I picked up Learning to Drive from the library because I heard the author reading the title essay on NPR and liked it. The title story in this collection of personal essays, in which the author learns to drive at age 52 to gain independence after a break-up with her boyfriend, is moving and funny. She is introspective, but within the entertaining frame of taking driving lessons from a sympathetic teacher, so it doesn’t get too serious. The other stories start to get annoying, as the author is obsessed with her break-up. She is a little too introspective (read self-involved) for me. Just when you want to shake the author and tell her to get over it, she moves away from stories about her boyfriend and includes moving stories about having a baby, the death of her father, and her mother’s drinking problem. A quick read, and might be worth picking up if you’re the type who would be friends with an overeducated, self-involved, feminist, upper-West Side woman. If not, you might as well move on to something else.
The Grammys February 9, 2009
I love watching the Grammys and the Oscars, despite the fact that I don’t know half the artists or haven’t seen any of the movies. Must be an artifact of living in L.A. This year’s Grammys were entertaining, not necessarily because they were good, but because my kids, husband, and I had a good time making fun of performances.
There were some “interesting” performance pairings. The worst was Stevie Wonder with the Jonas Brothers. They actually brought Stevie Wonder back in the end to sing over the closing credits, as if to say that the Jonas Brothers pairing was just a joke and this was his real chance to perform. Justin Timberlake sang with Al Green, and gave a short speech about how they lived in the same town and he would run into Green in the general store. Now I haven’t done my research, but Al Green seems a heck of alot older than Justin Timberlake, and was probably already successful when Justin was still small, so I can’t compute how they used to run into each other in the general store.
The announcer made a big deal that Sugarland and Adele would be on the same stage, but Adele didn’t even come onto the stage until Sugarland’s song was finished. And why didn’t Adele get to sing on Sugarland’s song but Sugarland got to sing on Adele’s? Nothing against Sugarland, but I really love Adele.
My daughter, being a purist and a Beatles fan, was incensed about the pairing of Paul McCartney and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, particularly because they sang a classic Beatles song. She thought it sacrelige that Ringo was not there. Personally, I love the Foo Fighters and would have liked to hear more of them on the song. She also hated that Kanye West sang too much on American Boy, which after all, is sung by Estelle featuring Kanye West and not the other way around.
The best performance was by Jennifer Hudson. That woman’s got a voice. I also liked hearing Coldplay and Radiohead (paired with the USC Marching Band).
I’m all for paying tributes to old guys, er, classic recording artists, but the best tribute you can pay is by not having them sing when they are past their prime. Al Green was fine, and Smokey Robinson and Duke Fakir (the last remaining member of the Four Tops) were passable thanks to the contribution of Jamie Foxx and Ne-yo, but Neil Diamond? The man had a great voice, and apparently he recorded an album as recently as last year, but his voice is far from what it was. It was embarrassing hearing him trying to belt out Sweet Caroline. And the worst part is that I couldn’t get You Don’t Bring Me Flowers out of my head this morning! I love early Neil Diamond, a la Cherry Cherry, but I could live without the schmaltz.
Finally, I have to say that I don’t really get all the acclaim for the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss album Raising Sand. I have only heard a bit of it, and I am willing to be convinced that it’s good, but it sounds very subdued to me. I don’t pick up the unique sound of Robert Plant or Alison Krauss, nor do I hear a synergy that makes the duo better than the sum of its parts. Perhaps they won so many Grammys, including record and album of the year, based on the uniqueness of the collaboration and the fact that Robert Plant is a rock god to so many. But like I said, I am open to reconsideration.
Now I just have to wait another month for the Oscars….
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote February 8, 2009
Holly Golightly has become a universally recognized name, so I decided it was finally time to read Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Holly appears to be a beautiful, carefree, party girl. Over the course of the story, we learn that her carefree facade masks a difficult past and that she has alot to hide. The narrator is the country boy who is striving to be a New York writer, like Holly, also trying to reinvent himself. He grows up and becomes more self-confident, partly through his relationship with the elusive Holly. Breakfast at Tiffany’s was an easy read because Truman Capote is a beautiful yet straightforward writer, and although Holly is not exactly a likeable character, she and the narrator come off as sympathetic, and the story is engaging. I haven’t seen the movie, but since Audrey Hepburn is iconic as Holly, I’ll have to see it soon. Glad I read the book first though.
I have disovered another podcast about cover songs. (See my blog entry about Coverville, my main source for cover songs.) This one is called Undercover Songs, at http://undercoversongs.com/. The podcast comes out sporadically, and episodes are about 20 minutes. The host has a cool Portugese accent (at least I think it’s Portugese). I like how he plays the first few seconds of the original and then plays the cover. Check out my daughter’s and my favorite episode, in which oldies are covered: http://undercoversongs.com/archives/2007/09/podcast_episode_33.html
Dine LA – Campanile and Vermont February 7, 2009
The past two weeks were DineLA Restaurant Week, and I took advantage of the opportunity to have prix-fixe, three-course meals at restaurants at which I would not normally eat during a work week. During Restaurant Week, restaurants all over Los Angeles offer prix-fixe meals for lunch and dinner. Menus are posted online and I scour the menu of every restaurant that is remotely close to my office. This year, I picked one restaurant, Vermont, based on its menu and another, Campanile, based on its reputation and my past experience. I just read that Restaurant Week has been extended through the end of February, but unfortunately, twice is my limit and I’m back to my home-packed bento box lunches (see blog entry about laptop lunches). (more…)
In theory, I agree with the philosophy Mark Bittman (aka the Minimalist) articulates in his New York Times column of January 7, 2009, where he advises us to get rid of many pantry staples in lieu of homemade, fresher alternatives. However, many of his suggestions are not realistic for the busy cook, and are not even necessary for good cooking. Some of his suggestions, such as making stock and cooking dried beans every week, might intimidate the novice (or busy) cook and prevent the type of simple cooking that Bittman means to promote. The article can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/07/dining/07mini.html. Some of the items Bittman suggests we purge from the pantry include:
Packaged bread crumbs or croutons: Agree for croutons. Homemade croutons are easy and delicious, whereas boxed croutons are awful. However, panko (Japanese bread crumbs) are a good substitute for homemade bread crumbs. (more…)
It may seem odd to be blogging about aluminum foil, but I really love Reynolds Release non-stick foil. And no, Reynolds is not a corporate sponsor of my blog – I don’t get nearly enough hits for that. Release is more expensive than everyday foil, so I don’t use it for everything, but I do use it alot. It’s great for lining my baking pan when roasting potatoes or vegetables, baking (much easier than Silpat, although not as environmentally friendly), and roasting meats or fish. Pretty much anything that goes into the oven on a flat baking sheet gets the Release treatment. Baking pans can be a bear to clean, but Release makes the job simple. Once, a Reynolds representative was giving away samples and coupons in the supermarket and I gushed so much, I did the man’s job for him. Maybe I should consider a new line of work…..