Thursday, June 30, 2005

I love Pen & Jen

First, consider yourself forewarned about two important things. I have to go have lunch with my future bosses today, so I'm taking off soon and I ain't coming back! Ha ha ha ha! Don't feel bad, though - I have to wear a suit and that's punishment enough. Second, after the summer I had last year, I am bound and determined to make this summer extra fantastique. Part of that means I need to do my work so that I can go on a trip in August, as well as the Vienna and Toronto trips scheduled in July. What this means for you is that I will still post every day, but unless I have something I really need to write about, I'm not going to post 4 times a day. I just can't do it. Remember - I'm not Gawker or Defamer (Anh, I'm talking to you!) and I don't get paid to do this. I get paid to do.... I'm not exactly sure what my boss pays me to do, but it's definitely not write a blog.

So, yesterday I dined at Aquavit with, well, basically the two people who read this blog - Anh and Gena, their respective husband-to-be and husband (Dave and Mike), Gena's b-fry Eda, and my date, the lovely Lynn. Lynn's hubby was stuck sitting on a runway in Atlanta, poor guy. Not that nouveau Swedish food is his thing anyway.

This post isn't about Aquavit, though, it's about Pen & Jen's Tea Bar in the Maplewood train station. Lynn and I took the train into Manhattan, and so, I stocked up on tea last night. First, I had an iced blood orange and pear tea with some simple syrup, which I sucked down so quickly I got a terrible brain freeze. It was delicious and totally worth the pain, though. Then I bought a blueberry rooibus loose tea for my lovely cast iron tea kettle with diffuser that Anh gave me. Rooibus is a South African herbal tea with all sorts of anti-oxidants and other good things. I had a cup when I got home last night and it was quite nice, with strong blueberry accents.

Anyhoo, I love Pen & Jen and want to be just like them when I grow up (even though they aren't much older than me). P & J are old friends and they were both working Wall Street jobs. One day they wondered why they were working so hard at jobs they didn't even really like that much. So they quit their day jobs and opened a tea bar. They give me hope.

More on Aquavit later.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Village Green With Envy (because I could never make a sauce that good)

Last night, the mamala and I headed back to Ridgewood for dinner at the Village Green, located on the corner of Prospect and Hudson, one block off of the main street, East Ridgewood Ave. You may assume for the purposes of this that all of my prior thoughts on Ridgewood stand – it's a beautiful town.

We were nervous, though, after the Latour debacle. Like Latour, Village Green has a food rating of 26 in Zagat's. Unlike, Latour, the Village Green was given a rating of "Excellent" by the New York Times (which is how Mom discovered it). VG specializes in tasting menus and is prix fixe. On weekends, a reservation is a must. We had a res for this Tuesday evening, but it really wasn't necessary.

I'm here to tell you that VG provided me with one of the finest meals I've had since the tasting menu at 1789 back in February. Yes, better than Babbo. It was that good, and it has, for the time-being, restored my faith in Zagat's.

We entered the Green, which is comprised of two small dining rooms, and since it was a slow night, we were allowed to choose where we sat. The setting is very intimate, with minimal decorations. There doesn't need to be much in terms of decoration, though, as the multi-pained windows are terribly attractive with their dark wood. As Mom put it, "I feel like I'm in a small eatery in York."

Diners choose between a 4, 5, or 7 course tasting menu, and there are selections to be made for each course. Mom and I decided to really do it up and have the 7 course. Our courses below:


Lump crab meat cocktail

Sashimi grade tuna with greens and roe


Grilled white asparagus salad


Foie gras on an apple and cranberry bread pudding with a red wine reduction sauce

Sauteed soft shell crab with citrus browned butter


Grilled sea scallop with lobster risotto


Braised beef short rib with red wine reduction and creamy gorgonzola polenta




Fallen chocolate cake with fresh whipped cream

Vanilla crème brulee

Where there is only one dish listed, Mom and I ordered the same thing. On the others, we shared. People, dish after dish was as amazing as the last. The lump crab and sashimi were both light ways to start off the meal with interesting hints of lime on both. The asparagus salad was served with a truffle vinaigrette and the asparagus was marinated in something that made it pleasantly salty and bitter. The foie gras was out of this world – perfectly sauteed and the red wine reduction was a perfect accompaniment. The soft shell crab was also lovely, but paled next to the foie gras. The scallop was nicely done – neither under or overdone, and the lobster risotto was perfectly al dente, but also creamy, unlike the dried and sticky clump of risotto at Latour.

The braised rib fell off the bone and again, the red wine reduction was good enough to drink by the cup full. You've got to love a talented saucier. And the creamy gorgonzola polenta? Perfection. Gorgonzola can be overpowering, but the chef added just enough to make it interesting.

I cannot recount what types of cheese were served, I started to go into good food overload by the 6th course. There were five types of cheese, each unique and pungent. And did I mention the fresh baked bread that they kept serving us during the meal? Multi-grained, rosemary, and olive. Unbelievable.

Dessert's fallen cake (meaning flourless) was rich in flavor and surprisingly light in texture. Mom's brulee was clearly infused with a fresh vanilla bean stewed in milk – you can't get that flavor from the bottled extract. My only complaint was that the crust of the brulee could have been slightly more carmelized. But the custard was done beautifully.

The pacing of the meal was done at just the right speed, so that we could appreciate each course before moving onto the next. Our waitress said it's difficult to do that on a weekend, when there are many reservations. Speaking of our waitress, she looked about 16, but had a knowledge of the menu and food in general that far surpassed any other server I've had in comparable restaurants. Furthermore, she was friendly and very competent. So, kudos on the service.

Of course, it's not cheap, and it's probably a good thing that I don't live very close to Ridgewood, lest I spend all my money at the Green. But I do believe this will be my destination for my next special occasion meal. Thanks for restoring my faith, Village Green.

For Beer Fans

Thanks, Yankees. Thanks a lot for going up 4-1 and then letting the O's tie it up, sending it to extra innings. Thanks for letting them win it in the 10th. Thanks. One false move, and we're back under .500. Sigh.

Meanwhile, the Times has a great article about pale ale, a brief history, what one ought to look for in a pale ale, and the results of a tasting that the Dining section did of 24 different types of pale ale. It makes me want to cut out of work and go have a beer. Their number 1 pick? Dale's Pale Ale from Colorado.

There's also a fantastic article on condiments (sorry Pablo, I hope that the mere mention of the "c" word didn't cause you to go into convulsions). The tester's condiment picks are here, but sadly it does not appear that she tried Trader Joe's wasabe sake mustard. Delicious. I think I shall e-mail Marian Burros and tell her about it.

Great. Now I want a pale ale and a hot dog with mustard. Thanks, Times.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Bring Your "A" Game

Sunday I set off on a true adventure... at least, a true adventure for me. Phil and I occasionally argue about the best of any type of food.... when I declare that the best Cuban sandwich is at Brisas Del Caribe in Newark, though I'm sure there are better in Union City or Miami, I get challenged because I haven't had the Cubans at some joint in Chelsea. The same is true for Phil's suggestions that Murray's has the absolute best bagels (although after trying the bagels at Murray's, I'm more inclined to believe that). I think we just enjoy arguing, and people always find their own traits to be the most inflamatory in a friend. The point of this story is that I was assured, not only by Phil, but also by his buddy Rajeev, that I had not lived as a hot dog lover until I had sampled Nathan's.... not just any Nathan's, but Coney Island's original Nathan's stand.

I've never been to Coney Island, and other than a vague sense that there might be roaming packs of wild dogs and some broken bottle fights, I was not sure what to expect. I picked up Phil, his lady friend Emily, and Rajeev outside the Tribeca Grand, and we crossed the Manhattan Bridge over to Brooklyn. It was really a quick drive and before I knew it, we were right by the Atlantic Ocean.

Coney Island actually has a very interesting history, and Nathan's was originally opened in 1916. Wikipedia does a nice job, so I won't bore you, but I recommend reading their article. We parked by the Brooklyn Cylones' stadium, since we had tickets to the 5pm game against the Aberdeen Ironbirds. You may recall that Sunday was hot and steamy, but there was a fantastic breeze off the water, and so it was understandable that so many people were out on the beach and the boardwalk.

As far as the boardwalk goes, it was definitely similar to the Jersey shore in that there were lots of fried food vendors and ridiculous games. I'd say it reminded me the most of Wildwood because there's also the Cyclone and the ferris wheel. Unlike the Jersey shore, there's a game called "Shoot the Freak" in which people pay to shoot paintballs at some poor schmuck in protective gear. As the purveyor of this game said, "Yeah, we're from Brooklyn. Yeah we shoot the freak. Yeah we swim in dirty water. And we like it." I appreciate pride in things that are less than travel brochure material. Good for him. As for the arcade games, they were a little more broke than, say, Seaside's Jenkinson's Pier.

Anyway, after a ride on the ferris wheel and some skee ball, we headed for Nathan's. Suffice it to say, the lines were rather long, and the staff, highly incompetent. But the weather was so exquisite, the company good, and the promise of fantastical hot dogs so great, that I found myself completely unconcerned. You have to love Sundays spent at a beach.... they're just good for your soul. Anyway, we finally got our hot dogs (and cheese fries!) and they were everything I thought they would be. It's difficult to explain what's so great about a good hot dog as compared to a crappy one. It's the delicate balance of grilling (I'll eat boiled dogs, but prefer grilled) and texture and flavor.... it defies description for me. I will say that while the cheese fries were exactly like the cheese fries you would have at a Nathan's in Garden State Plaza, the hot dogs were definitely in a class by themselves. Simply perfect.

Next up, we headed over to the ball park. The Cyclones are division A, affiliated with the Mets. As such, there was a lot of Mets gear about. Phil had hoped against hope that we would be among the first 2500 fans, thus garnering us beer mugs, which really did not look anything like beer mugs.... they were more like those 7-11 Big Gulp cups. I'm rather relieved that we missed out... I love my Yankees coffee to go cup, but a ginormous plastic beer mug with a strange lid? Pass, thanks.

I have been to a Newark Bears game before, and the Bears are AAA, but still managed to make 4 errors during the game, so I was eagerly anticipating the ridiculous lack of skill that would surely be present. I was not disappointed - the Cyclones were actually pretty good, but the Ironbirds got pounded and by the time we left, they had accumulated 4 scored errors (and there were others that really could have been scored as such). The stadium was lovely - nice breeze and a view of the water and the boardwalk. On the whole, a lovely, lovely Sunday in Coney Island.

On the ride home, Rajeev played the role of food mindreader when he suggested a stop for ice cream in Dumbo. The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory was right on the water, with a view of lower Manhattan that almost looks like it's fake. I remember going to a roof deck party with Anhabelle one summer a couple of years ago. She was a summer associate at her firm and one of the other summers was subletting around 16th Street. The weather was beautiful, and as the sun set and the sky turned pink, you felt like you could reach out and touch the Empire State Building. It almost looks painted, it's so breathtaking. The same could be said from the view in Brooklyn. It's simply lovely. I have thought my entire life that you cannot beat the early evening skies of summer in the tri-state area... perhaps it's the pollution and burning ozone, but after two cross country trips, I still haven't seen colors like that elsewhere.

I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince - 17 days, wiotches. I have subdued my excitement because I'll be away when the book officially comes out, and thus won't get my very own copy till July 19th. But after talking to Kate last night, and coming to a definitive agreement that Dumbledore is probably going to shuffle off the mortal coil, I'm starting to get pumped. What will be do without Dumbledore? Will all be lost? The wonderful thing about the HP books is that, while the anticipation is delicious, the pay-off is always better.

So, no gossip. J.K. Rowling has dispatched a great many of the rumors circulating and warns all us muggles to take everything we hear about it with a large grain of salt. Meanwhile, Amazon has compiled its list of favorite moments from the series. High on my list: the first time Harry meets Hagrid; the de-gnoming of the Weasley's garden; Nearly Headless Nick's deathday party; Harry, Ron & Hermione's battle with the mountain troll; anything involving Professor Lupin; Professor Moody and the unforgiveable curses.... and from Book 5, Luna and Harry's conversation in the final chapter about losing a loved one, and the notion that those we lose are just beyond the veil.... so touching, but never sentimental.

Your favorites?

Zing! Still got it, Nicholas.

Nicholas Kristof has an interesting op-ed in today's Times about the LoJack device on cars. In Massachusetts, there has been a significant decrease in auto theft because insurance companies up there give incentives for installing the anti-theft device. The thing about LoJack is that it actually has a deterrent effect, unlike the Club, which merely shifts the risk of theft onto other vehicles. Nick thinks the LoJack should be considered for homes as well (silent alarm that would allow coppers to catch a thief), and as he states: "Then many people would choose the silent alarms, more burglars would get caught, and many of the criminally inclined would choose a new line of work, perhaps becoming chief executives." Oh that Nicholas Kristof. He's a funny one. And because Nicholas is secretly a bleeding heart on domestic issues (not so secretly when it comes to Cambodian prositutes and Darfur), he mentions that programs like JobCorps for at-risk teens have been shown effective in reducing criminal activity in participants.

In other news, I was listening to Wait wait... Don't Tell Me (The NPR news quiz) this weekend. Wait wait is so much fun because they will inevitably tell you an interesting news story that was buried or missed by the mainsteam media. According to a study that came out last week, both men and women were more likely to enjoy sex, i.e., have an orgasm (measured by brain scans) when they kept their socks on during intercourse. Seriously. The London Times wrote: "The scientists found the male brain harder to study during orgasm because of its shorter duration in men. " Zing! Oh man, the media is on a tear. The study also showed: "The scans show that while women may be able to fool their partners with a fake orgasm, the difference is obvious in the brain. "

Meanwhile, the media is back to talking about shark attacks and what not. I'm not complaining - I find these stories scary and fascinating. But the last time we faced a glut of stories like this (and that was also the Chandra Levy summer) was the summer before 9/11. In other words, we're spacing out on Iraq, can't be bothered with other news around the world, so let's talk about Natalee Holloway! I suppose I'm hypocritical because I eat up celeb gossip, which is hardly newsworthy. But I do find myself frustrated with news sources that really ought to be giving top of the fold treatment to stuff other than the BTK murderer. Isn't that what the tabs are for? Shouldn't I be able to find out about the massive French nuclear fusion plant which might change the way we think about energy? Or Mukhtar Mai's brave court appearance? Thank goodness for BBC World Service.

And for women everywhere, this is excellent news. Really, it's excellent news for anyone who loves justice.

Monday, June 27, 2005

I'm a Cardiologist

Saturday evening found me sweatin' to the oldies.... and by oldies I mean a crappy old R train bound for Queens, where the air conditioning was apparently optional. I have generally been on the fence/don't give a rat's ass about the whole stadium debacle, but between riding the shitty shitty subway and hearing about how Pablo's classroom does not have air-conditioning (and is located on the third floor, thus making it extra steamy) and is generally lacking in all sorts of suburban goodness, I am now thoroughly opposed. How about Bloomberg puts some more money into the schools and fixing the subway? Damn!

Anyway, I headed out to Queens because Pablo has lived there for over a year and I still have not seen his place. The "R" train was sadly unairconditioned. I have spent a lot of time on the subway, and generally have found it to be a cheap and speedy way around the city. But I kept thinking about the DC Metro while I rattled over to Astoria - its cleanliness, air-conditioning, and new signage that tells you how long you have to wait for your train. Sure, it's not as cheap as the subway, generally, but I like it.

Paul's apartment was quite nice and I'm glad I finally got to see it - he's done a good job with the decorating, proving that he's watched a few too many episodes of Queer Eye. After dinner, we headed back to Manhatts for the 9pm show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. UCB is a theater for improv comedy and the 9pm slot on Saturdays belongs to a group called Respecto Montalban. I've seen Respecto twice before, and I keep going back for more because they are so goddamned funny.

The basic premise is that the group comes out, asks the audience a question and then performs something very funny based on that. For example, once they asked the audience to yell out a traumatic event - someone called out, "my bar mitzvah." The audience member's bar mitzvah, as it turned out, was in Roanoke, Virginia at a hotel that was hosting a midget convention on the same day. The group then performs a bunch of hysterical sketches on that premise. This past Saturday's performance involved a cranberry bog.

The second half of the show involves the group bringing an audience member on stage, interviewing them about their day, their job, their life philosophy, and then performing a sketch of what that person's nightmare would be like. Funny is an understatement for this part of the night. The Village Voice's description is spot on. The guy who went up this past Saturday is a cardiologist. The following ensued during the interview:

Respecto Member: So, is the main reason for becoming a cardiologist so that you can go to parties and when people ask you what you do, you say, 'I'm a cardiologist."
Cardiologist: Yeah, it's pretty cool.
Respecto: Cause, if I were you, I'd be like (gives the finger) 'Fuck you. I'm a cardiologist,' at every party.

That played heavily into the nightmare sequence, and I think that "Fuck you, I'm a cardiologist," is going to be my new line, right up there with "Good times" and "So I've got that going for me."

We stuck around for the next show, Mother, which relies partially on the CDs and Ipods brought in by audience members for inspiration. Mother was funny, although I prefer Respecto. Pablo felt that Mother was definitely off that night.

Pablo has pointed out that the sad thing about improv is one cannot repeat the funny stuff - it's just not funny unless you see it for yourself. So, get yourself to the UCB theater, located on 26th Street between 8th and 9th Ave. It's $8 a show, which may be one of the cheapest guaranteed good times on the isle, in my humble opinion. I've walked out with a belly ache from laughing every time I see Respecto. Go! (and take me with you!)

Time to hit the road to creepy pot-boiler land

Did you know that Scarlett Jo and Josh Hartnett are going to be in the movie version of the James Ellroy novel The Black Dahlia? Dude, I didn't even know they were adapting this. Anyway, I read the book about five years ago, got Devon to read it too, since she has a soft spot for film noir, and noir is definitely Ellroy's forte. And it gave her nightmares. It's really quite dark.

Black Dahlia is Ellroy's fictional account of a true Hollywood mystery. A young actress was found murdered and horribly mutilated in a vacant lot in 1947. The murder is unsolved to this day, although there are all sorts of theories and books purporting to be the definitive account. Ellroy's theory is equally fantastical, but he never claims it's anything other than fiction. Really, aside from the mystery, the novel is about how the murder investigation leads the main character, an LA cop, down a path to madness and back out the other side. I'd be shocked if they maintained the storyline from the book - the protaganist does some effed up stuff and it's just very brutal at points.

Anyway, I like Scarlett for the role of the girlfriend in this movie - I bet she'll look great in 1940s garb. I'm on the fence about Hartnett, but after seeing his short but interesting turn in the noir Sin City, he might do well. Done well, an Ellroy novel can win Oscars (see LA Confidential) so maybe this will be a boon to the oh-so-deserving Scarlett.

Latour: Try Cooking With Your Head

My pops is away on his annual fishing trip in the northern reaches of Saskatchewan. And when the pops is away, the foodies will play. My dad is a creature of habit, and so he and my mother tend to eat at the same three places (the primary requirement being that they can make a dry martini). My mother, though, loves food and it is from her that I get my enthusiasm for eating out.

Mom and I decided to go to Ridgewood on Friday night to Latour, which is located on East Ridgewood Ave, right next to the train station. Ridgewood is one of the lovelier towns in New Jersey, with a better downtown than even Montclair or Westfield (bigger than Westfield, nicer architecture and landscaping than Montclair). Latour is a French-American restaurant with a ranking of 26 in Zagat's. Granted, the NJ version of Zagat's is much more generous in its scoring than the NYC version, however, one must figure that any place with a 26 must be quite good. And the 26 puts Latour in the top 40 for New Jersey. Mom's co-workers also raved about it, so it was with a good deal of anticipation that we arrived for our 7:30 res.

The restaurant itself was completely charming - wood floors, plenty of space between tables, mellow lighting (but not so dark that you couldn't see) and generally decorated to look French provincial. Our server was attentive and able to help my mother, the master of "Which do you recommend?"

But missteps occurred quickly. The server forgot to tell us that she had already sold the last brie appetizer, and so I had to compensate by ordering French onion soup. Mom started with the foie gras, which was decent, although I expected better considering that this is a French restaurant. The foie gras at the Glenwood in Sloatsburg, NY, which is not a French restaurant, was much better. The main problem with it, I would say, was that it was rather thin, and the sauce was slightly overpowering - it was so strong that one could not enjoy the white truffle oil that accompanies it. The French onion soup was also disappointing - it was nicely sweet, but there was no saltiness to counteract the sweetness of the onions, and the bread was too charred, further compromising the taste. Frankly, I ought to get a better French onion soup at Latour than I do at Collins, but that wasn't the case.

Next course - salads. I had a spinach salad with a raspberry vinaigrette, goat cheese and yellow raisins. Mom had the frisee salad. The spinach was rather soggy, not crisp and fresh as it ought to have been. There was actually too much goat cheese (and it was not as pungent as it normally is) and dressing, which combined to positively drown the spinach. I didn't try the frisee, as I don't care for it under normal circumstances, but Mom reported that it was also rather soggy, which is really a sin for frisee.

For our main course, I ordered the Beef Wellington Napoleon and Mom ordered the duckling in orange sauce. I am a devotee of rare meat and I never ever send food back unless it's inedible. This beef "Wellington" was completely inedible, it was so undercooked. When one cuts into a rare piece of filet, it ought not fall apart, and while it ought to be red in the center, and bright pink near the edges, it should not look like it was pulled out of the packaged and put right on your plate. The steak literally looked like it had been grilled for thirty seconds on each side. It fell apart while I was cutting into it and was ice cold in the center (rare steak ought to be cool in the center, but that was not the case here). I had to send the steak back to be cooked up, which I hate to do. Sure enough, when it returned, the steak was medium. Very, very disappointing. The Madeira reduction that accompanied it was nice, but Beef Wellington ought to be cooked in a philo dough puff pastry - this Beef Wellington sat on a biscuit with a little biscuit hat on top. Very odd. The Napoleon portion of it was a foie gras pate, which was ruined for me with the entire doneness debacle. The accompanying mashed potatoes were bland and dry, and tasted like they had come from a mix.

Mom's duckling, on the other hand, was fantastic. The l'orange sauce was mellow and complex, the duckling as cooked medium rare, as specified, and was tender and juicy. The accompanying risotto was absolutely abysmal - it was dry and rolled into a ball.

For dessert, we had our favorite - creme brulee. The brulee was too thick and charred on top - it took several whacks with the spoon to get through the top. And the burned sugar was so thick that it overwhelmed the mild custard (which was middling, but Mom thought it was a little too runny).

So, in summation, while the ambiance, service, and company were all lovely, I was exceedingly disappointed with the food. I wouldn't even give this place a 20, let alone a 26. Later, while I fetched the car, my mom waited outside the restaurant. The owner/chef approached her (he was smoking a cig) and asked about the meal. My mom, sweetheart that she is, assured him it was delightful. "Oh good! You know, we really cook from the heart." If I had been drinking something when my mom recounted this, I would have spit it out. My mom said, "And I thought when he said that, 'Well, maybe if you cooked a little more with your head, the food would be better.'" Nice one, Ma.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Cooper hasn't been pulling his weight in the train department

Final comments till next week. Yesterday I went to visit my sister, nephew, and the perfect baby who never cries (aka, my new nephew Cooper). Coop is very cute for a two week old baby - he's practically blond, which is surprising. My brother-in-law, who is, incidentally, insane, is worried that Coop isn't smart. Why? Because he doesn't cry and fuss and he actually sleeps, unlike Connor who used to cry all day long and slept about 45 minutes a week, thus driving my sister to the brink of insanity. Connor is quite smart for a munchkin and since Coop is so different, Jim thinks he might be dumb. Brilliant. Anyway. Real conversation overheard yesterday.

Connor: I don't like Cooper.
Lorien: You liked him yesterday.
Connor: (Looks at me and wrinkles his nose in disgust) He's very wet.

Everybody's a critic. Coop can't catch a break from Crazy or Connor. Oh well, he seems like the perfect baby to me. I think Connor is just disappointed that Cooper doesn't have the manual dexterity to help build train tracks.... also, he can't hold up his own head yet.

If you're a loose tea fan, I want to recommend Pen & Jen's Tea Bar in the Maplewood train station. They have a ton of tea, and you can even order it online. Pen and Jen used to work on Wall Street, until they realized they'd rather not slave for the man forever. So they quit and opened their shop. The blood orange pear tea is fantastic iced.

Enjoy the first true weekend of summer, suckers! Smooches.

Burgers from Heaven

This week, Philly and I finally went to White Manna in Hackensack, NJ. Yeah, I've definitely had a Hackensack-heavy food week. Anyway, after A Hamburger Today's rave review of the Hackensack branch of WM, we opted to head on over and try it.

WM is located right on River Road, which runs straight into the heart of Hackensack if you kept on driving. You needn't keep on, though, to find this greasy spoon, built over 50 years ago. The decor is just what you would expect from a very old diner - a rounded counter in the middle of the tiny space which circles the grill, plenty of neon, and a counter that runs the perimeter of the store.

White Manna is famous for its sliders (mini burgers that you get at a place like White Castle). I had a couple of cheese sliders with a side of fries and a chocolate shake, and I immediately forgot all my troubles after that meal. Burgers can come with or without grilled onions (I took them with) and while I am certainly a fan of White Castle, you can't beat these baby burgers. Phil had two double cheese sliders, and he wished that they had been a little bit rarer. I personally disagree - sliders really ought to be well cooked, especially when you get them at a greasy little diner where there's not accounting for the quality of the meat.

Anyway, I enjoyed the entire experience. I've heard that you ought to expect a bit of a wait if you get there during a rush period - we were there after 8pm, so we had no trouble sitting down to eat. Appears that WM does a brisk take-out business too. Be forewarned, this is no frills. But for $7 I was stuffed and had a milkshake.... which is sort of like enjoying dessert while eating dinner.

The name on everybody's lips...

Is gonna be... Roxey. Or in the alternative, this post could be called I'm Not a Racist! Last night I met up with Roxey, dear chum from college days, fellow Bergen County representer, probably my long-lost twin sister, and protector of all things liberal, for dessert. We wound up at the new Thai Chef in Riverside Square Mall, where we both had their famous chocolate soufle. It was delicious, although not as good as the Montclair version.

This is all beside the point. I've been thinking a lot lately about racism, mostly because of Crash. I asked Rox if she had seen it - indeed she had and she enjoyed it very much. I told her what a friend of mine said - that in a post-Rodney King world, the movie's opinions on racism were obsolete.... that no one in a major city like L.A. would possibly say such things out loud. Roxey laughed - "Megan, you wouldn't believe some of the stuff people say to me. And we live on the east coast." She went on to tell me that while watching the news about the conviction of Edgar Ray Killen in Mississippi, a man on the street said he hoped black people would not remember the people of Mississip as only a bunch of former lynchers and racists.... "I mean," the man remarked, "Some of my best friends are black." Roxey fell over laughing. We recounted stories to one another regarding friends who have wondered aloud why black people don't just go out and get jobs? Indeed, I think Crash is more authentic these days than many white people want to admit, and thus offer you these two thoughts.

Ralph Nader, bastion of all things progressive, dropped the "N" word last week. Al Sharpton told him to watch it. You can read about the incident here. As Sharpton said, "Nader is not a racist by any stretch of the imagination. He has a good track record. But he ought to be sensitive that he does not sanitize that word." I certainly don't think of Nader as a "racist" but the fact that he felt like saying such a charged word was appropriate is a little disturbing.

I've been reading Malcolm Gladwell's excellent Blink, which is about the immediate decisions we make before we actually think something over. In other words, it's about the unconscious thought processes that occur in milliseconds. Gladwell talks about Harvard's implicit association study, which you can take on the computer. When Gladwell, who is half black, took the test, he was disturbed to discover that he had a preference for whites. Take the test - it might be an eye-opener for you.

School's Out For Summer

So, my boss just left this morning for seven glorious weeks. I feel like running the halls of my floor yelling "Woohoo! Yeah, bitches! Wooohoooooo!" I actually like my boss very much. However, he's had very little work to do the last couple of weeks and as such, has been coming up with new projects for yours truly. So now I can get some of my real work done. And blog more. And the co-workers and I can take random days off. As Will Smith so eloquently said, "Summer summer summertime. I'll just sit back and unwind."

So, this morning while perusing Gawker, I discovered this piece about Matt Lauer's interview with Tom Cruise. He's so horrendous - back to balthering on about the evils of ritalin and how he knows what's best for everyone. You must check it out. Also, Lindsey Lohan doesn't care about the bushmen of Botswana because she "doesn't get involved in drama." Riiiiggghhht. God, I hate celebs.... and yet I am obsessed with them. They must make me feel smuggly superior or something.

And the Yanks lost last night, dropping 3 out of 4 to the Devil Rays. Nice one, boys. Hopefully they'll step it up with weekend while playing the Mets. If they don't, I look forward to Lauren's gloating phone call on Sunday evening.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Quick, Elaine, to my archives.

Mr. Peterman: I'm afraid it's your urine, Elaine. You've tested positive for opium.
Elaine: Opium?
Mr. Peterman: That's right. White Lotus. Yam-yam. Shanghai Sally.

Last night on Dancing With the Stars, the four remaining couples danced the samba. And shocker of shockers, Rachel Hunter got the boot at the end of the night! She's been one of the consistently well-judged dancers, which isn't surprising. She has a lot of grace and she just looks like she would dance well. And she does. But after combining the judges' scores with the audience score, Rach got the boot. Probably had something to do with her crankypants attitude in the interviews. I kind of felt badly - she's much better than Joey McIntyre, but he's quite a bit more likeable. And she teared up when she lost, thus redeeming herself. But it was too late.

So, now it's down to three couples. I'm still pulling for O'Hurley (and no, not just because I love Seinfeld). I do think he has it tougher because he gets compared to the professional males. And he's doing a great job. But I have got to give it up for Kelly Monaco - talk about improved! Girl can samba! It was particularly amusing in the pre-dance interview when she decided to take ballet in order to make herself more graceful, and likened herself to an oompa-loompa. While Kelly is very petite and skinny, it's hard to imagine her roly-poling around like an oompa-loompa. Still, there's something to it when you see her falling over after a spin. Anyway, good for her. I really thought she and her partner were the best of the night in the samba - and Kelly finally stopped looking like she was concentrating so hard. During the group Viennese waltz, O'Hurley shined again.

I do wish that host, whose name I can't remember, would stop interrupting people when they talk. It's annoying. And would it kill the show to play appropriate music? There's something very silly about a samba set to "Just the Two of Us," and a Viennese waltz set to "I've Got You, Babe." Lame.

I guess Joey McIntyre's large Boston Irish family is voting for their boy, although I did think he was much better at the samba than the jive. And as one judge pointed out, Joey has finally mastered the appropriate dance position - head up, shoulders back, perfect posture. Still, everytime I see Joey, I think of the Saturday Night Live sketch spoofing the New Kids on the Block. Funny stuff.

Speaking of reminders, this show, and my man Mr. Peterman, remind me of Seinfeld. My sister and I used to watch it together every week, and seeing Peterman reminds me of those days, where we would laugh hysterically about Kramer and the beano, and Kramer and the pig man, and Kramer and the fusilli Jerry.... oh, good times. I miss that.

So, next week they'll be doing the foxtrot and paso doble. Anyone who has seen Strictly Ballroom will remember the paso doble. I'm looking forward to it.

Cause Misdemeanor Said So?

Telling this story requires me to confess a guilty pleasure. Sometimes when I get home, if there's nothing on TV, I will flip between BET's 106 & Park, MTV2's Hip-Hop Show, and Fuse's Daily Download. It's a guilty pleasure because I actually hate music television - their interminable commercials, and the V-J's blah blah blah blah blah, and the fact that they almost never show any videos. But I have found that if I flip between these three programs, I manage to see a good number of videos. If it weren't for BET, I probably would not have discovered my current favorite song, Ciara's "Oh," which is an interesting tribute to Atlanta with a ridiculously catchy hook and chorus that have been in my head for a week.

So, last night after watching Missy Elliot's new video on 106 & Park, no sooner had Missy sang her last "Cause Misdemeanor said so" when who do they bring out to plug his new movie? Tom Cruise. I seriously can't catch a break. Of all the places I ought to be spared.... but noooooo. And of course, he's ridiculously happy and in loooove, and then they bring out Katie Holmes and I am subjected to their schmoopie woopie love. And I threw up. The end.

Gena sent along this gem about Tom getting annoyed with a reporter who had a "misconception" about scientology and their belief in aliens.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Those Damn Yankees

So like, you guys? I literally went to the bathroom, returned to my desk, and the Yankees had gone from 3-2 in the 7th, to 5-3 Devil Rays. Ugh.

ESPN is having the great sneaker bracket - vote on your sneaker picks here. I had a rough time deciding between the Adidas Samba and the classic New Balance in the non-hoops division. I wound up picking the NBs because I selected the Adidas Gazelles for the next bracket. I had a pair of Gazelles in college and I loved them so. I really do heart the sambas, though. Also a rough choice - the Adidas Campus and the Kangaroos. So many wonderful kicks, so little closet space.

Woe to anyone who chooses the Nike Dunks over the Converse Chuck Taylors in the Old School Hoops division. Woe!

That bitch be crazy

You may recall that a few years ago, there were rumors that Eminem and Mariah Carey were dating. At one point, after it appeared that the relationship had ended, if indeed there was ever a relationship, Em apparently remarked when asked if he and MC were an item, "Nah, man. That bitch be crazy." As Kate would later say, "Yeah, cause Marshall is really in a position to comment on other people's mental health." That's astute, however, we were in agreement that MC is rather nutso. "Bitch be crazy" became a descriptor for Kate and I. For instance, "My boss is so bitch be crazy." Or: "And after that argument, I just realized that she's a bitch be crazy."

I've never used the phrase to describe a man before, but after reading about the scientology auditing questionnaire, I've come to realize that Tom Cruise is bitch be crazy.

Defamer has the hijinks here, and Radar has the sampling of questions ici. For those of you who don't know about the precepts of Scientology, check out Rick Ross's website, which has all sorts of interesting information. And here's a link to the controversial Time magazine article on the subject.

Dude, I totally knew Scarlett Jo was a smart girl. Good for her for running as fast as her feet could carry her.

Hopefully Coming Soon

Anhabelle sent me a link today for a review of a new doc called Waging a Living. The reviewer compares it to an illustrated version of one of my favorite books, Nickel and Dimed. She also remarks that the film is never hectoring nor sanctimonious, but it's probably the type of movie that will make me angry and weepy at the same time. Hopefully it'll make its way to Montclair some time soon.

Do you feel lucky, Yankees? Well, do ya?

Lots of crazy stuff on TV last night. First off, Yankees vs. Tampa Bay. Per usual, the Unit looked like shit and infuriated me before being saved by the most ridiculous offensive assault I have witnessed in baseball, lo these many years. I was channel surfing, and when I flipped back to the game, sure enough, the Yanks had left the Rays beaten and bloodied. Sure, the Yanks had a 13 run inning against TB earlier in the season, but not when they were down 10-2. With a 13-run 8th inning, the Yanks won 20-11. Yeah, yeah, that's swell, but 11? Effing Randy Johnson. Murray Chass has a column today with the headline "It's Money for Nothing as Yanks' Starters Labor." Amen to that, brother. The most explosive offense isn't going to be enough against better pitching. Let's hope the boys haven't tuckered themselves out from running around the bases so much last night.

AFI put out its top 100 movie quotes last night. Number one was not surprisingly, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn," from Gone With The Wind. Also in the top 10 - "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse" from The Godfather (at #2); the "I coulda been a contender" schpiel from On the Waterfront (#3); "May the force be with you" from Star Wars (#8); and "You talkin' to me?" from Taxi Driver (#10). The full list is here. Casablanca had a whopping six quotes in the countdown. Some of my favorites that made the list:

#12 - "I love the smell of napalm in the morning." from Apocalypse Now
#27 - "I'm walkin' here! I'm walkin' here!" from Midnight Cowboy
#34 - "You know how to whistle, don't you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow," from To Have and Have Not
#35 - "You're gonna need a bigger boat." from Jaws
#92 - "Cinderella story. Outta nowhere.... It's in the hole!" from Caddyshack (my beloved Carl Spackler, so you mustn't be surprised that I was pleased with this choice.)

There were plenty of selections that I shrugged at - did they really have to put both "I'll be back" and "Hasta la vista, baby" in? And the On Golden Pond quote? Completely random in my opinion. And that dopey Love Story quote all the way at #13? Gag. Anyway, do you see any quotes that you think ought to have made the list? Let me know.

Also on the tube, Black Hawk Down, which I flipped in and out of while shuddering through the game. I'd never seen it before and had resisted seeing it because I wanted to read Mark Bowden's book before I saw the movie. Bowden is in that class of excellent journalists turned non-fiction writers - like Sebastian Junger, Jon Krakauer, Laura Hillenbrand. I read his Killing Pablo, about the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar, a few years ago and was pleased to learn it's being made into a movie. The thing is, I think the entire adaptation of these types of non-fiction books is so difficult. What Bowden, Hillenbrand, and Junger manage to do in their work is make the reader an expert in the field, while also attaching you to the individual story. In The Perfect Storm, you come to know all about fishing, meteorology, sailing, the training of para-jumpers in the military, and the physical aspects of drowning, while also forming an appreciation and attachment to the men of Andrea Gale. There is no sentimentality in the book - he simply interviewed the families of these men and creates an interesting portrait. Same goes for Seabiscuit, and both movies were very disappointing. Not having read Black Hawk Down, I can't say whether the movie lived up to the book. But, I think there's something to be said for creating a very realistic nightmare vision of what war is like.

So, since the Yanks will be playing this afternoon, there is nothing to stopme from enjoying tonight's episode of Dancing With the Stars. Woohoo!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Hey, I'm scared of bats too!

I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Batman Begins over the weekend. Solamente. I normally like seeing movies on my own - no one to share popcorn or twizzlers with me, so I can eat them all myself. Wheee! But I wished I had seen BB with someone because it would have been fun to talk about a) how lovely Christian Bale is b) how heinous Katie Holmes is and c) how effing good the movie was. As such, Kate got treated to a 12:30am phone call from me.

Anyway, I went to the 9:40pm showing at the Loews on Route 10 in East Hanover. This theater gives me serious pangs for the New Brunswick Loews, or even Clifton Commons. The East Hanover Loews does not have real stadium seating and the seats don't go all the way up to your head, so you're actually forced to hold your own head up during a feature. The horror! Seriously, it's kind of annoying.

The theater was completely packed - lots of couples, lots of college kids home for the summer, and a healthy dose of pre-teen boys with their moms. There was this kid in front of me with his mom and dad (dad liked to push his rocking seat back into my knees - thanks!) who looked about twelve and kept picking fights with his sweet but dopey mother. Dopey mom kept shooshing her punky son as he grew more and more angry. Then he got more angry and belligerent - yelling at her about two inches from her face. If that little punk had been my kid.... well, I wouldn't have let my kid talk to me like that. And dad just sat there. I was a pretty good kid growing up, still I was always careful to never speak disrespectfully to my mother in front of my father. If anything was grounds for the wrath of pops, it was disrespecting mom. Apparently, gone are those days.

The movie started, and so I'll stop my schpiel on the inanities of the theater and get down to the film itself. Simply put, it ruled. It had the wonderful juxtaposition of being terribly sad and wildly fun from moment to moment. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise, as it was directed by Christopher Nolan, the gent who brought us Memento, one of my favorite films of the last decade. Sure, sure, there are moments of slight cheesiness, but what kind of comic book movie would this be without a little cheese? Nolan co-wrote the screenplay, and indeed, the themes that he enjoys pursuing - damaged hero, strange friendships, regret, and of course, revenge, are all present.

Really, though, the aspects that turn Bruce Wayne into Batman, the history and suffering he endures are nicely rendered and acted. Of course, you'll recall that Bruce's parents are murdered in front of him when he is a child. He becomes a young adult filled with feelings of rage, fear, regret and loss and while bumming around and being a criminal himself, he meets up with Liam Neeson, who trains him. One of my favorite scenes occurs on an ice flow (filmed in Iceland, apparently on one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world - it move 4-5 inches per day) which constantly cracks and pops, as the two men circle one another, spar and argue about who is really to blame for the death of Bruce's parents. Beautifully filmed and acted.

I won't give away too many more details, as I don't wish to ruin it for anyone who hasn't seen it. I will say, the action sequences were on par with The Bourne Identity, including a car chase that frankly rivals the one through Moscow in The Bourne Supremacy. Bourne is my yardstick for action sequences... and BB doesn't have a hand-held camera, so if that bothered you about Bourne, you have nothing to worry about here.

What else? Cillian Murphy, that excellent Mc whom you'll remember as the hero from 28 Days Later, gives a perfectly cool and creepy turn as a psychiatrist (aka The Scarecrow). And who doesn't love Michael Caine - he brings some much needed humor and British charm to a somewhat dark movie. Last but not least - Christian Bale. Oh, what I wouldn't do to Christian Bale. He is just so dreamy. And I'm not going to complain about all the times he doesn't wear a shirt in the movie. Because that made up for the annoying Katie Holmes. And yet, she didn't even ruin the movie! She is blessedly not a big part of this, and therefore, easier to ignore. Honestly, what would we do without the UK and Ireland and all their fine actors?

Manohla Dargis's review for The Times is really on-point, and I even agree with her on how Nolan needs to improve how he shoots a fight sequence. But really, it's a ridiculously good time, with sadness and poignance that never veers towards the overly sentimental. Get thee to a movie theater!

French Dip By Any Other Name

On Friday night, I went over to Houston's in the Riverside Square Mall, Hackensack, with Gena. We were meeting up with G-Doll's hubby, Mike, and her brother. Mike and Gena had raved about Houston's a couple of weeks before and given their proclivities for dining out and good food, I felt that their judgment could be trusted on this restaurant. Still, it's hard for a place to live up to such rave reviews.

Riverside Square Mall is turning into quite the eatery - there's a Cheescake Factory, a Morton's, a seafood place, the name of which escapes me, and Thai Chef has recently opened up a branch. Houston's is a popular destination; long waits are the norm. Gena's brother is a regular, though, and so we only had to wait about 40 minutes or so (apparently 2 hour waits are not out of the ordinary). While we waited at the busy bar, Mike recommended the cosmo, which I can attest was quite excellent. The bar at Houston's appears to be quite the singles scene for north Jersey, with fake breasts in abundance. Phil and I recently had a conversation about the Jersey girl - reality versus the stereotype. Houston's has an awful lot of the stereotype.

For dinner, I started off with the house salad - greens, tomatoes, fresh warm bacon pieces, and a blue cheese dressing. The blue cheese was out of this freaking world. I could seriously drink it... well, drink and eat it since it has enormous chunks of blue cheese in it. Fantastic. Next up, Houston's version of the french dip, which was served with roasted prime rib, cut thin and served rare. The bread is thick and crusty, nicely toasted with a hint of garlic. The meat was tender and cooked to perfection. And there was just a smidge of mayonnaise. Simply put, the best french dip I've ever had. Philly snarked yesterday that calling a sandwich with prime rib instead of roast beef a french dip is like saying the best ribeye you ever had was a filet. I disagree. A french dip is a style of sandwich. Certainly, a cut of ribeye is a cut of ribeye, and a filet is a filet - they are entirely different. But a style of sandwich can be reinvented, just as a milanese can be made with chicken or veal, or a club sandwich can be made with turkey or roast beef. In fact, the original french dip was invented in 1908 and the chef who came up with it used to make it with roast pork, lamb and turkey. Read about it here. My problem with most french dips is not the type of beef used - I happen to love roast beef - but rather, the meat is usually cut too thick and the roast beef is well-done, which frankly, is disgusting. It's like chewing on a piece of rubber. This french dip was sublime.

Next up, we split some key lime pie, which had a lovely graham cracker crust and was perfectly tart. It's true, Houston's is not cheap, so be prepared. And of course, be prepared for a good long wait. Was it worth it? If you enjoy beef, then I'd say hands down, it's worth a trip. And I'm dreaming about that blue cheese dressing, so I'll definitely be back. I can't speak for the other dishes, however, Gena and Mike have had their share of Houston's dinners and attest to the goodness of everything they've tried.

Houston's is a chain, but Riverside is the home to the only New Jersey branch. There's also one in Nueva York at 53rd and 3rd Ave. Check out the menu and reviews here.

Monday, June 20, 2005

When it rains, it pours, and any other cliches you want

I do apologize for not posting today. Friends who don't work with me have frequently teased me for how little work I actually do. It's true that for the legal profession, very little is expected of me and I have taken full advantage of this. However, that being said, please insert any sort of silly adage you want - when it rains, it pours; ants and lazy grasshoppers and gathering food; busy worker bees and so on.

My boss is getting ready to go on an extended summer vacation, but until then, he is required to be in the office. Because he has finished all his work for the most part, and is bored, he wiles away his time by making work for me to do. As such, I have been unable to work on my solo assignments (including the blog).

So, I hope to write more tomorrow, although I cannot promise that my boss will not have come up with something new for me. When I do get to write, though, you can expect a thorough review of Batman Begins, Houston's in Hackensack, my Lonely Planet guidebook to Austria, and my thoughts on herbal tea.

Until then, peace out.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Holy Cheesy Engagement, Batman!

So like, you guys? Yeah, Tom and Katie. Because I just can't catch a break from him. Defamer is going to town today, bless them, and that definitely makes this ridiculous saturation easier to swallow. And according to the blind item guessing game from Page Six, which movie star interviewed three starlets for the role of future girlfriend/wife before picking his current beloved? Hmmm.... I wonder.... and that would certainly be in keeping with the rumor that Tommykins asked Kate Bosworth out on a date and she turned him down....

Despite the fact that Joey, I mean Katie, has always annoyed the bejesus out of me (she's got that annoying little girl thing going on) and Tom reminds me of some of my former patients from my days as a social worker at a mental hospital, I still plan on seeing Batman Begins. First, it's getting awesome reviews. Second, I would follow Christian Bale to the ends of the earth. He's dreamy. The Village Voice didn't care for it, but they don't care for much of anything. Manohla Dargis of the Times was shocked to find that it was "unexpectedly good." And EW gave it an A.

In other, more brain expanding news, NPR has put out its summer book list. It was aired on Talk of the Nation, which for some inexplicable, but probably dastardly reason, does not air on the WNYC affiliate. Boo. I am especially excited to read The Devil's Teeth, which is a nonfiction book about great white sharks and scientists who study them. I have a mild obsession with sharks, so I think this will be most enjoyable. Cloud Atlas also looks tempting and is out in paperback.... I am generally thoroughly opposed to buying hardcover books, so I may need to poke around Ebay for these gems. Does anyone else ever feel as though you'll never get to read all the books you want to read? This concern leads me to have three or four books going at once. I wish I could speed read like Pablo.... perhaps he will teach me some day.

This weekend, I shall extend my search for a tunic, like this one, except not in an icky chartreuse color and not $200. Sorry, Shelli Segal, I do love you, but not that much. To Target with me!

Have a great weekend, all y'all. Back on Monday, hopefully with some food reviews and what not.

We're number 1! Wait.... No, we're number 1!

I love you NPR, oh yes I do.... yesterday on All Things Considered, NPR covered the Nutley pizza war! Woohoo! Nutley! I lived in Belleville, Nutley's neighbor to the south for three years. And Liana and I frequently ordered from Ritacco Brothers on Washington Ave. Mmmm.... Ritacco's.

I can't speak to Michael's Pizza or Ralph's for that matter. So, allow me to explain. Every year, there is the Jaycees Pizza Challenge in Nutley. For those of you unfamiliar with the fabulous Nutley, it is a relatively small, mostly working and middle class town in northern Essex County, wedged between Route 3 and Route 21. And there are an awful lot of folks of Italian ancestry there. Houses are small, yards are neat (and quite a few have a plastic Virgin Mary), and the food is very good. In fact, one of my favorite NJ restaurants, American Bistro, is the neighbor of Ritacco Brothers, which is involved in this pizza war.

Okay, so this year, during the pizza challenge, newcomer Michael's won by 5 votes. And Ralph's demanded a recount. After the closed door tally and recount, Ralph's was declared the winner. Then there's a question of whether Ritacco's decided not to participate, or was actually kicked out. There's lots of name calling and people aren't talking to each other.

It's a great story - read about it here in the Star-Ledger. Only in a Jersey paper will you find this written: "Alas, in a town where so many last names end in a vowel, pizza is considered worth fighting about." Seriously, though, if pizza isn't worth fighting over, what is? What is???

And Li, I'm curious about Ralph's now. Let's order from them next time.

It's my fault he's bald?

Caught an episode of Fairly OddParents last night - Timmy actually decides not to be a selfish 10-year-old for a change and starts doing some nice stuff for the people in his life. But, no one appreciates his efforts, in fact, everyone complains about him. Feeling unappreciated, Timmy wishes that he were never born, a la It's a Wonderful Life.

But unlike the Frank Capra classic, everyone's life is much better without Timmy. His parents are filthy rich. The school bully is a football star. His genius best friend is at Harvard and has a full head of hair. Even Icky Vicky is better off. Oh, and the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. What kind of effed up cartoon let's kids think the world would be better off without them? Fairly OddParents. I love this show.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

I Just Want Your Extra Time....

Because the Sturminator can't get enough of me and she totally misses New Jersey and wishes she lived here, she too has a blog now. Laur watched Dancing last night as well, and reminded me of another great reality TV show - Project Runway! Oh, how I cannot wait for season 2 of that! Anyone know when that'll start? I should look into that. Rumor has it that it'll return in the fall. Le sigh. So long.

I've had complaints about my "lack" of posts this week. I'd like to point out that I haven't missed a day yet! And also, it's my boss's fault. He keeps making me do work. Like, god, you mean I actually have to do stuff around here to get paid? Lame.

On an end note, I wanted you all to know that I have finally learned the lyrics to the stupid Thomas the Tank Engine song that my nephew always wants me to sing. It goes "Thomas the Tank Engine, rolling along/doo doo doo doo (no seriously, that's how it goes)/Thomas and friends will be rolling along/doo doo doo doo/ Thomas we love you, Thomas we love you." That's it. Seriously.

This reminded me of my childhood - when I was young, and particularly when my sister or I had friends over for dinner, my parents would break into song at the dining room table. Typically it would be opera - Tosca or Aida or something along those lines because my folks love opera, they really do know the words, and they liked to embarass us kids. As my parents have aged, they have mellowed on embarassing us. There has subsequently been a role reversal. My sister will frequently say to me, while we are out to dinner, "Guess what I heard the other day? 'You don't have to be rich, to be my girl,'" and then I'll jump in with "You don't have to be cool to rule my world." Together (and usually, I start dancing in my seat while belting this out) "Ain't no particular sign I'm more compatible with, I just want your extra time and your.... DOO DA DOO DOO DOO Kiss." My parents will mutter "So embarassing." And Connor will laugh and clap his hands because he's too young to find this humiliating.

I sing all the time to my parents now - usually Gilbert & Sullivan, but last night I changed the words of "The Rain in Spain" from My Fair Lady to "The Train in Spain" in honor of my nephew. He liked it. I'm grateful to my parents for mortifying me in my youth so that I'm rarely embarassed as an adult. And frankly, I suspect I'll keep singing with my sister when she hears an 80's song that reminds her of when we were young ones, even when my nephew is old enough to sink low in his chair.

No, Elaine, that was gibberish.

How did you find me? - Mr. Peterman
Well, you were the only white poet warlord in the neighborhood. -Elaine

Reality TV is quick and cheap to make, and it appears to be largely successful in terms of ratings, so it can come as no surprise that the networks fill up summer months with plenty of reality shows. The Times had an article on several of these new shows (including the one on NBC for washed-up singers, called Hit Me Baby One More Time).

Last night, at Gena's suggestion, I watched Dancing with the Stars on ABC. I am so glad I have been suckered into this latest reality craze. It rules!

The premise is akin to American Idol, of course, although it does actually appear that thus far, the better dancers are winning. A bunch of somewhat has-been actors, actresses, models, New Kids on the Block, or boxers are paired up with a professional dancer, and each week must perform a specific dance - tango, rumba, jive, quick step, waltz, and fox trot. There are three judges who provide a score for the dancers after they perform. Those scores are added to the audience vote and a couple gets booted at the end of the hour. Last night, former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield got eliminated, mercifully I might add, since he's a terrible dancer. I can't think of Evander without thinking of the Snoop Dogg line "And that's realer than real deal Holyfield/ and now you hookers and hos know how I feel." Amen to that, Snoop.

Annnnyyyywaaaayyy, I used to take dance classes back in the day - I can fox trot, rumba, salsa, merengue, and swing. Good times, people, good times. And it's a fun way to exercise! My dance partners - Seth and Marc were both excellent leads and as any lady who has danced before can tell you, it's all about the lead. As such, I approached this show with some skepticism - it would seem to me that a woman who has never danced before would fare much better with a professional male dancer than a gent who had never danced before with a professional woman.

I was so wrong, and I ought to have known better. Truly talented female dancers have no problem teaching someone how to lead. Likewise, dancing ought to look effortless and fun, and some of the amateur ladies look like they are working way too hard at this.

Last night, three of the couples danced the jive, and two danced the tango. The "couple to beat" right now is John O'Hurley (Mr. Peterman from Seinfeld!) and his partner, Charlotte (pronounced Charlotta). They performed a tango and I was tremendously impressed at how good O'Hurley is. It helps that Charlotte is quite the taskmaster and has been dancing professionaly for quite awhile, but O'Hurley is also clearly enjoying himself. The winner last night though, from the judges perspective, was Rachel Hunter, who danced a tango. Indeed, it was an excellent tango, but it really does not surprise me that lithe Rachel Hunter would be able to dance well. I don't particularly care for her though - she looks perpetually pissy. Probably because she's on a reality TV show. Go, Peterman, go!

Meanwhile, the soap actress, whose name I have forgotten, looks like she's concentrating too hard when she's dancing. You can practically see her counting her steps. And former New Kid Joey McIntyre's jive, while somewhat cute and kitschy, was not remotely controlled - he kept flailing his arms and legs about like he wasn't sure what he was doing.

And in the event that you think dancing is silly, which I understand, consider that John O'Hurley has lost 13 pounds since this has started. Hopefully O'Hurley won't run off to Burma - Dancing airs on ABC on Wednesdays at 9pm.

Thhhhheeeee Yankees Win!

Last night, I flipped to the Yankee game after Dancing with the Stars (more on that later) and sadly saw that in the bottom of the 9th inning, it was 5 to 4, Pittsburgh. Effing Pittsburgh. Derek Jeter grounded out. But wait! Bernie drew a walk! Then Sheffield got on, but Bernie was thrown out on a fielder's choice. Great, two outs. But wait! A-Rod singles and Shef scoots to third! Jorge! Double to left and Shef comes home! We're tied! Wooooo! But wait. A-Rod gets tagged out at home. And this puppy is going to the 10th. And with the way the Yanks have been handling extra innings, that's not good.

Mo faces 4 hitters at the top of the 10th and we're safe. Tino gets a walk in the bottom of the 10th, and then.... redemption. Giambi hits a walk-off homer and the Yanks win 7 to 5. That means the Yanks are back at .500. In your face, Phil! That's what you get for snarking about my team being below .500 the other day. Whose team is under .500 now, hmmm?

I've never been a huge Giambi fan. Liana has a love for him because he hit a grand slam in extra innings on her birthday a couple of years back when he first joined the team. With the whole 'roid thing, I was hoping he'd get the old heave ho. But, I'm a sucker for a redemptive story line.... especially if it gets the Yanks back even.

At the end of the game, it was as energized as I've seen the Bronx's boys of summer in quite awhile. I'm hoping this will translate to another run of good ball playing.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Worse than realtors, I fear a poor adaptation

I am so over Gawker.... I mean, sure, I still read it every day, but I'm completely in love with Defamer, now. Defamer really does a better job of mocking Tom Cruise, bless their hearts, and I'm all about that right now. They are published by the same people, though.

Anyway, on to other movie reviews. So, I saw Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events the other day. Before I go into it, I should explain that I have read several of the books in the series. Yes, I enjoy childrens' books. Yes, I am excited about the next Harry Potter book that's coming out. No, I don't care if you disapprove.

The Lemony Snicket books are written by a snarky gentleman named Dan Handler, who is, not surprisingly, pals with Dave Eggers (author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and editor for McSweeney's). His writing style and imagination have much in common with Roald Dahl, but he is very unique in his own right. Anyway. Lemony Snicket is the narrator of the tale of the Baudelaire orphans - Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. The Baudelaire parents died in a fire and subsequently, the kids, each of whom are clever and resourceful, have been shipped off to live with all sorts of bizarre and/or nasty relatives or non-relatives. Their first guardian is the sublimely evil Count Olaf, who is obsessed with getting his mits on the childrens' fortune. He does not succeed, but keeps popping up in every book with a new scheme.

Just when I think Handler might fall into a rut, he creates some new and ridiculous character - I recently read The Austere Academy (number 5 in the series, which will ultimately be comprised of 12) and was completely amused by Vice Principal Nero. Nero thinks he is the greatest violin player in the world, even though he's quite terrible and he forces the children to listen to him play every night for six hours. If you miss his nightly recital, then you must buy him a bag of candy and watch him eat it as punishment. This is funny stuff.

Indeed, the Snicket books are partially so appealing because they are not remotely patronizing to young ones. Even when the author defines his words, it is done tongue-in-cheek and meant to elicit a giggle. And while the overriding theme - that these most excellent children cannot catch a break, that they cannot seem to depend on any adult in their life, that they have experienced tremendous loss, is tempered with the comforting notion that their own wits will not fail them, and that, sniff, they can count on one another.

This is what I love about the books. And this is why I was filled with jubilation when I saw it was being turned into a film. I made Pablo, who got me into the books, promise he'd go see it with me. Alas, it wasn't in the cards, as we got the times of the movie wrong. We saw Sideways instead, and I am so happy I paid $10 to see Sideways instead of this, which I rented the other day.

First, what the movie did well. The gothic feel is absolutely dead-on and it's always a treat to see a writer's imagination so accurately converted to screen. The set design, the costuming are all perfect. Meryl Streep as super-phobic Aunt Josephine is a treat, as is Billy Connolly as reptile-loving, sweet-natured Uncle Monty. The children were middling - they looked right enough, and their bond with one another was fine. But something about them felt off - I kept getting hung-up on the fact that Klaus wasn't wearing reading glasses (pivotal in the books to later plot points)... if he had felt right in the first place, I'm not sure I would have noticed.

As for what it did wrong.... well, it irritatingly gave away major plot points from books that come much later in the series. And then there's Jim Carrey.... I should first state that I generally find Jim amusing. I'll admit I enjoy the dopey humor of Ace Ventura, even while he grows tiresome in movies like Bruce Almighty. And Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of my favorite films of the last five years or so, and I thought Jim was brilliant in it. BUT, Jim Carrey is too busy being a goofball to form an appreciation for the heinous Count Olaf. Entertainment Weekly said it best: "Carrey sells Olaf's shticky side at the expense of inhabiting the character's more deeply chilling contours. Olaf is a threat to the children, one who just won't go away; Carrey's biggest threat is that he'll never stop clowning around."

Indeed, Carrey is at his best when he is Olaf pretending to be someone else, in order to trick the orphans and their new guardians. I also agree with the EW review that Jude Law does a nice job as Snicket narrator, even while the film ends on much too upbeat of a note to be in keeping with the spirit of the books. Another review rightly pointed out that the director, Brad Silberling, (director of irritating Moonlight Mile) doesn't trust the audience to get the point of the books, and so he pats us all on the head at the end. Boo to that.

Pablo, it would enrage you, so I recommend that you skip it.