Friday, January 23, 2009

Word of the Day

Picquerism: (from the French piquer - "to prick") "a paraphilia and form of sadomasochism in which one finds sexual gratification through penetration of another person, most commonly by stabbing or cutting the body with sharp objects. The most frequently targeted areas of the body are the breasts, buttocks, or groin."

Apparently, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals thinks it's bullshit.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Butternut Squash and Red Pepper Soup

I put this together from some odds and ends in the refrigerator, including the red peppers I acquired in Bisbee.

1 red pepper, chopped
1-2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 white onion, chopped
1 butternut squash, peeled and roasted
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup milk
1 1/2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. oil
1 tsp. paprika
salt and pepper
chopped parsley or cilantro

Roast the butternut squash at 375 degrees, peel, and chop into cubes. Set aside. Pour the oil into a large saucepan and turn heat to medium. Throw in the onions, carrots, and celery and sweat them for a few minutes. Add the butternut squash and the paprika and cook for another few minutes. Add the chicken stock and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the red pepper, milk, and butter, cover, and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Scoop the vegetables into a blender and puree. Return to the saucepan and add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately and garnish with parsley or cilantro.

Bionic Woman

I guess I'm one of the last people to join the Battlestar Galactica bandwagon, but join it I did, and I'm now a fervent disciple of the show. So fervent, in fact, that I actually Netflixed the Bionic Woman reboot led by BSG co-producer David Eick. It lasted only eight episodes and was essentially killed off by the 2007 writer's strike. After watching it, I figure it wouldn't have lasted more than a single season anyway.

The show's biggest problem? Katee Sackhoff. Not that she isn't excellent in the show. But she's meant to be the antagonist and she's ten times as interesting as the rest of the characters. On top of that, she only appears in four episodes! The producers put together a nice story arc at the beginning, only to abandon it for a series of dull one-shot episodes. I want to watch Jamie Sommers kicking ass; I don't really care about her love life or how she balances her home life with her crazy secret government job. The supporting cast is decent, especially Miguel Ferrer and Isaiah Washington (who gets written out of the show in the seventh episode, which probably coincides with his untimely departure from Grey's Anatomy for being a secret racist). But Katee Sackhoff as the lead would have made for a much better show, no doubt.

Secret Aardvark

My sister surprised me with this hot sauce. It's fucking awesome.

I love habanero sauces. But one of the problems with habanero is that, as good as it is, it's hard to shovel down large quantities without suffering extreme consequences to one's immediate well-being. But Secret Aardvark isn't like that. It's got a mean kick, but it's light enough so you can apply it liberally to your food without fear of, say, negative bowel implications. Check it out.

Friday, January 16, 2009

You Don't Mess with the Zohan

This might be surprising to some people, but I don't entirely loathe Adam Sandler nor his movies. Sure, most of them are pretty stupid, but I loved Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, and Big Daddy wasn't half bad either. So I watched You Don't Mess with the Zohan with an open mind. After all, it was co-written by Robert Smigel, ex-Saturday Night Live and Conan O'Brien writer, creator of TV Funhouse, and member of the Chicago Superfans.

Few comedies have the chutzpah to make light of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Zohan manages to score some genuine laughs at the expense of both Israelis and Palestinians. I enjoyed the scene at the beginning of the movie, where Adam Sandler (the eponymous main character, an expert Mossad agent who longs to become a hairdresser) sits down for dinner with his mother and father (played by Shelley Berman). Zohan is expressing his dissatisfaction with his job, and his father, a veteran of the Six-Day War, lays the classic Jewish guilt trip on him. ("You complain? We won our war in six days!) This is such a classic expression of the reverence Israelis have for the Six-Day War and for the people who served in it. And the scene where Rob Schneider, a Lebanese cab driver ignorant in the ways of jihad, calls the Hezbollah hotline is hilarious. There's even an extended reference to one of my favorite Saturday Night Live skits, the "Sabra Shopping Network", in which Smigel plays an Israeli electronics shop owner hawking worthless stereos with "Sony guts".

Despite the movie's good intentions, it comes off as facile and borderline irresponsible in light of Israel's current Gaza Strip campaign. The movie's central, somewhat cutesy message is that Israelis and Palestinians are more alike than they are different. In the end, Zohan and arch-terrorist Phantom (John Turturro), set aside their rivalry and jointly open a hair salon/shoe store in a revitalized lower Manhattan shopping district. A cute ending, but it places a false equivalency between the agression of Palestinian terrorists and Israeli response to that terrorism. In the current Gaza Strip war, for example, more than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air raids and other military actions; Palestinian rockets, by contrast, have injured or killed only a handful of Israelis.

It's probably too much to ask of an Adam Sandler comedy to make an intelligent commentary on the state of Israeli agression in the occupied territories. But the perpetuation of this "equivalency myth" is still dangerous in whatever form it takes.

A Love Letter to Sean Hannity

...from Steve Almond. (h/t: Nerve)

Money quote:

I don't mean "lewd." On the contrary, Sean, you're sexual in the way the Catholic Church is sexual. It's morally prohibitive and instinctual. It uses aggression as a proxy for repressed impulses. You're like a priest who relishes the chance to whack naughty altar boys with a ruler. When you get really worked up, you're like an inquisitor who lays his victims out on a rack and lingers over which tool to use.

Reading the article, I also learned that Mr. Hannity has spawned his own dating website called Hannidate.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Yakov Smirnoff: Funny or Not Funny

Um, that's an easy question. Not funny. Certainly not since the Iron Curtain fell, and he was never funny before that.

But look at the comment thread attached to Ben Stiller's excellent Smirnoff parody.

Some samples:

Yakov is very funny, so what was up with this? This shouldnt even be considered a parody. It's more like making a complete douche of yourself.
Don't get me wrong, I like Ben Stiller, but this is just awful.

this video sucked! yakov is awesome and an amazing person and this video is retarded and a complete waste of time to watch

Smirnoff's Russian Reversal & What a Country jokes are far funnier than anything Stiller has done or will ever do. This clip has the same amount of laughs as any Ben Stiller movie: none.

What do Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr. ALL HAVE IN COMMON?

Hint: Blood Brothers with Adam Sandler & Jon Stewart

Smirnoff lives in Branson, Missouri and has a show there. Perhaps this explains why he has become an emblem of anti-Semites, Republicans, and other unfunny people.


Heeb is my favorite print publication. Unlike most other magazines, Heeb has a powerful reason to justify its own existence in today's print-unfriendly world: it continuously produces funny, original content with a Judaic spin. What's more, they have some of the best layout designers in the business. Their article layouts are consistently creative, attractive, and witty.

But the latest issue on newsstands takes an unfortunate step back. The features have a plain, antiseptic look, and the Courtney Love interview columns are laid out diagonally (!). There's still some great articles, though, such as a list of clever "Kyketails":

“The Horny Rabbi”

3 parts Iceberg vodka

1/4 part pickle juice

1 Katz’s kosher pickle

1. Shake vodka and juice until hands are frostbitten.
2. Strain into martini glass.
3. Garnish with that fat, phallic fucker.

Monday, January 12, 2009

starting a band

I'm feeling creative these days. I posted a call for musicians on craigslist last night, after writing up some song lyrics. Here's the ad:

"I'm looking to start a low-key, creative, motivated group of musicians and musical dabblers. Influences include Joy Division, New Order, Roxy Music, the Killers, Tortoise, Stereolab, the Who, the NES, Yoshitaka Amano, steampunk, and 8-bit NES RPG cliches.

I want to keep this group small, no more than 3 people. Ideally, you are curious, creative, collaborative, and some musical experience (singing, guitar, keyboards, accordion, whatever). You don't have to be a rock god, but some basic skills would be helpful. I just want to get a group of creative people together to see where this goes.

Let's have fun with this."

I hope to find some fun people to bounce around ideas with. I'm excited.

Squash Discoveries in Bisbee

Here's the Bisbee Food Co-Op, a wonderful grocery just south of the Old Town. If you're passing through Bisbee, you can find it by following the Route 80 South sign (to Douglas), on your right past the old mine. If you hit the roundabout, you went too far.

There you'll find some excellent, cheap produce, much of it locally grown in nearby Willcox. I picked up some great red bell peppers for $1.79/lb, as well as this little gem:

That's a roasted delicata squash stuffed with wild rice, scallions, roasted red bell peppers, garlic, onions, mushrooms, and more. It tasted as good as it looks: fresh and sweet, with just a hint of savoriness for balance. It's given me a great idea for the massive cushaw squash sitting on my kitchen table.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Mini-Review: Lindy's on 4th Avenue

For decades, mankind has strived to create the perfect burger. In modern times there are two schools of thought. There's the upscale approach, popularized by places like Zinburger, that insists on Kobe beef, fancy oils, and only the best ingredients. And then there's places like Lindy's, which take a simpler approach. They don't beat an eye at using potato rolls from Safeway or even, shudder, frozen patties. And yet they still manage to turn out sublimely tasty burgers, as good if not better than their hoity-toity competition.

Lindy's is parked just south of 6th St. on 4th Ave., smack in the middle of the bar scene. Inside are various objets d'art created by local artisans. There's beer on tap and a sports game on the flat-screen most nights. The menu is filled with lavishly-topped, cheekily-named dishes. The Mac n' Cheese Burger is a favorite: it comes slathered with tiny macaronis, melted cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion. The Dirty Sanchez is the perfect hamburger for spicy lovers: it's loaded for bear with jalapenos, pepper jack, guacamole, and chopped green chiles. It's one of those burgers where every bite is laden with juicy, spicy goodness. Its main disadvantage is that it tends to be quite messy. A side effect of all that guacamole is that it tends to expel quickly onto the plate. All the better for the fries, one might counter. Lindy's fries are decent, but unexceptional, and probably pre-frozen. The main attraction here are the burgers.

Not in the mood for a sloppy burger? Stumbling back from the bars and craving a quick bite? Lindy's has you covered: their corn dogs are excellent and cheap. For under $2 they sell Coney Island-style dogs crisped to perfection. They're the perfect impulse buy.

Lindy's claims to have the best burger on 4th Avenue: a modest claim, yet well-founded. They might even have the best burger in Tucson.

I Only Play Kind Code

(h/t Teachnologist, via Kotaku)

Nintendo has patented something they call "kind code." With the ascent of the Nintendo Wii, there's been a lot of ink spilled on how games are too complicated for the average consumer. The reason for the Wii's popularity, so the reasoning goes, is that it simplifies games to the point were anyone can enjoy them. People who've played games since childhood have an innate facility with video game mechanics that makes it easy for them to meet a game's challenges: gauge the jumping distance between point A and point B, for example, or combine button presses to perform special moves. As the video game playing consumer base increases, the skilled consumer base becomes outnumbered by newer players. And yet most games are designed with these skilled players in mind. Most games assume that the player comes to the table with a certain base set of skills, and for those who lack them, the games can be quite frustrating to play.

Kind code is Nintendo's attempt to make games easier to play for the masses, to bridge this skill gap. It would work as a sort of developer's commentary, where the player watches a developer play through a section, uncover secrets, and explain the physics rules of a particular gameplay stretch. Instead of guessing whether it is possible to jump from point A to point B, the developer simply tells you.

This isn't a new idea. Tutorial modes are fairly common, and Valve is known for its excellent developer commentaries in games such as Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2, and Left 4 Dead. But it's a new way for developers to introduce new players into standby gameplay genres without necessarily dumbing down the entire game in the process, which is something that recent Wii development has been frequently accused of doing.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Tale of Two Salads

"I think this is a canal," she said. "After all, this place is called Canal, isn't it?"

"No, I think it's a runway." We were looking at the peculiar glowing blue glass elevated platform that ran next to our table and divided the dining room in half. On the wall, a series of mounted flatscreen televisions ran endless fashion shows.

Turns out it was a runway, a very small one. Canal is a painfully hip bar, restaurant, and part-time fashion runway in downtown Scottsdale. The waiter tersely informed us that the happy hour specials were for bar patrons only, so we decided to order a few salads and save the $5 Tanquerays for another day. I ordered a Caesar salad and my companion chose the Nicoise tuna salad.

The Caesar was serviceable, certainly picturesque, but the chicken was too dry. The Nicoise, however, was divine, with lightly seared ahi (which I would have preferred to eat raw) and crumbly, moist fingerling potatoes.

Oh, and at the rear there was a staircase leading to this peculiar candy store and fashion emporium. Weird.

Friday, January 9, 2009

virtual terror

My hairstylist and I were discussing whether I should grow some facial hair. I was unsure, but I thought about it. Somehow along the way I ran into this horrifying device, which I used to create this:

Not for small children.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Green Fairy and Stuffed Squid

A friend recently told me she was going to Phoenix for a few days and wanted to know where to go. I was slightly embarrassed to say I had no idea. I don't know what's cool in Phoenix anymore. Or Scottsdale, or Tempe, or in the dark part of the city west of 7th Avenue I like to call Mordor.

But tonight I was dragged to Digestif, in Scottsdale, and found some cool things, notably absinthe:

and chorizo-stuffed squid bruschetta:

More later.

Mini-Review: True Food Kitchen

Speaking of clockwork, every Sam Fox enterprise I've ever been to operates with the lash-induced precision of a Korean animation studio. True Food, Sam Fox's latest restaurant and partnership with holistic healer/professional beard/popular bear fan fiction subject Andrew Weil, is no different. Even though the place has the decor of a laid back San Francisco juice bar, from its warm green and yellow paint scheme to the plain tunics worn by the wait staff, True Food is all business. It's tucked away in the Biltmore mall in Phoenix, where the Coffee Plantation used to be. When we arrived, we were immediately seated, and a friendly server explained True Food's mission and the menu. Interested parties can read the website for more info on Weil's eating philosophy; in short, True Food stresses local-grown produce, sustainably raised cattle and fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, and other good stuff.

We began with smoothies freshly prepared by our server. I chose the T-Eight, a cocktail of tomato, celery, ginger, cucumber, golden beet, apple, carrot, and parsley ($6), and added a shot of organic vodka for $3. My companion ordered the Ginger Nojito: mint, ginger, lime, honey lemonade, and soda water for $4. I preferred the T-Eight slightly more, but both tasted light and went down easy. We ordered the herb hummus with pita bread and Greek salad ($8) as an appetizer; I selected the salmon sandwich ($14) as my main course, and my companion selected the steak tacos with anasazi beans ($14, $5).

The hummus was zippy and fresh. Made several times daily, along with the pita bread, it is a house favorite -- and with good reason. The cucumbers and tomatoes in the salad were equally tangy and delightful. Our server pointed out that the dish would be vegan if the feta cheese were removed, and that it is a favorite of "raw" diners. To that point, the entire menu is very friendly to vegans, vegetarians, gluten-free eaters, and people with allergies. Each menu item is marked according to its suitability for various eaters, and the kitchen is happy to make substitutions.

With little pause, our main courses arrived. The salmon sandwich was served open-faced with shiso, lime, avocado, and cilantro aioli, and a side of sweet potato hash. Cooked to perfection, the salmon yielded gently under my fork, and was perfectly moist and juicy. The sweet potato hash was a Platonic side dish: perfectly prepared, not too sweet, not too memorable, and above all else it did not distract me from the main course. My companion reported (and I confirmed) that the steak tacos were similarly juicy, although I found them a touch too salty. Although she enjoyed the tacos, she felt they were "a little too Chipotle" (which I take to mean they were too conventional for her tastes). The beans were quite well-done, if perhaps a touch soggy. Up to this point, I was surprised that so-called health food could be this tasty.

For dessert, we tried the orange olivello sorbet. Olivello juice, derived from sea buckthorn berries, is a powerful anti-oxidant. True Food claims to be the only restaurant in the country that provides this juice and features it prominently in several dishes. We found the dish powerfully sweet, more than I typically enjoy. This dish, like all the others, was excellently prepared and served promptly.

I greatly enjoyed my meal at True Food Kitchen, and I'm happy to know there's another restaurant I can take my vegan friends to without reservation.

Shrimp Toast

This was Christmas Eve dinner at Cafe Pacific, my favorite Chinese place in Tucson. Near as I can tell, Cafe Pacific is run by two people, and they run it like clockwork. This is one of their unique concoctions, a delightful appetizer that combines two of my favorite things into one delicious, tasty morsel. It is a fusion of fish and bread that looks both adorable on the place and yet slightly unnatural, like a specially bred fish you might find in Willy Wonka's artificial sea.

om nom nom nom