A Basic Braise

Slow cooking has been around since the beginning of, well, cooking. And braising is typically something, usually a tough cut of meat, first sautéed or seared, then cooked, covered, very slow in some sort of liquid…wine, stock, water. Here is one example…my Braised Beef Short Ribs. Adding vegetables and fresh herbs of course enhances the flavor of the beef. In this case, it’s the ubiquitous mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery), fresh thyme, rosemary, garlic, chicken stock and dry sherry. Photo at end of recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 4 bone-in beef short ribs, about 2 lbs total
  • Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 cup of onions, rough chop
  • 1/2 cup carrots, peeled, rough chop
  • 1/2 cup celery, rough chop
  • 1 tbsp fresh garlic, chopped
  • 2 small fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1 medium fresh rosemary sprig
  • 1 cup dry sherry
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock

Directions

  • Take short ribs out of the refrigerator at least 1 hour prior to cooking. Generously season on all sides with Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper.
  • Place a medium size Dutch oven or enameled cast iron pan over medium high heat. Add canola oil. When very hot, add the ribs and thoroughly brown on all sides. Do not crowd and be sure to get a good sear on them. Remove ribs to a plate. Discard most of the oil in the pan.
  • Add 2 tbsp of olive oil the the onions, carrots, and celery. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Sauté for about 10 minutes without browning. Add the garlic, stir, and cook for about 30 seconds longer.
  • Add 1cup of sherry and the fresh herbs. Bring to simmer and cook, reducing the sherry, for about 5 minutes. Remove the vegetables, herbs, and liquid to a bow, set aside.
  • Return the browned ribs to the pan. Pour the vegetables and liquid over the ribs. Distribute the vegetables evenly over the top of the meat and sides. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat, cover, and place in 325 degree oven for about 2 hours. Uncover, raise heat to 350, and continue to cook for another 1 hour. Keep checking to make sure the liquid does not totally cook off. Add more water if neccessary.

Football…it’s not over ’till it’s over.

th97CA7442I apologize to the late baseball legend Yogi Berra for borrowing one of his iconic sayings to relate to this game called football. Not to be confused with what the rest of the world generally refers to as football (soccer). No, this is about of OUR football…the NFL, the oblong ball, the helmets, the pads, the game where the players can carry the ball and legally kick other player’s asses into submission. The true contact sport.

Yes, the regular season of NFL football is over, not to say the season season is over by any means. It’s time for the playoffs. And at a time when I can truthfully say that I’ve watched more football this season than the last ten seasons combined…I’m kind of, somewhat interested in the playoff games.

I am not a sports fan by any stretch of the imagination. Basketball? Meh. Baseball? Fair weather fan. Soccer? You jest mon frere! At times I lamely followed the progress, or lack thereof this season, of the San Francisco 49ers. Raised in L.A. in the 50’s and 60’s everyone loved the Rams, the Dodgers, and the UCLA basketball and football dynasties. UCLA stood for University of California at Lou Alcindor (borrowing from an old Bob Hope joke). Living in a big city, I went to games…I was a fan in my teens! But recently, not so much. Why? Too much money involved, too much drama, too much hype, too much whining, too many rules…no more sports heroes to look up to. I saw Roman Gabriel at a Bob Hope USO show in 1972 in the Philippines and looked forward to his appearance more than seeing Joey Heatherton who was in the same show! Who? Roman Gabriel was quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams for eleven seasons from ’62 to ’72. Oh, and for the youngsters, who is Lou Alcindor? Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

So, which NFL teams(s) are still in the race? Couldn’t tell you at the time of this writing (the Monday after the last regular Sunday). There are 12 hopefuls right now. I do know the 49ers are NOT. I think the Seattle Seahawks ARE. I mention the Seahawks because my kids live in Washington and Jen is a fervent fan. Sorry Raiders fans, I am NOT. I will not explain why for fear of being beaten up! ‘Nuff said?

Super Bowl 50 is still 5 weeks away, February 7th in Santa Clara, just 80 miles away. I’m not sure there are any seats still available, probably not…I wouldn’t go anyway. Again, like I said, I’m not a sports fan. Though if someone handed me a ticket to the Super Bowl that included a free ride, I would certainly attend. Again, I’m not a sports fan – being a fan would be a requirement to withstand bay area traffic even to attend that event.

So this leaves me in the same boat as most of the rest of us. We’re Super Bowl party fans. I would drive across my town to attend a Super Bowl party. It’s unlikely that will happen though. I will not explain for fear of losing what friends we do have left…and being beaten up! And that leaves Loretta and I with the usual Super Bowl scenario: hunkered down at home alone watching the game on and off (depending on what teams are in it and how boring the game is). Regarding halftime entertainment – Beyoncé? Coldplay? I’d rather be watching a soccer game (the other football)! The Superbowl commercials – not we’re getting somewhere. These advertising splurges are the highlight of Superbowl now. Some of these are reason enough to watch this most-watched spectacle. The Budweiser Clydesdales/Golden Retriever puppies…sure to make a showing again this time around.

I haven’t started planning my Superbowl-watching snackfest yet. Afterall, it’s still 5 weeks away. Although I am more enthusiastic about what kind of “Superbowl food” we’ll be having than the actual game itself. Something different? Asian Hot Wings? Armenian Meatballs? Shepherds Pie on a Stick? Perhaps just a bowl of my famous chili with Chili Cheese Fritos crumbled on top. Whatever we decide to snack on during Superbowl 50, it promising to be more satisfying that any of the games in recent history. They (the games) have been just plain boring. To quote many play-by-play guys during the last few games this weekend, “What are they (the coaches) thinking? Go for it! Do something exciting, creative, innovative, dangerous! There is no tomorrow! There is no Vince Lombardi trophy for 2nd place!” The Hail Mary pass should be tried early on in these games, not just with 4 seconds left! Go for it!

Today (Monday, January 4th) I plan to actually read a few playoff-related articles. I’m going to “invest” a little in post-regular-season NFL blather attempting to decipher the “if this team does this then that team will have a chance at yada-yada” diatribes. At this point in the festivities it’s pretty much all-or-nothing, right? Win the game or go home? What another team does or doesn’t do won’t affect YOUR team’s future and being in the Superbowl? They gotta win! Right?

Like I said, I am NOT a sports fan. But I am now a post-season interested party. That’s the most enthusiasm I can muster – the most in the last ten years or so anyway!

 

 

New Years

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It’s been a good ten years or so since I did anything for or participated in any kind of New Years party, get together, or soire of any type. Perhaps not unusual for us older folk, so-called partying is just not something I do any longer. I mean the kind of partying that begins and ends with consuming mass quantities of alcohol punctuated with the serving of decadent, not-good-for-you food, silly party games, and capped off with the dreaded penance for such behavior…the hangover.

During the years where I worked as restaurant manager we had a term for New Years that referred to people’s drinking behavior. New Years eve was called “amateur night”. Simply put, it’s where normally tea-totaling adults, who don’t really imbibe except in the name of social acceptance, decide to go way beyond their own personal bounds of alcohol consumption, not knowing what the effects of copious amounts of Jaegermeister  will do on top of several glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon, a couple of magaritas, several Jello shots, fourteen hot wings, six ground beef sliders, many hands full of pretzels, Ruffles, mixed nuts, a Kahlua and coffee, and a slice and a half of New York cheesecake. A recipe for not only gastronomic failure but for personality shifts that gave birth to the t-shirt saying, “Instant asshole. Just add alcohol!” By the way, I also bartended at night for a period of time in my early 30s while working full time in radio broadcasting. I was privy to witnessing a lot of party debauchery that seemed somewhat amusing at the time. So, no, I’ve had no desire to work in or be within several miles of that environment for many years.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have put on several New Years eve affairs in my life. One in particular was a black tie dinner party for thirty or so friends about 20 years ago. People seemed less likely to get shit-faced and make fools of themselves in a rented tux or formal cocktail dress! It was very well organized and included designated drivers. Dignified party excess? Perhaps.

Back to this New Years. For the past week, Loretta and I have chatted about what to do New Years eve. We’ve run the gamut conversationally from inviting a hand full of our neighbors within shouting (and walking) distance then settling on one friend of Loretta’s who, it turns out, has to work. Oh well, back to just the two of us! And what this means is this: a quiet evening at home not unlike any other night of the week, early dinner (we’ve discussed fish tacos), a couple drinks, a couple snacks, in bed before midnight, her waking me up at 11:55 to watch the ball drop. No harm, no foul, no exposing ourselves to the dangers of being out and about on New Years eve, no hangover, no mess, no regrets.

I dare say that we are not alone planning to hunker down in our safe harbor in our cozy little home-based boat tied securely to the dock. We only hope every year that none of the bullets that are fired into the air by neighborhood miscreants and fucking derelicts don’t come down through our roof. So far, so good.

I do have New Years resolutions this year. Kind of like divulging what you wish for when blowing out birthday candles or wishing on a shooting star, I won’t go into details save for this one: I plan to be around for New Years day 2017…and beyond. Heck, Episode VIII is supposed to come out that year, can’t leave before that happens!

Hope you have a safe and happy new year.

Am I a Shutter Bug?

I like cameras.  Check that. I love cameras, always have since as far back as I can remember. So, over the years I have acquired then de-acquired many different ones. Allow me to explain that. It’s all part of my life as a functional sufferer of SAS (Short Attention Span). Well, I don’t exactly “suffer” from this common malady, more like Loretta does. My SAS behavior had been very evident in my love of all things photographic.

Yes, I own quite a few cameras.  From DSLR’s, to Point & Shoots, to digital video cameras, and a lot of vintage film cameras (that last category is somewhat redundant, no?) Anyway, I have a small collection of “keepers”. I say keepers because of our agreed upon camera-buying protocol. You see, I promised Loretta a few years ago that I would (attempt to) abide by the “One-Out, One-In” rule.  In other words, I would have to sell a camera in order to buy another one. This friendly, somewhat loose-knit arrangement has worked fairly well with the more expensive equipment, no so much with the lessor costing items. This statement rings true here, “My biggest fear is that my wife will find out what I really paid for some of these cameras!” (for some dudes, insert in place of the word “cameras”: guns, auto stuff, coins, Betty Page photos, etc). Loretta being such a wonderful spouse, she pretty much gives me free hand to manage this area of the household without much kibitzing…and I appreciate this to no end.

I have never considered myself a great photographer.  Perhaps a seasoned enthusiast would be more accurate…I have my moments! I did have a good run at doing it “professionally” a few years.  Doing weddings and portraits provided some income for a period of time. But, my SAS in addition to my absolute and total aversion to the wedding photography process nixed that. Hmmm, I seem to have become a tad bit nauseous just thinking of my wedding photography days…’nuff said for now except two words: Bridezillas and their evil wedding minions, Mothers-in-Lawzillas. Phew! I move on for now.

I won’t display photos of my camera collection here and now. For one thing, I’m not home…we’re on a short RV trip. But I will show you one of my latest acquisitions. Before I do, here’s the juice on cameras in general. An expensive camera does not a good photographer make. That being said, here is one of the best Point-and-Shoots I have ever had (and I’ve had quite a few). The Hasselblad Stellar (Limited).

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Having recently worked for a few years in the camera department of a large retailer, I got to vicariously “own” most every little camera that came down the pike during that time, i.e., I played with them all in my “down time”. Mind you, this retailer did not carry higher end items, but enough to get an idea of what was out there camera-wise. From $69 point-and-shoots to near $500 low end DSLR’s, I fondled them all. Sony, Nikon, Canon, Samsung, and even Kodak…there were many…most of which of dubious build and image quality. However, I always found the little Sony’s that came along standing alone in image quality…8 out of a possible 10. The ergonomics on Sonys, not so much…perhaps a 5 out of 10…they’re just a bit more difficult to master than say the Canons or Nikon.  That being said, I opt for image quality. Hence…my purchase of the Hasselblad Stellar because, my young padewans, this camera is actually a Sony RX100 re-badged with the Big “H”.  Yes, I own a Hasselblad digital camera, albeit not the $20,000+ model but a $999 one. It’s one exquisite-photo-taking little camera! So now I own a Hasselblad AND a Sony digital camera in the same package. So be it.  It takes great quality images, is not difficult to master with minimal effort, is a great street photo camera (very unobtrusive), and is somewhat of a collector camera being a Limited Edition Hasselblad…(comes in a nifty, black piano laqurered box with nice Hasselblad embroidered wrist and shoulder straps, etc).FullSizeRender 2

Now, unless you are a camera nut like me, I wouldn’t recommend shelling out that much scratch for a camera like this. The Sony version runs about $500 now. A newer version of the Sony (RX100 III) about $800. As I’ve said before, a more expensive camera will not make you a better photographer. When I was hawking cameras retail, I can’t remember the amount of people who wanted to “upgrade” from their point-and-shoots to a DSLR in order to take “better” photos. Almost always, it didn’t happen. “Skip, how come my photos from my new Nikon D600 aren’t as good as my little, old, beat up Sony pocket camera?”  I would bite my lip and NOT say, “Because you stink! You’re a lousy photographer!” I would however say to them before and after their purchase of a $550 Nikon, “Put this thing on full Auto or P, let the camera do all the hard work, and have fun with it. If you start messing around with all the manual options…well, caveat emptor I guess”.

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Here are my two best tips for novice shutter bugs.  Set the Mode dial to “P”.  This is a full auto mode but allows a few manual tweakings, most importantly turning on the “Fill Flash”. The on-board flash works well for filling in shadows when there appears to be plenty of light or when there is a lot of back light. Play around with it.  It’s one of my favorite tips. I personally put all my cameras on the “A” or “Av” setting (aperture priority) because I like to manage my lens opening (the camera will manage the shutter speed on this setting).  Why do I do this? Because of the bokeh factor, i.e., out of focus backgrounds. I will do an entire blog on these simple tips in the near future.

One last thought on my new Sony RX100…er, Hasselblad Stellar. I hesitated buying it for one reason: my iPhone 6+ takes kick-ass photos with optical image stabilization. A few of the downsides of cell phone photography, at least for me, are the ergonomics (it’s smooth surface is just awkward to take photos, it tends to squirt out of my hands…so far, I’ve managed to catch it before hitting the pavement), slow focus, limited options, and it’s a fixed lens. On the other hand an issue for me with the Hasselblad: it’s tiny and a little inconvenient for my large hands. I’ll suffer. I’m getting used to it.  Besides, Loretta has teeny tiny hands and she uses it on trips when I put it in those little hands. She’s a good sport as always.

My final thoughts. Unless you have unlimited spendable hobby income or are an experienced novice or both, don’t spend a lot of money on ANY camera.  How much? Less than $200 for a pocket digital. Don’t mess with a DSLR unless you can afford the other lenses which can cost way more than the camera body. Cheap DSLR lenses, generally speaking, are made of plastic (break easily), and don’t usually produce the sharpest images.

Two final tidbits of photographic wisdom. Learn how to frame and take a lot of pictures…after the cost of the camera, the photos are free!

“Hey…congratulations. You made it!”

I hate my birthdays and I honestly hate it when people say to me, ‘Hey…congratulations. You made it!” It varies from person to person, but that’s the gist of it: recent birthday “greetings” from friends as well as strangers, older and youngsters. You see…I just turned 65.

Yep, I recently turned the big 6 – 5. The Golden Years have just begun for me…or something like that.

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Remember a few of those “important” age “passings”? Probably the first and foremost that comes to my mind is 16. It was and will remain my favorite birthday, for that was the actual day I passed my driver’s test, received my (temporary) license, and drove a car for the first time by myself. It was January 26th, 1966. My Dad and I came back from the DMV, he threw me the keys over the roof of our Teal 1962 Pontiac Bonneville, and I was gone! Of course, I think he tossed a few choice words in my direction as well as a slid behind the steering wheel like, “Be careful”…or ‘Put a dent in it and I’ll kick your ass!”…or some such utterance – I really wasn’t paying much attention at that point. I was driving’! What a feeling it was. An exuberant high point in my life.  Of course, everything else in my life went to shit from that day forward, as life tends to get more cruel after this rite of passage – but that’s neither here nor there right now.

I can’t think of any other birthday that rivals 16, at least for me. For instance turning 18 in 1968. Not a good time to “come of age”.  Remember that little thing called Vietnam…the draft…the Tet offensive, etc. Yeah, turning that age at that time in history was a bit scary.

How about 21? I get to go OUT and drink…legally! Well, yes and no. I had been embibing for a few years by then anyway.  Besides, in the Navy I got stationed in Hawaii, which at that time had a drinking age of 20. So when I landed there (at the age of 20) it was legal for me to drink in public. No 21st birthday drinking debaucery night for me trying to do 21 shots of God knows what followed by the worst hangover of my life. Nope, I kind of missed out on that B-day celebration. Besides, I think I had already had the worst hangover in my life when I was 19.

Backing up a year, my actual 20th birthday was spent in Millington, Tennessee (just outside Memphis) at a huge Naval training base where I smoked hashish for the first time then sitting in front of stereo speakers listening over and over to the first Crosby, Still, and Nash album, “Wow, man. Is ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ really about Judy Collins…man?”

Turning 30? So what? Although I wasn’t too excited about how my life had gone through the 20’s, I supposed it was some sort of metamorphisizing moment. Now I get to be an adult! And, I now had a child.

My wife at the time tried to have a surprise 40th birthday for me that, despite her good intentions it was one of most frustrating and embarrassing nights of my life…and not because of something stupid I did. It just didn’t come off as planned, let’s put it that way.

My 50th birthday: current wife set up a surprise party that fizzled, i.e., of the dozen or so “surprise guests” (old friends) who had committed to showing up, only one did. It was me, Loretta, my friend and his wife, a black mylar balloon with a silver ’50’ on it, and lots of appetizers we saved and ate for days afterward.

I don’t remember what if anything I did for my 60th. With my lifelong aversion to my own birthdays (save for that 16th), I most likely did nothing special. I probably cooked something for Loretta and I and maybe one dinner guest…one of my preferred things to do on that “special” day.

By the way, my disdain for my birthdays is simple to explain. When my parents stopped making a big deal of it, i.e., throwing me a big party, with lots of friends and presents, birthday hats and decorations, a cake and other goodies, and (in at least one instance) Sheriff John reading my name on his friggin’TV show…fahgedaboutit! For me, that last big birthday party was probably my 10th.  After that, I mostly likely went out to dinner with my family to a restaurant of my choice, got one ‘nice’ present, and a card. That’s OK. By that age, I was too painfully aware of my pre-pubescent shyness, and having anyone pay attention to me or make a big deal of something was not my idea of fun. Remember the scene in The Graduate when Benjamin’s parents made him parade around in his full dress scuba outfit birthday present for the neighbors? Well, my Dad loved to force me into things like that as well. Damn right short of child cruelty if you ask me!

So, when someone says to me of late, “Congratulations. You made it (to 65)”…perhaps my response should be, “Thanks for reminding me. Now I can die with the confidence of knowing that YOU have given me permission. YOU have acknowledged that I have ‘made it‘. YOU have decided that 65 is the bees knees, the age of enlightenment, a time to celebrate the fact that I am officially an old geezer, an old bird, an old fart primed and ready to notch up my curmudgeonly behavior. Or, I could just say, “Thanks”.

 

California Railroad Museum – Sacramento

Loretta and I made the 75 mile jaunt up Highway 99 and Highway 5 from Modesto to Old Town Sacramento yesterday.  Our intent was to visit the California Railroad Museum, and that’s exactly what we did.

The last time we were there was maybe 10 years ago.  It is still a most elegant museum filled with railroad history, California Gold Rush history, and, of course, trains and railroad memorabilia.  For us, a couple of hours was just about right.  I took about 200 photos, saved half of them.  I will judiciously edit the remainder even more, posting a few here.

Quite honestly, the only down side: groups of running and screaming school kids!  I was told by a docent that this day was very light on kid tours compared to some other days of the week.  Some of them were a bit more coached and controlled than others, but it’s always a distraction in that environment.  Quite a curmudgeon I’ve become about things like that – and proud of it!

It does cost $10 to get in for Adults, a fact that Loretta kept questioning, “Did we have to pay the last time we were here?”  “Yes, honey…we did.  More like $7 a few years ago though”.  It was worth the entrance fee, even if you’re not a fervent train buff.

Docents are distributed about the displays and train cars, many of which you can actually walk through but not all.  They are well-constructed and well-maintained.  The docents themselves are very helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable – most of which dressed in old time railroad costumes.

The sheer size and magnitude of the old engines, many of them steam or oil powered, is staggering.  They are gigantic relics from the past that really echo a more civilized, bygone era of travel and shipping.  Standing so close to them gives one a feeling of awe that is hard to describe or show on a television screen.

There are older trains from the 1800’s as well as some from the 30’s and 40’s, all of which long since retired from service. We particularly got a kick out of the passenger cars that offered berthing and dining.  I was told the fair from Chicago to L.A. in 1937 was $160, which, back in those times seemed quite extravagant…and it was…not easily affordable to any but the well-to-do, especially in the fashion that these cars offered.

Each table in this dining car had a different style of dishes used in those days.  They’re under plastic covered for loss prevention.  By the way, the incredible dining available on some of these routes was not included in the fair.

I would highly recommend a visit to the California Railroad Museum, rail fan or not.  Young kids?  Not so much.  Although there is an extensive model train exhibit on the mezzanine.  Also, be aware photographers, they don’t allow tripods and the lighting is very subdued.  Be prepared to hold your camera still and use a higher ISO (I just put mine on Auto and let the camera do the work).  For us oldsters, there are plenty of benches to sit, relax, and gawk at these behemoths.  It was quite enjoyable.

Prometheus – Alien re-imagined?

I finally saw Prometheus the other day, downloaded from iTunes in HD.  Before and after seeing this Ridley Scott so-called prequel to 1979’s Alien, I read many reviews, most of which entirely too analytical in reference to it’s deeper meanings and to it’s obvious tie in to the original ground-breaking classic, Alien.

Let it be known this review will be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, however…I highly recommend seeing it – rent it, buy it, or download it.

For me, Prometheus is not so much of a prequel to Alien as it is a wonderful excuse for Scott to kind of re-imagine this storyline with access to all the movie magic bells and whistles available today versus 1979. Let’s put it this way:  I totally got into the film from beginning to end.  To coin a couple of cinematic phrases, Prometheus is visually stunning with a plot that raises more questions than providing answers to we Alien fans.  Ridley Scott (I’m a big fan) is totally in his element here:  sci-fi.

I will try not too provide many spoilers, although it would be difficult to write this review without divulging a few.  So be warned if you haven’t yet seen it.

In the smallest of nutshells, here’s the premise.  After discovering some ancient cave drawings on earth depicting Chariots of the Gods type drawings, two scientists are hired by the head of Weyland Corporation to travel to the distant part of the universe indicated in the drawings – this in hopes of finding out what they mean, ie, how they relate to the origin of mankind.

Set in 2093 (about 30 years prior to the time period in Alien), the crew arrives on a moon of this distant planet (LV-223, not the same moon from Alien, LV-426 by the way) and land near a long-abandoned pyramid-looking installation.  Backing up for a moment to the opening scene – a large, muscular, pale-skinned humanoid is seen on the edge of a huge waterfall…the location is not revealed although it could be Earth, perhaps not.  He unscrews some sort of jar and ingests the contents sending him into convulsions and decay.  Falling into the waterfall, he is shown sort of dissolving into the water.  Now, back to LV-223.  The crew explores the labyrinth inside the structure…they find a huge stone idol of the pale guy from the beginning of the movie, but no life…yet.  Soon after, chaos, running, horror, and screaming ensues courtesy of the presence of snake-like creatures that grow from this black ooze coming out of man made (not eggs) cylinders.  Several crew members are dispatched and the rest retreat to the ship for now.  Of course they bring back to the ship stuff from the labyrinth that they shouldn’t…to study, of course.  More chaos from here on out!

Now, some of the characters – here we go, Alien revisited.  There’s Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, one of the scientists (Noomi Rapace, from the Swedish versions of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)…hmmm, Ripley? And Meredith Vickers, Weyland Corporation antagonist boss of the expedition, (Charlize Theron, somewhat miscast but pleasing to watch doing pushups in her underwear near the beginning)…hmmm, Carter Burke?  Peter Weyland, head of Weyland Corporation, (Guy Pearce in somewhat comical old, old man makeup)…hmmm, Charles Bishop Weyland?  And, of course, David, the synthetic human and Weylands’ uberly-devoted corporate minion, (Michael Fassbender, Inglourius Basterds)…hmmm, Ash?  Plus a collection of the usual space team misfits, one was a tattooed skinhead type with a mohawk!  It seems in the future, astronauts are not required to pass any kind of psychological screenings.  None of them seemed to have The Right Stuff!

Noomi Rapace (Dr. Shaw) totally gets to reprise Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in this movie.  She’s the female heroin and (here comes a spoiler) the only survivor lest you count the severed head and body of the “replicant”, David, that she drags along with her to pilot an alien spaceship off into space and to the land of Prometheus 2.  Fade to black?  Not quite.  The ending scene provides a final nod to the original Alien.  Yes, a somewhat similar version of Giger’s iconic xenomorph bad guy “bursts” out and reveals itself.  Unfortunately, this one looks a bit more like a Tim Burton image from Beetlejuice.  Sorry Alien fans…I can say that since I am one of you.

If you’re an Alien fan, a sci-fi fan, or just a good popcorn flick fan…check it out.  It’s a fun, exciting movie that, for us Alien fans, at least reveals more information about that giant, fossilized “space jockey” in the derelict spacecraft on LV-426!  Great CG/visual effects not used gratuitously mind you.

Oh, and one more thing.  It’s worth the price of a “ticket” or rental just to see Noomi Repace running around sweaty in her underwear in one scene.  Did I tell you she is also a great actress and really seemed to immerse herself in this role?  Fassbender was pretty much of a scene stealer as well.

Get Over It

I learned a new word today.  I found it in someone’s blog.  The word is crestfallen, an adjective.

I don’t particularly consider myself some sort of “wordsmith” by any means.  In fact, I had to Google crestfallen to get some idea what the blogger was talking about.  He was referring to a person’s demeanor after being told the restaurant in which he was dining had run out of Prime Rib…“We’re All Out!”

I got a kick out of this blog post, a mild rant by a restaurant employee towards customers who just need to “get over it” when their favorite item as been “86’d”.  Needless to say, after spending 18 years in restaurant management I commiserated with this blogger.

No, crestfallen has nothing to do with food or the restaurant business by definition.  But it does suggest a reference to that quote by author William Gibson, “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounding yourself with assholes”.  In other words, if you feel yourself becoming more and more crestfallen more often, perhaps this Gibson quote would lend itself to your situation.

I don’t consider myself a crestfallen person.  I may be a lot of things (grumpy, intolerant at times, less reverent than I’d like to be, a bit morose sometimes), but I am not blue, brokenhearted, cast down, sad, dejected, despondent, woebegone, woeful, or wretched…all, synonyms for crestfallen.  I just found this to be an interesting sounding word that I would never use in a sentence!  Have you even heard it used in day to day speech or even in a written context?  I think the word would look great on the cover of some pulp fiction novel – The Mystery of Crestfallen Manor…a story of decades of family depression.

So, maybe it’s time to re-word that Gibson quote, especially for the more gentile audience.  “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounding yourself with crestfallenites – recommend a therapist and Unfriend (or, at the very least, Unsubscribe) them on Facebook!”

I Get (Got?) Around

So there’s this Beach Boys song from 1964 called I Get Around.  Not to be confused with the 1994 I Get Around from Tupac, same title, different approach.

Now, the Beach Boys rendition of I Get Around went something like this, “I get around…from town to town…I’m a real cool head…I’m making real  good bread”…(etc, etc).  It goes on to state “my buddies and me are getting real well known, the bad guys know us and they leave us alone”.  So, it was “hip” to get around back then, if, and only if, you were a guy.  Imagine if a girl group, say, like The Supremes sang a a girl version of I Get Around back in 1964?   Banned in Boston?  Speaking of banned in Boston, did you know that The Association’s first hit, Along Comes Mary was banned in Boston – apparently because of the reference to Mary, a colloquialism for marijuana? Go figure, times have changed.

You see, I didn’t get around back in 1964 nor do I get around much today.  That was left up to the super cool, surfer dudes I suppose, of which, I was not one.  However, had I did get around, how would I refer to it today?  Would I say, “I Got Around”?  Or would I say, “I Did Get Around”?  Or simple state, “I’ve Been Around”? I actuality, I did get around a bit in my younger years, but not in high school – it was a few years later.  After all, I was in the Navy for four years!  You see, by 1969 “I was gettin’ bugged driving up and down the same old strip”…and so on.

Some of you may be saying right now, I did not get around much either, but, I Wish I had Gotten Around More, I Would Have Had a Much Better Time in High School.  How’s that for a Weird Al song title?  Or , perhaps, the other end of the spectrum, I Really Wish I Hadn’t Got Around So Much, I Could Have Avoided Many Years of Child Support.

No, my years in high school didn’t really exemplify that Beach Boys iconic 60’s tune.  I Get Around was a great song, but it wasn’t my anthem.  I think my song was more along the lines of In My Room, which is where I spent the majority of my time from 1964 to 1967 when I wasn’t actually at school…listening to Beach Boy songs on my record player.

At the Zoo

“Someone told me…it’s all happening at the zoo.  I do believe it, I do believe it’s true.” – Simon & Garfunkel

The first few words from that iconic 1966 Simon & Garfunkel song, At the Zoo.  After a short visit to the Sacramento Zoo lately, I’m not at all that sure “it’s true” any longer.

First off, let me say this.  We have been contemplating a day at the zoo for quite some time, it finally happened the other day.  Our days off coincided, the weather had cooled down, and we jumped in the Cooper and made the 75 mile trek north up Highway 5 towards Sacramento.  At least we committed and got out of the house for a few hours.  Done deal.

Besides just having the opportunity to get out for a while, I was looking forward to using a new camera and getting some shots at the zoo.  After all, it is the ZOO – a ready-made photo opp, right?  Not necessarily.  More on that in a moment.

To be perfectly honest at this point, I must admit that I am tainted, spoiled rotten from years of going to the only zoo I knew:  the San Diego Zoo.  An unfair comparison perhaps?  Perhaps.  And, admittedly, my attitude toward zoos in general may have changed over time.  What?  Yes!  I’m not sure zoos are the right thing to do to wild animals!  Especially less than stellar zoos, like, well, the Sacramento Zoo.  Now, before I get accused of being a panda-hugging bleeding heart liberal, let me explain and give credit where credit is due.  The Sacramento Zoo is a relatively well-maintained, clean attraction.  They seem to do a pretty good job of sequestering their wild animals in their tiny, little enclosures.  The cages were, for the most part, well kept.  Again, please try not to compare me to Jeff Goldblum’s character (Ian Malcomb) in Jurassic Park…I’m not anywhere near that fanatical but I do subscribe somewhat to the “chaos theory”.  More on that at a later date.  Bear with me, as there will be at least one other reference to Jurassic Park a bit later!

Compared to a nice little zoo like the Sacramento Zoo, one could cite many heinous examples of animal cruelty in the news.  Makeshift, privately-owned wild animal compounds need to be more tightly regulated or outlawed completely in my opinion.  There have been some crazy stories coming out in the past few years.  For instance, “family pet” chimpanzees tearing neighbor’s faces off!

Zoos have been around for hundreds of years.  And in these modern times they are well regulated and taken care of.  I didn’t see any examples of less than proper housing at the Sacramento Zoo.  But here’s my point in the form of a question, to which, by the way, I don’t have an answer:  Should wild animals be caged?  On the positive side, these animals are well-fed, safe from predators, and reside under the watchful eyes of veterinarians.  When a tiger has a toothache, it goes to the dentist.  When a giraffe as an abscess on it’s hoof, the doc takes care of it.  When a lemur appears tired and slow, it’s given vitamin enriched food.  Get the picture?

There was a young, male lion walking around its enclosure.  An area maybe 60 feet square by the way.  He was near the back wall as I watched him lick the water dripping from a hose bib.  I’m certain there was a water supply for him back in the cage area, but this action just seemed so undignified for a lion.

As we moved down the row of African animal enclosures, here was the Hyena compound.

…and the Snow Leopard compound.

Both no-shows this day along with the orangutans and several others.  I neglected to get photos of their empty cages.  One grandfather type explained to his grandkids when they questioned, “Where is it?”  To which the grandfather replied, “See that cave looking thing way back up there?  It’s sleeping in the cave.  See?”  “No, I don’t!”  Another line from Jurassic Park, “Ah…at some point, Dr. Hammond, we will see dinosaurs, right?”

We did see some forlorn looking chimps out for a stroll in their cage.  Does this guy look happy to you?

Loretta and I chuckled out loud when a young boy commented about one of the chimps, “Look at his butt!”  I must admit, the south end of a northbound chimpanzee leaves a lot to be desired in the eyes of a child.  Sorry, no photos were taken of the chimps butt!

One of the high points of the Sacramento Zoo in my opinion is the relatively new Tall Wonder exhibit where can get an up close and personal look at one of my favorite animals:  the giraffe.  They were out and about and very majestic looking in their new habitat.

Giraffes are exquisite creatures and seeing them was worth the price of admission.

Alas, back to a comparison of “greater” zoos…no elephants, no rhinos, no gazelles, no hippos, no gorillas, no cheetahs, no aquatic animals, no birds of prey, no bird or other animal shows, no rain forest animals, and no meerkats…just to name a few.

I did manage to get a few shots…

So, I would recommend taking your kids to the zoo.  Try to teach them a little about conservation and extinction, etc.  I’m not sure I have the answer to the zoo or no zoo question.  I just know that it’s not always “happening at the zoo”…not every zoo anyway.