SIFF 2016: Day Seven

Back in Capitol Hill for the second time in one day (haircut!), and the third time of the weekend (I went back a fourth time Sunday for non-cinema-related business), we had the delight of watching Hunt for the Wilderpeople at the Egyptian. From the guy who brought us Eagle vs Shark, this was a fun trip through the bush of New Zealand. A city boy, in need of fostering, with gangster ambitions gets placed with a couple on a farm. Things go well at first, then the boy, already prone to running away, is given a big reason to make himself scarce. He’s teamed up with gristly Sam Neill for an adventure in the wilderness. A favorite of the festival, sometimes the audience laughter blocked out subsequent lines (jokes?).

Wowee, forget the story – New Zealand is an awesome bit of topography! There were some really great aerial shots and sweeping vistas that make Annabel Langbein‘s show pale in comparison. But, seriously, except for one excruciating scene of harsh nature, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a very enjoyable film. It will be showing in some theaters later this month. Does not pass the Bechdel Test.

After the movie, we wandered over to Molly Moon’s to get some ice cream before they closed for the night at eleven. The weather was perfect for it, and the swiftly moving line was well out the door. We’re not quite there yet, but summer nights in Seattle can really be downright pleasant.

SIFF 2014: Day Two

Finished up the weekend with The Search for General Tso, a delightful documentary exploring the history of Chinese food in the United States, and specifically the origin of the eponymous (and ubiquitous) dish. The film asks the questions, who was General Tso, why was this dish named after him, and how did this dish end up on virtually every Chinese menu in the country? I must admit, I do have a fondness for the dish. I often, and fondly, tell the story of randomly finding General Tso’s tofu at a place in Raleigh, North Carolina. I also shell out the extra bucks to get the most expensive combo at Bamboo Garden, just so I can get a few chunks of General Tao’s “chicken”. Not only did I learn the history of the dish, but I also learned quite a bit about the history of Chinese Americans in general (no pun intended). The screening was sold out, so I imagine this film will get some distribution outside of the festival circuit.

Untitled Writing Exercise

I awoke as usual, with the animals, restless with hunger, signaling the approaching dawn. I poked my face out and took in a breath of air. It was cold, and clear, and I braced myself for full emergence into it. I pushed back my pack and stepped out onto the smooth stone below. I stretched my body, one quadrant at a time, and was ready for the day. I rolled up my pack and stashed it in the rocks. The animals would hopefully earn their keep by not letting anyone – or anything – take my pack in my absence.

I climbed down the side of the hill to the communication hut. The antennae were already abuzz, exchanging messages with the other huts scattered about the moonscape. I checked the log for any urgent communiques from the overnight. There were the usual data requests and status relays. But today they’d have to wait to get my full attention. Today I had a more important task.

Transport duty is an honor of sorts. Being outside of the electrified perimeter of the communication hut is dangerous, for many reasons. Inside the hut is the only equipment available for contact beyond the perimeters. Outside, exposed to the elements, and the native fauna, without any way to call for help, imminent death is a foregone conclusion. That is, unless you’re in a transport vehicle. Most sectors only have one or two available, so only dignitaries or missionaries are allowed their use. But nearly everyone in every sector craves the day they are asked to operate a vehicle. That means leaving the sector, if only for a brief time, in the hopes that things are different somewhere else. After so many days of sameness, any shift in the scenery is valued.

After reviewing transport vehicle protocol, I’m given the ignition rod and a map. I’ve been tasked with carrying one of our missionaries to a rendezvous point in Sector 46b2. A group of missionaries is taking another hop to the dark side for data mining and negotiations with the native clans. Important work, I’m sure, but I don’t really care. If I can get our missionary to the rendezvous point sooner rather than later, I can make a diversion without anyone really knowing.

For months we’ve been hearing chatter about food in Sector 46b2. We’re all supposed to be surviving on rations, but somehow, someone over there has been making actual food. Not merely fuel for these, our biological machines, but things with flavor and texture and aroma. I’m determined to find out for myself if the rumors are true, and I’d gladly die trying.

I was expeditious in my deliverance of the missionary at the rendezvous point, but not so hurried as to raise any alarm. Once my task was complete, I throttled the engines on the transport vehicle and made my way slowly through the ramshackle buildings gathered beneath the launch pad. Nothing stood out, which was to be expected. Any hint of nonconformity, even in the chaos of this veritable shanty town, would call for a severe clampdown by the authorities. Not necessarily for any kind of meanness, really, but no one wants to risk a convergence of the beasts in their sector. All the more reason I needed to try this food. If it was worth the risk of the beasts, it must be heaven on the moon.

I lowered the lateral visor and leaned my head outside. I was rewarded for my patience then. Barely noticeable, there danced amidst the dust particles and soot, molecules of such an alien, and yet, pleasurable odor, I didn’t quite believe it at first. I brought the vehicle to a stop outside a lean-to of corrugated steel draped with hemp netting. I removed the ignition rod and sat still for a long moment, gathering every piece of data available from my vantage point. The odor became stronger, or more concentrated, really, and a slight murmur emanated from behind the steel. I stepped out of the vehicle and cautiously made my way around what I hoped was an incognito kitchen.  As the murmurs grew louder, I considered for a moment that there might be a password or some kind of signal I would need to know to gain entrance. Considering the clandestine nature of such an establishment, the proprietors must be on their guard.

As I stood there contemplating my next move, something shifted in my peripheral view. Through a slit in the corrugation, a glittery eye looked upon me, unmoving. Two long, shaky breaths later and the slit widened to show a toothy grin residing on a round, dirty face. The man wordlessly beckoned for me to come inside, and I did. Once inside, the steel sheeting closed behind me with a rush of air, and immediately I felt transported to another world. I could feel the aromas crawling across my skin, wrapping me with an almost visible envelope of flavor. I followed the round-faced man across the dark room, and even though there was barely any light, I could see the air shifting about us, each wave bringing a new scent to me.

I was overwhelmed, but the cook didn’t seem to mind. I’m sure I wasn’t the first speechless stranger to wander into his shack. A firm but gentle hand pressed upon my shoulder, and I found myself sitting on a bench in front of a smooth and seemingly wooden table. My eyes were finally adjusting to the absence of light when another sensation greeted me. Hot, scented tendrils of steam crawled through the darkness, touching my chin and entering my gaping mouth. My jaw pulsed and saliva filled the cavity. On the table before me was a stack of what I can only describe as food. What else could I call something I had never seen but only heard about from others who also had never seen it?

The round-faced man stood before me and gestured for me to pick up the stack and put it to my mouth. I did just that, unsure of what I might do at any second. But instinct kicked in and my jaw stretched and my quivering lips surrounded the mound of hot substances. As I bit into it, the outer most layers gave way to my teeth easily. These outer layers were dry, yet soft, and did well to hold the inner layers from falling apart in my hands. My teeth continued to penetrate and I felt a resistance to my lower jaw. I reached my tongue to investigate and found what I can only compare to grass in feeling, but in taste. . .

There was a sweetness to the tiny bits of liquid that burst from the grassy stalks. And then my lip burned as the grass gave way to meaty leaves and seeds and even more bursting of liquid. Meanwhile, my upper teeth continued their downward trajectory. They met with resistance as well, but this was harder, not unlike the dried tobacco bits in our ration boxes in texture, but far from them in flavor. My teeth came together in the middle of a thick layer of spongy whiteness. I took the full bite of all layers together in my mouth and mashed them with my teeth. I let the liquids swirl around my tongue and my teeth, the fire that was on my lip, now inside my mouth, was tempered by the white mass surrounded by the crunchy flakes. Each layer was a separate sensation worthy of contemplation, but together they were a study in ecstasy.

My biology took over and I began swallowing the mashed up mass of substances. To fill the void, I took another bite, and another. The fire inside my mouth increased, but I welcomed the pain as it was feeling, true feeling I had never felt in all my days on this moon. I recognized more aspects to the flavors. There was bitterness that was not poison, there was saltiness that was not sweat. My eyes began to water and I paused to take a few gasping breaths. I didn’t want to let go of this pile of food for fear it would be taken from me, but I needed a break from it. The sensations were too much after so many years with none. I set the pile down on the table and wrapped my arms loosely but protectively around it and stared into the darkness. The round-faced cook pressed something cold to the back of my hand. I looked down to see an aluminum tankard filled with a creamy liquid. He motioned for me to drink it. The cool thickness soothed the delicious fire in my mouth. My craving strengthened and I lifted the stack for another round of devouring. I traded off on the cold, creamy liquid and my pile of food until they were both gone. Then I sat, perspiring and exhausted, my belly protruding like a missionary’s. I sighed audibly and the cook stretched his gnarled smile wider.

I was happy and sated and drowsy and unaware of the passage of time or of my surroundings. I soon felt tugging and prodding and was forced to standing, and then pushed out between the slit in the corrugation.  Outside, the light was blinding compared to the dimness inside the shack. I stood dumb and confused, trying to commit the memory of my meal into the safest part of my brain for later retrieval. My eyes readjusted, and the euphoria wore off, bringing me back to reality. I looked around for the transport vehicle but forgot where I had left it. I thought it was right outside the little building. I reached down for the ignition rod, and it was gone. No passwords or secret handshakes required, but my little pile of nirvana had a price.

Spinnaker: Then and Now

For all of my life, I’ve never really been a fan of roller coasters or other thrill rides. Especially if it has a loop in it, I can totally live without the experience, but there’s usually enough other attractions at amusement parks that I can still have a satisfying time. At some point in my childhood, I found myself at Six Flags Over Texas with my sister, stepmom, aunt, and older cousins. We were in line for the Spinnaker, a spinny thing on an arm which lifts to a vertical position, giving the riders a few moments of being upside down. I had no desire to ride it, so I said that I wouldn’t. This decision did not sit well with my stepmom, and so began a battle of wills. I eventually lost, influenced in part by my cousin Brian’s offer to let me ride with him in his pod (this same cousin Brian introduced me to peanut butter on pancakes, so I knew he could be trusted).  It wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but I still didn’t like it, and never rode it again. I just didn’t see how taking a turn on an amusement park ride would bring the slightest amount of betterment to my life as a whole. It did, however, provide me with a lasting memory.

Which is why, sitting at the bar of Oddfellows last night with Maryam, I felt compelled to drink a cocktail named Spinnaker. From what I can tell, it is a house creation, and its ingredients are bourbon, Bonal, Cointreau, and bitters, served with zest of orange. It was not nearly as scary to me as the amusement park ride, so it was not difficult to convince myself to get it. I had no previous knowledge of Bonal, but it is apparently harmless (as much as a 16% alcohol beverage can be), and actually quite tasty in the Spinnaker. I may have to check out this aperitif next time I’m at the ol’ liquor store. I can be quite adventurous in aspects of life that don’t involve mechanical arms and such throwing one’s body into the air.

Another Revolution

A little bit older, not really any wiser.This year my birthday cheeseburger came from Uneeda Burger, a new gourmet burger joint in Fremont. I had the Philly style burger, with Gruyère, peppers, and onions. It was delicious. Not quite as gargantuan as some of my past cheeseburgers, but their rendition on poutine helped fill the void. They also have Thomas Kemper root beer on tap, which is kinda awesome.Before I had my celebratory vittles, I saw The Fighter, an incredible film that will probably win more than one Oscar. I watched it in Ballard at the Majestic Bay Theatres, a venue worthy of your patronage. Once I was done eating, I found my way to the Mecca Cafe, as is my custom. Lots of wonderful people joined in the fun, and the whole day was a blast.

It’s My Birthday!

McDonald's Sign

There’s nothing I love more than myself. And so when my birthday comes around I try and do something special for me. As some of you know, one of those things is buy myself a cheeseburger.

It all began in, let’s say, 1994 when I decided I did not need to eat beef in order to have a complete diet. I had eliminated pork from my diet at least five years earlier for somewhat religious/spiritual reasons. Why did I need to continue to eat cows? I didn’t, and I didn’t think it would really be that much of a sacrifice. The only things I thought I might miss were cheeseburgers and chicken fried steaks. So I made a vow not to eat beef except for once a year – my birthday. On that most auspicious of days, I would consume a cheeseburger for lunch and a chicken fried steak for dinner.

The first of these birthdays found me in the Houston metropolitan area. I decided I would have the Ultimate Cheeseburger at Jack in the Box. It truly lives up to its name. Or it did back in those days. Back then, it was beef, cheese, bread, and their signature onion mayo. Deliciously elegant in its composition, and totally fulfilling. And filling. I don’t remember the chicken fried steak. It is not difficult to find one in Texas that fulfills all my requirements of such a meal, so it doesn’t particularly stand out.

The following several years I was in New York City on my birthday, specifically Manhattan. There are no Jack in the Box’s to be found, but there are several really good burger joints that will not disappoint. And surprisingly, there is a very good place for chicken fried steak – the Acme Bar & Grill. All the years I was in New York on my birthday (including a year after I moved away) this is where I got my CFS. I love this place, and ate there at other times as well, enjoying the Cajun Chicken instead with mashed potatoes and collard greens. They call it N’awlins Chicken now, the Cajun-fried option.

In the first 8 years I lived in Seattle I’ve struggled each year (minus the one I was back in NYC) to find a cheeseburger and a chicken fried steak that meet my criteria. On the CFS side of things, I suppose it’s not all that surprising that I can’t find a good one in the Pacific Northwest outside of Claim Jumper. I even went to Claim Jumper one year – it was good but grotesquely large, and I spent a lot of time agonizing over wasting it versus eating it for more than just the one day. Then a couple years ago I gave up searching. I decided that instead of the CFS, I would have a real turkey dinner on Thanksgiving, something I was beginning to miss more each year since I stopped eating poultry shortly after arriving in Seattle.

That just left the cheeseburger. There are a lot of “legendary” burger joints in the Seattle area. I think I had my birthday cheeseburger at a different place every year. The possible exception could be Luna Park Cafe, which I used to love. (They changed management and while it is virtually the same, there is something just a wee bit different and I don’t like it.) None of the burgers was quite what I wanted and every year I was a little disappointed. So last year, after lamenting that nothing was quite the Ultimate Cheeseburger, my friends convinced me I should just go for it. So, for the second time since I started this tradition, I had an Ultimate Cheeseburger for my birthday, only to discover that those clown-faced jerks changed it. It was more or less the same, but they served it with ketchup and mustard instead of the onion mayo. So, instead of just being able to walk up to the counter and say, “I want an Ultimate Cheeseburger and spicy curly fries,” I had to special order. The burger was amazing, but I was still disappointed.

This year, I decided to do something different. As it does some years, my birthday fell on Martin Luther King Jr Day. While not a holiday at my company, I took the day off anyway so that I could eat my cheeseburger in solitude. I considered trying to find a place that only sells organic free range beef (does that even exist?). I nixed that idea when I figured a place like that would probably want to put sprouts and avocados on my patty. So, instead, I thought that a high-quality steak house should be serving high quality beef – at least something higher grade than McDonald’s. I hope. There were a few steakhouses that came to mind – really just three after I eliminated the national chains. The Brooklyn, Daniel’s Broiler, and the Metropolitan Grill. I checked their menus online and opted for the Met, as it had the simplest cheeseburger.

The “American Kobe Style Beef” Works Burger
American Wagyu sirloin, cheddar and swiss cheeses, caramelized onions, drive–in sauce, lettuce, tomato.

I only made a couple requests – herb mayo instead of “drive-in sauce”, and no tomato. The sauce is their own 1000-Island dressing, something of which I’ve never been a fan.

Birthday Cheeseburger


I ordered it medium, it came medium well, which is fine for a burger. There were a bit too many onions, but that was easy to remedy. The first bite was pretty much heavenly. After that, it was just really good. Some bites brought back memories of the mesquite barbecued brisket of my childhood. My meal was accompanied by Sinatra, Gershwin, and other standards, as well as a vodka collins.

Ivan Collins

It was followed by a dish of Burnt Cream which had the consistency of thick pudding or slightly warm butter. After the burger and a few fries, I could only manage a few spoonfuls of the cream, so I boxed it up for home.

Burnt Cream

After my lunch, I walked it off by the Lusty Lady where I snapped their latest marquees, and then up to Pacific Place where I watched Charlie Wilson’s War. Another piece of evidence that there are some good things – besides myself – that come out of Texas.

And now My Day draws to a close. The only thing I regret is not telling my waiter it was my birthday. I probably could have got a candle in my Burnt Cream at the very least. C’est la vie. Next year I plan to celebrate my birthday in Baltimore, near the grave of fellow January baby and literary hero Edgar Allan Poe. Not sure if there’s a Jack in the Box nearby, but perhaps someone will give me a recommendation between now and then.

Aside: Considering the county Seattle resides in is named after Martin Luther King, Jr., you’d think this holiday would be a much bigger deal. Unless you’re looking, it is difficult to find any kind of celebrations or observances anywhere around the city. Quite sad.