Miscellaneous Thoughts on Paris

Annette and Will and I came back home from Paris yesterday, which means I am uncertain as to what time it is right now. My clock (when I started this) says 5:50 AM, six hours behind where I was yesterday morning. My body thinks it is somewhere in-between. So before I get back to work (there is this whole pesky “job” thing that is going to start demanding a lot more attention) and to the gym, a series of miscellaneous observations about our trip.

  • We stayed in a fantastic apartment right next to the Lamarck-Caulaincourt metro stop which is very near Sacre-Coeur and Montmartre. It was two bedrooms with a small kitchen, a large living room area, and rock-solid wifi. There were plenty of grocery stores, cafes, bread stores, etc. within about a block. There was no air conditioning, but we didn’t have hot weather, and when we opened the windows and the doors, it was positively windy. Honestly, I have to get pretty nit-picky to complain about it. If we ever do this trip again we’ll for sure try to stay here, and I’d recommend it to anyone and everyone.
  • We took the Paris Metro everywhere; in fact, Will and I took a taxi to the airport and we all took a taxi back to the airport when we left, and that was it. The metro system was very easy and reminded me a lot of getting around DC. Though if I go to Paris again anytime soon, I would probably try out the bus system. I hear that too is pretty easy, and it has the added advantage of having a view.
  • One of my main fears concerns about the trip was my complete ignorance of French. You’ve heard the stories before about this, about the French peoples’ ‘tude regarding people who don’t speak French, etc., etc. This wasn’t an issue. The scariest lack of French problem was in the taxi from the apartment because the driver got lost, but with my iPhone (thanks, Google maps!) and some pointing, it all worked out. Everyone else we dealt with spoke at least some English, some quite a bit.
  • I was also worried about the famous French/Parisian rudeness. Also not a problem. Oh sure, wait staff doesn’t hover or try to form a “personal relationship” like the do in the U.S. (as in “Hi!! how you doin’?!?! Welcome to T.G.I.Fridays where we believe in a fun and happy time! My name is Staci and I am so happy to be waiting on you! Can I interest you in any of our fantastic deep fried appetizers?!?”) But our politeness and patience was always warmly returned. I think the best way to avoid the problems of the language barrier and rudeness is don’t be an asshole American and all will be well. And for what it’s worth, we did see a few groups of asshole Americans.
  • In many ways, Paris reminded me of New York and Washington, D.C.: a diverse and international population, very touristy, and lots of monuments and museums. Also a surprising (to me) number of beggars and street people of various sorts, and a lot of graffiti. There were lots of warnings about pickpockets, but I didn’t see anything that made me worried. I’ve been a lot more concerned about my safety at times in Detroit or Chicago. About the same costs for meals, not counting some of the more specifically French efforts at sticking it to the tourists– a lot of places charged for tap water, for example.
  • Needless to say, we saw many of the usual sites.  We went to the Eiffel Tower, though we don’t go up it because waiting in line for several hours for a view not as good as the one we had from climbing to the top of Sacre-Coeur didn’t seem like a good idea. We of course went to the Louvre, which is quite impressive indeed. Of course we kind of saw the Mona Lisa, but given the crowds and the way it’s displayed, it would not surprise me at all if it turned out that what we saw was a duplicate. No way as impressive as Dave in Florence. We toured Notre Dame, took a Seine Cruise, went to Versailles (which I liked better than Annette and Will, though I would agree that there was better stuff we did), the Orsay (probably my favorite in terms of the kind of art I like), and the Pompidou (which had some art that was quite cool and some art that was quite silly). I think our favorite museum was the Rodin Museum because it wasn’t crowded and it had lovely grounds.
  • And we ate and ate and ate and ate and ate and ate. We ate at one fancy restaurant and one really good bistro recommended by Clayton, but for the most part, we just ate at cafes and bistros that were all quite good. Every morning, I went out for baguette and croissant that were always fantastic. I feel a little withdrawal this morning. Being a vegetarian in France would be challenging and I think vegans would starve.

Speaking of all that eating, it is now time for the gym and a return to reality.

Radiohead v. Red Hot Chili Peppers

Annette and Will and I went and saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers on June 1 and then Annette and I saw Radiohead just this past Monday.  Besides putting me way WAY over my usual “one big arena rock show every two or so years,” I thought I would do a little comparison/contrast.

Who/what kind of music:

Red Hot Chili Peppers:  Post punk funk pop music, heavily influenced and identified with Los Angeles, CA.  They’ve been around since 1983 or so, meaning they are my age or older– well, the original members are at least since there has been quite a bit of rotation with a brand new guitar player in his thirties.  They just got into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, too.

Radiohead:  British quasi-pop alternative rock, eclectic and sometimes “difficult listening music” with lots of electronic and experimental music influences.  Cerebral lyrics and complex sounds ranging from really loud to really quiet, often within the same song.  A little younger, but not much– early 40s.

Performance style:

Red Hot Chili Peppers: Shirtless and/or baggy shirts with pants that inexplicably had one  leg cut short with colorful soccer socks.  Much running about, jumping, leaning against each other, dancing around, etc.  Chatty with the crowd and jam playing between songs.

Radiohead: Jeans and shirts– could have been a bunch of GAs. Standing and playing, save for Thom Yorke’s twitchy dancing.  Not a lot of talking and it seemed like they had to completely rearrange the stage and every instrument between every song.

The crowd:

Red Hot Chili Peppers:  White, mostly middle class, and a variety of ages– Annette and I were fairly close to the middle of the age demographic, though there were plenty of college kids and even kids Will’s age.  In my view, a sprinkling of frat boy and/or hard rock kinds of folks.

Radiohead: VERY white, which I found striking from our seats looking at the “festival seating/standing only” floor.  More college-aged– Annette and I were a bit more on the older side, though not by much.  Annette said she hadn’t seen this many “geeky white boys” at a show in a long long time.

Setlist:

One of those not new (but new to me) web sites is setlist.fm, which is “the setlist wiki.”  So, want to know what they played?

Red Hot Chili Peppers:  Lots from the new album, but also lots of “greatest hits.”  Looks like they pretty much play the same list pretty much every night.  One encore.

Radiohead: Lots from the new album, lots of older songs and a number of kind of obscure songs, too.  To the extent that they have “hits,” I guess they played them, though I personally was disappointed that they didn’t play more from In Rainbows.  They appear to mix up the song order and choices a lot and even played a brand-new song in the first encore (they always do two) that they premiered the previous night.

Lighting/Special Effects:

Red Hot Chili Peppers:  Very elaborate light show with lots of moving parts and a big screen that showed a lot of narrative-like movies/images accompanying specific songs.  Loud, of course.

Radiohead:  Very elaborate light show with lots of moving parts, though a lot more abstract, which makes sense given the more varied setlist.  Loud, of course, with bass that made my fillings rumble.

The venue(s):

Red Hot Chili Peppers:  Joe Louis Arena, which is both conveniently and inconveniently located in downtown Detroit.  Home of the Redwings, which is pretty obvious no matter what direction you’re looking in that building.  It’s old with dubious bathrooms and crowded walkways outside the actual arena.  I thought we were going to get crushed by the crowd surge on the way out of the show.  We were stuck in the parking deck for close to an hour.

Radiohead:  The Palace of Auburn Hills, which is both conveniently and inconveniently located far north of Detroit.  It’s about an hour away from us, and the easiest way to get there was to actually drive downtown first and then get on 75 north.  “State of the art” pro basketball facility (the Pistons) with grand walkways and elaborate restaurants and bars outside the actual arena.  Huge parking lot (and not a parking deck), which really worked out well for us:  we saw this show on a Monday before Annette was going to Boston and I had to teach, so getting back home at 1 am was not an option.  We left before the second encore, avoided the crowd, and whisked out of the parking lot and on to the interstate.  We were well on the road before the show was over.

And thus ends big expensive shows for a while.  I would have liked to have gone to Deathcab for Cutie (they are going to be in the area in July), but these concerts and the kitchen budget are probably going to prevent that.

After X-Mas in Florida

Normally, Christmas is an “every other year” thing with different sets of parents: one year we go to Iowa, the next year we go to Florida. But because of the way the holiday fell this year, because we decided to celebrate Krause Christmas the weekend before the actual day itself (a good time was had by one and all, btw), and because we don’t start school at EMU again until January 7, we decided to double-dip with family visits. So we flew down to Southwest Florida Christmas day, and we’re leaving New Year’s Eve day.

Florida is always a strange place to visit for me, and the holidaze time is not much different. It’s nice to be sitting by the pool and enjoying sunny weather in the low 80s, but it is strange nonetheless. It’s a lot more crowded than I remember this time of year, too.

Anyway, one of the highlights of the trip has been the visit to Everglades National Park and the Shark Valley Trail. Basically, it’s a paved road that goes out into the swamp 7 miles to an observation tower. You can get out there by tram, but, as the video above documents, we rented bikes (well, Bill and Irmgard brought their own and one for Will). The video doesn’t do complete justice because there were a ton of birds, quite a few big turtles, and many many more alligators. From the observation tower, we saw some giant crane kind of bird swim under water, catch a big fish, and gulp ’em down. Pretty neat stuff, though I cannot imagine how awful it would be to be out here in the summer.

Tonight Annette and I are going out to see Sweeney Todd and out for a fancy dinner. Tomorrow, we’re going to the beach. Monday, we’re going home. And in-between all this, I’m trying to get my ducks in a row for Winter term.

X-Mas in Iowa post (I couldn’t resist)

MY millions of loyal readers will recall that I said I wasn’t going to post until after the Christmas season, kind of in an effort to get away from teh Internets for a while. You can tell how well that’s worked out. Jeesh. Actually, the only reason I’m posting now is to procrastinate a bit and to post this video I made with my cell phone:

Annette and I were in a drug store and they had a row of all of these reindeer things that rocked in rocking chairs while singing “Grandma Got Ran Over By a Reindeer.” Naturally, I had to push the button to make all of them work. You can imagine how proud Annette was. As you can see, I recorded it with my lame cell phone video camera; rotate your monitor 90 degrees clockwise of optimal viewing.

Other Iowa travel news:

  • No travel problems to speak of on the way here, but we are nervously watching the weather channel for our return on Monday.
  • While Annette has attempted to be an earnest and good person (she is at the gym as I type), I apparently have seen this as an opportunity to fatten up on cookies, sugar, BBQ, and eggs, not necessarily all at the same time.
  • The grand kiddies seem to enjoy running about the house and screaming. Joy.
  • You have certainly heard of this whole Iowa caucus thing. It puts a whole different vibe on stuff here compared to Michigan. Literally, every other ad on TV out here is a political spot. My father told me that something like 25% of Iowans have met at least one of the candidates ; I know my mother has seen both Hillary and Obama. It’s all a little bizarre to me.

Anyway, back to reading and chasing after kiddies. Enjoy the reindeer over and over again.

Snow day sledding

Today was a snow day for pretty much every school in Southeast Michigan following the biggest snowstorm we’ve had around here in a number of years. Frankly, I thought the snow day thing was very unnecessary, at least in Ypsilanti. Sunday was pretty bad, but by last night, everything seemed pretty much plowed to me. I think what really happened here is that collectively and spontaneously, all of the school districts in the area decided that this was going to be the one and only legitimate chance to get a snow day yet this calendar year and they took it, necessary or not.

Anyway, the unnecessary snow day gave us the chance to go sledding– or rather, for Will, Costas, Rachel, Eli, Celia, and other various kids went sledding while I stood on the side of the hill behind Ypsilanti High School drinking coffee and recording with the trusty FlipVideo camera. Here’s the result:

A good time for one and all; besides the coffee, I (and Will and Costas) enjoyed some excellent hot chocolate afterwards. I even found some marshmallows that weren’t stale.

Pepper Nuts, the movie

I had been working on the movie that documented this year’s batch of “Pepper Nuts” off and on since I actually made the batch a couple of weeks ago, but I was inspired to finish it up because of this comment I received on this post I wrote three years ago with that year’s batch of Pepper Nuts:

I had a very similar recipe that I lost and have searched in vain for every year at Christmas time. I spent half an hour searching the internet for this recipe. With all the variety of pfeffernusse, I tried, “pfeffernuse rope anise” as a serch phrase to try to zero in on a recipe like I remembered. I finally found your post with the search phrase, “pfeffernuse dog food.” I’m so glad you included those key words and now I can make the cookies I remember.

Dog food-like indeed.

Well, since I’ve been playing around with my FlipVideo camera all year, I thought it made perfect sense to make the movie version of this year’s baking weekend. So, co-starring my able assistant Will, I give you “Pepper Nuts, the movie.”

In addition, let me offer an updated version of recipe here:

Grandma Krause’s Pepper Nuts

1 cup dark karo syrup
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup butter, softened (or margarine or crisco or, in the old days, lard)
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup hot water
2 tsps baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp anise oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
7 cups (or so) flour

1.In your trusty KitchenAid standing mixer mix together the syrup, molasses, butter, sugar and hot water until well combined. If you lack a standing mixer, you can do this with a large bowl and a hand mixer.

2. Add everything else but the flour and continue mixing until combined.

3. Start adding the flour, about a cup at a time, mixing each time until the flour is well incorporated. If you have a trusty KitchenAid standing mixer, lucky you! You can keep mixing this until all seven cups of flour are combined. I shifted from the regular mixing paddle to the bread hook attachment after the fifth cup of flour.

If you don’t have a standing mixer (unlucky you!), you’ll probably have to give up on the hand mixer after the fourth or fifth cup of flour and knead the rest of the flour in as you might with the making of bread or pizza dough.

Either way, you may have to add a little more or a little less flour to get a dough that is moist but not sticky.

4. Take about a handful of the finished dough and roll it out on a lightly floured surface in long snakes that are about the width of your pinky. Lay these out on a cookie sheet. You can create different layers of the dough snakes by separating them with parchment paper or plastic sheeting.

5. Chill these dough snakes. Grandma Krause’s recipe said to chill “overnight or for at least a couple of hours.” I have done this before by putting them in the freezer or outside (which is as cold as the freezer, of course) for an hour or so, though in the movie, I left them out overnight with no adverse effect. They do need to be chilled and even a bit dried out.

6. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350-375 degrees. (It kind of depends on your oven, but while Grandma Krause said 350, I think 375 is probably more accurate). Take each snake and cut them into tiny bite-sized pieces of dough. Put the little dough pieces onto a cookie sheet, being sure to spread them out so they don’t touch either. The cookies will expand slightly in size.

7. Bake about 9 or 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool them on a clean counter or a clean cookie sheet and store them in a sealed container. Serve them in little bowls as if they were nuts. Makes a pailful.

The movie version of “The Golden Compass” blows chunks (IMO)

We went and saw The Golden Compass this afternoon, and, as my subject line here suggests, I was disappointed. Warning to folks who don’t want either the movie or the book spoiled for them: spoilers after the jump.
Continue reading “The movie version of “The Golden Compass” blows chunks (IMO)”

Thanksgiving roadtrop thoughts, the South Carolina edition

Life is hard for Will, ain't it?

We’re in Columbia, SC to see family on the Wannamaker side of things. A few thoughts this morning:

  • As you can see from the photo above, this hotel is a bit nicer than the place we stayed on the way down in Virginia. There’s an absolutely killer HD TV in this room too, and it’s all been recently redone. Very nice.
  • Oh, and btw, I left the plug for my computer at that hotel. Fortunately, I discovered that the plug for Annette’s computer works fine on this one and the people at this Virginia hotel are going to mail the other plug home. Hopefully.
  • We’re staying in the ‘burbs, which might as well be anywhere, though it’s quite a bit warmer here than it is in Michigan right now.
  • Will and I went scrounging for something for lunch on Thursday and ended up at a nearby Piggly Wiggly. I almost bought a t-shirt with the pig on it, along with a University of South Carolina hat. Their mascot, which is the gamecocks, was abbreviated on this hat as “COCKS” and in big capital letters like that. I had some misgivings about wearing a hat that said “COCKS” in big letters though.
  • Will and Annette and her mom went and did some touristy stuff on Friday while I stayed back at the hotel to get some work done– mission semi-accomplished. I asked at the front desk for advice on someplace to go around here for barbecue and the kids there suggested a place called Sticky Fingers. I found out about this too late, but this is a bit like recommending Applebee’s as a good place to get a great local burger. Obviously, the people at the front desk do not care much for BBQ.
  • Some more family things today and then tomorrow it is the long long drive home, which we’re going to do in one day. It’ll be dark when we start, and it’ll be dark when we finished.

A few misc. reflections from the Thanksgiving roadtrip

We’re on the road to South Carolina to see Annette’s relatives for the holidays. A few random thoughts before I go to bed:

  • I do not enjoy driving in the rain. At all.
  • I do not like driving in mountains. Annette finds mountains comforting and cozy. I find them claustrophobic and stress-inducing. At least it wasn’t raining.
  • Wytheville, VA (where we are staying this evening) looks like it might be a good place to buy crystal meth.
  • At the convenient store across the way, they sold no good beer. However (and I guess I find this kind of bizarre) they did sell both Bud Light & Clamato and regular Budweiser with Clamato. No, I don’t know what it tastes like and I don’t want to know.
  • Pizza Hut tastes pretty much the same everywhere, thankfully.
  • The show “Deal or No Deal” is absolutely stupid (essentially a coin flip bet, right?), and yet I absolutely cannot stop watching this show.

No postings = no news; but why not read about vinegar?

I just kind of realized today that I haven’t posted to my unofficial blog for quite a while. There’s been no particular reason for this lack of postings here, and I actually have been posting frequently enough on my official blog and on EMUTalk.org. I guess there just hasn’t been a lot of unofficial news. Let’s see….

  • We had a much smaller version of our annual fall Indian food fest.
  • Annette had her birthday last weekend, which included a much needed new computer and a lovely dinner and night out with a sitter and everything.
  • And I’m going to be getting geared up for some midterm travel. I’m going to New York City on Thursday for a conference (more on that on the official blog I am sure, and then we’re all going down to South Carolina next week for a Wannamaker Thanksgiving.

So like I said, no postings is no news, which is fine with me. But if you are really looking for something else to read, why not follow this link I found via boing boing about all the cool things you can do with vinegar?