Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Feast of Thrones: Chapter 7

You could summarize the dessert as ice-cream and sauce, but if you did, I can find eight other attendees who would gladly beat you within an inch of your life.

Seven tiny scoops of vanilla Haagen Dazs surrounding a serving of raspberry coulis, contained within a tiny glass made of ice; a Wall of ice, if you will. Wow.

A perfect end to a perfect meal!

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A Feast of Thrones: Chapter 6

The main course turned out to both the most tenuous link to the seven kingdoms, and the most delicious.

I'm sure that some house must have a boar as their sigil, but a boar also kills a major character midway through the first book, so Pete served up a platter or pork tenderloin, wrapped in bacon and sided by vegetables roasted in its juices.

At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, pigs are a major part of the reason that I find the idea of a loving creator very easy to believe, so taking the flesh of the pig and surrounding it with even more pig strikes me as nothing short of brilliant.

The herb basted vegetables and potatoes carried a hint of the pork flavor, and the tender meat made for a wonderful end to the savory portion of the meal.

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A Feast of Thrones: Chapter 5

The trout, sigil of House Tully, arrived as our fish course in the form of a ceviche. Had it not been for a small reference in the Archer TV series, I wouldn't have had a clue what I was about to eat.

Ceviche[6] (also spelled cebiche or seviche)[7][8] is a seafood dish popular in the coastal regions of the Americas, especially Central and South America.[3] The dish is typically made from fresh raw fish marinated in citrus juices such as lemon or lime and spiced with chilli peppers. Additional seasonings such as onion, salt, and pepper may also be added. Ceviche is usually accompanied by side dishes that complement its flavors such as sweet potato, lettuce, corn, or avocado.[9][10][11] As the dish is not cooked with heat, it must be prepared fresh to avoid the potential for food poisoning.[12] (from Wikipedia)

Pete is a big fan of sushi, and so am I, so this isn't too much of a culinary stretch in that regard, and again, full marks for presentation! He even made the tortilla bowls himself. OCD never tasted so good!

An intoxicating amalgamation of whitefish, onion, peppers and avocado, this was yet another highlight of introduction.

And the plate principal was yet to arrive!

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A Feast of Thrones: Chapter 4

A chicken relleno served as the next course, which involved Pete battering fire blackened peppers which had been stuffed with chicken and dropping them into hot oil.

Pete considered this dish best in show, and with the accompanying tequila lime sauce, as well as a delghtful margarita to wash it down, it is hard to argue with him! Hardly surprising that he lifted the recipe from Emeril Lagasse.

With all this heat, both thermal and spice, it is not much of a stretch to associate this course with the Targaryens and their dragons.

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A Feast of Thrones: Chapter 3

The salad course was themed for the mountaintop fortress of House Arryn, the Aerie, and was a Japanese bird's nest salad made from ramen style noodles and cabbage.

Because the dressing recipe called for oil, vinegar and soya sauce, this presented Pete with a research issue. The recipe did not specify what type of vinegar, what sort of oil, and whether Japanese or Chinese soya sauce should be used.

It is a testimonial to either Pete's attention to detail or the onset of obsessive compulsive disorder that he took it upon himself to make eight different versions to explore every possible permutation. GRRM also wrote a chess story called Unsound Variations that just came to mind...

I only tried the one he provided us with; nice and light, although with 4 courses to go, I am almost hoping for a delay to occur to insure there is room!

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A Feast of Thrones: Chapter 2

In honor of House Greyjoy, whose sigil is the mighty kraken, the soup course consisted of a seafood soup served in a bread bowl, and topped with a tiny crab claw.

Absolutely delicious, brilliantly presented, but not thematic enough for Pete; he also served up a platter of octopus from the Egg.

Terrifying to look at, but not at all chewy, with a bit of smoke and just a bit of char around the edges, it was well worth overcoming the initial uncertainty, even for those who are not big seafood fans.

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A Feast of Thrones: Chapter 1

My good friend Pete has made tradition of having all of us D&D nerds and our significant others over for a dinner party twice a year, coinciding with the change of seasons. He calls it the Geequinox, and it has become a highly anticipated event.

This year, he has decided to present a dinner themed after George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones, served in seven courses in honor of the Seven Kingdoms that serve as the story's setting.

The first course, prepared in Pete's Big Green Egg BBQ/smoker, was an amuse bouche consisting of Dwarf Beef-stuffed Yorkshire Puddings a la Tyrion Lannister.

It turns out that anything your oven can do, a wood burning contraption like this can do even better.

A bit of pastry, a bit of beef, and a pinch of horseradish made for one of the best appies Pete has ever made, and he has made some beauties!

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Play's The Thing

As has been said before, I love games.  War games, board games, word games, you name it.  When I play them, sure, I like to win, but I don't need to win; people who need to win are typically not fun to be around at the best of times, and what I appreciate most about games is that they give everyone permission to play.

Only the most intelligent and social of animals are seen to engage in play, at least as far as we can perceive.  It's entirely possible that bees have a rich but secretive tradition of satire, or that ant colonies devote some small measure of their endless efforts towards devising mathematical conundrums, but it doesn't seem likely.  They are too busy following biological imperatives to waste time on frivolities.

Winning is good; winning as a goal gives many games purpose and definition, and tell you when it's over.  Like Mr. Worf says, "If winning is not important, then why keep score?"  But it's never been critical to my enjoyment of a game, which is good, because I would have dropped Warhammer 40,000 years ago if that was the case.

There are probably those out there who would not bother to play a game they couldn't win, or a game in which there is no winner, and this is tragic because they don't give themselves that permission to play, to participate in something just for the sake of doing it.  I remember playing Dungeons & Dragons in my basement as a teen, and how my dad would always regret asking "Who's winning?" as he wandered past.

Think of the games you played in childhood; how did you determine who won a game of tag, or of red rover?  It didn't matter, you got together and you played for the sheer enjoyment of being at play, and lived in that moment until the recess bell rang, or the streetlights came on, or you got called in for supper.  Playing trumps winning just about every time, I figure.

Recently, I used the website They Fight Crime to engage my friends in this sort of play.  The site uses a randomizer to generate a detailed and often bizarre description of two individuals, a male and a female, who fight crime, for example:

He's an all-American guitar-strumming filmmaker fleeing from a secret government programme. She's an elegant extravagent cab driver with a flame-thrower. They fight crime!

It is all to easy to imagine this type of breathless copywriting in an issue of TV Guide, or on the dust jacket of a cheap paperback, and while all of the descriptions are vaguely ridiculous, some of the combinations are absolutely ludicrous.

I sent an e-mail to the attendees of the annual Gaming & Guinness weekend with an example from the site, outlined my proposal, and asked who would be interested in participating; no judging, no voting, no prizes or wagers.  My proposal was that I would give each one of them a different tagline from They Fight Crime, and they would have 24 hours to write something up giving the names of the characters, the medium they would appear in, the title of the book or television series or what-have-you, and an episode description or plot synopsis or back cover blurb.  I would collect them all and then share them with the group en masse.

To my delight, every single one of them responded in the affirmative, even though a couple of them weren't able to submit anything this time around.

It should be explained that all of my Basement Brothers are rather sharp chaps, and all of them are gifted at expressing themselves in one way or another. A couple of them work with words either professionally or recreationally, while others don't give themselves enough credit in that arena, but because this was play and not sport, no handicapping was required.

The results are both delightful in their whimsy, and terrifying in their similarity to shows we either have seen or will see in the 500 channel (and growing) universe we live in.  I have removed their names from their contributions because it might not have been clear that I would share them here, but they can take a bow in the comments field below if they like, and I heartily encourage them to do so.  This is wonderful stuff, and just one example of the rewards of using creativity for its own sake.

My thanks to the Fraternitas Sub-Terra for indulging me in this; I am proud to call such creative and funny men my friends!

He's a war-weary alcoholic rock star with a passion for fast cars. She's a disco-crazy foul-mouthed soap star who can talk to animals. They fight crime!

Medium: animated TV series
Title: Cowboy She-Bop
His name: Ringo Dallaire
Her name: Mary Alice Moore
Synopsis: in the 24th century, animals are full citizens, thanks to the release of the dog-talker virus in 2031. Cows are one of the largest voting blocs, but they still prefer to live in herds, typically in slums called 'calgaries'. The bounty hunters employed by the ANC (Animal Nation Congress) to police these towns are called cowboys. Despite being intelligent, none of the various animals can speak human languages, so specialized telepaths, called "whisperers" are employed to talk to them.

Ringo is a former soldier, who copes with his PTSD with vodka. He was unable to prevent the slaughter of cows by a pig army, and still wakes up screaming at night. He tells the world the story of the cows through his preferred medium of music, and works tirelessly to prorect the people of the calgaries.
Mary Alice works on the soap opera General Animal Hospital. She had a run-in with the law, and was sentenced to help out at a calgary. No one knows that she can talk to animals, but her ability gets found out by the end of the second episode.
Together, they work to keep meat-pirates, smugglers, and others away from their own private Calgary.
In other words, They Fight Crime!!!

He's a short-sighted alcoholic grifter in a wheelchair. She's a vivacious cat-loving stripper from Mars. They fight crime!


NARRATOR: Coming this fall on HBO - a new original series from Earl J. Woods, the acclaimed creator of Toilet Chase and Blast Zone. Kristen Bell and Nathon Fillion star in...

Spitting Bullets

NARRATOR: By the year 2150 everything has changed. By the year 2150, nothing has changed.

S/FX: Scenes of 22nd century Mars from orbit, ringed with space stations and starships, many festooned with faux-neon lighting in the style of old Film Noir dives and speakeasies. Zoom down to night on the surface, to small settlements with the same 1940s aesthetic under starry skies. Yellow taxicabs grimy with red Martian dust and retro-futuristic design glide down the streets. Surly outcasts and desperate runaways fight for scraps as the rich and powerful sneer down from their gilt hotels.

NARRATOR: Starring Nathan Fillion as Ed Dick, a man with nothing left to lose and nothing left to prove.

Wheeling down the boardwalk comes Dick, chomping on a cigar, wearing horn-rimmed glasses, a fedora and a zoot suit. He spots the Dejah View, Mars' most notorious strip joint, and wheels inside.

DICK (V.O.): After that fateful night, I'd always ask myself: of all the strip joints on all the worlds, why did I hafta roll into this one....

NARRATOR: Kristen Bell stars as Katrina Vixen, an eccentric and exotic Martian beauty with very feline appetites.

As DICK wheels toward the strip joint's main stage, VIXEN (Bell) explodes from behind the curtain, wearing a shimmering liquid metal costume that slithers like a snake all over her body, revealing everything, yet revealing nothing. Burlesque music roars along with the crowd.

VIXEN: When he rolled into my place, I knew those baby blues spelled just one thing: trouble!

Jump cuts of DICK and VIXEN: A hover-limo full of Tommy-gun toting hoods dries to put a hit on DICK and VIXEN, but VIXEN leaps catlike onto the side of a building while DICK unloads the twin laser-gatlings mounted to his wheelchair arms, blowing the limo to smithereens. In a gambling hall full of robot dealers, DICK shows off his card skills. VIXEN grapples with a space octopus on the shores of a Martian lake as her cats howl and hiss. DICK and VIXEN fight back-to-back against little green men, fending them off with kicks and karate chops.

NARRATOR: With Sir Patrick Stewart as Fing Foom Mong, Kingpin of Mars.

MONG, half hidden in shadow on a throne of Martian rock and metal, leans forward into the light and thrusts his index finger at some minions.

MONG: I want that Dick!

NARRATOR: On Mars, love can get you killed. But sometimes, it's the only way out.

DICK and VIXEN in DICK's office, lamplight casting shadowblinds on their faces:

VIXEN: What put you in that wheelchair, Dick? Was it the same thing that put you at the bottom of that bottle?

DICK (hurling bottle to shatter it against the wall): I can quit right now, do you hear me? Right now!

NARRATOR: On a world being buried by old crimes, it takes a new kind of loser to set things right.

DICK (punching a cyborg bruiser): I'm gonna clean up this town one street at a time.

VIXEN (leaning on his shoulder, flipping a huge gold sovereign in the air and catching it): That's if he doesn't rob the whole town blind first.

NARRATOR: A grifter. A stripper. No plan, no chance, one mission: put the hurt on the mob before the mob makes them as extinct as the original Martians.

JUMP CUT of a mobster firing a bunch of bullets at DICK, point blank; but when we cut to DICK, he smiles calmly and spits them onto the sidewalk, one by one.

DICK: I have a hell of a dentist.

NARRATOR: Kristen Bell and Nathon Fillion are...


He's an all-American umbrella-wielding librarian with a secret. She's a disco-crazy extravagant journalist from out of town. They fight crime!

Bumbershoot and Dazzler

TV show

Steve "Bumbershoot" Smith, ex-high-school quarterback and now a broad-shouldered librarian, wields a bulletproof brolly and a quiet right hook. No talking!

Pavarti Dazzler, a foxy momma whose love of the disco beat can only be trumped by her love of the news heat. Her style is wild, her beat is sick, her pen is mightier that your disco stick!

Dazzler rolls into town in her Maserati Grancabrio Sport, hot on the trail of a rumor that could lead to the story of the century. Stopping at the local library for a little local research, she's immediately taken by the large handsome librarian leaning on his unusual umbrella. Sparks fly when their eyes meet, and then literally a few minutes later as unseen arsonists try to burn a few bookworms! The mystery unfolds with links to Spanish underground wrestling, high finance, a new street drug and a 5,000 year old Chinese mummy! Tune in for tonight's episode of Bumbershoot and Dazzler, "The Pain in Spain Shoots Straight Into the Vein", or "Mummy Dearest (Asian Edition)".

He's an oversexed voodoo cyborg on the wrong side of the law. She's an enchanted snooty hooker living on borrowed time. They fight crime!

Mystic Rave, the comic

Cybersocket unit 'XF-88' and 'Sylph' La Familier Fatal, they fight crime!

In their eternal battles against the massive criminal organization P.E.C.K.E.R, XF-88 and Sylph find themselves pull apart trying to rescue the fraternity. Finally having met Dr. Feltch Witherspoon and losing him just as quickly in the ensuing chaos of the riot, will XF-88 find his true identity? Can Sylph bring herself to terms with her addictions?

He's an oversexed crooked vagrant who knows the secret of the alien invasion. She's a wealthy junkie detective with a flame-thrower. They fight crime!

Freebie and the Bean
(TV series)
Suave, smooth, good looking in a rough-hewn way, he could get the ladies any time he wanted, and he always wanted. He moved constantly, always looking for fresh meet (sic), and was willing to do anything to get it. Women couldn't resist his sweet, Latino heat and his suave accent.

He trusted no-one and no-one should trust him as he would turn on them faster than bus crossing behind a 747 at take-off. People would sell their soul for a chance at the promised land, he'd do it for them when they weren't looking.

The news showed his countrymen trying the Rio Grande, but he knew the best way across, the way where you never got caught, the way he brought the freedom fighters in.

Juan Valdez is the one no man can stop and no woman wants to.

Brandi Steele was born into the easy life where it was easy to get bored but Daddy always indulged her. Whatever it took to stimulate his daughter he gave willingly, including a job as the face of the family business. Daddy's eponymous detective firm would always give her the trappings of a job when she felt like doing it. When she didn't, there was always his money. There was no way for this to end well without adult supervision, and that's exactly what happened.

Left to her own devices she fell in with a bad crowd and the progression has been seen before on a dozen Interventions. Huffing and puffing was a dangerous combination, as David Bowie can tell you, but when her "friends" were attacked she was forced to apply her Daddy's training and then combine those elements of her wayward past in the best way she could: into a justice-seeking flame-thrower.

They met in prison. She was charged with assault with a flammable weapon, he was caught leading a squad of mercs across into Texas. As she invoked her father's name for freedom he ditched his countrymen and leapt at the opportunity, entrancing her and winning his freedom. Surfing the free ride by volunteering his street smarts, she burns up the crooks while they burns up the sheets.


He's a suicidal zombie shaman moving from town to town, helping folk in trouble. She's a time-travelling wisecracking mermaid on her way to prison for a murder she didn't commit. They fight crime!

Title: Dingo & Splash

TV series

Character Names: Dingo Kadji and Elizabeth Windsor

Dingo Kadji, the undead shaman from the vast Australian outback, struggles on in this existence bearing the dark secret of his village’s demise.

Elizabeth Windsor, aka Splash, was born with the gift of time-travel. Raised in the enchanted & hidden Mermaid’s Pool deep in the English Midlands, she left her home to see the world and has a knack for talking her way into trouble.

Dingo and Splash wander middle America trying to do the right thing and helping where they can. It was Dingo who saved Splash when her wise-cracking ways put her on the wrong side of a biker gang and, as a result, the long arm of the law. No slouch herself, Splash has kept Dingo in better…spirits….with her impressive wit and her ability to show her undead mystic friend the past and future lives of the people they encounter.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Last weekend I was at Costco provisioning up, and what with the membership renewal and everything else, the bill came to around $350.  I swiped my debit card, but after all the button pushing, the transaction was not approved.  "That's strange," I told the clerk,  "there should be plenty of funds in there."

"We've had problems with the network today," she admitted.  "Maybe try again."

I smiled apologetically at the people behind me in line, re-inserted my card, and entered my PIN when prompted, but once again received a message saying "$ NOT AVAILABLE".

Now I had a couple of problems: since it had been payday not 5 days prior, I needed to get home or to a bank branch right away and find out what the heck was going on, but I also didn't like the idea of someone having to re-stock the nearly $300 worth of groceries in my cart.

"Do you take Visa?"  I asked.

The clerk shook her head,  "Only American Express."


"Did you want to apply for a CostCo cashback American Express card?"

Not really, I thought.  "Is it instant approval?"

"Yes, it should just take a few minutes."

"All right, let's do that then."

Ten minutes later, I was headed out to the parking lot with the groceries and a temporary paper credit card. Had I been hacked?  Did I forget about some huge, post-dated cheque written months earlier?  Was I shopping at Amazon in my sleep?  Once I got home, I raced downstairs and logged on to our online banking.  At first glance, everything appeared kosher, and there were no suspicious looking Interac transactions, but one of the cheques actually looked a bit out of line.

I went upstairs to get the chequebook and looked at the carbon, and snorted in disbelief.  "What is it?" Audrey asked nervously.

"C'mon downstairs," I answered, and once there, I pulled up our transactions log.  "Do you rember writing this cheque for school fees for Fenya for two hundred fifty one dollars?"  She nodded, so I continued.  "Well, the school's bank went and cashed it for two thousand, five hundred and ten.  So, I think that's the problem."

She looked at me incredulously; "Why aren't you freaking out?  Why are you smiling?"

"Because I am just so relieved it is not my fault!" I replied.  "It's easily explained, easily verified, and as soon as I get the bank on the phone, it will be someone else's problem."

The telephone banking rep's shocked response once he pulled up an image of the cheque was very gratifying, and although it meant we had to use Visa for everything else that long weekend, they had everything sorted out by Wednesday.

Now, for those of you who would not miss two grand from your chequing account, my compliments to you, but I am thinking the rest of us could probably stand to give some of these transactions a closer review at month end, because if it had only been a hundred dollars difference, I might never have known that something was wrong!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Wagons East: Falls in the Family

We wrapped up our journey to Ontario by bringing Vera along with us to Niagara Falls.  Audrey and I had not been there in years, and the girls never had, with the exception of the visit Fenya made there with Oma and us when she was less than a week old, so it hardly counts.

This was the portion of the trip that derived the most from our fanatical accumulation of Air Miles over the past 6 or 7 years: the flight to Ontario, gas in Vera's Subaru, the motel we stayed at and the meal we ate at Boston Pizza, as well as most of the attractions we enjoyed, were all obtained via Air Miles.

It doesn't cost anything besides parking to just stand and marvel at the falls, which we did a couple of times; they are awe-inspiring in a visceral way that can't be easily explained; something to do with the primacy of water and the sheer scale of it, I suppose. The attractions pass, however, got us free parking, tickets on the Peoplemover bus, and admission to Journey Behind the Falls, Whitewater Walk, Niagara's Fury, and my favourite, the Maid of the Mist.

Figuring it would have the longest lines, we started out on the venerable boat ride. In no time at all we were garbed in the first of three disposable rain slickers we would wear that day, and boarded our sturdy craft for a close look at the falls from their base.

We got pretty wet here,but it was nothing compared to the drenching we got at Journey Behind the Falls, which takes you underground directly behind the falls, and then to a viewing platform right beside them.  Good thing another slicker was provided!

It also gave us a great vantage point to see the Maid of the Mist and to witness just how close it gets to the falls themselves.
We got our third slicker at Niagara's Fury, a "4D" motion theatre experience that uses movement, water, snow, lighting effects, wind and lots more water to give you a fantastic perspective on the forces of nature that created the falls themselves.  We all enjoyed this quite a bit more than I thought we would, and it is very professionally done.

Standing in stark contrast to the natural beauty of the Falls themselves, Clifton Hill has every manner of tacky exhibit, wax museum, souvenir shop and arcade imaginable, so we stopped in long enough to shop at the Hershey Store and a couple of other places.

Glory and Auntie Vera also had an opportunity to test their strength, midway style...

And I totally thought it was worthwhile to spend $2 to subject my two darling daughters to a Hurricane Simulator:

After a late dinner at BP, we headed to the Best Western, and were asleep within an hour or two, but upon awakening, we took advantage of the courtyard pool.  While Audrey and I packed, Auntie Vera and the girls tried out some of the exercise equipment.
After checking out, we parked at the same outskirts lot and took the Peoplemover to Whitewater Walk, which takes you by elevator right to the shores of the Niagara River downstream from the Falls, where you can stroll along wooden boardwalks right besides treacherous Class 6 rapids.
The highlight of the day, however, had to be the Butterfly Conservatory, where you can walk around a beautiful enclosed garden amongst hundreds of exotic butterflies.

With more time and money, it would have been surprisingly easy to spend another day around Niagara Falls, and go to the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum on Clifton Hill, or to ride the Whirlpool Jetboats.  I guess that will have to wait until our next visit, because after lunch, we had just enough time to get back to Magda Farm, do some laundry, and get ready to return to Alberta the next day.