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Check out my science fiction series - The Fall of the Altairan Empire

Monday, August 31, 2015

Movie Review - Sinbad and the Minotaur

Netflix is a wonderful thing. So many bad movies...

Sinbad and the Minotaur (2011) was an abomination. My son summed it up well. "This is a bad D&D campaign. On film." Nothing could save it from the MST treatment after that. We also decided it would make a fun D&D campaign with a few tweaks.

Cast of good guys:
Sinbad - looks good with his shirt off, supposed to be a thief but we never saw any evidence of that skill. He beat up a few people.
Big fighter dude - never caught his name but he has a very high constitution and lots of hit points and carries around large random objects as weapons. In the movie he carried around this big wooden thing that looked like a cross between a water skin, a giant wooden cornucopia, and a scimitar. He whacked someone once, so I think it was a weapon. Looked dorky, though.
Token minority - a black guy whose job was to ask stupid questions so Sinbad could look smart answering them.
The scholar - Nestor the scholar. Looked a lot like what's-his-name from the Star Wars prequel 1, Quai-Gon-Jin I think. Wasn't nearly as much fun since he didn't have the cool accent. His job was to spout information.
The princess - she spent the whole movie running around in a belly-dance outfit and being spunky.
Assorted sailors, sort of - mostly just cannon fodder.

Cast of bad guys:
Algebra the sorcerer - not really the name but way more fun to make fun of. He had the classic moments of megalomania which derailed his evil plans. He didn't kick a puppy to prove how evil he was, but he did kill his pet hawk. And he was bald and had a gravelly voice, so you knew he was evil. Plus he smacked his belly dancing slaves around.
Roger the Undying - not really his name either, but Roger the Undying makes me giggle so I'll keep that. He was some weird vampire knockoff. He sparkled in the sunlight, too, but only because he was wearing something sparkly half the time. We decided he'd look better in a cardigan sweater and singing, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor—ly snack." He whined a lot and ate dead things.
Crazy insane priestess - she was sweet and innocent looking, at first, then she went batcrap crazy. You could tell because her hair got progressively more ratted. And she sprouted horns from her forehead. And her voice got deep and echoed. And she started ranting. But she was still sweet and adorable so she lived.
Random assorted crazy villagers - mostly cannon fodder for the fight scenes. Sort of like zombies, with horns.

Cue text scrolling to explain the movie. Followed by a prologue explaining the origin of the Minotaur, sort of. Mostly it was a guy running around in a bed-sheet toga and looking anguished. Or constipated. I couldn't really tell. On to the movie.
Bad guy laughs evilly and gloats over captured princess. She says something spunky. Sinbad sneaks in to steal treasure, gets distracted by princess. He gets discovered. The bad guy attacks. Introduction of Roger the Undying. Who promptly dies. Fights happen. Princess escapes with Sinbad. Other stuff happens. Wash, rinse, repeat. Wait, that's the shampoo directions.
More stuff happens involving running away and fighting and saying clich├ęd things.
Everyone ends up on Minoa, where the Minoans live, hunting a giant golden head because, you know, GOLD. More fights happen. The villagers go crazy and sprout horns, and start trying to eat everyone, I think. That may have been Roger, who, surprise!, hasn't died, cause he's Undying. Get it? The cute barmaid turns out to be a crazy evil high priestess with horns and rage issues. More fights happen. People die that we're supposed to care about but since I can't remember anyone's name, except Nestor who dies, I didn't care much.
Sinbad slays Algebra in a non-epic battle while the princess looks concerned and does awkward eyebrow things during her close-ups that made no editing sense whatsoever.
Sinbad finally gets to take his shirt off to fight the Minotaur. The fight is so short, it almost wasn't worth waiting for. The evil priestess breaks down crying and everyone feels sorry for her, because she's still very sweet and adorable despite being totally ape-crazy and bloodthirsty and angry.
The golden head apparently explodes in the volcano (did I forget to mention the labyrinth is inside a volcano?) and bits of gold rain down on our fearless hero and the princess and the token minority guy, the only crew member to survive. The token minority guy dances around chanting, "We're rich! It's gold! We're rich!" while Sinbad finally kisses the Princess in her indestructible belly-dancing outfit.
And we celebrated the fact the movie was finally over.
There, I just saved you an hour and a half of pain.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thursday Recipe - Hibiscus Syrup (and it's uses)

Last week I mentioned dried hibiscus flowers. I got mine in a basket from Bountiful Baskets. You can also buy them online, just Google "shop for dried hibiscus flowers" and you'll get a whole list. A pound is plenty, and go for the whole flowers.

When I got mine, the first thing I did was surf the web looking for ways to use them. I tried a couple of different things but this was the best recipe. If you have fresh mint growing in your yard, you're all set. I have apple mint, which has fuzzy leaves and a milder taste than a lot of mints. If you have spearmint or a really strong mint, just use less of it, unless you like strong mint flavor.

Oh, by the way, this is not a thick pancake syrup. It's a drink/flavoring syrup. My kids' first question was, "Are you going to make pancakes for it?" Nope, not that kind.

Hibiscus Syrup

1/2 lb dried whole hibiscus flowers, about 1 1/2 cups
1 cup fresh mint leaves
3 c. water
1 c. sugar

Put hibiscus and mint leaves in a 2 quart saucepan, cover with the water. Bring to boil. Cover the pan and let it steep for 20 minutes. Strain out the flowers and leaves. Return the liquid to the pan. It should be a lovely deep red color and smell fruity and flowery.

Add the sugar. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-40 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by about half and becomes like a thin syrup. Cool, then store in your refrigerator. It will thicken a little more and almost become a soft jelly. That's normal.

Hibiscus Ice Cream

3 c. vanilla ice cream mix (Russell's makes a great one out here in Utah, or you can use your favorite vanilla ice cream recipe. I have a smaller ice cream maker that only does about 5-6 c. of ice cream at a time, so feel free to adjust the amount of this recipe.)
1/4 c. hibiscus syrup

Pour both items into your ice cream maker. Freeze according to manufacturer's directions. This makes a lovely lavender colored ice cream.

Hibiscus Fruit Punch

4 lemons
1 orange
2 limes
1 c. hibiscus syrup
1 c. sugar

Juice lemons, orange, and limes. Pour into a gallon pitcher. You should have about 2 c. of juice total. Add hibiscus syrup and sugar. Stir well. Add ice and water to make three quarts. Stir again to make sure the sugar is dissolved and everything is mixed. If you want to boost the lemonade flavor, you can add a half cup or so of lemon juice.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Game Review - The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis

This game was a blast to play back in the 90s. The zoombinis are cute little cartoon guys that you have to help. They're trying to escape the evil fleens and reach zoombiniville, a utopia for zoombinis. To get them there, you have to get them through nine different challenges, including making pizzas for Arlo the Pizza Troll.

Great news! Zoombinis are back and native for tablets. Desktop versions are supposed to release very soon. I backed the kickstarter for this last spring and I'm very glad. The game is every bit as much fun as I remember.

Since I'm doing research into educational games, among other things, I have to tack on the educational value review. The game teaches logical thinking, set theory, computational thinking, if-then statements, arrays, and a host of other things along the same lines. But it does it implicitly, as part of the game. Nowhere does it beat you over the head with the educational values. In fact, it goes too far to the other extreme. My son and I were discussing this and decided that the decorative loading screens could be easily changed to an explanatory and/or trivia screen that would make the learning a little more explicit. It wouldn't take much, just a very short paragraph pointing out the if-then structure of the allergic cliffs puzzle. It could even be presented as game hints.

There is a lot of educational value buried in this game. It's one of the absolute best logic games I've ever played. It's cute, it's fun, it ranges from easy to extremely challenging. It has a couple of minor things that bug me, but overall, it's an A+ game, well worth playing.

Go check it out.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thursday Recipe - Weird Veggies and Fruits

Okay, this isn't really a recipe but a post about weird food. I've been doing the Bountiful Basket thing again. It's less than $20 for a big laundry basket of really fresh veggies and fruit. Some of them are definitely gourmet. Some of it is just weird.

What are some of the bizarre fruits or veggies you've found lately? Post in the comments and I'll let you know if I've cooked/prepared it, and possible grown it at one point. My dad had a thing for growing strange vegetables in our backyard.

Here's some of the weird stuff I've gotten lately:

Tamarind - these are weird looking bean pod things used in Asian sauces primarily. You prep it by peeling off the crunchy outer layer, then soaking the insides in a bowl of water for a while, then squishing it to pop out the seeds, then smashing it through a fine strainer. You end up with a smooth brown paste that has a sweet/sour taste. I didn't think it was worth the effort for the taste. Not my thing.

Dried hibiscus flowers - Yep, you read that right. These are what they look like blooming:
From Wallpapers World -
I love hibiscus flowers. They're so pretty, but they're mostly tropical so I can't really grow them.

I found out I like the dried ones, too. I used mine to make a syrup that we used to flavor (and color) ice cream, frosting, fruit punch, and a bunch of other sweet things. The ice cream and frosting turned out lovely shades of lavender and pink. The fruit punch turned out deep red. I'll post recipes next week.

Papaya - I've never had it fresh and I don't think I will ever again. Not my thing.

Italian Eggplant - this is the really long, skinny eggplant. It was very mild and tasty. This is the way I like it cooked - fried in egg batter.

Red Corn - like regular sweet corn on the cob only not as sweet and with a red tint to the outsides of the kernels and the cob.

We've also gotten some really good pear varieties, different kinds of apples, plums, fresh figs, and a whole host of other goodies. Some were kind of a miss, but overall it was worth the price of the basket. Excuse me while I go order another one...

Monday, August 17, 2015

Blast from the Past

It's been a busy week so I'm scrambling to catch up. What have I been up to? Mostly recovering from the previous months. What have I learned this past week?

First, LEGO Batman is pretty fun on the wii. LEGO Indiana Jones 2 wasn't nearly as much fun. But LEGO Lord of the Rings is still the best, followed closely by LEGO Pirates.

2. Getting up before 7 am then staying up until 2 am several days in a row wipes me out.

Three, chickens are weird. Sick chickens are weirder.

Last, I am deliberately not following consistent formatting. I don't want to even think about formatting. Or citations. Or anything else that has to do with academic writing. At least not until the revisions show up in my mailbox.

And just for fun, here's a post from four years ago that still makes me giggle - What a Dream I Had.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Thursday Recipe - Garlic Salt and Ranch Dip Mix

Okay, it sounds simple. And it is. But how many people pay premium prices for stuff that they could easily mix up on their own? My spice cupboard has everything I need for these. If I mix them up myself, then I have the convenience of the pre-mixed seasonings but without the things I don't like in the commercial mixes.

So here goes.

Garlic Salt

1/2 c. salt (sea salt, kosher flaked salt, or whatever fancy salt you want)
3 T. garlic powder
1 T. dried parsley
1 t. dried herbs, optional (if you want to fancy it up a bit, use oregano, marjoram, basil, thyme, rosemary, chives, or any of the green herbs)

Put everything in a shaker bottle. I just re-use the one already labeled "garlic salt" that I finished off a couple of years ago and keep re-filling. Shake it well. Store in a cool dry place.

If you like a finer grind on everything, put it through a small food processor or spice grinder.

Ranch Dip Mix

1/4 c. freeze-dried onions
1/4 c. dried parsley
2 T. garlic powder
2 T. salt
1 t. ground black pepper
1 t. dill weed

Mix everything in a small food processor or spice grinder. Store in an airtight container cool dry place.

Ranch Dip

1/2 c. sour cream
2 T. ranch dip mix

Mix together then refrigerate for an hour to let everything blend.

Dairy-free version: Use 1/2 c. mayonnaise instead of sour cream
Ranch Dressing: Make the dip and add 1/4 c. milk. Shake well.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Thursday Recipe - Chicken Spice Rub

I need to mix up more spice blends. I've really enjoyed the convenience of the ones I've done before, like Onion Soup, Curry Powder, Italian Seasoning, Taco Seasoning, and even Garlic Salt (coming next week, along with Ranch Dip Mix). So the other day when I wanted something different with the chicken, I went looking for chicken dry rubs for bbq chicken.\

This one was very tasty. Of course, I mixed it up a bit and did my own thing with it, like usual.

What's your favorite dry rub for meats? Share in the comments. I'd love to pick up a few more recipes.

Chicken Spice Rub

1/3 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. paprika
2 t. black pepper
1 T. salt
2 t. New Mexico chili powder (use whatever chili powder you like, this is what I had on hand)
1 t. garlic powder

Mix everything together. Store in an airtight container.

BBQ Chicken and Potatoes

1 recipe chicken spice rub
1-2 lbs boneless skinless chicken, cut into skewer size chunks
2-3 lbs potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 2 inch chunks
cooking spray

Put the chicken in a large plastic bag. Add 1/2 the spice rub. Squeeze it around to coat all the chicken with the spices. Put in the fridge for an hour or two.

When you're ready to start cooking, turn the oven on to 400°. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray it with cooking spray. Spread the potatoes over 2/3 of the baking sheet. Lightly spray them with the cooking spray. Sprinkle with 1/2 of the chicken spice rub. Toss to spread it around a bit. Dump the chicken onto the other third of the pan and spread it out a bit.

Bake for 35-50 minutes, until the chicken is no longer pink inside and you can stick a fork easily into the potatoes.

Really good with sour cream on the side as a dipping sauce. Or bleu cheese dressing. Or with this BBQ sauce:

Stonewall Barbecue Sauce (from Food Network originally, although you know I tweaked it 'cause that's what I do)

1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. cider vinegar
1/2 c. ketchup
1/4 c. lemon juice
1/4 c. worcestershire sauce
1 t. hot sauce

Mix everything in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce thickens.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Thesis. Again. *sigh*

My thesis was supposed to be finished by the end of June. Major underestimation of the time it would take on my part. But I can say, with 95% confidence levels, that it will be done this week. {Augh, statistics are creeping into everything I say.} My crash course in basic and advanced statistics over the last month has been frustrating, enlightening, time-consuming, and a hundred other adjectives. I feel like I've been trying to drink all of Niagra Falls. For days.

But I've learned some things.

1- I really don't enjoy academic writing. I much prefer to make everything up and not have to cite sources.

2- Statistics are very complicated and I'm not sure very many people really understand why you do it the way you do, or what is really going on under the hood in the stats programs, but I think I have a grasp of what some of the numbers in the output table mean.

3- Academic writing takes ten times longer than fiction writing. It can take me hours to write just a couple of paragraphs, mostly because I need to keep looking up stuff.

4- I don't think I want a PhD.

5- I can handle graduate school, despite being a mostly stay-at-home mom for the last twenty years and being older than most of my professors. I enjoyed most of it. But I also know I'm done.

6- My kids are more capable than I believed. They've been doing a lot of cooking, cleaning, laundry, and generally taking care of themselves. And doing a good job of it.

Once I get this thesis defended and jump through the hoops to graduate, I'm taking a nice long break from academics. I'm going to go back to making stuff up and writing about explosions and magic and sword fights and monsters and spaceships. Because that's what I really enjoy.