Blaze (2018)

blaze.jpg

When I was younger, I had a “type” – I dated aspiring blanks. Aspiring artists, aspiring musicians – all unconcerned with mundane, earthly questions like how to get money for rent, drinks, and drugs. Instead, they were already living with an eye on posterity, assuming every word they said was going to be quoted someday. Have you ever spoken to someone who thinks everything he says is worth quoting? Take it from me, it’s absolutely exhausting, and you’ll most likely walk away wondering, “What did we even talk about?”

This is all a roundabout way of saying Ethan Hawke’s biopic Blaze reminded me of every boy I dated in my early twenties. For those who don’t know, Blaze Foley was a Texan country singer songwriter in the 1970s. Ethan Hawke’s version is a bigger, larger than life man (played by newbie Ben Dickey who is literally a good fifty pounds heavier than the true Foley) who says he doesn’t want to be famous; he wants to be a legend. And yet we spend two hours watching him flounder on his journey to becoming a legend. The movie starts in a circular fashion, we see both Foley falling in love with his future wife, Sybil Rosen (played by the charming Alia Shawkat) and his friends wrestling with the aftermath of Foley’s death on the air in a radio interview (with radio host Ethan Hawke, no less). Rosen is Foley’s muse and biggest supporter. She blindly fangirls him and believes in him. And so, of course, he leaves her to pursue the rock star lifestyle of drinking too much with his musician friends and being yelled at by his record label. In the radio interview, Van Zandt justifies this by explaining just how much you have to be willing to give up to make it as a musician. But what Van Zandt sees as strength and discipline comes off as a succumbence to vices on Foley. Foley talks a big talk, mumbling on and on about the cosmos, energy, and inspiration, but we mostly watch him, and the movie, stumbling.

Maybe the problem with the movie is that both Hawke and Rosen have rose-colored glasses on. The movie is an adaptation of Rosen’s memoir, “Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze”, and Rosen and Hawke wrote the screenplay together. The film makes it clear that both Hawke and Rosen truly loved Foley, but it doesn’t quite do enough to make the viewer feel the same. The best part of the movie is the music. Dickey is more musician than actor and his husky voice commands your attention. While the movie doesn’t quite convince me that Blaze Foley was indeed a legend, it’s worth watching, if only just to serve as a reminder that making art and music is hard work and requires more than big dreams and quotable nonsense.

Rating: 6.0/10.0

Additional Reading:

  • Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze on Amazon
  • Watch the trailer here

 

 

Advertisements

Review: Martha Stewart’s Vegetables

Sorry for the radio silence over here, friends. I was feeling pretty uninspired all of October, I don’t think I even finished a single book. And then this past week has been a doozy, hasn’t it? I am emotionally and spiritually exhausted. I have been pottering around the kitchen and taking a lot of naps. I thought I’d focus some of my energy away from politics and the news by adding what I hope becomes a regular column about Learning to Cook. Here, we will be doing our usual cookbook reviews, but also (hopefully) sharing other recipes and stories with you as well. What better way to start a culinary adventure than with Martha Stewart?


Martha Stewart, domestic and culinary goddess, recently released a new cookbook on Vegetables. I have been searching for ways to bring more veggies into my life. While I love salads and stews, sometimes you just want something different. Do not be fooled by the title, this is not a book for vegetarians. I was a little disappointed by this, because while veggies are in every recipe, they are not necessarily the star of each meal. I don’t need Martha to tell me I can add onions to a stir fry, do you?

The book is organized by types of vegetables – flowers, tubers, legumes, etc. While I can understand this categorization, I think I would have preferred the book to be organized by season. (I know, I know, you could also argue that different types of vegetables are also a form of eating seasonally.) There are photographs of each recipe, which I really loved. The food is all beautifully plated and presented – the photographs alone are worth flipping through the book to look at.

The first recipe I tried was her Roasted Pork Chops with Sweet Potatoes and Apples, because I was feeling the autumn crisp in the air and excited for fall produce. I’ve shared the recipe below, along with some of my notes:

Ingredients:

  • 4 bone-in pork chops, each about 1 inch thick (about 2 1/2 pounds total)
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • 1 large sweet onion, such as Vidalia, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • 1/3 cup apple-cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 2 apples, preferably Honeycrisp, thinly sliced, seeds removed

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Season pork with salt and pepper. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat; swirl in oil. Cook chops until golden brown, turning once, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Remove all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet.

  2. Reduce heat to medium. Add potatoes and onion; season with salt. Cook until golden in spots, about 10 minutes. Add vinegar and cider. Cover and simmer, stirring a few times, until potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with caraway seeds. Return pork and juices to skillet; tuck apple slices between chops. Roast until a thermometer inserted into thickest part of chops (without touching bone) registers 138 degrees, about 10 minutes. Serve pork, vegetables, and apples with pan juices.

Jessica’s Notes:
I am not especially a fan of sweeter dishes. I generally prefer savory, spicy, & salty things. That being said, this recipe made some very juicy and tender pork chops. I think the combination of sweet potato, apples, and apple-cider vinegar was a little too much for me. I think next time, I would replace the sweet potato with normal potatoes and throw in some jalapenos or star anise for an extra kick. The recipe suggests you could use apple juice instead of apple cider vinegar, but I think the acidity of the vinegar is really necessary. As I’ve been cooking more and more, I have become feeling more confident about modifying recipes. I might try tweaking and writing my own recipes in the future.

The recipes in Martha’s book range from very simple salads to slightly more complex meals. I think it’s a pretty safe choice for beginner cooks like me, because you could slowly build a repertoire that you feel confident about. There are a wide range of recipes, so there will be something for any palate. I like that there are a manageable number of recipes, so that you don’t feel completely overwhelmed the way you might when you’re browsing online.

***

I would recommend this book to people who love beautiful cookbooks and who are looking for ways to incorporate more veggies into their lives. However, like most recipes, a lot of these are available on Martha’s website.

  • I’d like to thank Blogging for Books for sending me this book in return for an honest review.

Review: Still Here, Lara Vapnyar

still here.jpgLara Vapnyar’s “Still Here” is a pretty hilarious story about four Russian immigrants in New York. There’s Vica and Sergey, who moved to New York shortly after they were married when Sergey received a scholarship to New York School of Business. There’s Vadik, who has struggled to find an identity that fits into New York City, and finally, Regina, who has married a wealthy American venture capitalist. Like all good books (and TV shows) about a group of friends, the friend group is pretty incestuous, Vica left Vadik for Sergey who was dating Regina at the time, etc.

There’s two topics that I always love reading about. First, since my parents immigrated to the US in the 80s, I really connect with books about the immigrant experience. Second, I love reading books that take place in New York City. It’s so much fun to see my city through someone else’s eyes. Vapnyar has some really hilarious and astute observations on living in New York, that I often found myself dog-earing pages and chuckling out loud.

It wasn’t her fault that she lived on Staten Island. Vica’s personality was pure Manhattan. It’s just that her financial situation wasn’t.

Vapnyar created some characters that are each unique, fully developed, and flawed. Her characters are insecure and trying to make a home for themselves in New York City, far away from home. I found myself identifying with some of the same insecure thoughts that Vica had, as she’s trying to figure out how to make friends at work and where to spend her free time. These were definitely somethings I’ve thought when I moved here for college almost ten years ago.

She hadn’t been to the Met in ages. You couldn’t consider yourself a refined and cultured person if you hadn’t been to the Met in ages, could you? But then did New Yorkers even go there? Tourists and art students went there, yes, but what about regular New Yorkers? Vica tried to think of the most cultured New Yorker she knew. Regina? Regina wasn’t a real New Yorker. Eden? No, Eden never went there. Both Eden and her husband had graduated from Harvard, so they didn’t have to go to the Met because they didn’t need to prove they were cultured.

Another thread that ties the four friends together is an idea for an app (who doesn’t think they have a Great App Idea?) called “Virtual Grave.” The premise of the app starts as a way to control your social media after your death. Throughout the book, we see each of the friends wrestle with the idea of mortality and how social media impacts our lives, from the facade of Facebook to the vicious cycles of online dating. While this is a timely topic, I think this is where the story fell a little flat. Given the prevalence of social media today, I don’t think a book can serve as a commentary on social media if it only looks at Facebook and Twitter. What about Instagram, Snapchat, Vine? The survey is a little incomplete and dated. Maybe Vapnyar intended to do this, as her characters are all in their late thirties, but if so, she didn’t convince me.

In the last chapter of the book, Vapnyar uses a really cheesy gimmick where the first two pages resemble a group chat, with profile pictures, emojis, and all. It gave me flashbacks to books I read in elementary school. I found this a really weak way to end the book, when this gimmick wasn’t used at all in the first 270+ pages. Overall, the book was a quick and enjoyable read, but I don’t think I’ll be adding Vapnyar to my list of favorite authors anytime soon.

***

I would recommend this book to people who like reading stories set in New York City, people who watch romantic comedies anytime they’re on television, and people who are looking for a gateway into (albeit light) Russian literature.

  • I’d like to thank Blogging for Books for sending me this book in return for an honest review.

 

The Bloody Mary Club: PJ Clarke’s

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 5.15.25 PM

P.J. Clarke’s is a New York staple (although according to their website, there are also now locations in Washington, DC and Brazil!) with dark wood and red checked tablecloths. They’re renowned for their burgers and Bloody Marys. Any New York Bloody Mary list would be incomplete without a visit to P.J. Clarke’s, so I headed over to the one at Lincoln Center with some classmates for a late night snack last week. Who says Bloody Marys are only for brunch? In my book, it’s never too late for one.

IMG_2740The Original Clarke’s Bar Bloody Mary comes with olives, a wedge of lemon, lime, and a stalk of celery. The drink is very salty, so you’ll need a few glasses of water while you’re drinking. The glass is rimmed with some sort of vinegar & sugary syrup – this was the highlight of the drink. I would highly recommend ditching the straw to get the full experience. I would say this variation is a classic; you’ll never be disappointed because you’ll get a consistent drink every time. However, half the fun is trying new interpretations! If you’ve never had a Bloody Mary before, I think this is a good place to start to get a strong foundation. I would give this a solid 3/5, a perfect baseline to get acclimated to the world of Bloody Marys.

***

Cheat Sheet:

Liquor Base: Vodka
Viscosity/Texture: Thin, but not watery
Spice: More salty than anything else, definitely not spicy
Fixin’s: Celery, Lemon & Lime Wedge, Vinegar-Sugar Rim
Overall Rating:  3 out of 5

The Lincoln Square P.J. Clarke’s is located at 44 West 63rd Street, New York, NY 10023 http://www.pjclarkes.com/lincoln-square/

 

Flower Workshop

This book is meant to inspire.

Ariella Chezar has certainly accomplished that and more with her book, The Flower Workshop. This book is full of beautiful photos full of color and texture, a reflection of Chezar’s belief that floral arrangements ought to be ‘painterly’ in composition. She is well known within the floral community (which I am learning is a thing) for her free-form and wonderfully natural work. Her book is a visual feast.

flowers

I loved looking through the photos, which comprise mostly of finished bouquets but also include a few step-by-step demonstrations and many sort of inspirational boards where she has lain out flowers, twigs and greenery, fruits, vases, and any other object that suits the theme of the chapter. The labeling of the flowers was helpful to me and will surely help all build their flower vocabulary. Chapters address topics such as focusing on color tones, highlighting specific and favorite flowers, using branches, fruits, or berries, and more. The text is fairly slim and is meant mostly to accompany the photos.

flower3

What I liked: Again, the photos are really beautiful and inspirational in themselves (the photos above come from her website; I want the pictures in the book to be a surprise for those who choose read it!). Chezar includes many photos of bouquets along with the ‘recipe’ to go along with that were a lot of fun to look through. She includes some useful and basic tips on how to make bouquets, what tools she uses, and a chart in the back of which flowers are in which season (probably what I will use the most often).

My absolute favorite thing about the book are her double-page photos of flowers arranged by specific colors (‘smoky mauve’, ‘blue mood’, ‘luminous yellow’).

What I am not so sure about: There’s nothing I dislike about the book! The only thing I was unclear about is who exactly is the target audience? Buying and growing flowers take a good amount of time and money. For me, it will be a long time until I have the resources needed to collect the ingredients for making any single one of her arrangements, but it sure is nice to have this book to look at in the mean time.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review!