Romantic comedies reviewed: Made of Honor

I admit it. I love romantic comedies. I've seen pretty much every one made in the last decade, and I'll see every one made in the coming decade. I am that girl.

Last night's offering was Made of Honor with Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan. Since romantic comedies tend to be formulaic in plot, I've developed a five point rating system to hone in on the elements that separate the classics from the duds.

1) Romantic location: Check
Made of Honor is set in both New York and Scotland. While the NY scenes are fine, their main function is to provide contrast for the green hills, crystal clear lakes, and castles of Scotland. After seeing this movie, you'll want to be on the next flight to Edinburgh.

2) Handsome leading man: Grudging check
I don't get the McDreamy thing, but most women do, so I'll give it a point on this front. That said, his hair is distractingly large in this movie. I missed several lines of dialogue staring at the height and the whirls and wondering how much product it took to defy gravity and mold it into that shape. Of course, if the dialogue were better, this may not have been such a problem. Which brings me to #3 ...

3) Humor: Fail
Patrick Dempsey falls down. Twice. Knocks over a waiter, food flies, the whole deal. Yawn. There's also a basketball player in too short shorts who wears out his welcome within seconds. The best humor in the genre is found in clever dialogue, and that's absent here. Instead, we have over-the-top caricatures and lame attempts at physical comedy. I think I chuckled once, but that may have been at the leading man's hair.

4) Cute hair/clothes: Check
Yes, I said cute hair. Coveting the leading lady's hair and wardrobe is a key part of the escapist experience. It doesn't matter if she could never reasonably afford the clothes. I am happiest when she's stylish and put together in ways most of us can only dream of. Monaghan manages to be the best dressed woman in every scene and sports a nicely layered bob that is always sleek and bouncy and perfectly in place. Fashion highlights were the maroon dress at the bridesmaids' meeting and the Scottish wedding gown (sans tartan sash, of course).

5) Chemistry: Fail
This one will make or break the movie. I can roll with bad clothes, flat hair, an Iowa location, and even a sketchy leading man if I truly believe that these two belong together. In Made of Honor, they had a nice friendship but no spark that made it clear that they were meant to be. To make matters worse, she had better chemistry and a more credible romance with Colin, the Other-Man-She's-Not-Really-Supposed-To-Marry. Whoops! It was a mistake to make his greatest sin bagpipe playing while Dempsey's character is basically a cad who decided, for largely selfish reasons, that he didn't want to lose his best friend. Epic failure on this front.

Final verdict: 4.5/10. You'd be better off renting My Best Friend's Wedding which is essentially the same story told in a much more appealing way. Plus, Cameron Diaz has great hair in that one. Just sayin'.


My big three year old!

Ernie is three today! Here are some pics of his birthday party with treats from the doggie bakery. The peanut butter cup was a hit!


Who needs books anyway?

For the past month, I've been working through The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. The goal of the book is to stimulate creativity and "awaken the artist within." Sounds good to me! I promised at the beginning of the course that I would suspend my natural skepticism and do all of the assignments, no matter how nutty they may seem. Like all good intentions, this one came back to bite me.

Everything was going well until week four when I encountered the reading deprivation assignment. She admits in the book that she's always the bad guy when she gives the assignment in class. Rightly so, I say. She has instructed us not to read for a week. No books, no email, no news articles, no magazines. Nothing. Nada. In addition, she says that filling the void with tv, radio, and "gossipy conversations" (hello! the best kind!) isn't in the spirit of things and should be avoided as well.

In the words of Dr. Kurt ... BUSH LEAGUE!

The theory behind the exercise is that blocked creatives often overindulge in the words and ideas of others and that a week without those distractions will open you up to try new activities and listen to your inner voice. While it is eye opening to realize how much time I spend reading (alot!), at this point my inner voice is mostly saying that it wants to check its email.

(In case you were wondering, blogging is writing, so it's allowed. At least that's what I'm telling myself ...)


Donut lovers, get thee to Terre Haute!

Last weekend, Kurt and I went to Square Donuts on Wabash Avenue. While it doesn't look like much on the outside, inside you'll find some of the best donuts Indiana has to offer. With their light dough and wonderfully flavored frosting, Square Donuts puts the national chains to shame.

We sampled the basic yeast as well as the chocolate, raspberry, and peanut butter cremes. The yeast was a bit sweet for my taste, but anyone who likes Krispy Kremes should love it. All of the cremes feature a yeast donut with white creme filling and a flavored frosting. The chocolate was good but nothing out of the ordinary. The real gems were the raspberry which had pieces of fruit in the pink frosting and a wonderful fresh raspberry taste and the peanut butter with its super creamy peanut butter fudge frosting.

One caveat: While the store claims to be open until mid-afternoon, they actually shut down when they run out of donuts. You'll want to get there early for the best selection. Another option is to place an order to be sure you'll get your favorite flavors. I had my eye on the chocolate bavarian which the customer in front of me snapped up. Next time, we'll call ahead and order one along with our peanut butter cremes.

You'll note the peanut butter creme isn't pictured. That's because someone (Kurt!) devoured it before I could get my camera out of the bag.


I wasn't going to take a picture but ...

Signs like this just are just begging for it.


Easy recipe of the day: Pimento cheese

I love pimento cheese. Spread it on crackers and add a salad, and you have a great light lunch. I even went for the low fat Triscuits this time (in honor of Dr. H), and the cheese was flavorful enough that I couldn't tell the difference.
I use a recipe from a friend in Atlanta, but there are lots of variations out there. This one adds garlic, pickles, and Monterey Jack. Intriguing! It's really hard to go wrong with cheese and mayo in the mix.

Easy Pimento Cheese

2 cups finely shredded sharp cheddar
1 small jar pimentos with juice
Hot sauce (I use Frank's, but Tabasco would work)
Salt and pepper

Mix the cheese and pimentos in a medium sized bowl and slowly add mayo until you reach a spreadable consistency. Add hot sauce to taste (I like it spicy and usually add 2T or so) and season with salt and pepper. That's it! Let it sit in the fridge for 2 hours before eating. Overnight would be even better. Serve with crackers, celery or as a sandwich on wheat bread.


Tokyo, baby!

I'm going to Tokyo!!!

I booked my tickets this afternoon for a November trip. I initially hoped for an October trip to Wales (the homeland), but when that ran into difficulties, I went back to the life list and settled on Japan instead. I'm staying in the heart of the city in the Shinjuku district. My hotel is 5 minutes from the busiest train station in the world, Shinjuku Station, that has 3.6 million people pass through daily. I can't even imagine!

I want to day trip to Nikko to see the temples and Hakone for a view of Mt. Fuji. I'd like to see Kyoto, but I've read it's a bit far to go in one day. I'll also get up at 4:30 (!!!) one morning to head to the Tsukiji fish market. Beyond that, I'm not sure of the plan. I've reserved a boatload of guidebooks from the library which I'll be poring over the next few weeks. I plan to learn some rudimentary Japanese, so I can at least say 'please' and 'thank you' and 'no mammals' (and hopefully never 'help' even though I'll be sure to learn it).

In October, I'll rent a pile of dvds and have a Japanese film festival to help set the mood. I'm a little excited, if you can't tell. I think last year's Paris adventure made me brave or possibly foolish. Maybe there isn't much of a difference.


The Night That the Lights Went Out In Indy

I usually enjoy power outages. There's something romantic about a storm brewing outside and being tucked inside with candlelight and a radio. Of course, I'd never gone without power for more than a handful of hours. Yesterday, I learned that 21 hours without electricity is anything but romantic.

It didn't start well. The tv flickered during the Colts game and finally gave out during the end of the third quarter. (Given how the Colts played, it would have been an act of mercy to block the signal during the first half. Just sayin'.) I got out the trusty hand crank radio and managed to hear the end of the game and Vinatieri's fabulous game saving kick. Sports on the radio usually don't get me going, but at least the Colts have Bob Lamey to inject some excitement into things.

Post-game, I read, did yoga, meditated on the ol' cosmic cushion, read more, and did still more yoga. I didn't want to open to fridge, so I was making do with peanut-sunflower granola bars (too salty - thumbs down), baked tortilla chips in desperate need of salsa, and a Mr. Goodbar. The refrigerator became an ongoing obsession as the night went on. It turns out that everything remotely tasty in my house is locked inside. Once I realized that I couldn't open the door, I became obsessed with thoughts of raspberry lemonade, pimento cheese, and smoothies. Even the green beans were calling my name, but I resisted. I mean really, the power was going to come on any moment, right?

Things took a turn for the worse when the sun set and it became too dark to read. I lit a candle, cranked up the radio, and settled in for a few HOURS of turning the dial in search of something inoffensive. None of the music was consistently decent, so I ended up with talk radio on 1430 AM. Sometimes entertaining, often offensive, and occasionally bewildering, at least it held my interest. Did you know that Glenn Beck has the third most popular radio show in the country? Apparently so, since he informed me of this at least twice an hour. Mind-boggling.

I fell asleep around midnight assured that I'd wake up and everything would be back to normal. Yeah right. Only at 12:30pm did the power finally come back on (just as I was loading up the items in my fridge to take elsewhere). By that time, all I wanted was a shower (no windows in the bathroom means no shower without power - bah!), food, and never to listen to talk radio again.

The upside is that I have a new found appreciation for the many small things I take for granted everyday. I only had 21 hours of frustration which is nothing compared to the challenges of those in Texas this weekend. My thoughts are with all of you! (Especially Jan and Angela!)


Too cute!

I stumbled across these last night while googling to find the difference between 'dead bug' and 'happy baby' (don't ask) and thought they were adorable. I might have to get one for inspiration!


The Little Granola Bar That Couldn't

I love granola bars. I always have a box in the pantry, and they're one of my favorite go-to snacks. When I saw a recipe for raspberry granola bars, I knew I had to try them. They were raspberry-oat, no less, which meant I could feel smug and healthy while snacking. All the better!

The first cue that something wasn't right was when the batter looked exactly like oatmeal cookie dough. I mean exactly. In fact, the process and ingredients were suspiciously similar to those for oatmeal cookies, but there was a picture of granola bars right by the recipe and a mention of packing them for a hike, so I forged on undeterred. I opted to add slivered almonds for extra protein (ok, because they taste good).

Everything went as planned until I was supposed to "crumble" the remaining batter on top of the raspberry filling. Since the batter stuck to my fingers (and everything else it touched), crumbling wasn't so much an option. I sort of flicked globs on top and decided to call it a day. Thirty minutes later the timer dinged, and I pulled out of the oven ... oatmeal cookies. In bar form and with raspberry filling, but still oatmeal cookies. They looked nothing like the thin, crunchy bars pictured in the magazine. I will admit they're pretty good cookies, but I can't snack on cookies midafternoon and feel smug and healthy. Bah!

So now I'm on a quest to make an actual homemade granola bar. If you have a good recipe, please pass it along. I'll probably leave out raisins if they're involved, but otherwise I'm game for most anything.


Total Hedgehog Devastation

I admit it. I am maniacally obsessed with fantasy football. I had high hopes for this season after drafting Tom Brady in the first round (yes, you see where this is going). My team, the Hapless Hedgehogs, was ready for total league domination.

Then Sunday happened. Brady is out for the season, my other star player McGahee didn't play, and my minor players couldn't even come through with the paltry 5 points they were expected to get. The result: Hedgehogs 37, Evil opponent: 63. Even worse, this puts me 60 points out of the lead. 60. It's inconceivable.

Early yesterday morning, I traded 8 players out of my team of 15. Hopefully I was able to nab some up-and-comers who no one expected to do well. My QBs are Pennington and Eli Manning. Not bad, but not great. My biggest "star" at this point is Reggie Wayne who, to his credit, managed to score 14 points last week.

Hopefully this is a Bad News Bears story in the making. They did win in the end, right? Sigh ...


Afghani in Indy

Kurt has been craving Afghan food lately, specifically lamb kabobs. I did a little research and discovered that Indy's only Afghan restaurant is just 5 minutes from me in Castleton. Between its strip mall location and questionable use of the letter K, I was sketchy about Kabob Korner, but the reviews were positive (glowing even!), so we decided to give it a try last Saturday night.

The restaurant is small and simple, with brightly colored walls, a handful of tables, and a counter where you order. Pitchers of water line one side of the counter along with a red concoction labeled "Very hot sauce". The small sample I had proved this to be accurate, but Kurt used it liberally and didn't find it too hot at all. Then again, this is the man who once chugged a bottle of hot sauce on a dare, so he can't be trusted in these matters. The menu is fairly small, with a variety of kabobs, one vegetarian entree, manto (dumplings) and kurma chalow (meat in tomato sauce). There's baklava for dessert and a small variety of side dishes including samosas, soup, and salad.

Kurt went for lamb kabobs which were served with rice and pita. I chose the kurma chalow with chicken which was flavorful, but not at all spicy. It didn't taste like anything I'd ever had before. The closest I can come to describing it is to say it had a "deep" savory flavor. The chicken pieces were quite tender, and the sauce was mild enough that their flavor came through. I nabbed a little of the white sauce that came with Kurt's lamb, and it was a wonderful addition to my chicken. Kurt loved his lamb. It appeared to be cooked perfectly with a touch of pink in the center. His craving was satisfied, and he'll definitely be returning for more.

I was glad to try something new, but I don't know that I'd ever crave the dish I had. It was good but not spectacular. The flavors didn't grab me the way those in other cuisines (Indian in particular) do. Maybe I'll add a little of the 'very hot sauce' next time to spice things up.


An Evening with Chris Isaak

A couple weeks ago, Kurt and I went to Naperville, IL to see Chris Isaak at the Morton Arboretum. We were blessed with perfect weather, an amazing show, and even front row seats! I have no clue how we scored such great seats since it was open seating and there were tons of people already there when we arrived.

He performed several songs from his new album that is coming out this fall. The high point for me was 'Notice the Ring,' a favorite that I thought was too obscure to ever hear in concert. They even added a fab bongo solo. (#76th Law of the Universe: Everything is better with bongos). I think Kurt enjoyed the free-form jam session the best.

Don't miss Chris if he comes to your town! It's a fun show even if it's not your kind of music. Lots of jokes, lots of silliness, and everyone dancing like idiots and having a great time. This is the third time I've been, and it's become one of my favorite summer traditions. Two thumbs way up.


Little Italy Festival pictures

Kicked up blueberry smoothie

I got a blender a few years back thinking that I would become the smoothie queen, finally getting my four (!!) servings of fruit per day in the form of milkshaky goodness. I searched the internet for smoothie recipes and settled on one that used familiar ingredients and received good ratings. I don't remember all the details, but I know that banana was used as the thickening agent. They claimed you couldn't taste it. Lies! I might have created the single nastiest smoothie the world had ever tasted. Underly sweet and overly chunky (with banana pieces, no less!), it was the anti-milkshake. Blech.

Fast forward to summer 2008 - Kurt mentioned offhand that he had a smoothie maker. My thoughts were as follows: 1) Unitasker bad! and then 2) Smoothies good! Not only did he own the contraption, but he seemed confident that smoothies were "no problem." Coming from a man whose cooking skill extends only to pressing buttons on his microwave, I was skeptical. Last weekend, he proved me wrong and made wonderful strawberry smoothies. Hurrah for the good doctor! I got the ol' blender down tonight and mimicked his "recipe" with great success. I just might get my four servings a day after all!

Kurt's Fabulous Smoothie
serves one

One container Yoplait French vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup fruit (fresh or frozen)
2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate
large handful ice cubes (3/4 of a 12 ounce glass or so)

Put in blender. Whirr until smooth. Enjoy!

Apparently, this is a fairly standard mix that I somehow failed to find last time. Nonetheless, it'll always be Kurt's recipe to me.)


We stompa da grapes!

On Labor Day, Kurt and I stomped grapes at the Clinton Little Italy festival, and it was AWESOME!!! If grape stomping isn't on your life list, definitely add it! I was worried it would be gross and messy, but it wasn't at all. They had a tub of water to rinse your feet, but mine only had a couple grape peels on them. Kurt was initially sketchy about the whole thing but couldn't stop grinning the entire time he was stomping. From now on, when it gets above 90, I'll be craving a vat of ice cold grapes to wade into. Heavenly! Who knew?!?

In addition to the grape madness, we also tried 'rosettes' at the Tri-Kappa booth. Neither of us had ever heard of a rosette, but the lines were consistently long and at only 3/$1 (or 12/$4, 24/$8, 36/$12 as the sign so helpfully told us - math IS hard!) we couldn't pass them up. It turns out that a rosette is a thin, crispy piece of fried dough in the shape of a flower that is dusted with powdered sugar and served hot from the oil. Think of the love child of a potato chip and a funnel cake, and you've got the idea. They're super yummy, but also super messy. We both ended up with faces (and shirts and shorts) covered in powdered sugar. Of course, someone (KURT!) might have been flicking it on innocent victims (ME!) which didn't help matters. It came off easily, so no harm done. Other than looking like morons, but we're used to that.

Of course, it wasn't all sunshine and pastries. The day had a dark side as well. During the grape stomping, there was a very determined man buzzing about with a microphone interrogating .. er .. interviewing the stompers. I had two goals: 1) stomp grapes and 2) DO NOT TALK TO MICROPHONE MAN. He seemed to be focusing on the leftmost line, so Kurt and I ducked out and got into the right line. Everything was fine; he was talking to kids, humiliating .. wait, "getting to know" college students. Seriously, I thought I was home free. Of course, when I get in to stomp, he's drawn as if by an evil force to my grape tub, and the next thing I know, I'm on the !$#%!@* microphone and there's much banter about my lackluster (I would claim delicate) stomping technique. ARGH! It's as if by thinking 'no microphone, no microphone, no microphone', I somehow created a cosmic beacon to draw the thing to me. Sigh ...

I'll post pics when Kurt gets around to mailing them to me ...