Year of the dragon(fruit). February 8, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: dragonfruit, eating dragonfruit, Smaug, The Hobbit, Year of the Dragon
Silence Dogood here. We may be entering the Year of the Snake, but yesterday I felt that the Year of the Dragon was still very much with me. I discovered an oriental grocery while out shopping with a dear friend. Given that I live in the middle of Pennsylvania Dutch country, where the local cuisine chiefly derives from hearty German farmhouse fare (“Dutch” in this case derives from Deitsch, German, not Netherlands Dutch), I’m always excited to find any venue that offers an extensive selection of Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern, and other vegetarian-friendly foods.
This time, I hit the jackpot. My poor friend finally dragged me kicking and screaming from the store before I bought everything in it. I came away with some fabulous finds like Szechuan pepper oil, fermented red rice, and fried tofu. But the real highlight was the produce section. I loaded up on round green Thai eggplant, long purple Japanese eggplant, baby bok choi, super-fresh mung bean sprouts, okra, miniature mushrooms, garlic chives, baby shallots, cilantro, Thai basil, and long beans. Then I added an oriental persimmon and a dragon fruit.
Dragon fruit! I’d read about it, but never actually seen one. When I did, I was struck by how wildly gorgeous it is. The length and width of my palm, the heavy oval fruit had a ruby-red skin with overlapping “leaves.” Our friend Ben thought it looked terrifying, like an alien heart, but what it most reminded me of was the tuna, the beautiful red prickly pear cactus fruit beloved in Mexico, but in giant form.
Once I got it home, and before cutting into it, I wanted to learn more about dragon fruit, so I turned to my good friend Google, which led me to an extremely helpful article on About.com. I was very gratified to discover that the dragonfruit really is the fruit of a cactus: Score one for Silence! And I was surprised but pleased to learn that all you had to do to eat it was…to eat it.
The beautiful red skin isn’t edible. The author of the About.com article suggested slicing the dragonfruit in half lengthwise, scooping out the flesh and then cubing it (after making sure you’ve removed any trace of the colored skin). The flesh itself is white and filled with tiny black edible seeds; the author compared it to eating kiwifruit seeds.
She further suggested adding the cubed dragonfruit to a tropical fruit salad with papaya, mango, banana, starfruit, and so on, bathed in a dressing made from lime juice, canned coconut milk, and brown sugar or palm sugar. (What about kiwi?) Sadly, we’re trapped in the house expecting a major snowstorm to hit now, so the best I could do is a dragonfruit and persimmon fruit (and frozen mango, oh dear) salad (though I do have the lime juice, coconut, and brown sugar). But I think I’ll try the dragonfruit plain first, just to see what it tastes like.
I’m still in the dark about how people eat dragonfruit where it’s actually grown, but I think once I actually taste it I’ll have some ideas about how I’d like to eat it. Now the challenge is to get our friend Ben to try some…
If any of you are dragonfruit aficionados and have recipes to share, please let me know! I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back to the oriental grocery, so I’d really like to make the most of the dragonfruit I have. As a huge fan of The Hobbit, it seems only appropriate to me to enjoy a dragonfruit in the year that Smaug has made the big screen at last.
‘Til next time,
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” December 24, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Bilbo Baggins, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, The Hobbit, The Hobbit film, The Lord of the Rings, Thorin Oakenshield
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Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and our friend Rashu finally got to see the film adaptation of the first part of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The journey may not have been unexpected—we’ve all been reading The Hobbit regularly since childhood—but we were all anxious about the film adaptation.
The reviews have been lukewarm at best, praising Richard Armitage as the dwarf-king Thorin Oakenshield, Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf, and Andy Serkis as Gollum, the last two reprising their roles in the Lord of the Rings (LoTR) movie cycle.
Mind you, it’s not that Silence and I don’t love Richard Armitage, who stole the whole show in the BBC’s “Robin Hood” series as Sir Guy of Gisborne, normally a minor character, and even with really tough competition from the hilarious Sheriff of Nottingham (“ham” being the operative word, he was so funny) and a very sympathetic Palestinian boy-but-really-girl who was part of Robin’s band. And who wouldn’t love Andy Serkis?! His Gollum is priceless and displays a full range of very moving emotions, far beyond just muttering “my preciousss.”
Admittedly, Sir Ian leaves me and Silence cold as Gandalf; we’d have preferred our hero, Christopher Lee, in the role. (At least he makes a return appearance as Saruman the White, though his beard looked a lot better in LoTR.) But our real issue was that nobody’s talking about Bilbo.
Bilbo Baggins is the heart and soul of The Hobbit; it’s a book about his journey, from a sheltered life in The Shire to a very full life of adventure and self-discovery, and it’s full of humor, unlike the uniformly dark, brooding Lord of the Rings trilogy. And we’ve very much enjoyed Martin Freeman’s performance as the longsuffering Dr. Watson in “Sherlock” (we’re also looking forward to seeing—or at least hearing—Sherlock himself, the wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch, as Smaug). So why wasn’t anyone talking about his performance as Bilbo, the star of the show?
We were also dismayed when our friend Rob and his son Christian went to see “The Hobbit” and both of them proclaimed it the most interminable, boring waste of time they’d ever sat through. (Given all the movies they see, that’s quite a statement.) What had Peter Jackson done to our beloved childhood favorite?!
We were prepared to believe the critics’ comments that the movie was padded; after all, Mr. Jackson has stretched the book into a film trilogy. And we were also willing to set aside Rob’s and Christian’s comments on the grounds that they hadn’t even read The Hobbit, much less read it every year, so they could hardly be called fans.
However, Silence and I had been far from impressed by the film version of LoTR, while everyone else seemed to be falling all over themselves praising it. We found it tedious, with most of the characters interchangeable (exceptions being Arwen Evenstar, Galadriel, Saruman, Gollum, Boromir, Pippin, Sam Gamgee, and, of course, Gimli, played by the marvelous John Rhys Davies), and the interminable battle sequences. But to be fair, we’d also found the trilogy in book form to be tedious, taking itself so very seriously, unlike the playful Hobbit. What worried us most was that Peter Jackson might have stripped all the humor from the film.
Not to worry. As it turned out, the dwarves were all great and all but Thorin were quite humorous. The makeup artists deserve a huge shout-out for their dwarves’ looks, especially the hair and beards. If you enjoy slapstick (which we do), the trolls were a scream. But Bilbo, who has a comedic aspect in the book much like Pippin’s in LoTR, seems to have lost it after serving a most unexpected supper to a bunch of uninvited dwarves and Gandalf at his home, Bag End. His performance can best be described as earnest. We hope he’ll recover it in the sequels.
Richard Armitage as Thorin was as good as advertised, and I have to admit that Silence thinks he’s a major hottie (as she did in “Robin Hood”) and makes a far better romantic lead than did Viggo Mortensen in the LoTR films (though we both admire Mr. Mortensen’s erudition enormously, he brings a depth to film that is seldom seen). Thorin may be a dwarf, but that’s not apparent in the film; he looms large as a valiant warrior and leader. This is a vast enlargement of his role in the book, where he was an arrogant, wooden, one-dimensional stick figure. Much credit is due Mr. Armitage, the screenwriters, and the director for this improvement on the original.
As before with LoTR, we felt that far too much time was devoted to digitalized fighting. But then, we’re not of the video-game-playing generation; maybe they’d find it fabulous. However, Rashu is of that generation, and he found the film much more disappointing than we did. We’re still not sure why, but we think it’s because so little of the film actually was drawn from the book. (We can only think of a couple of comments by Gandalf, and Gollum’s riddles, that were taken verbatim from the book.)
Maybe it’s because we weren’t expecting much, but we actually enjoyed the film. (Though we did mutter a lot of “Poor Bilbo!” as it progressed.) Would we see it again? Probably, but at home where we could walk away from some of the fight scenes (though we’d watch the opening fight of Thorin’s ancestors and the one where he battles the wargs and orcs in the final confrontation of the film; they were great.) But we think the fan documentary “Ringers” captures the playful spirit of The Hobbit far better than “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” If any of you have seen it, please let us know what you thought!
More on naming cats. December 9, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: cat names, J.R.R. Tolkien, Katniss, The Hobbit, The Hunger Games
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Silence Dogood here. We wrote about naming cats—specifically, naming our cat Pumpkin—the other day. This of course brought to mind the way popular culture influences the choice of names in general, from baby names to cat and dog names.
With the first movie in “The Hobbit” trilogy debuting within the week, no doubt a generation of dogs will find themselves named Bilbo, Frodo, Thorin, Beorn, and Gandalf. But what about cats? I suspect cat-lovers will turn not to J.R.R. Tolkien but to The Hunger Games for inspiration. We may not see many cats named Coriolanus, Seneca or Romulus, but Katniss is an excellent cat name. Gale works for me. Cinna is a good cat name, as is Caesar. Some cat-lovers who also love The Hunger Games might decide to name their cats Cato, Clove, Glimmer, Rue, or even Thresh, not to mention Finnick, Annie, Haymitch, Effie, Maysilee, and Johanna.
Would you name your cat after a character in The Hunger Games trilogy? Would you name a dog after a character in The Hobbit? Much as our friend Ben and I love The Hobbit, I doubt I’d go to it for pet names. But I wouldn’t mind naming a cat Katniss. Somehow, it just seems right.
‘Til next time,
The Hobbit turns 75. September 22, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
This year, J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Hobbit, turns 75. Admittedly, that’s still pretty young compared to Bilbo Baggins’s 111 or Gandalf’s many centuries (if memory serves, Sir Ian McKellen, the actor who plays Gandalf in the movie series, believes him to be 700 years old). But it’s still a pretty good run. And now we Hobbit fans have not one but two things to look forward to: the release of the first part of “The Hobbit” movie series in December, and a new book, Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit by Corey Olsen.
I discovered Mr. Olsen’s book in an article in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, “The Grown-Up Pleasures of ‘The Hobbit’.” (Find it at www.wsj.com.) In the article, Mr. Olsen makes the point that The Hobbit is not just a children’s book, that it has a great deal to offer adults. Our friend Ben couldn’t agree more. I’ve loved The Hobbit since I first read it in sixth grade, and it’s still my favorite of Tolkien’s works. It’s complex, driven by Professor Tolkien’s vast knowledge of Nordic, Celtic and Saxon mythology and literature, yet it’s also playful. It never takes itself too seriously, unlike his other and darker works.
But there is one point on which I disagree with Mr. Olsen: He praises Tolkien’s songs and poems in his article as the highlights of The Hobbit, decrying the fact that many readers dismiss them as irrelevant or don’t even bother to read them. Our friend Ben is a lifelong poet and lover of songs, but Tolkien’s just don’t do it for me. I understand why he included them—again, homage to the ancient literature he loved—but while he was a great prose writer, he was no poet. Mr. Olsen quotes the song of the goblins (“Grip, grab! Pinch, nab!”) as an example of why Professor Tolkien’s songs were so great. Uh, excuse me?
Our friend Ben prefers Tolkien’s love of maps, geography, and walking (as expressed by Bilbo and lovingly illustrated by his creator). Professor Tolkien spends as much time on the places he creates for his Middle Earth as on his characters, and I think it’s time well spent: Middle Earth comes alive for us, from the Shire to Rivendell to Mirkwood to the Misty Mountains to Gondor to the fiery heart of Mordor itself.
Professor Tolkien was a great storyteller and a great creator of character. But he also understood the importance of creating a compelling context in which his story can unfold, a world that we as readers can picture and lose ourselves in.
Reading The Hobbit, we can see ourselves in Bilbo’s home, Bag End, with its numerous pantries (and wish we, like the dwarves, could enjoy one of Bilbo’s freshly baked seed-cakes); we can see ourselves creeping like Bilbo into Smaug’s lair; we can see ourselves in Beorn’s home, lying terrified as we hear the roaring outside and praying that we’ll survive the night; we can see ourselves in Laketown when the dragon rises and comes to set us all on fire.
Point being that, even as we can see Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin and the rest in these situations, we can also see ourselves there. This is the secret of great storytelling: to make us not just want to read but to be part of the story.
Silence Dogood, reading over my shoulder, reminds me that this is also the secret of the unlikely success of a writer like Jane Austen, whose modest domestic period pieces should have gone the way of her contemporaries into obscurity when that period was past, but instead not only have endured as literary classics but have spawned a highly successful film industry and an entire category of fiction, the Regency romance. Like Professor Tolkien, Miss Austen was able to make her readers want to be part of the world she created, to be courted by Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley, to live happily ever after.
It is a great gift to be able to imagine a world and bring that world to life. J.R.R. Tolkien drew on his enormous erudition and, taking the best from it, did exactly that. Even 75 years later, The Hobbit is timeless, as enjoyable to read today as when it was first published. Our friend Ben can’t wait to see the movie and read Mr. Olsen’s book. But those songs and poems? Oh, please.
A little treat for Tolkien fans. July 29, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: J.R.R. Tolkien, Ringers, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien fans
This Sunday’s “Cul de Sac” cartoon featured a little boy picking out a book in the library, when a second boy told him it was “derivative and thin, like watered-down Tolkien.” When the first boy’s mother asked him where the book was, he replied “I put it back. It’s derivative, watered-down tolking.” He thought “tolking” was some kind of obscure water sport! As all Tolkien lovers know, there’s a lot of “watered-down tolking” taking up shelf space out there.
Still, it’s hard to get enough Tolkien for the die-hard fan. Our friend Ben is really looking forward to the film version of “The Hobbit,” especially now that I know that the wonderful Martin Freeman, who plays Dr. Watson in “Sherlock,” will be starring as Bilbo, and that Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Sherlock himself, will have dual roles as the voices of the dragon Smaug and “the Necromancer” (can you say “Sauron”?). Of course, I’m also looking forward to the return of the priceless Andy Serkis as Gollum and my hero, the (apparently) immortal Christopher Lee, as Saruman. Rumor has it that director Peter Jackson is now planning to turn “The Hobbit” into a trilogy; I hope he’s able to pull it off, since The Hobbit is by far my favorite of Tolkien’s books.
But there’s still quite a stretch of time before even the first part is released in December, so if you’re hungry for more, here’s a little gem our friend Ben discovered that has delighted me at least as much as—and possibly more than—the actual “Lord of the Rings” films. It’s called “Ringers,” and it’s a documentary of Tolkien fans, but it’s a lot more than that. It has lots of background information on Tolkien and his world, numerous interviews with the actors of the movies, behind-the scenes shots on location in New Zealand, insights from Peter Jackson and others involved in the film, as well as Discworld author Terry Pratchett, David Carradine, Lemmy of Motorhead, and a curious assortment of others.
If you’re like our friend Ben, you’ll love the interviews with some of the more colorful Ringers (“Call me Grimlock!”), and with favorite actors like John Rhys-Davies. There’s a wonderful surprise appearance by Andy Serkis (in his own form but still Gollum through and through; one Ringer remarks “You’re looking a lot better these days!” to which he replies “Thanks, preciousssss!”). And you’ll be amazed—or perhaps not—at the lengths some Ringers will go to to get their Tolkien fix. (One woman sold her house so she could go to New Zealand for the premier.) Fans of Pippin will enjoy getting to hear more of Billy Boyd’s delightful Scottish accent.
As you might expect, Viggo Mortensen, who plays Aragorn and is himself a deeply literate author and poet, has considerable insight into Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings. But for our friend Ben, the best surprise of the film was the tremendously moving commentary of Sean Astin, who plays Samwise Gamgee, Frodo Baggins’s gardener and companion. In the films, his dialogue is mostly limited to “Mr. Frodo!”, “I’m coming, Mr. Frodo!” and “Don’t leave me, Mr. Frodo!” So it was wonderful and impressive to hear him expound on The Lord of the Rings in his interviews; his insights were the best of them all. Sadly, neither Christopher Lee nor another of our friend Ben’s favorites, Sean Bean (Boromir) were interviewed, but pretty much everyone else is there, with, of course, the exception of the Dark Lord Sauron himself.
All this would make “Ringers” an exceptional documentary. But its creators have also added plenty of humor and cleverness in the way they treat the information. The scene in which they take down the early critics of The Lord of the Rings is worthy of Monty Python. If you’re used to documentary films being deadly serious, straight-ahead reporting, “Ringers” is a delightful, and delightfully funny, and ultimately delightfully human surprise. It’s one no Tolkien fan would want to miss.