Comic Book Confusion

SagaI’m dipping my foot into the world of comic books, slowly but surely.  Apparently, I started off at what people who know comic books tell me is the top, Sandman.  I’ve been warned that I may be let down by others, but after finishing Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed Sandman several people recommended Saga.   Thank you, thank you, thank you, to all of you who recommended this.  I’m loving it.

Published by Image Comics, written by Brian Vaughn and illustrated by Fiona Staples, this series has won three Eisner awards and a Hugo for Best Graphic Story.  You get this great star-crossed lovers plot line.  Their worlds are at war, and a relationship between them threatens all the propaganda and indoctrination of the masses both sides have built up to sustain said war.  Lying cats, bounty hunters, ghosts, and the drama of keeping a newborn alive while on the run keep things fast paced and interesting.

So interesting my frustration nearly got the better of me when I couldn’t find more after volume 1.  See I have no idea how this comic book publishing thing works, and while there’s a used book store that usually carries a good selection, my first foray into a comic book store was…well, I understand the stereotype a bit more now.  Also, it smelled weird.  There are a couple of other stores in town I want to check out, and someone said something about having a standing monthly order to get new issues.

I’ve also picked up a few issues of other things here and there, but I’ll go back and be unable to find anything else in the series…hence frustration.  What do you think?  Truthfully, I’d rather give my money to a local business, but is it worth not finding the new stuff?  I’m almost to the Barnes & Noble, trade paperback stage…there’s just so much, and I really don’t know where to start.

I need some assistance here, people.  I know I like X-men, all the members of the Avengers, and Deadpool seems hilarious too, but I don’t know where to begin.  I picked up a few issues of The Winter Soldier and I really liked that too, but haven’t been able to find anything else.  Apparently, I’m keeping things on the Marvel side for right now.  (Also, because I think DC is stupid for not giving us a Wonder Woman movie, but that is an entirely separate issue.)  So many options, so many crossovers, so much confusion!   Recommendations?  Help!

‘Til next time,

Jessica

P.S. I did find Saga volumes 2 and 3, so I think I’m caught up?


Kelly Armstrong’s Series Moves to Television

 

A few years ago, I discovered Kelly Armstrong’s Otherworld series, and read as fast as my little brain could go. (although I’ve been seriously lax, because I found several books on her site that I hadn’t read yet!)  I really enjoy Elena, Jeremy, Clay and the others in this world, so when I saw there was a SyFy television show about them, I couldn’t pass it up.  Actually, I tried to pass it up, but wasn’t able to resist.  I’d gone one a long journey with these people, and I didn’t want to be disappointed by who Hollywood may or may not have turned them into.  Fortunately, I am far enough removed from reading the books that nothing bothered me too much.  I watched all fourteen episodes in a week. (Yeah, I know bingeing on anything whether it is television, food or booze is a bad idea.)

I felt like Elena was cast well, although she comes across a bit angrier in the show than I remember in the book.  She also doesn’t have the edge that I believe has to be inherent if you’re playing the only female werewolf in existence.  (They might also mention she’s the only female werewolf earlier, since it plays a huge role in the motivation of other characters.) Maybe that anger I see is meant to be her “edge” but, if so, they didn’t get it.

Clay tries to do “Southern” and fails spectacularly, but doesn’t do too badly with much of the rest of the character.  The books discuss the animalistic side of Clay quite a bit, but that doesn’t come across too well in the show.  Some lengthy looks and flashback scenes are providing the sense that Clay embraces the animal more than some of the others, and a creative writing teacher once told me that needing to use flashbacks is a sign of substandard writing.  This feels like they had to use the flashbacks because there was no other way.  While Armstrong doesn’t use a lot of flashback, if any, in the novels, she also has the ability to draw on that internal monologue that you can’t get across on the screen.  Truthfully, I think they would do better to have a character watching a documentary about wolves in the wild explaining all the posturing and complexity inherent in the pack system than using flashbacks to depict what’s going on with Clay and Elena. (Their history gets a bit…complicated.)

Jeremy was the one that bugged me the most.  The casting for this character is essential because Jeremy plays such a huge role and ties together other characters as well, and it isn’t that he’s terrible by any stretch of the imagination.  He just lacks the certain oomph (yes, that’s the technical term) that the alpha needs.  After a few episodes, I saw a bit more of what I think is needed, but it was a developed sense of his power and menace.  If this hadn’t been a Netflix viewing, I probably wouldn’t have watched another episode after that first one.

After watching the first season, I am inspired to re-read the series, and pick up the books I’ve missed.  The show was picked up for a second season, and will return to SyFy in 2015.  I’ll probably watch it…but only if it doesn’t conflict with a better show.  This may be a great for people new to this story, but for long-time fans like me…it didn’t live up to what I think could be done with this world and these characters.

‘Til next time,

Jessica


Miss Peregrin’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss PeregrineI know. I’m a bad blogger. Lately I’ve kind of become a bit of a hermit, but all that’s changing. I’ve missed you guys!

My hermit status has been good for quite a bit of reading, so this will be the first of several new book reviews.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs has been calling to me since it was first released, but I resisted mightily. Then I saw a second book had been released, and I figured I needed to see what was up with this monochromatic covered book.  I actually did not notice the girl on the cover is floating until I saw her photograph again inside the novel.

Riggs has built a wonderful world, and I enjoyed every minute I got to spend there with these peculiar children. The characters have depth, and reveal themselves slowly. The lush backdrop of Wales is vibrant, and the intriguing storyline captured and held my attention.

I began my adventures with Jacob late in the evening last week. I’d been to a baseball game with friends, and I needed to unwind a bit. Why I thought Jacob and these peculiar children would be something I could put down easily, I don’t know. I actually did the stereotypical, falling asleep with all the lights on, propped up in bed with the book next to me, and when I woke up, I immediately wanted to dive back in.

Jacob’s grandfather tells him stories of peculiar children he grew up with in a home during World War II.  These outlandish stories capture Jacob’s attention, and although he questions the validity of a boy with bees living inside of him, a girl who levitates, or an invisible boy, his grandfather says he’s telling the truth. Jacob believes him.

However, as happens all too often, Jacob grows up. His parents convince him these are just stories, and it isn’t real. After his grandfather’s death, Jacob searches to connect with the person who knew him best, with his heritage.  He need to find out what inspired these fantastical stories his grandfather insisted were true, so Jacob decides to travel to Wales where this home is located.

Most of us are looking at where we came from, the people and traditions that influenced the way we are raised, and that turns Jacob into someone we can see ourselves in. This fantastic search for these odd children becomes something we can believe in as well, because we’ve all gone looking for something in our family’s history.

In a world in which we’re meant to be more connected through this amazing technology at our fingertips, we feel more adrift. Genealogy studies have skyrocketed, and I think that many of us are looking for an anchor, for roots to hold us steady as the world spins faster and faster around us.

Ransom Riggs’s character is doing the same thing. Jacob’s world is spinning out of control. Decisions about his future are being made for him, and he just needs something to hold on to. Something solid and real and unchanging.

Can he find what he’s looking for in Wales? Does Jacob find the stability he needs in the home his grandfather spoke of so often? Is what he finds better or worse? Do you have to have a clear picture of the past in order to embrace your future? Maybe Hollow City will provide more answers.

One of my favorite things about this book is the photographs. Riggs found these wonderfully peculiar photos that are scattered throughout the novel, and they really enhance the story in a way that illustrations and descriptions can’t do. They add a realism to the story that makes you wonder and want to believe in these odd kids and their world.  It adds another layer to an already nuanced and engaging novel.

This quirky, strange and wonderful book turned out to be so much more than the easy, slightly spooky, read I expected. I immediately went out to purchase the next installment, and as much as I’d like to dive in right away, I’m letting Jacob and his world percolate a bit.  It isn’t like I’m going far, the final installment of the Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn is sitting on my coffee table now, just waiting for me to finish it.  And while it is separated from Jacob’s Wales by a few years, it’s still in Great Britain, so, geographically anyway, I haven’t moved much.  (Although, as characters go, Patrick Melrose and Jacob are nearly polar opposites in many ways.)

 

First Lines:

 I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.  The first of these came as a terrible shock and, like anything that changes you forever, split my life into halves: Before and After.  Like many of the extraordinary things to come, it involved my grandfather, Abraham Portman.

 

‘Til next time,
Jessica

 


Guardians of The Galaxy

I’ve now seen this movie twice.  As you may have read, the lead up to this movie got me pretty excited.  Opening weekend saw my friends and I, kicked back in our reclining red chairs at the theater with our smuggled candy and buckets of sodas (or icees) eagerly waiting for Rocket, the raccoon with anger issues, Peter Quill the self-acclaimed “Star Lord”, Gamora the green-skinned assassin, Groot a talking(ish) tree, and Drax the most literal character aside from Sheldon Cooper I can recall.

Guardians of the Galaxy did not disappoint.  After stewing over my first viewing, trying to remember all the little ties that Marvel works into their creations, I convinced my parents they needed to see it.  The nephew bowed out to play more Call of Duty with his friends…bad move kid.  You really missed out!  Of course, since I did the convincing, I had to go see it with them.  It would just be wrong otherwise, right? (Just go with it.)  This gave me the chance to really look and make sure I hadn’t been imagining things. (I may have still been imagining things, but at least I got confirmation for some stuff.)

Guardians is a funny movie.  Not that the other installments of the Marvel franchise haven’t been humorous, but this one puts the funny center stage.  We are talking about a bunch of misfit criminals saving the galaxy.  As expected, I really liked the angry raccoon and the tree.

Surprisingly, I liked Gamora more than expected.  Before the movie, I came across a single issue of Guardians of the Galaxy comic books and from that brief glimpse of Gamora, I expected more ice that Zoe Saldana gave her.  This Gamora, who thaws a bit toward her compatriots, relates better for me than the green ice queen I saw in the comic book (Maybe Gamora is a bit more friendly than that single issue revealed, and I just haven’t seen it yet.)  However, I also believe that Saldana had this one brief chance to endear Gamora to the audience, and she did a great job with it.  She is a talented actor who has really shone in both the Star Trek franchise and Guardians.  I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more of her.

Peter Quill…you just can’t help but like the jackass, and he is.  A small time criminal, who wants to be both a bigger outlaw and a better person.  His running away looks so much more like running towards something, he just doesn’t know what he’s doing.  This guy spends so much energy holding on to this shining relic of his past that clashes with his present, and leaves him looking for a different future he can’t picture.  (although as “shining relics” go, he could do a lot worse than the soundtrack.  Just saying, great music!)  Peter Quill, is just one adorable, messed up guy… but, he does a lot of development in the film.  The thing I loved is that all this growth doesn’t feel forced.  Chris Pratt does an excellent job of creating a development arc that feels natural, and displaying a depth of character I really didn’t expect to find.

Drax the Destroyer…the most literal character I may have ever seen.  Seriously, I know one of the many reasons I am not an actor.  I do not have the mental fortitude to deliver lines like this with a straight face as many times as needed to make a movie.  Kudos to Bautista for that alone.  Before, I deleted it as too spoiler-y, I couldn’t even type one of this guy’s lines with a straight face.  However, dear reader, I will preserve this for your first viewing if you haven’t seen it yet.  I thought I was going to spit icee all over the place, even though I could see the joke coming a mile away. Of all the characters, Drax is also the most outwardly stubborn.  Quill is joyfully immovable but Drax is just stubborn.  His course set for vengeance, he really doesn’t want to stray from the path he’s decided upon,  and it takes a mountain to move him.

Rocket, oh you angry little fur ball.  I just…you…so funny…so angry, and I feel a little bad that all that anger is so funny, because there’s a lot to be angry about.  This funny, mercenary, enraged, broken, loyal character would be someone you ached for if a) he wasn’t a raccoon and b) you actually met him. You do feel kind of bad for the little guy, and watching just a bit of that anger leach away in the face of growing friendships is kind of heart-warming.  Bradley Cooper imbues this little guy with so much energy, personality, and ruthlessness through the sheer power of his voice, because let’s face it, he’s just so soft and furry.  You just want to pet him.

Vin Diesel, conveyed more through repetition of one three word sentence that most people can get across with 300 words.  Groot ended up being a much more complicated character than I imagined at the outset of this adventure.  My mom was listening to an interview with Diesel on NPR, and he was talking about the hundreds of hours he put in to getting the inflections just right.  He went over the actual words and sentiment the director wanted him to get across, and spent so much time making sure it was exactly correct.  The result is just awesome, and something about Groot just seems to embody nature and all the amazing beauty and wrath inherent in the natural world.

The Collector who made his initial appearance in the Bonus Scene after Thor: The Dark World plays a bigger role in Guardians.  The audience gets a better look at his collection too. Keep your eyes peeled for some familiar species and things.

All of these characters make for interesting character studies, that I plan on going into more later.  I also have much more that I’d like to discuss about Thanos, what and who The Collector has collected, the Tesseract, the Aether and so much more, but I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone.  In other words, go see it, and send me an email at ilovegeekology101@gmail.com, post a comment or something.  Discussion, speculation, and tidbits that hint at what’s to come and give insight into what has happened are all flying around this brain of mine.

Also, who still gets up and leaves before the credits are finished in a Marvel movie?  Both times I went to see it, nearly half the people left before the Bonus Scene.  Have they been living under a rock?

‘Til next time,

Jessica


Pop-Cultured with Barnes and Noble

Are you looking for fun free things to do this summer? Yep, we all are. Last week I headed over to my local Barnes and Noble…because I had coupons. I discovered their summertime program “Get Pop-Cultured”.

In honor of the 75th anniversary of the caped crusader, July 23rd (I just realized that is TODAY!) is Batman day, and they’re giving away a special edition comic. They’ll also be chances to win things like a mini bat-signal. The rest of the week continues with their DC Comics Spectacular. (July 23-27)

Beginning on July 24 they’ll have summer convention collectibles available in limited supplies, and that will also run to the 27th.

August 1st at 7pm is Frozen, and I hear there will be a cupcake decorating contest. Who doesn’t love cupcakes?

Marvel day is August 2nd to coincide with the release of Guardians of the Galaxy. They’ll have activities and giveaways in honor of Marvel’s 75th anniversary.

August 3rd is James Patterson Day, and all week August 4th celebrates Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

August 9th and 10th they’ll be discussing connections between the page and the screen with all kinds of fun stuff.

Now I’m going to head over for my free comic today…as soon as the thunderstorm blows over anyway.

‘Till next time,
Jessica


Boston: Part Five – Food!

Okay, so maybe this is a bit extreme, but in addition to the NE Aquarium, Freedom Trail, Salem, Fenway, and Sam Adams Brewery I had to tell you about the food (and beer). One of the great experiences of any vacation is trying out the local cuisine.  Coming from a landlocked state, I jump at any chance for fresh seafood, but all the food was excellent.

We started every morning at City Feed in Jamaica Plain (well, except for a morning we went to Whole Food to pick up some groceries).  Most days we just got coffee or tea, but the first morning I got a prosciutto scone.  I’d never really eaten savory scones before, but this is something I’m definitely going to have to try.

On the recommendation of our host, we also checked out Strega in Boston’s North End.  I had the most amazing dish of pasta with scallops, shrimp, spinach and their strega sauce.  Oh my gosh…delicious.  I still feel bad that my friend has a mild allergy to shell-fish, so she could only eat a bite of mine.  She said her pasta with eggplant was good, but not nearly as good as my pasta.

 

Union Oyster House Boston MA

Union Oyster House

Union Oyster House takes its place as my favorite for the week, though.  Although the restaurant was founded in 1826, the building has been there for 250 years, and it played its own part in the founding of the United States.  The first paymaster for the Continental Army, Ebenezer Hancock.  At that time it was Capen’s silk and dry goods store.  The wives of Adams, Hancock and Quincy often sat here, sewing and mending clothes for the colonists.  A future king of France lived on the second floor in 1796.  Exiled from France, he taught French to Boston’s fashionable young ladies.  Louis Phillippe later returned to his country and served as king from 1830-1848.  The building later came to be called Atwood & Bacon, an oyster house, and some of Boston’s greats came to dine at the fabled semi-circular Oyster Bar, including Daniel Webster.  The Kennedy’s were also frequent customers, and there is a booth dedicated to the memory of J. F. K.  The Union Oyster House  has only had three owners during its long history. (All historic information comes from Union Oyster House website under “History”.)

The history of the establishment is not as impressive as its food, and that’s saying something.  Our first visit, I had baked haddock filled with seafood stuffing, roasted potatoes and asparagus.  Now, anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I consider potatoes to be their own, essential, food group.  The fish was so tender and flavorful, that I skipped the potatoes in order to be able to eat more fish…yep, that good.  Our second visit, I had lobster ravioli.  Succulent, creamy and delicious…I didn’t bother ordering any sides or even a salad.

One of the first things a friend of mine, a Boston native, told me was that I needed to get Monkfish Marsala at The Daily Catch.  The North End location is tiny, and seats maybe 15 people total.  At first, I thought we weren’t going to be able to get in.  Every time we walked by their location there was a line down the street.  However, we managed to get there during the week for an early lunch, and there were two seats left.  Now I’ve never had monkfish before, but I swear the next time I had lunch with the friend who recommended it, all I could think about was that tender fish and savory/sweet sauce.  How am I supposed to go back to eating frozen seafood after this?

We couldn’t escape the North End without trying a couple of the Italian bakeries there.  Bova’s was first on our list.  Their eclairs and Boston Cream pie were as beautiful to look at as they were to eat.  A mad dash through the pouring rain didn’t even deter us from trying their pastry.  We also got a mini-cannoli to share.  That bite convinced me, I was going to need to explore further.  My favorite may have been Modern Pastry.  This is where I really got my first cannoli, and tried macaroons for the first time too.  You pick out your shell, filling and toppings and they make it for you right there.  I chose a crisp shell, dipped in chocolate with a traditional ricotta filling.  I’m going on a hunt for cannoli in Tulsa, but I’m afraid I’ve been spoiled.  Before trying the cannoli in Boston, I thought they were kind of like a cream horn that are readily available in bakeries here.  I’ve never been so wrong.  Instead of the overwhelming sweetness I was expecting, these were creamy but not quite as rich as a cream cheese filling and barely sweet at all.  They have a great balance between that crisp shell, light creamy filling, and dusted with powdered sugar for the perfect amount of sweetness. (now I’m hungry).

BostonGreenDragonTavernI can’t leave out the taverns.  We stopped for a beer at the Green Dragon, which was established in 1654.  Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Daniel Webster were all frequent customers.  John Hancock’s brother actually lived next door.  The plans for the invasion of Lexington and Concorde were overheard here, so this is really the beginning of Revere’s historic ride.  It gives me goosebumps every time I think about it.  Paul Revere and John Hancock discussed the ride in the same tavern I enjoyed a Sam Adams Summer Ale.

We also stopped at Bell in Hand, which boasts its status as the oldest tavern in America.  It was built in 1795.  When we dropped it there, it wasn’t what we expected.  It was more dance club than tavern, with flashing lights, loud music, and a plethora of twenty-somethings crowding up to the bar.  It reminded me of college.  We didn’t stay long, but we did have a beer there.

Of course, this being Boston, there was no shortage of Irish Pubs to be found.  Our first evening in town we stopped off at The Black Rose for a pint or two before heading back to the condo.   Like most Irish pubs, it didn’t disappoint, dim but warm atmosphere, a good bartender, and a group of drunken revelers made for an entertaining evening.

‘Til next time,
Jessica

P.S. I discovered when we got home, that Benedict Cumberbatch arrived in Boston the week after we left…he also enjoyed cannoli at Modern Pastry.  Really?  A week after I left?  Well, Benedict, I hope you enjoy Boston as much as I did!


That’s All I Have to Say About That

kakistocracyThere’s actually a word for this!  Hm…I’m just leaving this one as it is.

‘Til next time,

Jessica


Boston: Part Four – Fenway Park and Sam Adams

Catch part one, part two, and part three too.

My best friend received tickets to see the Red Sox play in Fenway along with dinner at Strega for her birthday gift (okay, so maybe it was a bit of a gift to myself too).  The day of the game dawned cold and rainy.  Now when I say cold, I mean frigid, especially for the end of May.  The high never made it out of the 50’s and the rain made things just that much more dreary.

Utopia Sam Adams Brewery Boston MA

Utopia

Before we ever made it to the game, we toured the Sam Adams Brewery (free beer before the exorbitant prices of concessions at the ball park?  Of course!).  I’ve toured my fair share of breweries, and this definitely wins first prize for entertaining tour guides and fun atmosphere.  The Boston location is their R & D facility.  This is also where they brew Utopia.  What’s Utopia?  This is their 27% alcohol, limited release beer that I’d never heard of.  They only sell the concoction on odd number years, and only release between 1,500 and 2,000 bottles with the price per bottle averaging between $150 and $200.  Utopia actually won a cognac taste contest…well, it did until they revealed it was actually a beer.  Then they took their prize away.

Every tasty thing starts with ingredients, and that’s where the tour began as well.  Allowing each person to taste the different roasts of barley (my favorite was the caramel roast, but as much as I enjoy a good dark beer, I wasn’t thrilled with the dark roasted barley.  It just tasted burnt.) and rubbing hops between our hands to release the aroma was fun and interesting.  I’d never really given too much thought to the ingredients of beer before, and after this part of the tour, a little idea got put in the back of my mind…it would be kind of fun to brew my own beer.

Unsurprisingly, my favorite part of the tour was the tasting.  We tried three different brews.  The Boston Larger, Summer Ale and a new one that is in development.  So new, in fact, it doesn’t have a name.  Of course it doesn’t.  It was my favorite.  All week, I’d been drinking Sam Adams Brick Red, an Irish Red sold only in Boston and Sam Adams Summer Ale (very different, but both delicious).  I really enjoyed the explanation of the difference in brewing techniques, clarity in different varieties, and thinking about the actual flavors revealed with each taste.  The new beer, referred to as extra special bitters, contains a couple of varieties of English hops and has a great crisp flavor.  If you hear about any Sam Adams beers being released that sound a bit like this, let me know.

All good tours end in the gift shop, and this is where our Sam Adams brewery tour ended as well.  We were free to peruse the shop with the remnants of our last beer from the tasting (mine was long gone).  I was getting a bit nervous about the cold weather predicted for the game, so I was on a hunt for warm…stuff.  We’d started the day with a bit of shopping at Faneuil Hall and Quincy Markets.  If we were going to go to the game tonight (predicted to be 45 degrees and raining), I was going to need something warmer than anything I packed.  Fortunately, I found a hoodie and we both got some gloves.  Sam Adams Brewery also supplied a long-sleeved t-shirt from their gift shop.  I should have joined my friend in purchasing a beanie, but I foolishly thought the hood would be enough.

Fenway Boston MA

Fenway!

Fenway Boston MA

It’s Cold!

Our seats were in the right field bleachers, and pretty great.  The Red Sox beat the pants off the Braves, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment at all.  There have probably been baseball games in which I paid less attention.  I can’t remember them though.  There was a lot of texting happening to keep my mind off of the cold.  A lot of laughing with my friend, and getting to know the couple sitting behind us.  This was the evening that convinced me that I wasn’t as keen to move to Boston as I thought.  It was the end of May.  This weather was just wrong.  We had a great evening, and lasted until the top of the 9th before we gave up and went back to warm up.

Fenway is an exciting place.  In spite of the weather there was a good crowd in attendance, but that may have been due to the fact they were celebrating the 10th anniversary of their 2004 World Series win.  Members of the 2004 team were brought back to make an appearance, and the mood was pretty festive.  My parents were in (warm) Oklahoma watching the game on television, and watching for us.  By the time our section made national television, we were out of there. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything though.  It was a fun night (even if I slept in the hoodie because I couldn’t get warm).

What’s the coldest event you’ve ever attended?  Also, anybody out there brew your own beer?  How’d it turn out? Is it worth a try?
‘Til next time,

Jessica


Boston: Part Three – Salem

You can catch up with part one and part two, if you missed them.

Nathaniel Hawthorn Statue, Salem MA

Nathaniel Hawthorn Statue

During our stay, we took a day trip out to Salem to see the location of the infamous Salem Witch Trials.  The town has more little museums, occult themed gift stores and store fronts for psychics than any place I’ve been outside of a Renaissance Fair.  It makes for a very cool, slightly spooky place.  The town itself is gorgeous with beautiful architecture, well maintained gardens, tasty restaurants and a beautiful view of the ocean, but I also got the feeling that I didn’t want to be there after dark.  I’m sure this has more to do with my runaway imagination than anything else, but I’m grateful we had a sunny day for our visit.

Hopping on the train with no real plan in mind, we made the short journey.  When I say no real plan, I’m completely serious.  We knew there was a museum or two we wanted to visit, but other than that…we made things up as we went.  We thought that the red lines painted on the sidewalks would be incredibly helpful.  In Boston they have a red brick line embedded in the sidewalks to guide tourists through a walk on the Freedom Trail, so this is the same thing right?  Nope.  Close though.  The red lines all led to a tourist attraction, but there isn’t a real trail.  It branches off and goes in different directions, and following the red lines didn’t lead us where we thought they would.  There were just too many things to see.

The first museum we visited was the Salem Witch Museum, and surprisingly it was more performance than typical museum.  Everyone starts the tour sitting in a darkened room with an illuminated red pentagram emblem in the floor and wax figures or mannequins in life-sized shadow boxes on the upper level surrounding the viewing area.  As the story of the Salem Witch Trials unfolds individual shadow boxes light up.  Of course, the whole thing begins with a figure of the devil and the only light is his red eyes.  It was creepy but fun.  Not quite haunted house scary, but creepy. (otherwise, my bestie would never have gone in with me.  There may have been an “incident” in which I threw pushed her into a wall when a werewolf in a haunted house ran toward me much more quickly than I expected. That ended her willingness to allow me to participate in these events with her.)  The tour ended with another tour guide explaining the exhibits and proven facts of the time period.  What really impressed me was the tail end.  They explained a bit about Wicca, which really set the actual religion apart from what these 17th Century people had been persecuted for.  Of course, I’m a fan of anything that advocates tolerance for people’s’ differences.

Cemetery Salem MA

Salem Cemetery

Before we actually embarked on our museum tour, we explored some other sites in town, including an old cemetery.  A cemetery in which my best friend abandoned me (although she swears that is not the case).  Victims of the trials are laid to rest in this cemetery along with others from the same period.  My short time in that place felt eerie, even in the bright sunlight.  I explored tombstones from another era, and scared…myself.   My friend told me she was going to go look at a sign featured at another entrance to the cemetery.  This didn’t worry me because it was only a dozen yards away and there was a tour group that arrived the same time we did.  However, a few minutes later, I looked over and no friend, so I looked for the tour group (about 15 people) and I couldn’t see any of them.  Not. A. Single. Person.  I may have possibly been worried for a moment that the dead witches took them all. (It was only for a second though!)  As I slowly turned in a circle, searching for any human being (who wasn’t dead and buried), I got a little nervous, but by the time I made it back around to the last place I’d seen the tour group, they were actually there.  My friend however, was not.  Possibly, it was a coincidence that my particular location meant that when I looked the first time, all 16 people were hidden from view by trees, signs or tombstones…we’re totally going with that.  A minute or two later, I got a text from my friend who was waiting at a church six blocks away.

IMG_0804A fascinating aspect of the cemetery (other than the spooky abandonment) were the style of the tombstones themselves.  Many of them depicted a skull surrounded by wings.  Although, this is just my personal theory, I’m guessing the carving isn’t meant to be spooky, but more to depict the flight of a soul to heaven.  That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.  I can’t imagine why my friend didn’t want to stick around this place?

Next, we decided to stop at a brewery for lunch. (No comments about needing a drink after the cemetery please.)  Lunch was pretty decent, but not quite up to the standards I’d come to expect from Boston’s North End.  The best part was the beer.  My friend’s blueberry beer in particular (although my Irish Red was lovely too).   Hers had actual blueberries dancing around in the glass.  Actually, I don’t even remembered if I tasted it, but I spent a lot of time watching the bubbles make the berries dance.  (I swear, I only had the one beer.)  After lunch, we split up.  I really wanted to see the House of the Seven Gables on which Nathaniel Hawthorn based his novel The House of the Seven Gables and she went…to a dungeon, I think. (and she’s afraid of cemeteries…)

House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorn, Salem MA

House of the Seven Gables

The house is just as interesting as the novel makes it sound.  Filled with secret passages and beautiful views, I thoroughly enjoyed my tour.  The home was actually owned by Hawthorn’s cousin who inherited it after her father and brother were lost at sea.  She also inherited all of her family’s business holdings and never married.  It is assumed she didn’t want to be forced to turn over control of the business to her husband.  Probably a smart move considering her family came into possession of the property because the original owner lost all of his money in a poor investment.  The house began with seven gables, but it was reduced to four (no one knows why) before Nathaniel Hawthorn ever visited.  The description of the house comes solely from his cousin who he spent a lot of time talking with.  Many people assumed he lived there, but he never did.

IMG_0817The house has been faithfully maintained and restored down to the paint colors.  My favorite part was the secret passage though.  (How could it not be?  How often do you get to explore a secret passage?) The passage opens in a false wood cupboard and goes up into the attic.  It is curvy and tight, but so very cool.  From the window there you can look out over the ocean. I’m still a bit in awe of the fact that I got to walk through the same secret passage as Nathaniel Hawthorn…so very cool.  They have also moved Hawthorn’s birthplace to Salem.  I’m always fascinated by exploring the way people before us lived, and while we weren’t permitted to take pictures inside, the grounds and view are beautiful here.

Salem Friendship

Salem Friendship

On my walk to the House of the Seven Gables, I came across another three-masted ship, the Salem Friendship.  I didn’t have time to explore the vessel, but I did snap a picture.  Due to my inordinately bad sense of direction on this trip, and a bit of a time crunch (neither one of us wanted to stick around after dark) I just moved on my way to my destination.  On the way back, I discovered I’d spent too much time exploring the gardens and an unguided trip through Hawthorn’s birthplace to do much other exploring as I met up with my friend to take the train back in to Boston.

What do you think?  Abandoned?  Not abandoned?  I’m sure my friend would love to hear other people’s opinions. ;)

‘Til next time,

Jessica

P.S. Up next Fenway Park!

 


Tasty Goodness: It’s Time for Pie

Alright, Dean Winchester, listen up.  I’m making pie.

Apple Pie

Homemade Apple Pie

I mentioned in my Fourth of July post that I made an apple pie, so I thought I’d revive my Tasty Goodness (links are below) series, and share my recipe with you.  Now, I’m still tweaking the filling a bit, but it tastes phenomenal. (Also, my mother threatened strongly advised me to not forget whatever it was I’d done.)  For me, it is about the crust almost as much, if not more than, the filling, and I have finally gotten my grandmother’s crust recipe down pat.  For years, I’ve been told this made the easiest, tastiest, flakiest pie crust, but until this year, it never worked out as well for me. I don’t know what I did different, if I “cut in” the flour and shortening a little more or what, but it worked

Grandma Audrey’s Pie Crust

Ingredients

  • 3 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 1/3 Cup shortening
  • 1 Tablespoon vinegar (yes, just trust me)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 1/2  Tablespoons water
  • 1  Egg, lightly beaten

Place flour in a mixing bowl and “cut in”* shortening until the mixture reaches a corn meal consistency (a little chunkier is okay too).  I used a pastry cutter, but I have been reliably informed that you can use a knife and fork to achieve this.  Add salt, vinegar, egg and water (one tablespoon of water at a time.  I usually only end up using 5 Tablespoons) and mix until everything is well combined and it looks like pie crust dough.

Split the dough in half and form each half into a ball.  On a well floured work surface, roll the dough into a piece big enough to cover the bottom of your pie pan with a little overlapping the edge.  (My pie pans are extra deep, so my dough is sometimes a bit thinner when rolled out).  Gently move into the pie dish.  Don’t worry if it tears a little.  This happens to everyone, and no one sees the bottom of the pie anyway.  Just use your fingers to press the torn edges together.

Jessica’s Pie Filling

Ingredients

  • 5-6 Large Apples (or 6-8 small apples) Peeled, cored and sliced (I used Jonagold in one and Granny Smith in the other.  Both were delicious)
  • 1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1-2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of butter

Disclosures: Okay, fair warning.  I mentioned this recipe needed a bit of tweaking to perfect.  I’ve tried this with both cornstarch and flour as a thickening agent, and both times it ended up a little runnier than I’d like.  The taste, however, is divine.  I’m thinking I use a bit too much lemon juice in combination with the vanilla. (I don’t actually measure the lemon juice).  Also, I mentioned my pie pans are extra deep, so you may not need as many apples.

Heat oven to 375 F.  As you peel, core and slice your apples into a mixing bowl, be sure to sprinkle them with lemon juice.    This will keep them from turning brown while you work.  When all your apples are ready to go, add the vanilla.  Toss until all the apples are well coated.  There shouldn’t be extra liquid in the bottom of the bowl.  If there is, I recommend you drain it off.

In a separate bowl, combine granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cornstarch, and whisk to combine.  Add the mixture to the apples and mix well with a large spoon until all the apple pieces are coated with the mixture.

Pour the apples over your bottom crust in the pie plate.  Cut up the butter into little chunks.  I usually quarter the tablespoons I cut from the stick of butter.  Dot the pie filling with butter (it adds a nice richness to the filling, but if you forget, it isn’t a problem).

If you haven’t already, roll out your top crust to the same thickness of the bottom crust (kind of close anyway.  You don’t want it to be too unbalanced).  Carefully transfer the top crust to cover the apples in the pie plate.  Make sure you have enough to overlap the edges of the pan a bit (although this isn’t strictly necessary, I found it helps me to make a prettier pie).  If your crust tears, just gently press the torn edges together with your fingers.

Trim off the excess crust with a small, sharp knife.  My pie plates have a pretty wide lip, so I use that as my measurement on where to trim.  It is about 3/4 of an inch wide, and I find that is just enough to make a pretty edge.  Press the top and bottom crust together with your fingers, and turn up a little bit.  Then, using your fingers, scallop the edge of the crust.**  (Really I should have taken pictures to show you, but I was too excited about eating pie.)  Finally, using a sharp knife, cut a pretty design in the top crust to allow steam to vent during cooking.

Cover the edges of the crust with foil to prevent burning.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, checking occasionally, until the crust is golden brown.  (If it takes a little longer, don’t worry about it.  I start checking at 10 minutes in, because I’ve owned ovens with a…unique sense of temperature.)  Once golden deliciousness is achieved, and your whole house smells like heaven, remove the pie from the oven and let cool.  I know we like warm pie, but that filling is hot don’t eat it too quickly and burn yourself!

* To “cut in” the shortening to the flour using a fork and knife, just act like you’re cutting up dinner.  You’re just looking to achieve much smaller pieces than bite sized, and it takes a little while, so don’t get frustrated.

**Keeping in mind I’m left-handed, I use the first two fingers on my right hand on the inside edge of the crust and the first finger of my left hand on the outside of the crust.  Press the single finger on the outside of the crust in between the two fingers on the inside and make your way around the edge of the pie.  Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect.  That’s called “rustic”. ;)

‘Til next time,

Jessica

P.S. Tasty Goodness links to parts

  1. Tasty Goodness Part One
  2. Tasty Goodness Part Two
  3. Tasty Goodness Part Three
  4. Tasty Goodness Part Four
  5. Tasty Goodness Cheesecake

 


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