My name is Jason. These are my thoughts.

Masquerading as Life is: Food. Music, film, technology. Maybe a book or two. Very infrequent updates.

Monday, November 1, 2010

This Is Just My Favorite Band

The new album comes out in January and I'll be all excited about that then. For now. Here's the single.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tortilla Soup: 12 Years In The Making

I love soup. No, you don't understand.

I mean, I really really love soup. Which is why I have been playing with making tortilla soup for over ten years. Over those years, I have come to a few conclusions about what does and does not make a good tortilla soup. There are a few things I should say about this soup: First, I make it in massive quantities. Soup is best when you make it in bulk, it has room to reduce, and let the flavors breathe. And second, this is not a 'from scratch' recipe. The flavors are far too complex for me to actually want to build them from scratch. I'm lazy about some stuff. Maybe some day I'll crush my own peppers, but not now. And so to illustrate how totally obsessed I am with this, here is my far too elaborately described recipe:

First and foremost: tortilla chips
The whole idea and origin of tortilla soup is an answer to the question: "what do I do with all these tortilla chips that are either stale, or too small to use as a guacamole shovel?" Here's what I do:
  • the chips you use will be the base of your soup. So it's important. I like very simple, plain chips, ie: if your chips have more than three ingredients (Corn, oil, salt), find a better chip. I good place to get them is at your favorite restaurant. Most places will sell you a bag for a few bucks and they are usually made on-site. Or honestly - Chevy's Fresh Mex. They make good chips at least. Also, make a mental note if your chips are salted, and season your soup accordingly. It can be easy to forget that some of the ingredients already have salt, so easy does it.
  • when your bag of chips is down to the 'crumble bed' I transfer it to a zip-lock and put it in the freezer. Tortilla chips have oil in them, so if you just leave them around and it ain't soup season yet, the oil will go rancid and that's just nasty. They will last up to a year in the freezer if you store them well. (really? sure! why not!)
  • before you put them into the soup, crush them. You can just leave them in the zip-lock bag (open it a little or it will explode) and bash it with a meat tenderizer, or a can of peaches in heavy syrup, or use a mortar and pestle if you like breaking out the fancy kitchen gear.
  • when you serve the soup, that's when to use fresh unbroken tortilla chips on top to garnish. they should play much like crackers do in gringo soups.
Making the Soup:
For the soup base, I use tomatoes and chicken broth. There are two ways to get chicken broth: 1) Get a chicken, roast it, carve it, boil the bones in salted water for 10 hours. or 2) Buy chicken broth. I prefer the second method.  If you're not a fan of meat, you can use vegetable broth, and then skip the chicken in this recipe.  That's up to you.

  • 8-10 cups of water
  • 2-4 cups of chicken broth (if you use bouillon, do your own math. I hate math)
  • 1 large onion, finely diced (white)
  • 1-2 cups crushed tortilla chips (I like 2 cups, but maybe you like less)
  • 1 16oz. can of stewed tomatoes (feel free to stew your own tomatoes from scratch)
  • 8oz of your favorite salsa (really? isn't that cheating? yes it is)*
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 2-3 chicken breasts/thighs
  • 2 cups finely chopped spinach, or maybe broccoli?
  • 1/2 cup re-fried beans (I prefer vegetarian re-fried beans, and yes, from a freaking can - get over it)
  • Extra sharp cheddar cheese (grated)
In a giant stock pot, throw in the water, chicken broth (but save a little, see below), salsa, tomatoes, re-fried beans, lime juice, and crushed tortilla chips. stir over a high flame. Alternatively, if you want more of a 'toasted' flavor, turn on the flame, and put the crushed chips in the pot alone for a few minutes, stir constantly. You can smell when they get that 'toasted' flavor going, then add the rest of the stuff - just be careful, the pot is hot and the liquid will squeal and bounce on contact!  I prefer this method.  It produces a deeper richer flavor.

Sauté the onions and chicken breasts with a little oil. when the breasts are about 1/2 done, pour in a 1/4 cup of the chicken broth, this is also a good time to add in the vegetables, whatever they are, spinach, broccoli, etc. Cover and finish. ( if proteins aren't salted and hydrated when you put them in a soup, they will get the flavor sucked out of them)

When the soup gets to a boil, let it simmer for at least an hour. Add another cup of water if it's getting too thick. Then throw in the chicken and onions. Let them cook into the soup for another 30 minutes. And done. To serve, sprinkle some grated cheese and then some lightly broken fresh tortilla chips.

*Salsa. The salsa I use in this recipe is one of any of the small 7oz cans of salsa you can find in the 'ethinc' isle of your grocery, or just in the salsa isle of your neighborhood store, depending on where you shop. Just make sure it's not pico de gallo since that's just tomatoes and onions. It should be something with at least tomatillo, and some other kind of peppers to give it kick. If you're serious about heat, just add a Chipotle pepper for an added smokey kick. These salsas (Herdez makes a nice green salsa for example) are all very salty, which is why, if you notice, there's no salt in the recipe.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Not Your Father's Subaru

While I've been patiently waiting since 2007 for Subaru to re-work their WRX into a form that appeals to me again, I came across this old beauty of a tv spot. When I was 11 years old, I thought this was the coolest thing ever. Please enjoy the music cue in particular:

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Question of Perception of Inception

So as many others have done, here is my take on the film: (Spoilers abound. You've been warned)

Jesse Warren had an idea that Ken Watanabe and Leonardo DiCaprio are doing a sort of 'feedback loop' of inceptions on each other. This theory just doesn't jive for me with the themes of the film, although it does hold up as a mechanical theory, to a point. My observation would be based more on the thematic arc of the film - the father son relationship, and the obvious parallels to the Decent to the Underworld myths, most similarly, Orpheus's rescue of Eurydice from Hades. Instead of some arbitrary business deal, it is the need for love, and the loss of love, that are truly the things that drive us, and in this case, Miles. My theory is that Michael Caine's character Miles, Cobb's father-in-law, driven by his loving compassion for his heartbroken son-in-law, is in fact the one who is orchestrating a very very elaborate inception on Cobb , for much the same reason as Jesse suggested - to relieve him of the anguish he suffers over the death of his wife. Here are some clues to support the idea:
  • Miles is the man who taught Cobbs everything he knows - therefor, the only guy who could possibly orchestrate such an elaborate dream web. If you buy the theory, it would mean that the dream web that they have built has at least six layers in it, twice as many as Cobbs actually believes there are (not including the 'purgatory' level they go to to finally deal with his dead wife)
  • Ariadne (Ellen Paige), the Architect –but just a college graduate student, agrees to their admittedly illegal scheme almost instantly - why? Because she's in on it. She's been working with Miles. Cobbs even says early on, "I've never seen anyone take to it so quickly" Well, of course - that's why she's so good at it - because she's been training with Miles for a while. Also, Nash (the original architect, was 'taken' by Saito. Why would Saito take the architect when he's trying to hire the same team? To what gain? Well, because he's part of the scheme and they need to insert Ariadne as the Architect.
  • Ariadne plays a much deeper role that just the architect. On several occasions, she breaks protocol and digs into Cobbs personal life to unearth details about his wife as if she has a separate agenda, one set forth by Miles. Her endgame goal - when they are on level 4 in Limbo World, is to get him to let go of his wife - going so far as to shoot her right in front of him. That to me is the intended inception plot. Getting Cobbs to finally let go of his wife.
  • As Cobb's team 'prepares' for the job, there are many references to the target's relationship to his father, a relationship that is the key to the plan Cobbs' team is following (a plan that his team members conceived, by the way, not him). This is an easily over looked detail, but important to the themes here, I think. These are all thematic references to the father son relationship between Miles and Cobbs.
  • Miles seems to have a professorship in Paris, but is at the airport in the USA to meet Cobbs and take him to his kids - as if he knew exactly what they were up to, because, maybe he did.
  • Cobbs admittedly uses his dead wife's Totem as his 'dream-tester'. But he contradictorily says that you must use your own totem - something no one else would know about - while simultaneously using someone elses totem. This could mean that his totem is completely unreliable and is actually giving him false readings - or just the readings he wants it to give, making him believe that he's not in a dream when he is, and so on.
It's a far more rich and also a more complicated and layered scheme if you buy this theory. Consider that every single scene in the film is a dream. Consider that Ken Watanabe would have to have been in on it form the very beginning. This would mean that Fischer was really just a pawn, someone brought in to supply Cobbs with a complicated enough distraction so that he wouldn't notice the inception being perpetrated on him. Consider that the first scene on the beach, he is in fact waking up in Watanabe's dream, but by design. So that later, when he goes to the fourth level, Watanabe can replicate the same level for him, and make him think he's back to the same place. So when Cobbs sits down with the aged Watanabe and eats the bowl of food, he's being sedated by Watanabe and Miles, which is why the next scene with Young Watanabe just starts right in the middle of it - because it's the beginning of a new level, one that Cobbs thinks is level one, but is really at least level two or three.

But what about the very beginning when he washes up on shore? The only difference at the end is that we see more of the dialogue in scene, but it ends at the same place. It would be a really easy thing to say that it's just a loop - that is to say that Cobbs really is trapped in the Limbo World, and that each waking from a different dream world, eventually just keeps putting him right back into the Limbo World at the beach. But I doubt that's what Nolan had in mind. I think that would be a pretty cheap cop out anyway.

As far as the "cut-befor-the-totem-falls-over" ending, a-la The Soprano's series finalé, I'll offer this: if you buy the proposed theory, then the cut before it falls - or not - makes perfect sense. It's a red herring. It doesn't matter what the totem does, because it's not even his totem.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Apple Remotly Hobbles iPhone Edge

Three weeks ago my wi-fi just stopped working - completely. Then a week later, the phone started missing calls, no ring, no vibrating, nothing - about 50% of the time. The final nail in the coffin? at about 11:30 this morning, the 30 pin connector stopped working. No charging, no syncing - nothing. Are the guys at Apple trying to tell me something?

(Yes, I have power cycled the iPhone a bunch of times)

I thought this post deserved an update: When I went in to buy my new iPhone 4, the guy informed me that my iPhone Edge was a recall, so not only did I get the snappy new iPhone 4, but I also got a brand new iPhone Edge. Which makes you wonder - how many brand new iPhone Edge's does Apple have just laying around?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Pizza Stage Three - Baliwood Pizza

Once again, I have offended the entire East Coast, but being a Jersey Boy, all I can say is 'Suck it.' Once again, this will be RIPE with plenty of cheats for the purist to vomit at. Get over it. I have other shit to do today.
Today I made a pizza that has been swimming around in my head ever since I picked up a bag on wheat flour from my local Indian Grocery Store. (having been Imperialized by the English for a time, they
have a really interesting mix of things, I recommenced a visit) For this pizza, I start with a once again 'screwed with' version of my perfect crust: this time I substitute 4/9th's of the flour with the wacky flour from the Indian Grocery store.

Chicken: For this I use about three boneless chicken breasts. In a saute pan, I put oil, the chicken, and heat. once it starts popping, I take a warm cup of water and add salt, pepper, a bit of Louisiana hot sauce, and garlic powder. Cover. in 10-15 minutes, I use my kitchen scissors (what - seriously, you don't have kitchen scissors? Ok, I can't help you here. Get them, love them, figure them out, and come back later) and cut the chicken into little sub-one inch bits. I let that coomm in until the water is pretty much gone. Then I add some more oil and some Garam Marsala and Yellow Curry powder (yes, looks like you're gonna really need to make that trip to the Indian grocery now). That'll cook for a few more minutes, let the curry marsala do it's thing.
Spinach: Ok , I love spinach. fresh, frozen, whatever. In another grand cheat, I will use frozen chopped spinach. In a MW safe bowl, I put about 2 cups of spinach with 6oz of plain yogurt, salt, and yellow curry. I nuke the living shit out of that in 2 minute steps, stirring it inbetween, until it's all cooked together and the mixture is thickened (yes, please do this o the stovetop - I was jut feeling particuarly lazy about it today).
Putting it together:
Super cheat No. 3: Trader Joe's Curry Marsala Simmer. Shut up. It's fine. Just get over it.
Spread the TJ's simmer sauce like you would normally. then the chicken, and the spinach. On top, I toss on a bit of Mozzarella cheese, just to keep it real. This one is probably best served with a rich white wine - Chardonnay probably. I'll have it with some scotch though. No accounting for taste.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

TSA Asks Terrorists to "Man-Up"

Excerpted from some random crap swirling around the internet:
"Here is a possible solution to all the controversy over full-body scanners at the airports. Have a booth that you can step into that will not X-ray you, but will detonate any explosive device you may have on you. It would be a win-win for everyone, and there would be none of this crap about racial profiling and this method would eliminate a long and expensive trial. Justice would be quick and swift. Case Closed! This is so simple that it is brilliant. I can see it now: you are in the airport terminal and you hear a muffled explosion. Shortly thereafter, an announcement comes over the PA system, "Attention standby passengers we now have a seat available on flight number..."

Friday, April 30, 2010

Pizza: Stage Three - The Deep End

East Coast brethren, forgive me. I have put things on a pizza that no self respecting East Coaster from 'the tri-state area' would even consider. But I've been in California for fifteen years, and it tastes really good. So suck it.

Here's the skinny on what is what I will call: The Tuna Tumeric Pizza

To begin, I already screwed up the crust. Based on my final tweaks of the perfect crust, I substitute Potato Flour for 1/9th of the flour. It gives the crust a very crisp outer edge, while staying chewy on the inside. Bomb-tastic.
For the sauce, I use a base of a bunch of cheats. I would love to have time to start everything I do from fresh vegitables, but that's just not the reality. So I get a can of stewed tomatoes, puree them, and add a bit of commercially jarred tomato sauce (I like Classico's Tomato n Basil, but whatever). I put in about 2 table spoons of the pre-made sauce to every cup of the stewed tomato puree - this keeps the sauce tasting fresh and light. To offset the tuna concoction that's going on top of the sauce, I mix into the sauce about 2 tablespoons of chunky Blue Cheese dressing - yes, this is yet another cheat. I could sit around and stir broken Gorgonzola into a low simmering saucepan of cream and butter, but there's a point of diminishing returns when you are spending 3-4 hours to make one lousy pizza. The cheats are just part of the game - go with it. So now I've got what, to the eye, resembles a classic Italian pink sauce (tomato/alfredo).
Now onto the tuna prep. Again, in a sick maneuver of cheating, and really out of laziness of not wanting to go tot the store for fish, I open a can of tuna in water, drain, and break it up in a bowl. To this I add a bunch of yellow mustard, the kind they serve in public schools. I don't want to add too many flavors to the tuna within the mustard, just the tang of the mustard seed, and the color of the turmeric. Next, I add some wine vinegar. I have some I got up in Napa that has some italian style herbs in it, so I used that. Lots. I mix all that in, and then add a couple tablespoons of EV olive oil. Now it looks like this:

Then I put it together, using a fork to pull out small bits of the tuna and spread it evenly around the pizza. I don't press or pull the tuna once it's down. just try to get it into small piles. Then I add some mozzarella cheese. Then, just cook it on the Pizza Stone for 9 minutes at 435. (My testing produced the best results when I get the oven right in between 425 and 450). During these 9 minutes, I wonder if this pizza is gonna taste like shit, or not. When it's cut and cooled. I tasted it and thought it was both unique, and good enough to mention here, so there you go. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Recycle trailers

Who knew? Not me. But when I went to Orntario California to film the whole process, I was pretty blown away. They are really doing a great job at this, and they even recycle a lot of the film stock too, it just the trailers. Great project and a good feeling form it, win win!

Friday, March 5, 2010

How to start a Gourmet Food Truck Business

Unless mom and dad are bankrolling you, or you've just been let go from a fat six figure gig that gave you a walking package to invest with, you're gonna need some start up capitol. But never fear. I've crunched some numbers already. This handy spreadsheet shows that you just need to walk into the bank and explain to them that you simply want to sell little pizzas out of a truck on the side of the road, but first all you'll need is a two million dollar loan to get started. Simple enough! Good luck.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Pizza: stage one

This week has been Pizza week. So far we've done a quick run of 6 pizzas. We tried a few very traditional, simple crust/red sauce type affairs to get the hang of it, and then started mucking about. Full disclosure: over the summer I did quite a bit of mucking about on the Grill outside making pizza, which I will admit is really fun, wickedly fast, and impresses guests in that way that makes you feel like you're on a cooking show. But this time around we are concentrating on the Oven Stone (pretty sure it's actually clay) Here's what I have learned so far:

It's all about the crust. (see below for a measured recipe) Whatever crap you want to put on top of your crust is none of my business, and really, I don't care. But the crust - your pizza will live and die by it's crust. Trust me. There are way too many dough recipes for pizza crust, so I'll just give you the simple facts: The ratio is 5 parts flour to 3 parts liquid, and a "packet" of yeast. That's it. You can argue all day about what kind of flour, bottles water, kneading by hand, or any of that, but if you use the ratio even approximately, you've gonna wind up with a wad of dough that you can push out into a pie crust. For example:
Open a packet of yeast into a glass of warm water, to get it 'activating'. stir it up, add a little sugar, a little oil, okay. Now, pour it into a bowl and start adding flour. I know, you're thinking , "how much flour? And while I'm at it, how much water was I supposed to use?" It doesn't matter. Really. Just pour the water into a bowl. Now, just remember that you're eventually gonna add enough flour to get to your 5:3 ratio. just keep mixing and adding, eventually, it'll get gummy, sticky, and then it'll just start to ball up, away from the edges of the bowl. You're done.

OK, you're one of those people who organizes their underwear drawer by weight? You need something more tangible. I get it, you want real numbers? Here's the one I've been using and getting killer results:
• 4 1/2 cups flour
• 2 tea spoons of salt (I use garlic salt for flavor)
• packet of yeast (or one teaspoon of yeast)
mix them together in a big-ass bowl. then full a 2 cup measuring cup with:
•1 2/3 cups water
• 1/3 cup olive oil
put your mixer in the bowl (or go for it, man up and try it by hand if you dare) and start adding the liquid. Seems to help to let it mix for a good minute or two. and.... done. This will make 3-4 pizzas, depending on how big you wan to to make them.
In all cases, it's best to cover the dough, and let it rise for at least :45 minutes. An hour if you have the time. Overnight for even better results.

Okay, enough about that. Now for the fun stuff. The best part about the dough is that you can put pretty much anything in there. Especially when it comes to Herbs and Spices. For example: You could mix curry powder and some chillies into the dough, then top the pizza with Saag Paneer and some seared Lamb, wa-blam! Indian Pizza!
Crust Hints:
• if you use Rosemary (which is a favorite for this), grind it with a mortar and pestle first, then mix it into the dough, it will really take the flavor into the crust, and you won't have twigs in the crust. Blech, no one wants twigs.
• more oil into the dough = crispier dough. It also has the effect of making the dough easier to make into thinner crust, if that's your thing. I have found that more oil is better than less oil.
• Oven Stone. They go for around thirty to fifty bucks to start, and they are sort of a MUST HAVE item if you're gonna start making pizza at home. But hey, if you like your pizza burnt or under cooked, by all means, try to do it on the rack or a cookie sheet. Best of luck with that.
• Semolina flour. Course ground. You don't make the dough with it, but you want to dust the oven stone with it, and even your counter when you're pressing out the dough to form the pie. this is what is gonna give the bottom of the pie that 'pizza shop' feeling.
• Pizza Peel. Get one. Just do it. once you've got the dough starting to form out, get it on the peel and finish dressing the pizza right there. Then it's just slip, right onto the oven stone. Seriously, there is no manageable way to get the pizza from the counter to the oven without one. The cheap ones are like ten bucks. Aluminum. This is what I have, and it's fine. But if you got the bucks, spring for the twenty five dollar version in all wood, it's just prettier, and as far as I know, wood doesn't give you Alzheimer's.

That's it so far.

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