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Washtenaw Flaneurade
18 April 2010
Hot Mess Makeover: The Final Chapter
Now Playing: The Skygreen Leopards--"Dixie Cups in the Dead Grass"

The past few days have been an interesting barrage of inconveniences which have left me strangely and happily unperturbed. The most jarring came Thursday morning, a gorgeous day of near eighty which brought everyone out onto the streets and had me anxious to get some riding in before work. Right as I was about to leave, my housemate Ari intercepted me to say that our other housemate Patrick was moving out, and taking our internet with him. I was less irritated by that than by Ari's annoying insistence that I do something about it. I planned to, just not at that moment, and Ari's apparent disappointment that I was headed for work was a little irritating. I had Saturday night plans that heavily involved the internet (not what you're thinking) and I wasn't getting bent out of shape. In any event, the guy on the phone said they'd get it Monday, and so I'm typing this from Amer's. I have a laptop, so I fit in--up to a point. Sadly, everyone else appears to have Netbooks or MacBooks, but there's the slightest chance that I can get into an overcompensation tussle as mine's bigger. 


5 tbsp peanut oil, 1 whole mackerel cut into fillets, 2 tbsp water, 1/2 tsp double-black soy sauce, 1 tsp soy sauce, 1/2 tsp sugar, 1/4 tsp pepper, 6 cloves garlic (sliced lengthwise), 1 piece fresh ginger (peeled and cut into matchsticks), 1-2 fresh red chiles (cut into matchsticks), 1 medium red onion (halfed and thinly sliced), 1 tsp palm, rice or cider vinegar.

Heat oil in 12-in. skillet over medium heat. Add fish and saute until golden brown, approx. 5-6 min. on each side. When finished, set aside and pour off half of oil from skillet. In bowl, combine water, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and pepper. Stir well, set aside. Return skillet to medium heat and heat oil. When hot, add garlic, ginger, onion, and chiles, then saute 5-7 mins. Add soy mix to skillet and bring back to bubble. Once it bubbles, add vinegar and warm through. Remove pan, spoon sauce mix over fish and serve.

My friend in Iowa has recently encouraged me to try some Southeast Asian cooking. My own home cooking has been heavily European, and I'd never really tried anything outside the western subcontinent. Chuan-chuan (as described in James Oselan's excellent Cradle of Flavor) intrigued me especially as it involved mackerel, of which I've grown extremely fond. It's such a rich, flavorful fish that it really needs strong accents to counteract the taste, and chuan-chuan, a long-established Portuguese Malay recipe, delivered admirably, with ginger and soy ably balancing the powerful fishiness of the main ingredient. This time, I decided to get the whole fish and butcher it myselef. It was something I'd never done before, although I had some experience in butchering salmon fillets during my high-end prep job a couple of years back. Mackerel just looks marvelous--dark, shiny, compact, and substantial. It's a relatively easy fish to work with, as it has no scales, any my knife proved very effective in halving it and cutting away the skin, although I hope to get more proficient in reducing the waste (they say the parts are too strong for fish stock, but I may try something with them anyway). I came away with about four decent fillets, and prepared them accordingly. There were some expected problems with ingredients. Many of the recipes I found needed hard-to-find stuff like lemongrass stalks and galangal. With chuan-chuan, my major hurdle was the lack of double-black soy sauce, which I (probably ineffectively) surmounted by using two different kinds of regular soy. If I make this again, I might try fish sauce; I expect it'd lead to a richer taste, and I love the fishy taste of fish so long as it doesn't indicate spoliage. I couldn't find the right kind of chile either, but just substituted Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning--probably not as hot, but probably more delicious. Along with the actual dish, I cooked down a couple of cups of paella rice my Spanish housemate had left behind when she returned to Murcia. The recipe's ancestry raised a couple of questions; I wondered how the Portuguese familiarity with mackerel (a fine, upstanding Atlantic fish of long distinction) had been responsible for the idea in the first place as the first colonists arrived in conquered Melaka during the early sixteenth century. Along with the rice, I sliced up a nice, plump tomato and mixed the rice with a little more soy. I thought it was terrific, a nice, filling meal with plenty of good stuff for both nutrition and taste. Apparently mackerel's disdained in certain quarters, not only for the strong taste but also for the fattiness. The latter is pretty much a textbook case for "good" fat--very low in cholesterol and rich in omega-3. It's definitely a dish that could stand an encore, with any number of creative additions and substitutions.

Dance of the Dead (2008): The fifteen or so previews I sat through before I got to reach the menu for this DVD (my DVD player's down, too, so I'm watching movies on the laptop and all until I get around to grabbing a new one) really underlined the a quietly impressive achievement Dance of the Dead presented--glimpse after glimpse of grimy, faux-industrial horror and hokey supernatural chills with overbaked gore (in fairness, one of them was Saw V) and interchangeable characters. Somehow Dance of the Dead--written and directed as a labor of love by, respectively, Joe Ballarini and Gregg Bishop--manages to get away with being a refreshingly original horror film at the terminus of two pretty overplayed subgenres--the teen and zombie flicks. Prom night's just around the corner, and the students at Cosa High School are at fever pitch. Jimmy (Jared Kudnitz) and Lindsey (Greyson Chadwick--who, on top of being a lovely, talented actress, ought to get roles on that name alone) have just broken up as she's tired of his treating life as a joke. Steve (Chandler Darby), a sci-fi geek, is anxious to ask out cheerleader Gwen (Carissa Campobianco), but finds her too infatuated with rocker Nash (Blair Redford) to notice. Add to that assorted preppies, geeks, psychos, and gun-crazed gym teachers, and then throw in a power plant that might have been lifted straight from the opening title scenes of The Simpsons. On prom night, the dead rise, and its up to the misfits, outcasts, and their fellow travelers to fight off the zombie menace and save the town. Dance of the Dead, to a certain extent, is much ado about nothing--the reasons for the undead assault are treated almost as an aside--but in terms of character development and dialogue, it's probably one of the best and most realistic films about high school since at least the 90s, and perhaps before. Part of this authenticity is down to the startling realization that these kids actually look like high schoolers. It's been a running joke at least since Reefer Madness (or even Sternberg's Die Blaue Angel) that films portraying high school routinely cast actors generally a decade in advance of their onscreen age. I don't know how old the actors in Dance of the Dead are, but they're very convincing in their late teens, and their naturalistic performances and the light, witty dialogue really help put Dance of the Dead over the edge, as does the location filming in Rome, Georgia--which does an admirable job of standing in for the U.S. east of Pasadena and west of Newark. Every time it looks like the comedy might overbalance the horror, the film subtly shifts course until all's right again. Dance of the Dead attracted around-the-block lines at its premiere at SXSW a couple of years ago, and little wonder, as it breathes new (if probably brief) life into a couple of (deservedly?) burnt-out genres.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 2:38 PM EDT
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18 April 2010 - 6:22 PM EDT

Name: "Tara"

Our "desktop" (essentially a giant, clunky old laptop) has a virus and we've been too broke/lazy to get it fixed. Since Dan kinda needs his laptop for dissertation writing, internet and I have been taking some time off. I was pretty disturbed by how upset I was initially, which is how I knew that it would probably be good for me to spend more time offline. So kudos to you for not losing your cool. Maybe your housemate will find the detox enlightening.

26 April 2010 - 9:46 AM EDT

Name: "Your friend in Iowa"

Oh, so glad you found a copy of Cradle of Flavor! If you get the urge to bake, by the way, I really recommend the Dutch-Indonesian spice cake... Mmmmmm.

10 May 2010 - 12:56 PM EDT

Name: "Your Brother"

FWIW, you can probably locate some type of cable that would connect the laptop to a TV. Probably not as convenient, but much cheaper than buying a new DVD player.

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