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Allen Smalling "Eclectic Reader," RSS Feed (Chicago, IL United States)
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Leaves Of Grass: Unabridged Special Collectors Edition [With Preface By Walt Whitman]
Leaves Of Grass: Unabridged Special Collectors Edition [With Preface By Walt Whitman]
by Walt Whitman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.95
20 used & new from $15.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Banned in Boston", April 17, 2014
"Banned in Boston" was no mere punch line. From a modest 92-page beginning in 1855, Walt Whitman's LEAVES OF GRASS poetry collection grew, then shrank, depending on cultural mores and the commercial desires of various late-19th Century publishers. This is the Unabridged edition, containing most of what Whitman himself ever considered suitable for the volume, including the frankly homoerotic "Calamus" section. You can spend a lot more on luxury or leather-tooled editions but they won't be as complete as this one. High recommendation, and a good price for its size.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 17, 2014 1:01 PM PDT


Pillsbury Blue Raspberry Moist Supreme Premium Cake Mix and Blue Raspberry Frosting
Pillsbury Blue Raspberry Moist Supreme Premium Cake Mix and Blue Raspberry Frosting
Offered by Gitzits Got It
Price: $15.95
3 used & new from $7.40

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some artificial flavors are more genuine than others...., April 16, 2014
I've always loved blue-raspberry popsicles, even though a true blue (as opposed to purple) color is almost never found in nature's own foods except for anomalies like blue-veined cheese. Here's my opportunity to review the new MOIST SUPREME BLUE RASPBERRY PREMIUM CAKE MIX and CREAMY SUPREME BLUE RASPBERRY FROSTING, both from Pillsbury, in one review since they can be bought that way here. (I make no comment about the price.)

The cake was made to exact specifications for two nine-inch layers using the standard three-egg recipe on the back of the box and came out beautiful. It's a not-quite-medium blue, almost a Sky Blue, though you can tell there's a bit of green showing through when iced with the companion frosting (probably the yellow of the egg yolks we used). The cake turned out fairly light, moist, with medium crumb and excellent coherence, that "springy" quality. It doesn't taste all that strongly of blue raspberry -- with my eyes closed it tasted a good deal closer to a very mild spice cake, or a yellow cake with a sweet edge. My partner, who is also the household cook, said it tasted slightly fruity to him. Pillsbury did a little better with the frosting -- it certainly SMELLED like the flavor of blue raspberry popsicles and the taste wasn't too far off, though very very sweet. It's a really pretty shade of sky blue -- almost a baby blue.

Have you ever wondered where this "blue raspberry" flavor came from? A little research in Yahoo! Answers and Wikipedia reveals that it is based on the genuine "whitebark raspberry" that grows out West and is, indeed, an off-white color, but "blue raspberry" the commercial flavor and color was commercially developed around 1960. So the answer is that it is based partly on a real type of raspberry, but also on a synthetically derived lab product. Beyond that, the Doughboy ain't telling.

Sensory appeal: Lovely blue frosting, acceptable blue cake that would probably look like a "truer" blue when made with the optional four-egg-white recipe on the back of a box (no yolk = no yellow). Taste: frosting pretty faithful, cake not terribly faithful but not offensive either. Whether you want your kids growing up thinking blue is a natural food color -- an argument for another day. Otherwise, I'd give these products together a grudging four stars.

PS: OF COURSE the frosting is gluten free as claimed (nay, trumpeted). Any buttercream frosting consists of sugar, fat, flavoring, and the tub kind adds stabilizers, emulsifiers, and coloring agents (here: Blue #1) with no need to go near a wheat product. How to use it without spreading it on cake or cookies made up of wheat (including gluten) is another matter, unless you eschew the standard cake mixes.

On second thought, three stars.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 17, 2014 2:36 AM PDT


Pillsbury Blue Raspberry Moist Supreme Premium Cake Mix - 2 pack
Pillsbury Blue Raspberry Moist Supreme Premium Cake Mix - 2 pack
Offered by MartiniBlue
Price: $10.00
23 used & new from $9.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Was it worth the trouble? ~, April 16, 2014
I’ve always been a fan of blue-raspberry popsicles, despite the fact that that a true blue (as opposed to purple) color is almost never found in nature’s own foods. So when the local Big Box advertised this PILLSBURY MOIST SUPREME BLUE RASPBERRY PREMIUM CAKE MIX with canned frosting to match, off went the family shopper to check out this anomaly.

The cake was made to exact specifications for two nine-inch layers using the standard three-egg recipe on the back of the box (there’s also a four egg-white recipe for cholesterol cutters) and came out beautiful. It’s a not-quite-medium blue, almost a Sky Blue, though certainly no food in nature was ever this pale or this blue? You can’t really tell it until the companion pre-made frosting is applied (reviewed separately), but the cake has a slight tendency to green, probably because the standard recipe adds egg yolks. As cake it’s fairly light, moist, with medium crumb and excellent coherence, that “springy” quality. Does it taste like blue raspberry popsicles? Only if you want it to. With my eyes closed it tasted a good deal closer to a very mild spice cake, or a yellow cake with a sweet edge. My companion and the household cook said it tasted slightly fruity to him.

Have you ever wondered where this “blue raspberry” flavor came from? Is it something natural or something whipped up in a lab in New Jersey? A little research in Yahoo! Answers and Wikipedia reveals that it is based on the genuine “whitebark raspberry” that grows out West and is, indeed, an off-white color, but “blue raspberry” the commercial flavor and color was commercially developed around 1960. So the answer is that it is based on a natural origin, but also whipped up in a lab in New Jersey (or some such artificially flavored locus).

When I was a lad no food was blue except Roquefort cheese. Now we have blue Jello and blue M&M’s and other things, including this blue cake mix. Proceed at your own risk, but be advised you’re not missing anything all that special flavor-wise. Still, it might be cute at a themed children’s birthday party. Three stars. Any good yellow cake mix to me is a four.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 17, 2014 12:55 PM PDT


Pillsbury Gluten Free Blue Raspberry Creamy Supreme Frosting, 16 Oz (Pack of 2)
Pillsbury Gluten Free Blue Raspberry Creamy Supreme Frosting, 16 Oz (Pack of 2)
Offered by Find-A-Lot
Price: $14.95
7 used & new from $14.25

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A nice try, April 16, 2014
This review is of PILLSBURY CREAMY SUPREME BLUE RASPBERRY FROSTING in the usual plastic tub, designed to go with the PILLSBURY MOIST SUPREME cake mix of the same name. A two nine-inch layer cake was made at home following instructions (mix reviewed separately) and this frosting applied. If anything, it's even a more realistic-looking blue than the cake itself, a sky blue, almost a baby blue that makes the cake look slightly green by comparison (since the cake mix contains three eggs, I suppose it would be impossible to keep those egg yolks from imparting a slight green tinge).

It is, as you'd expect, very sweet and to me it SMELLED like the blue-raspberry popsicles I remember from my youth but alas, seem almost impossible to find these days. It tasted close to that ideal, more so than the cake itself in my experience, overpoweringly sweet, of course, with a bit of the blue-raspberry presence. And honestly, keeping in mind that it uses some soybean oil and a bunch of preservatives and stabilizers it probably isn't any more phony than the average pre-made canned frosting, except for the addition of Blue No. 1 food coloring.

An advertising weasel term has made it from small print on the side of the can to a major sales point in Amazon's product description: Yes, it is indeed "Gluten Free." Why wouldn't it be, since like most frostings it is based on sugar and fat and flavoring? This is the old dodge of hyping up an inherent quality of something as though it were special, like the "Lucky Strike - It's Toasted" tagline from the 1920s that was resurrected on an episode of MAD MEN. The problem, of course, is finding something blue and raspberry-flavored to put it on that does NOT contain wheat gluten.

While this Pillsbury combo brings some legitimacy to a color and flavor that are largely artificially developed, they aren't anything special other than the color. I have to admit, though, that the frosting is really pretty. Four stars.

Pillsbury Blue Raspberry Moist Supreme Premium Cake Mix - 2 pack
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 17, 2014 2:33 AM PDT


Breaking Bad: The Final Season
Breaking Bad: The Final Season
DVD ~ Bryan Cranston
Price: $28.36
42 used & new from $16.94

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heisenberg - More Uncertain Than Ever, April 16, 2014
These are the final eight episodes of BREAKING BAD. Sensible people would call this the second half (Episodes 9 - 16) of Season 5 (after all, the whole shebang was broadcast on AMC in five years, eight months and eight days so how could there be a "Season 6" or a separate "Final Season"?). I will try mightily not to spoil, but assume you've followed the saga up to now.

As you'd expect, there is a final reckoning -- actually several -- chief among them a Charles Bronson - Sam Peckinpah - Clint Eastwood shoot-out in the desert that is well-crafted but much higher in cliche'd material than we have some to expect from this innovative series, right down to the circling vultures. This is only part of the tendency for these last eight episodes to thrill at times, but also to disappoint a little. Ending a series is hard, especially one as involved and deliberately tortuous as this one. The writers wisely avoided a ludicrous ending (remember SEINFELD?) or an arty but inconclusive one (THE SOPRANOS). Nonetheless, I'll have to give this disc four stars -- partly because it doesn't quite achieve the artistry of most prior years, but also because this attempted palming off of the second half of the fifth year into an overpriced extra disc is infuriating. Better the people who sell these DVD's had watched the whole series and learned a thing or two about what unbridled greed and hubris can do to a person, even the mild-mannered Walter White.

If, after viewing this entire series, you're looking for something more peaceable that won't make you go cold turkey, here it is: Leaves Of Grass: Unabridged Special Collectors Edition [With Preface By Walt Whitman].


Breaking Bad: Season 5
Breaking Bad: Season 5
DVD ~ Bryan Cranston
Offered by Warehouse Deals 4 Less
Price: $17.00
44 used & new from $14.02

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The power and the glory, not including idiotic marketing, April 16, 2014
This review is from: Breaking Bad: Season 5 (DVD)
The final (and fifth) season of BREAKING BAD consists of sixteen episodes (most previous years had thirteen). Because marketing managers and not television producers call the shots in terms of DVD production, this final season was cut into two: "Season Five" here consists of episodes 1 through 8. Some merry marketeers call episodes 9 - 16 "Season 6"; others use the grandiose and equally misleading "Final Season." Upshot: I have no option but to review episodes 9 - 16 separately because they were put on a separate DVD.

(Spoiler Alerts): These eight episodes are wonderful and reach a grandeur seldom achieved in television drama. Once again, Walter White has lost his profession of top-notch crystal-meth cooker and violent (though, we like to believe, unwilling) gangster, without quite getting caught. Amazingly, the plot dexterously keeps DEA brother-in-law Hank from quite catching on. For Walt to be without a crystal-meth empire is to largely forego his identity, so he reaches out to the German conglomerate, which, having lost Gus Fring, is ready to deal. More efficient international connections provide vastly more money but this windfall is counterbalanced by wife Skyler's increasing alienation from her husband and the depression that goes with it, and also the need for Walt to find a new way to get hold of an expensive key ingredient in meth-making. Lesser people than Walt start to fall apart, notably Jesse Pinkman, who occasionally escapes from his own depression to show his true loose-cannon potential.

I really like the dialog in these episodes. From that point of view, my favorite episode is number 7 of Season 5 (no. 53 overall), "Say My Name," during which the physical violence abates briefly and the players come to terms with each other. I predict some of this dialog will have a future in dramatic readings for years to come:

Walter White: I know all about your operation. My partners here tell me that you produce a meth that's 70% pure, if you're lucky. What I produce is 99.1% pure.
Declan: So?
Walter White: So... it's grade school tee-ball vs. The New York Yankees. Yours is just some tepid... off-brand, generic cola. What I'm making is classic Coke.
Declan: All right. Okay. So, um... If we just waste you right here, right now, and leave you in the desert then there is no more coke on the market, right? See how that works? There's only us.
Walter White: Do you really wanna live in a world without Coca-Cola?

Even so, the show still has room for some of its legendary musical wit: the last episode on this disc, "Gliding Over All," puts Tommy James' 1969 bubblegum classic, "Crystal Blue Persuasion," on the soundtrack. This ditty, when written, had nothing to do with drugs but may now establish an indelible connection to Walter White's crystal-blue meth and the persuasive power of money.

Obviously, if you've come this far in the BREAKING BAD saga there's no reason to stop now, but if you're like me you resent the artificial divison of the last year so that two DVD purchases are required rather than one. Nonetheless, darn it, five stars.


Breaking Bad: Season 4
Breaking Bad: Season 4
DVD ~ Bryan Cranston
Price: $14.99
35 used & new from $14.04

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing Season 4: Probably the best yet, April 15, 2014
This review is from: Breaking Bad: Season 4 (DVD)
To borrow a couple of terms from Anthony Burgess's dystopian novel (later movie) A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, the previous season (third) of BREAKING BAD, while not without violence, is more "weepy-tragic" in its analysis of personal relationships, but this Season Four is full-out "ultra-violent." Expect some general spoilers: This is the year where practically everyone arms himself, whether it's a snub-nosed .38 revolver, a box-cutter, or a Ricin-laced cigarette. The major players like Jesse Pinkman and Walter White take responsibility for their own protection, which means they keep disappearing at crucial moments, beyond reach even of multiple cell phones and daily routines. It's the year where practically everyone goes rogue: Walt's wife Skyler has financial secrets she can't share with her husband but with her lawyer, and even some she can't share with her lawyer but with her former employer. Walt's brother-in-law Hank Shrader, the DEA agent (Dean Norris), keeps sniffing "something big" under his nose, drug-wise; and even though he has officially been removed from his fruitless investigation he keeps poking around. Even so, he doesn't know what we do, that Walt and the community's genial fried-chicken king and beloved community supporter, Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), have become essentially the Mexican drug cartel's New Mexico wing. Trips south of the border give much of Season 4 the flavor of a modern Western yet, miraculously, the show's celebrated dark humor and interpersonal foul-ups are still evident.

Walt and Gus, *narcotraficantes* both, are on the verge of becoming narco-terrorists. Walt starts cooking up a bomb in the next-to-last episode, and by the season's end enough damage has been done that BREAKING BAD could easily have ended then. Had the series not been such a success across the boards, it might have. Another sixteen episodes were made, though, which rather confusingly are labeled and marketed as Seasons 5 and 6 with eight episodes apiece. Some legends refuse to die, and the fan of BREAKING BAD who hasn't witnessed Season 4 yet will surely find it matches and at times even tops prior years.


Breaking Bad: Season 3
Breaking Bad: Season 3
DVD ~ Bryan Cranston
Price: $18.96
52 used & new from $10.46

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Legend Continues: Season Three of BREAKING BAD, April 14, 2014
This review is from: Breaking Bad: Season 3 (DVD)
Note: This review assumes the viewer has seen the first two seasons of BREAKING BAD. If you haven't, there will be spoilers. Even if you have, plot points will be mentioned but hopefully not enough to ruin the show.

If Season One of this now legendary show set up the basic situation of the high-school chem teacher and his slacker assistant who go into meth "cooking" to earn lots of money, and Season Two puts the Walter-and-Jesse duo into the big time, introducing new characters as it goes, then Season Three essentially doubles down on prior elements. Everyone wants more of what they want, and what they want is irreconcilable: Walter's wife Skyler wants him at home more (a guaranteed impossibility considering his lab schedule); but when he moves back in she isn't happy with that either. Late in Season Two we were introduced to Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), a mild-mannered chicken-franchise operator, but as Season Three progresses, he proves to have a much bigger profile underground than merely as proprietor of "Los Pollos Hermanos." Jesse, having suffered a tremendous personal loss, wants to stay as messed up as possible, which makes his work performance suffer. He goes in and out of rehab. Walter in fact suffers a new lab partner, Gale, a granola kind of guy who proves to be surprisingly unimaginative as a chemist. Meanwhile Walt's brother-in-law Hank is perplexed by the evidence of major drug trafficking going on nearby, but Walt is darn sure he doesn't realize quite how close nearby. And as always in the BREAKING BAD moral universe, things don't stay "copacetic" very long.

It isn't necessarily everyone's favorite episode, clocking a mere 3.4 out of 5 at shareTV.com, but my favorite episode of Season Three is number 10, "Fly," which quite frankly is a low-budget number that takes place in the gleaming new high-tech lab, featuring Walter and Jesse, with no exterior shots or special effects. A housefly gets into the chamber, and Walter, who will brook no "contaminant" in his stainless-steel kingdom, is driven close to mad. It takes the whole episode to learn if the fly ever gets killed, but every tone in the Walt-and-Jesse relationship is sounded, especially the ones that remind us the men drive each other crazy but depend on each other nonetheless.

There isn't much television that goes on this long, so well, with such great writing and acting, all the while managing to maintain elements of sitcom, black comedy, social satire, drug culture and the Modern Western. BREAKING BAD finished this third season and went into Season Four stronger than ever.


Breaking Bad: Season 2
Breaking Bad: Season 2
DVD ~ Bryan Cranston
Offered by rightpricedvd
Price: $13.99
54 used & new from $8.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breaking the rules of serial drama, April 14, 2014
This review is from: Breaking Bad: Season 2 (DVD)
Despite Amazon's slighting reference to BREAKING BAD as "water-cooler drama," it is actually in Season 2 that the series begins to break the bounds of permissible serial drama and reach for greatness. Season 1 established Walter and Jesse as the argumentative meth-making duo that have to ply their craft among homicidal drug dealers and suspicious family members. (Minor spoilers ensue): Walter gets kicked out of the house for his inability to explain his long absences from the home while he and Jesse are "cooking"; Jesse's parents kick him out for presumed fecklessness. Two new characters enter the cast: Saul, a glad-handing shyster (Bob Odenkirk ) ever-ready with the quick quip, who helps Walter deal with some of the fiscal and other craziness of his new life; and Jane (Krysten Ritter), Jesse's new landlady and main squeeze. Only one of these new characters will make it into year three.

Despite all the turbulence around them, Season 2 does not ignore the oil-and-water pairing of the stolid academically-trained chemist and the hitherto unmotivated dropout. This reviewer enjoyed one episode above all: Episode Nine, "Four Days Out," takes Jesse and Walter into the desert for several days of uninterrupted meth-making, until Jesse, pooh-poohing Walter's instructions, runs the Winnebago's battery dry. The landlocked duo, in their fear and frustration, remind me mightily of Year Three, Episode 11 of The Sopranos, "Pine Barrens," with Christopher and "Pauly Walnuts" similarly stranded. This blend of the frenzied and the funny establishes the second season of BREAKING BAD as an American classic: must-see TV, sure, but also the impetus for several seasons more.


Breaking Bad: Season 1
Breaking Bad: Season 1
DVD ~ Bryan Cranston
Price: $13.99
50 used & new from $8.05

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cooking up crystal meth and a seminal comedy/gangster drama, April 14, 2014
This review is from: Breaking Bad: Season 1 (DVD)
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) has just turned 50. While once a brilliant research chemist, for reasons that will become apparent much later he has taken a job teaching high school in Albuquerque, trying to impart chemistry to bored and insolent teens. He has an annual salary of $43,000, a wife (Anna Gunn) whose ambitions do not match her situation, an engaging adolescent son with light cerebral palsy (R.J. Mitte), and health insurance that is "not the best." All of a sudden it develops that Walt has advanced lung cancer, and the need for large amounts of money (not only for his chemotherapy but to leave the family well fixed) force this mildly depressed, middle-aged soul into a man with his eyes on the prize. Out of boredom he accompanies his good-ole-boy brother-in-law, a DEA agent (Dean Norris), on a meth-cooking bust and later encounters the partner who got away, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).

Jesse is a pleasant but disaffected youth who, it develops, once washed through Walter's chemistry class without retaining much essential information. He does, however, know how to make crystal meth and sell it and thus, to Walter's way of thinking, holds the key to making large amounts of money. The slacker and the scientist form an unusual pair; Aaron Paul himself likens them to Neil Simon's "Odd Couple," making him Oscar and Walter Felix. They acquire an aging Winnebago and drive out to the desert for their drug-making sessions. By the last episode of BREAKING BAD's first year, the comic/dramatic dichotomy of the series has emerged (spoilers follow): Walter and Jesse try to cook meth in peace, this time in the basement of his deceased aunt's home, while upstairs a real-estate agent's open house is about to begin; later, while selling the stuff, an irrelevant comment by a drug lord's dim assistant triggers an outbreak of violence that propels much of the series to follow.

Why only four stars? Because as good as the first year is, it only serves to whet your appetite for future years to come. Don't watch BREAKING BAD, Season One, without the knowledge that in its own way, this series is as addictive to televiewers as Walter and Jesse's signature blue crystal meth is to Albuquerque's druggies. A solid show that continues to attract, repel, shock and amuse. You have been warned!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 14, 2014 11:38 AM PDT


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