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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

Yes, I am writing a review of an animated movie that has it's third installment.  I am not going to apologize.  I love animation as a genre, and was able to hide under the guise of parenting to watch them.  I am not yet at the grand parenting stage, which leaves me with the admission that I just really like animated films.
Kung Fu Panda's Po is one of the most lovable goofy characters  in animation.  So the movie has got that going for it right off the bat. The sunny can-do attitude that the believe-in-yourself scenario the character projects is a good message for both young and old alike. The combo of pandas and martial arts is unlikely but appealing; they’re not exactly made for each other, which in each of the movies is exactly the point.  All in all, they are sufficiently strong that the films don’t need to truck in overt jokiness.  They’re more about a genial, jovial, we’re-in-this-together attitude and while there isn't any new territory covered here, but it is a good clean message that is entertaining for the whole family.  But again, I love animation.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Handmade Style by Anna Graham

I have really enjoyed making projects out of this book.  The author has a blog, Noodlehead, and there are videos that help walk you through some of the projects in the book or how to do a technique that is particularly challenging in the book.  For me, a person who has quilted a lot in the distant past, but not much recently and hadn't put a zipper in in over 30 years, everything seems somewhat challenging.  I was helped through making the zippered pouch with compartments pictured here in a class that I took at my favorite local shop, Home Ec.  I wouldn't have been able to do it without some pretty patient coaching, and mine came out better than I could ever have hoped for.  There is something really gratifying about making a project that looks impossible given your current skills and to be successfully walked through the process to completion.  It is true that you can buy almost everything that the book walks you through making, but the ability to make it with your own choices of fabric and to be able to look at it and know that it was made by hand is a wonderful feeling that literally money cannot buy.  My only hope is that if I choose to make another one of these that it will seem easier for me to accomplish!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Zucchini Bread

I can't believe that I got all the way to August before I made Zucchini Bread.  This is a good version of the recipe because it uses olive oil, and less of it than some recipes.  I use the Mediterranean Blend from Costco, which has a milder flavor than olive oil, and it is also a bit less expensive.

1 ½-2 cups grated zucchini
  • cup brown sugar
  • cup olive oil              
  • cup plain or vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt 
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder              
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)              
  • Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch loaf pan.
    1. In a large bowl, use a rubber spatula to mix together the grated zucchini, sugar, olive oil, yogurt, eggs and vanilla extract.
    2. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, lemon zest and spices in a separate bowl. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Fold in the walnuts if using.
    3. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 40 to 55 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. The bread will be done when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
    4. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan and cool on a rack completely before cutting and serving.

    Saturday, August 20, 2016

    Hello, My Name is Doris (2016)

    Sally Fields is great as Doris.  It’s not that much of an exaggeration to say that her Doris—a 60-ish, never-wed office worker whose sheltered life spent on Staten Island with a  cat, a demanding invalid mother and decades of clutter she can't bear to part with is lovable in ways that the slapstick comedians of the silent film era were.  She says almost as much as they do in public situations and it is her lack of verbalization that allows those around her to project onto her the personality they prefer.  Despite her age, she is a blank canvas, liberated by the death of her mother, but sadly almost too old to really enjoy her freedom. She even dresses the part in what used to be Salvation Army toss-offs but have since been reclaimed in this age of shabby-chic as vintage wear. We laugh at her foibles, applaud her small victories, agonize over her questionable choices and share her growth pains.
    Doris develops a crush on her new coworker, who is about half her age, and he finds her as charming as we do.  He likes her, but not in that way.  Doris should become worried when her best friend points out that she is taking dating advice from a 13 year old.  In Doris' mind she is at the center of a romance novel, when the reality is that her 30-something coworkers are open to her regardless of her age.  She definitely causes some disruptions in the force that she never repairs, but we can't hold it against her too much because of just how much she is struggling to have a normal existence at the end of her life.  Really quite charming.

    Thursday, August 18, 2016

    Gazpacho Soup

    This is such a classic for the summer, and I finally have an abundance of all the ingredients from either my own garden or my CSA that it seemed like the right time to make this cold soup from Spain  And it has almost no calories per serving, which is an added plus.  This is an adaptation from the New York Times recipe.  Their web site has such a great way to organize and find the recipes they have that I use, that they are becoming my go to on line site these days.

    About 2 pounds ripe red tomatoes, cored and roughly cut into chunks
  • 1 pepper.  I used an Italian pepper but any long green pepper with no heat would be good              
  • 1 cucumber, about 8 inches long, peeled and roughly cut into chunks
  • 1 cup mild onion (white or red), peeled and roughly cut into chunks
  •  2 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar, more to taste
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, more to taste, plus more for drizzling                                  
    1. Combine tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, onion and garlic in a blender or, if using a hand blender, in a deep bowl. (If necessary, work in batches.) Blend at high speed until very smooth, at least 2 minutes, pausing occasionally to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.
    2. With the motor running, add the vinegar and 2 teaspoons salt. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil. The mixture will turn bright orange or dark pink and become smooth and emulsified, like a salad dressing. If it still seems watery, drizzle in more olive oil until texture is creamy.
    3. Strain the mixture through a strainer or a food mill, pushing all the liquid through with a spatula or the back of a ladle. Discard the solids. Transfer to a large pitcher (preferably glass) and chill until very cold, at least 6 hours or overnight.
    4. Before serving, adjust the seasonings with salt and vinegar. If soup is very thick, stir in a few tablespoons ice water. Serve in glasses, over ice if desired. A few drops of olive oil on top are a nice touch.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2016

    Hail, Caesar (2016)

    This is a tongue in cheek, slapstick as well as goofy movie from the Coen brothers.  Think 'Barton Fink' without all the spooky stuff and not the least bit dark.  It is set in what I would call 1950's Hollywood (but without any of the blacklisting, so maybe late 1940's even), and we follow Eddie Mannix (played with gruffness and charm by Josh Brolin) for a bit over a day as he struggles with a missing actor, a job offer that will set him up for life, and various creative decisions that are emblematic of a time in Hollywood when all filming was done on the back lot and took weeks rather than months to complete with actors who were under contract to the studios.  The Coen brothers go to great lengths to demonstrate that while the threat of Russia may have been very real, that those who belonged to the Communist party were really no threat at all, and they do so in such absurd way that the viewer could easily miss the references and still enjoy the movie.  It is like when Disney does a movie for children, but puts all sorts of references into it that are aimed at adults, so the movie is enjoyable for everyone.  This is the same sort of thing.  The details are voluminous but the movie is enjoyable if one misses each and every one of them.

    Tuesday, August 16, 2016

    Stir Fried Cabbage

    I love cabbage dishes, but I tend toward using it raw rather than cooked--this recipe is a departure from that norm.  It is fast and simple and surprisingly delicious.  The cabbage gets that silky quality that it gets from long time braising in just a few minutes.

    • 2 teaspoons  oil
    • 1 small onion, sliced
    • 1 red pepper, diced
    • 2-3 clove garlic, minced
    • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
    • 1small  head cabbage, sliced thinly (can be Napa cabbage or regular cabbage)
    • 1 tablespoons soy sauce
    • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
    • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
    • red pepper flakes to taste

    In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the canola oil and heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and sauté, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the cabbage and cook until just starting to wilt, about 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce and rice vinegar and stir well and cook just until cabbage is wilted, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and drizzle with the sesame oil and red pepper flakes if using them.

    Monday, August 15, 2016

    Shared Experiences

    What we share with our offspring is not always all that it is cracked up to be.  Today is my youngest son's birthday.  He is now 16 years out from his cancer diagnosis, and well on his way to college graduation.  That is certainly something to be grateful for.  This is his first birthday since I too have a diagnosis of cancer and while I know for a fact that it is easier to have cancer than to have a child with it, I also feel his vulnerability and sense of loss.
    When I was diagnosed he was devastated.  He knew exactly how hard it was going to be for me to get through chemotherapy (and he wasn't wrong about that, although at the time I thought it was going to be okay.  I did not sail as smoothly through those waters as he did).  He also knows exactly how much he needs me, and the thought of losing me made him almost inconsolable.  We have both made a lot of emotional progress since those early days, but on this day, his day, I just allow myself to be sad, to have a good cry about life and it's unpredictability, and then to think about all the good things we have, that we would not be here today to cry about if not for modern advances in medicine,. and to celebrate what we have.

    Sunday, August 14, 2016

    Suffragette (2015)

    This movie chronicles the rise of a violent approach to trying to achieve the vote in Britain in 1912.  The movie covers about a year in time, and doesn't finish the story, which happens in 1918 when women get the vote in parallel with what men have.  Maud Watts (ably played by Carrie Mulligan) is the prototype of the sort of woman who was a foot soldier in this battle.  She works in a laundry, where the work has long hours and is dangerous.  In addition, the owner unapologetically  sexually abuses the youngest of the staff and Maud was no exception in her younger days.  That was the fate of women and men were largely unprotective and non-proactive about how their wives and daughters were treated.
    So that is the backdrop against which women started to move away from peaceful leafleting and meeting with political figures to demonstrating in the street, going to jail, and being forcibly and brutally coerced to fall in line with the status quo.  This movement did not achieve their goals, but they did raise awareness.  The movie paints a broad brush, which is a weakness, but largely gives the philosophy of women who had no acknowledged value to society trying to affect change.

    Saturday, August 13, 2016

    The Art of Decluttering

    The art of decluttering is the stuff of books.  And dreams for most of us (although there appears to be a growing genre of books about the joys of having lots of stuff with nowhere to put it). 
    I recently spent a weekend at my mother-in-law's house helping her to get ready to put her house on the market and move to a smaller and hipper apartment.  Lucky for both she and I my husband and his three siblings joined me in this endeavor, and the subsequent stress made me think.  This really is not easy.
    Why is that?  One thing is that I think it can be hard to have perspective on what is worth saving and what is not.  I was talking to my parents about things that they have found since they have moved and are unpacking.  My mother's mother's birth certificate is one such item that had some surprises.  While my grandmother was legitimate (yes, this is noted on her birth certificate), she was the third birth to her mother, who had only one sibling to our knowledge.  She also was named Hortense, like her mother before her.  She went by Josephine (her middle name) and who can blame her--why would a woman who was already saddled with the name Hortense give it to her daughter?  And why her third and not her first?  And what happened to the first?  But ultimately, why even keep this?  Maybe it is just really hard to let go of one's personal history.