Sunday, August 31, 2008

All That Chicken

(If you're bored by boring cooking tales, pass on by.)

Two huge packets of organic chicken came out of the freezer (10 big chicken breast halves). Roasted at 400 with s&P and a little vegetable oil for 35/40. I took them out when thermometer was at 170 not 165, since I really didn't want to think about how long they had been in the freezer, and they were slightly overdone. Then I took a good hour, after they were cooled, to cut them up. I hate Bits (cartilage, fat, skin, veins, sinew), so I ruthlessly pruned every bit away, as well as a few over-cooked hard parts, then shredded as well as cut the remaining meat (didn't want to be flossing for years), ending up with cups and cups worth.

I ended up making 3 dishes out of the chicken. I shoulda gone for 4, for obviating boredom and managing storage better, but this is what I made -

* Chicken salad with tons of celery, a little rice wine vinegar, mayo, mustard, poppy seeds, on thin slices of buttered sourdough toast. Yum.
* Fake-out shredded BBQ chicken. I heated together a huge squoze of Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce, apple cider vinegar, chicken stock, lots of pepper, dry mustard until mixed, then added tons of chicken and heated for a while until they looked like they belonged together. Pulled BBQ chicken kinda!
* The biggest effort? Chicken chili with barley, not one of my more graceful cooking experiences (ate up much of my morning), but turned out fine. I sauteed the spices of a Carroll Shelby's chili seasoning kit in some oil, adding lots of my own chili powder, cumin, oregano, thyme, etc. When I could smell them, I added two 28 oz cans of tomato puree (the kind that's just tomatoes and salt) and about a quart of organic chicken stock. Then I put in all the rest of the chicken. Then I decided it was too watery, but that I didn't want to reduce heavily (I was cooking in a paper-thin aluminum stock pot with an uneven bottom that I set in a Le Crueset pan to regulate the temp) at risk of burning. So I put on some barley in a separate pot with chicken stock and water, only when it was supposed to be done I had way too much water (package directions were whack!). I just put the whole thing--slightly underdone barley + stock - in the chili, and once it was combined, 2 packets of masa harina that come in the chili kit to thicken. Then I spotted some chicken sausages in the back of the freezer and thought - what the heck. So I started cooking them in the Le Creuset pan, after moving chili to the side, but I was getting really sick of minute-by-minute babysitting so the sausages basically burned (I cut off the burned bits and added the remainder - a handful - to the chili). I had thought about doing lentils too, but I just was getting sick of messy pots and worrying about burning and whatever so I let chili cool after spooning some out in bowls for...breakfast! Over whole wheat toast, natch (delish). After 2-3 hours cooling (truly takes forever) it was beautifully thickened and the barley much bigger still. So I have tons ...sigh..in the freezer, and a big container in the fridge to use up, as well as some yummy Greek yoghurt to put on top. I think that one could have been a little more graceful, for sure, with a little more decision making.

There's MORE chicken in the freezer, but I can't bear to think about it. I will attack everything else first, including a rolled flank steak of indeterminate age. I really do love turning things into other things. And now I'm off for my first real corn of the summer!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

4-Word Reviews of the Saturday Morning Food Network Lineup

  • Easy Entertaining w/ Michael Chiarello: Waves food at camera.
  • Everyday Italian: Food patter for dummies.
  • Nigella Feasts: Carmen Sternwood eye games.
  • 30 Minute Meals: Grunts in jolly fashion.
  • Tyler's Ultimate: Using "ultimate" suggests opposite.
  • The Cooking Loft: New show don't care.
  • Semi-Homemade Cooking w/ Sandra Lee: Open packet, pour food.
  • Paula's Home Cooking: Take a sticka buttuh.
  • Down Home w/ the Neelys: Please get hotel room.
  • 30 Minute Meals: You are back again?
  • Cooking for Real: Twitters at own jokes.
  • Ask Aida: Don't make me watch.
  • Everyday Italian: Lollipop head back too.
  • Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger: Excited about tiny portions.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Great documentary about Brando on TCM at the mo. Corrr how I luv TCM.

They are making a film of French Women Don't Get Fat. Seems rather as if not much would actually happen in a narrative-ized version of that book, yes?

Cooking Out the Freezer has begun. So far I'm enjoying the challenge, which has involved using up lil dribs and drabs until I get to the big stuff. Handful of sunflower seeds? No prob, will add to slaw. 1/2 a package of canadian bacon? Into scrambled eggs it goes. Next up? Chicken chili. Seems like a good way to use up at least of a portion of the 19,000 lbs of on-sale organic chicken lurking in the back (just add herbs and tomatoes/stock). The key, however, is to not cook so much you end up filling up the freezer again. Slow and steady.

I am also getting ready to tackle (by way of more domestic chitter chat) Mount Paper II. I have crampons, sherpas, cocaine, oxygen bottles, syringes full of B12, mittens, housesitter for the kitties and an agent for when I get back to tell the story. Hah! For those of you who think I'm joking, you haven't seen the pile of papers threatening to take over my existence (I may take photos, if I can bear the embarrassment). If I can reach this summit (I've done it once before, but it didn't stick), I rather think it will go a long way toward...what. Well, clearing out acres of room, for one, but I dunno. Realigning my shakras. Something. I am honestly scared of and oppressed by junk mail and the flow of paper in my life and would like to shift the balance of power in a permanent way. I will not be paper's bitch forever.

I loved Obama's speech. I clapped, I pressed my paws together, I testified, I got up out of my chair, I teared up, I yelled. It was everything I'd been hoping for, except that I didn't get to see my mom in the stands (go MOM!). I thought it was great, and blessedly...direct. And what about the hugfest with the Illinois delegation the other day and Jesse, Jr. and Daley hugging it out?? Now THAT'S politics. I rather think we should vote for anybody who survives the crucible of Chicago/Illinois state politics. The ultimate training ground.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Well...I'm just gonna say it. I could be dead-wrong, as televisional ADD keeps me squirming when I can't stand the speechmaking and I might have missed crucial stuff, but is this convention not overall just a little dumbed-down? It feels like This Is Your Life most of the time. Or, to be honest, as if the DNC's understood agenda for the event is don't fear this black man, we'll introduce you to him. I thought Biden's speech was pretty good, but so far the whole thing is missing some...tooth. M Obama's speech...why does she have to defend so hard what they are? Why can't she talk about what they want to do? Even BClinton's speech, the bits I kept coming back to before I would get embarrassed, basically seemed to be saying: he's doing exactly what I'd be doing! You can love him too! I'm sensing an apologist tone I don't like, even among all the worship.

The way Obama tore it up at the convention in 2004 continues to be part of why I like him now. I hope he does it again tonight.

ETA: I just mean...if you're a rock star, you can't fight it. Use it for the greater good. No more DNC-milled pablum.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Title of recent blog entry by Martha Stewart: "My figs are ready to be plucked and enjoyed." Oh, Martha.

To be written: comparison of new Martha blue/turquoise vs. Nigella blue. Oh the fierceness. Should smoke a doobie and write the dissertation that arises from squinting at the two colors.
This is the year, by the way, that I learned to play Scrabble. I'd never played it before.

I went through many expected phases, such as the one in which you learn that a love of long complicated words gets you nowhere (it is about 2-letter thuggery in the end), or the one in which you learn to not think so much. I generally fail dreadfully at this latter; I spend a lot of time with a corrugated (EFB) forehead and creaking cranium behind, staring at the board in agony--I only fitfully have Scrabble Brain, the one that lets you just See Stuff. But I've been lucky that my two regular competitors (Dorette & Summer) are much much better than I, which forced me to get much better much faster. Not to mention I would have been kicked out of regulation play long ago without their patience at my agonized delays (I'm always having to ask for more time...so obnoxious). So, thanks ladies. And shoutouts to everyone, scrabblous or not, I'll be missing at Labor Day fatty fun fest this year! Wah! I pine for you all.
Parkinson's Law: a tricky little devil, with long arms, if you're lucky enough to be susceptible.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

consumerist navel-gazing, other stuff

* At first I had a surge of dance-ly excitement about Chromeo. But now I'd rather just listen to Zapp.

* Among of all the many reasons to love me best pal, Kirsten A. Major, one random, but quite usually powerful example would be her introduction into my life of the Turbie Twist (left), a magnificent modern invention. You can't survive post-shower without it, trust me. The most marvelous sense of security. Nor can one, in fact, survive without Skip.

* Shout-outs to David R., who appears to have landed in Portland, O (your fans wondered)! Nice choice, David; I picture you up to your head in huckleberry scones with no prob.

* I am looking at dental work this fall that is gonna cost me out of pocket...let's see. How can I describe. Four large. More, even, maybe closer to five by the end. The world swam in front of my eyes a little bit, the ocean roared in my ears, my hand sweated on the phone as the nice receptionist talked. Then I called my mom to share the news in a sudden urge to prolong adulthood, but it didn't work. There it still was. Four G's. Five. Plus about three mos. of appointments. Okay, LET'S DO IT. Let's pay for the pain! [PSA about regular dental care here]

BTW, PLEASE FIX THE FUCKING HEALTH CARE SYSTEM (Barack, Joe, John, whomever). We are living in the corrupt middle ages and it just never seems to...crack. Or really matter. It's shameful, crazy-making. There are some wholesale, revolutionary, heads-on-pikes changes that won't be fair to everybody, but have to happen.

* As promised, here's Karla's blog! I'm lovin it. Also--K--the filet leftovers? I rendered 2/3 strips of bacon cut into bits, drained most of fat, seared thin slices of the leftover meat, removed the bacon and the steak, added 1/2 c. white balsamic vinegar and 1 c. of chicken stock and let it fiercely reduce. Then I swirled in a pat of batter, added the meat back, and served all over whole wheat toast spread with sun dried tomato/garlic cheese spread. Unbelievably luxurious.

* I must articulate this thought...I hope it comes across the way I intend. I find it...ironic, the idea of people in today's world all placing strips on their noses to open them up, make breathing easier, after so many years of people deriding the wide African nose/silhouette which these strips emulate. As far as some white folk go, that is. The opposite of Amy putting a clothespin on her nose to make it pointier/more "elegant" in Little Women. Sometimes it seems not just ironic (not being able to breathe and so needing strips), but like one of those paybacks for racism that surface in all sorts of weird ways. Especially as ease of breathing certain kinds of air points to the origin of the different kinds of facial features that signify "race" in the first place.

* Someday I really want...an escritoire, a lady's desk, whatever. I was so into my mom's as a kid. (Reading Rebecca 1,200 times hasn't helped either.) I want dockets for mail and drawers for stationary and a little china box for stamps. Oooo. Or just a nice big knee-hole desk. One of those self-contained secretaire things. There is something about one of those that is really conducive to taking care of business. Also want? A chiffonier. Or decent sturdy lil china cabinet that doesn't take over. I'm not Georgie--my life is not overrun with bibelot--but at the same time, there is no point of the occasional piece of good china or silver if you can't enjoy looking at it. One thing modern apartments don't have? Built-in china cupboards. One thing old pretty falling-apart 20s apartments in Chicago always have? Built-in china cupboards. Also (often): fold-out ironing boards, towel rods positioned over the radiator in the bathroom, beautiful old subway tiles. I miss all these things in my beige downtown box!

* Okay, let's talk silver. Er...plate, mostly. I finally tackled the crinkly supermarket bag of eBay hauls I had lying around from my attempts last year to collect a little silver (without actually spending much money--doesn't work very well). That is to say, polished them up. NOTE: This is one of housekeeping's very messiest tasks. Not only does it takes forever, it's messy as hell, if you're doing it right. Grey watery polish gets everywhere. I needed a huge apron like a Victorian housemaid. Anyhow, it was a very mixed haul, as I said, random pieces, incomplete sets, too much of other stuff (people often try to offload silver in bundled groups), such as the dozen tarnished nut picks I have no idea what to do with. The three pieces on the left are my fav, and in every case show how pieces designed for specific functions are so satisfying: a bakelite/nickel plate spreader, which due to the widening/rounding at the end really does spread butter a bizillion times better than a regular knife; a nice bakelite/plate fork, which with the sturdy collar and narrowed join before flaring to the big, pointy tines, really does make you want to spear things; and lastly, a nice Viceroy plate sundae/ice cream spoon, which makes eating ice cream much more pleasurable. The long handle means your knuckles don't immediately get smeared with the ice cream reaching into the bowl, nor do your hands touch the too-cold container...just the right leverage. Long spoons are actually what kicked off this whole silver obsession in the first place...silver ice tea straws, actually, the hollow kind with a spoon at the end.

* I am now chasing four remotes around my bed, with the advent of the HDTV converter box into my life. That's a lot of remotes. Perhaps I will get a tiny lil corgi-lette to herd them for me. In the morning they are all over the floor as if I had flung them off in a fit of pique. Just like my cats.

* My freezer is starting to fail the ice cream test...am thinking about cooking my way through everything in there, a la J*lie Powell's book (kinda), but also as a failsafe. Plus sometimes you just want to use everything up, you know? Clean it out? Use what you have? So get ready for dozens of not very-well differentiated Chicken Recipes, I'm going to guess. We'll see what else is lurking in there. I will say that I tend to cook better when there's a little challenge in it, as much as I don't want to admit it, since in the end I want things to be easier than that.

* The Food Network must have made a deal, for their Kitchen Aids stand mixers are disappearing (I think the new ones are Cuisinart or Viking). It's feels a little odd/end of the era to me! That monopoly must have ended.

* Speaking of long ice cream spoons and other fun paraphernalia, I had this *boom* sudden craving for the kind of ice creams I used to get in Germany when I was there the other day that hasn't gone away. There is this very codified, standardised set of ice cream creations you get at Eiscafes in Germany...all in stemmed stainless steel ice cream ware, on little trays, that you often order by number. Or at least you could. It was weird, I hadn't thought about it in forever, but suddenly I didn't wanna go another day without a nice little Eis at a cafe...with a gaufrette and a good view of shoppers walking by. Or a konditorei with a little coffee. This blog entry really is imbued with vague consumerist wanty wants! Oof. It's not that simple though, never is.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Food, not food, other stuff

* I had the most amazing birthday dinner last week. I had hoped to combine the kvelling with a nod to the cook in question's new blog, but I'll link to that later once it's up. Anyhow, my friend Karla made the most exquisite little dinner that hit the spot in so many ways she couldn't have predicted, including the fact that I was having one of my Doberman-like cravings for red meat during which every forkful makes my eyes feel sparklier. We had a beautifully cool little salad with greens, watermelon, walnuts and gruyere, then an entree of dry-aged filet mignon with mushroom sauce and grilled fingerling potatoes with popovers on the side, followed by amazing desserts from Sweet Mandy B's. And she gave me the leftovers. It was so fantastic. And fun, as Karla and I started as friends when she was (Gott hilf uns) my intern at the Art Institute many years ago, and to my luck she has both seemingly forgiven me for the filing atrocities committed against her then and my chronic lateness now. She's an amazing cook and is always being urged to start restaurants/bakeries (feel free to nudge). What a dinner! That meat...epic.

I also was lucky enough for my b-day to be taken out to a restaurant I've wanted to go to for 10,000 years--Hot Chocolate in Wicker Park, Mindy Segal's place, the name of which I'm not sure doesn't suffer sometimes from associations from the 70s or "You Sexy Thing" or other things totally unconnected to the place that make it sound more goofy or less serious about good food despite being a kind of casual place. I wish I lived across the street from that restaurant; I'd go there once a week, if I could. I love places with great desserts that also have regular food: why are they always so good? (Tis's the Friendly's/DQ phenom.) I had an unbelievable salad with 1,000 Island dressing (never in my life do I eat this), that I think of as a kind of dessert--the crisp wedge with the dressing and the crab...sweet as heck. And an amazing burger, then three shared desserts that completely knocked me out and I don't really have too many words for. It's never that easy to describe chocolate/the joyful consumption thererof very well, but the signature chocolate souffle Chocolate tart with the homemade pretzel (above) and the homemade brioche donuts...made my eyes roll back in my head. Plus astonishing artisinal drinks...everything was just so good. I have Jen and Sheila to thank for that, but good, and OH do I thank them. I am a very happy, grateful, well-fed person who may or may not now officially really be in her 40s.

* Insanity from the pages of Us magazine (the magazine...for us!), this time from their selection of Weight Winners of the Year / "See how stars slimmed down and toned up!" I swear I'm not making this up (check the link).

"Back in March, The Hills star, Lauren Conr*d, 22, tells Us she was so self-conscious that on vacation in Mexico, 'I wore a one-piece bathing suit the entire time, with a wrap!' With the help of co-star Audrina Patr*dge and Equinox's Jarett Del B*ne, she dropped 6 [emph mine] pounds."

* More ways in which my youth is repeating itself besides recession, gas lines, prohibitively high airline fares, groceries that cost twice as much and go half as far, hesitation before and increased focus on purchase of meat, wounded soldiers returning from a failed war: THE OLYMPICS! And people...grooving on them. It's so funny. I really would have bet that the Os were dead, after so many years of dwindling viewers, even as B Costas spoon-fed tiny lil digested bits of it all to us, couched in tales of dying devoted mothers and persistence against all Odds. This feels...like the old days, a little. I'm finding it interesting to experience, guessing at what it links up with culturally that suddenly we are interested. Maybe...all the predigestion failed?

* I'm shutting my mouth about the nastiest/meanest thing I want to say about the current push of commercials for the Re*lize lap band (or really about lap bands in general, which are starting to seem more and more pernicious as I hear more about bodies rejecting them), but two pet peeves continue to be 1) a very ambiguous image at the end of the commercial that looks rather like big anonymous wodges of fat, but are just an actor's arms...weird--passive--strange and 2) the "reasons" the banders give in the ad for the surgery, among which one character says, while slow-dancing with her boyfriend, " I dream of kissing of him under the Eiffel Tower."

OKEYDOKE. Okay.

UM. CANCEL YOUR FUCKING LAP-BAND SURGERY. USE THE MONEY TO GO TO PARIS WITH YOUR BOYFRIEND.

* Five puppies, six seconds. Well worth the click.

* Some things to know about Fud Network:
- You think Sandra L*e (NOTE: her new 70s do makes her look even more like Steve Dallas' girlfriend in Bloom County, Quiche Lorraine) is the worst of the bunch, but as far as patter goes? The things that come out of people's mouths? The inanity, the repetion, the lack of content, the drone? Nobody tops poor Giada De...tiis. Her recipes may be better, but the shit she says...hopeless. "I am adding sage to give it a...sage flavor." THANK YOU FOR CLEARING THAT UP.
- The takeover of Slaw continues.
- It's not Tyler Fl*rence's fault, but his misuse of "paillard" really sent me over the edge this week. Boy does he drive me nuts. And I think I need to give up on fighting that word's new trajectory. Mmmm...pedantic.

* More news about not real people:
- Lorelei Gilmore...does not hold up well cycling through re-runs. A total emotional coward who never shuts up??? Mmmm...delicious.
- Sir Walter Eliot...SUCH a metrosexual! Cor. The '95 adaptation of Persuasion continues to feed the soul.
- Livia Soprano...I do not think they shoulda CGI-ed her for that last episode. Clunky and the seams showed (as as effect).

* Food product news:
- I love mini anythings, so i was totally excited about the new Barilla "Piccolini" mini-pastas. Only...the shapes aren't very twee. They seem more like re-named shorter cut pastas. The mini-farfalle are pretty cute, but the mini-fusilli, for instance...look like just regular gemelli, as far as I can tell.
- Genuine convenience food: the new microwavable brown rice serving pouches. Most convenience developments don't thrill me, but this one shifts the paradigm a little bit. As you'd expect, the rice doesn't taste particularly nutritious--kind of like overprocessed leftover rice--but it really really helps for those times when you don't have time for rice to be the longest-cooking thing to make. Leftover kung pao + rice = dinner in 90 sex.

* I seem to have to have to write about "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" every six months (eh, tis my blog), but pliz note oh!!! The meter!! This time I couldn't stop thinkin about the meter. It's so amazing. The line, "dealin in dirt! [beat]/and stealin in the name of the Lord"...kills. Just kills.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I post this to note this is exactly how I wake up in the morning. My left eye stays squinted shut for a long time after I wake up, no matter what I do. Not the right, though. It's weird. It always makes me feel like a cranky vaudevillian who's missing his soggy cigar.

(More hijackin from cuteotters.com, this time from a recent posting about baby otters at the Osaka Aquarium HI LIL GUYS!)

It's the Air & Water Show this weekend, something my very Chicago-lated nerves knew before I even opened my blinds on Thurs. Strange how used you can get to sonic booms and the sight of the Blue Angels buzzing yer building.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The pride of Columbus, O, weighs in on the allure of the Big Girl. (No, it's not 'Fat-Bottomed Girls' or 'Sista Big Bones,' but whatever. Go Bow Wow.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Art Seen Between the Fingers

Big Pussy Bonpensiero is going to be killed tomorrow, and I am all ready to watch it happen.

I finally started watching The Sopranos. I know--how 1999, right. I've been watching it on A&E, where it is edited down for general cable broadcast, as everyone sneeringly informs me, as if I were watching a claymation version in which goodfellas shoot each other with potato guns. For a show that bases a lot of its shock value or even just storytelling on juxtaposition and sudden movements in and out of frame, all unaccompanied by a laudable lack of Hollywood music cues, editing out the bloodiest 20 seconds of a murder scene doesn't do that much. Probably they take out more I don't even know about, but it's still a very violent show.


I tried watching the show a couple times before, including once a few years ago with a DVD set and my thumb safely on fast forward, but even the very hints of violence stopped me cold.

The same thing happened for a while this time, too. The worst was the episode where Adriana is finally pushed to decide between Christopher and the FBI and is executed as a result of her decisions. It is a great episode. The pacing builds, the acting's amazing, the horror of the choice is nastily clear. It's not meaningless bloodshed, if that’s your criteria for judging violence. In fact, there's not even much blood. The scene in which she's being dragged out of the car upset me so much I had to cover my head with my bathrobe and plug my ears. I couldn’t even watch her ride in the car. It was horrible, terrifying. (Why any fans were surprised that this happened--I remember people being shocked at the time--I don't know.)

The violence stopped me cold. (Isn't that what violence is supposed to do?) And the Sopranos never stops being violent, and it never stops (so far as I've seen) being good at depicting it. I just couldn’t handle this violence that is the show's metier, these characters’ bread and butter. I could handle the milder side of it, sorta, but even then, though… It was wearing. It felt like what it is. Terrifying, venal, wrong, awful, shocking, distressing. It made me upset. It didn’t matter "why" one person after another was killed, it was death, death, death.

The problem, you see, is that I am a modern anomaly, the completely un-de-sensitized viewer who suspends every shred of disbelief in this area. I have a horrified, barely-functioning tolerance for any kind of violence. Anything. Drawn, filmed, fiction, nonfiction. Meaningless, meaningful. Campy, Peckipah, gruesome, scary, Tarantino, silly, Hollywood, Hong Kong, dead-serious, grade-B, Oscar-winning (look at 2007). I have been known to change the station during Itchy & Scratchy cartoons. Which makes me the lamest media consumer ever, I know, but I can't stand it. The only violence I can handle cold is white-washed Hollywood PG13-type, with nothing too close up, a distinct preparatory rhythm to it. Ka-blam, guy flies backward, no blood, ka-blam again. The really meaningless--de-meaning-ed--kind, although even that can go scary.

There is no virtue in this--it’s a bad handicap to have in everyday life. And just to make it clear: it’s not about demanding pretty pink roses on principle. I understand life itself is violent and horrifying. Sometimes. (They say the average American child sees 200,000 violent acts on TV by the age of 18…surely we are all over our limit, long ago). Nor is this about being an uncritical film-goer--more than normal, that is. I ran the film society in college. I write about film. I tend to watch movies with a film critic hat and fan-girl hat both pretty tight about my ears, but I get no chance to employ the former when it comes to violence.

That is, you might have noticed that Adriana LeCerva is not a real person; in fact, that The Sopranos is a TV show. I didn't. Or I should say it doesn't matter. It’s real. That episode was especially horrifying in fact because in it someone was begging for their life, and if what we are seeing is real--not a TV show--then we should have been able to help it, or stop it. Intervene. There was "time." But instead we watch it. I have the exact same problem with Animal Planet--I can't watch lions take down a zebra because of the horrible moments when the zebra is in the process of being killed--is alive but being killed and we’re doing nothing about it. Same with the first half of The Crying Game (no one ever talks about the first half of that movie).

So why did I stick with The Sopranos this time? There are some long-standing reasons such as a major crush on Gandolfini’s hooded gaze and hunched broad shoulders, a love of all those big noses, fascination with the complicated story-telling and the huge web of characters, the intense atmosphere, a badly-buried desire to work long nails and big hair. But basically I can watch it now because I ruin it.

The only mechanism, and it's a rough one, that allows me to experience violence in movies and TV, is knowing what's coming ahead of time. The fact that the series is completely over is probably why I can watch the Sopranos now at all, in fact. I don’t have to pretend to be committed to being surprised by any of it, and the show's helpful Wikipedia entry with all the beef backstory is longer than the entry on US history. So I use all my years of overly-sensitive data-gathering, and read the episode descriptions and get incredibly well-prepared for what’s going to happen. Check the “who dies” section more than once. I am forewarned about fantasy sequences and dreams and yes, I knew the Russian survived, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to watch that one at all--I had to spoil it to watch it.

Sometimes, too, I even squint at the 8:00 a.m. showing to see when the scary/horrible bits are coming, then watch the 2:00 p.m. rerun with a little less panic in the afternoon. Or I tape it, only that still doesn’t work as well as you’d think, because my thumb is very scared…it hits fast forward at just the slightest bit of scary, no matter if I know it’s coming or not. I still can't really handle the worst stuff and spend a lot of time with shirts over my head, turning the station, running out of the room. But I'm watching it.

I’ve spent a lot of my adult life doing this--watching through my shirt, I mean--but also just Navigating. Although my list of "not-seens" is not quite as big as you’d think. I watch “around” things. I spoil lots of things. I've never seen the eyeball sliced in Un Chien Andalou or the opening sequence of Persona (not even the shard of glass scene), but I’ve “seen” those films, along with a lot of others you wouldn’t expect. I love Goodfellas, for instance, but only because I've seen it--mostly on TV--so many times that I know exactly when stuff's coming--and by "stuff" I mean the violent scenes and the stuff leading up to the violent scenes. I still run away from it all like it's new, but at least I know when to do so.

Picking a current movie to see, as you can imagine, is tricky. I have a complicated set of sensors I use to navigate previews/reviews/descriptions from people who’ve seen it to figure out what I can handle, when I can’t or don’t want to spoil things completely. I ask all sorts of questions, different ways, and get a lot of codified answers. A nose-wrinkle + "It's not gross" = long, drawn-out violent tension with more blood than they're saying I will probably figure a way to handle. “It’s not that bad”/”there’s just one bad part” = I probably couldn’t handle it. “Yeah [it’s gross], but, you know, ______ [silly, campy, over-the-top]” = I definitely couldn’t handle it. Most other people’s distinctions (scary, torture-porn, realistic, goofy, stylish) about whether the violence in a film is a risk worth taking end up pretty meaningless.

What actually happens when I watch violence and am not prepared for it? And can’t run from it? Clockwork Orange-d, if you will? A test case was a night at the Chicago Film Festival, watching The Piano in an overheated, steamy theater in the middle of winter, jammed in a seat in the middle of a row near the front. I was lulled into the film, deeply involved in it, not expecting violence, invested in the film’s intense atmosphere, large and overwhelming on the screen. When the scene suddenly arrived--with little warning--when Sam Neill chops Holly Hunter's finger off, I almost passed out. The room swam, I got nauseous, I was terrified. I had to clamber over a whole row of pissed filmgoers’ knees and run out of the theatre. I spent the rest of the film in the lobby, gratefully clinging to any signs of real life (toilets flushing, the rustle of newspapers, the murmurs of the popcorn dudes). I didn’t care if I saw the rest of the film or not. I don’t know--I guess it felt like it happened to me. It did happen to me.

I really am liking The Sopranos
. I will probably see about half to two-thirds of the Big Pussy episode, even with all the prep, since it's such a particularly violent episode, but I will see it. (Eh, I don't know, maybe a third; these horrible drawn-out episodes where people beg for their lives are the most upsetting. And the show is depressing at general, at times, although perhaps that's a topic for another day--or maybe it's the whole point; even if you get through watching all that violence the pay-off for it is grim.) In general, though, I’m tired, tired of titrating out great TV shows and movies to keep the violence manageable (tired of my own limitations too). It used to be easier to avoid this stuff--I didn't use to feel so hounded by my paranoia. Now, however, you can't avoid much as easily; violence is the canvas on which many of our best as well as worst filmmakers are working. I feel despairing--and frustrated--about it. Why must that be our m├ętier? Why are we so hungry for it?

Why must we get so good at it? Even when it’s campy or over the top or unrealistic--violence’s great Out Clause--you don’t see its edges or cracks. The seams are well-hidden.
If you slow films down these days, you just see violence happening very slowly, not its internal mechanisms. I don't know that I can trust my judgement, as somebody who always sees blood, not squibs, but I can tell you how it feels, and it is a challenge-ridden nightmare of a world out there sometimes when it's all real regardless.

P.S. Sex? No problem. I like it. I know it's not real, either. Nor do I care. Go figure.

Monday, August 11, 2008

1. I did 24 hrs of Doris. Have a major hangover and head is twanging with cultural significance that I am worried will escape my grasp.

In Fast Times at Ridgemont High (? I think) there is this character who celebrates Ronny James Dio's (?) birthday every year by staying home and playing all his albums...I always thought that was fab/identified with that guy.

2. He was king-ly, he was.










Edited to add: I went a-searching there for outfits from Wattstax, one of the (I'm sorry, who cares, right, but it's my blog) more important movie-going experiences of my recent life (it was re-released in 2004). Plus--it's the best outfit ever.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday with Doris

1. Sleep is King.

2. Really sad about Bernie Mac. He loomed so large when I moved to Chicago, he was on the radio ALL the time and I was listening to it all the time...he was so funny, I was totally into his stage show and the Macaronis as he was becoming famous-er and famous-er. Among all the reasons to like him includes the catchphrase (see other blog entries about this) he bequeathed to millions of us to jump-start our bravado on tough days when we need to borrow it. You gotta say it right-off, though, right at the beginning, just like he did. Ach, I am going to miss him. His death makes me think superstitiously about Robin Harris--that's at least two incredibly influential and funny comedians from Chicago who left way too soon...

3. The Puppy Games on Animal Planet...why do they marginalize the kitties? (!!!???!!!) It feels downright gender-based, classic pre-title IX discrimination, as if puppies are boys and kitties are girls and the kitties are therefore girl cheerleaders/half-time leaders. Really bizarre. I wish I could sue in the name of crazy cat ladies everywhere.

4. I really wish I could have seen more of the Outfits in the Lympix Openin Ceremonies, although still photography, man--that stuff is the best. Probably the best way to see it. Ohlimpix are like the Oscars--I'm all about watching the pre-game show for the dresses. I was appalled to see that the Ralph Lipschitz had once again put all the Americans in bulky jackets n caps that look good on such a small portion of the population...what IS it about Opening Ceremonies Fashion? The only countries who ever look good are the small ones who just wear their own fancy clothes. These big Efforts by Big Countries always look so SILLY. Like the poor Russians with their sneakers and skirts. It's funny--you might think dressing this population would work well cause of all the "good bodies," but they often look very lumpy and squashed in their clothes, kinda frumpy, not in a good way. And US is always reaching for this breathless Newport/Chariots of Fire thing and it never seems to work.

5. I have bought a caftan!!! (I know--should I ever point the sartorial finger at anybody?) It was inexpensive--I am the queen of never paying full-price on clothing, ever, these days--it was $20 and is beautiful silk batik--and I am excited. I am going to be LAINIE KAZAN! I will fluff my hair and smoke a Virgnia Slim and sexually harrass the grocery delivery guy. Never had a caftan. This is a CAFtan, with bright prints and everything.

6. The all-day 12-film Doris marathon started at 5:00 a.m. and I have more or less seen everything so far! Well, fitfully. It was suggested (HEE!) I do a real-time Doris blog about it, but not having a lap-top, this is pretty un-possible. I don't even know what to say now, mid-blow-out. Except that they started with a fucking bang -- Love Me or Leave Me -- perhaps her best film, and perhaps the least classically Doris of them all. It also contains some definitive musical recordings, period--her version of "Ten Cents a Dance," "Mean to Me," etc., and Cagney is so good. I think the day's been programmed in a very good, punchy way.

Anyhow gotta get back to, um, watching. I've seen every one of these films, many times, but it doesn't seem very relevant. I'm starting to know way too much about Doris Day. But...that's how I roll. Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring, YO.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

1. Birthday flowers (<--links). How beautiful are they, eh?? Thank you, Holly!
(See Holly's new record dropping this month! I really like "I Like to Be Told" [then, by the way, and now--I think doctors should learn the lyrics for their residency] and "Peace and Quiet," an esp. good showcase for H's voice.)

2. 5? 6? phone calls...4? 5? hours of semi-patient/psychotic waiting during test blasts over coaxial cables, days of downtime, and I think I have TV again (can you say HDTV conversion?). The real question: for how many modern luxuries would you forge through that much beaurocratic hell? I don't see myself doin this for, like...taxes. Good podiatric care. Carpet cleaning. I'm sorry, what were you saying?? I haf TeeVee noch wieder! And two big new ham-bone remotes to lose and mistreat.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Heads-up for Doris

Sunday, August 10, is Doris Day Day on Turner Classic Movies! Check it out.

6:00 AM Love Me Or Leave Me (1955)
8:30 AM Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962)
10:45 AM My Dream Is Yours (1949)
12:30 PM Glass Bottom Boat, The (1966)
2:30 PM Romance On The High Seas (1948)
4:15 PM Please Don't Eat The Daisies (1960)
6:15 PM With Six You Get Eggroll (1968)
8:00 PM Man Who Knew Too Much, The (1956)
10:15 PM Young At Heart (1954)
12:15 AM Teacher's Pet (1958)
2:30 AM Tunnel Of Love, The (1958)
4:15 AM Julie (1956)

Friday, August 01, 2008

push-broom fulla hair clippings

* Have been Facebooking a lot the last few days. Makes me feel like a border collie, herding people around. And then you take a look at it and realize what a sketchy and badly representative list of the people you know it is, despite the fun of adding people you luv. It might not be so sketchy if I were 20 years old, I suppose, if I grew up on these things, but as it is....it's kinda interesting how incompletely these things reach into the corners of life.

* Just what is the race card, by the way? I'm looking at you, McCain. Do tell. I'm picturing something kinda like the Indy 500 flag. Or maybe you give it to the guy who takes the go-kart tickets.
* One of my fav Hurrell portraits of Norma Shearer at auction this week...estimate was $4-6K. Oh they get spendier. Will be curious to see what it went for.

* This goes under the should I mention it or will people think I'm nuts? tag. The Ols*ns. You know...Mary K*te and Ashley. I'm talking about their early incarnation on the weirdo grown men/young girls sitcom. I sorta mushed it all in my head--that character/those two--somehow people never talk as if *those two* were playing *one* character. So think about it. Every time you see one of them onscreen...the other was somewhere else. In their trailer. Think about that. It's like a very lame Hollywood koan.

* Having huge southern/classik rock fest on YouTube the last few nights, with special focus on early 80s .38 Special. Go on--click some. You know you want to. THEY HAD MANY MANY GUITARS AND DRUMS. So great.

* Before I swerved into the classick rock, I could NOT get Judy Holliday singing "Dolores" out of my head. Which sucks, because she sings at a really sad point in The Marrying Kind (OMG Aldo Ray...what a hunk), and it has bad association. But she was so great..worth a listen.

Last year I committed to taking ukulele lessons but never did. Maybe all this "Dolores" will finally get me to to do so! And when I do...I will be a self-contained entertainment machine.

* I was all excited to kvell about my fav new sorbet flavor, only I discovered Oprah got there first!! So I shan't be going on and on about Ciao Bello's Blood Orange sorbet, much. Except to say that I haven't been that thrilled with their other flavors, but this one is just...epic. Sorbet is hard, like lots of simple gastronomic challenges, and the right balance--really right--is hard to get, if you ask me. The blood orange flavor is just amazing.