"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Friday, June 29, 2007

Concert Review: Asleep at the Wheel

When I think of Texas I might think of the longhorn bull or a spicy bowl of chili. But one export from the Lone Start State that sure got my body moving last night was the boogie-roots-Texas swing music of Asleep at the Wheel.

With 36 years on the road and nine Grammy awards on the shelf, one of the greatest known ambassadors of the Texas swing, Asleep at the Wheel, made a tour stop in Kalamazoo last night at Bell's Brewery in the Beer Garden.

There is something about Texas swing that raises my spirits and makes me want to take a spin on the dance floor. Why? It's upbeat, it's happy, it's complex, and it's joyful. You take a little bit of jazz and blues and swing and meld it with country, folk and traditional roots music. That's what western swing is.

It was beautiful cool evening at Bell's and the crowd 400+ (mostly folks in the their 50's) enjoyed every minute it. No one wanted the evening to end. It was fun night and if you ever have the opportunity to see this legendary band, don't miss out!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Riches: X Marks The Spot

I remember thinking after episode two that it was good, but mostly setup for the good stuff that would eventually come along as I follow the Malloy's story. With the return to traveler camp last week, and the big scam this week, that setup has really started to pay off.

This episode is very much what I envisioned when I first met the family. It's a classic con, with all manner of stumbling blocks along the way. And each of those is handled creatively by the ever inventive team Malloy.

I loved the setup. I was a Minnie Driver fan coming in to the show, but she impresses me more and more as the series goes on. The scenes between Cherien and Rudy were great. I totally bought into Rudy's infatuation with Cherien. She really sold the "nympho routine." Even while she had a problem doing it the whole time. I especially liked the irony of Dahlia covering Sam's ears so he wouldn't hear any of the sex talk, but uncovering them so he could help them plan the huge felony that they were undertaking. Dahlia is a complicated character, as is the rest of her family.

The protection racket being run by the denizens of the trailer park was a nice setup for bringing them into the scam. I thought they worked well and it would be interesting to see some of them pop up again from time to time. While it was obvious from the get go that the FBI agent was part of the plan, Cael not breaking character being the first clue, the twist that he was the pool guy was funny.

It didn't really come as a surprise that Di Di was the one that had reservations about the plan. However, Dahlia's speech about why they were going to do it wasn't what I was expecting. It marked something of a change in Dahlia. I'll chalk it up to the events at the camp, along with her natural instinct to protect the family. It also laid the groundwork for the final scene with Doug. That was a very different Dahlia than the one we have come to know so far. "You got a job. I got a job. The kids are in school. We live here now." With that, I think the whole family is now fully committed to the plan.

That scene also served to float something of an escape clause. Now that they have seen just what kind of opportunities this new life has brought them, they could make a big enough score to get out of it. Of course, before that can happen, there are other fish to fry. Dale, and Ginny, are still lurking on the horizon. That part of the story isn't done by a long shot. But I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Another round of great performances from the cast and a fun con to play along with. The Riches has hit its stride.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

CSI: Ending Happy

I've gotta be honest. I loved this episode, but it was frustrating. Give me more Miniature Killer! As enjoyable as these one shot episodes can be, I'm sick of being teased. Especially when those "Go To MiniatureKiller.com" lower-screen graphics keep popping up every ten seconds. At least we got some verification that Grissom and Sara are still going strong.

So the episode focused on a washed up boxer that had been living at a brothel on the outskirts of Vegas and guess what? He's dead. The question pressing Doc Robbins? What killed him?

The boxer was found floating in a pool and after the autopsy, Al (who was hilarious in the episode) was left with several possibilities:

He was bludgeoned with a crow bar.
He had an allergic reaction to some seafood.
He was shot with an arrow in the neck.
He was injected with snake venom.

The best part? There's no way to prove that any of that killed him since he was found drowned in a pool. So I have to give the writers credit for crafting a very well-laid out story. The flashbacks were very cool too. Black and white, with exaggerated sound effects and makeup like an old horror flick.

Beyond that, I'm not sure what else there is to say. It was great to see Peter Stomare (from Prision Break). He always plays good characters. Oh and hey, is it just me or is Warrick getting less and less screen time in recent episodes? I suppose none of that really matters though. These one shot episodes are meant to be just that - one and done and enjoyable. This one succeeded in doing just that, but I'm still looking forward to the conclusion of the Miniature Killer story.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Lost: D.O.C.

Being such a big Sun & Jin fan, this episode was a huge treat. And it wasn't just any Sun episode, but one in which she kicked some butt in her flashbacks.

Several other crazy things happened.

Okay, last things first here: the Power Ranger lady from the sky "Naomi" says they found the remains of Oceanic flight 815 and nobody survived. So, either she's lying, or the finding of the remains was staged, or there are alternate universe/time bending things going on here.

Let me get this straight: On this island, pregnant ladies die and men have the sperm of superheroes?

Mikhail (Eyepatch Guy) is alive! He's alive!

At first I thought maybe it was Jin's superhuman sperm count making him so violent toward Mikhail, but then I remembered that he used to do that sort of thing for, you know, his job. Dirty Dancing popped in my mind when Sun went to ask her dad for money but couldn't tell him what it was for. Maybe I've just seen that movie too many times.

Speaking of the lady of the hour, I really admire Sun. She tracks down her father-in-law, and then actually honors his wish to keep the "shame" from Jin. Then she's totally hard nose in the way she gets her dad to give her the money (though I guess that's how Jin came to be doing the dirty work for her father). Finally, she gives the money to Jin's mother, but not before telling her what's-what.

From which "other women" does Juliet intend to take "samples"? Still not sure what to make of Juliet - can she trusted or is she a snake??

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Riches: Virgin Territory

Guns. Money. Blackmail. Threats. I knew that when the Malloys made their way back to the Traveler village for Earl's funeral that there'd be trouble. But little did I know that there'd be so much of it.What's amazing about this episode was that, with everything going on, I was easily able to keep track of the various plot lines. The cost was a decided lack of heart-palpitating tension. I really expected, with the Malloys re-entering the fold for the first time since Wayne stole the family money and buggered off with his family, that I'd be seeing more action.But The Riches isn't about action. It's about relationships. And, boy, did I find out a lot about those relationships tonight.

First off, let me pay tribute to Ken. He may be an idiot, but he's the only one in the Traveler clan who seems to have any semblance of honor. He truly wanted to marry DiDi for love and no other reason. Up until he tried to consummate the relationship, I really thought he was a dimwitted player in his sister Ginny's scheme. But I couldn't help but start to feel bad for him when he not only told DiDi that he was a virgin (not a surprise), but, even after she rejected him with malice -- "I barely know what love is. But I'm pretty sure I'll never love you." -- he loved her enough to defend her against his own sister. Maybe some of the other members of the Malloy family need to get a fever... it might put some sense in them.

A good example of that is the couple that originally tried to get to the Malloys when they escaped the village. Dale offers them $25,000 -- he took out insurance policies on his father's life... imagine that -- to kill Wayne. But Wayne has something up his sleeve, which is the fact that he can nail them for leaving the scene of a fatal accident. But that's not the end of it. Dahlia knows that Dale left Earl out in the woods to die, and any attempts he makes to turn the blame back on her backfires. So, at the height of the episode Dahlia has a gun on Dale, Wayne making threats even though a gun is pointed at his face, and DiDi about to be betrothed to a man who she'll never love.

You'd think there would be more tension there. But I wonder if such a climactic sequence happened too early in the show's run. It's not even halfway through the show's first (and, perhaps only, given the ratings) season; so, even as all of this is going on, I know that Wayne isn't going to get shot, Dale is going to live to menace another day, and DiDi and Ken will part ways pretty quickly. All of that knowledge inadvertently diffused the excitement in what was a well-written episode overall. But I guess having episodes where The Malloys/Riches pull off elaborate scams, while Dale bares down on them, is what the writers are aiming for, not cheap gunshot cliffhangers. Speaking of which, I didn't think for a second after Wayne saw gunshots go off in Dale's trailer that Dale was dead. That would be too easy.

Speaking of Dale, I really thought he was going to kill Ken at the end of the episode. But I guess that he'd rather beat the location of Eden Falls out of him. I wonder how long it's going to take for Ken to crack? And we finally know where most of Dale's hatred towards Wayne came from: he's been in love with Dahlia since he was a kid. Heck, even Cael's dopey friend Brent lunged for her when he came around the house and encountered a drunken, lingerie-clad "Sheree Cherien Rich." Dale doesn't understand what she sees in Wayne, but I know better: Wayne is fundamentally good, and Dale is fundamentally evil. Wayne might steal from his father, if he had one, but he'd never leave the bastard out to die. Heck, he even managed to get the guy who was pointing to gun at him to accidentally shoot his wife instead.

The character that seems to be headed for a breakdown is Dahlia. Being rejected by Earl's wife was about as cold as it gets. She's already the most unsure of the new life Wayne has stolen for them, and the most likely to want to escape back to the womb of the Traveler clan. And, she can't seem to convince people that it was Dale, not her betrayal, that killed Earl. It makes me wonder if she's going to be the first to break, especially after she drains another bottle of vodka or swallows yet another couple of painkillers. Minnie Driver does play the pain quite well, though, as we see Dahlia's self-conflict in Driver's face, scene in and scene out.

Still, The Riches continues to turn in quality episodes with fantastic writing and acting. I'm not sure why it hasn't garnered the buzz of some of its FX schedule-mates (like The Shield, Rescue Me, and Nip/Tuck).

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Soup of the Week & The Office: Back from Vacation

This is one of my favorite soups. With just a few ingredients, it's ready in no time.

Louisiana-Style Taco Soup

1 pkg (8 oz) red beans and rice mix
1 pkg (9 oz) tortilla soup mix
1 lb ground beef
1 cup salsa
1/4 cup sour cream

Prepare mixes according to package directions. Meanwhile, cook beef; drain. Stir in salsa and the prepared rice and soup. Cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes or until heated. Garnish with sour cream.

Note: I used Zatarian's New Orleans-Style Red Beans & Rice and Bear Creek Tortilla Soup mix.

The Office: Back from Vacation

Is there any doubt that this is the best sitcom on TV? Not only is it funny, but there are some great stories with hellacious plot twists. Witness this episode, which dealt primarily with Michael returning to the office after a vacation in Jamaica. Michael revealed that he did go to Jamaica with Jan. Not only did she go with him, but let's just say they "bonded" down there.

At the same time, we saw Karen and Jim having their first fight when she says that she wants to rent an apartment two blocks from where he lives but he feels that she is practically moving in with him. It seems strange that Jim is acting this way, especially since he seemed to have rebounded so quickly from his rejection by Pam.

Anyway, back to Michael. When he first got back to the office, he was definitely in a giddy mood. Playing a steel drum and singing "Hot, Hot, Hot" and wanting to have an "Inventory Luau" certainly seems festive, don't you think? He gets the Party Planning Committee on the case, but you just knew that it wouldn't stop there. He just had to share his pictures of Jan in a skimpy bathing suit with someone, and he thought he was just sending an e-mail to his pal Todd Packer. Of course, as is his wont, his enthusiasm and braggadocio get in the way and he mistakenly e-mails it to the "Packaging" department, and quickly the picture makes the rounds in Scranton.

Meanwhile, Pam surprisingly counsels Jim about his dilemma with Karen and says he should not be so concerned about her move. Jim readily agrees, but the ever-so-subtle look on her face made me think that she was disappointed that Jim was so quick to agree with her.

Of course, pandemonium occurs over the picture of Michael and Jan. The warehouse guys have blown it up into a huge poster despite Dwight's "search-and-destroy" mission for Michael. In addition, Michael seems to be genuinely remorseful over what he's done, and when Jan finally shows up at in Scranton to speak to Michael, the forlorn look on his face made you think he was about to get the axe.

Next come two pretty incredible plot twists. First, we see Pam upset and crying. It wouldn't be a stretch to think that maybe she blew it with Jim, and her new found independence isn't making her any happier. But shockingly, the person that offers her comfort is Dwight! Who'd have thunk it! He actually acts like a human being concerned for her, but of course he has to throw it all away when he thinks she might be PMS'ing. Too bad. It would have been very interesting if Dwight had been a real comfort to her and offered his friendship.

Not surprisingly, the shocker of all shockers is that Jan is in love with Michael, despite her admissions of self-destructive behavior. But, she says even though he's wrong for her, she wants to be with him. (Cue "If Loving You is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right"!) After a passionate kiss and her telling him to meet her at his condo later, he tells her "You complete me." Brilliant!

At the end, Roy and Pam share a joke over their scuttled honeymoon plans, but I just don't think he will be successful in winning her back. I just get the feeling that Pam will try to win Jim's heart, but I'm not sure she's going to do anything that drastic. We'll see what happens.

As I mentioned earlier, this was just a terrific episode. Well written, well acted, and had you begging for more at the end. What more can you ask for?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

My Name Is Earl: Two Balls, Two Strikes

This is one of those episodes where you can see the end coming a mile away... well, most of the end anyway. The little twist at the end, I have to say I didn't see coming. It's somehow fitting that in the first few moments of the episode Catalina is in a bikini, as this episode is all about sex.. or sexual organs anyway. In fact, one of my favorite things about this episode was counting the number of euphemisms for male genitalia.

Little Chubbies
Gonad pouch
Humpty and Dumpty
Meat and potatoes

It's not until the final moment of the show that I hear Earl utter the word "balls." I imagine the writers had so much fun not using the word throughout the episode that they threw it in at the end just because by that point you wouldn't be expecting to hear it at all.

As usual, there were some hilarious one-liners, but the best ones were jokes that built up throughout the episode. Like when Randy gets up on stage and does a pole dance. Then later, when Catalina says Little Chubby forced two truckers to dance together, Randy asks if they were good dancers like him, or if they were just phoning it in.

Anyway, as soon as I found out that Earl had rearranged Little Chubby's little chubbies, I thought it was pretty clear that this was the source of his personality change. So it was no surprise that LC started acting like his old self again after the surgery. I didn't expect him to take a ball to the balls though. I supposed it was one of the only ways that Earl could cross something off his list. Because to be honest, Earl kicking LC in his nether region was actually probably the nicest thing anyone had ever done for him, so it shouldn't have been on the list in the first place. Of course, Earl, LC, and the list didn't really know that at first.

I got yet another sneak peak into Darnell's history when he remarked at the mansion that he could "get used to living like this again." I honestly think the writers have no intention of delving too deeply into Crabman's past. It's probably more fun just to throw tidbits like this into each episode to make me wonder. It'd probably be a nightmare trying to tie all the jokes about Darnell's past together to make a true backstory.

Overall, what this episode lacked in surprises it made up in humor. Watching Randy slide upside down on the pole was priceless, as were his insights into Grimace's sex appeal.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Thirsty Third Thursday - Texas Corral

M's Thirsty Third Thursday (MTTT) was held at the new Texas Corral. This is the third Texas-styled steakhouse to come to Kalamazoo in two years. Just so happens, my niece, Jackie, is a hostess at at the Logan's Roadhouse. Could be that the peanut companies are behind all these steakhouses. Texas Corral, like the others, encourages patrons to eat peanuts and throw the shells on the floor. According to management, the restaurant went through 500 pounds of peanuts the first week it opened May.

Peanuts or not, the MTTT gang, made up of the "regulars" - Cheryl, Bob, Lindsey, John, Gary, Girts, Irene, Ken, Liz, and me - were happy we were able to squeeze into one booth with a couple tables extended from the end. The place was buzzing and everyone was happy drinking the huge 1 liter beers they have on tap.

Me, Liz & Ken

Most of us ordered sandwiches. I had the mushroom-swiss burger, which was okay. The waitress, however, messed up my order and I ended up with fries instead of a baked sweet potato. But this was probably just as well because Cheryl had the sweet potato with her burger and it was the largest thing we had ever seen. She took nearly all of it home. Liz had the quesadillas and she didn't finish all of them. John said the ribs were very good. Plus he also got the Texas Tea, which is basically a Long Island Iced Tea. It was served in a glass boot, which they allow you take home. Lindsey said her chicken sandwich was very meaty and she would recommend it.

Check out my photos by clicking here: Texas Corral

Next MTTT is July 19 at Wild Bull Saloon.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Book Review: Marley and Me by John Grogan

The June book selection for the Great Readers of M was "Marley and Me" by John Grogan. Cheryl chose this book and it was a winner in my opinion.

All throughout this book, I kept feeling deja vu since I too raised a rambunctious Lab - my beloved "Ivan" - named appropriately after Ivan the Terrible. That's him to the right.

Ivan was also frightened of storms, barked at birds flying over head, always thought he was the toughest dog in the neighborhood, dug the backyard up, ate everything in site, and was dumb as a box of nails. But he had the biggest heart and unwavering loyalty that made everything bad he did, not so bad. Ivan was a part of my life for 13 years and he's been gone for about five years now and I still miss him very much. Needless to say, I had a tough time getting through the last couple of chapters of this book. It had been a long time since I cried so much from reading a book. It was if I was reliving the whole painful experience of putting a dog to sleep again. I have always told people for all the many years of love and joy my animals have given me, it is worth the deep sadness, but it is still the hardest thing I have ever done to put a beloved pet to sleep.

This is one of the best books I have ever read. Grogan is outstanding storyteller with a great story to tell, and he tells it well. People who have been around misbehaving dogs will nod knowingly as Grogan talks about Marley's various antics. No matter what your background is, you'll find yourself laughing aloud. You'll also find this book hard to put down. Very hard.

Throughout the book, the reader can't help but marvel at how much these people must have loved that dog to put up with the embarrassing moments, frequent inconveniences, high repair costs, and various troubles that came with having Marley. This love story is both moving and highly entertaining.

If you're looking for a dog story that makes a superhero out of a canine, this isn't it. Grogan instead shows us the nitty gritty reality of life with a dog that is far from perfect. We read about the slobber-slinging, the hair everywhere, the manic reaction to thunder, and many other problems that often drive dog owners to simply give up. These are the "reasons" so many dogs are abandoned on a regular basis.

But Marley wasn't just the normal slobbering, shedding big dog. Marley went to an obedience school run by a trainer with the motto "There is no such thing as a bad dog." And got kicked out. That one fact only begins to paint the picture of life with Marley.

As you keep turning pages in the book (an act that is nearly impossible to resist), you get the impression that this is a story about how the Grogans loved their dog despite his flaws. You wonder how they managed to endure. It's not that they put up with an eccentricity or two. Or that they overlooked one or two problems. Life with Marley was a constant stream of problems, and that stream often reached flood proportions.

Indeed, at one point, Jenny Grogan had enough. Shortly after having their second child, she repeatedly told John the dog had to go. But eventually, love conquered all and Marley stayed.

Yes, it sure looks like a story of how love for a dog triumphed over so much trouble and distress. But in the end, we see that's not quite the case. We come to realize this story is really about the tremendous love and loyalty this dog had for the Grogans. John devoted some pages to bringing the concept out into the full light of day.

Upon reading his thoughts on this, I found myself reflecting on the deeper meanings of life. Entertainment and enlightenment in one book--what's not to like? Grogan stayed true to the premise of the book all the way through. But then, Marley stayed true all his life.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Lost: Catch-22

This episode had all of my favorite attributes of a great show. I got some insightful Desmond flashbacks, a few love-triangle-turned-love-square scenes, and — best of all — the cliffhanger that left me counting the minutes until I could watch the next episode.

This is the second episode recently where someone is dead before the opening credits are shown. Call me crazy, but I really like that the writers are willing to kill off anyone at the drop of a hat. Even though Charlie ends up pulling through, it keeps things interesting.

Major episode themes: sacrifice and faith. Desmond has to learn the value of sacrifice in the monastery when he gives the vow of silence. He also sacrificed his marriage to become a monk and obviously wrestles with the idea of sacrificing Charlie for Penny. It's interesting that Desmond references the story of Isaac and Abraham in terms of sacrifice. Was Desmond's vision a test of his faith in Penny? In the end, he does the right thing by saving Charlie and isn't punished for it.

It may not have been a big revelation, but I'm glad we finally know where Desmond got that whole "brother" thing from.

Sawyer's one-liners about mix tapes and afternoon delight were great. I especially loved the reference to Bernard considering we've heard nothing about him or Rose since last season.

Catch-22 theme: If Desmond lets Charlie die, he loses. If he misses Penny, he loses.

Funniest moments: Jin's ghost story and when Sawyer asked if Jack and Juliet were arguing over who was their favorite Other.

I'm still amazed at the fact that there are so many places in the jungle that the Losties haven't explored yet. Seriously, what do they do all day?
The photograph in the abbey of Brother Campbell also has Mrs. Hawking, the lady who originally told Desmond that he can't control the future. Wonder if that means something or is just a fun little connection?

I have so many questions about the woman who fell out of the helicopter I don't even know where to begin. Can't wait to find out more about this one.

Major episode theme: fate. Desmond is constantly struggling to figure out what to do next, but the next step always seems to find him, and everything works out for a reason (e.g. He gets fired from being a monk, which he thought was his calling, but it leads him to Penny). This is, of course, also a huge theme of the show in general, but it seems to take a particular toll on Desmond because of his visions.

The events of this episode definitely give the rest of the season some serious potential to be spectacular. I'm hoping that this mysterious parachute women, Charlie's fate, Locke's dad (dying to know about this one), and Juliet's evil plan will all fit together nicely like the "jigsaw puzzle" pieces of Desmond's flashbacks. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the "Lost" writers don't let me down on this one.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dinner & a DVD: Glory Road

Who doesn't love macaroni & cheese? Does anything bring back childhood or college life more than this? This tasty home-made variation - with sausages - is ready in about 20 minutes.

Smoky Macaroni

Red pepper chopped
Onion chopped
Condensed cheddar cheese soup
1 cup milk
16 oz smoked sausage links sliced
8 oz American cheese
1 cup peas
4 cups cooked elbow macaroni

Saute red pepper and onion until tender. Combine soup and milk; stir into skillet. Add sausage, cheese and peas. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 5-10 minutes or until the cheese i melted, stirring occasionally. Add the macaroni; cook 5-10 minutes longer or until heated through.

Featured Attraction: Glory Road

This is based upon a true story. You don't have to be a basketball fan to like this movie, which I'm not, but I really liked this movie.

Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) takes an almost non-existent Division 1 Basketball team, Texas Western Miners, all the way to the NCAA Finals.This movie is about racism first, basketball second and shows the country that segregation is not the way to go. Okay, okay, it's about basketball and the racism thing just worked itself out.

Don Haskins changed the way basketball is played in the United States, and yes, there were many bumps along the way, but things smoothed out in the long run. And, yes, "things" are still in the process of being smoothed out. Yes, Haskins changed the way basketball is played, but the players were the ones to let Haskins know that, " if you want to win, let us play our game." And Haskins, to his credit, saw the wisdom in that.

I couldn't get over how well put together this movie is. It simply flowed as though it had a life of its own, and maybe it did. Since basketball and racism were the two main things in here there wasn't much room for character development, as for say Haskins, but who cares? This moved along at such a lively pace that you weren't aware that anything was missing.

Terrific cast, dialogue and acting performances all around. The games themselves were like they were live before us and the choreography and editing were nothing short of fantastic.Is it just me or does Josh Lucas sometimes remind you of both Matthew McConaughey and Kevin Costner almost at the same time? Look again. And, although her part as Haskins's wife, was small, Emily Deschanel (from Dr. Temperance Brennen from "Bones") comes across as extremely well. Jon Voight (Adolph Rupp) was exceptional and we need to see more of him.

Stay tuned at the end of the story to find out what happened to the real life players. But, there is one criticism I have regarding sub-titles or captions when this is done. The Directors must know these movies are going to DVD so stop with the small lettering and white on white. Give us a chance to read the thing without binoculars or significant eye-strain.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Riches: Reckless Gardening

Last episode, I found out two things about the Malloys and their life as the Riches: 1) Wayne is going to have to do more than BS if he's going to survive as a Panco lawyer, and 2) life as a buffer is more trouble than anyone expected it to be. This episode, I saw the noose starting to tighten around the Malloys, as more and more pieces of the Traveller life are seeping into their Eden Falls existence. And, unfortunately for Di Di, those pieces are flying around and smacking her square in the face.

Di Di is certainly becoming the most level-headed of the family, isn't she? At first, I thought it would be Cael, because I thought he had the smarts to protect his family from getting caught. But, of course, a girl got in the way. But it seems pretty unfair that because Cael managed to get tailed by Ginny that Di Di has to pay for it by being "engaged" to Ken the dipweed.

I mean, even if Travellers haven't done a lot of book learning, most of them have the requisite street smarts to be able to scam and scheme their way through life. Ken can't even staple papers together. The only thing he's good at is stealing, and he's still way too obvious when he does that. But Di Di, as much as she wants Ken out of her life, knew that if he was caught with the pot Cael's buddies planted on him, he'd be way too stupid to keep his mouth shut. He already spent the entire day at Panco saying "Wayne" and "Mr. Malloy" instead of "Doug" and "Mr. Rich." Aubrey's already suspicious; I'm sure Ken's day of "aprenticin'" hasn't helped.

It was strange that Wayne was a surprisingly competent lawyer. It's almost as if he's getting the hang of the job (with Aubrey's help, of course). But it did seem like he not only knew the facts and law behind the alligator attack case, but had the wherewithal to dig up just enough dirt on the victim, Hartley Underwood, to get her and her lawyer to back off. Panetta's threats probably helped, and Wayne's Traveller experience can help him in some aspects of lawyering, but knowing about how to lie can only get even the best lawyers so far.

Gregg Henry (Hugh Panetta) is pretty adept at playing an asshole, there's no doubt about that. Hugh Panetta is about as slimy as it gets, and it felt good to see Dahlia dig her fingernails into his scrotum. But only he can use her desire to get clean against her. It's amazing how powerful blackmail is. Just ask Di Di. But somewhere within that assholish personality is a sympathetic figure. Heck, he was able to get Wayne to admit that his mother left him. I'm guessing she was the non-Traveller side of Wayne's family, but I guess I'll find out more about that soon.

Let's talk about Dale for a second. Wow. Sociopath doesn't even begin to describe him. The man will literally kill his own father just to get a chance to lead the clan. I don't think I knew until now that his father wanted to have Wayne lead the family after he died, and I wonder if anyone informed him that Wayne stole all his money and skipped out. But even Ken can see that Dale is pure molten evil, and unfit to lead the clan. Heck, even Dale probably realized it, which is why he took his father out for that "walk."

Somehow, thanks to Dahlia, Di Di didn't get a permanent record. It was good to see both Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver play to their strengths this week: a drunk Wayne is a funny Wayne, especially when he's trying to be a police sketch artist or when he locks Ken in the trunk, and I would like to see Dahlia sing more often, so I can hear Driver's wonderful voice.

It was a pretty entertaining episode. However, I think it should have had a little more tension, and Wayne's suddenly competent lawyering didn't sit right with me. But it's undeniable that this show has smart writing and an emotional underpinning that makes all of the Malloy's shenanigans more palatable.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Soup of the Week & CSI: Lab Rats

Nothing warms my body (even though it is 90+ degrees outside) like a bowl of corn chowder. This is a very easy & quick recipe that is very good.

Corny Potato Chowder

4 bacon strips, diced
Chopped onion
1 can (15 oz) whole potatoes, drained and diced
2 cups milk
1 can cream-style corn
Garlic Salt

In a large saucepan, cook the bacon and onion until bacon is almost crisp; drain. Add potatoes, saute for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the milk, corn, garlic salt, and pepper. Simmer, uncovered,. until heated through.

CSI: Lab Rats

I've got to be honest. What a cool idea to finally feature all the lab techs in an episode. Not so much. This ended up just being a fancy way to roll out a clip show as a refresher to anyone who wanted to brush up on the history of the Miniature Killer. With no actual story, the episode was packed with scenes from the previous Miniature Killer murders. So while everyone else got wrapped up in other nondescript cases, Hodges and the rest of the techs weaved a narrative I've already heard.

I suppose this episode fuels the fire for people who suspect Hodges to be the killer. If there's one thing I've learned from CSI, it's that killers often like to inject themselves into their own cases. I'm not sold on him yet. He seems genuine and he also made a good point -- he's always working, so when would he have had time to pull all this off?

The ending offered us the only new bit of information as Hodges finally discovered a connection between all four of the miniature replicas: bleach. Izzy Delancey had a bottle in the trash. The chicken plant had an industrial sized barrel of it. The dead therapist's apartment had some in the flower vases. And finally, the little old lady was clipping coupons for it.

Other stuff:

Doc Robbins and Grissom chasing that rat around was hilarious.

Grissom is praising Hodges now for his discovery, but what happens when he finds out that Hodges and Wendy called the phone number in the file?
Sara still seems to be very set on making sure no one at the office knows about her and Grissom's relationship. It's got to come out at some point though, right?

Archie calling Hodges a "glory whore" was probably the highlight of the episode.

Bleach?!? That's it? It took a whole episode to get to that? It's too bad because this could have been so much better had they given the lab techs something big to uncover. The rest of this season had better be good, because this was just a ton of filler.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Croatia's Sparkling Dalmatian Coast

My Croatia Adventure with the Phi Mu Foundation was a wonderful trip and I do agree that this is "the Mediterranean, as it once was". Twenty-eight travelers met in Chicago on May 10 to head towards this unknown part of the world for the next 10 days.

Croatia is an up and coming country. It has been labeled as having a sleepy and industrializing economy, which usually turns people away from the country. But why in your travels would you skip a country where the Adriatic water is about 77 degrees all year around. The towns along the coast look like they have not changed in 50 years.Besides the beautiful beaches, which contain more pebbles than sand, it is the lifestyle that brings tourists to the Dalmatian Coast. The cities are non commercialized and most of the people live in medieval seaside cities or traditional island villages.

Since we had only about nine days to get to know Croatia's 200-mile long Dalmatian Coast, we focused on the southern half from ancient Split south to medieval Dubrovnik, a stretch particularly noted for warm waters, consistent sailing winds, and scores of beautifully wooded islands. We started our explorations by sailing aboard a chartered boat (the Aloha) from Split. Sailing offers the opportunity to experience the beauty of the Adriatic Sea up close, including otherwise inaccessible island coves and villages.

Highlights of my trip included:

Hvar stood like a medieval maiden crowned with its castle-fort, its walls trailing like locks of hair down to the 13th-century town. Scores of fishing boats bobbed in the harbor as families and couples strolled along its marble promenade.

St. Stepjan's four-story bell tower beckoned us toward the central town square rimmed with cafes. We walked through the ancient town wall gate and got lost in the maze of cobbled alleyways that climbed up towards the castle. Three-and four-story stone houses towered above, many with inviting first floor shops or restaurants. Each lane brought new architectural surprises: sculptured porticos, ancient wooden doors, and bridges spanning the alleyways. We had entered a time warp to the middle ages.

Maestral? Bora? Scirocco? I didn't understand the terms until I experienced one these sailing phenomena firsthand. The Adriatic's maestral northwest thermal winds blow most summer afternoons. The gusty northeast bora winds raging down from Croatia's mountaintops affected a couple days of our sailing making for some rough seas. The light southern winds are called scirocco.

The week's sailing was accompanied by anchorages in beautiful fishing village coves: Mljet Island's harbors and Korcula Island's harbor town come to the top of my mind. After a day's sail we'd hike and sightsee or swim and lounge. A major highlight on Mljet Island was a hike & ferry ride around its salt-water lake, Veliko Jerzero, where we spent an hour swimming and cooling off, and a 12th-century Benedictine monastery islet.

Another of the week's highlights was to medieval Korcula. The walled and towered pedestrian village dating to the 1400s encompassed a small hilly north-facing peninsula with both western and eastern harbors. The crowning attraction was St. Mark's Cathedral at the central square. A network of twenty crosshatched alleys emanated outward from the single street that divided the village. One of my best meals was enjoyed at a seaside restaurant on a beautiful evening.

As for sailing, what could be better than the Aloha, a 101 foot three deck boat cutting through the Adriatic at 20 knots with a dining/bar area and outdoor lounges. Each cabin, although small, had its own shower and air conditioning. The dining area even had a DVD player, which we enjoyed watching old 50's TV shows a couple of evenings.


There couldn't have been a better place to celebrate my birthday (May 15) than the walled town that's been coined the Adriatic's "Crown Jewel." We entered Dubrovnik through one of its grand gates. This eastern end expanded into Luza square bordered by entrancing Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque structures such as the clock tower, Sponza Palace, St. Blaise's Church, the Rector's Palace, and Cathedral of Assumption of the Virgin. I was bowled over by the wide marbled pedestrian boulevard and the spouting 15th-century Onofrio Fountain that had fresh spring water spouting out of the mouths of the sculpture.

We did not hike the town's incredible walls since it was extremely hot that afternoon. However, there was no overlooking the warring history when I first saw the huge walls measuring up to 60 feet thick and 80 feet high. First built in the 1200s as protection against the Venetians and other marauders, the walls and towers were enhanced in the 1400s against the Turks and again in the 1600s against the Austro-Hungarians.

The Heart of Dalmatia - Split

Split, the second largest city in Croatia, boasted a beautiful palm-lined harbor and a treasured old town dating back to Roman times. The emperor Diocletian built a huge retirement palace here around 300 AD. The Roman walls, imperial quarters, and mausoleum survived to this day, intermingled with medieval homes, alleyways, and churches juxtaposed with the original Roman structures. It's no wonder that UNESCO has named the palace a World Heritage Site. I most admired the Peristyle's marbled Roman imperial entrance court and its bordering 12th-century St. Dominus Cathedral built with Romanesque columns, alters, and sculptures within the octagonal structure of Diocletian's mausoleum.

We visited many other memorable places - Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes, Mostar in Bosnia/Herzegovina, the Island of Sipan, Tisno, and Sibenik during our 10 day journey.

I invite you to visit my photos on YouTube by clicking here: Pam's Croatian Adventure

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Office: Safety Training

I'm back to visiting an old friend - The Office. There were so many good TV shows this past season, that I just didn't have time to watch everything. But now that most shows are in reruns, I'm catching up on some of my favorites that I have neglected.

Moments of greatness in the Safety Training episode:

1) The blue collar/white collar dynamic that was the core of this episode. Sometimes Michael doesn't feel like a real person. Though you could argue that him jumping off the roof pushes him into that annoying cartoon character that he sometimes becomes, I thought that the impetus for his actions came from a very real place. I'm sure Michael is not the only fellow who feels uncomfortable whenever they are around "manly men".

1a) The build up to the jump and the eventual talk down ("You're Braveheart") never felt forced. Side note: did Creed discover the castle when he was peeing outside??

2) The betting. Even Cheers didn't have an ensemble this big and rich and defined. Each vignette existed solely because of what we knew about the characters; no awkward exposition was necessary. The high point was Kelly talking to Ryan while people just went up and placed money on his desk. Brilliant.

3) Shun. Unshun.

4) Stanley and the watermelon. Imus, take note, this is how clever racial humor is done. I'm not sure if one look at the end of an episode is enough to win someone an Emmy, but Leslie David Baker needs to be considered for it, doesn't he?

I think this episode proves that there needs to be a term for the opposite of "jumping the shark." If we use "jump the shark" to indicate a moment when a show peaks and can only get worse from that point forward, we need something for when a show defines its greatness and starts moving towards its place in television pantheon. I'd like to submit "jumping the castle" as a candidate for this term.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

My Name Is Earl: Harassed a Reporter

Ahh, is there anything as satisfying as a good quip from Crabman: "You can edit film to make people think all kinds of things. Like the moon landing. That was all done with puppets in my uncle's garage."

Earl is back from hiatus, and it's returned to form. Earl gets to cross two items off his list, and you get a little peek into what makes Earl and Randy tick.

When Earl wakes up at 4AM and sees a reporter talking to herself on the news, he recalls that she's on his list. Randy and Earl had made a reputation for themselves during their bad old days by doing ridiculous stunts in the background when reporter Nicole Moses was out on a story.

One interesting sidenote here is that we see Catalina laughing at their antics in a flashback. Does this mean she recognized them right away when she met them, or had she forgotten about the "Brazos Locos?"

In order to make up for ruining Nicole's career, Earl agrees to be in her feel-good story about someone who's reformed his ways. But for the umpteenth time in this series, it becomes clear that no matter how much time Randy spends helping Earl, it's Earl's list and nobody pays much attention to Randy.

Joy offers him some advice and tells him that he needs to strike out on his own in the world and get away from under Earl's shadow. And in his typical Randy way, he takes her advice literally. If he was bad when Earl was bad, and turned good when Earl did, then he needs to be the opposite of Earl. And that means getting a sombrero and writing a list of anyone he's ever been nice to and screwing with them.

Personally, I think this concept had promise. It would have been nice to see this carry over for a few episodes. But alas, Randy only does one bad thing in this episode -- and it's apparently enough to make karma notice him. Funny how that works out when you're a fictional character in a sitcom where the writers try to wrap things up in a half hour.

The last few episodes have been sorely missing the precious moments that Earl and Randy share in bed. This episode started out with a tender bed moment, as Earl worried whether Randy had died in his sleep, and ended with another, as Randy helped Earl out with a toothache.

All told, a pretty heartwarming story about two brothers. Much better than the one Nicole Moses made up out of thin air. Okay, not that thin. The truth is, Randy is a bit simple. As she points out, it's not like NASA was knocking on his door. But I don't think anyone who meets Randy would think he was disabled. They'd just think he still holds a childlike sense of wonder, which is generally a good thing.

This episode left me with one real question. Why does everybody in town seem to watch the evening news? And on the same channel?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Lost: One of Us

"One of Us" has added yet another layer to Juliet's past and to her current motives. She's a tough one to read, with those "Who, me?" innocent eyes. I also got to watch what was, hopefully, the last Lost beach reunion scene. How many reunions have there been this season, honestly?

Juliet's flashback picked up right where "Not in Portland" left off, giving me a clear idea of how she got to the island, and a less-than-clear idea of what kept her there.

The Flashback
The flashback caught up with Juliet outside Mittelos Bioscience's private, high-security airport. Mittelos was still all about secrecy, taking Juliet's vitals before the trip and drugging her.

At the time of her departure, Juliet was still under the impression that she would return in six months. She was also willing to make the mysterious journey without knowing any of the details, and in spite of Mittelos' super-private status. Juliet's conversation with Alpert was very telling. A person would have to be a little shady to take a job under such suspicious circumstances, "special" or not.

One of the flashback's biggest revelations was the island's pregnancy problem. Pregnancy is fatal to women on the island, which will certainly be a major issue for Sun in upcoming episodes. The Others were conducting research on this issue, and Juliet had guessed that "it" happens at conception.

After asking Ben to let her leave the island to continue her work, Juliet was given some bad news. Rachel's cancer was back, and Ben promised that Jacob would cure Juliet's sister. This was, of course, on the condition that Juliet stayed on the island. These people are good.

I also learned that Juliet has incredible taste in men, after a nice little bedroom scene with Goodwin. I am not sure what purpose this detail serves, or how it fits in with Juliet's supposed "history" with Ben. Not that I mind more scenes with Brett Cullen; I'm just posing a question or two.

Juliet's discovery of Ben's tumor freaked out both her and Ben. The real source of Ben's fear was not discussed (it has to be more than just a fear of death), but Juliet was worried that Ben lied to her about Rachel's recovery. She made a second, desperate request to go home, which Ben denied.

In order to defend himself, Ben took Juliet to the Flame station's communications center (operated by Mikhail) to prove that Rachel was alive. Meanwhile, Mikhail was busy watching news coverage of the 815 crash, and doing research on the passengers.

The biggest revelation of the episode: Juliet is still with the Others, and all of her actions in "Left Behind" were part of a larger plan. Juliet's role in Claire's illness and recovery was also set up by the Others. And set your island calendars; Ben plans on meeting up with Juliet in one week, Lost time!

The Beach
Poor, unfortunate Claire was made ill by the Others in order to help Juliet "save the day" and gain the crash survivors' trust. Apparently Claire still has some implant inside of her that the Others can manipulate. If Sayid and Sawyer are any indication, Juliet will have to do a lot more than cure Claire to win everyone over.

Sayid was awesome, as usual, and did not take his eyes off Juliet for a second. He'll have to find another way to separate Juliet from Jack if he wants to get any answers out of her.

How much do I hate Jack and his Other-trusting ways? His rationale for trusting Juliet was absolutely ridiculous. At this point, I'm not sure who's dumber: Jack, for trusting Juliet, or everyone else for trusting Jack. At least Sun and Jin didn't jump on the bandwagon. Sun even translated Jin's snarky comment for Juliet, which was the funniest part of the whole episode.

I'm still trying to figure out how much of Juliet's story to believe. She claimed that Ethan took blood samples, and that the Others used Claire as a "control" case for their fertility research. The kidnapping was, apparently, not part of the plan. The second part of the story is definitely true, since Tom's conversation with Ethan in Claire's flashback already revealed this.

Ultimately, Juliet "cured" Claire's illness, and won over...who, exactly? It didn't look like she was invited to join the ping pong league after that. There has to be more to her plan, and it seems to involve the return of Ben and the Others. I'm glad that Juliet turned out to be more than just a banished Other, but I would love to learn how she became such a manipulative schemer. I suppose that's for another episode.

Final questions/thoughts:

Hurley let it slip to Juliet that Charlie was the one who killed Ethan. Will this put Charlie in danger?

Was Ben completely lying about Rachel's cancer returning? It could have been another way to keep Juliet on the island, like the video of a now-healthy Rachel and Julian.

Sawyer may not be able to use nicknames, but he did manage to call Ben a "bug-eyed bastard." Lovely.

After the plane crash scene, Ben mentioned that the Others might find more mothers on the plane. What will they do to Sun once they find out about her pregnancy?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Dinner & A DVD: The Good Girl

It's grilling season in Michigan. This marinade was for seafood, but it's wonderful with chicken too. It adds mild lemon zing and keeps the meat moist and tender.

Moist Lemon Chicken

3/4 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
Dried minced onion
Dried parsley flakes
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
Dill seed
Curry powder
Chicken (I used boneless chicken breasts)

In a large resealable bag, combine the first 10 ingredients. Add chicken and turn to coat. Drain, discarding marinade. Grill chicken until juices run clear, turning several times.

Featured Attraction: The Good Girl

'The Good Girl' is a sad comedy starring Jennifer Aniston as Justine. She works at Retail Rodeo where she is very unhappy. When she comes home she finds her husband Phil (John C. Reilly) stoned on the couch with his best friend Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson) night after night.

It is not very strange she is attracted to Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal) the new kid who comes to work at Retail Rodeo. He is even more depressed than she is, he reads The Catcher in the Rye and has named himself after that book. What she doesn't know is that he is also a deeply troubled young man. She finds that out soon enough as his part of the relationship becomes overly possessive, and the secret relationship begins to become public.

A thing that surprised me was the great acting. John C. Reilly,('Gangs of New York', 'Chicago' 'The Hours', 'Talladega Nights'), is great as the husband, Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain) terrific as the disturbed kid and most of all Jennifer Aniston is superb as Justine. Here she is everything but Rachel from 'Friends' and that is a very good thing. She is really acting and it is one of her best performances.

The sad story is very good as well and there is some fine comedy, especially with another worker at Retail Rodeo named Cheryl (Zooey Deschanel). She insults customers all the time and says the strangest things; the customers hardly notice. Mike White, from School of Rock & Nacho Libre fame, was the writer of this movie and also had a funny role as a religious security guard.

Funny, sad and very good is what 'The Good Girl' is in the end.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Friday Night Lights: State (Season Finale)

Can it really be? I've been through twenty-two episodes of Friday Night Lights already? Maybe it's just my reluctance to have the show end, but it seems like this season went by awfully fast. Last week I guessed that the team would win the game, Eric would stay in Dillon, and that the show would get a second season. I got answers for all three. The show will be returning!

Throughout much of the season I made a point of noting that this isn't a show about football. Most of the Panther games I got to see were given very short bits of episodes, and were usually not the focus of the episode. This episode altered that balance and gave a lot more time to the game. Understandably so, this was the state championship. It's something that these characters have been working toward for the entire season, so a big payoff was fitting.

Something that struck me about the episode was how much it echoed back to that first episode I saw back in October. The more subtle thing that brought this up was the end of the episode. That scene of Eric driving to the school while listening to sports radio was very reminiscent of how I first met him. Right down to the fact that what he was hearing wasn't the most flattering of broadcasts. Along with that was the story of the game.

Like that first game when Street got hurt, you could make the complaint that they didn't need to build up the big Hollywood ending the way they did. I'd even say that this game needed it less than the first one. At this point in the series, anyone watching is probably a fan of the show. And because of that, they have invested in the characters. They don't need an improbable comeback to sell them on anything. A back and forth game where they struggle to contain Voodoo but keep themselves in the game would have been fine. It's certainly not a huge complaint, but something that stands out as being unnecessary.

That said, the game footage was again very good. As was everything leading up to the game. I liked the wonder of it all as the team got a look at their locker room and stepped onto the Texas Stadium field for the first time. I even enjoyed the return of Voodoo. He's just so menacing. That little nugget where he offered Smash a spot with the Mustangs is something that could be revisited in season two. I don't think that Smash would leave Dillon, but there is still a story to be told there.

This was quite an episode for Eric as well. I really liked the scene where the reporter asked him about the job at TMU. Ever since he took the gig I've been waiting for that bomb to drop. The fact that it came on the eve of the big game made it that much more dramatic. He handled it well, and I thought he made a good case for why he was leaving to both the gathered boosters, and personally to Saracen.

After the game, when Eric poured out all of his feelings on everything to Tami, I was completely sold. Eric will be back at Dillon next year, coaching the team, new baby bouncing around the house. I was caught off guard by Tami's answer to all of that. "No, you've got to go to Austin." Apparently I have yet to learn the same lesson that Eric is missing, Tami Taylor usually knows best. She was right all along. It will be interesting to see how they handle the Austin/Dillon separation in season two.

There were a couple other good scenes for Tami tonight as well. Her meeting with Mrs. Williams at Planned Parenthood was a nice bit of continuity. And she might have had the line of the night with her explanation for missing the booster event, saying she couldn't handle "the Buddy Garrity of it all." The scene where she told Eric about the baby was also very sweet.

Away from football, Landry's state football adventure was fun to watch. Watching his reaction to Tyra inviting him to the game was almost as much fun as watching the crazy series of events that destroyed his big plans. The soundtrack for the trip changing from some sexy Crucifictorious to Lady Marmalade captures the essence of the whole thing. In a strange and twisted way though, it was some nice progress to the Landry/Tyra story, and sets itself up for the possibility of season two.

Tyra had a nice resolution with Lyla as well. It took some good christian intervention from Landry to get the ball rolling, but it goes to show how much the two of them are changing as the story goes along. They're both at a point now where moving on and rethinking things is an option, so it was nice to see them both embrace that idea.

And finally, Jason Street. Considering that his injury is what kicked off this adventure, it was nice to see it play out the way it did. He's back in control, his confidence is back, and he has something he loves to focus on and work at. I don't know if we are supposed to take that last scene as some kind of hint that he will be the head coach next season or not. But the Panthers did just win the state title with a first year coach. And I'm guessing that the word of Eric Taylor has some sway now. I could see him endorsing Street as his replacement with Mac and the rest of the staff staying on. Of course, that could lead to some drama, hopefully a whole seasons worth.

So, that does it for the first season of Friday Night Lights. I be back here in the fall to kick off a second run. I like this show even more now than I did when it started. Over the course of the season it became my favorite new show of the year, and without getting out the calculator to figure exact positioning, I'd say it's in my top 5 for all of TV right now. This was a nice way to wrap things up. I couldn't be happier about the way this season played out. With the Panthers winning, the Taylor's plans squared away, and all of our other characters ready to move on, I'll be anxious to see what the next season brings.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Soup of the Week & The Riches: The Big Floss

This soup is a snap to whip up. It tastes even better the next day.

Vegetable Cheese Soup

2 tablespoons chopped onion
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1/4 cup flour
3 cups milk
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 package (16 oz) frozen Californian-blend vegetables, thawed
1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
3/4 cup Cheese Whiz

In a large saucepan, saute onion in butter until tender. Stir in the flour until bended. Gradually add milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.

Stir in broth and vegetables. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until vegetables are crisp-tender. Stir in cheddar cheese and cheese sauce; cook until heated through and cheese is melted.

The Riches: The Big Floss

I mentioned in my last post about The Riches that the scene with Doug trying to handle the Homeowners against Panco didn't work for me. This week, Wayne's Doug stuff worked much better. The show needed Wayne to be put in his place. This is not an easy thing he is trying to do, and he's not going to be able to just bullshit his way out of every situation.

There was some great tension as the opposing attorneys continued to reference case after case, all of them going right over Wayne's head. I was wondering, how can they possibly get him out of this. And I was as surprised as everyone in that room when he just went to sleep. It was interesting how that move was deemed something of a cop-out by the rest of the family. What I really liked about it was that Hugh didn't buy into it for a second. His 48 hour deadline is the kind of thing I want to see. A little pressure for Wayne.

His solution this week was rather clever. You could make the argument that he sure got that guest lecture gig on awfully short notice, but I'm willing to let that one slide because I like how it all played out. Wayne got the answers that Doug needed, and did so in a way that didn't require him to know more than he should, or his foes to be idiots. It's also worth noting that Aubrey started asking about "Wayne."

I really liked the scene when Dahlia came to the office. "Wayne." "Dahlia." "Doug." "Cherien." "Aubrey."As Wayne was struggling with all of that, there was a nice parallel with Dahlia as she had her own troubles with her new job. Not only were they both having trouble adapting, they both had instances of covertly revealing their true colors to someone.

Dahlia's new job did set the stage for some good stuff. Her scenes with Isaac (Charlie Robinson, Night Court) were very good. More interesting though was how they effected Dahlia as she related Isaac's experience to what she and Wayne are going through. It's as if now that they set this ball in motion, nobody is willing to be the one that actually brings it to a stop. They all realize to some degree that it isn't going to work in the long run, but they are just too stubborn to cut and run.

Cael and DiDi picked up right where they left off with DiDi becoming more and more comfortable with the buffer life while Cael misses the old ways. It all led nicely to the payoff from last episode's cliff-hanger where we found Ginny watching the Malloys. I have to say, that one caught me off guard. I fully expected Ginny to want a cut in return for not ratting them out to Dale.

And when Wayne and Dahlia pulled Cael out of school and mentioned what it cost them, I was curious to hear the price. The price being DiDi's hand in marriage wasn't what I expected. I considered it, but given Wayne's reaction when Dale brought it up earlier in the series, I just didn't think it would happen. That was a nice bomb to drop at the end of the episode. Made all the more potent by the fact that Eric was finally over for dinner.

Of course, that wedding just can't happen. There is a line in the sand, and DiDi actually marrying Kenny is far to the 'not bloody likely' side of it. It should provide for some funny stuff over a couple episodes before the whole thing blows up and creates even more drama. Overall, I'm really happy with how the show is progressing. Considering Wayne's guest lecture gambit, a nice turn by Charlie Robinson, and the slow ratcheting of the tension with the traveler family, I'm thoroughly enjoying this show.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

CSI: Big Shots

That was a pretty enjoyable episode. Pulling a move that CSI hasn't used in some time, the episode began with what seemed like two completely unrelated cases, but by the end of the episode, they were completely intertwined.

Adding to the episode was the return of Method Man, reprising his guest starring role as club and rap mogul Drops. The guy is a good actor. I don't care what anyone says. He brings this likability to any character he plays and Drops is no exception. He's a thug, but the whole time I still found myself rooting for him to find a way out.

However, the best part of the episode was definitely the closure Greg got from the Demetrius James case. Greg finally stood up for himself. It's about time.

That scene where he finally passed all his guilt off to Mrs. James and essentially told her that it wasn't his fault that her two sons chose the paths they took was great. It was a pretty powerful scene and it's the first time throughout this whole ordeal that we really saw Greg put himself first. Although he did tell the DA to go easy on the brother at the end. Not too sure how I felt about that. He was an accessory to a murder, even if he didn't realize it.

Elsewhere, Hodges has continued to develop as the most prominent minor character on the show. He's hilarious and I don't think I ever realized it. He was out in the field for a while (per Under Sheriff McKeen's orders) and once he got back in the lab and Catherine asked "if he was going to pull a Sanders" (i.e. move from the lab to the field), he said something about staying away from streets covered in bullets and urine. Priceless.

Other random stuff:

Was McKeen flirting with Sophia? He was awfully friendly and seemed set on feeding her as many compliments as he could spit out. I hope that doesn't go anywhere.

I loved it when Drops simply called Nick, "Crime Lab."

Speaking of Drops, it was equally funny when he gave his lawyer the fist pound after getting him off.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Book Review: "Snobs" by Julian Fellowes

"Snobs" is promoted on its back cover by many blurbs from critics who claim it is a humorous novel. It has humorous moments, but I cannot consider it a comedy. The publisher apparently thought that promoting it as a comedy would make it sell. I expected comedy, but the characters have too much depth to accomplish such humor in their depictions.

The novel misses the mark. It also fails to be convincing in its point of view since the first person narrator is absent from many of the scenes he describes, so one wonders how he knows everything he tells the reader.

What the novel does achieve is a heavy and saddening tone. The novel is very detailed in its depiction of the titled classes dullness and lack of intellectualism in 1990s England. It is a world unfamiliar to American readers - we know of the royals, but all the lords and ladies are alien to us. It is almost shocking to find this snobbish Jane Austen type world still exists two hundred years later, and without any Elizabeth Bennetts to redeem it. The title is not very descriptive for the book. Social Climbing or Upper Class Adultery would be more fitting, if less catchy.

Without revealing the plot, the story is of Edith, a middle class woman who manages to marry an Earl, then begins an affair with an actor for reasons she herself does not understand--is it boredom, sexual attraction to the actor, the realization that the false world she imagined does not exist? Once she commits adultery, her titled husband's class cuts her, not because she is an adulterer but because "to them, her folly was in abandoning the false values she had endorsed with her marriage."

The question is whether Edith will stay with her husband and even if she chooses her husband, if his class will allow her to return to him. Reference is not made directly to the Prince and Princess of Wales's romance and divorce, but it looms in the back of the reader's mind--the husband is named Charles.

Unfortunately, while the tale is interesting and attempts to be insightful, it fails to be intriguing. I never really cared whether Edith and Charles patched things up or not. These people appear to be completely insulated from the modern day and age, and while I suppose that is precisely Fellowes' point, I guess it just isn't MY cup of tea.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Lost: Left Behind

This episode of "Lost" was a bit of a snooze fest, if you ask me. I tried to be patient, assuming there would be some answers — to anything — by the end of it, but no cigar. Plus, the flashbacks were of Kate, and she is so not my favorite character. Still, there was a nice little sentimental theme of betraying the people you love (Kate's mother betrayed her, Sawyer betrayed Cassidy, Kate betrayed Jack), and the great con man Sawyer got a taste of his own medicine — by Hurley, no less!

Okay, seriously, the girl-on-girl wet t-shirt smackdown was a bit much, especially Kate's WWF-style "Are you done yet?!" Later, the two ladies fall in a giant mud puddle! So. Very. Gratuitous. Then again, last week's episode featured a nice shirtless Sawyer scene, so at least they're making these extraneous scenes a little more equal opportunity. And I have to say that that first flip that Juliet pulled on Kate was pretty cool.

There was a lot more of the good person vs. bad person stuff, which this season has been focusing on a lot:
—Locke says he told the Others that Kate was a "good person."
—Kate says she killed her stepfather because he was "a bad guy."
—Cassidy says that her man (Sawyer) was "a bad guy," and then says to Kate "One of us deserves something good."

In the tongue-in-cheek moment of the night, Kate says to Juliet, "Welcome to the wonderful world of not knowing what the hell is going on." Ha ha... exactly, Kate. Exactly.

Hurley tricks Sawyer into thinking that he's going to be banished by the Losties, a move that seems to be a reference to being "voted off" the island, a la "Survivor." When he learns the truth, Sawyer gives my favorite line of the night: "You tricked me into being decent?! That's gotta be the lamest con in the history of cons!"

Of course now that Sawyer is apparently their leader, it sets up all sorts of alpha male conflicts for when Jack returns.

The scene when the monster is apparently approaching Kate and Juliet was, I think, supposed to be suspenseful but was instead really boring. I just want to know why Smokey flashes light at the them.

It says "Cowboy Up" on Kate's hat, which made me laugh thinking of when Sawyer punched a crying Carl on the arm in and told him to "cowboy up!" I mean, who says "cowboy up"?

A few thoughts:

Where are the Others going? Back to the Hydra station? Another secret location?

Sawyer was reading Watership Down again. Has he run out of books, or is he reading several books at once?
"You sir, Hugo, are rotund." Priceless.

Kate has a system for her aliases: saints' names. She's used Anne, Monica, Margaret, Joan, and Lucy.

Stick a fork in Nikki and Paulo. They didn't dig their way out of their graves, and Vincent didn't save them.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Friday Night Lights: Best Laid Plans

One of the things I praise this show for is how well acted it is. Yet I think this episode might have set a new high mark.

I'm talking specifically about the argument Eric and Tami had over her proposal that she and Julie stay in Dillon while Eric goes to Austin. It's great writing to start with, and performed amazingly by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton.

Over the course of this TV season I have learned a lot about their relationship. They are one of the great television couples, but part of what makes them so great is their imperfections. I get the chance to see the happy, madly in love Taylors, but I also get to see the struggling, fighting Taylors. My favorite part was Eric's admission, "I'm not mature, I can't handle that." They are endlessly fascinating to me.

As long as I'm throwing around accolades for great acting, I should toss some at the fellow who plays Landry. This is not the Landry that I first met early in the season. His line to Saracen, "I'm just here for the comic relief for the star quarterback?" was interesting. That could have very easily been the arc of the Landry character, and it probably would have been just fine. Every now and again he'd pop up and say something witty, then step aside. This was so much better. Confiding in Saracen, his talk with Tami, being crushed by Tyra's misplaced anger, right on through their final conversation at the roast. It was all very good.

I liked how they left it too. Landry was a little harsh, but it was a big step for him. The easy thing would have been to fall right back into that puppy dog role and be glad for the attention from Tyra. Instead, he laid out all of his feelings and gave her something to think about. I thought that based on her look as he left, he got the message across.

Speaking of the roast, I liked the tension underneath what was outwardly a very happy-go-lucky time. With all of the disapproving looks from Saracen, and the fight that resumed between Eric and Tami, it seemed like there was a chance that the whole thing would just go off the rails and turn into a skewering of Eric as everyone asked, "Why are you leaving us?"

Tami's too good for that though, and I thought her speech was great. Sure, she was funny and charming, and Eric certainly does have, as Buddy put it, "a good one." The great part of the scene for me though, was that she was standing there in front of all those people, but really just making her case to Eric.

Eric's decision and how the Taylor family is going to deal with it did dominate the episode, but there were some smaller bits of the story worth noting. Buddy and Pam getting a divorce wasn't much of a surprise. I did like the way she corrected him though. "You're gonna see them every other weekend."

There wasn't a lot of screen time given to what is going on between Smash and Waverly, but I do really like that part of the story. They really have done a nice job of growing Smash's character. Much like Landry, he could have easily been relegated to the background, but the show is better for the time they have spent developing him.

I'm not sure if that was the end of Street and Lyla or not. It could be, but it just seems like that one still has some legs. It's not going to be pretty, and I've long since given up on any kind of hearts and flowers reconciliation. Not done yet though.

Either way, I have really enjoyed all of the scenes with Street and Susie, so I'm ok with Lyla moving on. Coach Street was fun to see too. I liked how he fell right into step with Eric when they started talking to Saracen. And hey, if Eric is getting a job in Austin, doesn't Susie live in Austin? Things are lining up for Street.

It's probably time to drop the Tim and just go back to talking about Riggins. It seems that Jackie finally wised up and realized that getting involved with a high school kid that has his own truckload of baggage isn't the best thing for her or her little boy. I'm not surprised, but I thought that would come some time after the mysterious husband/father showed up to flesh out Jackie's backstory.

So here I sit. One episode to go in what has been a great first season. I've got some big questions looming with that last episode. Will the Panthers win it all? Will Eric stay in Dillon after Tami told him she's not going to Austin? And most importantly, will I get a second season? My guesses, yes to all.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Dinner and a DVD: Ghost World

Cheese ravioli comes alive in this tangy, slightly sweet tomato sauce. With its tasty mix of seasoning, spinach and beans, you won't need a side dish.

Mexican-Style Ravioli

1 package (20 oz) refrigerated cheese ravioli
1 can (14 1/2 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup beef broth
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
1/2 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Dried oregano
Salt & Pepper
4 cups fresh baby spinach

Cook ravioli according to package directions. meanwhile, in a large skillet, combine the tomatoes, broth, tomato paste, beans, brown sugar, oregano, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 3-4 minutes or until heated through. Drain ravioli; add to tomato mixture. Stir in spinach; cook and stir for 4-5 minutes or until wilted.

Featured Attraction: Ghost World

Ghost World doesn't actually start with the phrase 'our lives would never be the same after that summer' but it might as well. The film follows Enid & Rebecca in the summer after graduation in a small American town. As you might expect they get dull jobs and have troubles with relationships & parents. Enid is artistic & slightly nerdy, Rebecca more ready to embrace a 'mainstream' existence and surprise surprise this puts strains on their relationship.

Like an overlong episode of Seinfeld, but with less plot and zero punchlines, I kept waiting anxiously for the movie to begin. Maybe there's some particular tone to the "Ghost World" comic that I completely missed out on, but this is the most rambling and incoherent script that I have seen in a while. (Snippets of plot, like the Batman hat or the controversial chicken-art, simply disappear rather than being wrapped together.)

Steve Buscemi, as well as most of the supporting characters, are quite entertaining. But it felt like watching the setting for a really good movie...and the good movie never showed up.

Thora Birch's (Enid) acting? It seemed like she mastered the don't-make-a-facial-expression schtick in "American Beauty" and pushed it into overdrive here - I was unconvinced by her.

And finally, the reason why my love for this movie was limited from the beginning is that I DIDN'T LIKE the main characters. Was I supposed to be charmed by Enid's consistent, unwavering self-centeredness? Don't get me wrong, I think it can be funny to show a couple of high-school grads driving around and being bitchy to everyone. With "Ghost World," however, I just wanted them to shut up. Maybe if, at some point during the movie, they had actually DONE something I would have felt differently.

Unless you want to be really depressed or enjoy watching people screw up their, and others', lives - don't even bother to see this movie.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Soup of the Week

Go figure . . . Saturday it was 92 degrees. Today (Monday) it is 65 degrees. Only in Michigan can we go from one extreme to another. But that's okay by me, because that means I can fix this great soup for the cooler weather.

If you like ham and bean soup, but don't want to spend hours in the kitchen, this tasty and timely version will leave you with a satisfied smile.

Ham & Bean Soup

2 carrots, sliced
2 celery ribs, chopped
Chopped onion
2 tablespoons butter
4 cans (15 1/2 oz each) great northern beans, rinsed & drained
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups cubed fully cooked ham
1 teaspoon chili powder
Minced garlic
1 bay leaf

In a large saucepan, saute the carrots, celery and onion in butter until tender. Stir in the remaining ingredients; cook for 15 minutes or until heated through. Discard bay leave before serving.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

The Riches: Been There, Done That

I'm really looking forward to seeing Dale come knocking on the Riches front door, hopefully looking like Nicholson in The Shining, but I know I'm going to have to wait for that. That's fine though, because there are plenty of other tales to tell.

Jolinda, for instance. This was good, although I was pretty sure that she was going to show up to meet Doug in person. And almost convinced of it when Hugh pointed out to Wayne that ex-wives always find you. Having Wayne and Dahlia head that one off at the pass actually worked out even better though.

The con aspect of the story was good, and well crafted. Not only was Dwayne able to solve the Jolinda problem, he also managed to ingratiate himself with Jim by unloading his bum alpaca. And by my calculations, he even managed to make 20 grand in the process. As good a result as they could have hoped for.

What sold me on the whole caper though, was the phone call.Wayne and Dahlia have an unconventional relationship. The vast majority of us manage to make it through without having to worry about meth addictions, traveler families bent on revenge, or the threat of someone discovering we are living in a dead guys house. That's a lot of extra baggage to stack on top of the normal relationship trials. It's asking for drama.

I thought they handled it beautifully here when Wayne called Dahlia, making the fake phone call to Doug. There's a moment in there where the conversation turns, and they aren't talking about Doug and Jolinda anymore. They are finally having a long overdue conversation about Wayne and Dahlia. It's never going to be easy for them, it's just not who they are. The revelations about just what kind of a person the real Doug was were also interesting. That could certainly lead to more surprises popping up.

I really like Dahlia with Nina. She is just such a crazy character. Her little rundown of the neighbors and their obsessions was the funniest scene of the night. I was left a little confused by the scene with Hugh feeling up Dahlia in the bathroom. A little creepy, and kind of came out of nowhere. There has to be more coming from that later.

The one scene that I felt didn't work was Wayne at work. Doug meeting with Homeowners against Panco certainly had its moments. "We're completely against anyone blowing up... we take those grenades and we turn them into lemonade." There was just no end to it. Why would that make an angry mob of homeowners just leave? It's a case of things being a little too easy for the fake Doug. Wayne should have had to struggle more with that one.

Meanwhile, DiDi is off blending in. I suspect that we are going to see more of Eric as time goes by. For now, I think her time with him, as well as seeing her excel in the classroom, continue to hint that DiDi is warming up to the buffer life much quicker than her brother or her mother. She is her father's daughter.

Cael, on the other hand, isn't really conforming to this new life. He did manage to make a couple friends, but doing so by reverting back to what he knows, says as much about him as the classroom scene says about where DiDi is headed. We also got some resolution on those Tammy phone calls. I really liked that scene. They did a nice job of making Tammy suspicious without making it obvious, so Cael's reaction was just right. He also showed that he has been paying attention to his father. The call to the police was a nice call back to Wayne explaining that cops are the buffer's friends.

And finally, a great ending. Cael managed to thwart Dale's attempt to flush them out, but they've now set up the next chapter of the ongoing story because the family knows where they are. I'm looking forward to see where this goes next.