February 24, 2019

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story Season 2 on Netflix

I am giving a guarded recommendation for the FX incepted true crime drama, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story Season 2. My only reservation is the graphic images of violence that linger in the brain long after the nine episodes have been viewed,

The acting is outstanding with bravura performances by Glee-ful actor Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan, Edgar Ramirez as Gianni Versace and Penelope Cruz as Gianni’s sister Donatella. Judith Light, Ricky Martin and Michael Nouri are some of the supporting actors that turn in solid performances.

The production team has opted to tell the story of Cunanan’s murder spree backwards with Versace’s demise in Episode 1. Going back in time, we see him gruesomely dispatch Chicago real estate mogul Lee Miglin and Minneapolis friends in Minnesota. We are introduced to his deceptive Filipino father, his overwhelmed mother and previous sugar daddies. By the time we reach his final chapter in the ninth episode, we have a fuller understanding of what created this monstrous personality.

The scriptwriting, cinematography and general production values are of the highest order. If you can handle the gruesome subject matter, The Assassination of Gianni Versace currently streaming on Netflix might be right up your back alley.

Lily’s Chocolate Bars, sugar-free

Here is a reprint and update of an article I wrote about this delicious and healthy treat.

I have a major jones for chocolate but the sweeteners contained in bars and chips send my blood sugar to the moon. Finally, I found a commercial chocolate that doesn’t cause that familiar sugar spike and ensuing dip. Lily’s Chocolate Bars and Lily’s Dark Chocolate Premium Baking Chips and Bark fill the bill.

Sweetness is provided by stevia and erythritol, supposedly safer sweeteners than aspartame or saccharin. Lily’s has come up with a recipe that balances healthy fats with sweetness, with all products being gluten-free and several dark chocolate flavors vegan as well.

Cynthia Nice started Lily’s Sweets in 2010 as a result of starting a sugar-free lifestyle. Diabetics and other health-conscious people have been enjoying these products ever since. Ingredients are non-GMO and harvested using Fair Trade practices to boot.

Now, the chocolate still has fat and caffeine, so this is not something you can eat like popcorn, but 60 little mini chips are 55 calories with 4 grams of fat and 5 carb grams.
Not bad for the occasional splurge.

Some the 70% Dark flavors include Blood Orange, Salted Almond and Sea Salt. There’s even an Extremely Dark with 85% Dark Chocolate. Over the holidays, someone served me a Lily’s Gingerbread Chocolate Bar, and let me tell you, I plan on keeping an eye out for that seasonal version next December.

Check out some of the delicious sounding sweet recipes at their site.

https://lilyssweets.com/

The Show Must Go On at Davenport’s, Sat., Feb. 2

Edelfelt and Doyle in DeLovely: A Cole Porter Tribute will be joined by world class guitarist John Moulder along with bass player Andy Danckers and drummer Ed Koehler

Our sold out show in November convinced us that we had to do this special program again. In the interim, I broke my wrist last Friday, but what better antidote for pain is there than timeless MUSIC?

This is a unique show that allows David and Elizabeth to both show their vocal and piano skills in solos and duets. Many of these numbers were performed by Doyle and Edelfelt with Charles Troy at the Elkhart Jazz Festivals of 2017 and 2018. Every song in the show contains either Porter’s brilliant wit or his deep knowledge of human emotion. There are songs you will recognize and some lesser known gems, plus Edelfelt’s clever parody lyrics on a couple of selections. Spoiler alert: there is one song with Porter lyrics, married to the lovely music of Chicago-born Ann Hampton Callaway.

Elizabeth & David with Charles Troy at the Elkhart Jazz Festival

The stage will be a little tight since we felt the show would benefit from having bass and drums provided by the wonderful Andy Danckers and Ed Koehler respectively. Because Elizabeth does not currently have use of her right hand, guitar wizard John Moulder has kindly agreed to augment our musical band to five.

Check him out at: https://johnmoulder.com/

Snow, ice and cold weather will be very far away in Davenport’s back room as you bask in the musical glory of Cole Porter, lovingly sung and played by Edelfelt, Doyle and cohorts. Here is your invitation to make reservations now.

http://davenportspianobar.com/events/elizabeth-doyle-and-david-edelfelt/

Home-made sweet potato chips

I am crazy for sweet potato chips but most of the commercial brands are saturated with fat and drenched with salt. Enter raw, sliced sweet potato chips from food purveyors like Mariano’s or Trader Joe’s. You can make your own healthy versions of this snack.

Spread the chips on a baking tray covered with parchment paper. Add a little olive oil for interest. One drop on each chip or spritz the chips with a spray bottle. Sea salt and other seasonings such as cayenne pepper, garlic powder, paprika or pepper are optional.

One recipe recommends 2 hours at 250 degrees, but I just did a batch at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Turn the chips halfway through the baking time.

Some of the recipes talk about using a mandoline or a very long sharp knife to slice the sweet potato chips at home. My fingers will continue to feel safer with the store bought raw slices, thank you very much. Pass the salsa!

Case Histories on Amazon Prime Video

Amazon Prime continues to carry many of the best British tv crime series. One such favorite is Case Histories based on the Jackson Brodie novel series by Kate Atkinson. I previously wrote a rave review on Atkinson’s novel Life After Life so she knows her way around writing plot, characterization and dialogue.

Brodie, played by ruggedly handsome Jason Isaacs, acts tough but is drawn to the down-trodden and those with unresolved personal tragedies. The premise may sound conventional, but the crime stories benefit from quirky characters and very high production values. Isaacs, with sidekick Louise Munroe (Amanda Abbington), is the centerpiece of the show with his rough exterior and soft-hearted interior.

The show is set and filmed in Edinburgh, Scotland as an added benefit for those enamored with Scottish culture. Sadly, there are only nine episodes over two seasons.
Would that this series have gone on for a few more seasons. Still, you can add Case Histories to your list of worthy Amazon Prime Video crime mysteries.

Schitts Creek, Canadian comedy series on Netflix

One of my sisters has been raving about the comedy series, Schitts Creek on Netflix, but the show title was enough to put it on the bottom of my list. That was a mistake.

Canadian Eugene Levy of Waiting For Guffman and Second City Toronto fame, has teamed up with son Daniel Levy to create a laugh-out-loud comedy series set in the fictional town of Schitts Creek. Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy), former video king magnate, bought this small town as a joke for his son’s birthday. The Roses lose all of their money and are forced to move to their only remaining asset, Schitts Creek.

Daniel Levy, Eugene’s real life son, plays the pan-sexual male progeny of this fish-out-of-water family. Mother Moira Rose is played by comedic actress Catherine O’Hara, a frequent collaborator of Eugene’s. Her parade of black and white designer duds and various wigs is almost worth the price of admission. The fourth in this comedic quartet is Annie Murphy playing self-absorbed, jet-setting daughter Alexis Rose.

As in most successful tv comedies, the supporting roles are equally engaging including Emily Hampshire playing deadpan hotel worker Stevie Budd, Chris Elliott as mullet-wearing Mayor Roland Schitt, along with his style-challenged wife Jocelyn portrayed by actress Jennifer Robertson. Other quirky side characters include the handsome local vet, a waitress at the only diner in town, the owner of Bob’s Garage and the only real estate agent in town.

At first, I thought the only joke was how cluelessly sophisticated the Rose family was in comparison to the seeming hillbillies of Schitts Creek. It becomes apparent that this new constellation of friends and acquaintances is a big improvement over their previous big city community in loyalty, generosity and heart.

For every biting bit of humor, there is a warm fuzzy realization that family and real friends help us get through any catastrophe, including losing our bank accounts, our possessions and our social standing. Laughs plus the occasional “Aw….” in Schitts Creek makes for the perfect end of day viewing.

Two Girls Down, thriller fiction by Louisa Luna

Two types of books find space on my night stand, literary works and lighter fare such as the thriller, Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna. I have book maven, Jenny Riddle to thank again for this suspenseful novel about Jamie Brandt, a distracted mother with two missing young daughters.

Enter bounty hunter Alice Vega and private eye, Max Caplan who unexpectedly join forces to solve the riddle of the absent girls.

The inquisitive duo meet more unsavory characters who may or may not be involved in the disappearance. Drugs, pedophilia, mental illness and other cases of kidnapping are uncovered by Vega and Caplan. This is a page-turner that may turn the stomaches of some readers, but crime, as they say, is not always pretty. Although sometimes entertaining.

If you need a pulp fiction fix, Two Girls Down by Louis Luna may be the remedy.

Pachinko, a 2017 novel by Min Jin Lee

A book club-loving neighbor handed me a novel that received much critical praise in 2017. The book was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and was a National Book Award Finalist. In all honesty, a family saga book set in Korea and Japan did not initially scream “Read me,” but I am so glad I read the first chapter which begins in 1910. We are introduced to Hoonie and his wife, Yangjin who are living in a Korean fishing village. Their teen-aged daughter, Sunja takes up with an older shady man named Koh Hansu. Pregnant, Sunja agrees to marry a tubercular Korean Protestant minister who is on his way to a job in Osaka, Japan.

So begins a four generation saga that will take place in a Japan of wars, poverty, illness and Korean discrimination, all the way to 1989. The Korean game of pachinko, a cross between a pinball machine and a slot machine, is a thread that runs throughout the story.

Pachinko not only has stellar writing but it magically puts you into a world that is unlike anything one has experienced, yet universally so familiar as well. I came away wanting to know more about Chinese, Japanese and Korean history. Min Jin Lee has opened that window for me with her gem-like novel, Pachinko.

The Iron Giant, an animated classic

I was nosing around for a movie that might appeal to family members of varied interests. The Iron Giant, a 1999 animated film hit the jackpot.

This was Brad Bird’s first directorial outing and was not deemed a financial success at the time. Thankfully, he continued working and has added movies like The Incredibles 1 and 2, Ratatouille and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol to his catalogue.

Due to DVD distribution and streaming, this almost 20-year-old animated work has arrived at cult status and rightfully so. The animation looks like it was done by a Japanese manga artist and a really quirky comic book illustrator. The voice-over actors include the late John Mahoney, Vin Diesel, Christopher McDonald, Harry Connick Jr., Eli Marienthal and Jennifer Anniston. Even Cloris Leachman has a bit role.

There are definitely two tracks to the production, one a basic “boy helps monster” plot line for kids, and an adult deeper examination of prejudice, fear of the Russians, secret government doings, guns and war. Brad Bird manages to entertain both age groups with wit, artistry and heart.

The Iron Giant deserves wider acclaim. This 1999 animated feature is currently streaming on Netflix.

Frieda’s Sunchokes

The new year finds me wanting to investigate some new food items. I ran across Frieda’s Sunchokes at Mariano’s and could not resist trying them. You will find them in the refrigerated produce area along with other exotic food stuffs.

Some people refer to these gnarled roots as a Jerusalem Artichokes, but they are neither from Jerusalem nor related to the artichoke family. Instead they resemble ginger root in appearance and potatoes in taste. Unlike ginger root, one can eat the skins of sunchokes, and while potatoes need to be cooked, sun chokes can be eaten raw, as well as baked or fried.

I tried these Native American tubers baked with olive oil, salt and pepper and fell in love the nutty and comforting flavor. Nutritionists say sunchokes contain the carbohydrate inulin which gives them a sweeter taste than potatoes and are considered a folk remedy for diabetes, keeping one’s blood sugar stable.

Finding a sun choke soup recipe is my next order of business since this produce item promises a sweet, velvety texture. Sun chokes can be grated or sliced for salads, too.

Specialty produce purveyor Karen Caplan is carrying on the family business started by her mother Dr. Frieda Rapoport Caplan. The Caplans have been challenging our palates one vegetable and fruit at a time.

https://www.friedas.com/sunchoke/