June 2008


I enjoyed writing my first television review a few weeks back so much that I have decided to do it again, this time with a show I like. My Boys is a summer show on TBS that centers around P.J. (Jordana Spiro), a fun, funny and attractive 30ish girl-next-door/tomboy who works as a sports journalist in Chicago. P.J. has one ‘girly’ friend, Steph (Kellee Stewart) who is into fashion and make up and men and is essentially a satiric, yet loving send up to the Sex and the City gals (last season My Boys had an episode that lampooned the whole Sex and the City gang, and it was quite funny regardless of your feelings about Sex and the City). The rest of P.J. friends are guys (Kyle Howard, Reid Scott, Michael Bunin, Jamie Kaler, and Jim Gaffigan). Guys’ guys. Well, kind of. As a guy who likes sports and beer and poker (these are the basic events–yes ‘beer’ is an event–that most My Boys episodes are centered around), but is also into a few other things, I am self-aware enough to know how nerdy, silly and fun it is to spend so much time on these pastimes. My Boys is clever enough to understand this and its male characters are all alternately nerdy, silly and fun, while pretending and failing to be macho. These types of characters on other sitcoms have only one trait: that they are insanely stupid (and not in the smart, Homer Simpson way). These idiots all have gorgeous wives who are way too good for them, but love them anyway. I hate this. Moving on.

Nothing big happens on My Boys. In fact, it is a pretty classic sitcom, in that it is a bunch of friends who have jobs, but don’t work much during the show, hang out a lot at a central location (on My Boys it is either the local bar or around the poker table at P.J.’s house), deal with love/relationship issues and have those mini, semi-mundane daily adventures that we all have. Obviously, these very same ideas have been dealt with countless times with great success (my generation always looks to Friends and Seinfeld for sitcom comparisons and these comparisons are certainly apt with My Boys), but it is a testament to the writing of Betsy Thomas and to the comedic/improvisational talents of the actors (there a few stand up comics in the cast, most notably Jim Gaffigan) that make My Boys seem somehow fresh and likable. I promise you will actually find that you care what happens to these fictional characters, and that is a pretty rare find in sitcoms these days.

my score…75

 

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My apologies for not writing in a while. I have missed writing, but it is the thing that had to fall by the wayside as life got busy. So where have I been?

Well, there was a wedding back in Delaware (Delawho? Delawhat?). One of the boys who goes back to elementary school. We got the band back together and had a grand time. At the same time, it was finals week (we are on quarters here, which is why we are done so late.), so I have been grading papers like crazy, while…preparing to teach high schoolers for the first time–starting this afternoon. I will be teaching this group of twenty-four, hopefully future first-generation college students how to write a proper collegiate research paper. And I handed in my dissertation proposal to my advisor (a brisk 98 pages-without references or appendices). Oh, and my wife has got strep (antibiotics in full effect), the house was experiencing plumbing issues (resolved for $$), and two of our computers have gone on the fritz (not yet resolved for $$).

It should be stated that while I would prefer that my wife not have strep (I am sure she feels the same way), this is a good kind of life. I am pretty lucky. I am afforded a great deal of time to let my mind wander, and I try to let it wander in positive directions. But, occasionally, it just gets too busy for me to write.

Before getting back to grading, I should review some things, since that is what I normally do here. How about the cuisine of Newark, Delaware?  Don’t go to Newark for fine dining (check Wilmington), but check out the many great takeout options. For the best subs check Capriati’s and Cleveland Avenue Sub Shop (Cleveland Ave is the more traditional philly style sub place–and gigantic–a large is about thirteen feet and they have a jumbo size), Wings to Go and C.R. Wings are the places to go for wings (many wonderful sauces), I hear Cluck-U is good for chicken, though I have not had it myself, and for the best burgers and shakes (the fries are only ok), perhaps in the world, but definitely in all of Delaware, Jake’s Hamburgers. Jake’s looks like a cheap, little dive and it is; a cheap, little dive with fantastic burgers and brilliant milkshakes.

Also, I kind of liked that Polanski documentary on HBO, Polanski: Wanted and Desired. I liked it mostly for the fascinating story, which I had only a cursory knowledge of before. It was a bit of an odd feeling having some sympathy for a person seemingly guilty of statutory rape, but I ended up feeling this way. The film ends up being a pretty interesting examination of Hollywood, complete with the interweaving relationships between the judicial system, big business, and media, and how the person who should be the focus–the young girl-who has the most important needs to be met, got abandoned and lost in the spectacle (luckily, she seems to have turned out fine, though it is unfortunate that her life is defined by this event). I’ll give it a 71.

Back to grading.

We pretend we are getting old,

That we are slowing

And that there are wisps of gray on the edges of everything

But we are the age that someday we will wish we were.

And still,

I look forward to those far away days

Despite my panicky fear of the impending unknown

And the knowledge that my senses will dim,

Continue to dim—

I am sorry for how loud you will have to speak (YELL!) to me someday—

Because I know,

I know I will be filled with countless moments with you,

Memories of you…and me

Caught up in the simple, brilliant acts of life

Cuddling in on the couch under a cotton fleece blanket

On a night when we just don’t want to see the world

Or a rousing ‘game’ of Rock-Papers-Scissors

Over picking up future dog’s crap in the yard

(I am aware that regardless of the outcome of this mental battle, I will be picking up the crap.)

And those life altering moments

As I stand beside you

When you achieve your inevitable great success, which

You will wear beautifully…after a bit of emotional tumult

And you beside me

Picking up the pieces,

Putting me back together better than I ever was before

As I finally finish that novel …

That never does get sold.

 

And on it will go.

Moments and memories I cannot fathom

Will fill my stuttering heart and my obnoxious head

And calm them.

I will look around us—

I like to think we will be on a front porch swing—

At whomever and whatever surrounds our life, smile

And disappear off into the cobwebs

Remembering the elements of this day,

This wonderful day,

That we took just for us:

 

There was one of four restaurants;

There were small, but sweet gifts;

There was a haircut in our uneven TV room; and

It ended as beautifully as the next one began,

With you holding me tight and me kissing your soft, brown hair

 

 

I have never written about a tv show before, but last night changed all of that with the premiere of the new CBS show, Swingtown.

There is a lot of crap on television. The networks have very little to offer (Lost and 30 Rock are two notable exceptions–and ok. I admit it. I love CSI. I know, I know. I can’t help it. But only the original. That Miami one is laughably bad and I have never stayed awake past the opening credits for the NY one.). Cable actually has some decent shows (The Closer, Madmen, Monk, Psych, Top Chef, Weeds, My Boys (new season starts June 12!)), but the seasons are short and sporadic. Given the slim pickings, and my love of lazing about on the couch at night, I am always on the lookout for new shows that will allow me to continue to not move. It is for this reason that I gave Swingtown a shot.

Swingtown, perhaps the title tells you this, is about a neighborhood somewhere in 1970’s suburbia filled with swinging couples; that’s right: partner swapping; that’s right: fireworks, blow and a basement orgy room. The show ostensibly follows two couples: one just moves to the neighborhood and has never heard of this crazy swinging (they were high school sweethearts and had kids right away, so they missed the decade of the 60s; oh and they only moved from a few blocks away–where swinging does not exist.), the other is the collective yoda of swinging; plenty of platitudes about how having sex with others has made their marriage stronger. The second couple seduces the first couple and here we go. There are some other elements to this show, involving kids and old friends, but really who cares. What is important is that all interactions in this show, whether involving the kids or adults, is about sex. Oh, and a bunch of camera shots of stereotypical things from the 70s, like $64,000 Pyramid, stupid clothes, and stupid hairstyles. It is very important that the viewer knows it is the 1970s. I am pretty sure that in the next episode an afro and an eight-track player will have an intellectually stimulating conversation about the Watergate scandal…and then have sex.

I don’t know if you have gathered this yet from my review, but I did not like Swingtown. In fact, it is one of the most insanely and inanely stupid things that has ever existed. And it is not because it is about swinging. There can probably be a decent show with swinging at its core (look at Big Love and polygamy), but this is not it. No, it is because the direction is awful and the cinematography is awful and the acting is awful, though it would be hard for the acting to be any good when…they have to spout the most ludicrously abhorrent writing ever put to paper. The wife and I could not watch more than five minutes of Swingtown without cracking up and changing the channel (we had to give ourselves breaks, so we could make it through. Even when something is laughably bad, it is still really irritating to watch.). What more can I say: Awful. I have never applied my movie rating system to tv, but I will give it a shot…

My score…6.*

* The 6 points that get Swingtown above a 0, come from a wonderful scene when a 12 year old girl kicks the everloving shit out of a twelve year old boy because he had told friends that they had almost had…wait for it…sex. And the way this girl gave delivered her vitriolic speech after the ass-whopping was priceless. It was like the best of Training Day, The Sopranos and Fight Club all wrapped up in braces and pigtails.

Here is another one of those year end movies that I just couldn’t pull the trigger on seeing in the theatres. So here is the DVD review:

I am a big fan of Tim Burton and a very big fan of Johnny Depp. Their work together has generally been good, if not the best of their respective careers. I still find their first collaboration, Edward Scissorhands, to be their best, but I have also really enjoyed Ed Wood and Corpse Bride and liked Charlie and Chocolate Factory (I still prefer the original). Sleepy Hollow was a disappointment, though I still liked the look of the film and Depp’s performance. Sweeney Todd, unfortunately, falls toward the bottom of this list, just above Sleepy Hollow.

Oddly, the reason for this has little to do, so far as I can tell, with either Burton or Depp or any of the other actors for that matter. I loved the look of the film and all of the actors (singers) were good to excellent depending upon their singing abilities. Their is a ton of blood–cartoonish blood–in this film, and I thought it was handled appropriately given the fairy talish type of story. The pacing is a little slow, but this does no real damage to the film. No, my real problem with Sweeney Todd; the reason I don’t like it, is the source material. There are, by my tastes, fatal flaws in the story of Sweeney Todd that I could just not look past.

Sweeney Todd is clearly a tragedy, in the Greek sense (filtered through Shakespeare and Jack the Ripper). This is clear from the beginning, and I have no problem with a tragic tale. There is a moral resonance to a tragedy that can be felt across cultures, which is why this brand of story has been around as long as it has had. The problem with Sweeney Todd–For anyone who has not seen the film, I am not going to spoil anything for you, so this will be brief–is that to achieve the arc of a tragedy it sets up too many silly coincidences and absurd (and absurdly obvious) twists that when they go to their inevitable conclusions feel, to me, completely unearned. I know people love Sweeney Todd, particularly as a play and a lot have liked this film, but it simply did not work for me at the story level.

My score…57

OK. The title of this post is a bit bold. There are probably better French Toast recipes out there (there is probably this recipe out there too, but I have not seen it), but this one has to be up there near the top of the heap. Give it a shot and let me know what you think and if there are any ways to improve it. Enjoy!

First, there is only one type of bread that can be used: Challah. Challah is a traditional Jewish bread eaten on the Sabbath, holidays, etc. What makes Challah perfect for french toast is that it is an egg and yeast based bread.  There is a harmony created by the egg in the Challah and the egg mixture that will turn it into french toast (Challah also receives an egg wash before going in the oven, adding a third level of egg to the toast.). The yeast element is important, especially when combined with the proteins in the egg, to create a semi-dense, but sufficiently airy loaf. This will come in handy when…you purchase the challah a good three days before using it for the french toast. All bread used for french toast should be stale because it allows the bread to soak in more of the egg mixture, and this is especially true with Challah. Additionally, you should cut the Challah into slices at least a few hours before using it. The slices should be roughly an inch in thickness (definitely no less) and after cutting off the nubs, you should get eight slices out of your average loaf of Challah. The recipe for the egg mixture will be based on one loaf of Challah. Here it is:

10 large eggs (organic, free-range)

3 Tablespoons of heavy cream

1 Tablespoon of organic sugar

1.5 Tablespoons of maple syrup (I think you should use the real stuff.)

1 teaspoon of sea salt  

1 teaspoon of cinnamon (This is negotiable; you could add more or less depending on your love of cinnamon. Also, you can throw in a pinch of nutmeg if you so desire.)

Mix it all together vigorously.

Take one or two of your Challah slices, put them into your egg mixture, press down and release. The Challah should behave like a sponge. Once it reforms to its original size, flip it over and press down and release again. There should be just about nothing left of your mixture after you go through the whole loaf. Put your pieces on a griddle (I like a griddle for this, but you surely can use a frying pan-you just can’t fit eight pieces.) set to 375. Flip them every two to three minutes and cook to desired doneness. French toast is like steak. Some folks like it cooked through and some like it bloody (runny). Six to fifteen minutes should cover the range; I think eight or nine minutes is about perfect.

As for toppings, that is up to you. Mascarpone and fresh berries adds a nice, little upscale touch, but you can go with nothing, but syrup and be alright.

This is a bit pretentious, but…

Great writing and great cooking carry a distinct bond: Every word in every sentence contributes significantly to the whole work, just as every ingredient contributes significantly to the whole meal. Most writing and most cooking is not great. Words are bandied about, tossed in because they elicit a visceral reaction, but add nothing thematically. Ingredients are thrown into a dish because they may be appealing for their individual flavors or visual flare, but do not work well with the other ingredients. 

An example of this great writing is The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder. An example of this great cooking is Nicola’s. I recommend trying both as quickly as possible (Unfortunately, Nicola’s is not in everyone’s price range, including ours, though it is less expensive than it could be, so this is probably a special occasion restaurant. The Bridge of San Luis Rey can be purchased for $2 at a used book store.).

The wife and I got the Four Course Tasting Menu with wine:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuscan  Fava beans with pecorino fresco, fried croutons, red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil

Sauvignon blanc San Pietro, Alto Adige 2006

Crispy potato Gnocchi with four cheeses fondue and Italian Truffle shavings

Barbera d’Asti Montaribaldi, Piemonte 2005

6 hours braised American Kobe beef short ribs with parsnip puree and spring vegetables

Chianti classico Le Cinciole, Toscana 2004

Dessert

Moscato di Asti La Spinetta 2006

Every course was a beautiful blend of textures and consistencies and flavors. Every ingredient works really well together, and every course was at its best when every ingredient was eaten together. Despite all of this, the food is very simple and unpretentious. If I had to pick out problems, I would say that the short ribs were cooked perfectly, but were underseasoned, and that the creme brulee component of the dessert was not fully congealed. The problems were minor. These elements were merely good as compared to the greatness of everything else. There are no more words that need be said.

My score…91