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Friday, March 31, 2017

Can You Read Me the Menu? I'll Have the Xiaolongbao

This is the menu of the restaurant that my nephew took me to the afternoon that I arrived in Shanghai.  I immediately knew I might be in trouble without him.  I also knew that I was going to love the food on this trip.  This is a small restaurant in the Pudong East neighborhood near his apartment, and while many things were closed because of the New Years holiday, this was open.
I had my very first taste of Xiaolongbao, the famous Shanghai soup dumplings, here, and so my love affair with them began.  Thankfully he taught me how they were supposed to be eaten, which I tried to comply with but it takes some practice.  So practice I did.  You hold the dumpling with chopsticks in one hand and a spoon under it in the other.  Now comes the tricky part.  It is challenging to bite into the dumpling *and* get the soup at the same time.  So you bite and inhale so as to (with some practice) suck the soup into your mouth along with the bite.  If you are not successful, that is what the spoon is for.  The catch what might fall out so that you don't loose it completely.  And that is really the key to hte thing.  It is just delicious and fun and a little bit challenging.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

My youngest has a minor in film, and really it is because he loves watching movies and thought those classes seemed great.  Watch a movie every week?  He watched about 10 anyway.  There was the reading the classroom time, the theory, and the papers to write.  It was more than just watching movies, but that part he loved, and since he has stopped taking film classes he has started to get movies out of the library to watch.  And this was one of them.
It is a very noir story, beginning with the ending, which is a man face down in the pool.  So from the very beginning you know it is not going to end well, and then the story unfolds.  An aging silent film star is sequestered in her decaying mansion on Sunset Boulevard when a hard up script writer happens upon her.  One thing leads to another and he is in so deep that he can't see a way out.  It is painful and slow and beautifully filmed.  Step back to another era for a couple of hours with this movie.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

New Years Prayer, China Style

 These pictures are all taken in a medieval era garden in Songjiang.  After eating so much food that we could barely move, it became clear that we needed to get out and spend some time in China's famous restful gardens.The temples are everywhere in many of these gardens and it is easy to see the popularity.  Strolling along through beautifully designed gardens where every plant and path and bench and opening has been carefully planned for the walker's enjoyment.
 New Years is a time of renewal and celebration but it is also a time of prayer.  Maybe it is because I don't well understand it, but I love the Buddhist temples in China.  I love the  proliferation of red.  I love the tassels.  I love the offering of fruit.
Much like what I like about praying in Hebrew, which is that I don't really understand what I am saying so it is easier to do it with gusto, so goes my attraction to prayer in a Buddhist culture.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Old Shanghai

I really loved this part of town which is around the Yuyuan Gardens, one of the most beautiful of ancient gardens in China. 
What is there to like?  For one thing, I am very enamored with the pagoda.  It has such graceful lines, and while the inside may be sparsely furnished and have little in the way of storage space, the way it fills the air is truly graceful.  The other is the additional ornamentation.  All the lanterns and lovely paper sculptures that grace the sky above our heads walking through the crowded market place is festive.  It is hard not to feel celebratory in such environs.  Finally, the narrow alleyways and small stores all crowded together is something that I love.  My favorite was the medinas in Morocco, but Shanghais are well worth exploring.
The old parts of Shanghai are quietly and quickly disappearing and high rises that are well outside the means of the folks who currently live there are replacing them.  So if you want to see old Shanghai, you better be quick about it.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Spare Parts (2016)

My youngest son got this out of the library, and my spouse and I were intrigued.  The plot focuses on the very real situation for undocumented students in high school and the very limited options they have for advancement.  An out of work engineer takes a substitute teaching job at a high school and is assigned to be the faculty advisor for the Robotics Club. His expectation is that there will be exactly zero kids interested in that but it turns out that he is wrong. One kid sees it as a way out of his undocumented situation and they work to build an underwater robot to compete in a national contest.  The movie has some excellent acting, the script is interesting, and it is a feel good story.  Very enjoyable.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Chinese New Year in Songjiang

 New Year is really not one day.  It seems to go on for at least two weeks, and I am not convinced that it isn't longer than that.  But on New's Day we sojourned out to Songjiang to spend the day with Lizzie and her family.  Wow. It was an exceptional day, starting with the subway ride out there.  It just amazes me that the subway in Shanghai stretches out so far and that it is so affordable.  The New Year meal begins with at least eight cold dishes, followed by at least ten hot dishes, a soup, and closes with at least two desserts. And we did that not just once but twice.
Here is the midday celebration, which had a lot of highlights, but I will enumerate just a few of them. The cold dishes were all delicious, but the best was a poached shrimp with peas that was very simply prepared, but delicious.  The thing that I was surprised that I liked was the jellyfish.  It has a very crunchy texture, which surprised me because I thought it would be squishy, and the sauce was like a tempura dipping sauce, very straightforward and allowing the jellyfish to be the main feature.  Of the hot dishes, the Mandarin Fish was the clear favorite--luckily it was across the table from me or I would have eaten the whole thing.  It is a whole fish that has the skin removed, then is fried and then finished with a great sauce.  So delicious.  And filling.  And then we had to do dinner too.  Which was home prepared by Lizzie's grandmother and even more amazing.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Get Your Hot Pot On

 Hot Pot is something that you do with family and friends.  It is all about communal sharing, so it leads to talking and laughing and spending time together.  As a party of three we were by far the smallest in the restaurant the night we dined.  There are so many choices that it is also just great to go with a crowd so that you can get a little bit of everything to try.  The vegetables are just as varied as the meat and fish options.  In addition to what is cooked in the broth, the mixing of the dipping sauces is another important aspect of the dining experience.  I have to say that I was too inexperienced to do the selection justice.
The cooking broth itself is also beautiful.  We got a tomato based broth (pictured left) for the vegetarian amongst us, and a spicy Szechuan broth.  There are many variations in the broth, including a coconut based one from more tropical regions of China.  I find this fascinating, because the guests cook their own food, and the process of cooking involves the group as a whole.  You take turns adding things to the broth, sometimes it is hard to find what you put in, and you have to get up and troll for your lost egg or whatever it was.  It is just fun and communal.  If you have never done this before it is worth a try.  Only one of our local Chinese restaurants has a hot pot option, so it may bee harder to find, but seek it out.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Broccoli Cheese Soup

I stopped chemotherapy and while I get that a year and a half is a long time and maybe I really should take a break, it is anxiety provoking to do nothing.  So instead of giving in completely to dread, I am doing a low carbohydrate diet.  The thinking is that cancer requires sugar to grow, and so the idea is to starve it.  So a diet of meat, cheese, and greens is the new reality.  This is the first recipe that I have tried that is new, and it is really good.  And pretty.  By booking the broccoli for 3 minutes and then using the water for stock, the broccoli stays really green.

4 c. stock
1 1/2 pounds of broccoli
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 celery rib, celery diced and leaves chopped
2-3 garlic clove, chopped
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
Aromatics: 1 teaspoon dried marjoram, 1 bay leaf, 1 pinch of dried thyme
1-1 1/2 cup cream, or reserved cooking water from cooked broccoli (optional)
2 cups shredded sharp cheese (aged gouda, cheddar, a mild chevre are all possibilities)

  1. Separate the crowns from the broccoli stems, then separate the crowns into florets. You should have at least 4 cups. Thickly peel the stems, quarter them, and chop them into small pieces, yielding a cup or so. Bring a 4-5 cups of water to a boil and add 1 scant teaspoon salt and the broccoli florets. Cook for about 3 minutes, then scoop out the florets, reserving the water. Rinse under cool water and set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a soup pot and add the onion, celery, broccoli stems, garlic, and cayenne. Cooke over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring now and then. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, then pour in a quart of stock, or use the reserved water from the broccoli, saving any remainder. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer 10 to 12 minutes. Add the milk/cream/broccoli water if needed to thin the soup. During the last few minutes, add the florets and allow them to heat through.
  3. Remove the bay leaf and then puree the soup using an immersion blender (you could use a blender and when you are done, return the mixture to the pot).  Taste for salt and season with pepper. Just before serving, stir in the cheese, but don't let the soup boil or else the cheese will toughen.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

All the Tea in China

The only high key tea culture that I have spent time with before is in England, where afternoon tea is more about the meal and the desserts, all doled out in very small quantities, and less about the tea (although that too is important).  In China, the tea is front and center, and the snacks are a distant second, and the emphasis is on salty and savory more than on sweets.  At the tea house in the Yuyuan Garden there were two memorable nibbles that came with the tea.  The first is tea soaked hard boiled quail eggs.  These were so delicious that they bordered on addictive.  The smallness of the quail eggs makes the flavoring more pervasive in the overall flavor, which is a very good thing.  The other was a very firm and slightly salty tofu snack, which had a distinctive flavor that was at first unfamiliar but quickly became hard to resist.  The tea is spectacular.  The herbal options hydrate beautiful flowers that float like under water anemones in the pot, and the flavors of all the teas are fresh and robust and unusual. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Get a Job (2016)

This is not a film for the ages.  After watching all of the Oscar nominated movies that I did throughout February, it is hard to get back on the light and fluffy path that this movie represents.  But I do like both Miles Teller and Anna Kendrick, so watch I did.
The story is essentially that all the Millennials out there have been raised wrapped in tissue paper.  Everyone gets a medal, even for mediocre performance. No one is left behind, no one accurately judges their worth, and all the while your parents slip you cash.  Then you enter the job market.  And it doesn't go well.  At all.  You have skills that the oldsters lack, but you can't put it into a package that they admire, and it is hard.  You are still living like you did in college, but you have no money, no privacy, and real fear about paying the rent.  It is much lighter than I am making it sound, and while it was panned by the critics, I enjoyed myself watching it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Double Star Quilt

A couple of years ago I tried to start quilting again, and I just never got very far.  I got out my quilt pattern books, I picked out some fabric to put together, but I could just never get my groove on.
That was when I decided that I needed outside help.  I saw several of my Facebook friends were doing workshops at our local quilt and knitting shop, Home Ec, and so I got myself on the mailing list.  The things that I saw those first few months looked very intriguing, but truthfully, I was so sick and debilitated from a prolonged episode of sepsis and hospitalization that I really wasn't up to it.  But by this time last year I was thinking it was time, but that I should start small.  So I took a napkin making class which was an awesome launching pad, in that I loved it and I finished something.  The winning combination.

That was the beginning, not so very long ago, and this is where I am today.  I took a start-to-finish quilting class, which i highly recommend, especially if you have limited quilting experience and need something to get you really started.  What I needed was someone to pick out the pattern and give me a deadline.  So with this quilt pattern I feel more confident that I can once again quilt.  I am on my fifth one of these quilts, with four of them completely done, and in less than a month.  I won't keep that pace up, but it is a really nice feeling.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Pudong, Shanghai

Looking from the old colonial part of Shanghai across the Huangpu River to the new part of Shanghai, which is the skyline that is memorable to modern day visitors to Shanghai. Pudong means "East Bank", which is geographically correct, and perhaps says something about the culture.  Call it like it is seems to be the norm rather than the exception.  The Pudong area is about 500 square miles, but 20 years ago it was mostly fields.  I think it is a reflection of modern China that in a very short time the Pudong's population outnumbers the population of the older Puxi section of Shanghai.  The sheer magnitude of the engineering and construction feats that have been attained in a short time are also reflective of China today.
We had an interesting time one night in this building which is known as "the bottle opener" and houses the Hyatt hotel just under the opening. On Wednesdays the hotel bar serves very reasonable quality champagne free for all women.  In order to get in on that deal, my sister-in-law and , along with my nephew who acted in the role of guide and cultural translator,  rode the elevator to the top in order to enjoy the view.  It was not really my cup of tea in terms of ambiance, but the champagne was good and the view was incredible.  Shanghai after dark is impressively and colorfully lit, but at 10:00pm it all goes dark and it was time to go home.
While the Pearl is the most imractical looking building in the skyline of Pudong, it is also my favorite.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Only Yesterday (1991)

As is happening more and more these days, this movie is not for young children, despite the animated feature. the oddity of this film is that while it was just released this year in the U.S., it was made in 1991, long before this sort of animated classic was much seen by American eyes.  the Japanese were well ahead of us on this front and continue to be.
The main character is a kind of young Japanese everywoman with a bit of an attitude, and a push back against the move away from the country. Taeko is a 27-year-old single salary woman in 1982 Tokyo. The movie begins with her telling a work colleague that she’s off to visit relatives in the countryside. Truth is, she has no actual close relatives there, but rather has signed up to help the family of her brother-in-law’s older brother in her destination to harvest safflowers. She is struggling with her future direction, her love interests, and the role of both work and family in her life.  The end result is a movie that makes you think, and is well worth watching.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Shanghai To Begin With

 I know that it is not a great accomplishment to get on a plane and arrive at your destination when in truth, the airline does the lion share of the work.  However, I was still getting chemotherapy and so felt a bit on the brave side to travel on my own (I actually delayed a dose of chemo in order to make the trip).  In actuality, there is a direct flight from Chicago to Shanghai, and my nephew met me at the airport.  I had navigated Chinese immigration and customs, including walking through the device that monitors your temperature (weird to see, but I guess it keeps a certain kind of infectious person out of the country), and I didn't even check a bag, so I didn't need to find my bag.  Really, it was pretty easy.  The flight is so long that it would be impossible to not get a bit of sleep, so I was even able to walk around a bit.  The great thing about the time of year that I arrived in was that it was Asian New Year, and there were red lanterns and flags hanging all about.  That also meant that a lot of things were closed, but fortunately for me, food is a very important part of Chinese culture, meaning that even with half of the restaurants closed there was still quite a bit of choice when it came to immersing myself in the culture.  So glad I took a chance on travel, despite my personal drawbacks.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Anchorage Museum

 This is a museum that has a combination of the beautiful and the whimsical, and this group of sculptures just outside the entrance brings that very clearly home.  I have been to Alaska a dozen times and I had never been here before.  However, when visiting in January with outside temperatures rarely rising above zero Fahrenheit and roads that are snow and ice covered, an indoor activity that is open is very attractive.  I was here with my parents, my adult children, and my spouse and we all very much enjoyed the special exhibits, which were on camouflage and on cabin fever.  The cabin fever exhibit was an intermedia exhibit, with sound, video and pictures.  I left understanding more about the psychosis that might be induced by prolonged isolation.
The other thing that the museum does well is to lay out the Native Alaskan peoples and their individual forms of art.  This is an exhibit that is very detailed and in a small dark space, so be sure to leave enough time to see it in it's entirety and to read all the very well done explanations of what it is exactly that you are seeing.  The native Alaskan population is 15% of the total population of the state.  This is higher than in other states with large reservations and Native Americans.  New Mexico, South Dakota, and Oklahoma's native American population is right around 9%, Arizona and North Dakota's is ~5%, to give some idea of what that number means.  It is said that it takes about 15% of the whole to have a noticeable effect on the other 85%, and that is the situation in Alaska.  So well worth learning more about.  Plus the gift shop is amazing.  Almost a museum exhibit in itself.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Baby Baby Baby (2016)

I watched this movie on my way home from Shanghai, and while I had never heard of it, I really enjoyed it a lot.  It is an independent romantic comedy, but one that has more grit and less of a happy ending than would be usual for the genre.  One reviewer I read summed it up best: Someone once said: “Love can change a person the way a parent can change a baby: awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess.”
So here is how it goes.  Sydney(Brian Klugman, who you might know from his role as a forensic anthropology intern on Bones),is  a man fresh out of a grueling breakup, looking for anything than to put himself in that situation again.  Which is a semi-chronic condition for him. Until he meets Sonny(Adrianne Palicki). The two go out for a drink and one thing leads to another.  But life and jealousy get in the way.  So this film is about real relationships, and not your usual romantic comedy ones.  The writing is the star of this movie. It is unequivocally funny, irresistibly heartwarming, and  better express the emotions and state of the relationship the protagonist is experiencing than most of what's out there. Throughout this film, you find yourself loving both sides of the relationship, and understanding where each is coming from in their troubles, while hoping it will all work out.  keep your fingers crossed.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Flying Into Anchorage

 We recently flew to Alaska in the dead of winter, and when I awoke to turbulence going over some Canadian mountains, I was struck by how beautiful the north is--which is good because as the planet warms, all that Canadian wilderness will suddenly look pretty darn habitable.  I love the view of the Alaskan mountains that extend south of Anchorage that hug the coastline as you fly in, and then the spectacular Chugash Mountains, and in the distance on that day we could even see Mount McKinley, the majestic Denali that is the highest point in the Northern continent of the New World.
Prince William Sound is always beautiful.  I have yet to be there in the messy break up of spring or in the early days of fall, but in summer and winter it is always cool.  The view from overhead this year was so cool.  The frozen parts of the ocean looked like bacterial growth on a petri dish, circles of ice growing and colliding with each other.  This is water that is home to belugas in the summer, but now it is just a winter wonderland.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Turkey Red, Palmer, Alaska

Palmer and Wasilla are two towns in the valley northeast of Anchorage of similar size, but very dissimilar in character.  While Wasilla is all big box stores and no zoning, Palmer is a quaint small town with a wild west feel to it.  And fabulous mountain views abound.  This is a great side trip if you venture north of Anchorage and have already exhausted the wonderful hiking trails in the Eagle River area.  The downtown buildings would remind you of small Western towns in the lower 48.  If you do venture into this charming town, then Turkey Red is an excellent place to have a meal.  The menu may not look exceptional, but it is definitely a couple cuts above a routine sandwich place.  For one thing, the bread is made in house (it is a bakery, after all) and it is excellent.  The sandwiches are made with care and whether you choose the soup or the salad as an accompaniment, you will have made a good choice.  It is also a coffee place, so don't forgo the latte and dessert either. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Cafe Society (2016)

What is the obsession with 1930's Hollywood?  The Coen brothers have done two movies set there (most recently Hail Caesar, which garnered one Oscar nomination and no awards, but was quite star studded and entertaining none-the-less), and there are several other lesser knowns who have regressed to that era.  What I know about it doesn't make me want to go there, but I do think it was an era that directors may have loved.  They could shop their movie to a studio related to both their enthusiasm for your idea and their stable of stars, and the movie was bound to get made lickety split.  If you ignore the unfairness to all those but studio higher ups, it must have been paradise for directors and writers who were in demand.  Which might explain Woody Allen's fascination with the period.
This is an age old triangular tail.  Jessie Eisenberg plays the nephew of a studio executive played by Steve Carrell.  They are both in love with the same girl, played by Kristen Stewart.  Long story short, Stewart loves them both, but picks the man with established money and lives to regret it.  There is a lot more to it than that, so go see this.  Well acted and well performed movie.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Spicy Pan Fried Noodles

These are fast to make, gluten free if that is something that you get excited about (and we do, because we often have someone who has Celiac Disease at our dinner table, and we like to cook inclusively as much as we can), and flavorful.  Good for a weeknight dinner, too.

  • 1 cup thinly sliced scallions (about a bunch; use both whites and greens)
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce, more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons rice wine or sherry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, more as needed
  • 6 ounces Chinese (also called Hong Kong) egg noodles, soba noodles or rice noodles
  • 2 ½ tablespoons peanut, grapeseed, safflower or vegetable oil, more as needed
  • 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 large eggs, beaten with a fork
  • 2 cups washed baby spinach or 1/2 cup thawed edamame (optional)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sriracha or other hot sauce, or to taste
  • Juice of 1/2 lime, or to taste
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds or chopped roasted peanuts, optional
  1. In a small bowl, combine the scallions, soy sauce, ginger, rice wine or vinegar, sesame oil and salt. Let stand while you prepare the noodles.
  2. In a large pot of boiling water, cook noodles until they are halfway done according to package instructions. (They should still be quite firm.) Drain well and toss with 1/2 tablespoon of the peanut oil to keep them from sticking, and spread them out on a plate or baking sheet.
  3. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons of peanut oil. Add the garlic and cook until crisp and golden around the edges, 1 to 2 minutes. Add half the scallion mixture and stir-fry until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add noodles; stir-fry until noodles are hot and lightly coated with sauce, about 30 seconds. Add eggs, spinach or edamame if using, sriracha, and remaining scallion mixture and continue to stir-fry until the eggs are cooked, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice. Garnish with cilantro and sesame seeds or peanuts.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Simon and Seafort's Restaurant, Anchorage, Alaska

This was the best seafood that we had on a recent trip to Alaska with my 12 closest relatives.  There were many different things that were consumed around the table that night and they were all delicious.
The very best was the halibut.  Both the cheeks and the fillet were delicious and the very best that we had on the trip.  given the time of year, they were very likely to be frozen, and while I am definitely a person who eats a lot of previously frozen fish (I live in Iowa, after all), halibut can be finicky when frozen, and the fish we had was really perfect.  The salmon was also delicious, as was the crab and the oysters.  So do not be put off by the location on the first floor of an office building, or the kitschy menu, this is definitely a place to consider eating twice if you are in Anchorage and love fish.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Bridget Jones Baby (2016)

Bridget Jones, when will it end?  No time soon is my simple answer.  I watched this in the perfect situation--a long distance flight, watched over a meal and wine and winding down to try to sleep.  The good news is that if you liked the original, you won't be offended or even really disappointed with this iteration.  Colin Farrell returns as the stable yet less spontaneous beau and Patrick Dempsey steps in nicely as a substitute to Hugh Grant as the handsome spontaneous alternative.
In this iteration, Bridget (still aptly played by Renee Zellweger) is in her 40's, still single and childless, and coming to terms with the idea that might be a permanent condition when after a spontaneous fling with both of her leading men, she comes up pregnant.  regardless of who the father is, she wants to be the mother, and the bulk of the movie revolves around the two potential fathers vying for her affection with their own unique charms.  It is funny and fun and light.  Just as you would hope.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Korean Chicken Wings

These were fantastic and they take a fraction of the time that the other chicken wings that I like take.  Perfect for a week night dinner.

  • 1 1/2 lb. chicken wingettes and drumettes, patted dry
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/2 c. cornstarch
  • kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • vegetable oil
  • 1/4 c. ketchup
  • 1/4 c. sriracha
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • Toasted sesame seeds, for garnishing
  1. Whisk together flour and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Season mixture with salt and pepper. Dredge each chicken piece in the flour-cornstarch mixture until evenly coated.
  2. Pour about 1 1/2” vegetable oil into a large, deep skillet or shallow pot. Heat over medium heat until the oil reaches about 350 degrees F, or until the oil is shimmering. (If a splash of water sizzles when you flick it into the pan, it’s ready.)
  3. Working in batches, add 3-4 chicken pieces to the hot oil using tongs. Do not crowd the pan, or the oil will cool! Cook until golden brown on one side, about 3-4 minutes, then flip and cook until the second side is golden and the chicken is cooked through, 3-4 more minutes. Place the fried chicken on a cooling rack lined with paper towels. Repeat the remaining chicken.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together ketchup, sriracha, honey and lemon juice until smooth. Toss cooked wings in the sauce. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

49th State Brewing Company, Anchorage, Alaska

The gang's all here, on my spouse's birthday, a month ago in the great state of Alaska.  It was a crowd pleaser of a spot, with an extensive beer on tap menu, and a table made from the trunk of a single tree to remind us that we are in a state that is exceptionally beautiful and rural.  I had the halibut fish and chips and they were absolutely delicious.  Highly recommended.  The food overall comes in second to the beer and the festive atmosphere, but is very enjoyable none the less.  On Monday night they have a trivia night, and our representatives were the big winners, which defrayed the cost of the dinner that we shared.  An added plus.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Salesman (2016)

The Iranian director of this movie, Asghar Farhadi, won his second Oscar for this painfully told story.  It is a remarkable feat really, when you consider that dozens of countries pick out the very best film made there that year and submit it, so there is an initial culling of wonderful movies, and then, amongst the best of the best that the world of cinema has to offer, he has managed to win twice.  Susanne Bier has done well (with a win and a nomination) and the Danes have had some good luck in this arena over all (Danish films Land of Mine and Silent Night were nominated for Best Foreign Language film and Best Live Action Short Film), but Iran can hold it's head high in the film world.
The movie itself is amazingly rich and complex, which is how it rose above a very impressive array of other nominees--I always find the movies in this category to be of exceptional quality, often better than the nominees in the Best Picture category, and this year is no exception.  The story revolves around a husband and wife, who are also actors playing husband and wife in a play, Death of a Salesman.  The wife is seriously assaulted and the movie revolves around the emotions evoked around that event.  I will say no more, other than to say do not miss this.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Life, Animated (2016)

This is a really lovely documentary that is about a child who is severely autistic and what his family does to ameliorate that for him, and what they cannot do.  It is heart warming and heart breaking at the same time.  It seemed like everything was okay until he turned three and he stopped talking.  Completely.  Having had a child who was mute for three months after brain surgery I totally get how distressing that can be.  They were very unsuccessful at turning his speech around, and found that the greatest joy he got was from watching Disney movies.  Then one day he repeated a line from a movie verbatim.  Gradually, over time, having conversations with him that were solely in dialogue from Disney animated movies they learned two things. One was that he had them all memorized, and two that he used them to make sense of the world around him.  If it wasn't in a Disney movie, he didn't have a way to picture it in his head or talk about it.  There is a point in the movie where his older brother tries to talk with him about sex and love within the context of a relationship he was in at the time, and it just wasn't going anywhere.
The parents do everything in their power to make life as close to normal as they can, and I relate to that as well.  Their son prepares to move out into a somewhat independent living situation near them, and I have a kid who is not quite ready to do that.  So it was bittersweet, this movie.  I have less to worry about but it is a difference of degree and not kind.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Jungle Book (2016)

This movie faithfully follows the original Disney movie of the same name, but this time with magnificently realistic appearing animals.  It was nominated for best visual effects, or essentially what can you do with a computer that you can't do in real life, and it was the slam dunk winner in that category.  So incredibly well rendered that the fact that the rest of it is almost exactly how I remember the movie from my childhood is irrelevant because I can't take my eyes off how magnificently well the animals work.  Mogli is a bit annoying, and the scene at the end where he out thinks Sher Khan is tense and anxiety provoking, but otherwise it is more of a marvel that a new story.  It is a live action rendition that celebrates what computer aided effects have to offer.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Deepwater Horizon (2016)

Ok, you might think that this movie would not have quite managed to be Oscar material, but it was nominated in two categories, both of them related to special effects, and really, as disaster movies go, it was surprisingly enjoyable. Mark Wahlberg is an engineer on the rig, and when you watch he and others who are returning to their shifts on it, you realize just how far from help they were, and how isolated it was for them out there once things started to go terribly wrong.  The way the film tells it, the BP company officials were pressing for action when the crew wasn't so sure that they were all clear, and then of course it gets much much worse, with fires and explosions, and people trying to minimize the damage, and then abandoning the rig completely.  It is amazing how the loss of life was contained, and the movie ends there, not looking at all at how hard it was to then contain the oil.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Tannah (2016)

Very interesting movie that is set in the Pacific Island of Vanuatu and was Australia's submission for Best Foreign Language film.  It was filmed with native actors, all amateurs, and it has some of the limitations that you would expect from that.  The cinematography is absolutely spectacular, and it did not surprise me to learn that the filmmaker is largely known for documentary film making.
I would say that the story is a complete rip off of the Romeo and Juliet saga, except that it is based on real events that took place on the volcanic island of Tanna in 1987.  The Yakel tribe was firmly entrenched in the iron fist grip of the elders on everything that happens, including arranging marriages and using bartering women in marriage to keep peace with another tribe.  So when Wawa falls in love with Dain, they have very little hope that their relationship will be allowed.  Then Wawa is promised to a warring tribe, and there is no way out.  Wawa is no longer a virgin, the tribe is angry that she has run away, and their own people are not in their camp.  So they make the only choice that they see available to them, which is a tragedy of the tribal elders making.  And so it goes.  All stories af mankind are doomed to be repeated.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Sully (2016)

The Oscars are behind us, but the movies that were nominated just keep on coming.I was unable to watch everything ahead of time, of course.  Given that I had only seen one when they were announced, I did pretty well in the end.  This was nominated in the category of sound editing.
The movie certainly nails its white-knuckled depiction of 2009’s Miracle on the Hudson, the emergency water landing made by US Airways Flight 1549 that allowed all 155 of its passengers and crew to come out alive.  Really miraculous and the movie captures Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the plain-spoken, cool-headed veteran pilot who pulled off the impossible under immense pressure.  These sequences are likely to be primarily responsible for its nomination.
The focus of the movie was on how after pulling off this crash landing the pilots were accused of making a mistake about landing on the Hudson.  The insurance company was unhappy about the loss of the plane, and so while the public was relieved, the pilots were being sweated.  It all works out, and gives a good sense of how much finger pointing there is when a plane goes down.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Extremis (2016)

I knew that I would not be able to put all the movies that I watched for the Oscars in posts that would air before the event, so I am saving some of the ones that I thought were less likely to win afterwards (although I may make mistakes, of course).  This is something that people should watch with their family, especially elderly family members who have some ambivalence about what they want for end of life care.  The other group is families who have some disagreement about end of life care for a family member.  As much as one might try to avoid pitting siblings against each other by designating one decision maker whose views are in concert with your own, things happen and the very best thing is if everyone can agree.  So check out this short documentary following around a palliative care doctor.   Let's just say this is not the feel good movie of the nominees (although it is also not the most gut wrenching--the two that take place in and around Syria win that position).  It is well worth watching.