Monday, February 29, 2016

Movie Review: The Pirates of Penzance (1983)

The Pirates of Penzance (1983) co-written and directed by Wilford Leach

Young man Frederick (Rex Smith) is finally 21 and free from his indentures to a band of lackluster pirates. His nurse Ruth (Angela Lansbury) was supposed to apprentice him to a pilot but because she can't hear well she signed him up for the pirate gig. She's been on the boat with him and wants to return to civilization with him. The pirates are happy to send her along though Frederick is unsure if she is the best woman for him. He's been at sea since he was eight and hasn't seen any other girls. They give him reassurances of her middle-aged worthiness that he accepts at face value. Before he leaves, he has bad news for the pirates. He likes them but thinks they are too soft-hearted--never attacking a weaker party (so they always get beaten) and sparing orphans (word has got around, so everyone claims to be an orphan when the Pirates of Penzance attack). He wants to reform his ways which means he will have to take arms against them in his new, civilized life.

On shore, Frederick discovers the beautiful daughters of Major General Stanley. He sends Ruth packing and tries to woo them. One daughter, Mabel, is interested. Before they can settle things, the pirates arrive and plan to wed the ladies against their wills. The Major General shows up, claims he's an orphan (which is really a fib), and gets them out of trouble. But more trouble is brewing in the second half when Frederick's plan to lead the local police against the pirates is derailed when Ruth reveals that he was born on one of those rare February 29ths, and thus has not yet reached his 21st birthday. Being the slave of duty, Frederick returns to the pirates side and leaves the locals to fend for themselves.

Being a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, the ridiculous plot is a nice excuse for some delightful songs (Poor Wandering One and I Am the Model of a Modern Major General among the best) and fun comedy. The actors do a fine job with the singing and the acting. The sets are very stage-like, surprisingly so. For a theatrical production, they'd be great but they look a bit cheap as movie sets. Much of the choreography looks as if it was just ported over from the stage production and doesn't take advantage of the opportunities a movie production can provide. Even so, it's still a fun production and a great introduction to Gilbert and Sullivan for novices.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Mudhook Brewing Company, York, Pennsylvania

Superbowl night 2016 (which was a while ago, sorry for the blog lag!) we went out to eat at Mudhook Brewing Company in downtown York, Pennsylvania. It's located just behind Central Market House.

Mudhook Brewing Company

The brewery's restaurant wasn't crowded, mostly because they just started opening on Sundays and they are only open till 7 p.m. on Sundays (meaning patrons could only watch the beginning of the game). They have a nice menu of pub grub and a variety of their own brews for sale. I couldn't decided which individual beer to try, so I ordered the flight of beer!

A taste of each

It was six of the seven currently available beers. Here are the descriptions of the beers from left to right in the picture.

  • Wild River Weizen--a nice wheat beer that is refreshing and easy to drink.
  • Redeye Irish Red--a malty beer with initial sweetness and a dry finish. Very yummy.
  • Belgian Dubbel--Trappist-style ale that was my favorite of the bunch (because Belgian is my favorite).
  • Tweed River Strong Ale--a Scottish Wee Heavy ale with roasty and smoky flavors. Not bad but not my favorite.
  • Hook Bender Double IPA--a strong IPA with lots of hoppy bitterness. Not my style so not even close to a favorite for me.
  • The Deep Sea Stout--chocolate malt and barley flavors with a bold taste. A great finisher!
The brewery part of the restaurant was through a door right next to our table. My daughter and I admired the equipment and did a little exploring of the Central Market.


One set of vats

More vats

Central Market, only open Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday in the morning and early afternoon

In the almost deserted market, we ran into a lady cleaning up her booth. She gave my daughter a craft from the day before--making your own football. We thanked her and took it back to the restaurant. My daughter didn't have any problem waiting for food, which is more than I can say for other customers.

Ready to order beer or eat the camera!

The meal was great and I wished that I could bring home the Belgian. Maybe they will start bottling in the future!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Wolfgang Candy, York, Pennsylvania

The Wolfgang Candy Company was founded in 1921 as a family business by Delphy Eli and Mima Mae Wolfgang with their son Paul. As business expanded and the other kids got older, they joined in the making and selling of chocolates. A local high school and a church started selling the candies as fundraisers (which the company still supports), increasing the demand. The family started selling chocolates at farmers' markets as well. They outgrew the family cellar production and expanded over the decades. The company is now located at Wolfgang's Das Sweeten Haus Center, which definitely has the German heritage look.

Wolfgang's Das Sweeten Haus Center

Inside the center are many wonderful displays of chocolates for sale.

Interior of the shop

In the middle of the floor is one of the early delivery trucks.

Stuck in a sweet jam

Other side of the truck

The shop also has an old-fashioned parlor and a window for viewing candy-making in progress. We came early in the morning and things weren't running yet.

Ice cream parlor!

Production area

Our favorite discovery was the shelves of factory seconds--the candies that were damaged in production and couldn't be sold as premium product. We bought a bag of chocolate covered pretzels that had a few breaks and some caramel and sea salt dark chocolates that were dinged up a little. They still tasted wonderful.

The shop has a museum tour at 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday but as I said, we went in the morning so we missed out. We may go again if the opportunity arises!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Book Review: Morning Glories Vol. 3 by Nick Spencer et al.

Morning Glories Volume 3: P.E. written by Nick Spencer and art by Joe Eisma

See the reviews of Volume One and Volume Two!

How do they handle P.E. at Morning Glories Academy, the most exclusive prep school in America? Classes are canceled and everyone is grouped in threes, given maps, and sent out into the woods for "Woodrun." This bit of chaos in the schedule is the perfect opportunity to execute some hidden plans. For example, student counselor Ms. Hodge wants to escape with Casey and she has an extra-special and extra-odd way to get out--they go to a cave and stare at a wall where shadows are going. Eventually Ms. Hodge and Case disappear. Jade and Ike have to sit and watch, giving them a chance to talk. Meanwhile, the other kids are out in the woods where even stranger things happen as they try to complete the objectives on their map.

The plot is still very mysterious with fewer questions being answered than being raised. The characters are fairly interesting and there's plenty of pop culture and other references (like the Plato's Cave set-up for Ms. Hodge). I'm still intrigued enough to get the next volume but am getting worried that the big picture is not a coherent one. Time will tell.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Brandy Snaps

Another fun snack from the website of Martha Stewart.

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter 
  • 1/3 cup sugar 
  • 1/4 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup
Here's the directions.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine flour and ginger with a whisk. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add sugar and golden syrup; cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved.

Mixing till dissolve

Remove from heat; stir in flour mixture.

Adding the flour mixture

Using a 2/3-ounce ice cream scoop, drop three level scoops of batter onto prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake until flat and golden brown, about 10 minutes, rotating halfway through.

Remove from oven and let cookies cool just slightly until firm, about 2 minutes; place each cookie over an inverted drinking glass or wrap around the handle of a whisk, using your hands to press and gently shape. Let set 30 seconds. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Repeat process with remaining batter. If cookies get too cool to shape, return them to oven for a few seconds until softened.

Wrapped around a wooden spoon handle

Cookies can be stored in a single layer in airtight containers at room temperature up to 2 days.

These are very tasty even though they contain no brandy!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Book Review: Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick

Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick

In a distant future the world has passed through a utopian period and settled back into a more mundane existence. China is reduced to several warring provinces. Into the Abundant Kingdom comes two con men--Aubrey Darger (self-named "the Perfect Strategist" who is good at coming up with schemes) and Surplus (a genetically-engineered dog-man who is good at wooing women and fighting without killing). Darger is dead but that is a small problem since Surplus is certain he will find a cure at the home of the Infallible Physician. To bad the Physician is a dottering old man who refuses to teach his only child (a daughter) the tricks of the trade. Surplus and the daughter are both wily enough to get what they want out of the exchange.

Word of their exploits with the Infallible Physician gets out and many people are willing to employ the Aubrey and Surplus for the right price. Being con men, the duo finagle the lowest "right price" with most everyone. Their adventures bring them to the attention of a ruler called the Hidden King. The Hidden King wants to reunite China, through bloody war if necessary. With an advisor such as the Perfect Strategist, the king's fortunes may be less bloody and more fortunate than he could ever imagine. The king has a military advisor, Powerful Locomotive (that's just his name, he isn't a Transformer or cyborg), who conducts battles, and an archeological advisor, White Squall, who finds ancient military technology to give them big advantages in battle. The king's greatest ambition is to find the Phoenix Bride, a thermonuclear device, which he will use to become emperor of all China. Aubrey and Surplus have a lot of people to con and an end result they'd rather not be around for.

The plot unravels as a delightful series of audacious and humorous cons put on by Aubrey and Surplus. As they are swept up in the war to reunite China, they are able to pass themselves off as noble warriors without ever killing anyone or coming up with great military strategies on their own. The situations are not entirely plausible but that's fine since they are entirely delightful. I laughed out loud many times reading this book and heartily recommend it as a comedic sci-fi yarn.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Movie Review: Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic World (2015) co-written and directed by Colin Trevorrow

Twenty years after the failed attempt at opening a dinosaur theme park with actual dinosaurs (in the original Jurassic Park), they've finally developed a thriving attraction, Jurassic World, that draws tens of thousands of people each day. The park is a big hit but it always needs something new, much like any other park that adds new rollercoasters or movie-themed rides. So the scientists and businessmen behind Jurassic World have concocted a new dinosaur to swell the attendance numbers--Indomitus Rex. It's mostly T-Rex with some other genetic material thrown in to make it bigger, scarier, and have "more teeth." Investors aren't 100 per cent confident the new dino is safely caged. They have the park's dino-taming expert Owen (Chris Pratt) inspect the pen of I-Rex, which of course isn't sufficient to hold in the creature. Pandemonium ensues with 20,000 tourists on the island, two of which are the nephews of Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), a director of the park who is too organized and busy to show the kids around. She has her assistant keep an eye on them while she deals with park management, including persuading corporate investors to sponsor exhibits. It's a race to reunite family members and keep people from dying.

The movie has some amazing special effects and exciting action sequences. Owen's main job (apparently) is taming raptors which he is pretty good at. The dinosaurs look impressive (no difference between animatronics and CG). Fights between humans and dinos are exciting as are those between the dinosaurs themselves.

Thematically, the movie is all over the place. Owen has a good working relationship with the animals, unlike Claire who looks at them as numbers on a spreadsheet. There's a brief flirtation with an animal rights theme but this movie is a big summer blockbuster that needs to get on with the action. Another character mocks the corporate sponsors of the new exhibit, which is funny until you realize the rest of the film is chock full of product placements, the motion picture equivalent of corporate sponsorship. The scientists are sort of depicted as bad guys, but fade out in the shadow of the "corporate security" people (led by Vincent D'Onofrio's character Hoskins) who want to use the dinos for military applications. They are the sort of one-dimensional baddies you expect to see on a poorly written Doctor Who or Star Trek episode. The movie is a big summer blockbuster, so there's no real need for that sort of depth.

I found the movie entertaining but light-wieght. It's like cotton candy--pretty to look at and sweet-tasting but no nutritional value whatsoever. The occasional sweet treat is perfectly fine.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Book Review: Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 3 by Brian Michael Bendis et al.

Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 3 written by Brian Michael Bendis, art by Michael Gados, and coloring by Matt Hollingsworth

In the first story, J. Jonah Jameson hires Jessica to find out the identity of Spider-man. Being J. Jonah Jameson, he is very caustic and unpleasant to Jessica, who reluctantly takes the job. She turns the tables on him in a fun and unexpected way. I found the story  interesting. The storytelling style was different. Instead of the usual comic panels, the issue has larger images in an artsy watercolor style, much like the cover above. The text is all dialogue in a script format with the character's name in capital letters, like this:
I have to be honest with you. I haven't found many people in your line of work that I would say were of strong moral character.
I'm sorry?
I've worked with some investigators -- hired some. Haven't found one I would let babysit my grandson.
While different and distinct, I didn't find this style of storytelling particularly satisfying reading.

The main story in this book has the third Spider-Woman, Mattie Franklin, showing up at Jessica's office asking for help. She's a huge mess (seems like drugs) and winds up web-slinging her way off into the night, but leaving Jessica with enough questions that she follows up. Mattie is the adopted teen-age daughter of J. Jonah Jameson, so you can imagine how it goes with him. This story is back to a regular comic book style and it continues the Scott Lang (aka Ant-man) dating sub-plot, making a more interesting read.

Overall, this issue is fairly standard and interesting more as part of the series than as a stand-alone story (unless you are a big J. Jonah Jameson fan). Since it's Marvel Max, it has lots of swearing; since it's Jessica Jones, it has a couple of awkward sex scenes (without nudity but with frank dialogue).

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Utz Potato Chip Factory, Hanover, PA

Hanover, Pennsylvania, is the home of Utz Quality Foods, Incorporated. The company is most famous for its potato chips, though they make plenty of other snack items as well (tortilla chips, popcorn, pretzels, etc.). Their headquarters features an enclosed observation gallery. Visitors can see the potato chip production line in action from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday. We visited on a Monday.

Utz Factory Observation Gallery entrance

The entrance is right next to what looks like the loading dock, but as we discovered inside, it's actually the unloading dock. Those trucks are full of potatoes! But before we saw the production line, we saw quite a bit of the history of the company.

The entrance has some vintage equipment on display.

Old-time equipment

The company was started by William and Salie Utz in 1921. They made potato chips in their kitchen and sold the fresh chips (then called "Hanover Home Brand Potato Chips") to stores in the nearby area, mostly in Baltimore (less than an hour away). The company grew in leaps and bounds through the next decades. They now distribute to most of the East Coast of the United States and have plants in Massachusetts, Louisiana, and California.

Bits of their proud history

History close up

The display area has a fun cut-out for the kids and a window full of the amazing variety of snacks they offer.

The toddler as the Utz girl

A large range of choices

Not sure what to choose, but sure to get something yummy

My daughter signed us into the log book and we proceeded to the observation gallery that runs the length of the factory floor.

Signing in

The very first thing on the tour is a sign asking that no photos be taken, so I will just have to describe what we saw. Each window has a button to start the audio description of the potato chip production process. The first window looks down on the unloading bay, where potatoes come out of a tractor trailer on a conveyor belt. The potatoes are washed and peeled. Then they are sliced and washed again to remove excess starch. The chips are cooked and dried along the conveyors. They are then taken up to the second floor, where the machines parcel out the portions. At the far end of the conveyor belts, the chips are dropped into foil bags. Flavored chips have their flavor added as they are dropped, which was interesting to see. The bags are packed into cardboard boxes by hand. The boxes are put onto pallets that are taken via forklift into a temperature controlled warehouse. From there, the pallets are taken by trucks to various retailers on the East Coast.

We had to walk back the rest of the way but were rewarded with a sample bag of plain potato chips, which we happily munched as we drove away.

I should mention that Utz has an outlet store about two blocks away. The children were ready to move on, so maybe we'll go there next time we are in Hanover.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Book Review: On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life by F. Nietzsche

On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life by Friedrich Nietzsche, translated by Peter Preuss

Friedrich Nietzsche's early work on the value of studying history balances between a pure, theoretical understanding and the then-contemporary understanding of history. When this was published in 1874, Germany was proud of its historical understanding of itself and the thorough education it provided to the general populace. According to Nietzsche, the predominant theory was Hegel's dialectic, where the World Spirit moves humanity through many stages of conflict, gradually improving human welfare to a culmination. Many considered late 1800s Germany to be the pinnacle of human development, an assessment Nietzsche did not share. So he spends the last half of this essay analyzing and debunking the importance of historical education to German society. He has a rather blistering attack on Hegel and people who follow his theories.

The earlier part of the essay is more theoretical, discussing how history can impact the way people live. He develops a tension between living historically and living unhistorically. Those who live purely with a historical understanding can gain benefits by seeing past figures as role models and past situations as successes or failures to be imitated or avoided. The problem is that a purely historical understanding eliminates the possibility of original thinking and creative actions. Many people look back to ancient Greece as a model of rational thought and activity, though clearly the Greeks didn't look for such role models in their history. So living historically is a two-edged sword. Living unhistorically allows one to forget the past and have that originality and creativity that is necessary for life to advance and improve, though such activities require a great deal of personal fortitude. This is also a two-edged sword.

Then he goes into how the current age is all about following the Hegelian dialectic and being satisfied with the status quo that rather than moving forward to greater things. His argument is entertainingly written but has less relevance today than it did in his time. The first half of the essay is more valuable and interesting now though it is less colorfully written.

This book was on my shelf of "books to be read and then kept or gotten rid of." While it does have some merits, I can't see myself rereading it ever nor do I see myself loaning it out to anyone. So it's going in the donation box.

Monday, February 15, 2016

One Ingredient Challenge: King Cake

Part of an ongoing series of cooking from scratch. That is, we cook something from basic items that don't have multiple ingredients (e.g. store-bought spaghetti sauce includes all sorts of spices and maybe other stuff too; we'd start with tomatoes and individual spices and add them together to make our own sauce). See other challenges here.

For Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day we tried our hand at making a King cake. King cakes are most popular in New Orleans and celebrate the arrival of the three kings to worship the baby Jesus. So the earliest cakes are available around Epiphany (the twelfth day of Christmas/December 6) and the festivities last all the way up to Ash Wednesday.

This recipe is from Southern Living. We also carefully watched their video several times to make sure it would come out right.

We also sought inspiration from others!

In a saucepan over low heat stir together the following ingredients until the butter melts:
  • 1 (16-ounce) container sour cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Set the mixture aside to cool to no more than 110 Fahrenheit.

Adding sour cream

Mix together the following ingredients until smooth:
  • 2 (1/4-ounce) envelopes active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (100 to 110 Fahrenheit)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups bread flour

Gradually add 4 to 4 1/2 cups more bread flour (or all purpose flour) until a soft dough forms.

Our mixers experienced a breakdown so we switched to the bread machine for mixing and kneading at this point. Knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.

Handy robot slave

Stretching it out

Let rise about 1 hour.

Punch down dough, and divide in half. Roll each portion into a 22 by 12 inch rectangle.

Spread 1/3 cup softened butter evenly on each rectangle, leaving an inch border.

Big, buttery rectangle

Stir together 1/2 cup sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly over butter on each rectangle.

Adding cinnamon

Roll up each dough rectangle, jelly-roll fashion, starting from one long side. Insert plastic baby (read on to find out why). Place one dough roll seam side down on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bring ends of roll together to form an oval ring, moistening and pinching edges together to seal. Repeat with second dough roll.


The baby!

Cover and let rise in a warm place (85 Fahrenheit), free from drafts, 20 to 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Any covering will do

Bake at 375 Fahrenheit for 14 to 16 minutes or until golden. Slightly cool cakes on pans on wire racks (about 10 minutes).

Baked cake

Baby sticking his foot out

To make the glaze, mix these four ingredients together:
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mixers are back on line!

Add two tablespoons of milk. Mix, adding more milk one teaspoon at a time until the desired consistency is achieved.

Milk mid-drop

Drizzle the glaze evenly over warm cakes; sprinkle with colored sugars, alternating colors and forming bands. Let cool completely.

Icing the cake

Adding gold/yellow sugar

Making the last touches

Finished product

Traditionally, throw a party and whoever gets the slice with the baby in it has to make the next cake, or throw the next party.

Slicing the cake

Friday, February 12, 2016

Book Review: Morning Glories Vol. 2 by Nick Spencer et al.

Morning Glories Volume 2 All Will Be Free written by Nick Spencer and art by Joe Eisma

See the review of Volume 1 here.

The saga of six new students at Morning Glories Academy continues. This volume provides backstories for the students and answers some questions, like, Who is that other kid who looks just like Jun? Did Ike really kill his dad or is he just that scary/bad? Other questions come up, especially with the arrival of the student counselor. Her introduction brings some answers and more questions about what is going on and where they are.

So the Lost television show formula (large cast in a strange place with lots of mysteries about the people and the place) is still running. The ratio of satisfaction to frustration is still in favor of satisfaction but is close. The overall story doesn't move forward very far (at least, that's the way it seems), but I am patient enough to give it another volume or two to see if and how things develop.