December 9, 2018

Amazon Basics Electric Kettle

If you need an under $20 gift for someone, let me recommend the small, but mighty Amazon Basics Electric Kettle with a one liter capacity.

While staying at the home of a host French dentist in Paris last fall, I fell in love with an appliance that boils water in about a minute. At home, I had been doing water for tea the old-fashioned way over a gas flame. How last century!

Lo and behold, Amazon has been featuring a mini-version of this little work horse for the low price of $15.29. I paid $17 and some change so the price has actually gone down. If you are an Amazon Prime member, the shipping is free.

My favorite feature is that the appliance shuts off when the water reaches a boiling point. No more scorched tea pots for the absent-minded. Guilty.

As I said, this makes the perfect little gift for a person you like. Which may be YOU.

https://www.amazon.com/AmazonBasics-Stainless-Steel-Electric-Kettle/dp/B072DWYBL7/ref=sr_1_4?s=kitchen&ie=UTF8&qid=1544213506&sr=1-4&keywords=amazon+basic+electric+kettle

The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Lookingglass Theatre

If you have time for just one piece of live performance this holiday season, you may want to strongly consider The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Lookingglass Theater. Billed as a Christmas pantomime, the 60-minute almost wordless presentation is based on the famous Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale of the same name.

Acclaimed director Mary Zimmerman has created a gorgeous short work that depends primarily on wordless physical expression by very accomplished actors. By turns heart-wrenching and hilarious, this play should entertain both young and old alike.

The theater is located in Chicago’s iconic Pumping Station across the street from the old Water Tower and the similarly-named shopping mall. No small wonder that there were lots of out-of-towners speaking other languages the night I saw Steadfast. There were also many adults with kids and even some three generation families taking photos in the lobby.

Get there early so you can see fantastical creatures periodically open the small windows of a gigantic Advent calendar. We also see four powdered-wig musicians take up their instruments in the small pit in front of the stage.

The only point of discussion concerned a final song that for some broke the spell of the pantomime. I surmise that Lookingglass wanted to end the show on a positive note and thought an uplifting ditty would do the trick. I thought the song functioned well but my viewing partner disagreed.

Still and all, for a memorable 2018 holiday experience that may give you a rest from The Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol, The Steadfast Tin Soldier might be just the ticket.
Lovely instrumental music, creative costumes, an inventive period set, brilliant physical acting and a timeless tale curated by Mary Zimmerman. Who could ask for anything more during a cold December?

Wild Wild Country doc on Netflix

Fasten your seat belts for Wild Wild Country, a six-part documentary about the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, his deputy Ma Anand Sheela and the community they created in Wasco County, Oregon. I had to keep reminding myself that this saga was not fiction, but a true life story of the 1980s with the Bhagwan and his sannyasins or followers.

Wild Wild Country

The Rashneeshis were noted for wearing burgundy, red, and orange clothing, sitting enrapt in the presence of the Bhagwan and at other times bouncing around in physical abandonment. The conservative Oregonian locals felt fear and bewilderment at this group of seeming interlopers.

Brother film-makers Chapman and MacIain Way depict the mounting tension between the “cult” and the local and federal government. A fantastic scriptwriter could not have fabricated some of the surprising turns the story takes. I defy you not to become engrossed in this strange tale.

If you want an interesting follow-up to the series, you might consider reading the Vanity Fair magazine article that talks about where some of the principals are now and ponders some of the issues not resolved in the documentary.

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/04/wild-wild-country-netflix-cult-documentary-interview-bhagwan-shree-rajneesh-antelope-oregon-sheela-rajneeshpuram

Tootsie, the musical at the Cadillac Theater

You literally just have a couple of days left to see the musical, Tootsie at the Cadillac Palace Theater in Chicago before it ends on October 14, 2018. The tag line states this is “a new comedy musical” and it fulfills that bill in spades.

Loosely based on the 1982 movie of the same name starring Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie the musical makes some savvy changes. The main character played by the amazing Santino Fontana gets cast in a Broadway musical versus the movie’s soap opera job in the movie. As in the film, he falls for the leading lady (played by a lovely Lilli Cooper) who thinks he is “a woman of a certain age,” but today’s more open attitudes about same sex couples and gender definition add more depth to the plot line.

The songs, with lyrics and music by David Yazbek (The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Band’s Visit), are tuneful and witty with a few stand-out numbers one will be hearing at auditions. Librettist Robert Horn has fashioned a very hilarious book that gracefully links the songs while giving full comedic play to the singing actors.

Tootsie is headed for Broadway in the spring of 2019, so you will still have the chance to see this delightful production. You will just have to go a lot further for it, and perhaps pay a premium for your seat. The trip to NYC will be well worth your time and effort if you don’t catch the show this weekend in Chicago.

Coco, the movie on Netflix

I’m frequently behind in my movie viewing since I wait until films are released on streaming services. I recently caught Coco, an animated film produced by Pixar and released by Disney on Netflix. All I can say is, “Why did I not catch this masterpiece in the movie theater?!”

The art direction is simply stupendous with its riotous colors and images that evoke Hispanic Culture’s Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) came up with the story idea and co-directed the film with Adrian Molina. They get an A+ for allowing non-Latinos and Latinos alike to view Hispanic culture through the eyes of 12-year-old Miguel who is mistakenly sent to the underworld. He meets his musician great great-grandfather who helps him get back to the land of the living.

The music buff in me loves the song “Remember Me” which is artfully woven throughout the movie, but it is the central theme of family and remembrance that really hits the right chord for me.

Anthony Gonzalez is the young Miguel and Gael Garcia Bernal (Mozart in the Jungle) plays his new pal who tricks him into visiting the world below. Most of the excellent voice-over actors are not household names, aside from Benjamin Bratt as Ernesto de la Cruz, Miguel’s musical idol. Edward James Olmos is cast as the forgotten Chicharron who disappears from the Land of the Dead. Even Cheech Marin has a small role as a Corrections Officer.

If Coco shows up at a nostalgia movie theater, run at your earliest opportunity to catch it. Until then, view it on Netflix with those you love. Have your Kleenex at the ready. Happy Dia de los Muertos which starts on October 31st.

Varidesk for working while standing or sitting

I had been reading about the benefit of standing while using the computer or doing general desk work but this new office idea was merely on my wish list.

Much to my delight, my husband secured me a de-accessioned Sit/Stand Converter by Varidesk. This two level extension sits on the top of my regular desk and has easy to use toggles on the sides to facilitate having the keyboard and screen higher or lower.

A large screen computer sits on the top level so I can view it at eye level when standing. The computer keyboard is on the lower level and allows me to work with the perfect hand, wrist and elbow angle when on my feet.

My husband prefers to use the computer sitting so he merely uses the toggles to lower the Varidesk to the regular desk level.

Marital harmony restored in the home office! You may want to investigate this option in your work or home environment.

https://www.varidesk.com/shop

Salad greens get an update

Remember the days when Iceberg lettuce was the only game in town for entree and side salads?

Gladly, American cuisine has diversified with leaves of spinach, baby kale, Romaine, Boston or Bibb, red leaf, and mesclun.

Although a little more expensive, I also love using Belgian or curly endive, radicchio for that punch of white and purple color, watercress and escarole.

My current favorites include Organic Girl pea shoots which have an appreciable amount of protein and Organic Girl mache which is also known as Lamb’s lettuce. Other leaves I may experiment with in the future are mustard, beet and collard greens as well as Sorrel.

Salad dressings could be a large separate article, but let me say I no longer buy bottled dressings. High grade olive oil and vinegar along with additions such as garlic, mustard, fresh or dry herbs, pepper and sea salt are all one needs to make a delicious custom-made dressing.

Bring on the salad days, even in autumn and winter. How about a warm bacon dressing?

Younger TV Show on Hulu

Cast of Younger

My tolerance for serious news issues and gruesome crime shows has suddenly plummeted. Hulu to the rescue with a lighter than air sit-com which has been highly binge-able.

TVLand is the place of origin for Younger, a four season charmer starring Broadway star Sutton Foster currently streaming on Hulu. Darren Star, the show creator has a successful pedigree with Sex In the City, Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210 on his resume.

Foster plays Liza Miller, a 40 year old single mom who fails to get any job nibbles in publishing after her ex-husband leaves her financially destitute. She decides to repackage herself as a 26 year old hipster living in Brooklyn. Voila, she ends up with an entry-level position at Empirical Press and is pursued by a 26 year old male tattoo artist, Josh (Nico Tortorella) who assumes they are the same age.

Helping her keep her cover is friend and room-mate Maggie played by the outrageous Debi Mazar. Liza’s work buddy is Kelsey Peters played by singer, songwriter, actress Hilary Duff.

Miller’s age deception has unexpected consequences for her younger boyfriend, her teenage daughter, her co-workers and for her tall and handsome 40-something boss, Charles played by Peter Hermann.

Gilmore Girls and Drop Dead Diva are shows that seem cut from the same stylish cloth. Younger may attract more female viewership but men would learn a lot if they watched this slightly irreverent comedy with the women in their lives. I bet you’ll have at least one laugh per episode.

Farmhouse Culture’s Kraut

The latest buzz words in nutrition are “probiotic” and “kraut.” A nutritionist recommended that I add sauerkraut to my diet. Out I went to purchase a head of cabbage and pink Himalayan salt. After a failed attempt to make my own sauerkraut, I ended up buying a commercial version by Farmhouse Culture which is more expensive, but infinitely easier to add to my meals.

What should I find but Farmhouse Culture’s Garlic Dill Pickle Kraut in the refrigerated area of Mariano’s produce department. The cabbage and brine are packaged in a re-sealable plastic bag that has a Ferment-O-Vent which, according to the company “keeps our live active probiotics happy and this tasting oh-so-amazing.”

Garlic Dill Pickle Kraut tastes like its name and I find myself adding this vegetable condiment to rice or as an accompaniment to meats and other entrees. The company suggests adding this zesty-tasting kraut to eggs, salads, sandwiches or wraps. Yum.

The Farmhouse web site lists a variety of sauerkraut flavors such as Classic Caraway, Golden Turmeric, Smoked Jalapeno, Horseradish Leek or California Style Kimchi. All of these flavors can also be purchased as liquid brine Gut Shots. This is a harder sell for me, but I’m sure my dietician would like me to consider this product, too.

Farmhouse also manufactures bags of live-culture vegetables like Ginger Beet, Orange Ginger Carrots or Taqueria Mix with carrots, daikon radish, jicama, onion and jalapeño. Kraut Krisps are the company’s version of rice crackers using probiotics.

Not all of their products are savory. Farmhouse makes kvass-style sparkling probiotic beverages with names like Cherry Cacao, Cola, Ginger Lemon, Mango Guava or Strawberry Hibiscus sweetened with erythritol. You are still getting the gut-friendly brined cabbage in these juice drinks however. Talk about sweet and sour.

If you want to supercharge your nutrition or wake up your palate to new sensations, Farmhouse has some products worth checking out. Their web site lists places where their food items are for sale which include Whole Foods and Mariano’s in the Chicago area. Your taste buds and your microbiome* will thank you.

*Microbiome: the microorganisms in a particular environment including the body or a part of the body; a microbiome that protects us against germs, breaks down food to release energy and produces vitamins.

The Week paper magazine

downmagaz.com

Just when I had given up all paper news sources, along came The Week, a weekly magazine that a friend started giving me when he was done reading it. Their tag line below the title says “The Best of the U. S. and International Media” and that about says it all.

This is a concise news source for quick overviews of world and national politics, along with blurbs on issues of culture, science, technology and the arts.There are also editorials from around the world on mainstream and lesser known subjects.

For in depth articles, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and magazine web sites like The Economist and The New Yorker take me further into selected topics, but for general news, The Week is easily perused in one sitting and gets me up to speed on most of the current hot button topics.

Curiously, I have visited The Week’s electronic magazine site, but greatly prefer their old-fashioned paper magazine format. They amply use both eye-catching photos and drawings for many articles, including the always amusing cover color cartoon.

downmagaz.com

A black and white cartoon page slants toward the political and is always hilarious. The crossword puzzle on the back page is like dessert after a several course meal of various issues.

Some may criticize the thumbnail approach to hard news, but in the words of Sgt. Friday on Dragnet,  “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”As far as I know, The Week is giving me just that in one digestible format.

downmagaz.com