Monday, August 31, 2009
Sunday, August 30, 2009
What with all my European jaunts, trips to Texas and Coldplay concerts, I didn't manage to catch all of the movies that I wanted to during the summer. I had grand plans of double features, trying out different movie theaters in the neighborhood to figure out my favorite, and even solo movie outings (yes, I go to movies alone-I find it to be simultaneously soothing and exhilarating), but none of my plans panned out. I did manage to catch a few flicks, however, and I was in no way disappointed. Thus, with no further adieu, I present to you my summer movie awards:
The All-Around Favorite and Sweetest Summer Cinema Award:
Away We Go
I loved this movie. I wasn't sure that about the John Krasinski/Maya Rudolph pairing, but they had a believable, slightly awkward chemistry that really worked. The movie was simultaneously funny and touching, and never bordered on the sappy. I want to see it again. Several times.
Most-Eagerly Anticipated and Not at all Disappointing Award:
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Nary a glimpse of Voldemort (besides flashbacks) in this movie, but the ominous tone and darker days were palpable, in spite of delectable little tidbits like Fred and George Weasley's shop and Harry's burgeoning romance with Ginny. Faithful viewers (and readers) had to anticipate Dumbledore's death, which was certainly a terrible thing to see, but the smaller moments, like the vision of a levitating Katie Bell, were especially powerful. I was particularly impressed by the performances of Snape and Draco Malfoy.
I Laughed So Hard I Thought I Might Die Award:
Seriously. I was literally quaking with laughter for the entire duration of the movie. It's a must-have. A must-own. Bonus points to the director/producers for assembling a lesser-known group of actors and mining comedic gold.
I Heart You, Zooey Deschanel Award:
500 Days of Summer
When I left the theatre, I wasn't totally overwhelmed with love for this movie. I thought it was cute and quirky, but not the best thing I'd ever seen. But then I found myself thinking about it into the night, and I realized that its unconventional, yet somehow utterly realistic love story was actually QUITE compelling. Plus, Zooey Deschanel is winning, an adorable, lovable blend of dry wit and charm clothed in an array of blue attire, the bewitching object of an equally-appealing Joseph Gordon-Levitt's affection. Bonus: the soundtrack is fabulous.
I can't wait for the fall movie season-there are EVER so many up and coming movies that I am desperately anticipating. November 20, in particular, is firmly stamped in my mind.
Did I miss anything spectacular over the summer?
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Considering that I've spent the past week and a half enmeshed, embroiled, and overwhelmed by all things educational, I thought a decent literary list was called for. You might've thought I would have wanted to stay away from anything reminiscent of school, but the fact is, I'm so immersed in it all that I've even been plagued by dreams of parent meetings and changing curriculums!
I once wrote about the books I cherished as a child,but I would now like to touch up on the ones that were so important to me during the later formative years, those tumultuous, angst-y, emotional times that began in...probably the fifth grade (I was always a rather dramatic child). The books on this list are a varied bunch, some slightly more mature but for the most part, all quite traditional and classic. I could read them each now, and I'd probably enjoy them just as much as I did when I was twelve. Of course, I heartily and passionately recommend them, for teaching, general entertainment, inspiration...they're timeless, wonderful, and exquisite in their own ways.
5. Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell. I was quite young when I read this book, but its images have always haunted me. Not necessarily in a bad way, of course. It's certainly a heroic tale, a young girl who fends for her own on a deserted island, fighting hunger, the elements, and loneliness. It's just that after learning the meanings of "Aleut" and "cormorant", and imagining how I might construct a home out of whale bones should I ever find myself on a deserted island, I had to deal with the terribly sad death's of Karana's brother and adopted dog.
4. A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. More than any other book, this particular one instilled a deep appreciation and love for what an author can do. There is a scene towards the end of the book, when poor riches-to-rags Sara Crewe goes to sleep in her bitterly cold, lofty garrett, dreaming wistfully of a hot meal and warm blankets, and awakens to the most marvelous discovery-almost everything she dreamed of has miraculously appeared.
"Do you wonder that she felt sure she had not come back to earth? This is what she saw. In the grate there was a glowing, blazing fire; on the hob was a little brass kettle hissing and boiling; spread upon the floor was a thick, warm crimson rug; before the fire a folding-chair, unfolded, and with cushions on it; by the chair a small folding-table, unfolded, covered with a white cloth, and upon it spread small covered dishes, a cup, a saucer, a tea-pot; on the bed were new warm coverings and a satin-covered down quilt; at the foot a curious wadded silk robe, a pair of quilted slippers, and some books. The room of her dream seemed changed into fairyland-and it was flooded with warm light, for a bright lamp stood on the table covered with a rosy shade."I've never forgotten the way I felt when I read those words, picturing it all in my head with such vivid detail. I always wished that someday I might sit in a room like that, with a roaring fire and quilted satin slippers. Just so wonderful.
3. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. Probably one of the first books "forced" upon me by my mother, it didn't take long before I was utterly engrossed in the story of the March family. It's where I first heard of the Pickwick papers, or the words "don't let the sun go down on your anger." I felt sheepish as Meg dressed in her finest for the parties in town, sad when dear, sweet Beth became ill, and torn about the up and down relationship between Jo and Laurie. The book is simply one of the best.
2. My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George. You might find it a little strange that one of my most beloved and cherished books is about a 12-year old boy who heads to the Catskill Mountains to live on his own in the wild. I can't explain it, but I was utterly captivated by the story, and I have literally read the book HUNDREDS of times. Sam GribIey carved his home out of a hemlock tree, ground acorns into flour to make pancakes, built a fireplace with clay from the stream, trained a falcon...what a life! I wish I had my original copy, because the creases and torn edges truly lend character, but I'll settle for just having at least one in my personal library.
1. Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery. It's not the first time I've written about Anne, nor will it be the last. There is no other literary figure to whom I feel a closer connection, or has proved to be more influential in the development of my own mind and character. She is strong, full of imagination, intelligent, and passionate. I've aspired to be like her, and I can't wait to share all of her books with my own children.
I'm fading fast, and need to head to bed soon, so that I might actually be ready to USE one these books at school tomorrow!
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Yes, it is
Saturday Sunday evening, a full three four days since the premiere of Top Chef: Las Vegas. One might wonder that I can be taken seriously as a faithful writer of recaps. I wasn't especially spectacular with my timing last season, either, but this time around, it's going to be even more challenging, being that I'll have to be up at the crack of dawn the next day for MY JOB, which will no longer be "student." I've just discovered, however, that Top Chef airs on our Bravo HD channel at 6 o'clock, which gives me ample time to watch, maybe even rewind a few scenes, and throw together my thoughts. Perhaps my efforts at finishing a recap on the very eve of the show's airing will be good practice for my everlasting attempts to improve my time management skills.
My other immediate impressions?
Wait-what is that I see? Is there a caberet in the Top Chef kitchen? Oh no, that's only the Stardust Showgirls, welcoming viewers and chefs to Vegas. What else did we expect?
Jen Z. isn't so great with the clams either, and finds herself impeded further when she cuts herself. Lovely, another gushing wound. Just what we all want to see in the kitchen. Mike Isabella is crazy-fast, on the other hand, rapidly going through his clams. Jesse is speedy quick with her prawns, and Mattin, to Jen C.'s chagrin, decimates his lobster, ripping off the heads like they were pencil erasers.
The announcement of the elimination challenge was unsurprising and rather unimaginative: Cook a dish based on one of your own personal vices. Showgirls, chips worth $15,000, and a stereotypical reminder that we're in Sin City-it's beyond irritating. I am cheered, however, as I begin to imagine how Jen C. will be able to craft a dish based on arrogance. This shouldn't be hard for her. The chefs are told they will be preparing their food at Cut, Wolfgang Puck's steak restaurant (Interesting side note: Tom and Katie Cruise are photographed at the Beverly Hills location on a regular basis-it's their fave).
Back in the kitchen, Kevin begins to prepare his arctic char, based on his vice of procrastination. At least he understands the task. Jen who I hate makes a drunken lobster stock, because she mistakenly believes her vice has something to do with drinking various forms of alcohol every night followed by poor decision-making. Jesse is adorably ruddy-faced when cooking, and I worry as she worries about making dry chicken. Please don't make dry chicken, Jesse! It's the kiss of death at judge's table! Mike Voltaggio has apparently confused Vegas with L.A. as he references plastic surgery and speaks suggestively about his rack of lamb.
The parade of dishes is almost exclusively inspired by the vices of alcohol and general excess. Yet another characteristic to add to the list of chef stereotypes: tattoos, a tendency to curse like a sailor, and drunkenness. Wolfgang and crew hate Hector's deep-fried steak, but they admire the Haitian's jerk bass with collard greens. Jesse DID overcook her chicken breast, unfortunately, but Mike V's rack of lamb was a winner-Wolfgang said that he'd have to be a professional in order to put a plate like that together. I'm liking him more and more. I can barely understand Mattin as he explains his dish-did he say biffalo?
Jennifer's chile rellenos made with seitan are a colossal failure, and Laurine's bacon doughnuts were compared to golf balls. Ash's parsley coulis was a lovely shade of green, and much to my tremendous disappointment, Jen C.'s poached halibut was a big favorite. In the end, Ron (the Haitian), Mike V., Kevin, and Jen C. were victorious, though I rolled my eyes when they dubiously left the stew room. Don't they know the winners are always called back to judge's table first?
Kevin is this season's Humble Hosea-he was extremely appealing as he talked about his dish-and he was declared the winner! Gosh, I sure know how to pick 'em. Jesse, Hector, Jen Z., and Eve were the first losers of the season, and even though I had hoped to discover how Italian and Mexican heritages might mix, I was glad to see Jen go. She deserved it, after all. Who uses seitan when they don't have to?
Thursday, August 20, 2009
That's what I was today, as I officially re-entered the workforce and returned to an elementary school classroom. Which is, of course, the excuse I'm giving for my lack of blogging over the past few days. Lest you think my casual blog title implies that I was not completely familiar with the incoming students, parents, and staff, I must share that my official position is not as a classroom teacher, though I certainly have my own fair share of responsibilities! My youthful appearance obviously contributed to the epithet I heard in reference to me throughout the day. Some day, I'll be glad that I look barely a day over 20, but that day has not come!
In spite of the fact that I'm quite sure I'll sorely miss having the time to sit with a hot cup of coffee, luxuriously completing my reading for class, or being able to hang my clothes on the line to dry in the afternoon sun, or casually perusing the aisles of the grocery store in the quiet morning hours, I know that being home alone wasn't for me. As I've said over and over to all my nearest and dearest during the past year, I've discovered that it's not great for me to be "too much in my own mind." I thrive being around other people, with stimulating tasks and daily objectives at hand. It's going to be hard not having a lot of spare time, but I'll have to learn to manage! It's just like riding a bike, right?
When I wasn't attempting to organize my classroom (I'm not a cutesy person, which makes the decoration and organization of an elementary classroom QUITE challenging), I dove into a riveting book,
inwardly lamented about Hubert Keller's defeat, despite the lovely attitude of Rick Bayless,
I'm on my way to a "new normal." Which is a good thing.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Let's start this out with a confession: I'm kind of obsessed with kebabs, even though we have something of a love-hate relationship. There is something utterly satisfying about bite-size steak, chicken, and/or fish, married perfectly with accompanying charred vegetables, all doused with some sort of delicious marinade or sauce, sliding gracefully from a well-used metal skewer or slightly singed bamboo stick onto a welcoming plate. The possibilities are endless: shrimp and pineapple alternated with chunks of red onion and bright green bell peppers, steak and mushrooms meeting juicy scarlet slices of red pepper, chicken lined up with plums and (yet again) red onions...my mind reels with the all the many ideas!
Despite my love for all the grilled goodness, however, I have often found myself frustrated by the time-consuming process of threading my kebabs. It is not a quick process, and in the case of metal skewers, can be painful as well! Every time I take it upon myself to prepare kebabs, I'm blinded by the vision of my finished product, a tasty pile of meat and veggies floating atop some sort of grain, conveniently forgetting all the effort I put into getting the darn things ready for the grill.
Every so often, however, an irresistible kebab/skewer/grilled meat on a stick recipe crosses my path, and I will inevitably be drawn towards it like a moth to a flame. That was the case when my eye observed this recipe in one of my summer issues of Everyday with Rachael Ray. My fish kebab experience had been limited to salmon, and that was my own creation, a haphazard thrust of salmon, onion, and pepper onto a few lonely skewers one hot summer day. Don't get me wrong, they were delicious-salmon is practically impossible to ruin-but I was longing to try something a bit more refined than that. Here was my answer.
I was immediately attracted to the ham and pineapple components, particularly as I imagined the taste the slightly blackened ham would impart to the fish, and the ensuing delight of a bite of grilled pineapple. A ginger-soy glaze only reinforced my notion of the dish as a winner-I rely almost exclusively on a mixture of ginger, garlic and soy for a standard marinade, and I'm always pleased with the results.
What REALLY won me over, I must acknowledge, was the side dish, a simple batch of couscous enhanced by sliced scallions and-BE STILL MY HEART- macadamia nuts! Has one ever truly described macadamia nuts adequately? They are little, cream-colored bits of heaven. Surely some sort of divine delicacy mistakenly sent to earth to be consumed by mere mortals. I am fully aware that one nut has a decidedly ungodly amount of fat (see? not meant for us!) but I DO NOT CARE. I could eat nothing but macadamia nuts until the day I die and I'm pretty sure I would pass on feeling I had the most wonderful life!
Needless to say, these skewers were an absolute success. The fish took on a bit of the smoky ham flavor, and eagerly soaked up the soy glaze, which drizzled in a most tempting fashion over the couscous. As I took a bite (making sure to get at least a few macadamia crumbles in my couscous), I sighed with happiness, thinking that all that preparation is ALWAYS worth it, and already envisioning the next time I'd make kebabs.
1 1/2 pounds 3/4 to 1-inch thick mahi mahi fillet, cut into 20 cubes (I used tilapia, and don't regret the substitution at all-it's a cheap, sturdy white fish)
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
4 thin slices (about 6 ounces) black forest ham, cut into strips as wide as the fish cubes
1/2 fresh pineapple-peeled, quartered lengthwise and cut into 16 chunks (I cheated and purchased the pre-cut pineapple, which is RIDICULOUSLY expensive. Won't be doing that again!)
1 small red onion, cut into bite-size pieces
Vegetable oil, for brushing
1/4 cup tamari sauce (low-sodium, aged soy sauce, and definitely my preference)
1/4 cup honey
Grated peel of 1 lime and juice of 2 limes
One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil (A good investment if you have any sort of penchant for Asian flavors, as I do! It's not too expensive now, actually, and I think even Whole Foods carries their own brand)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups couscous
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
2 scallions, sliced on an angle
1. Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium. Season the fish cubes with the Old Bay seasoning and five-spice powder. Wrap the ham strips around the fish. Thread the fish alternately with the pineapple and onion onto metal skewers. Brush the skewers with oil, place on the grill, cover and cook, turning occasionally, until the fish is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
2. In a small saucepan, bring the tamari sauce, honey, lime peel, lime juice, ginger and sesame oil to a boil. Cook until thickened, about 5 minutes.
3. In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken broth and butter to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover, remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and stir in the nuts and scallions.
4. Serve the skewers on the couscous and drizzle with the ginger-soy glaze.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
In the midst of all my summer travels, I realized that my attached-at-the-hip-Ipod tended to return to a certain group of songs. Even if I employed the shuffle function in an effort to enjoy my fairly substantial library or had an inevitable need for a Coldplay fix, I always found my thumb quickly scrolling for Kings of Leon or one of the many delicious Pretty Cheap Dress playlists, mashing down on one of the songs that I could not stop playing. Whether I was on a wonderful European train, dunking hunks of nutty German bread into Nutella or winding down the twisting road towards Carmel, these songs would cheerfully (or in some cases, mournfully) blare from my headphones and speakers. They provided my summer soundtrack, and even now, with autumn steadily approaching, I'm still listening.
taper jean girl-kings of leon
You'll notice my list is VERY KOL-heavy. This particular song is my favorite, from their second album, "Aha Shake Heartbreak." Even though I love their most current album, the one that finally garnered American recognition and made the band a bit more mainstream, I think their earlier stuff is the best.
death-the white lies
Cannot stop playing this song. One can imagine my heartbreak upon discovering they're touring with both Coldplay (in Europe) AND the Kings, but on the opposite coast.
One of the many songs from Pretty Cheap Dress's South by Southwest playlist.
all my days-alexi murdoch
Alexi Murdoch provided virtually the whole soundtrack for Away We Go, one of the best movies I saw this summer. Very mellow and soothing.
skinny love-bon iver
When Pretty Cheap Dress texted me from Bonnaroo, proclaiming the wonder that is Bon Iver, I thought she'd spelled something wrong. Surely she mean to type "Bonnaroo", I thought. Of course, I was the one mistaken. As usual. Now, there are rumors that Bon Iver will be included on the New Moon soundtrack. I can't wait to see what song is chosen!
wake up-arcade fire
I confess that I became enraptured with this song after watching the preview to Where the Wild Things Are. I have a weakness for music in trailers.
on call-kings of leon
An offering from the third Kings album.
Another confession, which you probably won't find at all surprising. I frequently check Stephenie Meyer's website, and this tune comes straight from one of her playlists.
new day-tamar kaprelian
LAST CONFESSION! I heard this on The Hills. It gets worse-it was playing when Lauren left Heidi's wedding alone. Yes, I did watch that episode. Feel free to judge.
the hardest part-coldplay, left right left right (live album)
I never paid too much attention to the original version of this song, but the first time I heard the slow, piano version, I almost cried. Sometimes, Coldplay brings on an inexplicable burst of emotion.
california waiting-kings of leon
From the very first KOL studio album. A perfect song for driving with the windows rolled down.
Yet another delight from the SXSW playlist. I have a few Gomez songs sprinkled through my library, but I think this one is my favorite. Also great for road trips.
cable tv-fol chen
Courtesy of Pretty Cheap Dress, perfect for summer. Like a spoonful of ice cream.
turn to stone-ingrid michaelson
I am no Katherine Heigl fan, but I easily overcame my aversion for a few brief moments when this song provided a devastating, heartwrenching background for Izzie's ill-fated wedding to Alex.
soft shock-yeah yeah yeahs
Pretty Cheap Dress brought this album on her last visit, providing my first real introduction to Karen O, a VERY popular rocker chick. Of course, I didn't know much about her at all, which is usually how it goes.
ali in the jungle-the hours
LOVE this song. It's a good one for right before a stressful time, or for running. Which I never do.
angel from montgomery-bonnie raitt and john prine
My dad loves John Prine, and of course knew right away that he'd written "Angel from Montgomery", before I even finished telling him about it. John Prine can be quirky, but this song is divine.
orange sky-alexi murdoch
I could listen to that line "My salvation lies in your love" over and over. Conveniently, Alexi Murdoch repeats it frequently throughout the song.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
BREAKING NEWS!! I'm actually composing this top 5 list ON Tuesday! It's a Top 5 Miracle! I've been dwelling on this topic for quite some time, and find it particularly relevant now, as we all attempt to save every spare penny and adjust our budgets accordingly. You may find this last comment ironic when you discover that I'm about to list the top 5 items that I feel aren't worth the savings when faced with generic, store brand products versus name brand products. Ultimately, though, I am being frugal. When it comes right down to it, after really analyzing the numbers, you might discover that your efforts to save have been in vain, due to the poor quality of the cheaper product.
Before you judge, you should know that I've just come off a rather large victory at a bridal luncheon game, when I correctly guessed (to the very last cent, in three cases!) the amounts of six grocery items. Clearly a reflection of the amount of time I spend scrutinizing prices whilst grocery shopping! I try my very best to be conscientious, without being too miserly. I'd love to hear what you think, by the way. I may have forgotten something crucial!
5. Moisturizer. Every girl, at some point, needs a decent light and oil-free moisturizer that boasts SPF protection. It's for this very reason that I fear buying a cheaper product is a bad idea. There is probably no need to splurge on fancy department store brands, although they'll undoubtedly feel nicer. I've been pleased with both Neutrogena and Aveeno.
4. Wheat Thins, or really any sort of cracker. I love, love, LOVE a good Wheat Thin or Triscuit, preferably dipped into some sort of hummus or topped with a hearty chunk of sharp cheddar. Unfortunately, the store brand versions are almost exclusively dry and tasteless. Cardboard is conjured in the mind almost immediately after struggling to swallow a single parched bite. The rule applies to graham crackers as well.
3. Grape Nuts. Most store brand cereals are wretched, but the worst experience I ever had was with a bowl of Safeway brand Grape Nuts. I usually love the deliciously crunchy, brimming over with health and goodness cereal, but I could barely handle a spoonful of the the cheap junk. Imagine cardboard shredded into tiny pieces! I will tell you that HEB, my beloved Texas grocery, is the exception to the rule. My SH and I loved their version of Honey Bunches of Oats!
2. Dress shirts/blouses. As much as I would like to say that buying blouses or shirts at various inexpensive stores is a great idea, I have to caution anyone who relies upon them for professional garb. You'll almost always be better off buying the shirts you'll wear over and over from a middle-range store, such as Gap or Banana Republic. Use those stores for basic items, and purchase the more unique, fun stuff at places like H & M or Forever 21.
1. Paper products. There's simply no getting around this one-name brands are best! Every time I try the bargain route, I find that I have to use at least twice as much to get the job done. I've tested various name brands versus a heap of store brands (Target, Safeway, etc.) and my results are always the same.
Perhaps next week I should compose a list of the best generic products, IMHO. What do you think?
Monday, August 10, 2009
I have opted not to carefully analyze the bios of the chefs competing for the next Top Chef title. Instead, I will eagerly await my beloved show's premiere, on August 19, which is much sooner than I had anticipated.
WHO AM I KIDDING?
Of COURSE I've already scoured those bios. Here are a few brief comments, in bullet-point format:
-I already love Kevin Gillespie. He's a red-haired, bearded chap from Atlanta, his favorite junk food is hot wings, and he included lard on the list of ingredients he always keeps on hand. Clearly, he's a gem.
-I findJennifer Zavala intriguing. Born into a Mexican and Italian background? Does her talent extend to both of those esteemed, heavenly cuisines? It would appear that she focuses on the Mexican side, working at El Camino Real in Philly, and concentrating on Tejas and Nortena flavors. She's my kind of girl.
-BROTHERS Michael and Bryan Voltaggio! A first for Top Chef! Genuine sibling rivalry! I'm a little dubious about them, considering they're both acting typically arrogant in the latest promos. I've decided to throw my support to Bryan, because his favorite simple summer recipe is comprised of hangar steak, sweet corn, and arugula. Plus, he looks less a thug in his bio picture on the website.
-I think Jesse Sandlin is cute as a button. VERY tattooed. Is she our next Jamie? I don't know that Jamie would ever wear a flower in her hair.
Who knows what the rest of bunch has to offer? I literally cannot wait to see! I'm hoping that they'll provide me loads of material for a decent recap each week. Going back into the work force will likely prevent the luxury of multiple viewings per episode, but I'm really going to try to be on top of things!
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
There are a million blog posts that I heartily wish I had completed before I jetted off once to the wilds of my home, West Texas, for the most blissful, wonderful week of the year. It's a family reunion of sorts that I PROMISE I will expound upon later, but for now, all I have is a few minutes to throw together a collection of pictures hinting at my week away from San Jose.
The tastiest Mexican food in the charming city of Alpine, and our annual dinner spot every year.
While I look forward to returning to my "normally scheduled programming", this week is eagerly anticipated every year, and I'm very happy to be home.