Monday, December 29, 2014

Music Video Monday: Morison

Every now and then my husband will share random YouTube videos with me on Facebook. They're usually stuff he thinks (and he's almost always right) I'll find amusing: Weird old training videos, short Minecraft animations, funny animals.

And sometimes he finds grainy vintage footage of an eastern European glam metal band.     


That's Divlje Jagode. Their name apparently means "wild strawberries" in Bosnian. Beyond that, I have absolutely no idea what they're saying, but I like it. They also apparently released a new album this year (pretty great for a band that's been around since 1977!) which I shall also have to check out. Husband has served me well. I shall reward him with strawberries (the literal kind, not the big-haired Bosnian rocker kind). 

Friday, December 26, 2014

I'm Reading The Worst Book Of The 1980's (So You Won't Have To)

For a brief, not-so-shining moment in the 80's and early 90's, a bizarre moral panic swept the country. People began fearfully whispering rumors about a mysterious Satanic cult that abducted and abused children in bizarre rituals. There wasn't and still isn't a shred of evidence that this cult ever existed, but that didn't stop people from airing ridiculous television specials about the dangers of Satanism and sinking millions of dollars on a circus of a trial that resulted in no convictions.

We have this book to thank for kicking off that particular shitstorm:


Michelle Remembers is the "true story"of a woman's journey to recover through therapy her memories of the horrendous abuse she suffered at the hands of a coven of Satanists. The book is pretty much just 300 pages of lies and was eventually quite thoroughly debunked, but the damage had already been done and there are still people (though thankfully not nearly so many) who believe in Satanic ritual abuse today.

I'm currently trying to read this book. I enjoy studying the mythology of the Satanic Panic, and I'd heard enough about the crazy shit Michelle claims happened to her that I thought it'd at least be a good guilty pleasure read. It's not. It's a cold, dreary, lifeless thing, and the batshit insane parts just aren't worth wading through the sea of boring crap to get to them.

But because I think it's important to examine the causes and psychology of the Satanic Panic (and because misery loves company) I'm going to motor through the whole damned thing and deconstruct it for your enjoyment.

I'd like to get a few things out of the way before I begin. This book begins with a couple of opening statements, a publisher's note, and a prologue. They aren't very long, and I don't have enough observations about them to make a full post, so here they are:

Statements:

First off, we have a quote from Pope Paul VI about evil and how it's "a living spiritual being, perverted and perverting." I'm confused. Four years of Catechism class at Catholic high school taught me that evil is just an absence of good, not some sort of malevolent living thing. This sounds like an excerpt from a bad Christian fantasy novel.

Then we have another statement from the delightfully named Remi De Roo, Bishop of Victoria, who seems guardedly skeptical of the claims this book makes and tactfully points out that he does "not question that for Michelle this experience was real." I think I like Remi De Roo. I can practically hear him saying "I think this woman is cray-cray, but I'm far too polite to come out and say it" in his head.

Publisher's Note:

The publishers admit that they feel that this project is "unusual" and they are absolutely right. They also point out that Dr. Pazder, one of the co-writers of this book, has a lengthy and impressive list of credentials. It is so very lengthy and impressive, in fact, that I find myself staring at it and being fascinated that he made it to such an exalted position before so utterly shredding his own reputation with one ridiculous book of lies. Also the publishers claim that they thoroughly investigated Michelle's story. I don't believe them.

Prologue:

This part details Pazder and Michelle's journey through the Vatican trying to get an audience with someone who believes their story and is mostly pointless, though I'm amused that Pazder goes out of his way to describe himself as "Tall, blue-eyed, and tanned even in February." This isn't your OK Cupid profile, Pazder.

And we haven't even properly gotten to the story yet. Doesn't this book sound like fun?

One-stop link shop for all existing Michelle Remembers decons:

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapters 4 & 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapters 8 & 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapters 16 & 17
Chapter 18
Intermission
Chapter 19
Chapters 20 & 21
Chapter 22
Chapters 23 & 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapters 28 & 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

I'm Up To My Elbows In Wrapping Paper And Panettone Dough And You Expect Me To Come Up With A Creative Title For My Holiday Post? Come ON!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Here's hoping your holiday season is as awesome as Twisted Sister has promised us it would be:




And not the terrifying disaster foretold by Spinal Tap:


Though in all honesty, elves dressed in leather and angels in chains sounds like the makings of a very merry Christmas indeed.

Monday, December 22, 2014

All I Want For Christmas Is Music, Part IV

I'm currently a few days into a visit with my in-laws. Unfortunately my in-laws live in a different time zone. Due to my still being a bit jet-lagged, the loose theme of this list is "stuff that's loud and/or upbeat and/or epic and can keep me from passing out at my keyboard."

1.  Amaranthe, "Drop Dead Cynical" "The Nexus"



Amaranthe has some tremendous music videos. Love the sci-fi/horror vibe of "The Nexus."

2.  Blind Guardian, "Nightfall in Middle-Earth (full album)"


The Silmarillion + heavy metal? YES, PLEASE.

3.  Roxin' Palace, "Roxin Palace," "Viper's Advice"


Another band I found out about on Twitter. Twitter isn't my favorite thing in the world, but my goodness can you ever find a lot of great bands there.

4.  Reckless Love, "Hot"


I bet I could convince my electronica-loving husband that this is just harmless dance music. Then, once this gateway rock song was planted, I would introduce progressively heavier tracks into his music library until he is converted to the One True Genre! Muuahahaha!

And now I'd better take a nap. Because apparently when my sleep schedule is disrupted enough, I become unhinged and morph into a heavy metal-themed supervillain.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Music Video Monday: All I Want For Christmas Is Music, Part III

More songs that I'd really like to have on my iPod:

1.  Badlands, "Dreams In The Dark"


iTunes, y u no have this song available for purchase? :( Also, this song needs to be on Rock Band, like right now, because Rock Band is one of the few video games I can competently play with my husband and sister-in-law and I sound AWESOME singing Dreams In The Dark. Or at least I think I do, while I'm in the shower. I could be wrong.

2.  Cats N Boots, "Shotgun Sally"


Also not on iTunes. Oh well. I'll find a way.

3.  Damn Yankees, "Runaway"


4.  The Pretty Reckless, "Follow Me Down"


Hell yeah.

5.  Rhino Bucket, "Beat To Death Like A Dog"


One of those sort-of-sounds-like-AC/DC-but-isn't bands. The song is pretty fun, though I do find it a little alarming that the lyrics just assume that gratuitous blunt-force trauma is the default cause of death for dogs.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Cooking With Lady Evil: Candied Chestnuts

Ah, good old chestnuts.


They're the most recognizable of retro holiday foodstuffs. Even people who have never actually tasted them couldn't imagine roasting anything else over an open fire in December. Williams-Sonoma makes chestnut-scented candles and Starbucks apparently introduced a chestnut praline latte this year. We associate chestnuts with comfort, coziness and Christmas cheer.

Ironically, they've also been responsible for more frustration, burned fingers and steady streams of mumbled cuss words in my kitchen than any other "exotic" ingredient I've tried to work with. Chestnuts are deceptively hard to cook. They take a lot of time, effort and patience, and a lot of the instructions for handling them that I found around the internet simply didn't work for me. Since chestnuts are often expensive and it can be heartbreaking to ruin them, I've put together the recipe for candied chestnuts that--after much tweaking--finally worked out almost perfectly for me this year.

I've also peppered it heavily with warnings about the pitfalls of cooking chestnuts, because there are many.

1.  Get yourself a pound of chestnuts.

Odds are that you'll accomplish this step by going to your local grocery store, loading up a bag from the obligatory barrel o' chestnuts that every grocery store has this time of year, and paying for said bag at the counter. If this is the route you're taking, congratulations. There is nothing more you need to know about this step.

If you plan on buying a paper bag full of freshly-picked chestnuts from a local farmers' market, however, keep in mind that when they come off the tree, chestnuts look like this:


...and that odds are your hand-picked chestnuts haven't been completely separated from every last fragment of that prickly mutant-cactus-looking protective shell. Don't stick your hand in the bag too enthusiastically, is what I'm saying.

2.  Shell the chestnuts.

This is the hardest step in the entire recipe, because chestnut shells are the most evil shells in all of nut-dom. There is no way to remove them from the meat beneath without first roasting the nuts and then quickly and painfully shelling said nuts while they're still hotter than the surface of Mercury, because if you wait until they've cooled, the shells will start to adhere to the nuts again. And even then, it's often almost impossible to keep the damn nuts intact while you're shelling them.

I've tried several different techniques to make this process easier and less frustrating, and I've found that the easiest way to do it is to cut through each chestnut's shell--but not into the meat any more than you have to--with a sharp knife until your incision reaches around about 85% of the nut's circumference. Your end result should look something like this once they come out of the oven:


This method still isn't perfect; it takes a long time even with a very sharp knife, and gave me hand cramps. But I only broke one chestnut in half while shelling it this time around, so I'll take it.

3.  Roast the chestnuts in a 350 degree oven for ten to fifteen minutes.

Easiest step on the list. If you remember (I didn't) you can sprinkle them with a little water before they go in to make them easier to peel.

4.  Remove chestnuts from the oven and peel off their shells.

Good news: Because of the way you've cut them, the shells should come off easily--like cracking open a giant pistachio.

Bad news: You've got to do it quick--like, right out of the oven quick--or they'll start sticking again when they cool down. Handling burning-hot chestnuts is, as you may have guessed, unpleasant. It helps somewhat to wear two pairs of disposable food handling gloves while you're doing it, although that does make it a bit harder to handle the nuts. Nor will it protect you from poky, jagged shell edges.

Also, as if all that packaging weren't already enough, the chestnut meat is covered by a papery brown membrane, which also needs to be removed. Sometimes if you're lucky, it comes off with the shell and you don't have to worry about it. More often, it only partially comes off or doesn't come off at all, and if you don't remove it fast enough (i.e. right when the nuts come out of the oven) it cements itself to the nut and will not budge for any consideration. I hate this stupid membrane. It seems to serve no purpose other than to taunt me and stand in the way of my enjoyment of sweet chestnut flesh.

Fortunately you don't need to worry too much about the membrane for this recipe, because in the next step we...

5.  Put chestnuts in a saucepan with enough water to cover them and boil for ten minutes

Once you're done with this step, pour the chestnuts into a colander. Once the water is drained away, pick any remaining membrane fragments off the chestnuts with your fingers or rub it off with a dish towel. It should be waterlogged and peel off easily. Take that, impenetrable fun-ruining membrane!

6.  In a separate pan mix together 2 cups water, 1 1/2 cups of sugar, and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.

Bring this mixture to a boil and boil for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Also, watch it carefully. From personal experience, I have learned that boiling-over sugar syrup + hot stove = loud smoke alarm and husband giving you grief for not being more careful.

7.  Add chestnuts and boil them in syrup mixture for 10 minutes.

8.  Pour chestnuts and syrup into a container with a lid and cover loosely. Let sit for 12-18 hours.

Be sure to wait a few minutes for the syrup to cool down, though. Sugar can get HOT.

9.  Repeat the boiling-covering-and-letting-sit process 3-4 times.

Hmm, I forgot to mention up front that this was a multi-day process. Over the next 3 to 4 days you're basically supposed to boil the chestnuts in the syrup for 10 minutes, then pour them back into their container and let them sit for 12 hours, then repeat the process until the syrup is mostly absorbed. (It'll never be fully absorbed for this recipe. I always make a little extra because the nice thick vanilla-chestnut syrup is good on pancakes.)

10.  Enjoy!

I like to crumble my candied chestnuts up and eat them over vanilla ice cream, or bake them into bread. If you get enough whole ones to put into paper candy cups, they also make great additions to a Christmas baked goods gift box.




    


Monday, December 8, 2014

Music Video Monday: All I Want For Christmas Is Music, Part II

Here is part II of my musical wishlist for Christmas 2014. Since last week's list had a theme, these are loosely tied together by themes of violence, death and insanity. Hey, I never said the themes had to be Christmas-appropriate.

1.  Avatar, "Vultures Fly"


This song has a great Rob Zombie-ish feel to it. Plus I love that Avatar's vocalist looks like the result of Blackie Lawless, Marilyn Manson, Captain Hook and the Joker all having a transporter accident together.

2.  Suicidal Tendencies, "Institutionalized" and Body Count, "Institutionalized 2014"



One clever, funny-in-a-dark-way song from 1983, and a cover that updates it to deal with all the crazy-making little frustrations and indignities of life in the 21st century. These two might be worth their own separate Music Video Monday post at some point.

3.  Requiem, "Sticks And Stones And Her Lovely Bones"


Delightfully weird and haunting.

4.  KING 810, "Fat Around The Heart"


I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this band hails from my home state, specifically from Flint. Which is perfect for the purpose of the music video, since Flint's crumbling cityscapes and unfortunate reputation as one of the most dangerous cities in America makes for some of the most supremely creepy imagery I've ever seen which still manages to be breathtakingly beautiful.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

On This Day In 1984...

...the Bhopal disaster happened.

In the early hours of December 3, 1984, a tank at the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh began to leak. The leak produced a massive cloud of methyl isocyanate gas, which caused widespread death and injury in the densely populated shanty towns around the plant.

There seem to be two accounts explaining how the leak began. The "official" one can be found on a website maintained by Union Carbide. The "Disgruntled Employee Sabotage theory" holds that some anonymous plant operator with an ax to grind deliberately attached a hose to the tank and pumped lots of water into it (MIC is very reactive with water) in order to ruin its contents, The other theory, the "Corporate Negligence" one, argues that the leak happened due to a catastrophic mix of lax safety practices, failure to maintain the facility properly and to replace worn-out equipment, and poor communication between the foreign managers and the native workers who ran the plant.

Honestly, I'm more inclined to believe the second one. The argument for sabotage by a disgruntled employee actually does seem fairly plausible, given that the plant's work environment didn't seem to be a particularly happy one, but I'm not sure how much I'm willing to trust it. It has a distinct whiff of corporate ass-covering about it.

However the leak started, though, the reality of its immediate aftermath is indisputable: mass deaths of people, animals and plants; human survivors overloading the local health care system, which was completely unprepared to deal with MIC inhalation at all, let alone thousands of cases of it; and an eventual mass evacuation from the area. 2,259 people died in the initial disaster, and some accounts estimate that up to 16,000 in total eventually died from gas inhalation or related diseases.

Now, let's move on to the really interesting (and horrifying) part of the story.

The Bhopal tragedy happened 30 years ago. As terrible as they are, the outrage associated with such tragedies tends to fade with time. You would think that Warren Anderson, CEO of Union Carbide at the time of the disaster, would not be popular in India, certainly, but also wouldn't be getting angry calls for his extradition to this day.

And yet stuff like this keeps happening:







You may have noticed that the woman in the middle of that last picture, which appears to have been taken no later than 2007, is holding a sign equating Osama bin Laden to Anderson. Why is the anger and bitterness still so fresh, after all these years?

Probably because people are still being poisoned.

Fifteen years before the disaster, the people at that plant were burying literal tons of their nasty chemical byproducts in the ground around the plant or dumping it in "evaporation pools" that overflowed with every heavy rain, contaminating the soil and groundwater for miles around and causing painful birth defects and horrifically high child mortality rates.

And Dow Chemical (which now owns Union Carbide) doesn't seem to be doing a damn thing about it. Except for spying on activists who have advocated for the victims of the Bhopal disaster, which seems like a rather special level of sliminess and makes me glad that corporate personhood is just an annoying set of legal loopholes instead of a literal thing. I would not want someone as careless, callous and underhanded as that as a neighbor.

Unfortunately for the people of Bhopal, though, they had no choice in the matter.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Music Video Monday: All I Want For Christmas Is Music, Part I

Every time Christmas rolls around, there are a few certainties I can count on. I know, for instance, that my brother will be well-nigh impossible to shop for, that I'll go hog-wild in the kitchen and bake more cookies than I can possibly eat in ten lifetimes, and most importantly, that at least one person will get me an iTunes gift card for a gift. These things are like the weather: they're part of the world's natural rhythms, and they just happen whether you're prepared for them or not.

Since I'm pretty much fated to receive an excuse to purchase 25 or more songs (poor me) and I've also heard some rumors that one relative may be thinking about gifting me with a replacement for my rapidly failing 7-year-old iPod, I thought I'd share some items from my musical wishlist.

Since Finland recently became the 20th nation to pass marriage equality legislation and that seems like an achievement well worth celebrating, I'm showcasing Finnish bands in this post.

1.  Santa Cruz, "We Are The Ones To Fall" "Wasted & Wounded" and "Aiming High"




I'm quite excited about this band, for several reasons:

1. They're very pretty men.
2. They have that fast, sleazy hard rock sound that I love.
3. They're very pretty men, especially that gorgeous lead singer.
4. If their music videos are anything to go by, their showmanship is awesome.
5. Did I mention that they're very pretty men?

2.  Reckless Love, "Beautiful Bomb"


More pretty men. Come on, how could I not buy this song?  

3.  Loudguns, "Loud 'n' Proud"


A relatively new band, formed in 2009. I found them (or rather, they found me*) on Twitter.

4.  Lordi, "Would You Love A Monsterman?" "Devil Is A Loser" "Pet The Destroyer" and "It Snows In Hell"





Why yes, Mr Lordi, I would love a monsterman.

*For non-users of Twitter: Don't worry, that's not as creepy and stalkerish as it sounds.




Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On This Day In 1983...



Six robbers broke into the Brink's-MAT warehouse at Heathrow Airport, looking to steal some cash. These robbers were, apparently, quite a well-organized and ruthless lot; they posed as security guards to get into the warehouse and, once in, doused one of the legitimate guards in gasoline and threatened to set him on fire if he didn't give them the combination to the vault. The vault turned out not to be stuffed with cash as they had expected, but with gold ingots, so they had to settle for making off with 6,800 of these instead--about £26 million worth of gold in 1983 currency.

(My mathematically minded husband points out* that, assuming no non-gold stolen goods like gems or cash are included in the £26 million figure and assuming he got the historical exchange rates right, that's enough gold to fill approximately 40.29 1-gallon milk jugs, and each of those jugs would weigh about 140 pounds. That's a lot of heavy gold to haul out to your getaway car. I hope for their sake that they brought a dolly or a wagon or something.)

Unfortunately for the robbers, they were just a little too well-organized for their own good. The police couldn't help but notice that they had seemed to possess inside knowledge of the warehouse's security procedures, and they started questioning Anthony Black, a guard who worked at the warehouse. This led to the arrest and conviction of two of the robbers--one of whom was Black's brother-in-law.

The stolen gold was never fully recovered. Kenneth Noye was caught fencing some of it in 1985 and eleven complete bars were found in his house (he'd attempted to launder the rest of it by melting it and mixing it with copper coins) and police in Austria confiscated ten bars from some suspects they had arrested at a hotel in Vienna--but the bars turned out to be counterfeits made of gold-coated tungsten, which the arrested suspects (who had nothing to do with the original robbery) planned to sell as genuine artifacts from the Heathrow robbery.

By the way, if you're thinking, "Wow, this is such a dramatic story, I wonder why no one's made it into a movie yet?" right about now, you should know that someone totally has. It was made for TV and only has a 6.5 out of 10 rating on IMDb, but it has Sean Bean in it. And if all robbers looked like Sean Bean, I would keep my front door unlocked and covered in signs that read "FREE DIAMONDS!"



*If you'd like to check his math, here are the resources he used:

http://www.nma.org/pdf/gold/his_gold_prices.pdf
http://www.measuringworth.com/exchangepound/
http://taxfreegold.co.uk/goldbardimensions.html

Monday, November 24, 2014

Music Video Monday: Stand Tall

In 1981, a band called Killer Dwarfs* formed in Ontario, Canada.



I note, with mild disappointment, that they are not actually dwarfs (either of the battle-axe-wielding DnD variety or the real-world little person variety). Nor do they appear particularly homicidal.

They do, however, know how to put together a delightful music video.




Now, sit back and relax as these fine gentlemen take you through the steps to surviving should you find yourself trapped in a feel-good 80's comedy about lovable underdogs bringing down an evil faceless corporation.

First off, you'll find yourself wronged in a big, humiliating way by your powerful enemy (in this case, Monster Records. You know they're evil because of the toothy monster mouth coming out of their decadent golden record logo. The 80's loved themselves some heavy-handed symbolism.)


For our heroes, this wrong takes the form of them being thrown out of the building following (I assume) their attempt to get a recording contract. And I do mean that literally; the poor guys end up in a crumpled heap on the sidewalk. The 80's also loved them some seriously hardcore bullies.


Once you've been wronged, you might strike a defiant pose and inform your tormentor, non-verbally if necessary, that you'll get back at them if it's the last thing you do. It'll do absolutely nothing to improve your predicament, of course, but it'll make you feel a bit better. Plus it's emotionally satisfying for your audience.


Then, having been pushed around and beaten down to the point where you're mad as hell and you're not going to take it anymore, the only thing to do is settle down and exact the only revenge you can in a wacky 80's underdog comedy: beat the bullies at their own game!

At this point, you may be wondering how Our Heroes are supposed to demonstrate an example of this step to us. After all, recording studios are expensive, and it's not like they can just go to their guitarist's mom's house and make a record, right?

Ah, but you forget that the 80's were also the age of MacGyver. It's amazing that any record company managed to turn a profit at all, considering that all struggling rock bands had to do to record an album was rig up an improvised home studio consisting of a single tape recorder and a small microphone mounted on a rocking horse's head.



(Recording studios need soundproofing, you say? Oh, don't be silly. I'm sure they stuffed the walls with nice noise-absorbing Styrofoam peanuts before they started.)

And don't think that the fact that the recording on the tape has to then be put on an actual physical record is any barrier, because with a little teamwork and a few Goldbergian contraptions, these talented fellows can manufacture their own records too. They even melt their own vinyl on the stove** and transport it via pneumatic tube.


Album cover design? No problem! What they came up with is a little crude, but...


...they just pop the whole thing in the microwave and...


Wait, what?



...

Uh...hey guys? Can I borrow your microwave next time I have a manuscript to finish? Nuking a stack of paper on the "magic" setting for two minutes just seems so much easier and cheaper than hiring an editor, a proofreader, a formatter, and a cover artist.

Actually, by the end of the video, I'm kind of questioning who the underdog is. The band has magic technology that lets them create professional-grade records from random junk lying around their apartment (I guess they were only trying to get signed to a record company to save themselves some work) and fans are rushing stores to buy their album while the record company ends up crumbling and defaced by Killer Dwarfs-related graffiti. That's the one big pitfall of the whole underdog narrative; once your underdogs stop being underdogs, they might take the place of the bullies they defeated if you aren't careful.



Then again, the record company did commit the unforgivable crime of spelling music with a Z. So I really can't feel particularly bad that they were defeated by some MacGyver tech and an upbeat 80's montage.

*Also spelled KiLLeR DWaRfS, apparently. Sigh. At least they keep the letters in the right order.

**Apropos of nothing, I found myself kind of curious about whether this was actually possible. According to my research, vinyl has a low enough melting point that you can apparently make a crafty set of decorative bowls from unwanted old records in an oven heated to 200 degrees, so I suppose it could be. I doubt the process actually produces cool dry ice smoke as a side effect, though.

By the way, if you'd like to know how vinyl records are made without the use of enchanted microwaves in real life, here's a video.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On This Day In 1980...

A Calvin Klein ad featuring a teenage Brooke Shields and a racy double entendre got banned from the air for being too risque.


So...yeah. It's basically a joke about going commando. Honestly, though, that position she's in disturbs me more than the naughty underwear-related one-liner. That looks really, really uncomfortable. It looks even more uncomfortable when you realize that she's just sort of...sitting there and holding that pose. Like a creepy doll. I look at it and can't help but think of that artist who got random women to imitate weird, unnatural fashion model poses in real life and secretly filmed the reactions of people passing by.

I like this other 1980s Calvin Klein ad featuring Brooke Shields better. Some of those weird poses are still there, but at least she gets to move around and give a smart-person speech. Also, I'm a sucker for a good pun. (Kinda wish she'd kept the glasses on, though.)


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cooking With Lady Evil: Apple-Peach Pie With Bourbon And Crumb Topping

Thanksgiving is coming up in a few weeks.

That calls for a good pie recipe.

Pie can be a deceptively complex thing to make, so I'm gonna break this process up into steps to make it easier to follow.

Optional Beginning Step: Go to the local U-Pick orchard and pick yourself a ginormous pile of apples. These are Gala, but Mackintosh or Granny Smith would be good too.   


Step 1: Make the crust.

(Note: I've always found regular pie dough to be kind of boring, and I'm terrible at making it anyway. So I prefer to make a shortbread-based pie crust instead. I found the recipe in this book, which I highly recommend. The buttermilk pecan pie that the shortbread crust comes with is pretty awesome too.)

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
2 cups flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cold water

Place butter, flour, sugar, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Mix together with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until it resembles coarse meal.

Add the egg yolk and the vanilla, and mix on low speed until well-blended.

Sprinkle in the water and use your hands to shape the dough into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic, FLATTEN IT (this step is more important than you'd think) and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Step 2: Make the filling while you wait for the dough to chill.

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large fresh peaches
3-6 fresh Gala apples (My apples were small. You'd probably only need 3 big store-bought apples.)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon bourbon

Core and skin apples and cut them into eighths. Pit, skin and slice peaches into eighths. In a large bowl, mix sugar, flour and cinnamon. Pour in peaches, apples and bourbon; toss to coat thoroughly.

Step 3: Make the crumb topping.

1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup flour
1/4 cup butter, softened

Mix sugar and flour in a medium bowl. Cut in butter until the mixture is crumbly.

Step 4: Put everything together.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. (Note: My brand-new oven preheats practically in the blink of an eye. If your oven is older and slower, you may want to start preheating it sooner.)

Retrieve the crust dough from the refrigerator, remove the plastic wrap, and turn out onto a floured surface for rolling. By the way, remember how I put the FLATTEN IT instruction in all-caps back in step 1, and you probably thought I was being a drama queen? This dough is hella dense. I didn't bother to flatten it the last time I made it--I guess I thought I could save some plastic wrap or something--and I almost gave myself a hernia rolling it out. I seriously had to lean my whole weight on the rolling pin.

Anyway.

Roll out the shortbread dough to approximately 1/4 inch thick and place it into a greased 9-inch pie pan to form a crust. Reserve any extra dough for decorative elements.

Pour the apple and peach mixture into the prepared pie dish and sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over the top. If you have leftover dough, use it to create a decorative border around the rim of the pie plate. Cover the edges of the crust with aluminum foil so they won't burn.

Bake for 45-60 minutes with a foil-covered cookie sheet on the rack below to catch any drippings. When the filling has grown bubbly and the crust is golden brown, the pie is done. Cool on a wire rack, and happily devour.



Monday, November 10, 2014

Woo-hoo! I Got A Book Signing!

Know what's not fun?

The flu.

That, as you may have guessed, is the reason I haven't been doing much blogging lately. This is the first time since Friday afternoon when I've felt remotely awake enough to type a sentence that wasn't a nonsensical keyboard smash.

Know what is fun, though?

Book signings!

Specifically, my book signing at Crazy Wisdom Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan!

Here are some promotional materials:


(If you're wondering about the comic strip on the left-hand poster, you can view it here.)

I spent most of Friday morning hanging those posters up around town in Ann Arbor:


...and then I went home and collapsed into bed. I promoted my book signing so hard, I was struck down with flu.

Anyway, I'll be in the Crazy Wisdom community room from 6 PM to 8:30 PM on November 20. I'll have copies of the book for sale, I'll still sign your copy if you've already got one, and if you just want to drop in and talk or ask questions, that's fine too. I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

As President, I Will Fight To End Boring Political Campaigns

You know, now that I'm on the topic of inappropriate songs for political campaigns...

I went ahead and put together a list of songs that will never, ever be chosen for any campaign because they're glaringly inappropriate...but would make for a much more entertaining and/or honest campaign if they were.

1. "Hair of the Dog" by Nazareth.


Most politicians are sons of bitches, so it wouldn't be lying.

2. "Mean Man" by W.A.S.P.


Sorry, but no politician is awesome enough to be represented by this song. Also, I'm told that it's a huge faux pas to use the word "motherfucker" to refer to your opponent on the election trail, no matter how much he deserves it.

2. "Get in the Ring" by Guns n Roses.


Those stupid rules against hurling invective at your opponent again. Even though, you know, once you strip away the weird, stiff, hyper-formal politeness and get to the barely concealed hostility below the surface, most modern political debates do indeed boil down to "I don't like you, I just hate you, I'm gonna kick your ass."

4. "Girls, Girls, Girls" by Motley Crue.


I'm a big advocate of transparency in government, and that includes political candidates telling us what they plan to get in trouble for once they're in office (we find some types of scandal more entertaining than others, you know!). Here's the perfect song for a guy who plans to get caught spending taxpayer money on his affair with a 19-year-old stripper.

5. "Everybody Must Get Stoned" by Bob Dylan.


Of course, some powerful men prefer getting caught doing hard drugs.

6. "Have A Drink On Me" by AC/DC.


Or public drunkenness. 

7.  "Fistful of Diamonds" by W.A.S.P.


Or just plain old-fashioned embezzlement. 

And finally...

8. "Computer God" by Black Sabbath.


Because we all know it's the NSA that's really in charge of everything.

Seriously, though, go vote today.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Music Video Monday Election Day Special: Born In The USA

So you know how politicians running for office sometimes choose official campaign songs?

Quick! You're running for president in 1984 and you need a popular song to serve as your campaign song--what do you choose?


Hmm. Not a bad choice, at first glance. It's upbeat, the chorus repeatedly makes it clear that the guy in the song was, in fact, born in the USA, and there's even a big American flag waving all up in our faces at the beginning of the video. Plus, how could you go wrong with Bruce Springsteen?

Oh.

That's how.

This song does not mean what a lot of people, in 1984 when it was released, seemed to think it meant. One of those people, unfortunately, was Ronald Reagan, who thought that the song about an isolated, PTSD-ridden, possibly homeless Vietnam war veteran who was used and discarded by his government and scorned by his fellow Americans made an excellent sound bite for his upbeat, optimistic presidential campaign. So much so, in fact, that he used it as a talking point even after Springsteen had politely turned down an offer to endorse his campaign.

I guess if you seem kindly and grandfatherly enough, there's a certain amount of blatantly disrespecting other people's wishes you can get away with.

But it's unfair of me to put the blame for this squarely on Reagan, since the idea to use this song--and Springsteen's name in general--seems not to have originally been his idea. It was conservative columnist George Will who originally put forth the idea that Springsteen might be a good candidate for endorsing the Reagan campaign, based mainly on the fact that "flags get waved at his concerts," he "sings songs about hard times" without seeming to complain about them, and there was "not a smidgen of androgyny" to be found about him.

Evidently George Will does not appreciate our newfangled hair metal. He also cordially invites us to get off his lawn.

Oh, and he also admitted to not knowing--or really seeming to care--what Bruce Springsteen's personal politics were. He strikes me as one of those people who listens to music without actually hearing it--or only hearing what he wants to hear. He picked up the words "Born in the USA" and the rest of the song became irrelevant to him.

Someone should have told him that it was secretly about Satanism. Then he might have bothered to look up the lyrics before handing it to President Reagan and saying, "I bet this'll help get you re-elected. It's about patriotism and stuff."

Remember to vote tomorrow!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Music Video Monday Halloween Special: Mr. Cool

Hey, did you know that super-sexy W.A.S.P. frontman Blackie Lawless was in a weird conceptual band called Circus Circus before W.A.S.P. formed? Probably not. Circus Circus never took off.

Possibly because it was creepy as shit.

At first glance, the video actually looks like a pretty standard late-70's rock band performance.

Then you start to notice things. Weird, off things.

Like that bizarre look on the drummer's face.


What is he looking at? Are his eyes even pointing in the same direction? And why is he so stiff and pale? Is he...is he a corpse?

Nah. This video is old and grainy. On better quality video, he'd certainly look normal...

Wait. Why are you making that strange, unnatural gesture with your arm, guitarist to Blackie's right?


Why, it's almost as if you're trying to ward us away...To warn us of some lurking monster...

Oh, but that's silly. It's only Blackie Lawless. I mean, he's wild and crazy and over the top and all, but surely he's not a malevolent force of evil or anyth...


OH GOD. The eyes!


The eyes, they burn. They beckon.


THEY SHALL PIERCE MY NIGHTMARES FOREVER.

That's seriously about 85% of what this video consists of right there: Blackie swaying hypnotically and making scary eyes at the camera, while the grainy, patchy video makes him look even creepier.

And I watched this video. All the way through.

Wait, wasn't there a movie a few years back? One where bad things happened to people who watched a crappy old video featuring a black-haired, pale-skinned, spooky-eyed ghoul all the way through?


That's the one.

This doesn't bode well for me.

Seriously, have you ever had a gorgeous, leather-clad rock star materialize in your room to wreak his otherworldly, demonic vengeance and then had to explain to your husband why he's in the bedroom with you? Trust me, "He just crawled out of my laptop, dear--swear to God!" just isn't gonna cut it.

Happy Halloween!




Monday, October 27, 2014

Music Video Monday Special: Into The Coven and Possessed

I've got something special planned for Friday, what with it being Halloween and all, so I'm putting the last two tracks on our "songs to creep out Tipper Gore by" together in a joint post.

First up, number eleven out of the "Filthy Fifteen," "Into the Coven" by Mercyful Fate!

Before we start, I'd like to mention that this song is from the Danish heavy metal band's debut album Melissa, which features some of the most staggeringly awesome cover art I've ever seen:


Here's the song:


And now, let me tell you a story about song lyrics.

You know that song "Hot Blooded" by Foreigner? I remember hearing my parents play it on the radio when I was two years old. But I didn't figure out that it was about a guy trying to convince a girl to sneak away from her boyfriend so he could sex her up until I was about sixteen. Want to know how I figured that out? My dad told me. I liked the song and all, but I wasn't going to go out of my way to look up the lyrics. I just didn't care enough about what the words actually said, I just wanted some music playing in the background while I rode along in the car.

Same thing with "Into the Coven." I like King Diamond and all, but I can't understand a word he's saying.* I had to look up the lyrics just to confirm that there was indeed at least one witch and possibly a high priestess involved.

And do you know why I looked up those lyrics?

Because the Washington Wives were pissing and moaning about them.

Same thing with number fourteen on the list, "Possessed" by Venom:


This song is a little more intelligible (and to be perfectly honest, that opening chant is really creepy) but I still can't make out all of it. I had to look up the lyrics, which, again, I wouldn't have done if a bunch of spastic politicians' wives hadn't got all worked up about it.

So yeah, nice going, ladies. It's not like kids are going to get curious and go out of their way to seek out a "dirty"song because you're flipping a big ol' ostentatious shit over it.

*I'm not the only one. Watch this video if you want to laugh so hard you'll feel like you're about to throw up afterwards.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Music Video Monday Special: High 'n' Dry (Saturday Night)

On to the next entry on our "songs to creep out Tipper Gore by" playlist: number ten out of the "Filthy Fifteen," "High 'n' Dry (Saturday Night)" by Def Leppard, vilified for glorifying drug and alcohol use.


I just have a few questions:

1. What drug use? I heard plenty of references to alcohol, but none to any other intoxicating substance. I guess the "drugs" part must have come from the word "high" being repeated over and over again in the chorus. But you know what? The word "dry" is also repeated over and over again in the chorus, and in some contexts "dry" can mean "prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages," so obviously this song is secretly advocating banning alcohol! See, PMRC? I can extrapolate wacky shit from innocuous song lyrics too!

2. This song seems pretty fun and relatively harmless. So why is it only one slot below "Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)" on the Filthy Fifteen list? For that matter, why isn't "Animal" way closer to the top, considering how explicit it is? Also, for how scared shitless of Satanism 80's people were, the two "occult" songs on the list somehow only manage to make the 11th and 14th slots. Is there supposed to be any recognizable order to this list at all, or did Tipper and pals just tack a hundred records to the wall and throw darts at them until they had fifteen songs?

3. Seriously, what's so wrong with a song about having a little fun over the weekend that it warrants being put on a list of the most degenerate songs of all time? Is it because the dude's apparently been "drinking all day" despite knowing that he has a date that night, and maybe one or more of the Washington Wives had a bad memory of being puked on by a drunk date? Or because, I don't know, the song is played by British people, and British people are offensive to War of 1812 veterans or something?

And now my head hurts from all the nonsense, so I'm gonna just go and listen to Def Leppard songs until it clears up. And if you're judging me for that, PMRC, just remember that I'm totally judging you, too.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Underrated 80's Stuff: Baggy Clothes

It's October, and I live in Michigan.

Our high temperatures have been hovering in the fifties* for the past few weeks. Our mornings and evenings bring us thirty-to-forty degree weather. Also frost. Then there's the rain. It's been raining about every other day, and the rain clouds make everything dark and gloomy.

And it's only going to get colder from here.

Fortunately I work from home, so I have the option of spending rainy, gloomy Fall days lounging around the house.

Do you know what makes lounging around the house on a cold, dreary, rainy day more comfortable?

Clothes that look like pajamas:


Baggy sweaters:



Big pants:


And don't forget something to keep your shins warm!

Why, thank you, 1980's! It's almost like you knew that I would one day 1) exist; 2) live in Michigan; and 3) be a big ol' lazy-ass.

*That's Fahrenheit, not Celsius. Fifty degree Fahrenheit weather might be mildly unpleasant and inconvenient at times, but fifty degree Celsius weather would probably kill me.