Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy

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One wedding and a funeral

“Welcome to your day of mixed emotions,” said my uncle. As happens occasionally in life, I was attending both a funeral, and a wedding, in one day.

The two events weren’t as different as one might have thought.

* Both began with a ceremony that took place place in a Catholic church.
* Perhaps unexpectedly, really both ceremonies featured a mix of laughter, tears, solemnity, and smiles.
* Attendees to both wore their Sunday best (though it was a Saturday).
* A meal followed both. (Though only the wedding featured an open bar and DJ dancing.)

And both ended up being at least partly on the theme of the importance of a good marriage (pray, eat, love, I guess). My cousins gave a loving and eloquent eulogy to their father, that included these words:

“My father had a message to men that he wanted to pass along. Don’t be too proud to tell your wife how much her love and care means to you. Don’t wait to express yourself.”

And my niece, whose wedding party included two stepsisters along with her biological sister, included this tribute to her new in-laws:

“And thank you for serving as a great example of a successful marriage. Because while my parents passed along a lot of values to me, the value of marriage wasn’t one of them.”

In the famous words of Kelso, “Ooh, burn.”

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Movie reviews: Blue Jasmine and Adore

*** Blue Jasmine ((July 2013) – Theatre

Blue Jasmine posterCate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin. Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine has to go live with her working-class sister Ginger after her wealthy husband is arrested for fraud.

She says: At first I thought Jasmine would be this annoying character to spend two hours with, but she develops layers as we witness her current plight and flash back to what brought her here. That the two sisters are so different is explained by each of them having been adopted, which works. It’s interesting to see past secrets revealed as Jasmine desperately tries to adjust to no longer being ultra-rich. By the end, we still didn’t know quite what will become of her. But we care…

What did you think of the movie?

He says: It wasn’t bad.

Adore movie poster** Adore (September 2013) – Theatre

Naomi Watts, Robin Wright. Two 40ish women, best friends, become lovers with each other’s sons, which gets complicated.

She says: This was billed as “porn with good acting”, but I dunno. I think porn would have a lot more sex and fewer scenes after characters looking angsty as dramatic music plays.

The acting was indeed fine, and everyone involved was quite attractive and thus appealing to look at, and the ocean-side setting was pretty. I don’t have a problem with the age difference, and the fact that there was a “son swap” was merely weird, not disturbing, but the movie made it clear that the women had known these boys since they were little babies. That made their later relationship kind of ookey, and you had to ignore that part to enjoy the storyline at all.

He says: I had too much trouble ignoring that part. The movie wasn’t boring. That’s the best I can say about it.

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Movie reviews: The Sapphires and My Idiot Brother

Both these movies are comedic, and built around family dynamics.

The Sapphires poster

***½ The Sapphires (March 2013) – Theatre

Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailmen, Jessica Mauboy. A group of singing Australian aboriginal sisters are discovered by British talent scout who encourages them to sing R&B, and gets them a gig in Vietnam.

She says: The setting of this movie in the 60s give it a certain cool factor (oh, the fashion!) and the location of Vietnam gives it real thrills at times (oh, the bombs!). But the core is three sisters and their once-estranged cousin dealing with the legacy of racism that has left them scarred, but also able to access and convey the pain and fight in R&B music, just as their new British manager insists.

Loosely based on a true story, the movie features love stories, great musical interludes, and a lot of comedy with a good dash of drama. It’s an independent film that’s well worth seeking out.

He says: OK, now I’m glad you brought me to the movies! That was really enjoyable. I’m not sure which sister was my favorite character, but that Julie sure had quite the voice.

Our Idiot Brother movie poster

*** Our Idiot Brother (August 2011) – Rental

Paul Rudd, Zoe Deschanel, Emily Mortimer. Ned is a good guy, but his innate trust of others sometimes lands him in trouble, even jail. His sisters take turns housing him in his time of need, and find him disrupting their lives.

She says: Ned is not really an idiot, but the fact he insists on trusting other people despite getting burned does put him in contrast with his three sisters’ approach to life. This is a strong cast, and it’s fun watching them interact as Ned’s natural openness tears open information they would prefer be kept secret. It’s not a wildly inventive movie, but there are worse ways to spend your time.

He says: Entertaining enough, though some of the situations got kind of uncomfortable. (And sometimes he was a bit of an idiot.)

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Tell me, who are you? (My parents encounter Pete Townshend)

My parents went to see the Stratford production of Tommy last week. I was wondering what they’d think of it, given its somewhat dark subject matter and the fact that they aren’t especially fans of The Who’s music.

But they came back with good reviews of the effects-laden production. Mom reported that director Des McAnuff had been at this preview performance, promising the audience that he would paper over any glitches as needed, but I guess none were apparent, anyway.

The next day, I read that not only had McAnuff been in attendance, but Mr. Pete Townshend himself had appeared to take a curtain call that night.

When I asked my parents about it later, Dad said, “You know, I wondered if that guy on stage at the end was Pete Townshend!”

“He asked me if that’s who it was,” confirmed Mom. “I said, ‘How the heck would I know?’’’

“He sure got a lot of applause, though,” she added. “So we just applauded, too.”

So that was kind of funny. (And a generational note that, in fact, my parents are much closer in age to Mr. Townshend than I am. But they are on the older side of him, and I am on the younger, and in popular music, that’s usually a big divide.)

Pete Townshend seems to be making a bit of the rounds of Canadian media, appearing on Q with Jian Ghomeshi yesterday (as were McAnuff and some of the cast), and having a big interview in the Toronto Star today. Townshend’s own review of the Tommy revival is as follows:

They’re an extraordinary company. They certainly know how to rock. The technology is great. The show looks great. I’m in a sense still reeling from the impact of it. It’s quite a journey.

I have my own tickets to the show for July, and I’m quite looking forward to it, even though I won’t be getting any rock star appearances, as The Who will be touring Europe at that point.

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Movie review: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi poster***1/2 Jiro Dreams of Sushi (July 2012) – Rental

Japanese documentary about the 85-year-old chef at the best sushi restaurant in the world.

She says: Jiro Ono works to perfect the art of making sushi. That’s all he’s done his adult life, and that’s all he wants to continue to do. This documentary tells his story, shows some of his food preparation techniques, and reveals the challenging situations his two sons are in, having followed their father into the same profession. The oldest is 50 and still waiting to be master chef, as his father has no intention of retiring. The younger has opened a companion restaurant.

The sushi really does look amazing and you get very hungry watching this, while knowing that anything called sushi that you get around here is not going to compare. Tuna is very much prized ingredient by the chef, and I wondered if they would touch on the over-fishing issue; they did, and in a way that made these types of chefs appear to not be the problem. (They are conscious of the issue, buy only what they need, when they need it, and with the small restaurant always to capacity and serving some of the world’s best food, nothing is wasted.)

Not that much happens in this film, and yet it’s fascinating—at least to a foodie, I suppose.

He says: We have no idea what real sushi is. And we’ll probably never find out.

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Not sure what it was, but this year in the wider family, three of us—including me—got eReaders. Specially, various of us gave the other’s Kobos, based on the recommendation of the one person in the family who already had an eReader.

Kobo eReader

Now, I already have an Android tablet, which I had already been using to read ebooks. (Or, ebook, really, since I’ve read only one on it so far, with two more on deck.) I wondered if it would tire out my eyes to read on the tablet, but didn’t find that to be the case. Still, I was interested in the plain, eInk eReader because:

  • It’s not backlit (bad for sleep, so they say), but does have a built-in book light, making it better for reading in bed.
  • It can be read in the sun, which tablets can’t.
  • It’s quite a bit smaller and lighter than my tablet—which makes it (to me) not nearly as suitable for magazine and newspaper layouts—but much better to hold for reading a book.
  • The battery life is dramatically longer than a tablet’s. (It also seemed to charge very quickly in the first place.)

In my few days of experimentation, I found that while it doesn’t come with any books, you can wirelessly connect to the Kobo store and buy some. What I had more trouble wrapping my mind around was how you could do anything else with it—like add ebooks from other sources. (I mean legal ones, like from Google Play.)

I’m just so used to the tablet, you see, which is truly a standalone device (at least, Android ones are). I can load pretty much anything I want to right onto my tablet; no need to tether it to a PC and drag things on there. Whereas with the browser-less Kobo, I eventually figured out, you really have to connect it to a computer to do anything other than buy from the Kobo store. In fact, I actually have three desktop apps installed for this thing now: the Kobo one, Adobe Digital Editions—required for at least some of the books from Google Play, and in case I want to borrow ebooks from the library—and one called Calibre, which helps with finding and loading legal unlocked ebooks.

But enough about the technical stuff. How is it for reading?

Maidenhead coverMy sister had downloaded two books within an hour of charging her Kobo. I, on the other hand, took about a day to decide what to buy first. Since they say Shades of Grey is partly responsible for the rise of eReader popularity, I got—no, not that book, since I don’t want to read badly written erotica inspired by freakin’ Twilight—but Maidenhead by Tamara Faith Berger, which is often touted as a better-written alternative to the Grey trilogy.

And due to our trip home taking much longer than expected (I won’t get into why), I have already read the whole thing. So I can confirm the Kobo Glo worked quite well. I had to read mostly in the dark, and the built-in book light was effective. I did not have to futz around with font sizes and zooming; it just worked. Navigating through the pages was simple, and I appreciated that it always gave me an idea where I was up to in the book (which my tablet doesn’t, at least not as visibly).

As for the book itself, it was incredibly engaging. I would warn that it is an erotic novel involving a teenage girl obsessed with a Rastafarian man twice her age who has a somewhat violent girlfriend, so it’s likely not everyone’s cup of tea. But it is very well-written, stimulating to both mind and other body parts. And Jean liked it, too, so it’s not just a woman thing.

Only bummer is, having given Maidenhead a good rating, what do you think Kobo’s big recommendation for me is now? Hint: It rhymes with Braids of Day…

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My husband and I generally have our own little Christmas celebration the weekend before the actual day, when we join in the craziness of celebrating with the large extended family. This year my husband was on call that weekend, so we had to work around that, but that’s quite a bit easier when you’re only dealing with two people.

The exchanging of “stuff”

Aiming to give each other anything major as Christmas gifts seemed sort of ridiculous as we’re currently honing in new TV and sound system already. This not long after getting the new computer, some clothes… You get the idea. So we just did “stocking stuffer” kind of things, which, as Jean said, is way more fun! The amusement of each having bought each the same wine accessory… The silly but cute gadgets from those catalogs… Chocolates and wine (which needs to be replenished constantly, anyway)… The fact he actually listened when I said I needed a new closet thingie for storing my jewelry in…

Bra on jewelry holder

So, the black thing in this photo is a dress-shaped thingie with a hanger top that has loops in the back for hanging necklaces, and pouches in front for holding earrings and bracelets and such. It will be perfect, but it’s empty at the moment (since I just got it), and therefore seemed in need of some adornment. That takes the form of a VSC bra, which—though I ordered it myself, for myself—was still something of a Christmas surprise.

First, it arrived in record time, despite my not having paid for fast shipping. (Thanks, Canada Post.) Second, I bought it mainly because I thought my current strapless wasn’t pretty enough to wear under a dress. (Which basically makes no sense, since the point of a strapless is that no one sees it. But never mind that.) The pleasant surprise was that it was even prettier than I’d expected, with its little sparkles and lacing details. I almost felt it should be seen. So here it is! (I ignored Jean’s suggestion that I model it. This isn’t that kind of blog.)

Pre-Christmas dinn-ah

I went for pretty simple-to-prepare, traditional-ish food, in quantities suitable for two.

Rock cornish hen with cranberries and mixed vegetables

This was Rock Cornish hens, prepared by sticking a mustard/rosemary paste under the skin, then baking it at 425. This produced nice crisp skin (which the diet recipe said to discard, but I poo-pooed that suggestion) and tasty, moist meat. The “gravy” was a mix of the juice with red wine, chicken broth, and seasoning.

I served this with mixed roasted vegetables—red potatoes, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots—in olive oil, white wine, and seasoning, baked at the same temperature as the meat, and a homemade cranberry sauce (cranberries, apple cider, sugar). As Jean had to limit all alcohol while on duty, we served it with a nice but not spectacular Cotes du Rhone.

Dessert stayed on the homey theme: A cinnamon apple crisp, with raisins, served with vanilla yogurt and port.

Humble crumble

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Bad year to skip the flu shot

Jean managed to stay up for over 12 hours straight today!

Normally this wouldn’t be worthy of note, but for the past three days, sleeping has been his favorite activity—over eating, computers, everything.

At first I had misdiagnosed his lethargy, sniffles, and moaning as a particularly bad cold, but the missed work day on Monday, the third day he spent mostly in bed, convinced me it was actually the flu. I suppose the signs of fever (too cold, then too hot) and the reports of sore muscles should have been a clue, also.

Not that it particularly matters, as the treatment for both is about the same: Rest. Fluids. Tylenol. Citrus.

He finally seems to be somewhat on the mend today, though not exactly feeling well yet, but gotta say, this past weekend didn’t look like it was much fun for him.

And yes, for the first time in many years, he didn’t get the flu shot. To be fair, he did try to get it one day, but the timing didn’t quite work out, and then he dropped the pursuit. Unfortunately, per KW Record, turns out that this year, “Waterloo Region has 103 confirmed flu cases, the highest number in the province at about a quarter of the Ontario total.”

As for me? Well, I did get my flu shot, and long enough ago that it should have full effect. So knock wood and all that, as I know the shot doesn’t offer guaranteed protection, but so far so good. I feel fine.

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Sucre à crème redux

Was just going to repost this when I discovered that WordPress doesn’t exactly encourage reposting. So instead I’ll copy and briefly update.

I once again tried my non-traditional approach to the traditional French Canadian Christmas dessert, sucre à crème.

That was using the following recipe, which is much less laborious than is typical:

From Canada:

1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream

  1. In a large microwave-safe bowl, stir together the white sugar, brown sugar and cream. Cook at full power for 10 minutes, stirring twice. Let stand for 5 minutes.
  2. Use an electric mixer on low speed to beat the mixture for 4 minutes. Pour into a buttered 8 inch square glass baking dish. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm. Cut into squares when set.

I again cooked it for 9 minutes instead of 10, but this year I did manage to beat it on low speed for the full 4 minutes recommended. (I have no idea why that didn’t work last year.)

The results definitely seem creamier this year this they were last, when I found it a bit more crumbly than seemed ideal.

Of course, taste is never an issue when you’re talking sugar, sugar, and cream. It’s good! I’ll once again be sharing some with coworkers, to save us from the fate of eating the entire batch…

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Movie reviews: The Sessions and Blue Valentine

We saw two love stories, of sorts, recently. One is a current release about a man who spends most of his day confined to an iron lung, and thus is still a virgin at 38. The other is about the volatile relationship between a nurse played by Michelle Williams, and a house painter played by Ryan Gosling.

One of the two was really depressing. But probably not the one you think…

**** The Sessions (October 2012) – Theatre

John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, and William H. Macey. Journalist and poet Mark O’Brien, whose childhood polio has left him confined to an iron lungmost of the day, but who does have functioning genitalia, becomes determined to lose his virginity at age 38, with the help of a sex therapist.

She says: The trailer for this movie makes it look really funny, and much of it is, in the interaction between Mark and his caretakers, and especially with his open-minded priest, played by William H. Macey. But it is also really touching, especially in the relationship between Mark and his sex therapist, Cheryl. Cheryl (who is married) knows the pitfalls of transference and how to set limits on the sex therapist / client relationship, but her own emotional response makes these harder to maintain as the sessions (six maximum!) continue.

The sex in this movie is really beautiful, not because of amazing bodies or great cinematography, but because it really is an expression of intimacy and love. It’s triumphant.

He says: That was a really sweet movie. (And that’s all you’re allowed to quote me on.)

Scene from The Sessions

** Blue Valentine (December 2010) – Rental

Poster from Blue ValentineMichelle Williams, Ryan Gosling. A marriage at the end of its ropes is contrasted with the happy start of the relationship.

She says: The acting is good here, it’s very realistic, but it’s brutal watching two people who once loved each other just tear each other apart. Made for rather depressing viewing.

He says: I didn’t find anything good about that. I don’t care that it’s “well made”; there was just nothing to enjoy there.