Friday, June 18, 2010

Ceramics and couscous

Let's think of other things that starts with "C"! Uh... Uh... Who cares about da other things?!
Cookie Monster

So a couple of weeks ago, I bought this really nice looking ceramic dish at Art In The Park in Long Branch, made by Roz Potz (the first thing that came up when I Googled her was also her Facebook page, but it was in Welsh or something.)

I wanted to cook something in it, but it's summer, and ceramic dishes to me really cry out for stews or beans or other things that you simmer slowly in the over for a long period of time. Then I realized, I don't need to cook in it. I can just use it as a nice serving dish. Since it has a lid, I don't even need to put leftovers away in a different container. So I made couscous with summer vegetables.

Couscous with summer vegetables
  • 1 Red Pepper
  • 1 Summer Squash
  • 1 Onion
  • 3 Cloves of Garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 cup Israeli Couscous
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable broth
  • Some grape tomatoes

Note: Israeli couscous is a very large grain cousous. It looks more like pearls or orzo than your traditional couscous. You can substitute just about any grain: regular couscous, rice, quinoa, etc. Just change the amount of broth.

Step 1) Arrange some of the ingredients artistically, so you can take a picture of them and put it in your blog, like this:

Step 2) Cut the onion, pepper and squash into fairly large chunks, about half an inch square.

Step 3) Heat a large saute pan over medium low heat for about two minutes. Add the olive oil. Add the cut up veggies and a pinch of salt, and cook for about 8-10 minutes, stirring occassionally, until the onion turns transluscent.

Step 4) Chop the garlic fairly fine (I just whacked it with the flat of the knife, then sliced that). Add to the veggies and cook about 30 seconds. Add broth and couscous.

Step 5) When the broth has come to a boil (which should be pretty quick), turn the heat down to a simmer and cover the pot. Cook for 7-8 more minutes.

Step 6) Transfer stuff to your pretty dish and add tomatoes as a garnish. It should look like this:rve
Serve warm, room tempertature, or chilled, depending how hot it is outside.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Watchin' TV: I'm doing it wrong

It meant nothing to Tarzan, of course, for he could not tell one language from another, so when he pointed to the word man which he had printed upon a piece of bark he learned from D'Arnot that it was pronounced HOMME, and in the same way he was taught to pronounce ape, SINGE and tree, ARBRE. 

Edgar Rice Burroughs

My cable channel is trying out a new channel called Centric. It's a spin off of BET, and most of the shows aren't that interesting to me. But two are: it's showing reruns of Miami Vice and the A-Team. I don't have much to say about Miami Vice, but I'd like to talk about the A-Team. (And I promise to avoid saying anything like "I pity the fool who don't read this" anywhere but this sentence.)

Why am I watching it? I didn't really watch it when it was first on, so it's not nostalgia. And it's not a very good show, though if you're in the right mood it's the sort of bad show that can be fun to watch. If you really care about the plot, look it up on Wikipedia or somewhere. If you don't care about it, there are five main characters:
  1. Mr. T.
  2. Guy who dresses up in funny costumes (if you're idea of funny is thick accents).
  3. Crazy guy.
  4. A Zeppo (i.e., handsome but no personality)
  5. Someone without a Y chromosome.
Theoretically, they also have tactical roles. Crazy guy is an ace pilot; Zeppo guy is an ace negotiator, the girl guy knows how to gather information.

Each week, this supposed group of mercenaries learns of some bad guys who are picking on poor innocents, and has to stop them. For example -- an I am not making this one up -- a bunch of greedy real estate developers want to tear down a youth center where Hulk Hogan helps underprivileged kids. (The show had a lot of awesome 80s era guest stars. I've seen the Hulkster and Pat Sajak, both playing themselves.) The bad guys send in some "enforcer types" to cause trouble. The A-Team intervenes. At some point, the guy in the costume walks into the criminal mastermind's office in a disguise as a helpless little old lady or something, then whips out a machine gun and destroys all the knickknacks on the wall. Then the bad guys send out a big force to take over the center, and there's a great big fight with low budget special effects. I wouldn't say I dislike the plot, so much as I think it could use a bit more diversity.

There are, however, two things I enjoy about the show, which I wish more modern shows would do. First, it's completely episodic. If the first show you see is episode number seven, you'll be caught up on what you need to know by the time the opening credits are finished. Second, I think the idea of an action-comedy is interesting, and I'm a little surprised there aren't more like it. There are action shows which are comedic, but they normally also throw in several other elements, things like police/law/medical procedural and romantic subplots.

* * *

There are a few TV shows out there which I like, but you'd never know it from listening to my description of it. For example, take Fringe. I started watching it for a simple reason: it was on after House, which I find interesting, and Fox was showing it with limited commercial interruptions when I began tuning in. This meant there was no need to change the channel to find something less annoying as background noise while I read.

There are three main characters in Fringe. The only really interesting one is Walter Bishop, because it's the only role with any serious acting required. Walter is an extremely brilliant, but absentminded scientist. His role is to help out his son, Peter Bishop, and FBI agent Olivia Dunham, as they investigate inexplicable phenomena. Olivia's character is, to my mind, most distinguished by the fact she has a different random superpower each week. Sometimes she has superhuman hearing; sometimes she can detect when something is from another dimension. Sometimes she can travel to another dimension. These abilities appear and disappear as the plot calls for them. Peter is there to serve as a love interest for Olivia and someone for Walter to worry over. Apparently he's also supposed to be a brilliant scientist, but he's not quite as smart as Walter, so he never gets to invent cool gizmos unless John Noble is out of town that week working on another project and the writers needed to redo the script.

While not as formulaic as the A-Team, most episodes follow the same plot outline: There's a creepy, inexplicable murder or mass death, which the FBI is called to investigate. Walter spouts some really bad pseudo-science to explain what caused it. (Seriously, I wish they would just call the killers psychic, or magical. This isn't like Star Trek, where they make some effort to keep the science believable.) They track down the bad guy, and stop him. While this is going on, Peter and Olivia do that flirty thing that all male and females partnered together as investigators do. In the end of the episode, it's implied that this bad guy is part of a bigger, more sinister plot. (Unlike the A-Team, there's a bit of variety; some of the episodes were rather different than this.)

If I wasn't treating this as an episodic series, I'd tell you more about the overarching sinister plot. I'd explain why the bald men with the funny accents are so important, or why we're supposed to get scared when we see a typewriter. But I find it much more enjoyable if I don't ask myself about those things, if I treat each episode as a supernatural crime story without an overarching metaplot.

Like I said, it's really enjoyable if you watch it the wrong way.