It’s only fitting that I start this column with Baten Kaitos, since I started the ol’ game reviews with it back in the day. Baten Kaitos is (as is its prequel, Baten Kaitos Origins) an RPG with an unconventional card-based battle system. It was unfairly criticised by some major game sites (no points for guessing which one that’s a euphemism for) for being "too hard," which makes no sense to me. I mean, it’s not a very hard game; I get the idea that modern RPGs are supposed to be exercises in finding the "fight" command enough times to get to the next cutscene, but even by that standard, it’s not too hard. I’ve played hard games, and this isn’t on the same level. It was also criticised for having "too much gameplay" and I won’t even give that the benefit of pretending to understand it.
What sets the Baten Kaitos games apart from other RPGs? The battle system is fast-paced and exciting, and rewards quick reflexes and quick thinking in a way that few RPGs do, while at the same time not seeming "gimicky" or like you’re being forced to play endless tiresome minigames. It’s also paced correctly; both games start you out slowly enough that you’ll have plenty of time to adjust to the odd mechanics before they get difficult, and gradually ramp up the number of choices you have to make and the speed with which you have to do it. The typical battle in the endgame involves trying to play a large series of cards in the optimal fashion so you can to maximum damage (or healing) while at the same time attempting to leave yourself in a good position for the next turn. Foresight is an excellent ability to have to these games.
It’s also worth noting that the two games play completely differently, despite superficial similarities, but they both manage the same type of fast-paced and engaging combat. That’s a refreshing sight in an RPG these days, since combat that’s interesting in a non-spreadsheet-related way is a rarity.
With one day left in the season only two of the National League playoff spots are clinched. The Mets and Phillies are even with each other in the East, and the Padres and Rockies are both still contending, along with the Mets and Phillies, for the wild card.
Not to mention the Diamondbacks and their 90 wins is the best record the NL has. My Cubs, the NL Central division champions, have only 85 wins. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because the NL teams are just made of 85% comedy and 15% errors, and then sometimes I wonder if it’s just because the Devil Rays, Orioles, and Royals aren’t around for our top teams to beat up for easy wins. Guess we’ll find out.
There’s some argument in the comments on my Pasta column as to the true value of pasta. So I thought I’d throw in another recipe to demonstrate an interesting and unusual thing you can do with pasta – delightful little cookies.
This starts with pasta dough, so read that column first. You’re going to want to make it pretty much the same way, but get some brown sugar involved in the action this time – maybe half as much brown sugar as flour. The idea is for the dough to come out sweet and dark, but still pliable as before. So you’ll probably need to add more water. Once you have a nice brown dough made, and once the gnomes have done their evil magic, roll it out thin and cut it into circles. You’ll probably want to aim for about two inches across; a standard drinking glass (such as it is) is great as a ghetto cutter if you don’t have anything else.
Then we need to talk filling. The main ingredient in the filling is macadamia nuts. You’re going to want them chopped fine; if you have a food processor, this is a great place to use it. If you don’t, get ready to murder yourself chopping the bastards. Chop chop chop until you have sort of a coarse nut meal with no big pieces left in it. Once that’s settled, get it in a mixing bowl and add a whole bunch of honey, some cocoa powder, a pinch of nutmeg, a pinch of salt, and a splash of cognac. Mix it all together. You should come up with a dark, sticky paste – if you don’t, most likely you need more honey.
Once the dough is cut and the filling’s prepared, place a dollop of filling in the centre of each dough round, then fold it in half and crimp the edges with a fork. You’ll get a nice little half-moon with cute ridges on the curved side, which is exactly what you want. When you have the whole bunch done, you’re ready to fry them.
What? Fry them? You betcha. If you have a funky home fryer gadget, that’s the best plan (clearly), but you can make do with a pot full of oil on the rangetop. A high-temp thermometer (do NOT use a thermometer designed for temping sick mortals unless you like the idea of fishing little glass slivers out of hot oil) can be a help here, since you can keep your oil in the right range. I recommend soybean oil for this, since it doesn’t have the nasty off-taste of canola oil and also doesn’t have the nasty price tag of olive oil, and you’re going to be using a whole gallon. You’re going to want to keep the oil in the 350 – 400 degree range; if it’s smoking, it’s too hot. Once you’re pleased with your oil, toss in a cookie and see what happens. It should start bubbling more or less right away; if it doesn’t, your oil’s too cold. Assuming everything’s fine, you’ll want to fry it for a minute or two, then flip it (it will be floating) and fry it on the other side. Ideally you’re shooting for a nice golden-brown colour, with a bit of cratering on the surface. Continue to fry them a few at a time (be patient – do too many at once and you’ll kill your oil temperature, and then they’ll soak up a bunch of oil and get shitty). After you remove them from the oil, drain them on something suitable – a couple of layers of paper towel on a plate works fine if you don’t have anything fancier. There’s no need to throw the oil out when you’re finished frying in it, by the way; let it cool, strain out any big chunks of stuff, and save it for re-use frying later. Frying oil actually tends to be somewhat improved as it darkens a bit.
Once the cookies are all fried, it’s time to make the fudge. Fudge fudge fudge. Start with a can of sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk, unless you want some thoroughly nasty fudge). Heat it over very low heat until it starts to steam, then add about a pound of chocolate (chocolate chips are fine; if you’re using unsweetened baking chocolate, you will need to add sugar also) and a teaspoon or so of vanilla. Stir this constantly – or I promise you it will burn – until the chocolate is thoroughly melted, then remove it from the heat. Dip your cookies in the fudge; generally, I like to dip only half the cookie, so one end is fudge-covered and the other is not. If you’re a big fudge fanatic, feel free to dip the whole cookie, but be aware that it’ll be a pain to do and a pain to eat. Set the dipped cookies on a sheet of waxed paper to cool; it’s not a bad idea to dust the waxed paper with a bit of confecitoner’s sugar beforehand. Once all your cookies are dipped, dust the fudgey parts with confectioner’s sugar if you want (I think it makes them look nice) and you’re good to go!
See? Fancy pasta cookies. They’re delicious, unusual, and not altogether very difficult to make. The only hard part is CHOP CHOP CHOP, and you can get around that thanks to the wonders of modern technology. Oh, also, if the sharp-witted among my readership detected that this seems a lot like making ravioli, well, you’re right. You’ve basically made dessert ravioli here. Leave out the brown sugar and fill them with something more savoury – meat or cheese – and you can make a lovely dinner exactly the same way. You can even still fry them if you like, since fried ravioli is also delicious.
Pancakes my aching ass.
This is basically an "intro" article explaining what this category will be about in the future. The idea is, there are a lot of video games out there. A lot of them are truly excellent, a lot of them are truly crap, and a staggering number are mediocre. In this series, I’ll highlight games that are exceptional in some fashion and discuss exactly what it is that sets them apart from the rest. Note that these won’t all necessarily be games that I gave a perfect score to – it’s quite possible that games I profile in this series will have significant troubles that held them back. Just so long as they were outstanding in one area or other they’re game to be included here.
So apparently all males who play female characters in the MMO King of the World have had their accounts closed, and the company is now requiring "photographic proof" of femaleness before allowing players to create female characters.
That’s pretty fucked up. And word on the street is all of my female World of Warcraft characters agree.
Halo 3 is now well and truly out. Microsoft expects great things from this game, such as that it will drive the company’s video game division to its first profitable quarter since… ever. Me, I’ve never been much for the Halo games, but that’s mostly because I don’t much care for online deathmatch and anybody who says the single-player’s worth a damn is deluded. That aside, I have no doubt that Halo 3 is going to be everything everybody expects it to be, which is to say "Halo 2 but more so." Really the only thing I find especially interesting about the whole launch is this fine quote from Gamespot’s negatives column: "inevitable flood of prepubescent online players [will be] sure to hamper your enjoyment of the online modes." God damn those other players trying to enjoy themselves in my way like that. How dare they? HOW DARE THEY FUCK WITH THE KING?
Dried pasta is so cheap and so ubiquitous that a great many people aren’t aware that there can be more to pasta than that. Now, I know what you’re thinking: what’s with this asshole? Even Barilla isn’t good enough for him? Fuck you, man. Fuck you. But slow down there, hoss! I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with dried pasta. It’s a perfectly good food item, but, let’s face it, not much of a dish in and of itself. Without a sauce on it, there’s not much to it. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s more of a sauce-to-face communication medium than an actual food in and of itself. Pasta can be more than that, though, and everybody should make some now and again. Don’t worry; it’s not painful.
The primary ingredients are flour, water, and olive oil. Don’t skimp and use a crap oil here; you don’t need a whole lot, and you won’t get high-quality output from low-quality ingredients. The traditional method is to mound the flour up in a heap, dig a little “well” in the centre, and then add water into the well and slowly work it through. Me, I like to use a bowl instead. So dump in your flour, a rougly equal volume of water, and a tablespoon or so of oil, plus whatever herbs and spices you favour, and a bit of salt. Mix it thoroughly – get your hands dirty here, it’s a pain in the ass with a spoon. The goal is for it to come out somewhat firm and elastic, but still pliable. If it’s crumbly, you need to add more water; if it’s sticky, you need more flour. Once you get the mix right, cover it with a wet towel and go away for a half-hour so the pasta gnomes can work their Dark Sorcery upon it.
When the gnomes are finished, you’re going to want to flatten the dough out into a sheet. You want it a lot flatter than you think, since it’s going to puff up when you cook it. If you own a pasta mill, this is about where that gets involved, but, then, if you own a pasta mill, you already know all this and you’re just reading so you can heckle me later, so fat chance I help you any. Once your dough is all flat and smooth, you cut it into whatever shape or shapes you desire. One key factor to keep in mind here is that, even though the pasta doesn’t stick to you at this point, it’ll still stick to itself. In fact, it will stick to itself quite aggressively. I suggest waxed paper and flour to combat this. Just don’t let two pieces of dough come into contact with each other if you don’t want them to assimilate each other into the Dough Borg.
Cooking the pasta is a simple matter, and basically the same as cooking dried pasta, with the exception of the time. You’ll only cook fresh pasta for about two minutes (assuming you haven’t made something peculiar), and then it’s done. It won’t have the same colour or texture as the dried kind, but it should be firm enough to hold itself together. Once your pasta is cooked, you can sauce it anyway you like. Alternatively, you may find fresh pasta delicious with only a bit of oil. Try it lots of different ways, and don’t hesitate to experiment; if you do something wrong, hey, Escoffier is not looking. It’s okay.
I swear, Red Sox fans are the weirdest baseball fans in the world. The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, and now it seems like any further titles are irrelevant. Every Red Sox fan I know is singing the same tune – all that matters is winning the division. That they’re guaranteed a postseason appearance no matter what is no consolation if the Yankees win the division.
Coming from a Cubs fan’s perspective, this is just plain odd. I can’t imagine being that jaded about the World Series after only one win in ninety years. But I guess it’s just part of the Boston / New York rivalry – the competition extends to “who can be more jaded” also. Chicago’s ethos is completely different; here we are on the cusp of one hundred consecutive winless seasons, with spectacular collapses in 2003 and 2004 fresh in mind, but we’re not like that. I mean, sure, it’s nice to see St. Louis trailing by ten games, but it’s all about the championship.
Let’s face it: everybody eats. The claims of some peculiar bullshit artists aside, everybody does in fact eat. Another fact: everybody reading this – which is to say, everybody wealthy enough to have access to a computer and the run of the internet – has access to what is, by the standards of the history of man, some truly damn fine food. Of course, by those standards, all it means to have damn fine food is that it’s not putrid and infested with maggots, but I’d say we’ve done a hair better than that. We here in the future have not only safe and hygenic food, but also easily-available delicious and attractive food. We have garnishes, sauces, herbs, spices, and spirits available off the shelf at what are frankly amazing prices. In the context of the sixteenth century, do you have any idea how staggering and ridiculous the concept of black pepper being a table spice is?
That said, what bothers me is how many people in this day and age have access to good food but eat bad food and don’t even realise it. There’s a whole world of cuisine out there, and for so many people it begins with frozen dinners and ends with Domino’s, which is a great definition for "tragic." So part of what I do here is going to be to introduce people to good food – and I don’t mean "HAY GUYZ LOOK AT THING U CAN GET IN PARIS FOR $500 A PLATE!!" but, rather, I mean to point out delicious things that are affordable, accessible, and easy to make (I may allow myself the occasional foray into the truly grandiose, but it’ll mostly be reaosnable). I will provide recipes and tips and instructions, but with one caveat: my recipes are all Darien-style. Which is to say, they’ll be somewhat impromptu and utterly lacking in exact measurements or temperatures. If you’re not comfortable working like that, there are plenty of places that will make up numbers to suit your specifications, but here you’ll get more general terms. That’s how we work in my kitchen, and we’ve been known to produce some excellent dishes. So buckle up and enjoy the ride, and please do try some of this stuff out.