Saturday, December 29, 2007

My 101

Ok, I've come up with my 101 things to do in 1001 days. It was actually quite a bit harder than I thought. My criteria for the list: it had to be something I wanted to do, something that I thought was actually achievable, and something that wasn't redundant with another item already on the list. At first, I tried to group items according to category, but I soon realized that I was all over the place, so I just started trying to write down the things I wanted to do.

Nicole's 101

Record family history in some way (Create a family tree with my grandmother? Photos? Stories?)
Take Clay’s picture professionally at least once every 6 months
Make a will
Make a living will
Talk with Laura about taking Clay in case of an accident
Send a Christmas card to an estranged family member
Write to my grandmother
Attend services at three local churches
Volunteer in a way that’s meaningful to me
Go back to the gym – at least 3 times a week
Lose 10 pounds
Keep it off for 6 months
Train to run 3 miles without stopping
Try a yoga or pilates class
Go to the International Museum of Muslim Cultures
Go to the Smith Robertson Museum
Go to the Lauren Rogers Museum
Take an art class (pottery, painting, etc.)
Paint a picture
Learn to play at least one song on the guitar
Write a food article and get it published
Write at least one poem or short story
Paint the front porch swing
Tile the master bathroom
Plant some flowering shrubs in the back yard and DON’T let them die
Plant an herb garden
Fix the patio table
Get a window shade for the baby’s bedroom
Have an energy audit done on the house
Paint the shed in the back yard
Paint the inside of the garage
Take Clay swimming
Drink wine in California
Ride in a helicopter
Ride in a hot air balloon
Go to Graceland
Go to New York City
Create a “great books list” and start reading (at least 5 books)
Create a “great movies list” and start watching (at least 5 movies)
Treasure hunt on Highway 49
Host a New Year’s open house party
Host a “dinner among the leaves” party
Host an Easter brunch
Throw a Kentucky Derby party
Celebrate the Chinese New Year
Pay off the last of my student loan
Buy some sexy new underwear
Attend at least one live concert
Go the fall flower show/festival in Crystal Springs
Visit a botanic garden
Learn more about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict
Watch a meteor shower
Give blood
See snow
See the ocean
Adopt an Angel at Christmas
Go bowling
Pay for the person behind me in line
Do an anonymous good deed
Learn to bake a good loaf of bread
Go on a day hike
Write a letter to the editor of my local newspaper
Go on a vacation sans baby
Let Clay ride in the convertible with the top down
Perform in at least one stage production
Attend at least one Mensa meeting
Attend at least one college alumni event
Get back in touch with some of my college professors
Learn how to play poker
Learn how to shoot a decent game of pool
Make real paella
Make real sangria, to go with the paella
Get a facial
Start taking vitamins again
Take mom to have her makeup done
Discover 5 new recording artists I really like and buy their CDs
Find a pair of sunglasses that will change my life
Find my signature fragrance
Take some pictures of leaves turning color in the fall
Set up and take some faux-tography shots of the baby
Write to Grace
Visit Grace in Oregon
Go on a picnic and eat food that I MADE, not food that I bought
Visit a dermatologist
Book a session with a personal trainer
Buy sheet music for a song I like and learn to play it on the piano
Learn to do a passable waltz
Bring the baby to visit my dad at work
Take a bubble bath
Light some candles just for us, when we DON’T have someone coming over
Make mint juleps and drink them on the front porch swing
Go ice skating
Preserve Clay’s foot and hand prints
Attain APR accreditation
Buy or make Clay a kick-ass Halloween costume
Give a gift that I made
Send someone flowers for no reason
Begin using my wine notebook again and identify at least three new wines that I like
Buy a birdfeeder and set it up in the back yard
Fix the broken window pane on the porch
Spend an afternoon lying in the hammock

I have to say, if I get all these things done in the next 3 years or so, I will not only accomplish alot, but I'll enjoy myself quite a bit as well! I'll begin working on the list starting January 1, 2008. My last day of the challenge will be September 28, 2010.

Wish me luck!

Friday, December 28, 2007

There was a barber and his wife . . .

I went to see the new Sweeney Todd movie yesterday. WOW. I have been a Sondheim fan from way back, and I was surprised that someone had the guts to do a film version of Sweeney. (And at CHRISTMAS! That takes cojones.) However, if anyone seems a good fit for this production, it's Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.

Depp plays the title character. Todd is actually Benjamin Barker, a young London barber shipped off to prison on a trumped-up charge because the local judge (Turpin, played excellently by Alan Rickman) covets his lovely wife. Upon returning from a 15-year sentence, Barker discovers that in his absence, Turpin defiled his wife and now serves as guardian to his teenage daughter, Johanna (played by Jayne Wisener). To exact his revenge, Barker takes on the name of Sweeney Todd and sets up a new barber shop above Mrs. Lovett's (Helena Bonham Carter) meat pie shop. While waiting on his chance to make Judge Turpin pay, Todd sharpens his skills on customers who come in for a shave. Never one to waste anything, Mrs. Lovett decides to kill two birds with one stone, disposing of Todd's victims by grinding them up into meat for pies.

My thoughts - Production values were amazing. The whole tone of the film is gray, which serves as a great palette for the blood. And the blood in this film is practically its own character, with a starring role in both the opening credits and the final scenes. Depp shows again that he is a fabulous actor, and I was pleased to hear that his singing voice is actually pretty good. Rickman, also, had a voice that served his role well, and he did a great job as creepy, pervy Judge Turpin. Jayne Wisener gave perhaps one of the best renditions I've ever heard of "Green Finch and Linnet Bird." (The song is high and difficult to sing with good control, especially in live theatre, where projection is a concern. It can come off as very shrill. In the film version, Wisener was able to pull back the volume, and the song took on a very young, dreamy quality that was absolutely endearing.) Ed Sanders as Toby was also wonderful. ("Not While I'm Around" is one of my absolute favorite songs from the score.) Jamie Campbell Bower as Anthony Hope (the sailor) turned in a good performance, but I didn't think it was as notable as some of the others. To be fair, however, his role is rather flat.

I was prepared to hate Sacha Baron Cohen in this film. Though I never saw Borat, I'd heard about it, and I avoided it because I think that type of comedy is very low. Making fun of others takes little talent. As a result, I'd already written Cohen off as a performer that I would probably not enjoy. But in this film, he is wonderful as Signor Adolfo Pirelli. Costume and makeup have certainly done their job here, but his performance (though brief) is spot on. And he's not a bad singer, either.

Which brings me to Mrs. Lovett. I think that Mrs. Lovett is a GREAT role, and it is definitely one that has been played by some great actors (Angela Lansbury, Patti LuPone, we're talking big shoes here). While I feel that Helena Bonham Carter can act, her singing voice is pretty thin. Which I could have dealt with, I suppose, but for one thing. If there is a comic foil in Sweeney, it is Mrs. Lovett. She's the only character with comic lines. She's the only lightness the audience has to balance the incredible weight of the story line. Mrs. Lovett still has hope. Her songs are peppered with funny bits. Carter didn't play those bits. In fact, unless you knew they were there and were listening for them, you totally lost alot of the clever and funny things Mrs. Lovett sang about. I felt that the movie was a bit uneven because it didn't really have that light element, which it sooooo needed. In my opinion, this was the only major failing of the movie.

The only other gripe I have is that the "Beggar Woman" role, which has some wonderful lyrical moments in the stage version, seemed to have been reduced a bit too much. I totally understand (After all, alot of her singing parts were used in the stage production as cover when sets were being changed, etc. No such cover is needed in a film version.), but some of those little snippets of her singing maniacally are very arresting in the stage production. It was a shame that they couldn't be featured more prominently on screen.

But all this aside, it is a great movie and worth seeing. Not for the young OR the faint of heart, it deserves its R rating.


Oooh, I saw The Prestige a couple of nights ago. It's pretty dang haunting. The movie stars Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johanssen, and Michael Caine. Here's the skinny:

Two aspiring magicians, Robert Angler (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale) work with handler Cutter (Caine) as audience plants for a magic act. Angler is married to one of the act's primary performers, a young woman who escapes from a locked water tank every night. However, one night, the act goes terribly wrong. As a result, the two young men, once friends and confidantes, are separated by grief, suspicion, and doubt.

As Angler and Borden begin building their careers as magicians, they maintain an intense rivalry (spurred on by a desire for revenge) with one another. When Borden debuts an impossible trick, which he calls "The Transported Man," Angler is determined to learn its secret and steal it for himself. As Angler's obsession to posses Borden's secret consumes him, he realizes he will do anything to exact revenge upon Borden and triumph over him for good.

Performances are all good. Bale is downright spooky at times. Warning: you will have to have a rather flexible suspension of disbelief for this movie. But, in my opinion, it's worth it. There are two secrets at the end of the film. I guessed one, and the other one was a surprise. I won't spoil either of them here, as the movie is worth seeing for yourself. Creepy stuff, but it will definitely give you something to analyze for an evening or two.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Kissing on people you shouldn't be kissing on

Hubby and I watched The Last Kiss (starring Zach Braff, Jacinda Barrett, Rachel Bilson, and Blythe Danner) a few nights ago. Not totally sure what to think. Here's the skinny:

Michael (Braff) has a beautiful girlfriend, Jenna (Barrett), that he loves and who loves him. Complication #1 - Jenna is pregnant. Michael and Jenna have decided this is a good thing, and they are going to keep the baby and raise her (it's a girl) together. Complication #2 - the couple goes to a wedding, where Michael meets Kim (Bilson), who for no apparent reason, throws herself shamelessly at him. Kim is about 20 and still in college. Michael is almost 30 and has a baby on the way (a fact he conveniently forgets to tell Kim). Of course, MAJOR complications ensue.

Here's what I think - performances were great. Soundtrack is even better (which I am coming to expect from Braff's films). On the film's Web site, the cast/crew talk about how Garden State (which I loved) was about being confused in your 20s, and how this movie is the next step - being confused in your 30s. My problem with this? I tend to run out of patience with folks who are still confused in their 30s. I mean, GROW UP already. I think your 20s are about exploration, confusion, et al. But by the time you're turning 30, you ought to be mature enough not to go around wounding the people you love. Geez, take a big boy pill. Michael makes a HUGE, STUPID mistake, particularly for someone with a bun in the oven. And he does it knowing totally what he's doing. He DECIDES to hurt someone. And if I were his pregnant girlfriend, I'm not totally sure what I would have done. But it might have involved a sharp knife.

Sooo, check this movie out if you're in your 30s and still confused. But if you've already grown up, check out The Last Kiss soundtrack and rent a different movie.


Over the holidays, I've had the time to watch a few movies that have been on my list. More to come, but the first review is below.

Munich - I have been semi-avoiding this movie for a while because I knew it would not be pleasant to watch. (Terrorism is not the most uplifting topic on which to base a movie. Plus, I'm not a big fan of movie violence. In the theatre, I'm the one cringing with my hands over my eyes, asking, "Is it over yet?") BUT I thought it would probably be a worthwhile movie to watch, and I am personally quite interested in movies about the Israeli-Arab conflict. To recap - the movie deals with the aftermath of the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Germany (hence the film's name). Once the Israeli state learns the full magnitude of the killings, political and defense leaders assemble a team of men to track down and assassinate those responsible for the killings. The movie is about that team of men, what they do, and how it affects them.

While all the performeers were excellent, Eric Bana (the protagonist) was particularly fantastic. Bana plays Avner, the leader of the Israeli team. He is a force to be reckoned with in this film, spinning on a dime from nonchalant to wracked with guilt, coarsely brutal to meltingly tender. I have not seen Bana in many films (although he was the best part of the too-epic Troy), but he was amazing in Munich. Bana captured the two sides of conflict: a man who feels a duty to avenge his countrymen as well as a man who sees the humanity in his enemy. Just great, great work.

The message you come away with in this film - everyone loses. The terrorists killed innocent athletes. The Israeli team is sent to take out the terrorists. But as they track down the men, they realize that even terrorists have their own dreams of a homeland. They have wives, children. And when they kill the men responsible for the Munich murders, new men take their places within the terrorist organization. And the men of the Israeli team are left broken and haunted by what they have done. There is no end, just a violent rabbit hole that keeps on wending its way through the Middle East. I think that anyone who has followed world events would agree that this seems to be an accurate assessment.

This film is definitely worth watching, but it's not popcorn cinema. This film is a great example of how film can be riveting (if not exactly entertaining) and teach you something, make you think, and perhaps even change you.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Come sail away

One of my husband's former co-workers is retiring to sail around the world. No, I am not kidding. They are headed for the Carribbean and Mexico this fall, and they plan to be in Belize later this year. Check out their Web page, which details their plans and the destinations they will visit. I have promised them that if they let Clay and I tag along, we will not take up too much room. And we'll be on our best behavior. Girl Scout's honor.

I am green with envy. BUT I am not an open-water type of girl. I'd stick strictly to sailing up and down coasts, never too far from the sight of land. Something about being adrift with nothing but ocean for miles and miles around gives me the heebie jeebies. I even felt that way on my honeymoon cruise, and we were on a HUGE ship. I like getting away, but not that far away, KWIM?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

101 Things to Do in 1001 Days

Ok, I've always been a list-maker. And I've always been very goal-oriented. Which is why this challenge is practically tailor-made for me.

I'm making my list now, and I'll post it here once it's more complete. Shooting for Jan. 1.

Who's with me? I figure that, even if I don't complete my list, I'll go a ways towards it. And that's better than nothing, right?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sophia's - DIVINE!

Had the chance last night to dine at Sophia's, the restaurant located in the Fairview Inn in downtown Jackson. In a word, FABULOUS!

The restaurant offers a pre-fixed menu of three courses for about $40 (not including wine). Though I ordered off the full menu, that would be a great option. The choices looked very good. I started with a Caesar salad (yum), followed by the smoked chicken penne (tossed with spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and cheese). I ended with quite possibly one of the best key lime pie slices I have ever had the privilege to consume. Washed down with two glasses of wine and a cup of decaf coffee, I was in heaven. Add to that our wide-ranging conversation covering everything from presidential candidates to the merits of household appliances, and you've got a near-perfect evening.

Service was snappy, and the Fairview is BEAUTIFUL when decorated for Christmas. Prices are a little spendy, but totally worth it. Stop by if you haven't already!

You make me happy when skies are gray

Finally got around to watching Little Miss Sunshine, and it was just as good as everyone said it was. The film tells the story of the Hoover family - success-obsessed dad Richard (Greg Kinnear), harried mother Sheryl (Toni Collette), wide-eyed (and completely precious) daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin), suicidal Uncle Frank (Steve Carrell, in a BRILLIANT turn), a heroin-snorting grandpa (Alan Arkin), and (finally) iron-pumping older brother Dwayne, who has taken a vow of silence until he gets into the Air Force Academy. Due to a fluke, little Olive is invited to participate in the hotly contested "Little Miss Sunshine" pageant in California. The family loads into their dated VW van to make the several hundred mile trek to get Olive to the competition on time.

While there is certainly enough plot to go around, this is primarily a character piece. We see Richard realize that his preoccupation with being a "winner" is awfully detrimental and none too forgiving. We watch as Frank copes with being dumped by his lover and surpassed by his professional colleagues. We see Dwayne's dream to be a pilot threatened. And through all of the family's losses, we watch them prop each other up and realize that losing isn't really all that bad, as long as you have some good company.

EVERYONE in the cast brought their A-game, but the two standouts for me were Breslin and Carrell. Breslin was absolutely adorable as little Olive, who has no reason to believe she can't win the pageant. And she is so trusting and vulnerable that I was totally hooked. Carrell as the jilted gay academic proves once again that he is a veritable Proteus. The guy has range. His melancholy recovery from depression is something to see - smart, likable, witty, in other words, someone we really want to keep around. As odd as it sounds, Frank is, in many ways, the straight man of the piece. (Ha!)

At any rate, you will love this movie. I did, and I strongly encourage you to check it out.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Making merry

Went out with Mel (oldest and dearest friend) to Pan Asia, one of my faves, this week. Cashew chicken, martinis, and lots of trash talk. God, I needed that!

When I go there, I usually have the Pan Asia Up, a fruity, girly martini made with pineapple juice, cranberry juice, and vanilla vodka. However, on this occasion, I had the chance to try the Pomegranate Punch (which was GREAT and very Christmasy; plus, pomegranate juice is supposed to be the new super food) and the Tiger Lily (better than I had remembered it). Service, as usual, was great.

Now, while Pan Asia is wonderful, many of you may remember that restaurant that used to occupy the same location - Brick Oven. I have a very nostalgic place in my heart for this restaurant, as the food was fabulous (Italian - YUM) and the atmosphere was warm.

Mel and I waxed nostalgic about their southwestern lasagna and their pasta with prosciutto and peas (a creamy, delicate dish that was worth driving many miles for) before digging into crab and avocado spring rolls.

In an effort to recapture, hubby and I went by Amerigo's for lunch today. But their Straw and Hay lunch dish (the closest thing approximating Brick Oven's heavenly prosciutto pasta) didn't quite match what I recall from Brick Oven. Oh, well. The search goes on . . . .

There could be worse things in life, I suppose!

Bits and pieces

Brian and I saw Lady in the Water, starring Bryce Dallas Howard and Paul Giamatti, last week, and it was pretty dang cool. Kind-of a modern fairy tale, the movie is about Story (the "lady in the water" of the film's title) and her interactions with all of the film's other characters. Story (Howard), a "water-being," is found in the pool of an apartment complex by Cleveland Heep (Giamatti), the complex's repairman. Heep, who has his own secrets/backstory, becomes involved in trying to aid Story in accomplishing her mission (to inspire a human who will go on to do something great) and then returning to her own world.

The film is much about connectedness. Heep discovers that many of the apartment complex residents have a special role to play in Story's mission (with M. Night Shamalayan himself playing one of the largest roles I've seen him take on in one of his own films), and all the residents must work together to help the strange water creature that has stumbled into their midst.

The film also has alot to say about the purpose of the individual - i.e. how we are all searching for our purpose, how we make mistakes, how we sometimes don't realize who we are until the fit hits the shan, how each person has a special importance.

So, in a way, the film is about the critical nature of both knowing who we are as an individual and realizing that we are all interdependent - an indivisible group. The film's characters cannot achieve success unless they all work together.

Giamatti, as usual, gives a great performance. There were a couple of strained moments (which is uncharacteristic of him, I think. He usually makes it look sooooo easy.), but overall, he was fabulous. Howard was wonderful, too, and the quiet, restrained quality she has served her very well in this role (as did her very chiseled face - positively haunting).

While, like most of Shamalayan's films, this one has strong elements of fantasy, I thought it was worth watching. I would not call this my favorite Shamalayan film, though. That would probably be either The Sixth Sense or Signs.

Trivia: the "M" in M. Night Shamalayan stands for Manoj, a Hindu/Indian/Sanskrit name meaning love and springing from the intellect.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Freaky talking heads online

Ok, check this out. At this site, you can create a character, customize a background, and have the virtual representative say anything you wish. You can even tape yourself talking and have YOUR voice come out of the character's mouth. Freaky.

Click here to comment on this Voki.
Get a Voki now!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

All turkeyed out

Okay, it is nearly a week post-Thanksgiving. I think I have had leftover turkey in some form or fashion every day for the past 6 days. It's time for a revolution! Tonight, I will dine on beef. Or veal. Or pork. Or seafood in a delicate garlic cream sauce. But not chicken, because it too closely resembles turkey.

Who knows? I may get the kiddo all swanked up and go OUT.

But no turkey. As God is my witness . . .

And I will never buy a 14-pound turkey AGAIN. EVER.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


I got the chance to see two movies that I think I TiVo'ed AGES ago, two movies that have been collecting dust, waiting patiently for me to get around to them.

Sherrybaby, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, was good but depressing. Sherry Swanson has recenlty been released from jail, where she served time for a drug-related robbery. Once she's released, she contacts her brother, Bobby, who has been keeping her child (Alexis) for her while she's been in the clink. The movie then follows Sherry as she tries to stay clean and put her life back together post-prison. Gyllenhaal is AMAZING in this. Really amazing. (I am a fan since The Secretary, but this cements it.) If anyone has any doubts as to whether she can act, this should answer them. The storyline is a downer, though, as nothing seems to go right for Sherry. The tension between her and her brother over the fate of the child, the vestiges of an abusive relationship with her father, her struggles with addiction, her desperate need to be loved - it all adds up to rather morose entertainment. But it is charged with meaning and blessed with good performances, making it worth seeing in my book. FYI - there is LOTS of language and nudity.

I also had the chance to see Stranger Than Fiction, starring Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and (again) Maggie Gyllenhaal, and I thought it was a delightful, refreshing movie. The story is about Harold Crick (Ferrell), a rather lonely and way too fastidious IRS agent. Harold lives an unremarkable life, ruled by his wristwatch, until one day, he begins hearing a voice in his head (Emma Thompson). The voice quite accurately narrates everything he is doing and thinking. At first, Harold considers this simply a nuisance. That is, until the voice mentions his "imminent death." (That catches his attention.) Harold immediately begins to try and figure out who the voice is and how he can avoid his sad fate. He goes to Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), a literature teacher, for help. Together, he and Jules identify that he's in a tragedy written by a reculsive (and nearly suicidal) author. Harold tracks down his author, introduces himself as her main character, and begs for his life.

When this movie came out, I remember hearing (and thinking) that it sounded eerily reminscent of The Truman Show, but I was wrong, wrong. It is quirkier, and I think ultimately better. It's about the creative process - the author creates a character that is so real, and then she is faced with killing this person. And is she really just writing these novels (in which the main character ALWAYS dies) as a way to deal with her own suicidal tendencies? And, were she to save Harold Crick, what would that mean? Her novel (the story) would fall apart, but Harold would live. I saw a brief interview with the director, and he said he thought the movie was about saving lives - how people save each other's lives every day by doing little things that open up their worlds and encourage people to really live.

It was an interesting, entertaining, superbly-cast film, and I encourage you to see it as soon as possible. Performances are wonderful, script is fresh, and the ideology of it all gives your brain something to chew on for a few days. In addition, some of the cleverest lines I've heard in a while. Rated PG13, this would be a great family movie.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Nanny 911

Just finished reading The Nanny Diaries (by Emma Kraus and Nicola McLaughlin) for our Mississippi Moms Book Club. I know, I know, I'm probably one of the last people in the world to read it. And now I know why. I tend not to like books in which characters just bitch and moan about their sad lot in life, but then do nothing to change what's bothering them. And that, my friends, is my problem with this book.

Nanny (and no, we are never told her real name) is a student at NYU. She nannies on the side to pay bills because the money is good and (get this) she's paid off the books. So, no supporting the ol' American government with her money. She gets a job keeping a sweet kid, Grayer, for the X family. (And no, we're never given a real name for them, either.)

What follows is the adventurous tale of her employment with the X family, the establishment of a close relationship with Grayer, the unreasonable expectations of Mrs. X, the indifference/absence of Mr. X, and then the complications that ensue as the X family begins to fall apart. The whole time, Nanny is allowing herself to be taken advantage of by Mr. and Mrs. X. The whole time, she is complaining (loudly) to her friends about her crappy job. She accepts less pay than originally discussed. She works crazy hours. She hates Mrs. X. And yet, she does nothing about it. She doesn't stand up to Mrs. X. She never gives her a piece of her mind. She never looks for another job. From one persepctive, this could mean that she's trying to protect Grayer and her relationship with him. (If she were to confront Mrs. X, she'd surely be fired.) But in another way, Nanny is just one of the many people who enables Mr. and Mrs. X to neglect their child.

I finished the novel almost as mad at Nanny as I was at the Xes. Kraus and McLaughlin seem determined to inspire sympathy for the Nanny character (and the book jacket lets us know that both of them have put in their time as professional nannies), but I left feeling very little for her. Grayer, however, was a different story. In my opinion, he was the only truly likable character, caught up in a world he had no control over and desperate for love and attention from his own parents.

I give it 2 1/1 stars out of 5.

Ah, to be Patricia Wells . . .

Based on the recommendation of a blogger whose posts I've been reading for a while, I picked up a copy of At Home in Provence, a cookbook by Patricia Wells. Wells is very well-known, with an enviable life spent writing cookibooks, eating French food, and enjoying what sounds like an idyllic farm in the heart of Provence. If you watch Food Network, you've seen her pop in and out of some of your favorite shows. (I particularly remember her guesting on Barefoot Contessa, where she made a delish light lunch.)

Anyway, she writes a mouth-watering preamble to every recipe and provides wine suggestions for main dishes. It's one of the few cookbooks worth actually READING straight through, rather than picking and choosing only the recipes that sound good. Below is the first recipe I've tried from the book.

Turnip and Cumin Puree

2 T. unsalted butter
12 oz. turnips, peeled and cubed
salt to taste
pinch of sugar
1 c. chicken stock
1/2 t. cumin seeds

Heat butter until sizzling in large skillet. Add cubed turnips and salt lightly. Add sugar and saute, tossing, until turnips are lightly browned all over (about 7 minutes). Cover with chicken stock and cook over low heat until almost all liquid has evaporated (about 30 minutes). Transfer to food mill or food processor and puree. Season to taste with cumin.

Ok, I freely admit that I've never been a big turnip eater. It just was never a vegetable that I regularly bought. BUT they were for sale and looking lovely at the farmer's market, so following Janet Fletcher's advice, I bought what looked good and fresh and looked for a recipe later. And you know what? These things are GOOD. Of course, after simmering and browning in butter and chicken stock, almost any veggie can be pretty darn tasty. And the cumin adds a wonderfully smoky note that gives the dish a bit of depth. Wells suggested serving with roast duck, but since I don't often have time these days to both make a new veggie side dish PLUS roast a duck, we served these with boneless pork chops and steamed green veggies.

Based on this recipe's success, I plan on making more dishes from this book as soon as I can!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Too much stuff!

I helped my mother clean out her closet this week, and I came to the trite realization that we all have too much stuff in our lives. So much stuff that we can hardly enjoy the life we have. (Or, as Wordsworth much more eloquently put it, "The world is too much with us.") In one closet alone, we bagged up nearly 8 kitchen garbage bags of things to toss, and two HUGE garden/leaf bags of clothing to give away.

I was so inspired (and appalled) that I came home and went through MY closet. Three bags of "give" clothes later (and a big pile of "maybe" clothes that I can't yet fit into after the pregnancy), I feel purer. And as I look at the piles of stuff everywhere, I wonder how on earth I accumulated all of this. My only comfort is knowing that there ARE people out there who are even worse than me about accumulating things. (Have you seen "Clean House" lately? Eeek!) At the very least, I do tend to purge my belongings once in a while.

And, hey, it's not just me. People have so much junk lying around that we event have a "Clean Out Your Closet Week" (the third week in March, by the way) and a "Clean Off Your Desk Day" (in January).

Consider this blog a call to action to go through your junk and sort it into "garbage," "give," and "keep" piles. I swear, you'll feel lighter.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Motorcycle Mama.

Until about a week ago, I had never ridden a motorcycle. And I'd always wanted to. I have a friend who's got a Harley, and I finally mustered up the courage to ask him to let me tag along for a ride.

We puttered all around downtown Jackson. It was terrifying, but absolutely thrilling!! I admit that I wouldn't let him drive much over 35 mph (I know, I know, I'm a total wuss.), but I have a child, people! I didn't want the little booger to grow up motherless.

I guess I just have a really cautious personality. When hubby and I watch game shows on TV, I'm always the one screaming, "Take the $64,000 and go!" while he's the one urging contestants to go for the million dollar prize.

The pavement was alrmingly close, and it was whizzing by at what felt like a pretty fast pace. It certainly makes you realize the fragility of all your own soft little parts, and of life itself.

BUT I wouldn't trade it for ANYTHING. What a rush! (PLUS, don't I look like a badass in the helmet?! Don't I?!)

Nutty pumpkiny goodness.

Finally got around to trying out one of the best-looking recipes in this month's issue of Cooking Light! I LOVE this magazine, and I've been a subscriber for years. We thought this bread was VERY tasty. Only one caveat - I used a clear glass loaf pan, and both loaves stuck a little to the bottom (not the sides) of the pan. If I made this again with the same pan, I might flour and grease the bottom of it. Just an FYI.

Pecan-Topped Pumpkin Bread


3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (about 15 ounces)
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup egg substitute (I did not have this; I just added another egg.)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
2 large eggs
2/3 cup water
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
Cooking spray
1/3 cup chopped pecans (I added more pecans. I put some in the batter and the rest on the top of the loaf.)

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 6 ingredients (through allspice) in a bowl.

Place sugar, egg substitute, oil, buttermilk, and eggs in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until well blended. Add 2/3 cup water and pumpkin, beating at low speed until blended.

Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Spoon batter into 2 (9 x 5-inch) loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle pecans evenly over batter. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool 10 minutes in pans on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.

2 (generous) loaves; 12 servings per loaf (serving size: 1 slice)

Nutritional Information
CALORIES 198(30% from fat); FAT 6.6g (sat 0.7g,mono 3.6g,poly 1.9g); PROTEIN 3.4g; CHOLESTEROL 18mg; CALCIUM 53mg; SODIUM 287mg; FIBER 1.2g; IRON 1.4mg; CARBOHYDRATE 32.3g

Margaret Patterson, Milton, Florida , Cooking Light, NOVEMBER 2007

Mad for Miseltoe!

The legendary Miseltoe Marketplace has opened in Jackson once again! If you are not aware, Miseltoe Marketplace is a HUGE temporary shopping extravaganza set up in the MS Trademart each year by the Jackson Junior League. The event raises TONS of money for a good cause each year. (This year, it's the soon-to-be-built Mississippi Children's Museum). The event draws about 35,000 shoppers each year from throughout the Southeast, and it is prime picking for Christmas presents and unique items.

I attended the event's preview gala last night, and it was a glorious event! Food by Bravo!/Mangia Bene Catering and Crazy Cat Bakers was divine. Open bars were plentiful. Music was toe-tapping, not a sad rehash of tired Christmas music. And, once again, the League outdid itself with the decorations. I was also very impressed with the merchandise on offer this year. My picks:

Cowboy Country Amaretto Pecan Honey Butter. Oh. My. God. Sold just inside the far left wing of the market. You will SMELL the delicious samples they are offering. I saw people walking out of there with veritable CRATES of this stuff. It is amazing slathered over a hot biscuit, and it tastes like the holidays should - rich, indulgent, and like something special. The two guys selling it (don't know if they are REALLY country boys, or if it is just an act) are a HOOT. $10 a jar, $15 for two jars. My husband very much appreciated this purchase.

Savannah Bee Company Honey. I know, I know. It's two honey posts in a row. BUT the stuff is amazing. They have several varieties, which they allow you to taste at the booth, and I never realized how complex honey could be. Some varieties taste more herbal, some like butter, some are citrusy, others have an almost wine-like warmth. The booth is definitely worth checking out, and the jars of honey are something like $12.

I Just Have to Have It! Nearly everything in this booth was worth buying. Prices were reasonable, and the homewares and jewelry items were FAB. U. LOUS. I bought some CUTE bracelets, but I also came pretty close to buying some more jewelry as well as some fun holiday entertaining serve-ware. (I may very well be going back to this booth. If you beat me there, DO NOT buy the last set of 4 miniature Christmas tree ornaments!! I will come and find you!)

Bottom line - if you are looking for it, it is probably at Miseltoe Marketplace. While the market is usually crowded, buying a ticket to one of the special events, where food is served and free music is available, will probably ensure that you have better access to the merchandise and ease of movement. And, hey, it's for a good cause. The Junior League's last big charity project? The Blair E. Batson Children's Hospital. Yep, the ladies raised enough money to build a hospital. So when they plan something, you better either join in or get the heck out of their way.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Music for . . . children?

When I learned I was pregnant with Clay, I became very interested in children's media. I went on Amazon and ebay to track down alot of the books I read as a child, and I've also been lucky enough to discover some new artists and musicians for the little booger to enjoy. Two of my most treasured discoveries have been the music of Elizabeth Mitchell, who has recorded versions of many classic children's folk songs, and Renee and Jeremy, who recently put out a CD of low-key children's songs.

I love Mitchell's You Are My Little Bird (Clay especially likes "Who's My Pretty Baby?" "Little Bird, Little Bird" and "Little Liza Jane.") and You Are My Flower (We both LOVE "John the Rabbit," "Little Sack of Sugar," and "Freight Train."). We also have You Are My Sunshine, but it's our least favorite Mitchell CD so far. (We bought this one because my grandfather used to sing "Crawdad Hole" to me when I was little, and I was thrilled to have a recording of it.)

Renee and Jeremy released It's a Big World in April, and I found them quite by accident on MySpace. We have sooooo enjoyed this CD; Clay likes almost every song. The lullabies are very sweet and simple, and they are easy to learn. Now that I know them by heart, I often use them myself to sing little bit to sleep. I highly recommend this CD.

I think all the music referenced above is just as enjoyable for adults as it is for children. I have really loved listening to the CDs. You can buy all of these albums on Amazon. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fall. YUM.

Bought a great book this week - Fresh from the Farmers' Market, by Janet Fletcher. It's a cookbook that focuses on fresh, local produce. The recipes are divided seasonally for easy, chronological access. Here's one we made this week:

Apple and Dried Cherry Crisp

1/2 c. pitted dried cherries
2 pounds apples (we used a mix of different varities for more depth of flavor)
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. flour
3 T. brown sugar
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
pinch salt
6 T. butter, in small pieces
1/3 c. old-fashioned rolled oats (I doubled this ingredient; I like LOTS of topping!)
1/2 c. chopped walnuts

Put cherries in a small bowl with just enough water to cover. Let stand 1 hour, then drain.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Quarter, core, and peel the apples. Cut each quarter crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. In a large bowl, combine apple slices and 2 T. granulated sugar. Toss to coat.

Combine flour, remaining 2 T. granulated sugar, borwn sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Mix on low until well blended. Add butter pieces, and mix until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add oatmeal and walnuts and mix until mixture forms clumps.

Layer apples in a 10-inch baking pan, sprinkling cherries evenly between layers. (Make sure no cherries are exposed, or they will burn.) Cover with topping, pressing lightly into an even layer. Bake until topping is browned and filling is bubbly, about 55 minutes.

This recipe was an absolute no-brainer, and we were delighted with the results. It makes a great dessert, and the leftovers are pretty darn good for breakfast, too. (What? It's fruit and oatmeal, isn't it? I'm practically being a SAINT, eating it for breakfast.)

I think Fletcher's point is well-made. It wasn't that the recipe was some revolutionary thing. It's that we went to the farmer's market that day, bought a variety of the freshest seasonal apples we could find, and then didn't screw them up with a crazy, complicated recipe.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Not kidnapped.

No, I have not been kidnapped. BUT I have been busy. Very, very busy. You see, I had a baby. And having a baby, and then caring for said baby, tends to eat up alot of your free time.

However, I have made some decisions to perhaps get some of that time back, and so now here I am again. Let's hope never to disappear again.

Recent thoughts -

I recently had the chance to read Why business people speak like idiots: the bullfighter's guide. WOW. This is one of the most entertaining books about business writing/speaking that I've ever read. The authors do a great job of taking their own advice, writing in fresh, funny, tight prose throughout. And they make excellent points that seem like common sense, but are amazingly overlooked in the business world.

Even cooler, the authors have their own site -, where you can download FREE bullfighter's software. This software can be run on your own writing samples (in Microsoft Word), much like readability statistics programs, to attain the "amount of bull" in your own writing. What a hoot! I am loving it.

Secondly, and I know this is old news, I went to see the latest Harry Potter movie. Nice stuff! AND I happened to hear JK Rowling's latest revelation - that Dumbledore is gay. Although I don't think it is Earth-shaking, I DO think it is a perfectly normal reflection of the world we live in. After all, today's kids are bound to meet gay people in their real lives. It is only natural that they should show up in popular media now and then. And I really liked how it wasn't made much of (or even directly expressed) in the book. It is not WHO he is; it's just something about him. You know? Why can't we all see it like that?

Doing lots of cooking and reading lately. More to come . . .

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sorry for the absence

Sorry I've been MIA so long; it's been crazy! I wanted to pop in with a few reviews on recent movies/books.

I saw Thank You for Smoking a week or so ago, and I LOVED it. The film is about a "spin doctor" for the tobacco industry and his personal/professional journey over the course of several weeks. Nick starts out at the top of his game, suffers what seems to be insurmountable public disgrace, and then miraculously lands back on top. I probably have a keener interest in the subject matter than most because I work in communications, but the way the movie depicts the business of image control is fascinating. Aaron Eckhart plays Nick Naylor, prefessional spokesman for the tabacco industry. Nick is a master of his profession, and he's even better at rationalizing his actions so that he can sleep at night. He's very well-paid for his services, and his colleagues widely consider him to be the best in the business.

Due to a divorce and his desire to spend time with his son, Nick takes the boy on several business-related trips, giving the boy ample time to question his father about the nature of his profession. Nick begins to divulge the secrets of spin to his offspring. I really enjoyed the film's portrayal of Nick's relationship with his son, which played as part touchy-feely, part indoctrination.

The film makes several compelling arguments about the motivation for actions and the freedom of individual choice and responsibility. The plot itself is about argument, about how one uses words, reason, debate, etc., to get the upper hand in the public eye. This is definitely a thinking person's movie, but it is funny and immensely enjoyable if you're willing to make the commitment to listen and think about what you're hearing/seeing.

I also got the chance (FINALLY) to see Casino Royale, the latest in the James Bond series of movies. I personally thought that Daniel Craig did a marvelous job as Bond. I already had alot of respect for him as an actor, and he was utterly convincing as 007. For the most part, I enjoyed this movie. It was interesting to see how James Bond was "created," so to speak, and the filmmakers tried to explain the later character's well-known quirks and trademarks. (For example, Bond allows himself to love a woman in this film, and he gets burned pretty badly, explaining his later preference for shallow relationships rather than deeper ones. Etc., etc.)

The film clipped along pretty well, with some amazing action/chase scenes, until the end. Then, the whole thing just fell apart. Clearly, the filmmakers did not know how or WHEN to end the story, and it just dragged along. It finally died with a whimper rather than a roar. Sooooo, I'd give it 2 or 3 stars. It's worth seeing, but the ending will be a disappointment.

Lastly, I wanted to weigh in on the final Harry Potter book. I picked it up earlier this week and finished it yesterday. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows does a wonderful job of tying up loose ends and bringing the truly epic story of the boy wizard to a satisfactory close. (SPOILER ALERT.) For those of you who have been reading since book 1, you'll recall that at the clase of the last installment in the series, Potter and his friends were charged with finding sand destroying Voldemort's Horcruxes, magical objects into which he'd interred pieces of his own soul, ensuring that he'd live very nearly forever. With Dumbledore dead, Harry, Ron, and Hermione were left to their own wits and powers to accomplish the task and defeat Voldemort. Though long, the book covered ALOT of ground, from the trio's defection from Hogwarts to their destruction of Horcruxes to a final dramatic battle (between the Death Eaters and Dumbledore's Army) on the grounds of the famous wizarding school. Several of the characters we've learned to love throughout the series perished in book 7, and questions regarding the loyalties of Severus Snape were also revealed. I didn't find myself chuckling alot during this volume, but I admit that there were a couple of times that my eyes got a little misty as the characters that I've "gotten to know" were wrapped up.

One caveat - there was a pretty unsatisfactory epilogue at the end of the book, peeking in on a few characters 19 years later. I thought this was best either fleshed out more or deleted all together. Primarily though, I extend my gratitude to J.K. Rowling for not renigging on her promise to deliver 7 books containting a complete story. Other writers who made similar promises, and then saw their books sell millions of copies, EXTENDED their series runs. (A decisions that sorely diappointed this reader. Are you listening, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins?!)

All in all, this was a very gratifying read, and I am happy to know "how it all ends!"

Friday, June 22, 2007

Winged culture

I had the opportunity to check out the new Mississippi Museum of Art this week. WOW. The museum, which opened a scant two weeks ago, is located in the old Mississippi Arts Pavillion, where all those blockbuster foreign exhibits have been held for the past few years.

The old building has had a complete re-do, and it is GORGEOUS. The entrance is preceded by a lovely courtyard featuring fountains, plantings, and areas for small gatherings. The entrance itself is arresting, with an entire glass wall comprising the front of the building, flooding the high atrium with natural light. The large double doors are further emphasized with a high, prow-like cantilevered roof. Very impressive.

Inside, patrons will find the gift shop to the left, a small cafe to the right, and the Mississippi exhibits and permanent collection straight ahead. Down a hallway on the left, visitors can enjoy special traveling exhibits. Right now, "Between God and Man: Angels in Italian Art" is on display. At 150 works, the collection is large enough to be insightful and yet small enough to prevent angel fatigue. The exhibit was curated by the Director General of the Vatican Museums, Dr. Francesco Buranelli, for an exclusive showing at the Mississippi Museum of Art. The collection will be on display through December.

I particularly enjoyed viewing several interpretations of the same Biblical event by different artists working in different time periods. (For example, three treatments, displayed side-by-side, of the sacrifice of Isaac. Fascinating stuff.) In addition, little activity nooks tucked into corners throughout the exhibit encouraged interaction with the art and its themes. The entire display was obviously very carefully planned.

The accompanying audio tour, offering comments from Director Betsy Bradley, the exhibit curator, and a Millsaps College professor, was also helpful. But most of all, it was just nice to look at the variety of art in the exhibit and ponder/notice things for yourself.

I highly recommend checking it out! The museum is now located at 380 South Lamar Street in downtown Jackson. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $6 for students, with children and MMA Members admitted FREE! (Just go ahead and join. It's definitely worth the money.) Group rates are also available. Call 690-1515 for more information!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Third time's not a charm for Spidey

I got the chance to see the third installment of the Spiderman trilogy over the weekend and, I have to say, after seeing the first two movies, I was a bit disappointed by Spiderman 3. A quick plot synopsis: Mary Jane is debuting on Broadway, New York is throwing a Spiderman love-fest, MJ and Peter Parker/Spiderman are deeply in love. Parker is, in fact, planning to propose. However, things begin to go horribly wrong. MJ is fired from her production. Spiderman has the utter stupidity to allow a re-creation of his "big kiss" with MJ in front of half the city of New York, and Harry Osborn decides to exact his revenge on Peter/Spidey for killing his father. In the meantime, the script develops two villans for us: Sandman (played by Thomas Hayden Church) and Venom (played by Topher Grace). On top of all that, Spidey must battle a strange, alien-like goo that makes him a darker version of himself.

Sounds like alot, doesn't it? Well, it is. Too much, I think. I thought that the main problem with this movie is that it tried to do too many things. There were too many villans, and because there were too many, none of them (save Harry) got developed very fully. It might have worked better had Venom not really been a part of this film. Rather, we could have seen the genesis of Venom, but saved his "face off" with Spidey for a later installment. Sandman could have been a compelling character, but was unfortuantely not given enough script/screen time to achieve much traction in the minds of audiences (although the special effects that made this character come to life were completely amazing).

Secondly, there were a few scenes where the moviemakers were trying to show us how the black goo that has infested Peter Parker is changing his personality. Peter dances down the street, making eyes at strange women. He buys a new suit. He takes an acquaintance to a bar where MJ is working and does a ridiculous dance sequence. These scenes were basically horrible and didn't make sense. The creators could have accomplished much the same thing with different scenes that actually carried meaning (i.e. During his fight with Harry, the "changed" Spiderman tells Harry that his father never loved him but, instead, despised him. OUCH. This was not something Peter would have ever said, which conveyed to the audience that Peter had changed. But it MEANT something because it tied into the rest of the storyline and the characters that we all know/love.) I thought it was lazy for them to take the easy way out on this.

Other than those two major gripes, I did enjoy the film. It's difficult, though. The creators of this trilogy have set the bar so high for themselves that it can be difficult to live up to with succesive films. Let's see if they come back for a fourth installment.

Music for the road

A week ago, some friends and I went to see Hank Williams: Lost Highway at New Stage Theatre. We really enjoyed it. The script follows the rise (and fall) of country music legend Hank Williams, dealing with his musical influences, relationships with his band and family, and eventual downward spiral into alcohol and drug abuse.

Randy Noojin was great as Hank Williams, and Bruce Lang, Tony Medlin, Steve Trismen, and Russ Wever were wonderful as the members of Hank's band. The guys all had an eaqsy camaraderie that I thought played very well. Jolyne Shirley was superb as Mama Lilly, stealing most of the scenes she was in.

The costumes (by MaryAnise) were a revelation, and they added SO much to the production. I was very impressed with several of the suits Hank wore, although all the cast members looked pretty perfect for their roles. The music was great, and I even noticed some die-hard Williams fans in the audience singing along!

A couple of notes - I absolutely loved Maurice Turner (Tee-Tot) and Jo Ann Robinson (Waitress) in their roles. Turner in particular was something of a force on stage. However, I was puzzled at the directoral decision to leave these two characters on stage during ALL of the action. It was a bit distracting as an audience member, and as a performer, I imagine it can be quite exhausting. I'm not familiar with whether this choice is stipulated in the script or if it was unique to this production, but I'm not sure I liked it.

Secondly, be aware if you attend this production that there is quite a bit of profanity in it (we are talking about Hank Williams, after all), and that there are several gun shots during the course of the show. Both of these caveats were noted in the program.

You have until June 17 to check it out! Don't miss it! Call 601-948-3533 for tickets!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Of the sea.

I had a special treat this past week. I got a sneak preview of a new restaurant that's opening in Madison. It's called Atlantica, and it's DIVINE! It's upscale and serves primarily steaks and seafood. The restaurant is located in Madison, near the Home Depot shopping center. Just travel west after you get off Interstate 55, and you should see it.

The atmosphere of the restaurant is lovely - dimmed lighting, art on the walls, cushy booths for large groups, and tables scattered throughout. The restaurant features a semi-open kitchen; there's a large picture window on one of the walls through which you can see the chefs preparing your food. I thought this was a nice touch, and I loved "peeping" into the world of a professional chef.

The restaurant also features a glass room lined with wine bottles, and there's one table in the middle of the room that would be wonderful to reserve for special occasions. Lastly, the restaurant features a full bar and an extensive wine list.

The food is YUM. We tried several things:
1.) appetizers - my pick here is the asian shrimp dish. It's rounds of pineapple, with a perfectly cooked shrimp resting on each one. The little packages are coated in a delicious sauce, and the dish comes with a garnish of fried rice noodles that, if eaten, provide a satisfying complementary crunch. I thought this was a highly inventive appetizer, and unlike anything you might order elesewhere in the Jackson area.
2.) salads - the restaurant really shines here. We tried the salad Atlantica and the Boston Bibb salad. Both were exceptional. The salad Atalantica is garnished with pine nuts (which I thought was a great, original touch) and REAL olives - briny, firm, probably imported - not the mushy schlock you get in most restaurants. The Boston Bibb salad was a standout as well, a beautifully presented head of lettuce with blue cheese, tart dressing, and nuts. YUM! Again, what struck me about the salads was their uniqueness. I have eaten at many restuarants in the metro area, and I don't recall much duplication of what I saw at Atlantica. I thought the inventiveness of the menu was a really smart business move for them.
3.) entrees - We tried the filet and the quail, both of which I'd recommend. The filet could be cut with a butter knife. The lump crabmeat that we ordered to top it was delicious. The quail entree featured two perfectly cooked quails along with a side of asparagus risotto. (I'm not sure if the quail will be billed with the rositto once the restaurant opens. They were still testing the menu, I believe.) Excellent. The quail was accompanied by a delicious pomegranate suace, which I requested more of. (I could have eaten a VAT of that stuff.)
4.) dessert - Needless to say, after consuming all of the above, I didn't have room for dessert. So you're on your own there.

Prices are spendy but worth it (and not out of line with what other upscale restuarants in the metro are charging). The restaurant is scheduled to open May 22, so fire up your tastebuds and get ready!!

Monday, May 07, 2007

What I'm eating right now.

Now that spring has sprung, my thoughts turn to food. (Don't tell me you're surprised.) I strongly believe that spring and summer are the best times to eat in the South. The farmer's markets open back up, and they are filled with fresh, local produce. As the summer stretches on, it only gets better.

Plus, with the temperatures getting hotter, one craves lighter fare, making all-day grazing or heavy appetizers a fine replacement for the heavy meals of autumn and winter. It opens up all kinds of new meal-lets.

Here's what's on my plate:

Watermelon (TONS of it)

Asparagus with ranch dressing

My go-to summer salad: halved cherry tomatoes mixed with chopped cucumbers and real mayo (Lots of salt and pepper, eat with crackers)

Those tiny new potatoes, halved and boiled, the drained and dressed with a bit of butter, olive oil, and chopped fresh herbs of choice

Strawberries (This time of year, I love whole wheat toaster waffles topped with light vanilla yogurt and chopped strawberries for breakfast. With a cup of coffee, there is nothing better for a quick weekday breakfast that'll make you feel like you slept in.)

Tomato sandwiches - thin slices of swiss cheese on white bread, slices of ripe tomato, real mayo, and a few spinach or basil leaves. This sounds so simple, but you will think you've died and gone to heaven.

Once the figs are ripe (I'm counting the days.), I love figs stuffed with ricotta, sprinkled with chopped pistachios, and drizzled with honey. OMG.

I intersperse foods like these liberally with smoked almonds (YUM.), whole wheat pita chips, and low-fat cheeses.

I could go on, but the fridge is calling. Happy eating!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Lurching towards a classic

Last week, I got the absolute treat of seeing Moonlight & Magnolias at New Stage Theatre. What a hoot! A friend and I laughed ourselves silly.

Here's the set-up - It's 1936, and David Selznick has halted production of Gone with the Wind three weeks into filming because the script isn't working. He's also fired director Cukor, so now he has a cast under contract and a budget threatening to spiral out of control. To salvage the script, Selznic calls screenwriter Ben Hecht (who, unfortunately, has never read the famous novel). To replace Cukor, Selznick pulls Victor Fleming off The Wizard of Oz.

Desperate to salvage his production, Selznick practically takes Hecht and Fleming hostage in his office for five consecutive days to hammer out the script. The men subsist on peanuts and bananas (which Selznick insists are "brain food"). Because Hecht is unfamiliar with the novel, Selznick and Fleming are forced to act out all of the scenes for him, making for some hilarious pantomime.

The New Stage production was tight as a drum. With a small cast such as this one, every actor gets the chance to flex. The standout was Russ Blackwell as Victor Fleming. He was absolute inspiration, and he knew who his character was from the moment he appeared on stage. (He was also the brightest star in last fall's production of The Crucible. His John Proctor was a revelation.) Turner Crumbley as Selznick and Bill Campbell as Hecht were also very strong, with Francine Thomas Reynolds rounding out the cast as Miss Poppenghul, Selznick's secretary. We SO enjoyed this show; I love productions with smaller casts, as they tend to feature stronger performers overall and better pacing. Scenes in which Fleming and Selznick were acting out events from the book as Hecht struggled to grasp the storyline were particularly enjoyable. If you missed it, YOU MISSED OUT! Sorry for not alerting you to my great experience while it was still running, but I've had a busy week. I do think it's safe to say, though, that if New Stage casts Russ Blackwell in ANYTHING again, it's worth your time to come check out his performance.

On a side note, we enjoyed dinner at an old favorite, Hal and Mal's, before the show. I'd never ordered their fried oyester platter before, so I had no idea how substantial it was. It is HUGE, and plenty to split between two or maybe even three people. YUM!

Lastly, a new publication caught my eye this week. It's a slick, four-color magazine titled Portico Jackson. I thought it was pretty well-written, and it contained some articles on interesting, if not new, topics. As a Jacksonian, I've watched over the past several years as one magazine after another started up and then quickly went out of business. Magazines are tough work. You've got to sell lots of ads, find the best talent (writers and photographers) that you can, and then pray for success. While I think Portico has some good content going for it, it didn't cover any new ground. I'll reserve final judgement until I see more.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Madame Director

At long last, New Stage Theatre has named Francine Thomas as its new artistic director. Bravo!

I first saw Thomas, who has worked as a professional actress and director for more than 18 years, in a production of The Glass Menagerie. She was heartbreaking as Laura. More recent work includes roles in Noises Off and The Skin of our Teeth at New Stage, in addition to a slew of recent directing projects. (I thought she did a great job working with what she had - me- when she directed I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change this past fall. Bless her.) Thomas served as the President of the Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education from 1995 to 1997. She was the Drama Director at Jackson Preparatory School from 1996-2005 and was awarded the Best Director Award at the North Mississippi High School Drama Festival in 1998 and 2000. For a while there, she also ran her own casting company, Connections, in the Jackson area, serving as the locations casting director on several films shot in Mississippi.

At any rate, she is more than qualified in addition to knowing the Jackson market extremely well. I look forward to seeing what she'll do, now that she is at the helm of the only Equity theatre in Mississippi.

Most immediately, the next production at New Stage is Moonlight and Magnolias, a behind-the-scenes comedy about the making of Gone with the Wind. The show runs April 17-29, and tickets may be had by calling the box office at 601-948-3531. Sounds like a good time to me!

Swinging for the fences

Last night, I went to Trustmark Park in Pearl to watch the Mississippi Braves take on the Carolina Mudcats. What fun! The Braves lost (boo. hiss.), but we still had a great time.

If you haven't been to Trustmark Park, I highly recommend going. It's still a pretty new facility, with bathrooms and food vendors galore. It's sized to the market here in Jackson, so you can fill it up without it becoming too crowded. There are two team merchandise shops, a sit-down restaurant, and ample parking at the facility. We loved it.

It had been so long since I'd been to a baseball game; I'd forgotten how much fun it could be. We heckled the opposing team, munched Cracker Jacks, and sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at the top of our lungs. It didn't hurt that the weather was absolutely GORGEOUS, and that we ran into some old friends in the stands. (Now, if only the Braves had WON . . . . ) It was a great night!

Oh I also recently saw Click, starring Adam Sandler. It's a great premise. Michael Newman (Sandler), and overworked architect married to the impossibly beautiful Donna (Kate Beckinsale), heads out to Bed, Bath, and Beyond late one night to pick up a universal remote. He meets the mysterious Morty (Christopher Walken). In a play on words stolen straight from Jay London of "Last Comic Standing 2," Morty takes Michael to the "Beyond" and "Way Beyond" departments of the store, handing him a free, non-returnable universal remote.

Upon returning home, Michael learns that the remote controls alot more than just the television. Pretty soon, he's muting his dog, fast-forwarding through fights with his wife, and skipping pesky illnesses. The problem? The remote begins to learn his preferences, and it starts executing these types of commands on its own based on what he's done before. Pretty soon, Micheal finds himself being fast-forwarded through life, missing all kinds of important moments that he never intended to skip.

I thought this was a very original plot, with fun little joke gems throughout. The movie drags on at the end a bit, laboriously playing out the consequences of Michael's actions before finally allowing him to redeem himself. Other than that brief mire, though, it's good entertainment. Mostly PG, with no nudity and minimal language, this would make a decent film for the entire family. It's no unexpected art-house treasure, but one gets tired of chatty 20-somethings and ambiguous endings at some point, right?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Tastes like spring.

My devotion to Ina Garten, celebrity chef, is well known. Her most recent cookbook, barefoot contessa at home, is a treasure trove of more delicious, simple recipes. We tried one tonight that tastes like spring. Here's the skinny:

Fresh Pea Soup
2 T. unsalted butter
2 c. chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 leeks)
1 c. chopped yellow onion
4 c. chicken stock
5 c. freshly shelled peas or 2 (10 oz.) packages of frozen peas
2/3 c. chopped fresh mint
2 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
1/2 c. creme fraiche
1/2 c. chopped chives

Melt butter in large saucepan; add leeks and onion and cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes. Add chicken stock, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. Add peas and cook 3-5 minutes. Off the heat, add the mint, salt, and pepper.

Puree the soup, either in batches with a blender or using a immersion blender. Whisk in the creme fraiche and chives. Serve.

We LOVED this. I couldn't find creme fraiche, so we used dollops of sour cream on each serving. I worried that the mint might make the dish less savory, but it only imparted a wonderful freshness. This soup would make a delightful first course at a spring lunch. YUM!


Hubby and I went to see the Kessler production of Wonderful Town on Monday night, and we really enjoyed it. I came into the theatre knowing very little about the show, which is unusual for me. Most of the time, I'm familiar with the book and music, so I wasn't sure what to expect from Wonderful Town. A quick synopsis: sisters Eileen and Ruth of Ohio come to New York to try and make it. Ruth, the intellectual, ishoping to write for a newspaper, while the lovely Eileen has her sights set on a performance career. The sisters rent a unpromising cellar apartment and get on with pounding the pavement. Pretty soon, they've made friends, made memories, and made it in New York.

Wonderful Town was written in the early 1950s, and it was based on a collection of stories written in the late 1930s. It very much reflects the sensibilities of a bygone era. Ruth is the smart, but not so pretty sister, who seems to lose men by refusing to minimize her own brainpower. Eileen is the pretty, but dippy, younger sister, who coasts through life on the adoration of men. Sexual innuendo is minimal and innocent, with the girls turning suitors out of their lives for getting fresh.

The absolute standout in the cast was Deborah Lynn as Ruth Sherwood. A versatile actress, she played her voice like an instrument to achieve the desired effect, whether it was smooth ballad style or "hep" scat. In addition, she was confortable enough with movement to be both sultry and hilarious during dance numbers. Lastly, some scenes saw her changing in and out of characters like scarves. Hands down, she was the best performer on stage. One Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man, Conga, and Swing were some of my favorite numbers in the show.

Allison Berry as Eileen was also good. She had a strong soprano voice. However, I thought she threw some of her funniest lines/situational comedy away. But this did not detract from one of my absolute favorite songs in the show - My Darlin' Eileen - in which a group of devoted Irish policemen serenade the lovely girl to show their affection. SO CUTE!!

I felt that Matthew Sean Callahan, playing newspaper editor Bob Baker (who later falls in love with Ruth), was more of a singer than an actor. His movement work was minimal, and most songs were sung straight out to the house with little internal motivation or emotional inflection. He has a wonderful singing voice, to be sure, but I would have loved to hear more of the inner workings of the character in it.

Trey Mitchell, playing Eileen's Walgreens suitor Frank, was another standout. With few lines and no songs, he managed to milk his role for every laugh it was worth. I enjoyed watching him.

Costumes were cute and fun, sets were versatile and workable. I REALLY enjoyed the choreography at the top of the Swing number, when two couples dancing in a club do some of the steamiest (not raunchiest) movement work I've seen in a while. I'm assuming this is the original choreography by Kathleen Marshall, but it may bear influence of co-dance captains Andy Bero and Beth Crandall. Whoever was responsible, they deserve a pat on the back.

All in all, though the book and songs are a bit dated, it was a great show!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Did it Deliver?

I went out last night, enjoying a mezze of appetizers at Keifer's with a fried before attending the Ballet Magnificat! performance of Deliver Us! Dinner was wonderful - a seat outside in the gorgeous spring air, a table full of small plates (pita feta, hummus, cucumber and onion salad), and a glass of lemonade. We ate, talked, soaked up the sunshine.

Once we'd had our fill, we headed over to Thalia Mara Hall for the performance. The first half of the program, titled Freedom, is inspired by 2 Chronicles 20. The pieces therein are set to Irish-inspired music. Although there were some jumps that weren't landed solidly, a few odd extensions, and one shaky lift, all in all this portion of the program was BEAUTIFULLY done. Wonderful music and costumes, very well-rehearsed dancers, great music and production values. I really enjoyed it. And you've got to give props to company founder Kathy Thibodeaux. The woman is somewhere over 50, and she's still out there, cutting the mustard with all of those dancers half her age. PLUS she handles all the extra duties of choreography, company management, etc. The woman's a wonder.

After a brief intermission, the Deliver Us! section of the program was underway. This program wisely uses music from the Dreamworks production of "The Prince of Egypt," and the high quality of the music definitely adds oomph to the familiar story of Moses. I was very impressed with all of the pieces early in the program. The costumes were beautiful, the dancers looked fabulous, and the pieces were emotionally moving.

There were a few things that didn't work for me towards the end, though, as sometimes happens when I attend Ballet Mag productions. First of all, in "The Burning Bush" piece, in which Moses literally sees a physical manifestation of God, there was a fabulous prop used to signify the burming bush (which I LOVED). In addition, one dancer, dressed in bright red, yellow, and orange, stood in for flame as God's voice came over the theatre's sound system. What I would have changed - God's voice was one voice. I much preferred the treatment in the Prince of Egypt movie, in which God's voice was many voices. I think this choice would have better conveyed God as an all-encompassing entity, rather than just a white guy's voice coming over the loudspeaker. Secondly, I felt that perhaps three dancers should have been used to signify the flames. It would have given them more choreographic options (as opposed to the one lonely girl, shaking her arms wildly quite a bit), and they could have all interacted with Moses more directly. Also, it might have been nice to have streams red/orange/yellow of fabric hanging from their wrists, as it would have produced a more "flame-like" effect. Why am I nitpicking this? Well, this is God we are talking about here. And as my companion mentioned, if there's anytime to go over the top, this is it.

The remaining pieces (Playing with the Big Boys, Plagues, Passover, and When You Believe) were all very well done, with Passover being particularly moving for me. However, then the show took an odd turn. With no explanation, we jump forward nearly 1500 years to the crucifixion scene. Wha? Where was the parting of the Red Sea, the wandering in the desert, the Ten Commandments? While I understand that communicating the message of Christ is a mission of Ballet Magnificat!, the audience and the production were quite underserved, I felt, by skipping out on the rest of the Moses story. I think some highly arresting and inventive things could have been done with the portions of the story that were left untold. Boo. Hiss.

Anyway, other than that, I really enoyed it. Up next, a review from the Wonderful Town performance, scheduled for tomorrow night.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Upcoming events in Jackson

Just a quick note about some upcoming events:

Ballet Magnificat! of Jackson will present Deliver Us, which dramatizes the story of Moses, at 7 p.m. on March 24 and 2 p.m. on March 25 at Thalia Mara Hall. Tickets range from $10 to $30, and you can find out more by calling 601-977-1001 or visiting the company's Web site. The show is set to the music of Dreamworks' "The Prince of Egypt," and is highly dramatic. I have tickets for the evening of March 24, and I am heartily looking forward to it.

Also, another Kessler production is coming up. Wonderful Town tells the story of two sisters, Ruth and Eileen. They're fresh off the bus from Ohio, ready to follow their dreams, fall in love and take New York by storm. Thought I'm not familiar with the show, it sound slike a good time. Score by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green and book by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov. I have great seats and can't wait! It's not too late to get tickets; the show runs March 26 and 27 at Thalia Mara Hall. Call 601-960-1535 (M-F, 9 a.m.- 4 p.m.) to see what's still available.

Retail damage in Birmingham

I spent the past weekend in Birmingham, doing major retail damage in honor of my 30th birthday. To clarify - I turned 30 in January, and one of my closest friends will turn 30 in May. We decided to split the difference and choose March as the month for our 30th Birthday Throwdown.

First of all, we got a room at the Birmingham Mariott. Why, you ask? Frankly, it's one of the closest hotels to The Summit, and huge shopping complex with oodles of stores that we don't have in Jackson - Saks, Swoozie's, Private Gallery, Anthropologie, the list goes on (and on and on). We spent about a day and a half combing the place, snapping up deals and splurging on to-die-for clothing and acessories. I shopped until my feet ached, until I began wandering the parking lot in a credit card-induced coma, wondering where I'd parked my car or even if I'd driven myself there at all. It was pure bliss.

And how did we fuel such shopping frenzy? We ate at The Highlands, of course. A fabulous restaurant owned by award-winning chef Frank Stitts, The Highlands can sometimes be a difficult place to get into. On previous trips to Brimingham, I'd been unable to secure a reservation. However, by calling about a month in advance, I scored us a cozy table for Friday night. We started with the frito misto, a gorgeous plate of fried assorted seafood and vegetables. Most of the items were fried in a light tempura batter, which kept the dish from being too heavy. In addition, several inventive items, such as fennel, red bell pepper and even sliced lemon, were fried as part of the mix, providing interesting little surprises throughout the dish. (The fennel was divine.) The remoulade sauce served with this dish is almost worth killing for.

I followed the appetizer with a perfectly cooked lamb loin, served on a bed of amazing and original asparagus, sugar snap, and sweet pea farro "risotto." What was even better was that there was almost EXACTLY enough of the "risotto" to have a bit accompany each bite of lamb. Attention to detail, I'm tellin' ya'!

To finish, I ordered the almond dacquoise, a creamy concoction of buttercream, almonds, and cake. What a wonderful end to a wonderful meal.

Service was unsurpassed, with our friendly server providing guidance and recommendations from the menu as well as prompt attention to all of our needs. The restaurant itself is cozy and warm-feeling, although I don't advise a trip to the bathroom (located at the top of some rather steep stairs) after a few drinks.

Other pursuits in Birmingham included a visit to Whole Foods, a FABULOUS organic grocery chain. The Birmingham store had just opened (Feb. 28), and I was duly impressed with its design, product line and amazing execution of concept. There was a gorgeous cheese counter with varieties I'd never seen, an extensive wine shop, a sit-down eatery, a mouth-watering bakery (with beautiful and delicious artisanal breads, pastries, and chocolates - yes, I sampled), and a fairly comprehensive vitamins collection for customers to peruse. And the place was PACKED; people were buzzing around everywhere, buying everything they could get their hands on. I think there is an enormous pent-up demand for organic products in the South. I hear that the chain may be looking to open a store in the Jackson area. I can only hope and pray the powers that be decide it's good business sense. I would certainly become a loyal shopper. There's a vacant grocery building not far from my house . . . .

Lest you think we did nothing more redeeming than shopping and eating, we also hiked in Oak Mountain State Park, which is very well maintained and just plain gorgeous. We tried out the Treetops Trail, where you can see all manner of birds, then took the trail the rest of the way to the Wildlife Center. One of the functions of the center is to serve as a "hospital" for injured and baby animals that have been abandoned or had their habitats destroyed. We loved looking at the baby squirrels, the teeny baby chipmunk, the little bunnies, and all of the other temporary residents. The next time I'm in Birmingham, I will definitely return. The park offers horseback riding and paddleboating as well, and we didn't even scratch the surface of the trails available.

All in all, it was a very pleasurable trip.

Well, that's an understatement.

I can hardly wait to go back!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Life on camera

Well, I had a camera crew in my house this week. I was coordinating and video project at work, and we needed a house where we could shoot both interior and exterior footage. Almost before thinking, I volunteered my house. I immediately began re-considering the sanity of such an offer, but it was too late to back out.

Part of me was sure that the director would come out to scout the location and say, "This place is a dump! There's no WAY we're shooting here!" However, he seemed to think it would be all right, and everything was set for Thursday morning. On Thursday morning, a big white van, several cars, and a HUGE truck full of equipment arrived. Yikes. Men tromped through my house with BIG lights, screens, cameras, and other paraphenalia. I think my electrical circuit got tripped a few times. People were running around, hoisting equipment and eating doughnuts. I alternated between hoping that these guys didn't trash the place and praying that the cameras didn't pick up the cobwebs in the corner or my shoddy drywall patch job.

We shot a few hours of video before the crew decided they had what they needed. Then, like bedouins in the desert, they packed up their gear and disappeared. After I swept the kitchen floor, it was as if they'd never arrived. A place for everything, and everything in its place.

Of course, I did notice later that they left a large black screen on some kind of heavy-duty metal stand in the back yard. I imagine it'll make a great screen for my sun-weary camelias this summer . . .

Written in the stars

I got the chance to see the touring Kessler production of Aida last week, and it was an enjoyable enough evening.

First, a quick synopsis - Aida, princess of Nubia, is captured by Egyptian general Radames, who's engaged to Egyptian princess Amneris. Knowing she'd be a prime bargaining chip in Egypt's campaign against Nubia, Aida keeps her identity secret. Ignorant Aida's true stature, Radames presents Aida as a slave to his betrothed. Radames finds himself drawn to the oddly regal slave, and the two fall in love. Amneris discovers the deception, and the two star-crossed lovers are buried alive as punishment. (Cheery, huh?)

Several things - first of all, this is a fairly contemporary musical, with book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls, and David Henry Hwang. Music is by pop legend Elton John. In a way, I think this musical strives to be a blockbuster affair, like one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's productions. Epic, sweeping, you get the idea. The problem was, it never got there for me. It seemed awfully preachy at times, and it never felt truly "epic" the way Webber's stories do.

The performances were good but not great, with the lead characters displaying more vocal range than acting ability. The two standouts were Leah Allers as Amneris and Dane Harrington Joseph as Mereb. Allers displayed both emotional and vocal dexterity, switching nimbly from over-the-top fashionista to betrayed lover. Joseph's all-too-brief songs were filled with emotion, and I particularly appreciated his understated but moving death scene.

All in all, an enjoyable evening, but it would have been so much more if the leads had been on their game.

Of note

I recently had the chance to see two films - one was a happy accident, and the other was one I'd been wanting to see for a long time.

I stumbled upon The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio totally by accident. I'm a fan of Julianne Moore, though, and the opening credits looked fun, so I thought I'd give it a shot. Glad I did. Moore is, as always, wonderful in it, and it was definitely worth watching. In a nutshell, Evelyn Ryan (Moore), Catholic housewife and mother on TEN children, has a way with words. She's married to luckless, alcoholic Kelly Ryan (played pitch-perfect by Woody Harrelson), who drinks away the money he makes as a machinist in a local factory. For fun, and to help make ends meet, Evelyn participates in national contests for jingles, rhymes, and other marketing mumbo jumbo. And she's good, too. Her winnings make up the down payment on the Ryan house and also include cars, kitchen appliances, supermarket sweeps, and more. Frustrated Kelly is by turns resentful and amazed at his wife's prowess as she neatly feeds and cares for their brood. The movie is based on a true story, and for the most part, it's a feel-good family flick.

Moore and Harrelson are the true stars of the film, and I don't know which one is better. Moore's character is imminently sympathetic, maintaining a good attitude and a can-do spirit in spite of her husband's failings. In contrast, Harrelson is masterful as Kelly, a good-natured but weak man who can't seem to succeed. He is torn - his status as sole provider is consistently challenged, making him defensive. However, at heart, the viewer does feel that he loves his wife implicitly and admires (indeed, depends on) her resourcefulness.

I also FINALLY got around to watching Good Night, and Good Luck, starring David Strathairn, George Clooney, and Robert Downey Jr. Very impressive. First of all, the black and white film lends the movie a nostalgia that is difficult to describe. The cigarette smoke alone deserved an Oscar nomination.

The movie tells the story of Edward R. Murrow's stand against Senator Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s. Murrow (Strathairn), together with Fred Friendly (Clooney) was one of the few who publicly stood against McCarthy and pointed out the holes in the search for closet communists. The film itself is a fascinating look at the role of the media in American democracy, the obligation of the fourth estate to serve as a watchdog on our government. It is almost as if the filmmakers were asking us to LOOK at our media, at how far it has sunk. There was a time, apparently, when news was about more than ratings. It's a pity that time has past. I imagine that much of Strathairn's "on camera" script was verbatim, and it was pure poetry. Newscasters no longer speak with such eloquence nor demand so much (intellectually) from their audience. It was yet another eye-opening moment.

The film also explored the damaging effects of public opinion, particularly in the case of Don Hollenbeck, played expertly by Ray Wise. Hollenbeck, once in McCarthy's sights, is a doomed man. Although he tries to refute accusations made against him, he eventually commits suicide rather than face continuing public shame.

The soundtrack is smooth and instrumental, indicative of the time. And the film had an interesting topic for me, considering my profession. (When in grad school, we studied some of the research that Fred Friendly produced while at Columbia. Interesting stuff.) I highly recommend this film.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Positively dreamy.

About a week ago, I had the opportunity to see the movie Dreamgirls. WOW. A quick synopsis - three young girls (played by Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, and Anika Noni Rose) compete in a local talent competiton, where they are noticed by recording artist Jimmy Early (Eddie Murphy) and car dealership owner Curtis Taylor (Jamie Foxx). The girls sign on to sing backup for Early, with Taylor coming on as a manager of sorts. Together, they begin to forge a professional career using talent and payola (courtesy of the car dealership's profits). Once the girls decide to sing as their own group, Taylor chooses the beautiful Deena (Knowles) to sing lead, even though hefty Effie (Hudson) has the real voice. Effie, who is sleeping with Taylor by this time, rebels and is eventually kicked out of the group. The movie then follows the "DreamGirls" as they enjoy professional success and Effie as she struggles through life.

First of all, the clear standout of the cast is Jennifer Hudson as Effie White. Granted, the part is written for her to steal the show, BUT Hudson is so amazing, particularly when she's singing, that she truly leaves the other cast members in the dust. She absolutely mops the floor with Beyonce, and Beyonce can sing. What sets Hudson apart is that, not only can she sing, the girl can ACT. She means every syllable that comes out of her mouth, and she is particularly arresting because her amazing voice is coupled with true feeling for the words she's singing.

The other real gem in this movie is Eddie Murphy, who plays Jimmy Early. He does a great job during his musical numbers, and (especially towards the end) he proves to us again that he can really act. Beyonce Knowles holds her own, but you can definitely tell that she's one of the less experienced actors in the cast.

The film recently won a boatload of Golden Globes; expect it to be an Oscar contender. In the meantime, if you haven't seen it, get yourself a ticket.

10 lashes with a wet noodle.

Okay, I haven't posted in AGES. Ten lashes with a wet noodle for me. But I have been busy. Very busy, I tell you!

I did finish reading Naked by David Sedaris. I thought it was funny, especially the essays about his experiences at a nudist camp/resort. However, of all the Sedaris books I've read, I laughed hardest at Me Talk Pretty One Day. So, if you're interested in checking him out, I highly recommend that you start there.

Secondly, I went to see the Kessler production of The Producers. What fun! I really enjoyed this show, particularly Jason Simon, who played Max Bialystock. (He'd previously played the cowardly lion in a touring production of The Wizard of Oz, and you could see alot of the lion in his Bialystock character.) I personally thought that Austin Owen, who played Leo Bloom, did a better job than Matthew Broderick did in the movie version of this show. John West, as over-the-top Carmen Ghia, pushed his type to the limit. While some moments seemed very forced, other touches were pure genius. We had great seats (row K, center section), so we really got a good look at the production. Over all, I was very impressed. We laughed like hell and enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Oh, I also saw the movie Nanny Mcphee, starring Emma Thompson. What fun!! I SO enjoyed this fresh take on a rather un-Mary-Poppins-like nanny who whips seven (that's right, SEVEN) rebellious children into shape. First of all, good for Emma Thompson, who doesn't mind donning a few warts and a fat suit to make Nanny McPhee all that she should be. The kids are adorable, Colin Firth (as their bumbling father) is endearing, and Nanny McPhee walks off with the whole show. As an added bonus, Angela Lansbury gives a hilarious supporting performance as the children's crotchety great aunt. This is a fun family film, but it is also entertaining for adults. Two thumbs up!

Upcoming - The Mississippi Symphony Orchestra will be presenting Mozart by Candlelight next weekend (Saturday, January 27), and I know I'M planning on being there. Tickets are only $15, and the performance will be presented at 7:30 p.m. at Belhaven's Center for the Arts.

In addition, New Stage Theatre will present The Good Thief, a fast-paced Irish crime story by two-time Tony nominee Conor McPherson, at the end of January. The show is billed as a violent rollercoaster in which a petty thug recounts his final, bloody job. (Think Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas and The Departed.) The play, a one-man-show, features actor Chris Roebuck (who I think is ready to carry a show on his own in this town) and is directed by Turner Crumbley (who we loved as Bob Cratchit in this year's A Christmas Carol.) Performance dates are January 27 at 10:00 p.m., January 28 at 7:30 p.m., and January 29 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are a mere $5 (cash/check at door). I'm SO GLAD they are working in some earlier performance times for this show. Usually, shows that are not on the mainstage at this theatre are not presented until at least 10 p.m. in the Hewes Room (at which time, quite frankyl, I am either asleep or well on my way there). I say good for them for offering the Jackson theatregoer a few options.