Saturday, 29 November 2014

Living In NOAA's Prediction of an Active 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season

When went to NOAA's Web site just now, there it was: the article I'd been waiting for. That article pronouncing NOAA's thoughts on the upcoming 2013 Hurricane Season. It was there as the first item up out of several choices, unsurprisingly - a lot of us are deeply affected by this. I was thinking about it not long before, as it is windy today, quite a bit so. And it is late May - hurricane season begins 1 June.

So here is the article:

"In its 2013 Atlantic hurricane season outlook issued today, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting an active or extremely active season this year.

For the six-month hurricane season, which begins June 1, NOAA’s Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook says there is a 70 percent likelihood of 13 to 20 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 7 to 11 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 6 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher).

These ranges are well above the seasonal average of 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes.

“With the devastation of Sandy fresh in our minds, and another active season predicted, everyone at NOAA is committed to providing life-saving forecasts in the face of these storms and ensuring that Americans are prepared and ready ahead of time.” said Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., NOAA acting administrator. “As we saw first-hand with Sandy, it’s important to remember that tropical storm and hurricane impacts are not limited to the coastline. Strong winds, torrential rain, flooding, and tornadoes often threaten inland areas far from where the storm first makes landfall.”

Three climate factors that strongly control Atlantic hurricane activity are expected to come together to produce an active or extremely active 2013 hurricane season. These are:
  • A continuation of the atmospheric climate pattern, which includes a strong west African monsoon, that is responsible for the ongoing era of high activity for Atlantic hurricanes that began in 1995; 

  • Warmer-than-average water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea; and

  • El Niño is not expected to develop and suppress hurricane formation.
“This year, oceanic and atmospheric conditions in the Atlantic basin are expected to produce more and stronger hurricanes,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “These conditions include weaker wind shear, warmer Atlantic waters and conducive winds patterns coming from Africa." 

NOAA’s seasonal hurricane outlook is not a hurricane landfall forecast; it does not predict how many storms will hit land or where a storm will strike. Forecasts for individual storms and their impacts will be provided throughout the season by NOAA’s National Hurricane Center.

New for this hurricane season are improvements to forecast models, data gathering, and the National Hurricane Center communication procedure for post-tropical cyclones. In July, NOAA plans to bring online a new supercomputer that will run an upgraded Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting (HWRF) model that provides significantly enhanced depiction of storm structure and improved storm intensity forecast guidance.
Also this year, Doppler radar data will be transmitted in real time from NOAA’s Hurricane Hunter aircraft. This will help forecasters better analyze rapidly evolving storm conditions, and these data could further improve the HWRF model forecasts by 10 to 15 percent.
The National Weather Service has also made changes to allow for hurricane warnings to remain in effect, or to be newly issued, for storms like Sandy that have become post-tropical. This flexibility allows forecasters to provide a continuous flow of forecast and warning information for evolving or continuing threats.
“The start of hurricane season is a reminder that our families, businesses and communities need to be ready for the next big storm,” said Joe Nimmich, FEMA associate administrator for Response and Recovery. “Preparedness today can make a big difference down the line, so update your family emergency plan and make sure your emergency kit is stocked. Learn more about how you can prepare for hurricane season”  

Next week, May 26 - June 1, is National Hurricane Preparedness Week. To help those living in hurricane-prone areas prepare, NOAA is offering hurricane preparedness tips, along with video and audio public service announcements in both English and Spanish, featuring NOAA hurricane experts and the FEMA administrator at

NOAA’s outlook for the Eastern Pacific basin is for a below-normal hurricane season and the Central Pacific basin is also expected to have a below-normal season. NOAA will issue an updated outlook for the Atlantic hurricane season in early August, just prior to the historical peak of the season.
NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us onFacebookTwitter and our other social media channels."
Well. There it is, folks.

Happily, we did not end up living in this.

The fact is that NOAA called it all wrong and this was the first hurricane season since 1994 to NOT produce any strong hurricanes. We personally love to hear, see and read this; not because NOAA was wrong, but because we really did not want any kind of terrible or strong hurricanes to show up and screw up our yards, electricity or shopping experience. Do you have any idea what ridiculous lengths we had to go to get milk for our household? Yeah. Miles and miles of driving to get our hands on a quart of bloody milk! And us with a grocery store literally right across the street! But they lost power for 32 days, so it was around three months before they could open up again. Crazy.

Still, that is good news. And this year's hurricane season has the same resounding "splat" to it, as well. We like that, too!

Living in MasterChef - Outdoors Drama, Indoors Dessert Killer

Dum, da-da-dum... DUM DA-DUM DUM DUM DUUUUUM!

Yes, I'm back with more exciting MasterChef news, this time from 24 July's Episode "Top 8 Complete" - such exciting names, don't you think? I don't, but maybe that is just me. I like the title I gave it and have faith that left to one of the three judges (or all three of the judges) that this would be great! I guess it is easier to fall back on these life-less titles, however, than to go for more enticing ones.

The cooks now have to spend a night outside and come up with a dish based on what is outside and what few ingredients they get and tools as well. They get a choice of rabbit or pigeon (cough...), some vegetables. For utensils, they get one camping knife, one flint for lighting fires, one iron skillet, and a wooden spoon.

Bri and Natasha are team captains. Bri has first pick and went for James. Natasha picked Jordan; Bri, Eddie; then Natasha selected Jessie. This leaves Krissi and Luca. Gordon said this is familiar territory, Krissi being last picked again. Krissi had her feathers in a huff but just said that given a choice, she'd rather go with Natasha because she hates Bri. This is strange to me, as she hates Natasha as well. I'm not sure when Bri got higher ranking than Natasha for fellow-contestant-most-hated, but she did. Krissi stated then that it had to do with being lead by a vegetarian, a weak excuse, as Bri was a fairly confident and keen ability to cook proteins, even if she did not eat them.

Just to drive them crazy, Gordon changed the team's captains. Now Bri is stuck with Krissi. SIGH. He's right, though, one cannot do this without cooking with all. Bri's team now had to pick their main course - Bri's team went for the three rabbits; Natasha's team gets the pigeons. More power to them. I don't think I'd eat either comfortably. And then along with this lovely entree, each gets some quail eggs, potatoes, carrots, a teensy bit of cooking oil, and a few spices. No electricity, no running water, no utensils outside of those listed above. What joy. Quite frankly, they were given to much. They'd not have had an easy time finding any of those items - especially the cooking oil! - out there.

Bri comes up with the insane idea of making pasta to go with braised rabbit! Pasta! Goodness me... that is ballsy - making pasta from quail eggs and flour. Braised ragu rabbit with pasta. Yow. On the other hand, the blue team roasted a pigeon and when Joe asked what kind of dish they were making, they stuttered and stammered and had nothing. That was amazing! Not a thing.

Yes, same issue. I put this mooch work into it and no more. I guess I ran out of steam, which happens all too easily these days.

Living in The Castle at Skylands Manor

Not yet, but this weekend I will be!

Luis is so wonderful. He knows that I am crushed about not being able to get to the New York Renaissance Festival now that my car is totaled, so he is taking me there and we are going to stay in the Castle at Skylands Manor Saturday through Monday. I'm thrilled, just delighted, and he knows he is making me very, very happy. I need to get out of the house.

There really isn't enough of this to make it oath posting, but I am anyway: as a testament to just how much I love my man!

Knocked out the Park - the 2013-14 Telly Hit

Every year in September, we go through the "let's load up the TiVO with 50,000 new telly shows" game, that I intensely dislike, and Luis loves. I have my handful of favourite telly shows; that is all I need to be happy. I am not thrilled when the good ones are yanked off the air - which seems to happen all too frequently without my express approval - and yet they keep the lowest common denominator shows on forever. It irks me to no end.

But every season I end up getting sucked into a show or two, despite my best efforts to dig my heels in and go kicking and screaming into them. This season, the show I was least likely to watch suddenly shifted into high gear and I watched it - all of the first four episodes, with just one more remaining. Is the suspense killing you? Sure it it... but here goes: Almost Human.

Now, I was dead-set against it for two reasons: it had that depressing and weird futuristic feel that far too many shows have these days; and I was constantly confusing this with another depressing and futuristic and much too dark show, Tomorrow People. This is a show to avoid at all costs - it was so dark, no sense of humour and too hard to follow. But this is not what I am here to pass along to you.

Almost Human opens with a police action gone wrong. Keith Urban, a 41-year-old actor who looks too good for this line of work, is an officer named John Kennex who is in charge of a team of men, all of whom are killed. He loses his right leg, but in 2048, this is a minor injury (!). However, the bad guys are out and about en masse and the police force needs him back now.

The premise is that technology has gone amok and the criminal element has gone haywire with its use, which is not so different than now, but it has gotten so out of hand here that all human officers are paired with androids that look human, although it is obvious that they haven't the right "feel" to them; but John is unable to get on well with the MX series. The MX series is clearly not human but looks right, if you can get past the monotone voice, the fact that they all look the same and that they are designated by a number, not a name. So in the first ten minutes of the show, John is paired with 745 (I think), who couldn't keep his mouth shut and John pushed him out the door on the highway in front of an oncoming truck. Goodbye, 745.

John returns to the station to be informed he cannot go solo and he cannot go with another non-human. Rules is rules and you must suck it up and follow them. So he finds the geek guy, Rudy, who works solely on the androids and is told that there are no more MX series androids, so he will be getting the DRN, an old series that has been phased out for being too human (sort of in the same vein as Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, the DRN series has a emotion chip or subroutine to give them that human touch). This particular one is named Dorian, a good solid Irish name (not that anyone asked me), on a tall, attractive black gentleman with the most lovely blue-grey-freen eyes I have ever seen. It appears that the gene pool is definitely getting some wonderful hiccups in it - dark skin and hair with light eyes is a stunning combination, and eyes of this nature are hard not to take a good, long look.

Again, this is an old post, so it ends here, and this is it, Unfortunately, this wonderful show was cancelled on 3 March 2014. Pitiful. Another special note: Keith Urban is the gentleman who played Dr. "Bones" Leonard McCoy in the two newest Star Trek films, with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. I hope we see all of them in more telly and/or film mediums.

Living in MasterChef - Let the BloodLetting Start!

I wrote this on 6 September of 2013, but even though I reset the date here, the damned thing set it today's date. Unreal.

Well. Four contestants left. This is a two-hour episode, so we will kill off one contestant in the first hour and the next at the end of the second hour. The new season of shows will be starting all too soon, so this week and next will be the end of the show. They are currently filming the contestant efforts for the 2014 season, as we have seen the ads for the different cities they will be touring to get new participants.

Now, they show a few minutes of the last episode, then give a quick snapshot of the upcoming episode. Very often they take things out of context, but this time, I think Krissy is actually threatening Jesse. We'll see.

The way this will play out seems rather obvious to me. There are two mystery boxes, so it is a safe bet that with four people left, it will be teams of two. This means that the winner from the last episode will get first pick for a teammate: Luca. Luis and I paused this and conferred and agreed that if we were Luca, we would pick Natasha as our teammate and leave Jesse to be killed by Krissi, who is the worst team player of all time. (That sounds like an exaggeration, but it isn't - there have been some truly abysmal players, but at one time or another, they put aside their problems to make a cohesive team. Krissy would not know where to start. It seems that she is perfectly comfortable killing her own chances to win just to screw someone else; and most of the time, she just goes crazy, gets all angry and worked up over nothing, and loses interest in performing. She still hasn't figured out that this will not get her anywhere - that this is the reason (a huge part of it) that she keeps ending up in pressure tests for elimination. While it is to her credit that she has survived as long as she has without getting killed off in an elimination round, she still doesn't realise that she is doing this to herself. I also hate to think the lessons her son is getting, but that is another story.

The boxes contain enough to make a MasterChef, restaurant style three course meal: appetizer, entree and dessert. This is standard at this point. Luca is the winner with two Mystery Box wins. Luca said it's a no-brainer that he won't pick Krissy (of course - who would?); he did what Luis and I thought he would and selected Natasha. Good man. Jesse in the one-to-one interviews that are interlaced with the competitions, said, "Worst nightmare just happened right before my eyes. I'm stuck... with "The Thing". She does't work with others - at all. Like she has no concept of the word 'team'." We howled with laughter at that. And we agreed we would both have done the same.

Both teams are conferring to come up with ideas for dishes. Krissy comes up with greens with lobster meat and fry an oyster on top for garnish. Jesse kills it, saying she can't "see it". Quite frankly, neither can I. A fried oyster as garnish? The whole thing sounds so unappealing. And Jesse knows it. Krissy then steams a little while agreeing to Jesse's idea for an appetizer. Then Krissy wants to do this appetizer: raw asparagus with a vinaigrette. No. I agree with killing this off as well. And Krissy tries to do the lobster salad but Gordon tastes the dressing for the lobster and says it doesn't taste nice. Heh, heh, heh. We laughed at this.

Both of them are going to be in trouble with the dessert.

It is obvious that Krissy and Jesse are not a cohesive team. And Krissi isn't able to cook any of these dishes. Jesse tells Krissy how to make a crepe, and Krissy tells Jesse she is uncomfortable with the crepes. Jesse said to her, "Babe, you abandoned me on the lobster, so you have gotta pick something you can cook." Krissy is furious: she tells the camera in those one-on-one bits, "What did you just say to me, bitch?!" Here we go again. She's all pissed off and can't handle it. She has the worst anger-management issues I have ever seen. She is a one-woman nightmare. I have no idea why she is so unstable, but she is. Then, as if we weren't aghast at her comments, she said, "I'm literally gonna take this hot pan and smash her in the face wit' it." How delightful - educated and nice; what a talent you are.

Jesse continues cooking and Krissy leaves the kitchen, saying that she has to leave or she will be going to jail today. I would have loved to see security show up and cart her off to jail, but no, she ends up bailing out. She left Jesse to cook all by herself. Well. If this doesn't guarantee her getting kicked out, nothing will.

Jesse is cooking her ass off and is searing the lamb as it isn't cooked enough - Krissy is still in the pantry, trying to calm down. She finally goes back with just a minute or so to go. She's really valueless at this point, but Jesse manages to get it all done.

Blue team goes up first and shows a strange looking seafood salad, but while it isn't well-plated or attractive, it is tasty. The lamb dinner is much better, although again, not well plated. The dessert is an issue. And shockingly, Natasha whispers to Luca that she is sorry about the dessert. We are shocked - we have never heard her apologise for anything!

Jesse told Joe what the appetizer was and said that Krissy did the original vinaigrette, but she changed it. Krissy admits she did not know that the vinaigrette was different. Joe loves it, and Krissy takes the fall for it. Gordon criticized Krissy for leaving. She deserved it. And Jesse did it all.everything. I'm so proud of her. And Gordon said the lamb is fantastic, she nailed it. Krissy had nothing to do with it, as well, so this gets her again.

The judges leave to confer and the teams wait. It is obvious to us that the red team won't win, but still - Jesse did a hell of a job. Sure enough, the Blue team gets it. Natasha let out an ear-splitting shriek, Luca hugs her (and here, we are so unimpressed with Natasha. She has the worst body language in the world. She did not hug Luca back and she looked away. It was awful). Then the teams separate, and Jesse goes upstairs with Luca and Natasha, and tells them what really happened. Then Krissy goes up there to tell Jesse off, what a moron. The only bitch here is Krissy. But on the other hand, Jesse is excited to be in the pressure test to kick Krissy's ass. And we - myself and Luis - are excited for her. We want to see Krissy sent home.

Jesse shows up in a dress and high heels and is just gorgeous. Krissy is still the angry overweight woman carrying around a grudge against everyone else. I termed it in the first post I did: fat woman's attitude. She is just bitter, bitter, bitter. But they are both smiling at the thought of 75 minutes to make one chocolate mousse, one chocolate volcano and one chocolate soufflé. Krissy is a baker; but not all of this is just baking. She is not one to make high-end foods of any kind. But Jesse is the Queen of Time Management, she is neat, organised and has a plan. Krissy is overconfident and angry, and this is where I would have put into place my plan to overset her with sarcasm, something I am so much better. She just curses and gets angry.

Joe thinks Krissy is better, but it is obvious that Jesse is working a little faster and is more organised. I'm thrilled. We're both betting on Jesse. I suspect everyone is betting on her, really.

And sure enough, after a conference, they give Krissy the axe! Luis and I are cheering like mad, and Jesse is thrilled. Krissy begins crying, but we don't feel a bit of sympathy for The Beast. We know she says she is doing this for her son, but we just are not feeling the love.

Here is an article that substantiates what I have been saying all along:

'MasterChef': It's bye, bye, Beast, as final two emerge

Whew! The "MasterChef" finale came mighty close to including the most reviled competitor in show history. Instead, the final two competitors standing will include thesecond-most disliked competitor of the season, Natasha Crnjac, a 26-year-old homemaker from San Diego.
Now, Natasha will face off with Luca Manfe, a 31-year-old restaurant manager from New York City, he with the charming accent and the never-give-up story line. His first stab at "MasterChef" was a failure, but he came back for more and fought his way into the finale by absorbing every polishing note the judges hand him.
But will it be enough to pull past Natasha, whose multicultural background has seemingly given her the dazzling ability to cook across an array of cuisines -- while teetering on stilettos?
If it comes down to calculated cooking chops and flat-out shrewdness, Natasha has this won.
Let's not forget, after all, that this is the woman who needed a garlic handout from a fellow competitor just a few short challenges ago, yet refused to pay it forward when Jessie needed some butter this week because, hey, a competition is a competition, right?
Or will Luca bring the most heart to the finale and edge her out? (Luca being the guy who gave Natasha some of his garlic when she needed it, and also gave Jessie the needed butter. He has said repeatedly he wants to cook his way to the top, not win by trying to submarine someone else. Awwwwww.)
Winnowing the field down to the final two was a decision nearly overshadowed by the other "news" of the night: The elimination of The Beast.
When Krissi roared into "MasterChef" competition, she seemed like an instant fan favorite. She was a struggling single mom who tawked Philly tough and cooked homey, rustic dishes that reminded Joe Bastianich of his momma's cooking. (No small compliment, given that his mother is Italian cooking legend Lidia Bastianich.)
Krissi's food might not look as if it belonged in a five-star restaurant -- but you'd certainly like to see it on your dinner plate. As a result, it was easy to envision Krissi using "MasterChef" as a launching pad, a platform, for helping moms and dads nationwide who love cooking yet still feel overwhelmed by the daily dinner-time dash.
And, who knows, that can still happen.
It's just that much harder when you've transformed yourself into the most hated contestant in "MasterChef" history, and earned a nickname The Beast.
Krissi is either as ill-tempered, foul-mouthed, hypocritical and self-absorbed as she appeared on TV -- or she was playing it up for the cameras, knowing that's one sure way to get camera time? Either way, Krissi proved to be such an unlikable personality that it became hard to root for her, even though her cooking skills were standout and her son was as cute as a button.
It made for good TV, sure, but who is the ultimate beneficiary of that when the season wraps?
What do you think? Too harsh of an assessment of Krissi? Will she be able to leverage this beyond local Philly stardom?
Krissi's departure was quickly followed by Jessie's elimination, leaving Luca and Natasha as the final two standing. Natasha was thrust into the early role as the show's villainess, in part because she enjoyed pointing out how pretty she is and how talented she is, and generally being high on herself.
Like Krissi, Natasha seems to enjoy playing the baddie -- but is she winning the battle and losing the war? America, do you want her to be your new "MasterChef"?

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Interesting Aftermath a From Season Five of "MasterChef"

Do I agree with this?

You will have to read it first and decide for yourself. I had long since made up my mind before finding this article.

MasterChef Season 5 Fixed: Courtney Lapresi Won Finale After Getting Preferential Treatment - Former Stripper Favoritism
"They say if you can’t take the heat, you should get out of the kitchen, but what if you like it hot? If you’ve been watching MasterChef this season 5, you may have noticed that one contestant in particular seems to be “winning” challenges when her dishes don’t seem to be quite up to it. Courtney Lapresi has been billed as an “aerial dancer” on the show. So what exactly is that, you ask? It’s a fancy word for stripper. You may term what she does as burlesque, but nekked is nekked and she takes off her clothes when she dances, so you have to call them as you see them.

Plus is it really fair that she’s up for a MasterChef win after she’s already won a major award in 2013? That’s right, Courtney aka Winter (her stripper name) won Entertainer of the Year for 2013 at Delilah’s Gentlemen’s Club and Steakhouse the club where she works. Click here to check out their gallery and go to page two of the images to see Courtney complete with a sash and crown for her win. 

Notice the stripper poles behind her. When I think legit aerial dancer, I think Cirque de Soleil, not boobs out on a pole. One’s art and one’s something else entirely. But got to give her props for being a top stripper…

Two contestants this year have mentioned out loud that Courtney has been shown favoritism by judges Gordon RamsayGraham Elliot and Joe Bastianich. And that’s only two comments that have made it to air. And, interestingly, after each of the comments, they’ve done something to temporarily set her back (but not get her eliminated) to balance these out. So the question is, are all three judges in on this thing or is it one judge in particular who has his eye on the clothing-challenged aerial artist turned cook?

Here’s a quick run down of the (alleged) favoritism:

Episode 2 – Courtney wins the mystery box challenge and gets a big advantage.

Episode 3 – Courtney got off the hook in the pressure test.

Episode 4 – Ahran openly accused the judges of bias in Court’s favor. Courtney ends up in the bottom three as if to counteract the accusation but is then (of course) saved.

Episode 5 – Courtney’s team wins the challenge.

Episode 6 – Courtney wins the elimination challenge and gets another big advantage.

Episode 7 – She doesn’t have to cook based on her win in episode 6, advancing her another round.

Episode 8 – She’s on the winning restaurant team.

Episode 9 – She’s in top three in mystery box, heavily praised in elimination challenge, sent to safety.

Episode 10 – She’s on the winning challenge team.

Episode 11 – Courtney wins elimination test, gets to be team captain in next episode.

Episode 12 – Her team loses by a slim margin and faces a pressure test but the judges encourage her to save herself instead of participating in the pressure test. She does and is safe for the next round (even though as captain, the loss was on her totally).

Episode 13 – Praised by judges and saved from three part pressure test.

Episode 14 – Courtney wins mystery box again and Elizabeth says the judges are showing blatant favoritism to Courtney – she got to pick teams to set others up for failure.

Episode 15 – They couldn’t save her. She screwed up gnocchi then took over as team captain and screwed that up (showing just how mediocre she really is) so she went into pressure test where she was (of course) praised and saved in the pressure test.

Episode 16 – They flew in Courtney’s little brother for the aww factor – the only person who didn’t get to bring an adult and you know he was coached to say mac n cheese to set her up for a great dish – she didn’t win but was safe in second place. In the elimination challenge she got the testicles and seemed to handle these well (almost as if she’s had experience, wink, wink) and of course won yet again.

Episode 17 – Courtney gets to pick teams and then her team won by sucking slightly less than the other but it was her that dragged Elizabeth down. She’s in the top three.

All in all, it’s a pretty impressive season for someone with no culinary background that cooks in six inch stripper heels and always has a smile for the judges (maybe one in particular).

All three judges have been accused of intense sexual harassment of female MasterChef contestants in a recent lawsuit. Season four contestant Marie Porter said a female contestant in her season was “sexually harassed by the judges to the point she had her lawyers get her edited out of the show completely.” And Carrie Stevens, also from Season four says, “Marie is reporting facts. I witnessed it.” A couple from Kitchen Nightmares accused Gordon Ramsay of sexually harassing the wife. And randy Ramsay has cheated on his wife multiple times according to the Herald Sun and News of the World reports in the UK and Australia.

MasterChef Season 5 Fixed: Courtney Lapresi Getting Preferential Treatment - Former Stripper Favoritism?
Here’s a pic from Courtney’s MasterChef twitter feed showing her in legit dancing gear where she writes “#flashbackfriday to when was studying Ballet @UArts #balletmajor. I went from  the #performingarts to #culinaryarts.” She skipped the step where she indulged in the #stripperarts. She said on last night’s episode that she hasn’t seen her little brother Cooper in a year – is he being kept away from her because of her work in erotic dancing?

Also of interest is that Courtney performs in a stripper group based on The Spice Girls where she performs as Posh Spice (aka Victoria Beckham). Becks and Ramsay are great friends, but if Ramsay is fooling around with Courtney, does he ask her to wear her Posh gear so he can pretend he’s rolling around with his best mate’s wife. That’s so not a recipe for a good friendship Gordon!

So the real questions here are: 

Is Courtney getting blatant favoritism (I say yes).

Is Courtney basking in rather than being offended by sexual attention from the judges (I say likely).

Is Courtney enjoying the attention of one specific judge whose name rhymes with handsy (I say could be).

Will Courtney win MasterChef? (I say even if she doesn’t win, Gordon or one of the other MasterChef judges may find a “position” for her in one of their kitchens).

Update: as we predicted Courtney Lapresi was handed victory by the apparently biased judging in her favor – people who watched the finale episode agreed that based on the food Courtney didn’t deserve to win this competition. What do you think?"

My answer:

"I have to agree with Rockdaisy [another commenter]. Having watched every episode of MasterChef, every season, I didn't find the judges to be biased in Courtney's case. I didn't care for Courtney myself, but it had nothing to do with her former career or her cooking. She proved herself to be a perfectly capable cook. The reasons listed for their alleged favouritism was not unique to this season or any of the episodes: many people are given the opportunity to save their own butts, many are given the opportunity to set up teams that will fail by the person who won the event and the huge advantage; that is the set-up of the show. Nothing is different here.

I also cannot abide the idea that any of these men were harassing the contestants. Know who you are slamming. The couple mentioned in the episode of Kitchen Nightmares were known for attempting a bunch of sleazy tries to make money, including fraud. None of the judges are stupid enough to piss on the income they're making by so thoughtless a move.

I find it offensive that anyone makes commentary on being a stripper and/or aerial dancer. I have seen aerial dancers; it is a wonderful form of art and dancing. And my mother was a go-go dancer when I was young, and stripper falls into that heading. I will be the first to say that my mother was beautiful, much more so than Courtney, with her long, narrow face, tortilla chip nose, almost non-existent cheek bones, but clearly beauty is not the only requirement for every kind of dancing. And my mother was married to my father throughout her dancing career, so don't assume anything you know nothing about. Being a stripper doesn't make a man or woman a slut, it makes them gainfully employed and pulling in more money than you can easily imagine.

No, I wasn't a fan of Courtney's - I intensely disliked her smart-ass remarks, her looking down on others, her general attitude. I never understood why she dressed like Donna Reed - the pouffy 50s dresses and killer heels (at least Elizabeth had the sense to wear sensible shoes when the finale was on), and the too-red lipstick. The falsetto voice got on my nerves. And she wasn't a gracious winner and a very poor loser, on those occasions when she did not place number one.

However, Elizabeth wasn't a gracious winner or loser, so where does that leave us?

But it was incredibly obvious that she knew how to cook - not just how to cook, but how to improvise, explore, try new things. Cooking in and of itself is not about the pinch of this and pound of that, it is the ability to open oneself up to daring, to experimenting, to learning new things. Only baking is a rigid science in food preparation; cooking is daring to do the new and amazing. Courtney did just that.

Giving any credence whatever to a rag such as the "Herald Sun" is right up there with telling us you buy into every article printed in "The Enquirer". Please don't call yourself a researcher or writer if that is where you are finding your "information".

And lastly, a lot of this sounds like sour grapes to me. Unhappy, envious people who wish they could be winners.

Give credit where it is due."

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Worst People Sometimes Win

MasterChef is interesting to watch - unlike Hell's Kitchen, they are pitting people who are home cooks against each other, instead of people who (purport to) have worked in a kitchen. (I tend to doubt it; and if they did, then either 1. it was the most dysfunctional kitchen extant, or 2. they lied utterly about their title or true position. Some of the Executive Chefs that come to the show are clearly not working at their title, not producing dishes that indicate they know anything about working in a kitchen.) What makes MasterChef unique is that these people have never had to cut their teeth on serving plates to 200 people or had to cook outside of their comfort zone. And some people actually come with some mighty strange ideas - ideas that they swear up and down worked with people they've cooked for... but clearly someone lied to them in telling the creator that it was delicious.

Quite frankly, if someone served me apple pie with onions in it, I might actually have to flip it back to them. How the poor guys on MasterChef managed to swallow the unappetising stodge served by that particular moron is beyond me. I never could have managed it, myself. Yet the contestant swore he's served it to others with astounding results. The only thing "astounding" about it was that no one actually killed him for serving something so inedible and unfathomably bad!

Well, despite finding home cooks to do this and join the show, they still pull off what every reality show manages to pull off: finding too many Type A personalities to fill the roster of contestants. It wouldn't be a reality show if the contestants didn't fight and fuss and not get along. Just once it would
be nice to see some people get along with each other on these shows from the outset. Or maybe they tell them to be loud, obnoxious, obstreperous and mouthy to "juice up" the show. Why not just let things take its natural course?

And why should the 2014 season be any different?

It doesn't take too long to recognise the asshats from the reasonable people. Usually fifteen to twenty minutes into the first episode you have twigged on to the fact that this one is nuts, that one is a megalomaniac, and the other one is the worst cook ever, and so referring to him or her as a "cook" is just wrong. This is not to mean that people don't and won't change throughout the show; they do, and that's as it should be. This is a big event for them, and not just for the $250,000 they win, but also for the verification of their ideals as being a top-notch chef and the lure of producing a cookbook (although it will be a long, long time before anyone can knock The Joy of Cooking from its very long-term position as numbero uno). The heavy, glitzy, glass award is the least on the list of goodies. While it makes a hellacious paperweight and might be an excellent weapon if someone breaks in (assuming you can heft it), it has little other value than to gather dust on it. And yet, the shows producers, the three top chefs, Chefs Gordon Ramsey, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot, the guests to the show and the other winners fuss over it. But let's be honest; when the winners were just contestants, it was the money they talked about with the most relish, the book a fairly close runner-up. But both of those bits are money or a great route to making [more] money. The big glass trophy is... well... just a big glass trophy.

This season introduced to us to several interesting people: Leslie Gillimas, a silver-harked man of about fifty(?) who is a stay-at-home father; Courtney Lapresi, a former stripper/aerial dancer who dresses like Donna Reed; Elizabeth, a well-liked cook with a poorest attitude. I didn't like Courtney, but Elizabeth clearly took a piss-poor attitude whenever Courtney won, which was a fair amount of the time. And yes, I did not at all care for Courtney's smarmy remarks, but was Elizabeth any more mature, rolling her eyes, making priss-mouthed comments back? Grow a brain, honey. You'd win far more bees with honey...

The finale was really something. First, all three remaining top chefs (Courtney, Leslie and Elizabeth) had to create a unique dish for fifty chefs, each representing their state. Courtney made pan-seared halibut, Elizabeth made pan-seared red snapper (?), and Leslie made filet mignon with gnocchi. (I was onboard with Leslie with that choice; gnocchi is not the easiest of pasta dishes to make and he made fifty of them! No mean feat.) Elizabeth won it, hands down, and was delighted as she walked through the line of fifty chefs, beaming. I can't blame her.

Keep this in mind when you read the post following this tomorrow: Interesting Aftermath form Season Five of MasterChef
After that, it was time for Leslie and Courtney to go up against each other in the final pressure test. This is standard MasterChef material: the contestants who did not win the first portion of the show had to do this to determine who was next to leave the show. It is an important part of the set-up. Mostly the winner of Part I got an extra advantage in setting up Part II; the losers were at a disadvantage anyway. Part II determined who was finished in the show. Desserts were a favourite for weeding out the losers, as many of the contestants were completely out of their comfort zones as bakers. As it happened, Courtney loved baking, so she was a natural choice for those events.

Interesting fact: when MasterChef first began, desserts were not on the menu at all. Sometime into the third season, they realised that desserts were an excellent way of levelling the playing field. So now they love to throw these lovely baking and/or dessert moments into the competition, knowing that the majority of people have not done this side of food making. For one thing, there is a lot of loose rules in cooking itself. In baking, it is a science, so one must know the ingredients and the exact measurements in the selected item. No exceptions.

So this was a great time to toss in one last baking effort for Courtney, a known baker, and Leslie, who might not be one, but has a knack for faking it well. They each had to make the same three desserts: one key lime pie, one strawberry cheesecake and one Boston Cream pie. Yikes!

They each set out to work, and despite a couple of small hitches, they looked rather good, although Leslie's strawberry cheesecake looked a little sparse on top (the strawberry topping) and Courtney's Boston Cream pie was sloughing out the sides. (We all saw Leslie use the baker's spreading tool to put on the cream nice and evenly. Courtney dumped hers unceremoniously onto the bottom portion of the pie. Big surprise.

Well, Leslie surely had it in the bag, until Gordon Ramey tasted his Boston Cream pie. Then he made an odd face, and quietly said, "Wow..." Now, I will tell you freely, dear readers, that this is not new for Chef Ramsey, nor is it easily translated. Sometimes "wow" means "Oh, my gods, this is bloody awesome" or it can translate into "Ye gods, what the hell did you do to this?!" - it keeps us guessing. And boy, were we guessing. Luis thought at first it was an issue, then changed his mind and said it was a good wow. I continued to feel it was ominous.

It was.

It really looked as though Leslie had this in the bag, and he would walk away to become the second one to enter the finale. But Gordon tasted his pie, uttered his wow, and that was it. Game over, and I knew it. Sure enough, Gordon asked Leslie to taste the pie. The moment, I meant he very second he put the piece of pie in his mouth, he closed his eyes as though in pain. And Chef Ramsey said, "You know what happened, don't you?" Leslie nodded, eyes downcast. As annoying as he was, I felt so poorly for him. So close, now miles away.

He put in salt instead of sugar.

This is a mistake everyone under the sun makes at some point or another. If you are a cook or baker with half a brain, you taste what you're making along the way, all along the way. If you are new to it or in a hurry and not thinking, you forget or don't think of it, and then at the finish, you do taste and yikes! it's awful. Big surprise. Ray's done it, my mother, who could only ever bake one thing: challah bread, made the same staggering error. I'd tasted it and nearly gagged. It is a tiny yet massive error that follows you everywhere.

And Chef Ramsey said the exact same thing. You'd better believe it. Like I said, every one has done this at one point. And it is an easy enough mistake to make. Anyone who says otherwise clearly hasn't baked. (Neither have I, but I know a lot of people who do and I read enormously. I also watch this show. I get my knowledge all over the place, so it needn't necessarily be my own knowledge.

So there it is.

And then we're down to one. It was a two-hour finale and so we got through the first hour. Now we have hour no. two. It starts with Elizabeth and Courtney standing next to each other while the chefs run us through the finale and how it will work. We have seen the four first seasons, so we know how it will work. The two finalists will cook by one another - the "kitchen" is round, and one half is Courtney's and the other is Elizabeth's. They each tell the audience what they are making by way of describing their respective dishes to the chefs: one appetiser, one main course, one dessert. They eau supply one of each dish to the chefs. Then they taste it, give remarks to the chefs, and then rate them amongst themselves. From there, we'll know how it ends - pretty much.

First, we get the Reader's Digest condensed version of their lives; Elizabeth was an advertising executive, and Courtney was an aerial dancer/stripper at a gentleman's club, something she was very clearly embarrassed about. It explained the puritan clothing with the unbelievably high heels she wore. It also explained the money she rather badly needed, to support the shoe/clothing expenses. I'm not judging - I'm totally wasteful with money. I get it. But I have no kids and no plans to have 'em, so it is my money to piss away as I see fit. I don't understand her attitude about the dancing. It is nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. My mother was a go-go dancer when she was age 30 to age 40 - she started the same age the majority of dancers "retire". I am immensely proud of her. So is Ray. She was not a whore, as too many uneducated and uptight people assume. She and Ray were able to support me and well with the income she made.

Know your skills and use them. And in this ridiculous society, don't be so sexually repressed.

Personally, Courtney was not much of a looker - huge tortilla chip nose, long, horsey face, but a good body. But the 1950s wear and her attitude about the whole thing really made it seem so much worse than it really is. Very stupid.

The chefs bring in the two finalists families' to give it the family fun taste and extra meaningful cheering for the contestants. Elizabeth is married and has siblings and parents there. Courtney, in her 50s-garage sale clothing, has her parent(s) and a brother who is around four or five years old. Apparently, they haven't been close, but he's there and was in an earlier episode, as well. The "aaawwww, isn't he cute?" factor. Too bad I am not particularly fond of children (re: I don't like them and they're not stupid - they don't like me, either!), so this would never work with me. Had they brought in someone's cat, then I'd be totally swayed; but no cat I know would want that. Neither would I. At any rate, an annoying kid was the last thing I would care about. One has to wonder how she was 25 and the kid was 5. Quite an age difference. Neither here nor there.

So Elizabeth made grilled octopus with greens and Courtney made pig's ear with greens. Elizabeth slightly overcooked the octopus; Courtney did well with a chancy dish like pig's ear (this had come up in an earlier episode - working with substandard and/or outright weird animal parts, including some animal's testicles...BBBRRRRRR). Technical errors are generally not looked upon well.

And then we're onto the main course. Elizabeth goes with spiced rack of lam; Courtney opts for sumac duck breast. Elizabeth lost out, falling behind and presenting Joe with a quite rare slice. Rare hough that I wouldn't have touched and would have remarked that I'd seen lamb hurt worse and recover. Nothing should be that red! Another losing proposition for Elizabeth.

Did I mention that she was a poor loser? Indeed I did. Elizabeth rolled her eyes, made nasty faces when the judges commented on Courtney's dishes being technically perfect, etc.. Get over it, honey. I don't particularly like Miss-Goody-Two-Shoes, either, but I can't fault her cooking, so Elizabeth is just going to have to grow up. Not that she'll have a chance now.

On the desserts, well, it is a different story. Elizabeth made an olive oil cake and grapefruit with a plum trio, while Courtney goes for cherry meringue - and loves doing it. While she is in fact, smart enough to taste her meringue, she eats one that - as it turns out - is needed. She forgot herself and ate one! While it tastes good, it is a mistake as the dishes look incomplete. Oh, well. Elizabeth clearly won this portion, and Courtney has to eat her shorts on this one, as not only does the dessert look terrible, losing points there, but it is over-salted. Joe remarks that this could be awful or brilliant, and decides in her favour; Graham goes with Joe; Gordon disagrees. I cross my fingers for Elizabeth, but know better. Luis votes for Courtney. I knew he would, though, he spent the entire season commenting on her legs. I love that man! He loves all women, and that makes him the best of men.

Unsurprisingly, she won.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Ar an Ard - Deireadh Mó Siúcra

That is Gaelic for "The Gift of Gourmet Sugar". I am the biggest sugar junkie you will ever meet. I don't drink alcohol, I don't inhale anything, I don't engage in the use of illegal drugs. The drugs I take legally, I dislike intensely. I don't eat fried foods of any kind. I don't care for cake, cookies (unless it is raw sugar-cookie dough - I like my raw cookie dough unencumbered with chocolate chips), heavy desserts. But man, I love, beyond all imagining, candy!

Unlike my mother and many, many others, I am not a chocholic. I tolerate chocolate, and occasionally like it as a part of something specific (chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate covered pretzels). I will never eat a Hersey's Bar for two big reasons: it is shit chocolate and it is heartlessly boring. Any true chocolate connoisseur would thumb his or her nose at the Hershey franchise, followed by almost anything on the supermarket shelf names. Chocolates that are of intermediate quality would be in the Cadbury range. Your better chocolates are Lindt, for example. Godiva? Yawn...

But my specialty is the serious cane. Chewy, hard, soft, whatever, I love that. My favourites include Smarties, Wacky Wafers (which I miss), Starburst, things like that. I try as many different ones as I can. I enjoy sweet flavours and I enjoy sour, as well. But of all the candies out there, none can compare with the wonderful, gourmet world of Jelly Belly Jelly Beans.

You may poo-poo the idea of gourmet jelly beans but if you do, then it is terribly apparent that you have not tried Jelly Bellies. When I say gourmet, I mean it. Imagine the pear Jelly Belly. One tiny perfect pale green bean with small grey/black spots that weighs less than an ounce gives your mouth the perfect bite of an Bartlett pear with excellent, mouth-watering flavour.

Think of how good a truly foamy, strong cup of cappuccino tastes; eat the cappuccino Jelly Belly, and you in the café of your choice, sipping that strong coffee.

Imagine yourself at the movies, strapping on the ol' feedbag of richly buttered popcorn. How about a beautifully ripe banana or a pink grapefruit for breakfast? Maybe a mix to truly bring out the best flavours:

Put together a boysenberry or strawberry jam with a peanut butter Jelly Belly (back when they still had the peanut butter flavour) and you just created the peanut butter sandwich. Or a good mix of the piña coladapineapple and coconut for that perfect tropical drink. And banana with vanilla and strawberry cheesecake and chocolate pudding is a Banana Split!

When is the last time you could do that with any other jelly bean? Of course not! Jelly beans were never much until Jelly Bellies dame along!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Big Hero 6: A Review

Here it is, my post for today - just under the wire, but I made it! (Gasp, wheeze, cough!)

Today Luis and I went to the movies. He really wanted to see Mocking Something or Other, but the seating in the Cinema Suites were filled. So we saw Big Hero 6 in the Fork & Screen theatres. We love the Cinema Suites the most: full meals, seating that is above and beyond anything one could want, no kids allowed! No one under 21, due to the alcohol they serve there. In the Fork & Screen portion of Cinema Suites, any age is allowed. The full meals are still there, the seating is above average, but in the Suites, the super-comfortable full length reclining chairs allow you to be supine if you want. Nothing beats this. As a result, we only go there, not the "theatres of the masses" with the bubblegum on the seats, disgusting bathrooms and loudmouthed morons.

If you are going to the movies, do it right!

Since there was no seeing the latest Hunger Games release for Luis and I have no interest whatsoever in the franchise, we went for the animated film instead: Big Hero 6. I had read a positive review for it in People Magazine, my one guilty pleasure, and we were both interested in seeing it, although it is always chancy seeing a kids movie. Kids almost always make the worst viewers under a certain age. However, we lucked out: only two other families were in the theatre and this made it very pleasurable.

What did I think of the film? On a scale of ten, it gets an 8.5! This is no mean feat, for me. I don't rate very many films a ten. I don't rate very many films a one, either. That means I was subjected to a film that wasn't really for me. That isn't fair to rate a movie that isn't my type in general. Animated films are an entirely different animal. I love them, especially the more modern and clearly made for adult ones, such as all Pixar films, the Shrek films, many of the newer DreamWorks, SKG. (How to Train Your Dragon) and Sony Animation films (Hotel Transylvania). I love them and try them all out. In fact, there was a preview for an upcoming Pixar film, Inside Out, with the following description:

"Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it's no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley's main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school."

I'm counting down the days to either 19 or 22 June... Pixar's Website gives the 19th as the release date, the preview gave 22 June. Go figure! I freely admit, I don't recognise a single actor/actress there, but voices are not something to poo-poo - whatever bad choices they may have made as actors (say, by appearing in a sitcom), they redeem themselves as masters to a craft in vocal performances, for me. Anything, everything, can be forgiven in this light.

Back to this, Big Hero 6, I loved it. It was fun, well-made, had a few well-known voices and many new, but all excellent. The known voices: Damon Wayans, Jr. (as a charming OCD-ridden nerd, no longer a hopelessly dopey actor), Alan Tudyk, Maya Rudolph, Stan Lee and my personal favourite, the 6', 6", impressive, amazing James Cromwell, one of my all-time favourite actors (Secretariat, I, Robot, M*A*S*H)! The artwork and effort put into the animation was of the highest caliber. But that is all very well, and not the true measure of the greatness of a film. What is the true measure, that amazing quality that gives a film the power to get you?

The amount of emotional investment one gives it.

I laughed, I cried, I was furious, I was frightened, I was joyous. It was one of those movies, where you are a part of the story, where you feel for the good guys, want to hurt the antagonist and slap the protagonist. When I am throughly immersed in the emotional side of the film, then it is a huge success. And I was totally sucked in.

The other true mark (especially frequenting the Cinema Suites as we do) is whether or not I can remain awake through all of it. Luis and I saw The Judge, with Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Duvall. It was fairly good, but all told, I drifted off three times, for about five to seven minutes each time. If a movie is that slow, it happens. And it is staggering how much one can miss in those short bits: one key comment, one chance remark. We also saw If I Stay, and while an emotional movie, it was much too long and slow enough that both of us drifted off. That rates a "Yikes". A number would not be adequate.

Dolphin Tale 2 is the mark of great film, just as the first one was. Both drew not only very high marks and a complete emotional investment, but also a standing ovation. They were both lovely films.

Interstellar was good, but it had a running time of two hours, forty-nine minutes, which is asking a lot of me, especially with the intensity at which it moved - very little slow time. It was not terribly emotionally tiring, so it lost marks there. I give that film a 5.75. Some of the characters were surprising and for those undying fans of Matt Damon, well, they were undoubtedly crushed - he must have been in it for all of 15 to 20 minutes. Heh, heh, heh. I like him well enough, but not in that way. (Want to see Matt in something great? Try the all-time amazing film The Adjustment Bureau. I loved it, and wished I'd gone with Luis to see it in the movies. That is my 11th all-time favourite film.)

How to Train Your Dragon 2, Rio 2, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier were the other films I saw this year (I wanted to see Maleficent, but missed it due to poor health); I liked How to Train Your Dragon 2, although it wasn't up to the level of the first. That is standard, although some do break that mould in the world of animated films. I could have been perfectly fine without Captain America, as it was two plus hours of my life that I will never get back.

Big Hero 6 is not a kids film, right up there with the Shrek films and so many others. It is a Disney movie, but it is not the gushy, overly musical ones - I ploughed through Frozen and promise you that it can air until the end of time, but I will never be able to sit through that again. Musicals are generally too much for me. Movies with the wretched Peabo Bryson song or Whitney Houston (for example - I can't think if one of hers made it into a Disney seems all too likely, though) are missing the better tunes. Take Aladdin, for example; take "Arabian Nights" (Bruce Adler), "One Jump Ahead" (Brad Kane), and "Friend Like Me" (Robin Williams) and what do you get? Me, singing along with them, having a great time! What do you get with "A Whole New World" (Peabo Bryson (!) and Regina Belle)? Nausea.

Music is terribly important in films, but too much and/or the wrong ones is an issue for me.  Big Hero 6 had plenty of loud, moving, movie music, but considering the action in it, it was fitting. I couldn't say I would run out and buy the soundtrack, even though Nick Glennie-Smith was involved - I will, however, for him, listen to it again, and possibly revise my opinion. That is very unusual for me: I take my music scores and soundtrack music very, very seriously (my favourites? The unbelievably young Ramin Djawadi [Person of Interest, Clash of the Titans, and Iron Man I] and the truly masterful Nick Glennie-Smith [Secretariat - if anyone has this music, I will pay you handsomely for it!]). My only one true complaint about the film was the sudden elevation of all the characters from nerd to superhero status. However, in animated movies, the impossible is easily possible, and so while it takes the 1.5 points from a 10, it is an easily overlooked crime.

A special thank you goes to one of the titans of the animated film world, my favourite and belovèd producer, John Lassiter - a million thanks! You brought the magic of Pixar to us and we love you for it! (I did look for other Pixar-famous names, but to no avail - and believe you me, I watch all the credits, all the time, every first time I watch a film, regardless of where - all those people put their hearts, souls and lives into it, and it behooves us to look at ALL of the credits to give them their due. I also like to cheer for Human Resources, always listed in animated movies as well as the sheer numbers of production babies!)

I would never make it in the critic business - no one wants that much honesty!