Saturday, March 28, 2015

Red Velvet Oreos and Key Lime Poetry...

I am a fanatic about Oreos.  I remember sitting on my broken down recliner in my apartment in Milledgeville some 14 years ago, with a cup of milk and 4 or 5 Oreos, dunking them in milk and hoping for the perfect dissolve ratio before eating the whole thing in one magnificent yalp. The chocolate, the filling, all hanging together just by a thread, else the whole cookie dissolves and you have to fish it out of the bottom of the cup (or it goes down your shirt, whichever).  I got so mad when, after gleefully purchasing the white chocolate dipped Oreos at Christmastime, to discover that the white chocolate made the Oreos undunkable.  They were useless to me then, and so, in a fit of depressed euphoria, as was my premedicated state in those days, I threw them away.

So I happened upon "Red Velvet Oreos" at the grocery store sometime in February, and I bought them... Red Velvet Oreos with Creme Cheese Frosting.  It had a date with a perfectly poured glass of milk just at bedtime... and so I bought some milk.  And got sick.  No milk for me when sick, so the milk sat in my refrigerator, bacteria multiplying, becoming some foul brand of yogurt, and I had to throw it out.  When I got over my combined ear/sinus infection (doctor said it was the Flu), I then had paid said doctor $160 dollars, and so I had no money to purchase a new container of milk.

So, after my health, my budget, and my milk supply met in unison, I finally poured that cup of milk and dunked my Red Velvet Oreo and waited the prescribed seconds for the milk to penetrate the layers of cookie and filling.  I actually figured out (either from Online or by sheer luck and genius) that I could use a fork, stuck in filling, to force the Oreo under (as Oreos float, leaving the top cookie exposed to air and not milk) to continue the saturation process.  I don't remember if I did that this time, although I didn't need to.  The Red Velvet concoction dissolved perfectly, and the flavor was spot on, a creamy, fantastic Red Velvet Cake in the shape of a cookie. I cannot recommend an Oreo higher than this.

Have you ever eaten something that made you want to write poetry? That made fireworks go off and your taste buds wake up and say "Why have you been stuffing tasteless mush into yourself all these years??"  I have had those experiences, and I've learned that the best foods come from those who put as much passion into their cooking as spices and seasonings.  I had a Javanilla Shake at Borders made by the most wonderful cook (Katrina, who is now at a hospital revising the notion of Hospital Food), and every single sip of the heavenly drink tasted as good as the first.  Even down to the bottom, where ice clumps were known to gather, turning everything into a watered down mess, it was evenly flavored.

And then there's the Honey Soy Salmon that the family owned Bangkok Grill serves in Covington, GA. You don't go into a place yearning for their Rice Cakes, but this one makes amazing Rice Cakes. I took some on my move to Dallas with me, to keep me awake. You can't eat and sleep at the same time.  But the Salmon...ohhh... that was a precious gift (my friend Gwen took me there as a going away meal).  I have made a close replica of it in my own kitchen, but the tenderness of it, and the soy, truly awesome!!

So today, with the first warm sun beaming down upon Dallas, I decided I was going to splurge, just this once, and go to Sweet Tomatoes and try their Banana Upside Down Cake they were advertising. It was mediocre... but, amongst the flavors which I experienced there (and read my prior blog about all those amazing flavors at Sweet Tomatoes in Addison, TX.) I found the Key Lime Muffin.  Sweet and soft inside, and tart and Crispy, with the right amount of sprinkled sugar on top... all the parts of my tongue and mouth were awake and aware and understood their function in life.  I only had one.  I only needed one.  I understand now the idea that cooks have when they bring out their culinary masterpieces, and it turns out to be some little dinky piece of something with something swirled around for decoration.  Their attempt, whether it succeeds or not, is to provide an instant shock of flavor and recognition of genius, and then let the signals enter the brain and form new neurons of memory, recorded for all time.  It matters not that the stomach is full, but rather that the mind is full.  You can go to any Chinese Buffet and eat enough that your stomach is ready to burst out of your skin, but what of flavor? What of the memory of that meal?  It is forgotten by the time you leave the parking lot (possibly to be revisited later, which may or may not be pleasant).  But this, this muffin, I only have to have one of them for the engram to be recorded forever into my skull.  I hope it's not a limited time thing, as Sweet Tomatoes often does, as I will want to sample those fireworks again.  

Oh, to work at the kitchens of that company, to invent the things which mouths will record and brains remember for years to come!  If that is not a chef's dream, to live in immortality through the food they create, then I don't know what is... We all strive to create things.  Some have babies, others have books or music or art.  I have a blog, my brother has a son. Chefs have something that maybe only musicians have, an art form that is temporary, where the notes are produced and soar through the concert halls and into the ears, where those signals are captured forever.  And that, if they are lucky, is immortality.  Chefs do likewise, through the signals the mouth and tongue create when they bite down into that Honey Soy Salmon, or that Key Lime Muffin, or the Red Velvet Oreo.  Somewhere, the inventor of that Oreo can be grateful that he or she can live in the recorded sensations in people everywhere, as they dunk the cookie in milk, and then, with eager anticipation, and urgency, pop it into their mouths.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sociopaths, Psycho-Killers, and Half-Life Levels

I know I'm the last one in the universe that should be talking about Reality Vs. Fantasy.  The person who thought himself a Transformer for many years of his life, who still makes a "transforming" noise when I get up off the ground, who, as Jimmy Fallon read off in his "hashtag" segment, waves his hand in front of automatic doors like a Jedi.  So, as you can see, I'm not the best person to talk about knowing the difference between fantasy and reality.

I can't help but think as I'm walking to the car in the cavernous parking lots of the Galleria, with the endless pathways of concrete, with stairs and elevators, how the makers of Half-Life would have loved to make this into a playground for the first-person shooter crowd.  Computer graphics and interaction has become so realistic that anything short of reality is considered "retro."  I've said many times that, when the game Zork came out for the Commodore 64, and it actually had sounds that somewhat sounded like English, I was amazed.  Now we live and communicate with people all over the world in 3-D universes with their own economies and cultures.

So in college, and mind you, this was in the 1990's, when Half-Life came out, the Internet at the time was able to host multiplayer maps of any design, as long as you learned the graphic interface.  Among the favorite maps made was that of a parking lot.  Snipers could find people on the lot below, trip-wires could be set in stairwells.  One day my brother and his roommate spent quite a bit of time setting trip-wires all up and down a stairwell, hoping that one of our friends would come along and set the whole thing off, blowing up that part of the map.  It was hilarious.  There doesn't come a time when I'm in a new building, a hotel, a parking garage, The Galleria Mall itself, when I don't think, "This could be a great Half-Life level!"  And of course, I know it's just a game, a world outside of this reality, a playground for a few hours of entertainment.  I wonder, though, how many people trained for their own lives playing Grand Theft Auto, and then tried to carry out those actions, to some extent, in real life?  The arguments oscillate on whether violence in video games affects the mentality of teenagers, or people in general.  I would say, "Of Course!!!" It's not a great leap to go from me pretending to be Lion-O on the playground to someone "pretending" to be a sniper or a Halo soldier.  And it's not a great leap, given internal circumstances, to go from "pretending" to actually doing it.

People have always told me that I couldn't differentiate between Fantasy and Reality, and I have to dispute that claim, especially now, because there are people out there who simply cannot do it.  We've seen many examples of this, and the end result is usually tragic.  We've communicated to people (Postman) that violence is okay, that extreme scenes of gore and brutality are perfectly okay to show on television, as long as they don't show a breast.  And since pictures are worth a thousand words, each image is internalized and reacted to with vehement emotion.  We strive for more, for images of grief and violence, as constantly pushing the boundaries of what we have seen will create ratings, talk, (and negative or positive attention are both good things in the Entertainment business.) Zombies eating people?? Sure!!  No problem!!  Psycho-Killers on a neighboring channel? Wonderful! 

I've recently watched episodes of Criminal Minds on the basic cable television channels I have, and I found it quite understandable why Mandy Patinkin left the show after two seasons because he was disturbed by the material presented to the American public each week.  Shortly after watching this, I went walking at the Harry Moss Park (as the dirt trails were still too muddy).  Seeing single female joggers in their sweatsuits and ipods and earplugs running past, I could only think, "Well, she's dead." Because any sociopath that wanted to drag her off into the woods could easily do it. Plenty of places to hide a body.  Now, this is not to say that I'm going to become some mass-murderer, but you can easily see how someone with a loose grip on reality, or with sociopathic tendencies already built in, if they watched these television shows, could learn quite a bit from just watching and then start acting it out in the real world.  And all this for the final objective of making money through advertisement.  It's quite disturbing, actually.  All in all, however, I believe the places I walk to be safe, and my relative mental health to be stable.  I'm just not sure about the rest of the city. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Duplicity: The Decemberists

Perhaps it should be obvious with an album title like What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World, that the album's theme should be duplicity.  It's something that has been done before, even in the genre which The Decemberists are known for.  I loved the Simon & Garfunkel cut of Silent Night merged with a clip from the "Seven O'clock News." I know that it's possible for artists and music video producers to make such a cut now, but it just doesn't seem like something this brilliant has been done lately. 

As I said in the previous blog, people nowadays are too afraid to stand up for their beliefs, for fear of being labeled an extremist, a racist, or an out of touch crazy person.  It's what I find so refreshing about the Decemberists music, that they make bold statements with their music, and it hearkens us back to the folk music of the 60's.  So as I listened to The King Is Dead album, with the "Bold and Brilliant" songs that are so much different from the excrement being played on the radio today (and I hear enough of it at work, I should know), I began to fear that their next album would be nothing like it, and it would be simply a shining diamond amongst a cable car of coal.  It would be just another flash of genius like Keane's first album, or John Mayer's first album.  I should have placed more faith in them, however.  What The Decemberists produced was an album of songs written and formed and molded into a masterpiece.  Social Media and the Internet has allowed Colin Meloy to describe the creation of the album, how it all came together, and I find it endlessly fascinating. 

He says "We had to change, some." It what is so notable about the last two albums, because I go back and listen to the first 5 they released, and I just don't like them as much.  They're darker, more "alternative," and they rely on solely narrative tracks about Mariners and dark and Gothic characters. I once read an article debating whether the Decemberists were an "Emo" band. With these last two albums, the answer is a resounding "no." This is why many of the reviews for The King is Dead are so negative.  They didn't want their band to change.  Well, Meloy had kids, one of the band members had breast cancer, and they started looking at life differently.  They had to change, some.  

But the duplicity of this world, this terrible, beautiful world, is what the album is all about.  In "12-17-12," we have a father elated by the coming of his second son while dismayed at the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.   In "Cavalry Captain," we have the glorious leader of the army, describing himself as "the printed upon your stars," while convincing his underlings to ride off into battle, "and only for a second, we'll be alive."  In "Philomena," it starts out as a 50's doo-wop hit, something that the Everly Brothers would sing, and yet, it reveals itself as an aroused teen trying to get under the skirt of his crush.  In other words, a distinct reality from the "innocent" days we all think of the 50's, a time when probably so much more was taking place.  At the end, with all this in mind, Meloy writes "The Beginning Song," in which he asks, "I am Hopeful, should I be Hopeful?" in a Prufrockian tone that easily brings up the room where women come and go.  However, The Decemberists leave it on a note of wondrous positivity, a bold stand that says, "Yes, we should be hopeful." 

It's an album that, I believe, should easily connect the older, more Gothic works, with The King is Dead.  It works out well in my mp3 player, as the newer album is played prior to the older one, and it works out so well this way.  "The Light, Bright Light..." joins right in with the "Bold and Brilliant Sun" that starts the previous album.  It brings hope to a dark world, in seeing the positive side to what can be one very long marathon of Law & Order, where criminals and serial killer stalk the streets, and where there is no happy ending.  But let's "raise our glasses, to the turning of the season," where we can do something about all this negativity, if we stand upon our beliefs and see the miracles that happen every day, the bright light all around us.