August 19, 2018

The Americans on Amazon Prime Video

Many moons ago, I wrote about the FX series The Americans after watching Season One. As I stated back then, the first few episodes did not grab me, but once the story took hold, I avidly watched all of the series episodes

Season Six, which just ended, is the final chapter in the saga of the Jennings family. Joe Weisberg, the creator of this based-on-fact series, depicts a fictional imbedded Russian couple living in the Virginia D. C. suburbs in the 1980s of the Reagan administration. The stakes become fever pitch when an FBI agent moves into the home across the street.

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys masterfully play Elizabeth and Philip Jennings. The all-American appearing husband and wife are actually Russian-born and have a penchant for disguises, different personas and violence. Every episode lets them demonstrate tour de force acting. Russell and Rhys have actually become a real life couple and are perfectly matched in theatrical skill and chemistry.

Equally marvelous are the couple’s daughter, Paige, played by Holly Taylor, Margo Martindale as their Soviet handler and Noah Emmerich as neighbor, FBI agent and friend, Stan Beeman.

As a whole the series is on par with The Wire, The West Wing and Breaking Bad. All six seasons of The Americans are available with an Amazon Prime membership. The theme of the show has great resonance today. Maria Butina, a current-day suspected Russian spy has been living in my old home town of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Talk about truth emulating fiction! Or is it the other way around?

Two birthday Jimmys: singer/sausage king Dean and singer/songwriter Webb

Jimmy Dean would have been 90 on August 10 (he died in 2010.)

I met Mr. Dean and his wife at the Pump Room in the 1990s. In a departure from his country music and sausage image, he was one of the most elegantly suited of men.

Jimmy Webb will be 72 on August 15.

I encountered the talented songwriter at the Sundance ski resort in Utah during a singer-songwriter workshop sponsored by the Johnny Mercer Foundation.Some of the songs he has penned are MacArthur Park, Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get To Phoenix, Didn’t We and Time Flies.

Along with American and European standards, I will be doing a handful of Webb and Dean songs in honor of their birthdays.

Ladybird Movie on Amazon Prime

The streaming services seem to be competing for rights to current popular movies. When I say current, I may mean LAST year’s Oscar contenders. It takes me a year or more to get to some of the box office hits or indie film critical darlings and then figure out where I can watch them.

Currently on Amazon Prime, Ladybird was not only in Time magazine’s top ten movie picks of 2017, but the film garnered $78 million at the box office on a budget of $10 million. It received 5 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director.

Greta Gerwig was the director who wrote and directed this charmer about a Californian teen coming of age in 2002. Hurrah for yet another woman making it into the Oscar Best Director category.

The most priceless scene in the movie is between Saoirse Ronan playing high school senior “Ladybird” McPherson who abruptly ends an argument while her mother, Marion (played by Chicago actress, Laurie Metcalf) is driving her in a car. In fact, there is a major Steppenwolf Theater connection with ensemble regulars Metcalf, Tracy Letts and Lois Smith also appearing in the film, along with Stephen McKinley Henderson, another stellar New York theater actor who is notable for his work in August Wilson plays.

There is a definite independent flavor to “Ladybird” but it strikes many universal chords. We watch this precocious teen try to make sense out of financial and cultural inequity, her own identity versus that of her parents and her desire to spread her wings beyond what her family can conceive for her. Strong on humor, this is the perfect weekend movie to arm twist one’s significant other into watching. And they might just thank you.

Circe: Author Madeline Miller tackles Greek mythology

Like many high school and college students, do you remember being required to read Edith Hamilton’s classic book Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes? The Greek stories interested me the most, but it also contained Roman and Norse mythology seen through the work of poets, playwrights and historians.

If you feel like revisiting Greek mythology in an engagingly written fiction format, look no further than Circe by Madeline Miller. I must admit that I did not initially appreciate the florid prose but then I got sucked into the timeless tale of Circe and her world of Titans, Olympians and humans brave enough to fraternize with gods.

I felt like I was reminiscing about long-lost relatives and old school chums as I encountered names such as Daedalus, Odysseus, Hermes, Athena, Medea, the Minotaur and Zeus. Daughter to the sun god, Helios, Circe is the underdog child who is banished to a deserted island where she polishes her witchcraft and entertains the occasional visitor. Just let me tell you that she does not reward “piggish” human behavior.

Miller has a previous book entitled Achilles which goes on my “to read” list. I could stand to be refreshed on the Trojan War, with Helen, Achilles, Hector, Paris and that horse.

Circe by Madeline Miller is Greek to you and me, but in a good way.

Sugar Rush reality baking competition on Netflix

A while back, I wrote about Zumbo’s Just Desserts, an Australian baking competition reality series that starred famed Aussie baker, Adriano Zumbo. Up he pops into another baking competition called Sugar Rush with co-star, cupcake queen, Candace Nelson.

Numerically, this is a description of the show: 4 teams of two professional bakers, three rounds, two showcase cakes in the final round and one winning team which takes home $10,000.

The rounds are timed so there is strategy involved in how much time the teams spend on cupcakes, confections and spectacular cakes. Additionally, there is always a third guest judge who makes each episode different. Betsy Johnson asked for fashion themes in her rounds; local pastry creator/chef Mindy Segal of Chicago’s Hot Chocolate restaurant used her professional palate to judge the teams.

My only quibble is hyper-active host, Hunter Marsh, who appears to be on his own sugar rush with a dose of caffeine.

Still and all, when “reality” gets to be too much, I like nothing better than to watch reality baking programs like “The Great British Baking Show,” on PBS, plus “Zumbo’s Just Desserts” and now “Sugar Rush” on Netflix. Take that, glum news and bloody crime shows!

https://www.netflix.com/title/80201328

The Staircase crime documentary on Netflix

If true crime is one of your interests, Netflix is currently streaming The Staircase, a documentary series on the legal travails of Michael Petersen accused of murdering his wife, Kathleen in 2001.

Originally ten episodes filmed by Frenchman Jean-Xavier de Lestrade which premiered in 2004, there are now three new programs updating the public on the curious story of the man whose wife was found bleeding and dead at the bottom of a staircase in their North Carolina residence.

Each episode provides new information about the case. Without giving too much away, let me say that the viewer will hear about a similar death in Germany, more sexual information about the accused and proof of professional misconduct on the side of the prosecution.

The Peterson Family in happier times

For me, the most interesting aspect of the series is the up close viewing of a trial with both sides vying for the trust and good judgement of the jury. We also get to know Michael Peterson, his extended family and his hard-working defense lawyer, David Rudolf. This is true crime at its best showing the human element as well as the nuts and bolts of our judicial system.

Peterson’s defense attorney, David Rudolf

If you watch all 13 episodes, please let me know your reaction to the outcome. Did he? Didn’t he?

Chicago Athletic Club Hotel nod to the Art Institute’s Sargent Exhibit – Diva Karaoke and Gilded Ballads with Elizabeth Doyle singing 1890s songs


In conjunction with the Art Institute’s Sargent exhibit, the Chicago Athletic Club Hotel is hosting a pop-up “Dear Carmencita: Diva Karaoke and Gilded Ballads” evening on Saturday, August 4 from 8 pm to 11 pm. I will intermittently sing hits from the 1890s from 8 pm to 9 pm.

Carmencita was the golden-gowned dancer subject of a famous Sargent painting. There will also be a nod to another diva in Sargent’s portraiture, Mrs. George Swinton, who was a society lady who pursued a professional singing career later in life.

The pop-up bar is on the CAC’s lower level in what used to be the pool area. Beverage service will be available starting at 5 pm.

http://chicagoathleticevents.com/tc-events/dear-carmencita-diva-karaoke-gilded-ballads/

John Singer Sargent & Chicago’s Gilded Age at the Art Institute of Chicago

Charles Deering, Sargent’s ardent art patron

With a hundred pieces of art, John Singer Sargent & Chicago’s Gilded Age, the exhibit currently showing at the Art Institute of Chicago features not only Sargent work but that of his art colleagues and contemporaries. Mixed in with the Sargent pieces, the viewer gets to see work by Claude Monet, Giovanni Boldini, William Merritt Chase, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Anders Zorn, a Swedish artist who I plan to investigate further.

Although John Singer Sargent was an American, he was born and raised in Europe which makes his influence on Chicago’s Gilded Age all the more remarkable. From 1888 until his death in 1925, Sargent’s work was featured in 20 Chicago exhibitions including the 1893 Colombian Exposition.

Street in Venice – 1st Sargent work to be shown in Chicago 1888

Sargent greatly benefited from the patronage of many wealthy art aficionados including local businessman, Charles Deering (CEO of what would become International Harvester). This exhibit includes AIC possessions, work from private collections and other museums. Alas, his most notorious painting, Madame X, owned by the Met in NYC is not part of this art assemblage.

Sargent worked in water color and charcoal on everything from nudes to landscapes, but his oil paint portraiture was his absolute forté. This exhibit beautifully supports that opinion.

I will include the AIC link for admission info, but you may consider going on a Thursday evening when the museum is open until 8 pm. When leaving, I saw charming tables with umbrellas in the AIC’s central courtyard. One hour in the exhibit and then perhaps a cool beverage in the “plein air?”

http://sargent.artic.edu/

Sweeteners in your meat? Sugar-free bacon and chicken sausage

I decided to get serious about nosing out added sugar in my food. Imagine my surprise when I read the ingredients of most breakfast meats. Almost all bacon and sausage products list “sugar ” or “cane sugar” as part of their recipes. After reading lots of very fine print, I came up with four options that list no form of sugar.

Welllshire makes a Sugar Free Dry Rubbed All Natural Sliced Uncured Bacon which they state is made from pork raised without antibiotics, fed a vegetarian diet, contains no celery powder, is gluten-free and has 25% less sodium. After tasting the bacon, I do not miss the sugar or the lower sodium. Black pepper, fenugreek, nutmeg, white pepper, mace, allspice and sea salt make up the ingredient list. The package has an eye-catching sticker that says “Paleo Friendly – Eat like a caveman!” Count me in.

Wellshire also makes a turkey bacon that also sports the Paleo-friendly label. The package states that the turkey bacon is sliced, uncured turkey thighs that are chopped and formed, 95% fat free, 6 grams of protein and has 0 trans fat and 0 total carbs. Celery powder, paprika, white pepper, onion powder and sea salt make up the list of ingredients. To be honest, regular bacon is still my big treat, but this turkey bacon is pretty darn good while being relatively healthy.

Amylu is one of my favorite chicken sausage brands but after close scrutiny of ingredients, I could find only one version from that company that had no sweeteners. Gourmet Chorizo has chicken, Jalapeño peppers, cilantro, vinegar, rosemary extract, onions, kosher salt, paprika and garlic in a lamb casing. The package states that the product is free of pork or gluten. The Amylu chicken is raised with vegetarian feed, no antibiotics and no hormones. These sausages have a real kick so this might not be a breakfast choice for those who want a gentle first meal. In opposition, I say, “Wake up my taste buds, Amylu with your Gourmet Chorizo Chicken Sausage!”

Applegate Organics, another player in the healthy meat category likewise had very few breakfast meat options that did not contain sugar. The Fire Roasted Red Pepper Chicago Sausage met that requirement with organic chicken, organic red peppers, jalapeño peppers, organic vinegar, baking soda, organic paprika, organic garlic and sea salt listed as ingredients. Not quite as spicy as the Amylu chorizo sausage, this might be an option for more delicate stomaches.

Most people have toast, dry breakfast cereal, bagels, waffles, pancakes or sweet rolls for breakfast, but protein and fat are what keep me going throughout the morning. But that, my friend, is another complicated topic. Pass me the bacon or sausage in the morning, please.

Janet, Jackie and Lee by J. Randy Taraborrelli

The sub-title of Janet, Jackie and Lee is “The Secret Lives of Janet Auchincloss and Her Daughters Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill.” Author Taraborrelli who has written a handful of other books on the Kennedys scopes in on the Bouvier sisters and their indomitable mother, Janet Lee Bouvier Auchincloss Morris.

There are some titillating revelations like sister Lee having an affair with Aristotle Onassis well before her sister, Jacqueline Kennedy married the Greek shipping tycoon. Lee frequently was seeing other men while married to Prince Radziwill. Despite the tell-all quality to the book, Taraborrelli’s writing and research are impressive. He seems to have spoken with a myriad of family members, staff, friends and colleagues to paint an accurate picture of the relationships between mother Janet and her two famous daughters.

Lee Radziwill is still very much alive in her 80s and did not want friends to talk to Taraborrelli. Nevertheless, the book contains much information on her surprising friendships (Truman Capote, Andy Warhol and Rudolf Nereyev among others) her romances and her varied career choices.

The book is long but the chapters are short so the pages fly by. Two sections of photos add to the enjoyment. We continue to be fascinated with the Kennedy family and their friends, lovers and in-laws.
Janet, Jackie and Lee definitely feeds that hunger.