January 31, 2012

Book to movie: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.

i read EL&IC when it first came out, and i loved it. loved it. i had had a hard time with Everything is Illuminated, and was happy that Foer had written something a little more accessible. (for me, anyway. i don't really like to work for my stories.) it was a distant but happy memory... i didn't remember much of the story's details, just the basic gist of the plot, and that i loved every page.

fast forward 7 years, when a trailer appears for the movie, starring Sandra Bullock. i'll be honest, my first thought was "oh hell, no." there is no place in this beautiful story for Miss Congeniality. but it was a done deal so i was resigned to walk into the theatre with very low expectations. because the story was fuzzy in my brain, i requested the book from the library and spent 4 nights plowing through it in order to be finished by movie time. gosh that book is amazing. so many tiny, massively heartbreaking details and moments. and i forgot about all the photographs & illustrations. so many delightful little phrases like "heavy boots" and "one hundred dollars." i fell in love all over again, and was even more skeptical that the movie could even convey 1/100th of the book's magic.

regardless, my book-to-movie buddy and i met in St. Cloud over the weekend to see it, and.... it was better than i expected. there were a lot of liberties taken with the story, which i actually didn't mind. once i realized the screenplay was only loosely based on the book, i decided to let go & enjoy the movie on its own. Sandra did great; her performance as the bereaved mom was subtle and heartbreaking. (although she had lots of close-ups and it creeped me out that a 47 year old woman has less wrinkles than me.) there's a scene in both the book & movie that is the major plot resolution/redemption for the main character. in the book, that was a bit lost on me because i was so fixated on the language and nuances, but Hollywood is great for plumping up those scenes and serving them to you on a silver platter, with a side of Kleenex. which for one of the first times, i actually appreciated.

so in short, loved the book, liked the movie. would recommend both!

when you put it that way...

January 26, 2012

"Fancy" tater tot hot dish

print by Adam Turman

a few years ago, i decided to really earn my Minnesota stripes and cook a hot dish for the very first time. not just any hot dish- THE quintessential Minnesotan hot dish. the natives talk about this dish with equal parts reverance and revulsion- something they adored as a child but could not imagine including it in their meals rotation as an adult. like it or not, the dish had become an institution, and if i was really serious about my status as a Midwesterner, i needed to make it.

there are many variations on tater tot hot dish, and it seems that however your mom made it when you were little, well, that was the "right" way and there is no room for improvement. all moms' culinary skills are not created equal though, and i skimmed some pretty blah recipes. then i thought- i wonder if anyone has tried to class up the tater tot hot dish? Minneapolis is quickly becoming a major foodie town, and one of its signature moves is gourmet comfort food.
Haute Dish is the perfect example, with the perfect name to boot) i did a couple searches for "fancy tater tot hot dish" or "gourmet tater tot hot dish" and after a few tries, i found a great starting point from a random blog written by a woman in.... you guessed it, Minneapolis.

i am not sure if she's a born'n'bred Minnesotan because she calls it "tater tot casserole." (the c word can be a serious offense to some here.) and while her recipe is great, i modified it for our own taste buds, and because i don't keep bison meat around.

4-5 cloves of garlic
a little bit of thyme
one large bag of frozen tater tots
1 lb ground beef
bundle of fresh asparagus (cut into 1" chunks)
1/2 stick of butter
4 oz. bleu cheese
8 oz. feta cheese
1 can of Amy's (or other high quality/organic) cream of mushroom soup
1/2 can soy milk or regular milk (i've made it both ways)

Brown the the ground beef in a large pan on the stove top over medium-high heat.
When its mostly done, add the butter, garlic, & thyme and cook until well done, and until most of the watery liquid has evaporated. There will be buttery liquid left -thats good.

Assemble Casserole:
Mix the entire can of soup with half a can of milk, set aside.
Dump the beef/garlic/butter mixture into a 2 quart baking dish. Spread it around evenly.
Place the asparagus pieces, evenly spaced, on top of the beef.
Sprinkle the bleu cheese & feta crumbles on top of the asparagus. (note- i didn't use all of either cheese- i just sprinkled it until it looked like enough)
Pour the soup/milk mixture, evenly, over all the layers.
Neatly arrange a snug layer of tater tots over all of this.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 to 1.5 hours.
Remove the foil for the last 15-20 minutes of cooking, so the tots get crispy.
It's done when the liquid is bubbling and the middle is warm. set on counter to cool a little before digging in!

January 23, 2012

State of Wonder

this is another book i have been anticipating since putting it on my library request list months and months ago. i discovered Patchett through the multitudes of people recommending Bel Canto to me. that book was a unique experience- taking in the story felt more like looking at a painting than reading a book, if that makes any sense. my friend Ann said (something to the effect of) the more distance she had from the book, the more power & depth the story gained. i think we're kind of saying the same thing- the book is best when you step back and take in the whole composition in at once, vs. your experience with the details page by page.

so i was thrilled to finally receive her newest from the library. another new story with beginnings in Minnesota (the other being Freedom by Johnathan Franzen), this time a pharmaceuticals company in Eden Prairie. doctors from their lab are sent to the Amazon to investigate fertility drug research being conducted in the jungle. there are bends in the laws of nature, snake attacks, cannibals, and a twist at the end that made me set the book down in surprise. such a well-crafted story with an amazing payoff at the end.

Street Anatomy

one of the blogs in my reader is Street Anatomy, which chronicles street art around the world that contains some sort of anatomical reference. i loved this morning's post, though it's an illustration, not street art:

it took me a while to see the skull...

January 19, 2012

The Poe Toaster

image fom wikipedia

Sometime in the 1930's, Edgar Allen Poe's grave received a mysterious visitor. a man in black, with a white scarf and a wide-brimmed hat, came to the graveyard at Baltimore's Westminster Church in the early hours of January 19th- Poe's birthday- with three red roses and a bottle of cognac. he toasted the writer and left his gifts at the grave site.

this apparently became an annual tradition starting in 1949, the centennial of Poe's mysterious death. the anonymous man was dubbed The Poe Toaster, and he faithfully appeared with his gifts every January 19th up until 1998, when it appeared that the tradition was passed onto "a son." the new Poe Toaster followed the footsteps of his predecessor through 2009, the bicentennial of Poe's birthday. he has failed to show for the past 3 years, and the official vigil keeper has declared the tradition over. no one knows what happened to the Poe Toaster; most are assuming he passed away. impersonators have attempted to keep the tradition alive, but none know the Toaster's trademark gesture that would identify him solely to the vigil keeper.

there are so many things to love about this slice of history: the intrigue of Poe himself- his life, his work, his death, the romance of a mysterious grave visitor, the peculiarity of his attire and gifts, his given moniker, the legacy passed down to a new generation, and even the death of the tradition itself. the fact that years later, a vigil is kept in the hopes that he might arrive again. a forever unsolved mystery- i hope the Toasters' identities are never discovered or revealed. our world needs a little more mystery.

January 17, 2012

photographic inspiration

this one is from my adventurous artist friend Jesce. apparently she lost some photos, and the memory card recovery program she used chopped up the photos and made them all crazy-like. this one is my absolute favorite. i could look at it for days.

this one is Marvin Gaye, photographed by Annie Leibovitz, seen
here. i love Marvin, Annie, and whatever was going on that led to this great shot.

January 16, 2012

Personal trainer.

so Matt and i decided to get a treadmill this winter. i was enjoying my metrodome running routine, but it was only Tuesdays and Thursdays in the evening. we both wanted more opportunities- me for running on the other 5 days of the week, Matt for running in the morning. so we found a great used treadmill from 2nd Wind and set it up in the "woman cave"- our basement room that houses all my arts & crafts stuff, the vintage sofa i refuse to get rid of (that is now the cat's bed), and the rest of our exercise stuff. although it might be more appropriate to call it "Gordon's room" since i'm sure that is how he thinks of it.

the treadmill sits in a corner of the room next to the craft table, and one morning while i was at work, Matt sent me this photo from his phone:

apparently Gordon was really intrigued by this new development in his room and jumped up on the chair to watch Matt run. apparently he stayed there the entire time. Later when i got home and went for my first treadmill run, he did the same to me. this kitty is a never-ending source of amusement.

January 15, 2012


from the now-defunct postsecret app

this made me smile because it reminded me of an intern i had a few years ago. he had this running joke where he would ask some unsuspecting person, "wanna see me run around naked?" then he would throw down a bottle of Naked Juice and run around it. one of those silly jokes that inexplicably got funnier and funnier each time he did it. thanks for resurrecting that memory, Postsecret.

January 14, 2012

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns)

i love The Office, and i adore Mindy Kaling. i love that she was hired at 24 to be a writer for the show and has gone on to star in it, direct episodes, and become one of the show's executive producers. you go girl. i also love her carefully crafted character Kelly Kapoor; i never knew vapid & shallow could be so funny. my all-time favorite Kelly moment is in season 4, when Ryan returns to the Scranton branch for the first time after being promoted to corporate in NYC. i can't find a clip but basically she fakes a pregnancy to get him to take her out to dinner. it's brilliant.

once i discovered that she was writing a book, i immediately put it on hold at the library. i was like #728 on the request list, which is standard for really popular books. Matt decided to be a sneaky awesome husband and order the book for me for Christmas, because there was no way #728 would make it to #1 before the end of December, right?

turns out, i made it to #1 exactly 4 days before Christmas, a fact that i was super excited for. i was on vacation and still semi-ill, which means lots of time for lounging and reading funny, not-too-challenging memoirs. i went to the library, but for whatever reason the book was not waiting for me on the hold shelf. my other book was there, but not Mindy. this had never happened before, and normally i would h
ave bitched to chatted with a librarian about it immediately, but i was tired and had the other book, so i let it go and went home.

well, the reason the book wasn't there is because, unbeknownst to me, Matt had overheard me talking about going to get it, and had called the library and talked the librarian into removing the book from the shelf. can you believe it? she was understandably very wary and made him verify all my information before finally saying, "...i guess i'm just going to have to trust you on this..." Matt knew if i had gone to pick up the book, i would've read the whole thing before we even got to Christmas morning. thankfully the librarian complied and Christmas was saved!

PS- the book's great. it's basically, exactly like the little sister to Bossypants.

January 11, 2012

January 10, 2012

Business card stamp.

how brilliant is this? (especially for an environmental consultant) create a stamp so any scrap piece of paper can be used as a business card. seen here.

January 9, 2012

The best marching band song, ever.

Matt found this gem. whoever thought of this is an absolute genius.

January 8, 2012

January 7, 2012

A year long exposure.

seen here

the above image came from a pinhole camera aimed at the Toronto skyline... for an entire year. a normal exposure for a photo is a fraction of a second. the exposure for this image lasted 31,556,926 seconds (give or take a few), but through a minuscule hole in a camera mounted next to a metal box in the local shipyard. i don't know what's more amazing- the fact that the camera was waiting for the artist 365 days later, or that the image that resulted is so dreamy and perfect.

January 5, 2012

snow church

seen here

100 years ago, so much snow fell in this German town that people couldn't make it to the local church, so they built their own out of snow. they continue to build snow churches to commemorate the event.

The best map.

David Imus worked 7 days a week for 2 years on this map, seen here. it's amazingly comprehensive- it includes geographical markers and political boundaries, major highways, airports, points of interest and universities, and he made nice touches like marking city size by the size of font he used. while most maps are compiled using algorithms, Imus personally selected the placement of absolutely everything to ensure total accuracy. this Slate article points out his innovative use of color- "Your standard wall map will often paint the U.S. states different colors so their shapes are easily grasped. But Imus’ map uses thick lines to indicate state borders and reserves the color for more important purposes—green for denser forestation, yellow for population centers."

it's really quite a masterpiece.

January 2, 2012

Beaded wall hanging.

for some reason, as soon as it gets cold, i get crafty. i start scheming projects and actually have the motivation to do them. so far this fall/winter, i've created a gallery wall by our back door for free, built the crazy bookshelf with Matt, started a patchwork quilt, made the advent "wreath" and cat stocking, strung up some photos in an old gilded frame- another free project, and this wall hanging... thing.

it started with this garland for sale on the internet. i saw that and thought i could make something similar with my bead collection. i've been hoarding beads for years, for no real reason other than they're crafty and if there is even a remote possibility that i could make something from it, i'll keep it. the "bead" tin has slowly filled up over the years- broken necklaces, beads i made at summer camp a lifetime ago, shells with holes in them, porcelain beads found at the bottom of my husband's toolbox... into the tin they all go.

i already had the string, and my backyard is not want for sticks, so all the supplies were there. the beads got weeded out by how large their opening was for the string, and from there it was just "artful placement."