Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It's a cork

I don't really write about television much, but then again there are really only a handful of shows I follow regularly. I do love Lost though, and I don't think it's ever really come up before (spoilers follow).

Artwork by Jared Stumpenhorst. Check out his blog.

Last night's episode finally dove deep into what the hell this show is supposed to be about. I'm sure a lot of fans may bemoan the fact that the show has tranformed from its original "feel," but I'd argue that the current direction seems not only more likely to lead to a conclusive and satisfying ending, but is also truer to the show's origins than many give it credit for. There were times when the show was considered an adventure series, a character drama, a sci-fi show, and lately, a supernatural examination of morality. But has the show really strayed? Or is this the show we've been watching from the beginning? Similarly, some fans of Battlestar Galactica were pissed off that (spoiler alert, again) that show ended with an act of divine intervention, but again, I'd ask if maybe the signs weren't there right from the beginning.

Television watchers are a fickle bunch and, honestly, I don't think they always know what's best for themselves. Would Lost have been more satisfying if it was revealed that the smoke monster was a cloud of nano-bots invented by the Dharma Initiative and Jacob was just something they brainwashed people to believe in using high-technology idea insertion tools? Maybe it would, for some people -- I don't know -- but if you consider that most of the show's early character conflicts were between people who had faith in things they didn't understand and those who didn't (Jack vs. Locke in the early seasons), I think it would have been even more disappointing if that issue never came into play in terms of how the show resolved the mysteries it's taken 5 years to set up.

So far, we've learned that maybe both sides were right to some degree, in that some of those mysteries are explained as a result of science (or, you know, a tv show's version of science) -- as represented by time travel, Faraday, or even the calculable means by which people arrive at the island -- and some are a result of divine forces, such as the smoke monster or the means by which a slave ship ends up in the middle of an island.

But this week's episode addressed what may be the biggest mystery of all: what is this island? As Jacob explains to Richard, it's a cork that keeps malevolence from spreading to the rest of the world. In other words, the island itself is a place where realms dissect, and I couldn't think of a better way to reconcile the fact that the island has mystical properties in some respects and yet plays by our known world's rules at other times. Many cultures actually already have a name for this:

Axis Mundi

As Wikipedians have written, the Axis Mundi is "a plug to keep evil at bay" and it is a "ubiquitous symbol that crosses human cultures." This, in itself, provides insight on another key mystery of Lost: why does the show seem to draw on symbolism from every world religion all at once without every settling on one in particular to form the core of its underlying meaning? The show has borrowed the idea of Christ figures from Christianity, Hindu themes for the concept of Dharma, the I Ching (see the Dharma logo), Egyptian mythology (a statue of Taweret, a carving of Anubis).

If I may theorize for a moment, it's not due to laziness. Rather, it's an indicator that the island and its "deities" (Jacob and the Man in Black) actually exist far outside of any of these religions. Religion is a mechanism used by humans to explain both the miraculous and the devastating things we observe in our world, while the forces that actually cause these things cannot be named or explained with terms as simplistic as those we've assigned to them.

Evil doesn't see itself as evil -- it simply knows it has to exist. Why? Well, ask any Christian philosopher why evil has to exist: because if man doesn't have the free will to choose evil, then acts of goodness are rendered meaningless. You may recall the same argument being made in Clockwork Orange: does Alex's good behavior prove he has become a virtuous person if he has been stripped of the ability to commit evil? You may even recall that the Clockwork Orange scene where Alex is "treated" bears a remarkable resemblance to one in Lost, where Sawyer and Kate find Karl in Room 23:

Meanwhile, Jacob isn't God or even a representation of good. He just knows that he has a job to do, which is to provide balance against the darkness. He is the embodiment of a force to which we've assigned hundreds of different names over the course of our existence. To some, he is God, to others he is light, and to the man in black, he is simply Jacob.

And what does all this have to do with where Lost started? Pretty much everything. If you look at the first season of Lost, the themes of faith and morality (or lack thereof) have been there from the very beginning -- the difference now is that they're playing out in a very literal way. We actually have faces and names (if you consider "the man in black" to be a name) to associate with the elements of light and dark. But more importantly, the show has returned to many of its oldest themes and mysteries, and it turns out that we may just not have recognized their significance.

In the show's Pilot episode, Locke explained to Walt that backgammon is a game of "two sides -- one is light, one is dark," which is "older than Jesus Christ." I don't think I need to say anything else about that.

Meanwhile, Jack and Kate go looking for shelter and in episode 6, they find a pair of bodies in a cave. The bodies are holding a pair of stones: one black, one white.

Finally, I'll end my little rant with these lines from the season 1 finale:

Jack: "I don't believe in destiny."
Locke: "Yes, you do. You just don't know it yet."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ice Ice Baby

I've been experimenting a lot with ice cream again lately. Ice cream is a lot of fun to make at home because you get to have flavours that are otherwise unattainable at retail and you can customize it any way you want. The recipes are usually so simple that there's also tons of room for improvisation and creativity. And at the end of it all, you get to eat ice cream. What's not to love?

As far as I'm concerned, the king of ice cream is David Lebovitz. He's a pastry chef (with time at Alice Waters's famous Chez Panisse restaurant in California), blogger, cookbook author, recipe consultant (i.e., he invents new desserts), and all-around fascinating dude. And his blog touts a wide range of ice cream recipes that are both creative and delicious looking. Seriously, he's like the Willy Wonka of ice creams: Absinthe ice cream, milk chocolate and black pepper ice cream, polenta ice cream, Roquefort and honey ice cream, multiple varieties of chocolate, grape sherbet, candied bacon ice cream... The list goes on.

I'd had my eye on the candied bacon ice cream for a long time, and I finally took the plunge a couple of weeks ago. And having enjoyed the experience, I tried a few other things as well.

Candied Bacon Ice Cream
It starts with a standard vanilla custard base, to which I added maple syrup, brown sugar, cinnamon, and spiced rum. And after churning it, I stirred in bits of candied bacon. The end result tastes like cinnamon french toast with maple syrup and a little portion of bacon -- so yes, phenomenal. It was still a little soft when I took this picture, because I neglected to cool the mixture properly before churning it, but it was just as good later as well.

I shared this with a wide group of people, because I was curious to see the reactions. Not surprisingly, it was somewhat divisive. People have a lot of strict ideas about what should or shouldn't be in ice cream, but what bothers me is that nobody could tell me definitively why -- especially those were strongly against it. What it seems to boil down to is that people don't like the idea of having an ice cream flavour based on a food item that wasn't already associated with desserts to start with, such as fruit, chocolate, waffles, coffee, nuts, caramel, vanilla, etc. But in terms of its flavour profile, bacon is remarkably similar to the nuts we love to put in our desserts, with rich savoury flavours, as well as good portions of salt and fat. And yet people love the idea of combining their bacon with maple flavouring to the point where you can actually buy maple-flavoured bacon at the supermarket now. So I guess they don't mind sugar getting into their bacon, but not the other way around. I don't get it, but whatever. Would make again.

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt
I don't normally buy strawberries this time of year, but they were on mega-sale across the city, at $1.99 per pound, so I figured I might as well take advantage of it. Once again, I relied on David Lebovitz's recipe to carry me through. Interestingly, the recipe employs a high ratio of strawberries to yogurt, so you end up with a beautiful colour and a strong fruity taste. Looking forward to eating more of this.

Pureed Banana Something or Other
This is really the only failure of the bunch, but not a dismal one. I had some very ripe bananas I had frozen a few days earlier until I could figure out what to do with them. I decided to puree them whole and use that as the basis for an "ice cream," although there was very little dairy in it. I mixed in some full-fat yogurt to give it a bit of creaminess, but in the end that combination turned out to be a bad idea. I'm not exactly sure what happened, but somewhere between the ripe sweetness of the bananas and the tartness of the yogurt was a somewhat unpleasant sensation. I couldn't figure out how to salvage it anymore after that. I tried a few other additions to fix it up, but it quickly devolved into a science experiment. I did eat a bunch of it and it really wasn't that bad, but it's not something I would give to guests. I think if the bananas had been slightly less ripe, this might have been fantastic -- it was just a tad overpowering and they were probably better suited for baking at that stage. On the bright side, I can confirm that pureed frozen bananas have great texture and I do intend to try something like it again. In his latest post, Lebovitz combined bananas with coconut milk and brown sugar. That sounds like a winner to me.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Overheard in Fredericton

Walking down Victoria St., I saw a dog up ahead, chained outside a house. A middle-aged man was walking towards me on the sidewalk and as he passed the dog, it barked a couple of times. He yelled at it to "Dry up, already." When he passed me, he muttered, "If I was a mountain lion, I'd massacre that dog." And thus my day was made, because really, who doesn't dream about being a mountain lion and massacring another person's dog now and then?