Category Archives: entertainment

CLOSING TIME

Not really goodbye

It’s with a mixture of sadness and also some pride that I decided to end the Accidental Chef’s adventures. After over 2 years of nearly daily posting, my life has evolved on and off the page.

A little while ago, those who regularly follow my blog, read about my recent decision to leave my job and take my life in a different direction. In the spirit of doing what satisfies me most, this new direction will still involve some cooking (at a friend’s small restaurant) but, above all, it will be filled with writing.

Together with one of my best friends, who literally lives on the other side of the world, in South Africa, we started a blog-azine called Campari and Sofa aimed at women like us, still vibrant, full of energy and ideas and things to do. It’s a project that started during a trip that was widely chronicled on these pages and finally saw the light of  day while in Rome, amidst the festiv ities for my dreaded 5-0.

I hope that those of you who stuck it out with me from the beginning and those of you who just got here through Freshly Pressed will find something that grabs you in my new venture. Yes, there will be food too and, for WP users, my friend Sue and I chose to stay in this community and launch this project on WP again, despite being two avid Mac girls.

Most of all, I hope you will not only join me on this new journey but will also participate in the conversation. And boys are most definitely welcome.

So, it’s not goodbye, just arrivederci!

To check my  new project out, simply click here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LUCKY PEACH AND LUCKY US

 

My current fave

The word “foodie” irks me like no other. It has come to encompass anyone with a passing knowledge of things like lemongrass to those who go to a restaurant and take pictures of what they eat. But if you consider yourself a foodie, or just someone with a budding or already encyclopedic knowledge of anything edible, Lucky Peach is for you.

Since Gourmet folded, I haven’t bought or subscribed to another food magazine. I don’t care for quick, every day recipes I can easily get from the web and there is nothing out there that ever whetted my reading appetite. Until Lucky Peach, that is. Its by-line is: “a quarterly journal of food and writing”, and we are off to a good start as both are two passions of mine.

The brainchild behind this operation is David Chang, the Chef behind the Momofuku empire. Teaming up with other chefs, writers, journalists and the like, Mr. Chang has come up with a publication like no other that does indeed combine all things food with excellent writing.

Each issue is mono-thematic: the first one was dedicated to ramen and the current one to American food. As an example, the two premier food critics in the land debate the merits of ethnic cuisine in NY and LA, Harold McGee tells us all about eggs, Elvis Mitchell, the movie critic, talks with Anthony Bourdain about the movie Diner – you get the picture. There are recipes  and, because most of them are the offerings of professional chefs, they are neither quick nor necessarily precise, but enticing enough to make you want to spend your day off baking different loaves of rye bread to compare the results or making your own mayo for a fancy club sandwich.

Most of all, the writing is excellent, the graphics topsy-turvy and the articles unpredictable. I just hope against hope Mr. Chang and McSweeney’s (the editor) will be able to keep it going for a long time to come.

 

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WHEN SOCCER RULES

Photo: NY Daily News

Lord knows that both the Italians and the Spaniards need something to be cheerful about. With both economies not so slowly hurtling down the proverbial drain, unemployment figures well into the double digits, and lowly paid part-time jobs the norm for college graduates, soccer has provided some respite from the doldrums.

It’s with an ear to ear grin that I think of the victory of a few hours ago of Italy over Germany, in the semi finals of the European Soccer Championship taking place in Poland (Spain beat Portugal at penalties yesterday).

It’s impossible not look at such a match against the backdrop of the European mess, with Germany dictating economic and bail-out conditions to the weaker countries and the struggling Southern markets trying to regain their footing, without the invaluable tool that would have been available before the euro, of devaluing their currencies to make their exports more attractive.

On the soccer court, the younger, defensive and more disciplined German team was poised to win against the older Italians, despite the jinx of never having beaten Italy in a single major championship match in living memory. The unruly, inventive and downtrodden Italians prevailed 2 -1, with two goals in the first half.

A basketball fan through and through, I never followed soccer (as distant as one can possibly be growing up in Italy where soccer is more revered than the Bible) but, on the occasions of European or world championships, it’s hard not to join in, mostly for patriotic reasons.

In my case, it’s the camaraderie of watching the games with a rowdy group of friends, ordered-in pizzas getting cold on the table,  windows flung open in a futile attempt to cool down roasting hot living rooms. Even in congested cities like Rome or Milan, the odd car or ambulance will pass by but traffic looks like a nuclear explosion took place, everything coming to a halt to watch a match. When goals are scored, collective cries of joys or despair will fill the stale and humid air, creating a soundtrack played in unison across the boot.

In the event of victory, every city, village or resort suddenly comes alive – throngs of people waving flags making their way to designated monuments, traffic rapidly coming to a standstill with lines of cars honking, people shouting and policemen ostensibly loitering at key points, joining in spirit if not in action. Everyone will have watched: doctors and nurses in the ERs, waiters and cooks in restaurants, barmen, firemen, all lackadaisical-ly  performing their duties with an eye to the tv screens. I would bet good money that the rate of ER admission drops in those 90 minutes.

It’s that feeling of collective joy that I miss in this sprawling metropolis of mine and one that was brought to life through friends’ texts keeping me abreast of the score while I was driving around LA, and letting me hear the ruckus on the other end of the line.

The final, between Italy and Spain, will take place on Sunday and hopefully I will be airborne and unable to see it. No doubt, the Alitalia captain will let us know the final score. No matter who wins, either country deserves to revel in a bit of partying. Although my personal wishes are firmly rooted in one particular camp.

 

PS It was a good day in more ways than one. In an unexpected ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the Health Care Law. Now, to keep it in place and funded, we have to re-elect our President. Possible light at the end of the tunnel?

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THE MADDENING WORLD OF MAD MEN

Women are treated as second class citizens at best. Everyone smokes so incessantly, the mere acting of watching them puffing away makes me nauseous. And the drinking – did people really drink that much in the ’60’s? Some of the story lines are so infuriating they make me want to reach, if not for the remote, at least for the “esc” key on my laptop. And yet, I couldn’t help jumping on the Made Men bandwagon.

Well into its fifth season, I am still delighting in Season 2. So, what is it that makes this show so compelling? The writing is good but a far cry from the Sopranos (the holy grail of all tv shows as far as I am concerned) but, like the Sopranos, it’s hard to look away from flawed characters with some redeeming qualities. People like us. Sort of.

What I enjoy most is how multi-faceted every single character is. It’s impossible not to root for prissy looking Peggy, trying to climb the corporate ladder at a time when women couldn’t even dream of the ceiling – never mind that she disposed of an unwanted pregnancy early on by giving the baby to her family and quickly losing interest in him. What’s not to love about the Marilyn-esque bombshell with a brain who uses her physical attributes rather than her smarts to get ahead, because it simply wasn’t done any other way?

Betty is more problematic: her algid beauty is too perfect for sympathizing with, not to mention the vacuity of her life. Despite being a show about the male world of Madison Avenue in the 60’s, women play a big and maddening role, with many instances when I would gladly throw a pie at the screen in frustration. Wake up sisters, it doesn’t have to be that way.Was it really that dismal for women 50 years ago? How has it all changed in the course of my lifetime? Let’s see.

Peggy could get an abortion freely in the state of New York, instead of hiding her offspring. Many women in her situation, though, would have miles to travel and money to spend to be able to, even now.

Joan could choose to go to work dressed in sexy attire but it’s most likely her business acumen that would get her ahead. Unless she worked in Silicon Valley, where women at the top are still in the single digits.The glass ceiling has been broken but equal pay for equal work can still be a chimera and that ladder to the top has turned into a stairway to heaven.

Trudy and Pete Campbell could opt for in vitro fertilization or for another woman to carry their baby, rather than having to consider adoption as the only solution. And maybe Trudy could start obsessing over curtains and dinner entrees.

And Betty could get a job and a life, instead of frittering away her days in the suburbs, riding horses and raising children she is not very good at handling. But, wait, some women choose to do that – I am hoping their choice, in this day and age, brings them satisfaction and not resentment.

And yes, Don Draper, is eye candy. But in the middle of season two, he has already ploughed through four women, other than his wife, with a free pass accorded to creative men since time immemorial. I suppose it was the 60’s and marriage vows came with abundant caveats. Now, has that changed?

 

 

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ADVENTURES IN LALA LAND – “In Paris” at the Broad Stage

Russian, experimental, in Russian and French with supratitles do not conjure an evening of fun. Yet, there I was, sitting at the Broad, sandwiched between a blonde lady whose profile had more than a passing resemblance to Donald Duck’s and another middle-aged specimen in a leopard pantsuit.  As to me, I had decided to trust Baryshnikov’s instincts and his predilection for experimental art that never let me down.

The last time I saw Mr. Baryshnikov dance was about 15 years ago, when he was still leading the White Oak Dance Project. What particularly stuck in my mind was a solo piece, danced with sparsity of movements to the sound of his heartbeat. It was a million miles away from the plies and jumps and fouettes of his famed classical career but much more personal and meaningful than any Romeo could ever be.

This theatrical piece Mr. Baryshnikov produced and acted in, currently on stage at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, is titled “In Paris”. Adapted from a short story by Nobel prize winner Ivan Bunin, it’s about loneliness and  the love that grows between an older military man and a young waitress, both Russian emigrants, in 1930’s Paris. Short on literary value and dialogue (nothing much happens in the story and one of the best lines is “There is nothing more difficult than recognizing a good watermelon and a decent woman”), what it is long on is how the play is staged, with the stark set design of a tilted black stage filled with extra-sized sepia photographs that keep on being moved around to create different atmospheres, a Russian chorus who punctuates the story’s timeline with longing songs and the sheer physical presence of the actors, Mr. Baryshnikov and Ms. Anna Sinyakina.

Very convincing in the French monologue that sets the time and tone of the play, Mr. Baryshnikov’s strength, and Ms. Senyakina’s too, is nonetheless the way he commands the stage with fluid and assured movements (his stance while wearing his General’s coat, his tenderness in the kiss of a hand, his insecurity while waiting in the rain), eventually breaking in a toreador death dance at the end, which seemed to delight the audience who, somehow, still expects to see the 64-year-old Misha dance.

Nothing much in the text of the play (to be found inside the programme) drew me to a second or third reading but the visuals and the plasticity of the actors on stage lingered on in my mind. It’s that haunting feeling that Russians have been doing so well, no matter the medium, for centuries.

thebroadstage.com

 

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POST OSCAR GLOW

In one word: underwhelming. More boring than usual. From the nominated movies, that most people haven’t actually seen, to Billy Crystal who might be a pro, but is way too old-fashioned (and what’s up with dying his hair that deep shade of black?). Give me Ricky Gervais’ acerbic humour any day. The acceptance speeches were kept short but, aside from Christopher Plummer and Meryl Streep, who was witty, articulate and looked like she was speaking off the cuff, every one else missed out on eloquence (or just basic English) or, else, they were French, and half mangled their written notes. At least from the actors, one would expect better performances, nervousness notwithstanding.

Some of the clothes were outstanding: Gwyneth Paltrow’s Tom Ford, Michelle Williams’ Louis Vuitton and Jessica Chastain’s Alexander McQueen in particular stood out. Jennifer Lopez, on the other hand, insists on showing her beautiful curvy “bodois” but ended up looking like a silver amphora, and Meryl Streeps’ golden robe matched, if nothing else, the statuette.  And a note on Angeline Jolie, and I swear it is not dictated by envy – possibly the most beautiful woman walking the planet at this point in time, she has nevertheless arms that  belong on a starving African child. A few helpings of pasta now and then would work wonders in restoring a normal look to Ms. Jolie’s limbs.

If one bothered at all to tune into the commercials, one would have been hard pressed to figure out what the upcoming tv shows on ABC are all about – all the trailers conveyed was the sense that it was best to stay away from them at all costs. Not that anyone watches ABC anyway.

Tom Cruise presented the award for best movie and it might have been the best thing he has done for his career in a while. He was poised, he looked amazing and it’s high time he made a good movie that doesn’t involve gadgets and car chases.

When all was said and done, what stood out was the utter boredom and predictability of it all. And then they wonder why their viewership is shrinking…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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DREAM CITY

A few weeks ago, while trying to find a date that would suit a number of people for a get together at my house (apparently, a monster endeavour), one couple suggested February 26. “February 26??” I chuckled. That’s so East Coast. No one who has been living in Los Angeles for a reasonable amount of time, would ever dream of picking Oscar night for anything social, other than issuing an Oscar party invitation.

Los Angeles is often thought of, especially by East Coasters, as a city of illusions but the reality is more complex and nuanced than that. For the melting pot New York is supposed to be, there is a sense of homogeneity that is altogether lacking in LA, and which adds to a depth that can be missing in New York.

Nonetheless, whether our lives here are tangentially touched by the entertainment industry, or not at all, film culture is part of our everyday life, as testified by the preparations leading to Oscar week-end, starting with the closure of Hollywood Boulevard for a week prior, causing annoyance and even more traffic, or the new saga of the former Kodak Theatre in search of a new name (and a new sponsor) now that Kodak is bankrupt or the LA Times investigation into who makes up the notoriously secret voting Academy (it turns out it’s a bunch of white, old fogeys. How surprising).

At 9:30 on Saturday morning, on Rodeo Drive, a man of gargantuan proportions, in shorts and high tops, clutching a video camera, is shooting still shuttered shop windows and oversized vases of Bougainvillea. His wife, only a touch smaller, “simply loves these flower arrangements!”. They both perk up at my walking up the stairs, with a purposeful step and dark glasses, as if I belonged. They stare for an uncomfortable moment, trying to decide if I am noteworthy, but, in reality, my dark glasses are there to conceal the hazy fumes of last night’s partying, and my hurried step is an effort to get to my hair appointment on time. I am loathed to tell these out of towners that their chances at spotting a celebrity on Rodeo drive on a Saturday morning are zero to nil. But isn’t it the fun of visiting Los Angeles? The possible frisson of seeing George Clooney walk by and tell their friends in Tennessee?

As soon as I sit in the colorist’s chair, Heide’s first question is if I am going to any parties tomorrow, the unspoken subtext being “Oscar party”. Not quite, but I have friends coming over, a vegetarian dinner in mind and the usual ritual of criticizing clothes and hairdos a la Joan River, while filling those boring commercials with mindless chitchat. It’s enormous fun without the pressure of having to look good.

Oscar night landed on my calendar as soon as it was announced, that is the Angeleno I have become. If you can’t fight them, embrace them.  I love LA for a million things that have nothing to do with the movie culture – I love it for being at the forefront of many a trend, for the in your face nature, for its experimental art scene, for its beaches and its food and the clashing yet co-habiting cultures. I love it for its light and its lightness, for its survival and pioneering spirit, for being a bastion of liberalism and for letting people be. And yes, I also love it for being the epicenter of where dreams are created and I am happy to celebrate, for one night, those dream makers who, at times, take themselves a bit too seriously, but, on the best days, still create magic.

 

 

 

 

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ADVENTURES IN LALA LAND – “OUR TOWN” AT THE BROAD STAGE

“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?” asks Thornton Wilder in act III of his Pulitzer Prize winning “Our Town”. Or, rather, Emily asks the question whose negative answer still rings true over 70 years since audiences first heard it. This classic, compulsive reading for most American students, is currently being staged at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, in a modern, eclectic production directed by David Cromer and with a cast headed by Helen Hunt.

The life of a random New Hampshire village, as unremarkable as they come, is explored through the mindless happenings of an unremarkable day, the inevitability of marriage and the great equalizer that is death, reminding us of the preciousness of each  moment we get to spend on earth. Each single life can be a meaningless repetition of millions of others but nonetheless less precious to each individual.

Helen Hunt is magnificent as the Stage Manager, leading the audience through time, events, observations and judgments. The audience becomes even more involved by being seated on stage, with the actors weaving in and out around them, pulling the spectators into a web of questions. A handful of years of memories in a village at the turn of the last century feel vivid and contemporary, the essence of the human condition not having changed that much.

It was my very first time at the Broad and by no means the last. The intimate size of this modern theatre makes for a pleasant experience. Parking is easy, making the whole evening hassle free. Coming in April is an interesting play, In Paris, from the Baryshnikov Arts Center.

“Our Town” at the Broad Stage until February 12

thebroadstage.com

 

 

 

 

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A TICKET TO RIDE

The average YouTube viewer spends about 15 minutes at a time on the site, a fact that YouTube is trying to correct by creating better algorithms that will produce more relevant associations, in the hope the user will be enticed to stay longer. I must have broken all YouTube viewing records on my last day off, clocking in excess of two hours on the site – it’s a lot of 3 minute clips.

It was entirely the fault of a certain Diego De Silva, whose latest book, “I am against emotions”, is a disquisition on broken hearts, psychotherapy and Italian songs from the ’70’s. A “Melancholy audio” list is even provided as an addendum for readers like me who decide to fritter an afternoon away taking a long jog down memory lane. Way easier than dusting off old 45’s in the attic, not to mention more comprehensive than any record collection I might have accumulated from that time.

Jumping from song to song (those algorithms were working very well for me), from grainy black and white tv clip to bad audio live recordings, what struck me, and what Mr. De Silva points out in his hilarious book where he is capable of writing three whole pages on the most inane song and making it read as if he were reviewing a Bach cantata, is that double entendres were simply not done in those days and the sexual meanings of the most innocuous songs were devoid of any metaphor.

We know that Italian males are supposedly Latin lovers and that Italian women are consummate flirts, and that prime time Italian tv is populated by scantily dressed girls, with sex and nudity  par for the course when watching most Italian tv but I never noticed how much sex was exalted  in those “ancient” times of my childhood. Let’s take Raffaella Carra’s hit “Tanti Auguri”, the theme of which is the celebration of those who have many lovers and “if one doesn’t work out, who cares? I will take another”. This is from the blonde next door who conducted family shows on Saturday night. And in a country where divorce wasn’t even legal – or maybe because divorce wasn’t legal, it concocted ways of working around bad marriages. I wonder if the Church was throwing daggers or turning a blind eye.

From the mindless hits I then moved on to the suicide love songs of Mia Martini (who did indeed commit suicide) and Riccardo Cocciante I  loved so much. I was barely 13. What did I know of “being ravaged for a whole night by a bastard who will not call in the morning?” (the essence of “Minuetto”). For that matter, what did I know about broken hearts and being abandoned and endless anguish other than what I had gleaned from “Little Women”?

On approaching hour two of this  downhill run, I finally found the strength to hit the off switch – I was close to suicide myself or, at least,  to a good cry for all those unhappy souls who were the soundtrack of my childhood. At 13, I discovered the Beatles and it was on to British and American rock from there, by way of punk. I never looked back until now and who knew that those inoffensive looking performers I admiringly watched on Saturday night were as unself-conscious about sex as Mick Jagger?

  Watch until the end for a little surprise

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TV IS GETTING GOOD AGAIN

Despite the pleasure that I draw from my Netflix account, both on-line and old school dvd’s in the red envelope, I am finding myself drawn to my neglected telly thanks to a bunch of outstanding or irreverent or just plain funny shows that have caught my attention.

Downton Abbey is back for its second season on PBS/Masterpiece (Sunday – 9pm but if you can’t be bothered to tune in I believe the entire series, that already aired in England, is available on DVD). Sucker as I am for anything English and period, this mini-series that was not destined to have a continuation ended up being so wildly successful that its creator, Julian Fellowes, resumed writing it. Set against the backdrop of World War I, the story unfolds within the walls of Downton Abbey, the residence of the titled Crawley family and it is a mix of “The Remains of the Day” and “Upstairs Downstairs”, covering the travails and joys of both nobility and servants. It just doesn’t get any better and Maggie Smith has lines so good, it makes you look forward to getting old.

I just read that Mistresses is back on Wednesday (BBC – 10pm). I had given up hope of ever seeing this group of girlfriends ever again. Set in London in contemporary times, these smart and attractive women that could indeed be your girlfriends, lead interesting yet ordinary lives – the married woman who is a sex addict and betrays her husband with nameless men in casual encounters, the doctor who helps euthanize her lover and then embarks on an affair with his son, the home maker whose husband re-appears after nearly 10 years….ok, maybe my girlfriends don’t live such outlandish lives (god have mercy if they did) but these women have credible dialogues, are spotted actually doing work for a living and don’t have closets filled with couture a la Sex and the City. Guilty pleasure at its best.

Staying in England, The Hour, one of the best shows of the year, will also be back on BBC. Taking place in the ’50’s, it depicts the rise of independent reporting in the midst of political life changing events, peppered with a wonderful female producer figure and espionage twists and turns. If you haven’t seen the first series, rent it while waiting for the second.

Poised to start in February on HBO, Life’s too Short is Ricky Gervais’ new tv venture. I find this man extremely funny: vulgar, caustic, dry, his humour rubs Americans the wrong way and, yes, nothing, I mean, absolutely nothing is sacred to Mr. Gervais, making many people uncomfortable. But The Office was a groundbreaking comedic show – still better than the Steve Carrell’s version – and Extras was downright funny. Life’s too short is again shot documentary style and follows the life of a dwarf actor (or little person, in a more p.c. fashion). Can’t wait.

At this point, you can accuse me of a bad case of “Anglophilia” and you would be right but, when it comes to tv, the Brits do it better. Having said that, on my Netflix list are Breaking Bad and Homeland – my most trustworthy friends who do watch tv can’t stop talking about them so I must trust them and start watching. Breaking Bad is about a chemistry teacher who becomes a drug dealer and Homeland is exactly what you think it is and it is rumoured President Obama is a fan.

On HBO I have been following Boardwalk Empire that, if I don’t love in a visceral way, I can’t deny being excellent. The only mafia show I really ever revered was, you guessed, The Sopranos, but this romp in gangster life in the 40’s is classy. Luck, with Dustin Hoffman, and set in the world of horse racing (shot at our very own Santa Anita race track), looks promising and, for the meanest humour ever, I believe Curb Your Enthusiasm will be able to make me cringe again some time soon.

Something to look forward to as I settle in for another dreary winter.

 

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