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Archive for December, 2009

Up in the Air

December 27, 2009 Leave a comment

It’s hardly news that we don’t get out to the movies much. But we did yesterday. We saw Up in the Air. And it was superb, the rare movie we see that I feel good about seeing when we walk out.

I wasn’t too happy about seeing it when we walked in. We went to one of the downtown multiplexes and found ourselves in a small screening room. I didn’t imagine that a highly regarded movie in its third week of release would be relegated to such a small room. I didn’t count, but in picturing the room now, I figure there were about 8 rows. We sat in row 4 on the aisle. If we wanted to sit off the aisle, we would have had to sit in row 2. And when the ads came on, they were blasting. You know Dennis Haysbert, the actor who played President Palmer in 24 and was the lead in The Unit? He appeared in one of those Allstate Insurance ads, 10 feet high, just 20 feet away, and shouting at us. It remains a mystery to me why we have to watch ads at the movie theater. I remember seeing Taxi Driver at a movie theater in downtown Leeds in the summer of 1977, but only after sitting through ad after ad. I didn’t realize I was seeing our future. I just thought it was one of the oddities of those quirky English.

Anyway, after 25 minutes of ads and previews, the movie did start, and what a joy it was! George Clooney was wonderful, of course, but so too were his two co-stars, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. And he was almost always on screen with one or the other of them, ensuring one great moment after another. I will happily see it again. As an added bonus, the movie makes me eager to get on a plane.

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Categories: Movies

Rock Band

December 27, 2009 Leave a comment

With Joel home again, his video game platforms are back in operation. And with his receipt on Thursday of one of the versions of Rock Band for the Xbox 360 — The Beatles: Rock Band — we can now pretend to be John, Paul, George, and Ringo. I had never played Guitar Hero or Rock Band or whatever other variants there are before. I wasn’t entirely clear on what it is one does when playing them.

I know now. I’ve played the drums on the easy level on several Beatles songs, the guitar on easy level for a couple of songs, and the drums on the next level up from easy once. I failed miserably at that one non-easy experience. I don’t see myself participating too much. I doubt I’ll be cranking it up to play with Gail when Joel’s out of the house. But I’m sure I’ll be playing more, especially once we move beyond the Beatles. Some of these songs I’ve listened to enough for this lifetime, and maybe for the next one as well. Let’s bring on the Stones. Or for that matter, Led Zeppelin, whom I was just reading about in Rick Moody’s review in today’s NYT of Mick Wall’s new book, When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page I’m not. Obviously. But I’m ready to give Whole Lotta Love a try.

Categories: Music, Video Games

Chocolate Gourmet

December 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Controlling Coconut

In the NYT last month, Marian Burros had her annual list of ten recommended ideas for food gifts available online or by mail order. (To my immense annoyance, I can’t only find a link at the moment to an all-text version of the article, here. What I’m not seeing is the version with a photo of each recommended item and a link to it. In any case … ) One of the items was an “assortment of aptly described ”damn good cookies” with silly names: overprotective pecans, material macadamia, chubby wubby chocolate, etc.” from Chocolate Gourmet in Chicago. On further investigation, I learned that Chocolate Gourmet offers three lines of product: cookies, truffles, and rugelach. Moreover, by ordering the show them you care more assortment — or the still larger show them you care a lot! and show off assortments — you can get samples of each of the different cookies, truffles, and rugelach they make. They can all be viewed by going to the site and clicking on any of the cookies. For instance, go here, and once there, click on any item to read more about it.

We didn’t want to be show offs, so we ordered show them you care more for my parents. Based on their response, and the pointlessness of showing off to ourselves, whom we already care about a lot, we ordered the same package for ourselves. It should have come Wednesday, but the snow in the midwest must have delayed it. Tracking on FedEx showed that it arrived in Indianapolis Tuesday night and didn’t leave until late Wednesday afternoon. Fortunately, it arrived Thursday morning, so we have been able to enjoy its offerings through the weekend.

We’ve had other chocolate around the house. Perhaps for that reason I have confined my research to the damn good cookies rather than the ugly truffles or the rugelach. I’ve tried them all now. My favorites are the controlling coconut, described at the website as “crisp coconut encrusted cookie rolled in powder sugar.” They are probably the simplest of the bunch, but sometimes simple is all one needs. Honorable mention to overprotective pecan: “cookie coated pecan halves and bittersweet chocolate chips.” The chubby wubby chocolate might be a little too rich for me. They are “bittersweet ganache sandwiched by two soft, bittersweet chocolate cookies each studded with bittersweet chocolate chips.”

The only truffle I can remember trying so far is the hairy coconut: “creamy coconut ganache encased in white chocolate and rolled in toasted coconut.” Excellent. I have somehow resisted the gordito picante, whose description is the most intriguing: “smooth cinnamony Mexican chocolate warmed with chili spices and surrounded in milk chocolate and toasted corn tortillas.” Tonight.

If you’re looking for a New Year’s treat, give them a try.

Categories: Today's News

La Grenouille

December 23, 2009 Leave a comment

[Christopher Smith, The New York Times]

In my short post two Mondays ago about my parents’ 68th anniversary, I mentioned that they would be celebrating the next day at La Grenouille. They did, and they had a wonderful time. A week later — what do you know — La Grenouille is the subject of the weekly NYT restaurant review, its first NYT review since Ruth Reichl wrote about it in 1997. Sam Sifton, like Ruth, gives it three stars. And he writes a love letter to the city’s lone remaining great traditional French restaurant. I can’t resist quoting a couple of passages.

Back in the kitchen, the executive chef, Matthew Tropeano, spoons forcemeat pike into simmering broth. He naps the result with sauce and gives the plates to waiters who have known no other service. They present their customers a paragon of quenelles de brochet in the Lyonnaise style, a textbook example of classic French cuisine.

The dish is executed perfectly, a kind of beige-on-beige masterpiece devoid of irony or deconstructionist camp. (Only those without heart would call it gefilte fish.) It is delicious without being overwhelming, without being much more than ethereal pike, light as mist, buttery rice, a shellfish cream sauce with just a hint of nutmeg, a dab of American caviar. It is wonderful to eat at La Grenouille.

And the closing passage:

Let us stay happy through the end of this meal. Wise diners will, as they order the sole, also ask for the preparation of a soufflé for dessert, perhaps the one scented with Grand Marnier. (The unwise will ask for tarte Tatin and receive a wan example in return.)

During the winter of 1997, when La Grenouille was just 35, Ruth Reichl wrote in the restaurant’s most recent review in these pages that it was not for nothing that a parade of soufflés crosses the dining room each evening. “I don’t think there is a better soufflé in New York,” she wrote, and awarded three stars.

That is still the case. It is a magic-trick dessert, a dreamlike concoction from the night kitchen: perfection unsullied. And it stands, in its way, for the importance of La Grenouille. This is the bastion now. It is worth the expense to put on your best and experience it. It is part of why you are here.

I had the pleasure of eating at La Grenouille with my parents decades ago. I remember the gorgeous dining room, but not the food. Time to return. And see also the slide show with additional commentary from Sifton.

Categories: Restaurants

Near Miss

December 23, 2009 Leave a comment

[Roland Halbe, NYT]

The current New Yorker has a piece by John Seabrook about famed architect Zaha Hadid. In the print edition are photos of her, her recently-opened MAXXI building in Rome, and the still-to-be-built Aquatics Center for the 2012 London Olympics. Additional photos can be seen as part of the accompanying audio slide show at the New Yorker website.

The MAXXI is the National Museum of the XXI Century Arts, set just north of the center of Rome in the Flaminia neighborhood. It opened on November 12, a Thursday, our last full day in Europe. We had left Rome the previous Saturday, the 7th, and left Italy altogether on the night of Tuesday the 10th on the overnight train to Paris. So we missed all the excitement, just barely. Not just the opening, but the coverage as well.

Nicolai Ouroussoff, the NYT architecture critic, had a review on the 12th, with yet another slide show. He wrote:

Maxxi, which opens to the public on Saturday for a two-day “architectural preview,” jolts this city back to the present like a thunderclap. Its sensual lines seem to draw the energy of the city right up into its belly, making everything around it look timid. The galleries (which will remain empty of art until the spring, when the museum is scheduled to hold its first exhibition) would probably have sent a shiver of joy up the old pope’s spine. Even Bernini, I suspect, would have appreciated their curves.

The completion of the museum is proof that this city is no longer allergic to the new and a rebuke to those who still see Rome as a catalog of architectural relics for scholars or tourists.

i wish we had known to walk over to the museum. It wasn’t far from where we stayed. Indeed, the Hotel de Russie is just two buildings south of the Piazza del Popolo, on the north side of which sits the Flaminian Gate, the northern entry to ancient Rome, with historic Via Flaminia running north from there. A 2.5 kilometer walk up the Via Flaminia and to the left would have taken us to MAXXI.

Oh, and not only that, but we just missed Hadid herself. From the New Yorker article, we learn that “Hadid arrived in Rome three days before the MAXXI’s opening ceremony, … ensconcing herself in the luxurious Hotel de Russie, just off the Piazza del Popolo.” Darn. That would have been fun.

Categories: Architecture, Travel

Alpha to Zulu

December 20, 2009 Leave a comment

Two weeks ago, I wrote a short post drawing attention to a post by Mark Liberman at Language Log. Underlying his post (and mine, though I didn’t have much to add) is the standard letter code used in radio communications, the one in which a word or name is attached to each letter — alpha to ‘a’, bravo to ‘b’, and so on.

I always wanted to commit the code to memory. I figured it would be handy. I love listening to flight controllers using it when I fly United. (You know, you can plug in headphones on planes with audio systems and listen on channel 9, provided the pilot lets you, as the controllers whose frequency the pilot is on tell planes what to do. “Delta 823, descend to 7000 and head 120. United 35 heavy [That’s us!] descend to 3000, follow the 757 ahead of you, cleared for landing.” Or whatever. I can never get Gail to listen. It’s great to hear a change in your heading, then feel the plane bank and descend. And then, when you land and switch over to the controllers in charge of taxiing, they tell you to taxi to Bravo Romeo 60, or some such thing. I could be a better listener if only I knew the code.

Not only that, I would know what to say on the phone when I have to spell something or recite letters. This just happened last night, when I was talking to a JetBlue representative about Joel’s cancelled flight and she asked for the flight’s confirmation number. Well, it’s not a number. It’s six letters. But she must have known that, so I didn’t argue that it’s not a number. I read the letters. And when I said ‘D’, she heard ‘B’. What to do. I said “D as in Denver”. Why Denver? If only I thought to say “Delta”.

I will now. This afternoon, I typed out the list of code words, printed it out, and worked on memorizing it. My memory has generally served me well over the years, but not when it comes to straight memorization of lists like this. I can repeat details of conversations with accuracy. I can’t learn song lyrics or poems. I can name the US presidents in order, but I have a context for that. History. Thanks to a very coarse knowledge of US history, I know not only the presidents but when their terms began and ended. A list of 26 random words and names is more of a challenge for me.

I wasn’t making much progress until Gail got home from Costco. I gave her the list and had her test me. I failed miserably. Then I took back the list, suggested that she try, and she proceeded to out-do me. We went back and forth on it, and after our practice session, I could do it. This is great. Now I can’t wait for my next opportunity to read out letters to someone on the phone.

Next up: memorize the 32 teams in the 2010 World Cup soccer draw, in their eight groups of four. After the draw was set a couple of weeks ago, I printed it out and posted it above my desk at home. The countdown clock at the official website tells me that I have 171 days and 18 hours to complete my task.

Categories: Language, Sports, Travel

Fin du Programme

December 19, 2009 Leave a comment

Joel is on his way home now, after 16 weeks abroad. We’re not sure when he’ll make it, thanks to the snowstorm on the east coast, but in an hour he should reach Boston. And his return weekend began just as his departure weekend did, with Friday lunch at Rover’s. Sixteen weeks ago, Joel joined us at the last of our roughly bi-weekly summer lunches there. The next day, he flew overnight to JFK and on to Boston, and a day later he flew overnight to London and on to Paris. We hadn’t been back to Rover’s since, but yesterday we went again with friends from Tacoma. Jett discovered my blog last month and thereby discovered Rover’s as well. She was eager to try it, so we went with her and John. As we went to sleep last night, Joel would have been starting his journey from Grenoble to Lyon, where he was to fly to London, wait 4 hours then fly to Boston. It’s amazing how little snow has fallen in Grenoble. Or maybe it isn’t amazing, but it’s been a surprise to us. Unfortunately, snow fell today, which perhaps is why his flight out of Lyon was 1 1/2 hours late. Still, he had plenty of time, and anyway, his flight out of Heathrow was delayed over 2 hours because of de-icing problems. The upshot is that he will land in Boston, according to British Air’s website, at 8:20 PM or so Boston time, or 2:20 AM back in Grenoble. The storm that shut down airports in DC earlier in the day and reached New York later in the day still hasn’t reached Boston, so I don’t anticipate any trouble tonight. Tomorrow’s a different story, with his flight out not leaving until dinnertime.

We’ve had a sheet of paper posted in the kitchen all fall with the various scheduled non-academic events that have been part of his program in Grenoble. It’s in French, but one doesn’t need a lot of French to interpret such items as Excursion à Paris, début des cours, Excursion à Annecy, Diner Thanksgiving, or Soirée cinéma. Today’s listing, the final one, is Fin du programme. It’s time to take the list down. But maybe we’ll leave it up until Joel returns, so he can see how we tracked him. And I never did ask if he went on the Visite les caves de la Grande Chartreuse à Voiron, which took place when we were in Rome without the list at hand, so I didn’t ask at the time. The caves are where monks produce chartreuse liqueur. They’re not far from Grenoble, between the Chartreuse and Vercors mountain ranges.

As for yesterday’s lunch, it was once again superb. I’ve written about our visits to Rover’s several times. I won’t say much more here. I started with a salad, frisée and poached egg with bacon, which just happens to be the very salad I had at one of our best meals of our recent trip, in Paris, a meal I have yet to write about. I followed up with the black cod accompanied by Brussels sprouts and bacon ragout. And dessert was chocolate orange mousse torte. I couldn’t have been happier. Well, except for that brief moment when I got my initial look at Gail’s plate, with leg of lamb and lamb sausage on cous cous. Boy, that looked amazing. I almost ordered it, but I hadn’t had Brussels sprouts in so long, so that tipped me over to the cod. I figured Chef Rautureau would have only the best, and I love good Brussels sprouts. No complaints. I think I missed something really special though.

And just this minute Joel called from Logan Airport’s taxiway. He has landed in Boston. It’s not snowing there yet. I think the storm may track more to the east from New York, over southern New England, so he may get lucky. I’ve seen predictions of 4-8 inches, which shouldn’t cause too much trouble for Logan, unlike down in DC today, where there was over a foot and almost every flight was cancelled.

Categories: Family, Restaurants, Travel