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Saturday, November 22, 2008

More reasons why Twilight should never have seen the light of day

I've hesitated about writing anything about Stephanie Meyers' novels for a couple of reasons। The first, primarily that Meyers writes about my adopted area of America - small town America, based in lumber and timber and local agriculture. We love our farmers - organic and otherwise - around this area and it doesn't behoove anyone to speak ill of them. But Meyers' popular fiction crapwads have left me little choice.

I understand the concept. Hell, Meyer's works aren't more than the literary equivalent of Britney Spears and the Pop Princesses of Disney. Take hackneyed concepts and shape them into a classic narrative that could have been pulled from any number of tropes about vampires and humans, slap them together with a High School Musical cast, and you've got the next Bridges of Madison County - except in the rainforest. With vampires. Oh, and they're teenagers who get preyed upon by vampires. Did I mention how sexy vampires are?

Truth be told the early success of the novels wasn't that they were novels at all. I picked up two of the books and read through them for my mom, mainly because she was looking for fiction to give to cousins, who just now cracked the ages of 12 and 14. I grabbed a copy and churned through the pages in less than two hours at Barnes and Ignoble. And my first impression was, simply, that I'd watched B-Movies starring Pam Grier that had more believable, deep characters and less banal plot lines.

Sorry Twilight fangirls and bois, but it's true. Your heroic characters are flat, devoid of emotion. Plant a stick in their asses and some white face makeup and you could run amok in kabuki emokid theater. I'd go so far as to say that the reason they ARE so memorable for you is the same reason Barbie and Ken dolls work their magic - to be able to mirror one's self, dreams, ambitions, and importance upon these bits of plastic means, simply, that you can happily go about your life, living out the dreamworld of fantasy while edging quietly back into "normalcy". Simply adding "And he's a vampire" does not make a character more entertaining. While I do admit if Stuart Little was converted to the Dark Side of the Cheese Suckers before he met his family, it would make for a much more fascinating storyboard, it is still just Stuart Little, Vampiric Mouse.

But I know that's what sells these days. The carryover fandom from Harry Potter and the growing-up with the superhero genres of movies that have converted from the movies of the 1990s to the early 2000s means that superhero movies, or movies about people learning to live with the alienated powers they have, are the most common movie theories out there. Iron Man is a badass, in my book, not because he's a superhero, but because he's got a suit that he puts on. However, Meyer's fangirls and fanbois are drooling over Vampiric Sweet Valley High novels. Cheap romance smut for teenage girls is not quality literature.

But I will give it to Meyers, she's got quality marketing, or at the least, is backed by someone who really knows how to squeeze lemon juice out of a rock. I keep wondering if the Twilight series is really as popular as it is because of the beautiful covers the books come in, or if her audience really does dig it that much. The novels are clothed in "serious literature" images that don't look out of place on an adult bookshelf. Hell, they fit pretty close together next to Anne Rice's "Sleeping Beauty" series. If I threw in five bondage scenes into the Twilight series, it might get an R rating. Meyer's success is still based on the success Rice enjoyed - beautiful androgynous boys who allow latent bisexuality to creep into the equation are still commercially viable with the pimpled demographic.

I'll also admit that as much as I love Tolkien's The Hobbit, I didn't buy a copy of the book because the old paperback copy I had was tattered, worn, and ugly. I didn't touch it, even though I know and love the story, simply because it was an ugly book. Now that I've got a leather-bound, green copy tucked safely away next to the hard copies of the Lord of the Rings series, I'm much more likely to read it. Lesson learned - hire someone who can do some serious artwork for your book and people will read it because it's "pretty" on your shelf.

But that doesn't strike away from the fact that the scent I just found wafting through the breeze had rare sulfic notes with tinges of apple, lemon, and lime, and a backing of oak and floralness. It might be the prettiest description in the world, but when the dog rips a fart in the middle of the night, I still wake up choking.

In other words, wrapped in a beautiful cover, shiny and pretty, Meyer's writing is still trite, hackneyed, uninspired Sweet Valley High with Vampires.

On some level I know that in the world of teenage girls (and it must be stated, some boys) that the Twilight series and Meyer's foray into popular fiction means that there's a character that young women of today can truly identify with. The actress who plays the lead, Bella, in the movie adaptation takes the book's character and injects a flood of life into the character that Meyers couldn't have done with a Frankensteinian authoring set. And yet, the only notion I can come away with in the entirety of the book series, movie, and fandom is still the same lesson learned from the annals of Grease: The Musical: if a woman truly, totally, and completely desires a man, a beautiful, shiny, gorgeous man above all other things, she must act like a two-dollar whore.

That's pretty much Meyer's message to young women through her novel - that girls find themselves only by giving up life to a male figure, and that the male figure will sweep her off her feet. Throughout the stilted, adolescent writing (and yes, while one can write a novel targeted at adolescents, it doesn't mean that the novel itself needs to be written like a Buffy slashfic), the essence of Meyer's writing is clear - teenage girls in small towns like Forks are gonna give it up, and if you're gonna give it up, you might as well do it to the guy who's going to protect you from all the other bad boys out there on the block.

Meyeres' writing always bothered me for that reason. Her characters are flawed, but flawed in the finest traditions of Beverly Hills 90210. Her settings of moss and oak and pine and forest ring true, but only because I live in the state she writes about. In point of fact, anyone who shows up on the peninsula gets a real sense that something spooky lives out there in the mountains. It's called the rain. More rain falls in the Olympics than any other place in the Northwest, and those who live there completely know why we call it the rainforest.

Now that I'm aware that Meyers is not a Northwest author, and used Forks, Washington as the basis for her stories, I'm positive of two things - one, these books are utter and complete crap, as well as the movie. Tinkerbell has better role models for young women than this garbage. Two, it truly is the trappings that have made this a success. The beauty of the young man playing the vampire, Edward, is the primary draw for most of the women who have slavered over the Twilight series. I am hoping, however, that the commercial success of the series will go the way of so many other movies that have involved flash-in-the-pan authors like Meyers, and cease here.

Because, let's face it. The reality of the 2008 Presidential Campaign is still true today. The books are utter crap. The plots are pulled right out of tropes from daytime television. And putting lipstick on a pig, even if that pig happens to be a vampire, does not make it any more pretty.

Even if it is a lipstick-wearing pig that's also....A VAMPIRE.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Google Chrome, RIP

I wish I could keep you, Google Chrome. I'm a fan of your browsing capabilities and all, and I understand how convienient you are with all of my other Google toys. But I just can't see us staying in this relationship.

I spent a good two days importing bookmarks to you. And I was using you as my primary browser for a nice long while. But your functionality is crappy. You shut down if I try to use or - and YouTube is your company's own damn site. Your Flash player support is shoddy, your bookmarking exportation is nonexistent.

I almost feel as if I'm going back to the old girlfriend, the one who knows that I like to hang out on the couch Friday evenings and eat bad Chinese food, the one who isn't afraid to keep herself from wearing makeup. I feel like I'm trading up the martini-swilling, svelte, smooth chick for the one who loves her sweatpants. Yes, I've gone back to Firefox. She's a bit chunkier and a little less streamlined around the middle, but she has all the thing I remember that I like.

I'm a little sad, though, because Google's Chrome browser was many of the things that I like in a browser. When it was fast, it was FAST. But when it was slow, it was pokier than an armadillo on the highway wearing tar booties. Well, lesson learned. This computer is about to be overhauled yet again - the components changed out and the old system put into the Media Center computer out in the living room, so I can't say that I'm terribly disgusted with it as a system, but it's still a bit irritating.

I do wonder how is going to work out for me with the new system. We'll have to wait and see.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I went to the Hive Mind Halloween last night - dressed as one half of Waldorf and Statler from the Muppet Show. Hilariously, the other half who'd agreed to do it was a little exhausted from the previous night's activities, so I wound up doing half of the surly heckler act by myself.

Believe me, terrible jokes continue to be terrible even if you're funny. At any rate, I realized that I've got a strong group of people who I know and completely respect in this city that do things that aren't considered normal. I found that the sheer volume of things I do have somehow connected me to this city in a lot of ways, and not least of them is the parties that I help create.

I'm off in a few minutes, wearing stinky clothes and scruffy jeans to go clean up from the party's aftermath with the rest of them - all of them straggling in, slightly hungover and less-than-thrilled to be blinking the daystar out of their eyes. But it's still fun to have those experiences...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

First Post - Limoncello

I will fully admit, I love the flavor of lemons and limes. Galileo had a passion for the citrus fruit, as well. His daughter, in a nunnery, made him candied citron fruit all the time - from the moments of his first theories to the incarceration and trial.

One of the things I loved most about California (aside from the Northwesterner's awe of being able to buy liquor at the grocery store - with a Club Card) was the fruit. Whenever I make a run to Goleta to visit my sister and her family, I almost always want to capture the scent of Goleta in the air, bottle it, and bring it home. The unfortunate part of this is that I can't, but I do manage to find ripe lemons nearby.

The lemon orchards outside of Goleta are what saved them from the fires over the summer, actually. It's amazing, how often we convert farmland into tract housing without thinking of the problems inherent in doing so. When you convert land that had been used for years to grow crops into tinder-rich houses with pools, wood frames, and plenty of natural gas, you're looking at unnatural disasters waiting to happen. It is sad to see beautiful lime, lemon, avocado and olive orchards that have lived for decades in the foothills vanish in flame - sadder still to see and smell the lack of flowers, hear the dying of the honeybee, and wonder what lime honey will taste like in the future years.

I think I could be happy in a place where I could have land and grow lemons, limes, and other citrus. Avocadoes, too. There's something about the flavors of all three that almost always make it into my guacomole. Two big, black Haas avocadoes, a lime, heavy shakes of salt and pepper with fresh garlic over cilantro and I can almost imagine the Seattle skies parting and the soft Santa Anas coming in over my head.

Of course, the reality is, my three-year old nephew "helps" me make the guacomole, so we usually need to roll four into the mix. By the time he and his Crazy Uncle Brian finish making it, we both have green fingers and telltale rings around the mouth. We're lucky anyone else gets any at all.

But I digress. Limoncello, that Italian, sweet, lemony apertif drink served very cold, is what got me thinking. Actually, a handle of Everclear got me thinking "What the hell am I going to do with this?" I couldn't convert it into an alcohol lamp. I couldn't drink it (Everclear, for the uninitiated and those who weren't flaming idiots in college, is 95% pure ethanol). So what do you do?

Well, if your local produce shack has a sale on organic lemons, you buy thirty or so of them, find a jar that fills only 1/4 full when you dump your leftover vodka, Everclear, and flavored orange vodka in it, and settle down to watch Return of the King with a veggie peeler and a citrus juicer.

Limoncello is supposed to be drunk after fish or pizza, cold, with the bottle kept in the freezer. It's supposed to be an extremely cold, extremely fresh recipe. In theory, this is like the applejack of Italy, but I'm pretty sure the natural sweetness could be changed up from the cane sugar flavoring to lemon honey - if I could find fresh lemon honey up here. Unfortunately, the honeys I have access to (clover, fireweed, blueberry) don't lend themselves well to citrus flavors.

Here's the evening's recipe, done Irish-style*. I suppose I could try this with limes at some point, but using the limes, I'd need to double the number of fruit to get the same volume of peel.

25 large lemons, thick-skinned
1/3 750ml bottle Stolichinaya Orange, leftover from Burning Man
2/3 1.75L bottle Everclear, leftover from Burning Man
6 cups sugar
6 cups water
6 tbsp cane sugar syrup
2 one-gallon jars (approximate)
citrus juicer
very sharp veggie peeler

Carefully scrub and wash all the lemons in the sink, using a brush and hot water with a mild soapy rinse. Pour all the alcohol into a gallon jar with a lid. Using a very sharp veggie peeler, scrape the zest from the lemons into a large bowl. Put two-thirds of the zest** in with the alcohol in one of the jars, and one-third of the zest in the other.

In a largish pot, combine the sugar and the water and bring it to a boil. Keep it boiling for a good five minutes, then shove the whole thing into an ice bath in your sink to bring down the temperature. Pour the cooled mixture (it should still be fairly warm) into the jar with one-third of the zest in it. Cover, cool to room temperature, and seal.

Juice the lemons. Reserve most of the juice from the lemons in a pitcher. If you decided that making simple syrup was a good idea, now's a good time to pour two cups of the fresh lemon juice into a pitcher, add two cups of simple syrup, and top it off with six cups of water. Voila, you made lemonade. Adding whiskey to this concoction makes possibly the best whiskey lemonade I've had in a long time - and it's not bad when you're trying to get over a cold.

Irish-style refers to the way my great-grandmother made soda bread. She never measured any ingredients with spoons or cups - she just took handfuls of ingredients, mixed them together, and it usually came out all right. I mention this because I really don't have any idea how much everclear or vodka I put into the jar. My typical handling would measure it out precisely, but since neither peels nor booze are 100% accurate, I figure it's easier to just scrabble it down as "Fill the jar as full as you can with peels. Cover the zest with booze. Forget about it for a few months."

But the funny thing is, I did at one point get the measurements from my mother, who took each exact handful and measured it out from my great-grandmother. But the taste was simply not the same. There's an art to winging it, and my GG had it in the kitchen. I bring this up because according to every limoncello snob out in the world, I committed heresy and felonious assault upon the limoncello name - I added juice to the mulling jar.

Everyone said, "don't put the lemon juice in there". So I didn't. At first. And then my natural "don't waste it" inclination kicked in. Seriously? I'm not sure why everyone kvetches about pith and lemon juice and not using certain parts of the fruit. And the fact that I didn't have anywhere near enough liquid to cover the peels in the alcohol jar made the decision easier. I mean, most of the kahlua recipes I have tell me to use instant coffee and vanilla extract instead of ground beans and whole vanilla beans. Lemons are intensely sour because of the concentration of citric acid in their juice and the high vitamin C concentration in their peels. I love the flavor of pickled lemons - the uniquely Mediterranean flavoring where small lemons with thin peels are brined gently and then sliced thinly to give a completely different flavor. Since I don't have a canning setup and I also didn't particularly want to try naked lemon pickles (no zest) I went with Plan B for saving the lemon juice from the garbage - I juiced the whole lot and used it.

Again, if I'd had enough foresight I might have hunted down a recipe for lemon jelly or marmalade on the Internet - and if I had a canning setup for the same. I don't. So, now I have a large batch of premade lemonade concentrate in the fridge, complete with simple syrup added already, and a limoncello muddle jar with mostly peels and an intense amount of lemon juice added.

Another digression: recipe purists annoy the hell out of me precisely because a recipe purist will always be precise in their kitchen, but they'll never know the soul of a recipe because they're too afraid of fucking it up. It's like the guys who drive a Porsche back and forth to the grocery store without ever opening it up on a long stretch of highway and polish it with diapers every Sunday without fail. I try recipes using alcohol with experimentation because I know what alcohol does with fruit (and that amount of booze as well). It's the same way with people who can't stop poking at things.

The first lesson of winemaking and booze is to let the damn thing sit. You'll screw it up if you look at it before it's ready. Patience isn't the virtue per se - it's forgetfulness. Simply don't remember that you put the thing in the closet six months ago and you'll remember it the next time you need to hunt for your gloves - and about that time, you'll have to strain it and clear it to keep the aging process going.

So, there we go. It took me all the way through the final movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy to peel, scrape, juice, clean, compost, and annihalate both the volume of lemons and the two giant bottles of booze I never touch and never would touch to convert them both into something I might actually drink as a summertime flavor and memory of California - handmade in the Seattle autumn.

Oh, sure, purists might complain about the lack of organic lemonyness from the tree, but the way I see it, I'd rather have two jars full of citrus, my apartment bathed in fresh lemon zest and the air reeking of that peeled citrus scent than have two giant bottles of booze that I still stare at every time I open up the bar and grumble.

Tomorrow, we're going to do the first task in getting the limoncello to drinkability - swirl it round in the jar for the first time, then leave it alone for a week.