Monthly Archives: May 2011

Our Tennessee Williams Dinner

It all began with an assignment. My editor at 225 Magazine requested a review of the cookbook/foodie biography Dinner with Tennessee Williams, which is presented by a writer (Troy Gilbert), a chef (Greg Picolo from the Bistro at Maison de Ville) and a Tennessee Williams scholar (Dr. W. Kenneth Holditch). Gibbs Smith, the publisher, did a fabulous job with the presentation of the book – my intellectual side enjoyed the essays and the food photos made my mouth water.

But when I sat down to write my review, I realized there was more work to be done. How could I review a book containing recipes without trying out a few in the kitchen? While I enjoy cooking, my kitchen is pretty depressing. Also, with three professional cooks in my family, I’ve learned to cook instinctively (by taste and touch) and have never been very good at following recipes. I was intimidated, truthfully, because I knew that to review the book properly, I would have to follow those recipes. And so I reached out to Jamey for help. She’s the foodie between us, cooking more often than not and keeping a well-stocked kitchen. Luckily for me, she was agreeable.

The Tennessee Williams Festival was almost upon us as I was reviewing the book and my next brainstorm was that we HAD to cook the recipes during the Festival. And! Wait! It would HAVE to be a dinner for writers, so I would have to wrangle up some of those to eat with us.

It was crazy. I was crazy. But once I get a great idea, I just can’t let go of it, so I had to make it work. I’m lucky enough to have an editor who lets me run with crazy ideas on occasion and 225 has been, for me, the perfect venue for my most outlandish and creative schemes.

Luckily again, I was able to recruit Maurice and Kiki Whang to attend our dinner. Kiki also agreed to take pictures at our dinner as she is an amazing photographer in addition to being a wonderful writer and all around fun dining companion.

So, Jamey and I sat down to select our menu. Considering our tight budget and an even tighter timeline due to my crazy scheme, we picked three of the simplest recipes. Jamey was thoughtful enough to point out recipes with ingredients that were already available in her kitchen, which cut down on the expense and preparation.

The day of our Tennessee Williams dinner arrived, the last day of the festival, a Sunday. Jamey was the chef and I was her sous chef. She didn’t really need my help, I mostly got in the way, but it was fun to sip wine and watch Jamey whip up these dishes. I absolutely couldn’t have pulled it off without her and the company of our guests really elevated the evening into something we’ll have to do again in the future!

You can read the finished review at 225‘s website and below, you’ll find pictures and videos of every step of our dinner. Kiki has graciously allowed me to post some of her photos. The others were taken by me either on my phone camera or on Jamey’s camera. Enjoy!

Prep

Check out this hypnotic video of Jamey mincing garlic. There is sound, but you may have to turn up your volume to catch it.

Cooking

Jamey consults the recipe

All of our prep came together when Jamey started to bread and fry the chicken breasts for the chicken bonne femme. Check out this video (apologies that it’s sideways, I couldn’t figure out how to get it right side up):

Eating

Our distinguished guests arrived and we tucked in:

Our Tennessee Williams Dinner

Check out this slideshow of our evening:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hey everyone, let’s do it again sometime!

Advertisements

13 Comments

Filed under books, bragging on, food, Friends, New Orleans, pop culture, review

You Are Lucy and I Am Charlie Brown

“This time, you can trust me,” Lucy says to Charlie Brown, enticing him into their eternal battle of wills – kick the football and I won’t pull it away this time, I promise.

I love t.v. I love narrative in general and I get hooked into the story structures of t.v. shows over and over and over again. Even a “reality” show like Survivor has all the classic story elements that I crave and enjoy.

But I have been frustrated more and more the last few years. Here’s why:

– I have a busy schedule and like most people my age, I can’t be locked into watching a t.v. show at the same set time every week. Luckily, most shows are available online within 6-12 hours (sometimes a full day or week) later and I catch up with my “stories” when I have the time, which is often just a few hours or maybe a day or two after the original airing.

– The online viewing model seems to me an excellent one. I am still viewing advertisements, which should still be paying for the shows. In fact, I feel that I’m a more captive audience for online ads than the ones on my t.v. because I tend to walk away from the t.v. during commercials. I am watching the show at my convenience. Excellent, all around. But I’m not sure the Nielsen rating system is still in any way an accurate schematic (I don’t know how it could be) and to my knowledge, nothing else has replaced it. So how do networks know what shows I’m giving my loyalty and attention to? Theoretically, they should be able to track the downloads and online viewings, right?

– Yet, some of my favorite new shows are consistently getting canceled, sometimes mid-season or after only one season. This breeds a vicious cycle that makes me and other viewers wary of investing in new shows. Why care about characters that might suddenly disappear, give our attention to stories that will remain unfinished? But what are a studio’s “obligations” to the viewers of its shows? I feel like a full season should be a standard network-viewer “contract.” Promising shows should really get two seasons to build their audience. Yes, it’s expensive. However, as far as I’m concerned, so is my time and my attention.

You might ask what has brought about this rant. Monday, the list of canceled t.v. shows was disseminated. First, it includes 32 shows across the networks, which is quite a lot. Also, it features some great new shows that I feel weren’t given a solid chance. Last, there are many shows on this list that I thought were already canceled several months ago because of reports I’ve read in the past.

I’ll break down the list for you.

Canceled shows I didn’t invest in because I figured they’d be canceled:

Better with You, Mr. Sunshine, Off the Map (ABC); Perfect Couples (NBC)

Shows I might’ve watched, but thought were already canceled or off the air ages ago because of reports I read, so clearly their networks were not doing a whole lot to support them:

My Generation, Detroit 1-8-7, No Ordinary Family, V (ABC); The Event and Outsourced (NBC); Lone Star and Running Wilde (FOX); Life Unexpected (CW)

Canceled shows that had a really solid chance to build their audience (regardless of how you feel about the quality of the shows and their demise):

Brothers and Sisters (ABC); Friday Night Lights (NBC); Human Target and Lie to Me (FOX); $#*! My Dad Says (CBS); Smallville (CW)

Canceled shows I’d watch if they were given a second chance:

Detroit 1-8-7 (ABC); The Event (NBC)

Canceled shows I’m really pissed about because I’d invested in them:

Breaking In and Traffic Light (FOX)

FOX has long been guilty of creating pretty good shows and then scrapping them before they’ve had a solid chance, in my opinion. Keep in mind, FOX also airs two of the shows I talk about most, American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, but those are reality competitions and I don’t know that FOX has worked out their dynamic for scripted dramas and sitcoms. Out of all the networks on the list, FOX is canceling the most good shows, I think. Many on the FOX list had a good chance to sink or swim, but I think Breaking In and Traffic Light should be given more time. They are both hysterical half hour ensemble sitcoms, which I think we need more of on t.v. Good ones, that is.

So what are the networks gonna do next season? Give us 50 new shows, two thirds of which they’re prepared to sacrifice if we don’t invest quickly enough? Break our hearts again? Yank the football once more before we can kick a good, solid field goal? FOX, as well as all the networks, needs to create good shows and then stand by them. Have some faith in what you create, Networks.

Now, on to the slightly related topic of the Castle finale, appropriately titled “Knockout.” How is this related to my giant rant above? Well, first of all, it’s still about t.v. Second of all, one of Castle’s stars, Nathan Fillion was in not one but two shows that fell victim to FOX’s wishy-washiness (Drive and, ahem, Firefly, anyone?). Third, the finale happened to air on the same day the canceled show list was disseminated.

Castle is a fun, gripping show, a worthy vehicle for Nathan, finally, at long last, hallelujah, on a network that will support the show and create interest with tie-ins (novels, graphic novels, etc). It’s one of my favorite shows, especially because it has such a great cast and also all the qualities I loved about Bones in the earlier seasons. I’m still watching Bones because I love the characters, but it’s lost some of its sheen.

One of the elements I like best about Castle is that it is unafraid to be cheesy and emotional and sometimes feels like a sitcom wrapped up in a drama. This feels like old-fashioned, classic t.v., even while it is cutting edge. So it shouldn’t surprise me that every part of Castle‘s Season 3 finale felt inevitable in that way that good storytelling always feels. While the storyteller in me can appreciate the Castle finale’s unflinching and yes, even cruel twists, the viewer in me feels absolutely shellshocked, almost betrayed. And pissed. Pissed that they punched me the guts like three times in an hour and then walked away for several months, leaving me nursing my wounds and dying for more.

But you know what? You better bet I’ll be tuning in next season. And for that, I must congratulate them.

For a moment at the end of “Knockout,” in light of the canceled show list, I was very afraid that this was the end, that Castle was one of the unlisted “bubble” shows and it might not be back. I had to remind myself that it’s a popular show and that ABC has just as much invested in it as I have invested (some would say more). But that fear, that paranoia, is the best example that I can give you of what the networks have done to us with their “yanking back the football” behavior.

Should I, like Charlie Brown, continue to trust all the Lucys promising me big and then yanking it all away? Despite all the times that I have been burned and lost “stories” that I loved, should I trust the networks? Like Charlie Brown, I hate looking stupid by falling for it again and again, but just like him, there’s no other choice for me. I love stories too much not to take the kick of faith every time.

3 Comments

Filed under art, musing, pop culture, random rant, t.v., technology

Reading in Q2 – April

Last month, I started a new tradition here on my blog. Quarterly reporting of my reading. I enjoyed doing the post so much AND I “read” so many audio books in April that I decided to go ahead and report on April’s reading.

The interesting thing about this month’s reading and the very reason I was able to “read” so many audio books was I took a job as a film courier. If you follow my Tweets, you might’ve noticed me referring to the “Great Louisiana Tour,” and this job is what I was talking about. What it boiled down to is that I was driving between New Orleans and Shreveport and back every weekday, about 11-12 hours of driving. So I could listen to one or sometimes two audio books each day/trip.

This month’s edition of the reading quarterly report will essentially be a review of audio books. I only actually read two physical books this month, in fact, and all the rest were audio books I listened to while on this epic journey. Epic is the right word because I drove just over 11,000 miles in just over three weeks.

With no further ado, the reviews…

Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz and read by John Bedford Lloyd – I’ve been reading Dean Koontz since I was 10, though I’ve missed out on some of his newer books. Since I’m so familiar with his writing voice, but hadn’t read this book, it seemed like the perfect audio book to start with. And it was. It was really charming, sometimes hokey, and thoroughly listenable.

Dear John by Nicholas Sparks and read by Holter Graham – I’ve never read any Nicholas Sparks before, but this book was recommended to me and I was so desperate for entertainment during my drives that it seemed like a good way to get introduced. I was intrigued that the book is told more from the male character’s perspective since the movie is mainly from the female character’s perspective. However, I really hated the character of Savannah and I don’t think it helped that Holter Graham made her sound like Peggy Hill.

How to Be Popular by Meg Cabot and read by Kate Reinders –  This was a cute young adult book and it was perfectly read. I feel like this was one of the best examples of the right reader really bringing a character and a story alive in this format. The premise was ridiculous, of course, but it was hard not to invest anyway.

50 Harbor Street by Debbie Macomber and read by Sandra Burr – I used to read Debbie Macomber books years ago, but haven’t for a long time. I picked this one up at random and quickly realized it’s in the middle of a series. There were so many characters, so I have to give the reader props for bringing them all to life, but it was hard to really care about what was going on. By the time I plugged into a story line (one among many) that interested me, the book was over. None of the rest of the series was available on audio at my library, so I moved on.

My Latest Grievance by Elinor Lipman and read by Mia Barron – This one is a great example of the perfect reader bringing a great book so completely to life. I was only sorry I couldn’t get more Elinor Lipman books on audio through my library because I would’ve listened to all of her books after finishing this one. I loved the story and characters so much I didn’t want to leave the world of the story.

Which Brings Me to You by Steve Almond and Juliana Baggott read by Kirby Heyborne and Renee Raudman – This is a “novel in confessions,” going back and forth between a male and a female character. I think the audio would have been done a great disservice if it hadn’t been read by both a man and a woman. And they were both good, as were the separate writing styles of Almond and Baggott. I was so entertained and moved by the “confessions,” yet was dying to know what would happen. While I’m not sure the end is quite as strong as I would’ve liked, this is an audio I’m glad I listened to and would read the old-fashioned way: myself and a book.

Big Boned by Meg Cabot and read by Justine Eyre – Pretty quickly, I realized I wasn’t listening to a standalone or the first book in a series. It’s actually the third in a series. But I decided to listen anyway because I was enjoying it so much and if the others were available on audio, I decided I’d listen to them backwards. This one was just great fun. Silly sometimes, but in the best possible way. Heather Wells as portrayed by Justine Eyre was good company on my drive.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick and read by Jeff Woodman – This was one of my favorite audio book experiences during the whole road trip/audio book experiment. It was like an old-fashioned radio play with French flare mixed with the feel of classic fairy tales. There were sound effects and the reader was amazing. Plus, the story was brilliant. This one, too, is a story I want to read for myself – partly because I suspect there were illustrations I was missing out on. I almost cried at the end and immediately started making a list of the kids I know who are getting this audio for Christmas.

Julie + Julia  written and read by Julie Powell – This was a book I was curious about, especially after seeing the movie, but wasn’t sure I wanted to invest my time reading. So, the audio seemed perfect because I was desperate for entertainment. But the audio ended up being perfect because Julie Powell does an amazing job narrating her experience. It was so vivid! I went through everything with her. There was even a little interview segment at the end, which I enjoyed.

True Grit by Charles Portis – This was one of the two books I read this month the old-fashioned way. It’s a slim, fast read but I took my time with it since I didn’t have a ton of time to read and I was already inundated with story. The character of Mattie Ross is so compelling. Annoying and amusing, charming and heartbreaking. I loved her. I wanted to be her. I never wanted to be her, ever. I quoted her and talked about her. And this was a revelation after growing up with the John Wayne movie version and liking the more recent one when I saw it with my parents. But the book… oh, the book… In the midst of my phenomenal audio story experience, I’m glad this was the one I held in my hands and curled up around.

Eat, Pray, Love written and read by Elizabeth Gilbert – I could almost duplicate my review of Julie + Julia here, except I was really just as reluctant to read this one as I was intrigued. It seemed so shallow and self-absorbed from the hooplah around it and yes, from the movie, which I liked alright. But nothing can compare to Elizabeth Gilbert reading her own story, consciously investigating selfishness and self. I think I might’ve misunderstood her or disliked her if I’d read the book myself. But it was impossible for me not to identify with her when she was telling me her own story in her own voice. The depths and the heights. The colors and the foods. This book was much more of a spiritual study than I’d expected, or maybe that’s what I took from it. I think about it all the time since I’ve finished listening to the story.

Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer by John Grisham and read by Richard Thomas – I loved Encyclopedia Brown and suspected this would be in the same vein. It was, a little bit. It was charming in it’s complete old-fashioned and unrealistic quality, but it was also a bit hopeless. I found a disturbing casual sexism – the family eats out a lot because the mother (who is also a lawyer, like the father) can’t be bothered to cook – and racial stereotypes. I think the cover look far darker and more exciting than the book was, especially read by wholesome John-Boy Walton. This is Perry Mason for the Hannah Montana set and could be far more interesting.

Coraline written and read by Neil Gaiman – I liked this audio better than the movie, which was good. But far and away the best thing was listening to Neil Gaiman read his own work. He sounded a bit like David Bowie as Jareth in Labyrinth. A little. I think he’s the only fiction writer in my experiment who reads his own work.

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo and read by Cherry Jones – It is an ok story. I think the best thing about it is the voice of the character, India Opal and Cherry Jones really brought her to life. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Cherry Jones reads Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Size Fourteen is Not Fat Either by Meg Cabot and read by Kristen Kairos – It was weird to read this after having read the third. I knew what would happen in the next book, yet I was still surprised by a thing or two. Only, I didn’t like Kristen Kairos’s version of Heather Wells as much as the woman who reads her for Big Boned.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames written and read by David Sedaris – I’ve read a lot of David Sedaris. Some parts of this were boring, some parts I’d heard before. And as always, there was a gorgeous nugget I hadn’t ever heard or read. But there were some parts scattered throughout, especially the audio from live performances, complete with audience reactions, that are just brilliant.

Odd Hours by Dean Koontz and read by David Aaron Baker – I didn’t consciously start or end the experiment with Dean Koontz, but he somehow bookended my experience. He was my favorite writer for a long time, but I got woefully behind on his books. I’ve listened to all the Odd Thomas books on audio and I think they’re all read by David Aaron Baker, so it’s nice to have a consistent voice for the character. It was reassuring, in a way, to come back around to the voices I know so well.

Besides the people I saw everyday, what I miss most now that I’ve switched to a new gig is the opportunity to listen to so many fabulous books. My numbers are probably going to be a lot lower this month! I hope you enjoy reading these mini reviews of the audio books that made my epic journey survivable.

7 Comments

Filed under books, literature, New Orleans, New Orleans Film Industry, pop culture, review, technology, what I'm reading

A patriotic, coincidental brag

No matter what my politics or my conflicted feelings about the media storm around Osama bin Laden’s death, I always celebrate and support the people who sacrifice any number of things – time, security, health and their lives – in the name of this country. I think a good way to help me brag on these folks, regardless of how you feel about the wars we’re involved in, is to check out these links for sending books to troops.

I love the idea of not only entertaining soldiers who can’t be home or safe, but maybe even changing their lives with a powerful book. A former soldier recently told me that they all got hooked on the Sex in the City tv series while he was stationed overseas and I loved how that attacked my own foolish expectations of what soldiers would find interesting.

This idea of enriching the lives of soldiers with the written word has been in my mind a lot lately. I keep remembering a picture that Jeanne Leiby showed me of two soldiers (in Afghanistan, I believe) reading copies of The Southern Review. They had their guns at the ready, leaning against their chairs, and copies of a literary magazine in their hands. And hopefully, in their minds and hearts afterwards. I wish I could find this picture to share with y’all. In inspires me.

And, of course, I have been thinking of Jeanne a lot lately. Partly because of her death a few weeks ago in a car accident. Maybe because, at the time she died, I was driving 11-12 hours a day for work and was actually on the same road as her, a few miles away. Possibly because I was in a car accident myself recently (I’m fine, though my car is not). But it’s not so much these uncomfortable vehicular coincidences I think of when I think of Jeanne. I think of that picture of the soldiers she showed me, things she said and things she loved.

Which brings me to my closing brag. I might never have reviewed Mark Richard’s House of Prayer No. 2 if it weren’t for Jeanne. She was so glad to publish a chapter from his memoir in The Southern Review, she talked him up so passionately, that I requested a review copy, read the book, loved it and came up with this nontraditional review of it for 225 Magazine. So, without my even fully realizing it, the tangential brags in this post are tied together by Jeanne, by her passion and enthusiasm. I’m glad for that coincidence.

1 Comment

Filed under bragging on, freelance work, literature, musing, politics, review, weirdness, world news