Monday, September 28, 2020

How To Make a Cocktail (not-really-a-book-review book review)

My wife and I have been dabbling with cocktails for a while now. Well, a short while.
Okay, it all started in 2017 when we went on our gold country trip and stayed in Columbia. We had this pair of cocktails:
which, I'm pretty sure, was the first time I'd ever had a cocktail. Maybe I'd had a pina coloda -- I don't really remember when we started making those -- but that would have been about the extent of it.

After or trip, we started trying cocktails when we would go out to places that served cocktails. Sometimes, we even looked for places that served cocktails as part of our decision process. Of course, we don't really go out a lot, so it's not like it was something that happened very often.

So we started making the occasional cocktail at home, especially pina colodas, the family favorite (because you can leave the rum out for the kids). I learned how to make margaritas. But that's where we hit a wall, I guess, because my wife bought me a book, Be Your Own Bartender, and I learned how to make a daiquiri. A real daiquiri, not those slushy monstrosities.

We tried out other things from that book, but it was too all over the place. I'm not saying it's a bad book or anything -- it definitely served a purpose -- but it only had a very limited number of drink options for any given category and it became a hassle trying to get just the various base alcohols for the different drinks. That and we discovered that my wife really just likes rum. Rum for cocktails, not on its own. On its own, I'd much rather have whiskey, which I like straight, but I'm not going to drink rum on its own.

All of which led to my wife buying for me for our anniversary this year the book at the top of the post, Smuggler's Cove, a book all about tiki cocktails, most of which are made from rum. Nearly all, actually. Did you know that cocktails originated with rum? And, kind of, with pirates. This is why pirates beat ninjas. They fucking invented cocktails! That's free information; I don't know if it's in the book or not.

However, the book is full of all kinds of history, which I will get around to reading at some point. I just haven't had a chance yet. My attention has been on the cocktail recipes themselves, over 100 of them. My personal favorite, at least so far, is the Planter's Punch. Which is not exactly accurate, because the recipe in the book is just an example of -a- planter's punch. It was just a catchall name given to a class of drink of which there were endless variations because every plantation owner had their own specific recipe. My wife has discovered that she loves Mai Tais, which, by the way, despite its association with Hawaii, was invented right here in Oakland, California. Also, by the way, the Hawaiian version, which adds pineapple juice, is vastly inferior to the original, basic Mai Tai.

I'm actually a little upset with my book. My wife got me this nice hardcover copy of it, and it's a first edition, and I am going to wear the shit out of it. Not that I think this book will necessarily become valuable, but it ought to. It's that good.

Aside from being chock full of recipes, there is also a section about how to create your own cocktails. I've been fiddling around in there quite a bit and have devised two of my own that I find quite tasty. As I continue to experiment, I'll post my personal recipes here on the blog. However, I'm not going to share recipes from the book unless I've adapted it in some significant way.

None of the cocktails I'm making at the moment are as pretty as the ones in the picture above, but they are very good. At some point, I'll start working on presentation and figure out how to make drinks as pretty as those up top.

Anyway, if you're interested in cocktail making, especially rum and/or tiki drinks, I'd give this book a strong recommendation.

Well, this became more of an actual book review than I'd intended, but I guess that's okay. I'll have some cocktail recipes posted soon.

Friday, September 25, 2020

East of Eden (a book review post)

Once upon a time, I would have assumed general knowledge about the story of Cain and Abel. About most Bible stories, actually. But, then, I grew up in the Bible Belt where I was surrounded by people, whether they were church-goers or not, who had general knowledge of Bible stories. That assumption on my part was wrong. I've learned (and learned hard) to never assume knowledge by other people. Or, even, any kind of intelligence or curiosity or desire to know things.

So let's talk about Cain and Abel for a moment because Steinbeck believed that it was one of the most, maybe the most, foundational allegories from the Bible. He felt it was so important that he used it twice in the same book. Yes, twice. I'm not sure he's wrong. The sequel I'm working on to The House on the Corner is called Brother's Keeper and uses some of the same themes.

If you don't know the story of Adam and Eve, you'll  have to go research that one on your own.

Adam and Eve had two sons: Cain and Abel. Cain, the older, was a plant man, and Abel was an animal man. God asked them to make some sacrifices to him and, of course, they offered him the stuff they were each familiar with. Cain brought god the fruits of his garden, and Abel provided a barbeque. As it turned out, god was into meat and really liked the lamb chops Abel cooked up and left the salad untouched. God later died of a heart attack because he didn't eat his greens, but that was later. At the time, he snubbed Cain's gift and this, of course, caused Cain some amount of upset.

After god was gone, Cain and Abel got into an argument over the incident. I imagine that Abel was a bit smug about it all, though the Bible doesn't say that but, knowing how brothers are with each other, it's more than possible that Abel started the argument by taunting Cain about it. "Hah, hah! God liked my offering better than yours!" That kind of thing. The argument got heated, and Cain picked up a rock and smacked his brother in the head with it, killing him. I don't remember if the rock part is actually in the Bible, but that's how it feels to me at the moment.

Some time later, god comes looking for his new buddy Abel. Probably, he wanted to know if there were anymore of those lambchops or what he would need to do to get Abel to grill him up some more of them. Not finding Abel around anywhere, he went and asked Cain where his brother was, to which Cain replied, "How should I know? Am I my brother's keeper?" Of course, god, being god, already knew what had happened and got super pissed at Cain because he wasn't going to get anymore of those chops, and he didn't want any of Cain's salad, either, because salad is for sissy gods. He cursed and banished Cain and made it a law that from that from that point forward everyone had to make offerings of lamb chops to him.

Steinbeck explores this story through the character of Adam Trask who, in the beginning of the novel, plays the part of Abel and, at the end of the novel, plays the role of god. Along the way, he marries his "Eve" and attempts to create his own Garden of Eden, which is how he refers to it, but, as we know from the story of Adam and Eve (see, you need to know this one, too), Eden cannot last.

The story is seemingly told by Steinbeck himself. "He" is in the narrative as a boy through some of the action and uses his own family and family history as a backdrop to Adam's story. I don't know how accurate any of it is, but Steinbeck frequently based characters in his stories on real people from the towns he lived in. At any rate, the use of his own family history serves to pad the novel quite a bit, which isn't a bad thing. There are some humorous moments in there.

Like this one:
Samuel Hamilton, who is, in the book, the grandfather of young John Steinbeck, is one of the central characters once Adam has moved to the Salinas Valley. His teenage children are going to a dance and one of the boys, in an attempt to make sure he has a date, asks two different girls to the dance. They both say yes. Rather than tell one of them he overbooked, he decides to take them both. The problem, though, is that the buggy he's taking his dates to the dance in only has room for two. That won't work. So the boy takes a couch that his mother loves and puts wheels on it and hooks that up behind the horse instead. Problem solved. And his father, laughing, doesn't stop him or warn his son about all of the trouble he's going to be in when his mother finds out. He's too busy laughing and decides the boy should have to deal with the consequences himself.

I'm not going to spoil any of the story for you by dropping into a philosophical discussion of personal choice. I'll just say this: Steinbeck focuses his look at Cain and Abel on the characterization of Cain and how he deals with his disappointment at not receiving favor. This is how the story has always been framed every time I've heard it my entire life. Cain sinned and deserved what god did to him. Actually, god was merciful to Cain in that he only banished him. Steinbeck does offer one very small twist to the discussion in his exploration of the word "timshel" and the contrast between what it actually means and how it has been translated in the Bible. He makes the story about personal choice. Now that I think about it, the above humor example feeds into this narrative as well.

I've never really bothered to question the Cain and Abel story as it was presented to me as a child and, then, throughout my life. Why would I have, right? Experts for thousands of years have dissected this story and presented their conclusions about it. Cain was overcome with jealousy and murdered his brother because of it. God, who could have taken Cain's life in exchange, was, instead, merciful and allowed Cain to only be banished, commanding him to "go and conquer sin" or, as Jesus later says, "Go and sin no more."

However, thinking about this story in a new way because of Steinbeck's presentation of it, now looking at the responsibility of the father in all of this, I'm going to come out now and say that it's god who is the villain in this allegory. God is a bad father. God pits one child against the other, alienating one of them in the process while showering the other with praise. Cain and Abel were children. The burden of Abel's death lies not on Cain but on god. God is the parent in the situation, and it's his responsibility to manage it, to show some sort of fairness, to treat his children equally. To make it worse, god, being all knowing, is doing all of this on purpose. He knows the pain he's causing Cain and knows what the outcome will be, yet "god" chooses to do it anyway. That's some fucked up shit, god. I'd say it's, at least, borderline child abuse. Reckless endangerment? Something...

But it gets better, since god then kicks Cain out of the house. And that is actually child abuse. It's not legal to kick your minor child out onto the street to fend for himself in the world. So, you know, god would get thrown in jail for that kind of behavior today.

What I'm getting at here is that this is definitely a book worth reading. Not surprising since it's Steinbeck.

And, just to mention it, one of the best characters in the novel is a character named Lee, an Asian servant. Lee starts out almost a caricature of the Oriental servant, something many people have called Steinbeck racist for doing. However, he begins Lee as this stereotype, really, to show us that he's not. As the story develops, Steinbeck turns Lee into probably the most well-rounded and real character in the book. He is no racial stereotype but a real human being, and I think Steinbeck wants us to see that. He wants us to see that you can't lump people into these racial categories and think that they're all the same. If you bother to try to get to know someone, bother to look past the clich├ęs and the stereotypes, you will find real people with their own desires and struggles, likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams for the future. He explores all of it with Lee.

Having done a bit of reading up on Steinbeck, I'm going to go out on what is probably not much of a limb and say that Steinbeck was very against racism, to the point of his name removed from the writing credits of a film that he felt had racist undertones that his script did not contain.

I'm not going to lie and try to pass of Eden as an easy read, but it's not a difficult one. It's just a bit long and, at times, it's difficult to tell where the story is going. But, you know, I think it's going the same place that life goes. It just goes. It's sprawling. It would never get published today at the length it is. Whole sections would get cut out, and the book would be the worse for it, so I'm glad it was written when it was and that it came out the way Steinbeck wanted it to.
Go read it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

A Return To Writing? Who Knows...



Some of you may have noticed that I wrote an actual post last week. Ah, who am I kidding? That post received one whole comment, so I'm pretty sure it had about as much impact as a feather falling on snow. But, whatever, right? No one comes here for the words; it's all about the pretty pictures these days. I guess I can't really blame anyone for that; I do take some pretty pictures. But, you know, I haven't turned this into a photography blog... yet.

I suppose that's what instagram is for, though, but I haven't gotten very good at posting pictures to there. When they start letting me post them from my computer, I might get better at it. Right now, I have to move my pictures from my camera to my computer and, then, onto my phone to be able to upload them, and that's more than I want (or remember) to do most of the time. Besides, who puts pictures onto their phone? That's assbackwards.
But I digress...

So will I be writing more?
I don't know for sure. I want to, but time these days... Look, it took me two weeks -- two weeks! -- to write my review for Face the Music. And that shouldn't have been a difficult write up but, I suppose, with kids home all the time now...

Don't get me wrong; I don't want my kids not at home. I mean, I don't want my daughter in school, that's for sure, not that she didn't already have COVID-19, because we're pretty sure she had it back in February. We're early adopters, don't you know. But I do wish they didn't make so much noise. My kids, I mean. All the time. Background music is not my friend when it comes to writing, but I'm pretty sure I wrote about that way back in the mists of time.
Wait, wait... The Myst of Thyme.
Why wasn't that a thing?

Anyway... I have things I want to write. I have a bunch of drafts that are mostly just titles so that I will remember my ideas for posts, but getting thoughts onto virtual paper has been a... challenge. To say the least.
And, of course, with the election coming up... Let's just say that the chaos is only going to get louder.

Personally, I'm a bit tired of the chaos. The seven largest fires in California's recorded fire history (which started in 1932), as well as the first and fourth most deadly, have been since trump (#fakepresident) was elected. And I'm not saying there's any causality, but it's a difficult correlation to deal with.

Actually, I'm not saying there's not causality, either, because he, trump (#fakepresident), has been a horror to the environment. And, dude, come on, stop telling us to rake the forest! Shut your stupid, fat pie hole. Science is real, not an opinion.
Which is my cue to say one word: VOTE!

As I said to someone earlier today (the day I'm writing this, not the day you're reading it), trump (#fakepresident) has treated his presidency like a demolition derby, speeding around in his great clown car squeezing his great clown horn. The problem? Everyone else has tanks. And he can't tell.
That's also beside the point.

As I was saying, I have things I want to write, so, hopefully, this place will start to be more of a writing space again.
I guess we'll have to see what happens.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Why "Racist/Racism" Doesn't Work


Let's talk about grammar for a moment.
Yeah, yeah, I know that's not what the title of this post suggests is about to happen, but we're going to do it anyway.

When we talk about what a word means, we can do it in one of two ways: the denotation or the connotation. The denotation is the specific, literal meaning of a word while the connotation, generally speaking, is how people use the word. A good example of this, actually, is the word "literally;" at least it was before some dictionaries changed the denotation of the word. Not to get pedantic, the denotation of "literally" is the literal, specific meaning of something, without exaggeration. The connotation of "literally" is the exact opposite, the figurative or exaggerated meaning of something. You can see the confusion that this kind of thing could cause if one person is using the word one way and someone else is taking it the other way.

So let's talk about racism...
Racism has a specific denotation which includes both a person's hatred of some other racial group and the belief that one racial group is superior to some other (or all) racial group. Racism can be one or both of these things.
However, the connotation of racism, meaning how most people use it, is the hatred of some other racial group. And this is where we run into problems and why white supremacists are "winning" the racism battle.

It's clear that Trump (#fakepresident) has run and is running on a white supremacist platform and that he has surrounded himself with white supremacists, some of them more explicit than others about their white supremacy (Stephen Miller, Asshole Supreme). It's also clear that Trump's "base" support this white supremacist platform, some of them more explicitly than others. It's so very clear that all of this is racism and that all of these people are racists. After all, it's right there in the definition of racism, the belief that one race is better or superior to some other (or others) race.

But that's not hatred.
So when you call out a Trump supporter for their racism, what they hear is
You hate black people.
or, maybe,
You hate Mexicans.
They hear "hate" and, of course, they get upset by that. What they're thinking is, "I don't hate anybody." Well, except, now,  the person calling them a racist.
All of which might explain the animosity between Conservatives and Liberals.

And, no, I'm not saying that Conservatives didn't start all of this shit, because they certainly did. That's not even an opinion. You can trace all of the current political turmoil back to Newt Gingrich (and, man, if my parents named me "Newt," I might be full of the same kind of vileness as him) and, before him, the rise of the new fundamentalism in the US, which took on a new life in the late 60s and through the 70s as a reaction both to the Civil Rights movement and hippies and their "free love."

But it doesn't really matter who started it, because someone has to be the adult in the room, and the Conservatives are not that. They are more like toddlers throwing a tantrum, and they hate being called racists. It just makes them more petulant and foot stomping.

Before you ask, no, I don't have any good ideas on how to deal with this issue on a global level. Or even, really, a personal level, other than having real conversations with Trump supporters about what it is they believe and what they are voting for and trying to explain that believing "white people are just better" is racism. Of course, the problem there is that most of them haven't verbalized their belief like that in their own heads; they just know that the system, as it has been, the system that supports white people at the expense of brown and black people, is the system they want. The "white people are better" system. So I don't know...

It's all very complicated. Except that it's really not. It's a bunch of people who can't see those Magic Eye pictures claiming that it's not real just because they can't happen to see them. Or don't have the patience to learn how (you know, refuse to be educated).

What I know is that approaching Trump supporters as racists isn't working. It hasn't been working, and it's not going to start working; it doesn't matter if it's true. At this point, because there's not really a lot of time left before what could be the most important election in US American history, the best thing to do as a liberal or a Democrat or just someone who opposes Trump (#fakepresident) is to show up and vote. Or, you know, mail it in. Just make sure you vote. This is not a time for thinking that your one vote won't make a difference. Every vote counts, and it needs to be overwhelming. VOTE!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

It's Time To 'Face the Music' (a movie review post)

Let's start out by laying the 80s out on the table and being upfront about it: It was a weird time.
We started the decade believing we were all going to die in a nuclear holocaust and ended it believing politicians and the people in power had finally realized that nukes were an unacceptable alternative. The Berlin Wall fell, and we all thought that things might be okay. In between, though... In between,
we knew saving the world would require a miracle. [As it turns out, we were probably right about that. Gen Z is probably our last chance for it.] For whatever reason, we believed that music could be that miracle.

It's not like we didn't have reason, I suppose. We had "We Are the World" and Live Aid and all sorts of similar things after that. The power of music to unite seemed to be a real thing. I suppose it's not surprising that it culminated in 1989s Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, in which music does literally unite the world. Or will. Or will have would have. At the time, Gen X fully bought into the idea that, in the end, people would do the right thing. That's what movies and TV taught us. All you needed to do was believe hard enough for things to turn out right. Bad guys would always see the error of their ways and make things right in the end. That or the idealistic earnest protagonist would show the world the true character of the bad guy and he would be defeated.

Of course, recent events have shown us that a significant number of people not just don't care about the true nature of the villain, they revel in it. Yes, white Boomers and other Trump (#fakepresident) supporters, I'm talking about you.

Which leads us to Face the Music in which we learn that music has not, in fact, saved the world or anything close to that. The idealistic earnest protagonists have failed. Their idealism was not enough. Their earnestness was not enough. They have, indeed, been defeated by windmills much like Don Quixote. And time is pretty much up.

The premise is more than apt.

Of course, the plot involves Bill and Ted attempting to finally write their song that will unite the world and save the universe from certain doom while being chased by a killer robot and trying to save their marriages. Or marriage. There is some amount of an inability for them to think of themselves as individuals. Also, their daughters get involved in trying to help out, which involves a whole separate time-travel adventure.

And that's about all I can say about the plot without getting spoilery, which I suppose I'll avoid.

I think we've all learned that music is never going to unite... anything, really. People don't seem much inclined to even agree on what music is, and music is more diverse than ever.
However, the movie is still on the "excellent" side of things.

Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter slip back into their roles as if these are their true personas. And they wouldn't be bad personas to have. If more people were like Bill and Ted, the world would be a better place.

Kristen Schaal replaces George Carlin. She's fine. I like Kristen Schaal, but they don't really give her much to do and her mere presence doesn't bring with it any kind of expectation or anticipation, unlike Carlin. Much of his role was accomplished just by his being there.

The killer robot, Dennis, is brought to us by Anthony Carrigan. I love Anthony Carrigan. Barry is a good show -- I strongly suggest it -- but, even if it wasn't, it would be worth watching for Carrigan.

The daughters are played by Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine. I think it's pretty clear they are there to set the stage for future sequels in which they are the stars. That's more than okay with me. They were fun onscreen That said, it was Lundy-Paine who really stole the show. She really nailed the part of Ted's daughter. I felt like I was watching two Teds on the screen. She got his mannerisms, his mode of speech, everything. I was, like, totally impressed. Dude.

All of that and Death is back, too. Now that's an entertaining subplot.

Anyway, the movie is totally worth watching, and you don't even need to be all that familiar with the previous movies to enjoy it. Now I just need to sit down and watch them all three back to back to back.