Sunday, August 27, 2006

emmy diarrhea

I got home from a short weekend trip out of the city later than I expected because the bus I was on decided it would be more fun to take an obscure tour of central New Jersey and stop at a creepy abandoned gas station with a broken vending machine rather than just stay on the turnpike and give us a shiny well-lit rest stop with fast food and a Starbucks.

So I get home and turn on the TV and unpack, and what do I find but the Emmys. Unfortunately for the Emmys, I could care less. Those awards mean nothing to me because they don't tend to reflect much of the small percentage of true quality television; I lost interest long ago. The only passing interest I had remained in whether or not "The West Wing" would sweep its nominated categories as a pat on the back for a final season well done -- it didn't. I also was curious if Ellen Burstyn would walk away with an emmy for a 14 second performance for the TV movie Mrs. Harris (watch the performance in its entirety here) -- she didn't.

So, I started flipping back and forth between NBC (a station I never seem to watch, so all those promos for their forthcoming fall shows I probably won't watch caught me off guard) and the old-standby Food Network. Sunday programming on the Food Network tends always to be competitions and reruns of "Unwrapped" that I have absolutely no interest in.... but last night they featured the "Food Network Challenge: Bartender Battle". At first it seemed kind of cool, because I find the trait of spinning liquor bottles around in your hands and actually making a drink in the process kind of sexy. The problem? The contestants didn't really show off their bartending skills all that well. They should have had a bouncer round or something. I don't want to ruin your view of tricky bottle-twirling, but the realm of "entertainment flair bartending" (or whatever they call it) is just glorified juggling at the end of the day. Not even glorified, really.... just juggling liquor bottles. One guy juggled empty liquor bottles. Where's the fun of spilling booze on people? Bottom line: I wanted Coyote Ugly, and instead I got a low rent circus act with dirty-ish Las Vegas bartenders. I think I'm sworn off Food Network weekend programming forever now, (except of course for the morning block of real cooking shows).

So then I ended up flipping back to the Emmys, where the Charlie's Angels came together after some long standing feud I didn't know existed. They held hands and paid tribute to Aaron "stroke of genius" Spelling. Farrah Fawcett, who used to be plastered to the tank of a toilet in the house I lived at in college, looks like she's hiding gravity's wrath with a big blond wig. Thanks to what I can only guess is generous plastic surgery, Kate Jackson looks disturbingly like an alien from the original Star Trek now. I remember watching her in some TV movie in the early 1990s about the bubonic plague breaking out in modern day New York City, and I decided at my young age that I liked her voice. At that age, the movie was scary and captivating too. That's all I have on Kate Jackson.

What little I saw of the Emmys was just like every other awards show on the planet. They're always the same, and yet no one has quite clued in to the monotony it seems. Part of me is thankful there aren't fourteen different awards shows for television like there are for movies, though.

Also: another Aaron Spelling tributeer, Joan Collins, doesn't look half bad at all. Strange though: she looks pretty much the same as she did in "Dynasty" twenty years ago.... and let's keep in mind she wasn't all that young then. This leads me to believe that she perhaps is the real-life version of Death Becomes Her.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

a pink slip of celestial proportions

Well folks, the astronomers have deemed it true. Pluto is no longer officially classified as a planet, pass it on.


There's not much to say really, except this is a pretty big piece of news to report. It kind of awakens the little kid in me that loved space. It's not everyday when people just go and reclassify heavenly bodies. I'm interested, really, why the controversy over what exactly a planet happens to be is just now making news. So, with Pluto's "demotion" what becomes of its legacy? Now grade school kids have eight planets to count about instead of nine. Pluto has always been a gimp planet to begin with, with its tilted orbit and the fact that it makes its way into Neptune's orbit during its year (i.e. its own orbit around the sun), which comes to about 248 Earth years. (Doesn't saying "Earth years" sound like you're in some corny 1950s space movie? I've always wanted a ray gun.) Because of this, Pluto can actually be closer to the sun than Neptune ever gets, sometimes. The fact that it swerves into Neptune's orbit makes it possible for Pluto to collide right into Neptune, doesn't it? When (if?) that happens, talk about a celestial shitstorm.

Planets now have a checklist for official classification, so a bunch of those chunks of frozen gases way the hell out there in our solar system no longer appear to be even tinier planets. Part of me remembers that Pluto had a bunch of moons (three "official" moons, and a lot of other space junk orbiting it too).... I guess those are nameless non-lunar lumps of ice now too. I'm curious to know if our solar system has more stuff orbiting it than your average solar system.... maybe the typical solar system out there only has three or four planets? We have a big old asteroid belt too. I'm surprised that objects as far away from the sun as Pluto et. al. actually maintain something of an orbit. All that stuff way out there now classifies as "trans-Neptunian". Pretty cool name, I think. I'm no astronomer, but maybe all things floating in space have to be in the orbit of something....? You can't just have rogue rocks kicking around out there, can you?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

never one to turn down a challenge, the meme edition

I won't lie and say I enjoy filling out online surveys for all to read. More often than not the survey questions are written by thirteen year olds, designing questions that not so subtly allow them to brag about themselves to their MySpace friends.

Loyal reader write procrastinator tagged me, and it would be impolite of me to ignore him. This survey-style meme seems not terribly invasive, so here goes nothing.

* 10 years ago:
Not one of my better years. Still learning that humans are naturally evil.

* 5 years ago:
Being brought to my knees in my physical science classes became pretty commonplace. I was cooking dinners weekly for sixty people. I started having a lot of fun.

* 1 year ago:
Temporarily living in Virginia and about to move to New York, blindfolded.

* 5 songs I know all the words to:
I could really embarrass myself with this category. But I won't.

--"Let Down", Radiohead
--"Don't Come Around Here No More", Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
--"Soldier's Poem", Muse
--"Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego" (dare me, I know those lyrics)
--"Super Trouper", ABBA (I will not hang my head in shame)

* 5 snacks I love and wish I could eat:
To be honest I'm not exactly the biggest snacker. But eating out, oh baby bring it on.
--burritos at Gordo, my favorite branches in Berkeley on College or in San Francisco in the Outer Richmond at 19th Ave & Geary.
--turkey burgers at Bongo Burger, all branches in Berkeley. (my heart burns for their hummus or onion rings with low quality ranch.... *drool*)
--sushi at Pink Godzilla in Capitola.
--fondue. (how about the Fondue Festival on Van Ness?)
--Texas barbecue. (brisket and smoked turkey breast at Stubbs BBQ in Austin, TX.... *drool*)

* 5 places I would run away to:
--the Bay Area.
(more specifically: San Francisco, Santa Cruz County, Stinson Beach, Berkeley, Half Moon Bay)
--the Pacific Northwest.
(more specifically: Portland, Mt. St. Helens, the Columbia River Gorge, Seattle)
--Piano di Sorrento, Italy.
--somewhere hidden in the mountains, like Montana or Wyoming.... for a little bit.
--somewhere tropical with white beaches and warm water.... for a little bit.

* 5 things I would never wear:
This happens to be one of those stupid MySpace-style survey questions. Omigod, what would I never wear!? Who the hell cares.

* 5 favorite TV shows:
Why not have a five favorite movies question? Perhaps for another meme. There happens to be a handy-dandy list sitting over in the righthand column that addresses this very question of TV shows for all to read at any time. Read carefully, folks, the following are quality television:
--"Twin Peaks"
--"Once and Again"
--"Star Trek: The Next Generation" (that's right, I said it; it's sentimentality factor)
--"Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" (I'm serious, folks)
--"24", the first three seasons and the first half of the fourth season only, though

* 5 greatest joys:
--urban hiking in San Francisco
--beaches during winter storms
--watching thunderstorms
--vaguely, beautiful language in the written word
--vaguely, the confluence of excellent filmmaking in movies and TV

* 5 favorite toys:
--my laptop, delivery system of the internet and my music collection and word processing for all this silly writing I do
--my shiny new hassle-free iPod shuffle
--my beautiful new 8" W├╝sthof chef's knife
--my digital piano
--my TV, an appliance I sadly cannot live without

Apparently I have to tag someone to carry on this chain letter survey business. Because my sitemeter indicates that this blog is read by all two of you and occasionally somebody from Brazil, I don't know if tagging is the best way to spread the chain letter.

UPDATE (08/22/2006): I hereby rescind this tagging business. Consider it a gift. But, if you (yes, YOU dear reader) want to adapt this meme for your own blog, please do. Maybe you'll learn something new about yourself.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

shore leave, part II

I won't be complaining about some Caribbean beach time.

How does that lime in the coconut jingle go?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

phoning it in on your own food network show

I suppose it's only a matter of time before all single-genre television networks start running out of ideas. Lately the Food Network has been sagging under its own weight (which could explain the rash of peripherally-involved cooking shows that keep popping up), and my patience as a viewer is growing thin. This could be a symptom of my changing taste, or perhaps my irritability at things I really like turning sloppy before my eyes. But this isn't group counseling.

Ultimately I love cooking shows because they offer pure escapism. I watch because I want to hold on to the artifice that I'm in these chef's kitchens and I'm watching them prepare food that they've had time-honored recipes for. I watch because I believe they're showing me a trick of their own trade; I'm stepping into their kitchen for them to show me their own skills and culinary prowess to provide food that just maybe I could learn to cook for myself.

Lately though, doesn't it seem like the Food Network personalities are just phoning it in?

It's becoming clear that Paula Deen's arsenal of recipes is actually not all that impressive, now that her shows have resorted to trying out recipes culled from her viewers' letter writing campaigns. Probably no surprise.... with a show that originally specialized in down home cooking (i.e. "Southern"), there are only so many times she can brag about her fried chicken. I don't tune in to "Paula's Home Cooking" to watch her bumble through some recipe she's never cooked before, nor do I have much desire to hear her engage in some borderline-psychotic-event one-way dialogue with the author of the recipe she's trying to get through. Yesterday's episode involved a paltry menu of "Mexican" dishes that in some way resembled the same "Mexican" dishes one could get from the grocer's freezer. The woman was on some kind of frantic auto-pilot; she'd never even thought of making what she was on camera before she woke up and the producers told her what was on the schedule. Further evidence of her producers running out of ideas: creative culinary stretches, such as Paula's blind stabs at French cooking. If the Food Network one-hour special of sending Paula Deen and her Santa-Claus-meets-Hell-Angels husband to Paris wasn't enough, the viewer has to suffer through Paula pretending that she's had French meals up her sleeve all along. I don't buy it. So, when it comes down to it, Paula is on the air solely because of her charm and original promise of cooking ability.... I just wish she was better at bullshitting her way through recipes to make it seem like she just maybe would prepare them for her own family from time to time.

I have a little more faith in Rachael Ray, and I do somewhat believe that she maybe has test drived her wacky recipe canon on her unsuspecting new husband. What concerns me is just how wacky her recipes are starting to become. Maple Chipotle Chicken? Whatever kind of bizarre Latin-Vermont fusion that is, I have no idea; insult to injury comes when she keeps mentioning how it looks just like Chinese takeout. If this recipe really is her own doing and not from the two-beer-buzz imagination of a Food Network test kitchen staffer, she could at least pretend that she's familiar with the ingredients she's using. I'm tuning in on the false pretense that this is her kitchen (re-labeled food and million dollar 1950's-design appliances and all), so when she opens her pantry and is surprised at what she finds inside, it's all too clear that she's practically coasting on cue cards. Besides, she's got a syndicated talk show to plan for; this "30 Minute Meals" crap is old hat to her by now.

The Food Network feels like it's losing some of its homey-ness and natural attitude in favor of something more fast-paced and a kind of labotomized user-friendly. Sandra Lee's valium-hangover sunniness and instant pudding mix-based recipes come to mind. Their cavalry of personalities seem to have been annointed infallible, and thus we get to watch them stretch the bounds of what it means to have a cooking show. Is it so much to ask that maybe they take a cue from the more cozy cooking shows of PBS's Saturday morning instead? Or maybe that's just a bygone era now.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

heat wave

I visited New York City for the first time just about this week three years ago. I remember wandering the city in a blaze of tourism, which meant I spent most of my hours outdoors in the soupy heat. The hostel I stayed in didn't have air conditioning, and I believe that has been the closest I've experienced to the heat of hell. I thought it was hot then.... but I would have to say the current state of weather has trumped that. Keep in mind I live here now, have a better grasp and appreciation of the city, and am smart enough to spend all available hours (while not in transit somewhere) in zones of air conditioning. The weather is so miserable now, and happens to be everywhere in the country except for minor oases of Pacific marine layer, I can't even put it into words. Everybody feels this way here in the city too; people sweat through their clothes in helpless misery on the subway and on the street. People are dropping dead with heat-related ailments across the country. I wonder what it was like before air conditioners out here.... particularly when waiting underground for the subway, which is a minor hell of its own in this heat. It's funny to see the train arrive in the station, packed with people, and then one car will pass that is absolutely empty. Empty, of course, because it isn't air conditioned. What did people do before the subways were air conditioned? I can't even imagine.

So, some "cold front" is apparently coming in tonight, which will bring the New York City metropolitan area down to a frigid 90 degrees opposed to hovering at three digits of Fahrenheit as it has for the past three days.

A friend of mine recently moved to Tucson, Arizona. I'm not even sure how they can bear the heat there.... but I am reminded that west of the Rockies humidity isn't even a factor in hot weather, and I'll take a dry heat wave over a humid heat wave any day of the week. So, when observing the mere two or three degrees difference between New York City and southern Arizona right now, I am at pains. So is my air conditioner, struggling.

So, with this massive heat wave and nationwide record-breaking temperatures, of course my mind wanders to the subject of global warming. If there's one subject that makes me uneasy about events beyond my control it's this one. Video footage of glaciers cracking apart induces a strange fight-or-flight response from me, and I feel helpless and antsy. I rant to people about the benefits of public transit. I rant to people about the benefits of soy fuel (which, to be honest, I find kind of a funny prospect.... but hey, it works and it's better for our environment than the alternative), or buying hybrid engine vehicles, or refitting diesel engines to run on canola oil. At this point, it's probably cheaper to go to Costco and stock up on palettes of Wesson than to go fill up with gas. I have no energy to stand on a soapbox about what we need to do to help our environment and all that; I think it's becoming more aware in the American consciousness now. Sure it's a worldwide issue, but we have to start somewhere. That said, I must plug Al Gore's terrific and entertaining (yes, entertaining and important) documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which is a must for everyone to see. Everyone as in you. Have you seen it yet? Well, you might as well go tonight. Bring some friends. Bring neighbors if you see them fanning themselves on the porch. Don't pout, or be afraid.... It's not some doomsday vehicle at all; it's actually quite hopeful. I wish that my undergrad chemistry classes had such informative and understandable presentations. I'll leave it at that.

Back to when I first visited NYC: I was with two of my friends, both who lived in New England at the time, and I told them, while sweltering underground waiting for a local subway train that took too long to arrive, that I would take an East Coast winter over an East Coast summer in a heartbeat. I was guessing, of course, having grown up on the beach in California. They both said in unison, "No you wouldn't." Three years later, I'd still pick the snowy winter, hands down.