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The Most Romantic Ad-lib in Cinematic History

February 14, 2014 |  by  |  Featured, Movies  |  No Comments

“I know.” Two words, famously ad-libbed by Harrison Ford after many repeated takes of the scripted “I love you too” line. Two words that evoke love far more powerfully than any hallmarkian sentiment in this or any other galaxy. In all of cinema, in all its rich and romantic history, “I know” is certainly the most romantic ad-lib. And in my estimation, “I know” is high among the most romantic lines, full stop.

From Leia’s perspective, Solo’s pursuit had seemed not motivated by love, but perhaps by a mere desire for conquest.

It is in one of the darkest moments of The Empire Strikes Back, in all of the Star Wars franchise really, when Han Solo replies with those two little words to Leia’s tearful and frighted admission of “I love you.” And in that moment we witness a breaking of character. Not merely the breaking of the fourth wall by Ford with his ad-lib, but the abandonment of a mask behind which Solo had been hiding for so long.

At first blush, it might sound in-character for Solo. Another in a long line of the snappy repartee that had characterized his and Leia’s relationship. But it was more than that. His was a naked and vulnerable return of her statement of love.

Up to that point their relationship had been adversarial, full of romantic friction. Solo had been pressing his suit with Leia, but in a ‘scruffy’ sort of way, the way a scoundrel would. From Leia’s perspective, Solo’s pursuit had seemed not motivated by love, but perhaps by a mere desire for conquest.

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Where Eagles Dare

December 22, 2013 |  by  |  Featured, Writing  |  No Comments

A whisper of breeze ruffled the airfield’s August-browned grass. The sky overhead was warm and inviting. With unlimited visibility, the bright blue canopy appeared as if it had pulled back from the earth to provide extra airspace beneath. One lone cotton-cloud lazed over the horizon. Two eagles circled effortlessly high overhead. It was a perfect day for flying.

Pilot Rod Rees strode across the lawn. A young man in the Summer of 1963, my Uncle Rod was little older than I was when I first heard the story of his maiden flight. My mother Arlene, only a girl then, saw no trace of fear as her older brother approached the field. His eyes were set, his face was determined, and his aircraft was slung confidently under his arm.

After weeks waiting for the kit to arrive, after a summer holiday spent indoors on painstaking assembly, after his fingers had become calloused from fine tooling and his lungs ravaged by glue fumes, the day had finally come for his dream to take flight.

Aircraft fuelled and pre-flight checklists completed, Rees glanced yet again at the listless pine-bough windsocks overlooking the R-Bar-Eagle farm’s upper horse paddock —newly rechristened the Galiano Island Airfield. He bent low over his aircraft and, with a high whine and a puff of blue smoke, the engine coughed to life. Rees cycled the controls and adjusted the radio’s trim knob one last time. He looked up, taking two half-steps backward.

The plane burst forward.

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Best Turkey and Stuffing Recipe

(or: a Fun and Foolproof Feast for Mere Mortals)

December 22, 2013 |  by  |  Featured, Food  |  No Comments

Turkey, turkey, turkey! Wihout further ado, here it is, my mother’s amazing turkey dinner recipe. I know everybody’s partial to their mother’s cooking, but my mom’s turkey dinner is always outstanding! And the technique I’ve cobbled together over the years makes it super easy. No more frantic scramble at the last minute to get everything finished and plated.

This is not as specific as a cook-book recipe, but it doesn’t need to be. Anybody with a cook’s soul should breeze through it (chef-ery not required). Post your questions, and I’ll answer below.

Update for 2019: It’s been 6 years to the day since I wrote this post, and having made this meal 3 times a year, I’ve perfected it even further! (With a bonus gluten-free option that you would *literally* never know is gluten-free unless you told your guests.)

And I’ve added 4 (count them, 4!) Super Duper ProTips that will elevate your turkey experience from stressful slog to delightful dance. In the old version of this recipe, I used to brine the turkey to get it juicy, but with these tips, it’s just not necessary.

Important stress-buster: Start 6h before you want to eat. You can get away with 4.5-5h, but you’ll save your sanity if you start 6h before feast-time. It only takes about 90min of effort to make the stuffing, get the bird in the oven, and then take it out and plate it. The rest of the time it’s cooking or resting and you’re completely free to do your other prep. Or actually, you know, be a human being and not a house elf.

Super Duper ProTip #1: The Leave-In Thermometer

Stop. Before you read on, do yourself a favour and fire up your favourite web-browser or motor-conveyance and head to the (e)shops to buy a digital leave-in thermometer.

Really. This is not a convenience. This is the whole shootin’ match. Every part of this recipe will be catawampus without knowing the temperature during cooking and resting. And opening things up to poke a thermometer in simply won’t work.

A digital leave-in thermometer will *GUARANTEE* a perfect, juicy, no-stress turkey. Actually it will guarantee every roast you make will be perfect.

Cooking times don’t really work because every bird is different, they all start at different temperatures, and every time you use (and open) your oven it will be at a different temperature. There’s no way to get a fully-cooked, but still super juicy bird without knowing the temperature.

Here’s the one I use, a Thermoworks Dot, which is the simplest possible, just two buttons:

thermoworks_dot_leave-in_thermometer

A digital leave-in thermometer means a perfect bird faster.

You may already have an old-school leave-in dial thermometer, but these aren’t very reliable in my opinion. Go digital, you’ll never look back.

You may already have a digital instant-read thermometer (that you don’t leave in the bird), but these aren’t good enough. (They are excellent for everyday cooking and grilling, see my Porkchop recipe!) Without a leave-in thermometer, you’ll be opening the oven a lot, spilling out all that heat, and the bird will take way longer to cook.

Plus, without a leave-in digital thermometer, you’ll never be able to do Super Duper ProTip #3, the towel-technique, which is really the magic to eliminating so much stress and keeping the bird ultra juicy.

Convinced? Read on, MacDuff.

Start with the Stuffing

Okay, this stuffing is killer. It’s the secret of the feast. If you’ve bookmarked this page, it’s because of the stuffing.

And hard as it is to believe, I’ve found a gluten-free substitute for the bread that is [hand-on-heart] just as good as the regular. We made both versions one year and even I, as a degenerate stuffing-fiend for whom turkey dinner could be complete with only stuffing and gravy, could barely tell the difference. So good that the following year, I made just one (double-batch) of the GF stuffing.

Note! This recipe makes a LOT of stuffing. I always stuff a large bird, then make a huge pan of extra stuffing (which I cook after the bird’s out). Did I mention I really love stuffing? You’ll need a pretty giant saucepan for this amount.

  • 1.5 loaves whole grain bread [I like the squirrelly/nutty breads]
  • 2 yellow onions
  • garlic
  • 3-4 celery stalks
  • 1.5lbs Italian sausage [Costco’s hot Italian is surprisingly good italian sausage for any recipe]
  • big bag of mushrooms [I use brown/crimini, but you can use whatever floats your boat]
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 4-5 eggs
  • salt
  • pepper
  • sage powder
  • poultry seasoning powder
  • butter
  • olive oil

Sauté up your onions and celery in a healthy amount of olive oil and butter and some salt. When they’ve softened, add garlic. I like a lot of garlic. Don’t be shy to use half a bulb, because the flavours are going to be diluted quite a bit by all that bread. Don’t sauté the garlic too long or it’ll burn and turn bitter.

Next add sliced mushrooms and a lot more butter an olive oil. Don’t go shy on the butter. Add a decent amount more salt and pepper too. Sauté these until the mushrooms have released their water and are bubbling away nicely. (You can rinse and butter the bird as described in the Turkey and Stuffing section while this is happening.)

Add to taste the poultry and sage seasoning to this lovely buttery mushroom mix. Add LOTS. Lots and lots. The seasoning of this mix is going to be diffused through all that bread (and will have to hold its own against the turkey and gravy). I always think I’ve added too much, but wind up wishing I’d added more. You’ll probably add 2-3 tablespoons of sage and 4-5 of poultry seasoning. Maybe more.

After the seasoning the mushroom mix should be wet and oily, almost soupy, very dark green, and taste WAY too strong. Perfect!

Remove the sausage from its casing and crumble/tear it into bite-sized chunks. Drop it straight into the concoction. Cooking the sausage in this soupy mix makes it more tender than if you brown it in the pan.

When the sausage is cooked through, you can do your last tasting. The sausage mushroom mix should still be pretty soupy with oil and some water from the mushrooms. If it doesn’t look soupy like the video above, sometimes you’ll have to add a bit of water. Next add whatever salt/pepper/sage/poultry you need to make a heavily flavoured mix. Remove it from the heat. You’re almost done the stuffing!

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Stirring, Shaking, Sliding

June 27, 2013 |  by  |  Featured, Food, Writing  |  No Comments

He prepared the explosives with slight care, quickly, casually, the ritual well-practiced, components proportioned more or less precisely, burner tuned just-so to an unmarked setting, the steel lid lowered for even heating and explosive containment.

Sirens sang, foreboding shrieks and squawks and shearing sounds, as the vessel was shaken and slid across the element, stirring untouched its contents. Intermittently the concoctor ceased his agitation and crooked an expert ear to the silence, listening for sizzling, steady but not slow, energetic but not angry. It mustn’t burn. Burning meant acrid smoke, accusatory smoke, overpoweringly aromatic smoke, smoking evidence that lingered, alerted the neighbours, testified to his activities, testified to his inexpertise.

An explosion surely overdue, his doubts began to mount. Was it too hot? Not hot enough? Was this batch going to explode? *pop* The first explosion always a surprise, always a relief. *pop-pop-pop* The explosions came faster, faster still. The tin-can rat-a-tat-tat of the popping startled his senses, stimulating salivation before sent was detected.

Still shaking, sliding, stirring the pot, he watched, trance-like, the stochastic explosions sending kernels careening, chaotically clanging and caroming off the pot with each pop, pop, pop.

Eyes drying and mouth watering, he stood mesmerized by the turmoil. Blasted blossoms burst like frozen fireballs, each concussion showering the seething mass with corn-husk shrapnel, triggering secondary and tertiary explosions as ticking time-bombs tumbled.

At last the cacophonous barrage began to abate. But not the stirring, shaking, sliding. He knew the risk of burning was highest now, knew that explosive packages had to be sifted toward the heat, had to be detonated before the now-dry pan overheated.

Three seconds. Three seconds without a pop was all that could be afforded. One—*pop* The clock reset. One…*pop* Reset. One… two…*pop* Reset again. One… two…*pop* Too long, three seconds was too long this time. One… two… —burning, it was going to burn— three! He doused the burner, threw back the lid, and dumped the steaming contents into the waiting container.

Perfect popcorn.
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A Warped, Frustrated Old Movie

December 14, 2012 |  by  |  Featured, Movies  |  2 Comments

If you haven’t ever seen It’s a Wonderful Life, or even if you have seen it, but don’t remember it well, do yourself a favour and go watch it. It is one of those somewhat rare classic films which still holds up amazingly well today. More than that, it isn’t at all the sappy, corny movie that most people assume it is or mis-remember it as.

Far from the cinematic snow-globe that most people mis-categorize it as, It’s a Wonderful Life is surprisingly dark, very witty, and truly entertaining.

Whether they’ve seen it or not, most know it for Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey running through Bedford Falls, yelling “Merry Christmas!”; and of course for the sacharine-sweet Zuzu proclaiming “Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings!”; all culminating with the tearful reprise of Auld Lang Syne. Those are the images that everybody –everybody who doesn’t remember the film well– recalls immediately upon hearing its name. And I’d agree, if those scenes were indicative of the overall tone of the movie, it would indeed be a sappy mess, hardly worth watching, save for when you desperately need a simple and sweet bit of holiday fluff.

Auld-Lang-Syne

But that is not the feel of the movie! Far from the cinematic snow-globe that most mis-categorize it as, It’s a Wonderful Life is surprisingly dark, very witty, and truly entertaining. The film is thoroughly rewarding even to more refined modern-day audiences. And while it has been elevated to Christmas canon, very little of it actually occurs around Christmastime, and it certainly isn’t your standard holiday fare.

The first two hours of the film are a long, dark study in the psychological torture of George Bailey.

The reason for the dissonance between the perception and the reality of the film is obvious; for decades television network and advertising executives have slavishly adhered to the Law of Classic Films, the law mandating that all, and only, the most clichéd moments of classic films must be repeated, ad nauseum, in every advertisement or reference to said films.

What makes It’s a Wonderful Life such a surprise to the first-time viewer is that, while its runtime is a hearty 130 minutes, all of those oft-remembered, oft-rehashed, and awfully sweet moments occur in the final 7 minutes of the film. While the final few minutes are indeed a super-concentrated distillation of the essence of Christmas, they serve as a well-balanced counterpoint, a satisfying glaze, too sweet on its own, but just perfect as the topper to the body of the film. These clichéd, over-sweet moments work so beautifully well, because the first two hours of the film are a long, dark study in the psychological torture of George Bailey.

Whats-the-Matter

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