Sous Vide or Not To Be

This post is part of a series of everyday posts for Blaugust. If you’d like to know more, click here.


During the recent Prime Day sale, I finally purchased a sous vide device from Amazon. In my family I tend to be the gadget king. I also tend to be the “gourmet”. A device that combines eccentric gadgetry and pretentious gourmet foodiness? Nothing could fit that bill more than sous vide.

If you aren’t familiar, a sous vide device is essentially a combined water heater/water circulator that allows you to hold a body of water at a precise temperature for an extremely prolonged period of time. When combined with food in airtight plastic, it combines slow cooking and boiling food to essentially cook something without any part of it evaporating or cooking unevenly.

In other words, it is supposed to make a damn good steak.

And it does. I bought the ChefSteps Joule Sous Vide and it seems to work incredibly well. It feels like an alien way of cooking food, especially given the fact that there are no buttons or controls on the device. Instead, I do everything within a required app on my phone.

I didn’t go all out yet. I don’t have the vacuum sealer for the plastics, but Ziplocs have worked fine thus far. I also don’t have a specialized container since my stock pot has plenty of room. Despite how complicated it can seem and expensive to get everything you will need for this newer means of cooking food, the damn thing works fine with just  a pot of water.

My results thus far have been mostly good. I did a roast, steaks, and ribs. I have yet to be blown away like I had hoped since sous vide has some real evangelists out there, but I don’t feel like I wasted my money either. All three were tender.

More importantly, despite the outrageous cook times (24 hours for the ribs), I feel like the real selling point for me thus far is worrying less about cleanup (slow cooker) or having to rush home to heat up the oven and apartment. With planning, I should be able to augment my normal weekly and daily routines to incorporate using the sous vide for safely preparing proteins for later consumption with minimal effort and attention.

My sous vide is no Instant Pot. It has not revolutionized my cooking routine nor is it something I would witness to others so they may accept it into their lives. It is pretty damn cool though and for the first time in a long time it has me excited to get back into the kitchen, less as a culinary artist, and more as a beef cooking mad scientist.

Also, the ribs were delicious and I didn’t have to go outside to grill them. Win-fucking-win.

 

Blog On

This post is part of a series of everyday posts for Blaugust. If you’d like to know more, click here.


When I started my first blog years ago, I had dream of it being a launching point to a future career or a then-current identity. I thought if I had the chops to write great posts that everything would fall into place – views, fame, money, etc.

Thankfully, the silliness of that dream quickly wore off. I will not blame a lack of talent. I enjoy my writing and that is all that matters to me. I may still one day write a book and become famous.  Maybe I won’t. The important thing that I learned rather quickly – and the reason I am still blogging today – isn’t my stats or how beloved on Twitter I am.

It is much simpler: I enjoy writing and this is enough.

I could lie to you and say that just liking what you write and doing it a lot will get you famous. It won’t. Blogging, as a medium and similar to MMOs, is no longer the cool new fad. It isn’t a Wild West for you to stake a claim and get rich. For that, I recommend Twitch or YouTube but we are all probably too far behind there too.

Like anything else in life, if you want it to be more than a hobby, then you need to treat it as more than a hobby. You have to market yourself and be creative. You need to be ahead of the curve whenever possible.

I didn’t mind busting my ass when I did try to maintain this as a paid hobby, but with more adult responsibilities and a more steady job, the free time to build something on the blogosphere dried up.

But I enjoy writing and so I am still here. Maybe I should get back to the creative writing instead though … But that takes outlines and proofreading and rereading and reworking! This is enough.

Maybe I will write a book but not today. My fingers have to type out something other than procedures, rules, and policies for my job, else they go mad. For now, this is enough.

There’s no secret wisdom to this post or even a deeper meaning to end up at. I recommend only one thing if you are restarting your blog or striking out for the first time: enjoy writing first. If you enjoy it and it shows, then you will find at least a few online friends who frequently comment or retweet you. It may not be millions, thousands, or even hundreds, but so what?

This is probably enough.

Azeroth Again

This post is part of a series of everyday posts for Blaugust. If you’d like to know more, click here.


MMOs are a part of my gaming diet in much the same way fried chicken is a part of my food diet. They are an essential comfort, one I grew up with and one I cannot shake despite the ill effects on my time or health. While I would much rather be playing a MMO in 2018 from 2018 (or this decade. for that matter), few satisfy me the way a World of Warcraft expansion can satisfy me.

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It is amazing how much staying power this game has and continues to have. I used to only play it to powergame my way through hard dungeons and raids. Now, not so much. I have enjoyed leveling a new Nightborne Priest. Some levels feel sparser than others but there is the feeling of progression again and that is all I have really wanted.

Is it good? Better than any game this old has any right to be. It certainly beats retreading and relearning other MMO classics. I debated returning to EverQuest II instead. I often debate that idea, but it never comes to any action.

I have three months of game time purchased and close to having two characters I want to play. If I can get the Priest to max before the expansion, I will probably bounce between Shadow and a healing spec. I haven’t decided which on the latter. I also still enjoy my Warrior, which I mained in Legion, though I am dying to unlock the new trolls. Goblin Warrior has been fun but a troll that doesn’t look bad in plate sounds like a real winner to me. I think Fury is a lot of fun and I am excited to try pre-expansion Protection eventually.

I burned my token on a Dwarf Monk named Homebrew (I know, great name!). That lasted for all of five seconds. Two of my friends decided that they would play and we have always had a Horde bent. That plus struggling to find anything in both Ironforge and Stormwind made starting at max as Alliance a bigger ordeal. At least I have a max level Alliance-side character for the first time ever.

I am grateful World of Warcraft is still around. It is familiar but fresh. It also occupies that same space that games like Halo 2, League of Legends, and other MMOs have occupied in the past: a pseudo multiplayer experience that eats up my free hours despite having so many other games I should play instead.

Three months should be more than enough …

 

WB Top 100: Anchors Aweigh (1945)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


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Ahoy, 1945! We arrive back in the land of the color motion picture. This time for “Anchors Aweigh”, a feature length fever dream and commercial for the United States Navy. Stars include Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and of course the cartoon characters Tom and Jerry. All aboard for a romantic, musical, comedy adventure!

And that is all the excitement and enthusiasm I can possibly muster. This film has not aged well. And, unfortunately, no one has seen fit to release a cut that leaves all the extraneous, contrite, and predictable nonsense on the cutting room floor.

But I guess a movie has got to have some kind of plot …

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Gene Kelly is the star, but Frank is the voice.

“Anchors Aweigh” stars Gene Kelly, the so called “biggest wolf in the Navy”, who sings very questionable things about women, implies the romantic female lead is a slut who has had sex with nearly every man in the US Navy, and even “comedicly” hints at violence in a song about not getting a kiss from a woman who doesn’t want to kiss you that you want to kiss you. And despite all of that, Gene Kelly is still charming.

His co-star, ole blue eyes white dragon Frank Sinatra is less so. Everytime the man is on the screen, I worry he will “aw shucks” his way back off it. Yet, despite having the spine of an Andy Griffth extra he has the voice of an angel. It is incredible really. Sinatra effortlessly hits all of the deep notes in his songs. His dancing is subpar, of course, but this is a movie with Gene Kelly in it, so why would anyone else bother to keep up?

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This movie’s “kenny” was acceptable enough, even if he was a need bastard who never goes to school and knows how to run out on his babysitter (who keeps getting a job for some reason …).

“Anchors Aweigh” is a romantic comedy, but the plot is paper thin and horribly contrived. It is really more of an excuse to get from dance number to musical number and vice versa. There is no point in getting invested in any of the characters, and I don’t see modern audiences rooting for a man like Gene Kelly’s Joe even as he leaves behind his womanizing ways for true love with a dame he’s only known for two days.

Skipping over all the bits I hated (the little kid, Kathryn Grayson as the female lead, the plot, the ending), there’s a lot of fun bits of entertainment scattered throughout the film. It is strange to see a movie like this as its only real purpose is to feature two of the best known performers of the time who are still renowned today. No one went to see “Anchors Aweigh” for anchors aweighing. No – they went for Gene Kelly dancing and Frank Sinatra singing.

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Do less drugs.

The best thing about seeing this film is finally getting the context of Gene Kelly’s acid trip of a dance sequence where he dances and sings with Jerry from the cartoon Tom & Jerry. And that happens after he tells Mr. Owl he is going to bring singing and dancing back to the other woodland creatures! Even with context, there is no explaining the scene’s existence. It is by far the best thing about “Anchors Aweigh” because most romantic comedies are conservative films just looking for an easy payday. This film tried to do a little bit more and I commend it for it!

So, should you also see this movie if you haven’t already? No. I’d catch the best parts on YouTube and then go listen to Frank Sinatra after he filled out a little bit.

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Though you can progressively spin the movie’s plot with the big twist being that the female lead never needed the help of two strangers for her singing career and the the Hollywood suit she wanted to impress is super nice, it really felt more like they just ran out of run time and didn’t want any hanging plot threads.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

WB Top 100: Gaslight (1944)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


More frequently recently, I have noticed an uptick in the term “gaslighting”. Until seeing 1944’s movie “Gaslight” I wasn’t a hundred percent sure of its meaning. Now, after seeing the movie from which the term is derived (well, you could probably argue it comes from the play the movie was based on), I understand completely.

“Gaslight” stars Ingrid Bergman (previously seen in “Casablanca”) and Charles Boyer (whom we knew of only from I Love Lucy). The film begins with the murder of a world-famous opera singer, Alice Alquist, whose body is discovered by her only living relative and niece, Paula (Bergman). Paula moves from her London home with her aunt to stay with a family friend in Italy. She stays in Italy for ten years before she meets and falls in love with the mysterious Gregory (Boyer). After two weeks of courtship, they elope and, at his suggestion, move back to her aunt’s home in London which she inherited and left abandoned.

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I know this look is supposed to be “young and innocent” but it really does Bergman no favors.

Other cast members joining Bergman and Boyer include Joseph Cotton. We previously saw him in “Citizen Kane” as one of my standout favorites. He also co-starred with Audrey Hepburn in the stage version of “The Philadelphia Story”, another movie we have watched on this list. Cotton’s Mid-Atlantic/Virginian accent does him no favors in “Gaslight” as a man who supposedly works at Scotland Yard. We also get Dame May Whitty who plays yet another old British woman though, unlike in “Mrs. Minniver”, she’s a pleasant, albeit nosy, old British woman. And finally, we have a very young Angela Lansbury as an uncouth maid. In our household, Dame Lansbury is best known for her voicework in Disney’s animated “Beauty and the Beast” as well as reruns of Murder, She Wrote.

“Gaslight” is an odd movie to watch. It works well enough as a thriller and the acting is very good, but it suffers from predictability and several plot holes. As you may have guessed despite not seeing the film, Gregory (Boyer) murdered Paula’s aunt and wanted to return to the scene of his crime as Paula’s new husband to search for jewels that were never recovered. To keep her under his control, Gregory immediately begins a campaign of psychological warfare to break down Paula’s belief in reality and in herself. He does this so he can eventually send her away to an asylum while he controls her estate and the home in which the jewels are presumably still hidden.

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Lansbury as a slutty (for 1940’s standards) maid? I would’ve never guessed!

Despite Charles Boyer’s ability to mesmerize even me with his odd obsession with the locations of paintings and brooches, the plot was silly at best. It is never clear if Boyer loved Paula’s aunt or how she got the jewels from him in the first place. The fact that he spends six or more months going upstairs to search for the jewels in secret and only finds them when most convenient to the plot only adds more to the silliness. The movie would’ve been a lot better if a) a rewrite with a focus on logical consistency, b) add some actual red herrings so it felt more like a mystery, c) announce that Gregory is the villain early on and let the movie focus on the horror of psychological drama when inflicted by someone who knows what they are doing when inflicting it.

Outside of being an excellent example of exactly what the term “gaslighting” means, I thought “Gaslight” was forgettable when it easily could have been the opposite. Bergman’s Paula has zero agency, so the only real star here is Charles Boyer’s Gregory. More insight into his character or his motivation (beyond “derp I love diamonds”) could have made this a psychological thriller worth rewatching. Sadly, we get “Scooby Doo if written by a psychology grad student” instead.

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I hope to see more of Charles Boyer. I wish he would’ve had a turn as Dracula or some other horror villain. He has the eyes and the charm for it!

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

 

(Not So) Hollow Knight #Review #NintendoSwitch

 

hollow_knight_title_large_blackFor a game called Hollow Knight, the game’s setting, mechanics, and extras are incredibly dense. Originally launched in 2014 from Australian Team Cherry, I finally had a chance to play it on the Switch after it released earlier this month. I will save you the trouble of reading the rest of this post: Hollow Knight is, to me, equivalent in quality to the masterpiece Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and worthy of equal veneration.

Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania game. If you are unfamiliar, it is a genre of games that mimic classic series like Metroid and Castlevania. The genre is known for having an equal blend of platforming and action combat, as well as environments you constantly have to retread as you unlock newer ways to explore and progress.

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Exploration and discovery are vital to a good Metroidvania as well.

I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy Hollow Knight, but it hooked me quickly. The controls are phenomenal. They feel as smooth as Mega Man II or Megaman X. Like other games in the action-platformer genre, I found just navigating the Hallownest (the game’s setting) was pleasant. The combat is also tight, complete with great animations, and a variety of attacks and spells to unlock to spice combat up a bit as you go.

As much as I enjoyed exploring (both platforming and fighting) my way through the game’s dark and dreary setting, I wish there had been a bit more story. The little information you do get comes secondhand from a cast of strange characters you meet or through rare tablets you find hidden. I am still piecing it together even though I am at a 103% completion rate (thank you DLC).

Despite lacking story, Hollow Knight firmly establishes its tone and never lets go. All of the characters are bugs of one kind or another. The art is fantastic and the level variety is incredible once you start finding new areas. I also really enjoyed the music, especially the extra boss Nightmare King Grimm’s theme. I learned to hum it over the two hours of practice it took for me to finally vanquish him.

Now, to address the elephant in the room: is Hollow Knight challenging?

I am not the type of person who actively seeks out challenging video games. If a game is hard, then it is not automatically good. I tend to avoid especially hard games because they often frustrate me and I hate being frustrated.

Hollow Knight challenged me but I never got frustrated. The game does a good job of not punishing the player for a loss (outside of potentially losing geo, the game’s currency).  Rather than a game over, you wake up at the last bench you sat on and they are relatively plentiful. Certain boss fights take place in the dream world and if you die in those, you wake up at the start of the fight, no money lost and your health restored.

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I thought the Grimm Troupe DLC was weak outside of its final boss which I loved.

I have heard Hollow Knight compared to games like Dark Souls. I have long avoided that style of video game since I rarely seek out challenge over other things. While I cannot share my opinion on the comparison, I think Hollow Knight is a fun, engaging, and sound game that doesn’t try to cheat you of overcoming its potential difficulty with cheap tricks.

Furthermore, I really liked some of the additional late game areas. The White Palace in particular contains some very serious platforming that I would easily compare to a platformer-only game like Super Meat Boy. It even has the bouncing on saw blades that you see in hardcore Super Mario hacks. It was entirely optional, but I think it speaks a lot of what Team Cherry has managed to do with the controls in Hollow Knight that they executed a pure platforming area so well within a game that typically focuses on combat and exploration.

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Castlevania: Symphony of the Night holds a special place in my heart. It is one of the few games I have beaten multiple times on multiple platforms. Elevating a game like Hollow Knight to be its equal is a huge honor in my book. Deservedly so because the nearly 40 hours I have already put into Hollow Knight isn’t nearly enough even if I am running out of things to do. I cannot wait for more with the game’s next DLC!

WB Top 100: Casablanca (1942)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


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I have long avoided watching “Casablanca” and I wish now I hadn’t. I was under the impression it was a romance. I thought star-crossed lovers would make googly eyes at one another and kiss their way through a forgettable plot. I imagined “Twilight” both before and after “Twilight” existed. Now that I have forced myself to watch it, I really regret my preconceived notions of the film.

1942’s “Casablanca” stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and (most importantly for reasons we will get to later) Claude Rains. It takes place during World War II in Casablanca, Morocco, while the city is under free France rule.

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Bogart again. Oh joy.

The setting largely revolves around Rick’s Café Américain, owned and operated by Rick (Bogart), a mysterious American expatriate with a penchant for fighting for the losing side in any war he participates in. At the outset of the story, he makes claims to Captain Louis Renault (Rains) that he is neutral, but the French prefect of the police in Casablanca thinks he is more sentimental than he lets on.

For me, the most fascinating and enjoyable aspect of “Casablanca” is its setting. The city functions as a neutral territory for all sorts of Europeans trying to flee the encroach of Nazi Germany. There, they wait to be flown out, but because of visa concerns and the black market cost to resolve said concerns, most end up waiting there indefinitely.

Rick’s Café Américain in particular is the place everyone goes to for a drink, to gamble, or listen to music. In particular, they listen to Sam, an African American and friend of Rick’s who left Paris with him. Sam, played by Dooley Wilson, is the first African American actor with any real role we have encountered on this list who was not playing a slave. I doubt he was the first ever actor to have that distinction in American cinema, but it was refreshing to see someone of color with some degree of agency all their own even if his role was limited.

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The dueling anthem scene was fantastic and perfectly captured why this setting is so much more compelling than most everything else in the movie for me.

When I first realized what was happening in the film’s setting, I instantly thought it would make a great D&D setting for an adventure. There aren’t too many films I can think of off the top of my head that feel this unique in just where they are set alone. The fact that the film was contemporary to World War II and that many of the actors were Europeans who had escaped the tyranny of Nazi Germany made it all the more impactful. For its historical importance alone, I think “Casablanca” is a significant and important film that more people like us should’ve seen before we turned 30.

Beyond the setting, the characters themselves are all interesting. Bogart and Bergman both give great performances. I am already tiring of “Bogart playing Bogart”, but this was the first time seeing Bergman. Diane remarked at how attractive she was, especially when compared to other leading ladies we have seen thus far, since she had a fuller face and wasn’t all angles. With a little less romance in the script, I think the character could’ve been phenomenal, but Bergman does well with what she is given.

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This is the most French picture I could get of the definitely not French Claude Rains.

My absolute favorite character is Captain Louis Renault played by English actor Claude Rains. We previously saw Rains as Prince John in “The Adventures of Robin Hood”. Here, he plays a Frenchman who is as cynical as he is unscrupulous. Everytime he was on screen, he would slime out a laugh from me. My favorite scene was when the Germans forced him to shut down the nightclub and he had to come up with a reason on-the-fly to do so. Without skipping a beat, he shouts that he has discovered illegal gambling just before being handed his gambling winnings for the night. Through and through Renault is a scoundrel, but Rains plays him so well that you can only love his cheek and nerve despite abusing his power at every turn.

My second favorite and Diane’s first was Carl, a waiter played by S. Z. Sakall. Though he gets relatively few scenes and even fewer lines, his facial expressions alone were enough to make him memorable.

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Duty over love.

As for the romance angle itself, it was hard to really care about whether the characters were truly in love or not. For both of us, that entire subplot took a backseat to world-at-war setting and gravitas of everything else. Scenes with dueling national anthems with people expressing their love of country had more impact than the will he/won’t he nature of Rick’s actions. The love triangle also barely factored in since the other male in the triangle, Victor Lazslo (Paul Henreid) barely had time to pay attention to it while he was doing far more important things.

It didn’t help that we both knew how it ended. Bogart’s final speech to Bergman before she boards the plane has been quoted endlessly in pop culture. Without seeing the film, I knew it. Again I find remarkable what lasts from these older movies regardless of their historical importance. That speech, while worthy of quotation, failed to compare to everything else going on in the movie and in the world at the time of its filming.

I will not give “Casablanca” the distinction of being my favorite film on this list, but I would watch it again. It manages to be horrifying, humorous, and historical all simultaneously. I wish more time was spent on stories like this rather than big budget war movies about World War II. It’s amazing how epic in scope such a small setting could be when the whole world is at war.

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I would let Sam play it again.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

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