July 14, 2020

“The Final Table” on Netflix

In my quest to be lightly entertained, I parceled out one or two episodes nightly of the cooking competition, “The Final Table,” on Netflix.

Teams of two culinary professionals from Europe, Asia, Australia and North America are tasked with making signature dishes from different cuisines. Single episodes each feature culinary nods to India, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Italy, Japan, France and the United States.

The first round of dishes are judged by three people from that particular country — two celebrities and a food critic. In the episode’s second round, called The Final Plate, teams must fashion a dish highlighting one ingredient, and judged by a celebrity chef from that evening’s country.

The Final Table

One team is eliminated per show with the series winnowing down to four competitors who compete against each other for the honor of being seated at a table with the nine celebrity judges.

I did not fall in love with this show immediately, but if you like food and restaurants, you may want to persevere. Throughout the show, clips highlighting famous chefs and competitors, alike, are fascinating. Learning about different cuisines and ingredients is another benefit.

For local bragging rights, Chicago’s own Grant Achatz is the celebrity chef representing the United States. His restaurant, Alinea, and other world-famous dining establishments mentioned in the series now go on my dream dining list.

“The Vote” on PBS

As a country, we are marking the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that gave women the right to vote in the 1920 elections.

If you want to learn more about this historic anniversary from the comforts of home, “American Experience” on PBS is featuring a fine documentary, “The Vote,” about the suffragettes and their march toward becoming voting members of our democracy. The show’s tag line provides the theme —“Women were not given the vote. They took it.”

“The Vote” painfully describes the initial coalition and ensuing separation of African-Americans and women to both be awarded the vote after the Civil War. Women were told they had to wait and 43 years elapsed before they were nationally accorded voting rights.

I learned that the Illinois delegation in the Washington, D.C. Women’s March shamefully bowed to racial pressure and denied Ida B. Wells and her group the right to march with white women from “the land of Lincoln.”

Archival photos and film footage are punctuated with short interviews with current-day writers and historians. This is timely information as we examine issues of equality in race, gender and economic status.

The almost four-hour series is separated into Part One and Part Two. Viewing is free now, so catch the programs before they revert to the paid membership catalogue. With that said, a paid Passport membership would not be a waste of money.

The Elephant Queen doc on Apple +

I try to keep my streaming services to a very limited number, but I recently was given a year free of Apple + with the purchase of an iPhone. I must be honest, not much appealed to me at first perusal. Too many kiddie shows and programs aimed at family entertainment.

A photo of a mother elephant with her offspring caught my eye, however. To be honest, nature programs are almost never on my “to watch list”, but something called to me when I saw the documentary entitled “The Elephant Queen.”

Directed by husband and wife Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble, the cinematography is amazing with up-close filming of mammals, birds, insects and weather conditions.

The tag line says it all: “A story of love, courage and coming home.” There truly is a story line with a 50-year-old matriarch leading her Kenyan elephant tribe to water, food and safety, with joys and sadness along the journey. Chiwetel Eijiofor is the resonant narrator.

I am still not generally a fan of nature shows, but this lovely and engaging production may be the ticket if you want to take a vicarious trip to the wild.

Studio Gang Boathouse near Belmont and the Chicago River

My biking brother-in-law frequently touts the trails and parks around the Chicago River. This past weekend, I visited the WMS Boathouse at Clark Park on the north branch of the Chicago River near Belmont.

The Boathouse is actually two spectacular buildings with a dock area for launching non-motorized boats and 22,620-square-feet of training areas and boat storage. The Chicago Rowing Foundation and Chicago Park District partnered to create this space for human-powered boats.

Admiring the architecture, I had the sneaking suspicion this was a Jeanne Gang creation. Bingo. Studio Gang completed this structure in 2013. The striking zinc-and-slate-clad building won an American Institute of Architects award in 2016, citing “a wonderful relationship between building, river and the park where it sits.” I could not agree more.

Some of the Boathouse operations are on hiatus right now, but in normal times you can rent kayaks and canoes for use on the Chicago River.

I was also able to admire the Kerry Wood Cubs Field which is across the street from the Boathouse. A return visit is needed since my brother-in-law noted that I missed the Garden south of the Boathouse which has dirt jumps and trails for bikers. Who ever said there are no nature adventures in big cities?

The WMS Boathouse at Clark Park
Chicago Park District
3400 N. Rockwell Street
Chicago, IL 60618

https://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/clark-richard-park

Chicago Park Options

Ronan Park from Lawrence to Argyle on the Chicago River North Branch

While the 606 elevated path, Chicago River Walk and Lake Michigan bike trail will open this week with limitations, lakeside beaches and parks are still off limits. Millennium Park is allowing visitors with masks in groups of ten or less. It was noted that people may NOT touch the Bean.

If you need a park fix with a water view, consider the North Shore Channel Trail which runs along the North Branch of the Chicago River from Lawrence and Francisco avenues north to Green Bay Road and McCormick Boulevard in Evanston. Included in this seven-mile stretch is the new Lincoln Village Pedestrian Bridge at Devon.

Parkland around the Lincoln Park Zoo was recently filled with sunbathers, children playing, dog-walkers and outdoor diners. A really buff guy was also doing very vigorous calisthenics. People-watching can be better than a movie.

Evanston and other north shore suburbs have lakeside parks open to those needing a lake and greenery fix.

Never again will I take our Chicago lakefront and parks for granted!

Lake Michigan in more carefree days

“Knives Out” Movie on Amazon Prime Video

Because the pandemic has brought film-going to a standstill, many recent movies have been expeditiously transferred to streaming services and unreleased films have gone straight to video.

I missed seeing “Knives Out” in a real live movie theater, but thankfully, Amazon has been featuring the Rian Johnson-directed film for free to Prime members.

“Knives Out” initially seems like a boilerplate Agatha Christie-type murder mystery, with the deceased being famous and wealthy crime writer Harlan Thrombey played by the superlative 90-year-old actor, Christopher Plummer.

The real stars are Daniel Craig as southern detective Benoit Blanc and Ana de Arias as Marta Cabrera, Harlan’s immigrant nurse and friend. Flashbacks slowly divulge what really happened as staff, police and family members are introduced to viewers.

The literary scion’s family members are deliciously played by Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Toni Colette, Jaeden Martell and Katherine Langford.

I was especially tickled by the throne of knives in the author’s home that gives a pointed nod to the throne of swords featured in the “Game of Thrones” book and tv series. Plot twists, clever dialogue and subversive themes make this a bracing evening of entertainment. Word has it that Daniel Craig may reprise his southern accent in a “Knives Out” film sequel. Count me in.

Mon Ami Gabi French Restaurant in Lincoln Park and elsewhere

I wanted to do something special on my birthday so having a Lettuce Entertain You gift card from an adult student of mine really came in handy.

Mon Ami Gabi was my restaurant choice since I had a yen for French food. Some people are opting to use the outdoor patio in front of the venerable Belden Stratford apartment building (pictured above), but we chose to order carry-out and dine al fresco in the park next to Lincoln Park Zoo.

I ordered a filet mignon in a pepper and creme fraiche sauce along with side dishes of green pea and Leek mash and sautéed mixed mushrooms. Magnifique! I don’t eat beef that often, but this was a beautiful cut of meat. My husband wanted the hamburger with blue cheese on a brioche bun, paired with crispy frites. We polished off the meal with blueberry crumble à la mode and chocolate mousse with Chantilly cream. Surprisingly, the high quality vanilla ice cream stayed cold until we were ready for dessert. We brought our own silverware and napkins, so make sure you request those if you are not taking carry-out food directly to your home.

Most people do not realize there are five Mon Ami Gabi restaurants: the Chicago original named after beloved chef Gabino Sotelino, OakBrook IL, Reston VA, Bethesda MD and the Las Vegas Strip. The Vegas outpost is a favorite for locals and visitors alike with premium outdoor seating overlooking the fountains at the Bellagio Resort. The bottom photos are from a charming lunch I had at the Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

https://www.monamigabi.com/

Netflix Lured Me Back with Light Entertainment

After months of being a non-Netflix subscriber, I was lured back with the promise of new episodes of favorite shows.

Queer Eye has to be one of the most uplifting shows in TV Land right now. The rebooted series has breezed through four Seasons of 8 episodes each in U.S. states like Georgia, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois, with a one-episode season in Australia and a four episode run in Japan. For Season Five, the Queer Eye make-over team is in the Philadelphia, including one candidate from the Jersey Shore.

David Collins, producer of the original series which ran for five seasons from 2003 to 2007) has brilliantly adapted the concept for a new generation of viewers. As much as I liked the previous incarnation, the Netflix reboot has even more heart as the Fab Five tackle redos for men and women from all sorts of cultural backgrounds.

I love all five of these guys: Bobby Berk on design, Tan France on fashion, Jonathan Van Ness for grooming, but I especially love the emotional insight that Karamo Brown brings and the food love that Antoni Porowski evokes. This is my kind of show when I need the world to seem like a happier and safer place.

If you want something even more goofy and light, you might consider The Big Flower Fight. Netflix has taken the reality competition into the floral arena. Teams of two use flowers, grasses and evergreens, as well as man-made and organic elements, to create animals, dresses, thrones, mobiles and fairy tale scenes.

The Big Flower Fight has much in common with The Great British Baking Show which is amply represented on Netflix. Food, fashion and flower competitions are entertaining stress relievers and Netflix is providing lots of fun options.

Organic Hibiscus Tea Bags

Just a short note about FGO Organic Hibiscus Tea Bags.

I am always looking for herbal teas that have real flavor without caffeine. FGO boasts being eco-conscious, their product being raw from Egypt. Even the brown paper package containing 100 tea bags seems good for the environment.

The sweet and tart tea made with hibiscus flowers is purported to support digestive health, lower blood pressure and combat chronic inflammation. I drink this delightful tea because it also tastes good.

https://www.amazon.com/Organic-Hibiscus-Eco-Conscious-Lined-Kraft/dp/B07ND51YPC

The Wall Street Journal: print version

You know those come-ons you receive in the mail where you can use airline miles to subscribe to printed newspapers and magazines? I am not going anywhere for quite some time, so I used my unused miles for a magazine and a newspaper.

I now have a daily delivered subscription to the Wall Street Journal. One friend quipped that I did not seem like the WSJ type. It has been years since I read a “paper” newspaper and I must say that this old world habit is rather nice.

Daily editions feature general news, business and finance sections. Let me confess: I skim the business section, but avidly read the hard news. The opinion pages have a conservative slant (Fox TV owner Rupert Murdoch owns the WSJ) so I read editorials with an open mind, yet skeptical eye.

Other featured sections throughout the week include Mansion, a Friday real estate round-up of extremely upscale properties and Marketplace, coverage of technology, health and media business news.

On Saturdays, the WSJ includes sections called OffDuty and Reviews plus a cultural magazine which just might become must-reading for me. “Inside Frank Sinatra’s Personal Address Book” and “In Images of Ancient Frescoes, Hidden Legacies Are Exposed” were just two of last Saturday’s intriguing articles.

https://www.wsj.com/news/magazine

The WSJ discontinued Sunday editions in 2015, so I just may have to re-subscribe to The New York Times, Sunday edition if this resumption of a paper news habit sticks!