December 24, 2008
Allison and I make Pizza PiesAllison and I had our second cooking experience together -- part two in our continued experiment to make me into good boyfriend potential. I didn't have any fun photos of our cooking experience this time, so I made this cartoon of us with our finished pizzas (which in reality would have been too hot to hold with our bare hands).
Its now been over a week so I apologize for being behind the curve here. We combined our second lesson with a Christmas dinner we were going to anyways. When wondering what to make I had an idea to make a Snowman pizza by combining three different sized pizzas and using toppings to simulate buttons and a mouth made out of coal. It didn't really work out since we ended up with a couple of rectangle shaped pizzas and not enough toppings, but it was lots of fun just the same (although I still want to make that snow man pizza someday!)
Ingredients: 3 bags of pre-made pizza dough (only 99 cents each at Trader Joe's), two cans of marinara sauce (its cheaper and works just as well as pizza sauce), a block of mozarella cheese cut into round slices, some toppings of your choice (we used some bazel leaves and Allison already had some mushrooms)
Instructions (so easy!):
-preheat oven to what ever temperature the pre-made pizza dough suggests.
-spay a cooking sheet or pizza pan with non-stick spray.
-roll out the pre-made pizza dough onto cooking pan until its flat.
-spread marinara sauce onto raw dough.
-cut up slices of mozarella cheese and cover the pizzas.
-add whatever toppings you desire.
-put into oven and cook until crust starts to turn golden
-there you have it: a delicious pizza you designed!
Its very easy and very delicious. It was way better (and cheaper) than the frozen pizza's I'm used to cooking. I think Allison was very pleased with our pizza pies!
We tried to get together last week for a third date, I mean lesson, but due to all the holiday pandemonium our schedules didn't really work out but we did hang out and Allison gave me a spice rack for Christmas. How sweet! I can't wait to use it to continue to make lots of delicious dinners with her!
Click here to read about our first experience cooking and get a recipe for some tasty Pad Thai!
Labels: Allison teaches Jon how to cook
Too cute not to share...Most of my friends seem to have babies now and as such: baby blogs! This interaction is priceless!!!
Labels: baby battles
Flight of the Conchords - Season 2If you're huge fan of Flight of the Conchords as I am, then the news that a season 2 is quickly approaching is great news. You can watch the first episode (sadly in the US only) now at funnyordie.com. Click here for larger size. But please please please, if you haven't already seen season one, watch that first!
Best Movies of 2008Every year David Edelstein, movie critique for NPR's Fresh Air and New York Magazine, puts out a 10-best list in movies (and is usually a couple more than 10) which is something I look forward to. Click here to see his list for 2008 and listen to his comentary about this year's best and worst. Also you can click here to see his list for 2007, and here for the commentary for that year. Or here for his list for 2006.
So I was going to make a list of my own 10 favorites from 2008 but looking back I could only think of about five. So I have a 5 best...plus some.
I should be honest though, I still haven't had a chance to see what will probably be considered some of this year's best; such as Slumdog Millionairs (IMDb), or Aronofsky's The Wrestler (IMDb), not to mention Charlie Kauffman's directing debut in Synecdoche, New York (IMDb).
So without furthur ado...
#5 Cloverfield (IMDb) probably wouldn't be on a lot of people's best movies lists but I thought that although it wasn't a great movie in a typical sense, it was really interesting idea for a film and where Cloverfield really thrived was in the online community that developed around it thanks to the genius of its viral marketing. If nothing else, it may have served as a cheap way to bring in cash for Bad Robot's next big screen project, the rebirth of the original Star Trek (IMDb), which is one of my most anticipated films for 2009 just slightly behind Watchmen (IMDb).
#4 Be Kind Rewind (IMDb) is not as amazing as Michel Gondry's previous two films Eternal Sunshine of the Soptless Mind (IMDb), and The Science of Sleep (IMDb), but it is one of the more uplifting movies from last year, and it has a lot of quirky humor that I enjoyed. The chemistry between Jack Black and Mos Def is perfect. The premise is simple – Mos Def's character is responsible for running a VHS movie rental shop owned by a character played by an aloof and suspicious Danny Glover. Mos Def's best friend is played by Jack Black who after becoming magnified accidentally erases the content of all the stores VHS tapes. Their solution is to film over the blank tapes with their own very-low budget versions of the erased films. This seems exactly like territory where Gondry's talent for creative real special effects would shine, and it does, but my only wish is that there would have been more film parodies.
#3 The Dark Knight (IMDb) -- a sequel to Batman Begins (IMDb) which itself was a restart to the series, was probably the number one film I was looking forward to this year, and I have to say that it packed a solid punch. Especially the first two-thirds of it. The final confrontation of the movie seemed a bit underwhelming to me, but I can live with that because of the excellence of the beginning.
#2 Sweeney Todd (IMDb) -- came out in '07 but I missed it until it came out on DVD. Tim Burton and Johnny Dep go together like PB an J. Usually musicals don't appeal to me very much but this humorous and surprisingly bloody movie is brilliant. It goes right up there as one of my favorite of Tim Burton's films.
#1 The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (IMDb) -- again, technically this was a film released in '07 but since I failed to see it until this year I'm listing it in my favorites for this year, not only that, it was my favorite film of the year. Based on a true story about the editor for the French magazine Elle, Jean-Dominique Bauby – the film begins the moment he regains consciousness after a massive stroke leaving his only way to communicate with the world by blinking his left eye. The Diving Bell is a movie that reminds you why you should be appreciative of life, which is a characteristic I really love in movies. I felt the same way after watching The Shawshank Redemption. Max Von Sydow who is I think a very under-appreciated actor who turns up in a lot of unique movies (Strange Brew, Minority Report, and Dune to name a few) is amazing as the protagonist's father in this film.
Since I'm running short on films to include for this year, I want to re-recommend some from last years' list- they include:
Lars and the Real Girl (IMDb) -- I found this to be a really touching and uplifting comedy about a small town coming together to support someone with a mental illness. I would list this in my favorite films of all time.
With all the attention Christian Bale is getting as the Caped Crusader in the The Dark Knight, I want to suggest seeing Rescue Dawn (IMDb). If you've missed this film you're in for a unique war movie experience. Not only is it based on a true story, its directed by a well-known German documentary film-maker Werner Herzog who had previously made a documentary film, Little Deiter Needs to Fly (IMDb), about this exact story ten years prior – Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, and Jeremy Davis are excellent.
Some other movies that were entertaining this year include: Iron Man (IMDb), Rambo (IMDb) (the 4th installment, rumor is they're working on a 5th that would finish the series back in America), and The Happening (IMDb). I would warn though that both Rambo and The Happening are excessively violent films. RocknRolla (IMDb), the lastest Guy Ritchie film will appeal to fans of his previous British gangster films (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (IMDb), and Snatch (IMDb)). Quantun of Solace (IMDb) is pretty decent action film although definitely not as noteworthy the 007 film it follows, Casino Royale (IMDb).
Big Disappointments: Two movies you can avoid all together are the latest Indiana Jones (IMDb) film and The Day the Earth Stood Still (IMDb) which are both whopping failures. Indiana Jones 4 was so bad someone I know told me it spawned a new phrase amongst movie fans called “nuking the fridge” which is a reference to a part in the movie I enjoyed the most (as far-fetched as it is) when Indy survives a nuclear explosion by climbing into a lead-lined fridge.
For my best of 2007 list click here, or my best of 2006 list click here.
December 23, 2008
Habitat for HuffmanityToday I turned in my work keys. Last Saturday was my last day on the clock for Habitat. Now this thing that has been such a huge part of my life for the last two and a half years is part of my past. It's strange to know that I'm finished with Habitat. And while I'm not so sure what I will do next with my life I'm happy I've had the opportunity to be part of such a great organization.
Last September I reflected on my time in construction (and I've posted about the AmeriCorps Build-a-thon and JCWP as well). Since September I've worked on 4 more houses, bringing the total to 14. Of course we all helped out wherever needed so I've been all around Charlotte working in Habitat homes working on everything from pouring the foundations, to framing, roofing, drywall, and so on. What I'll miss most of all is the excellent group of people I had the privilege of working with.
December 22, 2008
Holiday (and Upcoming) Movies
One of my favorite things about the Holidays is the many movie possibilities usually available. It was great the few years when there was either a Lord of the Rings or a Harry Potter film to choose from.
Right now there are a few options: You can save your money on The Day The Earth Stood Still (see below for reasons why). If you can find a theater showing RocknRolla (IMDb) and you've enjoyed past Guy Ritchie British gangster movies I would recommend seeing it. Quantum of Solace (IMDb) is a direct sequel to Casino Royal and second film to cast Danial Craig as 007. Although not as excellent as Casino Royal, it was still worth watching, especially if you liked Casino Royal.
I was really looking forward to the reincarnation of Star Trek that originally was set to release Christmas day 2008. Alas, it has been pushed back to May 9th. This will be either a total restart of the original, or at least a prequel to the original television series. Aside from awesome looking special effects, one aspect this project that excited me is the casting of Simon Pegg as the character Scotty who you would recognize as Shaun from the excellent Shaun of the Dead. Also, while all of the characters are cast with younger actors for obvious reasons, Leonard Nimoy is reprising his role as an aged Spock (perhaps by way of a flashback or other plot devise).
The film I'm most interested in this Christmas is The Spirit (IMDb). The trailer for The Spirit sort of caught me off guard since all my attention has been focused on The Watchmen. The Spirit is directed by, although not originally written by, talented graphic novelist Frank Miller -- who wrote the graphic novels which have become the films Sin City and 300. From a comic series from the 1940s, the film's style looks very similar to the animated style of Sin City. I don't know much about the story, but I imagine it will have all the traditional hard-boiled crime story themes, and film noir elements...a conflicted love story, a hero with an unyielding and confusing sense of justice, etc. (Scarlett Johansson as a bad-girl is also quite intriguing.)
Miller's 300 was directed by Zach Snyder who is behind the lens in the much-anticipated The Watchmen (IMDb), which is set for a March 6th 2009 opening. One of the more amazing aspects of The Watchmen is that now that its finally being created for the screen (there have been several prior attempts) the film makers are not only striving to recreate an authentic 1980s atmosphere, which itself is would be challenging, but an alternative one at that, where superheros are real and as such all other facets of that time are skewed, with odd historical similarities (I remember noticing when I read The Watchmen somewhere a sign for “RR for President,” but instead of being for the actor Ronald Reagan, it was for actor Robert Redford). Interestingly, one of the two writer/artists behind Watchmen, Moore has argued that graphic novels are not meant for the cinematic medium because it takes in-depth examination of each cell in the story to fully interpret all of its details and meanings. To Snyder's credit, from the trailers it appears that he has done as well as could be expected in replicating the elements within Watchmen. After Watchmen, according to the IMDb, Snyder has a few interesting projects on the way...including: a sequel/remake to the animated cult hit Heavy Metal in 2010, and a film version of the comic series Cobalt-60. Although, since story elements of the comic Cobalt-60 were incorporated into the Heavy Metal magazine, perhaps these separate projects are really one in the same.
Another film opening Christmas day possibly worth seeing is The Valkyrie (IMDb) -- based on a true story about an insurrection of German soldiers against their leaders during WWII. It seems a little silly to me that, judging only from the trailer, there is no attempt at having the characters use a German accent.
I'm much more excited for another WWII era film coming out soon called Defiance (IMDb) (staring Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber), directed by Edward Zwick who is gifted at bringing true stories of war to the screen, such as: Glory, and The Last Samurai. Defiance is based on a true story of three Russian Jewish brothers who led a rebellion against German soldiers while taking refuge in the forest. Defiance is set to open January 16th 2008.
Another movie I'm really excited about (set to open the same day as Defiance) is the new film by Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino (IMDb). Imagine all the grit of a hard-ass retired Dirty Harry in front of the lens, with the refined genius of Clint Eastwood as a director behind the lens.
I just went to see The Day The Earth Stood Still (IMDb), which looked very fascinating in the trailer, but overall left me feeling disapointed and slightly bored. The story was bland and unconvincing, but what irritated me the most about about TDTESS was the extremely obvious product placement thoroughout the film – from particular brands of phones, watches, fast food, cars and so on. There was nothing subtle about it. Movie editors take note: cool it on the over-the-top painfully obvious product placement. Just because the economy is terrible and nobody is buying anything doesn't excuse your excessive assault on our subconsciousness. No one wants to sit through a two-hour action-justified infomercial. These products must exist in a realistic film, sure, but when the camera hesitates a moment to give you a close-up glimpse of the sleek new phone and watch being used by the protagonist, it's more than a little heavy-handed. Not only that, this is in a film that already has a heavy-handed message about how the excesses of consumerism and so forth having brought an alien species to destroy humanity in order to save the planet. A little contradictory, eh? So, I recommend saving your money and waiting for this film to come out on dvd. Last winter's I Am Legend was a much more thrilling and emotional film by comparison.
Look below for trailers at Apple for some of the more exciting films I'm looking forward to:
For my list of upcoming films check my movie calendar page
December 8, 2008
Allison and I make Happy ThaiAllison and I came up with a plan to enhance my chances of someday finding a girlfriend with her help teaching me how to cook for vegetarians (she's a vegetarian). And because if I can cook for a vegetarian girlfriend, I should be able to cook for any girlfriend! Right? So from now on every week I'm going to cook Allison dinner. (I have to admit, this is a pretty great scheme to spend more time with her!)
For our first meal we thought we'd try some vegetarian Pad Thai. I brought the Thai noodles and some Saki even though Saki is a Japanese drink, oh well. Allison supplied the other ingredients, cooking utensils, and the cooking confidence I lack.
I thought I'd include the recipe for anyone wanting to duplicate our tasty Thai dinner (note: for single guys – it helps to have a smart multi-tasking lady helping you) Click here for the excellent recipe Allison found on About.com. Below is our modified ingredients and instructions...
Noodle Ingredients: 6-7 oz. Pad Thai rice noodles (for the two of us), 2 eggs, 2 cups bean sprouts, about 6 cups of cabbage, 2 spring onions sliced, handful of fresh coriander (I'm not sure if we used this), 1/4 cup ground (or roughly chopped) peanuts (we used about 1 and a half tablespoons of chunky peanut butter stirred into the sauce after it's prepared), 4 cloves garlic minced (we used a couple teaspoons of garlic powder). Sauce Ingredients: 3 Tbsp. water, 2+1/2 Tbsp. soy sauce (or gluten-free soys sauce), 1-2 tsp. chili sauce, 2 Tbsp. brown sugar. Other Ingredients: Love, Patience.
Our Modified Instructions:
● Soak the noodles in hot water (but not boiling) for 10-15 minutes. Drain the noodles and rinse with cold water. Tip: Noodles are ready to stir-fry when they are soft enough to eat, but still firm and a little bit "crunchy". The noodles will finish cooking when they are fried, so don't over-soften them now, or you will end up with soggy Pad Thai.
● Prepare sauce while the noodles are soaking. Put all ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a soft boil. Stir well until the sugar has dissolved and the sauce thickens (2-3 minutes).
● Beat the eggs (if using). Heat a small skillet, add some oil, and quickly scramble the eggs.
● Place your wok (or large frying pan) over medium-high heat.
● Stir-fry the cabbage with garlic powder 1-2 minutes.
● Add 1 Tbsp. more oil to the wok. Now add the drained noodles. Drizzle 1/3 of the sauce over the noodles and then stir-fry everything together for 1 minute.
● While stir frying use two large wooden spoons to lift and turn the noodles as you fry them (like tossing a salad).
● Add a little more sauce and continue stir-frying in the same way for 1-2 more minutes, or until the noodles begin to soften and become sticky. Tip: Depending on the material of your wok, you may want to turn the heat down to medium, as a wok that's too hot at this point could burn the noodles.
● Add more sauce to taste
Add the bean sprouts and egg (if using). Stir-fry everything together for 1 more minute.
● Taste-test noodles. Noodles are cooked to perfection when they are soft but still slightly chewy.
● Thats it, now you're done!
Now you have a delicious authentic Thai dinner! Click here for some pictures of our cooking experience! There's also a couple pics of Mike and Colin's visit.
Labels: Allison teaches Jon how to cook
New Watchmen TrailerThe new Watchmen trailer looks great! Check it out: http://watchmenmovie.warnerbros.com/trailer2/QTMD.html
December 2, 2008
thanksgiving, NYCI just got home from spending the thanksgiving holiday with my family. We celebrated Thanksgiving with my sister's friend and her out of town visiting family. It was really great to see everyone. There was plenty of great food and fun. Of course the most exciting part of the trip was taking my sister's oldest two daughter's to New York City!
Click here for photos of our trip!
It was a really amazing day. Unfortunately it started off a little rocky as while I had printed Google Maps directions my sister persuaded me to take her Garmin GPS travel guide, which is really cool; and I would highly-recommend it as long as you also have a car charger with you. We did not, and when we were nearly there (I had already seen the Manhattan skyline while driving over a bridge to Staten Island) the Garmin's battery died. The directions I had printed were a little different than the path Garmin had brought us so we spent an hour or so driving around Staten Island until finally we found the Staten Island ferry station.
So after parking, racing to a public bathroom, we were all set to take the ferry past the Statue of Liberty to Battery Park in Manhattan. When we got there we found a hot dog vendor and then proceeded to buy all day passes for the Subway. The Subway is an extraordinarily convenient mode of transportation. New Yorkers are lucky to live in a place with such excellent public transportation. We took the Subway to SoHo/Little Italy and found a great pizza shop where we had lunch. Then we wandered around until we found the Landmark Sunshine Theater, where we had planned to see either Labyrinth of Synechdoche, New York; but upon finding the theater we decided we'd be better off making the most of our trip by seeing more of the city. So we found a Subway stop and took a train to a station on 34th street where we got off and walked to Times Square. This was our first of at least three times walking though Times Square. Being that it was the day after Thanksgiving, the streets were mad with shoppers. I wasn't the first or last time I felt a little nervous about chaperoning two teenagers in NYC. At Times Square we took the Subway to Columbus Circle and walked into Central Park. It was getting dark so we only stayed a little while, but enough to walk on the huge rocks beside the playground I had visited once before. And we played on the swings. I saw some JMU students walking out of the playground area. I didn't ask them but I bet they were with the Marching Dukes who played at the Macy's parade.
We then walked from Central Park to Times Square, then to fifth avenue trying to find the infamous Apple Store. At the Nintendo Store an employee told us how to get to the Apple Store so we took a Subway from under Rockefeller Center to fifty-eighth street and cut over to fifth ave and sure enough, there was the glowing Apple Store. Its a pretty cool idea for a store; its all underground except for a glass cube at street level, illuminated with a large Apple logo. After that we walked back to Times Square where we caught the Subway that took us back to the ferry to Staten Island.
There really isn't anywhere else like NYC. I'm glad I got to experience it with my sister's oldest daughters – I think its an experience they won't soon forget.