February 02, 2004

Movie: American Splendor

Southlake Cinemania screened American Splendor tonight. It's the humorous semi-biography of comic writer/character Harvey Pekar. Rather than write about superheroes or animated ducks, Harvey Pekar chronicled his ordinary life as a hospital file clerk.

First illustrated by R. Crumb, his comic character became very popular. The structure of the movie mirrors the self-referential character of his comics, but neatly avoids becoming irritatingly meta.

The principal performers, John Giamatti and Hope Davis, do a great job of making us care about the people they portray without ever getting overly sentimental. Harvey Pekar and his wife Joyce Brabner also appear as themselves, giving a sort of narrative/interview-like running commentary.

The plot (I don't really know how biographical the movie is) smartly avoids all of the usual cliches - and given that, I won't spoil the movie by revealing them.

The audience as a whole really enjoyed the movie - there was a lot of laughter in the theater. Certainly, it's one of my favorite films of those shown on the Southlake Cinemania Film Circuit.

Posted by JAY at 11:04 PM | Comments (1)

February 03, 2004

The Week of Sleep

So I worked all weekend on the office move - which on the one hand is nice, because I get paid for overtime now. However, I usually use the weekend to catch up on my sleep. I tend to get sleep deprived during the work week and sleep for 12 hours a night on the weekend.

I couldn't do that this weekend, so I'm going to take this week to get me back into it. So no swimming this week, I'll take the extra hour of sleep.

How pathetic!

Posted by JAY at 08:41 PM

February 05, 2004

Recipe: Cinnamon Buns


This recipe has been superseded by this one which was even better!

So I've been eating and eating and eating on my week of rest - Mary Brown's, McDonalds, Swiss Chalet... and then I came home and made cinnamon buns. They were yummy - I ate three of them. Groan! I'm not very good with yeast doughs - the recipes are irritatingly imprecise - so my Mom showed me how to make these.

The recipe here is huge, and really imprecise. It makes about 3x the amount of buns in the picture... that's a LOT of buns.

My mom doesn't put a lot of brown sugar filling in them, but I like a lot of sugar... And since both of my parents just had 4 of the buns, I think they like the sugar too!

Cinnamon Buns

Mix in a bowl:

  • 5 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Heat in a pan until very hot to the touch:

  • 3/4 cups of evaporated milk
  • 4 cups of water

Mix with a fork:
  • 3 eggs

Stir all of the above ingredients together, eggs last so that the hot water doesn't cook them.

Stir in more flour until it's too stiff to stir anymore.

Then use your hand to knead the mixture while adding more flour, until the dough isn't sticky anymore. A good technique is to lift the dough ball (once there's enough flour for it to hold together), put about 1/2 a cup of flour underneath it and then knead on top of it to incorporate the flour as it sticks to the bottom.

(See, I have no idea how much flour I've added...)

Let the dough rest covered with a damp cloth in a warm location for about 20 minutes.

Then punch the dough down and knead until smooth. You can liberally use flour to prevent the dough from sticking to anything.

Divide the dough into 3 pieces.

For each piece:

Roll them out into a large, thin rectangle about 2 cm thick.

Spread the dough with a thin but generous layer of softened butter -- but leave a one inch strip bare along a long edge.

Sprinkle the butter with brown sugar (thin layer) and cinnamon (out of the sprinkler).

Roll along the long edge starting opposite the bare strip. Try to roll it tightly.

When you get to the end, crimp the bare strip to the roll to seal the roll.

Cut into 1 1/2 inch circles.

Place these circles about one inch apart in a generously greased baking pan (you can see that I used a huge cast iron pan - I also used some rectangular glass bakeware.

You can sprinkle the pan with some brown sugar if you want (it makes a slightly crunchy-gooey caramel bottom on the buns, but it also makes the pans a bit hard to clean). We did it both ways.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cover the rolls with a warm cloth and let them rise for about 1/2 an hour or until they're almost 1/3 bigger than they used to be.

Bake in the 350 degree oven for about 26 minutes.

Let them rest for about 5 minutes and then take them out of the pan and onto a rack.

Stir with a fork:

  • 1 cup of icing sugar
  • 4 teaspoons of water
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Drizzle this icing over the buns.

Posted by JAY at 10:12 PM

February 10, 2004

Winter Wonderland

I went for my walk today and the snow was coming down in huge clumps that dashed into powder on the ground. It was spectacular, but it only lasted for a few minutes before settling into the more conventional flurries.

Fleeting, but beautiful.

Posted by JAY at 07:53 PM

February 14, 2004

Happy Valentine's Day

Well, I don't have a significant other, so my Valentine's Day activities were largely in the "facilitator" role. Trev wanted to have a special meal with his girlfriend Rucell, so I helped him prepare a dinner. Erich helped with the wine selection as neither Trev or I are big drinkers, so it was a real group effort!

Later at home, I made more cinnamon buns, this time without any help. They turned out pretty good, though I was so tired, I forgot to put the cinnamon in the second batch!

Trev tells me that Rucell likes mangos, so we made:

  • Mango salad with chili and coriander
  • Scallop and Shrimp Penne with Leek Cream Sauce
  • Mango-Peach Trifle

We cheated a little bit, though - we used a store bought pound cake instead of making our own. Trev's kitchen isn't as well stocked as my own (he doesn't have a kitchenaid, for example), so we needed some shortcuts. (and some longcuts - I ended up whipping the cream for the trifle with a hand whisk.)

Posted by JAY at 10:16 PM

February 16, 2004

Recipe: J's Mango Shrimp Salad

Happily, Trev and Rucell enjoyed their meal. I'm told it went fairly well, with the exception of a minor stovetop fire (apparently, Trev has issues when it comes to boiling water) and a forgotten loaf of bread in the oven.

Oh, and apparently Rucell doesn't like asparagus (either that, or Trev cooked them funny and she was just being tactful!).

Rucell wanted the recipe for the ad hoc (created from Trevor's description, with shrimp added) mango salad that we made (yay! she liked it!), so it follows...

J's Mango Shrimp Salad
(see, I can name it after myself, since this one's a semi-original!)
Serves 2.

This salad is made with ripe mangos, rather than green ones (unlike the one Trev described). However, the mangos should still be firm, not mushy. Definitely err on the side of slightly under-ripe for this recipe (ie. yielding slightly to the touch).

If the salad is sour, you can add a bit of sugar. We didn't have to.

Also, this salad is best well chilled - warm mangoes can taste slightly of turpentine.

I don't like coriander/cilantro - but a little of it here tastes good. And if you like it, definitely put more (as in, a large handful).

Scallions develop a slightly soapy taste when they're cut too far ahead. So chopping them right before serving is best. (We didn't, we just tossed them right into the mango mix, since they weren't supposed to be concentrating on cooking on Valentine's.)

  • 2 ripe mangos, peeled and julienned, seeds discarded
  • 1/2 of a red onion, sliced very thinly
  • handful of fresh coriander, chopped
  • 1 red chili pepper, minced finely, seeds removed
  • 1 (?) tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
  • couple of pinches of powdered chili, to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 generous pinch of salt, or to taste

Mix the above in a medium sized bowl.

In a small fry pan, over medium heat, heat

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil

When it's hot (a drop of water flicked in should sizzle), dump in:

  • several shrimp (as much as you like), unpeeled, heads removed if they're there
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • freshly ground black pepper

Fry and stir the shrimp until they're just pink all round. The garlic shouldn't really be browning at all - burned garlic tastes horrible.

Then, turn off the heat and after they cool a bit, dump the mixture, oil and all, into the mango mixture and stir.

Refrigerate covered for at least an hour, up to 5 hours to let the flavors blend.

Before serving, chop and toss in

  • 1 green onion/scallion

and serve.

We didn't try this, but with a bit of extra oil, vinegar and salt, you could probably toss this with lettuce to feed more people. Preparing the mango is a hassle that I wouldn't want to do for more than 3 people.

Posted by JAY at 11:30 AM

Movie: The Station Agent

Who would have thought a movie about loneliness could be so funny?

In The Station Agent, Peter Dinklage plays Finbar McBride, a dwarf train-lover who seeks isolation in an abandoned train depot and finds lasting friendships instead. This role was made for Dinklage, and he lends a long-suffering dignity to the role with his rich voice and expressive features.

Entirely character driven (that seems to be a theme for Southlake Cinemania movies this year), The Station Agent follows Finbar as the various townfolk intrude upon his solitude.

There are emotional performances by all the principal actors and a deft touch for humor and drama. Deceptively casual directing and cinematography lend sincerity to an otherwise slick production.

The only slight criticism that I could come up with is that for a character driven moviewas that the characters, for all of their sympathetic natures, were defined by only one aspect of their personality.

But hey, with 95% on the Tomato Meter, how likely is it that you won't find several things to really like about this film?

Really, really recommended.

Posted by JAY at 09:49 PM

February 20, 2004

Working Late = Thai Food

Tonight I had to work late so that we could migrate our server to a (crappy) workstation that can only handle 10 connections at a time ... Win2k Professional. Can you tell I'm a little bitter?

Anyway, Cathy was kind enough to stay and help out (technically, I'm not allowed to be in the office by myself due to safety reasons). After we finished, we went to the Golden Bell Thai Restaurant where, among other things, we tried the Mango Salad that Trevor's girlfriend really liked (and that I tried to replicate without ever seeing, for her Valentine's dinner). Not to be a total ego maniac, but I think I liked my version a lot better. We also had one of their superb spring rolls, my favorite Satay Noodles and the new and very very yummy Curry Rice with Beef.

We also enjoyed getting the complimentary shrimp chips with peanut sauce before the dinner. Cathy seemed to really enjoy the food, which was great, and we both stuffed ourselves. Amazingly, with all the food we ate, the total came to just $30 with tax (tip extra, with green tea to drink). What great value!

Read more about the salad comparison below.

The salad was made with large (french fry size) pieces of unripened (apple crispy) mangos. It was seasoned with sugar (because the mango isn't as sweet when it's raw), chili pepper and peanuts. It also included sweet red peppers.

I think mine tasted better julienned (more surface area to absorb seasoning) and with the depth of balsamic vinegar, black pepper and garlic olive oil (not to mention the shrimp!). The ripe mangoes were juicier and tastier.

However, adding the crushed peanuts would be a welcome addition and make the dish taste more oriental than Carribean.

I don't know if the Trev and Rucell agree, though. I'll have to ask them.

Posted by JAY at 10:18 PM

February 22, 2004

Multimedia Me


Here's a (legal) MP3 of me playing Love Song by The Cure on my very out-of-tune piano. I thought that there were enough entries with pictures and text, so I figured I'd add some music.

I came across this arrangement of Love Song done by Tori Amos in an MP3 of a radio program and scored it in Cakewalk myself. It took me forever and she still sounds better *sigh*. The sound quality is a bit sucky due to the ultra-high-tech equipment that I had to record it - the laptop and PC microphone you see in the background.

Read on below for the link and assorted thoughts.

The end kind of falls apart a little - my mind started wandering and I was kind of like "Oh, I'm that close to the end of the song?" There are a lot more notes in my score than I actually ended up playing.

I can post this sort of thing because I'm confident that I don't have enough readers to overuse my bandwidth! Hee.

Enjoy! And you can let me know what you think in the comments!

Posted by JAY at 12:04 AM

February 26, 2004

Training

So I've ben sent training for... ba-da-ba... VBScript.

Which is good, I've been doing VBS for a while now, just self trained. Hopefully when we get past syntax (should be about noon) it'll get more interesting. The trainer at least seems to be knowledgable - even if he is a die-hard Microsoft/VB defender.

Not much to complain about, though I nearly choked when he implied EMCAScript is just an identical company-owned variant like JScript and JavaScript.

The hotel is nice too, though the pool is way too small. Pictures on the weekend.

Posted by JAY at 09:35 AM

Aargh!

Holy review of yesterday, Batman!

We're 1 hour into the 2nd day, and we're still reviewing the 1st day!

Not that I think review is bad, it might be needed. But I'm starting to get short on patience. On the plus side, we got to try PrimalScript, which is pretty neat - though I'll have to play with it more to see if it's worth using.

Posted by JAY at 09:57 AM

Yay! Done!

Done the review! Onwards!

No more blogging!

Posted by JAY at 10:14 AM

February 28, 2004

Restaurant: Seoul Kal-Bi Kariya

While training, we went to a Korean/Japanese restaurant called Seoul Kal-Bi Kariya within walking distance of the hotel. The restaurant was very atmospheric. Entering involved crossing a miniature stream over a bamboo bridge. The staff were very helpful and friendly, and the food was very good.

Read on below.

The menu was extensive (8 legal pages) and had a wide range of prices. Traditional Korean dishes and Japanese dishes predominated, including the tabletop Korean BBQ. It was so extensive that I asked the waitress for her recommendation.

She suggested a spicy shrimp dish ($20CAN) and helpfully offered to have the chef make it a bit milder. Knowing how spicy Korean food can be, I was glad I agreed - the dish was very spicy even when "mild".

We were also brought lots of extra food, which surprised us. Traditional Korean appetizers like pickled eggplant, kimchee and 2 slaws accompanied the salad starters. Complimentary tea also accompanied the meal. No less than 3 soups were brought for us to taste: a miso soup, a VERY tasty tofu soup and (while we were eating the entree) a clear broth with a mussel in it.

My shrimp entree had prodigous amounts of shrimp (well worth the $20) in a sweet spicy sauce with asian mushrooms (bat ear type) and sweet peppers. It was very tasty, though the shrimp were maybe just a touch over-cooked.

After dinner we were brought a clear sweet rice liquid that the staff said was good for digestion and a small plate of fresh fruit. (All complimentary!)

Service was excellent, both helpful and attentive. The manager also passed by to ensure everything was acceptable. We left in a flurry of goodbyes and
well wishes as the 4 or 5 waitresses and 2 chefs followed us the door. That was a little excessive and maybe a bit unnerving! ... but we certainly felt welcome!

It's really too bad that I left my camera at the hotel. All of the dishes were artfully presented. Strangely, the placemats had advertisements for the Fuji-U japanese restaurant across the street - so maybe they're owned by ths same people.

Highly recommended.

Seoul Kal-Bi Kariya
Tel: 1 905 615-9065
Address: 265 Enfield Place
(off Hurontario Street)

Posted by JAY at 12:56 AM

February 29, 2004

Movie: Monster

Just saw Monster and got back in time to see Charlize Theron win the Best Actress Oscar. I have to agree, it was very much her film and she did a great job with it, her eyes conveying all of the tortured emotions of her character.

The movie itself was very impressive, managing at the same time to portray serial killer Aileen Wuournos (Theron) sympathetically yet objectively. Aileen's love interest, Selby, was depicted with appropriate immaturity by Christina Ricci.

Overall, a very impressive movie.

Posted by JAY at 11:50 PM