Saturday, December 31, 2011

Quick Review: Hellboy: House of the Living Dead

Hellboy: House of the Living DeadHellboy: House of the Living Dead by Mike Mignola
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this follow-up to the "Hellboy in Mexico" comic, the story starts with Hellboy on a bender after allowing a friend to be turned by bad guys. He's also spending his time as a lucha libre, or Mexican masked wrestler. He winds up at a mad scientist's house where he enters the ring with Frankenstein's Monster and at various points fights other monsters based on the classic Universal Studios horror films.

The story has a mixture of adventure, action, humor, and melancholy that are found in the best Hellboy stories. The art by Richard Corben is perfectly suited to this tale. It is a very quick read but also very enjoyable. If I ever want a wry smile, I'll come back to this book.

Thanks John and Lisa for an awesome Christmas present!

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War of the Christmas Novelty Ales, 7th Day of UK Christmas

This post seems appropriate for New Year's Eve. I hope everyone has a good time and takes proper care if they are drinking! Rest assured, I didn't drink all of these in one night. Though maybe next year....

Every year, various companies try to boost their holiday sales by marketing some "Christmas" version of their usual products. M&M's come in green and red (and mint flavor too!). Oreos come with red and green filling. The beer brewers of England are no different and have offered a few seasonal ales for Christmas. But which is the best? Here are some of the contenders that I've been able to sample.

Contender #1: Christmas Ale from Shepherd Neame

The brewers write it up thusly on their web site:
There's a spicy signature to this incredibly complex cockle-warming winter ale. The nose is reminiscent of raisins, dates and molasses while the palate is vinous with tannin-like notes of leather, vanilla, apricots and a hint of rustic Armagnac on the finish. An awesome after-dinner drop.
It was a very warming and pleasant ale, though I am too modest to comment on any "cockle-warming." I did enjoy it on the ferry to Bruges after dinner and it was the first inspiration for this blog post.

Contender #2: Rudolph's Revenge Winter Ale from Cropton Brewery

The write up on the web site goes like this:
Our ever popular Christmas beer. A unique hoppy beer with a fruity aftertaste. Just the thing to leave out for Santa to have with his mince pie on Christmas Eve.
The text on the bottle is much more entertaining:
By the time Rudolph and his chums had pulled the fully laden sleigh all the way from Lapland to North Yorkshire in the freezing night air, the weary reindeer could be forgiven for making the diversion to the village of Cropton, where he was delighted to find ample supplies of a new beer named in his honour. Santa however was less than delighted to find his key worker's nose glowing even redder than usual, and presents delivered to the wrong addresses, if they got there at all.
As for the flavor, it is a dark bitter with almost too much bitterness for me. But not too much. This revenge is definitely more bitter than sweet, but it doesn't leave a bad taste in your mouth like those Greek revenge cycles do. The nutty flavoring is nice and it finishes smoothly. I did not have any minced pie to go with it, though it would probably go well. 

Contender #3: Shepherd's Watch Natural Winter Warmer from Wold Top Brewery

The web site describes it thusly:
A rich dark Ale, ideal for keeping the chill of Winter at bay. 

The roasted barley and pale chocolate malt give a deep red hue, the hop combination of Progress, Styrian Goldings and Cascade give bitterness with a soft spicy yet fruity edge, resulting in a winter beer that is well balanced, with an underlying maltiness, and a subtle fruit aroma, excellent with Yorkshire Parkin, Christmas Pudding, Rich Fruit Cake and Mince Pies.

The above text is reprinted on the bottle. The only thing the bottle has to add about this ale is that it is "world famous."

This beer reminds me of the first time I had a Guinness. I drank about half of the pint of Guinness before it started tasting like an ashtray. Nowadays I am used to the flavor of Guinness and enjoy an entire pint. Sometimes even two pints. My youthful tongue did not really understand. Shepherd's Watch gives me the same initial reaction, "This is interesting but tastes a little too much like ashes or dirt." It's as if the roasting went on too long or was too hot. Instead of imparting a nice smoky flavor, the taste of burnt comes through instead. At 6% alcohol, it definitely delivers some winter warmth. If only it didn't feel like I got burned in the process.

Contender #4: Stocking Filler from York Brewery

Strangely, this brew is not mentioned on their web site, though the bottle makes this claim:
The City of York has a long tradition of festive markets and traditional traders during the Christmas period.
York Brewery has continued in this festive vein with this special Christmas beer, Stocking Filler.
Brewed within the city walls, this brew is a dark, rich, full bodied ale, having a distinctive finish of roast malt and chocolate. The addition of seasonal spices helps to add a hint of spice in the aroma and lingering on the palate giving us a robust and satisfying beer.
This ale is dark and lovely. It's not overly flavorful on the tongue but there's a hint of smoke in the flavor and a nice aftertaste that lingers like a welcome guest. The taste isn't big and flashy; it's a nice companion during a friendly conversation or with a good pizza. The ale fulfills the promise of its name. It isn't the big present under the tree but it is a nice surprise in your stocking.

So, who is the winner? I could go by process of elimination, but Shepherd's Watch is the only one obviously to fall by the wayside. All the others have strengths and weaknesses. But which has the strongest strengths? Which has only the smallest weaknesses? The definitive question really is, if I were offered Stocking Filler, Rudolph's Revenge, or Christmas Ale, which would I choose, knowing what I know now?

The answer is Christmas Ale. It was very delightful to the palate and made a relaxing evening even more laid back. But the others are worthy contenders and are welcome any time in our home.

Stocking Filler gets the John C. Wright* prize for the label with the most va-voom on it. In case you missed the detail above...

It's nice to see her drinking her own ale! What, you didn't see that bottle in her hand?

*You have to scroll down in the hyperlinked article to appreciate the joke fully.

Also, anyone that was hoping for some Bud Bowl-type action in this war will have to wait until my animating skills are good enough AND I have plenty of spare time, which should be right after the kids go to college in 16 years. Just be patient. If you haven't heard of Bud Bowl, here's a teaser trailer from 20 years ago:

Friday, December 30, 2011

UK Library Christmas Storytime, 6th Day of UK Christmas

We went to one of the local libraries for their Christmas story time and craft. We managed to arrive early and settled in for some interesting stories. Jacob piped up with comments in between stories, which was a little unusual for him, though I'm glad he is feeling comfortable enough to talk. If only the librarian had asked some questions first! She read Olivia Helps with Christmas and A Merry Little Christmas Celebrate From A to Z by Mary Englebreit and another story about a mouse who opens presents early and spoils her own Christmas. I can't remember the title. Anyway, they were delightful stories.

Lucy wandered around a bit. She wasn't disruptive but she definitely wasn't paying attention. At one point she decided to sit in Jacob's lap, which was uber-cute, and I do have the pictures to prove it.

Don't look at me, look at the librarian!

She also lounged on the alligator you can see at the bottom of the picture (if only it were a dragon, that would be so cool!). And she sat in my lap too. She wanted me to read her some other book while the librarian was reading about the naughty mouse. Naughty Lucy!

Then came craft time, which was one of the classic yuletide activities: decorating gingerbread men.

Feet, hands, and hats had already been decorated before the kids took their turns

Lucy was definitely more interested in the craft than Jacob was. She put on icing. She affixed candy buttons for his shirt and collar. She put gold and silver sprinkles all over. Jacob just used the sprinkles on his man. The results were beautiful and, as we discovered later, tasty too!

Lucy and her finished product

Jacob points out his masterpiece.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Jacob Had a Dream

Jacob told us about a dream he had last night. This is what he said:
I had a dream last night.  So first, I was an angel and then Joseph was Joseph, and then Angie was Mary, and then when I was an Angel. Mommy replied, "I am the servant of the Lord."
We've been reading The First Noel at bedtime since Jacob received it for Christmas. It combines the two infancy narratives from the gospels of Luke and Matthew.  Thanks for the gift, Grandmama!

If you want your child to have Biblical dreams, get the book here:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Knaresborough Edwardian Christmas Market 2011, 5th Day of UK Christmas

On 4 December, we went up to Knaresborough for their Edwardian Christmas Market in the market square. We parked on the wrong side of town and to walk far, uphill, and across train tracks to get to the festival.

Jacob asks the perennial question, "How much further!?!"

Once we arrived, we saw many booths selling all sorts of crafts, foods, drinks (including beer and wine), and raffles. We wandered amongst them all trying to decide what to buy.

View down the main thoroughfare

Jacob and Mommy didn't know what to do first!

Another street of sellers

We did buy roasted chestnuts. They weren't the easiest items to eat. The first trick is shelling them to get to the warm, meaty part of the nut. The shells cracked fairly easily but not evenly and some bits of the shell stuck to the meat quite tenaciously. They tasted alright as long as the burnt parts came off.

Jacob and Lucy were not at all impressed or satisfied by chestnuts roasted on an open fire. Since the day was chilly, we went into the Lavender Rooms (right above the "oldest chemist shop in the UK") for some tea and treats. When we first sat down, we were the only ones in our room. Service was fast and delicious. Jacob ordered some flapjack and juice, Lucy had carrot cake and juice, Mommy and Daddy had tea and scones. It was quite delicious and warmed us up considerably. We saw a troop of girls dance in the road below our window. Jacob and Lucy enjoyed watching. Mommy and Daddy enjoyed having a distraction that allowed for more tea drinking time.

Soon the room began to fill up and the dancers took a break. Jacob decided it was time to check out the toilet and bring Mommy too. Lucy decided to tag along. More people started poking their heads in looking for a table, so I decided to get the check and pay it and make our table available. I did so and returned to the chemist's downstairs to peruse the candies on sale. My family eventually came downstairs. Jacob told me he went back in our dining room and was surprised to see different people at our table. Luckily, Mommy figured it out quickly and guided the children downstairs.

Once back on the street, we spotted one of the few vendors dressed in an Edwardian outfit.

Not exactly Edwardian merchandise, though!

We went to the stage to enjoy the music of the Knaresborough Silver Band. They were quite good and we were pleased to put more than a penny in their hat.

One of the songs was a little too loud for Jacob, so we started walking again. I noticed some of the building had a rather unusual decoration up above their windows. Were those Christmas trees stuck into flag pole holders? I have since noticed this festive decoration on many other buildings in many other towns, but I am sure I never saw such a thing back in the States. Maybe someday the trend will cross the pond.

Flags of Our Father Christmas?

Unfortunately nap time prevented us from staying until the 4:30 p.m. fireworks spectacular. Maybe next year we will see them.

I did buy some beers from the Cropton Brewery booth to take home. One of them is called Rudolph's Revenge and was part of the inspiration for the forthcoming post comparing Christmas-themed seasonal ales.

New Forgotten Tale!

I've recorded another tale for the Forgotten Classics podcast. This tale is The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Andersen. Go check it out. Andersen's The Nightingale is next on the queue.

I am on the hunt for some UK forgotten tales and will gladly take any recommendations.