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.

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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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Weekly Adventure: Thanksgiving East Coast Adventures

So, it’s finals. And I didn’t really have time to fly home last week for Thanksgiving, but it’s been a rough semester and I needed a break, so I did.

After a long traffic jam/drive home from the airport on Wednesday, I made my Dad drive me to, Modern Apizza, the best thin crust in the world (in my correct opinion).

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Which kicked off a lovely 4 days of eating way too much, but being pretty happy about it. Thanksgiving itself was at my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Charlie’s house, we had a small group, but a lovely table.

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This is one of my favorite family picture ever, I’m just sad Garrett and Kate weren’t there to join us.

And, of course, there was my dad’s pie:

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On the Friday after, my mom and I and Nancy went to see Brooklyn, which is great, and I will blog about in a few weeks after it gets nominated for awards.

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Then that night I taught my parents how to use their Roku (my dad is now obsessed with Man in the High Castle, which I also like but find very hard to watch for more than an hour at a time.) And met Hanna for dinner at a new place in New Haven, Tarry Lodge, which is a Mario Batali restaurant. The food was good, but I’m not gonna lie, I was surprised to see a celebrity chef thinking of New Haven as a market.

On Saturday, my parents and I met our family friend Mary (or as I refer to her, my NYC godmother Baboo) for a trip to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

IMG_4189 I had read a lot about this place in my Historical Museums class. (Like a lot. Like every time an article would start talking about equal representation or a socially conscious museum it would cite the Tenement Museum.) We went on the “Irish Outsiders” tour, which told the story of a real Irish family (the Moores) who lived in the building in the 1860s. It was a German building, the Moores were not popular. The tour was story based and interactive, at times it felt a little forced but mostly it was engaging (our guide was wonderful) and thought provoking. I want to go back and go on the other tours. (And it would be pretty amazing to work at a place like that in the future.)

We then went for a great lunch at the Stanton Social, where I later learned on Instagram Retta also ate that day. Because my family and I are trendsetters clearly.

Then my Dad headed back to CT to take care of the dog (whom I didn’t manage to take any pictures of this trip, which is a travesty I will rectify over Christmas.) And Mary took my Mom and I to our new favorite New York place, The Campbell Apartment, which is in Grand Central, used to be an apartment, and is the prettiest place I’ve ever had a martini.

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Then my mom and I braved the rain (OK a light drizzle) and the odds (but for real though). To try to win tickets to Hamilton. (I feel like if you read this blog, you already know I love Hamilton, not because I’ve written about it, but because it’s a musical about American History, which basically means it was created for me. But also, it was created for every one. It is amazing.)

I feel like my mother’s comment on my Facebook picture sums up the experience the best:

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And though we didn’t win, we did get to witness this:

Though our view looked more like this:

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We’re going to try again when I’m home for Christmas. We even kept our special ten dollar bills.

Best Picture Baking Project: Braveheart

IMG_4028   I have big paper draft due this evening, so naturally I spent a few hours this weekend rewatching Braveheart, and attempting to make something called a Scottish butter tablet. (The paper is sort of almost done now so it worked out…though the dessert didn’t especially.)

Had I seen this one before?

Yes. This is probably the first on my Best Picture Baking List that I can’t really be objective about. I’ve seen it many times. It is listed in my favorite movies on OKCupid. It speaks to my Celtic soul.

Top 3 observations on this viewing?

  1. Somehow, despite all of this, I can never remember the actual plot details of this film. I always skip from the beautiful Celtic handfasting secret wedding to the war (skipping the horrific death of Wallace’s wife). I always think the “They can take our lives” speech comes closer to the end (it’s actually at the dead middle), and the crazy plot turn which tries to imply that William Wallace fathers King Edward III, always slips my mind. Probably because it makes absolutely no sense. But the speech is stirring:

2. Hamish (Brendan Gleeson) and Stephen aka the Mad Irishman (David O’Hara) are great sidekicks. They aren’t given enough to say of course (this isn’t really a very talky movie despite it being famous for its rousing speeches, it’s mostly blood and grunting), but their expressions are priceless.

3. Mel Gibson is actually an incredibly talented actor. It’s too bad he’s a horrific person.

Also, those eyes….

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win?

Apollo 13 – I know I saw this as a child, I remember the montage at the end, I’m pretty sure it made both me and my mom cry.

Babe – I also haven’t seen this since I was little, but I just love that there was a time when a children’s film about a pig was nominated for multiple Academy Awards.

Il Postino: The Postman  – Never seen it, am not sure what it is.

Sense and Sensibility – Oooh, this is tough. I love and adore this movie and could probably recite parts of it. (I actually used to rent it every other week when I was a kid.) And Emma Thompson is one of my heroes.

Wow, what a stacked year! I guess Braveheart is the epic choice the Academy always seems to choose. I get more comfort from Sense and Sensibility, but in terms of Oscars I would choose Braveheart. 

Bechdel Test Pass?

Nope, there are 2 named ladies, who each fall in love with William. (There may be 3, the lady in waiting may have a name, but she doesn’t really have a personality so it doesn’t count.) And when the two women do talk to each other it is always about the powerful men jockeying for position around them.

Also, as homophobia is sexism adjacent, I couldn’t have given this movie a pass anyway because of the ridiculous portrayal of Prince Edward’s lover. Edward II may have been ineffectual but it was not because he sometimes slept with men.

In case you’ve never seen the film, this is the charming sequence where Edward’s father throws his lover out of a window

Scottish Butter Tablet

Ingredients 

  • 14oz can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup cream
  • 4 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
  • 1 dash of salt

Directions 

  • Generously butter a 13×18 in. baking pan
  • Stir together condensed milk, cream, sugar, salt, and butter in a large saucepan.
  • Place over medium heat, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
  • When the mixture has reached a boil, turn heat to low
  • Continue cooking and stirring, until a candy thermometer reaches between 234 and 240 degrees F
  • Remove from heat, and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture cools and thickens. Stop beating when you can feel the mixture turn from smooth to grainy (*Stir for longer than you think, like seriously, if you think “Hey, I’ve been doing this for way too long,” then stir for like 10 more minutes.)
  • Pour into the prepared pan. (Don’t scrape any crystallized bits from the bottom of the pan, or it may cause the whole batch to crystallize.)
  • While still warm, score the tablet into 2-inch squares with the tip of a paring knife.
  • Allow to cool 6 hours to overnight until set.
  • Cut into squares with a serrated knife. (If it didn’t set, put it in the freezer, they won’t be squares, but they’ll still taste really good.)

Best Picture Baking Project: Ben-Hur

IMG_3527 I’ve had a copy of Ben-Hur sitting on my desk since April, because I got it into my head that watching it was going to be a chore. I’m not sure where this idea came from, maybe it’s length, or the fact that I knew it was a religious movie, which I was afraid meant a preachy, pedantic slog. But, maybe because of these low expectations, it surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. For the dessert I found a website about throwing an Ancient Roman dinner party, this cheesecake was apparently prepared as an offering to household gods, and it is both easy to make and pretty delicious, but first the movie:

Had I seen this one before?

Nope, pretty much all I knew about it was that it was based on a book, is tied with Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for most Oscars won, and that it has a famous chariot race that was a technical marvel when it was filmed.

Top 3 observations on this viewing?

  1. I realized that I had never seen a Charlton Heston movie before this. I’m not sure exactly how this possible, but because of that my only image of him, includes a rifle and “cold dead hands,” but he was legitimately charming and affecting in this. And he had pretty eyes:

2. It is too damn long. I know that it was a different time, but three hours and forty four minutes is too long for a single movie. I was afraid, based on my experience with the last movie on this list, that it was going to just be a string of set pieces, and in some ways it is. (I particularly liked the slaves rowing for combination of drama and pure technical ingenuity.)

But the character development and relationships are actually really well developed and at points genuinely moving. (Plus there’s a a great homoerotic subtext that Gore Vidal wrote into the script, but didn’t tell Heston about because he knew that he wouldn’t agree to do it. Heston claimed until the end that this wasn’t true, but I’m not sure how you can watch this movie and not see it. It’s not subtle:

 But, if they weren’t going to cut down the novel’s epic scale, then it needed to be a miniseries (which it was apparently remade into in 2010.)

3. Stylistically it was more interesting than I expected it to be. Some of the special effects are understandably dated, but some of William Wyler‘s choices were fascinating, particularly what he decided to leave out. For example, despite the fact that Miklós Rózsa‘s score is used to highlight dramatic moments throughout the movie, in that epic chariot scene he doesn’t use any music just the sounds of the arena. Also, despite the fact that it’s based on a novel subtitled “A Tale of the Christ” we never see Jesus’ face, just the back of his head. His power is portrayed through the reactions of the people around him, which was interesting.

Also he’s got some good hair  

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win?

Anatomy of Murder – Haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard it’s interesting.

The Diary of Anne Frank – I think I saw this in school at some point, obviously it’s a moving story, but it’s not on the same scale of Ben-Hur. 

The Nun’s Story – I didn’t know this existed until right now.

Room at the Top – Also, haven’t heard of this.

I can’t say definitively of course, but I feel OK about this.

Bechdel Test Pass?

Yep! There are three women with names, and they are actually all given their own stories. Obviously, the movie is mostly about Heston’s Judah, but his love interest (played by Israeli actress Haya Harareet), mother (Martha Scott), and sister (Cathy O’Donnell) are all given space to speak about the troubles they face (and they face a lot) and their spiritual lives. There’s also some troubling stuff about slavery and arranged marriage and subservience, but I didn’t say this was a feminist masterpiece, just not as backward as I was expecting.

Libum (Ancient Roman Cheesecake)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup of ricotta cheese (I used reduced fat and it worked very well)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • bay leaves (the recipe calls for fresh, but I couldn’t find any at Whole Foods and used dried which turned out fine)
  • Half a cup (or so) of honey

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375F
  2. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl
  3. Beat the cheese until soft
  4. Mix cheese into flour
  5. Add the egg to form a soft dough
  6. Grease a baking sheet and place four bay leaves
  7. Separate dough into four equal pieces
  8. Shape pieces into rolls and place on a bay leaf
  9. Bake for 35-40 min or until golden brown
  10. Warm honey (I just left the bottle on top of the stove as the cakes baked) and pour onto a dinner plate
  11. Remove cakes from oven and place them onto the honey
  12. Let sit to allow the honey to absorb into the cake

Bonus Adventure: Republic of Texas Museum

As many of you know, I’m in my second year of grad school at the University of Texas School of Information, where I’m studying to be a research librarian/archivist/someone-who-helps-connect-people-to-old-stuff. As part of that fuzzy, but I think, worthy goal this fall I’m taking a class on historical museums, which long time readers will know, was basically designed for me. As part of our work for the class, we go to visit many of the museums in the Austin area, which is probably the coolest homework I’ve ever had (and bonus it gives me content for this blog, so it won’t languish while I wade through piles of articles like it did last fall!). Especially because it forces me off the beaten track (or off the pedestrian accessible part of downtown) to places I would never have discovered on my own. Like the headquarters of the Daughters of the Texas Republic, where the Republic of Texas Museum is housed.

I’m not going to write critical or analytical reviews of the museums I visit for class on the blog, mostly because I have to do that for class already, and this isn’t an academic space. Instead, I’m going to use this as a place for observations that may not seem relevant in an academic discussion, but I couldn’t help but notice.

Along with some cool “war trophies” from Santa Ana (I’m sure he would have a different label for them), like this chair you can see on my Instagram, and documents related to military and business transactions between early Anglo-American settlers in Texas, the collection has some cool ephemera from the period. My favorite part was a min-exhibit called “A Texas Childhood”

That caption reads: "Game of Grace" (reproduction) This was a popular leisure activity for young girls during the 1830s. it was considered a proper game befitting young ladies and supposedly, tailored to make them more graceful. Graces was hardly ever played by boys." (Good I was worried about that.)

That caption reads: “Game of Grace” (reproduction) This was a popular leisure activity for young girls during the 1830s. it was considered a proper game befitting young ladies and supposedly, tailored to make them more graceful. Graces was hardly ever played by boys.” (Good I was worried about that.)

The childhood exhibit also included guns, because...Texas

The childhood exhibit also included guns, because…Texas

IMG_3367

And this lovely decorative touch

A lot of the museum, understandably, focuses on the Texan War of Independence, which not being from Texas, I know next to nothing about (except what can be learned from repeated childhood viewings of The Alamo and one brief trip to The Alamo – coincidentally also run by the DTR), so I was more drawn to the slice of life stuff like:

IMG_3399Which is clearly aimed at teaching children about pioneer life, but includes a cute little kitchen model, complete with toy food:

Very authentic I'm sure

Very authentic I’m sure

And an adorable chicken coop:

I'm being snarky but I really think I would have loved being able to actually go in and touch this stuff as a kid - so rare in history museums!

I’m being snarky but I really think I would have loved being able to actually go in and touch this stuff as a kid – so rare in history museums!

A great Texas touch

A great Texas touch

These dioramas were throughout the museum, but remarkably unremarked upon, I got the feeling the current managers (who were all very sweet and welcoming to me) inherited them from past DTR members:

This one depicts the announcement of the annexation of Texas into the US

This one depicts the announcement of the annexation of Texas into the US

Unintentional history selfie

Unintentional history selfie

Anyway, get ready for a lot more museum posts in the next couple months.

The Republic of Texas Museum is located at 510 E. Anderson Lane (Don’t try to get there by bus. I took the 801 North and then got a Lyft)