Weekly digest (8/12/11)

Ooof, it feels both longer than two weeks and that time has just sped past.

  • Read it. I picked up The Bone People by Keri Hulme at Powells in Portland and was drawn in by the beauty of the New Zealand landscape and the isolation of the damaged characters. Far more uplifting than most books about abuse are.
  • Saw it. Despite a slightly irrational dislike of stand-up comedy, I have started watching Louie and am really impressed. I even bought tickets to see him live next week at the Punchline!
  • Heard it.Well, it’s gotta be the bands at Pickathon last week! I loved the folky spirit of the Fruit Bats and the Zydeco stylings of the Pine Leaf Boys playing in the middle of the woods.

Blood, Bones & Butter

Blood Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, courtesy Goodreads.com

Hype is huge in the food world. New restaurants will float or flounder based on diners’ need to try the Next Big Thing. What’s new and in is not always what is good (think of how much upscale comfort food you’ve eaten in the last few months) but somehow impossible to avoid.

So trying to get away from the hype – that’s my excuse for not reading Gabrielle Hamilton’s much-lauded, delicious, solidly satisfying book Blood, Bones & Butter (“Magnificent. Simply the best book by a chef ever. Ever.” – Anthony Bourdain).

But this book! I simply adored it. I ravished it. I consumed it. It will make you hungry for food and more good writing.

Hamilton begins her book with a description of a family dinner party. It’s the 1970s in rural Pennsylvania, and her set designer father and glamorous French mother host a lamb roast outside for dozens of friends. The descriptions – dinner slowly cooking outside, candles and a fire pit illuminating the darkness, the bohemian sensibility – are evocative reminders of how food works with memory to create something more far more rich and complicated than just what we consume to survive.

Shortly after the magic of the barbeques, Hamilton’s parents split up. Her brothers and sisters, all older, scatter. She writes about the period, later, reflecting with her sister:

We have had long incredulous conversations with each other about our often starkly different experiences of the very same family. … There are only five years between us, but five years is enough time for the geography and topography of a family to change dramatically, for ravines to form, trees to upend, streams to run dry (156).

She ended up working prep in a kitchen, then as a waitress and for a catering company. It’s through a combination of hard work and some luck that she ends up chef and owner of Prune in New York.

Hamilton’s work with food and appreciation of good, simple ingredients is evident, but we’re able to almost taste everything with her because she is such a strong writer. Take this description of visiting her husband’s family estate in Italy, where his mother cooks every meal:

Pine nuts in the shell that fall out of the tree in the courtyard of her youngest sons’s summer house–so piney they taste almost metholated; her own orages, their juice squeezed over ice crushed in a dish towel with a mallet for a midday snack fo the kids; figs that are juicy and cool when picked at ten a.m., warm and jammy at four p.m. Burratta and buffalo mozzarella and giuncata- the fresh cow’s milk cheese that sits in giuncata (rush) baskets that impart its flavor and its name-were brought to the hourse by the local man who makes them–still warm!–the first time I tried them (172).

Blood, Bones & Butter is nothing but satisfying, and inspires me not only to get in the kitchen, but to write as well. I’d say one of the best books I’ve read about food, and definitely one of the finest books of 2011.

Want more?

She has written a recipe series on the NYT, including day-old roast chicken and butter cake!

She cooks with Mark Bittman!

She gives her favorite places to eat in New York!

She’s interviewed at Epicurious!


Weekly digest (7/29/11)

Man, this has been a GOOD week for starting books. They just keep coming in from the library, and I get just get distracted and open up a new one.

Cultural itinerary: road trip

Mad and KO and I are getting ready to road-trip up to Happy Valley, Oregon to camp and enjoy music at Pickathon! I thought it may be a good time to recommend cultural essentials for a road tripping.

Read it. 

  1. Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. Because however you’re travelling is guaranteed not to be as weird as Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters’ trip.
  2. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. Ditto to #1. Your ride is hopefully not as crazy as Hunter S. Thompson’s fictional alter-ego Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo, but there’s some great writing and fantastic flights of fancy on a drug-fueled trip to Vegas.
  3. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Remember: the figure of Lolita is actually a stand-in for America. Also, the second half of the novel is all road-trip.

See it. 

  1. Motorcycle Diaries. Take a trip on motorcycles with young Che Guevera through South America. Beautifully shot.
  2. Paper Moon. This 1973 movie won Tatum O’Neal an Oscar at age 10 for playing a kid attached to a drifter travelling through Prohibition-era America.
  3. Crossroads. Just trust me, okay?

Hear it. 

  1. Big Lebowski soundtrack. You’re going to be in the car. Probably with other people. This soundtrack has something for everyone.
  2. Girl Talk, All Day. Samples of every pop and hip-hop song from the last 10 years, and then some. Impossible to listen to without getting excited (or stepping on the gas). Perfect when accompanied by some gas station goodies.
  3. Podcasts. Try This American Life or Radiolab. Upload as many as you can before you go. As everyone stops being excited and starts being tired, these will keep both drivers and passenger engaged.

Weekly digest (7/22/11)

Oh yes, dear weekend, so happy to see you. I missed you.

  • Read it. Anya’s Ghost, by Vera Brosgol, is a warm, cute YA comic. I very much enjoyed it.
  • Saw it. I missed it the first time around, but I’m watching My So-Called Life for the first time and I LOVE IT SO MUCH. “I like the way he leans”?  Classic.
  • Heard it. There’s a new Pickathon mix, and I’m so digging it and getting excited for road trips and camping and music festivals! Sunday Valley especially sounds good…

I’m Not There

I'm Not There (via revoballad.blogspot.com)

Why make a movie about Bob Dylan, let alone six Bob Dylans? He’s a living legend who has shaken off every label that the public and his fans have put on him: voice of a generation, prophet, rock star, elder music statesman.

Perhaps Todd Haynes’ 2007 film, I’m Not There, is the only way to reconcile all the Dylans. Six actors portray the musician: Christian Bale as the folksy protest singer; Ben Winshaw as the tortured poet; Heath Ledger as the high flying rock star; Richard Gere as a hero of mythic, rootsy Americana; Marcus Carl Franklin as the itinerant singer-songwriter; and Cate Blanchett as the angry, gifted songwriter dealing with fame.

The whole film is a dreamy, music-soaked affair, drawn together by Dylan’s songs. Each story has a different arc that illuminates a facet of Dylan’s life or his myth. Some stories fall flatter than others – I could never completely tell what Richard Gere’s character was doing.

But some Dylan doppelgängers work beautifully. Cate Blanchett plays one of the most interesting characters of her whole career, as the twitchy and uncomfortable Dylan. She channels some of the scenes from Pennebaker’s 1967 Don’t Look Back. I’m not quite certain that Haynes meant to highlight any sort of femininity on the part of the character, but rather show how he felt like someone else acting in his own body.

Heath Ledger also shines as the debauched 1970s version. He and his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are in the middle of getting a divorce, because he’s angry and detached from his family. It’s the story of the perils of fame against self and family, and the fact it’s played by Ledger gives the whole affair an even more tragic lens.

I would only recommend the film to Dylan fans, as it’s more fun to recognize the allusions. Perhaps film buff would enjoy it too, as it stands alone as a quirky and innovative film telling of the many lives of a man who refused to be there.

Want more?

Cate Blanchett talking about her role:

Weekly digest (7/15/11)

Whoah, middle of July already? Seems like even when you don’t have three months off, summer seems to fly by.

  • Read it. Think I found this via a “Best books for summer” list, but Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods is both lovely and post-apocalyptic. It reminded me of the stellar Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell (which if you haven’t read…. !).
  •  Saw it. More to say later, but I’m Not There is really, really good. I don’t think a better movie about Bob Dylan could have been made.
  • Heard it. Tom Waits bootleg from the late 1970s (via Aquarium Drunkard).


Sherlock (via kmc-movingrightalong.blogspot.com)

Two questions may occur to you while surveying the new BBC production of Sherlock:

1. Did we really need another Sir A. C. Doyle supersleuth adaptation?

2. How does every BBC miniseries I see manage to be so bloody good?

The answer to #1  is quite dependent on #2. Because the 2010 series does manage to breathe fresh air into the cliche of the know-it-all-detective. First off, he is played by the divinely named Benedict Cumberbatch, who has the intense eyes and stare of a more twitchy Cillian Murphy.

Watson, as any purveyor of pop culture knows, has his bowler hat filled by Martin Freeman, the UK’s Office‘s Jim, only he was called Tim. Instead of smirking his way through scenes, Watson is introduced with a scowl and a limp, fresh of a tour in the Middle East as an army doctor. He meets Holmes through a mutual police friend, they become unlikely roommates at 221B Baker Street, and zaniness ensues (of a sort)!

There are only three episodes in the first season, so each are about movie-length. The thing about having a single mystery per episode is, as with Scooby-Doo, you know that the villain will be introduced at some point in the storyline. So some of the plot leaps get quite convoluted indeed.

But there’s so much to make up for it. Holmes and Watson have great chemistry, especially for, as far as I can tell, the producers are keeping us guessing as to Holmes’ sexuality. There’s none of the Tarantino-esque bromance found in the Robert Downey Jr.-Jude Law variety. This is a slick, modern incarnation, with sinister text messages and designer sneakers.  I’d say he makes a far better Holmes than Hugh Laurie as House (what, you didn’t realize that was a Holmes, too?) – we Americans give Laurie an award every year because we are so surprised he’s actually British. Sherlock is a bit more fun, too, with Cumberbatch is as slippery as an eel as he whips around London in his topcoat, with Freeman trailing behind. The second season is filming now, and should be available in Britain by the end of 2011.

Want more? 

The first season is on Watch Instantly over on Netflix.

Also, both actors will be featured in the Hobbit!



Weekly digest (7/8/11)

Q: When does a four-day-week not feel like a four-day-week?
A: I DON’T KNOW. But it always does, doesn’t it?

  • Read it. I’ve always enjoyed Simon Rich’s funny bits in the New Yorker, and his new novel Elliot Allagash is a pretty funny, if quick, prep-school read.
  • Saw it. Muriel’s Wedding (1994, with Toni Collette), is either a very mild black comedy or an extremely offbeat normal comedy. I’m not an Australian in the mid-90s so it’s hard to say. But what great fashion!!
  • Heard it. I am in a music SLUMP. How does that happen? I just bought the best of Otis Redding on vinyl though (because I am obnoxious and now own a record player!).

History of the English language (in 10 minutes!)

Another 10 minute delight – Open University has 10 videos, each about 1 minute, that are clever takes on the evolution of the English language. From the description:

Where did the phrase ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ come from? And when did scientists finally get round to naming sexual body parts? Voiced by Clive Anderson, this entertaining romp through ‘The History of English’ squeezes 1600 years of history into 10 one-minute bites, uncovering the sources of English words and phrases from Shakespeare and the King James Bible to America and the Internet. Bursting with fascinating facts, the series looks at how English grew from a small tongue into a major global language before reflecting on the future of English in the 21st century.

(If this is your thing, I totally recommend Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue, which has afforded me many useful facts about the grand English language, some of which I actually remember).

Check it out: