May 28, 2011

A Book You Can't Put Down

What do you do if you belong to a book club and you don't like the books that are picked? It's the standing joke in my book club that I'm usually the guilty party who hasn't finished the selection. I try, I really do. I start them all and I'll give them at least 50 pages, sometimes a little more, but I can't bring myself to finish a book I don't like.
Then why go, you ask. Because I really like the ladies (why don't men join book clubs?), and besides we always have wine and a wonderful dessert (maybe the men don't know that) so that's a win-win for me. And every once in a while I'll really love the book and what a treat that is!
Don't you love finding a book so engaging you don't want it to end? It doesn't happen all that often but when it does it's a joy. Actually it's kind of a double-edged sword, isn't it? You don't want it to end but you can't put it down.
Some of my favorite recent books are The Help by Kathryn Stockett (this was one of the few book club selections I loved). So exquisitely written with real characters you can empathize with. Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen is another that was so engaging.
And of course my all-time favorite: To Kill a Mockingbird, which I've read at least half a dozen times. And if you haven't read that, why not? DO IT NOW!
I recently finished Plainsong by Kent Haruf. It was a book club selection and surprise - I loved it!
It took me a bit to get into it. It's not that I disliked it, I just thought it was slow in the beginning and the story didn't seem to be going anywhere. But then it hit its stride, and I couldn't wait to get back to it. Now I'm reading the sequel, Eventide, and it's just as good. Very sad, tho.
Have you read anything lately that you didn't want to end?
Share it!

May 26, 2011

Yum! Easy Braised Chicken

Easy to prepare and delicious to eat. Is there a better combination? If you like chicken you have to make this:
Braised Chicken and Vegetables
2 tbsp olive oil
4-5 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs (about 1-1/2 lbs.)
Kosher salt, pepper and paprika
1 tbsp flour
1 lb. red potatoes, halved
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
3 jarred roasted red peppers, drained and cut into 1" strips

Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper and paprika. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook chicken about 3 minutes per side, until browned.
Transfer to a plate.
Add potatoes, carrots and garlic to pan and cook for a couple minutes. Add the flour and stir until coated.
Add chicken broth, wine and thyme, and bring to a boil.
Add chicken back in and bring to a boil again. Then turn down the heat, add in the peppers, cover and braise for about 30 minutes.

Serve with crusty bread to mop up that delicious sauce.

May 24, 2011

Wacky Uses for Household Products

New use for Polident! What fun. Not that I have Polident hanging around my house, mind you (at least not yet). But I heard that an antique dealer found some lovely old glasses that were cloudy and he put them in a bucket of water with a whole bunch of Polident tablets and...voila! crystal clear glass. I was so excited because I have some very old glasses that I love that are foggy and I've tried all measure of things to clean them: baking soda, toothpaste, ammonia...nothing worked.
So out to the store I went, could only find a package of 84 tablets, but what the heck. I'll clean all my glasses (and yours, too).
I pulled out my large Calphalon pot, filled it with warm water and dumped in a whole mess of those tablets and they fizzed like crazy so I just knew this was going to work. I put in the glasses and let them soak for about four hours and then I took them out and washed them and voila! they were the same cloudy glasses I put in there. They do smell minty fresh, tho.
But the Polident did an excellent job of eating away the finish on my expensive Calphalon pot.
I'm thinking these things might do a first-rate job of cleaning the toilet bowl.
I'll keep you posted.
Meanwhile if you need Polident I'll make you a great deal.

May 22, 2011

Movie Review: Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids is one of the sweetest, funniest films of this genre that I've seen in a long time. What makes this film work over something like say, Something Borrowed, is great writing, real characters, wonderful acting, and directing that doesn't go overboard.
Kristen Wiig is an amazing comic actor with impeccable timing. She's so believable and funny but vulnerable and likeable, and she and Maya Rudolph play off each other perfectly. They're good friends in real life and it shows.
The opening scene, Kristin Wiig in bed with John Hamm, is funny and sad, and when she leaves (on the gate - a riot) you know you're in for a good time. There are so many laugh-out-loud moments. Of course. Kristin Wiig is a co-writer (along with Annie Mumolo).
BTW, I've seen Melissa McCarthy before but never knew her name until now, and she's terrific in this, appropriately gross and riotously funny as the obligatory fat girl.
On a sad note Jill Clayburgh plays Wiig's mom (they look like they could be mother and daughter) and the first time she comes on screen feels so sad and was a bit distracting to me since she died right after filming this.
Interesting note: the picture above is the major promotion for the film but they never wear those dresses, including the bride.
Nit-picky note: there's a scene where Kristin Wiig is trying to get the attention of the cop (adorably played by Chris O'Dowd) and she's wearing a red, strappy dress. In women's clothes where there's a chance a bra strap will slip out they put in little crocheted straps with snaps that hold your strap in place. Well, one was peeking out of her dress. Don't ask why I noticed that, it's barely visible.
Four and a half stars out of five for Bridesmaids. I would have given it five stars but the food poisoning scene was a little gross for me and went on way too long. A small thing in an otherwise fantastickly enjoyable movie.

May 17, 2011

Patience is a Virtue

Patience is a virtue. Which I don't possess.
Okay, so whenever I call Apple Care (and I have to say I'm BFFs with most of those techies because I have to call ALL THE TIME!) they ask what the serial number of the computer is. So I give them the number which is 8 or 9 digits and then they repeat it back to me. They say: "N as in Nancy, X as in x-ray, G as in George, U as in umbrella, O as in okay..." You get the idea.
It drives me insane. Here's the thing: M and N sound similar on the phone, I get that. But U? What else sounds like a U? O? What would anyone mistake that for?
So I've taken to giving them the serial number and then saying, "Please don't read that back to me." I say this nicely (most of the time) and mostly they say okay, but once in a while I'll get one who just insists. And I just want to scream. Because then, before I can even think about asking my question, they're going to ask my name and address and how old I was when I got my first bike and what my grandmother's father's sister's maiden name was.
As I said, patience is a virtue. Where do I get some? Does Macy's have it?

May 16, 2011

Movie Review: The Beaver

When I saw the trailer for The Beaver I thought I would never go see the movie. Number one, it has Mel Gibson in it and number two, a beaver puppet? Really???
But the movie, and Gibson, have gotten good reviews, and some friends wanted to see it so I went.
I should have paid more attention to my instinct.
If you think the concept of someone talking to a puppet that's ON HIS OWN HAND looks pretty stupid, IT IS.
Seems like it might be a comedy from the trailer but it's actually very dark, a story about mental illness. I recently saw Next to Normal, a Broadway show that played here in Chicago for two weeks. It's also about mental illness, but so beautifully written with well-drawn characters you can relate to. It's a tough story but told with heart (read my review here). That's what The Beaver is missing: that heart, poignancy, characters you believe in.
Mel Gibson was fine but no more than that. Jodi Foster was also fine - I just didn't buy her character. Anton Yelchin, who plays the older, head-banging (literally head-banging) son was excellent.
All in all I hate that I paid good money to see Mel Gibson.
2 stars out of 5 for The Beaver.

May 13, 2011

Movie Review: Something Borrowed

Something Borrowed wants to be a lighthearted romantic comedy but how lighthearted can it be when it's the story of SPOILER ALERT a woman who sleeps with her best friend's fiance? Never mind that the best friend, Darcy (Kate Hudson), is vacuous and self-centered and who would want to be friends with her anyway.
Ginnifer Goodwin is cute and has an appealing screen presence but her character has no guts. I usually love Kate Hudson but her performance left me flat. There was no realness or vulnerability to her character which would have helped, I think.
One bright spot is John Krasinski who's pretty much his character on The Office, but I happen to like that character.
The movie doesn't seem to know where it wants to go. It gets bogged down in the middle then doesn't know how to end. Not that there aren't some funny parts, just not enough to carry it.
Bottom line is I don't know how you make the premise of betrayal cute, and neither does this film.
Two out of five stars for Something Borrowed.

May 1, 2011

Theatre Review: Next To Normal

Hey, here's an idea...let's write a musical about bipolar disorder and the death of a child.
Hah! Who ever thought of that one? Well, whoever it was is brilliant, and Next To Normal is a poignant, gritty story of a family struggling with real issues. An amazing show.

The dialogue is witty and genuine and the music and lyrics are gorgeous. Every song grabs at your heart. The performances are phenomenal, the story emotionally wrenching. This show is a must-see.
In fact, for me it was such a must-see I went twice in one week. I saw it on Saturday and fell in love with it so I saw it again tonight. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that.
Well, no I'm not.
Saturday I had to make an enormous effort not to break down sobbing. Tonight I was a little more contained since I knew what was coming. But there were three young women sitting behind me who were weeping all through the second act.
So be sure to see it before it leaves on Sunday and be sure to take tissue.
Five out of five stars for Next to Normal.

Don't Miss Cirque Eloize iD

Cirque Eloize iD - if you have the time before it leaves on May 8th you should not miss this production at the Palace Theatre. It's creative, imaginative and captivating; part dance, part acrobatics, part performance art and complete enchantment.
This guy does things on that bike that most of us couldn't even do on our legs. The whole thing is amazing.
And take your kids. They'll love it. The little girl sitting next to me was totally enthralled.