Saturday, August 23, 2008

Character Versus Concept

My two friends and I are starting a science fiction and fantasy student run workshop this fall semester. Though I know that lecturing is BAD in a workshop environment (it promotes sleep), I've begun thinking a lot about the genres.

Asimov writes, "Science fiction stories are notoriously weak on characterization as compared with mainstream stories. At least, so the critics say. I am always struck with impatience at such cavils. Even if it be true, there happens to be a good reason for it. The characters are a smaller portion of science fiction than of the mainstream."
I think the critique works both ways, though. I argue that there are just as many stories with extraordinary psychological introspection but no plot as stories with fantastic concepts with popsicle stick puppet characters.
Character is always important, but that being said, I agree with Asimov that it does not have to be the most important or memorable component. Some people gesture from the head and others from the heart. Both are valid forms of communiction. It is okay to write in either mode. I would argue that Ray Bradbury wrote from the brain while Jane Austen wrote from the heart, and it's very difficult to rank the two.

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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Short Story Part # 3

I'm back but not fully operational. Damn Comcast and it's shady service. Here is part 3 of my short story. Part 2 has posted June 29th and it also has the link to Part 1.

He was lost. It made his stomach feel sour. He sat down on the sidewalk under a street lamp and looked down the steep hill. His nose stung like a carpet burn and his eyes were dry and hurt from crying. His throat hurt from crying too. Dark. He thought of the Chinaman and shivered. And Ninjas and Aztecs. Professor said that the Aztecs died a long time ago, but Patrice didn’t know if he could believe them anymore. He almost wanted to go back, but he had to get to Cici’s place. Alex hadn’t wanted to share the room. “Only one piece can occupy a square at a time,” he had said. And then he told him what the Aztecs did to their sacrifices and Patrice had spent three nights in the big bed in between Mommy and Professor. Mommy had not been happy.
Mommy didn’t like him anymore so he couldn’t go back. Pat looked around. The wind rustled the leaves and he moaned. He had never walked here before, though he may have gone down this way on a school bus. He didn’t know where to go and he was tired. He was scared too, scared enough to puke.
Professor always said, “Think out your moves. But at this level, don’t try to make the perfect move, you should learn, experiment. It’s just a game.”
He heard sirens and squatted behind a big metal mail box as two police cars whizzed by. The last time he had seen a police car was when Professor’s friend Mr. Mueller had been robbed. They had beat him up and Mommy and Professor had visited him in the hospital.
They dropped Alex and Patrice at Cici’s house. Patrice hoped Cici would take him, and he didn’t understand why Mommy had wanted the baby more than him. The moon had come up and Patrice could see a house that’s walls were slightly darker than the others. Could that be the blue house? He walked towards it, hurrying and then running. He didn’t know much about robbers and cops. But if they were chess pieces, they would be bishops because they could swing across the board, and pow! knock out a pawn, a Patrice, just like that.
“Professor, whatcha doin,” Patrice asked nervously as he watched him build something in his room.
“It’s a crib for the baby.”
“What about me?”
“That’s why we got a bunk bed, Pat. So you and Alex can share a room.”
“I thought it was just for a little while.”
“No, sorry, little man.” Professor wiped his forehead and left a black stain there. “But there’s safety in numbers. When you wake up and think there’s a monster under your bed, you don’t have to run into our room anymore. Alex is a pro with those things. And I shared a room with my brother, your Uncle Tim, when I was growing up and it was fun. Okay?”
“I guess.”

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Saturday, August 2, 2008

5 Textbook Buying Tips

This is kind of depressing, because it means that you have to think about school, and who ever wants to do that. In terms of book buying, there are two kinds of classes. The classes where you read entire books and classes where you don't. But here are five tips to reduce money-spending.

1. Decide if you must buy. This usually means that waiting for the syllabus. All required books for classes are in the library. Moffitt has all the humanities books on 2 hour reserve and if you borrow them one and a half hour before the reservation desk closes, you can keep them until 9 am the next morning.
2. If you only need to read a portion of it, but you want to have that section handy for the final, you can copy it at a copy shop. There's a 2.5 cent place on Kittredge and Oxford and a 3 cent place on University called CopyEdge. They'll even bind it for 1.50 to 3 dollars more.
3. If you must buy, research your choices. In addition to the Cal Store and Ned's Books, there's which a book-buying and selling community. There is a Berkeley branch and you do all book exchanges in person. It's fast, easy, and you don't have to pay shipping.
4. If you must buy at the Cal Store or Ned's Book Store, many large clubs partner with the two stores to give you a 10-15% discount. You just have to give them your e-mail address.
5. Use used book stores.
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Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight is an amazing movie. It is lovely, dark, and deep, and, of course, badass to the core. While not as stylistically shot as another summer Blockbuster, Wanted, you can tell that they spent just as much money on pyrotechnics and CGI to make it obscenely and mindblowingly cool. But you'll be busy watching the Joker, Batman, and Harvey Dent (in that order) to be oohing and aahing over the image fest. This is a movie that is flawless in theater. That being said, it's only later that you begin to notice flaws.

Plotwise, it's been about a year after the appearance of Batman (Christian Bale). The gangsters (their numbers much reduced) now operate in daylight for fear of the vigilante. Gotham is now a brighter, safer place under the care of Batman, but also a mayor and a district attorney with zero tolerance for corruption. And then the Joker (Heath Ledger) arrives. First robbing the mob and the then quickly supplanting them as the baddest baddie of Gotham. Meanwhile, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Batman's childhood sweetheart, has found a man is as handsome and morally up righteous as Bruce Wayne in the DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).
The Dark Knight is somewhat misleadingly titled, because it focuses more on the villains than the hero. The Joker and Harvey Dent form the two pillars of the movie. Now imagine the two pillars to be the Eiffel Tower and a flagpole, with no offense to the flagpole. Not only does he have a vastly superior body count, there is something in Heath Ledger's presence that's extremely disturbing. Maybe it's the stiff legged walk, hunched shoulders, and the constant smacking and licking of his lips that makes you want to pee in your pants. Maybe it's the voice. One of my favorite scenes is when he has a knife to a man's mouth and is recounting how he got his scars. "Why so serious," he says over and over again.
I'm not that Aaron Eckhart isn't a good actor. He was wonderful in Thank You for Smoking and more than competent in the role. It's just that the perverted genuineness of Heath Ledger makes all the other characters slightly artificial. There is some sort of smarmy-ness and arrogance in Harvey Dent that just doesn't mesh with his White Knight of Gotham City status. [SPOILER BEGINS]He also did not have good chemistry with love interest Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who was by far the worst cast. While sweet and slightly headstrong, Gyllenhaal was never convincingly in love with Eckhart and even worse, she lacked the stage presence to drive him mad. I'm not saying that Katie Holmes would have been a better choice, but in the first film that wasn't required of her. Dent's transformation to Two Face hinged on Gyllenhaal's performance and she lacked the charisma to carry the role. [SPOILER ENDS].
The discrepancy in power between the two main villains makes for a really lopsided film. And with two leading men, the rest of the cast has to scramble to make the best of their parts. My favorite character is obviously the Joker, but tied for a very distant second place is Alfred (Michael Caine) and Coleman Reese (Joshua Harto), a Wayne Enterprises employee who tries to blackmail the Batman. Christian Bale and Morgan Freemen both delivered strong performances, but weren't given much material. I thought Bale was better in th brief snippets as the snobbish, selfish billionaire Bruce Wayne than Batman. he's perfectly self-centered and clueless when he totals his Lamborghini. Gary Oldman is also great as a goody two-shoes cop who stubbornly (and near stupidly) holds onto his morals.
And despite all the negative things I've said this was a really cool movie. And there's praiseworthy in the fact that the movie's strongest point also draws attention to it's weakest. It's almost too good.
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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

5 Tips for Pulling An All-Nighter

1. Socks. (I tend to get cold early in the morning.)
2. Caffeine (Tea, coffee, coke, energy drink, etc)
3. Something to chew on (gum, Sourpatch kids, erasers, etc.)
4. No Distractions (This can mean a lot of things, a physically clean place, turning off your internet, music, the absence of music, just something that forces you in the zone and keeps you there. For me, it's no music, no internet, no phone. When you're in a time crunch, you can't afford distractions...and that's why it's so appealing to take them.)
5. Comfortable clothes that you can go to class in without changing.
Bonus: A friend to stay up with you and offer support. S/he can be a horrible distraction early on, but later at 3, 4, 5 in the morning, it can be the only thing that keeps you going. It's especially useful if they're in another time zone so you don't feel as guilty for keeping them up. Read more!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Clouds like Water

We hiked what seemed like a thousand stone cut steps to reach a viewing point by sunrise. I was breathless more from the climb than the view. At first, there was only fog. We sipped water and it was pleasantly chilly. It was too humid to be called crisp, but breezy. We looked out over the edge of the cliff. As the sky lightened, the layers of fog separated. I did not know that there were so colors of fog. There was inky gray, dove gray, blue linty gray, gray like dull silver, and a tissue paper white. The sun created ripples of apricot and peach. It was a beautiful soft sunrise, feathery. New colors appeared as the sun burned off the fog, green-gray of foliage, a pale lavender, gold, and even amber.
Our tour guide bemoaned the fog, that the sunrise would be much more brilliant in clear, mountain air, but I know for a fact that sunrises are breathtakingly beautiful. Who knew that fog could be, too? Read more!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Things to Eat on Payday

Just some things I have a craving for as I wait for August 1st. Mostly wishful thinking. Here is a walk down memory lane of some nice things I've eaten lately.

Gruyere and ham panini. $8.95 Scharffen Berger

Steak fried in garlic butter. You and three friends. Safeway. $15-20 (depending on how heavy the steaks are.)

Cheese. Full on party. Cheeseboard. $35
Marble block from left: brie, blue, brie, smoked mozzarella, rine washed brie.
On the wrapper: white chedder

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

5 Tips to Cheap Eats

With rising food costs, it's even more important that students get their grub for cheap. Here are five tips that will help you save cash, without putting yourself on a bread and water diet.

1. Happy Hour is happy for a reason. You save money and it's not just about getting plastered. Some eateries like Spengers have happy hour(s) that give you delicious food for lower prices if you get a drink (ie. Coke, Sprite, Beer, etc). It's located conveniently on 4th and University, you can take the 51. And who can say no to a 3.99 Clam Chowder Bread Bowl or a 1.99 Shrimp Scatter? (I haven't been there for a few months so prices may have gone up. *sadness*)
Spenger's Happy Hours are Monday - Friday 4:00pm - 6:00pm & 9:30pm - 11:00pm and
Sunday 8pm - 10pm.
2. Lunch Specials or Specials of any kind. This includes Desi Dogs $1.50 after 5 deal and Sushi House's 6.99 Terkiyaki, California Roll, tempura meal. Chipolte and Slurp also gives free fountain drinks with a student ID, which brings me to point 3.
Skate's also has a happy hour, but it's more pricy.
3. Flaunt your student ID. Many restaurants and eateries give a 10% student discount. This includes Papamingos, Sweet Dreams, and Bobby G's Pizzeria. This is also applicable to non-food places like Amoeba and Rasputin.
4. Coupons & Press Pass. I'm not telling you to clip out of the PennySaver. But during Welcome Week and generally the first few weeks of the semester, people will be handing out a big book of coupons entitled "Guide to Good Life: Berkeley." This is a free book chock full of coupons. There is also a card called the Press Pass that will give you discounts from haircuts, boba, to bowling.
5. Go to the Supermarket.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Take that, Tacitus!

They created a des[s]ert and called it peace. - Tacitus
It is a good day when you can simultaneously cutesy up Tacitus and implicate a certain mouse in war crimes. Not that Disney ever dirtied its hands in warfare, just some rather horrible propaganda and cartoons on bombers.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

When studying for Rome, procrastinate.

I was bumbling around looking for a timeline generator to put my roman history class into perspective. I really don't have the time and energy to break up the highlighters. As always, while technology has once again advanced beyond my pitiful knowledge, it hasn't advanced enough for me to do cool stuff. I didn't find anything useful, but I did find this hilarious time line generator for fantasy lands.

In the year -23, it is written that...
..there was an advance in offensive military technology
..there was an epidemic/disease with an infection rate of 71% - 80% and a mortality rate of 0% - 5%
In the year -21, it is written that...
..a Religious Order fell into disgrace
..a rebellion of the Nobles occurred
In the year -20, it is written that...
..there was an attack by a group of poorly organized raiders
..there was an incursion by foreign interests

And on and so forth and etc. It's a wonderful spoof on how laboriously serious fantasy epic writers are...or maybe it's completely straightfaced and de riguer for young men straight from D&D.
But back to studying.
And if you're wondering, in the year 23BC, Augusts resigned the consulship.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Narnia: A Real Place?

Which way to Narnia? Apparently, Narnia was once a real Europe.
Piso, having crossed the Dalmatian sea and left his ships at Ancona, traveled through Picenum and subsequently by the Flaminian Way, overtaking the legion which was being led from Pannonia to the City and thence as a garrison [Legion IX] for Africa...From Narnia-- to avoid suspicion, or because the plans of those who panic are never certain--he sailed down the Nar and subsequently the Tiber...-- Tacitius' Annals 3.9.1

Did C. S. Lewis know his Tacitus? And where is the real Narnia anyway? The results are confusing. Further Wikipedia research yields that the River Nar is in England. Though Pannonia is in Eastern Europe, around western Hungary, and the Tiber river is in northern Italy. The City, of course, is Rome.
So, in conclusion, Narnia did exist, I'm just not sure where. I smell a National Geographic/ Nova/ Discovery Channel feature coming up!
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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Meringue Lime Tart & Cream Puffs with Ice Cream

This is much less exciting than chocolate truffles. :(
Basically, I took Martha Stewart's recipe for lime squares and recipe for meringue topping and got this.
The only real modification is that I don't use pistachios and just add a 1/4 cup more graham crackers to make up for it.
Once again, this would be so much more awesome if I had a blowtorch.

The cream puff recipe is also from Martha Stewart. Here is the whipping cream recipe. Be careful to not overbeat it. Lovely Pauline is modeling. Read more!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Friday, July 18, 2008

Chocolate Truffles

So, yesterday was a friend's goodbye party. It was a wine, cheese, baked goods, and tea party. He did the cooking which included steak with a red wine reduction sauce and dungeness crab in a white wine sauce flavored with lots crab brains, garlic, and green onions. Yum!
Not to be outdone, I made chocolate truffles, cream puffs filled with vanilla ice cream with a ghiradelli dark chocolate sauce, and key lime tart with meringue. I'm very tired and so I'm only going to tell you have to make the truffles tonight, though I'll try to post all the recipes (mine and his) in the near future.

The ganache is Scharffen Berger 70% chocolate, the shell is Ghiradelli 60% Cacao chocolate, and it is coated in a wonderfully kick in the mouth Dagoba Xocolatl Hot Chocolate or the old favorite chopped pecans. I got the Dagoba as a gift, but just the chocolate in this recipe will run you about 20 bucks. So, in other words, it's bad for your wallet and your health. What's not to love?
Here's is the link to the
official recipe from Food Network's website, but I'll retype the recipe with my modifications below. The official recipe yields about 50 truffles, but I was short on time and cash so I halved it.
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 a pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely (I used an entire Scharffen Berger's 70% Cacao baking bar which is 9.7 ounces. A half a pound is actually 8 ounces)
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 pound liquid tempered chocolate (more on that later, I used 8 ounces of Ghiradelli 60% Cacao baking chocolate)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 cup of Dagoba Xocolatl Hot Chocolate (note: I just searched it on Google and it seems like Dagoba has discontinued the product. You can always use plain unsweetened cocoa powder or be adventurous and add a dash of cinnamon and chili powder to it. )

Place heavy cream in a large pot and bring slowly to a boil over medium heat. Turn off the heat and stir in the chopped chocolate. Let stand for 2 minutes then stir well until smooth. Stir in the butter. Pour into the bowl, and let cool until set. I was never quite sure how set is set, so I always let it return to room temperature. About a half an hour.
Then I beat it with a handheld mixture until it's aerated and fluffy. The Food Network recipe calls for a stand mixer, which I don't have. For a stand mixer, it takes about 2 minutes, but I always beat it for +5 with my handheld one. If you want to add espresso powder, cinnamon, alcohol, this is where you do it. However, since I'm using really high grade chocolate (Scharffen Berger claims that the 70% bar has flavors of red fruit), I want the taste of the chocolate to come out unmolested. The finished chocolate ganache should lighten slightly in color and when you poke it, it should leave a proud little peak. No droopies.
This is where I modify it a lot. The recipe asks you to pipe the mixture out, but I find it easier to spoon it out in a 1.5-2 tbsp droplets on a parchment papered cookie sheet. Then I chill it in the fridge or freezer for five to ten minutes. I roll them into gumball sized balls and at the end, my hands look like the hands of an ax murderer before TV had good color. Then I return them to the freezer as I start on the tempered chocolate. You need a friend for this!!!!
Basically, now you're going to coat the ganache balls with a liquid layer of tempered chocolate and then roll them in Dagoba hot chocolate powder or finely chopped nuts. Prepare three plates, one with the nuts, one with the chocolate powder, and one plate for the finished truffles. You have to do this quickly. If the chocolate cools too much before you coat your truffle, you'll get a thick gloppy layer instead of a crisp thin layer. Think chocolate shell.
I used the seed crystal method as described by Cooking For Engineers. Basically, I melted about six ounces of finely chopped Ghiradelli chocolate in a makeshift double boiler (ie. in a glass bowl over a pot of boiling water.) I stirred until it was melted, turned off the heat, and added 2 more ounces of Ghiradelli chocoalte (total being 8). Stir until melted.
Grab your tray of ganache balls from the freezer and dump them into the tempered chocolate a few at a time. Then either drop and coat them in the nuts or in the chocolate powder. Transfer onto the finished plate. Repeat until finished.
You can eat immediately or chill. It's wonderful with a glass of red wine, milk, or just by itself. The hot chocolate powder is a shock at first which mellows with the richness and slight tartness of the ganache. Since the cocoa coating is so strong, you might be able to get away with a lower grade chocolate for tempering (ie Nestle or Hershey's), but I haven't put it into practice yet.
For more recipes, click my "recipe" label. Duh.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bunny Goes To...Norikonoko

I love Norikonoko! It's a cute little Japanese restaurant located at 2556 Telegraph Ave in Berkeley. The cross streets are Telegraph and Parker Here is a link to their menu. It's an adorable shop decorated to the gills with Japanese knick knacks (ie doraemon.)

My friend, Angela, and I went there for dinner. It's overpriced, but the food is great quality. The only student-priced food is the ramen (7.50 a bowl), the curry (10.00), or gyoza (10.00). $7.50 may seem a lot for a bowl of ramen, but remember that some other restaurants (unnamed, of course) will try to feed you ramen out of a package for $5. This ramen tastes fresh and chewy like it was made by people in kimonos on tatami mats or something like that. The nice older man and woman in the kitchen really help that image of home style food. It also comes with a hard boiled egg, fish cake, and assorted veggies.
We both got chashu ramen with gyoza (10.50), which is ramen plus four pieces of BBQ pork and a tiny plate of 3 gyoza. There is an option of a miso soup base and a soy sauce base, but I always pick the miso base.
It's a really neat place to go on a date or hang out with a friend or two. The staff is very polite and they all greet and say goodbye to you in Japanese. It's not made to accommodate big groups of people (4+). We finished off with taiyaki, a fish shaped pancake filled with red bean paste. They either make these things in the back or they have master microwave skills. It was soft, warm all the way through and not too sweet.
A Cheerful Goth Bunny

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Quote of the Day with Weather Forecast

Pooh to Christopher Robin:
"What I like best in the whole world is Me and Piglet going to see You, and You saying 'What about a little something?' and Me saying, 'Well, I shouldn't mind a little something, should you, Piglet,' and it being a hummy sort of day outside and birds singing."
p. 172, A. A. Milne's The House At Pooh Corner

Today is a chilly, overcast the middle of summer. I feel like tea and crumb cake. And not even Asian-style tea, but how English people take it, some sort of black tea with milk and sugar.
And I'm trying to think of some pithy quote that goes with tea, but I can't except a depressing one from The Love Song J. Alfred Prufrock. Though now that I looked it up, there's at least three references to tea and I'm wondering if T. S. Eliot really liked tea or found it a good medium for listlessness and depression.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

A Quote: Also Known as Procrastination

"I should eat three brownies, remember the sky, and become the best writer in the world."
- Natalie Goldberg, p. 86 of Writing Down the Bones Read more!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bunny Goes to Victoria Pastry Co

Located at 1362 Stockton St., San Francisco, Ca 941533, home of wonderful cookies but lackluster coffee. Here is their website. Their amarettis are wonderfully chewy and the almond taste is strong but not overwhelming, as in you can feel it in your mouth and not in your nose. They have decent meringues and we tried the raspberry rugalech and the Mexican wedding cookies, which were also good. I haven't tried their choux pastry (cream puffs, eclairs, etc), but choux pastry is really easy to make if you have a handheld mixer or a lot of friends who lift weights. I like the Martha Stewart Everyday Food recipe, but I digress.
It's a cozy little shop, not much seating space, and watery in taste but potent in strength coffee. It's right next to Chinatown and a pretty good hike from Union Square.

A Cheerful Goth Bunny Read more!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Favorite Children's Authors

Here is a list of my favorite children's authors, in no particular order. These authors primarily hit the 9-12 age range. I think I'll compile another list for Young Adult (YA) that's for 10-14 and perhaps one that is for grades 9-12.
I know some people have a beef against such labeling, because a good book should not be so easily contained. And if you really think about it, most novels are coming-of-age stories and hence are YA novels. Historically, most protagonists from the 19-20th century classics are in their late teens and twenties. Here are a list of authors, though, who primarily have protagonists between the ages 9-12 and differ from YA and adult novels in that there is relatively little romance between the principal characters.
The 9-12 range (grades 4-6) is also a really big range because you're reading ability expands at a phenomenal pace.

Diana Wynne Jones (Chrestomanci)
Elizabeth George Speare (The Bronze Bow, Sign of the Beaver)
Andrew Clements (Frindle, Things not Seen)
Eloise Jarvis McGraw (The Moorchild, Moccasin Trail, and The Golden Goblet)
Louis Sachar (Wayside School series, he'll will be showing up in my YA list, too)
Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl series)
E. B. White (Stuart Little, The Trumpet of the Swan, Charlotte's Web)
Betty MacDonald (Mrs. Piggle Wiggle Series)
Noel Streatfeild (Shoes series<-- Of When Harry Met Sally fame!)
Donna Jo Napoli (she's written a ton of books)
Cornelia Funke (Inkheart, The Thief Lord)
Jerry Spinelli (Stargirl, Maniac Magee)
Lois Lowry Read more!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Shembi's Green Beans Recipe Revisited

The first picture is the green bean recipe still in the pan. It doesn't look as appealing as it does in real life and the white stuff is basically several tablespoons of chevre (goat cheese). Yum!
Here's the link to the recipe.
The second picture includes a rosemary roasted chicken with a sprig of well, rosemary. While the green bean definitely looks heavy, it tastes like a relatively light dish, especially compared to a dense piece of roasted chicken. It was a fun and tasty dinner, but rather expensive.
The first time I had this green bean recipe was with a piece of barbecued chicken in a lime marinade and a light green salad, which I guess is healthy and light all the way around.
If you want to carb-load, this dish really complements a short pasta (penne, shells, fusili) in a marinara sauce. The goat cheese really enriches the tomato sauce and you get the tart sweetness of the grape tomatoes, with the different crunches of the green beans and toasted slivered almonds, the slight spice of the bell peppers, and well, it's really nice. Read more!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Blogs: Active or Passive Experience?

Today I read an article entitled "Writing Style for Print vs. Web." Author Jakob Nielsen (the king of usability) says that web writing differs from print writing, because web readers want to piece together their own information rather than being fed like TV or reading a book. That readers are on the go and are searching for a specific thing. The article link is here.
This makes a lot of sense when you're buying something and yeah, it seems like he's targeting small businesses, but does this apply to blogs, too? Or is it more like traditional writing that readers want to sit back and be entertained? Or (this makes the most sense) are we on a hazy middle ground? Something both extremely content driven, but also contains enough randomness, anecdotes, that mimic human conversation.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Maxim's Veggie Surprise

I used to live with this guy named Maxim and this is one of the things he could whip up in 30 minutes flat. We (the house) would see him chopping a bunch of vegetables, throw it into a pan, watch it wilt, throw a can of spaghetti sauce in, wait for it to heat through, and voila! Veggie surprise.
There's no set of things that has to go into this chunky concoction. I'm just listing down the veggies I prefer, but if you don't like them, you don't have to include them.
You can eat it with rice or over pasta. My sister likes to stuff it inbetween two slices of bread with havarti or muenster cheese and eat it like a sandwich. Conceivably, you could also use it in pizza but I've never tried.

You should really try it! It's healthy, fast, and flavorful.

a jar of spaghetti sauce (26 oz?)
a bunch of spinach
olive oil
bell pepper

1. Mince garlic, cut and core the bell pepper (I like reds) into quarters, and chop everything else into bite size pieces.
2. Brush the bell pepper, sprinkle with salt, and pepper and pop into the oven at 425 for 15-20 minutes or until blackened.
3. While pepper is cooking, saute the garlic with a few tablespoons of oil. When cooked, throw in the mushrooms, sprinkle with salt and let them go for a few minutes over medium. Then add all the veggies except the bell pepper (which is still cooking). Wait a few minutes until the spinach starts to wilt, then open the jar of tomato sauce and dump it in. While it's heating through, remove the bell pepper from the oven, de-skin, cut into bite size pieces and add to sauce.
4. Enjoy! Read more!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

First Thoughts on Declare

I finished Declare sometime last night and I'm still trying to wrap my brain around it. I've learned over time that you shouldn't even try to understand a Tim Powers book on the first read, but just try to get the gist of it kind of like a read through of a play. First you get the blocking down, the basics, before you move on to the nuances. It's the second or third read before you get something above a surface reading.

I can anticipate the question, "Why bother then? If you have to work so hard?" The answer is because Powers books are an awesome, mind-melting trip! Yeah, I won't get all the connections or even anything more than basic plot, but there's still moments in the text when the hairs raise on my arms. Powers can create some terrifying scenes.

Declare is a cold war era, globe tropping, spy thriller. The main characters are Andrew Hale, a British spy, Elena (something or other), a hot Soviet spy, and Kim Philby, real life British/USSR spy. However, there's so much more to that. There's genies (called djinns), Lawrence of Arabia, A Thousand and One Nights, Russia, Britain, the Bible, rubaiyats, etc. etc.

Besides the hair raising moments, what I love about Powers book is how he is able to see magic in the mundane, but also in events that are interesting in their own right. The Cold War, the existence and fail of the USSR is fascinating from a historical perspective, and it's something wondrous and original that Powers can take a look take an already rich history and reimagine it without it losing of its meatiness and realness.
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Monday, July 7, 2008

Bunny goes to Scharffen Berger Chocolate Factory

The Scharffen Berger Factory is one of the top ten happiest places in my existence. Located in Berkeley on Seventh street and Heinz, it includes a chocolate factory (duh), a gift shop, and Cafe Cacao, a cozy little cafe with free WiFi with awesome (though expensive) goodies and a slightly tart mocha made with their very own chocolate. Click here for a link to their website.When the factory is actually making chocolate, it smells amazing. It reminds of the scene when Charlie Bucket has to walk past Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory and always stops to take huge deep breaths of the rich, warm, wet smell.
They offer several tours just about everyday, but you need to call ahead and make a reservation. They require close toed shoes, for safety reasons. The tour is about an hour long and includes a sit down portion as they go through the chocolate making process and an actual walk through the factory. For those who aren't too happy about classrooms, four pieces of chocolate are distributed at specific points during the tour are ample incentive. I went on the tour twice and some of the chocolate pieces changed, but you can try any piece of chocolate in the shop. Just ask, they have samples.
The first picture is of the cacao beans at various point of the refining process. The first are the beans after they have been fermented. The second is after they have been roasted. The other husks come off when you squeeze them. *crunch* *crunch* And the third tray is after the husk has been removed by the winnower. These little guys are called nibs and look like broken up pieces of walnut, but beware, they are horribly bitter. :(
One of the byproducts is cocoa butter, which doesn't have butter in it at all, but it feels wonderful on the skin. Scharffen Berger chocolate is made up of cacao beans, sugar, vanilla, and some sort of emulsifier. The flavors of cranberries and etc come from the actual cacao. The factory is divided into two rooms. The first contain the roaster (pictured on left) and the winnower. There are actually two roasters and the one pictured is the same kind that Pete's Coffee uses. And on the right, is the the winnower, which sounds a little like widower. It looks like a scary machine. All around are what looks like trashcans, the big kind that you drag to the curbside once a week, but they're filled with cacao beans or nibs.
The second rooms contains the melanger, the conches, and the molding line. The first picture on the left is the melanger, which uses a huge grinding stone to mash the roasted and huskless beans in a paste. The conch, a machine with hundreds of rotating blades, further refines it. Somewhere in that room is when the chocolate is tempered, I've forgotten exactly what machine does it, but if you go on the tour you can go tell me.
Finally, there is the assembly line. The hair nets the people in the picture are wearing are another safety precaution. A gentleman on the left is also wearing a beard net. This is just a heads up.
After reading this, if the tour guide asks any questions, you can answer like a real pro!

A Cheerful Goth Bunny Read more!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

New Friends

This blog has been expanded a lot from its original goal of blogging about books. In fact, I've been blogging about a lot of stuff besides books because frankly, I just don't read fast enough. I also write for reviews for under a human alias and I have a lot interests. So I asked the friends with whom I watched Wanted if they would like to contribute. You can decide if they're actually people or just stuffed animals. So here are our new members: starting from the top, there's Flopsy who is inexplicably happy. Second is Ryan the blue bulldog companion that was pictured in my Wall-E review. He will start taking over some of the cooking stuff, because he is a far better cook than me. And finally, there is Ivan the Diminutive, who is over-enthusiastically Russian. See close up! We are all very hopeful that he has the writing chops but not the tragic personality of other Russian greats.

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Shembi's Green Bean Recipe

Pictures and more exact measurements are forthcoming, but it's a very attractive and colorful dish. It has a combination of hot and cold ingrediants and derives most of its flavoring from the goat cheese, shallots, and bell pepper.

Virgin olive oil (2 tablespoons)
Garlic (3 cloves minced)
Shallot (1 med-large diced)
1 bag sliced brown crimini mushrooms
1 bag green beans (green and yellow) for color
1 yellow or orange bell pepper (sliced)
Chicken broth (about 1/2 a cup) (you can substitute vegetable broth to make it vegetarian)
1 container grape tomatoes (sliced in half)
Almond Slivers (toasted)
Chevré (goat cheese)

If almonds are not purchased toasted place in a smallpan and toast them until lightly golden brown. Removefrom heat…they will continue to cook a bit if left inthe pan so if they are too dark place in a bowl andset aside to quickly cool.
Cut grape tomatoes in half, place in a bowl andsprinkle with salt. Set aside.
Sauté olive oil, garlic and shallot in a deep pan forabout 2-3 minutes until garlic is lightly brown butnot burned. Add mushrooms, sprinkle with salt andcontinue to sauté until mushrooms release moisture about 4-5 min. Add the green beans and bell pepper andstir veggie mixture. Add enough chicken broth to slightly cover bottom of pan and immediately cover with lid. Let the veggies steam until tender. Remove lid and allow remaining broth to cook off.
Combine veggie mixture with tomatoes and almondslivers into serving bowl. Crumble chevré with a forkover veggies and serve.

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Friday, July 4, 2008

Timur Bekmambetov’s Wanted

Happy Fourth of July!
I watched this movie last night with a group of friends and it gets an A for looking cool and a C for making sense. In other words, it’s one of those visually spectacular movies that falls to pieces once you start thinking about it. And unfortunately, it takes itself too seriously for the audience to write off the plot and character inconsistencies as good ol’ campiness.
The first third of the movie was really good. It sets up the apathetic Wesley (James McAvoy) as the perfect loser everyman. He’s an accountant kept constantly at the brink of another anxiety attack by a vulgar boss with a sadistic love for staplers and jelly donuts, he lives in an apartment right by the train tracks, and has a girlfriend who not only nags constantly but is also cheating on him with his best friend. Life is horrible in that ordinary, run of the mill way. If the first scene about weavers and assassins wasn’t there, I would think that I was watching a dark office drama complete with bitterly funny voiceovers. Well, then the assassins comes in and they have superhuman abilities like jumping 300 feet horizontally and bending bullets. The collision between borderline supernatural abilities and pathetic young man was strangely reminiscent of Spiderman minus the angst and with much more awkwardness and situational humor. For instance, when Wesley first brush with the Fraternity (the group of assassins) involves a car chase between a red sports car driven by Fox (Angelina Jolie) and a white van with kittens on it driven by Cross (Thomas Kretschmann), and all the while he’s screaming like a pansy.
Wesley’s transformation from spazz to super assassin is not gentle. The line “I imagined him to be taller” by Sloan (Morgan Freeman) sets up the tone that just because Wesley has natural superhuman abilities (which are misdiagnosed as an anxiety disorder)* doesn’t mean he fits neatly into the suave killer profile. The training montage is basically poor Wesley being beat up by different people and there’s something strangely funny that this montage isn’t triumphant, in fact, it’s rather sad looking. Without revealing too much, I thought the movie stopped being good (not that it wasn’t entertaining) when the humor stopped. This is when Wesley is finally no longer a scared dork/ cocky new guy and is now a cold, merciless killer/ man on a mission. The movie forgets that Wesley has been setup to be too ridiculous to be heartless killer and well, I didn’t believe that he’s capable of it. This is also around the time they begin explaining the background of the Fraternity and its thousand year history. It begins to raise questions like: if the Fraternity has been around for a thousand years and has been maintaining balance and justice in the world, how’d they missed people like Hitler or Bloody Mary or Robespierre? And also, if it is that old, why are the orders in the English alphabet? And a host of other questions that I’d also pose but reveal too much of the plot. The movie begins to raise questions about the meaning of Justice, Fate, Duty, and etc, but is unable to answer them in a meaningful way. It gets too serious. I guess the movie tried to create an atmosphere of thoughtfulness, but with which the crew didn’t really think that hard about.
So, fun movie. Watch but resist thinking.
*For those who’ve watched it, this is strangely reminiscent to Superman Returns. Read more!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Books that Help Me 5

Everyone has a few books, movies, games, or toys that help them remember what 5 felt like. And sometimes being 5 again isn't such a bad thing. For most of us, the world was a whole lot smaller back then or conversely, perhaps it was bigger in scope of opportunities. Professions like dragon killer and fairy princess usually don't survive into adulthood. Though with the new online gaming thing combined with the older dungeons and dragons RPGs might have me wrong on that count.
Anyway, these are five books that make me feel warm and safe. This is not say that the content contained in these books are all rainbows and sunshines, but here the problems manifest themselves in obvious or more obvious ways than my problems do today.
1. The House on Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne
I didn't discover this gem until I was in my teens, but I was a great fan of the TV show on Disney. I know that's blasphemous. But as a teen, curled up somewhere on the floor, this book could send me back to those days when I still could have long conversations with my teddy bear, creatively named Teddy, and our long epic battles with my sister's stuffed dog, Sarah.
2. Good Night Veronica by Denise and Alain Trez
The is a picture book that was one of my absolute favorite bedtime stories as a small child. It's about a young girl named Veronica who can't fall asleep because it's so hot. She suddenly wakes up in a tree, which is much cooler. Her dog, I think his name is Otto-- we'll just call him that, gets very nervous and the tree shakes them out. Over the 20-some pages or so (I remember gorgeous pictures in a light palette), they slowly look for the tree but on the way get bombarded by a magical rain that makes everything grow (even Veronica's hair) and then drink from a magical stream that makes everything shrink. (except snails). Not to spoil ending, but eventually they find their tree and climb into bed. And now it's nice and cool.
I grew up in Southern California so this was a book that I could really relate to.
3. Fairytales
I had a cousin who was quite a few years older than me. She had a book of fairy tales on her bookshelf and we usually went over to her house once or twice a year. It started with a Cupid and Psyche retelling. A beautiful girl marries a husband she never sees. He only comes at night when it's too dark to see. Of course, she sneaks a candle and he is revealed to be a beautiful young man, but he has to leave because she didn't trust him. She begins a quest to search for him and the 4 winds help her. As she searches, each of the winds tells her different stories. I distinctly remember that there were Asian fairy tales as well as European ones. I never finished the book, but I think this was one of the first long term goals I ever set. Perhaps it says something of my character that I couldn't complete it.
4. No Jumping on the Bed by Tedd Arnold
This was one of the books I read over and over again and a book that I made my mom read me over and over again when I had the chicken pox. Need I say more?
5. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
I remember my parents taking me to the public library around Christmas. It was at night and me and something like fifty other children were in their pajamas. We were all given Dixie cups filled with those awful pink and white animal cookies with sprinkles. I think they're absolutely disgusting, but when you're 5, sugar=good. An old man who looked strikingly like Santa Claus (he had a white beard and red and green suspenders) read us the book. He had it memorized and I remember sometimes he forgot to turn the pages. He had the most marvelous voice and I remember feeling extremely sad at the end when no one else could hear the bell. It was perhaps one of the first times I realized that I couldn't hold onto being a kid forever.
Honorable Mentions: Where the Wild Things Are, The True Story of the Big Bad Wolf (I didn't enjoy this book until I developed a sense of humor and I remember Tim Allen reading this on my favorite story time show), Alice in Wonderland, Good Night, Moon, Little Bear, The Old Woman who Named Things, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Corduroy, and Marshmallow.
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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Wall-E in 99 Words

In a post-apocalyptic world, one robot toils on. His name is Wall-E.
For anyone who has ever been rejected, mundane, or lonely.
For anyone who hates Mondays
For anyone who hates mornings
For anyone who sings along to the TV.
Wall-E is just like you.
Look to Wall-E.
He is as nostalgic as a 1950s Chevrolet.
makes his own gem of a world in a desolate landscape
doesn’t care about saving all of humanity, he just does.
is strangely similar to Chuck Norris, except even more indestructible.
We love you.Wall-E

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Monday, June 30, 2008

GI Bill Signed

Today, President Bush signed the new GI Bill. No idea how it fits into the context of this blog, but I couldn't help writing about it. I think this is a pretty awesome event and provides an opportunity for a lot of people.
I've been hearing from friends as well as the web, that the GI bill hasn't been what it used to be and only covers 60-70% of public school costs.
According to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), "the GI Bill passed today closely resembles the education benefits that were offered to World War II veterans...It provides the full cost of tuition and enrollment fees up to the most expensive public college in each state and includes a monthly housing stipend and $1000 per year for books and supplies."
For more information about the GI Bill 2008, click here.
Yay, for a brighter future!
The Goth Bunny Read more!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Short Story Part #2

Part one is posted on June 27th or just click here .

Mommy changed, but it wasn’t the good kind of change like when cookie dough turns into cookies. She got grouchy and worked a lot more, even when it was supposed to be Patrice-and-Mommy time. She kept the door closed in the office and said the sooner she finished, the sooner she could play with him. Patrice hoped it would be like a change that started bad and turned out okay, like school. He remembered how he had really really missed Mommy at first, but then he made friends and learned all these neat things like reading and songs. Now he was sad that first grade was over. Perhaps the baby would be like that, too. The change wasn’t so bad at times like when he would sing to Mommy’s tummy and feel the baby dance under his palms.

Patrice didn’t know what to think of the baby. Both Mommy and Professor thought it was a very good thing. But Patrice had learned that different people thought different things were good. Professor thought coffee was yummy, but to Patrice, it tasted bad. Sometimes liking different things was even good. When Mommy bought a box of popsicles, Alex always took the red ones and Patrice took the purple. But this baby who made Mommy’s tummy big, who made her grumpy and tired, who made her back and feet hurt. This baby who made Professor climb into the attic and come down with boxes and boxes and spider webs in his hair and bug bites on his wrists and ankles. He didn’t know what to think of this baby.

It took up a lot of space, that’s for sure. It made a big space between him and Mommy so it was hard to hug her. He had to hug the baby just to hug Mommy. They couldn’t do hugs in family meetings anymore. They held hands or air hugged. But it wasn’t just that space either. There were boxes and boxes in the hallway for Professor to unpack. There was a big jar of vitamins on the counter where the peanut butter used to be. And you couldn’t play hide and go seek in the cabinets anymore, because there was too much baby shower stuff. Sometimes the baby seemed to take up so much space, that there wasn’t enough room for Patrice, but that was okay, he guessed, because Mommy really wanted the baby. He wanted Mommy to be happy, though he didn’t understand what was so wonderful about it.

There were times when the baby wouldn’t stop kicking in the middle of the night and Mommy would turn the lights on and walk around the house.

Patrice would kiss Mommy’s tummy and say, “Baby, stop hurting her.” And then sometimes it would stop.

And Mommy would smile and say, “You’re such a good brother.”

At those times, he was happy and excited to be a big brother. But he also wanted to stay Mommy’s Baby. He didn’t want to change.


Chess class was a not-so-bad change. They went every Saturday. Saturdays used to be Mommy-and-Patrice days, but when she started throwing up, he stayed with Alex and Professor. Since Professor was the teacher, they always got there early and Patrice would put green and white chess mats on the desks that Alex and Professor had pushed together. Usually, there was a another grownup or two in the room. They were college students and sometimes they helped, but a lot of the times they just asked you questions. It reminded him to theraPEE. He called it that because the yellow walls of the room were pee-colored.

He remembered the day he learned with just Professor and Cici. Professor told a story about each piece.

“This little guy is a pawn,” he said, holding a small piece of white plastic. “He looks a little like a bowling pin, but he’s really special. You can move him two spaces your first turn and only one after. He attacks diagonally and wait, here’s the kicker: if you can get him across the board, you can change him into any other piece.”

“Like he grows up?” Cici said.

“Exactly.” Professor beamed. “Now the knight is tricky fellow, he moves in a L…”

Patrice decided his favorite piece was the pawn. Not because it changed, but because if it didn’t cross to the other side, it could stay exactly the same. He liked how, besides the knights, the pawns always got to move before any of the other pieces. And he liked how pawns only moved one way and how they could make a strong V that marched across the board. He liked how they could create a little fence and protect the king. And Professor said that pawns were the most important pieces. Even though the king was supposed to be the guy, he liked to imagine it was Mommy and that he needed to protect her. Daddy was like the Queen, who also protected the king. And Alex was a knight because he was tricky.

Before the pregnancy, Mommy and Patrice would have a story time on Friday nights when Alex and Professor watched a scary movie. Sometimes Mommy was too tired but mostly she wanted to finish writing her book. There were times when Professor was too busy to give horsie rides, but Mommy had never been like that. “Kids first,” she used to say. Now on Fridays, Patrice sat in his room with his chess mat, which was full of the baby’s boxes, and act out the moves in Alex’s chess comic book. There some hard words and mostly, he would make up stories about the pieces. Sometimes the baby would be a knight, because it was tricky too but sometimes he pretended the baby didn’t exist. He liked how even if you put the pieces out of order, they still moved exactly the same way. He didn’t win a lot in chess class --­Professor said it was because he was littler than the other kids--, but he always knew how a piece got to a square. There were rules. There were no simple rules to explain Mommy or Professor or Alex, but in Patrice’s chess stories they always acted like their pieces. Sometimes he wished that everything could be like chess.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pixar's Wall-E

I'm one of those people who have been eagerly awaiting for Pixar to mess up. This is not because I have anything particularly against Pixar, but because I think its fall will affirm that all good things come to an end. Unfortunately, I will have to wait a few more years.
Without going into too much of the plot, I'll say that Wall-E offers a lot for all viewers. That is to say that it's strong on all fronts: story, characters, detail, theme, and really nifty looking stuff. I identified with the love story between the naive and rundown Wall-E and the agressive and spiffy Eve which fits in nicely with the larger environmental story. However, my friend, Ryan, was quite taken by the opening scenes which he believed were a homage to two great games in his life: Fallout and The Wasteland.
This movie is a gem and if I say anymore about it, I'd be depriving you the chance to experience it for yourself.
The Goth Bunny and Friend (Ryan)

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Short Story Part #1

This is the first installment of a short story wrote last semester.

It was cold and Patrice’s nose was running. He wiped it with the back of his hand, but it was so wet that he just got snot smeared across his upper lip and cheek. He hiccupped and continued to walk. He knew the way to his friend Cici’s house. He had gone there many times before, to play sometimes, sometimes even just with Alex to get eggs or butter for Mommy. Mommy. He started to cry again as he remembered how red and angry her face had gotten.
It was still warm from the sun and the edge of the sky was slightly pink and the clouds orange. The air was still hot and dry, except when the wind blew. He shivered in his Thomas the Tank Engine pajamas. It was a short walk to Cici’s, except he had gone the long way. Usually, him and Alex took a path that ran in between two lines of houses. There were lots of mean dogs that lived in the houses and they would bark and put their paws on low brick fence. Some of the bigger ones would rattle the metal bars that stuck out of the brick and some the bricks were cracking. Patrice was always afraid that the bars would fall down and the dogs would bite him like the wolves in Beauty and the Beast. Patrice was only brave enough to walk this way when Alex was with him. He liked Alex very much even though he was always so nice. Alex who was almost nine and wasn’t scared of anything. He would stick his tongue at those dogs and bark back. But Alex was sleeping over at his friend Ryan’s house. He had a place to be when the baby came and Patrice had to find a place or he would be sacrificed.

“We all have to make sacrifices,” Professor Daddy had said. It was at the family meeting when Mommy had said they were getting a baby and that it would grow in Mommy’s tummy.
“What’s a sacrifice,” he had asked after swallowing his cookie and raising his hand.
Alex, who knew everything, said, “Well, the Aztecs—“
“Did you raise your hand,” Mommy had asked.
“No,” Alex had said.
“A sacrifice is when you have to give up something to get something better. You’re going to get a new brother or sister, a new friend, but the baby might cry a lot in the beginning. And Mommy and Daddy will have less time to spend with you to make sure that the baby gets to spend time with Mommy and Daddy, too.
“Will you still love me the same?” Patrice had asked.
“Of course,” Mommy had said. “Group hug.”
They ended each meeting with a group hug. Mommy and Professor hugged with Alex and Patrice in the middle. Patrice liked being squished. Alex had touched Mommy’s flat tummy. “How did it get there,” he asked.
And then Professor Daddy said that the meeting time was up and Alex had to bring up the question next week. And next week, there was a book with tadpoles and ponds, but Patrice hadn’t paid much attention because he was worried about Mommy who was throwing up like she was sick. He threw his entire allowance into the fountain to wish that she would get better.


It was getting dark and things looked different now. He knew that when he saw the blue house, he was supposed to turn and Cici’s house had a basketball hoop, but the houses looked the same now. They looked a little like faces and the windows looked like eyes. They were either looking at him, sleeping, or winking. The street lamps made safe circles of light. Soon Patrice would have to run from light to light so the things in the dark wouldn’t get him.
He had to be brave. Alex had told him that Ryan’s cousin’s nanny had said that there was a man in China who stole bad kids that didn’t stay close to their parents, chopped them up, and made them into those barbecue pork buns you get at dim sum. Patrice had stopped eating them so Alex would always get two.
He pretended that he was pawn, marching up across the board. Professor always said that if you “kept a cool head” during the game, you would make less mistakes. If you stayed calm, you would see Alex’s knight coming to kill you and get out of the way. Unlike other board games, there were no dice in chess. In chess, everything stayed the same. Everything made sense.
Patrice squinted and the pools of light under the street lamps turned into the white squares of the board. He was the pawn. And he slowly marched, pausing often to look far ahead to see if a bishop, a rook, or a queen was coming towards him. Read more!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Chef Lapin Gothique #1: Pasta Dinner

Chef Lapin GothiqueThis is a semi-homemade dinner when you want to cook but are just too tired. It's also 100% vegetarian. It's comprised of a blue cheese and candied walnut salad, baked asparagus with a balsamic vinaigrette, buttered bread, and spaghetti.
Dinner plate with salad, asparagus, dinner roll, and spaghettiBlue Cheese and Walnut Salad
This is a sweet salad that gets all its flavoring from the blue cheese, fruit, and candied walnuts so you'll want a strong blue cheese. You might also want to temper the sweetness with a little red wine vinegar. Just mix some with the olive oil.
serves 2-4 (4, if everyone gets a handful, 2 if each person gets a plate)
blue cheese (if you have extra, eat it on bread. :)
3/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup of dried cranberries
1/2 cup of fresh cherries (halved and pitted)
standard bag of mixed green salad
1 tbsp olive oil
1. First candy the walnuts. Preheat the oven to 350F, spread those walnuts in the baking sheet, and put it in the oven. Depending on how strong your oven is, you might need a minute or two more. They should darken slightly and crunch when you try one. Take them out and put them in a bowl when you're done. Do not turn off the oven, you'll need it for the asparagus.
2. While your walnuts are toasting, melt the sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally and break up lumps. DO NOT BURN THE SUGAR.
3. When the sugar has melted (it should be a nice golden color), add the walnuts, stir to coat, and return to baking sheet. Break those babies up with two forks or you'll have a sheet of walnut glass. Cool completely on tray.
Note: Candied walnuts are also good with ice cream!
4. Rinse salad in a colander and shake to remove water. Put in mixing bowl.
5. Add cranberries, cherries, walnuts, and drizzle 1 tbsp of olive oil. Mix.
6. Using a fork break up the blue cheese over the salad and serve.
Baked Asparagus with Sauce
I like this sauce because it can be both really rich and also sort of healthy.
serves 2-4 (once again, depending on how much you take)
1 standard bunch of asparagus, approx 1 pound
3 tbsp of butter (if it's butter day, you can use half a stick or you can omit this all together)
balsamic vinegar
soy sauce

1. Wash and trim asparagus. Lightly coat a baking tray with cooking spray or use a tsp of olive oil and rub it all over. Spread asparagus on the tray. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350F.
2. Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Once melted add a tbsp of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce. Let your taste buds do the rest. I like it on the sour side so I add more vinegar. If you like it sweet, add more soy sauce. You don't need salt because soy sauce is really high in sodium. The butter gives it a nice creaminess, but the main stars are the vinegar and soy sauce. If you want to save on calories, just omit the butter and mix the other ingredients in a small bowl. Add pepper to taste.
3. Sprinkle cooked asparagus with salt and pour on the sauce. You can eat it right out of the baking pan or cut the asparagus horizontally and serve on a plate with the sauce on the side. That's extra dishes, though.
This spaghetti is from a jar, but I've added my own ingredients to make it taste better. You can actually heat up the sauce and pour it over spaghetti and eat it just like that, if you want. serves 4.
4 tomatoes (doesn't matter which kind)
1 package of mushrooms (sliced)
2-3 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic (minced)
1 jar of spaghetti sauce
1 package of spaghetti (linguine)
Parmesan cheese
1. Boil water in a large pan. You don't need a lot of water, maybe just 2-3 inches. When water is boiling, throw in the tomatoes for 30 seconds to 1 minute. You just want the skins to burst so you can peel it easily.
2. Spoon the tomatoes and run them over cold water. The skins should have split so you can peel them. If they don't, just cut them in half and the skins will rip. Peel off the skins, cut them in half, remove the seeds, and then dice them. They don't have to be very small, between the size of a nickel and a dime.
3. Brown garlic in some olive oil over medium heat. About 1 minute.
4. Dump in the mushroom and sprinkle with salt. Cook until limp. 5 minutes.
5. Add dice tomatoes and cook until they've broken down to the desired amount. At least 15-20 minutes.
6. Dump in the jar of tomato sauce.
7. Cook pasta according to directions on package. It's probably around 10-12 minutes after the water has begun boiling.
8. When the pasta is done, the sauce should have heated through. Add salt or pepper to taste. You can also add Italian seasoning, if you have it or want it, but usually the sauce is flavored enough.
9. Serve pasta with spaghetti sauce with Parmesan cheese.

And that's it. You've done it. A fancy dinner in under an hour. If you cheated on the sauce and just bought a fancy kind with mushrooms or mixed a can of diced tomatoes with a jar of spaghetti sauce, you might even make a 30 minute meal.

The Goth Bunny
The Goth Bunny and his Dinner Read more!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Interview with the Admirable James P. Blaylock

James P. BlaylockJames P. Blaylock is a Philip K. Dick (Homunculus) and World Fantasy Award ("Paper Dragons") winning writer. My favorite novel of his is The Rainy Season, which is a really neat ghost story that takes place in Southern California. For more information, you can google him. Recently, I had the opportunity to conduct an interview. Here it is, folks:

1. Why write?
It seems to be the thing that I do. Some writers insist that they're "compelled" to write by some inner pressure, but I don't know that that's true for me. I'm compelled to write because that's what I do. A potential story (in the form of a concept, a character, a setting) comes into my mind. It swirls around and begins to generate interesting stuff, and sooner or later I find myself meddling with it on paper (or the machine). If the language works, it draws me into the story, and there I go. Over the past 37 years or so I've never not been writing something, just as I've never not been reading something. I've developed the habit, I guess. Some writers refer to the "burden" of the writer, but for me writing is not a burden. If it were I wouldn't do it. Also, since 1976 or so, I've been paid to write. Money is a great incentive. There's no doubt in my mind that I'll finish the novella I'm currently working on. Knowing that there's a check waiting at the end, however, means that I write first and go surfing second. If I weren't paid to write, I'd be a dabbler, and there's no doubt that I'd be at the beach right now instead of writing (which I was doing before I stopped to answer this). So that's it: I seem early-on to have been developing the habit of the writer (to paraphrase Flannery O'Connor) and in so doing became a writer. That I was paid to do it was further, and perhaps at some point necessary, incentive.

2. I hear you have a new book coming out, what's it about?
My new novel is titled Knights of the Cornerstone. It's a contemporary fantasy involving religious relics thought to have been taken out of Constantinople by the Knights Templar back in the 13th Century. It's set on the Colorado River in a made up town upriver from Needles, in unincorporated territory. My narrator innocently drives out there to visit his uncle and his dying aunt and gets whirled up in dangerous and mysterious doings. I won't say more, because it's my most competently plotted novel, and any revelations on my part now would give things away. It's also my best book to date, I think.

3. Any random advice?
Yeah, don't be a writer unless you're a writer -- unless it's the thing you do. In that case, you don't care about my answer. If you're considering doing it, or are fixing to do it, or whatever, you're already through, because you haven't got going, which means it's not the thing you do. Also, there are way better ways to earn a living. The Orange County Yellow Pages lists, literally, thousands of doctors and lawyers. We know that medical school and law school are tough to get into and to get through, and yet doctors and lawyers abound. Working creative writers do not abound. If there are more than a hundred (comparatively speaking) who have continuing careers locally, I'll eat my hat. There are a number who have published one book, say, or who write stories and sell them now and then (and good for them) but writers who earn something like a living at it are few and far between. My fifteen-plus novels and collections are published all over the world, but I pay my mortgage as a teacher. Just say "no" in other words. Unless, of course, it's the thing you do (should be a title!) and then you're indifferent to what I just said.

4. What's one of your guilty pleasures?
I've got enough guilt to satisfy me, but very little of it has to do with pleasure. Doughnuts, certainly.

5. Is there a stuffed animal past or present who had/ has a strong influence in your life?
Never had any as far as I know. Deprived in that area. I'm partial, however, to some of the stuffed animals that my sons treasured. The small, goofy looking bear, for instance, who was lost for a couple of years under my son Danny's mattress and then rediscovered and named Pancake Bear. We had a sort of Winnie the Pooh-like household in some ways. Read more!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Vikram Chandra's Love and Longing in Bombay

Chandra's Love and Longing in Bombay is a collection of five loosely connected short stories. The titles are in Sanskrit and they are as follows: Dharma (duty), Shakti (creative female power), Kama (desire), Artha (gain), Shanti (peace). I looked it up on an online Sanskrit-English dictionary. They are all told by a retired military man named Mr. Subramaniam to a young, unnamed hotshot in the software business. Though that being said, it is much more than a moral education through story-telling. The writing is beautiful, organic, and expansive.

This is a book that you can read purely for its craft, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. The prose is thoughtful and powerful. His stories sprawl, I guess like big cats sprawl. It may look elegantly languid, but there's something lurking underneath, a wry sense of humor and the more traditional lurkers (ghosts, gangsters, and lovesick men). My favorite stories were the first Dharma (a ghost story) and Shanti (a sort of courtship of story exchange). My least favorite was Artha, because though acknowledges and emphasizes that not everything ends neatly, the handling of Artha's characters and plot felt more clumsy then his other stories which were neatly plotted (Kama) or seemed to magically fall into place (Shanti and Dharma).

In Chandra's 2001 essay titled "The Cult of Authenticity" he does battle with the accusation that since he writes in English his writing is packaged for western consumption. This couldn't be farther from the truth, well because if it was, I shouldn’t have to work so hard. Vikram Chandra is not taking us around Bombay in an auto rickshaw labeled “Bombay Tours” with one of those nifty tour guide mikes. Chandra does not take up the mantle of explaining India. If he does anything at all, he’s shoved us down a flight of stairs into a murky bar where an old man is telling a young man stories in English, yes, but an Indian English. It is both one of the intrigues and frustrations of this book. A stranger to Indian culture loses out on a lot of the subtext and it’s not just foreign words which can be looked up, it’s how certain lines are set up. There's the dramatic pause, I can sense it but I don't know what it means.

Reading Chandra is a strange experience. While it has those deep underlying "human" themes, a great deal is culturally based. The "Bombay" in Love and Longing in Bombay occupies a central place. And if you don't know Bombay, too bad. It's one of those books that dares you to "keep up, if you can." This is not a book that everyone will love, but it's a book that everyone should try.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Bunny Goes to Berkeley Marina

This is our third photo adventure and I thought we would shake things up a trip to Berkeley Marina, instead of more food places, though food is oh-so-good. Besides, it was a beautiful day. You could smell the wild anise. It's the yellow flowering plant you can see in the background of some of the pictures.

I went with my friend Angie who participated in the 2008 AIDS/ LifeCycle. This means that she biked 545 miles in 7 days and is a biking pro. Me, not so much.

In fact, I spent most of the time riding in Angie's saddle bag. It protected me from the wind or else, I would get blown away. That was how windy it was. Brrr.

We took a gander at the sights...

and the squirrels. They're everywhere! And I tried to talk to them and share with them the wonders of domesticated life, but they didn't care to listen. They did really like our bicycles, though.

The Goth Bunny

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bunny Goes to Cheeseboard Pizza

This is a mini-adventure to Cheeseboard, my favorite pizza shop in Berkeley. It's located at 1512 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley. They also have a cheese shop next door that has awesome yummies.

Today their pizza had fresh corn, onions, chiles, feta, cilantro.

The pizza tastes best right when you buy it, but you can also heat it up in the oven. I like to keep my eye on it while it's heating up. (Warning: Do not actually heat the pizza in the box.)


A Cheerful Goth Bunny
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