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Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Crafting of Prometheus

When my wife asked me if I might like the Blu-ray version of “Prometheus” for Christmas, I shrugged and said “Sure.”  I normally give her a few ideas to spur her Christmas shopping, but had not put the movie on my list.  If I’m honest (and I always am), I hadn’t been that impressed with the movie when I saw it in the theater.  While I found it interesting, I cannot say that I truly enjoyed the experience.  But watching a movie at home is different from seeing it in the theater.  And repeated viewings are different from seeing a movie for the first time.

I found watching the movie at home a liberating experience.  Instead of going to the theater, and wondering if the movie was going to live up to the hype, or prove too intense for my wife, I could sit back on my own and enjoy it.  I noticed a lot about the characters, settings, and the story that I missed the first time around.  The first viewing was like following a guide through a museum, my journey dictated by those items that most intrigued my host, before he left me in the museum gift shop and picked up a new tour group.  On my second viewing, I had no preconceptions, and I knew the basic story, having received my initial tour at the cinema.  So I could just sit back, immerse myself in the world, and drink in the story.

The wealth of extras included in the 4-disc Blu-ray set helped me appreciate the tremendous backstory that undergirded the narrative.  Jon Spaihts, the first screenwriter to work on the movie, shared many of the ideas and elements that he developed with Ridley Scott.  Many of these were discarded, but countless others became embedded in the story’s foundation.  Spaihts even designed his own "Prometheus" game, including board and pieces, to help him work out the logistics of how each character interacted within the narrative.  The more experienced Damon Lindelof then came on board, honed Spaihts’ narrative, and strengthened its three-act dramatic structure.  Ridley guided each writer’s efforts with comments and sketches (affectionately called “Ridleygrams”) that showed them how he could visually interpret their words.  All these ideas and concepts, arising from words and rough images, inspired the production team to interpret the world through more detailed drawings and sculptures.

Art involves not just what the artist puts into his creation, but also what he leaves out.  It was interesting to hear Ridley Scott echo Roger Zelazny’s philosophy (in “Steven Brust: The Complete Package”), speaking repeatedly in regards to communicating everything he wanted to say, while not explaining too much.  Through watching “Prometheus” again, and studying the extras, what becomes apparent is that Ridley Scott and company created a rich tapestry of people, technology, and worlds that enrich their story.  Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway's adventures fashioned them into interesting and compelling characters.  The elaborate space stations Peter Weyland constructed capture the best dreams of Science Fiction.  The Weyland base on Mars, glimpsed in the background during the crew briefing, likewise beckons.  The fictional universe Ridley Scott, Dan O'Bannon, and Ronald Shusett created for “Alien” spawned numerous sequels, comic books, novels, toys, and other tie-in products.  I can only imagine all that “Prometheus” may eventually give birth to.

Even after watching it several times, I look forward to watching the movie again.  Not because "Prometheus" is cool, fun, scary, or exciting (although it's all those things), but also because it’s so rich in ideas, and makes me wonder about the questions it asks.  But then, what else should I expect from a movie named after the Greek god credited with the creation of man, and who represents our best efforts to learn more, to achieve more, and to become more.

Dragon Dave

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Motorcycles and Stockings: Part 2

It's sometimes difficult to look backward, and fully trust in your memory.  I'm left with very little that I actually remember of Lucy Warren.  I know she attended my grandparents' church, and I believe she was a friend of my aunt.  I remember that she drove a beat-up white van to church, and mentally picture her wearing darker, more masculine clothing as depicted in the postcard.  I remember her as being rather quiet: not unfriendly, just serious.  But much of this, especially regarding her clothing and demeanor, could be my mind filling in the blanks as best it can.

One thing I know is she knitted this Christmas stocking for me.  I don’t remember receiving it, so she probably made it when I was quite young.  I’m not sure what prompted her gift, although everyone likes giving and making things for babies.  She would have made this after her second transcontinental ride, so perhaps she gave up motorcycling after that, and took up knitting instead.  Or maybe she just had more time after she retired, and took up another hobby.

There’s a great story buried in the past, about a woman who did something difficult, arduous, rare, and (at least for her time) masculine.  Yet she also did something (that we typically regard as) feminine, with a great degree of skill, making an item with such skill that it became a treasured keepsake, even in those years when I forgot who gave it to me, and in so doing forgot about her.  

If you’ve done something interesting, share your experience with others.  You may not think it's important, but anything unique that you've experienced will be of interest to others, and may serve as a source of inspiration.  I wish I knew more of Lucy Warren’s story, both about her life, her interest, and her two cross-country trips.  I can’t help but think that those trips would have been interesting to hear her talk about.  From the postcard, I can't even tell what types of motorcycles "The Snapper" and "Cinderella" were.  But at least I’ve got the postcard, and my Christmas stocking, to remember her by.

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Motorcycles and Stockings: Part 1

When my grandmother transitioned into a nursing home, we had to go through her house.  Among her possessions we found this postcard.  Age had literally eaten away at it, but it looked interesting, and I recognized the woman in it, so we packed it away among the things to go through later.  The picture intrigued my wife, so she did a simple Internet search, and found a paragraph on the woman in the June 1963 issue of “American Motorcyclist” magazine.

According to the article, she traversed the contiguous forty-eight states twice on a motorcycle, once in 1925, and again in 1962.  She never suffered significant mechanical difficulty during these trips, and averaged 350 miles per day.  This would suggest that she knew how to repair and maintain her bikes, and kept them in good condition.  It also suggests that she kept herself in good constitution, as riding a motorcycle can be more wearing that driving a car.  Imagine riding across our nation, in glaring sun, blustery winds, or driving rain!  Imagine how many hours each day she rode, to average so many miles!

On her first motorcycle ride, when she rode the motorcycle she called "The Snapper," work had not yet begun on the Empire State Building in New York.  The faces of American presidents had yet to be carved into Mount Rushmore.  Hoover Dam had not been built.  Nor had the famous Route 66 been established.  On her second trip, aboard "Cinderella," she would have noticed large-scale changes to our nation, such as the interstate highway system in its infancy, an utterly transformed Las Vegas, and the other examples mentioned.  Had she visited Cape Canaveral, as I did on my recent trip, she would have witnessed how the government began using it as a missile test range, and the birth of our nation's space program.  

When she set out for her first journey, Hawaii and Alaska had not been made states, so she visited every state in the union.  On her second ride, our nation had grown not just by two states, but from a population increase of fifty percent.  She would have noticed dramatic changes as towns and cities grew to accommodate such population growth.

Imagine what those trips must have been like for her.  They sound like incredible journeys. 

This post will conclude tomorrow. 

Dragon Dave

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Making “Never Enough Chocolate” Ice Cream Bowls: Part 2

Yesterday, I told you about our first attempt at using our Wilton “Ice Cream Bowl Pan.”  As you can see, the cookie dough formed a nice bowl-like structure, and all of them came nicely off the pan.  Nevertheless, a couple ended up with holes in the sides, and to a certain extent, the bowls looked rather porous, so you’ll need an actual bowl to serve them in.  Also, because of the way the dough spread out past the ridges, they ended up with wide, saucer-like edges.  This meant that we needed wide containers to store them in.  We got four in an eight-cup Ziploc container that measured 10.5” long by about 6” wide and 3.5” tall. 

Making them into sundaes that evening was a real treat.  I expected the dough to be brittle, but the bowls held up well to the pressure of digging into the ice cream with the spoon.  The edges, and bowls themselves, broke off in nice pieces when we wanted them to, rather than fracturing and breaking unexpectedly.  As we hadn’t put chocolate chips, or anything else into them, they had a nice, basic flavor, and added to the ice cream (“Triple Brownie” flavor Deluxe Ice Cream brand) without distracting or competing.  And I ended up, on the last spoonful, with both cookie and ice cream, so it was a nice way to finish the dessert.  In case you ran out and bought a Wilton pan after you read yesterday’s post, here’s the recipe we used to make our “Never Enough Chocolate” Ice Cream Bowls, along with the calories, for those who count them.
1 Cup Butter (2 sticks)                                                           1630
1 Cup Sugar                                                                            775
½ Cup Brown Sugar (packed)                                                   415
2 Eggs (XL)                                                                             160
2 teaspoons Vanilla extract                                                        20
3 Cups Flour                                                                          1365
1 teaspoon Salt                                                                           0
1 teaspoon Baking Soda                                                              0
6 ounces Grated Dark Chocolate (171 grams)                             898

Total Calories                                                                         5263

My wife made nine cookie bowls out of half of the dough.  After making three more bowls, for a total of twelve, she again rolled out the dough, and using a small round cookie cutter, cut out around forty 1/8” thick cookies.  Each bowl works out to 292 calories, and the cookies averaged (due to size differences) 40 – 50 calories.  Here are some more precise directions.

Cream butter and sugars. 
Add eggs and vanilla, mix well.
Combine four, salt, and baking soda in separate bowl.  Mix well, gradually add to batter.
Stir in grated chocolate. 
Bake 375 F for 8-10 minutes. 
Cool 5 – 10 minutes before removing from pan.

In review, our “Never Enough Chocolate” Ice Cream bowls had a nice basic flavor, and a perfect texture.  The only problem, from our perspective, was that they had a lot of calories.  (In comparison, we could probably eat a richer chocolate cake, with icing, for the same number of calories).  So we’ll have to try a different recipe next time.  Nevertheless, we won't let such an important fact bother us too much, as they really were a nice treat.  

We'll just plan some lower-calorie dinners for the next week.

After we made them, my wife found a more basic, Sugar Cookie-type recipe at the Wilton website.  She noticed their recipe didn’t call for baking soda or baking powder.  So perhaps losing those ingredients would prevent the bowls from falling and spreading out on the pan.  Then again, if you don’t care about the calories, and are throwing a Science Fiction themed party, you could always put ice cream inside, then plunk another one down on top to form Ice Cream Cake Bowl UFOs.  I’m sure they’d be the talk of your intergalactic guests.

Dragon Dave

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Making "Never Enough Chocolate" Ice Cream Bowls: Part 1

Yesterday, we had planned to drive up to Long John Silvers for lunch (Go Fish!), but when we left for the gym in the morning, it was raining.  At the gym, the local station’s TV weather forecast called for rain all day.  So we decided to stay off the freeway.  We had found this Wilton “Ice Cream Bowl Pan” at Walmart, and at the time it looked like a fun and tasty project.  The pan then sat under our counter, alone, unloved, and forgotten, until yesterday, when my wife, anticipating a day spent inside, felt inspired to bake.  So she dug it out, read the directions, and decided to do something with it.

She has a favorite cookie recipe, one she calls Never Enough Chocolate cookies.  As the pan came with no recipes, she decided to adapt her own and make Never Enough Chocolate Ice Cream Bowls.  You’d never guess that she’s half-Swiss, would you?  (No, I’m not going to tell you which half).  To begin with, she got out a bar of dark chocolate, and chopped it as finely as she could.  Then she put the pieces into her blender and reduced them to a powdery consistency.  After that, she made up the rest of her batter, and put it in the fridge to chill.

After lunch, she took out the dough, and using a floured hand towel (Yes, she suggests that you start with a clean towel), she rolled out the dough until it was 1/8” thick.  Then she found an old plastic container that was 4 ½” in diameter, the size the instructions called for, and cut out large circles.  

She placed a circle of dough atop each bowl-form, and gently molded it onto its sculpted, wavy sides.  Then she put the pan in our oven, preheated to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and waited patiently for the required 8 – 10 minutes (only switching on the light and peering inside the oven every minute or two to check on their progress).

When the timer dinged (or binged, or cha-chinged), she pulled out the pan, and let the bowl forms cool for 5 – 10 minutes before removing them.  The dough had risen, but it had also sunk down and spread past the little trench designed to catch any excess dough.  Still, they came off the pan fine, and not one of them broke.  She then repeated this process with another pan-full, so we ended up with a dozen cookie bowls.  

She pressed out the rest of the dough, and cut out some smaller circles, so we could have a small chocolate cookie for our afternoon snack.  Needless to say, the rest of the afternoon proved a torture, as we waited to fill them with ice cream that evening.  Tomorrow, I’ll tell you how they turned out, and give you the recipe.  (Yes, I really am that cruel).

Dragon Dave