Friday, September 19, 2014

Book Review: Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness by J. Layman et al.

Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness written by John Layman with art by Fabiano Neves, Fernando Blanco, and Sean Phillips

Ash, hero from the Evil Dead/Army of Darkness franchise, travels through an inter-dimensional portal and winds up in the Marvel Universe. Unfortunately, one of the deadites also comes through and infects the Avengers, who begin eating everyone in sight, thus starting a zombie apocalypse. Ash races around trying to find the Necronomicon (the ancient Sumerian book of the dead that causes the dead to rise and feast on human flesh) and change the superheroes back into, well, superheroes. He gets assistance from Spider-man, The Punisher (though not much assistance), and Dazzler, though things go from bad to worse. By "worse" I mean Ash eventually works with Doctor Doom!

The story is a fun excuse to have Ash wise-crack his way through most of the Marvel roster. The humor is good if you like Evil Dead 2 or Army of Darkness (which, let's face it, is a taste you either have or don't). The gore is a bit gross but not as over the top as other zombie comics. It's a bit juvenile, not missing the chance to show scantily-clad heroines who rebuff Ash's advances. The book is really for Evil Dead fans more than anyone else.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

One Ingredient Challenge: Vanilla Extraction--Part I

The first of an ongoing series (three have been completed already (though not all posted) and we hope to do more) of cooking from scratch. That is, we cook something from basic items that don't have multiple ingredients (e.g. spaghetti sauce includes all sorts of spices and maybe other stuff too; we'd start with tomatoes and individual spices and add them together)...The series will be posted here.

My wife is a big fan of the book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. She has about two-thirds of the recipes marked for trying. One such recipe is making vanilla extract from scratch. Anyone who has bought vanilla extract at the store knows how expensive it is, especially if you buy a name-brand version. This recipe is super-cheap if you do it right. There's only two ingredients--vanilla beans and alcohol.

In stores, vanilla beans aren't so cheap, but smart buyers go to Amazon and purchase much more affordable beans in bulk. The type we bought makes 2.5 batches of vanilla according to this recipe and cost about $16 (the price fluctuates, so the link below may have a different number). We invited a friend to make a batch with us and still have some beans left over for vanilla bean ice cream (which may be a future One Ingredient Challenge).

For alcohol, the book recommends vodka since it has the least impact on flavor. The author also tried the recipe with gold rum and dark rum, both of which had more rum flavor in the vanilla extract. Depending on what you are making, perhaps a hint of rum flavor would go well. At any rate, cheap alcohol is fine. I picked up at 750 ml bottle of vodka for about $12 at a local liquor store.

Ingredients (tea and ginger snaps not included in the recipe)

The recipe is simple. Take nine plump vanilla beans, cut them lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Put the beans and the seeds in a jar with a close-fitting lid (we bought some canning jars).

Prepping ingredients

Pour a cup and a half of alcohol on the beans. Close the lid and shake gently. Then put it in a cupboard for three months, shaking the jar once in a while.

Finished (sort of) product

We set a reminder in our calendar for when we will open the jars and try it out. We'll have another post in December telling how it went.

See you in December!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Pittville Pump Room and Playground, Cheltenham, England

The Pittville Pump Room in Cheltenham was built in the late 1820s after the model of the Temple of Ilissos in Athens, Greece. People came in the 1800s for the spa waters (the Victorian era had a big spa craze) but now the room is used for performances and festivals. When we visited, it was still early in the morning and they had some beer taps that weren't working, so the kids weren't very interested in visiting. Nor was I in taking them. We did use their toilets.

Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham

Entrance that was not entrancing for Jacob and Lucy

Nearby a couple of large cages had a make-shift zoo with some rabbits, chickens, and other small animals. We looked for s short while--so short that there are no pictures. Jacob and Lucy were drawn off by the call of the nearby playground!

Pump Room playground

Lucy in the big plane

Jacob tries out a swing

A British classic--train travel

Lucy swings on an easy swing (pump room in the background)

How did Jacob get up there (and how will he get down?)?

After a lot of playing, we headed back to our hotel to meet up with mommy who was running other errands. Soon enough we were off on other adventures.

Victorian era house now a B&B

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cheltenham, England--Again!

We visited Cheltenham once in 2011 and then went back a year later. Finally, here is what we did the year later! On this trip, we visited a local park with a nice walking trail and a fabulous garden.

We visited in April so the air was still chilly. We found a secret trail leading into the park under a road and over a bridge.

Secret trail

A picturesque bridge

The walking trail includes several physical challenges that were no match for my children. They took to the stepping stones and climbing webs like they were mere toys.

Big stones/stumps for a little girl

Jacob makes like a statue

Waves of webs are no match for him!

Tricky two-rope walk

Lucy aces the two-rope walk

Sharing a horizontal web

Sharing a vertical web

With those victories under their belts, they took a little rest before heading on to the playground proper.

Playground sign

Playground equipment

Who will get to the top first?

The challenge here is not to fall asleep

Jacob goes for a spin

Just outside the playground is a large lake that is fed by a small waterfall. Jacob is still fascinated by waterfalls so we had to take a peek.

One waterfall good for climbing

A slightly less good-for-climbing waterfall

Jacob by the ducks

The stars of the lake were the swans. We saw them almost close up. We wished we had brought some bread or other treats for them to eat. We've gotten better about packing something for pond and river visits.

Pretty close to a swan (thank you, zoom lens!)

Goodbye, swan!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Knaresborough Windows, England

In Georgian times, the English government decided to put a tax on windows (what won't governments try to get more revenue?). One way locals fought back was by making blind windows. They'd paint over a spot where a window would normally go with a bit of trompe l'oeil, the style that "fools the eye" into seeing something supposedly real but actually a painting. The tradition is being maintained by a local art project. This building shows a bit of the English Civil War. Knaresborough was divided over the issue. Knaresborough Castle was controlled by the Royalists but the Parliamentarians won their siege and the castle was dismantled in 1648. Sentiments still linger apparently.

House with painted windows

Royalist cavalier about to empty his gun into...

Parliamentarian emptying his chamber pot

Plenty of examples are found throughout the town but I only have a picture of one other--a medieval lady and her lad.

Mom and son?

As a bonus, here is the iconic train bridge in Knaresborough.

Train bridge seen from town

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Norwich Cathedral, England

Norwich Cathedral was founded in 1096 by Bishop Herbert de Losinga. The cathedral was built with an accompanying monastery. The original wooden roof was replaced with stone in the 1400s and 1500s. The spire is 315 feet tall, making it second only to Salisbury's in England. The building still looks quite impressive, especially with the recent (i.e. 2001) addition of statues of St. Benedict (founder of Western monasticism) and Mother Julian (better known as Julian of Norwich, the popular medieval holy woman) by the west doors.

Norwich Cathedral

The West Doors (click to enlarge)

Off to the right is an old entrance that now serves a more modern part of the grounds--the cafe and book shop. This entrance also leads into the cloister which was the hub of monastic activity back in the day. Another new addition (this one in 2002) is the Jubilee Labyrinth, symbolic of the journey of life for Christians. One true path leads to the center, following the Way. Jacob enjoyed the labyrinth quite a bit!

Old entrance

Jacob in the labyrinth

A bit lost

Another view of the spire

The Prior's Door

The interior of the church shows the simple, rounded Norman arches of the 11th century surmounted by the 14th/15th century stone ceiling.


Some of the ceiling decorations

The baptismal font is also new and was previously used by a Norwich chocolate factory, so it doesn't look as holy as it might.

Baptismal font

The main altar in the nave is dedicated to the Holy Cross.

Main altar

On the way to the altar is the Peace Globe, which we used to light candles. The "Peace Globe" idea originated in Scandinavia and the candles are intended as prayers for peace, but Jacob and Lucy prayed for other things when they lit theirs.

Peace Globe

Other typical features are the two pulpits and the bishop's chair or cathedra (from which "cathedral" gets its name).

Pelican pulpit

More elaborate pulpit

Bishop's chair

The oak stalls in the choir date back to the 1400s.

Doorway to the choir

The choir

At the east end of the church is the high altar with some impressive stone work above it. Also of note is the original cathedra right above the high altar at the back of the apse. That spot is the traditional location for the bishop's chair dating back to 300s when large churches were built on the model of the Roman basilicas, which were law courts where the judge sat in the very back.

Approaching the high altar

The high altar with cathedra

Arches above the altar

Behind the high altar is a reliquary niche that originally had relics of saints. Now it has an icon of the Resurrection.

Icon of the Resurrection

The ambulatory around the back of the high altar leads to several chapels, including the Jesus Chapel with a 1510 painting of the Wise Men, the St. Saviour's Chapel dedicated to the Royal Norfolk Regiment, and St. Luke's Chapel which has a 1380 Reredos showing Christ's Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension. This was saved from destruction during the Reformation because it was used as a table top for a craftsman!

Jesus chapel altar

St. Saviour Chapel with regimental colours

St. Luke Chapel

Medieval Reredos (click to enlarge)

As with all ancient churches, many tombs are scattered throughout. Near the center is the Chantry Tomb of Bishop Richard Nykke who rebuilt the vaults of the transepts after a fire in 1509.

Not much to see, actually

The Skeleton tombstone commemorates Thomas Gooding, who died around 1600.

Thomas Gooding tomb

The tomb of Bishop John Pelham (1812-1894) is more regular.

John Pelham tomb

Bishop Goldwell's tomb is near the center of the church. He funded the building of the spire in 1480.

Goldwell's chantry tomb

View of the bishop

View of his dog!

The church has some other nice statues and stained glass.

Female statue (maybe Julian of Norwich?)

Life of Christ in stained glass

Wicker angel (near the peace globe)