Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I feel like one of those guest stars on "The Love Boat"

I was asked by fellow blogger Brit Fancy to take a stab at a guest blog post, and I ended up sending her what is now the first in a series of personal stories about the origins of Anglophilia. I would love for anyone reading here to check it out and, if you like what you see there, add her to your reading list. (I have been reading it for a little while now.)

If nothing else, you should head over to Brit Fancy to see her super cool layout! I am filled with website envy. You may have noticed that I have been tinkering with the layout over here (during which I ended up misspelling my blog title temporarily - WHOOPS!); it has got NOTHING on her! V.v. cool.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Finding a Winner

I am not really a picky eater overall, but I seriously dislike tomatoes. Cooked or raw, whole or diced, fresh or sun-dried, I just can't stomach them. I find something off-putting about the taste and the texture. I don't like it when they are in something; I end up picking them out or eating around them. Plus, I don't like the seeds or the juice touching my food. I realize that plenty of people like tomatoes, and I am an anomaly so I try not to get too over the top about it.

(Major pet peeve: when an adult doesn't enjoy eating something and refers to it as "disgusting". Well, it might be to you, but others may enjoy it, so saying it is "disgusting" is rude. If prompted to discuss something you don't like to eat, it is much better to say that you "don't care for it" or you "would prefer not to eat it". Saying something is "disgusting" makes you sound ridiculous, and you can end up insulting someone.)

So, despite this deep rooted preference for no tomatoes in my life, I actually do like both Heinz Ketchup and tomato sauce. I am extremely picky about my tomato sauces, especially on pasta. No hunks, not too garlicky, not too sweet or cheesy. For a long time, I was using Hunt's tomato sauce (just tomatoes completely pureed) and doctoring it up by adding red pepper and Italian spices. But it really wasn't "doing it" for me; the sauce was too bland and on the runny side, which meant I would get it all over me any time I had it for dinner.

However, thanks to a special that Star Market was running (and a recommendation from Sister K), I ended up picking up some Bertolli spaghetti sauce (I already liked their three cheese tortellini and their olive oil), and I *think* that I might have found my ideal sauce. I bought the Bertolli Vineyard Marinara with Burgundy Wine. There are very few chunks, but the sauce isn't runny like Hunt's. The flavor is fresh, but subtle, and the burgundy gives it a little bit of a kick, which I enjoy. (I prefer a savory to a sweet sauce.) It smelled really good when I was warming it up on the stove, and the color looked like fresh tomatoes (a rich red, rather than the orangey brown you can get in some jarred sauce.)

I ended up combining the sauce with some fettuccine (sadly, not homemade) the other night for dinner, adding just some sea salt, black pepper and shaved Wisconsin parmesan on top with a small salad for a delicious and filling meal. It may seem like such a small thing to be excited about, but I have been searching for a spaghetti sauce that meets my taste for years. When you find something you like, it is good to let other people know about it, and this sauce is something I really like.

Monday, January 25, 2010

How DOES she do it?

This past fall, I repainted my guest room (sometimes referred to as "The Detox", but I won't tell you who calls it that.) It is a small room (8'x12' at the most), and I had painted it a very light green when I moved in ten years ago. Very light green can get very dirty and faded even in a room that gets limited use, so I took down all the pictures, moved out the furniture, and gave the room a sprucing up. When I started to rehang the pictures, I thought I would try something different with the big wall.

So yesterday, inspired by Martha Stewart and Sister K, I hung up eight of my photographs in matching frames. What I didn't realize was how difficult it was going to be to get all the photos to line up (both horizontally and vertically) in two rows of four. Even though I had a tape measure and two levels, it took me nearly two hours to get the wall right. (I really don't want to think about the number of small nail holes in the wall that are under these pictures.) But I really do love this final effect. It just wasn't as easy as Martha made it look; but really, when is it EVER as easy as Martha makes it look???

Friday, January 22, 2010

"Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night"

My friend Diana passed along her copy of Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry for me to read. (The title comes from the poem by William Blake referenced in today's title.) I was really excited about this book when I started because the premise is right up my alley: American twins are left a flat in London that overlooks Highgate Cemetery by their mother's twin sister whose ghost is haunting said flat.
Good Things checklist:
  • London - check
  • cemetery - check
  • ghosts - check
  • handsome British neighbor who is doing PhD thesis on Victorian cemeteries and funerary customs (That's my PhD thesis, if I were going to actually write one.) - check

    What's not to love? (Or so I thought.) When I first started reading the book, I DID love it. In fact, I was enjoying it so much that I felt the need to text message status updates to JR (who had already read the book). They are as follows:
    * This book has me longing for London. SIGH
    * I wish someone would leave me a flat in London above a man like "Robert Fanshaw".
    * Exactly halfway. If Robert becomes a prat, don't tell me. I couldn't bear it. He loves Pre-Raphaelites.
    * Page 230, just IDed and translated the subjunctive from the Latin. Haven't had to do that in 15 years. EEK!

    It was getting late when I stopped texting her, but I continued to read until midnight. The following morning I sent her this email:
    * I never want to meet anyone like the people in this book EVER. OMG.
    Don't you just hate it when that happens? Wonderful premise, ideal location, and then main characters that you would like to punch in the nose? In the words of the immortal Kevin Kline, in his Academy-Award winning role in A Fish Called Wanda: DISAPPOINTED!!! (I am sure that other people feel differently about the characters than I do; I would love to hear an explanation of why they shouldn't all be in therapy for life. The characters, not the people who like them, that is.)

    On the upshot, I now know that I definitely want to add Highgate Cemetery to my itinerary for my next trip to London, whenever that might be. Here is a photo of another lovely Victorian garden cemetery: Mount Auburn Cemetery
  • Thursday, January 21, 2010

    It's like a tonic; the kind without the gin

    Yesterday, I was feeling rather disappointed and disheartened by the results of the senate election here in Massachusetts. (In case you haven't picked up on this, I am a true blue Democrat so Scott Brown's victory was a defeat of the worst kind.) Fortunately, JR and I had plans to go see Young Victoria at Kendall Square Cinema. (We were supposed to go another day, but had to reschedule.) It was funny how short a time it took, immersed in the world of 19th century English monarchy, for me to feel infinitely better. The costumes, the sets, the story was so removed from post-election blues 21st century New England winter.

    I liked the film. It is a beautiful period piece. Unlike the film Elizabeth, this film is less about becoming a queen at a young age and more about the courtship between Victoria and Albert. It isn't particularly complicated, and, with a running time of less than two hours, it doesn't really delve too deeply into the politics of the time. Unfortunately, because of that, I think that it doesn't give the most accurate impression of either the people or events that it portrayed. JR and I had a mini history review while we were waiting in line for me to pay for my parking. If you want to watch a more historically accurate film about the young Queen Victoria, I would recommend the mini-series "Victoria and Albert" with Victoria Hamilton and Jonathan Firth in the leads. The historical inaccuracies didn't stop the film from being delightful, especially any time Emily Blunt showed up in a new frock. (Plus, I spied the cameo appearances by Princess Beatrice as one of Queen Victoria's [her real life great, great, great grandmother] ladies.)

    For me, the best part of the film was Rupert Friend as Prince Albert. The more I see of him as an actor, the more I appreciate that there is real substance there, and he has the ability to handle both period and contemporary roles, which isn't easy (I am thinking of you, Winona Ryder.) From the reading I have done, Prince Albert seemed to be a very thoughtful and capable person with a lot of common sense, discipline, and good manners, and Rupert Friend conveyed all of that.

    When I got home, I wanted to stick in that lovely period drama world, but knew that I needed a little bit of a reality dose, so I watched about a half hour of "Lost in Austen" before going to bed where I fell asleep promptly and had no troubling dreams and woke up on time. Clearly, a dose of British costume drama was just what I needed to beat back the wintertime blues.

    Sunday, January 17, 2010

    Golden hour

    I love watching the television and movie awards shows on television, and tonight's Golden Globes ceremony was no exception. It is wonderful to see the ladies in their gorgeous dresses and shoes and gems and the men decked out in their tuxedos. The glamour and appeal of Hollywood is never as evident it is during the awards' show season. It is also exciting to celebrate the wonderful films and television shows, and root for the performances that I enjoyed over the past year.

    I was really excited that both "Glee" and my boy Robert Downey, Jr. took home awards. I was disappointed that Carey Mulligan didn't win for An Education, but I loved her sparkly headband, and Sally Hawkins looked awesome with her short haircut and her mod dress. (Also, boo hoo for "Little Dorrit".) Kate Winslet, who is by far my favorite actress (and has been so since she won my heart in Sense and Sensibility after punching me in the gut in Heavenly Creatures), looked absolutely stunning. I was also pleased that Up won for best animated feature and score (it was such a sweet film), although I really wanted the darker Coraline to take home the prize (and I can't believe that Coraline's score was overlooked - it was awesome!) [I have no opinion about Avatar. I am not interested in seeing it in the theater; maybe I will rent it when it comes out on dvd.]

    However, I found myself growing irritated with the rush to get done that seemed to be coming from the audience, not the producers. (Maybe it was the alcohol.) You could hear this constant din during the presentations and the speeches, even though the presenters most likely had isolation microphones. In retrospect, I think that it is crummy that the celebrity audience at the Golden Globes wanted the show to be over and to get the hell out of there when all they are doing is giving themselves a pat on the back in fabulous clothes and eating and drinking free stuff. I can understand that they are interested in getting to the parties and what not, but as someone who enjoys the escapism of the awards shows, it would be nice if the audience felt like the participants actually "bought in" to being there.

    I have to give props to George Clooney, who is organizing a big telethon for Haiti relief. He should have gotten a standing ovation from the crowd for that. I was pleased that a number of people mentioned the people of Haiti and were supporting the relief effort. (I gave some money to Jesuit Relief in the second collection at Mass today.) As much as I appreciate the escapism of the award shows, I would much rather see these folks throw their star power behind a good cause like the relief work. I hope that the telethon raises a lot of money. I know that many people in America are hurting right now financially, but, if there is one thing that we Americans are really good at, it is pitching in to help the less fortunate.

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    "O Oysters come and walk with us!"

    So one of my goals for the new year (as I don't make "resolutions" per se) is to spend more time with friends. Another goal is to try new things. Last night, I was able to do both when I went out to The Independent in Union Square with PunkRockMom and the Niblet, and we all tried oysters on the half shell.

    Even though I grew up in a family of oyster eaters, I cannot recall previously eating them. So when I saw that they had Connecticut bluepoint oysters as a special on the menu, I boldly ordered up some to try and persuaded PRM and N to join me. Shortly after I placed the order, I had a moment of doubt and considered canceling it.

    When they were served, on ice with cocktail sauce and lemon, I put aside that squeamish feeling as I realized that it was too late to back out on this now. So I sucked up my courage and sucked down those oysters. And they were surprisingly good. They definitely weren't "fishy", which is what I was expecting. My mom says that they taste like the sea; I can see that, even though I added both lemon and cocktail sauce before my tasting. One thing that I didn't care for is the sand. There definitely was some grit in there.

    N took his time before trying his, and I don't think that he will have another oyster anytime soon. I told him that I was impressed because I was having my first oyster at the same time he was and I am 25 years older than he is. He's a brave little trooper, even if he was making faces the whole time. :)

    Clean plates all around!
    CT Bluepoint oysters

    Next up: steamers!

    Friday, January 8, 2010

    "Traveling to new and exotic locations... like Milwaukee"*

    My passport was going to expire in March so, just before Christmas, I had new photos taken and sent off my renewal application to the U.S. State Department. It was kind of hard for me to do because I had to send my current passport off with the application.

    Even though it was gone for a only couple of weeks (despite the holidays - well done, Passport Office!), not having my passport was an uncomfortable experience. It actually made me anxious to give up my passport, even though I knew that I would be getting a new one in its place. What if I wanted to jet off to the Caribbean on a whim? Or the Riviera? Or even just drive up to Montreal for a weekend? I wouldn't be able to! It isn't like I actually do go gallivanting off to another country on a whim, but having one's passport allows for the opportunity of doing so. Freedom to travel is one of those amazing things that you can take for granted until your ability to do so is effected.

    Fortunately, I received my updated passport in the mail last week, and my old passport was returned the following day. That old passport (my first) is something I plan to hold on to; I put it in with the photo albums of the wonderful trips I took using it. And I plan to start filling up the new one with stamps from visits to new places this fall!

    *[Can you name the film from which the quote used as the title of this entry comes? Comments are love.] ETA: Give up? While You Were Sleeping

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010

    Six things that are making me smile

    I haven't done this in a while. These are little things that are making life fun right about now.

  • New little blue iPod nano that I won in a raffle at work. I had been thinking about upgrading to one of the new nanos and couldn't believe my good fortune when I won it!! One of my favorite phrases in the English language is "for free".

  • Cocktails made with St. Germain: "made from the elderflower, picked in the Alps". This stuff is just SO amazingly good; shout out to JR for introducing me.

  • Avocados from Mexico. Don't be fooled by the ones from Chile; they aren't as good as the ones from our North American neighbors to the south. This fact was pointed out to me by MEM, and she is right. Mexico, 1; Chile, 0 in the World Cup of Vegetables.

  • "Arrested Development" reruns on the Independent Film Channel. Yes, I am wicked late to jump on this bandwagon, but this show is seriously hysterical, and better late than never, right? I suppose this means that I need to start watching "30 Rock" now, too?

  • "Today in the Past" podcast with John Hodgman. If you aren't getting this, you should be. It is just a short silly, little thing every day, but it usually prompts a giggle. I love John as the PC in those Mac computer commercials and as the dad in Coraline.

  • The mantle over my fireplace, decorated for the winter. Part of this is that it looks pretty, and part of it is that I spent so little to get it to look like this. Bless after Christmas sales.
  • Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    Happy Twelfth Night

    May you find the baby in your King cake!

    "Health, love and peace be all here in this place
    By your leave we shall sing, concerning our King

    Our King is well dressed in silks of the best
    In ribbons so rare no king can compare

    We have travelled many miles over hedges and stiles
    In search of our King unto you we bring.

    We have powder and shot to conquer the lot
    We have cannon and ball to conquer them all.

    Old Christmas is past, twelve tide is the last
    And we bid you adieu, great joy to the new."

    The King, traditional English song
    Twelfth Night,The King Drinks by David Teniers the Younger

    Monday, January 4, 2010

    Science Fiction, Double Feature

    Here is some major television fandom babbling. You have been warned.

    So this week, two science fiction television shows that I have been watching faithfully finished for me: one because the lead actor has left the show and his part has been recast and the other because the show came to a conclusion. These two shows are "Doctor Who" and "Battlestar Gallactica". It feels funny knowing that I won't have either of these to look forward to any more. (Although that is not completely true with "Doctor Who", the show will continue, just with a new cast and production team.)

    I wasn't initially interested in watching "Doctor Who". Being an Anglophile, I was familiar with the premise of the show, but I never saw it growing up. I had been talking to Henry Jenkins at a work event, and "Doctor Who" came up in the course of conversation. I asked him at that time about the recasting of the Doctor because I was disappointed that Christopher Eccleston wasn't staying on and that actually made me concerned that the show was crap. (The 1st series had just completed in the UK, and HJ had seen it.) He told me the show was really good, but he didn't know much about the new person playing the Doctor. And after I went home, I forgot about it. (I was tired.)

    A year or so later, I was home, killing time waiting to go to an appointment, when I happened to catch a SciFi Channel "Doctor Who" marathon. I turned it on in the middle of "Bad Wolf" and, by the time I had to leave after the start of "School Reunion", I knew that I needed to rent this show from Netflix. (When I got back home it was in time to see the second half of "Doomsday" and, even though I had barely met these characters, I cried.) They had just started to run series 3 on Sci Fi, and I was starting over at the beginning, but I caught up enough in time to be current in time for series 4, which was awesome/heartbreaking/wonderful/frustrating.

    Even though I started watching Doctor Who during the Ninth Doctor's tenure, Ten was the one who really got me hooked. David Tennant's final episode as the Tenth Doctor aired in Britain on Friday and in the US on Saturday. While I will continue to watch the show with the Eleventh and subsequent Doctors, I think that it will be really hard to recapture the same affection that I have for the character as played by David Tennant. (But I am open to trying.)

    It is really because of "Doctor Who" that I started watching "Battlestar Gallactica", which was in a time slot shortly after DW Fridays on SciFi. I had watched the original show as a kid and loved it and was not happy when I heard about the show's reboot. Because of the scheduling, I ended up catching some of the episodes of the final season of the new show and got hooked in two episodes. So, yet again, I filled my Netflix queue with BSG from the beginning and have gone from a naysayer to a huge fan.

    BSG is the show I tell my friends who are not interested in science fiction to watch because it really is about people dealing with a world at war that just so happens to be set in space. (Aliens need not apply.) Ethics, love, religion, and politics are all issues the show touches upon in a thoughtful manner. Plus, it has some really strong women characters, which is a welcome change from the original show. (I love Starbuck; I can't believe I ever was against the character being played by a woman.) On Saturday night, I saw the final episode of the show, "The Plan", which was released first on dvd and is going to air sometime in the near future. A prequel caled "Caprica" is going to air too, but, like with Doctor Who, without the actors and characters that I love, it isn't going to be the same sort of experience.

    In the end, I guess that I am just glad that I found these shows; with so much crap on television, I could have easily overlooked them. It gives me hope that there will continue to be great shows on television, even if you do have to do a little bit of hunting, or have really good luck, to find them.

    Sunday, January 3, 2010

    City scene

    Newbury Street just before 9am on Saturday, January 2, 2010. I was downtown to get my hair cut, and it was so beautiful and quiet that I had to take some pictures. I am glad that I had my little camera in my purse! One of my goals for 2010 (I don't do resolutions) is to take more pictures.

    Newbury Street Newbury Street

    Saturday, January 2, 2010

    Melty goodness?

    First of life's little learning lessons of the year:

    When bringing a Carvel cake to a holiday gathering, it is a good idea to put it in the trunk of the car rather than on the floor in the back seat. Especially when you have the heat on in the car. Whoops!

    Carvel cake

    Fortunately, it was still pretty tasty.


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