Arrested Development 2013: 3 Things I Loved, 3 Things I Didn’t

WARNING: Minor spoilers in the form of spoiling a couple of punchlines

The most hyped television event of the year didn’t occur on a network or cable station. Netflix, a company that appeared to be going down faster than the Hindenburg two years ago, resurrected themselves through the revival of Arrested Development.  Their new-found approach to viewing television through on-demand original programming is revolutionary and somewhat exciting to watch unfold. While they’ve had original shows prior to Arrested Development such as the popular House of Cards, you can’t help but feel this was the Big Event to show off the New Netflix to the world and test the waters for this uncharted territory in programming. Of course, this uncharted territory is only revolutionary if the show is worth the purchase of a subscription.

So, was it worth it? In my opinion, yes. Due to the scheduling conflicts of cast members, writing around said scheduling conflicts, dealing with a different model of television-viewing, and working with what I’m assuming was a much smaller budget, the long-awaited season of Arrested Development was sure to be a different experience from its network television days. To be certain, the show wasn’t free of problems, but the fans who stuck through all 15 episodes were treated to soon-to-be classic scenes, extremely clever writing, and the luxury of watching a marathon of new episodes at their own pace.  Below are a few of the things I loved about this new season and a few that didn’t quite work for me:

What I Loved:

  1. The Multi-Layered Storyline. After the first couple of episodes, I looked over to Chris and frowned. “I’m not feeling this. At. All.” He shook his head. “Neither am I…” I recalled that the most recent season of Archer started off slow but we wound up loving it as it progressed, expressing my hope that this would too be the case for Arrested Development. I am happy to say it was. By the time they got around to telling Lindsay Bluth’s first story, you began to see a glimpse of the greater story they were weaving. Imagine each episode as a single cartoon cel: as the season progresses, you see one cel layered on top of another until you get to the final episode, where the entire image is complete. The writing is brilliant in that it was a creative way to work around the real-life scheduling conflicts of the actors and use the Netflix on-demand format to its fullest potential. I doubt this layering of stories would have worked on a traditional programming schedule; the episodes seemed designed to be watched back-to-back, where one doesn’t need a long memory to recall a subtle joke or remark in earlier episodes. The storytelling was very ambitious while still clever and funny, so the writers get an A+ for effort.
  2. They Didn’t Overdo the Meta Jokes. Well, not more than Arrested Development typically did in its original run, at least. Let’s face it – Arrested Development works because it’s so meta, but unlike many shows and movies, it’s meta done right. While some of the Ann jokes got a little tired, as a whole, the recurring jokes on the show were used at the right times. There are few things I hate more than excessive meta-writing, and for a show as quotable as Arrested Development it would have been too easy for them to just make this a retread of “greatest hits.” Instead, they ran with a few of the recurring jokes, added onto old jokes (the Fakeblock storyline is a great example – I didn’t see that coming at all), and created a slew of new great moments. My personal favorites all seem to revolve around the Fünkes – whether it was the goose scenes or the cornucopia of Tobias double entendres, they created many moments deserving of a rewatch and a YouTube supercut.
  3. Michael Cera / George-Michael. I want to give serious props to both Michael Cera and the writers for advancing the character of George-Michael while managing to still make him the Charlie Browniest. It’s easy for a character like George-Michael to get lost  in the mix when put next to the grandiosity of Tobias or GOB, but they did a fantastic job of subtly passing the baton from Michael to George-Michael to be the star and the sort-of “straight man” for the season. This had to be done; Michael has to have his family next to him to not come across as a selfish, self-righteous (hilarious) asshole. They did a good job of highlighting this in the first couple of episodes of the new season – it was painful to watch how awful Michael was. Cera jumped back into the role of George-Michael more seamlessly than I would have expected, and did a great job of interpreting him as an adult – who is still a Charlie Brown, despite his mustache and sexual um…awakening? I thoroughly enjoyed his scenes. And? “Make me cry!” “You’re a bad mother!” – huge laugh in our house.

What I Didn’t Love:

  1. Moments of Poor Production. Like I said, this new season wasn’t perfect. Now, I am not a “movie person.” I’m not typically the kind of person who spots the digital watch on the caveman, or sees the cameraman visible in the reflection of someone’s sunglasses. I seldom read the “Goofs” section of imdb, because that’s not my thing and I normally can’t spot the mistakes anyway. That said, there were a few really sloppy aspects to the production that I noticed. Because I don’t look for these things, I feel like if I notice them, they must have been pretty bad. There were some very noticeable continuity mistakes (for example, when Maeby is writing on the whiteboard during the real estate scene), some of the camera tricks they used to hide that the actors weren’t physically in certain scenes together were distracting, and the makeup work was really bad at times. On both Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, the yellow concealer under their eyes was very noticeable. Additionally, I felt like there were moments the camera moved away from something too quickly (especially when the viewer needed to take in a single image or read something) Did this ruin my experience with the show? No. Do I understand they had a tighter budget and the quality would be a little lower? Yes. And I appreciate how many obstacles they had to deal with to film the scenes, however I’m hoping for any future seasons or movies they can get a little more money or have a little more time to clean up these little things.
  2. Seth Rogan as George Bluth Sr. Generally, I was not feeling the flashback scenes of Lucille and George Sr., but I have to tell you: I really, really didn’t care for this casting decision. And I love Seth Rogan (I’m a big Undeclared fan; I pretty much root for anyone who was on that show). I just couldn’t get past thinking, “That’s Seth Rogan in a wig.” Kirsten Wiig did a pretty good Lucille, but it was more of her doing an impression of Jessica Walter’s Lucille than really being Lucille, if that makes sense. I didn’t love this. To be fair, who could be a young George Bluth? I hope they don’t do this for the movie (or any future seasons – I know they didn’t really talk about future seasons, but I’m just throwing it out there. Like The Secret – throw it out into the universe, and it will become so. Right?)
  3. The Lack of the Ensemble. I know there wasn’t much of a way around this, and as fans this was the only way we’d get our Arrested Development, but the show was missing something by not having everyone together. The chemistry between everyone on the show is phenomenal, and not having them share more scenes was removing one element of what makes the show magical. Tying back to my point about the production issues, the camera tricks to make actors appear in the same scenes became distracting, and I feel like some of the scenes would have had a bigger payout if they could have acted off of each other more. Funny enough, I think the Fünke scenes worked so well because the joke is how disconnected they are from each other, so this format worked perfectly into that.

Despite my quibbles, I absolutely enjoyed the season when all was said and done. I can’t wait to see what they have planned next – hopefully we won’t have to wait another 7 years to see it.

What did you think? Add your opinions in the comments below – to those who haven’t seen the new season yet – assume that the comments will contain spoilers.

Tips for Donating Post-Sandy

As most of you know from my other blog posts, I grew up in Connecticut.  My family is out there, and many of my lifelong friends still live somewhere in the northeast.  I’m happy to say that my loved ones escaped harm from Sandy.  By all accounts, everyone is warm and dry at home, and in most cases, they have power.  Not everyone in the region is that lucky – this storm was devastating, and flooding is widespread.  Even when the tides recede, residents will have to contend with cleaning, rebuilding, and dealing with a lack of available resources.   As we have seen with prior disasters, we have a tendency to donate with our hearts and without question, and unfortunately less legitimate organizations bank on that sentiment.  Here are a few quick tips to make sure your time and money is being used effectively in this crisis:
1)      Visit Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) to see if the charity in question is legit and if they are well-rated.
Charity Navigator is a great site committed to what they call “intelligent giving.”  They provide a multitude of resources to educate donors on a charity’s financial health, accountability and transparency.  In addition to looking up charities, be sure to check out their Tips for Donors page.

2)      If you are concerned that a charity’s values conflict with your own, do your research.
Let’s be honest here – there are some charities that do good work, but they may involve themselves in political agendas that are polar opposite of the values you hold.  If this is not a concern to you, by all means, donate; but if there is something you feel very strongly about – perhaps you have a personal policy to donate to apolitical charities – be sure to do your research.

3)      Cash is better than goods.
Currently, many charities such as the American Red Cross are asking that people donate cash rather than physical goods.  While it may feel good to physically hand over a palate of water or clothing, the cost to sort, transport and distribute such things is typically high and extremely inefficient.

4)      Never give in to “impulse” donations – always get something in writing before you donate.
Another thing you see often in post-disaster fundraising are telephone outreach campaigns, where people solicit money from you over the phone, pressuring you to donate on the spot.  In some cases, people may even go door-to-door.  While it is tempting to agree to donate on the spot, it is always better to ask for something in writing detailing what the charity is and where the money goes to.  Find out the organization’s name, and look them up on Charity Navigator or your local Better Business Bureau web site.  A common solicitation scam in Arizona is where someone selling magazines goes to your door and tells you that the funds are going to a charity. Here is my personal rule with these impulse solicitations: if they really want you to donate money for a cause, they won’t turn down your offer to send in money or refuse to give you access to documentation.

5)      Finally, Here are three charities that have high ratings with charity navigator, have a long and proven track record, and/or perform a unique and needed service:

The American Red Cross: As a disclosure, I volunteered for the Red Cross when I was in high school and received training in mass care for disasters.  While there have been occasional controversies with the ARC over the years, in my opinion, no one has more experience or a better system for shelters and temporary housing than the Red Cross. Their volunteers work hard around the clock to ensure that families have a safe place to stay when disaster strikes.  With all the destruction to property that has occurred from this storm, the Red Cross will need your help in ensuring they have enough funds to make sure all displaced families are cared for.

The Humane Society:  Please note that Red Cross shelters do not accept animals.  To ensure that pets, horses, and other animals are safe during a disaster, donate to the Humane Society so they have the funds to do so.

Direct Relief International:  One of the top-rated charities on Charity Navigator, Direct Relief International provides medical assistance when disaster strikes.  They ensure supplies, medicine and medical equipment is provided to those in need, working closely with local health care organizations.

Five Casual Arizona Eateries I’m Going to Miss and You’re Going to Love

Even though I’ll be moving to one of the great foodie cities of the world, I’ve always considered the dining options in the Phoenix area to be vastly underrated.  Not only can you find great Mexican food and steakhouses in the Valley of the Sun, there are endless restaurants featuring just about every cuisine you can imagine – from French to Ethiopian to Native American fusion, Phoenix has something for everyone.  For those who don’t want to spend big bucks on the fancier restaurants in town, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite casual eateries in the Valley.  I am going to miss these options once I leave – if you live in the Phoenix area or plan to visit some time soon, be sure to check these eateries out if you are looking for a good bite to eat and don’t want to break the bank!

Rancho de Tia Rosa
Type of food: Baja Mexican
Why I love it:  Before we get to the food, let me tell you about the property.  Dennis Sirrine, owner of Tia Rosa, was a general contractor by trade.  He and his wife purchased the property Tia sits on, and designed and built the property himself.  I love the design for not only its authentic Mexican flair, but the restaurant is brilliantly broken out into smaller sections so that you always feel like you are in an intimate space.  My favorite location to eat, weather-permitting, is their back patio – with heat lamps and misters, comfortable booth seating and beautifully-kept gardens, it is a relaxing place to hang out and enjoy the company you are with.

Tia Rosa’s menu has your typical gringo foods for those who fear a little adventure, but their specialty is seafood.  The only time I venture away from their seafood section is to have their delicious chicken mole.  You’ll find that the majority of their food isn’t overly heavy, and in some cases, not all that fattening, if you are watching what you eat.  They have an abundant selection of salads, soups, and many of their dishes won’t leave you feeling too guilty.  This makes you feel a little better about chowing down on their chips and salsa or sipping one of the best house margaritas in town.
My Go-To Dish:  I love their seafood tacos.  I typically get a grilled shrimp taco, which comes with pineapple salsa, lettuce and cheese, and a grilled salmon taco, which comes with mango salsa, lettuce and cheese.  Both are on soft, thin tacos and have a nice combination of savory and sweet.  When you’re loading up on chips and margaritas, this is a main dish that won’t send you into a coma.
For More Info, visit: http://www.ranchodetiarosa.com/

Essence Bakery Cafe
The type of food: French and Greek-inspired breakfast and lunch fare
Why I Love it: Tucked away in a little strip mall just a couple of blocks away from ASU, this is my go-to place for the rare times I go out to lunch at work.  Owner Eugenia Theodosopoulos is of Greek heritage and was trained at École Lenôtre in Paris.  Her foods are never heavy, and a lot of care and attention has been put into every dish.  Take, for example, her croissants.  She brought in a famed pastry chef with the rare M.O.F. designation to consider the temperature, humidity, and other factors in Arizona and come up with the perfect croissant under these conditions.  Biting into a chocolate-filled croissant at Essence is a little taste of heaven.
My Go-To Dish: While I love everything I’ve had on the menu – the Croque Madame, Croque Monsieur, a chicken salad sandwich with lemon and basil, spanakopita, there is one thing Essence is famous for in the valley: macarons.  No, not those gross coconut blobs your Aunt Trudy forces on you every Christmas, these are French macarons – delicate, merinque-like cookies filled with icing or jams.   Eugenia makes many wonderful pastries every day, yet when I’m in there, I cannot resist buying macarons.  It’s like an addiction – any time you see a new flavor, you have to try it.  So far, I can’t decide if my favorite is her espresso, hazelnut, lime, meyer lemon or raspberry rose macarons.  Or her rum filled? Or the mint chocolate?  See, they all are delicious, there’s no way to choose just one.  For those of you who want to try these confections but won’t be in town any time soon? They Deliver!
For more info, visit: http://www.essencebakery.com/

Four Peaks Brewery
The type of food: Mirco-brews and barfare
Why I Love it: Over the years, some very good brewery-restaurants have popped up throughout Arizona – San Tan Brewery in Chandler, Oak Creek Brewery up in Sedona…but there is one that is the Godfather of Arizona Breweries, and that is Four Peaks.  Four Peaks is the place you go to when you want to meet up with friends after work, have a couple of beers, and grab a bite of comfort food. Their fare is pretty standard for a pub – tasty burgers, pizza, and appetizers with the occasional dish incorporating one of their beers, but they shine with their famous brews.  No Phoenix-area resident with a love of beer goes for long without Four Peaks’ Kiltlifter (a red Scottish ale) in their fridge.  In addition to that, they have a wide selection of regular brews, from IPAs to Peach ale, to Hefeweizen and Oatmeal Stout to quench your palate.  Their seasonal beers are also quite good, with their Pumpkin Porter being so in demand they can’t keep up with production around this time of year, and wait to offer it in growlers.
My Go-To Dish: When I’m at Four Peaks, I don’t want to go too fancy – I’m relaxing with friends, after all!  I’ll just order a mushroom-swiss burger, and get a Snakebite to drink along with it.  What is a Snakebite? An interesting combination of two of their beers – you’ll have to order it and find out!
For more info, visit: http://www.fourpeaks.com/

Gelato Dolce Vita
The type of food: Gelato, coffee, cannoli and now Italian deli fare at their East Mesa location
Why I Love it: If you consider gelato to be that junk you get at the gelato spot, you’re in for a pleasant surprise – Italian husband and American wife-team Walter and Marti bring these authentic Italian treats to you daily, and I guarantee if you close your eyes as you let that hazelnut gelato melt in your mouth or sip on that cup of cappuccino, you just might  believe you’re in Florence.  They rotate out flavors often, but every gelato made is of the highest quality and use fresh ingredients.  I especially love the fresh, natural flavor of their fruit flavors.  I also appreciate when they roll out something a little weird, like their chile chocolate gelato, or a gorgonzola gelato.
My Go-To Dish: As much as we love their gelato, I crave their cannoli, cappuccino, and drinking chocolate.  If you are a chocolate lover and never had authentic drinking chocolate before, on a cold night, give them a visit, and if it’s available, be sure to give it a try.
For more info, visit: http://www.gelatodolcevita.com/

Flancer’s
The type of food: fancy pizza, sandwiches and pasta
Why I Love it: When you live in east Mesa, there aren’t many dining options outside of the Applebees and Olive Gardens of the world.  Thanks to Tia Rosa, Flancers, and Red, White & Brew, we at last have a few good alternatives.
Flancer’s is a nice small spot with a couple of televisions on ESPN and psychedelic concert posters adorning the walls.  The service is always friendly and the food is unique and delicious.  While their pasta is a bit of a weak point on the menu, their pizza and sandwiches are one-of-a-kind, using ingredients like prickly pear juice or green chiles to jazz up a simple dish.  They offer a lot of options for sides, allowing you to incorporate healthier options, if you so choose.
My Go-To Dish: As much as I love their pizzas and calzones, sandwiches are where it’s at.  My personal favorite is their Perfect Prickly Pear Chicken sandwich with green chile mayonnaise and a side of their crispy sweet potato fries.  When I’m not in the mood for regular bread, I’ll get it on a whole wheat tortilla.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my husband’s favorite on the menu, their We Must Meat, I Ain’t Lion sandwich, consisting of filet mignon, caramelized onions, gorgonzola and chipotle mayo.  It is a great combination of flavors and is sure to fill you up.
For more info, visit: http://www.flancers.com

Honorable Mention:
Red White and Brew – located in East Mesa, this is a great place to take the family (i.e., a large group of picky eaters).  In fact, it’s become our go-to place when we take out my in-laws and 10 year-old nephew.  From pizza to burgers to great fish entrees (their pecan salmon is my favorite), there is something for everyone here.  Don’t let the name fool you – while they have a respectable selection of wines and beer, the emphasis here is the food.  Web site: http://www.rwbaz.com/
Cornish Pasty Co. – I prefer the Gilbert location to the scary, claustrophobic flagship Tempe hole-in-the wall (which is a nightmare for lunch on a workday, quite frankly).  Bring your appetite, the calzone-like pasties are enormous and filled with potatoes, stuffing, meat, gravy, and just about everything you can think of.  You’ll love every last bite, but they are sure to send you into a food coma.  Be sure to check out their beer selection while you’re there, especially if you’re a fan of British imports.  Web site: http://www.cornishpastyco.com/
Dilly’s Deli – One of my favorite lunch spots in town.  Their bread for sandwiches is thick and perfectly toasted, they give you a ton of meat and toppings, and best of all, their bread bowl soups are out of this world.  I’ve heard all the soups are delicious, but after all this time I still haven’t been willing to move beyond their potato soup.  Web site: http://dillysdeli.com/

Rhythm Nation: Music, Poetry, Dance, Unity (Part 2)

If you are just joining us, we’re covering Janet Jackson in the late 80s and early 90s.  Last time, we discussed her breakthrough album, Control.  Today? We are a part of the Rhythm Nation.

Coming off the success of Control, A&M wanted Janet to continue the momentum by releasing an album to be called Scandal, which would continue with the theme of separating from her family.  Jackson was ready to move on from that part of her life, and instead desired to create a concept album about social injustice with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis again at the helm.  The result was Rhythm Nation 1814, an achievement in its innovation of programming and sampling as well as its unique voice in bringing social issues to the dance-pop-R&B arena.  What is remarkable about Rhythm Nation is its ability to maintain a consistent and cohesive sound while exploring different genres.  Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are able to tie together songs like new jack “Alright,” the poppy “Escapade,” and the hard rock “Black Cat” seamlessly.

As a companion to the album, Jackson put together a long-form video telling the story of two friends whose dreams are ruined due to drug use.  Admittedly, the story not very memorable, as my friends and I recalled it being about “gangs or something.”  It did succeed in introducing a distinct look and feel for Rhythm Nation, creating an image for the album that still holds to this day – black and white shots of gritty streets and warehouses juxtaposed with a military-style community of dancers.

To support the album, Janet kicked off her first-ever world tour, which remains the most successful debut tour by an artist to this day.  The tour not only promoted the image and message of Rhythm Nation, it also furthered Janet’s image as a role model for young women – many a teen in the early 90s would don the “Janet Jackson Look” of white shirts, black leggings and black jackets.

Janet did her best to make Rhythm Nation a way of life and a positive message for her young fans.  The album kicks off with the title track.  In a sense you can say Control is about the responsibility of taking care of yourself, and Rhythm Nation is about the responsibility of taking care of others.

The video again has a great look to it, but in terms of message, I’m not sure how helpful a Rhythm Nation is in fighting substance abuse.  It’s like, I’m at the lowest point in my life; it’s literally raining on my face, and I’m scared and afraid – how will I go on?… RHYTHM NATION DANCE TEAM, ASSEMBLE! Shoomp-Shoomp “Ho!”, Shoomp-Shoomp “Ho!” – ??? Joking aside, the music and dancing is pretty badass for Miss Jackson.

Continuing on with the social themes, we have “State of the World” and “The Knowledge.”  “State of the World” steps up the lyrics from the previous track, providing more of a landscape for the message of injustice.  “The Knowledge” is another good choice lyrically, fighting against ignorance and drug use.

Then? The album really takes off with the infectious Chaka Kahn-ilicious “Miss You Much.” It’s songs like this, “Escapade” and “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” that make you forget this is only one album.  On one hand you have the socially conscious songs, but you also have these feel-good songs about love and camaraderie.  These are solid pop songs with catchy melodies and a danceable beat.

If YouTube existed back in the day, I so would have tried to learn all the moves in this video and danced all day in my basement.

After the thoughtful “Livin’ in a World (They Didn’t Make),”  camaraderie and good times continue with “Alright.”  The song is worth mentioning for its delightful video featuring legends Cab Calloway and Cyd Charisse (whose legs deserved a separate credit even at 67 years old):

The highlight of the “B side” of the album is the Jackson-penned “Black Cat.”  Crisply-produced with a touch of guitar-rock edge, the song gave Jackson crossover appeal and showed that like her brother Michael, she was fearless in exploring sounds outside her wheelhouse:
(video)

Finally, as a tie to the coming of age underlying theme of Control, Rhythm Nation and Janet, we have the smooth and breezy “Someday is Tonight,” which is a companion piece to “Let’s Wait a While.” It’s lyrics directly referencing the latter song off Control, this song is subtle and breathy, with Janet dipping her toes into the waters of sensual R&B.  In its quiet way, it is an introduction to her next album, an album that is a much more vocal celebration of  sexual liberation.  It really, really, celebrates the sexy. Next time? Get your hand fan and fainting chair ready, because we’re taking on Janet.
   

Janet, Miss Jackson if You’re Nasty (Part I)

Let me go on record as saying Janet Jackson ruled the universe between 1986 and 1994.

For any girl hitting her formative years in the late 80s and early 90s, Janet’s recordings during this time were a soundtrack for life.  She was a different kind of female role model compared to her contemporaries – strong, self-assured and self-efficient.  The three albums in this time frame, Control, Rhythm Nation and Janet represent a coming of age – the awakening that occurs when you see a world available to you that you never knew existed, with each album representing a different stage of this awakening.

With Janet’s name being tossed around as a potential judge on American Idol, this is as good a time as any to do a retrospective on these three albums.  After the Super Bowl brouhaha and a few albums over the past 10 years that didn’t leave an imprint on the music scene, it’s easy to forget how important Janet Jackson was in the late 80s and early 90s.  She not only helped influence and usher new jack swing into the Hot 100, she inspired young women everywhere.  Today we’ll start with her breakthrough album, Control.

Control
A story of liberation from family

To give you a little background on Janet, prior to this album, her career was managed by her father Joe Jackson.  Joe Jackson’s “management style” for his children is both well-documented and well-speculated upon, containing lovely vignettes like how he demanded Janet stop calling him “dad” when she was seven because he was her manager.  Her two albums prior to Control were under his grip, containing music she had zero input on.  Ultimately, while still a teenager, Janet made the difficult choice of firing her father.  She escaped his world in Hollywood to join Prince proteges Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in Minneapolis to create an album far from the distractions and hauntings of L.A. Six weeks later, the 19 year-old Jackson gave us Control.

If there was ever a more suitably titled album, I cannot think of it.  From the start, the vision of the album is clear; it’s a statement of believing in your own power and not letting anyone get in your way.  This is a vision that is realized through lyrics and through an infectious sound you simply did not hear on the radio in 1986.  The opening track, “Control,” is the story of declaring your independence from family; it’s a statement that everyone must leave home and find their own way.  The opening dialogue to the song introduces the theme of the entire album: “This is a story about control, my control.  Control of what I say, control of what I do.  And this time I’m gonna do it my way.”  She then sings about the importance of calling your own shots and not letting people make decisions on your behalf.  She wants to  “take you by the hand and lead you in this dance, ‘cause what I’ve got is because I took a chance.”

You’ve got to hand it to Janet – to fire your own father, specifically a figure like Joe Jackson, was probably the hardest and scariest thing she ever had to do.  Fans of Janet like myself are grateful she took the chance, because where would she be if she didn’t?  I’ll give you a hint – you probably didn’t even know she had two albums prior to Control, did you?

Here’s Janet rocking it out in video:

Ironically, during the making of this video Joe Jackson was said to be a holy terror on set.  He reportedly lashed out at several people and physically threatened the producer of the video, Sharon Oreck.

Next up on the album is “Nasty”, a song inspired by men who harassed Janet when she was walking to and from the studio. It’s like “These Boots are Made for Walking” in that it is a rare song about a woman who demands respect and proper treatment – she’s not asking you, she’s telling you.  With a fantastic beat backing it, she lets young women know it’s okay to tell someone to BTFO, and you’re not a prude for demanding someone treat you appropriately.  If you look at the top 100 songs of 1986, I challenge you to find another song that has this level of assertion.

Plus? It has some killer choreography from Paula Abdul in the video (who also plays one of Janet’s friends):

If you did check that list of top 100 songs, maybe you did find one other song on the list to challenge “Nasty”: The third track on this album, “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” This is no “Can’t Help Loving that Man of Mine.”  All too often in pop music we have songs that are about women who oh-so-adorably-tee-hee can’t leave their asshole boyfriends because, OMG, they’re just so cute and amazing when they don’t completely suck.  The most extreme example of this is the worst song Carole King has ever written, The Crystals, “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss).”  Janet turns this sentiment on its head and and puts the asshole boyfriend on notice.

This video has another appearance by Paula Abdul, and again features her choreography.  When you watch and listen to these videos it really drives home how lazy today’s pop music is as a whole – people have their bland voices auto-tuned onto bland, uninspired music, and their dancing is just…well, it ain’t this.

The final song I’ll cover on the album today is “Let’s Wait a While,” although if you are unfamiliar with this album I also recommend checking out Janet’s video for “The Pleasure Principle” – it is another great song, and I particularly love that this video is simply Janet dancing in a studio.  It’s mesmerizing from start to finish.

On “Let’s Wait a While,” Janet makes another important assertion – the song promotes abstinence and waiting for the right time in a relationship.  In the three albums we discover, this is the first song in a series of songs Janet covers about sexual intimacy.  For the final line of the song, she sings “I promise, I’ll be worth the wait.”  You kind of get the sense on Janet that she kinda followed through on that one, because, damn.

But, that’s a story further down the road – next up? We have Janet’s liberation in full bloom and her desire to shine her light on that path for others.  We’ve got Rhythm Nation 1814.
  

Arizona Restaurant Week Spring 2012 – My Recommendations

Arizona Restaurant Week Spring 2012 is almost upon us! As you know from my previous post on the matter, I am a huge fan of restaurant week.  Spring doesn’t have the same level of participation as the fall restaurant week, but there are still many excellent options to choose from.

If you are new to Restaurant Week, I’ll give you the 411: for one extended week in the spring and one extended week in the fall, some of Arizona’s best restaurants put together three-course price fixed menus ranging from $20-$40 per person, depending on the restaurant.  This is a way for them to show off their chefs’ mad skills and staff’s great service, and it is a great way for you to enjoy some of the finest restaurants in the Valley without breaking the bank!

Of course, not all restaurants are created equal; if you’ve been to a few restaurant weeks, you’ll find a few places present rather uninspired menus.  And of course, not everyone is a four-diamond restaurant – sometimes, you encounter service that can be a little disappointing for what you are paying.  But fear not! I looked over the list of participants and menus for next week’s ARW, and have compiled a list of five places where I don’t think you’ll go wrong.  I’ve been to all of these restaurants, and where noted, I’ll give you my personal recommendations.  If you try any of them, please come back and comment – I really want to hear what you think!

1. Different Pointe of View ($40 per person)
Notes: if you can only go to one place in the valley next week, go here.  This is a fabulous place to go on a date – their terrace has an incredible view of the valley at sunset, and you feel like you’re in a little desert getaway above the city.  I’ve actually seen wildlife hanging out near the terrace while eating my dinner.  The service is impeccable, and their sommelier may be the best in the Valley.  On to the menu [my notes are in brackets]:

First Course
- Choice Of -
Lobster Bisque [You want this one.]
Avocado & Shrimp Salad
Crispy Seared Pork Bellies

Second Course
- Choice Of -
Filet Mignon
Pan Seared Halibut
Diver Scallops
Chef’s Daily Risotto feature  [My recommendation - they make a great risotto here]

Third Course
- Choice Of -
Any dessert off our menu [this is a really cool thing for them to offer - most places offer a fairly simple, arguably boring dessert course for ARW, and they have a great pastry chef here.]

2. noca ($30 per person)
Noca is one of those places Open Table would say is “Fit for Foodies.” The location is in a strip mall, and the interior is more “bustling chic” (is that even a thing?) than romantic, but man oh man, is their food good.  If you are given the option of doing a wine pairing with your meals, I recommend it – the last time I did pairing recommendations here, they were spot on with every dish. I really liked their menu options for ARW, because: 1) You’re getting three great courses for $30, 2) The menu selections are unique and 3) They give you a bunch of extra deals if you want to add to your 3-course meal.

First Course
- Choice Of -
Gazpacho
Rock Shrimp, Avocado, Olive Oil
Spring Salad
Fava Bean Hummus, Pita Croutons, Cherry Tomatoes, Feta, Honey Tarragon Dressing
“Bacon & Egg”
Benton’s Bacon, Farm Egg, Stitt’s Grits, Red Pepper Sauce
Supplemental First Courses for the Table:
Burrata $14
Spring Vegetable Succotash, Grilled Scallion Pesto
Lou’s Balls $12
Pork & Beef Meatballs, Crispy Rice Cake, Creole Tomato Sauce

Second Course
- Choice Of -
Buckwheat Pappardelle
Four Peaks Oatmeal Stout Braised Beef Shortribs, Fontina Crema, Breadcrumbs [Shoutout to using a local brew to braise the beef!]
Anson Mills Rice Grit Risotto
English Peas, Mascarpone, Spring Onions, Grapefruit, Tarragon [This is what I’d get - it sounds kind of like something a mad scientist chef would come up with]
Atlantic Hake
Corn & Okra Macque Choux, Carrot Top Pesto [I recently had hake for the first time at Red, White and Brew of all places, and really loved the flavor of it]
Braised Berkshire Pork
Butterbean Casserole, Trinity, Natural Jus
Supplemental Entree:
Bone – In Ribeye ($18 supplement) $38
Vidalia Onion Fondue, Baby Carrots, Red Wine Jus
Sides for the Table ( $7 )
Creamed Calabrian Corn
Asparagus – Truffle Hollandaise
Mac & Cheese Fondue [I have no idea what this is, but I’m on it.]

Third Course
- Choice Of -
Flavors of Sacher
Milk & Dark Chocolate, Raspberry, Apricot
Strawberry
Sesame Shortbread, Mascarpone Sorbet, Farmer Mint

Additional Offering
3 Course Menu $30
4 Course Menu: add pasta or risotto as 2nd Course – $40
On Sunday May 20th, Monday May 21st, & Sunday May 27, when ordering the 4 Course Menu option, a glass of champagne will be included with the meal. [Consider this bullet point when making a reservation, my friends.]

3. Eddie’s House $30
This is one of the friendliest restaurants in Old Town – just outside of the main drag, you walk into Eddie’s House, and everything feels cozy even though it is really loud and happening.  The food is great, but I do have two “warnings” about Eddie’s – one of the times I went, my super-friendly server was really, really confused with drink orders and was a little slow in bringing us our cocktails.  That said, they have a fantastic cocktail menu – I’m a fan of their champagne cocktails.  My other reservation is in regards to their desserts, and this is just a personal preference of mine: although unique, none of their desserts seemed to really fit their definition.  For example, their pot de creme was not a pot de creme at all.  The selections below seem to be a bit more mainstream, so for ARW, this may be fine.

First Course
- Choice Of -
Ahi Tuna Tartar Nacho, Arizona Corn & Cilantro
Mediterranean Quesadilla, Grilled Steak, Charred Peppers & Onions, Harissa Sour Cream
Mini Sonoran Chicken Cobb Salad, Corn, Bacon, Garlic Confite, Fried Egg, Avocado

Second Course
- Choice Of -
What’s With the Braised Beef Short Rib? [I think their beef dishes are their best offerings - this is probably very good]
Pan Seared Corvina Bass, Black Bean Pineapple Risotto, topped with Fire Roasted Tomatillo Shrimp
“Down Home Dinner” Grilled Honey-Spiced Drumsticks, with a skillet of Prosciutto Mac ‘n” Cheese [I recommend this - their Prosciutto Mac n Cheese is pretty awesome]

Third Course
- Choice Of -
Tres Leche Cake with Peach Carmel Glaze
Peanut Butter Cheesecake, Oreo Crust
Warm Peach Cobbler a la Mode

4. The Greene House ($40 per person)
It’s been a while since I’ve been up to The Greene House, but their food is great.  Located in Kierland Commons, it’s a loud and happening place, but again, the food is excellent, and the cocktails are pretty amazing. I really liked the look of their ARW menu – lots of options, and it’s unlike most of the other selections I saw on other menus:

First Course
- Choice Of -
Chicken Tortilla Soup- Avocado, Pico de Gallo, Queso Blanco
Arugula Salad- Pickled Peppers, Olives, Local Tomatoes & Manchego
CheeseHerb Hummus- Grilled Flatbread, Tomato, Onion & Feta
The Greene House Salad- Green Vegetables, Arugula, Green Goddess Dressing, Pistachios, Parmesan
Tempura Calamari- Seasonal Vegetables, Red Chili Shoyu

Second Course
- Choice Of -
Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin- Horseradish Potato, Mushrooms & Asparagus
Crispy Half Chicken- Creamed Corn, Green Beans & Tomato Jam
Sea Scallops- Caramelized Cauliflower, Snap Peas & Bacon [This is my recommendation: I am very particular about sea scallops.  Every time I’ve ordered them here, they are excellent - they have that buttery melt-in-your mouth flavor and texture that few places can get right]
Atlantic Salmon- Beets, Fingerling Potatoes, Horseradish Vinaigrette & Sherry Jus
Filet of Beef- Stir Fry Vegetables, Togarashi Spiced Fingerlings, Miso Butter

Third Course
- Choice Of -
Spike’s Chocolate Bars of Sin
Pineapple Rum Cake Vanilla Bean Gelato [Yes, please]
Ever Changing Sorbet
Warm Cinnamon & Sugar Donut Vanilla Bean Custard

5. Cowboy Ciao ($30 per person)
Great service, great menu, an extensive wine list thanks to their sister restaurant/wine bar Kazimierz, which is located just around the corner.  I chose this one because the dishes sounded really exciting, and the menu is only $30 per person.  You can’t beat that for what you are getting.

First Course
- Choice Of -
Daily Bowl
Testosterone Salad
Grilled Black Tiger Shrimp
Stetson Chopped Salad

Second Course
- Choice Of -
Duck Confit Enchiladas
Exotic Mushroom Pan Fry [even though I would choose the enchiladas, if this is your first time at Cowboy Ciao and you can live without meat in your main dish, I highly recommend this staple dish of theirs]
Grilled Scallops & Squash
Wild Boar Meatballs

Third Course
- Choice Of -
Cowboy Ciao Original 1997 Bread Pudding
NV Martinez tawny port or ’02 Meroi picolit, Friuli, Italy [love that they offer a port as a dessert option...]

I have a couple of honorable mentions:  the following restaurants are not included on my list because you need to experience them in a non price-fixed setting:

Roka Akor, Binkley’s, Tapas Papa Frita, Ocean Prime

I absolutely love these four restaurants, but for three of them, you need to experience their full menu and presentation.  In the case of Ocean Prime, it’s not their presentation that leaves them off the main list, it’s that you must try things on the menu they don’t offer on their ARW menu – crab legs from the raw bar, their NY Strip and their Sea Bass are some of the best-prepared dishes I’ve had in the valley.

There are two restaurants I love but didn’t include because they don’t have a menu posted on the ARW site.  I am pretty certain whatever they offer is going to be great, and will likely in the $40 range.  Similar to the above restaurants, it’s worth it to splurge and check them out on a non-ARW week.  They both have Chef’s Tasting menus that are the bees knees:

Cork
Quiessence

Are there any restaurants you are looking forward to? Have you tried any restaurants you’d like to report on?  Please comment below!

Arizona Restaurant Week runs from May 19th through May 27th.  Please visit the official web site at http://arizonarestaurantweek.com/ for a full listing of participating restaurants, menus and information on reservations.

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Four Books to Challenge Your Views

There are certain books you come across in life that make you so angry, you want to throw the book across the room by the end of it. It is as if the book ropes you in on a certain premise then pulls the rug out from under you, opening your eyes to a dirty, awful truth.  It is a truth that cannot be unseen, and is a truth that cannot be contained within pages or a collection of 1s and 0s on a Kindle.   The four books below made me angry, they made me want to learn and do more, and they all challenged my thinking in a profound way.  As a reminder, I’m not an Amazon affiliate or anything; this is just me sharing a few favorite books with you. [Full disclosure: update as of 5/7 - I joined Amazon, and yes, I am linking these books, but it is still about things I love - if I wanted to really sell out, I'd do a list like, "Four Big Screen TVs to Blow Your Mind."]


Circumstantial Evidence by Pete Earley

Whenever I hear about a case where a person seemed to be wrongly convicted, I think of this book.  It is a non-fiction account of how in 1986, an African-American man with no criminal history was found guilty of murdering a white woman in Alabama and had his sentence changed from life in prison to the death penalty by the presiding judge.  The book tells the story of how a corrupt prosecutor and a culture of racism almost killed an innocent man.  In the defendant’s case, he was lucky to have the Innocence Project and a 60 Minutes exposé on his side.  After reading this book, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people were on death row under similar circumstances who weren’t able to grab the national attention this case received.

 

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

This may come as a surprise to you, but I really enjoyed reading this book.  To Ayn Rand’s credit, this book was unlike any other of its time – it featured a “strong” woman (in quotes because Dominique was way too much of a Roarke fangirl), the heroes of the book openly had affairs, and the bad guys were into charity.  What? She does a good job of making the “bad guys” unlikeable, and it is page-turning fiction.  On one level, the book is nothing short of absurd – the trial scene in particular laughable and ridiculous.  Yet…it’s like sci-fi/fantasy, using an alternate reality of our world.  Rand didn’t see it as an alternate reality, nor do her legions of followers.  Until rich people actually make like a Rand character and petulantly hold their breath until the world lets them be the racecar in Monopoly or whatever the fuck spoiled brat thing Rand characters always do, I’m calling it fantasy.

After reading The Fountainhead, I went on a crazy Ayn Rand kick – I read Atlas Shrugged and a lot of Objectivist literature.  I’ll be honest with you, when the economy tanked in 2007, I was shocked at how many people pulled out their Cliff’s Notes of Atlas Shrugged and started quoting it.  For me, when 2007 happened, I took one look at my mongo-sized copy of Atlas Shrugged and thought, “well, there goes that theory…”

To each his own, I guess.


Animal Farm by George Orwell

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”  Even though Orwell wrote this book as a satire of Stalinism, time and time again, we see our world mirror that of Animal Farm.  Orwell had said he came up with the idea for the book after seeing a boy on a farm whipping a farm animal, stating “men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.”  As we see various movements rise and fall in today’s world, one can’t help but wonder who in these movements is the Snowball or the Napoleon. We see certain individuals state they are for the people, yet are in bed with the rich and powerful.  We see people following these individuals without bothering to educate themselves on the facts.  This happens now, and it’s happened many times before.  Animal Farm shows the consequences for blindly following a movement, and placing an unwavering trust in a select few.  The United States may be one of the only countries in history to successfully overthrow a government and turn it over to the people, but at times we dance dangerously close to handing our rights away to the pigs.

 

Where Men Win Glory by John Krakauer

The general public may think they know the story of Pat Tillman – football star turns away from millions of dollars to join the military, dies valiantly fighting the enemy… if you’ve followed the story beyond that, you’ll know that he actually died from friendly fire and oops! those initial reports were incorrect and were in no way deliberately misleading. No, not at all.  Tillman was a man who defied every stereotype – he was considered to be too short to play football on an elite level yet managed to be a starter in the NFL.  He was a scholar, graduating with a 3.85 GPA in under four years.  He was an atheist, read the Book of Mormon and the Quran, and joined the military not out of patriotism or religious reasons, but because he wanted to push himself to reach his full potential as a human being.  He became an elite Army ranger yet questioned military groupthink and protocol often.  As is the case with many of Krakauer’s books, the main subject is only a part of a much larger story Krakauer wants to tell.  This is not only a biography of a fascinating person, but is also a history of U.S. relations in the middle east, a commentary on the Bush Doctrine, and a story of a military so desperate for good PR, they disgraced the memory of a man who died for their cause.  While I felt Krakauer spent far too much time on the 2000 election, the story is told with unrelenting passion and left me wanting to honor Tillman’s memory by being a better person.

Looking to purchase any of these books or anything else on Amazon? Support The Menacing Kitten by purchasing Amazon products through this web site. Like this sexy, sexy Kindle Touch (which I own and love):

 

Favorite Debut Albums in My Lifetime

Note: I had hoped to put YouTube videos on here for each song, but I got the WMG No-Embed Cockblock. I hate that. So instead, I created links to take you to YouTube’s page in a separate window.  How does that prevent piracy again?? Anyhoo…

I love debut albums because there is a certain “force to be reckoned with” feeling about them.  They feel young, fresh and relentless.  They are a snapshot of an artist’s potential before the world gets its grubby little hands on them and ruins them.  Certainly, some artists still put out great stuff after their debut, but for many, the first album is the best in the collection.  The five albums below are debuts that were released in my lifetime that I particularly love.  A strong argument can be made that each of the albums are the best in that artist’s catalog.

What are your favorite debut albums?  Post them in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you!

The Cars: The Cars (1978)
I’ve always seen The Cars as a band who never quite fit the mold of new wave the way other bands did; they weren’t overly top 40 like Blondie (at least not until Shake it Up), and they weren’t overly esoteric like early Talking Heads or Devo.  Sure, their debut album has at least six out of 9 tracks still in regular radio rotation, but when those songs come on they sound like nothing else.  They are a little Roxy Music, a little Velvet Underground, a pinch of stadium anthem.

The Cars was recorded in a mere 12 days with the legendary Roy Thomas Baker at the helm as producer.  When listening to the demos and rejected tracks for the album, the listener realizes how perilously close this debut came to being “just another 70s rock album.” Instead, we get this great mixture of songs that created a classic.

I chose “Bye Bye Love” for the “representative” song off the album, because I see it as the quintessential Cars song.  Although it was never released as a single, it’s both poppy and rock, intelligent and poetic, combining the perfect mixture of guitar and synth.  “Bye Bye Love” gives the listener a sneak peak into the future greatness of their second album, Candy-O.

 

Van Halen: Van Halen (1978)
When I listen to this album, I wonder how people reacted to it when it came out.  It opens with “Running With the Devil,” which is mainstream enough, but then you have “Eruption.”  When people heard it the first time, did they feel like they were listening to a person who was about to become a legend? Was it the kind of thing where they’d play it for their friends and say, “you have got to listen to this!”  See, my music memories began when all of the Eddie wannabes started to come out of the woodwork.  Van Halen is my 2nd-favorite band (next to The Cars), yet I take Eddie’s style for granted, because his imitators almost drown him out.

After “Eruption,” they bring us “You Really Got Me.”  The party begins, and doesn’t let up until many albums later.  I love the “live” sound on this album, and it’s one of Michael Anthony’s better albums for the bass. As in, you can actually hear the bass on this one.  What I love about Van Halen and the Roth-era stuff, is they give you the loud, fun crowd-pleasers, but they always include something a little playful and Vaudevillian.  On their debut, they have the double-entendre “Ice Cream Man,” and the doo wop section of “I’m the One.”  I know a lot of people who hate Van Halen, and I get it – they are at their worst, a bunch of misogynist, slovenly, juvenile, drunken cavemen.  That’s normally something I’d get really mad about, but I’m too busy dancing and banging my head to care.  

Devo: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)
1978 was a good year for music. I actually didn’t discover this album until recently – I came across “Uncontrollable Urge” and was surprised that this fun, mosh-worthy song came from the guys who did “Whip It.”   The entire album is high-energy, weird and kinda ballsy.  Let’s face it, who would take a rock classic like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and completely deconstruct it?

Are We Not Men is not some organic, natural act of God.  It is dissonant, detatched, quirky, high-tech punk that came to us via transmogrifier.

When selecting a song from YouTube to go with this link, it came down to “Satisfaction” or “Uncontrollable Urge.” If you have to choose one, go with “Satisfaction,” because if you haven’t heard it before, you should.  You’ll probably hate it, but I love it.  If you can listen to both, check out “Uncontrollable Urge” – I’m linking it to a great live performance of it.  I think he had to play the rest of the concert in his tight whities, judging by other clips I’ve watched…

Guns N Roses: Appetite for Destruction (1987)
Guns N Roses reminds me of Junior High – it seemed like one or two people knew of them around the start of 7th grade, and then overnight everyone had a GNR concert shirt.  Their success somehow ushered in the hair metal heyday, even though they weren’t a “hair” band themselves, and their music was miles above their contemporaries.

When I bought Appetite for Destruction and put it in my tape player, I felt like I was doing something bad.  The album was raw, angry and celebrated all the things Nancy Reagan told me to say no to.  My eyes widened listening to “It’s So Easy.”  When the album closed with “Rocket Queen,” I turned my radio down just below “1” so my parents wouldn’t hear the dirty, audio pornography I was listening to. Up to that point they were pretty cool with not intervening with my choice in music, but if any song could change that, it was “Rocket Queen.”

When selecting a song from this album, I chose “Welcome to the Jungle”.  It was their first single, although it didn’t really take off until after “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”  I feel it best represents the craziness that is Appetite.  Plus? We get to see Axl’s short-lived Aqua Net days in the video.

Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes (1992)
In my senior year of high school, I remember flipping through the channels and landing on VH1.  A red-headed female piano was singing an unusual song.  Her mannerisms were very feminine and very sexual.  I felt captivated – I remember thinking it was cool in a world of Billy Joel and Elton John, there was this woman kicking ass on the piano on my TV.  I’d never seen that before.  Yet, she was so…odd.

I didn’t think about Tori Amos much again until my Freshman year of college.  Little Earthquakes became the soundtrack to a year of my life, a life that became very difficult due to severe depression and a lack of self-esteem.  There were moments I hated myself, and Little Earthquakes was a dose of brutal honesty and compassion with every listen.  Songs like “Leather” and “Winter” spoke to a part of me I was afraid to acknowledge. Tori sang about the things ladies weren’t supposed to sing about, and in doing so, she made it all a little less shameful.

When I was selecting songs for this blog, I came across this performance of “Silent All These Years.”  I have listened to this song a hundred times easily, yet this time it made me tear up a little.

 

So, those are my five – what are your favorites?

Four Books for Holiday Break

It would make a lot of sense for me to become an Amazon affiliate at this point and make money off of any recommendations I send your way.   I could tell you about the books I love to read, provide a nifty link to Amazon, and get my hands on that sweet, sweet, affiliate money.  Considering I appreciate my viewers and don’t want to scare off the five of you who actually read my blog, I think I’m going to pass on the whole affiliate thing for now and just list these four random books I absolutely love.  Besides, as my friend Nate (1/2 of the Whoopsie Daisies) sings in his song: “You can’t sell out if you can’t sell anything.”   So true, so true… I can’t, and I can’t.

The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr
This non-fiction story turns the academic world of art history into a detective story involving a grad student who makes a career-defining discovery.  Despite the dismissive nature of their professor, she follows a lead and attempts to track down a lost painting by Caravaggio.  Her research takes her through Italy, encountering an eccentric Countess, incompetent restorers, and competitors who attempt to steal her glory.  The story takes you through the fascinating process of how a researcher confirms the authenticity of a painting from painstaking research to the forensics involved.  The book is written for a general audience, and tells the story in a way that is engaging to anyone, not just those of us who are art history nerds.

 

 

 

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Why couldn’t we read books like this growing up?  This book has everything – romance, betrayal, a prison break, hidden treasure, revenge, Carnivale, and a lead character who is kind of intense and sexy.  I read a version of the book that Barnes and Noble printed, and while it translated beautifully, it was abridged.  They wound up abridging far too much, leaving out key components in the Count’s plot to exact revenge on those who betrayed him.  If you pick up this book (and I highly recommend you do), grab the unabridged version.  The book is a fun read, and you’ll have a hard time putting it down.

 

 

 

 

Replay by Ken Grimwood
Replay was originally published quietly in the late 1980s, and faded to out-of-print oblivion shortly thereafter.  Through word-of-mouth, the book gained a cult-like following, which led to its return to print over the past few years.  I believe the cult-like following is due to the odd effect the book has on its readers.  The plot seems simple enough – a man dies of a heart attack at the age of 43 only to wake up in his dorm room in the 60s, as his 19 year-old self.  He discovers that he is replaying his life, and uses his knowledge and wisdom to make his life turn out differently.  This occurrence doesn’t happen only once – every time he hits the age of 43, he dies and his life replays over and over again.  With each replay, he makes different discoveries and mistakes, and odd changes begin to occur.  After reading the book, I wondered: if I woke up as my 19 year-old self, what would I do differently?  I began to have recurring dreams that I was in my own replay.  As the concept captured my imagination, I realized “Replay’s” powerful message: we don’t get a replay in life, so live your life fearlessly and take advantage of opportunities as they appear, because you may never get that chance again.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Okay, I’ll admit – when I first saw this book in Barnes and Noble, I thought it was some cheesy chick-romance novel.  Despite my skepticism, I picked it up because the time travel plot was intriguing.  It has become one of my favorite books.  The two main characters, Clare and Henry, are the most likeable romantic leads I’ve ever read – despite the sci-fi element, their relationship feels real, containing ups and downs, comical and tragic moments.  Niffenegger’s story is narrated by each of them, and jumps around in time as it follows the progression of their relationship.  The book manages to be romantic without being sappy or maudlin.

After reading this book, I eagerly awaited Niffenegger’s second novel, “Her Fearful Symmetry.”  If you loved Time Traveler’s Wife and are thinking of picking this book up, don’t.  It’s fascinating for the first half, but the main characters suddenly become consumed with selfishness and stupidity in the second half to the point the entire novel is unbearable.  I’m hoping for her third book, she can regroup and recapture what made Time Traveler’s Wife so special and beautiful.

The Non-Wine Drinker Wine Drinking Series, Part I: Moscato D’Asti

He looked at the flute of Moscato D’Asti with his typical skepticism for any wine. He sipped.

He raised his eyebrows.  Could this be the one?

He took another sip.  “Oh my God…” he enthused.  “I like this!Like, I actually want to drink this!”

He ordered a glass for himself, and we bought a bottle to take home.  This was a double victory for me – not only did I finally find a wine my husband Chris would drink, it was bubbly, so it fits the bill for celebratory wines.  Considering we toasted on our wedding day with him drinking a Sprite, this was a big moment.

Moscato D’Asti is what I call a “gateway” wine.  Sweet, fizzy and crisp, it provides a great introduction to the wonderful world of wine for people like Chris.  I am convinced that there are two approaches to becoming a wine drinker, if you don’t care for the taste right off the bat: either you keep drinking the same wine until you acquire the taste (thank you, chardonnay), or you keep trying out different wines until you find one that you truly enjoy.  If you choose the latter method, Moscato D’Asti is a great starting point.  But what is it? What makes it so tasty and sweet compared to other wines?

Well, much like anything else in this world, sweetness comes from sugar.  Without getting too technical, the fermentation process in winemaking converts the sugar in grapes to alcohol.  The less sugar that is converted, the sweeter the wine tends to be.  Moscato D’Asti goes through an intricate fermentation process to keep the sugar from converting to alcohol: the process begins with a gentle pressing of Moscato Bianco grapes to extract their juices.  The stock from the juices is then stored at 0 degrees Celsius to prevent fermentation from occurring.  When it’s time to ferment the juice, it is stored in an airtight, pressurized tank and heated up to 15 degrees Celsius.  The pressurized tank retains the carbon dioxide that forms during this process, allowing the wine to retain its fizz.  The juice continues to ferment until the sugars have converted enough to put the stock at 5-6% alcohol.  At that point, the yeast in the mixture needs to be made dormant to halt the fermentation process, so the stock is chilled back down to 0.  Once chilled, the juice is filtered again into another pressurized tank to settle.  The filtration removes the dormant yeast, preventing further fermentation.  The very controlled halting of the fermentation process is what makes Moscato D’Asti sweeter than its mass-produced sister, Asti Spumante (now known simply as Asti).

When pairing sweeter wines with foods, you generally do not want to eat something that is sweeter than your wine; if you do so, it will often give your wine more of an acidic taste.  Thankfully, Moscato D’Asti is sweet, but not cloyingly so; its flavor allows it to pair nicely with most desserts, especially fruit-based or berry-based desserts.  A dessert with mascarpone cheese and peaches would be delicious with this wine.  Moscato D’Asti also goes nicely with salads or fluffy, light pastries.

What is the best way to serve Moscato D’Asti so you can enjoy it at its full flavor potential?  First of all, an important general rule to follow with any kind of wine is the sweeter the wine, the colder it is served.  If you had a glass of Moscato D’Asti served at room temperature, the sweetness would taste almost syrupy.  When chilled at 10-12 degrees Celsius, it remains sweet, but takes on a crisper, refreshing feel over your palate.

Moscato D’Asti is in the frizzante style, making it less bubbly than sparkling wines like Asti Spumante or champagne.  Because it is less bubbly, it tends to lose its effervescence sooner, so I recommend drinking it the day you open the bottle.

Where sparkling wines are to be served in a flute, Moscato D’Asti is properly served in a standard white wine glass.  If you ever have Moscato D’Asti at a restaurant, chances are they are going to serve it in a flute – while this is considered incorrect, it’s not going to ruin the flavor or the experience of the wine.  Besides, let’s face it – champagne flutes indicate celebration and fun; if it’s the only fizzy wine you like, why not put it in a flute for a special event?  If someone is going to be a snob about it, chances are, they’ll be a snob simply because you prefer the sweet Moscato D’Asti over a brut champagne.

Now that you are ready to enjoy your first glass of Moscato D’Asti, it’s time to give you a few recommendations:it is important to know when you are searching for a bottle that there are other wines that have Moscato in their names, but they are not Moscato D’Asti, and they will have distinctly different flavors.  The Moscato grape is used for a multitude of rich, dessert wines, like Muscatel from Spain, or a California wine called Essensia, which has a distinct floral flavor.  Moscato D’Asti always is listed as such on the DOCG label, which is located near the lip.  DOCG stands for denominazione di origine controllata (“controlled origin denomination”), and its presence on your bottle verifies that the wine was produced in a specific region of Italy, and meets the defined quality standards and methods for making for that type of wine.

If you are at a restaurant, Moscato D’Asti is located in either the sparkling wine section, or in the dessert wine section (often served with your dessert menu).  However, if you are going to go out and buy a bottle to try, here are three of my favorites:

Michael Chiarlo Nivole is by far my top choice for three reasons: it is a half-bottle, it is inexpensive (you should be able to find it for under $15), and it is a high-quality Moscato.  I buy this brand often, and have yet to come across a bad bottle.  Fortunately, it is also very common – you should be able to find it at your favorite wine cellar; it is also often available at both Total Wine & More and BevMo.

Marenco Scrapona is a little more difficult to find, but it is delicious and worth the purchase if you come across it.  I’ve never seen it at the big-name stores, but found it at a local wine cellar.

Vino Dei Fratelli is also quite good, and seems to be a little easier to find than the Marenco.  I have seen it in Whole Foods, and it is also available at BevMo.  Keep in mind that if you are in an area where it is legal to ship wines, you can find these brands via on-line stores.