(I took the header picture of a Common Loon resting on a pond in Utah on its way north in June of 2015. It was in transition from winter to summer plumage.)

Translate - I dare you. Then make a comment on the funny errors the translator made.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Chocolate Project, episode 2: Winco buttons

I discovered these around 2009, if I remember right.  I'm not sure who makes them, but they're in the bulk section of Winco, an employee-owned chain of grocery stores spreading through the inter-mountain west.  They're 64% cacao solids, and they have extra cocoa butter added, which gives them a smooth velvety feeling when beaten up into a drink.  They melt fairly quickly and are obviously made from pretty good beans.

I've been drinking these for a long time, usually with spices added, but of course for this first phase of the experiment, I did them plain, as before, using a third cup of water for two ounces of chocolate.

Our girls thought it was perfect.

My sweetie describes it as quite sweet, with a nice round flavor and a nice aftertaste.  Kind of a fruity note.

I thought so too: to my taste it seems to have more mid-high notes than the Guittard chips, and a reasonably clean finish.  Again, the added cocoa butter gives the drink an extra smoothness, which helps lubricate the thick consistency.

I will continue to use these for as long as I can foresee.  Although a little sweeter than I sometimes prefer, they're nice and luxurious and a good mainstay.  They're particularly good with some flavors that I'll write about later.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

My Sigur Rós fantasies, part 1

(Part 1: Introduction)

I discovered Sigur Rós in 2001, right as they were starting to make big waves across the Atlantic.  Like countless other 20-somethings, I swooned to "Svefn-g-englar" in my candlelit bachelor apartment.  I saw them perform in DC that year, and after the show I stuck around to bug them.  I remember talking to Orri as he smoked and looked around as if he couldn't wait to finish talking with me and get on with the rest of his evening.  As I was leaving the venue I spotted Kjartan and called out "Thanks for the show!"  "No problem," he replied.

Afterwards I felt foolish.  I already knew about fame and how it puts sensible musicians on their guard (I listen to Rush, for heaven's sake).  Watching the interview sections in Heima I was reminded of that.  When people make music that reaches a large audience, their music comes to mean many things for all those different people, and that means there has to be a boundary set up, to prevent the listeners from imposing their projections on their fellow human beings who make the music, who have their own separate lives.

I recognize this, and despite my seven-year-old daughter's wish to fly to Iceland and visit Jónsi (yes, she's a fan too, like many children, as I understand) I know that most likely I'll never be in the same room with those guys again and that I have no right to expect that just because I like their music they'd want to be my friends.

But in my own personal take on their music, and my own interaction with the copy of the version of their persona that reaches me, Sigur Rós is my band in a way that few others are.  For one thing, those guys are my age (I'm not quite two months older than Orri).  Right now the only other band I can think of that I listen to, with members my age, is Aloha.  Since I discovered them I've followed them through the phases of the twenties and thirties, and I've had moments of deep empathetic resonance (which again I recognize can only go so far).  For example, when I saw a clip of their second film Inni, especially with Orri wearing that crown of his.  I can't quite explain, but something in that sight struck me with a deep familiarity.  What was it?  I don't know if I can explain.

Maybe it was a simple recognition of the impulse to dress up when playing the drums.  I have done my share of theatrical self-presentation as a drummer:

And as I wrote not too long ago, I have been feeling this desire for more personal adornment lately.  I wonder how much of it comes from my approaching middle age.  I've been wearing jeans and t-shirts for over 20 years, and as I see more grey hairs in the mirror, not only do I feel a wish to present myself to the world with a dignity and a distinction, but I still have enough of my youthful idealism and turn-of-the-century experience that I want my distinction and dignity to be something more universal, more human, more psychologically whole than the dominant image of the businessman of the 20th century industrialized world.

Sporting my rainforest jasper pendant, brass cuff and a homemade bead bracelet.
  So seeing Orri in that garb was an affirmation, but I could say it was a reminder of our collective mortality also.  However I might explain it, something clicked as I watched, spoke a kind of resigned peace to my mind: these guys will grow old too, as I will.  Watching this with the benefit of my limited experience in a drum chair on the stage, and with the amplification of my own imaginings, I felt I was arriving at a better understanding of what it looks like "from both sides now" to be a creator who reaches a large audience - a goal I still aspire to.

It helps to sweep away even more of the hero-worship that held sway over me in my youth.

I'm going to write in later posts about some of the things their music means to me.  After all, they have encouraged this, with the wordless liner notes and title-less tracks of their third album, and their experimental video projects.  So this is the introduction and there will be more to come in this series.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"It's hard to be humble . . . when you're Danish"

I'm still working on my grandmother's research notes.  Today I'm in the local library, with a carrel by the window and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing Schubert on my headphones.  It's nice.

I just found some notes she took from William James - I like William James.  I had started to read The Varieties of Religious Experience a couple of years ago, and this reminds me I ought to try to finish it.  (You can get it for free on Project Gutenberg.)

These notes were bundled with some drafts she had written about Danish history.  My great-grandmother was born in Utah to parents who had recently immigrated from Denmark - Scandinavia supplied a huge number of Mormon immigrants in the early days.  My great-great-grandfather, in fact, was called as a missionary to southern Minnesota (where I also lived for 12 years) and met many fellow Danes there.

So my father has one Danish grandparent, and my mother does too.  And I can feel a certain pride in that heritage when my grandmother wrote: "Denmark came to appreciate and give worth to peace.  She developed ways by which peace could be maintained without aggressiveness in conquest and control of other nations."

I have felt a lot of pride in my Danish heritage and hope to go visit Denmark some day.  I continue to be curious about what Grandma thought and wrote concerning the history of Salina.  Many times I've reflected on what a shock it must have been for inhabitants of a prosperous green low land bordering the sea, to find themselves in a dry landlocked country with red cliffs towering over their new homes.  I think that's one of the distinguishing oddities of American history in general: how many groups of people have tried to adapt ways of life that evolved in certain environments, to new environments that are radically different. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Chocolate Project, episode 1: Guittard Extra Dark chips

It has begun!  The Chocolate Project is officially underway with the first family tasting.  For the first few rounds, we will try a variety of chocolate, plain, without spices (other than vanilla).  Then we'll start adding different spices and flavorings and making notes of what works well with what.  Oh yes, this is going to be fun!

I discovered Guittard Extra Dark chocolate chips a few years ago, after having used Winco's chocolate buttons for a while.  These things are 63% cacao, which is a bit sweeter than I generally prefer, but they're convenient to use (they melt quickly into the hot water) and they're made with pretty good beans.  They don't quite have the complex richness that some of the finer brands have, but they're a lot closer that Baker's (which I used for a long time before I knew better).  Their ingredient list: Cacao beans, sugar, sunflower lecithin and real vanilla.

Ready to begin.  (I'm not very happy about the color here - I'll try to do better in following pictures.)
The method is the same for each one we try: heat the water to boiling, pour into the pitcher and beat it with the molinillo.  I got my main molinillo (pictured above) in a Mexican import store in Pittsburgh, and as for the pitcher, I don't know where you can get one.  My sweetie found it for me it at the local DI (Deseret Industries, a chain of thrift stores managed by the LDS Church).  But it's similar to one I found at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  Sorry not to have a link to buy one of those yet.

I used 2 oz of chocolate chips and 1/3 cup of water per serving, and made three servings total (I shared mine with the baby).  Here's what we thought:

The baby said: "Nomnomnomnom!"

My sweetie and our seven-year-old both thought it was quite sweet, grabbing at the back of the mouth, with an earthy kind of flavor.  I found it slightly caustic on the roof of my mouth, with a reasonably clean finish and a rich dark flavor.  Not as elegant or delicate in its bouquet of aromas as some varieties, but good and dark.  There's something in its flavor that to me suggests beets, in a good way.  Thick and maybe I would say somewhat fuzzy.

All in all, an excellent chocolate for common drinking.  I've used these for demonstrations in schools due to their ease of preparation and relative cheapness, and I expect I will continue to use them often.  If you want to buy some online, Amazon sells them in packs of four:

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thoughts from reading the Song of Roland

Well I read it.  Or most of it.  I read the Norton Anthology condensed version through at least, and I'll have to beg Suzannah's indulgence for this.  Her review is much more detailed than mine (partly since she read the whole thing), but I want to share some of my impressions here.

Having already read the "fanfic" that came from this work, what struck me first and foremost when I read The Song of Roland was its ancient tone.  I know I was reading in translation, but I felt through the translation the same tone that I have discerned in Francis Magoun's translation of the Kalevala - or in the Heaney and Chickering translations of Beowulf.  Or the various translations of Homer that I've read.

I also had a Mormon moment while reading it: at the end, when Charlemagne laments how hard his life is, I thought of Mosiah 29:33:

And many more things did king Mosiah write unto them, unfolding unto them all the trials and troubles of a righteous king, yea, all the travails of soul for their people, and also all the murmurings of the people to their king; and he explained it all unto them.

I really like Umberto Eco's essay "Dreaming of the Middle Ages" (in Travels in Hyperreality - affiliate link, you can get it pretty cheap), where he breaks down "Ten Little Middle Ages" of modernity, mentioning Torquato Tasso and Ludovico Ariosto as examples.  I definitely felt the difference between Ariosto's "Spaghetti Western" epic and the original chanson de geste.  Even through translation, Roland felt more barbaric - and Germanic.  I thought more than once of Beowulf (and the Sagas): noble swords with their names and lineages, loving descriptions of fancy armor, long-winded boasts and harangues, even the bit about Roland having plenty of work to do when surrounded by the enemy - that was classic Saga wryness.  It was interesting to see so much of that still manifesting in an 11th century work (though I remind myself that the Sagas themselves were being written down at the same time).

And the other thing: no sex.  Orlando Furioso and The Faerie Queene, with all their sex, remind me of fantasy scenes by Frank Frazetta (also mentioned in Eco's essay), as well as Larry Elmore and Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell (not so different from Ingres' famous scene of Ruggiero and Angelica, really).  The Song of Roland to me is . . . more like a Bolt Thrower album cover, maybe?  At least in the battle scenes.

Maybe that's not quite fair.  But so much violence!  Njal's Saga has that famous scene where Skarp-Hedin splits Thrain's skull as he skates by, so that teeth clatter onto the ice - I thought of that as I read Roland, which in parts was like that scene amplified and repeated at Peter Jackson levels of absurdity.  Eyes flying out of their sockets, brains coming out of ears, blood pouring down over armor . . . I won't lie, it all made me a bit sick.

Some years ago I read Millennium; A History of the Last Thousand Years by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (which you can get used for quite cheap on Amazon - another affiliate link) and was struck by his mention of "aristocratic thuggery" and "noble hoodlums" in early medieval Europe.  I reflected on this as I read the story's depictions of gruesome slaughter and callous hatred (though tempered by tears and grief beyond what modern sensibilities would expect or even accept).  As a 16-year-old, when I was supposed to be reading this for my high school Humanities class, I probably would have thought the battle scenes were just awesome: I loved medieval and fantasy violence so much at that age.

I still enjoyed reading it now, and wish that I had read it at age 16.  Reading Suzannah's comments on it have helped me to appreciate it more finely.  So thanks, Suzannah, for the challenge!  The Sayers translation of Roland is firmly on my wish list, and I look forward to next year's epic.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Quillcast: Pinecones

I wrote this about four years ago, along with music.  One of my goals is to get an ensemble together to record it.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Introducing the Chocolate Project

Some of you may remember my post of a few years ago where I wrote, in bad Early Modern English and worse Caroline minuscule, a recipe for the drinking chocolate that I like to make.  Ever since before that time - ever since reading The True History of Chocolate by Sophie and Michael Coe (affiliate link) - I've dreamed of starting a Chocolate House like they used to have in 16th and 17th century Europe.  Last summer I even went to some business planning workshops and tried to draw up a business plan for the idea.

I came away from it rather discouraged: even in Utah, where a Mormon-friendly alternative to coffeehouses would theoretically have the highest chance of success, I came to believe that the culture that would be needed to support the kind of establishment I have in mind simply does not exist.  Building a culture is no small matter.  If my novel, when it gets published, gains any appreciable popularity, then that might do it.

Meanwhile, I thought: what if I developed a product to sell?  Gourmet hot chocolate and drinking chocolate has been rising in the collective conscious like an underground lava dome, and I still see plenty of inexcusable ineptitude: people selling cocoa powder concoctions as if they were "drinking chocolate" or passing off coarsely-ground beans as gourmet because all that grit must mean it's legit . . .

Not that I have anything against cocoa, mind you, as long as it's done honestly.  Cocoa/hot cocoa and hot chocolate/drinking chocolate are two distinct things, and I'm on a mission to educate people about this.

So here's my latest project: the Chocolate Project.  I'm going to make a scientific, or at least a systematic, series of experiments in chocolate beverage-making, to work toward my product development goals.  Along the way I'll share my recipes for kitchen tinkerers and fellow chocolate lovers to share in my discoveries.  And I'll blog about it on this site, as well as post about it on social media.

I'm also dragging my family along on this.  They don't seem to mind being subjected to regular fancy chocolate, for some weird reason.