone Wars, that's all on the table, nowhere more so than in the final episode of Season Five.

Ahsoka Tano stands accused of murder and treason.  We all know she's been framed but Anakin is the only Jedi who believes it.  Tarkin and the Senate want her to have a civilian trial so they demand Ahsoka be kicked out of the Jedi Order.


SPOILER ALERT!!!


We really can't explore the story any further without spoiling.  Ahsoka is removed from the Order.  While Padme stands in as public defender for Ahsoka, Anakin tracks down Asajj Ventress, Ahsoka's accused accomplice, to learn the truth.  Asajj argues for her own innocence and implicates another: Barriss Offee, Ahsoka's confidant within the Order.  Anakin confronts Barriss.  They duel.  Barriss is brought before the court just at the moment of verdict and confesses all, her speech an impassioned accusation of the Jedi, blaming them, not the Separatists, for the war.  This is not the first time we've heard this asserition but it is the first time we've heard it from a Jedi.  Nonetheless, Ahsoka is vindicated.  Perry Mason couldn't have planned it any better.

But wait, there's more.  Here's where things really get interesting.  The Jedi Council apologizes to Ahsoka for doubting her and welcome her back to the Order.  Instead of rushing back to their welcoming embrace, she walks away.

She walks away!  Her faith in herself and her faith in the Jedi have been shaken.  While she is clearly sad to leave, she sees that her way lies along a different path.  Now, more than ever, it is becoming increasingly clear that The Clone Wars has been largely Ahsoka's story all along, not Anakin's.


END OF SPOILER


Ian Abercrombie, the original voice of Palpatine in The Clone Wars, died on January 26, 2012 of kidney failure.  The episode "Lawless" was dedicated to his memory.  While some of his parts for future episodes, including one Lost Missions arc, had already been recorded, the series needed a new voice actor for the role.  In stepped master thespian, Tim Curry.
via Garfield Wiki
Timothy Curry was born April 19, 1946 in Grappenhall, Cheshire, England.  Curry attended boarding school at Kingswood School in Bath where he was a talented boy soprano.  At university in Birmingham he studied English and Drama.

The London stage beckoned.  Curry got his first full-time role in the London production of Hair but it was his second gig that set him on the path to international superstar.  Fair or not, Curry will always be best associated with his most famous role: Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  He performed the part in London and Los Angeles productions before landing the screen gig.  Frank doesn't merely steal the show in Rocky Horror, the world's greatest of all cult films.  He is the show.

His stage and screen credits since are numerous.  Movies include Annie, Clue and Legend.  He has done extensive voice work, too, with roles in Fern Gully, Peter Pan & The Pirates, for which he won a Daytime Emmy as Captain Hook, and The Wild Thornberrys.  Between 1978 and 1981, he also recorded three albums with A&M.  His single "I Do the Rock", co-written with Michael Kamen, even reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  I'll let you judge for yourself...



Next week: "The Unknown." This Thursday, we'll be recapping Season Five.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Squid Eats: The Kitchen Table Bistro

via Kitchen Table Bistro

My parents were in town this past weekend for our daughter's clarinet and piano recitals.  As discussed last week, our favorite post-recital restaurant has closed up shop so we're in search of a new spot.  We have been to The Kitchen Table Bistro in Richmond before.  My wife and I have gone for our wedding anniversary several times and years ago, her employer had a Christmas party there.  This was, however, our first time bringing my parents.

Service was a bit slow, though otherwise professional and friendly.  The food is always good.  Unfortunately, I wasn't in the best shape to enjoy it as I had gorged on snacks at the piano recital.  Even so, I enjoyed what I had.

My wife and I started with oysters on the half shell.  I love oysters - there's something borderline naughty about them, they're so sexy.  For the entree, she and I split the mustard crusted day roasted pork shoulder, actually surprisingly delicate for pork.  It fell apart easily with just a fork, knife barely required.  So full, I wasn't even up for much dessert, though I snuck a couple bites of wife and daughter's lemon poundcake with strawberries and rhubarb ice cream.  Our daughter, a rhubarb fan, was particularly excited for the ice cream, though my mother was disappointed by it.

Overall, my parents seemed impressed.  I think we may have found a reasonable replacement for Sonoma Station.

Oh, and the recitals went very well.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Clone Wars: To Catch a Jedi

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "To Catch a Jedi"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 19
Original Air Date: February 22, 2013
via Wookieepedia
Ahsoka is on the run.  She is suspected of murdering a prisoner, then killing several clone troopers on her way out.  We all know she's innocent and that someone is setting her up.  The viewing audience gets a pretty clear sense of who that "someone" is but the Padawan doesn't quite see it yet.  On the streets of Coruscant, Ahsoka finds a surprising ally in Asajj Ventress, herself an exile from the other side of the war.

There's one more episode to go in this four-part arc.  Homages to The Fugitive and Hitchcock continue.  There's a chase scene through a subway train that's highly reminiscent of the Harrison Ford classic.  All of the episodes in the arc, including this one, are named for Hitch films.
via Wookieepedia
During her wanderings in the underworld, Ahsoka encounters Spots Podal, a vagrant Gotal.  She trades food with him for his cloak.  This episode marks his first and only appearance in the series.  He is unnamed in the episode but was given a name in the Star Wars site's online trivia gallery.  He is voiced by Dave Filoni.

Next week: "The Wrong Jedi."

Monday, June 12, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Storybook Love

Title: Fables, Vol. 3: Storybook Love
Writer: Bill Willingham
Artist: Mark Buckingham
via Amazon
In the excellent Fables comic book series, fairy tale characters live among us in secret within their own New York City enclave, Fabletown.  This third collection includes issues #11-18. The Storybook Love arc itself only takes up four of those issues, #14-17.  It's a great story with significant character and relationship development, particularly between the series's two leads: Bigby (Big Bad Wolf) and Snow White.  It also ends with a great cliffhanger.

Issue #11, "Bag o' Bones," tells the adventures of Jack (he of the beanstalk) during the American Civil War.  The story gives a sense of how long the Fables have been in our world.  It also made me grateful for the time I have spent with the source material since I last visited this series.  The tale is straight out of Grimm: Jack wins a magic bag in a card game, then uses it to cheat Death.  Disastrous consequences follow.

Issues #12 and 13 are a two-part arc in which the Fables must cover their tracks when a nosy reporter gets way too close to their secret.  Just as the Potterverse wizards must hide their true nature from Muggles, so must the Fables preserve the ignorance of the Mundies.  The Fables, though, are inclined towards darker, more violent tactics to achieve their ends. 

#18 is a Lilliputian story.  Jonathan Swift's minifolk play a meaningful role in the Storybook Love arc so it's only appropriate they should get their own tale.  "Barleycorn Brides" tells of how the Lilliputians, initially all male, managed to find female mates.

I continue to be impressed by the series and curious about the source material.  I'm definitely up for more.  Next up, Volume 4: The March of the Wooden Soldiers.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Squid Eats: Toscano Cafe Bistro

For years now, we have had a family tradition.  After our daughter's end-of-the-year dance recital, we would go to Sonoma Station for dinner (previously discussed here).  It was my parents' favorite restaurant in Vermont, too, so as they were usually in town for the recital they were only too happy to go.  Alas, Sonoma Station closed its doors last month. 

Our lives are changing in other ways.  For a few years now, the girl's interests have slowly been moving away from dance and towards music.  She plays three instruments: piano, clarinet and bass clarinet.  Now 13, she's gotten pretty good at all of them, particularly the piano.  She's taken lessons for five years and left me in the dust ages ago.  Admittedly, I was a late bloomer in music but her comfort, knowledge, sensitivity and passion already exceed anything I experienced before college.  It's a joy to watch.  In part because of this shift in interests, in part because dance weekend is crazy enough without having to worry about out of town guests, we invited my parents to come for music recital weekend instead this year. 

With all of these changes, it is certainly a good time to forge new traditions.  We asked the Purple Penguin if she had any requests for her post-recital dinner this year.  She told us to surprise her.  Challenge accepted!  She loves Italian, so...

We had never been to Toscano Cafe Bistro in Richmond before.  We certainly know the neighborhood.  Sonoma Station was just down the road and Bridge Street Cafe (read more here), another now defunct family favorite, was across the street.  Downtown Richmond was also our trick-or-treat area of choice for a long time. 

We started with mussels (if they're on the menu, we're getting them) and deconstructed bruschetta.  I had pork tenderloin as an entree.  My wife and I shared a peach cobbler for dessert.  The food was all good as was the service.  It was noisy, so not the best place for intimate conversation and probably not a reasonable Sonoma replacement for my parents.  Prices are on the high side but they reflect high quality. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Clone Wars: The Jedi Who Knew Too Much

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "The Jedi Who Knew Too Much"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 18
Original Air Date: February 15, 2013
via Wookieepedia
This week's episode is the second in a four-part arc that finishes Season Five.  Last week, Letta Turmond, wife of civilian technician Jackar Bowmani, was exposed as the saboteur behind the bombing of the Jedi Temple.  Now in custody, she asks to speak to Ahsoka.  While our favorite Padawan is visiting the prisoner, Letta is killed by what appears to be a Force choking.  Since Ahsoka was the only one in the room with her, she becomes the obvious suspect.  But Ahsoka didn't do it.  But no one believes her.  Well, Anakin does.  Ahsoka is on the run and Anakin leads the chase to find her, leading to a Fugitive homage scene.

When I bring up The Clone Wars with my students who know it, this is the story that comes up.  For all of the many narrative threads followed in the series, this Ahsoka Gone Rogue tale is the one people seem to remember best.

"The Jedi Who Knew Too Much" is directed by Danny Keller.  He was primarily a storyboard and previsualization artist for The Clone Wars.  This is the seventh and last episode he directed.  He also did character animation work for Meet the Robinsons, Garfield: The Movie and The Matrix Reloaded among others.

Next week: "To Catch a Jedi."

Friday, June 2, 2017

Squid Mixes: Pimm's Cup

Pimm's cup is a very English drink.  It is one of two traditional drinks at Wimbledon and many other high profile British events, the other being champagne.  Its base is Pimm's No. 1, a liqueur invented by one James Pimm in 1823 London.  The cocktail could hardly be simpler: 1.5 oz of the liqueur over ice, top off with lemon-lime soda or, the preference at our house, ginger ale.  Garnish with lemon.  There are more complicated recipes in bar books, usually including additional garnishing with cucumber and mint, but the basic formula on the back of the bottle suits us just fine.  The liqueur itself brings a spicy, fruity flavor to the party - evokes cinnamon for me.

American Bar by Charles Schumann includes three Pimm's recipes.  They list our drink, with ginger ale, as Pimm's Rangoon.  Pimm's No. 1 is mixed with lemon-lime soda, Pimm's Royal with champagne.  My wife just bought a new bottle of the liqueur so we may well have the chance to try all three.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Jules Feiffer

Title: Kill My Mother: A Graphic Novel
Writer and Artist: Jules Feiffer
via Amazon
Kill My Mother is a film noir in comic book form, though it does manage to extend beyond that genre's usual trappings.  At the heart of the story is a family drama - actually the dramas of two families, intertwined.  The tale gets complicated so I will fall back on the book jacket summary:

As our story begins, we meet Annie Hannigan [blogger note: a rather dark-hearted homage to the Little Orphan], an out-of-control teenager, jitterbugging in the 1930s. Annie dreams of offing her mother, Elsie, whom she blames for abandoning her for a job soon after her husband, a cop, is shot and killed. Now, employed by her husband s best friend an over-the-hill and perpetually soused private eye Elsie finds herself covering up his missteps as she is drawn into a case of a mysterious client, who leads her into a decade-long drama of deception and dual identities sprawling from the Depression era to World War II Hollywood and the jungles of the South Pacific.

Along with three femme fatales, an obsessed daughter, and a loner heroine, Kill My Mother features a fighter turned tap dancer, a small-time thug who dreams of being a hit man, a name-dropping cab driver, a communist liquorstore owner, and a hunky movie star with a mind-boggling secret. Culminating in a U.S.O. tour on a war-torn Pacific island, this disparate band of old enemies congregate to settle scores.

The story's certainly interesting but I had a few artistic issues.  The characters have a poured-out-of-a-bottle look which doesn't appeal to me.  Also, the female characters look too much alike, meaningful to the narrative but confusing.  That said, the plot twist is especially good, and not one you'd have been likely to see in the film style's heyday. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Clone Wars: Sabotage

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Sabotage"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 17
Original Air Date: February 8, 2013
via Wookieepedia
"Sabotage" kicks off the final story arc of Season Five.  I haven't watched ahead but I know what's coming.  The series has been gradually building towards a climax for a long time and the payoff is nearly upon us.  We'll have plenty to talk about once it's over.

Anakin and Ahsoka are summoned to investigate a bombing at the Jedi Temple.  Given the near-impenetrable security, the Council fears the job was carried out from within, perhaps even by a Jedi.  As rumors swirl, the political pressure mounts from both the civilian population and the Repulican Senate.  The truth must be found quickly.

Soon, a suspect emerges: a civilian technician, Jackar Bowmani.  But he's nowhere to be found.  Next, his wife turns up and that's when things get really interesting...
via Wookieepedia
Letta Turmond is Jackar's wife.  She is a human Coruscan citizen.  I hesitate to share any more details just yet for fear of spoiling but she is sure to be a character of great consequence in this story.  She is voiced by Kari Wahlgren.
via Batman Wiki
Kari Wahlgren was born July 13, 1977 in Hoisington, Kansas.  After graduating from the University of Kansas as a theater major, she found some radio work in Kansas City before heading to Los Angeles.  On-camera work was scarce so she focused on voice-overs.  Her career took off.  She has had major roles in several animated series: Witch Hunter Robin, Last Exile and Samurai Champloo among others.  Star Wars has been especially good for her, with work in television and video games. 

Next week: "The Jedi Who Knew Too Much."

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: June 2017 Blog List

Greetings to all!  I hope you'll join us for the next installment of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, an online gathering of bloggers who love books.  The next meeting is set for Friday, June 30th.  If you're interested, please sign on to the link list at the end of this post.

The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.  Please join us:




Friday, May 26, 2017

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: May 2017

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the works they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper:  A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China
Author: Fuchsia Dunlop
via Amazon
Fuchsia Dunlop's originally went to China in 1994 on a fellowship to study the country's minority populations.  Instead, she fell in love with the food and devoted the next fifteen years of her life (more by now) to eating it, cooking it and writing about it.  No casual traveler, her efforts at self-immersion were bold.  She began her adventure with a dare to herself that she would eat everything put in front of her, no small consideration in China where the concept of what is edible is much broader than it is in Europe, or really most of the world.  Eventually, after bugging every professional cook she could find, she became the first Westerner to enroll at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine - before she'd even fully mastered the Sichuan dialect!  By the time she finished this memoir, she had already published three Chinese cookbooks in English.  Since, she has put out two more. 

Her main base of operations over the years has been Sichuan province but she has spent significant time in other parts of the country, much of it in fairly remote regions.  Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper includes material about her explorations of Kashgar in the far, central Asian west and Gansu province in the north.  Hunan, Mao's home province, gets a couple of chapters.  Both Hong Kong and Beijing get their due.  Dunlop does not shy from the issues of concern to western sensibilities: exotic or even illegal ingredients, pollution, animal treatment, adulteration, etc.  Reminders of China's troubled modern history are constant.

I enjoyed the book thoroughly, though it did leave me feeling cheated by the Chinese food I've eaten during my life.  The true variety of the cuisine is astonishing, every region boasting its own ancient traditions.  By Dunlop's own admission, there's too much to experience in a single lifetime, let alone one book.  What passes for Chinese food in most of the United States is so predictable and pedestrian compared to even the simplest street food Dunlop describes.  For as much time as I've spent in Asia, I have to this point had minimal interest in China but this book makes me want to go and just eat and eat and eat.

Dunlop also reminded me of the downside of ex-pat life, the lonelier side, the part where you miss people all the time, whether you're at home or abroad.  Mind you she was about 13 years into her chronicle before she started writing about China-fatigue but it was there.  Her book also makes me think about food on our own future travels.  Even mid-range restaurants can take a big chunk out of a family trip budget.  It's important to keep in mind that the most meaningful meals are the ones closest to what the natives are eating, no matter where you go in the world.

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post June's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is June 30th.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Clone Wars: The Lawless

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "The Lawless"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 16
Original Air Date: February 1, 2013
via Wookieepedia
The Shadow Collective story arc comes to a close.  Using Almec as his prime minister puppet, Darth Maul has gained control of Mandalore.  Bo-Katan and other members of Death Watch, having watched their leader fall last week, switches sides and help Korkie Kryze and his friends spring Dutchess Satine from her cell.  Unfortunately, this prison break doesn't work and upon recapturing the fallen ruler, Maul uses her as bait to lure his old nemesis: Obi-Wan Kenobi.

This final chapter is in many ways the most predictable episode of the arc and also our most Star Warsy story in a while: confrontations between light side and dark side, light (and dark) saber duels, challenges to the Sith pecking order and (SPOILER ALERT) death.  It's not really a Star Wars story until somebody important dies, or at least loses an appendage.  Both sides suffer significant loss in this case.


I think it's worth another SPOILER to discuss them as both are characters I've particularly enjoyed...

Dutchess Satine is killed by Darth Maul with the dark saber, right before Kenobi's eyes.  Dying in Obi-Wan's arms, she confesses her eternal love for him.  Satine, as the peace-loving leader of her world, is certainly a worthy character in her own right.  The fact that she has added a dimension to Kenobi is a bonus.  She died a martyr, certainly a meaningful end in the Star Wars universe.

Savage Opress is struck down by Palpatine.  I was a big fan of Savage when he first emerged as part of Asajj Ventress's story.  Since he tracked down his long lost brother Darth Maul, his role has diminished to little more than a thug.  I was hoping for more.

END OF SPOILER


via Wookieepedia
Among Satine's rescue party is Amis, a friend of Korkie's from the Royal Academy.  We first met him in "The Academy" back in Season Three.  This episode marks his last appearance in The Clone Wars.   Amis is voiced by Omid Abtahi.
via Wikipedia
Omid Abtahi was born July 12, 1979 in Tehran.  He and his family moved first to Paris when he was five, then Irvine, California when he was ten.  He graduated from Cal State-Fullerton with a double major in advertising and theater.  Professionally, he has been active on both stage and screen.  In the theater, he has performed in Fraulein Else, Your Everyday Typical Romantic Comedy and Urge for Going.  In addition to guest appearances and voice work, Abtahi has had regular television roles on Over There and Sleeper Cell.  He was Homes in the final Hunger Games film: Mockingjay - Part 2.

Next week: "Sabotage."

Friday, May 19, 2017

Squid Eats: Bluebird Barbecue

Bluebird Barbecue in Burlington was our second Vermont Restaurant Week adventure this year.  We went with friends: Mock, Nancy Mock (quickly becoming a local food celebrity), Mock Boy, Blue Liner and Baby Blue Liner (Blue Liner and his wife, let's call her Jello Shots, became parents for the first time last year). 

The special menu for Restaurant Week was a "$30 Barbecue for Two" platter with a choice of meats and appetizers.  For our large group, we ordered three such platters so we could sample everything.  I will admit upfront that it was not the most nuanced restaurant meal I've ever had, more like a boarding house dinner with everyone grabbing what they could.  Some got into testing the different sauces but I was just shoveling in the grub.  Mind you, it was loads of fun - just a lot more eating than critiquing for me.  Among the meats, the smoked chicken was my favorite; among the appetizers, the Red Hen Baking Fat-Tire Toast.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Clone Wars: Shades of Reason

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Shades of Reason"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 15
Original Air Date: January 25, 2013
via Wookieepedia
The Maul/Opress/Death Watch story continues.  Darth Maul gets his new underworld buddies, known as the Shadow Collective, to launch simultaneous attacks on Mandalore, undermining Dutchess Satine and allowing Pre Vizsla to usurp her power.  The political intrigue, however, is just beginning.  Apart from being an interesting story in its own right, this tale provides insight into how the Sith, or really anyone with sufficient forethought, might exploit a power struggle on an individual world for their own political gain.  The whole scenario was like something out of Machiavelli.
via Wookieepedia
Ziton Moj, a Falleen working for Black Sun, joined the Shadow Collective last week when Savage Opress killed the rest of Black Sun's leaders.  While this arc marks his introduction and only appearance in The Clone Wars, Moj does feature in subsequent novels and comic books.  He is voiced by Corey Burton.

Next week: "The Lawless."

Friday, May 12, 2017

Squid Eats: Stone Corral Brewery

via Twitter
Vermont Restaurant Week was the last week of April.  The idea is for participating restaurants to offer special prix fixe menus in order to encourage new customers.  We hadn't yet tried Stone Corral Brewery in Richmond so it seemed as good an excuse as any.

Beer is a big deal in Vermont.  Our proud, humble state (yes, it really can be both simultaneously) is home to more breweries per capita than any other in the United States.  Having a small population throws many such distinctions our way.  I believe we have the most tennis courts per capita, too.  Getting back to beer, there were already loads of independent breweries when we first moved here 15 years ago and the industry has only grown since.  Brewpubs are everywhere and in light of the high level of competition, the products are usually pretty darn good. 

Part of Stone Corral's prix fixe was a four-glass beer flight.  My wife and I have different beer preferences.  I'm an IPA man, the hoppier, the better.  She tends more toward a floral or fruity flavor.  A gose is usually a safe choice for her.  She likes Belgian whites, too.  And Guinness.  I'll drink hers and she mine but we tend to our comfort zones given the choice.  As such, getting two flights between us is fun because overlap is unlikely.  The most interesting variety for me at Stone Corral was their bourbon porter.  I love both beer and whiskey and there's really no reason why they can't go together since they're made from the same stuff.  It was like a rich, dark boilermaker.

Mussels are a favorite with us.  In fact, whenever I see mussels on a menu, I just assume my wife will want to order them.  At Stone Corral, they were served with a Thai chile sauce, actually sweeter than what I expected and indeed what one normally sees with mussels.  It was different - not bad, just different.

Dinner was the prelude to a concert, this time the VSO String Quartet's performance at the Shelburne Museum.  The concert was planned in conjunction with the museum's recent exhibition, Backstage Pass: Rock & Roll Photography.   Included in the musical program were works by Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder and the Talking Heads.  The photos were marvelous, too: the Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Elvis, just about everybody.  I think my favorite had Eric Clapton sitting by a hotel swimming pool with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

A most enjoyable evening.