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Wednesday, July 27th, 2005

Something interesting about seeing the bad movie of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was seeing how closely Sylvia has been paying attention to the plot of the book. We were 3 chapters away from the end, when we saw the movie; and all through the movie Sylvia was pointing out details that were different from the book. (Fortunately the matinee was sparsely attended and she could talk without annoying anybody.) And then when we went back to the book, she spent the last three chapters pointing out things that were different from the movie -- especially the last chapter, where the movie diverges widely -- she got really excited at the notion that it was essentially a different story.

posted evening of July 27th, 2005: Respond
➳ More posts about Sylvia

A lousy movie

We watched Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Friday night and it left me flat. Now "it left me flat" is certainly not a recommendation; but it took until last night, when I was talking about the movie with Mark, for me to realize how much I actively disliked the movie. I had been too distracted by the pretty colors and animation, and the fabulous acting of two of the leads, to really get how lame it was.

Let's think about three things: the book; the old Wilder movie; and the new movie. These are three quite distinct things with not all that much really in common, besides the skeleton of the plot and some similarities in characterization. The book is masterful. The Wilder movie is fun and superficial. The Burton movie stinks.

Both the Wilder movie and the Burton movie have one major deviation from the book's plot plus many little ones. The Wilder movie has the part with Charlie and his Grandpa drinking the soda that makes you float, and Mr. Wonka getting mad at them for it; made up from whole cloth, nothing like it in the book; and whatever -- it's kind of funny though it does not really add much to the story. (Well actually I really like Grandpa Joe's speech after Wonka gets mad. But as I said whatever.) You can fit it in reasonably with the characters as they're presented.

The Burton movie deviates hugely from the plot of the book at the end of the movie; I am not going to go into detail about how because that would be a spoiler, but it's about the lamest ending I can imagine. Seriously -- I was relating it to Mark last night (who is not planning to see the movie) -- and with each clause of my summary he was gasping with incredulity at the total cheesiness/kitschiness of it. And also, there is the little matter of Johnny Depp's performance -- it seemed to me like he was in a totally separate movie from the rest of the actors. And this is not at all true to the book -- Wonka is eccentric, but he is extremely connected to what is going on around him.

So there you have it -- a pan from Jeremy, who is usually quite easy to please when it comes to movies.

Update: A similar reaction to the new movie from Timothy Burke, who expresses himself better than I.

posted evening of July 27th, 2005: Respond
➳ More posts about The Movies

Sunday, July 24th, 2005

It might be interesting to compare the characters of Ireneo Funes and Oskar Matzerath.

posted evening of July 24th, 2005: Respond
➳ More posts about Jorge Luis Borges

Saturday, July 23rd, 2005

Idea for an opening

Walking down E. 3rd Street, Frank Valner was working on his forgetting exercises. The project he had been working on that day was the first thing to go, requiring practically no effort to banish from his mind; as his concentration deepened and his thoughts started to flow more smoothly, his palm lost the accustomed feeling of his mouse rubbing against it; his computer and then his desk melted into a sort of white noise. The sharp corners of his office were losing their definition, and his co-workers' faces becoming less distinct; when Meredith called to him from across the street and broke into his reverie.

Inspired by the last beginning in If on a winter's night a traveller, "What story down there awaits its end?"

Some more:

Frank looked up and waved, and waited on the stream of traffic to cross the street. Shaking hands he felt a drop of rain on his wrist -- "Looks like this nasty weather is going to break," he ventured.

Meredith asked whether he had eaten yet, and they started toward Avenue B, hoping to beat the storm.

Notes on setting -- Meredith has just finished gardening at the Brisas del Caribe community garden. I think she and Frank both live in an apartment building on that block. Frank had been walking east but is now doubling back. They are going to eat at Max's, on Ave. B across from Blackout Books.

Eyes wide, Frank was taking in the details of the scene -- Meredith's brown hair flecked with grey, a smudge of dirt on her temple; the rain water washing down the large front window layered itself over the partially forgotten bulletin board in the hall outside his office. While they waited for their order, Meredith was trying to engage him.

-- And Frank was trying too, to answer her -- just stop thinking so hard, he told himself, as he focused in on an interesting crack in the plaster behind Meredith's shoulder. Wrenching himself away he asked about how her garden plot was coming along.

"Really well thanks -- did you see just now, how big the cucumbers are getting?" She was really getting a kick out of growing her own vegetables -- had looked dreamily in at the community garden all last summer and been delighted when a space opened up.

A note on what I'm trying to get across, an example that just came up -- I am confronted at work right now by an insoluble bug, a crash that occurs under one specific set of circumstances on a particular machine, but does not occur (a) under seemingly quite similar circumstances on that machine or (b) under the same circumstances on a different machine. Sez I, "Sometimes the best way to solve a bug like this is to stop thinking about it for a while [and hope it goes away, sotto voce]." And start working on a known, soluble bug in an unrelated program.

Frank had noticed the cucumbers, lovely dark green bumpy things, and they talk about that for a bit -- Meredith is thinking the harvest will be soon and would love for Frank and a few others to come over to a home-grown dinner. Frank is nervous and sweating a bit -- well, put that down to the humidity, which the air-conditioning at Max's does little to mitigate -- and is happy to see the waitress approach with plates of noodles.

posted evening of July 23rd, 2005: Respond
➳ More posts about Writing Projects

Memory

I am reading now "A Personal Anthology" of Borges' work, a book of which the author says in the prologue, "I should like to be judged by it, justified or reoroved by it." I'm surprised to find so much in it that is new to me -- I knew I knew nothing of Borges the poet; my imagined familiarity with his short stories is being disproved as well. Of the first 7 pieces (2 poems, 5 stories) I knew only 2 and possibly only 1 before now -- "Death and the Compass" seems like something I've read before but I could not say where or when.

So the seventh piece "Funes, the Memorious" is the first that I know well -- and as I read the first paragraph I see something brand new. The narrator remarks parenthetically, "I scarcely have the right to use this ghostly verb," meaning "remember", and suddenly I think about the similarity in form between "remember" and "dismember" and wonder how remembering somebody might involve reassembling the pieces of his corpse into a lifelike mannequin... Is this a false etymology? Let's see... Hm well yes, Etymology Online believes it is -- "member" in "remember" comes from "memor", "member" in "dismember" comes from "membrum". Still a nice conceit to base a poem on. Let's see if anyone has... Hm well somebody wrote an essay about it... somebody else wrote a punk rock album about it...

posted evening of July 23rd, 2005: Respond
➳ More posts about Readings

Thursday, July 21st, 2005

Why do I read?

I can't say for sure but If on a winter's night a traveller is sure making me want to look into that. More later, maybe.

posted evening of July 21st, 2005: Respond
➳ More posts about If On a Winter's Night a Traveler

Saturday, July 16th, 2005

Candy-making

This afternoon we put it all together, the candies are covered with chocolate and sitting in the refrigerator waiting for Sylvia's play group to come over tomorrow and eat them. Verdict? -- I need practice but I think I could get pretty good at this confectionary stuff.

  • The fudge is pretty much of a loss, much too soft to use as candy centers -- though I did get a couple of candies right after the fudge came out of the fridge.
  • The marshmallows are very interesting, more like fondant than marshmallows, quite tasty and good for centers if they are handled with extreme care -- they break apart fairly easily. The best technique is to put a dab of chocolate on wax paper, a marshmallow on that, and spoon some more chocolate on top of it.
  • The nuts and fruit were fun and easy to do, and we ended up making most of our candies out of them. Also we put crumbled bits of marshmallow in the peanut clusters, which seems like a nice innovation to me.
  • I think I tempered the chocolate properly. The cocoa butter did not separate. However it gets quite soft at room temperature. Perhaps a bit of shortening would help stabilize it. Or some guar gum.

Then this evening, we read Chapters 18 and 19 of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

posted evening of July 16th, 2005: Respond
➳ More posts about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Recipe blogging

Hey well I'm on a roll plus I'm missing Belle's presence; so: here is what I cooked for dinner tonight. It came out very well; I am always intimidated by bitter greens but I liked this a lot.

Pasta with greens

In a heavy skillet, saute an onion sliced thin and a few cloves of garlic minced, in butter. Salt liberally. Cook over a lowish flame stirring occasionally until the onions are very soft and a little brown.

Add a good deal of chopped chard to the pot. The skillet should be quite full. (Note: I think the vegetable I used is called "chard" -- it looked pretty much like Swiss chard except with white stalks instead of red. I think this recipe would work well with just about any bitter green.) Stir it around a bit and then put a tight-fitting lid on the skillet.

At this point you should just have added the pasta to the water that you put up to boil around about the time you chopped the onions and garlic. So you can just walk away and do your own thing for about 10 minutes. When you return, your dinner will be ready, excluding mundane tasks like draining the pasta and putting it in a bowl with the greens, and setting the table.

posted evening of July 16th, 2005: Respond

Fudge part II, Marshmallows part I

This morning we cut up (and sampled) the fudge, and cooked the marshmallows. Verdict on the fudge is, I should definitely have cooked it hotter than I did. It gets pretty hard in the fridge but softens right up at room temp. (Which is fairly high right now.) So the plan is, to keep it in the fridge until we're ready to dip them, and figure once the chocolate sets around them, they can soften without many bad consequences. And yes, the texture is definitely too grainy. But this is not a make-or-break thing; Sylvia is still quite enthusiastic about the results.

Marshmallows are fun to make! I think they are going to come out a fair bit drier than commercial marshmallows but this is not (in my view) a negative. Here is the recipe (taken from Food Reference):

  • 2 tablespoons of gelatin
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 2 cups of white sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 3/4 cup of mixed cornstarch and powdered sugar (1/4 cup of cornstarch, 1/2 cup of powdered sugar)

Soak the gelatin in 1/4 of a cup of cold water in a small bowl and set aside to swell for 10 minutes.

In a large saucepan pour the sugar and second measure of water. Gently dissolve the sugar over a low heat stirring constantly.

Add the swollen gelatin and dissolve.

Raise the temperature and bring to the boil. Boil steadily but not vigorously for 15 minutes without stirring. (Final temperature should be soft-ball.)

Remove from the heat and allow to cool until luke warm.

Add the vanilla extract and whisk the mixture with an electric mixer or beater until very thick and white.

Rinse an 8 inch sponge roll tin or fudge dish under water and pour the marshmallow mixture into the wet tin.

Refrigerate until set.

Cut into squares and roll in mixed cornstarch and icing sugar. (We will not be doing this since we are dipping them in chocolate instead.)

The Joy of Cooking has a slightly more complicated recipe. When you whip the syrup up into marshmallow it is a lot of fun watching it get foamy and stiff, like whipping cream but moreso.

posted morning of July 16th, 2005: Respond

Friday, July 15th, 2005

Fudge

Tonight was phase 1 of our candy-making weekend; we made chocolate fudge. Here is a recipe, from Woodstock Candy, a fine place to get fudge if you're in Ulster County:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups granulated white sugar
  • 1 cup cream
  • 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Combine sugar and cream and cook over moderate heat. When this becomes very hot, add the chocolate. Stir constantly. Cook until mixture reaches soft-ball stage (238 degrees). Remove from heat and add butter. Cool slightly, then mix until fudge starts to thicken. Transfer to a buttered tin. Cut into diamond-shaped pieces before fudge hardens completely.

Right now it is in its buttered tin hardening; soon I will go down and cut it into small diamond pieces. (And some larger diamond pieces also, which will not get dipped in chocolate but might get sprinkled with confectioner's suger instead.)

Sylvia helped with the measuring and mixing but got bored and wandered off during the boiling which I did not want to let her help with because of the high temperatures involved. (Boiling fudge is a grueling procedure in the hot weather.) I am perennially too shy about boiling candy though, in that I shut off the heat the moment my candy thermometer touched the 238-degree "soft ball" line, indeed it may still have been a degree shy of the line, when I think it would actually have been better to err on the high side of the line. I have done the same thing with caramel and had it not harden as fully as I wanted. But we'll see.

After we made the fudge (and Sylvia's interest in the process returned, when there was suddenly the prospect of fudgey spatulas to lick), it was time to get ready for bed, so we came upstairs. Tonight's section of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (chapters 16 and 17) coincidentally included some talk about fudge-making, which was exciting.

Update: Well the tentatitive upshot is, I probably did not heat it up enough (as reckoned above), and I definitely poured it into too large a pan. The pan I used is 6" square, and the fudge is not tall enough in it. I should probably have used a loaf pan. As far as not having heated it up enough, at this point after 3 hours sitting on the counter, it is...soft. No way around it, it's soft. And I sampled a bit of it, it was quite grainy. Which I think if the sugar had gotten hot enough, it would not be. So I am putting it in the fridge now, maybe it will get hard enough in there; but I think it will be grainy regardless. And too short.

posted evening of July 15th, 2005: Respond

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