Saturday, November 24, 2007

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

Movie: Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
Like/Don't Like: Like

This was sweet. And quirky. And pretty witty for a kiddie movie. And Dustin Hoffman's eyebrows were magnificent. And seeing Natalie Portman's cute short hair made me curse my own hair because I can't pull that off (and believe me, I have tried). And Jason Bateman was in it. I think that Jason Bateman should be in everything. Basically, it was a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jane and the Barque of Frailty

Book: Jane and the Barque of Frailty (9th in the Jane Austen Mystery series)
Author: Stephanie Barron
Like/Don’t Like: Like

It’s a very fine line to walk, loving Jane Austen. You start out loving her books and then suddenly you find yourself in a Jane chat-room and you've given yourself the name darcylover4ever and you’re organizing fancy dress tea parties and there you are at the annual Jane Austen convention discussing the merits of Captain Wentworth and you think to yourself, “Good heavens! What have I become?!"

This is exactly why I avoid all those Jane Austen knock-offs that have flooded the book market. Seriously, there are so many of them that a publishing house could dedicate itself entirely to books depicting exactly what Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy did after their wedding and never go out of business. Unless someone I trust has specifically recommended one to me I stay far, far away. You can never be too careful. If I ever start calling my purse a reticule then you know I have gone too far and need an intervention.

Years ago Cynde gave me the first of this series and it sat on a bookshelf for 2 years, purposely forgotten, because I didn't want to turn into one of Those Girls. But then one day, probably out of desperation for something to read, I picked it up and couldn't put it down (this proves that you should always trust your best friend’s judgment in books). I liked it so much that I actually ventured into the popular fiction section (Fact: I had never been in the popular fiction section before this. All those books - romance, mystery, and sci-fi- fall under the category of Books I Never Read in my Youth So I Don't Actually Remember that They Exist Until Someone Tells Me about Them.) and bought the rest in the series. They are surprisingly well written books.

Jane is the narrator and, like all mystery series detectives, has a keen ability to stumble upon dead bodies. The mysteries are fairly surprising and the pacing is good. And it’s pretty impressive how close the author gets to the tone of a Jane Austen book. She’s always in a different locale so it give some variety to the books but there are a few recurring characters, mostly her family, who keep it familiar. The series has declined a little, especially after one of the main characters dies in a later book, and this last one felt a little forced. But it was still a really fun read. I’m recommending the whole series.

And I’m serious about the intervention.

Note to Laura: Don't bother.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dan in Real Life

Movie: Dan in Real Life
Like/Don't Like: Like

I know what you're saying, "Wait a second. You mean you actually go to the movies too? In a real live movie theater?" Yep. Sometimes I do. The problem though is that my 80 year old tendencies come out so strong at movie theaters that I can actually feel orthopedic shoes forming on my feet. My pet peeves include: people chewing too loudly; cell phones going off and instead of sheepishly silencing it, the person starts talking, usually about how they're in the movies...I'll call you right back...well, I don't know what you did with that pink sweater...did you look in the laundry room...well how am I suppose to know...I'll be back in an hour...well look harder (click)(to husband) Ashley can't find her pink sweater; young whipper-snappers who spend their time giggling and running up and down the stairs, you know, because a movie is a great time to get your cardio in; the Obvious Guy - you all know this guy, the one who sits behind you and states the obvious (Example: Character falls down the stairs, OG says, "Dude! He totally fell down the stairs!"); your friend who comes with you and talks to you through the whole thing, sometimes turning into OG.

But I really like going to the movies so I will usually go by myself on a weeknight (seriously folks, I am one cat away from pathetic.) and get an Icee (okay, I may also be 12, but did you know that you can now get an Icee in the jumbo size cup! Awesome!!) and sit in the middle with the elderly (the ne'er-do-wells prefer the top, for their exercise) and start my Serenity Now chant.

Um...Rachel...isn't this a movie review? Oh, right? It is.

After watching North and South again, this time with Mom and Katie, I decided that I hadn't spent enough time on my butt and went to see Dan in Real Life. I liked it. I was prepared for it to go either way because sometimes movies like that can be a little schmaltzy. It certainly had all the makings of it: widower, large family retreat, rustic setting, Diane Wiest. But most of the time when it could have gone all warm and fuzzy it went warm and funny instead. I was a little nervous for Steve Carrell because the ads made it look like he was a slightly calmer Michael Scott, but he held it together. And despite his extra large nose, I had a bit of a crush on him at the end of it (I'm a complete sucker for funny men. My love for Steve Martin goes all the way back to Three Amigos.)

A few observations:
1.) In my next life I want Juliette Binoche's skin, which, according to legend, was blessed by unicorns at her birth.
2.) The guy who wrote the screenplay also wrote Pieces of April. You should see this movie. Katie Holmes isn't as bad as you think she will be.
3.) I like this trend of movie soundtracks being done by primarily one artist, like Britt Daniels from Spoon on Stranger than Fiction, or Badly Drawn Boy on About a Boy. It gives it a nice continuity. This one was done by Sondre Lerche and hooray for that. So great! Modern Nature may be one of the cutest songs ever written.
4.) Frazier's dad is looking really old.
5.) I don't know who Norbert Leo Butz's parents are but I love them for giving him that name.
6.) Speaking of Norbert Leo Butz (if we were neighbors I would not be able to call him anything but that full glorious name), there were too many great actors who were under-used. They could have taken half of Dane Cooks scenes and given them to actors who weren't in Employee of the Month.
7.) Emily Blunt could bite through a Ginsu knife with those teeth. But I like her in everything I've seen her in so she can stay.
8.) They showed a preview for Atonement before the movie and I've realized that I can't see it because that book still haunts me. I started welling up right when they showed cute James McAvoy and didn't stop until Kiera Knightly's giant jaw took over the screen at the end. If Keira Knightly's jaw joined forces with Emily Blunt's teeth they could rent themselves out as pretty, pretty nutcrackers for office holiday parties.

Yeah, it's a good movie. I'd say it was worth sitting in front of the guy who, when Dan got another speeding ticket, said, "Dude! He totally got another ticket!"

Pumpkin Ravioli

Recipe: Pumpkin Shallot Ravioli with Sage Butter
Like/Don't Like: Like
Note: This recipe makes me sound like I actually cook fancy food all the time. Don't believe it. Although I like to cook and try out recipes I usually have toast for dinner.

My dear friend Wendy started a tradition many years ago of a pumpkin party. She would make her pumpkin soup and we'd all bring something pumpkiny to share. And because she's Wendy, there would usually be fun pumpkin games for us to play. Wendy and her cute family has since moved to Texas and the pumpkin party kind of died down. But Laura revived it this year (Hooray Laura!) and coupled it with the Little House on the Prairie - Best of Almanzo Marathon (Hooray Almanzo!) - both completely in the Spirit of Wendy.

Because pumpkin parties of yore have usually consisted of Wendy's soup and Katie's Yummy Pumpkin Stuff (Hooray YPS!) and about 10 other sweet pumpkin desserts I decided I would branch out and do something savory instead. You want to know how many savory pumpkin recipes are out there? Five. And three of them were for pumpkin ravioli. So that's what I did.

It turned out better than I expected. Mostly because it was easy. I mean, really easy. And kind of fun to make. It made me want to wear a chef's hat and speak Italian. I'm a believer in trying out new recipes on people (just ask my book club) and sometimes they don't always turn out as I would hope. But aside from one completely disintegrating in the water, they worked out nicely and tasted pretty good. And did I mention how easy they were to make. Do not be afraid to try this recipe. I had a ton of pumpkin left over so I just tripled the recipe and made a bunch and shoved them in the freezer, where they will probably sit for months and months and months. Amanda and I had this conversation just the other day. Our freezers aren't so much freezers but curio cases for ancient relics of dinners past. It makes for a fun guessing game.

Some tips on the recipe:

1.) These are large ravioli so don't over-stuff them because they will explode. I tried quartering the wanton wrappers and they made for really adorable wee ravioli but I aged about 34 years making them. Much less time consuming doing the full size.
2.) They're not kidding when they say save some of the boiling water. They're slippery when they come out of the pot but they get sticky fast. Actually, why don't you just skip the whole serving dish thing and plate everything instead. They're kind of delicate and will rip easily and I thought it was easier to just put it straight from the pot to the plate and pour a little sauce over it.
3.) And I do mean a little sauce. Butter is terrific but it's better with just a drizzle.
4.) I actually liked more sage in the filling the second time I made them. About 2 tsp.
5.) You can very easily make this a meaty dish but putting some Italian sausage in it. Yum.
6.) I think they would taste better with real pasta so if you have a pasta maker and you're crazy go ahead and make it. And while you're at it, why don't you grow an herb garden because I actually had to buy an herb garden just to have fresh sage.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

North and South

Movie: North and South
Like/Don't Like: I liked it so much I asked it to go steady with me.

Here's the question: Why haven't I heard of this movie before? Why hasn't Netflix recommended it? Why haven't I seen it on Masterpiece Theatre? I'm 80 and I watch Masterpiece Theatre ALL THE TIME and I don't even remember hearing about this. And if you're my friend and have seen it, why haven't you made me watch it? If I find out that any of you have known about this movie but didn't bother mentioning it to me then we're through. Turn in your Friend of Rachel membership card. Because if there were ever a movie made just for me it would be this. Seriously, it was so great! (Note to the guys who may have come across this blog: you can probably stop reading. It's a 4 hour period chick flick. Unless you liked Pride and Prejudice when your girlfriend/wife/girl you were trying to impress made you watch it you're probably not going to be running out to buy it. Although if your girlfriend/wife/girl you're trying to impress asks if you want to watch it, say yes. Always say yes to that question, because you know she always watches your guy movies with you.) Rac (my one true friend!) recommended this to me a few months ago. Here's a direct quote from her e-mail, "I got North and South for my birthday (swoon, swoon)." Swoon indeed. There were at least a dozen times I could have used some smelling salts.

This was a cross between Jane Austen and Dickens, with a little Newsies thrown in. Yep, there's a strike. Although they don't break out into song and dance when they march on the establishment. Briefly: a girl and her parents move from their home in the genteel south of England to a textile town up north and she meets (swoon, swoon) a slightly stern but fair businessman. And dreamy. I should definitely say dreamy. He's a stern but fair dreamy dreamboat businessman.

I think one of the reasons I liked it so much was because I didn't know the story going into it. I already knew Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and Jane Eyre (if you have not seen the newest Jane Eyre run, run I say, to the nearest Blockbuster and pick it up. Or if you're local you can borrow it from me. Or we can have a slumber party and watch it. Every other adaptation is a big pile of poo compared to it.) But this was all new to me so even though it played out as I expected, and hoped, I still wasn't sure that it would. Especially because the last adaptation of an Elizabeth Gaskell novel that I saw, Wives and Daughters, did not end as I had hoped. Well, it did end as I had hoped, but it didn't end with a kiss and you know how much I think the kiss is necessary at the end.

But, oh girls, this ending. Yep, this one is a winner. I am not ashamed to say that when it was over I re-watched the ending 3 times and then decided that I hadn't had enough so I watched the whole second half again. Oh, alright, and I woke up this morning and did a "good parts" viewing. That's how good it is!

Watch it right now! I don't ever want you saying I kept this from you.

Addemdum: I just got off the phone with Katie and she told me that she watched it last night too and completely agrees that it was the swooniest of all swoony movies.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Principles of Uncertainty

Book: The Principles of Uncertainty
Author: Maira Kalman
Like/Don't Like: Like!!!

I don't know how I got stuck on reading the New York Times. The LA Times is just fine. They have almost everything the NY Times has (except Nicholas Kristoff. Dear Nicholas Kristoff, please stop writing your book and get back to writing your column. I miss you, even though you only ever write about child prostitution and women dying in Africa. Best, Rachel) plus they have a better entertainment section. But every morning I check with the NY Times to see what news I missed because I can't bear to watch the news on TV. It's too painful. All they talk about is the weather (Note to tv news producers: We don't have weather here. It's Southern California. Land of the Never Ending Sunny Day. I don't think that 1 inch of rain justifies having 4 reporters on Storm Watch.)

Anyway, last year they ran a series by the illustrator Maira Kalman. It was a collection of text and pictures based on her observations and I was sold on them right away. They were charming and sad and joyous and lovable all at once. And random, which I love. Each monthly installment seemed to be a collection of something entirely random. She would start out talking about Nietzsche's moustache and end up painting her hotel bathroom sink. But at the end of each piece you felt like something whole had been created. I would wait every month for the next installment. And when I heard that they were going to be made into a book I pre-ordered it right away. There are few things better than pre-ordering a book and then forgetting about it then coming home from a crappy day at work to find an Amazon box sitting on your doormat. Fantastic! I initially thought that I shouldn't get the book because you can see the whole series on-line (seriously, have a look) but I'm so glad I did. The prints in the book are beautiful and bright and it has big fat glossy pages that make it weigh twice as much as a book of it's size. Very substantial. And reading the whole thing in one sitting felt really rewarding. She's a fascinating woman and I'd like to have a snack with her sometime.