Tuesday, May 5, 2009

All Your Video Game Music Were Belong To Me

One of the things I did while I was on vacation last week was find myself a piano. I used to think practicing was a chore; now I think playing a piano is a treat. You know, like ice cream. ^__^

One of the things I used to do when I was a kid, before YouTube and before Martin Leung made it cool, was play video game music, by ear, on the piano. Those of you who know me know I loved my SNES way way way too much, and beat Chrono Trigger the requisite 11 times. But (sigh) back in 1995 I had no video camera and no internets on which to share my musical genius.

So there I was, at this piano, with my laptop nearby, and I thought "well, it's my turn now."

I did a rough cut of the SMB theme to start, then made some adjustments with my camera and with the audio levels and punched out the following tunes, all from memory, all by ear:

  • Legend of Zelda main theme
  • Final Fantasy VI Battle Victory
  • Bubble Bobble main theme
  • Yoshi's Theme (Yoshi's Tetris)
  • Costa Del Sol (Final Fantasy VII)
  • Celes' Theme (Final Fantasy VI)
  • Locke's Theme (Final Fantasy VI)
  • Celes' and Locke's Themes simultaneously (LH/RH)
  • Mog's Theme (Final Fantasy VI)
  • Kefka's Theme (Final Fantasy VI)
  • Faxanadu Overworld Theme (that one is hard, yo)
  • Final Fantasy main theme
  • Frog's Theme (Chrono Trigger)
  • Super Mario Bros 2 End Theme (you know, the one that Brentalfloss sings)
  • Super Mario Bros 3 Overworld Theme (A)
  • Strago's Theme (Final Fantasy VI)
  • Super Mario Bros 3 Overworld Theme (B)

Ah, but here's the sad part. At the end of my hour-long playing marathon, my computer told me that I was running out of memory on my hard drive. (I would have kept going but the video camera actually, itself, stopped. It's a shame, too. There were nine other Final Fantasy VI character themes I could have played.)

So, because it was running out of memory, I dumped everything into Windows Movie Maker and edited it up to perfection.

And then I deleted the original file to save my computer memories.

And then I learned that--even though I had saved the edited movie on WMM--deleting the original file deleted the edited files, too. (The edited files needed to "access the source files" to play, apparently.)

So all I had left to show for my afternoon was the rough cut of SMB, complete with fuzzy audio.

I guess that's okay, though. I'm sure y'all would rather listen to three minutes of music than to an entire hour.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Roti and The End of Overeating

Here's a fresh roti (with chickpeas and roasted sweet potato)...

...and here's what happens to a roti when you take it out of the freezer and put it in the toaster. (The toaster worked so well for the plain and aloo parathas, but turned the roti into a cracker. I wonder if that has something to do with the roti's "no oil" content.)

This is a better picture of tonight's dinner, although it's harder to see the detail on the food. Of course, when your yogurt is bleeding into both the chickpeas and the steamed spinach, maybe it's better to avoid too much detail.

So today I read the latest crazy hit book, David Kessler's The End of Overeating. The title is a bit misleading; the book should be called something like Chain Restaurant Food Is Full Of Fat And Sugar and Chemicals and They Mix It Up In A Lab and an Underpaid Line Chef Defrosts It For You. That's essentially what the book is about, and for what it's worth, it's interesting--though it's nothing that anyone who has read Fast Food Nation or seen Super Size Me hasn't heard before. Kessler's particular take is that we overeat because the food itself is addictive, which again is not a new idea, but he peppers his book with delicious anecdotes like "the chicken in Chili's Southwestern Eggrolls is ground into a smooth puree so you don't have to chew it, which Chili's food scientists did deliberately because they knew that the faster you ate, the more you would eat."

Kessler's solution to overeating, which he claims is inevitable given the state of American food (high-fat, high-sugar which melts on the tongue and creates an instant craving for more), is nothing more than sheer willpower. He says you have to tell yourself every day, at every moment, that you choose not to eat the HFCS muffins at the office meeting or the 1,000 calorie burger at the fast food joint or the Cinnabon being pumped through the air vents at the mall. And eventually, he says, you'll stop wanting to.

It's a bit of a dismal idea but I understand where he's coming from. The more I step away from packaged food and the dreaded HFCS the more I understand how eating it changes my brain. After every dinner, for example, I eat one square of an 85% cocoa Lindt chocolate bar. (Sadly, the chocolate never makes it into any of my photographs.) Last night, my sister brought over some Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. She took two and gave me two and put the rest of the bag on the sofa; the minute I had the first one in my mouth I was already thinking about how excited I was to eat the second one, and then the entire time we were watching The Golden Girls ('cause of Bea Arthur, natch) I was sitting there thinking "there are more peanut butter cups on the sofa..."

But before I sound too "my diet is more FTW than yours," here's the kicker. You all have seen what I eat. I have Kashi and homemade yogurt for breakfast, dal or soup and homemade bread for lunch, and a sensible dinner followed by a square of chocolate. I take apples for my morning and afternoon snacks. Maybe twice a week I have a cookie at work (because there are always cookies and I can't always resist them). And on the weekend I go to Tryst and have a chai or cappuccino with two inches of steamed milk on top.

On top of that I'm active; I walk four miles a day and I practice Ashtanga six days a week.

And I've put on ten pounds in the past ten months.


Explain that, Dr. Kessler.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Roti (Step-By-Step)

Today was a bread day. In the oven, I had a no-knead whole-wheat oatmeal flaxseed loaf, and on the stovetop I made rotis. Or roti. I'm not quite sure of the plural. At any rate by the time I was done there were twelve of them, and I took pictures at every step of the way!

This is the oatmeal flaxseed whole-wheat no-knead Mark Bittman magic bread that I make every week. Has nothing to do with the roti(s) but I do like playing with my camera. ^__^

So this is all you need to make roti(s). 2 cups whole-wheat flour and 2 cups water. Jaffrey says you can cut the whole wheat with cake flour for a lighter roti, but... well, if I wanted to make a cake, I'd make one. (She also says I can use 100% chapati flour if I prefer, but if I wanted to make a chapati... *__^)

Notice what's missing, too. No ghee, and no oil. Not even for the cooking part. This bread is probably even healthier than the Bittman one.

So. Slowly mix water into flour, knead for 5-10 minutes or until it forms a smooth ball, let sit for 1/2 hour.

Once again it looks exactly the same, but I'm sure science has done something in the meanwhile.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. You probably didn't need to see the picture of this step, but I like playing with my camera. ^__^

Dip the roti balls in flour until they are completely covered. It took me a few rotis to figure out why this was important. Trust me--it's important.

It's important because without any ghee/oil, there's nothing to keep the dough from sticking to every available surface as you roll it out.

Oh, and yes, my rolling pin is made from an old Snapple bottle. Food isn't the only thing we don't waste in this house...

Slap the roti onto an ungreased frying pan (I liked the slapping part), let it cook for about a minute, flip it over (Jaffrey says "it works best if you use your fingers" and so I dutifully did, although it does burn a little) and let it cook for another minute.

And that's all.

Roti(s) are so easy. Unbelievably so. And so tasty. And there's no oil. And--probably because I wasn't substituting whole wheat for white flour or olive oil for ghee (in fact, I didn't have to substitute anything for anything)--they tasted right. I could see myself whipping out a dozen of these every week or so.

Sorry, Bittman Bread. I have a new favorite now.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Notes From A College Tour (Part 3)

That last post was a bit wall-of-text, so here are some pictures to shake things up!

There it is, the infamous cappuccino. I will not say that's why I came back to campus. I refuse to even imply that drinking this particular cappuccino was one of the reasons why I came back to campus.

And there's that Magical Sandwich. Um... eew. I can't believe I once thought it was a treat to eat that thing.

Multiculturalism at its finest!

This is one of my favorite parts of campus. Whenever I came over to this place I was reminded of Alice entering the Queen of Hearts' garden.

Here it is, close-up. I heart topiaries.

This garden actually has several different "phases;" the first part reminds me of Alice, but this area here always reminded me of the Secret Garden, before it bloomed.

And this part reminds me of The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, when you're getting ready to collect the Master Sword and you run down this long, long path full of flowers and then all the bunnies come out and skip across your path and at the end there's a big rock and in the rock is ZOMG IT'S THE MASTER SWORD and you try to pull it out and then the text block says "sorry you need to go to the dark world first" and you're all BUT I COLLECTED ALL THE CRYSTALS and the game is like "yeah, we know, but we totally tricked you about the crystals=master sword thing and you seriously have to go to the dark world which you never heard about until just now" and you're all like SOMEONE OWES ME A FRIGGIN' SWORD and then the game turns you into a bunny and takes away all your weapons...

...anyway, this part reminds me of that. ^__^

Notes From A College Tour (Part 2)

6. I've argued with people about this: my argument is that the most important part of a newspaper isn't actually the stories themselves, it's the editorials; after all, what actually happened is fine and all but what people think about what happened is the stuff that has the power to create change. So as soon as I got my hands on a student newspaper I flipped, immediately, to the editorial page.

Student editorials in particular are interesting to read because, with slight adjustments for technology and celebrity references, the topics never change. I've been reading student op-eds for over a decade, and professors still shouldn't take attendance ("if I can get the material from the book, why do I need to go to class?"); group projects should still be banned (it's funny how every undergrad seems to believe that they are the one person doing all the work); and when all else fails, a squirrel anecdote will fill the page. (This works for Ira Glass, too.)

Today's editorializing was a point-counterpoint on teaching v. research; the professor on one side writing that research is an essential part of the university community and the student on the other side writing "well, maybe if you didn't spend so much time in the lab doing your own research you could spend more time teaching me which is why you're here."

The thing is that the student has a point, but it's the wrong one. This student knows he's getting shafted. He knows that the giant lecture hall he finds himself in isn't the experience he signed up for. But he's aiming his argument at the wrong target. This student's education isn't why the professor is here. The student's education is why the student is here.

"But how does a student get a high-level education without continued, close interaction with faculty, and how do faculty balance that with their other demands?" you might ask. Well, if that isn't the very question universities have been dealing with for the past twenty years...

7. Being on this campus is a bit like taking a cruise with an extended family who were all, once, my former in-laws. To rephrase: I have a liberal arts degree; and, like every brochure statement about a liberal arts degree, it has taken me places. It has taught me to be a thinking person. It has given me job skills which are applicable to a variety of industries. None of them, however, are the industry in which I was originally "trained."

So when I visit my old academic buildings and say hello to former teachers, I find myself in the company of people who are living a particular discipline and who are both surprised and (perhaps) disappointed to learn I am not working in that discipline. Never mind that most people with this particular degree do not, in fact, work full-time in that discipline--that it would be more of a surprise if I were than if I weren't. And never mind that I really love the work I'm doing now. At every turn I am being asked the equivalent of "but why didn't you marry our child???"

8. But see, I'm living proof that the liberal arts degree works!!!

9. At the same time I have to admit it was ridiculously comforting to spend yesterday with current students who are all working to pursue the discipline I did not marry. They're all extremely talented. It was equally comforting to spend yesterday with the other alumni who have returned for this particular event and learn that none of them ended up marrying that discipline either!

10. And so what do universities do with these segments of the liberal arts which are... um... better lovers than husbands? (Isn't that the other question universities have been wrestling with for the past twenty years?)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Notes From A College Tour (Part 1)

So here I am, at the aforementioned coffeeshop, writing on my laptop like any other coffeeshop patron. ^__^ And why yes there is a cappuccino nearby.

I'm not sure the following anecdotes will be organized by anything except the order in which they come out of my head, but we'll all do our best to follow along.

Notes From A College Tour.

(Editor's Note: This appears to be Part 1: The Food. Go figure.)

1. If you pay close enough attention to these little stories, you will be able to figure out my (non-Blue) identity. If you were on this particular campus, you might have figured it out already. I can't go ten feet without seeing my name in print. To put it in the vaguest terms possible, I'm here for an event at which I am also one of the honorees--and there are posters advertising this event, with my name in prominence, at every turn.

2. At the same time, five years out of undergrad, I'm safely assured of my own anonymity. I'm good at blending in, and I don't look much like the person I was in 2004. The people I've gone to meet have had to look twice before figuring out who I was.

3. The biggest difference--or psychological difference--is the way everything feels smaller. In two ways. When I was a student, the university town was twice as big as my hometown. (It had a movie theatre! With four screens!) After living in DC, it seems tiny. More interestingly, everything seems smaller now that the price factor is no longer aspirational. This is a town where the highest-priced entree at the nicest restaurant is $15. It's almost laughable--and, in the case of my frugality, delightful.

4. This makes it very easy for me to take the Proust Tour, as it were; to go into all the restaurants I used to frequent (on special occasions) and into the ones I aspired to frequent and--in the case of the former--see if the food tastes the same. Consider the Magical Sandwich Shop, which I will not name because it is the only one of its kind and thus easily googled, but which is known for doing a particular thing to its sandwiches which involves a special pressing kind of machine and lots of cheese. Today I had a Magical Sandwich which, as far as I could tell, tasted familiar but lots less magical. I think it was because it's much less appealing to eat something which contains five layers of cheese and one layer of mayonnaise.

5. What does surprise me is that all of the restaurants, which are all locally-owned (sure, there are fast food chains here too, but I'm not going to bother with that), still have the exact same menus that they did five years ago. I think I was expecting, on some level, a reflection of the way food has changed in the last five years--and don't tell me it hasn't! We are in a post-Pollan world, after all. Shouldn't the corner bistro with its six female-named sandwiches (the Dinah, the Paula, etc.) have added a seventh sandwich (say, the Barbara) made with all-local ingredients?

Have to go now, for a... um... thing... will catch up later with more notes and better stories. (There are actual stories coming, not just descriptions of restaurants!)

Cabbage Thing

The Farmers' Market has stopped selling cabbage. I guess it's out of season.

I kept this bunch in the freezer for a month or so, not wanting to use the last cabbage in the house, until the other night when I needed something I could cook in ten minutes.

So... no cabbage now until fall? I should have frozen more. How will I survive without my weekly allotment of "cabbage thing?"

On the plus side, it's almost asparagus season...