Monday, May 26, 2008

Review: Prince Caspian

The first remarkable event of Prince Caspian is a fight between Peter Pevensie and some school boys back in England.  Little brother Edmund rushes headlong into the scuffle and engages the older boys with Peter.  This is not in the book.
The fight in the tube station is not the only scene that has been added to the story for the screenplay.  There are two epic battle scenes that Lewis did not write.  For reasons that must be obvious to hollywood producers, the movie version of Prince Caspian took on a much more martial persona.  In order to make room for the battle scenes the long journey to Aslan's Howe was truncated mercilessly.  I was particularly disappointed by the nixing of Lucy's struggle to get the others to follow her when Aslan called her for the second time.  This, I think, is the meat of the story.  The older kids had a hard time seeing Aslan, and only after they believed he was there, could they see him.
The movie does maintain this theme, or a variation of it.  Peter is forced to have faith in Aslan, instead of himself.  Speaking of Peter, he is much more kingly in Caspian than in the last movie, which is good.  Susan continued in her weak faith, and it is much easier to believe that the movie Susan never returned to Narnia, than her literary counterpart.  One thing I've realized now by watching both Narnia movies, is that they are not meant to replace the books.  This too is good.  Weather it was on purpose or not, the film makers have not taken away all the magic of the books by converting them to cellulite.
Despite the differences from the books, some of the same emotions are present.  I was moved early on by Edmund's defense of his brother.  Reepicheep, one of Lewis' most beloved characters, elicits the same hero lust.  Likewise, the valor of all the Narnians in the various battles is moving.  Particularly the scene in which a scimitar holds up the castlegate amidst a barrage of arrows while his comrades escape is one of my favorites.  In this way the film makers have really captured the wonder of Narnia.
The film has not, and will not replace the book.  This is good, no film ought to ever replace such wonderful literature.  However, so far in Disney's Narnia series they have complemented the books admirably.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tacos Tacos Tacos Tacos

This week is Tacos Tacos Tacos Tacos week.  We choose a different Taco place to eat at every day for lunch.  It's amazing how exciting this can make an otherwise dull work week.  I always wake up excited to go to work during food theme weeks.  We will be doing two taco weeks this month.  This is the first, next week is "Under the Sea," and the following week will be "Tacos Tacos Tacos Tacos."  I am having to keep my taco consumption moderate this week, but for next taco week I will have (hopefully) reached my goals and will be allowed to go all out.  I warn you now:  I am going to go off in two weeks, no taco will be safe.  This is the menu for this week:
Monday: Six for Six at Guerro Canelo.  That's six carne' asada tacos for six dollars.  These carne' asada tacos are awesome, and the special on Mondays.  If you can pry yourself away from the hot dogs, you've gotta have the tacos.  Or do what one Taco eater did, and have a hot dog for desert, after your six for six.

Tuesday:  Fish Tacos from Del Taco.  That may surprise some of you connoisseurs, but I would put the fish tacos from Del Taco against any fish taco in South Tucson.  I rocked three of em.

Wednesday:  Old Style Patty Tacos from Rigo's.  The proper way to make ground beef tacos is to cook the meat within the shell in a frying pan.  Rigo's has some of the best old style patty tacos in town.  They come in an order of three.  It's best to get the tacos and a side of rice or beans.  While this is plenty of food, some more hearty tacomen have been know to rock six.

Thursday:  Luck of the draw at Pico de Gallo.  I settled on the shrimp tacos, which were of fried shrimp.  I am used to grilled shrimp tacos, but these were very good none the less.  I was tempted to try the cabeza tacos (made from cow brains) but chickened out.  Now I wish that I had tried them.  Pico de Gallo is most known for their cup of fruit.  You really should try this.  It's a cup of fruit, with lemon juice and chili powder all over it.  Tasty!

Friday:  Normally we finish things off with the grand finale' Mi Nidito, but since we are doing two Tacos Tacos Tacos Tacos this month we are saving El Presidente' for week two.  El Dorado serves very good carne' asada tacos, but I am craving patty tacos and will go with that.

After the first Tacos Tacos Tacos Tacos I discovered that my favorite food is Tacos.  One can see why.  There are just so many different options.  In the future I will post some of my favorite recipe's for tacos.

I will report on both "Under the Sea." and "Tacos Tacos Tacos Tacos Two" soon.  In the mean time, celebrate Taco week and eat some tacos!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Elegant Trogon

On Saturday I took a bird watching trip with some people from my church to Madera Canyon.  I am a lousy bird watcher as I never remember the names of the birds, and often find myself lifting my binoculars to scan the hills in the distance for deer.  Saturday was a marvelous success though as we spotted this Elegant Trogon.  We walked a little over a quarter mile up the Old Baldy trail and were just about to give up when we heard him call.  The call came from down the trail so we backtracked a hundred yards.  Soon he called again and we knew he was close.  Everyone scanned the dense oaks off the trail.  Then one of our group spotted his red chest.  She pointed him out to everyone.  My friend Mike Jones took this picture.  The Elegant Trogon is high on every Bird Watcher's List.  In the U.S. they only appear in the southern mountain ranges of Arizona and New Mexico.  I am very lucky to have seen one on only my second bird watching trip.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Opposite of Fear

One of the most ballyhooed films of last summer was 300.  I was so excited to see it that I broke my "no first run movies" rule and saw a matinee within weeks of it's opening.  I was disappointed, and my disappointment was all Steven Pressfield's fault.
Prior to seeing 300, my friend Dan lent me Gates of Fire, by Pressfield.  It is a historical novel depicting the Battle of Thermopylae.  I read Gates of Fire before seeing 300.  This was a mistake as I would have enjoyed the movie more had I seen it before reading the book.  Pressfield took the opposite approach of Miller (Author of the Graphic Novel 300, on which the film was based), in that he told a very believable story, one that the reader could easily conceive, yet still view as legend.  Pressfield's characters are so lifelike, yet so heroic that I would be disappointed were I to travel back in time and meet King Leonidas, and find him unlike Pressfield's representation.  Gates of Fire took characters with some historical basis and wove a complex story about them.  For instance Dienekas, a central character in the book was a real person who, when confronted with the possibility of the mass of Persian arrows blocking the sun is actually believed to have responded "Then we will have our battle in the shade."
The book is narrated by a Spartan slave, and it is as much the story of his life as it is The Battle of Thermopylae.  The book examines and portrays Spartan culture, which has been called a "cult of courage."  It is this element of the book that led to my disappointment with the movie.  What follows is a spoiler so stop reading now if you plan to read the book.  Prior to the 300 Spartans departing Sparta to meet Xerxes at Thermopylae Dienekas ponders what compels the Spartans to so willingly march to certain death.  He speaks of facing one's fears, and decides, after much pondering that the opposite of fear is love.  Love is why the 300 Spartans marched off to die.  Not love of glory, or blood, although they certainly reveled in both, but simply love for their families, and for their way of life.  
I wish that the church was a little more like Sparta.  For Christ implored us to be just that. Men, gladly going off to die for their wives.  Wives and mothers bravely facing this reality, and trusting that all will work to the glory of Sparta.  
I am grateful to Steven Pressfield for writing Gates of Fire, there is so much Christians can learn from the Spartans, from the warrior's code and Pressfield has showed us what the perfect warrior looked like.  Hope that was subtle enough.  Discuss, I'm vaclempt!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

La Gloria Cubana

This evening my wife got together with some friends away from the house.  She thinks this is a terrible annoyance for me.  In order not to usurp any unspoken rules of cohabitation, I will refrain from dissuading that belief here.  Whilst she was out I sat on my porch for an hour or so.  When my wife is gone I like to smoke cigars and read, and tonight I smoked a cigar for the first time in a few weeks.  This is a shame as lately the weather has been beautiful for cigars on the porch in the evening.
I had never smoked this brand before, in fact I hadn't even heard of it, so I had no expectations lighting up.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Cigars International says that: "La Gloria Cubanas offer a delicious balance of Brazilian, Dominican, Mexican and Nicaraguan filler, together with a dark Ecuadorian wrapper."  My guess is that this is one of the many cigar makers that migrated from Cuba when Castro came to power and set up shop somewhere else, but I could be wrong.
The smoke lasted an hour and twenty minutes at a very moderate, even passive rate, just the way I like to smoke.  This is an exceptional duration as the cigar was only a 4.8 x 52.  That's mighty short, for such a long burn.  I ordered it in a sampler pack of "mild" cigars.  Mild it was, but not bland.  I find that some "mild" cigars are bland.  This La Gloria Cubana was rich, even a little sweet.  The draw was quite tight, which I like.  In fact it was so tight that the ash did not fall off until it was over two inches long.  I will definitely be smoking more of these, as I will be seeking them out in the future.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Dave's Barbecue Rub

For Christmas this year I made some barbecue rub to give to a few friends as presents.  Most of them have run out of it and asked me for the recipe.  I never write anything down so I'm going to try and duplicate it by memory:

1 part Brown Sugar
1 part Paprika
1 part Kosher or coarse salt
1/2 part garlic powder
1/2 part black pepper
1/2 part instant coffee
Cayenne Pepper to taste
Cajun Seasoning to taste

Mix all your ingredients well.  I use a rinsed out spaghetti jar (make sure it's completely dry).  Just pour them from your measuring device (1 part = 1 cup will fill your jar) into the jar and shake it as you add ingredients.

You can put this rub on anything you barbecue.  I've used it to make a crust around smoked meats, to add to the flavor of liquid marinades or as a stand-alone enhancer for hamburgers, chicken and fish (go easy on the fish as the flavors are very robust).  I even use it when cooking a roast in the crock pot.

I ripped this off from Steve Raichlen, it started out as his "Basic Barbecue Rub" that he uses for his famous "Beer Can Chicken", but I've added so much to it that I think I can call it my own at this point.  My wife got me his book for Christmas and I highly recommend it.  The nice thing is that instead of being just a collection of recipe's  it is more a book on different grilling techniques.  Raichlen encourages creativity and experimentation. 

Thursday, May 1, 2008

How to make Churrasco

I love to Barbecue, I've told many of my friends about my particular favorite form of barbecue, but few have been able to come over and try it.  Here I will describe the process for making Brazilian Churrasco, I hope that you are able to try it.  Let me know what you think.

It all starts with the meat.  Now it is difficult to get the best Brazilian cuts of beef here in the states, but if you are a purist you can go to a butcher and ask him for Brazilian Picanha.  In Tucson they can do it at American Meat Company on South Fourth Avenue.  Usually I just use either Top Sirloin or Tri-tip as both do fine.  Actually I've used whatever meat is on sale when we want to go cheap and it always turns out OK.  The important thing to remember is that the meat has to be very marbleized.  In other words you want a lot of fat running through the meat.  This will make it juicy and tender.  Lay the meat out on a large cutting board and cut it into approximate stake size pieces.  If the meat is thicker than an inch, butterfly it so that it will cook quicker and more uniformly.

The other ingredient is salt.  Putting salt on the meat does not dry it out as I thought it would, but it locks the moisture into the meat and makes for a very juicy steak.  Salt is also a natural tenderizer.  I have found that the best salt to use for Churrasco is Kruger brand Kosher salt.  It comes in a purple box.  Sprinkle the salt onto all sides of the meat liberally but don't overdue it.  It may take you a few tries to learn exactly how much salt to use.  You can use other coarse salts but I would not use table (or any other fine) salts.

The secret ingredient is Onion.  I learned this trick from a back yard barbecuer in Brazil.  Before you cook the meat (I put the onion on before the salt but it doesn't matter).  Cut an onion in half and use a cheese grater to shred the onion over the meat.  Just a little is all it takes.  I use about a third of an onion when cooking for six people.  The onion will caramelize on the grill and give the meat just a hint of sweet flavor.  This will take the edge off the saltiness and your guests will be amazed.

Grilling:  Light the grill right before your guests arrive and let it get pretty hot.  If you have a smoker box fill it with wet mesquite for that unique Arizona flavor.  Bring a clean cutting board out to the grill and a couple sharp knives and a fork, along with a pair of tongs.  Place your meat fat side up and let it cook.  It will sear very quickly.  Turn the meat as soon as you see blood rising to the top.  Even if you like your meat well done, keep it as rare as you can tolerate.  Well done meat becomes very dry and the salt makes it tougher the longer it cooks.  When your meat is done, I pull mine when it is still red in the middle, take it off piece by piece and cut it into small strips.

In order to really appreciate churrasco you must eat some of it right off the grill.  When I make it, I assume half will never see the table, this is how it is done in Brazil also.  Put the cut pieces on a plate and have someone take it around to your guests.  But don't forget that as the griller, you must consume the best pieces yourself.   Serve the rest at the table with rice and beans,  See my wife's blog for some side dishes.  I like a robust red wine, such as merlot, or stout beer, such as Fat Tire, with churrasco, but my wife insists it must be accompanied with Coke.  Either way you will want to have plenty of water available for your guests as the salt will make everyone thirsty.

There are a lot of people who will disagree with me about some of the finer points, and I'm sure lots of Brazilians will accuse me of "Americanizing" their beloved dish, but it's about the people you eat it with.  Don't worry about it, invite people you love over and enjoy.

Welcome to My Porch

My favorite thing to do in the world is to sit on my porch with friends.  So this is my virtual porch.  Come out and have a seat.  Browse through the postings, there will be recipe's restaurant, cigar wine, book and movie reviews.  Along with a few of my own stories, and maybe a song or two you can download.  As on any porch, there will be some hunting an fishing stories, maybe a little sports talk, and from time to time a rip roaring discussion.  (Although if it's controversy you will want to check out my other blog, an intelligent response).  Feel free to search for topics that interest you, I hope you enjoy your stay on my porch.