My World

Posts tagged with "Miscellaneous"

As the introduction on the right says, I am a man of many hats – enough that I'm not always sure what those hats look like. This page contains a collection of all the miscellaneous content that doesn't necessarily fit neatly within one of the other categories.

My Pokemon Go Wishlist

Like many, I've been sucked into the smartphone craze that is Pokémon Go. The nostalgia of reliving a game many of us played 20 years ago, combined with the pride of collecting as many little critters as you can, combined with the inspiration of wandering around your city and discovering hidden gems makes for a potent formula for success. Still, despite the game's immense and immediate popularity, I can't help but noticing that it's not exactly feature-rich. It's definitely an underdeveloped app, which isn't helped by the server-side struggles they've had to keep up with demand. Today I will present my wishlist of the top 3 features I'd love to see rolled out in future iterations of Pokémon Go.

1. Attacking before Capturing

One of the fundamental game mechanics that you learn early on in every other Pokémon game (and there are quite a lot!) is the importance of weakening new prospects by attacking them first before trying to capture them in poké balls. That mechanic is sadly absent from Pokémon Go. It's somewhat made up for with the use of Razzberries, but only somewhat as they often prove ineffective. I'd love to see future iterations of the app allow your existing critters to attack the wild Pokémon before attempting to throw a poké ball at them, with some sort of HP gauge on screen. That would be more true to the original. They could even introduce different consequences depending on the (predetermined) disposition of the Pokémon: perhaps certain animals would stay and fight while others might immediately try to flee when attacked. There are lots of possibilities, but right now it feels like a big missed opportunity.

2. Leveling up at gyms

In the real world, when you go to the gym to workout, you leave feeling stronger. In Pokémon Go, gyms don't exactly work that way. Presently the only way to strengthen your Pokémon is outside of the gym, by feeding them candy. This message seems incongruent with reality. I think the longer a Pokémon remains in a gym the stronger it should be. Or at the least, upon every successful defense of a gym, it should gain some additional CP. Right now gyms are little more than spectacles of pride, but the game would be much improved if they were more, y'know, gym-like.

3. Logging in

One feature that they should consider including in future iterations of Pokémon Go is the ability to log in. I really feel it was a big miss on Niantic's part by not including this feature right off the bat. It can be very counterproductive when you want to play Pokémon Go but you're unsuccessful logging in and thereby are prevented from playing Pokémon Go. It's really a strange game mechanic in which you're not allowed to play the game in the first place, and seems like a pretty glaring oversight on part of the developers. Hopefully, in future releases of the app, there will actually be a functioning app to play. That would seem like a great feature to include.

So that's my wishlist for Pokémon Go. What do you think? Do you have ideas of your own for features you'd like to see? Leave a comment below!

It's the Star Wars movie we need right now, but not the Star Wars movie we deserve

This morning I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens in theaters. It was everything everyone expected. It lived up to the hype. However I'm not writing this post to join the chorus of accolades; there will be enough of that and indeed there already is. This post assumes you enjoyed the film and are ready to move on to a healthy level of scrutiny. So keep in mind that as I talk about the flaws of the film, I do so earnestly from the perspective of someone who genuinely enjoyed the movie and will probably be back to the theaters to see it again. With that said, there were a couple of things about this film that bothered me.

Star Wars is something that a lot of people have very strong and passionate feelings about. For years it was carefully controlled and guided by George Lucas, another thing altogether that people have strong and passionate feelings about. Since Lucas sold the rights away and the mantle was picked up by J.J. Abrams, it's fair to say that people were nervous he might add too much lens flare, or otherwise not get things right. I'm simultaneously pleased and conflicted to say that J.J. did get it right. Conflicted only because he didn't actually make a new movie at all. The Force Awakens is a play-by-play, carbon copy of A New Hope, down to the smallest detail. Some have even gone so far as to call it plagiarism. I simply call it "playing it safe."

My roommate, who has not yet seen the film, just asked me as I was writing this if I thought the new film was better than Episode Four. That's a question I can't really answer, because it is Episode Four. This film had about as much new material as The Hangover 2 did. It's an exact replica of the original film, just with younger characters and bigger objects.

But that isn't really what bothers me. The new film was exactly what the masses needed most after the disaster that was the prequel trilogy. They had felt betrayed by their beloved director. How could the same man who gave the world Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Darth Vader be the one who made Anakin Skywalker, Jar Jar Binks, and midi-chlorians? Alas, as the years went by, Lucas spiraled further into delusion and denial like the hapless CG-junkie that's he's revealed himself to be. And the fans felt the sting of betrayal. The galaxy far, far away had been forever tainted. A Force Awakens calls back to the earlier days of greatness. It pays homage to its roots because it is its roots, with little more than a new face.

However, just as Kylo Ren couldn't shake his Dark Side heritage, the film couldn't shake some of the series' darker memories itself. I'm talking about Hayden Christensen's acting, newly manifest in Daisy Ridley. I know that people are going to praise her performance, and while I do believe she is leagues apart from Mr. Christensen, I still saw sparks of the dark side in her. And I don't mean the force.

In fact, I'm sure that both she and Abrams will be praised: Ridley for her acting, and J.J. for including a strong female lead. I don't buy it though. The first felt forced at times and the latter felt like affirmative action. If feminism in the 21st century has taught us anything, it's that a surefire formula for accolades in the film industry is to have a fiercly independent female lead. People think it's refreshing to have a damsel who's not in distress, who doesn't need a man to save her, and who proclaims her independence at every turn. I don't have a problem with a strong female lead, even though I think it's already become an overplayed trope years ago. But I do have a problem when the only motivation for that choice is pandering, and when the so-called strength of that lead wanders into overcompensation territory, as if it's apologizing for years of other films.

Case in point: Rey's insistence that she doesn't need Fin to hold her hand on Jakku. It was meant to highlight her independence, but it felt robotic, unrealistic, and needlessly rude. That's not how people interact in the real world. And her change of heart toward Fin, later in the film, comes too fast. It makes the character seem flaky and inconsistent. And when Fin is trying to do all the things a conventional male hero is supposed to do, she loves him for it. Now, granted, an argument could be made that Abrams was trying to reincarnate the same cocky, push-and-pull chemistry that Leia and Han perfected years ago into a new generation. But if the prequel trilogy taught us anything, it's that you can't force romance. No matter how many times Anakin said he loved Padmé, we never believed it, because tell-not-show storytelling is never believable.

There are other examples, too, that are a little more glaring, other glimpses where you see her channeling her inner Christensen. Watch Rey's expression as she becries Solo's death. The scene is parallel to when Luke is upset over Obi-wan's death, with only one little thing different: she's only known Han for a matter of hours, whereas Uncle Ben was family to Luke. Yes it sucks, but she's clearly over-acting.

But all of these minor quibbles are still dwarfed by my real complaint with the new film. My main complaint is not really about the film, not anything in it. I had this complaint long before ever seeing the film. My major gripe is about the fact that film exists in the first place. Because its mere existence invalidates the Prophecy of the Chosen One. No, invalidate is too soft a term. It utterly and completely destroys it. In layman's terms, it removes the need for any of the last six films and renders them all pointless.

The Prophecy of the Chosen One was an ancient Jedi prophecy that foretold the coming of a being who would forever bring balance to the force. This being was revealed (and confirmed) to be Anakin Skywalker, who "forever" destroyed the Sith and eliminated the influence of the Dark Side when he took out the evil Emperor Palpatine and sacrified himself as well. This prophecy was the entire point of the original three films, and further reinforced by their prequels.

The trouble is that if evil has been destroyed for good, and the prophey has been fulfilled, that doesn't leave room for any future villains or really any room for future films or literature. Peace is boring. Peace isn't dramatic. Star Wars is popular because the wars make things interesting. I'm ignoring the hoardes of expanded universe novels when I say that Return of the Jedi was meant to be the end. But I have yet to hear any satisfactory explanation as to why the Prophecy of the Chosen One isn't proved to be complete garbage by the re-introduction of the dark side after the fact.

Just to wade through the pedantry a bit, no, the phrase "bring balance to the force" does not simply mean to equalize the number of Jedi with the number of Sith. Lucas himself has confirmed that it meant the elimination of the Sith, and the dialogue in the prequel films supports this. The Jedi believe that the only truly "balanced" state of the Force is when the Dark Side is totally absent. The other main argument, or should I say rationalization, is that balance is inherently temporary. Well, what was the point, then? Why bother prophesying anything if it's all going to be meaningless 30 years later?

All these retconned delusions serve to do is spit in the face of the original story. The Force Awakens is more than just an innocuous reboot -- and it is a reboot in the truest sense of the word, not a sequel. With all its careful orchestration, tribute, and nostalgia, it repents of the the prequel trilogy, but only by selling the soul of the beloved original trilogy.

It had to do that, and I understand why. Although the heritage of the Jedi, explored thorougly in the Knights of the Old Republic, is rich and lasting, it isn't as marketable as Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. It had to be a sequel, not another prequel. What people needed was redemption from the Hollywood disasters that were the prequel films. And that's exactly what they got. But, unfortunately, underneath it all, no one seemed to notice that this redemption came with a price. The original trilogy was now all in vain, as we start over with fresh faces.

And the reason that's a problem is because, at its core, the original story (prequels included!) was good. If you don't believe me, watch any of the What if Star Wars Episode X was good? videos on YouTube. The heart of the story was always pure, even if it did end up with a fat body and an ugly face. And although this new story is great (how can it not be when it's a copy?), I am disappointed that The Force Awakens threw the baby out with the bathwater. The good story-telling that Lucas intended was the Star Wars that we deserved. But Star Wars: A New Hope, Mark 2 was what the people needed.

My Mario Maker Wishlist

I bought my copy of Mario Maker bundled with my brand new Wii U console the day the former came out. I have always been a fan of Mario, but an even bigger fan of puzzle games. And the fact that Mario Maker was a way of blending those two concepts made it too hard to resist. And there are some wonderfully creative levels out there. With that said, although Mario Maker gives level designers a fairly broad palette, overall the game still seems a little premature to me. So without further ado, I present my wishlist of the top three things I'd like to see added to Mario Maker.

#1. Better Level Searching

The interface for finding levels seems like little more than an after-thought in the mind of the developers. Understanding how looming deadlines and high demands for features probably pushed the level choosing interface to the back-burner, I can sympathize. But now that the game's out, I'd really like to see (preferably in the form of a free update) some kind of revision that will make searching for courses and course creators easier. This doesn't seem like a tall-order to me. Really, we just need to two things:

  1. Search for courses by name
  2. Search for authors by name

That would make a world of difference. Right now you need to know the obscure 16-digit course IDs in order to find anything, which means you really have to want it. Nintendo, please make this easier for all of us.

#2. Conditional Power-up Blocks

I'm really surprised that Nintendo chose to do power-ups the way that they did with Mario Maker, because it broke all past conventions. In every Mario game ever, when Mario's small, a power-up block would yield a mushroom. Once he's big, it might yield a different power-up like a fire flower or a feather. Or it might not. But in any case, being big was a prerequisite to getting the more "advanced" power-up. I'd like to see this element brought back because I think it adds some challenge to the game. Instant fire flowers cheapens things a bit.

#3. Vertical Levels

Nintendo gives you quite a lot of space to work with horizontally, but only two screens maximum of vertical space. I really wish they had included some sort of toggle for horizontal and vertical mode in much the same way that Microsoft Word lets you choose between portrait and landscape mode. Some folks have already tried to emulate this by using doors and warp pipes to make tessellated faux-vertical levels, but it's really not the same. Think auto-scrolling. How great would it be to have a level that makes you climb with the risk of being swallowed up by the auto-scrolling bottom?

Of course this raises a different concern, namely that people would want vertical levels that you could descend. And if you have two possible positions for the start and end, doesn't that mean you'd also need to allow for horizontal levels that move left? Well, yes! I think that would be a delightful side effect. Especially since some folks are already doing this in their sub-levels anyway.

What do you think about my wishlist? What things you would add? I purposely left off a lot of items that are, well, items, because I wouldn't be surprised to see some of that coming in the form of DLC. But let me know in the comments what you think.

Spirited Away

Today's blog post is going to be a movie review. This isn't a current movie by any means, either. In fact, it's 14 years old. It's also a film that I would expect many of you have already seen. But recently I felt an urge to rewatch it, and discovered a few things in the process. First, I realized that there are still many who haven't seen this film, or haven't even heard of it, and that's a shame. But more importantly, I realized some of the great lessons this film has to offer. I am talking of course about the film Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki.

For those not familiar, Miyazaki is a Japanese animator who makes kids' movies. And his films are kind of the gold standard in Japan. They're basically Japan's equivalent of Disney movies. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, Disney actually bought the English version rights to all of his films. Spirited Away in particular is one that I consider to be the crème de la crème of his work, and I'm not alone. It is the most successful Japanese film to date and won an Academy Award.

The story of the film is fundamentally one about a young girl overcoming her own fears and limitations in order to free her parents from the spell of an evil witch. It's also a story about friendship and love. And it's a story that draws heavily on Japanese mythology, featuring dragons, witches, talking frogs, giant babies, and everything from river to radish spirits. The artwork is spectacular, the story is unique, and the messages of the film are splendid. But as I was rewatching this film the other day for the upteenth time, one point in particular struck me as to what makes this film so incredible: there are no villains.

Right away people who have seen the film may dispute this fact. They'll remind me that the evil witch, Yubaba, is the story's central antagonist. And to that I'd say: no, she isn't really. Not really, anyway. At its core, the world of Spirited Away doesn't really have any villains. For me, that's what makes it truly so remarkable. But I need to explain and defend my position of why there really aren't any villains in this film. Please note that spoilers will follow, but this film is good enough that they won't detract at all from watching the film, so please keep reading.

I'll start by debunking the example already named: Yubaba is not a villain. What is it that makes her evil? Well, within the first 10 minutes of the film, she turns the main character's parents into giant pigs. Except... she doesn't actually do that; the parents do that to themselves. They overzealously decide to help themselves to plates full of food left out at what appears to be an abandoned theme park, but is in fact actually an enchanted spirit village. Yubaba isn't present or even aware of the humans at that point; the food is simply not meant for humans with the unfortunate side effects is that it automatically turns non-spirit diners into pigs. Yubaba didn't take any action at all here; it was the parents' own greed that resulted in the curse.

But Yubaba does decide to keep the parents as pigs so that she can raise them for slaughter. And this is the central plot point which the main character, Chihiro, is working to prevent. Yes, this seems evil, but I'm hesitant to really label it as being downright evil, and instead call it a callous business practice, not unlike many of the seemingly callous business practices that we see in the real world. It's not a malovelent, calculated plan; it's simply a matter of convenience. In the eyes of Yubaba, human beings are an entirely different species. They are like animals to her. And what meat company wouldn't freely take advantage of unclaimed livestock that wandered onto their premises? It's not always pleasant to talk about it, but it doesn't make her a fundamentally evil person.

So rather than examining Yubaba's inactions, let's look at her actions. Within the first 30 minutes of the movie, she hires Chihiro to work at the bath house. Chihiro asks her for a job, and she agrees to give her one. In fact, Yubaba has sworn an oath that if anyone, regardless of skill, circumstance, or ability, asks her for a job, she will always grant their request. And not merely on a probationary or provisional basis either; she offers permanent employment to anyone who asks. Does that sound evil to you? You'd be seriously hard-pressed to find that same kind of generosity from even some the best companies!

During Chihiro's employment, at several points, Yubaba compliments Chihiro when she does her job well. Moreover, Yubaba offers a path for Chihiro to follow that will ensure the safe release of her parents. And she keeps her promise. Again, what's evil about any of that? By the end of the film, Chihiro embraces her employer with a hug of gratitude, sending home the message that there aren't villains.

Another character to consider is a spirit called "No Face." Initially a meek, speechless spirit that is denied entrance to the bath house in which all the other spirits partake, this character takes notice of Chihiro and follows her in through a back door. It's shown just how lonely this character is, and how it will do anything to appease others and win their praise and affection. Ultimately it's revealed that this character's people-pleasing tactics are fundementally selfish, as it only acts out the behaviors it thinks others are desiring in order to fill a void. And when it still doesn't feel satisfied, it starts eating the other characters alive, which in turn triggers an increasingly insatiable hunger.

In short, No Face is a character that represents loneliness and lust. It starts out innocent, but due to its hunger for affection, it grows into a disgusting monster that consumes everything and everyone in its path. It does so by preying on the weaknesses of others, but only through illusion and manipulation. In fact, at the zenith of its lust, there is a scene where Chihiro confronts No Face and it is revealed just how desperate the creature is for Chihiro's validation. After having assaulted and consumed half the staff at the bath house, he nearly does the same to Chihiro. That's pretty evil, right?

But let's examine Chihiro's response to this situation: she sits patiently, quietly in front of him, completely unafraid of his condition. She has absolutely no fear. While every other character on screen is either frantically running away or trying to lock the doors, she enters the same room and calmly sits down beside him to chat. When he charges at her signaling he might try to eat her, her first instinct is to help him. She says, "before you eat me, eat this," and then hands him some magical medicine. The pill then triggers a violent reaction in which everything bad in his system is flushed out.

During this reaction, she runs away from him, which makes for a great chase scene. But as soon as that is over, No Face returns to his original form, and starts to follow Chihiro once more. At this point, she stops running away and invites him to sit next to her on the train as a friend. One of the supporting characters is initially shocked that she would let him anywhere near her, but Chihiro responds simply by saying, "I think the bath house makes him crazy. He needed to get out of there."

This, to me, is actually the most telling line of the whole film. This confirms why the message is so powerful, that there are no villains. Even after having been nearly assaulted by this character, she calmly recognizes that it is not the character, but the circumstance, that was the real problem. Chihiro not only helps him out of the unfortunate circumstance, but immediately befriends him and helps draw the best out of him, later helping him to get a job as a personal attendant of another character.

There are more examples, too. Zeniba could be seen as villanious, at least temporarily, for having nearly killed one of the other characters, Haku. But she quickly becomes a fast friend and supporter of both Chihiro and Haku. The giant baby could be seen as villanious, but after being forced out of his spoiled environment, he becomes an ardent defender of Chihiro as well. Even many of the spirit workers could be seen as evil, or at least as dangerous, for their xenophobia of humans, especially at the beginning of the film. But that too is overcome as they work beside Chihiro and begin to appreciate her.

The only villains in Spirited Away are intangible. Qualities like greed, lust, hatred, fear, envy, and theft are the villains of the film. These qualities are acted out, for a time, by various characters. Even Chihiro herself shows a lot of fear at the start of the film. But all of these qualities are overcome, either through the characters' individual growth, or through the help and support of friends. This is a truly powerful message. There are no evil characters; everyone can be redeemed.

Contrast this with even some of the most treasured Disney films. In Lion King there are clearly good characters and bad characters. There is no redemption for Scar. At the end of the film, he is eaten alive by his own hyenas. In Aladdin, there is no hope for Jafar. He is forever banished to a tiny prison. This is actually a pretty common message with most Western Disney movies: there are good people, and bad people, and the bad people should either be killed or exiled.

In Spirited Away, there are just people. (Well, sort of. If you count frogs and radishes as people.) These people sometimes act out bad qualities, and sometimes it can seem pretty scary, but even this can be redeemed by not giving into fear and persistently loving and supporting them. In the world of Spirited Away, gratitude is given even to those who were once seen as enemies. There are no villains. I think we can learn a lot from messages like these. And it sure would do some good to have more movies like that.

The Ten-Egg Challenge: Part 10

Dawn of
The Final Day
-1 Egg Remains-

Day 10: Three-Egg Omelette

I was saving the omelette for last because I consider it to be the hardest. I'd never cooked an omelette before, and while it's fundamentally the same as scrambled in terms of ingredients, I knew that it was all about technique. Originally when I set out to do this challenge, I debated whether I wanted to make it a "dozen egg" challenge, but decided on ten. But the fact that today's challenge requires the use of three eggs instead of one, that does mean that if you have been challenging yourself at home, you should need exactly 12 eggs to complete this challenge, no more and no less. If you've been following along closely, you'll know that I've already gone over that as I hit a few bumps in the road trying to cook over medium. And today... I hit a few more. But as for the numbers, let's face it: you can't really make an omelette with just one egg. Even two would be pushing it. You really need at least three. And so, the three-egg omelette.


To make an omelette, you will need:

  • A frying pan,
  • Some butter,
  • A spatula,
  • A bowl,
  • A whisk (or a fork),
  • Some milk,
  • Three eggs, and
  • Ingredients of your choosing (I used mozzarella cheese)

Cover the pan with copious amounts of butter (and it is important that it is a non-stick pan!), and set the burner to a medium heat. Crack your eggs into a bowl, drop in a little bit of milk in there as well (1 tablespoon or less per egg), and whisk everything until it is a consistent color throughout. Once the butter is all melted and evenly distributed, pour out your egg milkxture into the pan, and wait. As you wait, you can check it periodically by slightly tilting the pan at an angle. You will probably see some of the liquid fall into whatever direction you tilted it while it is still cooking. Quickly tilt the pan back to being level again. When the liquid has really minimized, so that there isn't much left of it at all, then add your ingredients.


I decided I was going to attempt this omelette in the French style - aka a trifold omelette. The alternative is the American style (a bifold omelette), but I figured the French style would be fancier and more difficult to pull off. I was right. So much so, in fact, that I did a miserable job with it. More on that in a second. To cook an omelette the French style, you'll want to make sure you lay out your ingredients (in my case it was just cheese) in a straight line right down the center. Placement matters with the French style. Placement doesn't matter at all, however, with the American style; then you can just throw the ingredients wherever you like, since it will be flipped over on itself anyway. But for the French style, let it cook about another 45 seconds to a minute (making sure all the liquid is gone), then take your spatula and pull one third of it over the center, and then the other third of it (on the opposite side) right over that. Then grab the whole thing, and flip the whole thing over onto your serving plates, so that the two pieces you flipped over the center are now facing down.


I've strategically chosen the pictures to showcase on this post, because they are the ones that are zoomed in close enough so that it's not obvious that I did a terrible job with this omelette. But rest assured, I did a terrible job with this omelette. I need more practice. I actually ended up making two 3-egg omelettes tonight. The first one I did on a pan that was not a non-stick pan, which was a mistake. The second one I did in a smaller pan, but when it came time to do the flipping, I just didn't have control of the thing with the spatula, and I ended up turning the bottom half of the thing into a goopy mess (which is why I only showed the top piece). As you can see from the last photo, it was still nice and fluffy, so the flavor was at least satisfying. But my technique needs some work. This was only 1-star kitchen material at best.

For some reason, even though the chemical makeup is exactly the same as scrambled eggs, I still prefer scrambled eggs over omelettes. Then again, if someone with actual talent was doing this, and with the right combination of ingredients, perhaps that could change my mind. I don't know. Normally I would have attempted this again and again, until I got it right, but because of some dental work I'm having done tomorrow morning, I have strict instructions not to eat anything after midnight tonight. So... my Ten-Egg Challenge has to come to close in a somewhat unsatisfying way, with a poorly constructed omelette. But this won't be the last time I ever make eggs, so I will have further opportunties to perfect my own abilities. Overall, though, I must say that I am grateful I took on this challenge, as I feel much more prepared in the kitchen now, plus I've picked up some new favorite breakfast dishes! I'd strongly encourage anyone who's curious and motivated to try the whole challenge for themselves.

And now I'll go back through and rank everything on a scale of 1 to 10. I'm also going to give myself the requirement that I only use each number between 1 and 10 once, so that the ratings are actually useful to you. I'm giving the omelette a somewhat harsh 3 out of 10, but I fully admit that may be biased just because I'm still pretty bad at making them.

The Ten-Egg Challenge: Part 9

Day 9: Eggs in a Basket

I couldn't make up my mind for what style of egg I wanted to cook for the penultimate day of the Ten-Egg challenge. I went back and forth for awhile; I considered doing a basted egg, a medium boiled egg, and even a shirred egg, but finally decided on eggs in a basket. Basting an egg isn't really so much a unique type as it is just a different style of cooking sunny side up eggs. Medium boiled is really still a soft-boiled egg at heart, only chunkier. And a shirred egg isn't something you'd ever order at any breakfast place; it more resembles cooking a casserole than making breakfast. But eggs in a basket is a fairly popular style, and even though the egg part of it only comprises half of the ingredients, it is still an egg at heart.

Eggs in a Basket

To make eggs in a basket, you will need:

  • A slice of bread,
  • A cup,
  • Lots of butter,
  • A frying pan,
  • A spatula, and
  • An egg

Begin by greasing the pan with copious amounts of butter, and setting the burner to a medium heat. Keep in mind that you will actually have to add in more butter as the process continues. Take the cup and use it to cut a hole out of the middle of your slice of bread. I considered doing shapes more creative than just a plain old circle, like a star or a silhouette of godzilla, but since this was my first time ever making eggs in a basket, I decided it'd be better to just focus on the flavor than the flair - this time around. (By the way, as you can see from the picture above, I actually used one of my Star Trek glasses as my "cookie cutter." I won a set of these glasses for winning the weekly football pool at my office.) Once the butter has melted, drop your piece of bread in the pan (this is called the "basket"), and also drop the cut-out piece of bread in the pan, too, but not in its original hole. This piece is called the "hat." Then crack an egg into the hole in the basket, and wait.

Eggs in a Basket

After about a minute or so, when the egg whites have fully solidified, take your spatula and give the whole thing a flip. Also flip the hat. At this point, drop a few globs of fresh butter into the pan, and spread everything around so that the bread absorbs the butter on both sides. You'll find that flipping this is actually a lot easier than flipping a regular egg on its on. The reason is because the bread already has a firmness to it that's easy to manipulate, and as the egg cooks it latches onto the bread and becomes one with it, much like the parasitic relationship that a male angler fish has with a female.

Eggs in a Basket

Once it's been flipped, let it cook for another minute or so. You can kind of decide your own timing system here depending on how runny you want the yolk to be. Less time means more runny, more time means more like hard boiled. Then when time's up, use the spatula to flip it back into its original position and onto a serving plate. The egg should hold on tightly to the bread. And you can just place the hat wherever you like. As you can see in the picture, I placed mine askew on the eggtoast's head, as if it were looking up and saying to me, "hats off to you Gordon, why don't you have me for breakfast."

Eggs in a Basket

The results? Decent. The bread looks exactly like toast looks, which leads some people to refer to this style as "egg and toast." The texture of the bread is even the same as toast, but the flavor is distinct. It's not toast, strictly speaking; it's fried bread, which does taste a little different than toast. All the many attempts I spent yesterday trying to cook the perfect over medium egg must have finally sunk in, since it just so happened to turn out over medium today with a partially runny yolk. Eggs in a basket get a middle of the road 6 out of 10 from me.

And now I must bid you adieu, dear blog readers, since it is snowing like crazy outside and I'm going to go SLEDDING. :} Check back tomorrow for the final challenge!

The Ten-Egg Challenge: Part 8

Day 8: Over Medium

You may recall that I originally attempted to cook over medium on day 6, but it accidentally turned out as over hard instead. Today I tried again - and again, and again. This morning I woke up, put in 45 minutes on the elliptical machine, took a shower, and then tried to cook myself a breakfast of an over medium egg. Unfortunately, as soon as I sliced it open with a knife, I saw right away that my first attempt was actually an over easy egg. D'oh. So onto take 2. After thoroughly washing everything and starting fresh, I tried again with a second egg. (My egg flipping skills are quite good now, by the way!) The results? Over easy again. D'oh. Not that over easy is wrong - in fact it made for a very tasty breakfast...twice - it's just not what I wanted to do. Finally though, the third time was the charm. This afternoon I tried again and came out with what I will consider to be a successful over medium egg. And regarding my two failed attempts this morning, you know what they say... you can't make an omelette without cracking a few eggs first.

And I'll show myself out.

Copious amounts of Butter

Here's what you'll need to make an over medium egg:

  • A frying pan,
  • A spatula,
  • Some butter, and
  • An egg

This is still the same list of requirements for both over easy and over hard of course. Grease the pan with copious amounts of butter, and heat it up to a medium-high heat. I've given that instruction ("use copious amounts of butter") on a couple of different challenge days now, so in case you were wondering what I mean by that, I've showcased a photo of the pan with butter freshly applied to it above. That's my definition of copious. Of course once the heat gets going it starts to melt and you want to make sure it gets spread over the whole surface of the pan. Then, crack the egg open and wait for about a minute and a half. That will be when the egg whites have fully solidified and then some. Then give 'er a flip! And from there wait exactly one minute, at which point you promptly turn the burner off and transfer the egg onto a serving plate.

Over Medium

On my first two attempts earlier this morning, I had tried this on a medium heat (which is the same instruction I gave for over hard on day 6). But since both of those turned out under-done, I just decided to crank up the heat on the stovetop to medium-high instead, and thankfully that did it. An over easy egg is all goo in the center; an over hard egg is all fluffy stuff, while an over medium is (not surprisingly) half and half. You'll have some goo, and some cooked yolk too. On day 6, when I cooked the over hard egg, I actually did have a few drops of goo there, too. But, it was so little that I don't think anyone would have taken me seriously had I tried to pass that off as over medium, so it just got designated over hard.

Over Medium

The results? Decent. I think I preferred the two accidental over easy eggs I had for breakfast this morning over the final over medium egg this afternoon, as the closer the yolks get to being hard boiled, the less I like them. The exception of course is with scrambled eggs, but that's probably mostly due to the fact that the egg white is mixed in there as well. With two bad eggs along the way, so far over medium has proved the most challenging. And honestly, I still think I did a pretty poor job. As you can see in some of the pictures, the edges started to brown - which was due entirely to the higher heat. So I think I'll just leave over medium to the professionals, and hope that I don't have a daughter or son one day who picks over medium as their favorite. I give it a 5 out of 10. Other things I learned today: Christmas shopping is expensive! The bill from the post office, for just the Christmas cards plus stamps alone was over $100! I love sharing cards with friends though, so it's all worth it. :)

Check back tomorrow for the penultimate egg challenge. Only two days left! What will I cook up next?

The Ten-Egg Challenge: Part 7

Day 7: Soft Boiled

Tonight I had another late start on the egg challenge. I had a pretty full day - getting into work bright and early at 7, followed by a haircut, shopping, and then a nice evening with some church friends. When I finally got home (around 10), I got started on this egg right away. Fundamentally, the idea behind preparing a soft boiled egg is actually quite simple. But this little egg gave me quite a bit of grief. They're traditionally served out of something called an "egg cup" (here's an example) which I learned are remarkably hard to find.

On day 1 of this challenge, I knew that I'd be including this style of egg on the list, so I started looking for them right away. I visited Target and a local dollar store, but could not find them. And since I have about a two-store shopping threshold, I gave up and decided to order one off Amazon instead. I went with the cheapest shipping option, but it still cost more than the egg cup itself. I got an email saying my egg cup had shipped the next day, but I didn't notice until this afternoon that the actual estimated date of arrival isn't until January for some reason. But with only four days left in this challenge (if you include today), I knew I had to find an alternative. So after work today I searched Kohls, Walmart, a local variety store, and then the dollar store again. None of them had egg cups - in fact no one that I asked had ever heard of an "egg cup" before. Fortunately, I found a shallow candle holder at the dollar store that looked like it was just about the perfect size. And indeed it was!

Soft Boiled Egg

Here's what you'll need to make a soft boiled egg:

  • An egg cup,
  • A pot of water,
  • Some tongs (or a spoon),
  • A knife, and
  • An egg

Fill the pot with cold water, and make sure it's nice and full so that the egg will be fully submerged when you put it in. Gently put the egg into the cold water right away, and set your stovetop to high so that you can boil the water with the egg in there. Although they say the watchpot never boils, you're going to have to watch it pretty carefully. The timing has to be very precise with a soft boiled egg. Wait too long and you'll have yourself a hard boiled egg. Fail to wait long enough and you'll just have an uncooked egg. Tonight, as I was cooking this, I have to confess that my first attempt was a failed one. I had everything lined up, when I got finished I even set the egg up in my fake egg cup / candle holder and got my digital camera ready to show it off to the world. But alas, instead of cutting it open and finding a soft boiled egg, I wound up with a hard boiled egg. That has been my first real failure on this challenge. (And now I'm going to have to get additional eggs from the grocery store in order to complete this challenge - boo!) But my second attempt turned out perfectly.

Boiling Water

When water goes from cold to boiling, it goes through many different phases along the way. One of these phases, which occurs just a few minutes after being put on the stovetop, is that the whole bottom of the pan will be covered with little air bubbles. And what happens next is that those little air bubbles will start to slowly trickle upwards. As soon as it starts doing that - as soon as you see a slow trickle of air bubbles - you'll want to start a timer. I've showcased a picture of what that looks like above. Once you see that slow trickle of bubbles, set your timer for exactly 4 minutes. By the time the 4 minutes is up, the pot of water might not be completely boiling (though it should be close) - and that's okay. Then, at 4 minutes sharp, use the tongs to remove your egg from the boiling water and do one of two things: either (1) run it under a constant stream of cold water, or (2) place it gently in a big bowl of ice water. When I cooked the hard boiled egg on day 5, I used the stream of water. Tonight, I prepared a big bowl of ice water before I started anything else, so I just dropped the egg in there. I only left it in there for about 20 seconds; this cools it to the point where you can comfortably hold it, but the inside will still be nice and warm.

Soft Boiled Egg

Then, I moved the egg out of the water and into my "egg cup" (which fit surprisingly well!), and took a knife and started tapping towards the top. You basically have to do brain surgery on a soft boiled egg, by surgically removing the top cap and then diving in with your spoon to pull out all the gooey innards. Here's a video of the proper technique. The results? Like I said, the first time I tried this, I was quickly disappointed to learn that I had just made a hard boiled egg. Timing is really key! But on take 2, it turned out beautifully. The yolk was still completely runny, but nice and warm and tasty. You could tell it was cooked, but still liquidy. And it was delicious! I still prefer the fried taste - over easy was pretty darn good - but this wasn't half bad. All the hassle of running around futilely trying to find an egg cup and of having to take a mulligan during cooking eventually paid off in the form of a very tasty egg. So whenever my real egg cup from Amazon does finally arrive, I'll have to make this style again. I'm giving this one a 7 out of 10. Tune in tomorrow (technically speaking today) to see what's next. There are only three styles of eggs left in this challenge!

The Ten-Egg Challenge: Part 6

Day 6: Over Medium Over Hard

Tonight's egg post comes to you much later than usual, because I didn't get home until 9:30 PM! I left straight from work to drive over to the Young Shakespeare Player's Theater on West Lawn Avenue in downtown Madison. They are a remarkable little organization - more on that later. The short and short of it is one of my Sunday School students was performing in their rendition of "Twelfth Night" this evening. So I finally got home just now, and the first thing I wanted was dinner. And the first component of that dinner was this over hard egg.

Over Hard

Here's what you'll need to cook an over hard egg:

  • A frying pan,
  • A spatula,
  • Some butter, and
  • An egg

Notice that this is the same list of requirements as for Over Easy eggs, since the only ingredient that varies between the two styles is time. The instructions start out just the same: grease the pan with copious amounts of butter, making sure it spreads over the whole surface of the pan, and heat your burner to a medium heat. Then crack the egg in and wait, just as you would with over easy. I said last night that I had come up with an idea to help improve my egg-flipping abilities. I stole a canister of pink Play-Doh from the Sunday School at church last night ("stole" isn't the right word considering I was the one who bought it originally), and molded some of that into the shape of a fried egg. I took an extra pan and dropped my pink fake fried egg in there to practice flipping. I've actually put together a quick video of my attempts, which also includes the final actual egg flip at the end, too.

So continuing on... after the egg has been in there for about two or three minutes (the egg whites should of course be totally opaque), you give it a flip. As you'll see in the video, my egg flipping skills have improved dramatically! My theory is that if you're bad at something, just keep doing it repeatedly until you become good at it. You will. Plus, a little Rocky Balboa music doesn't hurt either. :) But back to the egg, you want to wait another two minutes or so, and then take it out of the pan and onto your serving plate. You'll know you've done it right if the yolk is solid, as pictured below. Now I do have a confession to make, which some of you have probably already picked up on from the strike-through lettering above. I had originally intended to cook an over medium egg tonight, but it wound up being over hard instead. But, you know, I was already planning on doing over hard as part of this challenge anyway, so it got moved up to tonight! The reason was I was so distracted thinking about the perfect flip that I left it on the burner longer than I had originally intended.

Over Hard

The results? If an over easy egg and a hard boiled egg had a baby, it would be a really bizarre chicken. And if that went on to lay an egg, it would be this over hard egg. I like the "over easy" part of this egg - the good, fried whites - but I'm not a big fan of the hard yolk. Again, it wasn't bad, per se; it's just not my thing. I'll give it a 4 out of 10. But as for the Shakespeare play I attended, it was INCREDIBLE! That gets a solid 11. I'll be going to that same theater again next week when another church member is taking part in a dramatic reading of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I had the privilege of seeing that story read, unabridged, in a dramatic style last year, and that was a real treat.

The thing about YSP is that they do everything unabridged. In the case of Dickens' Christmas Carol, that is wonderful. In the case of Shakespeare, well, expect three to four hours minimum per play. But I have to say, I really enjoyed Twelfth Night a lot! I admit I didn't totally know what was going on all the time, but I definitely picked up on the major plot points and all the innuendos. Shakespeare was no shrinking violet when it comes to innuendos. Check back tomorrow to see which kind I'm cooking up next.

The Ten Egg Challenge: Part 5

Day 5: Hard Boiled

On day 3, I remarked that scrambled was the easiest style of egg because you pretty much can't screw it up even if you wanted to. Hard boiled comes in a marginally-close second for ease. I have to admit that hard boiled eggs have never really been my favorite. I know that some people swear by them, and certain hotels even feature them as a staple of their continental breakfasts. But to me, hard boiled eggs just aren't a breakfast food. They're more of an add-on to other, real foods in my book. I cut them up and put them in my salads and casseroles, for instance. But on their own, they've never done it for me. And I have to admit I've always enjoyed the white part more than the yolk, even though I know the yolk is where all the protein is at.

Hard Boiled

Here's what you'll need to cook a hard boiled egg:

  • A pot full of boiling water,
  • A pair of tongs (or just a spoon), and
  • An egg

Seriously! That's all you need! While the other cooking styles call for things like butter, milk, and even vinegar, all that you need to make a hard boiled egg is an egg and water. Heat the water to bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble temperatures, then drop your egg in - gently, laying it down in the pot using your tongs. You obviously do NOT want any type of boiled eggs to crack. Then just wait. A good 12 to 15 minutes will do - so you want to make sure that your pot is large enough so that the water won't completely evaporate away over the course of 15 minutes. Then, when the time's up, take the pot off the burner, use your tongs to extract the egg from the water and put it somewhere else while you dispose of the water. Then, take the egg in your hand and (quickly) run it under a constant stream of cold water. Do this long enough so that egg cools down to a temperature that's comfortable to hold without burning your hand. This will halt the internal cooking process of the yolk and blah blah technical food stuff. Then, when it's cool enough to hold onto, give it a quick-but-firm tap on the top, and then just peel the eggshell away. Voila!

Hard Boiled

The results were exactly what I expected: a hard boiled egg. I would be in trouble if after 27 years of Western living I didn't know what a hard boiled egg tasted like. And as I said before, they don't do it for me as a standalone food. I'm giving it a 2 out of 10. I did add salt to the yolk tonight, and that certainly helped, as salt has a way of making anything better. And I'm not trying to imply that it's a bad taste, per se; I just prefer many of the other styles over this one. And I feel like I could make hard boiled eggs with two arms tied behind my back, so while I was preparing this egg I had a couple other things comprising my dinner cooking simultaneously on the stovetop. And Emerald was "helping" me cook tonight while I prepared this egg, too. For awhile she was dwelling in the secret place of the most cat (aka hiding in the cupboards).

Hard Boiled

I picked a quick-and-easy style tonight because again I was busy. I have a somewhat regimented weekly schedule (I've actually been working on making it more regimented): on Wednesday nights at 7:30 PM, I attend the church service over at First Church of Christ, Scientist, Madison. Tonight's service had readings about Jesus' birth; it was very Christmassy. At every Wednesday service, anyone in the audience (whether they're a church member or not) has the opportunity to stand up and speak a "testimony." A testimony is simply an expression of gratitude for how God has been working in your life, giving specific examples. Often people talk about challenges and struggles overcome. I'm actually one of those standing up to praise God myself a lot of weeks at these services. So if you, dear blog reader, are in Madison, I'd love to have you join me for a service on Wednesday night! There's also an online form that allows people to submit their remarks in advance, to be read for them by someone else during the service (once screened). While no one has actually used this form yet, I think that's still nice to have. Sometimes it's easier to talk about things when you're "anonymous," and sometimes you just can't be there in person!

Lastly, if you've been following this challenge, you know that I was lamenting my poor egg-flipping skills last night with over easy. Well I've thought of an idea that should help me quickly improve. The only spoiler I'm going to give is that it is pink. Tune in tomorrow to see which kind of egg I cook up next. The challenge is already halfway done, and that is eggcellent. (Groan... well admit it, you knew I had to make that pun sooner or later.)

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