De Gustibus: The Bird’s the Word

By Mark Rinaldi

lIf you’ve never had occasion to enjoy the marvel that is Japanese yakitori, I’ll break it down for you: wooden sticks are stuck through bits of chicken, and then those bits are grilled over coals. Simple, right?

Not so fast–there’s a bit more to authentic yakitori. The grilling medium absolutely must be binchōtan, a slow-burning, low-smoke charcoal made from oak (specifically Quercus phillyraeoides, for those dendrologists among us) the gentle embers of which impart a flavorful char to poultry and vegetables. After their time on the fire, skewers must be glazed with tare, a sweet-and-salty reduction made from rice wine, soy sauce and chicken stock. A procession of condiments also accompanies these bites of fowl–some sweet, some sour, some funky and some incendiary.

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Happy Halloween!

By Aileen Marshall

600px-Balle-à-leunettes_10

A jack-o’-lantern, made from a pumpkin, lit from within by a candle

Halloween is coming up at the end of this month on October 31st. It has become a very big holiday in this country, for children as well as adults, and it is growing in other countries. How did Halloween get started?

The holiday we know today is actually a combination of a pagan harvest festival and a Christian holy day to honor the dead. It actually started in Ireland in medieval times as a harvest festival called Samhain (pronounced so win). Samhain in Gaelic means “summer’s end.” It was the end of the Celtic calendar, the start of the “dark half of the year.” It coincided with the end of the growing season, with the crops dying off and days getting shorter. The ancient Celts believed it was a day the deads’ spirits could return to earth and visit their relatives or on which evil spirits possess someone. Wearing costumes was a way of fooling ghosts and demons. People would also light bonfires and carve out a turnip and put a candle in it as a means of keeping evils sprits away. There is an ancient Irish folktale of a man named Jack who tricked the devil, and trapped him in one of those carved turnips. The devil eventually got out and cursed Jack to wander the earth every Halloween carrying his lantern. Hence the term “jack o’ lantern” or Jack of the lantern. It was also common to have games of fortune telling. One game was to peel an apple so the skin came off in one piece and throw the peel over one’s shoulder. It was said the peel would form the first letter of the person he or she would marry. In England and Scotland people would go “guising,” visiting friends in costume and asking for food or coins.

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Culture Corner A Visit to the Musée national du Moyen Âge (Paris)

By Bernie Langs

465px-The_Lady_and_the_unicorn_HearingBy roundabout way of introducing this museum review, there is a funny scene in Woody Allen’s film comedy Midnight in Paris when, after having visited the Rodin Museum accompanied by a know-it-all art history buff, Owen Wilson returns there alone and asks the docent (Carla Bruni) if she remembers him from the other day. She replies, oh yes, “You were with the pedantic gentleman.” The point is, I hope in my columns I don’t come off that way, since what I’m trying to do is express the idea that the further you go into art and art history (or music or literature), the greater the benefits are to one’s being. I can’t teach anyone how to experience a museum, but hope only to translate my own excitement to others with the idea that the more you put in, the more you get out of it.

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For Your Consideration– Best Picture Check-In Edition

By Jim Keller

I dare not take a stab at the ever-changing supporting actor categories when several of the films that could very well give us our nominees haven’t been seen, so stay-tuned to fyc next month when I’ll offer my thoughts on the Best Supporting Actor and Actress categories and conclude the four part Ones to Watch series. With that said, there has been quite a bit of movement in the Best Picture race of late, so let’s dive right in. Here I give my analysis of where things stand right now—Oscar is a moving target, but there are always indicators along the road that can help us sniff out our nominees and eventual winner.

Football (The American Kind)

By Aileen Marshall

Have you ever wondered what your lab mates are talking about when they discuss Sunday’s football game every Monday morning? Or have you seen a game on television and tried to follow it? Have no fear, football is a very exciting and entertaining sport that can be enjoyed by all. The season just started on Labor Day weekend, so here are some “Cliff’s Notes” to help you enjoy the game.

For those who are not familiar with the game, it is played on a 100-yard-long field, with every 10 yards numbered. At each end of the field is a 10-yard-long “end zone.” The last yard line on each end of the field is called the “goal line.”  Goal posts are at the back of each end zone. Each game is divided into four 15-minute quarters, with a “halftime” period after the second quarter. Each team defends its half of the field. The object of the game is to get the oblong-shaped ball into the opponent’s end zone and score points. Continue reading

Culture Corner: A Visit to the National Gallery (London)

By Bernie Langs

Leonardo’s “greatest drawing in the world” in London’s National Gallery (Wikipedia)

I sometimes joke that the value of world currency should not be pegged to the dollar or to gold but to something truly valuable: paintings, drawings, and sculpture. And the arts of greatest value, in my opinion, are those from the Medieval and Renaissance periods. What, one may wonder, is the basis of such a standard? What is it that I find in art that is intrinsically worth more than a diamond or a vintage automobile or a house on the Riviera? What makes art priceless as a so-called commodity? Art, and paintings in particular, offer a sustenance for the mind not found elsewhere, except perhaps in classical music, or, I must add, in the sublime music of The Beatles. Paintings are time travelers from another age. You stand before the very piece of creation that someone hundreds of years ago stood before as well, with only the scars of time (and a shift in cultural vision) to differentiate the experience. Of greater importance than the historical education offered, the mind’s eye is treated to the detailed expression of the geniuses of the past and one learns, in a bit more than a heartbeat, how these individuals toyed with the very concept of seeing the world in varying dimensions. Dimensions, that’s the rub. Continue reading

For Your Consideration – Ones to Watch Vol. 2 Edition

By Jim Keller

Last year around this time, I covered the Supporting Actor and Actress races in this column in order to save the Best Actor race for last, since it’s generally much more exciting. The trouble is the Supporting races really don’t begin to take shape until later in the season, making them difficult to discuss—even with a lot of research. With that said, this installment of the four part series will cover the leading men. As was done in the first installment of the year, let’s take a look at last year’s names and see how they fared with Oscar.

Unlike the ladies, the leading men discussed last year for the Best Actor race were almost a foregone conclusion. For one, the men were assessed with the race in high gear, whereas the ladies were featured here months before. Outside of that, only five slots exist, making it inevitable that two of the seven men discussed would drop off: John Hawkes (The Sessions) and Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock) earned that less than stellar distinction—the latter proving that Academy favor cannot always be garnered by name alone. Meanwhile, despite wanting nothing to do with the Oscars, Joaquin Phoenix was nominated for The Master—snugly next to winner Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln). Denzel Washington landed a nod for Flight and a pair of first timers, Bradley Cooper and Hugh Jackman, secured nominations for Silver Linings Playbook and Les Misérables. Continue reading

The Fourth of July

by Aileen Marshall

This month we celebrate the Fourth of July. But do you know what we are really celebrating? It’s not just a day of picnics and fireworks. The holiday is also known as Independence Day. It marks the day the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, signifying America’s independence from the United Kingdom.

On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution recognizing the separation of the thirteen colonies from England. Thomas Jefferson finalized the Declaration of Independence and it was signed on July 4 of that year. The Revolutionary War went on for another seven years, but we celebrate on the day the independence was declared. John Adams wrote that the day “will be the most memorable Epocha in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.  It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews [Shows], Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” Continue reading

Skulls and Specimens: The Mütter Museum is Weird and Worth It

Main Gallery of Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum, George Widman, 2009

by Claire Warriner

A similar version of this article appeared in The Incubator

In April, I found myself in Philadelphia as a guest at the wedding of two people I’d never met. In addition to stuffing myself with Crab Rangoon and avoiding eye contact with the groom’s mother, I visited the gruesomely fascinating Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Often described as a museum of oddities, the three-room space houses the extensive anatomical and pathological collection of Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter, a plastic surgeon who was active in the city between 1841 and 1850. Continue reading

For Your Consideration – Ones to Watch Vol. 1 Edition

by Jim Keller

First, an apology to the one or two of you who read this column regularly and who don’t mind that it’s virtually devoid of science, for my hiatus since May. But luckily, I’ve returned in time to begin the first of a four part Ones to Watch series. As was the case last year, each edition will examine some of the more tangible roles heading down the pipeline and the pedigree of the actors who inhabit them–some of whom may find themselves vying for a top spot come Oscar time. This installment focuses on some of the leading ladies who may find themselves in this year’s Oscar race. Before we get started, let’s review some of the names that appeared in last year’s column and how their Oscar season (or lack thereof) shook out.

Anne Hathaway originally appeared under lead actress, which was subsequently amended to supporting—she went on to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Les Misérables.  Sandra Bullock was also a one-time hopeful, but since her film, Gravity, was pushed back, she too was pushed back, and appears again in this column. Marion Cotillard narrowly missed a nomination for Rust and Bone after having appeared in this column, she returns again, this time for The Immigrant. Finally, Carey Mulligan appeared last year for The Great Gatsby and unless you’re living under a rock, you know that film was pushed back to this year, but Mulligan likely will not figure in this year’s Oscar race. Continue reading

Summer in the City

by Aileen Marshall

New York City has been called the “Capital of the World.” There are so many exciting things to see and do here. Unfortunately, it can also be one of the most expensive cities to live in or visit. That makes it tough for those of us in the academic sector, who don’t make Wall Street salaries. However, come the hot summer days, there is a wide range of outdoor activities that are either free or inexpensive.

Probably the most well-known are the free concerts at the Great Lawn in Central Park. The New York Philharmonic will present its usual two concerts this year on July 13 and July 15, 2013. Concerts start at 8:00 p.m., with fireworks afterwards.  These concerts are famous for people picnicking on the Great Lawn. If you are more interested in hearing the concert, arrive early to get a place up front.  The more serious picnickers are near the south end. Enter the park at 79th Street and Fifth Avenue for easy access. More information about these concerts can be found at www.nyphil.org. Continue reading

Culture Corner Television Review: “Da Vinci’s Demons” (Starz network; Fridays at 9:00 p.m.)

by Bernie Langs

Having seen the previews, I decided to watch the first episode of the British-exported television series “Da Vinci’s Demons” with the idea in mind of writing a scathing review of the show for its comic book depiction of one of the world’s greatest geniuses, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), hero of the Italian Renaissance. As I viewed the show, I became surprisingly engaged and found myself tuning in a week later for the second episode, which, though weaker than the premiere, held my interest enough for me to want to watch future episodes. That’s not to say the show isn’t ridiculous, cartoonish, and nothing like the times or the man it features. I currently don’t watch any television weekly series, so it’s quite a shock that I’m engaged with this one. Continue reading

Creating Space

by Carly Gelfond

On a recent evening in April, I sat in a bar in Brooklyn across from an old friend from college. She’d quit her job the week before, citing stress and a lack of career advancement. She’d also had a brief stint in the hospital for an illness she attributed to the stress. “Oh, and my parents are getting divorced,” she said, taking a long sip of her pink.

“Man,” I said, ever the one with words.

It was okay, though, she told me. Leaving the job was an effort to “create space,” as she put it. She wanted to get away from her ordinary routine, to break old habits, to make room for new people and new opportunities. Maybe she would move somewhere else. Take up a new hobby. Try some new activities and stick with the ones that made her most happy. Continue reading

Memorial Day: A Brief Overview

by Daniel Briskin

A few years ago, I found myself sitting with friends before class. We were discussing the upcoming exam schedule and our study plans, when one of us pointed out an approaching three-day weekend. Quickly, we realized that none of us knew the cause of the school holiday; we only knew the ever-important fact that we would get a respite from classes. As none of us knew the holiday, we referenced our calendars and discerned that the event in question was Memorial Day. Answering this one question only led to others: who are we honoring? Soldiers? If so, how is Memorial Day different from Veterans Day—perhaps Veterans Day honors living soldiers and Memorial Day honors dead soldiers? This discussion, from three people born and raised in America, who had collectively celebrated the holiday more than 60 times, showed that our education in and appreciation of our national history was woefully lacking. Therefore, for those who are curious about the origins of Memorial Day (which this year will be observed on Monday, May 27) I have compiled some facts and data about the holiday. Continue reading

For Your Consideration—Crystal Ball Edition Part II

by Jim Keller

Admittedly, last month’s column was thrown together between health battles, and birthday and Oscar celebrations—oh wait, those last two were on the same day, no lie! Without further ado, I give you the remainder of a short list of films—some of which you might be hearing about for years to come as they, too, stake their claim in Oscar glory.

The Counselor (director: Ridley Scott):

Why you might like it: A lawyer-cum-drug trafficker finds himself in over his head.

Why I’ve got my eye on it: The film features Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender—arguably two of the best, working actors of our time. Moreover, it could find Scott in the running for Best Director for the fourth time since 2001’s Black Hawk Down. Continue reading

Natural Confections

by Carly Gelfond

Illustration by the author

I think it’s safe to say that most of us have a “thing” about something. You’re looking at me funny, but I know that you know what I’m talking about: that feeling of distaste you get—the intensity of which is illogical—when confronted with that certain something, whatever it is, that you just can’t stand.

For me, that something is wastefulness. In the shower, I use a bar of soap until it’s a miniscule sliver of its former self that dissolves in my hand. (“It’s like you’re using doll soap,” John tells me). “It’s still perfectly good,” I say. “It just needs a little extra time to lather.” Which is true. I won’t apologize.

I swish water in the seemingly empty laundry detergent bottle and use the soapy water for hand washing clothes. I take stale Wheat Thins and pulse them in a mini food processor to encrust a filet of fish. I get chills watching the faucet run while someone is brushing his teeth, and I wash out Ziploc baggies to get a few extra uses out of them. Continue reading