Saturday, December 24, 2011

The best 2011 album I heard this year

is Gift Horse, from Stephen Kellog and the Sixers. There's not a bad track on it, and it contains quite a few exceptional songs. I've had it in heavy rotation since it arrived, and I'm not tired of it yet.

If you aren't listening to these guys, you should be.

I've linked to a few of the songs before, but I'll still provide some samples here.

First, an in-station video of the one Sarah said she has played the most from the album.

I'm quite partial to this one. I'm using a no-video link just because the audio quality on the live shows I tried was so bad.

If you at all like these songs, buy this album and support these guys. I want them to make many more records.

Friday, December 23, 2011

How much ice cream is too much?

That's one of the issues I'm pondering as I sort by flavors the rather large order (27 pints) of Jeni's fabulous ice creams that is now filling our freezers.

My initial reaction was, maybe this much.

I then, however, came to my senses. We don't have every single flavor Jeni's makes, and we have only one pint of several different flavors.

Nah, this is not too much. After all, we have a lot of people visit at various points during the holidays.

Come to think of it, we may need more....

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Fox's Feast

As Aaron Vandemark, chef and owner of the wonderful Panciuto restaurant explained in an email message to customers,

I’ve been reading Fantastic Mr. Fox to Henry (my two year old). At one point the hungry animals, led by Mr. Fox, burrow into the farmers’ storage sheds and find themselves surrounded by fowl, pork and cider. What follows is a spectacular Fox’s feast for all to share and I thought it would be fun to do something similar at the restaurant. So… I’m working on a menu now and I expect it’s going to include, chicken, duck, livers, pork shoulders, maple roasted pork bellies, carrots (for the rabbits), cider (hard and soft), and more. This will be our first community style dinner we’ve had in quite a while and I hope it sets the tone for your time with family and friends during the holidays.
As anyone who knows me could tell you, this was tailor-made for me. I absolutely could not resist the notion, so last night a group of us converged on Panciuto for this event.

It was wonderful.

The menu (click on it to see a larger, easier-to-read image) sounded both tasty and adventurous.

(Sorry about the grease stains; the tables were full, and I kept my menu out for reference during the meal).

The food proved to be even more delicious than the menu sounded.

I was frankly wary of both of the first two courses, but I should never have doubted Aaron. They were amazingly good, the soup warm and flavorful without ever being overly strong. The salad made me wish every dressing included duck and mustard.

The main course--the three meats, the raviolis, and the greens and carrots--was so good everyone there ate too much and wished they could fit in more. The pork rack, which was the weakest of the three meats, would have been the star in any other meal, its meat ever more tender as you ate closer to the bone. The pork belly was absolutely perfect, the exact right mix of crispy outside and oh so soft inside. For many, though, the fried chicken stole the show: served as basically large fried nuggets, no bones anywhere, it was moist and tender and so delicious all of us agreed we had never tasted its equal.

The dessert, which none of us had room for but all of us ate, provided a lovely, delicious ending to the meal.

The atmosphere was also perfect. They set the restaurant in one long table, and we all sat and ate community style. The room rippled with conversations and laughter, and though no one person knew more than a fourth of those present, for those few hours we were, as Aaron intended, a community.

I wish I could have taken every single friend I have to this meal.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Hangover Part II

We'd enjoyed The Hangover's dumb action and humor, so tonight we decided to give its sequel a try.

Big mistake.

Unlike the many critics who hated this movie because it basically replays the plot of the first one, none of us minded that deficiency. We knew about it going in, and we were willing to tolerate it. We just wanted to laugh.

Unfortunately, the film gave us few moments of genuine humor.

What every single one of us disliked (and I despised) about The Hangover Part II was its meanness. The film's creators clearly were aiming for dark humor, but for most of the movie all they achieved was the equivalent of middle school bullies first pushing around a few weaker kids and then beating them badly. At no point were any of the male crew who were lost in Bangkok completely likable.

Give this one a pass, even if Netflix's or Amazon's streaming offerings are looking bleak and you're bored.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Yeah, this movie has been out for a long time, but I just got around to watching it (on Blu-Ray) the other night. I can't recall when a movie has left me with such mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I laughed my ass off at many points during the film. It pulls no punches and will do anything for a laugh.

On the other hand, much of the laughter comes from some vicious cruelty that the protagonist, Kristen Wiig's character, suffers. She causes much of her own pain, but the situations are nonetheless both excruciating for her and, at times, difficult to watch.

The film also suffers from having very few likable characters. Each time you get close to one of the leads, she does something insensitive or dumb, and you like her less. Two of the supporting characters, those played by Melissa McCarthy and Chris O'Dowd (Simon in Pirate Radio), were also dumb but never as cruel as the rest, so they were the best touchstones at hand.

On balance, though, the film was worth watching and definitely funny as hell at times.

By the way, if you watch it on Blu-Ray, check the gag reel for a wonderful bit in which Jill Clayburgh manages to deliver with a straight face a description of an odd sexual practice--and then Kristen Wiig loses it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The trimmed tree

Each year, we have a small party to start the trimming of our tree. I say "start" because even with more than a dozen folks participating, we don't finish in the few hours the party runs. We just have too many ornaments, baubles we have accumulated over the years and that all end up on the usually rather massive tree. (This year's is about ten feet tall.)

Tonight's party got us this far.

Gina, who took all the photos, had to crop this one, so the tree looks rather crooked here. Its trunk is indeed a bit bent, but it's actually reasonably straight, as this photo from earlier in the process reveals.

Our ornament collection is a bit odd. Sure, we have many traditional balls, but we also have a Hawaiian shirt and more than one celebrity.

As well as menace.

The good ship Serenity is in there somewhere, as is a plastic pickle. There's really just no telling what you might find on our tree.

Bill recently pointed out to me that I am ritual man, a guy who has accumulated a ton of rituals, particularly around the holidays. He has a point, but I don't mind. Rituals such as this one are fun, bring friends together, and at least for me enrich the holidays. As the days shorten and grow colder, bringing some of the extended family together to eat, laugh, share warmth, and brighten the night is a very good thing indeed.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

How you feel about this movie is likely to mirror how you felt about its predecessor: if you enjoyed that one, you'll have a great time at this one, too.

I very much liked both.

The plot this time is at least as convoluted as the original's, but that's okay; it's also easy to follow. Director Guy Ritchie drops enough clues, both verbal and visual, that you can follow along if you pay close attention--and nod appreciatively at the reveals if you don't. He uses the same gimmick during fights to show the workings of Holmes' mind, but it's entertaining enough that you don't mind.

What makes the movie really tick is Robert Downey, Jr.'s Holmes. The performance is spot on, alternately clear-eyed and crazy, but always intense.

The other leads are all also quite good, though none obviously as important. Jude Law's Watson is as solid as the character should be. Stephen Fry's small turns as Mycroft enrich the movie and make you want more of him. Jared Harris proves to be a wonderful Moriarity, radiating menace and intelligence and more than a hint of insanity at every turn.

All that said, with the weakest dialog and almost no role, Noomi Rapace steals the camera's focus whenever she's on screen. I will watch her in anything.

The entire film, of course, is silly and over the top and ultimately predictable, but that's nothing new; the first was the same.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, as I did its predecessor.


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