December 2014 archive

The Best Christmas Present

I’ve neglected you this holiday season and I am sorry. This is the busiest December I have ever experienced but in such a good way. I have been to Williamsburg, I have celebrated my best friend getting married, and I’ve been up to my elbows in Christmas movies, cookies, and parties with dear friends. I will have some good stuff for you in the new year and maybe I can get my act together here. (more…)

I was at a Christmas party the other night, playing white elephant. One gal suggested that before you pick your gift, you should say what your favorite or least favorite Christmas gift has been. I kind of feel like the good gifts get lost in the not-so-good gift’s memory. At least for me, it’s easier to remember the gifts I wasn’t too keen on than the ones I loved. I guess that’s a good sign of being blessed with great gifts! As I was awaiting my turn to pick my gift, I was nervously trying to think of any gift I have gotten in past Christmases. I looked down at my hands and remembered! Here is my favorite Christmas memory/gift.

It was 2 days before Christmas 5 years ago (still with me?). I had just graduated college, although due to a snow storm, the ceremony was cancelled and broke my heart. Chris and I had planned to visit New York City in honor of me attaining a Bachelor’s degree. Let’s not mention that around this time, I was a crazy girlfriend, who was desperately looking for a ring on her finger. Poor Chris! Anyways, we took a train to the Big Apple and our first stop was the Empire State Building. Chris is deathly afraid of heights so I knew this was going to be a challenge. He barely made it out of the elevator that takes you up 100 floors in less than a couple of minutes. Well, we go outside to check out the view and the next thing that happened was totally unexpected. I love this memory of us and the best part is, we got it all on film thanks to Chris’s dear friend. I am including the link to watch the video of my favorite Christmas memory. Have a very Merry Christmas, friends! What is your favorite Christmas memory?

Click here for video!

Best (Favorite) of Television In 2014 by Chris

Before I begin, I have to place a disclaimer. I don’t watch everything, mostly because that would be insane to do and no one pays me to watch TV. With that said, I’d like to give some shout outs to the shows I didn’t get the chance to check out that may have made my list. So apologies to Louie, The Knick, Transparent and Black Mirror. Maybe next year… Here is my favorite television shows of 2014. (more…)

The Show You Should Really Check Out of 2014:

Getting On (HBO)

To be fair, this show was underappreciated by me as well until I caught up with the first season earlier this summer (it originally aired November of 2013). HBO isn’t giving Getting On (now in its second season) much of a chance to become a well known or beloved show as it did with Veep or Girls. But to be fair, Veep had one of the most popular TV actresses (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) heading it, while Girls first season blew up your twitter feed with the continued discussions of Lena Dunham’s naked body. So what does Getting On have going for it? Three terrific, hilarious, and fully realized female characters, who are played wonderfully by actresses (Laurie Metcalf, Alex Borstein and Niecy Nash). These characters are void of egos but full of authenticity in this darkly funny, sometimes cringe worthy show about the sometimes entertaining aspects of the elderly ward of a hospital.

The Most Overlooked Performance of 2014:

Woody Harrelson in True Detective (HBO)

In every memorable buddy show or flick, there’s the wild loose cannon character that must be paired with a straight lace man, better known as the “straight man”. Riggs had Murtaugh, Buzz Lightyear had Woody, and The Marx Brothers had Zeppo. The straight man is there to keep balance to the credibility of a situation or to watch over the flawed but beloved loose cannon. Woody Harrelson in the role as Detective Marty Hart is asked to be the straight man to Matthew McConaughey’s loose cannon performance as Detective Rust Cohle. Although Harrelson received an Emmy nomination, he didn’t ever get the adoring love that McConaughey got. This was mostly because his character wasn’t full of the anti-hero mystic that Rust was given. Marty Hart was a bad husband, bad father, and genuinely a flawed, unappealing man that had nothing to show for himself but his work. Harrelson’s performance brought us into that world with his humor,intensity, and flaws; this was something needed to counteract McConaughey’s spacey poetic depression.

Best Television Moment:

True Detective (HBO) – The Six Minute Single Tracking Shot with Rust Cohle

This was a really tough choice for me. How do you not choose Bert Cooper’s song and dance fairwell from Mad Men, or The Red Viper vs. The Mountain or the share joy of watching this happen.
Instead I chose the scene that was unlike anything else on television and had only been something films had the bravado to capture. The one take tracking shot is nothing new, it’s been in several films and when not done effectively, the showiness of it can take you out of what you’re watching. Director Cary Fukunaga was already getting acclaim for his amazing eye and scope on True Detective, but the 6-minute tracking shot made him the MVP of the show. What’s key for making long take tracking shots work isn’t so much the movement of the character we are following but movement of the world around the lead character. Everything needs to fall right into place without you feeling as though it’s being choreographed. Just watch for yourself (link above).

Best Television Performances:

Honorable Mentions – Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones), Danny Pudi (Community), Amy Poehler (Park & Recreation), Martin Freeman (Fargo), Matthew McConghauy (True Detective), Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder), and Carrie Coon (The Leftovers).

10. Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister (Game of Thrones-HBO)

Few have done so much with so little as Charles Dance as done in handful of scenes this year on Game Of Thrones. The harbinger of many deaths in Westeros was brought to life by Dance methodical performance. He made Tywin a terrifying character with only the use of his words and pen as a weapon of choice.

9. Woody Harrelson as Marty Hart (True Detective-HBO)
Read above about the most overlooked performance.

8. Allison Tolman as Molly Solverson (Fargo-FX)
Tolman was pretty much an unknown prior to Fargo but her performance as Molly Solverson is breaking her out. Naturally the show would be compared to the Coen Brothers film by the same name as would Tolman’s performance would be compared to Francis McDormand Oscar winning performance but Tolman is her own person here. This unlikely lead of Fargo held her own while playing along side more familiar faces (Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman and Colin Hanks) giving the show a realism it needed during some of it’s bizarre moments.

7. Jon Hamm as Don Draper (Mad Men-AMC)

Not perhaps Hamm’s strongest year playing the 60’s ad man Don Draper but he continues to give great performance of one the best characters on television. That being said, I don’t think Hamm is getting the credit he deserves for his continued terrific work. Is it because we think he is Don Draper so it comes easy to him or have we just gotten so used to him being good that we’ve taking it for granted?

6. Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister (Game of Thrones-HBO)

After what could be considered a low-key season 3 for Dinklage, he came back with some of the more memorable Tyrion Lannister moments in season 4. The charm and wit that we’ve grown to love has slowly been pulled out of Tyrion as the people around him have continually tried to break him, what this has done is given Dinklage portrayal more complexity as Tyrion as had to harden as the scapegoat of Lannister problems.

5. Uzo Aduba as Crazy Eyes (Orange Is The New Black-Netflix)

Crazy Eyes was easily everyone’s favorite inmate of the first season of the unexpected hit Orange Is The New Black. Her furiously unique performance had us terrified and loving her at the same time. In season 2 Crazy Eyes becomes unlovable and genuinely terrifying, as the she is now the psychotic muscle of the new prison gang. What a risk to take for a character loved by all, to make her the bad guy. Despite Crazy Eyes villainous turn, Aduba manages to still show us the scared fragile girl inside her character who wants to be understood and loved.

4. Laurie Metcalf as Dr. Jenna James (Getting On-HBO)

The great thing about Metcalf’s performance of Dr. Jenna James is she plays it as though she is not in a comedy but in a serious drama. She believes she should be in the trenches of ER and not in the slow quiet death of geriatric ward of the hospital. Metcalf’s serious take allows for more laughs in surprising ways in this darkly funny show (that you should watch, read above).

3. Elizabeth Moss as Peggy Olson (Mad Men-AMC)

The thing you have to realize about Mad Men is that it’s not about the evolution or change of Don Draper but that of Peggy Olson. Don in one way or another is becoming extinct, while Peggy is part of the sea change of the late 60’s. Moss performance of Peggy Olson as been building season by season as the center of Mad Man’s universe, perhaps that was Matt Weiner’s (creator of Mad Men) plan the whole time but perhaps Weiner realized what he had in Moss. For Moss it’s her ability play her performance as if she is a silent film actress, she does an amazing job wearing her emotions without showing all her cards. She’ll probably never get the credit she deserves (she’s never won an Emmy for her role) but it should be said that she has been playing one of the great and consistent female TV performances.

2. Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo (Fargo-FX)

Although the Coen Brothers had very little to do with the show Fargo (they were given the credited of executive producer) the show is filled with Coenesque <(http://thedissolve.com/features/movie-of-the-week/349-in-the-coen-brothers-punishing-world-morals-are-ev/ ) inspired characters, none better than Lorne Malvo. Thornton is pretty much playing the part of Death in a grey coat and a bowl cut, which isn’t to say he has darkly comedic moments in Fargo. Thornton hasn’t been this good in a long time, giving us what we most like about his acting, the humor, creepiness and dread that he’s capable of especially in the villain part.

1. Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer (Veep-HBO)

Few are fortunate to have the career arc that Dreyfus is had; this is especially true of a woman over the age of 40. Fewer can say they’ve done their best work in the second half of set career such as she’s done too. Dreyfus provides so much to her performance, the charisma of an elected official while also having egocentricities of one as well. Her willingness to be a complete asshole to the people that dedicate their lives to her as the vice president is bold for a female character that could easily be categorized as a “bitch”. Now as the President of the free world the realm of possibilities are endless for her character.

Best Television Shows

Honorable Mentions- Hannibal, Broad City, Drunk History, Girls, Orange Is The New Black, Too Many Cooks, Too Many Cooks, Too Many Cooks, Too Many Cooks, Too Many Cooks, Too Many…

10. The Leftovers (HBO)

The question of where did 140 million people all of sudden go on October 14, can only take you so far. Damon Lindloff writer of The Leftovers and co-creator of Lost, understands how troublesome mysterious questions can become. Instead the real mystery of The Leftovers is what “Sudden Departure” day did to those who weren’t taken. This 9/11 allegory examines how we move on or don’t move on once we go through something so catastrophic.

9. Getting On (HBO)

As I mentioned above (The Show You Should Really Check Out) this female dominated show, has an amazing cast of women who occupy their space in honestly beautiful way. There are few places for women over the age of 40 to shine on TV such as this cast does. How lucky we are to see these women who are usually day players given there onstage to do so.

8. True Detective (HBO)

Who is the Yellow King? What’s carcosa? Is Rust Cohle the killer? What’s with deer antlers? True Detective gave us much needed water cooler conversation during those cold winter months of which otherwise is a dead season. Playing like a David Lynch influenced buddy comedy at times, True Detective kept us on the edge of our seat knowing any ending was a possibility for this quasi-mini series. Not a perfectly executed crime drama but it never wavered from our interest nor speculation.

7. Community (NBC)

After the terrible season 4 (known as the gas leak season to us Community fans) they could only go up for this show, which saw the return of creator Dan Harmon (Harmon was fired by NBC after season 3). The return of the shows fearless leader revitalized the show to its familiar glory days with classic moments as Lava World, G.I. Jeff and meow meow beenz. With the good, came the bad with the exit of the much-loved character Troy (played by Donald Glover) who was one half of the great duo of Troy & Abed (several tears).

6. Fargo (FX)

The expectations were high for this show that was loosely connected to the Oscar winning film by the same name. Lucky for us it delivered, given us the best attributes of Coen Brothers films (the Coen’s only executive produced the show and had very little to do with it’s creation) with bizarre plots, bizarre characters who are often on the fringe of good and evil.

5. Parks & Recreation (NBC)

Every season of Parks & Recreation can feel like it’s final season. The writers seem to be ready for the end at any given moment too (although loved by the critics and a cult following the show as never had high viewership). This allows Parks to be bold and willing to change at the drop of the hat. Whether it is the departure of beloved characters, goodbye Chris & Ann (single tear) or the emergence of new problems such as the Pawnee-Eagleton merger, the show as kept us guessing unlike any other comedy.

4. Mad Men (AMC)

Any other year this would be #1 for myself but AMC’s greediness (dividing the final season in two parts a year apart) got in the way of that. All though things felt rush at times for the first half of the season Matt Weiner still delivered some of strongest moments of the shows tenured. The show as lost some love from fans who want to see more of Don Draper being the womanizer they grew to love and hate. Weiner was never interested in seeing Draper getting laid but instead the toll in which his lifestyle was putting on his soul. At it’s core the show is about change, whether in the culture or in ourselves and the inability for some us to be able to change for the better.

3. Veep (HBO)

Is Veep the most realistic look into the D.C. politics? That’s tough to say for sure, but I’d like to believe it is. Instead of all the wishful thinking of the idealized world of The West Wing or the over the top Machiavellian corporation of House of Cards, Veep shows the self centeredness and short comings that lie in all politicians. Besides the obvious greatness of Julia Louis-Dreyfus (my #1 performance of 2014), Veep is cast with the best ensemble outside of Westeros. Each cast member has his or her moments while contributing to the bigger picture, working together in perfect chaotic harmony.

2. The Americans (FX)

Would you believe me if I told you this Cold War spy show is the best thing on television dealing with marriage and family. Handling the double life of being a Russian spy in America can be complicating enough but adding your spy spouse and teenage kids in the mix seems suicidal. Work, “work” and family are the focal point of these KGB agents (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) who try to balance all this while trying to love one another. This joggling act of being a spy and being a parent makes for truest stacks on television, in this dangerous world of espionage

1. Game of Thrones (HBO)

Given that season 4 of GoT was mostly following the second half of arguably the best book of Song of Ice and Fire series, it would be hard for them to screw this up. Thankfully as the show goes on the guys behind the wheel continue to get a good handle of the material making each season stronger than the last. This was easily Game of Thrones best season, because we seem to be finally getting somewhere (that somewhere could still be three seasons away). This is not to say Games is slowing down, the show continues to expand it’s universe with new locations and characters, making it the boldest endeavor on television, while keeping us interested with the characters we love (and hope won’t die).

Williamsburg

Chris and I love escaping to small, old towns whenever we get the chance. Williamsburg, Virginia became an annual escape since it’s so close to Maryland but just far enough that it makes you feel like you’re on a relaxing vacation. We love the history of these old places and try to even check out a ghost tour wherever we go (there’s bound to be some creepy history the day tours won’t tell you). Last year, we were graced with the presence of my brother and sister-in-law for their babymoon. We are making it a tradition that the four of us go to Williamsburg to bring in the Christmas season. This weekend was full of laughter, beer, delicious food, Christmas lights galore, and a grand illumination of sorts. Here is an overall of our trip. I highly recommend a trip to Williamsburg if you have never been or if you are like me and went as a kid. One thing you’ll notice is Williamsburg definitely pays attention to detail. (more…)

Our first must in Williamsburg is Christmastowne. Busch Gardens closes down (most) of their rides and literally covers the whole park in lights making it a Christmas wonderland. They even had snow falling when you walked in! Make sure you get the S’mores and the Cinnamon Roll Funnel Cake!

We stay at a Bed and Breakfast, Magnolia Manor (picture above) about 1 mile from Colonial Williamsburg. We woke up Saturday morning to a small town parade, wherein all of the local businesses, schools, rescues, etc., create their own Christmas themed floats. Can we move here, please? This was one of my favorite floats.

This tree is proof miracles exist. It’s glowing orange in the beginning of December when all of the other trees have been bare for weeks. So lovely.
Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg has a small garden where you can buy fresh veggies, fruits, plants, and real holiday decor. It’s the end of the garden’s season obviously but it’s still lovely to visit.

These are a few of my favorite things…

I’m in love with these peppers. So vibrant.

Williamsburg was decked out everywhere with Christmas decorations. I love this color palette.
Williamsburg

At night, the streets came alive with the Fife and the Drum marching band. My hands and feet were frozen by this time.

And alas, the main reason why we came to Williamsburg: the Grand Illumination! It’s Colonial Williamsburg’s way of kicking off the advent season with fireworks. I know what you’re thinking: colonial and fireworks don’t go together. But man, this show definitely was worth the hour of waiting in the frigid cold for. Definitely a must if you’re in town for this weekend!

I hope you get the chance to experience Williamsburg’s festivities this time of year. It’s so worth it. Happy weekend, friends!

Maple Bacon Drop Biscuits

We just got back from the most Christmasy (only a word this time of year) experience in Williamsburg, Virginia. I will fill you in with cozy details later but after this weekend, I need to go on a no carb, no sugar, no fun detox. Of course, I will probably only make it to the no carb part but at least that’s something! I thought a warm, salty sweet biscuit would be the perfect start to this detox. Just kidding! I totally made this biscuit for Thanksgiving but wanted to save the recipe for you until a time like now. So, as you’re enjoying these amazing biscuits, I’ll be over here downing my salmon spinach salad in hopes of getting rid of this Christmas bloat before the actual Christmas bloat gets here. Wish me luck! And enjoy these delectable, easy biscuits! (more…)

Our ingredient line up:

Bacon, fresh thyme, flour, nutmeg, maple syrup, baking powder and soda, sugar, cold, cold butter, and salt for good measure.

All of our dry ingredients are thrown in first and whisked together. I always thought biscuit making was so much harder than this. We got this!

Our butter is broken up with our bare hands then the cream is added. The dough comes together fast! I like fast, especially if it means I’ll be eating a biscuit faster.

These lovelies are baked until golden perfection. We drizzle some maple syrup on them and we are done! These are perfect for brunch or alongside your Christmas ham but they are absolutely divine all by themselves! Don’t let intimidation stand before you and this yummy biscuits! They are all butter and bacon so really, what could go wrong? No one ever complained about their biscuits being too delicious! Happy biscuit making!

Brunch Pad Thai

Life is stressful and sometimes, all you need is a warm bowl of noodles. Noodles of any form are what I consider real comfort food to me and I like ’em every which way! I was the kid on spaghetti night who preferred her spaghetti sans the red sauce and with the lovely addition of butter and parmesan cheese. My favorite part was biting into a huge forkful of pasta, not being able to fit the whole bite into my mouth,  and getting those cheesy, buttery noodle footprints  all over my face. I knew I was doing something right. Those same buttery delicious noodles get me through the hardest of days and longest of hours. Of course, I’ve traded in my green can of parmesan for the real deal. I love being a grown up! Well, other than the stressful part, of course. I tried to conjure up a few more Thanksgiving leftover recipes but honestly, I need a break from the holiday food for a sec. Feel me? Usually, Asian inspired dishes are what I turn to when I need a break from the usual rich and filling foods of the holidays. I introduce the Brunch Pad Thai! It’s a simple noodle dish made with the usual suspects of brunch: eggs and bacon. You could really eat this for any meal but isn’t it a fun thought to think of having a few friends come over for a unique brunch like this? All I know is that it’s delicious and I didn’t miss my eggs benedict…this week at least. (more…)

Our ingredient line up:

Asian rice noodles, beaten eggs, pea shoots, a mixture of tamarind paste, soy sauce, and fish sauce, mushrooms, bacon, sugar, garlic, crushed peanuts, and scallions.

The key here is to have a very hot wok or heavy skillet. We add our bacon and garlic. Be prepared. Your house is about to smell amazing.

This is how pad thai works; similar to stir fry. You cook meat and veggies on very high heat, remove, and repeat. You have to literally be on your toes during the whole cooking process so nothing burns. Here, we cook our eggs by swirling them in the pan so they cook fast and evenly. Burnt eggs equal gross so work fast!

Our noodles, pea shoots, and scallions are cooked. Our tamarind paste mixture is added. Tamarind paste is a must for yummy pad thai!

We kind of just throw everything else into the pan and toss! So much going on! So much flavor! Real talk: whatever you do, DO NOT overcook your rice noodles! This sweet little gal did and everything turned to mush! The horror!

Chaos. Perfect. Delicious. Chaos. You know what would be delicious with this? Cilantro and fresh lime juice! Don’t forget it at the grocery store like I did. Let me be the example. I hope you can find a calm moment in the midst of the holiday chaos and make yourself a nice bowl of your favorite noodles. Happy noodles making!

Ham and Gruyere Panini with Rosemary Onions

Is anyone else up to their elbows in Thanksgiving leftovers? My creativity to reinvent them is running thin and I don’t know if my stomach can accept anymore stuffing. But before I get entirely tired of the ham I made (my husband hates turkey), I always make this sandwich. Ham and I got off on the wrong foot 20 years ago when my parents made me eat some ham before I could be excused from the dinner table. It was the longest night of my life and I swore never to humor ham like that again. But as the years passed and my emotional scars from ham started to heal, I thought I would give it another shot. Ham ain’t so bad! It’s all about how you make it (brown sugar and Cognac glaze, anyone?). Plus, I do love having leftover ham sandwiches and when you adorn them with onions and rosemary, you’re in for a real treat! It’s perfect for a quick weeknight meal and it’s oh so comforting. It also gives you an excuse to dust of that panini maker you asked for on your wedding registry but barely use. The sweet, mustardy onions paired with the smokey ham and nutty Gruyere makes for the best panini. It just feels like the holidays all wrapped up in a sandwich. I’m sure this wouldn’t be so bad with turkey either. There’s only so many turkey pot pies you can make, ya know? Let’s get moving on our Ham and Gruyere Panini! (more…)

Our leftover ingredient line up:

Crusty bread, butter, fresh rosemary, gruyere, dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, ham, onions, and brown sugar.

Our onions are cooked until a luscious golden brown then we add more butter (surprise, surprise), brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and dijon.

The mixture is finished with a little chopped rosemary. If you have some thyme left over from Thanksgiving, feel free to add that instead.

Now, we layer! If you are at all a professional sandwich maker like myself, you know the layering process is incredibly important and should be taken very seriously. Grab your bread and out some ham on it. See what I mean? Precision is key! We top the ham with that delicious onion mixture.

Then, just as you thought things couldn’t get anymore complicated, we take grated gruyere and using all of the strength within us, sprinkle on top of the onion mixture. I know, I know. I’m asking too much of you but we will persevere!

Finally, our sandwiches are topped with a buttered slice of bread and some more rosemary is sprinkled on top. Whether you use a panini maker or a stovetop skillet, make sure there is some butter melted so the bottom of the sandwich gets plenty of love.

Wait for it…money shot! Just kidding. Sandwiches are a little camera shy but I wanted you to see the magic that is happening inside this sandwich. It’s buttery, it’s rich in flavor, and it’s the perfect way to use up your holiday leftovers. Happy panini making!