July 27, 2010
Mmm, corn on the cob. I remember munching on corn slathered in butter, gripping Mickey and Minnie Mouse corn holders, throughout my childhood. Back then corn was just another vegetable I had to eat. This summer I am having a love affair with corn. Last year it was blueberries; this year the simple, sweet taste of corn provides the perfect complement to my dinner. My favorite method to prepare corn on the cob is to boil the corn and then spread butter over the hot kernels. Unembellished and delicious.
Sometimes, however, it’s nice to try something new. Spice up the usual. This recipe is one I adjusted for a peppery alternative to grilled corn on the cob. The spicy level is up to you—the secret is in the cayenne pepper.
Grilled corn on the cob is obviously different from boiled corn. It requires more attention during the cooking process, so you don’t burn the kernels. First, remove the silk and husks from the ear. Apply the seasoned butter mixture to the corn and then wrap the ear in a wet paper towel. Double-wrap each ear of corn in foil before setting them on the grill (it should be set at 275). The double-foil protects the corn from burning, and the wet paper towel allows for the corn to steam within the foil, melting the butter and softening the kernels. Keep the corn away from the flame and more towards the edges of the grill. Cook the corn for 30 minutes and then carefully unwrap the ears.
Garlic-herb butter with pepper
(serves four ears of corn)
1 stick butter, softened
½ tsp cayenne pepper (more if desired)
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1 Tsp all-purpose seasoning (I use World Market brand, which has onion, lemon peel, orange peel, paprika, mustard, and thyme)
2 Tbsp minced fresh garlic
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Mix all the ingredients together until you form a thick paste. Adjust to acquire your preferred flavor. Smear over the corn before grilling.
For a smokier taste, increase the Worcestershire and add a drop of liquid smoke.
What is your favorite way to cook corn-on-the-cob?
Photo from www.businessweek.com
July 25, 2010
For the second weekend in a row, Inception topped the box office.
And it is no wonder.
Inception is a masterly film in both cinematography and concept. Plot-wise, the story primarily focuses on Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), the best extraction expert in the dream business. Meaning, he knows how to retrieve information from someone’s subconscious while that person is dreaming. Now—for a chance to return to the United States and reunite with his children—Cobb must place an idea into someone’s subconscious. That is called inception, and apparently it is well-nigh impossible to accomplish.
It is difficult to describe much more of the plot for fear of tainting the experience. The film is visually stimulating. In one scene, an entire Parisian street folds on top of itself. In another, giant buildings slop off like rocks in a mudslide, crumbling into the crashing ocean below.
For me, the main brilliance of Inception is Christopher Nolan’s creative treatment of that mysterious event we all undergo each night: dreams. Sure there are dream almanacs and dream interpreters. Freud tackled the subject of dreams, as did Jung and Griffin. Neuroscientists have studied the subconscious and have developed fascinating theories on the nature of dreams. The bottom line, however, is that we do not have foolproof answers to our dreams. We can guess and hypothesize all we want. But from whence do dreams come? What do they mean? Just how many layers of dreams are there? What is it about the sensation of falling that generally wakes us up? What part do memories play in the construction of our dreams? Can we manipulate a person’s subconscious?
The last question drives Inception forward. In this reality, the answer is Yes. And it is intensely interesting to watch the process. In order to plant an idea in the subconscious, Cobb needs three layers in the dream, which works out to be ten hours of sleep in reality. In theory, you fall asleep to enter Level 1. Achieve that level’s objective. Fall asleep again, still in Level 1, in order to enter Level 2. Then again to reach Level 3. At each level, one member of the team needs to stay awake so he can monitor and initiate The Kick (i.e. the sensation of falling which wakes you up). The further you go in the dream, the longer time stretches. So ten seconds in reality can feel like an hour in the third level. Oh, and then there is Limbo—the purgatory of Dreamworld. I could attempt at an explanation here, but I feel that would ruin that wrinkle. Suffice to say, it is a frightening, if not mesmerizing, concept.
Nolan’s creativity continues: Each dream team has members with specialized roles. There is the Architect who creates the world of the dream (in this case, Ariadne, an architecture student played by Ellen Page); each team has a Forger (Tom Hardy), someone who can impersonate or reflect a specific individual within the dream. Every dream needs sleep, and who better to induce sleep than a Sedation Expert (Dileep Rao). The Mastermind, who is obviously Cobb, and his Second-in-command, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) partner to lead the dream set to its completion.
As if all this were not enough to scramble your brain matter, Inception also employs a subplot—and a bizarre, cryptic one at that. Marion Cotillard shines as Cobb’s deceased wife, who still exists in Cobb’s subconscious. From the beginning it is obvious he feels guilt over her death, and that guilt brings Mal into any constructed dream as Cobb’s projection. It is this subplot that touches upon issues of reality, illusion, and time…what we wish to be versus what actually is.
I am sure that there are aspects of Inception that I will dislike in future viewings. But last Friday, I walked out of the movie theater thoroughly satisfied with the film. That is such a rare occurrence that I can count the number of satisfying movie theater experiences on one hand. Moreover, the film ignited discussions about the art direction, choreography, and underlying philosophies immediately upon exiting the building. (If you see Inception, I highly recommend that you bring a friend with you, purely for post-movie conversation.) I plan to see Inception again and possibly write another blog that focuses on the philosophical elements of the film.
But really, I just want another excuse to experience Inception again.
Five out of five stars.
July 23, 2010
Posted by Heather McLendon under Uncategorized Leave a Comment
I submit my apologies for the lack of recent posts. They will return next Monday. (edge)wise’s format will consist of three posts a week, each focused on a specific topic: Reviews, Recipes, and Arts & Culture.
If you ever have a topic you’d like to see on (edge)wise, send me a message. I always welcome input and suggestions.
July 15, 2010
photo courtesy of bbcgoodfood.com
I love salads. They are simple, yes, but there is no reason for your leafy-green meal to be boring. Start with some fresh mixed greens and then build. There are no limits or rules on how to make your salad. Add mandarin oranges, fresh raspberries, and slivered almonds. Or grilled chicken over lettuce, endives, and red onion. Use different combinations depending on what resides in your kitchen. Or stroll through a farmers’ market this weekend. See what veggies catch your eye…and nose.
At my local farmers’ market, I recently purchased two bundles of gorgeous French breakfast radishes. The second I saw them, inspiration struck and I wanted to include them in a salad that night for dinner. A bag of arugula and box of strawberries later, I was ready to create. Radishes and strawberries. A little spice, a little sweet.
The rest is pure experimentation. Enjoy.
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heather’s radish and strawberry salad
8-10 radishes, sliced
1 lb strawberries, sliced
¼ cup pine nuts
Create a base of mixed greens in a large salad bowl and then toss with your sliced radishes and strawberries. Add pine nuts and sprinkle crumbled chevre over the salad. Drizzle your favorite vinaigrette on top, if you so desire.
Pairs well with a glass of French House rosé. À votre santé.
July 13, 2010
Imagine you wake up in a closed elevator with no memory of who you are. The doors open to reveal dozens of boys, all staring at you with mixed suspicion and hostility. They toss foreign slang around, like “klunk,” “shank,” “greenie,” and “shuck.” They tell you that you’re in a place called the Glade, which rests in the middle of a maze—operated by people unknown. The huge, metal doors close every night, shutting everybody inside the Glade—and keeping the ugly, death-giving Grievers out. This is all routine. This is life until the boys find a way out of the maze.
But then the elevator shaft opens for the second time in one week—which has never happened before. A girl lies there. She has a message: The ending is near. And then she passes into deep unconsciousness. Now the boys need to figure out how to escape the Maze before the Maze—and those who control it—kills them all.
That is the premise of The Maze Runner, written by James Dashner. The book falls within the same futuristic/alternative reality young adult genre as The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) and Incarceron (Catherine Fisher). Dashner creates a weird world, so full of puzzles you become addicted to the plot. The Maze is a microcosm of the greater world; boys still have responsibilities and assigned jobs. They have a mess hall, jail, and graveyard (albeit called different names). Despite the ‘order’ of the Glade, it is apparent that the Maze is a laboratory, and the boys are being studied like mice in a cage. Metal beetles with the word ‘WICKED’ printed on their backs monitor their movements and conversations. It is one, long test—yet the protagonist, Thomas, and the others have no idea what that ‘test’ is.
Readers might find The Maze Runner maddening because answers are long in coming. Like most YA novels, The Maze Runner is written in first-person narrative; we travel the story with Thomas. Because he is unfamiliar to the Glade and consumed with questions, we as readers are overwhelmed with confusion as well. Statements such as “Wicked is good” only add to the cryptic nature of the Maze. Eventually Thomas has an inkling that he has been to the Maze before, even though he cannot remember it, and he sets out to figure out the Maze’s secrets from within his own dark memories.
The Maze Runner is a suspenseful read, but I kept hoping for more. The book is vaguely unsatisfying. It is like a movie in which you want to know the end but you are not riveted to the screen. When it comes to puzzles, authors are wise to withhold information from readers. But there is a delicate formula required to maintain that suspense, and if you hold on too long, you lose readers’ patience. Dashner waited too long before giving his readers some of the puzzle pieces. The final eight pages held more intrigue, surprise, and excitement than the rest of the novel combined. If only Dashner had sprinkled some of the ending material throughout the book, rather than dump it all within the last chapter. Granted, he sets up his sequel very well. The Maze Runner concludes on an explosive, unexpected note. Yet that doesn’t help the fact that the preceding 265 pages were mostly character development instead of taut, finely crafted suspense. You know those movie trilogies in which the second installment is solely a set-up for the third film? I feel like The Maze Runner is a set-up for the sequel, The Scorch Trials.
The Maze Runner is still a fun experience, especially if you enjoy alternate realities and bizarre, survivalist culture. (With his Glade slang, Dashner paid homage to Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange and Nasdat, which is a delightful treat.) If nothing else, read The Maze Runner so you’ll be caught up to speed for The Scorch Trials, scheduled for an October release.
Four out of five stars.
July 6, 2010
Years ago I heard a man on the radio describe his experience at Stonehenge. His words went something like this, “It was like…epic, man. So totally epic.” His voice held the same syrupy, lazy tone as the stereotypical surfer in SoCal, and I have never been able to forget it. I find it amusing, particularly his utter reliance upon a single word to encapsulate such a life-changing encounter. Epic.
For me, ‘epic’ is a word saved for the true saga. A story, an event so monumental and long that other words fail to communicate its vastness. The Lord of the Rings is an epic tale. The Odyssey, too. I consider The Pillars of the Earth and Gone with the Wind epics. And now, The Name of the Wind joins them.
I am a little late to join the Patrick Rothfuss bandwagon. His debut novel, The Name of the Wind, hit bookstores three years ago. Despite my tardiness, I am now onboard and endorse this gripping fantasy epic.
Wait…fantasy? As in scaly dragons, wizened warlocks, and an overabundance of vowel-ridden names? Not exactly. Yes, Rothfuss creates an entirely new world. And yes, his tale is one of epic fantasy. He even errs on the side of too many vowels within his fictitious languages. Yet he grounds his story within characters—most powerfully in its protagonist and narrator—and solid mythology. Here is a world not touched by our own reality, but it is a reality nonetheless, just as colorfully depicted and honestly rendered as any contemporary fiction.
The Name of the Wind opens with Kvothe, a deeply quiet and unassuming innkeeper. At least, that is what his fellow townspeople think. As readers we are only given scraps of insight into Kvothe’s true identity. His past is a thing he wants to keep buried, and he succeeds at this until a scribe stumbles into his town. The “Chronicler” knows of Kvothe and has come in search of him in order to preserve the true version of history—from ‘Kvothe the Kingkiller’ himself.
We travel with Kvothe from his early childhood years in a performing troupe to his miserable, orphaned life in squalid Tarbean (strangely reminiscent to Victorian England), to his early admittance to University where students study alchemy, science, and sympathy (a.k.a. magic). We meet his few friends, his enemies, his benefactors, and his one love. Sprinkled throughout his narrative, Rothfuss inserts interludes, where we return to the adult Kvothe and Chronicler (and also Bast, Kvothe’s friend and pupil). These interludes notch up the intrigue as it become apparent that Kvothe’s past is relentlessly hounding him, despite his best efforts to remain hidden.
Rothfuss can be needlessly wordy at times. Enthralling plot notwithstanding, Kvothe’s voice sometimes turns tiresome. You can only read, “I don’t expect you can understand” and “There is no possible way to describe” so many times before finding him a bit pretentious and uncreative. Readers might get annoyed at Kvothe’s lack of perception and his incessant pride. (I sure did.) He is headstrong, impatient, and reckless. Yet I forced myself to remember that Kvothe—at this juncture in the story—is an adolescent. Moreover, he is a character with deep flaws, and that is something I appreciate. The Name of the Wind is not a story about a gleaming, pure-hearted boy who becomes a much-respected warrior. Kvothe’s story is read with trepidation because his recklessness, while it affords him adventure and opportunity, also backfires. Frequently.
As with most epics, it is difficult to describe The Name of the Wind without compromising the story. The best praise I can offer is that I consumed the 730-page novel in less than a week. Once I opened its pages, I submerged into another world. And it is truly a wonderful universe with mysterious beginnings, fascinating mythology, dark undertones, and motley characters. It provides the same thrill—the same rush—as navigating a foreign country for the first time. You have no knowledge of the landscape; you are entirely reliant upon the narrator. You do not know what creature or legend or character or culture might turn the corner next. The thrill lies within that unknown. Curiosity fuels the reader. Even though Rothfuss’s world is make-believe, I still want to learn about it as much as I can. It is illuminating how many parallels to the ‘real world’ can be made within fantasy—when the distractions of reality are wholly and completely dismantled.
Be forewarned: cliffhanger does not even begin to describe this book’s ending. At first I was confused as to why The Name of the Wind is called ‘Day One,’ rather than the more usual ‘Book One’. The reason lies in a statement by Kvothe at the very beginning; he tells Chronicler it will take him three days to share his story. So the tale of Kvothe is divided into three sections, and we only get the first third in The Name of the Wind. If you’re expecting to read up until the present-day Kvothe we’re introduced to at the novel’s beginning, you will be sorely disappointed. We get about sixteen years of his life. The rest—or at least the second part—awaits in the sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear. The scheduled release date is March 1, 2011. Pre-order anyone?
Five out of five stars.