Life in the Slow Lane

August 29, 2008

Summer pasts tips and recipes

Filed under: Life — pauljlane @ 1:46 pm

As promised in Sunday lifestyle, here are summer pasts and tips courtesy of Gannett News Service.

Cook pasta perfectly
Pasta should be cooked al dente, which in Italian means “to the tooth.” Translation: pasta that is slightly chewy. Not undercooked and tough nor overcooked and mushy. No matter how fresh the produce, poorly cooked pasta can ruin the dish. Follow these steps for perfect pasta.
• Fill a large pot three-fourths full of cold water.
• Turn heat on high. When water begins to boil, add about one-half teaspoon salt. When the water comes to a full boil, gently add the pasta.
• Once the water begins to foam, reduce heat to medium high.
• Stir occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking.
• Use the cooking time on the package as a guideline. You must taste the pasta to know when it’s done. If it has a raw taste or pasty texture, continue boiling.
• When pasta is done, pour into a colander and shake it to drain the pasta well.
Pasta shape matters
Certain pasta shapes pair better than others with summer’s lighter, vegetable-inspired sauces. Here are a few that work well with sauces from the garden.
Angel hair – In Italian, this fine spaghetti is called capelli d’angelo. It goes best with light, delicate sauces that showcase fresh herbs.
Campanelle – This fancy-looking cone-shaped pasta with wavy edges traps and holds chunky vegetable sauces such as eggplant or squash.
Cavatappi – A short, S-shaped tube that resembles a small corkscrew. Its slender, spiral shape makes it suitable for cherry tomato and corn sauces.
Farfalle – Also called bowties or butterflies. They come in small, medium and large. Their large, flat surface works well with sauces containing diced vegetables.
Fiori – In Italian, fiori means flowers. This pasta has rounded petals that provide extra surface area for chunky, tomato-based sauces. Has lots of kid appeal.
Produce recipes for the pasta pot
GRILLED EGGPLANT INVOLTINI IL FORNO
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
one-fourth cup extra-virgin olive oil (divided use)
1 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
one-half cup chopped fresh basil (divided use)
1 12-ounce can crushed tomatoes
sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 large eggplants, sliced lengthwise one-half-inch thick
8 ounces shredded smoked scamorza (an Italian cow’s milk cheese similar to mozzarella) or smoked mozzarella
one-fourth cup chopped Italian parsley
In a saucepan, sweat the garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil over low heat for a few minutes. Do not let it brown. Add the red-pepper flakes, oregano and half of the basil. Cook and stir for 1 minute, then add crushed tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
Heat a grill to high. Brush eggplant slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill slices 3 minutes on one side, flip and cook 3 minutes more. Remove slices from grill and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Let cool to room temperature.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spoon about 1 ounce of cheese on one end of each eggplant slice and roll up. Let rest on seam. Brush the bottom of a baking dish with remaining olive oil. Place eggplant rolls (involtini) in dish. Ladle tomato sauce over top and sprinkle with the remaining basil and any remaining cheese. Bake for 15 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving. Serves 6 to 8.
CRAB RISOTTO
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 white onions, diced
1 and one-half cups arborio rice
one-half cup white wine
2 bay leaves
5 cups heated, unsalted chicken stock
one-fourth cup chopped chives
1 cup corn kernels, cut from the cob (or use defrosted frozen corn)
one-half cup diced, seeded tomatoes
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound crabmeat (shrimp may be substituted)
1 cup balsamic vinegar, reduced to 2 tablespoons and cooled (optional)
In a wide saucepot, heat the oil and saute the onions over medium-low heat until translucent. Add rice and stir with a wooden spoon to coat the rice with oil. Cook and stir for a few minutes to toast the rice. Add wine and bay leaves. Continue stirring to prevent sticking. Slowly add the hot chicken broth 1 cup at a time, stirring occasionally. As the mixture absorbs the broth, ladle more into the pot. When all of the broth has been added, simmer until rice begins to soften. Reduce heat and gently stir in chives, corn, tomatoes, cheese and crab, trying not to break up the lumps of crab. Cover and remove from heat when rice is slightly undercooked. Rice will continue to cook. Drizzle the reduced balsamic vinegar in a deep dish, spoon the crab risotto into the middle and serve. Serves 6.
PASTA AND SQUASH WITH TOMATOES, BASIL AND PINE NUTS
4 medium zucchini or summer squash (2 pounds), halved lengthwise and then cut crosswise into one-half-inch pieces
3 tablespoons kosher salt (divided use)
1 pound farfalle pasta
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (divided use)
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
one-half teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
one-half cup packed chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
one-fourth cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
Parmesan cheese, to serve
Toss the squash with 1 tablespoon kosher salt in a medium bowl. Transfer to a large colander and set over the bowl. Let drain for 30 minutes. Spread the squash evenly on a double layer of paper towels. Pat squash dry with additional paper towels and wipe off salt.
In a large stockpot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons kosher salt (or 1 tablespoon table salt) and pasta. Cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain and return to stockpot.
While the pasta cooks, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch non-stick skillet over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Swirl to coat pan with oil.
Add half of the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and slightly charred, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer squash to a baking sheet or large plate.
Heat another tablespoon of oil in the skillet and repeat to cook remaining squash. Transfer to baking sheet or plate.
Return empty skillet to a medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil along with the garlic and pepper flakes. Cook until fragrant, about 10 seconds, then add squash and stir well to combine and heat through, about 30 seconds.
Add the squash mixture, remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, tomatoes, basil, balsamic vinegar and pine nuts to the pasta in the stockpot. Toss to combine. Adjust seasonings, if needed, and serve, passing Parmesan separately. Serves 6.

August 28, 2008

Fall 2008 TV premiere dates

Filed under: Television — pauljlane @ 10:01 am

Following, as promised in Night & Day, are the premiere dates for every series on the four major TV networks.
• ABC
Friday, September 19
10:00-11:00 p.m.    “20/20”
Monday, September 22
8:00-10:00 p.m.    “Dancing with the Stars” (special two-hour performance show premiere)

10:00-11:00 p.m.    “Boston Legal”
Tuesday, September 23
8:00-9:00 p.m.    “Opportunity Knocks” (new series debut)
9:00-11:00 p.m.    “Dancing with the Stars” (special performance show)
Wednesday, September 24
8:00-9:00 p.m.    “Dancing with the Stars Results Show Special” (special day and time)
9:00-11:00 p.m.    “David Blaine Special”
Thursday, September 25
8:00-9:00 p.m.    “Ugly Betty”
9:00-11:00 p.m.    “Grey’s Anatomy” (special two-hour season premiere)
Sunday, September 28
7:00-9:00 p.m.    “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (two-hour season premiere)
9:00-10:00 p.m.    “Desperate Housewives”
10:00-11:00 p.m.    “Brothers & Sisters”
Tuesday, September 30
9:00-10:00 p.m.    “Dancing with the Stars Result Show” (regular day and time period premiere)
Wednesday, October 1
8:00-9:00 p.m.    “Pushing Daisies”
9:00-10:00 p.m.    “Private Practice”
10:00-11:00 p.m.    “Dirty Sexy Money”
Friday, October 3
8:00-9:00 p.m.    “Wife Swap”
9:00-10:00 p.m.    “Supernanny”
Sunday, October 5
7:00-8:00 p.m.    “America’s Funniest Home Videos”
8:00-9:00 p.m.    “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (regular time period premiere)
Monday, October 6
9:30-10:00 p.m.    “Samantha Who?”
Thursday, October 9
9:00-10:00 p.m.    “Grey’s Anatomy” (regular time period premiere)
10:00-11:00 p.m.    “Life on Mars” (new series debut)
Tuesday, October 14
10:00-11:00 p.m.    “Eli Stone”

• NBC
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 12
“AMERICA’S TOUGHEST JOBS”
Series premiere (8-10 p.m.)
Returns on September 19 (8-9 p.m.) for five weeks; then resumes from 9-10 p.m. on October 24
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 22
“Heroes” clip show (8-9 p.m.)
Season premiere (9-11 p.m.)
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23
“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (10-11 p.m.)
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 24
“KNIGHT RIDER” (8-9 p.m.)
“Lipstick Jungle (10-11 p.m.)
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 25
“My Name Is Earl” — one-hour premiere (8-9 p.m.)
“The Office” — one-hour premiere (9-10 p.m.)
“ER” (10-11 p.m.)
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 29
“Chuck” — (8-9 p.m.)
“MY OWN WORST ENEMY” — (10-11 p.m.)
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 3
“Life” — (10-11 p.m.)
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 9
“KATH & KIM” (9:30-10 p.m.)
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 17
“CRUSOE” — two-hour premiere (8-10 p.m.)
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 30
“30 Rock” — (8:30-9 p.m.)

• CBS
Monday, Sept. 22
8:00-8:30 PM              THE BIG BANG THEORY (2nd Season Premiere)
8:30-9:00 PM              HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (4th Season Premiere)
9:00-9:30 PM              TWO AND A HALF MEN (6th Season Premiere)
9:30-10:00 PM            WORST WEEK (Series Debut)
10:00-11:00 PM          CSI: MIAMI (7th Season Premiere)
Tuesday, Sept. 23
8:00-9:00 PM              NCIS (6th Season Premiere)
9:00-10:00 PM            THE MENTALIST (Series Debut)
10:00-11:00 PM          WITHOUT A TRACE (7th Season Premiere)

Wednesday, Sept. 24

8:00-8:30 PM              THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE (4th Season Premiere)
8:30-9:00 PM              GARY UNMARRIED (Series Debut)
9:00-10:00 PM            CRIMINAL MINDS (4th Season Premiere)
10:00-11:00 PM          CSI: NY (5th Season Premiere)
Thursday, Sept. 25
8:00-9:00 PM              SURVIVOR (17th Installment Premiere)
Saturday, Sept. 27
8:00-9:00 PM              CRIMETIME SATURDAY
9:00-10:00 PM            CRIMETIME SATURDAY
10:00-11:00 PM          48 HOURS MYSTERY (Season Premiere)
Sunday, Sept. 28
7:00-8:00 PM              60 MINUTES (41st Season Premiere)
8:00-9:00 PM              THE AMAZING RACE (13th Edition)
9:00-10:00 PM            COLD CASE (6th Season Premiere)
10:00-11:00 PM          THE UNIT (4th Season Premiere)
Friday, Oct. 3
8:00-9:00 PM              GHOST WHISPERER (4th Season Premiere)
9:00-10:00 PM            THE EX LIST (Series Premiere)
10:00-11:00 PM          NUMB3RS (5th Season Premiere)
Thursday, Oct. 9
9:00-10:00 PM            CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION (9th Season Premiere)
10:00-11:00 PM          ELEVENTH HOUR (Series Debut)

• Fox
Monday, Sept. 1
8:00-10:00 PM                        PRISON BREAK (2-Hour Season Premiere)
Wednesday, Sept. 3
8:00-10:00 PM                        BONES (2-Hour Season Premiere)
Thursday, Sept. 4
8:00-10:00 PM                        THE MOMENT OF TRUTH (2-Hour Season Premiere)
Friday, Sept. 5
8:00-10:00 PM                        ARE YOU SMARTER THAN A 5th GRADER? (2-Hour Season Premiere)
Saturday, Sept. 6
8:00-8:30 PM                        COPS (Season Premiere)
8:30-9:00 PM                         COPS (Season Premiere)

9:00-10:00 PM            AMERICA’S MOST WANTED: AMERICA FIGHTS BACK (Season Premiere)
Monday, Sept. 8
8:00-9:00 PM                         TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES (Season Premiere)
9:00-10:00 PM                        PRISON BREAK (Time Period Premiere)
Tuesday, Sept. 9
8:00-10:00 PM                        FRINGE (2-Hour Series Premiere)
Wednesday, Sept. 10
8:00-9:00 PM                        BONES (Time Period Premiere)
9:00-9:30 PM                        ‘TIL DEATH (Season Premiere)
9:30-10:00 PM                        DO NOT DISTURB (Series Premiere)
Thursday, Sept. 11
8:00-9:00 PM                        THE MOMENT OF TRUTH (Time Period Premiere)
9:00-10:00 PM                        KITCHEN NIGHTMARES (Season Premiere)
Friday, Sept. 12
8:00-9:00 PM            ARE YOU SMARTER THAN A 5th GRADER? (Time Period Premiere)
9:00-10:00 PM                        DON’T FORGET THE LYRICS! (Season Premiere)
Saturday, Sept. 13
11:00 PM-Midnight                        MADtv (Season Premiere)
Midnight-12:30 AM                        TALKSHOW WITH SPIKE FERESTEN (Season Premiere)
Tuesday, Sept. 16
8:00-9:00 PM                        HOUSE (Season Premiere)
9:00-10:00 PM                        FRINGE (Time Period Premiere)
Sunday, Sept. 28
8:00-8:30 PM                        THE SIMPSONS (Season Premiere)
8:30-9:00 PM                        KING OF THE HILL (Season Premiere)
9:00-9:30 PM                        FAMILY GUY (Season Premiere)
9:30-10:00 PM                        AMERICAN DAD (Season Premiere)

August 27, 2008

Pacino and Deniro – the best of our time?

Filed under: Movies — pauljlane @ 2:33 pm

“Righteous Kill” comes to theaters Sept. 12, but the film may be destined to become one of those movies that people remember even as they can’t place the name of it to save their lives.

That’s because it will be the first film to have Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino prominently act together, playing police detectives in pursuit of a serial killer; they appeared together in “The Godfather II” together but had no scenes together, and the two men shared one scene in “Heat.”

Pacino may have become a hoo-hawing parody of himself in recent years and DeNiro may never be forgiven for “Meet the Fockers,” but all in all both men have to still be considered among the greatest living actors still actively pursuing their careers.

Who’s better? Let’s discuss. And please share your thoughts on the subject below.

• Denzel Washington: Pluses – He’s the best part of nearly every film he’s in, whether the movie is great (“Training Day”) or otherwise (“Remember the Titans”); has two Academy Awards to his credit, for “Glory” and “Training Day,” and three other nominations for “Cry Freedom,” “Malcolm X” and “The Hurricane”; looking over his resume, it’s very hard to say that you hate any of his films, even if you don’t love all of them.

Minuses – He was in “Virtuosity.”

Verdict: Probably not quite at the DeNiro level, but he’s as consistently good as anyone out there.

• Russell Crowe: Pluses – He was involved in “Gladiator,” for which he won an Academy and which along with “The Patriot” and “The Shawshank Redemption” might be the most rewatchable movie of my lifetime; received two other Academy Award nominations for “The Insider” and “A Beautiful Mind”; whether down on his luck like in “Cinderella Man” or in total control like in “American Gangster,” he’s completely believable; lives in a town called Woolloomooloo; owns a rugby team in his native Australia, and who wouldn’t want to own a rugby team?

Minuses – Did “Mystery, Alaska”; temper issues make him unlikable by some (must be all the Foster’s).

Verdict – Not up there, although he deserves to be in anyone’s top 10.

• Morgan Freeman: Pluses – Won an Academy Award for “Million Dollar Baby” although he deserved several more, having been nominated for “Street Smart,” “Driving Miss Daisy” and “The Shawshank Redemption”; he played God in “Bruce Almighty,” winning double points because so few people ge to be God and because the film was based in Buffalo; was a star in “Se7en,” which may be the best horror film of the past 25 years; usually plays a good guy, but he’s great even when he’s a bad guy such as in “Wanted”; can take a role as small as inventor Lucius Fox in the “batman” series and make it memorable; he could read the Chinese dictionary and sound appealing.

Cons – Recent revelation about his marital troubles could turn some people off; helped kick the unfortunate penguin craze a few years ago when he narrated “March of the Penguins”

Verdict – If you don’t consider Pacino or DeNiro to be the top actor, either Freeman occupies your No. 1 spot or you’re on crack.

Jack Nicholson: Pluses – He’s been at it for 50 years but keeps delivering strong performances such as “About Schmidt” and  “The Departed”; he made the phrase “Here’s Johnny!” more popular than Ed McMahon did when introducing Johnny Carson on the old talk show; Academy Awards for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Terms of Endearment” and “As Good as It Gets”; before Heath Ledger came along; his was the seminal performance upon which all other Jokers should be based in the “Batman” series; it was because of his performance in “A Few Good men” that I got to shout out “You can’t handle the truth!” during a skit in 11th-grade English class.

Minuses – He did “Anger Management” and “Mars Attacks”; if you’ve read any recent interviews, he seems be losing his marbles a bit; he roots for the Yankees.

Verdict – Maybe a bit past his prime – MAYBE – but the prize would have been his 30 years ago.

• Tom Hanks: Pluses – He might be Hollywood’s most bankable star, as he’s recognized and loved by everyone and hasn’t made a movie that grossed less than $100 million since “Joe Versus the Volcano” in 1990; few have him beat when it comes to diversity, as he’s been a social pariah in “Philadelphia,” a wooden cowboy in “Toy Story,” a volleyball-loving madman in “Cast Away” and killer in “Road to Perdition”; won Academy Awards for “Philadephia” and “Forrest Gump” and was nominated for “Big,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “Cast Away”; always delivered when hosting “Saturday Night Live,” which really doesn’t mean anything but he was always good for a laugh.

Minuses – Did I mention he was in “Joe Versus the Volcano?”; he also helped keep Rosie O’Donnell’s career going by starring with her in “A League of Their Own”

Verdict – He’s always been underrated, but that still doesn’t warrant him cracking the top three.

Click here for an excellent column by Bill Simmons on who would win a Pacino vs. DeNiro showdown. And we’ll end with a few DeNiro and Pacino clips.

August 25, 2008

SNL sometimes releases funny to big screen

Filed under: Movies — pauljlane @ 2:07 pm

Glad to be back from vacation … well, not GLAD, or happy even, really, but I’m back, anyway.

While I was gone, I took in a decent amount of the “Best of Saturday Night Live” shows on E! or whatever cable channel they’re shown on. I remember laughing at most of those moments (few of which were from this decade) and that got me thinking.

Was I the only person who enjoyed “A Night at the Roxbury,” “The Ladies Man” and most of the other SNL movies? That got me thinking more: Which is best?

Here, in no particular order, are my top few

WAYNE’S WORLD: The sketches were among my favorite as a young teenager in the 1990s, but even my hormone-ravaged brain had doubts about whether the skits about two bonehead rock fans with a cable access show would make a good movie. Well, it didn’t; it made two! The original was a bit better than the sequel, but both films featured plenty of subtle humor and funny moments – not to mention that the first one added the phrase “psycho hose beast” to the English lexicon. Big bonus that Wayne and Garth played so much hockey in the films. Also, note in this Youtube clip Wayne’s decidedly Canadian pronunciation of “a” when he’s talking about the gun rack his ex-girlfriend got him. Party on.

THE BLUES BROTHERS: This was one of the first few films I saw when I entered college, and I couldn’t get enough of it. It had great music, plenty of laughs, a giant car crash, bazooka launches … there was really nothing it lacked. Aykroyd and Belushi were a comedy team that the world was robbed of seeing more of. Just do yourself a favor and don’t watch, look at or think of the atrocious sequel.

CONEHEADS: Resurrected from the dead more than a decade after the sketches stopped, this 1993 film did a great job of updating the idea while not losing what made the original skits so funny (the literal translation of the English language, the difficulty in relating with humans, etc). The film was a bit padded out at points, but for the most part it delivered consistent laughs and featured an underrated performance by Chris Farley. The film also helps one remember that Sinbad, in fact, once had a career.

A NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY: This film was the biggest gamble, as the skit was literally a single joke (Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan bobbing their heads like morons at night clubs). But the movie worked. The characters were fleshed out enough to be interesting, the characters were funnier than they’d ever been on the TV show and we got to see Richard Grieco. Of course, we could do without hearing “What is Love” ever again, but eggs have to be broken sometimes.

August 14, 2008

Debut column coming Sunday from Shayna of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’

Filed under: Life — pauljlane @ 4:08 pm

Be sure to check out the Sunday Lifestyle section on Aug. 17 of the Tonawanda News, Lockport Union-Sun & Journal and Tonawanda News to read the new cooking column from Shayna Raichilson-Zadok, who competed this past season on “Hell’s Kitchen.”

Shayna writes this week about some of the struggles she encountered while opening her new Buffalo restaurant, and she’ll offer other insight, recipes and answer questions every four weeks exclusively in your local newspaper.

I am only acquainted with Shayna via a few phone calls and several e-mails, but I think she has what it takes, and her column is definitely an interesting read. Don’t miss it.

August 13, 2008

Music museum outposts are a rockin’ idea

Filed under: Music — pauljlane @ 12:19 pm

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced a brilliant move today to begin setting up annexes in several other cities worldwide.

The first annex will be set up in Manhattan, near the birthplace of punk and rap music. The annex will house several items important to that area, including Bruce Springsteen’s 1957 Chevy and material from Billy Joel.

New York City might have been a more natural choice for the hall than Cleveland, so it’s honestly about time that some sort of museum be set up there. The museum in Cleveland is spectacular (read my write-up about it here) but still, it’s Cleveland. The museum might not be enough to entice many tourists to the Midwest (attendance figures -451,000 in 2007 compared to 872,700 in 1996 – support that claim).

Having a presence in NYC is natural not only because it’s probably the creative hub of the nation, but because there are already so many people there. Granted, it’s easier for a museum to get lost there, but I know if I ever return to NYC I’m going to do my best to include a stop at the annex in my itinerary.

The hall plans to further expand with annexes in Las Vegas and the Middle East; given rock’s universal message, such a venture into Asia/Africa can’t hurt. But Vegas – Elvis’ unofficial home and the playground of the Rat Pack – is another natural fit. Sin City can never be hurt by having another non-gaming entertainment option, and the type of tourists that go to Nevada are likely to visit such a museum, so that’s another win-win there.

The hall would be wise to expand even more into other music hotbeds such as Chicago, Memphis and Los Angeles, each of which would give their own unique spin on the musical genre. Just imagine the possibilities that would be created there, with music fans wanting to make the cross-country jaunt to visit every annex. I know I’d do it if I could afford it. So, too, would I cross the pond to see a European outpost in London devoted to the many acts that have come from England.

Granted, there needs to be money to support such expansion. But really, how hard can that be considering what a wide reach rock music has in the people of the world? This idea rocks, and hall officials should do everything possible to make it happen.

•••

Here, for no really good reason, are some videos from New York’s famous musicians or acts that made their name in the Big Apple.

August 11, 2008

Olympics imminently watchable

Filed under: Sports — pauljlane @ 1:24 pm
Yes, Michael Phelps, there is a lot to cheer about during the Olympics.

Yes, Michael Phelps, there is a lot to cheer about during the Olympics.

As I write this Monday afternoon, I have on the television an archery match between South Korea and Italy. The sport is exactly how’d you picture it: a bunch of guys standing around with bows and arrows, taking turns flinging them toward the target.
There’s so little action that the players aren’t even getting the polo shirts sweaty, yet I look up for the entire 10-minute segment it was on.
So, too, did I intently take in the women’s gymnastics competition that was shown Sunday night. I had to rely on the announcers to tell me when they screwed up (it all looked fine to me) and I’d never seen some of those skills performed before, but it felt like I was a lifelong fan.
There’s just something about the Olympics that is inherently amazing for sports fans. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s that the combination of national pride being on the line and the rarity of the sports (every four years) makes for a shaken-up pop can of excitement, ready to explode all over your kitchen.
I just got pumped up about a Colombian guy lifting weights – lifting weights! It’s five seconds of throwing a barbell over your head followed by five minutes of commentary, but it’s amazing – because it’s the Olympics.
The announcers, for their part, do a great job of adding drama to these sports. They’re occasionally over the top in hyping the situation, but it’s not to the level of being annoying like on many regular season NBA telecasts or midseason baseball games. While it must be hard to find experts on each of the sports, the work in finding those people is worth it, because while you know in lifting weights that if you drop it you lose, the errors in equestrian or other sports are much more subtle.
Sometimes it’s not the sport itself that captivates, but the feats performed by the athletes during those sports. Water polo is kind of boring when you break it down, as you watch the swimmers tread water and pass it back and forth, then spend 30 seconds doing a lap to the other goal. But can you even imagine the endurance it takes to be able to compete for an entire game? I’ve gotten winded just typing a blog post of this length, and they’re swimming as fast as they can for an hour or more while trying to fling a ball as hard as possible.
I also think there’s something about an Olympic gold metal that’s, well, majestic. Not even the Stanley Cup seems to be as ultimate a prize as a gold medal, again, probably because they’re only available once every four years. Even when the athlete isn’t from the United States, seeing them raise their arms and cry when they win, well, that could make any room a bit dusty.
The funny thing is many of these sports are televised at least at one other time each year (usually the world championships) but I won’t give it four seconds of my attention. So that begs the question, are these sports that good and I just not give them a fair chance, or is it the fact that now is the Olympics that’s most important?
Although I’d lean toward the latter, I can’t say for sure. What I do know is I can’t wait until they show the next volleyball match.

August 8, 2008

Retro radio gimmick quickly grows old

Filed under: Music — pauljlane @ 12:46 pm

I was out on break this afternoon, and while driving in my car I tuned into several stations that hosted some variation on the “Throwback at Noon” theme.
During the noon hour, the offending stations find it cool, or cute, or whatever, to play songs from 20-30 years ago.
My only question is this: Since The Fat Boys were bad in the 1980s, why are they good now?
I don’t need to waste my time listening to songs I didn’t care about the first time around (yes, I did take my own advice and change the station).
To be fair, I’ve been out in situations where a group of people (usually women, for some reason) go ga-ga whenever some Journey starts crankin’ through the speakers. Ugh. I don’t know who decided that anything that’s retro is cool, but I need to lodge a formal complaint with them.
Why do radio stations need gimmicks at all? Can’t they just let the quality of their music/programming stand on its … oh, wait, usually not. Well, regardless, old does not equal good, or even worth playing.
Local radio stations have a wide variety of modern garbage to play (and they do most of the day). Why pull Dexys Midnight Runners off of the shelf? “Come On Eileen” was bad in the 1980s, it was putrid in the 1990s and it stinks now.

Lemonade recipes to coll down this summer

Filed under: Life — pauljlane @ 11:57 am

As promised in Sunday Lifestyle, here are some lemonade recipes courtesy of Gannett News Service.
57TH STREET BLUEBERRY LEMONADE
2 cups fresh blueberries, picked over for stems
one-half to three-fourths cup granulated sugar, depending on the sweetness of the blueberries
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 6 lemons)
2 cups cold water
superfine sugar, if needed
Taste one of the blueberries to determine its sweetness. In a blender or food processor, process the blueberries and granulated sugar until smooth. Strain the puree through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium-size bowl, stirring and pushing on the puree to get all the juice.
Pour the blueberry juice into a 1-quart container. Add the lemon juice and water and stir or shake to combine. Check for sweetness, adding superfine sugar to taste, if needed.
Chill until very cold and serve over ice.
Makes 1 quart.
Source: “Lemonade” by Fred Thompson (The Harvard Common Press, 2002, $12.95).

ORANGE-KISSED LEMONADE
3 or 4 lemons or more, to taste
2 oranges
1 cup sugar or more, to taste
Microwave fruit for 10 seconds, then roll them on the counter to prepare them for juicing.
Juice the lemons. Remove the seeds.
Take a few pieces of rind from each lemon, scraping off the membrane, and drop them into your gallon jug or pitcher with the juice.
Juice the oranges. Remove the seeds.
Add a few pieces of orange rind along with a few pulpy pieces of the orange to your pitcher, along with the juice.
Add the sugar. Fill your pitcher or jug halfway with water and stir (or shake, if your jug has a lid). Top off with water and taste; add sugar or lemon juice if you wish to adjust the flavor.
Serve cold.
Makes 1 gallon.
Source: Kathy Miller of West Melbourne, Fla.

BASIL LEMONADE
3 and one-half cups cold water
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
three-fourths cup granulated sugar
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 6 lemons)
one-fourth cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
Small sprigs fresh basil for garnish (optional)
In a small saucepan, combine 2 cups of the water, the basil leaves and sugar. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 30 minutes.
Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a 1 and one-half-quart container. Add the lemon juice, remaining 1 and one-half cups water and lime juice. Stir until well blended.
Chill until very cold. Serve over ice, garnished with a basil sprig, if desired.
Makes about 1 quart.
Note: The basil infusion can be made without the sugar, and refrigerated lemonade (homemade or store-bought) can be used in place of the 1 and one-half cups water and lemon and lime juices, or just to taste. The infusion will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator. The addition of vodka makes for a nice cocktail.
Source: “Lemonade” by Fred Thompson.

August 7, 2008

The best of ‘Star Wars: Robot Chicken’

Filed under: Television — pauljlane @ 10:23 am

Here are some video clips from the “Star Wars: Robot Chicken” DVD. This show is seriously one of the funnier things I’ve ever seen. Following the clips are my original review of the DVD that appeared in Night & Day.

Short of meeting George Lucas, the “Robot Chicken Star Wars” special is as close to nirvana as any “Star Wars” fan can get.
Made for “Star Wars” fans by “Star Wars” fans, the Cartoon Network Adult Swim series devoted a full half-hour episode to parodies of the film franchise.
For the uninitiated, “Robot Chicken” was co-created by Seth Green and uses stop-motion animation to put popular toys into ironic situations (Super Mario and Luigi from the video game “Mario Kart,” for example, driving through the streets of “Grand Theft Auto”).
That off-beat sense of humor is put to great use on the new DVD, as much of the 23-minute special focuses on what might have happened in between scenes from the movies.
Criss-crossing through dozens of short sketches, “Robot Chicken” imagined what it was like when Darth Vader told Emperor Palpatine that the Death Star was blown up; “That thing wasn’t even fully paid off yet,” the Emperor told Vader. “Do you know what that’s going to do to my credit?”
The special also will please haters of Jar-Jar Binks — that is, anyone who likes “Star Wars” — by imagining his ultimate fate (one hint: It involves him reuniting with Anakin Skywalker long after he was transformed into Vader).
When sketches don’t fill in the series’ gaps, they combine elements of the movies with real life, such as President George W. Bush discovering he has Jedi powers.
If that’s not enough, there’s a full-blown skating production called “The Empire on Ice,” which includes clever lyrics plugged into the films’ orchestral arrangements like ‘”The Imperial March.”
Some of this material isn’t meant for younger fans, but that’s part of the reason it’s so funny: Seeing these beloved characters put into such strange situations. This special clearly was a labor of love for everyone involved with the show, and its quality reflects that.
More than 90 minutes of extras also come on the DVD. Some of them might be hard to sit through for even the most die-hard fans, but don’t miss the making-of featurette and bumps segment, which splices together a series of promos that were shot for the special’s original airdate, during which the entire evening’s Cartoon Network lineup was devoted to “Robot Chicken.”
Every single sketch of this show will make any “Star Wars” fan laugh; it might actually be more quotable than the original movies. In any case, this DVD is as much a must-have as the “Star Wars” series itself.

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