United We Stand: 10 Things I Love About Steve’s Country #9: Films & TV

Well, the referendum came and went, and with it,  40% of Scotland’s hopes for an amicable breakup with England. Now they’re doing the equivalent of that couple that reconciles with lots and lots of therapy, for which I wish them the very best. However, this does mean that Steve and Suzie can still watch the Olympics together, waving the same flag and cheering for the same athletes.

Unfortunately this series has left us all a bit drained. We’ve racked our brains thinking of our respective countries’ favorite inventions, and architecture (and if these search stats are accurate, BOY do people like igloos), and language, and customs, leading to now with #9 in the series: our favorite TV shows and movies from Scotland, England, and the USA. But what do we do when we’re drained? Well, we go on vacation somewhere and pretend we’re not from where we’re from. In essence, we switch. This week, I am Scottish!

I have a confession: I am not Scottish. I can’t even do one of those “Oh, yeah, I’m part Cherokee, part Irish, part Scottish, part Norwegian, and part Dutch” things white Americans are so fond of doing because I’m 100% full-blood Chinese. So, dear Steve, my apologies ahead of time to you and your Scottish brethren. My only goal was to avoid putting Braveheart on the list because it’s too obvious.

1. The Wicker Man (1973)
I much prefer psychological horror over monster-based horror movies. Even better if monsters serve as the backdrop to the psychological horror, as is the case with 28 Days Later or The Descent. There’s also something attractive about that ’60s and ’70s shaky camera cinematography that makes the footage seem more raw and voyeuristic. But beyond that, this movie has Scottish people dressing up in creepy costumes, and nakedly squirming up against the wall trying to sex-osmosis the policeman on the other side, and people fervently worshiping phallic symbols. If not for the whole sacrificing virgins thing, they almost sound like my kind of people.

Even though there is a tragic dearth of bees, this version is so much better than the 2006 reboot. Among the many mistakes the later version made were the far more absurd storyline and making the neo-pagans joyless about the ritual where they dress up like furries, but the greatest mistake of all was moving them off the coast of Scotland to off the coast of Washington State. Because there’s no brogue in Washington State.

2. Trainspotting
Some people, like Bob Dole during the 1996 presidential election, like to criticize this movie, saying that it glorifies the world of drugs and drug addiction, but I’m pretty sure that if New Jack City hadn’t already discouraged my curiosity in drugs, Trainspotting killed off any that might have remained. I have a really difficult time watching people do drugs on screen after watching this film now (I’m not even going to try Requiem for a Dream), but it was really gritty and engaging, and it portrayed subculture in a way that didn’t make me want to roll my eyes, like how On the Road made me feel. Also, it’s full of Scots, and Ewan McGregor is nice to look at.

3. Gregory’s Girl
This movie came out in the early 80’s and had to be re-recorded for American audiences because the accents were so thick (by which I mean “awesome”). It’s an endearing film that might be thought of as Napoleon Dynamite If It Had Been a Teen Rom-Com. It’s a fairly progressive story for its time, too, with a girl’s athletic prowess rather than her sexuality being what attracts the eponymous Gregory. He’s also encouraged to respectfully pursue and be pursued by love interests without scheming or silly tropes. And he has an adorable relationship with his little sister where she offers him dating advice because he’s that helpless. Altogether a very sweet movie.

It’s probably also the last legitimately Scottish TV show/film on my list.

4. Highlander
Come on. If Braveheart wasn’t going to make my list, Highlander had to. It has everything:
Good songs? Check, check, check, check, check, check, and check.
Tagline? Definitely: “There can be only one.”
A really really terrible horrible bad guy? Yes, very!

James Cosmo playing a gruff Scottish paternal figure again? Yup.
A movie so Scottish that they made a French guy play a Scot and cast a Scot as an Egyptian Spaniard? Aye!

I’m really fond of this movie. Not so much the sequels or the television series, but the original will always be a classic.

5. Brave
Ahhhh, a Disney movie that spits in Romance’s eye. I watched this movie with my daughters and came out of the theater very pleased. For years I’ve been complaining that hardly any Disney movies celebrate the mother-daughter relationship, and definitely none of the animated ones. It’s always “Daddy’s girl” this (Little MermaidBeauty and the Beast, AladdinMulan), or “special boy” that (Lion King, TarzanFinding Nemo). Even Frozen‘s focus on the sister-sister relationship had a predecessor in Lilo & Stitch. But finally,  a story about a mother’s devotion to her daughter and vice versa! A heroine who cares more about being true to herself and her family than when her prince will come! A female character with messy curly hair! And cake as a major plot point to boot!

Ok, so maybe this movie and the last are more about Scottish characters than they are Scottish films, but I think they still count.

6. Gargoyles
We’re starting to stretch things a bit now. Gargoyles was a fantastic cartoon series that ran from 1994-1996. It blended folklore and literature together into a dramatic cartoon series about a clan of gargoyles who turn to stone in the daytime and come alive at night, breaking out of the stone. The six gargoyles comprising the clan living in modern day Manhattan were originally from medieval Scotland, but were cursed to sleep in their stone forms until their castle rose above the clouds.

Enter a Manhattan skyscraper, a transplantation of said castle, the super rich and morally bankrupt guy who paid for it, and thus we have a plot.

It wasn’t just the folklore, the numerous nods to Shakespeare (Oberon, Titania, Puck, and Macbeth all feature as characters, plus monikers of Iago, Banquo, Fleance, Lennox, and Macduff), and the camaraderie of the gargoyles though. The cast of voice actors included or guest-starred a significant portion of the bridge and Engineering from the Enterprise NCC-1701-D (Jonathan Frakes, Mirina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Michael Dorn, and Colm Meany). Kate Mulgrew and Nichelle Nichols also made regular appearances. Other non-Star Trek stars such as John Rhys-Davies, Tim Curry, James Belushi, Paul Winfield, Hector Elizondo, Roddy McDowall, and James Avery lent their voices to the show.

I have talked this show up to Earl now to the the point where I plan to binge-watch it with him. I encourage everybody else to do the same.

7. DuckTales
Scrooge McDuck. Totally Scottish. Except for that one time when he got amnesia and started talking with an American accent. That was a terrible day. I’m leaving you with the scene I love and remember best, when Scrooge throws a fucking tantrum, yelling the same thing over and over again, thus forming my earliest impressions of Scottish people. I mean, if people were ducks.

8. So I Married an Axe Murderer
I know, I know, I’m severely pushing the boundaries on this one, given that Mike Myers is Canadian and Brenda Fricker is Irish. I’m not even quite sure why Charlie Mackenzie’s parents, Stuart and May, were written as Scottish other than to give us wonderful moments like this:

So I Married an Axe Murderer is one of my most favorite movies of all time. I love that Mike Myers indulges himself by playing his own father, portraying him with that same gruff exterior we see in Scrooge McDuck and Groundskeeper Willie. But just like Uncle Scrooge taking in his three nephews and Groundskeeper Willie saving the wee turtles, Stuart Mackenzie has a wonderfully sweet moment  amidst the gruffness where, at his anniversary dinner, he first yells at all his guests to shut up and then toasts his wife with an understated yet tear-inducing speech.

Who’s ready to get married now?? Can we get married in Scotland instead, Earl? Earl?…No?

9. The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson
Don’t look at me like that. I know this is an American show that airs when it’s late (late) on the east coast, and that the Scottish host became a US citizen in 2008. But he still sounds Scottish, and has Scottish bands on his show, and even filmed once from Scotland. I don’t get to watch this often because it’s on so late (late), but when I have been able to catch it, I have loved it. Craig Ferguson is so personable and decent and open about his issues with grief over his father’s suicide and mother’s death, and his recovery from alcoholism.  And he’s funny and honest!

Just watch this and see if you aren’t moved by his compassion:

10. Goldfinger
Hear me out! According to Ian Fleming himself, James Bond was born to a Scottish father and Swiss mother. The greatest Bond of all – and I feel confident in saying that everybody who disagrees with me is wrong – was Sean Connery, the same suave Scot who made an Egyptian-Spaniard sound splendid.

I grew up on James Bond movies. Somehow my parents were content to let me watch movies about intrigue and sex and violence and poisonings, and even from that early age, I recognized Sean Connery’s supremacy over the likes of Roger Moore, George Lazenby, and Timothy Dalton. Of the James Bond movies that we serially and repeatedly watched, I remember You Only Live Twice and Goldfinger best. And of those two, I loved Goldfinger best. I don’t even care about the anti-Korean racism that was Oddjob’s literary provenance. On screen, he was this scary guy wearing a scary bowler hat doing scary things to golf balls.

But the counterpoint to Oddjob’s kidney-chopping brute strength was James Bond’s unflappable ingenuity, who, like Westley vs. Fezzik, devises alternate methods to overcome Oddjob’s physical brawn. For that bit of gumption, we can thank two Scots: James Bond for having it, and Sean Connery for selling it.

Besides, they made a video game out of it. That means the movie was awesome.


Well there’s my attempt to be Scottish. Whether I was successful or even convincing is questionable, but I guess ignorance has its advantages sometimes, because it was a heck of a lot easier than picking my favorite American TV shows and movies.

What have I missed, actual Scots? What American movies and TV would you add? Americans are welcome to weigh in as well! Whether you weigh in with Scottish or American TV & films is up to you, though.

United We Stand: 10 Things I Love About My Country #8: Actor & Actresses

Yay! Scotland didn’t break up with the UK! I do hope everybody gets what they want out of even having the referendum.

It’s Week 8(ish) for  Steve and Suzie and me! They’re spectacularly Scottish and awesomely English respectively, and I’m American, and here we are once again listing our favorite things about our countries. This week it’s actors and actresses! Also, from this point on, when I say “actors”, I mean “actors and actresses”.

I thought actors would be easy, but when I started mentally cataloguing my favorites, I ran into two problems. First, I don’t really do the Hollywood thing. I don’t watch that many movies anymore, having not a lot of spare time with two young children running underfoot. It’s a 2-ish hour commitment that I just can’t make when I could curl up with a book for 30 minutes and fall asleep. Second, I found my favorite actors to be largely English. There’s just no escaping the anglophilia.

Then, when I thought about my favorite American actors, I found myself reluctant to talk about some of them because as famous white men, they already receive a ton of accolades (and a lot more money). I thought about taking a page from Steve’s playbook and listing my favorite actors acting “American”, and realized I’d have to put David Spade (Joe Dirt), Jeff Foxworthy (The Jeff Foxworthy Show) and Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) on the list, and Daniel Day-Lewis isn’t even American.

So here’s the criteria I’ve settled with: I’m going to list my favorite American actors who aren’t famous white men. Because what’s more American than the people on whose backs and with whose support America was created??

1. Jennifer Lawrence
I’ve talked about my Jennifer Lawrence hard-on before, I think. I like how frank she is and how she seems to remember her roots. I like how she speaks plainly and doesn’t seem to care what people think, but not in that Rihanna I-Don’t-Want-To-Be-Your-Child’s-Role-Model sort of way. I like that her name is actually “Jennifer Lawrence”, and she didn’t feel the need to change it to Ginnifer or some stupid shit like that. And I like that despite her young age, she’s already so actively involved with charities.

Favorite Film Role: Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook
Next Most Favorite Role: Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games
Favorite Off-screen Moment: the Post 2013 Oscar Awards Interview and when she left the red carpet to comfort a crying fan.

2. Whoopi Goldberg
Oh Whoopi Goldberg. I don’t even care that your liberal heart bled all over the stage of The View, or that weird thing with Ted Danson where he left his wife for you, and then you wrote that weird act where he yelled racial slurs and put on blackface to roast you. You win my heart forever for stabbing Q in the hand and playing a singing and dancing nun in Sister Act. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention your iconic portrayal of Celie in The Color Purple.

Favorite Film Role: Celie in The Color Purple, Shenzi in The Lion King
Next Most Favorite Role: Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation
Favorite Off-screen Moment: Any time Whoopi got into an argument with Elisabeth Hasselbeck on The View.

3. Pat Morita
You didn’t even know he could speak perfect English, did you? DID YOU?? Or that he was held in an internment camp?

Everybody loved Mr. Miyagi. To this day, I still say “squish…just like grape“. Yet he had a complexity you couldn’t possibly be aware of. I once saw this B movie starring Pat Morita – the name escapes me now, and I can’t be bothered to figure it out – playing an evil mob boss with several ladies of the night in his employ. The only scene I can recall, because it shattered my pristine vision of a wise, kindly Mr. Miyagi, is the one where one of these ladies starts to give Pat Morita’s character a massage. She says, “There are two-hundred and six bones in the human body!” somewhat vapidly, reaches under Pat Morita’s towel, ostensibly to “massage” his “stiffness” away, and then coyly says, “Make that two-hundred and seven.”

And thus, by memory the saintly old man who patiently taught a poor kid karate was squished, just like grape.

Favorite Film Role: Arnold on Happy Days
Next Most Favorite Role: The Emperor in Mulan
Favorite Off-screen Moment: His legacy. Pat’s daughter’s piece about how playing Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid brought him both success and destruction

4. James Earl Jones
One thing common in all my favorite actors is diversity. James Earl Jones can do drama, comedy, action, fantasy, commercials, or anything else he damn well pleases. He can play good guys, bad guys, good guys who act like bad guys, or bad guys who act like good guys. His voice acting skills allowed him to run the gamut in fathers, from a shitty dad like Darth Vader to a dad so devoted that he’d risk his own life, die, and then force his incorporeal spirit to appear just to give his boy a pep talk.

“You are my son” just wrecks me every time. Also, look at all these accolades!

Favorite Film Role: I can’t choose, so I’m listing several. Darth Vader in Star Wars, Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian, Terence Mann in Field of Dreams
Next Most Favorite Role: The king in Coming to America, Frank Couzo in Best of the Best
Favorite Off-screen Moment: When the poor guy thought he’d won a Tony in 2012

5. John Leguizamo
Another very versatile actor on both stage and screen, John Leguizamo has the kind of face where I can’t decide if he’s very handsome or very haggard. I recently saw Chef with Earl, and I was impressed that I could buy him as a sous chef as easily as I can buy him as a gangster, or a singing dwarf, or drug dealer, or a soldier. He’s brilliant and eloquent, and he’s a family man, and he supports funding for the arts, and he says things like this:

“Latin people for Republicans are like roaches for raid,” he adds. “It doesn’t make sense. [Republicans are] not for us. You’re not for my values. We’re working class people mostly and blue collar. We’re your cops, we’re your firemen, we’re your carpenters and the things we need – we need to protect our unions, we need to protect our Medicare, we need to protect the working class person.”

Favorite Film Role: Sid in Ice Age, Toulouse-Lautrec in Moulin Rouge!, Chi-Chi in To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Love Julie Newmar
Next Most Favorite Role: Tybalt in Romeo + Juliet, Benny Blanco in Carlito’s Way
Favorite Off-screen Moment: Whenever he explains how he developed Sid’s voice. Also, the fact that he knows the difference between “nauseated” and “nauseating”

6. Jodie Foster
Jodie Foster is one of the few child actors who didn’t grow up to be a complete mess. The first movie I ever saw starring Jodie Foster was The Accused, which could very well be one of my earliest feminist influences. The only reason her portrayal of Sarah isn’t my favorite film role is because I haven’t had the nerve to see it again; I remember the visceral fear and feeling of betrayal she conveyed though. I have had the nerve to watch The Silence of the Lambs over and over though (hence pseudonymizing my children “Clarice” and “Dr. Lecter”).

She’s also had quite a bit of success as a director, and gave me such lovely lines as “Listen to me, Jane. If anything happens to him, anything at all, I’ll kill you. Now, I don’t mean that I’ll just hurt you. I mean that I’ll kill you.” This line from Little Man Tate was probably one of my earliest notions of motherhood, or at least the kind of mother I wanted to be.

Favorite Film Role: Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs
Next Most Favorite Role: Dede Tate in Little Man Tate, Sarah Tobias in The Accused
Favorite Off-screen Moment: Jodie Foster’s 2013 Golden Globes Lifetime Achievement acceptance speech

7. Joan Chen
“Who??” you ask. Her most famous role was probably as Pu Yi’s opium-addled wife in The Last Emperor. Joan Chen later developed an acting career on both American and Chinese screens, and later began rejecting American roles that were offered to her because she kept getting cast as the stereotypical “omg ur so exotic” dragonlady. In my opinion, her most overlooked role is the fleet-footed quick in the movie that brought us the sport of JuggerThe Blood of Heroes. Which is apparently called The Salute of the Jugger now. Talk about diverse roles! Here, watch Joan scramble around with a dog skull, and see if you can spot Vincent D’Onofrio not long after he decided his rifle was his best friend:

Favorite Film Role: The Empress in The Last Emperor
Next Most Favorite Role: Kidda in The Salute of the Jugger (formerly known as The Blood of Heroes), Yee Tai Tai in Lust, Caution
Favorite Off-screen Moment: Michel Martin interviewing Joan Chen on Tell Me More

8. Sigourney Weaver
I don’t think there’s a more badass heroine than Ripley. No superpowers, no wads of cash. Just grit, iron-clad resolve, and skillful taping together of a myriad weapons into one BFG. But then Sigourney Weaver did the voiceover for the American productions of Planet Earth, and although nobody can out-narrate Richard Attenborough, she did a remarkable job of it. She’s played a variety of roles as well: high-powered women, scientists, a huge asshole, a blond bombshell, and more. In my heart though, she will always be this maternal hardass right here:

Favorite Film Role: Ellen Ripley in Aliens, Gwen DeMarco in Galaxy Quest
Next Most Favorite Role: Dana Barrett in Ghostbusters
Favorite Off-screen Moment: Sigourney Weaver’s interview on the Graham Norton Show.

9. Forest Whitaker
I know Forest Whitaker is easy to hate because of his work on Criminal Minds, but I love him. The crazy thing is that I haven’t even seen his most notable films, like The Last King of ScotlandThe Butler, or Ghost Dog. He just seems like the nicest fellow, which I suppose made it really handy in selling Idi Amin as a nice guy at first. He’s an utter sweetheart in Good Morning, Vietnam and Phenomenon, but then he’s good at being a jerk too! Maybe that’s thanks to James McAvoy (holler, Scotland!). Here, see him go from genial to bloodshot and scary:

Favorite Film Role: Edward Garlick in Good Morning, Vietnam
Next Most Favorite Role: Nate in Phenomenon
Favorite Off-screen Moment: When Forest Whitaker didn’t call anybody in on the clerk who aggressively patted him down and accused him of stealing even though he would have been perfectly right to, because he didn’t want the clerk to lose his job. Instead he asked that the store change their policy of TOTALLY NOT RACIALLY PROFILING! (The clerk was fired anyway).

10. Zoë Saldana
What? Not Alfre Woodard or Angela Bassett or Cicely Tyson or Regina King? Nope. I give it to Zoë because how the hell did she go from playing the last-minute principal ballerina in Center Stage (am I the only one who can’t resist watching this terrible movie whenever it comes on?) to Uhura and then to the voice actor for a giant blue alien with a tail? I haven’t made it to Guardians of the Galaxy yet, but I’m really looking forward to seeing her pull Gamora off. Just watch the intensity of her face in this even though she’s wearing all that gear for the graphics modeling!

Favorite Film Role: Neytiri in Avatar
Next Most Favorite Role: Eva in Center Stage
Favorite Off-screen Moment: This interview, where she’s a big nerd and swears a lot.


Ok folks. Whom have I missed? 🙂

Weekday Chicken Pot Pie

I have a few rules for myself about cooking, aside from the obvious ones like “Have good knives and don’t use them stupidly.” Among them:

1. Don’t compromise on ingredients; food is not where I try to save money.
2. Ask the kids to help. Dr. Lecter likes to say, “I LOVE cooking!” not just because she likes the exaggerated /u:/ pronunciation instead of /ʊ/, but also because she likes pouring and stirring things.
3. Cater to your guests, because that’s polite. Sure, overcooking a filet because you like it well done is repugnant and horrible to me, but I will do that for you if I love you enough. And sure, eating vegetarian is an alien concept to me, but I will make you a vegetarian feast if I’ve invited you over.
4. Any recipe calling for a giant pot of gravy is a good recipe.

This is a good recipe.

Dutch Oven Full of Chicken Gravy Godly Nectar

It comes from Cooks Illustrated. It differs from most pot pies in that there’s no bottom crust, and the top crust is made of tasty savory crumbles. Between the parmesan in the crumbles and the meat, mushrooms, tomato paste, and soy sauce in the filling, this pot pie punches you in the face with umami.

They call it a weekday recipe because it’s speedier than conventional pot pie. From the first slice to getting the pot pie on the table, it took me an hour and a half, but I spent some of my cooking time IM-ing with Earl about wedding plans on my phone. Poorly at that:

Earl: [good stuff about planning]
Me: Oh, nasty
Me: Mario
Me: Mario
Earl: Mario?
Me: Fuck
Me: Neato
Earl: ohhh.
Me: Fuck this Swype bullshit.
I think if you wash and slice up the vegetables ahead of time the night before and avoid wedding planning while cooking, you could probably get this thing done in an hour. Recipe, instructions, and photo from Cooks Illustrated. My notes follow.

SERVES 6

This recipe relies on two unusual ingredients: soy sauce and tomato paste. Do not omit them. They don’t convey their distinctive tastes but greatly deepen the savory flavor of the filling. When making the topping, do not substitute milk or half-and-half for the heavy cream.

INGREDIENTS

Filling
1½ pounds (680.389 g) boneless, skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs
3 cups (709.765 mL) low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons (29.574 mL) vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup (141.748 g))
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices (about 1 cup (141.748 g))
2 small celery ribs, chopped fine (about ½ cup (70.874 g))
Table salt and ground black pepper
10 ounces (283.495) cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed, caps wiped clean and sliced thin
1 teaspoon (4.929 mL) soy sauce (see note)
1 teaspoon (5.333 g) tomato paste (see note)
4 tablespoons (½ stick) (56.702 g) unsalted butter
½ cup (60.243 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup (236.588 mL) whole milk
2 teaspoons (9.858 mL) juice from 1 lemon
6 sprigs minced fresh parsley leaves
¾ cup (99.932 g) frozen baby peas

Crumble Topping
2 cups (10 ounces (283.495 g)) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons (5 g) baking powder
¾ teaspoon (4.5 g) table salt
½ teaspoon (2.15 g) ground black pepper
⅛ teaspoon (.233 g) cayenne pepper
6 tablespoons (85.05 g) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch (1.27 cm) cubes and chilled
1 ounce (28.350 g) Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about ½ cup (13.323 imperial tbsp))
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (188.531 mL) heavy cream (see note)

INSTRUCTIONS
1. FOR THE CHICKEN: Bring chicken and broth to simmer in covered Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook until chicken is just done, 8 to 12 minutes. Transfer cooked chicken to large bowl. Pour broth through fine-mesh strainer into liquid measuring cup and reserve. Do not wash Dutch oven. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450ºF (232.222ºC).

2. FOR THE TOPPING: Combine flour, baking powder, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper in large bowl. Sprinkle butter pieces over top of flour. Using fingers, rub butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Stir in Parmesan. Add cream and stir until just combined. Crumble mixture into irregularly shaped pieces ranging from ½ to ¾ inch (1.27-1.905 cm) each onto parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake until fragrant and starting to brown, 10 to 13 minutes. Set aside.

3. FOR THE FILLING: Heat 1 tablespoon (14.787 mL) oil in now-empty Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, carrots, celery, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 5 to 7 minutes. While vegetables are cooking, shred chicken into small bite-size pieces. Transfer cooked vegetables to bowl with chicken; set aside.

4. Heat remaining tablespoon oil in empty Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add mushrooms; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms have released their juices, about 5 minutes. Remove cover and stir in soy sauce and tomato paste. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has evaporated, mushrooms are well browned, and dark fond begins to form on surface of pan, about 5 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to bowl with chicken and vegetables. Set aside.

5. Heat butter in empty Dutch oven over medium heat. When foaming subsides, stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Slowly whisk in reserved chicken broth and milk. Bring to simmer, scraping pan bottom with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits, then continue to simmer until sauce fully thickens, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and ⅔ of the parsley.

6. Stir chicken-vegetable mixture and peas into sauce. Pour mixture into 13 by 9-inch (33.02 x 22.86 cm) baking dish or casserole dish of similar size. Scatter crumble topping evenly over filling. Bake on rimmed baking sheet until filling is bubbling and topping is well browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining parsley and serve.


MY NOTES

  • I use chicken tenderloins. Breasts can be a little tough, and thighs are annoying to trim if you don’t want a lot of grease. You don’t even have to knife out that annoying silverskin/tendon thing, because it melts once you poach the tenderloins. Then the meat is super easy to shred. Think of it as a timesaver!
  • These directions leave the carrots still mildly crunchy, which I love. If you like them very mushy, or intend to feed a young toddler or something, you might want to steam them a little first.
  • I never remember to add the peas. They’re in step 6, if you’re wondering.
  • They’re serious about the heavy cream too. Don’t skimp on that fat.
  • Likewise for the whole milk. I mean, what is even the point of skim-milk gravy? Next I suppose you’ll want low-fat bacon. Gravy and bacon are meant for hedonic eating, and you need all the full-fat calories to fuel that joy.
  • On that note, what the hell are you going to do with the 2 remaining tablespoons of heavy cream when they sell heavy cream in 1-cup portions? Pour it in a measuring cup and then top off to 1 cup with the whole milk for the gravy! Use the rest of your whole milk for Oreos.
  • I actually completely forgot the lemon and parsley too. Lousy wedding planning. I imagine the sour of the lemon is supposed to make the umami of the rest of the pie pop, but it tastes fine without those extra aromatics.

Enjoy the gravy, folks. And all that other stuff that gets mixed into it, I guess.

United We Stand: 10 Things I Love About My Country #8: Actors…

Scottish Steve’s post about Scottish actors acting Scottish. Ergo, you know it’s not crap!

Ahhh, I could listen to these people talk all day.

Steve McSteveface

scotland_640As its reaching the climax to the Vote For Independence campaign in Scotland I’ve teamed up with Suzie81 Speaks and Crazy Pie Lady to compile a list of 10 things we love about our own country. They love England and America (for some reason) and I love Scotland. Politics aside, let’s enjoy our country!

View original post 667 more words

United We Stand: 10 Things I Love About My Country #7: Customs…

Steve writes nice things, but there isn’t much better than a Scotsman in a kilt.

Steve McSteveface

scotland_640As its coming closer to the Vote For Independence campaign in Scotland I’ve teamed up with Suzie81 Speaks and Crazy Pie Lady to compile a list of 10 things we love about our own country. They love England and America (for some reason) and I love Scotland. Politics aside, let’s enjoy our country!

View original post 1,150 more words

United We Stand: 10 Things I Love About My Country #7: Customs

No no, nothing to do with the Border Patrol or Homeland Security.

And here we are at week 7 with Suzie and Steve where in light of the Scottish referendum for independence, we appreciate 10 things across 10 topics about our respective countries (Suzie is English, Steve is Scottish, and I am American of the US variety). This week we discuss customs and traditions that we love, and at first I thought I’d struggle with this list. But then I gradually realized that things regarded as customary or traditional were so ingrained in me as part of my American life that I’d taken them for granted as customs.

This list comes at an appropriate time because a huge proportion of these customs take place in the fall. Or autumn, as it were.

1. Punkin Chunkin
Punkin Chunkin is a competition held in Delaware where contestants compete to see who can hurl a pumpkin weighing 8-10 pounds (3.629-4.536 kg) the farthest. You may think this strange, but if you do, you’ve clearly never fired a pumpkin cannon. Following in the grand legacy of the potato gun of launching produce as projectiles, the mighty pumpkin hurling machines come in the form of air cannons (using pressurized air), catapults (using springs and such for potential energy), trebuchets (using counterweights for potential energy), and centrifugals (spinning the pumpkin and releasing it, sort of like a hammer throw). So while Punkin Chunkin’s provenance came from really bored people seeing how far they could throw pumpkins, nowadays it’s an exhibition of excellence in physics and engineering, capped off by pumpkins getting obliterated with a satisfying splatter. And it’s all done for charity and scholarships. And maybe bragging rights. And amusement.

Look for it on October 24th-26th at the Dover International Speedway.

2. American Forwardness
Without dating a UK citizen, I may not have recognized this characteristic as something Americans customarily exhibit. Of course the generalization varies from region to region, but it seems we have a reputation for being straightforward and speaking our minds. To cultures adept at nuance and subtext, we Americans can appear simple and clumsy, or even oafish; if I hadn’t grown up in a Chinese household, I may not have understood this perception. But it should speak to the strength of this quality in the American fiber that despite growing up in a Chinese community, the American side of me found the subtlety of my Chinese people maddeningly tiresome. Compare these arguments, which are actual arguments I’ve had:

I. Fraught with subtlety
Mother: I think you should stop dating that boy.
Me: Why?
Mother: Because he said “Good morning” to me when I came home.
Me: Why was that bad?
Mother: Because it’s the evening.
Me: And why is that bad?
Mother: By saying “good morning”, he was saying that I came home too late. He was criticizing me.
Me: …Mom, did you happen to notice that he says “Good morning” no matter what time of day it is or who he’s talking to? It’s sort of his own little joke.
Mother: He should still apologize because I perceived offense.
Me: Even if he didn’t do anything wrong?
Mother: <noncommittal grunts indicating that she might think about retracting the whole business later and that any further discussion would eliminate her brief pulse of contrition>

II. Not fraught with subtlety
Earl: It sounded like you were patronizing me.
Me: Well that was wrong, and I’m sorry.
Earl: Thank you.

I know which kind of argument I’d rather have every single time. Now that I’m a little tiny bit older, I can appreciate both straightforwardness and subtlety. Having stated that though, Earl can attest that on the whole, I am straightforward with little filter, and exhibit very little subtlety. He calls it refreshing, and we can revisit that assessment in a few years once it stops feeling so fresh.

3. Honoring the Military
Having such a large military has the interesting side effect of being respectful of that military. It isn’t just that we have Veterans Day (when we honor all soldiers who’ve served in the military) and Memorial Day (when we honor our fallen soldiers). There’s also a pervasive attitude that our soldiers are heroes and deserve to be treated as such, even if Veterans Affairs has a habit of dropping that ball. Veterans and soldiers on active duty are invited to stand at baseball games and are applauded for their service. Children in school are encouraged to write to or email soldiers serving abroad to maintain morale. For a year or so, I raided library sales in order to ship books (and a package of beef jerky; for some reason they always wanted jerky) to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Criticism of the military is usually lobbed at the administration behind the military but not often the military itself. We really appreciate our soldiers here, and their little dogs too.

It might be a bit of a strange custom, but one that I rather like.

4. Tailgating
Speaking of strange, it might seem bizarre to congregate in the parking lot of a sports venue hours before the actual sporting event to drink beer and grill food together. But socially speaking it’s actually great fun. For some reason, setting up a table in front of your tailgate with a group of your friends, eating an insane amount of meat, and playing games of both the drinking and the Cornhole variety with hordes of other people doing the exact same thing really charges up the atmosphere. Sometimes the tailgating even out-entertains the game everybody’s there to see, especially if you show up prepared.

5. The Super Bowl
Forget about the fact that a large number of people watching the Super Bowl didn’t even follow the postseason, let alone the regular season. Forget about the fact that behind the Champions League, which features teams from lots of European countries, the Super Bowl is the second most televised sporting event in the world. Forget about the fact that you’re coming off the high of finishing third in your fantasy league despite having never fantasy-footballed before and Yahoo! doing the autodraft for you. The Super Bowl is a ridiculously fun tradition for two reasons: the party, and the commercials.

I have known people who plan their year around the Super Bowl, and advertise their parties 6-8 weeks in advance to eliminate the possibility of competing parties. “What are you doing for the Super Bowl?” is a common refrain come January. Super Bowl parties are great because enjoying the spectacle that is football, and Janet Jackson baring a star-studded nipple, and Joe Namath wearing a fur coat to the coin toss, are things that are so much more enjoyable with friends. Additionally, because the Super Bowl is always on a Sunday, and kickoff is between 6 and 6:30 Eastern, it’s very easy to make Super Bowl parties kid-friendly so that the entire family can go.

But Super Bowl commercials! Companies pay enormous amounts of money for prime time slots because Super Bowl commercials are perennially a huge draw for a huge viewing audience. Here, have some of my favorites.

Oh lordy I need a tissue now.

6. Trick-or-Treating
I don’t know how other countries do Halloween. Maybe they focus more on the whole Samhain harvest thing but here in the United States, we dress our kids up in ridiculously cute costumes and send them door-to-door around the neighborhood gathering candy for us. They think this is great fun, and at the end of the night we make them hand over their hard-earned loot to us and tell them we’re doing it for their own health lest they binge on candy. Then as soon as they’re asleep, or at least not looking, we filch the good candy out of the stash and leave those weird fruit-flavored Tootsie Rolls for them. This racket is so successful that  if Halloween falls on a weekday, neighborhoods will often move Trick-or-Treating to the nearest weekend. The kids think they’re being done this enormous favor of staying out later when, in fact, they’re being milked for maximum candy-begging.

Truly, Trick-or-Treating is just a mask for the older, greater tradition of child labor.

7. Groundhog Day
Every year on February 2nd, people gather around a hole in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania waiting for a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil to emerge. It’s more like a title than an actual name, like The Dread Pirate Roberts. The tradition says that if he emerges from his hole and sees his shadow, then we have another 6 weeks of winter left to go. If he doesn’t see his shadow, we’ll get an early spring. Bill Murray starred in a movie based on Groundhog Day playing a meteorologist who relives the same day over and over and over again, reporting on and experiencing the Groundhog Day celebration until he figures out how to end it (no spoilers!). “It’s like Groundhog Day” now exists as an idiom to indicate tedious repetition.

As prescient animals go, Punxsutawney Phil is pretty lousy. He’s been making predictions since 1887 with an accuracy rate of about 39%. I’m not sure why we keep turning to him with such regularity when other animals like Paul the Octopus can hit an accuracy rate of ~86%. The only explanation is that we’re just slaves to the custom.

8. The Pledge of Allegiance
Every child in the United States says the Pledge the exact same way with the exact same cadence: “I PLEDGE allegiance…TO the flag…of the U-NI-ted States of America. And TO the Republic…for WHICH it stands….ONE nation…UNder God…INdivisible, with liberty and justice for allll.” In general this is because every morning, kids across America recite the Pledge before school begins. To non-Americans, this can be quite off-putting and creepy, the major criticism being, “Do these children even know what they’re saying?” Well, no. They don’t. But that doesn’t mean our kids are being raised as neo-fascist automatons (at least, not politically – just corporately).

Collectively, the citizens of the United States have an incredibly strong sense of patriotism. We’re taught to recite the Pledge, and when our malleable minds are ready for it, to understand what pledging allegiance means. We’re also taught to respect our anthem whenever it’s played and to feel proud whenever we see our flag waving. However, this patriotism doesn’t obviate the ability to decide we’d rather not say “under God”, or be objective and see our country’s faults. In fact, I’ve referenced many of these faults in my posts (e.g., our shoddy healthcare system, our inability to provide fair education for all children regardless of socioeconomic status, the fact that only 19 states allow same-sex marriages while the remaining 31 are either fighting constitutional bans or fighting the overturning of constitutional bans, our inability to protect children from being shot at school).

But when something happens and we need to come together as a nation, we do so easily and rapidly. I remember the day after September 11th, I drove to work sad and barely able to contain the tears: I’d been commuting when the radio announced that the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had been hit the day prior, so traveling along the same route had been a bit of a trigger. But driving under the overpasses, I noticed that someone had already put an American flag up on each one. I remember seeing a picture of a neighborhood street where before September 11th, only one house was flying a flag, but after, every single house had a flag on display. I also remember seeing messages of sympathy and condolence from citizens of other nations holding Americans flags up. What I felt was this amalgam of sorrow, and comfort, and pride, and gratitude. Even now I can’t think about it without getting teary. A similar sort of galvanization occurred after the Boston Marathon bombings with “Boston Strong”.

We get mocked a lot for the whole “‘Murica!” thing. And I get it; we can be a little creepy and gung-ho, and sometimes dense (Holla, Steve!). But it’s not always misplaced or misguided, and sometimes our patriotism is something to be proud of.

9. Square Dancing
When I was in 6th grade, which back then was the last grade of elementary school, we were forced to file into the gym and learn how to square dance. I have no idea why. What exactly is the relevance of lining up, dreading which boy you had to touch next (unless it was the cute boy Jason, omg, squeal!), listening to a caller drawl out instructions like “Swing your partner, do-si-do, promenade, and bring her home!”, and coordinating our movements with those instructions?

It wasn’t fun. I didn’t enjoy it. But the reason it’s on this list is because just about everybody of my generation was forced to endure it. It didn’t matter where you lived geographically; neither California nor Maryland are really hotbeds of folk dancing, yet I’m told we all had to honor our partners. Grand right and left. Follow our neighbors. It pains me that these calls and not more useful things occupy my memory. If there’s anything that joins people together, it’s mutual suffering. And that’s what square dancing is.

10. Pie on Holidays
I know I already covered Thanksgiving in the food list. But I owe it to my blog to pay tribute to the pie. It is custom to have pie at both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Pumpkin or Sweet Potato are required, and Pecan and Apple/Pear are very welcome. Some people like to buck tradition and serve non-traditional foods. I once served two ducks and a rockfish for Thanksgiving, so I completely understand this iconoclastic behavior.

But never skip the pie. Or I will kill you.

You may serve desserts accompanying pie (I highly recommend sticky toffee pudding) but you may not skip the pie altogether. To do so is to drive a dagger into the very heart of the holidays. If you don’t have pie at the holidays, you might as well tell your children you snapped off one of Rudolph’s antlers, and went back in time and coughed on Squanto, and that that Grinch book was written with you in mind. Those chains on Jacob Marley, were they caused by his greed, or the paucity of pie stemming from his greed? When pie is the last course served for Thanksgiving dinner and thus the last memory of the meal you’ve just partaken of, what is it you’re really giving thanks for?

It’s pie, that’s what.

Custom of Shame: Black Friday
When American capitalism forces retail workers to leave their families early on Thanksgiving so they can sustain abuse from overzealous shoppers buying electronics, when it’s possible to keep a running tally of the number of casualties taken due to Black Friday, and when people are encouraged to spend their money on an intentionally short supply of goods that aren’t even top-of-the-line instead of staying in with their loved ones, it’s time to put that shitty custom to bed.

Shop Cyber Monday people, or wait for deals later in the month. It’s just not worth the loss of reason and humanity.


Well that was freakishly long. What are your favorite customs that I may have missed?

 

United We Stand: 10 Things I Love About My Country #6 Language…

This is Steve’s post on the Scottish language, only it’s awesome and amazing because it’s ALL THREE LETTER WORDS!!!

Steve McSteveface

scotland_640As it’s coming closer to the Vote For Independence campaign in Scotland I’ve teamed up with Suzie81 Speaks and Crazy Pie Lady to compile a list of 10 things we love about our own country. They love England and America (for some reason) and I love Scotland. Politics aside, let’s enjoy our country!

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How to Ship a Pie

I had a gay pet turtle once. He was actually my brother’s, but I took custody when he moved to the other side of the country (my brother, not the turtle). That gay turtle  (let’s call him Turtle) shared a tank with another male (let’s call him Other Turtle) which is how I found out Turtle was gay. He  reached sexual maturity earlier than Other Turtle and soon started displaying the Turtle Mating Ritual. Here’s how it’s done, if you want to try:

1. Stick your hands out like you’re measuring about 18 inches.
2. Spread your fingers apart
3. Flip your hands inwards so that your thumbs are now pointing down and your palms are facing out.
4. Vibrate and wiggle your hands at someone who looks receptive.
5. Have all the sex.
6. Imagine how much drama and questioning that bit of non-verbal propositioning would save if people did that to each other instead of the normal, more awkward avenues.

But sadly as it turned out, Turtle’s love was unrequited, and Other Turtle had no interest. Or maybe Turtle was really just displaying social dominance behavior, because one day after about a year of this mating ritual, I found Other Turtle with all his legs and neck mangled. Turtle had bitten him until his poor limbs resembled ground pork. I did what any good turtle owner did: I took him to my nearest herpetologist and nursed him back to health by shooting his little turtle arm with little syringes of antibiotics and rubbing some powder that the herpetologist gave me on the open wounds.

But what to do about Turtle? Clearly he wasn’t happy, either because Other Turtle was not a female or because Other Turtle kept rebuffing him. Releasing him into the wild would have been irresponsible. I did some research and eventually found a pond in Florida that served as a sanctuary for turtles where he’d be able to swim around all he wanted and vibrate his horny little claws at his pick of female or gay turtle.

“You can ship him here,” the pond owner said.
I blinked. “Come again?” I asked her.
“Oh sure, I’ve received a lot of turtles this way. You can ship him UPS.”

She then proceeded to explain to me that all I needed to do was to get a Rubbermaid bin, load the bin up with wet paper towels, nestle the turtle in the paper towels, punch some holes in the top, place it in a box, pad the box with newspaper, and then ship the whole damn thing overnight, being sure to mark “THIS SIDE UP” everywhere as appropriate.

I don’t remember all the details, but I can tell you that I followed her instructions explicitly. I can’t recall how much it cost, nor can I recall if I lied to the UPS center or not. I suspect I did.

Not long after that incident, I had a baby, Clarice (that’s a pseudonym). Clarice was an enormously fat baby when she was born, at 9lbs 4oz (4.196 kg). She also had transient tachypnea her first week of life, which made her extra sleepy, which in turn made her nurse less, which in turn left her dehyrated. In the NICU, they fattened her back up with formula and the paltry offerings I could pump, and instead of my sleepy infant, they handed back to me this constantly and ravenously hungry beast. As a result of her barely satiable appetite – and I know I’m very fortunate in this regard – my boobs learned to produce a shitton of milk.

If you turn your head sideways, you can see her face sag from all the milkfat ❤

So much milk that when I went back to work pumping twice a day (even more fortunate – hooray for progressive work places!), I had to change bottles halfway through or else the bottle would start overflowing. I ended up freezing so much milk that not only was it at risk of going bad (frozen milk has a shelf-life of 6-12 months), it was also crowding out all my fucking meat. I wasn’t about to throw it out, no way. The hospital told me that shit was ‘liquid gold’, and I worked hard (by which I mean I ate hard and drank buckets of water) to milk myself like a cow, but a cow with opposable thumbs.

I did more research and found a sort of nearby milk bank that would be happy to accept my donation provided that I passed all the health screenings (I did). They asked how much I had to give. I told them I had about 375 ounces (2.93 gallons/11.09 L) I needed to move out of my freezer. They said, “We’ll send you a big box.”

A DHL box with a cooler inside arrived along with a label and instructions for how to ship frozen breastmilk overnight to a milk bank. They told me to procure dry ice to pack with the breastmilk and to ship the whole thing as late in the afternoon as possible so that the box wouldn’t be sitting somewhere all day, thawing.

I don’t remember all the details of this operation either, but I can tell you that I followed their instructions explicitly as well. It cost me nothing but the price of the dry ice. And I didn’t even need to lie to DHL about it.

Not long after that, I became obsessed with pie. I loved pie so much that I wanted to share pie, and offered it as a prize for a contest, the details of which are inconsequential. The winner, sadly, lived in Austria. And at the same time, a friend living in the Netherlands offered to send me authentic stroopwafel in exchange for one of my pies. I wanted to keep my word, and I also really wanted stroopwafel, so I drew upon my prior experience of shipping turtles and frozen bags of breastmilk and shipped those pies to Europe. I’ve since shipped pies to Finland and various states in the US, and having learned quite a bit about the process, I now share my knowledge with you. First, a few things to clear up:

  • It’s not cheap. If you must ship pie, only make pie-worthy friends one or possibly two shipping zones away.
  • It may not be completely legal given customs restrictions and licensing for food-handling/distribution.
  • Dry ice,  which is widely available in grocery stores now, will only explode your package if you seal the living shit out of it and give the sublimating gas no room to expand/escape; with a styrofoam cooler and a cardboard box, you should be fine. Just don’t put it in a air-tight container. UPS only cares if you have > 5 lbs (2.268 kg) of dry ice.
  • When they warn you not to touch dry ice, they are serious. You know that chicken breast you forgot in your freezer from 2010? That could be your freezerburnt finger.
  • Some pies don’t thaw nicely after being frozen. Fruit pies, cookie pies, and chiffon pies survive pretty well but forget about custard and cream pies.
  • I usually bake my pies first and then ship them rather than send a pie to be baked. Generally the people I ship pie to are people I like, and making them wait another hour for the pie to bake after waiting for it to ship and thaw seems cruel.

You will need:

  • 1 frozen pre-baked pie, baked into one of those disposable aluminum tins (shipping a pie is the only legitimate excuse for using one of these)
  • 5-10 lbs dry ice (I’m not saying you should lie to UPS, no no. Of course not. I’m saying that a large portion of it will sublimate, so that by the time the dry ice reaches its destination, it may very well be 5 lbs, at which point “It’s 5 lbs” would no longer be a lie)
  • a styrofoam shipping container with accompanying shipping cardboard box – the inside dimensions should fit the pie and a block of dry ice. 12″ x 10″ x 7″ should be sufficient (the outside dimensions will be about 15″ x 13″ x 10″)
  • lots of spare cash

1. Make sure there’s no bank/federal holiday occurring in the time span over which your pie will be shipped.
2. Seal your frozen pie in a zipper bag and place it in the cooler.
3. Place the dry ice on top and stuff the empty spaces (not densely) with wadded-up newspaper. CO2 is denser than air, so the cold sinks rather than rises. However, if you’re afraid of squishing the pie, it’ll stay frozen just fine if the dry ice is under the pie.
4. Cover the cooler, but don’t tape it shut. Tape the box shut, but don’t go crazy hermetically sealing it or anything. It’s not unlike Thanksgiving: leave room for the gas to escape.
5. Take it to your favorite shipping center, and of course DO not LIE about the contents of the box and say that it contains anything other than pie and ONLY 5 lbs of dry ice! Heavens no. 3-day shipping should be fine. I’ve had people receive their pies frozen solid after 3 days and still have enough dry ice to play with.

In theory, this should work with any frozen food item, but I haven’t tried it with anything but pie because I don’t love any other food item enough to share it with that much enthusiasm. Frankly at this point, it’s either share it, ship it, or vibrate my claws at it.

Bugger Off! 10 Things I Love About My Country #6: Language

It occurs to me that I should have reblogged this amazing work of mildly offensive words before I went on vacation. I think I also need use ‘rubbish’ more, and giggle immaturely whenever I stumble across “fanny pack”.

Suzie Speaks

We’re over half way through with the ‘United We Stand’ posts and Steve (a scot), Jenny (an American) and I (an English woman) have been compiling lists about the things we love about our countries.

This week’s focus is language. I toyed with the idea of focusing on the different aspects of the history of the english language, but have somehow gravitated towards slang and swear words. Warning: there may be uses of words that you may deem to be inappropriate within this list – if you are easily offended, read the post with your hands over your face whilst peeking out between your fingers.

image

1. Bugger. This is a word that I use on a regular basis to in any number of situations:

  • Bugger off – go away.
  • We’re buggered – all is lost.
  • It’s buggered – it is broken.
  • I’m buggered – I’m tired.
  • Lucky bugger – a…

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