Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Through the Tunnel

Pictures like these are acting on me like a narcotic today. I would pay money to do some weeding right about now. Or to lay face down on green grass.

Man, when summer comes, I will post pictures of my garden here until you beg me to stop. And then I'll post some more.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Big Giant Head

Do my glasses seem to be twice as wide as my head? Argggh.

I have this book from one of my college photography classes called Another Way of Telling. In it, a photographer named Jean Mohr says this:

For myself, I'm not too fat, my nose is large but not unreasonably long. And yet for years I could not accept my own physical appearance. I used to dream of looking like Samuel Beckett. (To have a profile like his would perhaps also imply another way of life.) I took a number of self-portraits, and each time I "disguised" my face because I rejected it totally. I grimaced, I played tricks with the light, I deliberately moved the camera. The cure for this play-acting came when I was obliged to look at myself for the whole length of a television film . . . . There the dose was strong enough to cure me. This man whom I saw before me existed with all his weaknesses. He was real, and in a sense he was beyond my control. I was no longer responsible for his appearances.

I've always wondered if I could use this "cure" and desensitize myself. Somebody take this camera away from me...

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dust Bunnies Vanquished

I did some cleaning this afternoon, including under the bed as the picture proves. It also proves, of course, that I've purchased a digital camera and intend to use it for the most frivolous purposes imaginable. Next up: What will Mary find in the shower drain?

My cleaning soundtrack was provided by brother John -- he sent me some mix CDs recently, including one titled "Omaha Rocks!" Well obviously. The CD consisted of tunes beloved by his kids. I discovered that his nine year old and I share a love of Cake. Also huge in Omaha: Fallout Boy, Chris LeDoux, and Porky Pig's version of Blue Christmas. It's that sense of adventure and eclectic taste that make this country great, people!

Note: Not only are these children musically gifted, they are also blindingly cute. Seriously, you have to wear special glasses and everything.

Blowin' Through

What's it look like at your house? Lots of shoveling this morning, but at least a half a foot of snow has some insulating properties. It's a bit warmer in here.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Creature Comforts Redux

This can't be good.

This planned TV series is inspired by the video I linked to in my Bug Eyed post. I guess it could be alright, but I fear it will get all prettied up and Disney-fied. How could it be as good without the British accents? I ask you.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Drifting Along...

As I came up the Lexington ramp from 94E this evening, I glimpsed something moving into the road and braked slightly. It was a tumbleweed. It did not pause, but kept rolling south.

I spent part of my evening discussing cultural hegemony with a Spanish ex-patriate living in the TC. (I'm going to start using the initials in the same way the kids do for "The O.C."-- i.e. "I brake for tumbleweeds ... that's how we roll in the TC.") He allowed that Europeans are just as racist and reactionary as Americans and was generously dismissive about that whole "freedom fries" thing. Europeans act the same way, he said.

I choose to be comforted by our sameness; we are all dumb-asses together.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tea With the Ladies

To prove that the bone-crushing cold has not, in fact, made us feral, we put on our fancy duds and sashayed over to The Saint Paul Hotel for high tea last Saturday. It was the "chocolate lovers" tea and did not disappoint in that department.

The menu included five courses.

I wore my new reading glasses, because ladies who drink tea have reading glasses, ya know.

By the fourth course, we were starting to feel the effects.

Not wanting to waste a perfectly good sugar buzz, we repaired to the bar at the St. Paul Grill and let down our hair, so to speak.

Eventually, we even had dinner across the street at Pazzaluna. A lovely time and a great way to shake off the cold. Thanks ladies!

**Photos courtesy of Fiffy's cute new camera. Thanks Fiffy!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Tape Love

All this talk of a mix CD (thanks for all the suggestions, you guys -- you're amazing!) made me nostalgic for my rather too-abundant collection of mix tapes. I can't bring myself to get rid of many of them. I weeded out most of the straight recording-of-an-album-to-tape tapes a while ago, but even had to retain some of those. I'm mean I could buy a CD version of Wilson Pickett's Greatest Hits, but it wouldn't have those choice Professor Longhair tunes stuck on end like the tape James made for me.

But the real treasures are the mix tapes made for me by friends, especially Al. He has a gift for mixing songs, and most of the tapes he made for me became the correct context for those songs in my head. Of COURSE, "Somewhere Where Love Can't Find Me" by Marshall Crenshaw should be followed by "She Don't Love Nobody" by Nick Lowe and Tom Petty's "Feel a Whole Lot Better" on that collection of covers he made. And I always felt like that place (on the other side of the same tape!) where "Hog Tied Over You" by Tennessee Ernie Ford and Ella Mae Morse segued into "I Call Your Name" by Johnny Clegg was a revelation. Could there be some genetic connection between American hillbillies and white South Africans?

Sometimes the tape covers were super cool:

This one had Billie Holiday on one side and Michelle Shocked on the other. He created this design with paper images and scotch tape in a way I have not been able to duplicate. It was a multi-layered design, on both the case and the tape itself:

God, I love that. Here's another Al artifact:

It was Tracy Chapman on one side and the Talking Heads' Naked on the other. It stills makes me laugh. Possibly because I'm a dork. I'm listening to Naked now, and rediscovering how much I love "(Nothing But) Flowers": "If this is paradise, I wish I had a lawn mower!"

So good.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


OK, so I want to make a compilation CD of songs that have great ooooo oooo vocals. I often find the singing of the long U sound quite compelling. This is what I've come up with so far:

1. Smokestack Lightnin' by Howlin' Wolf (really lives up to his name on that one)
2. My Favorite Mistake by Sheryl Crow (repeated Oooooos in the lead in)
3. Up on Cripple Creek by The Band (on the bridge -- a cross between ooooooing and yodeling)
4. Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon (more howling, natch)
5. At my Window Sad and Lonely by Wilco (and Billy Bragg? off Mermaid Ave.)

So what am I missing? Any suggestions? What other songs can give me the crooooooning I crave?

UPDATE: I thought of another one:

6. Doowutchyalike by Digital Underground ("oo ooo I see guys an' girls dancin'")

Monday, February 12, 2007

Bug Eyed

My eyes are giving me fits these days--can't see past five feet with my glasses, can't see close up with my contacts. Rather than jumping right into bifocals, I'm trying an interim solution: pairing my contacts with a pair of those magnifying reading glasses you can get at the drugstore. They make me think of the koala bear in Creature Comforts:

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Anthony Bourdain: Pearl Clutcher

Anthony Bourdain thinks Food Network is pandering to hoi polloi. (Thanks elbee, for sending the link.)

He and I have come down on the same side of the coin on several issues (if by issues, I mean Sandra Lee) but he is much meaner about the whole thing. At least, I hope I wasn't that mean. And he addresses the trend discussed in the New Yorker article--the network's moving away from using classically trained chefs to more personalities who cook, such as Rachel Ray, Lee, and Paula Deen. I, in general, applaud this trend. I'm just not fond of some of the personalities they've chosen.

Bourdain gets all uppity about the shunting aside of the chefs and does some hand-wringing about how Mario Batali and Bobby Flay are treated. Gimme a break. Like somehow focusing on what will help home cooks is necessarily pandering to the lowest common denominator or something. He refers to Bobby Flay's show Throwdown, in which Flay is regularly beaten when challenging an amateur cook at his or her specialty. Indeed, Flay was in St. Paul last year, competing with the guy who runs Izzy's ice cream parlour--they each had to create a new flavor. (In a lovely not-everybody-has-cable moment, the Izzy's guy did not know who Flay was.)

Here's Bourdain on the whole concept: "Now…does ANYONE actually believe that Bobby Flay can’t make a better chili than a supermarket ground beef bearing amateur?" I believe that the amateur could make a chili that someone besides Bourdain would think was better--not everybody has your overwhelmingly sensitive palate, Tony. He mentions how Emeril and Flay are good chefs who run good restaurants, as though that's relevant to whether they'd make for good television or whether they'd be useful to the viewers. It's called the Food Network, not the Chef Network.

He also seems to believe that these chefs are being humiliated against their will. Bourdain on Batali: "Is there any more egregiously under-used, criminally mishandled, dismissively treated chef on television?" I think the key words there are "on television." He's one of very few, and there's no evidence to suggest he's shackled to his cutting board.

A trained chef doesn't necessarily make a great cooking-show host, nor does haute cuisine appeal to everybody. Imagine my presumption at liking shows with accessible hosts that are about simple-to-prepare meals with easy-to-find ingredients. Excuse me while I put down this ham sandwich and go find some foie gras.

Oy, do I appear to be unhealthily obsessed with food TV? I'm putting a moratorium on this topic for a while.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Wal-Mart Reads My Blog

I'm totally taking credit for this.

You may remember that I suggested that corporations and labor get together on the health care issue here. Apparently, Wal-Mart, Intel, and several other companies have joined labor union leaders to call for universal health care. Of course, Wal-Mart's been getting the government to pay for its health care for a while, by encouraging poorly paid employees to seek state aid. So, this is just the next logical step for them. But it's good!

I do love an unlikely alliance.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Don't Miss ...

... the adventures of Super Cat over at Drama Mater. Thank you cK for the kick-ass superhero!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Radio, Radio

Nothing makes me so ridiculously happy as happening upon "Ramblin' Man" by The Allman Brothers on the radio. I mean, I own the music, but cueing it up at home is nowhere near as cool as just being in the right place at the right time for it on the radio. Sometimes I don't even make it through the whole endless guitar solo at the end, but I always loudly sing, "I'm on my way to New Orleans this morning, leaving out of Nashville, Tennessee. They're always havin' a good time down on the bayou, Lord, and them Delta women think the world of me," like I believe every word is the truth.

I know I'm not the only one who gets all happy at random songs on the radio. Which one(s) make you go, "Sweet!" (or, if you're a Skynyrd fan, "Turn it up!")?

(Ooh! Speaking of Skynyrd, "I Know a Little" has the same effect.)

Sunday, February 4, 2007

More Bingeing

Food Network's doing a marathon of Paula Deen shows today, and I know she may grate on some people, but I just think she's adorable (I've been using that word for everybody lately -- I must have some kind of infection). Her southern accent is so pronounced, and I love the way she says "oil" and "salad." She's all about sentiment and family and cute, and is always slipping her dogs little treats while she cooks. Her food looks tasty and familiar, though it's mostly stuff I wouldn't eat every day because she has a winking lack of restraint. I caught one of her shows this evening in which she told her audience that there were two things that really inspired her to cook: her deep fryer ("I love, love, love my deep fryer!") and butter. 'Nuff said.

But even when she's not cooking and they're just doing a show about her recent wedding, I'm totally invested.

I am not invested, however, in Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee on Food Network. Oh, Sandra Lee. What are we going to do with you? (Maybe I am invested, but not in a good way.) This show's premise is food that's made with 70% ready-made ingredients mixed with 30% fresh foods. Which, I don't know, it's possible that some of this stuff is decent tasting. But at some point, isn't it just as easy to pick up some chili powder rather than using a paper packet of taco seasoning? She does stuff like that a lot. On one show, she scooped the filling out of a couple of store-bought pumpkin pies to use in a dessert. I'm sorry, that's just weird. Also, rather than throwing out the pie crust, she suggested we use them as a topping for ice cream or something...

There's just an air of desperation about her show. Every episode features "cocktail time" with a recipe for a mixed drink. She has 101 uses for vanilla vodka. And it doesn't matter what kind of meal/event/holiday she's planning -- Halloween, brunch, kid's birthday -- she has invited adults, and they must have alcohol, apparently. And absolutely everything has a theme. She's like a Vegas hotel that way. Everything must address the theme in a clear and color-coordinated way. I don't know what happens without the theme -- extra drinking I guess.

The theme leads inexorably to the last segment of the show -- the "tablescape." Before we go, Sandra must show us what her fevered imagination has done to the dining table. It is always crowded with centerpieces, elaborate place settings, fanciful napkins, many layered tablecloths, party favors, and other geegaws, all generally created especially for this occasion (from the craft store!) and all looking like they could never serve another purpose, unless she chose to throw the exact same party again some time. Girlfriend loves her some fabric and a glue gun.

If you don't believe me, ask these people.

One Food Network show I feel I should like better is Everyday Italian. It's hosted by Giada De Laurentiis who seems pleasant enough, but I'm distracted by her giant teeth. It isn't so much that they are excessively large, but that she speaks and smiles in such a way as to be emphasizing them all the time. Or maybe her whole head is out of proportion? Plus, of course, she's always putting something in her mouth. Teeth again! Can't handle it. Her food seems like it would be quite good; I really should try one of her recipes sometime.

Birthday Brother

It's Matty's birthday today. Happy Birthday! To celebrate, I'm posting his adorable but potentially embarrassing 2nd grade photo. Anyone who's been to my house has seen it already--I can't resist pointing it out. There's the classic scab on the forehead, undoubtedly from some farming-related activity. But I love the obsequious half smile honed from years as his oldest brother's right-hand man. For a long time, I believe Beau never held a tool that was not fetched for him by Matt.

The more recent photo was taken at my birthday party a couple years ago. He drove all the way up to St. Paul to celebrate with his sister. Awww.

These days, he's got the cutest kid ever, and he's about to get married to Catherine, who's the greatest. Very exciting stuff. You deserve it honey! Hope you have an awesome birthday.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Binge Watchin'

I've become an avid watcher of cooking programs. The Food Network, the PBS shows, Anthony Bourdain, and even the random cooking segments on the weekend "news" programs, if I'm clicking through on my way someplace else--I'm an equal opportunity watcher. My viewing has become a bit more tentative since I began my current reducing plan--I can only handle so much delicious food photography these days before I have to run away and eat a Rykrisp. And foodies and chefs are notoriously averse to, say, removing the butter simply to make a dish healthier. Taste is their master, and the rest of us just have to control ourselves.

Indeed, most of the these shows are really focused on special-occasion food, even though the most talked about show currently is probably Rachel Ray's 30-Minute Meals. (And her magazine, Every Day with Rachel Ray.) In general, these people are making entrees that helpfully include most, if not all, your daily calories. You know, so you save the trouble of eating more than once a day.

The weird necessity of narrating something as mundane as cooking makes many a show tedious, but I love tracking the stuff that comes up over and over. Like, every time someone busts out a shallot, you hear some version of, "Shallots have a mild onion-y flavor that won't overwhelm the [main ingredient]." Every. Single. Time. And lord, the chicken. Everyone MUST treat it as a biohazard. Alton Brown's instructions for breading chicken that's about to be fried is like something the CDC would come up with. Wash your hands or the terrorists win!

But I'm spending a lot of time on the food shows. And I'm not the only one.

One of my favorites is America's Test Kitchen on PBS on Saturday mornings. It appeals to my irrational belief that there is in fact a best way to do everything. That's the whole premise of the test kitchen and the magazine it supports, Cooks Illustrated. They'll take a common dish (today it was Chicken Kiev) and create what they can call a definitive recipe. (In case you were wondering, no definitive recipes are ever low-fat or low-calorie.) Perhaps I'm also drawn in by the fact that the magazine's editor is the show's host, even though he's kind of a smarty-pants know-it-all. But, in my experience, most magazine editors are smarty-pants know-it-alls, so I guess I shouldn't hold it against him.

Everyday Food appears periodically on the Saturday morning PBS lineup--it's on at 10:30 a.m. these days. It's a typical offering from Martha Stewart Omnimedia. The kitchens look art directed. The hosts, ingredients, scripts, tone are flawless, which can be a little off-putting. (Omni is such a good prefix for Martha. Everything about her is so damn ... consistent.) But this show led me to the magazine of the same name that I've been evangelizing about for a while. I love its design, the choice of recipes and how each has a limited number of ingredients, the way they feature specific ingredients (Have you tried dried figs?), the index, and the fact that every recipe is provided with accompanying nutritional information. Say what you want about Martha, but she puts out excellent magazines.

Rachel Ray's 30 Minute Meals on the Food Network is mostly unwatchable, I think. Her voice is like a perky foghorn. I can actually feel my hair blow back when her show comes on and she starts in with the yelling. I haven't tried any of her recipes, so I don't know if her cooking stands up. I can't get past the voice and over-enthusiastic manner. I could pick up her magazine, I guess, but she's photographed to be a faithful print version of her television persona: waxy, airbrushed, and aggressively cheerful. I do appreciate that unlike most people on TV, she has a normal woman's body and doesn't seem to feel the need to turn herself into a stick. That crap is especially disingenuous in cooking-show hosts.

Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network is enjoyable, though she's definitely true to the whole "special-occasion food" thing. Everything she makes seems to have a million calories, though, to be fair, her show is really about entertaining. Also, I wish I knew how she got her hair so shiny.

I kind of like the idea of Rick Bayless's Mexico, One Plate at a Time on PBS. He travels around Mexico talking about food in the different regions, and he's obviously passionate about the cuisine. But he gets too close to the camera and talks in this weird affected way. You just know that in person he's a close-talker who totally corners people at parties and discusses random topics too earnestly while stroking their arm in a way that makes them uncomfortable.

The food show that I loved more than all of these was Cucina Toscana. Two guys, Damian and his nephew Johnny, who are equal parts Italian-American and Texan. It was this mishmash of barbeque and Tuscan cuisine, with "y'all" and "ciao bella!" bandied about in the same breath. They talked a lot about their extended family. They always had music playing, and Damian was always randomly bursting into song--usually some old country tune. Why oh why won't PBS bring this one back? Oh, I have the biggest crush on Damian.

Tomorrow: Giant teeth and the horror of "tablescapes."

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Adorable II

Because it's production week at work and it's ridiculously cold outside, my brain power is all used up with avoiding frostbite and fine-tuning articles on corporate event marketing. I couldn't think of anything to post, so I'm imitating the cK again and putting up adorable pictures of my mom when she was a kid. (cK, why couldn't I link to that post in your archive?) She's on the right with siblings Joe and Rosemary. It looks like those bows might eat their heads! Also, notice there seemed to be a standard template used for cutting bangs.