Food?

Yes. Food. This is not a topic I was originally planning on discussing in any manner whatsoever. But I have recently realized that there is a sort of fanciness about food. For example, compare a burger from McDonald’s to a dish from Olive Garden. Certainly they are of different fanciness, no? So, anyways, today I would like to talk about one of my personal favorite dishes in the world: Pasta. Pasta. Pasta, pasta, and more pasta.

Being Italian, I feel as though the love for pasta is ingrained in my blood and history (even if the Chinese invented it first.) Pasta is an extremely versatile tool in cooking: you can combine it with meat, vegetables, marinara sauce, white sauce, or really just about anything. Being essentially tasteless on its own is what gives pasta this versatility. Let’s see a more specific example.

I recently read a delicious-sounding pasta recipe entitled “World’s Best Lasagna”, from AllRecipes.com.

Ingredients
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
3/4 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
2 (6.5 ounce) cans canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
12 lasagna noodles
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
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Directions

In a Dutch oven, cook sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
To assemble, spread 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil: to prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.
Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

This recipe was extremely appealing to me from the get-go. Its title, “World’s Best Lasagna”, obviously implies great taste and culture. After all, apparently the entire world loves this particular lasagna dish! The recipe also contains all the critical spices found in lasagna, such as basil, black pepper, parsley, and fennel seeds, to give it that “authentic” Italian flavor (a quality that one cannot possibly describe in an objective manner). The picture of the lasagna on the website, to use a rather trite expression, makes my mouth water. I mean that literally, as in, saliva is accumulating on my tongue at this very moment. The unfortunate thing about this recipe would be the time it takes to prepare – approximately 3 hours at minimum. I, unfortunately, do not have that sort of time to prepare such a meal. But alas, time spent is just one of the many costs of a fancy dinner.

It is worth noting, while this recipe does have a 5-star review average on AllRecipes.com, the opinion of the recipe is certainly not universal. A reviewer with the username METROWESTJP writes,

“I was so disappointed with this lasagna! I won’t be using this recipe again. With such a high rating, I thought it would taste better.”.

He then goes on to provide suggestions for others as how to change the recipe to make it taste better. The point of this is that even fellow Italians (METROWESTJP also says he is Italian) do not always agree on what creates an “authentic” Italian taste. So, readers, if you were, say, to make this recipe, I would recommend doing whatever sounds tastiest to you. Everyone does have their own tastes of what good “fancy” food is, after all.

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Finally, a Post of Enjoyment!

I have come to the realization that the majority of my blog posts, especially those of recent times, have been rather dark and “scary”. In order to maintain that sense of balance between seriousness and humor which most humans share, this post shall be of a more light-hearted nature. Sounds fun, no? Let us begin!

Today, I wish to talk about a favorite website of mine, and that would be Memebase. Memebase, as one could likely deduce from its denotation, is a base of memes. However, this is obviously of no help to someone who does not understand what a meme is. A meme is essentially a picture with text overlayed on top of it – the purpose is to express some form of sarcastic complaint or point about a particular topic. The appeal of memes is their ability to poke fun at just about any topic. This is why I read memebase.

I want to, of course, provide a couple examples of specific memes which I particularly enjoy. The first and foremost one is the “Willy Wonka” meme. The purpose of the Willy Wonka meme is primarly to provide counterarguments (often condescending) to popular social, economic, political, or religious beliefs. As an example:

As one can see, a Willy Wonka meme (it’s official title being “Condescending Wonka” or sometimes “Creepy Wonka”) is designed in a sarcastic manner, often using rhetorical statements to get a point across. In other words, Willy Wonka does not really want one to explain his or her problems; he uses the phrase “Please tell me….” in order to reveal the discussed subject’s ignorance.

Another favorite meme of mine happens to be “Overly Attached Girlfriend.” As one can presume from its title, Overly Attached Girlfriend is a photo of a girl with rather creepy-looking eyes, with overlayed text usually describing some sort of stereotypical girlfriend-y sentiment. Since I am obviously not an overly attached girlfriend myself, I believe another example of a meme will better serve my purpose:

See what I mean? Absolutely creepy, I tell you.

As one can tell, memes are one of the most effective ways to provide arguments and sentiments on the nuances of society: they are funny yet informative, quirky yet serious, kind yet slighting. They provide a unique balance to any sort of argument that, say, an essay, or a speech cannot provide. All hail memes! Just joking, that would horrendously absurd.

Fancy Cat’s Corner: Norah Jones

How many times have you turned on the radio, simply desiring to listen to some quality music, only to be aurally assaulted by techno or dubstep or bubble-gum pop music (which seems to be all to popular in today’s world)?  Such music seems to find every nook and cranny in your brain, creating sound-tornadoes of suffering and anger – the precise reasons I prefer not to listen to said kinds of music.  And so we arrive at Fancy Cat’s message of this Fancy Cat’s Corner session – you should not offend your ears with the discordant noise of Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber, and other robotic, mass-produced musicians.  Instead, I urge you to take a listen to artists such as the New York Voices (whom I discussed in detail in my previous Fancy Cat’s Corner), or also other jazz artists such as Norah Jones.

Norah Jones is one of those artists that just has that je ne sais quoi.  In other words, it’s extremely difficult to precise describe why Norah Jones’s voice is so attractive to the ear.  Perhaps it is her sultry, creamy voice.  Maybe it’s her stunning visual beauty.  Possibly it’s her warm, down-to-earth personality.  Of course, it could be none of these qualities that set Norah Jones apart from her competitors in the music field (although, let’s keep honesty in check here: Nicki Minaj and and Justin Bieber do not even deserve consideration as competitors to Norah Jones).  Somehow, Norah Jones just has a way of connecting with her audience in a way that is intangible to words and concrete description.

But we cannot learn to truly appreciate Norah Jones until we’ve learned a bit of her backstory, no?  First of all, she was born Geetali Norah Jones Shanker on March 30th, 1979 (iMDB).  Fittingly, the name “Geetali” in English means “song” or “melodious”.  I praise her father for successfully predicting her talent and path in life!  Norah Jones certainly embodied her original name and talents early on in life.  As iMDB elaborates –

“Norah Jones was raised by her mother in a Dallas suburb, and that’s where her musical talents began to reveal themselves. She performed in church choirs, learned to play the piano and guitar, and even briefly tried her hand at the alto saxophone. She attended Interlochen Arts Camp, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, Texas, and the University of North Texas, where she majored in jazz piano, and won Best Student Music Awards for Best Jazz Vocalist (twice, in 1996 and 1997) and Best Original Composition (1996). At the age of sixteen, she officially shortened her name to Norah Jones, no longer carrying the Indian, “Geetali”. Nonetheless, the “melodious song” was very much alive, and moving full-steam ahead.” (iMDB).

And so Norah Jones continues to make beautiful music.  She recently has released a new album, Little Broken Hearts.  What awaits the listener inside the album is not anything but pure, blissful, sensual joy.  Reader, this Fancy Cat highly encourages you to take a listen.  Listen, and spread the word.  Actual music is out there!  Save your friends from the revolting horrors of mainstream music artists!

One of the Scariest Movies of My Life

I hate horror movies.  Their sole purpose is to scare people.  With humans crawling up walls and demons parading around the screen, horror movies often seem like an unrealistic expression of human fear.  Perhaps this is why I don’t connect with them.  I have yet to see a movie such as “Paranormal Activity” or  “House At the End of the Street”.  Why?  They simply don’t grab my attention.

A particular movie (not a horror movie) which did give me a fright. in the way I believe movies are intended to do, was the movie “Taken” with Liam Neeson.  In the movie, Liam Neeson plays a father, who is a retired CIA agent.  His daughter, a college-aged girl, goes on a fancy, lengthy vacation to Europe, starting off in Paris.  In Paris, Liam Neeson’s daughter gets kidnapped and is sold into an expansive human trafficking system that focuses on the sale of “virgin” women.  Over the course of the movie, Liam Neeson’s main goal is to retrieve his daughter from the human trafficking system.  The movie, I will say now, for those who have not seen it, does have a happy ending, as Liam Neeson successfully gets his daughter back.

The primary reason the movie “Taken” was absorbing and thrilling for me was its realistic nature provides a more immediate, genuine sense of fear in my brain than stereotypical horror movies do.  Unlike many horror movies, which focus on the concept of some arbitrary demonic power or evil spirit (such as in “House At the End of the Street“), “Taken” articulates a much more secular evil – the evil of treating human beings as objects or inferior creatures.  Kidnapping and sex trafficking are very real dangers present in today’s world.  Every year, scores of women, often tourists, are snatched from their hotels and sold into the human trafficking system as sex objects.  Taken from a report by unglobalcompact.org, “95% of victims experienced physical or sexual violence during trafficking (based on data from selected European countries)7• …43% of victims are used forforced commercial sexual exploitation, of whom 98 per cent are women and girls)8 (7 The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Stolen smiles: a summary report on the physical and psychological health consequences of women and adolescents trafficked in Europe (London, 2006).         8 International Labour Organization, Forced Labour Statistics Factsheet (2007)

“Taken” created many real-life connections in my brain: the possibility of situations similar to those in the movie happening in real life is extremely frightening and scary for me.  Unlike horror movies, I simply cannot dismiss the movie “Taken” as absurd and illogical.  Although I do admit the superb combat abilities of Liam Neeson against the terrorists who kidnapped his daughter (and the eventual success of rescuing his daughter) are somewhat romanticized, the movie does not rely on an flimsy premise ( a general demonic power or evil demon) or on context (such as how many horror movies rely on the atmosphere of Halloween-time for profits).  To conclude, the movie “Taken” presents the secular evil of the human trafficking system in Europe as a realistic, crystal-clear danger.  This is why the movie is so thrilling and captivating for me.

(P.S: I’m extremely anxious for “Taken 2”!)

The Grandeur of Awards Shows

The glitz.  The glamour.  The flashing lights.  The sparkling dresses.  The classy tuxedos.  The red carpet.  This is the grandeur of awards shows, a time when celebrities gather together to acknowledge the best in their field.  Awards shows, such as the Emmys or the Academy Awards recognize the talent of all professions within the acting/show business world: the Emmys has an award for best lighting; the Academy Awards has awards for best sound mixing and special effects; and of course, no one can forget the importance of best actor or best actress in a lead role.

The 2012 Academy Awards pulled in aroud 81.0 million viewers during its primetime Sunday airing.  What is it about celebrity awards shows that pull in so many viewers each year?  Perhaps it is the musical numbers; perhaps it is the emotional speeches the awards winners always give; or maybe it is simply the natural sense of appreciation for extreme talent.  This was the case in point for the 2012 Academy Awards.  That year, a black-and-white, old-style film entitled “The Artist” was up for a very large number of awards.  In an era of iPhones and Twitter and electronic zombification of the masses, “The Artist” won five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor in a Lead Role, Best Costume Design, Best Directing, and Best Original Score.  The actor who won for Best Actor, Jean Dujardin, was not even well-known in America at the time – in fact, he was the first French actor ever to win the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role (IMDb: Jean Dujardin biography).  Personally, I had never even heard of the film.  Now, some critics argue that the organizers of shows such as the Academy Awards are stuffy, white, old men and that the public does not get enough say in the determination of who gets what award.  These worries assume that the organizers of the Academy Awards have no idea what they are doing; one has to remember that being a critic is a JOB for those people.  And, if you’ve spent your whole life perfecting a skill such as that of critique, you probably are adept at such a skill.  I have the utmost respect for the people who decide the winners of television awards.  Needless to say, The Artist deserved every award it won.  Why?  It excelled the most in each of those categories.  Sure, personal bias is somewhat inevitable (what exactly does “Best Actor” mean, after all?).  However, as they say, only the most fit shall survive.

For your viewing pleasure, here is a clip of “The Artist”, taken from Youtube.

Singer Andy Williams Dead at 84

“Moon River, wider than a mile 

I’m crossing you in style someday…”

Today is a day of grief, sadness and consolation.  The legendary singer Andy Williams, most known for his sincere, moving rendition of “Moon River”, died this Tuesday in his home in Branson, Missouri.  He was eighty-four years old, and had been battling bladder cancer for a good portion of his last days.

Andy Williams was a legend, and for good reason.  He was known for his nice, “clean” look (as the People.com article puts it) – “[A] turtleneck under a brightly colored pullover sweater.”  His voice was golden, like sweet honey cascading from the gates of heaven.  Despite the fact that Andy Williams’s prime performing career occurred more than forty years  before I was even born, I still find greater appreciation for his talents than those of say, Justin Bieber, or Nicki Minaj, or even the man that does the Gangnam Style dance (although I do find that song to be somewhat amusing).

Why do I have the utmost respect for Andy Williams?  For one thing, Andy Williams did not have to sell himself as a sex object or “cute” as many music stars do today.  Andy Williams was known as very attractive and manly, but this was simply a small part of Andy Williams’ natural personality, not a marketing feature. His voice alone could effortlessly capture the millions of people who were glued to the T.V. screen, rather than the wild hair, the asinine outfits, or the polarizing personas which serve as the basis for the current music scene (I’m looking at you, Lady Gaga.) To be fair, I’m not stating necessarily that current music stars such as Lady Gaga have bad voices – my point is that Andy Williams achieved fame and stardom through his voice and his voice alone.

In fact, Andy Williams’ rendition of “Moon River” is what earned him his nationally televised television show, The Andy Williams Show (1962).  The original version of the show ran on the air until 1971, when the show became an annual Christmas special.

There is absolutely question that Andy Williams’s time here on this blessed Earth was not wasted.  His voice captivated millions; his looks charmed millions; his Christmas special gave hope to millions.  His death shall not go without immense sadness and grief.  So, to end, rest in peace, Andy Williams.  May your golden voice continue to inspire.

Fancy Cat’s Corner: The New York Voices

Why, hello, there, world.  This is Fancy Cat, your exquisitely cultured music connoisseur.  Periodically, I shall provide all of you readers with taste of music that currently piques my interest.  Today, we shall take a gander at a group rather special to my purring feline heart: The New York Voices.  Formed in 1987, the New York Voices represent an older, more antique sound that is mixed with modern jazz principles and concepts.  They consist (currently) of four  members:  Kim Nazarian, Lauren Kinhan, Darmon Meader, and Peter Eldridge.  One reason I enjoy the New York Voices and their delectable music is their inherent ability to vary their style:  The New York voices have sang everything from “standard” American jazz to classical, pop, R&B, and even Brazilian/Afro-Cuban music.  Essentially, it doesn’t matter what mood I’m in – to the New York Voices, I can jam, I can sleep, I can cram, I can party, I can cry, I can laugh, I can smile.

On the other hand, I consider the New York Voices primarily a jazz group.  And as such, one of the most important qualities for which I listen is blend of the voices.  Just like creamer blends smoothly and effortlessly into a warm cup of coffee, the voices of the New York Voices sound less like four, distinct tones and more like one voice layered over itself.  Such blend is critical, especially for a jazz song, such as the one presented to you above, not to mention the fact that the four singers of the New York Voices are executing major sevenths and minor seconds (it’s a music theory thing, you probably wouldn’t understand)  with absolute aplomb.

A look at their facebook page provides one with some more interesting information.  For one thing, the group formed twenty-five years ago, a testament to their staying power.  They take inspiration from ‘Lambert, Hendricks and Ross‘, a jazz vocalese trio formed in the late 1950s.  And yet I admire the New York Voices for somehow managing to transcend the imposing boundary of time.  For example, the latest album of the New York Voices was released in 2007 (newyorkvoices.com).  2007 was close to the era of time when that pitiful subhuman called ‘Justin Bieber’ clawed its way into existence.

And so, my fellow readers, I now must task you with some questions.  After all, I have so blatantly provided you all with my personal opinion of the New York Voices.  Therefore, I am of the mind that each of you should grant me some of your thoughts on the subject.