Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Recently Watched: Virgin Suicides, Morning Glory, & Eat Pray Love

One of my favorite things about cooking is watching movies and TV shows while cooking because just watching movies and TV shows by yourself and not doing anything creative seems like a waste most days...also when do I otherwise have two hours to devote just to movie watching? There are Bible studies to be doing, books to edit, books to read, pictures to take, pictures to see my dilemma.

So I had a bunch of food prep to do this past week and recently a lot of files to move around on my new Mac and here's what I watched.

The Virgin Suicides: As the name suggests, this movie is about a string of suicides, which is a gruesome subject but this is a thoughtful, if underdeveloped movie about confinement, society, and the allure of the unknown. The five Lisbon girls grow up in a suburban neighborhood in Michigan during the 70s and while they go to school, they are mostly kept under lock and key by their strict Catholic parents. Their beauty and their seclusion make the already beautiful girls  more alluring, even more so after the youngest daughter inexplicably commits suicide. The film is narrated by a neighbor of the Lisbons who has since grown up but cannot shake the nostalgia or mystery surrounding the girls. He and his friends track down every piece of information they can find to try to figure out what lead to the family's demise and to put their own haunted memory of the girls to rest. While much is left unknown, the film does adroitly capture the time period (great soundtrack) and a feeling of angst, loneliness, and mystery that comes with both memories and tragedy. I'm very tempted to read the book...

Morning Glory: A nice, not too sappy, feel good movie with Rachel McAdams who I can't help but like. McAdams' character is a producer for an early morning TV program when she gets the boot due to budget cuts. Crushed because her dream is to be a TV producer, she hunts for a new job and eventually gets one at the failing morning program of a major network (think a step down from CBS's morning show). She's almost doomed to fail with no co-anchor for Diane Keaton's character, an extremely corny weatherman, and no budget. When she lands a begrudging Dan Rather-esque Harrison Ford, she has to figure out a way to win him over, boost ratings, and learn to do something other than watch the news at all hours. I really liked this movie. It had real heart and some gumption and best of all, humor. Sweet and as I said, hardly sappy at all. There was a little romance but I liked that the center of the story was about a woman who gets a crack at her dream...ok now I'm being sappy. In case anyone thought this was a new version of Up Close and Personal...never fear. The romantic bits are nothing to do with Harrison Ford.

Eat Pray Love: You've probably all seen this. Woman goes to find herself after a failed marriage and learns to let go and to forgive herself. Having never read the book (which I hear can be annoyingly self-centered), I didn't have much expectation about this movie. It was interesting. Not as funny as I thought it might be and definitely a bit self-centered, but an ok movie. I definitely disagreed with a lot of the mumbo jumbo advice she got from religious gurus 1, 2, and 3 but I could also understand the desire to get away and live, so if anyone wants to buy me a ticket to Italy, Bali, or India I might take you up on it. Will not be reading this book.

Monday, March 28, 2011

My own Sartorialist

The Sartorialist blog features photos of stylish people on the streets of Paris, Florence, etc. The people are usually looking at the camera and smiling. My version isn't like that. I take pictures from far away with my long lens, and they don't even see it coming (because if they did, they would not be smiling). . Here are two random shots I took recently at People's Park. Get inspired.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kitchening: Pita bread, a skillet cookie, and a tart

I've been cooking up a storm and I often take pictures that you just never happen to see so I thought I'd give you a rundown of a few delicious dishes with mostly links because that's easier than pretending that I "adapted" them.

Here you see my very oddly shaped pitas risen.

Once the pita come out of the super hot oven, they get the sauna treatment in a (old) paper bag (obviously I reuse this bag).

I got this highly rated recipe from Obviously mine aren't super round...I don't really try that hard because I usually make them to dip in my hummus, not fill up with falafel. 

I mix these on the dough setting in my bread machine and usually have to add at least a cup of flour or it's too gooey. Might be Chinese flour and Shanghai humidity.

The trick to getting the pocket to form is rolling them out a little thinner than you'd think. And not to worry if your oven doesn't go all the way up to 500 degrees. I set mine on the highest setting and it works out fine.

1 1/8 cups warm water (110 degrees F
/45 degrees C)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1. Place all ingredients in bread pan of your bread machine, select Dough setting and start. When dough has risen long enough, machine will beep.
2. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Gently roll and stretch dough into a 12 inch rope. With a sharp knife, divide dough into 8 pieces. Roll each into a smooth ball. With a rolling pin, roll each ball into a 6 to 7 inch circle. Set aside on a lightly floured countertop. cover with a towel. Let pitas rise about 30 minutes until slightly puffy.
3. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F (260 degrees C). Place 2 or 3 pitas on a wire cake rack. Place cake rack directly on oven rack. Bake pitas 4 to 5 minutes until puffed and tops begin to brown. Remove from oven and immediately place pitas in a sealed brown paper bag or cover them with a damp kitchen towel until soft. Once pitas a softened, either cut in half or split top edge for half or whole pitas. They can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for 1 or 2 months.

Great for a crowd...just watch out how long you cook them. They can get a little dry or be undercooked in the center. I like these with half whole, half flour.

Citrus (mostly Lemon) Tart with Ginger Oat Crust
(for Pi Day, of course) 

I mixed two recipes and came up with one pretty delish tart--my first tart ever actually.

The Ginger Oat Crust came from a diabetics website so I switched all the substitutions (margarine, fake sugar) back into the real deal and added some extra ground ginger for good measure. I also use ginger nut cookies because that's what I had. Those have a little extra bite to them as well.

Citrus tart a la Martha. It didn't all fit in my little precooked ginger oat crust and made a bit of a mess getting it to the oven. Also cooked for nearly 50% longer than the directions said, but it tasted good in the end. The filling was essentially an uncurded lemon curd. I think I'll go with a lemon curd next time. I actually used the left over filling on the stove and turned it into curd which I sandwiched between my first ever macaroons (pictures to come).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Behind My Apartment & Beyond

There are/were a bunch of laofangzis (old houses) behind my apartment. Last year I took an hour or two and walked around taking pictures (during which time I got shoved by an old lady and stopped two children from playing with a dirty syringe in the ruins of an old building). The light broke through the crowds a few weeks ago on an otherwise dreary day so I went out there again taking photos.

Much has changed. An entire block of the condemned buildings that were there last year are gone completely while others are still waiting for the bulldozers even as people still live in them. Here I've got a couple of photos from that little walk as well as some freebies from the People's Square area.

 Not a great picture, I know, but can you believe someone is receiving organic milk while all around them is rubble? I didn't even know you could get organic milk delivered here. 

 I think the guy inside the window caught me but...Ha! with my telephoto lens I got you awesome looking elderly man. Chinese old people are so photogenic.

 This picture and the next one are the same just with two different looks. This sugar cane had so much texture and there's a fascinating character or something written on that one in gold. 
It looks very fanciful but I imagine it's the name of whoever grew it.

 I have a compulsion to take pictures of old doors. Just can't help myself.

 Moving out of the old neighborhood to somewhere near People's Square...These guys are named Tweedle Dee & Tweelde Dum but they dress up like Thing One & Thing Two for Halloween.

 Big old metal Chinese doors. Forbidding and photogenic. The emperor is hidden in there somewhere. Do not tell Bernardo Bertolucci

I should look up what this says...

The first buds of the cherry blossoms. I love how this turned out. 
It looks like the vine is going to grow right out of the picture.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Just Finished: Next

As I was looking for  new books to add to my new Kindle, I saw a recommendation from The Believer  for James Hynes' novel Next and I thought, 'They've got their hands on the pulse of culture...why not." So I bought it, read it, and now I shall divulge my opinion...

Kevin Quinn is a somewhat pitiful middle class, middle aged editor from Ann Arbor, Michigan who secretly flies to Austin, Texas for a job interview. From the get go it's obvious that Kevin is unfocused and directionless. He's ungenerous though polite to the people in his life, and his dignity clings the fact that he owns his own house and is quite fit for a 50 year old. He is mortally afraid of terrorist attacks exacerbated by one that very morning by a ginger haired Scottish Muslim extremist named Kevin, incidentally. Besides that Kevin's biggest hangup is women and his own inertia. The majority of his thoughts center on these two things, and he becomes infatuated with every woman he meets, including a young woman sitting beside him on the airplane who he calls Ms. Joy Luck Club for the novel she is reading.

As Kevin disembarks from the plane and takes a cab to his interview. Arriving several hours too early for his interview, he goes to a Starbucks where he flirts with at least two women before seeing Ms. Joy Luck Club hiking up the street with her duffle bag. Impulsively, Kevin follows her in the oppressive Texas heat up the street into another cafe then to a gourmet supermarket, and finally to a bridge. All the while Kevin bounces back and forth with the inner demons that are his past girlfriends and lovers–the Philosopher's Daughter who has haunted him for 25 years after saying he had not passion or compassion, Lynda who was a meaningless fling, his 13 year relationship with Beth that ended with her leaving him to have another man's baby, and finally Stella, his tenant and younger girlfriend who may or may not be pregnant and who he may or may not want to escape from to Texas.

Kevin's complicated mess of a life is further compounded when he is knocked on his feet on the bridge and his pants are ruined. A pretty runner/doctor helps him, they share lunch and deep dark secrets then she drops him off at Wolh's (presumably code for Kohl's) to buy new clothes. At this point, Kevin doesn't really want the job in Austin but he cleans himself up and goes anyway...and now if you're still reading this then you might feel much as I did by this point somewhere between 75% into the novel–WHAT IS THE POINT? But...that's when things take a turn for the worse amazingly enough.

On the cab ride from Wohl's to the interview Kevin completely misses a radio newscast announcing another terrorist attack in a US city. Once in the lobby of the office building he faintly hears breaking news of yet another attack. And (I'm going to spoil the ending sort of)-the very building Kevin is in gets hit by a bomb. What the heck? Where did that come from? The floor creaks and things fall out of fresh hole in the wall. Smoke fills the stairwells. The fires bears down from below and Kevin has one choice to make, finally moving out of his inertia...what is he going to do Next?

Oh my goodness, I am never trusting The Believer again. I felt like I was middle aged by the time I finished this book. Listening to Kevin's mess of thoughts for 300 pages was like listening to anyone's thoughts for a whole day–b-o-r-i-n-g. I seriously wanted to slap all his sexual fantasies right out of him and all his disappointments and tell him to MOVE ON. Then the last 50 pages come out of nowhere almost and as a book review from the New York Times pointed out–the author basically seems to have created a book around a short story though the story he had to tell was really just that last bit.

Next is a novel that is very real in a lot of ways and I suppose very representative of where a lot of Americans are mentally (don't get me wrong, terrorism is extremely scary). And I suppose I can take away from this book the need to move forward in life rather than harboring regret for 25 years, to take risks and not waver back and forth like a school girl trying to decide on which flavor of ice cream to choose, and also to listen to the news and not get in the tallest building in town when there are a run of terrorist strikes on small American cities. Point taken, but next time please get to the point faster.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Short Trip Down Duolun Lu

My friend Lo and I went to Dulun Lu  (lu = street in Chinese) a few weeks ago. It's an old street in Hongkou District. It's semi-preserved with the Old Shanghai feel complete with neat old antique shops, a cafe or two, and street food. It was very gray but I got a few shots.

First one of the arched entrances to Duolun:

A close up of a statue. I feel like this doesn't look like anything, but I like it anyway.

I blurred the background lots to try to mask the stupid car in the background.
Ancient streets should not have cars.

 This guy made sculptures of people...we declined but they look kind of cool and
I love the artist's face in the background.

A  cool old Catholic church that melded Chinese and Western architecture really well. 
Didn't get to go inside but it was one of purty.

 I didn't really bump up the colors on this but they were awfully vivid. I think it was the extreme overcast of the day. The teenager at this fruit stand was very cheeky.

 I'm a sucker for ironwork.

There was an awesome antique shop there with lots of cool, unaffordable dusty things from old Shanghai. It was really dark though so I didn't get much besides this neat typewriter.

I took a few pictures in some of the old alleyways behind Duolun as the light was quickly fading. If only I had the fortitude to bring my tripod with me everywhere I go...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Just Finished: Amsterdam

I rarely manage to read three novels by the same person, but Ian McEwan is now on my short list of thrice read authors. So far I've read Atonement, which was my favorite by far (go read it and bring your dictionary!), and On Chesil Beach

Lest you be deceived, all McEwan novels are tragedies, but I've been used to tragic literature since high school since that was all we read (aside from Jurassic Park in biology and a Grisham after our AP exams were over) I bought Amsterdam eyes wide open.

Amsterdam is a novel about two men–Clive Linley, a famous composer, and Vernon Halliday, a newspaper editor, who in the process of mourning the loss of their former lover Molly Lane grapple with their own middle aged-ness and morality. Despite both having been romantically linked to Molly in the past, they are longstanding friends and both equally dislike Molly's widower as well as another of her former lovers the Foreign Secretary Julian Garmony. Yet in the  weeks following Molly's death, both of these men become key players in Clive and Vernon's lives through a potential scandal that could bring down the Foreign secretary, their friendship, and both of their careers.

As Clive and Vernon struggle with how to deal with the scandal each falls on a different side which causes each to question their lengthy friendship and the decisions that have brought them to their current life stage...yet they tragically blind to their own faults. Although the characters never seem to realize it, they are horribly unconflicted about the decisions they make. McEwan points to the potential for regular people in positions of opportunity and power to perform unfathomably selfish acts while never acknowledging their own through inconsistent, underdeveloped moral standards. Clive and Vernon's relationship deteriorates as each character gets more vengeful culminating in an expected dark ending that feels like a moldy wet blanket on a rainy night. Amsterdam ends without any hope at all and that is a cautionary end to an already dark novel.

A "Mighty" good song

Ever heard of tropical folk pop? Well let me introduce you to this catchy tune and it's free. The lyrics are simple but make me want to run faster and put the things I fear in their place (ie, running one more minute on the treadmill, talking on the telephone...).

You were a wild thing when you were younger,
stomping through the jungle.
You were mighty and you were stronger
but I bow no longer.
All your temples will lie in ruin
once I ravage through them.
All your rivals will not go near you
but I do not fear you.
Well, you howl and you roar,
but I am not afraid of you anymore.

You think you can have it?

Then come and get it.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Donald Miller's Million Miles

I haven't read much Donald Miller but he definitely seems to be a thinker listened to by Christians and non-Christians--which is rare. Here's info about his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years...

What story are you telling? from Rhetorik Creative on Vimeo.