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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Swiss Army Man (2016)

I read a review of this movie that described it as Cast Away meets Weekend at Bernie's, which succinctly sums up the scenario without delving too deeply into what the take home message might be. One of the film's creators summed it up differently, saying it is about a suicidal man who has to convince a dead body that life is worth living. Therefore it is a film exploring the contradiction and comedy and drama in that.
There is an odd mixture of stupid fart and penis jokes wrapped around a core message that no matter what your current perspective is, there is good to be found out there, you just have to seek it.  Hank has all but given up on his life but when Manny, a dead man who speaks (and farts) asks him why he should pull himself together in the land of the living, he desperately tries to make it worth his while.  Hank's father has abandoned him, he is painfully shy, but there is something to love in there.  It is both sweet and a little stupid at the same time, but so originally different that at no point did we consider turning it off.  

Friday, June 22, 2018

Lemon Caper Dressing

Pay attention, because there is a lot of lemon in this.
It can be used on vegetables as well as salad, or to finish off a chicken or fish dish.
  • 2 medium lemons
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (choose one whose flavor you like on its own -- we used Maille)
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon Maldon or another flaky sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  1. Segment the lemons over a bowl to catch the juices (see note below). Set aside.
  2. Squeeze the juice from the membranes into a separate bowl, add the rest of the ingredients, and stir well.
  3. Add the lemon segments and toss gently to coat them without breaking them up. Use straightaway or chill in the fridge, covered, for up to an hour.
  4. Note: To segment the lemons: Use a sharp knife to cut off just enough of the fruit's top and bottom to expose a full circle of the flesh on either end. Stand the lemon on one of its ends, place your knife point at the seam where the fruit meets the pith, and use a gentle sawing motion to cut away a wide strip of pith and skin, following the curve of the fruit from top to bottom. Repeat the process until all you have left is a nice, round, naked fruit. If you've missed any white pith, trim it off. Make a cut down either side of each segment, right against the membrane, and gently pry out each segment, one at a time (see slideshow). Flick out any seeds, and set the segments aside in a bowl, reserving the juicy membranes.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

I read about this book in The Week, which is not where I get most of my book recommendations, but some of them, and it was right on this time.
This is in your face about pride and Mexican culture.  The elegance that men carry with them each day as well as the machismo.  The role of food in the eyes of those who live there.  The border itself between Mexico and the United States and all that that says about those on either side of it.  The good, the bad, and the ugly--that classic combination that drives the best of fiction--are all on display here.
This noisy, messy, jockeying for position of a family in this novel revolves around the dying patriarch Miguel Angel “Big Angel” de la Cruz.  Three generations gather over the course of a weekend for a final celebration. His mother recently dead, Big Angel himself is on the way out after an outsize life of danger, romance and striving. There are flashbacks to harder times and choices made, and there it the present, where they all are and why.  Orbiting him is a proliferating solar system of children and relatives, and with them a galaxy of feuds, slights, alliances, resentments, flirtations and memories.  It is a flipping of the finger at those who think that Mexico is mono dimensional.  There are rapists and murderers, just like here, but the breadth and beauty that is Mexico is like a hymn being sung.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Thor: Ragnorak (2017)

I do have trouble keeping these straight, DC Comics, Marvel Comics, who can tell.  The Marvel Studios has so successfully cranked out what seems like dozens of movies, to the point where I at least recognize some of the characters (Dr. Strange makes and appearance in this which helps me to link him with the studio, and so on).  
Thor, God of Thunder, is in kind of a tight spot. He is ably played by Chris Hensworth, who has the physicality to play Thor, but got more of the personal side across this time.  He finds out that his father, Odin (played by Anthony Hopkins) is dead, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is alive, and his sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) is back to recapture Asgard.  He knows that none of this bodes well for him, and he is right about that.  He gets captured and there meets a Valkyrie who faced Hela once and barely escaped and the Hulk is also in the mix.  They hatch a plan, which involves the escape fight scene and then the final battle, a CGI riddled landscape that is for me hard to follow.  None the less, this is the most charming Thor movie yet.  This is a movie that will make you wonder when the next Thor movie is coming out.  Two minor glitches, from my perspective.  The film has so many heavy hitters acting wise that it they are bound to be under utilized, which happened.  Idris Elba barely had a chance to act at all.  Finally, the fight scenes are just too much of the movie. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Juneteenth, 1865

Let the promise of this day, 153 years ago, be seen in the lifetime of my offspring, for it is surely not so today as I write this.
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.  Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.
One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with:
"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer."
The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of their former 'masters' - attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations and the realization of freedom.
Today, right now, we are treating those who are seeking asylum at our southern border in an inhumane way that echoes our treatment of slaves.  It is a return to wrenching children from their parents.  The depiction of immigrants as not human is how our ancestors viewed slaves.  It is as immoral as slavery, and I would contend that it is also criminal.  

Monday, June 18, 2018

RIP Tony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain and I were more or less the same age when he took his life this week.  I do not know what his struggles were, but I certainly know what it is to look death in the eye at this age, and it feels way too young, so I am saddened that he was in that place and carried out his own demise.
I was not directly influenced by him, but his passion for travel for the sake of food is one that I have always whole-heartedly shared.  He was a riskier eater than I am, but I love being some place entirely different from my home, delving into street food that is beautifully made and flavorful, and then coming home and bringing that new food and flavor and culture into my own kitchen, sharing with my circle of friends, and then rinse repeat.  Let not a month go by that I travel, or am about to go, or I just got back, that is the feeling of life and passion.  Embrace what is different.  Try to learn from it.  Taste everything once.  One thing is sure.  He lived large and while his life was short, he got a lot out of it and he shared it broadly, generously, enthusiastically, infectiously.  May his memory be a blessing.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

My parents read this for a book group, and since I enjoyed her book The Nightingale so much, I read it too.
This one is set in rural Alaska in the early 1970's when the pipeline was still under construction.  It is a small town on the Kenai Peninsula, a drive away from Homer.
Ernst is a Vietnam veteran who was shot down and kept prisoner for six years before coming home to his wife and child.  Cora  welcomed him home, but he was not the same man who went to war.  The key element here is that he is a raging alcoholic who is unbearably violent and despite the fact that she is likely to be killed by him one day, she can't leave, and Leni, her daughter, won't leave without her.  So they move to a remote Alaska town without the resources needed to make it through the winter (think Into the Wild), and they struggle in every way possible.
This is layered over a story of young love and everything that can go wrong does go wrong that is decidedly less complicated on its surface but troubled by a Capulet and Montague problem.   It is an enjoyable read that I had trouble putting down.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Free Fire (2016)

At first I missed the point of this largely shoot them up movie.  If you cannot see the very dark humor that is embedded in a no one gets out of here alive movie, then you should definitely skip this one.
There was a period when Tarentino want to be movies was built around scenes where tough white guys smoke cigarettes, insult each other and launch into interminable monologues about some aspect of popular culture until an argument breaks out and everybody points guns at each other. This is the new but set in the 1970's, and the poster pretty much sums up the situation.
A couple of bright spots are Brie Larson, who stands up to her partners in crime in the gritty shoot out, and Armie Hammer, who is the more intellectual of the criminal element, the guy who cracks a good joke after being shot.  It is not as funny as a comedy, there is less action than you would be looking for in an action adventure movie, and yet those two depictions sum up what you are about to see if you watch this.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Oregon Treaty, 1846

Today is a day for history lessons.  A long history of dispute characterized the ownership of the Oregon Territory, which included present-day Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and portions of Montana, Wyoming, and British Columbia.  Russia and Spain had both surrendered their claims to the region, but the United States and Britain were active claimants in the 19th century's early years. The matter's resolution was delayed by the Anglo-American Convention of 1818, in which both parties agreed to a temporary policy of "joint occupation" of the region. This accommodation was extended in 1827.  During the 1830’s, the American position came to favor establishment of the northern border along 49º-north latitude, arguing that the nation's 'Manifest Destiny' required no less. The British, however, wanted to see the southern boundary of British Columbia established at the Columbia River and based their claims on the Hudson's Bay Company's long history in the area. 
The British position weakened in the early 1840's as large numbers of numbers of American settlers poured into the disputed area over the Oregon Trail. Possession of Oregon became an issue in the 1844 election.  Democratic candidate James Polk took an extreme view by advocating the placement of the border at 54º 40' north latitude (we have a deep history with extravagant claims, some of which have served us well). Expansionists chanted, "Fifty-four Forty or Fight!" After the election, Polk put the British on notice that joint occupation would not be extended, but quietly entered into diplomatic discussions.
On June 15,1846, the Oregon Treaty was signed between Britain and the United States, the latter represented by Secretary of State James Buchanan.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Kale and Orange Salad

I had some orange juice in the fridge that was occupying a lot of space and I wanted it to go into a dish.
  • or sliced red onions or chopped nuts

Grab bunches of the kale leaves and use a sharp knife to thinly slice them. Keep going until you have a big pile of finely shredded kale.
To make the dressing, combine the orange juice, olive oil, sugar, garlic and some salt and pepper in a small jar. Shake vigorously until combined, then add the sour cream or yogurt and shake again until it's nice and creamy.
Toss the kale in half the dressing for a minute or so, then add the citrus pieces and jalapeno slices. Toss again until combined. Add a little more dressing if it needs it. (Extra dressing can be stored in the fridge and used for any salad.)
Add some optional ingredients and serve.