Saturday, January 30, 2010

Winter




Winter here is spates of rain and cold interspersed with a week of bright, just barely cool weather. Tonight we got a dusting of snow, just enough to identify that it is actually snow. The thing that really says "winter" to me isn't so much the cool temperatures, but the long shadows. These pictures were all take at around noon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

SOUP!

I have just completed perhaps the best soup I've ever made. I keep tasting spoonfuls and swooning. If I don't stop, there won't be any left.

I mentioned, I'm sure, that The Husband and I are trying to cook more from scratch. So, I picked up the recent issue of Cook's Illustrated, which was all on soups. There was a roasted butternut squash soup recipe that looked pretty simple, so I tried it.

Oh! My!

Seriously, the hardest part was peeling and chopping the squash (and even that would have been easier if I had not JUST put my best knives in the dishwasher. DUMB! DUMB!) Everything else was really simple. Not a lot of ingredients, either.

I will be making this soup again and again and again. I can't wait until The Husband gets home.

Happiness is really good food.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Food, Glorious Food

Can't leave all that depression sitting there too long.

These days, The Husband and I are trying to fulfill some of the things we say we want to do. First on the list -- eat better. We are both overweight now (me more than him, the swine). I have time, so now we are agreed -- we can eat anything we want, as long as we make it ourselves.

No, seriously. If we want French Fries or Pizza, it's great, but we have to make it from scratch -- no short cuts, and no ordering out. Restaurant eating is now reserved for two occasions -- being on the road for long distances, or eating at places that make Special Stuff. If I want chocolate cake, I bake one from scratch, with flour and eggs and all that. We shop the grocery store around the outside aisles first, where the vegies, dairy, meat, and bakery are, and only get into the center aisles for specific things (oil, noodles, stocks, frozen vegies).

So far, we've managed to follow this rule fairly closely. We've discovered some yummy stuff -- Brussel Sprouts are far more edible when cut in half and sauted in a pan with a little chicken stock and some onions and garlic (they didn't even need butter). We're making lots of soups and stews -- we even bought a new, fancy crock pot. We are even USING that new, fancy crock pot. Seriously, since purchase in November, it's been used at least once each week. I'm getting a subscription to Cook's Illustrated. I'm making my own recipe book.

Will this promote weight loss? Not sure, but we are eating better food. That's got to count for something. Less salt, less sugar, less hidden unpronounceable stuff. Oh, we eat fatty foods, but we're still pickier about them. We are big fans of cheese -- we can't go near the Cheese section at Whole Foods -- but we are applying Very High Standards to fancy cheese. Otherwise, we are sticking to Velveeta (don't scream, there are reasons).

And I have discovered what a shallot is. I have a new Emeril cook book.

In short, I'm turning into a foodie.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Seems Important

In 1982, on Friday, January 15th, about 4 in the afternoon, my mother had the stroke that ended her life. Today marks the 28th year since her death.

I can say that, now, I don't think about her all that often. I was 16 then, just a month short of my 17th birthday, finally old enough and mature enough to have a good relationship with her. She was almost two years past her brush with cervical cancer. From 7th grade through 10th, my mom and I didn't have much of a relationship, I realize now. We were both deep in very overwhelming things -- me with adolescence and those prescription amphetamines I took each morning, her with cancer and fear. We'd just begun being mother and daughter again.

I'm 44 now, staring at 45, edging ever closer to being the same age she was when she died. Morbid, but I have located myself by the deaths of others since I became aware of such things. 28 years is a very long time. Some years this date has passed without a thought. Other years, grief overwhelms me -- or self pity, really. On the whole, I've dealt with this fact of my life and I don't think about it very much.

This year will have another pivot date, later on, in August. It will be 10 years since my father died. That one still hurts.

I can't help occasional feelings of isolation and smallness. I have no children. I am not close to any family member -- beyond Christmas cards, I communicate with no one. I feel like I've let down my mom and dad. This bothers me sometimes at night.

Most days, though, I am fine. These are the realities of being a mortal being. When I put it into perspective, I realize things are all right.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

New Year and So Forth

The New Year started quietly enough -- I have a nasty sore throat and cough (yay me) that won't go away, so we went no where. Our good friend Joezer came up to spend the weekend with us, as he had no particular plans either. So, we spent a weekend watching movies, giggling a lot, and eating.

We made one excursion out to see Sherlock Holmes -- rare for me, as seeing movies in the theatre has lost much of its charm. However, with a good pair of earplugs and not getting anything to drink, I made it through without having to leave for the bathroom or due to the overloud sound system making my head ring.

I'm a long time fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I even took a literature class on the subject, and my Annotated Sherlock Holmes books are among my favorites. I hadn't formed too many expectations for the movie, except that I was very interested to see it. In fact, the movie drew heavily from the books, both in quotes and in subtext, but it ignores almost everything from any previous movie or TV production.

I enjoyed the movie, first off. It's an action movie, perhaps a little too much of an action movie. Consider it to be a "reboot" of the standard Holmes stories. That is, it incorporates much of the Holmes Canon, but it plays around with the original time line and creates a whole new story. (If you can't handle spoilers for movies, don't read any further). Also, this version is a new look in that it does not use Watson as a narrator. In the stories, Watson stands between the reader and Holmes, attempting at one time to reveal the truth while making Holmes "presentable" by Victorian standards. Doyle, via his mouthpiece Watson, is building up a myth, and in the character of Watson has plenty of motive to hide, disguise, or simply skip over whatever is not considered suitable for public consumption. Watson is not a completely reliable narrator. He has motive to make Holmes look as good as possible.

All that's removed in this movie. Here, the subtext is dug up, and the restraint and tidiness is shaken off.

What I liked -- Downey's interpretation of Holmes is quite different from most others (although I see some bits and pieces similar to Jeremy Brett's Holmes). Robert Downy, Jr., while not one of my very favorite actors, is certainly interesting to watch, and he really inhabited Holmes and made the character his own. He created a fascinating mixture of fragility, strength, genius and madness, which, while different from other, earlier depictions, seemed quite in keeping with the books. Jude Law's Watson is also very interesting and different, perhaps the smartest and most capable Watson I've seen since Ben Kingsley in Without a Clue. What's even better is that this Watson is far from the dull, respectable man so often depicted. He has flaws and faults and failings, as well as unexpected talents. Just as the written Watson builds up Holmes, he often downplays himself to highlight the contrast. That's gone.

The relationship between the two characters is complex -- the common interpretation of a homosexual relationship could be made, but I really didn't see it strongly. In this version, Holmes is a man without any friends aside from Watson. Watson is practically the only human being with whom he can relate, and he's very threatened by the idea that Watson's marriage will deprive him of this single friend. He's terrified. Watson is torn by the idea, too, but he's also in love. He's whipsawed between the two points who have (seemingly) set themselves in opposition.

I liked the steampunk version of Victorian London, in particular the skeletal outline of the looming London Bridge in construction bracketing the skyline. It was, as is fairly common in current historical movies, a grittier, dirtier, uglier version of London, but it suited the purposes of the movie. The color removal used gave much of the scenery a heightened intensity and a sort of super-reality. Mark Strong does an excellent job as the villain, managing to be entirely scary and competent and yet compelling.

The story/plot itself was good -- perfectly mysterious, laid out carefully, with a frosting of "magic" laid on to distract everyone -- characters and audience. Everything ended with perfectly viable explanations of the technology used to create "magic" (although a few things were left unexplained, I imagine because there wasn't enough time without lengthy talky scenes, which Guy Ritchie doesn't want to bother about.) In short, it worked well enough for me.

The little touch of giving the audience glimpses into how Holmes' mind worked were probably the smartest thing done. They remind me a lot of the "reveals" in the TV show Leverage.

What I didn't like -- I got a little tired of the fight scenes. Several of them were necessary to either the plot or to some expansion of the story, revealing Holmes' physicality as well as Watson's competence. However, at points it got gratuitous, fighting just because someone liked to film fight scenes. I felt like yelling "I GET IT!" at the screen. Also, rather than increasing the suspense, heightening the excitement, or pushing the plot, some of those minutes spent fighting just cluttered things up and slowed the movie down. I actually got bored. Luckily, those moments of boredom didn't last long.

Irene Adler's reinterpretation was acceptable, but I was not only unconvinced by Rachel McAdams' in the role -- for one, she is far too young for the experience and knowledge she is supposed to have, as well as far too young for Downey's love interest -- but I was bothered by how far they stretched the characterization for this reboot. In the original, she was characterized as an "adventuress", with nerves of steel and the intellectual powers of a man (a Victorian compliment), but also as a creature of great honor, whose word was inviolate. This Irene Adler lacked chemistry with this Holmes. I believed him more than I believed her, for certain. I think it would have worked better with a slightly older actress, someone I could accept has having lived long enough to learn the things she supposedly knew and done the things she had supposedly done.

In fact, the depiction of most of the women in the movie bordered on misogynist, or at least very irritating. Mrs. Hudson, far from being annoyed and irritated by Holmes, was fond of him despite his eccentricities and even helped with his cases on occasion. Irene filled the role of femme fatale, the untrustworthy woman, the woman of wiles. Even Mary, Watson's fiance, who in the books always encouraged Watson's involvement with Holmes and certainly never proved an obstacle, was given a rather sideways glance in her role as the overly emotional and reactive Victorian female.

Last, I am worn out with steadycam shots that sweep up, down, sideways, upside-down, and in circles. Dammitall, sometimes I'd like the camera to hold still and let me LOOK.

On the whole, though, the chemistry between Jude Law and Robert Downey, Jr, was quite good and really opened up a lot of the story. So much of it was body language rather than dialog. The setting, the story, and the supporting characters (for the most part) held up well and did what they were supposed to do. Again, I have to consider this movie as a "reboot" in the style of this year's Star Trek (which I also saw this weekend), which takes liberties with the events and chronology while still holding to the essence. I'm looking forward to having this one on DVD, and I hope it has a ton of tasty extras.