Vantage point

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Some Burger-Making Tips

Madhu posted some useful tips about making burgers. Here are my notes from my many experiments with burger-making as an extension.

- In terms of meat-fat ratio, I have experimented with everything from 70-30 to 93-7. While 90-10 or 93-7 produce relatively drier burgers, the difference is not THAT big if you make your burgers medium rare, which I do, and which is THE way to cook them if it's fresh meat. But if you like it done more than medium-rare, and you don't want your burger to be too greasy, 85-15 is perfect.
Madhu said 75-25, but I personally don't like that level. Then again, I am a game-meat-burger fan, and game meat tends to be low on fat. Varies per your taste. Also, an average burger is like an aircraft carrier of calories, so it's advisable to go with the lowest fat ratio you find manageable. Anyway, point is, if you are a n00b, don't obsess over the meat-fat ratio yet.

- Another reason to not worry about the meat-fat ratio is if you take my seasoning advice. I usually add minced onion and minced garlic in the meat. I have found that adding them juices up the burger and makes the burger taste great too. The wife likes adding minced green chillies and ginger too. Also good. These are the basic default seasonings we use (and salt, of course).

- Do not shy of experimenting with desi spices. We have tried every combination of powdered forms of cumin, coriander, peppercorn, cardamom, and even garam masala. The quantity varies with your taste too. A heavy hand with spices will essentially lead to a chapli-kebab-patty, which I occasionally like. Other times, just add sprinklings for a more subtle taste.

- I am not a big fan of cheese in burgers, not the way they sell it in restaurants, anyway. I find it makes the burger soggy, drippy, and overall messy. And of course, the calories, totally not worth it. At home, I usually sprinkle a little shredded cheese on top of the patty.

- About the sauces, again, don't shy of experimenting with desi chutneys such as coriander or mint chutneys. Some folks I know feel it is "lowbrow" to add desi chutneys or spices to burgers. I find that attitude pretentious and ignorant of the fact that a burger is a, well, fucking burger! FYI, the famous Piranha sauce in the superfamous Ray's Hellburger near DC is, if my tastebuds got it right, essentially a green chutney of chillies and coriander.

- Other toppings - tomato, onion, lettuce, bacon etc is standard. I also like spinach leaves. I strongly recommend jalapenos if you get them there. The wife doesn't like raw onion, so she saut├ęs onion and capsicum together to use as a topping. Another idea I have seen and loved at Burger Barn in Pune (and a handful of American places) is a fried egg as a topping.

- Personally, I like to pop the buns in the oven for a few minutes. Not exactly toasted, but lightly crisped. Dont add any butter, because the point of this oven-toasting is that it really delays the soggening of the buns.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Lost Finale

Needless to say, MAJOR SPOILERS. You've been warned.

On twitter, blogs and message boards, I see two camps, as irreconciliably divided as the Jack & Locke camps or the Jacob and MIB camps. There are those who absolutely hated the LOST finale. there are those who absolutely loved it.

Caught in between are people like me. Overall, I liked it more than I disliked it. But I did not think it was a fitting end to the build-up of six years.

Firstly, the obvious overwhelming negative. The conclusion to the alternate universe or what fans have been calling the "flash-sideways". What a lame-ass cop-out. Not exactly Deus Ex Machina, but -ish. The sideways universe turns out to be a purgatory of sorts. A purgatory where they went after their (spread out over time) deaths. They all were purifying their souls, right-ing wrongs, and what not. For example, Ben looking out for Alex, Kate being (supposedly) innocent, Sawyer becoming a cop and not a con-man etc. And once that was done, they are all moving on together.

Fair enough. Not mindblowing, but cute. What I hated was the disproportionate importance given to it in terms of the time and the audience investment. Half the final season was wasted in that purgatory, and it added nothing to the main storyline. It would have made a good sequel series, or a reunion special a few years down the line. But in a final season where you are supposed to tie it all up, the purgatory storyline was utterly bullshit. Total waste. Why, Darlton, WHY?

The main on-island story on the other hand, I loved the wrap-up. Jack and Locke, always the nemeses, end up becoming carriers of the two opposing forces on the island. The irony of how by turning off the island's energy, MIB made himself vulnerable and mortal. The unwitting reversal of Desmond's role - he who had once saved the island (and the world) from a catastrophe, was now responsible for causing one. Using a gray hair as an indication that Richard is now also mortal.

And of course, the lines were brilliantly written ("Dude, that guy is like worse than Yoda." LOL!) and I genuinely had a good time when the action was on the island. Fast-paced, impactful, layered, and powerful.

And the end. Jack sacrifices himself to save the island. And the show ends the way Matthew Fox says he knew from Season 1 it was going to end - Jack in the bamboo field, with Vincent by his side, his eyes closing, perfectly bookending the show between two symmetric moments.

I have no major complaints about the island happenings. Not just in the finale, but throughout the 6th season. Whenever the action shifted to LA, my mind would wander. I kept focusing on it, convinced that there had to be a point to it. There had to be a tie-in to the H-bomb. Alas, it turned out to be lame-ass purgatory.

If only the writers had just shelved the purgatory idea altogether and made the final season all about Jacob & Jack vs MIB-Locke. Filled in some of the gaps like maybe a scene when the cliff-side cave was created and how/why the names were written. Answered some big questions like what the heck happened with the H-bomb?

Stayed on-island the whole time. No whooshes, no flashes, just simple story-telling. It would have been a perfect end to what was a perfect show.

Instead, they went for something clever and botched the ending. Nowhere as bad as Sopranos or BSG in my opinion (although many of my friends disagree), but yeah, not the classic LOST finale we were expecting.

Oh well. Although the ride didn't end perfectly, it sure was one heck of a ride. And regardless of the uneven finale, I leave a contented and satisfied customer of the entire package.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Thoughts on LOST episode "The Candidate"

SPOILER ALERT! Here be spoilers. BIG spoilers. Big spoilers if you have not seen Season 6 Episode 14 The Candidate yet. So stay away if you are a LOST fan and have not seen it yet. Even if you are someone who has not seen LOST, but is considering watching it in the near future, stay away. Cos the spoilers are REALLY BIG!

Okay, if you, who have stayed, are spoiler-immune, let's continue.

I was totally blown away by the episode. And no, I don't just mean that I was caught off guard by Sayeed, one of my favorite characters, quite literally being blown away by the C4, or by Jin and Sun going to their watery graves. I was expecting deaths. After all, the last episode before the finale is titled "What They Died For", so a bunch of people had to die.

What I mean is, I was thoroughly impressed by the intricacy of the writing and the direction.

Throughout this episode, one running theme in the alternate universe is, the characters looking at themselves in the mirror. Suggestive and confirmatory of the fact that the writers have put in a lot of situations that mirror previous occurrences or themes. Last night's episode however, took the mirroring to a whole new level, and deliciously so.

CASSIDY: Okay, a long con. How does it work?
SAWYER: It works by getting someone to ask you to do something like it's their idea, but it's not their idea, it's your idea.

The "long con" concept has been one of my favorites in LOST. Sawyer first pulled it on Jack and Locke. Like he says above, he played them off against each other (Kate too) by making them think it was their idea. But it was his idea. And he got possession of the guns, which at that time seemed like a big deal.

After that, Sawyer has used the long con principle many times. One example, in Season 4, when he wanted to help Kate get Ben and Miles to meet, he tricked Locke into thinking it was his idea.

So when in "The Substitute" episode this season, when Sawyer meets Fake Locke (Flocke for short), and agrees to work with him, I kept thinking throughout that Sawyer was pulling a long con on Flocke. And in subsequent episodes, we got evidence to support it. He tells Widmore the truth about Flocke and makes a deal with him. He then tells Kate that he is not with Flocke or Widmore, but wants to con them both and take the sub off the island.

He tricks Flocke by taking the boat and escaping. And most importantly, Sawyer wants to con Flocke, who has always expressed a desire to leave the island with them, so that he will help them till the end, but not be able to go with them.

So all along, I was expecting the climax to be some kind of a long con by Sawyer on Flocke. As Flocke said, "James, you are the best liar I have ever seen".

Imagine my shock and, well, vicarious delight, when Flocke sees the sub leave without him, and instead of getting upset, says to Claire with an evil smile, "you don't want to be on that sub."

It became clear then. It was Sawyer who, for the first time ever, had been on the receiving end of a long con. All the while, Sawyer kept plotting to get himself and his friends off the island with Flocke's help, but leave Flocke behind. Turns out, that is exactly what Flocke wanted. To be left behind. Only, he tricked Sawyer into believing it was his own idea. And the sub sailed off, with the wired explosives in the backpack, as Flocke watched happily.

Brilliant writing!!!

But wait! It gets even better!

Another theme that has run throughout the show - Man of Science vs Man of Faith. Jack has always been the man of science, driven by reason, logic, and facts. John Locke was the man of faith, leaving his fate in the hands of the island, trusting something mythical, vague, and voodoo, at the cost of, eventually, his own life.

For all of 6th fact even in parts of the 5th season, the writers have been suggesting that Jack is moving towards becoming a man of faith. He lights a stick of dynamite and sits next to it, ostensibly in the faith that nothing will happen to him. And nothing does. He follows Hurley into Flocke's camp. He does not want to leave the island anymore, because he is "not meant to leave", something John Locke would say.

So we were all primed for Jack to be the voodoo-ish man of faith.

Cut back to the sub.

The LOST-ies discover the wired C-4 with a watch-timer, set to blow in 4 minutes. Now we think, damn, Flocke wants to kill them. And in 4 minutes, he will kill them. Sayeed and Sawyer begin wracking their brains on which wires to pull to disable the bomb. After all, Flocke wants to kill them.

But no. Flocke doesn't want to kill them. He wants them to die. There's a difference. And only Jack can spot the difference. How?

By being a man of science! By using logic and reasoning. The logic is crisp and clear. Flocke has turned into a column of smoke and killed so many people in front of their eyes. If he really wanted to kill them....or rather, if he COULD kill them, he would have done it long ago. Why get them into a sub with explosives?

Jack deduces, very scientifically and logically, that Flocke CANT kill them. The "rules" don't allow him to. Remember in "The Substitute", when Flocke is leading Sawyer to the cave and a little boy appears? He says to Flocke, "you know the rules, you can't kill him." Most thought he meant you can't kill Jacob. I thought then, that he meant you can't kill Sawyer. Because Sawyer is a candidate. As are the Kwons, Sayeed, Hugo, and Jack.

So Jack saw the "time bomb" for what it was. Another con. Another attempt at exploiting the "loophole". Remember the "loophole"? Obviously, Flocke can't kill Jacob himself. The loophole though is, he can manipulate someone else into killing Jacob. So he manipulated Ben into killing Jacob.

So the loophole to not killing the candidates is, well, get them to kill themselves. or each other. So the con here is, have them find the bomb, and make them de-activate it. In trying to de-activate it, they will actually end up activating it. Then, BOOM! They die without Flocke having actually killed them.

Jacke, not by faith, but by pure logic, figures this out. And he tries to convince Sawyer. But Sawyer does not trust Jack, or rather Jack's judgment. He pulls the wires anyway. And does exactly what Flocke wanted him to do. Falling head over heels into the long con Flocke set up.


The BOOM might have killed them all. But we saw another brilliant bit of writing. About Sayeed. Throughout the last 6 seasons, Sayeed's moral compass has been shown to be haywire.He was a torturer in the Iraqi army. But he did work with the CIA to prevent terrorism. On the island, he tortures Sawyer in season 1. But also does a lot of good otherwise. In season 4 off-island, he becomes a hitman for Ben, but on the island, negotiates peacefully to save lives. In season 5, he kills Ben. But takes a bullet for the sake of saving everyone. And in season 6, he becomes Flocke's agent.

It seems like Sayeed is a moral puppet. If a "good" person is pulling the strings, he does good. If an "evil" person is pulling his strings, he does evil.

But at that moment, with the bomb about to go off, with no one pulling the strings, Sayeed does what is natural and instinctive of him. And that turns out to be self-sacrifice. He takes the bomb and runs, to save his friends. He quite literally embraces death to save the ones he loves. And after 6 seasons of failed attempts, finally, well and truly, redeems himself.

There are other situational and thematic ironies, and gut-wrenching emotional twists. Jin and Sun dying together just one episode subsequent to being re-united after 2.66 seasons apart. John unwittingly turning his father into a vegetable in the alt-universe - and going from being unable to avenge his father to being unable to forgive himself for his father. Jack saying to John in the alt-universe, "I wish you had believed me", exactly what John said to Jack in his suicide note. A couple of other things about Claire and Kate.

But much like the submarine, this post is already long and deep enough. So I'll stop. And once again, doff my hat to Carlton Cuse, Damon Lindelof, Jack Bender, and everyone else who worked together to create what is now tied with "The Constant" as my favorite LOST episode ever.

Can't wait for the remaining 2 episodes and the 2 hour finale!