Movie Review: The Hobbit

Happy (almost) New Year everyone! Here's hoping that you all have a safe and wonderful transition to 2013. In the spirit of new beginnings, I wanted to close out 2012 with the first of a couple new series/features that will be introduced over the course of next year. One of the more persistent lines of questioning I've gotten concerning the blog is:

You review books and games, so why don't you review movies?

The answer to that used to be that I didn't actually watch all that many movies while they were in cinematic release and thus couldn't draft up a review in a manner timely enough wherein you guys would find it useful. However, a shifting in the tectonics that comprise that beautiful thing known as Free Time has made this no longer the case. As such, there shall be movie reviews!

Granted, even after that little explanation this review is not terribly prompt in terms of the number of days that have elapsed since initial release but A) there are quite a few readers based outside the US for whom the movie has not yet reached theatres and B) the movie, as part of a trilogy, has long-term implications.

Few follow-up films (be they prequels, sequels, reboots, or spin-offs) have garnered such widespread and ardent anticipation as The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey and it's not exactly a matter of reassembling the Triforce to see why. It's unfortunately not often that a beloved property (nerdy or muggle) is translated so epically and beautifully to a new medium to the point where said new medium arguably enhances the enjoyment of the original property. Even less common is the premise of having a follow-up to said transition that features all of the cast, crew, and minions of the screen that made the original so brilliant. Despite all this, the puff of disappointment that was collectively exhaled after opening weekend in the States was palpable to nearly every corner of Geekdom. Why? Is the Hobbit really such a letdown?

The answer doesn't fall nicely into binary responses since the real qualms that we nerds tend to have aren't with the film itself, but the expectations that we hold/held it to. If the Hobbit existed in a vacuum or was the first release in a series of six movies we'd likely be a great deal more upbeat about it. Part of our collective meh stems from what I'd like to term "Pixar Syndrome": the apparent mediocrity of a film/TV series wherein said lacklustarity stems largely from comparisons to an established precedent of excellence. Example: earlier this year we heard that 'Brave would have been a great movie from any studio other than Pixar." It's part of human nature to make these extensions and comparisons, but that doesn't excuse us from recognizing this phenomenon when it occurs. 

Is the Hobbit good? Yes. Is it as good as the components of the Lord of the Rings trilogy? No. (I've heard cases for it being superior to Return of the King, but that claim falls into the 'maybe' category). Most importantly, is it a worthy addition to the Tolkien cinematic universe? In my opinion, yes.  

The Hobbit does a number of things right, namely makes obvious efforts to treat the source material with all due respect and brings to life aspects of the tale with such vibrancy that you'd have to be soulless in order to not be moved (if you don't believe me, go listen to the cast's rendition of "Misty Mountains Cold"). The acting is superb across the board; no small feat for a rather extensive cast. We're giddily reunited with many favorite characters from the earlier trilogy and are introduced to many of their forebears. The landscapes, costumes and beasties are all lush, lavish, and sweepingly epic. Actually, it's this last bit that points us to one of the film's faults.

We all know that Peter Jackson is not one for making succinct, understated films and the Lord of the Rings trilogy benefited from that penchant in a huge way. The problem in extending this grandiosity to something like the Hobbit is that it feels out of place. Why? That's a simple matter of the source material. Lord of the Rings needed a titanic scale because they were tome-like books in both girth and scope, whereas the Hobbit is a comparatively brief 322 pages designed for a much younger audience. The movie can't seem to reconcile Mr. Jackson's stylistic ambitions with the fact that the source material is a children's story (yes, you probably can read further ahead in the actual narrative than the movie covers during the latter's run time). Not only do we see this in the movie's length, but also in the scenes/characters/plot threads that did not appear in the source material. While many of these succeed in helping tie this new trilogy to its predecessor, fans of the book may feel that these additions are somewhat disingenuous. The character of Azog the Defiler, prosthetic-wearing orc chieftain, is a prime example of this. Azog merits a single sentence in the novel, but is sculpted into a prominent plot-driving device in the film. Other very obvious "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" moments meant alternately as fan service and ploys to engage those new to the property underscore the strange tension between the source and the new rendition. It may be Tolkien's brainchild, but Peter Jackson makes it clear that these are his movies and they will tell the story that he wishes to tell. If you haven't read the book or even if you haven't done so in recent memory, this may be less jarring. It's not that any of the above quibbles spoil the movie, it's just that it's very clear that they're not at all necessary. The narrative could probably have been encapsulated by two movies rather than three and the storytelling aspect may have been improved. If you weren't a fan of either the book or the earlier three movies, then the Hobbit will be something of a test of endurance. 

Pretty sure Peter Jackson invents new colors for this movie

However, one of the biggest criticisms orbiting the Hobbit, that it was shot in "double time", or twice the frames per second rate of that of all other movies (48 fps vs. 24fps), was almost a non-factor. We viewed the movie in Imax 3D in order to partake of the entire intended experience. Normally I positively loathe 3D but, in this case, it was very much worthwhile. The technical features did enhance the experience (specifically the meal consumed by the dwarves after they arrive at Bag End and an extended raucous chase scene) and you'll likely adjust to the high frame rate fairly quickly. The elevated definition lends a sort of otherworldliness to the movie, which, in turn, assists in drawing you into this fantastical universe. 

In summary, it's a worthwhile venture to go and see the movie if you're a fan of the genre or the series, just try to adjust your expectations a bit before heading out to the cinema.

Overall Grade: B+

Bonus: the extended trailer for next spring's Star Trek: Into Darkness was astoundingly good and worth the price of admission for this alone. I'm not a Trekkie by any means and I can't wait to see this. 
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NomNoms!: Papple Pie and Happy Holidays

I am free readers! Ok, not entirely free from the yolk of graduate school, but more liberated than I've been since…maybe halfway through sophomore year of undergrad. Woot! The thesis has been turned in, allowing me the luxury of an actual holiday break from assignments (not break from work, but I'll take the free time whenever I can get it). My intent is to turn this newfound time into more posts for you guys! Bonus: the world didn't end!

We've bandied the notion of apparent time-travel about several times during the course of the year, but this phenomenon tends to be more widely felt during the holiday season. It seems like the weeks have a proclivity to slip away between bouts of decorating, wrapping, baking, and holiday get-togethers. Suddenly the month of December is drawing to a close and you may find yourself at a loss as to how to fulfill last-minute gifting/baking/hosting obligations. And, quite frankly, after the events of this past week, we could all probably benefit from taking a moment and appreciating the opportunities available to us.

If you're in need of inspiration to festoon the foot of your Wookie Life Day tree, check out our 'Geeky Shoppin' board over on Pinterest. The board features a plethora of ready-made goodies from Think Geek and other purveyors of nerdy goods as well as several handmade items from online markets like Etsy and Shanalogic. (and the Steam Winter Sale is on!) Also, if circumstances or personal choice are causing you to eschew the shopping rituals that lay so heavily on this season, check out some of our other boards for crafty tutorials that'll allow you to express holiday cheer with a creation of your own design.
Threatening your Wookie Life Day since a long, long time ago...
For those of you out there seeking to make more of a gastronomic impression on your friends and family, you can click over to the 'Feed the Nerds' board for recipes and idea on how to turn all sorts of dishes into geeky, edible tributes. Or you could attempt to make pie-licious goodness listed below.

About a year ago, a friend requested that I make 'papple' pie for an upcoming holiday shindig. Though this was, in all likelihood, a slip of the finger rather than an attempt by Siri to invent a new species of edible flora, I was determined to make 'papple' happen. The following is the end result of my kitchen hybriding efforts. Depending on the types of fruit used, the pie can offer a lovely array of holiday hues in addition to imbuing your kitchen with rich and homey scents. It's super easy, highly flavorful, and a fun twist on more traditional pastries.

Difficulty: Easy/Noob
Availability of Ingredients: Common
Gadgetry: Optional
Feeds: 4-8 nerds
Time Till Noms: About 30 minutes of preparation, then an additional 30-40 minutes of baking

Required Equipment: A cutting board, a sharp knife, a large bowl, a pie plate, a rolling pin, a zester or cheese grater, a large spoon or salad tongs, a fork
Optional Equipment: An apple slicer, a citrus juicer

2 or 3 medium-to-large apples
2 or 3 medium-to-large pears
The juice and zest of 1/2 of a medium-sized lemon
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon of ground ginger
Dough sufficient to fill at least an 8 inch [20.32cm] pie plate twice (2 scrolls of pre-made pie dough will work perfectly)

*Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees* [204 degrees Celsius]

Step 1: Slice the apples and pears in half, then remove the cores and seeds.

Wait, aren't apple seeds poisonous? Should I do anything special with them?

While they do contain trace amounts of cyanide, the quantity is such that it wouldn't have much of an impact on you, even if you accidentally chopped or chewed a few seeds. So long as you're not chomping down on handfuls of seeds you should be fine.

Step 2: Divide the apples and pears into thin slices or small [1 inch/2.5cm] pieces. There's no discernable correlation between enhanced flavor and fruit shape, so the geometry of your filling is entirely up to you. Toss the chopped fruit into a bowl, then zest (remove the very top layer of the lemon peel with a zester or cheese grater) half a lemon over the fruit. Once you've removed the majority of the rind, squeeze the juice from the half lemon into the bowl, then toss the fruit to ensure even distribution of zest and juice.

Step 3: Sprinkle the sugar, salt, and spices over the fruit, then toss the contents of the bowl again to coat the apples and pears with the dry ingredients. Set the bowl aside.

Step 4: Take 1 scroll of dough (or half your ball of dough if using homemade), and roll it out until it's about 1/8th of an inch [0.32 cm] thick. Lay the dough in your pie plate, then gently make a series of pricks in the dough with a fork (just enough to make an impression, but not enough to poke all the way through the dough). We do this to ensure that the pie dough doesn't accidentally start to rise during the baking process, which would displace the filling. It's not a common occurrence with pre-made dough, but an easy enough remedy that it's sensible to get into the habit of doing.

Behold! The Tower of Papple!
Step 5: Transfer the filling into the pie plate, distributing the fruit as evenly as possible in the dish. Roll out the remainder of your dough to the same thickness as the first 'round' and lay it atop the filling. Pinch the edges of the two layers of dough together, working around the circumference of the pie plate. When the top and bottom layers of dough are conjoined, punch a small ventilation hole in the center of the top.

Step 6: Place the pie in the oven for 20 minutes. After this time has elapsed, check to see if the top of the pie has browned. A finished pie will have a golden brown top and potentially some bubbling fruit juices along the sides of the plate. If the pie has not browned in 20 minutes, continue baking in intervals of 5 minutes until the top reaches the desired color. Remove from the oven once this hue has been attained and allow the pie to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving. Woot! You have 'papple' pie!


Does it matter what variety of apple/pear I use? You didn't list any species in the ingredients list.

Most types of apples/pears you'd find in a standard grocery store will work just fine. Many stores now include brief descriptions of the best uses for each variety of fruit, which can be helpful. I typically use Granny Smith/Empire apples and Anjou pears, but that's largely just a matter of personal preference. I've used Pink Lady, MacIntosh, Macoun, Fuji, Cortland, and Bourbon apples as well as Bartlett and Fuji pears on various occasions and all serve equally well. Mixing different species can often result in awesome flavors, so I highly recommend experimenting!

Can I add other fruit to the pie?

Definitely! Berries, particularly blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries, are an easy little flavor-add. Just toss a handful in with your other fruit and stir. Peaches are another solid option. If you can find pitted pomegranate seeds (or are patient enough to pit them yourself), then those can be another potential +1. I'm personally a fan of tossing a few handfuls of cranberries into a food processor and adding those to the pie, as they add a bit of tartness and a lot of color.

I don't own a pie plate. What can I use instead?

Any heatproof cooking container at least 8 inches [20.32cm] across will suffice. Pyrex baking dishes, the ones you'd usually use to bake brownies, work well in a pinch. Corningware dishes will also get the job done. Potential bonus: pie in fun shapes!
The most recent rendition was this square papple pie

This is a perfect recipe to experiment with or even just get into baking if you're a newcomer to the world of pastry. As always, feel free to send in your pictures or blurbs about your baking experience via the links in the Follow the Nerds page above.

Wishing all you guys a safe and wonderful holiday season!
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Book Review: The Twelve

Hey there readers. With the approach of the holiday season (though some retailers would have us believe it actually arrived months ago), we may find ourselves starting to gear up for long hours spent either waiting for or being in transit. This, coupled with the modicum of newfound freedom I have whilst waiting for my advisor to complete another round of thesis edits, was the fodder for this week's post. Oh reading for pleasure, how I've missed you. 

This limited window in which non-assigned reading can be consumed was almost immediately filled with a book that I'd been eagerly anticipating for more than 2 years (which, of course, is a drop in the bucket of waiting for the next book in the a Song of Ice and Fire series). I say 'almost' because the very first thing to grace my free hours was The Hobbit, which was due for a re-read before its upcoming cinematic debut. It just so happens that said text is also a great post-apocalyptic tale for those of you out there like Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, "anticipating" that whole doom of humanity thing that's supposed to go down in about a week.

The focal book is The Twelve by Justin Cronin, the second volume in his epic trilogy, The Passage.

Wait, the middle book of a trilogy? Can I feasibly tackle The Twelve without reading its predecessor first?

Could you? Yes, definitely. Do I recommend it? Eh, not so much. With a gulf of years between installments, Cronin takes pains to recap the events that took place in the first book (which shares a title with the trilogy itself) in order to get both previous readers and newcomers to the series up to speed. While you can mentally back your way into the various characters and occurrences that took place in The Passage, doing so will involve some careful reading that may detract from your overall experience with The Twelve. Also, partaking in the first book will prepare you for the unorthodox devices that Cronin continues to use in the second (more on this in a minute though).

**The following review assumes that you have read The Passage. While there are no explicit spoilers, some tidbits may give away certain things if you have not read the first installment of the trilogy.**

The vamps look kinda like these guys (note the lack of sparkles)
Akin to The Passage, a very large portion of The Twelve is spent building background knowledge, the narrative of which is then punctuated by massive, non-sequential leaps in time. Despite this flux, readers will be instantly reminded of the periods which are critical to the story itself. A sizable percentage of the first half is spent in and around year zero (2014), the year in which a secret US military agency accidentally unleashed their manufactured, bat-derived virus onto an unwitting populace. Meant to create a race of super-soldiers, the virus instead creates vampires (not sparkly BS vampires, but creatures that would be more at home in 28 Days Later) and these critters then lay waste to nearly all civilization in North America. This time, we get to see year zero at ground zero, literally the fates of those unfortunate enough to be denizens of the metro-Denver area and, later on, all those who lived west of the Mississippi River.

This, plus some interludes about eighty years AV (After Virus) and a couple snippets of text from an academic conference a millennia later, is all essentially a lengthy introduction for the second half of the book. We get several pieces of the puzzle we were abruptly left with at the end of The Passage, though some are markedly more useful than others. Despite Cronin's attempts to leave a trail of proverbial bread crumbs for readers who may not remember each individual from the preceding volume, it's often difficult to recall just why a particular exchange or series of events is important without first conducting a series of Google searches. A brief, annotated list of pertinent characters would have done wonders to facilitate the transition from book one to book two. Additionally, though the annihilation of a continent is, in itself, exciting, Cronin deliberately tamps down any tension around the initial outbreak and resulting events so he can instead pen a character-centric crescendo. The result is extremely uneven pacing, even when the narrative is not skipping centuries, with an enormous amount of ink being spilt on relatively trivial matters while legitimately important occurrences merit nary a sentence.

It's something of a grind getting through that first half, not going to lie to you guys. Is it worthwhile? Potentially, but if, and only if, you keep in mind that this is the second novel in a trilogy. Intrigue abounds and there's action aplenty, but, as mentioned, few satisfying answers or conclusions. This is to be expected of the bridge volume in a series of three, but something that definitely needs to be taken into account if you decide to tackle The Twelve.

Once we get past the lengthy world building, we're incrementally reunited with the protagonists of The Passage. Five years have passed since the rather sudden ending of the first book and the former Colony members are nigh-unrecognizable. Mashed under the weight their precarious, fragile existence in a world where humans no longer occupy the top tier of the food chain, the intrepid band of ex-Californians has been rent asunder and scattered to the winds. We encounter each character in turn as we learn more about the nature of the vampires (called "virals" and a host of other names in the text) and just how close humanity lies to the edge of oblivion.

The force shunting the human race towards said fate are the vampires that owe their altered physicality directly to the Twelve, the eleven test subjects originally dosed with the manufactured virus and Zero, the sole survivor of the event that allowed the virus to cross over from bats to humans. These 'familiars' tend to lack the mindless rage and hunger that characterize the majority of their hemophilic brethren and, in at least one case, can attract a following of their own. These second-generation vampires fancy themselves the next step in evolution and the book's second act is a thorough layout of the designs they, and their creators, have in mind regarding the domestication of what few humans remain alive.

The book suffers from many of the same shortcomings as its predecessor: the uneven pacing, the frequent overwriting, the deep-seating sense of self-importance, and the use of tired tropes long since rendered inherent to the genre. At times Cronin's use of that last entry border on unintentional comedy, Oh an ideal summer's day spent picnicking with innocent children just outside the walls that guarantee our safety from bloodsucking rage monsters. What could possibly go wrong?   
Cronin makes a clear effort to tighten up his writing in The Twelve. Gone are the pages-long meanderings of internal monologues and, once the action gets going, there is a genuine build to the drama and excitement. All this, unfortunately, tends to be overshadowed by everything in the above paragraph. The characters ring hollow and approach caricature in some instances. Still, the questions that naturally come to mind as one attempts to imagine Cronin's painstakingly crafted universe are strikingly interesting, even when the story itself is not.

Overall Grade: C-

Bottom Line: If you liked the The Passage and could put aside Cronin's authorial flaws then you may enjoy The Twelve. If you're a fan of post-apocalyptic tales, then you may also enjoy this book. If you're neither of those two things then this probably isn't the book for you. Hell, even if you are both those things the book may still come as a disappointment. Ultimately, it's a question of your willingness to go along with Cronin's style or, if you are willing, if actually tackling the nearly 600 pages is at all a worthwhile venture.
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Nerd Life: The Changing Shape of Nerd News

Hey there everyone. My apologies for the delay in posting, but the combination of the holiday hullabaloo here in the US and the chaos that is the last few weeks of my last semester of graduate school EVER had an uncanny flux capacitor-esque effect (which we got to see a bit of in practice with the LHCs newest revelation) . Hopefully those of you who celebrated Thanksgiving enjoyed some wonderful festivities and that everyone else had a great weekend.

For this week's post I wanted to harken back to something mentioned in passing earlier this month: the departure of Topless Robot creator Rob Bricken from his founding property and his subsequent transition to i09. While it's certainly an excellent opportunity for Rob and one that will hopefully provide him with the personal and professional growth he needs, his migration highlights some of the ongoing trends that are shaping nerd news as we know it.

The fact that we can analyze the present and future states of nerd news as a concerted entity speaks to the depth and breadth of the Nerdaissance. It's almost surreal to see certain media outlets going outside their traditional purview to cover stories in any of the major nerdy arenas (gaming, comics, fantasy/sci fi, anime, cosplay, etc). This increasing amount of attention has given our beloved pastimes an air of legitimacy that's arguably unprecedented in the history of geekdom (curse you lack of quantifiable proof!). Identifying us as a sizable, viable body of consumers spurs movie/TV studios, publishers, game developers, and other industries to tackle nerdy properties. As we've discussed previously, that action is only half of what's steering the Nerdaissance right now. The scales at which all of this is being conducted, of course, necessitates vehicles of communication that can function at a comparable level in order to keep this whole shebang working. That's where nerd news outlets come in.

Most of us can probably recall the early incarnations of these geeky outlets. Five or so years ago the formula was this:

1)      Start a blog about any nerdy topic
2)      Cultivate a following of active readers
3)      Receive tips about recent happenings tangential to the founding nerdy topic from readers
4)      Publish these tips, usually with a smattering of amusing/clever commentary
5)      Repeat steps 2-4 until A) the blog amasses a very large following B) the commentary is honed to a particularly fine quality C) all of the above
6)      Bring in a few friends to help triage the tips/submissions and write commentary
7)      Start selling ad space on the blog
8)      Repeat steps 2-7
9)      Sell the blog to a news ring or other consortium (and hopefully profit)

This is how we went from an array of personal blogs to a smaller number of sites that streamed developments in geekdom to mega aggregators that try to consolidate as many nerdy topics as possible into a single site or a ring of 2-6 "sister sites". Traditional news followed a similar path, but its consolidation is a product of its inability to keep pace with modern technology.

But so what? Isn't it better to have a few central news repositories rather than a constellation of sites and blogs? Our favorites lists and attention spans can only go so far ya know.

Well yes, there's something to be said for the benefits of pooling resources and that conglomerating process is only natural, to a degree. However, the critical takeaway is that it's not the consolidation that's necessarily important, but the quality of the sites that remain to dispense our geeky news. Why?

We, as a subculture, place a great deal of weight and importance on being well informed about the major geeky arenas. It is the lauded individual in your cohort of nerdy friends who is renowned as being The First to Know. Even if you are not this individual, a significant quantity of the upkeep of your nerdy persona tends to be derived from the timely acquisition of accurate nerd news.  Without the dual assets of speed and accuracy, you're either peddling gossip or clinging to relevance. Either one of those last two scenarios will effectively undermine your legitimacy which, given the premium we place on authenticity, can spell disaster on a number of levels. Is that stance sometimes stringent-bordering-on-crazy? Sure. Do we still visit those expectations on one another? Yes.

Furthermore, being well informed is arguably the germane differential that allows industry professionals to distinguish relevant concerns from uninhibited fanboy/girl tantruming which, as we've discussed before, is critical to the future of commercial/geek relations. Without a well-reasoned case supported by facts your discourse stands to be brushed off as simple ranting.

Of course, none of this is anything particularly novel, but it illustrates that there's a bit more at stake here than just having a few talking points to bust out next time you get together with your friends.   

So what, exactly, is the problem?

The issue at present is two-fold: the diminishing pool of reliable news sources coupled with the dubious quality of certain mega-aggregator sites. The former is pretty straightforward and parallels how you'd go about procuring non-nerdy news. You probably have a handful of sites that you feel are trustworthy and bounce between them depending on the day, the type of story you're looking for, and what sort of mood you're in. Having a variety of sources available, even if you don't necessarily use them all the time, helps maintain objectivity and prevents any authorial viewpoints from skewing the formation of your own opinion. The same is true with nerd news. Consolidating sources does help us separate the informational grain from the chaff, but it also reduces the breadth and diversity of available news outlets.   

Concurrently, the actual content presented to us on nerd news sites tends to decline as the host site expands. This phenomenon is also common and not relegated solely to nerdy analysis: the more you take on, the fewer resources you can devote to each topic. Let's look at i09, for example. The site was explicitly created back in 2008 by media company/blog network Gawker Media to focus on advancements in science and technology (with lesser attention on science fiction and futurism). In the four years since, the site has ballooned to try and encapsulate as much of nerdery as possible, covering everything from board games to what happened on this week's episode of the Walking Dead. If you perused the site two or three months ago, the delineation between the original basket of analyzed topics and those that were recently brought into the fold was stark. Stories outside the founding purview were often posted just a tad too late to be timely and the attending commentary made it clear that the subject was not entirely the author's forte. Not their fault, it's just what happens when resources are spread too thin. So i09 addressed the problem like the manager of a professional sports team and brought in a seasoned talent in the form of Rob Bricken to shore up their weak spots. Rob, in turn, brought with him not only his well-honed and knowledgeable analytic/writing style, but also the features that made his founding property so popular to begin with. Rob seems happy, i09 has reaped immediate benefits from the addition, but Topless Robot is clearly staggering from the loss of its creator.

The problem with this isn't that Rob took steps to further his career, but that there is no one in place to fill the vacuum left by his departure. Just about anyone can take information that's fed to them, grab a few pictures and/or video clips, and toss together a post. It takes skill and a deep existing body of knowledge to write clever, meaningful analysis about nerdy topics (or any topic for that matter). The trend of building news outlets into aggregators of tips from readers leads to whole sites with lots of headlines, but no journalistic "meat". Our limited attention spans may be content with a slew of one-line tidbits of information, but we're doing ourselves, and geekdom as a whole, a disservice if we just stop there.

It's our responsibility to be well-informed and part of that onus lies in how we go about educating ourselves. We can have our one-line items and verbal brain candy, but we also need space in which to think and articulate our designs and desires as a subculture. Seeking out that balance will be key in the next few years. So, next time your fellow nerd says, "you should really check out this site," or, "we should write a submission for site X," give it a try. You might be more than just pleasantly surprised with the results.
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NomNoms: Pumpkinpalooza!

Despite the fact that this year Christmas seems to have made its earliest foray onto the scene possibly ever (no lie, I saw decorations go up as early as October 18th), there is both a month or so of autumn remaining to us in the Northern Hemisphere and we would be seriously remiss to ignore the seasonal goodies still available. So this week's post is a full-on feature of a consummate fall favorite: the pumpkin. 
My pumpkins! Mine!
In the vegetable kingdom, the pumpkin is a nutritional powerhouse: low in calories but packed with fiber, vitamin A AND flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants (xanthin ftw!). It's highly versatile, capable of taking on either savory or sweet recipe profiles, and features prominently in many a holiday meal here in the states. The color alone will make pretty much any dish featuring this otherwise humble gourd the focal point of the table. Bonus: pumpkin is up there with the most forgiving of ingredients so I included not one, but three recipes for your kitchen experimenting pleasure.  

Pumpkin Pie
Difficulty: Easy
Availability of Ingredients: Common
Gadgetry: Optional, but recommended
Feeds: 4-8 nerds
Time Till Noms: About 90 minutes (30 minutes of preparation and an hour of bake time)

Required Equipment: A large glass or metal bowl, measuring spoons, a spatula, a pie plate (if not using pre-made graham cracker crust), a cookie sheet, an electric hand mixer.
Optional Equipment: A stand mixer

2 eggs
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1 Tablespoon of flour
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger
2 cups of pureed pumpkin
1 can of evaporated milk
1 9 inch (22.86cm) round of pie dough OR 1 tin of pre-made graham cracker crust

*Set your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (232.2 degrees Celsius)*

Crack the two eggs into your bowl, then beat them slightly (until the yolks are thoroughly broken, but not so much that the whites begin to stiffen). Then combine the remaining ingredients exactly in the order listed above, mixing to approximate uniformity with each addition. The resulting blend will be very liquid and will exactly fit a 9 inch (22.86cm) pie plate. If you are using dough, place this into your pie plate and, using a fork, make about a dozen impressions into the dough with the tines (just an impression, not so much as to poke all the way through the dough). Pour the filling into the dough, then place carefully into the oven. Bake the pie for 10 minutes, then carefully remove from the oven. Lower the heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius), then return the pie to the oven and bake for an additional 50 minutes.

A few quick notes on this recipe:

  • You want to introduce as much air as possible into the pie filling as you are adding the ingredients. Adding lots of air will result in a sinfully smooth, almost velveteen texture that will have people asking how on earth you did this. For this reason, I highly recommend using a stand mixer if you can get a hold of one. If that's not possible, an electric hand mixer will do. Only use a whisk if there are no other options available to you. The pie will still taste good, but it will be denser and will lack that coveted airy texture.
  •  For easy handling of the pie once it's been in the oven, put the pie plate on a cookie sheet.
  • You can use either canned pumpkin or pureed pumpkin that you've made yourself. Do NOT use canned pumpkin pie filling.
  • Making graham cracker crust from scratch is actually pretty easy if you wanted to give it a go. I typically use this method and recommend doing so right before you start making the filling, as graham crackers go stale quickly.

Pumpkin Bread

Difficulty: Noob
Availability of Ingredients: Common
Gadgetry: None
Feeds: 3-4 nerds
Time Till Noms: About 75 minutes (15 minutes of preparation and an hour of bake time)

Required Equipment: A large mixing bowl, measuring spoons, a large wooden spoon, a spatula, a loaf pan.
Optional Equipment: None


1.5 cups of flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 can pumpkin
1/2 cup canola oil
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon of each of the following ground spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves
1 pinch of ground ginger
sprayable cooking oil/cooking spray

*Set your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius)*

Combine the dry ingredients, then add the wet ingredients. Stir until the mixture is well blended (it should look like thick orange brownie batter). Using your sprayable cooking oil, spritz the inside of your loaf pan until it has a thin, even coating. Now pour the bread mix into the loaf pan and put the pan into the oven. Let the bread bake for 1 hour. The bread is done when it begins to pull away from the sides of the loaf pan and a toothpick inserted in the center can be removed cleanly.

Pumpkin Frozen Yogurt

Difficulty: Noob
Availability of Ingredients: Common
Gadgetry: Optional
Feeds: 1-4 nerds
Time Till Noms: About 20 minutes if using an ice cream maker, about 60-120 if using other means.

Required Equipment: A large glass or metal bowl, a large spoon, measuring spoons, a spatula (and a whisk if not using an ice cream maker), an ice cream maker.
Optional Equipment: None

1 cup non-fat standard yogurt
2 cups 2% milkfat Greek yogurt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice*

*You can typically find this in your spice section of your local grocer. If there's none to be had, you can substitute 1/8th of a teaspoon of each of the following ground spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and ginger.

Combine the ingredients in your mixing bowl until the sugar is wholly dissolved, then give it a quick taste test. Akin to our friend, peanut butter fro-yo, this recipe is a base that you can modify to your heart's content before setting it to chill.  

If You're Using and Ice Cream Maker: Add your concoction to the chilled drum of the ice cream maker. Turn it on and leave it to churn for 18-20 minutes (time will vary slightly based on the model of your maker). Remove your freshly chilled noms from the drum. Woot for frozen goodies in the fall!

If you're NOT Using an Ice Cream Maker: Using your whisk, mix the ingredients together for 20-30 seconds, then put the entire bowl in the freezer. Wait 20 minutes, remove from the freezer and whisk again. Repeat this process until the yogurt takes on a semi-frozen state (it will be physically resistant to your mixing). Once the yogurt reaches this state then give a woot for frozen goodies in the fall!

A few quick notes on this recipe:

  • Feel free to experiment with other types of yogurt if you'd like, but I highly recommend starting with the 1:2 ratio of standard to Greek yogurt to get a handle on how the dessert is going to taste. Since the pumpkin has an intrinsic sweetness to it, the tartness of the standard yogurt tends to counter it nicely.
  • If you didn't want to use vanilla extract for any reason, golden spiced rum serves as a perfect substitute. However, just as with our peanut butter frozen yogurt, some sort of alcohol base is required to prevent our dessert from turning into a solid brick once we chill it.

Happy kitcheny experimentation and Happy Thanksgiving to those celebrating this week!
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