Category Archives: Obsessions

Binge-viewing bonanza, part 2

My binge-viewing habit started with movies. It was a snowy weekend while I was living in a little town just north of Niagara Falls. I didn’t have many friends at the time, so naturally I went to the video rental store. I still recall that blissful, wintry weekend of binging on the Godfather movies.

So I was surprised to see so few movies recommended for my binge-viewing list. Maybe it’s because you have to go back a ways for the really good stuff, and that stuff isn’t top-of-mind. (Facebook favors the top-of-mind.) And it’s true there is an embarrassment of riches on television these days. But I did receive a handful, including one fabulous trove of suggestions from my old friend and colleague Joe Vince. Anyway, here goes.

First, the paltry list from my non-Joe friends:

  • Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors trilogy: “Bleu”, “Bialy”, “Blanc”
  • The Harry Potter series
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, ending with The Hobbit and then a trip to theater to see “The Desolation of Smaug”

All worthwhile films for sure, but a tiny selection. Joe’s list makes up for it. Here goes (I am repeating it verbatim):

Neo-Noir by Decade: Start with Lee Marvin in “Point Blank” (1967), then “The Long Goodbye” (1973), throw in Michael Mann’s “Thief” (1980) and Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight” (1997) and end with “Brick” (2005) and “Killing Them Softly” (2012)

Orson Welles (Minus “Citizen Kane” and “The Magnificent Ambersons”): “The Third Man,” “Lady From Shanghai,” “Mr. Arkadin,” “Touch of Evil” and “F For Fake.” If you’re feeling particularly game, end it with the animated “Transformers: The Movie” from the 1980s.

My Top 12 Movie Christmases: All of these are set during the season or have excellent Christmas scenes. “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” The Thin Man,” “GoodFellas,” “The Godfather,” “Die Hard,” “Boogie Nights,” “The Apartment,” “Brazil,” “Go,” “Lethal Weapon,” “Trading Places,” and “LA Confidential.”

“The Story of Film: An Odyssey”: OK, this is one thing, a 15-part British documentary series (each episode is an hour) that’s on Netflix and is phenomenal. I binge-watched this earlier this year, and it was a revelation. Biggest downside: The narrator’s voice is haunting, and I don’t mean that as a good thing. He’s Irish, but his accent and inflections are quite possibly the most discordant in the history voice-over narration. Not enough to make me not recommend the series, but enough to fill my sleeping hours with dread. A the kids say, tho, your mileage may vary.

Happy Holidays, everyone! See you next year.

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Binge-viewing bonanza! Or, what I am doing over my holiday vacation

I am about to experience two blissful weeks of Living Lightly. No holiday travel, four days off work (plus two weekends), barely any holiday parties, and a lovely low-stress boyfriend who does a lot of the cooking. When it dawned on me that this would be the case, I naturally thought: BINGE VIEWING.

I’ve got the time, I’ve got the couch, I’ve got the excuse (super cold and snowy outside). Just one catch. I have run out of ideas. I set up a binge-viewieng wish list a while back, and I’ve gone through most of it. What’s left is either outdated or, well, at the bottom of the list.

So I decided to crowd-source:

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I was not quite prepared for the response. I received roughly 70 comments and 98 recommendations in all. And boy are they an eclectic mix.

I was so overwhelmed by the choices — and my friends’ enthusiasm — that I felt I should share. I think it’s a list that will help humankind. Consider it my holiday gift to you, my way of preventing you from wasting your time on untested BBC series, or questionable Showtime productions, or B-list HBO programming.

But first — a few observations.

The number-one most frequently recommended binge-viewing series: House of Cards (12 recommendations). Almost no one specified original BBC version versus Netflix, but given how recently it was promoted on Netflix I’m gonna guess the Kevin Spacey version was the impetus.

This was followed by:

  • Orange is the New Black (7 recommendations)
  • Downtown Abbey (6)
  • Homeland (6)
  • Game of Thrones (5)
  • Scandal (4)

And then it drops off.

My personal favorites were the surprises — lesser-known British series (thanks, Jeff, for tipping me off about Mapp & Lucia), or old gems (Twin Peaks!) or newer options I had overlooked (Portlandia and American Horror Story look pretty great). On the other hand, I am kind of shocked at some oversights (Rome! True Blood! Battlestar Galactica! People, come on!). And of course, there is a natural filter in that these come from my Facebook friends, and therefore from people inclined to have tastes, cultural references, and quirks similar to mine, for better or worse.

So here’s the list. I am breaking it into two parts: TV shows and movies. I am starting with TV shows, and am bold-facing ones that I have seen and can recommend. They are in alphabetical order with the number of recommendations listed in parentheses (if more than  one). Check back in the next day or two for the movies. Now, the only thing I need to do is pick what I’ll binge on tomorrow. Yikes.

24
Arrested Development (2)
Better Off Ted (2)
The Blacklist
Boardwalk Empire
Bones
Breaking Bad (3)
Burn Notice
Dexter
Doctor Who (2)
Call the Midwife
Chuck
Coven
Deadwood (2)
Downton Abbey (6)
The Following
Elementary
Eureka
Firefly
Fresh Meat
Friday Night Lights (2)
Fringe
Game of Thrones (5)
The Hollow Crown
House
Homeland (6)
House of Cards (12) (I saw the BBC version)
The IT Crowd
Justified
The Killing (2)
Life
Life on Mars (the original British version) and its spinoff Ashes to Ashes
Lillyhammer
Longmire
Lost
Luther
Mad Men
Mapp & Lucia
Merlin
Monarch of the Glen
Monk
NCIS
Nurse Jackie (2)
Once Upon a Time
Orange is the New Black (7)
Orphan Black (2)
Parenthood
Portlandia
Realtree’s Monster Bucks XVII
Rev
Scandal (4)
Sex in the City
Shameless
Sherlock
Six Feet Under (2)
Slings and Arrows
Sons of Anarchy
Spy
The Top of the Lake
Treme (2)
Tudors (3)
Twin Peaks
The Wallender series
The White Queen
West Wing
The Wire

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A publisher’s reflections: Life in a post-panic world

I’m in my fourth decade in the publishing business. From the first week I set foot in the door of this occupation, I’ve been hearing alarms about the death of fill-in-the-blank. With all due respect, I’m over it.

Newspapers, magazines, books, the written word – they are not dying. They’re sharing the audience with more options. The way I see it, hanging on to the discussion about what’s going away is a distraction from the hard work of moving forward. I’d rather be in conversations about the fun stuff going on and how to be part of it.

I went to Oxford, Miss., last week to attend a conference hosted by The University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Billed as a gathering of industry folks “looking for solutions to today’s publishing problems,” it’s called the ACT Experience — Amplify, Clarify, Testify. It’s a little like a publishing PechaKucha except each presenter gets 30 minutes instead of 6 minutes, 40 seconds.

I hadn’t been to an organized gathering of publishing people in a while. Following trends via news feeds and e-newsletters is hardly a substitute, and I was looking forward to an actual 3-D discussion. I couldn’t wait to hear from a former publisher of The New Yorker, the multimedia director at Vanity Fair, the co-founder of Blindfold magazine, and the creative minds behind one of the biggest women’s magazine in the Netherlands, among other folks doing very cool things in the magazine world. I was, however, wary of the theme: “Never Underestimate the Power of Print in a Digital Age.” Would we be recycling the death-of-print conversation again?

Thankfully, no. What happened instead was invigorating and encouraging. While some of the issues and admonitions were familiar, there was a different undercurrent. As I listened to one speaker after another, the ideas shifted fluidly from print to digital to QR codes to mobile to watermarking to . . . whatever. There was a lot of talk about storytelling, content, passion, quality. It wasn’t platform-agnostic so much as platform-pluralistic.

BoSacks holds forth.

By the end I was thinking that, after all these years, maybe we are ready to get on with things. And as I’ve thought about it since, I think maybe a corner has been turned, one where we folks in the business of producing paid content can quit obsessing over what we are losing grip of and invest our energy in getting a grip.

I scribbled pages of notes while I sat in the auditorium. Here’s a small sample:

“Loss of dominance is not equivalent to death, it just feels that way.” — Bob Sacks a.k.a. BoSacks, the inimitable media blogger.

“The human story by terrific writers wins any battle in any market.” – Michael Capuzzo, who with his wife Teresa publishes Mountain Home magazine.

“Mediocre content is fading fast in print.” — Bob Sacks again, warning us that there’s no room for so-so print content anymore. His advice: “Stop whining about the death of print, which isn’t happening, and get back to the business of producing content people want.” The future is all about fewer, better, more expensive print products.

And here’s my favorite quote of all from the Act 3 Experience:

“Make something worth printing.”

This comes from a third-generation printer. His name is David Fry, chief technology officer at Fry Communications, and he was one of several printing-industry representatives who were talking about ways their business is adapting in today’s marketplace.

If it’s good enough, if it’s something your customer wants, it’s worth the tactile, permanent experience of print. It’s worth paying for and holding on to. “Make something worth printing.” It kind of all boils down to that, doesn’t it?

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Eggplant parm odyssey, continued: The search, the showdown, the conclusion

I received some sympathetic suggestions after I disclosed my longing for a certain frozen Italian entree that local stores don’t carry anymore. Someone suggested Trader Joe’s, where I found one boring (above) and one yummy (below) option. I highly recommend the yummy one when you’re in the mood for a post-modern variation.

Trader Joe’s Stacked Eggplant Parmesan, an excellent reinterpretation if you are in the mood for a reinterpretation.

I also called the 800 number at Celentano, and left a message about my plight, including my  mailing address.

While I anxiously awaited a reply, I discovered that a restaurant in my neighborhood has an eggplant parm dish on the menu. Still plagued with a craving, I splurged and was pleasantly surprised. True, it takes liberties — adding spinach and pasta — but it was pretty darned good. The eggplant medallions were creamy on the inside, crunchy on the outside, not greasy. Skillfully done, VIA Downer.

Then I received an envelope in the mail with a form letter, three $1 coupons, and a neatly hand-written note in the margin:

“The Walmart store located at 3355 S. 27th St. carries our Celentano Eggplant Parmigiana.”

Bingo! I had some free time this week so I made the trip to the south side, carrying my letter and my coupons. Wow that’s one big Walmart down there on South 27th, a lot of frozen-food cases to search. I went up, I went down. I tried Italian, I tried frozen entrees. I could not find the Celentano. I asked a gentleman who was wearing a snowsuit and stocking frozen food.

“Uh, we’ve got the meatballs.”

“Meatballs? No! You are supposed to have the eggplant!”

“Um, the noodles?”

“No, no, no! Here, it says right in this letter!” I fear I might have waved it in his face.

“Oh, I think I know where it is.”

And he led me to the boxes. (Queue orchestral music.) Behold:

Pretty great price, too. Four boxes are now nestled in my freezer. John and I were thinking of having a nibble at Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro bar tonight, but maybe I’ll just stay home and heat up my oven … .

(A special thank you to my friend Deborah for assisting in my odyssey.)

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Eggplant parm chronicles, continued

Dear person who recommended the Trader Joe’s Eggplant Parm:

Tonight, I needed my eggplant parm comfort food. Bad. Following your suggestion, I went to TJ’s. I found the “Trader Giotto’s Eggplant Parmesan Grilled Not Fried.” OK so I burned my hand because in loading it into the oven the frozen cube of eggplant parm popped out of the cardboard tray and landed on the oven’s bottom and I had to retrieve it. OK so my apartment now smells like burnt marinara sauce. I was willing to put that aside.

But after heating it up according to directions, I found the sauce watery, the eggplant on the tough side, and the entire dish tame-tasting.

Conclusion: Not a Celentano substitute.

I did find a second eggplant parm at Trader Joe’s. Perhaps that is what you meant. I suspect I’ll have another day like today soon and will try it. More later.

Sincerely,

B.

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Admissions and Addictions: Celentano Eggplant Parmigiana

For some people it’s peanut butter cups, for others potato chips or maybe chocolate-chip-cookie-dough ice cream. For me, it’s Celentano Eggplant Parmigiana. I cannot remember when, but at some point in my life this particular frozen entree became my go-to stress-relief food. I vividly recall a down-on-its luck neighborhood grocery store in Binghamton, N.Y., and the path I wore out on the linoleum floor by making a beeline to the freezer case for my fix of C.E.P. through a succession of angsty finding-myself days. And then I moved to Niagara Falls, where I had to hunt it down at another grocery store so I could get through my phase of reckless finding-myself days, and then I moved to Green Bay, where I needed my beloved eggplant parm to deal with a series of a misguided finding-myself  days.

As I moved from town to town, there would be the inevitable panic phase, because not all grocery stores actually carried the line. Shocking.  So I’d load up on my trips to New Jersey, wrapping white boxes of frozen eggplant parm in newspaper and trusting they’d stay frozen in the belly of the jetliner long enough for me to smuggle them home, and, ultimately, eat them.

Here in Milwaukee, I have embraced and abandoned three grocery stores that stocked Celentano Eggplant Parmigiana, only to discontinue it. I can — and this pains me — no longer find it in my current metro market. I’ve made complaints, oh I have. I have considered lobbying my friends to make complaints, too, but my sense of shame prevented me. It is, after all, a very high-calorie, high-fat item. I should learn to live without it. And haven’t I found myself by now, anyway?

But then I happened across Celentano Eggplant Parmigiana on a trip to New York City. A place where they know a good frozen Italian entree when they see one. I was there on business and a friend was kind enough to let me use her apartment while she was out of town. She lives a few blocks from a D’Agostino Supermarket; there it was, smiling at me from the freezer case. I was reunited. The night before I left town I went back to my friend’s apartment and, in the city with the world’s densest concentration of good restaurants, I heated up a tray of Celentano Eggplant Parmigiana (in the oven, like you’re supposed to), cracked open a bottle of decent Chianti, and sat back to watch the city lights through the windows. No angst. Just happiness.

(This blog post is dedicated to my friend Suzanne, fellow C.E.P. devotee and my N.Y.C. host)

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Gardening notes: The difficult adolescent phase

Just home from the garden center, freshly potted. The cute and cuddly phase.

I fuss like a new mamma over my newly potted plants each spring. I cannot leave the house without watering and feeding them, fretting over any sign of trouble. If I could check in by phone during the day, I would. Plants are no different than pets. When you first bring them home they are cute little things — tender new shoots with the promise of young buds, staying picturesquely tucked into their clay plots. They are the equivalent of large-eyed kittens or tumbling puppies. Without the poop.

As the weeks wear on, of course you learn they won’t stay that way forever, and no matter what your hopes and dreams are for them they will go their own ways. For one thing, the world is a dangerous place. This year’s long and wet and cold spring was too much for the lobelia and begonia — two of my last hopes for flowering plants on a balcony that is increasingly shady (I am not an impatiens fan). I had to say goodbye. It was a simple ceremony by the dumpsters.  I find my own way to come to terms with these things.

Others go wild or disappoint in a variety of ways. Case in point: the cherry tomato plants. They were growing like crazy, giving off fabulous showy foliage, but where were the blossoms?  My experiment with Dusty Miller failed miserably. I gave myself over to coleus and vines to replace the drama that the flowers could not deliver. My herbs were true as ever, they never fail me.

The cherry tomato plant has gone all out of control on me.

By now, it is no longer cute-puppy time. My litter has become sensitive, brooding and demanding. They pout when, God forbid, I miss a morning watering. They’re messy, leaving stray leaves and dead blossoms all over the place. They’re still beautiful, some in a kind of sprawling, geeky way, and I still love them. But they require more patience. I must have faith that it will all be worth it. The cherry tomato plants are the worst, refusing to go where they’re told and instead wandering off to awkward places where I’ll never be able to reach their fruit — which, yes, has finally started coming forth (raging hormones — you know).

We’ll see how it works out. Soon, the tomatoes will ripen and sweet potato vine will mature lushly. Already, the basil is starting to look a little weary. Everyone’s roots are outgrowing their pots. I suppose there is a metaphor about going off to college somewhere about now. I’ll refrain. It’s just that — I saw a pile of leaves in the gutter on my walk today. Summer is on the wane. I’m getting wistful.

You know, it’s really OK that I have to sweep up after them now and then. It’ll seem so quiet and dull when they’re gone.

View through the screen door this morning.

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