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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