Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Go Boldly

I met my friend Ahna, during my year teaching English in Japan. We were introduced via email by a mutual acquaintance and serendiptiously met in person - despite the crowd of thousands - at a welcome reception in Tokyo. Quests to find Mr. Donuts and floating nuns, a decent beet salad or book in English were just a few of the adventures we shared. Since then we’ve managed to stay in touch through old-fashioned letters and have exchanged recommendations for good music, movies, and books. And this is how I came to be introduced to Lauren Winner.

Even though I’ve only met her through her writing, Winner is, like Ahna, one of those people with the talent of making instant friends. By the time you’ve finished Girl Meets God, a memoir of Winner’s conversions to Orthodox Judaism and evangelical Christianity, you may well feel you’ve made a new friend - one who is intelligent, witty, and admittedly imperfect.

In honor of today’s being Ash Wednesday, I would like to share with you Winner’s reflections on the “boldness” of the day. This commentary is adapted from Girl Meets God.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Stop a Bullet Cold

Who knew Jennie Epper has been my idol all this time? Yes, she, not Lynda Carter, was Wonder Woman.

I discovered this only by reading Kevin Conley’s book The Full Burn. Profiling some of Hollywood’s notorious stuntmen (and women), this book examines the personalities courageous enough to inflict pain on themselves willingly. Conley goes behind the scenes on gags ranging from racing a motorcycle through a Matrix rush hour to flying through downtown (ala Spidey) to setting a person on fire. We learn about the trade from Terry Leonard (he did the truck gag in Raider’s of the Lost Ark), Mike Kirton (he literally died twice on the set), and Debbie Evans (she played Trinity’s double).

Most stuntmen get their start in extreme sports, gymnastics, martial arts, or the military, but are more likely born into it. Many stuntmen eventually become second unit directors where safety and engineering are emphasized over bravado. However, Conley makes sure to throw in a few tales of mishaps with gators and off-the-set joyrides in Minis.

For a sitting at the edge of your seat, shaking your head in disbelief, and racing to your Netflix queue to rent the Bourne series experience, do try this at home.

Look under Audio to hear the interview with Kevin Conley from Fresh Air.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

“tremendous clarity, great acidity”

Once when we were dating, my husband took me to Austin’s West Lynn CafĂ©. We ordered wine with our appetizer and enjoyed choosing our entrees from the exclusively vegetarian menu. As we were waiting for the vegan chocolate cake to arrive (I know, heaven, right?), I asked what all the fuss was about. He then told me that at midnight the “match” for medical school acceptances would be announced. Although I forget if we ended up with the Caribbean stir-fry or the Mediterranean pizza, I remember the wine – Gewurztraminer.

What’s your most memorable glass of wine? That’s the premise for a book called Wine for Every Day and Every Occasion. The authors, Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, write a wine column for the Wall Street Journal. Rather than explain how you can tell if a wine is stony or supple, the authors relate memorable wines that either they (or their readers) have enjoyed and recommend reliable varieties for all budgets. If you are looking for a wine to drink with the Thanksgiving pie, the Fourth’s barbecue, or your daughter’s wedding cake, look for this book. If you don’t have time to find the book before Saturday, read their recommendations for a romantic Valentine’s wine here. Although I thought the “wine for the Oscars” chapter was a little too delightful, I got quite excited about the idea of how to host a wine tasting party that doesn’t require taking out a loan or inviting mustachioed experts with bulbous noses.

I’m already plotting which bottle we’ll open when we send in that last student loan payment.

To hear an interview with the authors, look under Audio on the right side of this page.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Like Butter: Julie and Julia

“Sometimes I just made stuff up.” Despite the disclaimer on page one, Julie Powell serves up a humorous account of her attempt to follow all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. Faced with conception complications at home and the endless files to be copied at work, she began the cooking project (and blog documenting the project) in August of 2002. Interspersed throughout the book version are imaginary scenes between Julia and Paul Child. I skimmed these for the most part to get back to the meatier narrative.

Powell recounts her successes – skinning a duck and flipping a flawless crepe - but more entertaining are her mess ups – one memorable description likens her homemade ladyfingers to “so many sunk mastodons” in a “tar pit” of caramelized sugar. She also relates how she connected with her blog readers with proficient swearing and as ifs which resulted in donations of funds and jars of her favorite salsa. You might recoil with her in the discovery of a maggot colony under the drainer, but you’ll marvel at her chutzpah at leaving an offering of butter at the Julia Child exhibit at the Smithsonian. If you missed the blog, then read the book. If you miss the book, there’s always the Nora Ephron moviecoming out this summer.

The book by Julie Powell is called Julie and Julia: 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen: How One Girl Risked Her Marriage, Her Job, and Her Sanity to Master the Art of Living.