On the read-eventually list

Talk of the Town item in the Feb. 12 New Yorker:

Nine years ago, Stanley Alpert was kidnapped at gunpoint after dropping a woman off at her apartment building in the Village. He had met her on the subway, less than an hour before, and on a whim invited her to join him in a cookie-buying mission; he got Entenmann’s, she got Chips Ahoy….

Recently, on Alpert’s forty-seventh birthday, a number of those detectives and federal agents, along with dozens of old friends, a handful of ex-girlfriends, and the so-called Cookie Lady herself, gathered at an East Village bar called Crime Scene to celebrate the publication of The Birthday Party: A Memoir of Survival, Alpert’s first book.

Google turns up the positive New York Times review — “one of the most exhilarating, improbable New York stories ever told” — and other Web takes point in the same direction.

The review mentions O. Henry’s “Ransom of Red Chief.” If you get a similar feeling to reread it, the full text is here. (And following the junior high path, when you get the urge next to reread “Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge,” it’s right here.)

Dark chocolate robots

When Dark Raisinets, the new dark chocolate and raisin-branded concoction, arrived in work’s vending machine this fall, I was skeptical.

My last taste of a variation on my personal candy Top 5, an April ’06 bag of Hershey’s Kissables, was disappointing. Also, I somehow seemed to be losing my long-time taste for regular Raisinets. Bouncing back and forth between one movie chain’s Raisinets and another’s Sun-Maid Milk Chocolate Covered Raisins (not bad but the ethical equivalent of buying Eggo Syrup), the contents of the yellow box didn’t have the sharpness they used to have.

But the dark chocolate gave me new hope. Hershey’s dark minis had always been the part of the assortment that had gone too quickly, and the arrival of the dark Kisses had increased the opportunities. Also, I’d learned a lot at the New York Chocolate Show. Like how much the world truly needed dark chocolate.

So I bought a bag from the vending machine, and the first taste won me over. The sharpness was back, in spades. It was like dark chocolate was where raisins were meant to be dipped. There were claims of anti-oxidents and lower fat on the bag, and while I respected them, I had no need for them. My mouth was sold. Perhaps the claims would allow me to see Raisinets as healthy, and then why not have another bag? Not often, just sometimes.

Candy Blog rated the new style “tempting (6/10).” Commenters on Junk Food Blog seemed won over. Write Fink said the invention was “just the sort of life-affirming event I’ve been hoping for.” He was mixed on the taste but ultimately positive. Everything and Nothing noted, “the more you eat, the more you can see the difference — and the better they taste”

A grocery-watcher column offered a theory on the improvement: “That’s not because of antioxidants but because the sweetness of raisins works better with dark chocolate than the sweeter milk chocolate.”

I mention all this history to get to the point that M&M’s took over the ad spots on the Yahoo homepage last week to promote the new Dark Chocolate M&M’s. My home computer choked on the weight, but my work machine seemed to enjoy the experience. While the solar eclipse effect was nice, my favorite part was the purple bag. My Gonzaga freshman self repeatedly phone-voted for the purple M&M (God is purple and so is candy), yet the effort was unsuccessful. Stupid blue, rendering the light brown M&M, extinct. But 2002 finally saw the temporary addition of purple, and now the color had worked its way up to bag status, the first to break completely from the brown theme. (Yes, haters, I do acknowlege the existence of the red Peanut Butter M&M bag, but that red is a brownish red.)

Another interesting fact, via the dark’s product page: The distribution of the colors in the purple bag are more even than in any previous variety. The colors fall 17% brown, 17% yellow, 17% red, 17% blue, 16% orange, 16% green. A regular milk chocolate bag is more preferable for Van Halen hosts and carcinogen-conspiracy theorists: 13% brown, 14% yellow, 13% red, 24% blue, 20% orange, 16% green. Lovers have their pick.

But I digress.

After the M&M ad drew my eye to Yahoo’s main ad spot all week, I found my eyes scanning that spot this morning. A GM ad was now there, with a familiar mechanical yellow arm coming into the picture to scrub it. After all the post-Super Bowl controversy, from fired-up comment critics to a national campaign, we heard late last week that GM planned to edit the commercial to remove the robot’s suicide dream.

But the Yahoo ad today gave an additional effect, one noticable to any Raisinet-chomping movie fan. The ad’s scrubbing came off a bit like waving, as in, “See, he’s still alive!” Seeing just the yellow arm in the frame hinted there was more of our little robot buddy to come, but Jonathan Silverman came to mind.

If you ever watch the Food Network

Via the always terrific but especially recently on fire Pop Candy, food writer Michael Ruhlman hands over his blog keys to Tony Bourdain, and Bourdain doesn’t let him down. If you’re a Bourdain fan or ever watch Food Network, even for a minute before changing the channel, the post is a must-read. He begins:

I actually WATCH Food Network now and again, more often than not drawn in by the progressive horrors on screen. I find myself riveted by its awfulness, like watching a multi-car accident in slow motion. Mesmerized at the ascent of the Ready-Made bobblehead personalities, and the not-so-subtle shunting aside of the Old School chefs, I find myself de-constructing the not-terrible shows, imagining behind the scenes struggles and frustrations, and obsessing unhealthily on the Truly Awful ones.

Chef-by-chef remarks follow, including respect for Emeril, props for my girl Giada, a Triscuits reference for Rachael Ray (I thought I was the only one who found it odd to have her picture on the front and back of the box), and unbridled hatred of Sandra Lee.

To wit: “I would likely be arrested if I suggested on television that any children watching should promptly go to a wooded area with a gun and harm themselves. What’s the difference between that and Sandra suggesting we fill our mouths with Ritz Crackers, jam a can of Cheez Wiz in after and press hard? None that I can see.”

The first time I saw Sandra Lee on TV, I think it was during a holiday appearance she made on CNN, back when I was working there. We all remember how happy I was that season, but the only thing I can remember from that day was pure confusion. What was she making?

With Bourdain, it’s time to read the books. While I came to his work late, finding No Reservations playing the deprived National Geographic role in my life that Dave Attell’s Insomniac once filled, Jess has always touted the books as funny gritty foodie masterpieces. Which, if accurate, fits my continuing love of funny people, gritty movies, eating, and Monsterpiece Theater.

First, to work through the books already in progress….

This person claims there are five pictures of Rachael Ray on a Triscuits box. I don’t remember that many, but it’s possible. Also, Giada turns up in the paper this week. How I missed her chat on the site in 2004, I have no idea.

Finally, the Muppets Wiki has a comprehensive rundown of Monsterpiece Theater episodes, includes synopses, photos and — best of all — YouTube links.

Alistair Cookie also gets his own page, featuring a classic work of description: “Though seemingly more sedate and urbane, Alistair Cookie is still a Cookie Monster, devouring baked goods, props — and in the revamped opening in the 1990s, noisily consuming cookies over the theme, while offering judicious comments on the texture.”

Small Medium Large post

My favorite Web comic has returned to hiatus. After taking a holiday break in mid-December, Medium Large, pet project of Sally Forth writer Ces Marcuiliano, published one strip in late January and stopped again.

If you’ve been reading too, you have to check the comments for the answer. Marcuiliano has left the Drink at Work site, which he cofounded, and is in the process of finding a new Web home, according a comment from the other cofounder, his wife. I’d never read her blog before today, but if you’re reading about the end of the strip on the site, you owe it to yourself to read the blog too. January has three long posts, a burst after silence since October.

Great blog tagline

On The Girl Who, the very confessorial and sometimes controversial blog from Monica Bielanko, wife of Marah’s Serge, we get this header:

The Girl Who
“I find her writing mediocre, at best.”
-My Husband’s Ex-Girlfriend

There’s also a great embedded YouTube video of Marah playing Long Hot Summer (lyrics second to the bottom here) from the extra features on the Sooner or Later in Spain DVD (and originally on the No Electric Guitars compilation). It’s a rare sad summer love song, but Monica’s right that it’ll warm you up.