Sunday, January 5, 2014

Two fictional stories about not nice people.

I recently went to go see The Wolf of Wall Street and read American Psycho. The first was about a horrible person doing horrible things and getting away from it. So was the second one. American Psycho's horrible acts were far more horrible, but for some reason I found the story much more worth while.

DiCaprio's Belfort was an obvious asshole that I in no way could relate to. Everyone around him was an asshole. There was no fall from grace, no real victims other then the faceless folks on the other side of all those telephone lines, who we only vaguely understand are being hurt.

Ellis's Bateman is an asshole that is a tangled mess of things at his core. His friends are assholes, but in a way that I can almost draw parallels to myself and people around me. There are victims, some are assholes but none deserve what Bateman does to them, described in horribly clear detail.

It's unfair to compare a book to a film given the difference in length (though the movie is 3 hours long!!) and the fact that we can glimps into Bateman's inner narrative (though Belfort does speak directly to the audience a number of times). I can't really recommend either to anyone... though will probably recommend American Psycho. Just... brace yourself. After I saw Pan's Labyrinth there was a Q&A with Guillermo del Toro. When asked about the degree of violence used in the film and the need for it, del Toro responded with something along the lines of "It's like doing a deep tissue massage to the soul, to try and reach the point where you will react to the violence" (a quote lifted from some other Q&A by him). That's American Psycho.

I'm a fan of zombie films for a number of reasons and I feel like if you disassembled a good zombie film, specifically Dawn of the Dead (1978), riffle shuffled bits of it together like a deck of cards, and dealt a new hand you could end up with something like this book.

Rather then mutter on too abstractly or incoherantly, I'll just add a couple quotes from the book that I liked for some reason or another. Also, I'd like to recomment Clippings Converter as a service to manage any Kindle notes or highlights one might make.

“Hey Price,” Preston says. “Do you have one?”
“Yeah,” Price sighs. “If all of your friends are morons is it a felony, a misdemeanor or an act of God if you blow their fucking heads off with a thirty-eight magnum?”
“Not GQ material,” McDermott says. “Try Soldier of Fortune.”
“Or Vanity Fair.” Van Patten.
I’m on the verge of tears by the time we arrive at Pastels since I’m positive we won’t get seated but the table is good, and relief that is almost tidal in scope washes over me in an awesome wave.
For dinner I order the shad-roe ravioli with apple compote as an appetizer and the meat loaf with chèvre and quail-stock sauce for an entrée. She orders the red snapper with violets and pine nuts and for an appetizer a peanut butter soup with smoked duck and mashed squash which sounds strange but is actually quite good.
I was both in awe and horrified with the food described in the book. It was detailed just another faucet of the casts' souless consumerism but... but... but... it's exactly how Adam and I have behave :( All the food so carefully catalogued with ridiculous detail sounded so exciting and good....
J&B I am thinking. Glass of J&B in my right hand I am thinking. Hand I am thinking. Charivari. Shirt from Charivari. Fusilli I am thinking. Jami Gertz I am thinking. I would like to fuck Jami Gertz I am thinking. Porsche 911. A sharpei I am thinking. I would like to own a sharpei. I am twenty-six years old I am thinking. I will be twenty-seven next year. A Valium. I would like a Valium. No, two Valium I am thinking. Cellular phone I am thinking.
“The client had the boudin blanc, the roasted chicken and the cheesecake,” he says.
“Cheesecake?” I say, confused by this plain, alien-sounding list. “What sauce or fruits were on the roasted chicken? What shapes was it cut into?”
“None, Patrick,” he says, also confused. “It was … roasted.”
“And the cheesecake, what flavor? Was it heated?” I say. “Ricotta cheesecake? Goat cheese? Were there flowers or cilantro in it?”
“It was just … regular,” he says, and then, “Patrick, you’re sweating.”
“What did she have?” I ask, ignoring him. “The client’s bimbo.”
“Well, she had the country salad, the scallops and the lemon tart,” Luis says.
“The scallops were grilled? Were they sashimi scallops? In a ceviche of sorts?” I’m asking. “Or were they gratinized?”
“No, Patrick,” Luis says. “They were … broiled.”
It’s silent in the boardroom as I contemplate this, thinking it through before asking, finally, “What’s ‘broiled,’ Luis?”
“I’m not sure,” he says. “I think it involves … a pan.”
and it struck me that I was infinitely better-looking, more successful and richer than this poor bastard would ever be and so with a passing rush of sympathy I smiled and nodded a curt though not impolite good morning
“Doin’ the crossword?” dropping the g in “doing”—a pathetic gesture of intimacy, an irritating stab at forced friendliness.
“It’s okay,” I stress. Something snaps. “You shouldn’t fawn over him.…” I pause before correcting myself. “I mean … me. Okay?”
My pain is constant and sharp and I do not hope for a better world for anyone. In fact I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape. But even after admitting this—and I have, countless times, in just about every act I’ve committed—and coming face-to-face with these truths, there is no catharsis. I gain no deeper knowledge about myself, no new understanding can be extracted from my telling. There has been no reason for me to tell you any of this. This confession has meant nothing.…

The book started off so well and then spiraled so wildly out of control into horror that I'm still left somewhat stunned and confused. Hand waving. I start to ponder whether events were real or all in his head- it's really not conclusive- but then I remind myself that it's all fiction and it doesn't matter. I dwell on Bateman and his self reflection. He loathes those around him but never proves to be anything different then they are. I imagine this inner narrative that is the novel could have been running through all the characters' heads simultaneously.

In conclusion and entirely unrelated, here's some skull sketches I did today during the football game, referenced from my delightful book Skulls .

Skull Reference 2

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Christmas Cookies 2013

My friend Suko has a Christmas cookie swap that she has kindly invited me to twice now. Here's the write up of last year's cookie. This year I didn't have a solid game plan until the very last minute. I know I wanted a more savory and perhaps tart/sour cookie. In the end I settled on "Christmas Grinchies", which were a lard based cookie shell and a kiwi paste interior... Sadly, the idea didn't translate into reality as well as I had hoped.

Grinchie Cookies

The basic recipe as I half scrawled on on the back of an envelope:

  • 1/2 cup white sugar = 100g => 80g
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cup flour = 156g => 175g
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 100g lard (not melted)
  • Green food coloring & black poppy seeds to resemble a kiwi
  • Spices and stuff... cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, etc...
This, I believe, was lifted from some basic sugar recipe I found online and then modified. Sadly, it wasn't great. The day before I did a test run where I used my usual lard-cookie recipe ( online recipe found here and involving melting the lard first) and it turned out stellar. But handling the goopie dough had been a real bitch. I should have stuck with what I knew.

The second part was the kiwi paste interior. I gutted a handful of kiwis... 5? 7? (they were lifted from my office) and pureed them with a immersion blender. Poored them in a small pot, added some (but not enough!) agar agar powder and brought to a boil. Then I poured them out into two dishes and let cool/set. In my case I did not weigh the puree nor measure out the agar agar and this was a BAD idea because they did not set firmly enough. My test batch the day before was smaller and had way more agar agar in comparison and they set solid. REALLY solid. So solid that they didn't budge while cooking the cookie. The larger batch I worked with was mushy and barely held its form.

Anyway, to assemble the cookie I rolled the dough into a long log then squared it & chilled it for an hour. Then I cut slices off the log and assembled them around the paste center. Then I cooked them at... 370°? for... 15 min? and it went all to hell. The paste center was not strong enough so each and every carefully assembled square went PHFFFHHFFHffhfhf... and fell over in the oven. Lame.

While that was going on I was compelled to try and add some make some meringue santa hats to gently rest upon the Grinchies. I followed this meringue mushroom recipe directly and was greatly assisted by Adam, who actually wound up doing all the initial whipping by hand. Turns out meringue is suuuuper awesome to make and work with, but really isn't my type of thing. In a futile attempt to cut the sweetness and error back towards tart I added some malic acid to the "red" parts of the santa hats... but I don't think it was really noticeable.

OMG meringue!

After the required number of cubes were made I had all these leftovers so I made little tiny cookies-- lard cookie base, kiwi paste middle, topped with a puff of meringue.

Fallback cookeis

In the end it wasn't a horrible, horrible, vomit-in-your-mouth failure. But it certainly wasn't a success. I shouldn't have been so stingy with the agar agar and I shouldn't have worked with lard in a style I've no experience with (un-melted). Also, while the cookies were great if you knew what was in them, I found out from my mother's horrified expression that if you're not expecting the paste center, they're not fun to bite into. Makes you think it has a massive uncooked center.

Oh well, there's always next year... and 12 months in the mean time to expand my skill set.