Best Picture Baking Project: Dances With Wolves

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Look at me actually doing this two months in a row! Maybe it’ll only take me twenty years to finish the list! I made what the internet tells me is a traditional Lakota dessert, which was almost absurdly easy to make. But first, the movie!

Had I seen this one before?

Yes, at least twice, once as a kid and then as an assignment in my film criticism class in college. On that viewing I had to restart it multiple times because I kept falling asleep.

Top 3 observations on this viewing? 

  1. It was better than I remembered, visually especially. Kevin Costner clearly loves the Western landscape and he wants the audience to see why. (It’s still too long though.)

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2. Kevin, the voice over? Why? The words you’re saying are often good, but as a director, you must know that your strength as an actor is not using words expressively. Did you really listen to this and think, “Yeah, that conveys emotion.”

It’s easy to make fun of Kevin Costner (and we did while watching this) but he has a good physical presence, so it’s confusing how that disappears when he talks.

3. The racial politics of this are…confusing. Like, I know it got praised at the time as a revisionist Western that treats the Lakota (Sioux) people as full human beings. And it does that, and it’s particularly cool that Costner has them speak speak in their own language rather than weirdly accented English. But, the Lakota’s enemies the Pawnee are still pretty stereotypically “savage” and they are portrayed as more painted and “other” than the Lakota. Also I know they need her to be a translator, but it’s a little weird that there is a white woman available for him to fall in love with in a tribe of Indigenous people.

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win? 

Awakenings – I’ve never seen it and honestly don’t know much about it. But I love Penny Marshall.

Ghost – I love this movie, watched it many times, it’s a pulpy gem, but I’m genuinely surprised it was up for Best Picture.

Goodfellas – A classic and rightfully so, and the fact that it lost best editing to Dances is a travesty.

The Godfather: Part III – Wait, I thought its pretty well acknowledged this is bad?

Dances with Wolves is better than I remembered but I think it’s fair to say this should have been Goodfellas’s year.

Bechdel Test pass?

Nope. Two women talk at one point, but its just about Kevin.

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Also, how did she get such great 80s body in her hair out on the frontier?)

I wanted to make a Lakota dessert to go along with this, and google led me to this site. I’m sure the topping I made is far from authentic, but it was delicious!

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups frozen cherries (Note: the recipe calls for “chokecherries, but I don’t know what they are)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tsp constarch

Directions 

  1. In a sauce pan mix berries, sugar and 1/4 cup water
  2. Bring to a boil
  3. Stir cornstarch into 1/4 cup cold water until it has no lumps
  4. While berry mixture is boiling slowly add cornstarch water
  5. Stir gently until combined
  6. Simmer for 2 minutes on low heat
  7. Remove from heat
  8. Let cool for 5 minutes

 

Best Picture Baking Project: Crash

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Every list of “worst Best Pictures” of all time includes the movie Crash, and so, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to getting to the next movie on my list, but it did give me a chance to attempt to make my favorite dessert, crème brûlée (because you crash through the surface…get it…), which wasn’t a complete success, but definitely less of a disaster than this movie.

Had I seen this one before? 

Yes. I saw it the year it came out, I was in high school, and remember liking it a lot. And then I saw it again in college and remember hating it a lot. I thought maybe on this viewing I would find a middle ground, but honestly I came away flabbergasted at my high school self. What grabbed me so much about this?

Top 3 observations on this viewing?

  1. Wow, wow, wow, this movie is heavy handed. Did you know racism is bad? Did you know that Americans like to shoot each other with guns? Did you know that every person you have ever met is prejudiced in some way? Also, racism, still bad. As are guns.

         Of course, these aren’t bad messages on their own, but so few of the people in this               movie seem like actual humans with emotions and lives, instead they are all archetypes with Beliefs and anger issues. And this “all people are prejudiced in their own way” philosophy leads to some really, really strange false equivalences, the unintentionally funniest of which is the way that police misconduct and gun violence are given the same emotional weight as Sandra Bullock falling down the stairs:

2. SO MANY SUPER UPSETTING, BATSHIT CRAZY, UNSETTLING THINGS HAPPEN AND ARE THEN JUST ABANDONED. Like, if you haven’t seen this movie since it came out (because why would you have?) did you remember that it includes Ludacris “Chris” Bridges, opening a van he stole (after hitting the Asian owner with an SUV he stole from the white DA and his racist wife, played by Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock) and finds it FULL OF VICTIMS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING? Because I had completely forgotten that. And in the end, he just drives off and leaves them in Chinatown with $40 and a smirk. WTF even is this movie?!?!

3. There are a couple of performances that rise above the ridiculous crap they are given to say. Matt Dillon was Oscar nominated for this, and I remember feeling that was justified at the time, and he’s not bad here (high praise, I promise.) But the only scenes that feel like they are inhabited by actual human beings, are those with Michael Peña and his daughter. So, remake Crash as a movie about a struggling locksmith who keeps running into people who talk like aliens who are one slightly stressful moment away from saying an incredibly racist thing at any moment.

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This is the believable character. That’s how subtle this film is.

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win?

Brokeback Mountain – A beautiful, heartbreaking, small story with larger social significance and lovely, sweeping imagery. It holds up.

Capote – Obviously a showcase for the central performance, but watchable on the whole.

Good Night, and Good Luck – I haven’t seen this one since the year it came out, but I loved it then, and certain moments from it are lodged in my head.

Munich – I’ve never seen it, but Steven Spielberg is pretty good at making movies.

I seriously have no idea how this won. I think Academy voters were conned into a narrative where if they didn’t vote for it they were racist. Any of the rest of these should have won over Crash, but I would give it to Brokeback.

Bechdel test pass? 

Technically, yes. But those interactions are so incredibly racist, it’s really hard for my intersectional, feminist heart to grant it a pass. Sandra Bullock being cruel to her housekeeper about her dishes or a cop trading racial slurs with the woman she got in a fender bender with is not exactly the representation I crave.

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My attempt at crème brIûlée was, in the grand tradition of custard desserts I have made for this project, less than one hundred percent successful, but I think I know what I did wrong, and have annotated the recipe below.

Torchless Crème Brûlée

Ingredients for Custard

  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

Ingredients for Topping

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

Directions 

  • Position rack in the middle position of your oven
  • Preheat oven to 325F
  • Set ramekins and a large casserole pan off to the side (NOTE: Don’t substitute French onion soup bowls for ramekins, they don’t work the same way)
  • Whisk together egg yolks, sugar until creamy, cohesive, and lemony in color
  • Add cream, vanilla and salt
  • Which until smooth and combined
  • Carefulle divide mixture between four ramekins, filled about 3/4 of the way full
  • Pour 1/3 an inch water in baking pan
  • Place ramekins in water and fill until water is about halfway up ramekins
  • Place pan in oven and bake for 45-60 minutes, custard should be slightly set
  • Let cool (NOTE: Don’t forget completely to let them cool, you will basically make sweet soup) 
  • While ramekins cool, remove water from baking pan
  • Set oven to broil
  • Place ramekins back in dish
  • Sprinkle remaining sugar evenly over the top of the custar
  • Place pan under broiler for 3-5 minutes monitoring closely to avoid burning

Best Picture Baking Project: Cimarron

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I think at some point I’ve explained on the blog that the reason that I’m doing this project alphabetically was to avoid “getting stuck in the 30s.” Well, so far the early winners I’ve watched (All Quiet on the Western Front and Cavalcade) had pleasantly surprised me. But…um…this one…did not. But, I found a really good cinnamon coffee cake recipe. (I chose it because I knew literally nothing about this movie going in except it’s name, which sounds like cinnamon.) But first, this mess of a movie:

Had I seen this one before? 

Nope. I thought it was about a horse named Cimarron, but it’s about a dude named Yancey Cravat, his wife Sabra, and very tangentially their son named Cimarron. (It literally took us until the penultimate scene to realize this.

Top 3 observations on this viewing?

  1. This movie is a racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic mess. Made even more so by the fact that it thinks it is being progressive by portraying Native Americans and sex workers and Jews at all without explicit condemnation. But this is how they introduce the character of Yancey’s black servant Isaiah (Eugene Jackson):
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Yes that’s an actual child hung up above a dinner table to fan the white people eating a meal. It does not get better for this character from here

2. The plot pacing of this is insane. It starts with the Land Run of 1889 in Oklahoma (with nary a mention of the Native Americans that land was stolen from by the way) and then it jumps a few times, first by 3 years, then 5, then like 20. And the main character, Yancey, disappears from the story with very little explanation twice. His wife (Irene Dunne) in the meantime has become a congresswoman, but we don’t get any details on that, because…her husband wasn’t there while it happened? Or something?

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Also Richard Dix wears SO. MUCH. MAKEUP. throughout the whole film

3. All of that being said, I know why the Academy wanted to honor this film. It was grand and ambitious, and technically a marvel for the time. I mean, look at how many people they got racing in the opening sequence:

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Apparently it took 40 cameras to capture, which is impressive, I guess.

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win? 

East Lynne – Never seen it. But the IMDB plot description seems like it as bonkers as this, but maybe less racist?

Skippy – Didn’t know this existed until right now, but it’s interesting that what is essentially a kids movie could get nominated for Best Picture at this point.

The Front Page – I’m not sure if I’ve seen this version, but I LOVE this play

Trader Horn – Also never seen this. But it’s IMDB plot includes the phrase “darkest Africa,” so it’s probably as racist as this, if not more

Umm…I obviously can’t really judge, but The Front Page is at least fun to watch. My friends and I needed multiple bottles of wine to make it through Cimarron, so…I’d say give to Ben Hecht.

Bechdel Test pass? 

Actually, yes. There are at least 4 named women, and they talk to each other about each other, and land, and the threat of those savage Native Americans. So…again, not the bastion of progressive values that it thought itself to be, but the women in it are human beings.

On the bright side, this coffee cake (adapted from this recipe) was delicious! And super easy to make!

Easy Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1.5 cups milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

Directions 

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Whisk together flour, salt, sugar, baking powder
  • In a separate bowl mix milk, eggs, and vanilla
  • Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet (I did it a cup at a time mixing completely after each step)
  • Add the melted butter
  • Pour batter evenly into a greased 9×13 baking pan
  • Mix brown sugar and cinnamon together
  • Spread cinnamon sugar evenly onto better
  • Swirl sugar with a fork
  • Bake for 30 minutes
  • Let cool and enjoy!

Best Picture Baking Project: Chicago

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Hey! Remember when I used to do this! It’s been over a year since the last one (which you may recall involved a botched attempt at mixing, cake, alcohol, and fire), but I finally got my act together last night and made some “Frango” mint brownies in honor of Chicago, the first musical to win Best Picture since 1969 when it won in 2003 (none as won since, though for about 3 minutes in 2016, La La Land thought they had…) Anyway, focusing on an actual best picture winner:

Had I seen this one before? 

Yes. As a musical theater middle and high schooler I watched this countless times. But I don’t actually remember when I last saw it. I had a glowing memory of it as a near perfect movie in my head, and…it doesn’t quite live up to that but it is a really fun adaptation that makes Bob Fosse mainstream somehow, which I appreciate.

Top 3 observations on this viewing? 

  1. Despite what my boyfriend referred to as, “a troubling pattern of violence against men,” this song holds up:
    And see Mya there! This movie is full of cameos! Including Dominic West! And Chita Rivera! And Lucy Liu! I’m sure that I was excited about Ms. Liu at the time, but last night I was the most excited to see Chita, since she was in the original broadway cast of Chicago and it’s pretty cool that she was included here.

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2. I remember people talked a lot about Richard Gere was miscast in a musical, because he can’t sing. But Billy Flynn isn’t a hard part to sing, the issue is that he can’t dance/give himself over to the unreality of a musical number. He sounds fine, he just looks so uncomfortable.

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Look at those shoulders! He is so tense

3. Every single character in this movie is a sociopath, except Amos (John C. Reilly). I knew it was about murders, and the beginnings of a vampiric crime press, but I mean seriously these are all the worst humans. Except Amos, bless his dumb little heart. He deserves so much better than these monsters.

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win? 

Gangs of New York – I’ve never seen all of this, I’ve heard good things, and it’s Scorsese…

The Hours – I love this movie, but it is so small and quiet, this nomination feels like its win

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers  – I have attempted to watch this multiple times and fallen asleep each time. (I will eventually see it when I get to Return of the King on this list…I promise).

The Pianist – Ooomph. This one is a gut punch.

So, it was a real grab bag of a year. At the time I was thrilled for Chicago and probably I’d still give it to them today. The Pianist is probably a better film, but Chicago is a more impressive production, which is technically what the Best Picture award is for.

Bechdel Test pass? 

Yes! They may all be horrendous criminals who murder men for revenge or money but they also have names! And they talk about their ambitions and fears and crimes.

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I wanted an old timey Chicago dessert, and all I could think of was Frango mints. I found a recipe for Frango mint fudge. But longtime readers know how fudge tends to go for me. So I adapted this recipe for mint chocolate brownies (mostly by simplifying it) and invented my own version of the classic treat:

Frango Mint Brownies 

Ingredients 

  • 1 box of fudgey brownie mix
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 8 tablespoons of butter softened to almost melted
  • 2 tablespoons of milk
  • 1.5 teaspoons mint extract
  • 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions 

  • Mix and bake brownies in a 9 by 13 in pan (I baked mine only 28 minutes for more of a cakey texture)
  • While they’re baking/cooling (I popped mine in the freezer) combine powdered sugar, milk, butter, and mint extract in a large bowl using a mixer
  • When brownies are cool, spread mint cream mixture evenly over the top
  • Top with a layer of chocolate chips
  • Place in fridge or freezer to cool/solidify
  • Slice and serve!

 

 

 

Weekly Adventure: It’s A Wonderful Life at the IFC Center

A few years ago I was lucky enough to see It’s A Wonderful Life on the big screen at the Music Box in Chicago. I had always liked the movie, and associated it with Christmas time and my mom (more on that in a second), but that was about it. But something about being in the old theater in the darkness of a Chicago winter and seeing Jimmy Stewart’s face up on the big screen larger than life, made the movie sing for me in a way it hadn’t before.

I meant to make it an annual tradition to find it showing in a theater every year. And then I went to grad school. There are showings in Austin (at the Paramount I think), but I worked evenings and could never seem to make it work while I lived there. Which is I was extra excited to get my IFC Member newsletter (thanks again for my gift membership Jules!) announcing their annual showtimes of the movie.

One of the great things about living in NYC has been how close I live to my parents. If you’ve read this blog for awhile you know that while I lived in Chicago and Texas I would try to make it back east a couple of times a year and torture them by making them pose for ridiculous photos, or even better capturing candid shots of them unaware and then publishing them here. But now, I get to go on adventures with them much more frequently, and I get to include them in exploring my new city. And last night I got the extra treat of inviting my mom to see her favorite movie of all time on a big screen. (Well, I put an open invitation of Facebook, and she guilt tripped me for not inviting her directly first, but the end result is the same.)

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Always festive in her Santa hat

After meeting her at the clock at Grand Central, where she was almost recruited into a group called the “Raging Grannies,” we headed downtown. In search of quick dinner, instead we found Rocco’s, where my mom declared it “smelled like Heaven,” and we had a very nutritious pre-movie meal:

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And then of course we got popcorn at the theater to add some salt to counteract the sugar.

An added bonus to last night’s screening was the presence of Donna Reed’s daughter, Mary Owen, to introduce the movie and answer questions about her mom.

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She pointed out little details I hadn’t noticed before, like the little lasso hanging down between George and Mary in the scene where she tells him she’s pregnant. But more than trivia, she set the tone very well for the movie by talking about how powerful it was for her to see a movie about the community spirit. And how luminous her mom was:

And she really was.

I even liked the Q&A (which almost never happens). Mostly because she answered my mom’s question. (After some guy in the crowd said, “the woman in the Santa hat has a question,” which pretty much made out night.

The movie itself somehow gets better every time I see it. Or, more likely, I understand it more every time. The last time I saw it in the theater I brought my boyfriend at the time, who was highly skeptical. He didn’t like Christmas movies, and he didn’t like sentimental things. But even he came out of the theater loving George Bailey’s story. Because it earns it’s sentimental ending by showing the real hardship and frustration it takes to be a decent man. Especially when fighting against forces more powerful then you will ever be. (It’s really hard not to read Mr. Potter as analogous to certain people officially granted power yesterday.) But, as Clarence’s inscription says:

I don’t have some grand conclusion really. I just woke up today, tired but happy I got to share this night with my mom. And then motivated by seeing she had already posted about going for a run this morning, because she is insane, but I love her.

Best Picture Baking Project: Cavalcade

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It was finally cool enough this past weekend to turn on the oven without wanting to die, so I took that opportunity to dive back in to my list of Best Pictures. Next on my list was Cavalcade, which won in 1932/33. It’s about an English family living through the first decades of the twentieth century. So I made a “Turn of the Century” Devil’s Food cake, which was the first tiered cake I’ve ever made, and I think it turned out pretty well. But first, the movie:

Had I seen this one before?

Nope. I hadn’t heard of it.

Top 3 observations on this viewing?

  1. I was explaining to my dad last night, that I chose to go through these movies alphabetically because I didn’t want to “get stuck in the ’30s,” because really old movies can be great, but they are often interesting messes. People were still trying to figure out what movies were and how they worked. This definitely falls into that category. You can tell it was a play, and the actors are stage actors trying to figure out what film acting is supposed to look like. In the case of the lead actress, Diana Wynward, you can see her learn how not to stare into middle distance throughout the film.

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2. This is basically the original Downton Abbey (or Upstairs, Downstairs, or Titanic, etc.). Which makes it both fun and a little predictable plot wise. It’s obviously not this movie’s fault that we know what happens to the boy who swears to his sweetheart that the war is almost over, but it does get in the way of enjoying this as a modern viewer.

3. There were a few remarkably modern touches though. Especially the treatment of Fanny, the servants’ child who makes a name for herself as a dancer/jazz singer. You think she’s going to be the tragically ruined lower class girl, but she’s actually a practical woman who can take care of herself. And she gets to sing the most Noel Coward song ever:

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win?

My personal Oscar would go to 42nd Street,  I see why the Academy would see Cavalcade as more ambitious at the time.

Bechdel Test Pass?

Yes! There are at least 5 women I can think of with names (though “Cook” shouldn’t really count I suppose.) And they often talk to each other. Many of their conversations concern men, but there’s a couple of moments between the central wife/mother character Jane and her best friend Margaret about going out an enjoying life without men around. Including trips to the zoo.

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They also talk a lot about how much they love Queen Victoria.

Turn of the Century Minted Devil’s Food Layer Cake

Ingredients for Cake

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • a couple handfuls of semisweet chocolate chips

Ingredients for Icing 

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup dark corn syrup
  • 1 pound semisweet chocolate broken up
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • fresh mint leaves for garnish

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350F
  • Butter 2 9 in cake pans and line them with parchment paper, also buttered and floured
  • Bring water to simmer in a sauce pan
  • Place cocoa in a small bowl
  • Gradually whisk in hot water
  • Whisk in buttermilk and peppermint
  • In another bowl mix flower and baking powder
  • Using an electric mixer [I got to use my mom’s KitchenAid which is a wonder machine] beat the butter until it is fluffy
  • Gradually add the brown sugar until it’s light
  • Add eggs, beating well after each one
  • Add dry ingredients and cocoa-buttermilk mixture in 2 batches each beating until just combined
  • Divide batter between two cake pans
  • Sprinkle chocolate chips over each pan
  • Bake until tester comes out with moist crumbs (about 20-30 min)
  • Cool cakes in pans on racks for 15 min
  • Run knife around outside of cakes to loosen
  • Turn out cakes onto racks
  • Let cakes cool completely while preparing the icing
  • Bring whipping cream and corn syrup to a simmer in a large saucepan
  • Turn heat to low
  • Add chocolate
  • Stir until smooth and melted
  • Add peppermint extract and remove from heat
  • Let cool completely and then place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours
  • Remove icing from fridge
  • Place one cake layer on platter
  • Spread icing over bottom layer then place other tier on top
  • Spread remaining icing over top and around sides of cake
  • Garnish with mint leaves

 

 

Weekly Adventure: Spring Break Getaway Edition

It’s South by Southwest time here in Austin, and like a true local, I spent most of it out of town. (This isn’t a slam on SXSW, I find people that complain about it more insufferable than festival goers, I just had other places to be.) Mainly, one of my dear friends was getting married in Chicago last weekend and because plane tickets into Austin spike in price for the festival I chose to take a detour through Dallas. And just in case you were ever in doubt about whether or not I’m a huge nerd, I spent my time there visiting a couple of presidential history museums (oh, and taking advantage of my hotel’s cable to watch Shadowhunters in real time…).

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I seemed to have brought the gray weather north with me, but nothing can ruin this view for me. It gets me every time I come around the curve on LSD.

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As previously stated, this is not a wedding blog, but I’m just so incredibly proud of Julia and my gift to the happy couple. It seems Pinterest worthy, so I’m uploading here so we can make that happen. (Basically it’s a basket full of booze for them to mark milestones in their marriage. And Jules did the bow, I have no crafting talent.)

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The happy couple at their wedding brunch at Farmhouse

 

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Jules expertly Vanna White-ing the delicious pastries

The next day, I went for a good old fashioned urban hike through a long stretch of Lincoln Park, and stumbled upon the Lincoln Park Conservatory, which is currently hosting the Chicago Spring Flower Show. I didn’t know that was a thing, but it’s right up  my alley.

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I took a million pictures, many of which you can see on my new all-flowers Instagram account.

It was one of those Chicago spring days where it can not decide if it’s gray or bright or cold or warm. But Grant looked pretty good in the afternoon light:

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My destination on the walk was the Chicago History Museum, which I had somehow never been to before. (I know, it makes no sense.) But I’m glad I went, it was a lovely mix of traditional and socially conscious, and I nerded out a lot.

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The 1893 Columbian Exposition as depicted in the diorama room. These have been on display since the 1930s.

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A suffragist in the exhibit on social protest

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They have a temporary exhibit right now called “The Secret Lives of Objects,” which is essentially a hodgepodge of intriguing things curators found in storage. Some fun and some ssurprisingly poignant. Like this lamp, it started the Iroqouis Theater Fire (which is the reason we have doors that open out in public spaces.) A really cool exhibit if you’re in Chicago.

The old part of the CHM building is gorgeous:

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In the permanent exhibit, I learned that the Harlem Globetrotters were founded in Chicago (and remained headquartered there until the 1970s but have been named after the NYC neighborhood since the 1920s, which doesn’t make sense), and saw these important historical artifacts:

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They also have a really well designed, small exhibit of some of Vivian Maier‘s street photography, which I really loved:

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What I loved about the exhibit was the way I felt surrounded by the faces of the people Maier captured. It felt like being on the street with her. Very transporting.

That night I got some post-work Bourgeois Pig with Jules and then enjoyed The Bachelor finale with the girls I started the season with. (Such a treat to see them all again so soon!) And then the next morning it was off to Dallas.

Despite the swing in temperature & humidity, it turned out to be another lovely day for a walk, and I was surprised by how pretty the part of downtown I was staying in was. And they had cool, historical photo based, public art:

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I was walking to Dealey Plaza.To pay my respects as a longtime Kennedy fanatic (I won’t go into that now, this post is long enough) and to visit the Sixth Floor Museum (which is a great mix of tribute to Kennedy’s legacy and examination of what happened on 11/22/63).

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The Plaza itself was a WPA project, and is really pretty. But it’s sort of surreal to walk around it. I’ve seen footage and photos of it so many times, and other than the models of the cars and the heights of the trees not much looks that different. It was very surreal.

Also strange, the amount of men walking around carrying strange homemade signs trying to convince you to pay them for their tour of “what really happened”

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Very high tech conspiracy HQ

They don’t let you take pictures inside the museum, but it was a moving and thought provoking experience for me. (For the record, I think Oswald did it. I’m not completely sure how to explain Jack Ruby, maybe the mob was involved, maybe not. Oliver Stone is full of shit.)

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I took the DART light-rail to get around. I found it clean and easy to navigate. I also could have rode for free the whole time, but chose to pay, because I believe in supporting public transportation.

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Across from my hotel there was a place called Thanksgiving Square, it had murals and interfaith scriptures, and this ring you were meant to pause under and give thanks. It felt sort of stuck in where it was, but I said a little prayer under the ring. (I didn’t go into the chapel, but I sort of wish I had, it looks really cool.)

On my second day in Dallas I took the train out to SMU to visit George W. Bush’s Presidential Library and Museum. I did this, because of my life goal to visit all of the President’s landmarks (see LBJ and Lincoln).

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Although, I was not and am not W’s biggest fan, I’m not going to go into a political rant here. Mostly, because most of my experience at this museum was apolitical and nice. The staff were all really lovely. They had a temporary exhibit about how campaigning has changed that included this carpet that showed all the results of every presidential election:

IMG_5128And Bill Clinton’s sunglasses:

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On loan from his library in Little Rock

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And this awesome looking board game that I am not allowing myself to look up on eBay, because I will buy it

The building itself is really beautiful:

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And, while I found myself disagreeing with the emphasis of the permanent exhibit there were some pieces that were done unquestionably well.

For instance, the 9/11 memorial, which includes a part of one of the Towers and a lot of very moving archival news footage:

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And the recreated Oval Office (one step up from LBJs because you can step in, walk around, and even take pictures at the desk!):

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There were also some nice lighter moments featuring the First Family. Hilariously, when I went searching for a statue to take a selfie with, I couldn’t find one, but these were prominently displayed:

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The only part of the whole thing that made me truly angry was the “Situation Room” simulation.

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Basically, you sit down in rows with a bunch of strangers, and vote on a screen in front of you on which “crisis” you want to tackle. (My group chose Hurricane Katrina. Other options include Saddam Hussein and The Financial Crisis). They then give you a briefing and 3 options to choose from. You can track what others in the room are thinking with a CNN-like approval line on the big screen. Then you vote on what you would do. Then they tell you what Bush did. As I was walking out of the room it felt like a cool multimedia experience, and I was surprised that I had chosen the same response that Bush did to the crisis. (I do not generally think I agree with how he handled Katrina.) And then I started to feel queasy. The flashiness and official look of the presentation makes it seem like in each of these situations, Bush had exactly 3 options, none of which were all that good and that’s why he made some of his least popular choices. Now, I do agree that being the President is an impossible job, and perfection is not an attainable goal, but I think this presentation simplifies the most important failures of my government during my lifetime to “well things are complicated, you couldn’t do any better.”

What sucks, is that this was right at the end of the exhibits, so I left with the bad taste in my mouth. As you can see from the newest addition to my Presidential Photo Collage:

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Now that I’m back in town, I’ve mostly been lying around exhausted. Though I did go see Midnight Special yesterday. It’s amazing. I want to go see it again. Like I want to go pay full ticket price a second time. That’s an extremely rare feeling for me. But like, I may go see Midnight Special again tomorrow if anyone wants to join me.

Best Picture Baking Project: Casablanca

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Now that this awards season had come to close, I had time last night to return to my other Oscars-based hobby. Pairing up Best Picture winners with desserts. Because the only things anyone seems to consume in this movie is champagne, gin, and cigarettes (Bergman might have an iced coffee at some point) I looked for a Moroccan dessert and found a recipe for orange cake that turned out pretty well. (And I for the first time managed to make a bundt cake that didn’t stick to the pan!) But first, the movie:

Had I seen this one before?

Somehow, no. It’s one of those classics that I missed, and then heard discussed, and quoted, so often that I felt like I pretty much had. And, I did know most of the plot going in, but I’m happy to say it was still a delightful experience and a few things did surprise me.

Top 3 observations on this viewing?

  1. It was a bit hokier than I imagined. Some of the dialogue, while wistful and romantic, could easily be dropped into the script of a soap opera. Except, when Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are speaking the words they sound grave and real.

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2. The supporting cast is superb. Particularly Claude Rains as the, perfectly slimy, French officer with very few scruples, but lots of charm, and Dooley Wilson as Sam.

3. This movie was made in 1942, which is just insane to me. That a movie about an ongoing war and refugee crisis, sort of masquerading as a love story, but really about open resistance to Nazi occupation could be made, be popular, and go on to become a romantic classic is really kind of astounding to me. And despite the gentility of Rick’s saloon, the film doesn’t shy away from the desperation these people are facing. One of my favorite sequences, which I’ve never heard referenced before, involves a young Bulgarian wife trying to reconcile trading her body to get an exit visa. That’s really heavy stuff and it’s just slipped into this story about lost love.

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(Bonus observation: This may be an unpopular opinion, but I’m glad she got on the plane. Much better story, and Laszlo isn’t awful. I know I sound like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, but I stand by this.)

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win?

Look, I’m clearly not qualified to judge this year. (1942 is a huge blindspot for me apparently.) But, c’mon, it’s Casablanca. It deserved it.

Bechdel Test Pass?

Nope. There are at least 3 named women I can think of. (And there may be a couple more.) But they never speak to each other. And, while I still like that ending, Isla’s fate is decided for her by a couple of men literally passing her exit visa (and her body) back and forth without fully informing her what they were doing.

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But, look, cake!

Moroccan Orange Cake

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup orange juice (you can squeeze it yourself if you want, but I used store bought & it worked great)
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest (It was most of the peel of one medium sized orange for me)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

  • Zest orange (juice them also if you’re ambitious like that)
  • Grease and flour a tube pan
  • Preheat oven to 350F
  • Beat together sugar and eggs with a mixer until thick
  • Gradually beat in the oil
  • Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt
  • Add orange juice and blend with mixer until smooth
  • Mix in zest and vanilla
  • Pour batter into prepared pan
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes or until it tests done (in my oven it was about 35 min.)
  • Let cool in pan for 10 min
  • Turn onto pan to finish cooling

*I made some whipped cream frosting (just heavy whipping cream mixed with a touch of powdered sugar) for the side. It’s too light to be iced directly, I think.

Weekly Adventure: Fabulous Februrary Weekend Edition

Hi everyone, I know that I’m behind on my nominations posts (one should be coming tomorrow, I meant to be writing it now, but I forgot my notebook and I’m at work and technology hates me today and I’m tired…)

OK, enough whining, especially because, although I am tired. It’s because I actually had a weekend this weekend. Actually, I had the equivalent of like three weekends for me. This was mostly possible, because I didn’t have to work on Saturday (thank you Austin Seminary’s strange academic calendar), and because I did almost none of the homework I meant to do. (Which has made the last two days really fun and not at all stressful.)

Anyway, the adventures started with a happy hour (because I’m in grad school), this one was hosted by the Association of Moving Image Archivists student chapter here at UT. I’m not really planning on being a film archivist, but I do really love movies (as I hope you can tell by now), so I tagged along because they were going to a screening of Paris, Texas hosted by the Austin Film Society.

I’ve been on the AFS e-mail list for a long time, but their theater is a little tough to get to without a car, and I didn’t know until AMIA let me know that I can get free tickets to their screenings as a student. (More info on there here.) Well, this was a great first screening to catch. I didn’t know anything about the movie going in (I have a lot of film geek blindspots to address), and I got totally swept away in its beauty and its heart. Harry Dean Stanton is magnificent both chilling and childlike and lovely and awful all at the same time. I’m not going to write a full review, but if you ever want to talk about this with me please let me know, because I have a lot of thoughts.

On Saturday I did get some work done, but I also, binge watched the entire first season of You’re The Worst.

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It’s strange and dark and delightful and funny. It’s a romantic comedy about just truly awful people, that have just enough self-awareness and charm to make them likable in a twisted way. Not for the easily offended, but well worth a watch.

That night I met a bunch of my favorite people out on Rainey Street. We started at Clive Bar and ended at our secret wine bar. It isn’t really a secret, but I’m still not going to tell you where it is. Every time I go there it feels warm and lovely. And I drink too much. Here are some pictures I took that I haven’t already shared on social media:

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This was like attempt 6, you can tell my face is tired from the look in my eyes. A much cuter version is now my profile pic on Facebook. I’m sharing this was mostly for the blurry-Taylor photobomb.

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As I’m sure you can judge from that last picture, the less said about I felt on Sunday morning the better.

But that afternoon I went to a Super Bowl party. Despite really loving football, I couldn’t bring myself to care at all about the outcome of this game, but I loved the halftime show. And, more importantly, the party was also a birthday party for a dog:

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Most of the dogs didn’t appreciate their hats. You can look at my Instagram for one who did. 

Miró and I ducked out after half time (and birthday cake), because we had tickets to an event. It was called Monkey Town 6, it is very hard to describe. The simplest way to try is to say that it’s an art show. Sort of. It’s a collection of video art pieces projected on a cube. Guests sit inside the cube and are fed gourmet food. There are also dancers. I’m making it sound strange. And it is, but it was also lovely.

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A view of the cube from the outside. Piece currently playing is “Central Park Quilts” by Theo Angell

I’ve never been a huge fan of video art. We were talking after the show that the only place you encounter it is tucked away in corners in contemporary art museums. I always try to give those pieces a shot, and a few times I’ve been rewarded with something interesting or beautiful. But it’s hard, you never know how far into the piece you’ve walked in at the right time or you can hear everyone around you in the gallery or you are just awkwardly hovering waiting for a chance to sit down.

What was great about this was that it forced me to forget all that. I was literally immersed in an environment where I had to just stop trying to figure out the pieces and sort of let them wash over me. Some of the pieces were wonderful, some weren’t for me, some I couldn’t process enough to decide if they were for me or not, but they were all interesting. And it helped me put a finger on what I had found frustrating about this genre in the past. I kept waiting for these to feel like movies or at least like art films I’m familiar with, but really they’re more like poems than anything more straightforward and narrative. And I love poems, so once I thought of these as visual poetry I was totally in.

Also, the food was great.

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A Month of Adventure: Winter Break

So, I’m back at the ACC desk for my first evening shift of the year after attending my first class of my last (ah!) semester at UT. I realized this morning while getting myself organized for the craziness that is about to start up again that I never wrote a blog update about anything I did on my winter break. And I did a lot. I crossed a quadrant of the country. (Quadrants are how we measure these things right? Sorry, inside joke.) And saw a lot of my favorite people (and missed some others). I’m not going to try to write a play by play of nearly a month long trip, so instead here are pictures, with minimal captions (mostly just to attribute art to its creator.)

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I call this piece, “A Blur of Salt”

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Care packages from Portland

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Post-storm Paddock Lake, WI

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in the North Shore room

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Dancing in the New Year in my old neighborhood

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The Field Museum of Natural History

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From “The Greeks” exhibit at The Field Museum

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From the “Dionysos Unmasked” exhibit at The Art Institute of Chicago

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“Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) by Felix Gonzalez-Torres in the Art Institute’s Modern Wing

(This is one of my favorite pieces of contemporary art of all time. You should Google it to find out why. Or even better go see it.) 

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“Lifeboat” by Jeff Koons on view as part of the “Surrealism: The Conjured Life” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art

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Museum staff member in the “Run for President” installation by Kathryn Andrews also at the MCA

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Entrance to the “Pop Art Design” exhibit (where photos weren’t allowed) at the MCA

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