Friday, June 25, 2010

Foodie Fridays: My Favorite Places to Eat in Nashville

Sadly, whenever I plan a trip home, one of the main things that my sister and I plot out is the restaurants we want to go to while I'm in Nashville. Although we should probably venture out and try more new places, here are my tried and true places to get a bite to eat in Nashville:

Anatolia: I know that there must be excellent Turkish restaurants in Boston, none that I have tried compare to Anatolia. Although this restaurant is situated in a strip mall, the food here is first rate. From the fresh bread and spiced olive oil served before each meal to the hearty (and generous) entrees to the decadent baklava, everything I've ever had here has been excellent. The one caveat to the place is that the service can be inconsistent, but I am willing to overlook a less than friendly waiter for the good food (and the good prices). If you are going through Hot Kabobs withdrawal (like my sister, who loved this tiny Nashvillian restaurant), Anatolia is a good choice.

Bobbie's Dairy Dip
: I used to eat here so much that it is embarrassing. Besides being deliciously retro (it is housed in an old drive-in), this restaurant also serves wonderful burgers, fries (Belgian style), onion rings, and soft serve ice cream.

The Cupcake Collection
: Cupcake places seem like a dime a dozen in almost any city, but The Cupcake Collection has a number of advantages over many (if not all) of them. In addition to the excellent frosting to cake ratio (they don't go overboard on the frosting, which is very important to me), the cake is always moist and light. This bakery also offers some delicious flavors, including strawberry (my sister's favorite), sweet potato, coconut cream, key lime, and red velvet. When added to the fact that the cupcakes are only $1.50 each (take that, Magnolia Bakery!) and that the staff is always friendly, this just might be cupcake heaven.

The Loveless Cafe: While it is a bit of a tourist trap, the Loveless has great country-style cooking (biscuits, fried chicken, country ham. My personal favorite things about the Loveless are the sweet tea and the biscuits and preserves that come with most (if not all) of the meals. If you can't make it to Nashville, the Loveless also ships its preserves, biscuit mix, and other items. While the biscuit mix can't compare to getting the real thing in the restaurant, it is an acceptable substitute.

Pancake Pantry
: This is another tourist trap, but it has certainly earned its reputation as being a place to go when in Nashville. With over 20 varieties, the pancakes are the main draw here, but definitely try the hash browns. Also, avoid this place on the weekend, unless you feel like waiting in line for what seems like an eternity.

: Located near Vanderbilt, this Asian grill is a hidden jewel among all of the fast food joints and chain restaurants in the area. Not only is it fast, it is also a pretty cheap place to grab a nutritious and tasty meal.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Literary Guilty Pleasures

NPR's All Things Considered has an ongoing series that features authors' confessions about their own literary guilty pleasures. These potentially embarrassing reads include the risque Peyton Place and the taboo (and so bad it's good) Flowers in the Attic. Additionally, some male authors admit to liking books that are considered feminine reads, such as Twilight and the Rosemary Rogers' bodice-ripper Sweet Savage Love. If I didn't love Jack Murnighan before, I love him for admitting his affection for this book.

That said, I have a number of guilty pleasure books hidden away in the confines of my bookshelves. While I wouldn't be caught dead with some of these books in public, they are some of my closet favorites. Besides some romance novels (I'm a picky romance reader, and tend to be stuck on ones from my younger days), I also love children's books. My absolute favorites may be Beverly Cleary's Ramona series. Yes, I know that these books are for children, but I probably read the entire Ramona series (or at least the books that I have) once a year. Cleary perfectly portrays the misadventures of Ramona Quimby, a girl who tends to be too imaginative for her own good. I particularly love Cleary's portrayal of a child's feelings of being misunderstood and helpless. However, it never gets too dark; in a world of depressing children's stories, Ramona is a happy (but not too happy) respite.

Do you have any books that you secretly love (even though you would rather die a thousand deaths before reading them in public)? Please feel free to list some of your guilty pleasures in the comments section!

What to Do When You're in Nashville

Sorry I've been MIA recently, but I just got back from a quick trip to my hometown. Even though I like Boston, there is a lot I love about Nashville. Although Nashville is probably best known for country music (sigh), it is far from the only thing worth visiting in the city. If you are headed down to Tennessee but have no idea what to do once you get there, here are a few humble suggestions:

Take a stroll through Centennial Park: Not only is the park beautiful, but it is also home to a replica of the Parthenon, complete with a statue of Athena. While someone had the terribly misguided idea to gild Athena at some point during my high school/college years, standing at the foot of the statue is still an awe-inspiring experience (just don't look at her too long - you might be blinded). As an added bonus, Centennial Park also has some great programs in the summer, including Movies in the Park and Shakespeare in the Park.

Spend some quality time in the main branch of the Nashville Public Library: The Nashville Public Library holds a special place in my heart. Besides being gorgeous, the main branch has a great non-fiction section and a wonderful cafe. Even though parking can be a bit tricky, spending the day there is definitely worth the minor hassle.

Visit the Frist Center for the Visual Arts: Another beautiful building in the city, the Frist hosts a number of rotating exhibitions as well as some work by local artists.

Window shop in downtown Franklin: One of my friends once said that downtown Franklin has a quaint, almost Mayberryish feel to it (with a little Stepford thrown in for good measure). While she didn't mean it in a complimentary way, I actually like downtown Franklin's square and their assortment of (mostly) independent shops. My personal favorite place to visit there is Bathos, which is like a less aggressive version of Lush (which I love but find too fragrant sometimes).

Pet the kittens and puppies at Love at First Site: Before I got a cat, I got my kitten-fix at this kitten and puppy adoption center in Sylvan Park. The staff is super-friendly, and the kittens and puppies are beyond cute.

Stay tuned for my favorite places to eat in Nashville!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Stupid Digital Television

I'm visiting my brother, and while he has a digital converter box, CBS is not coming through. This means I'm missing the Tonys. This also means that, much to my chagrin, I will not be able to do my usual deconstruction/critique of the Tonys on my blog. Stupid digital television...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dissecting Glee: "Journey to Regionals"

One of my secret ambitions is to be a theatre critic (I came really close once, but the gig didn't work out). While I probably need to be made of sterner stuff to be a critic, I still get a kick out of reviewing musical numbers. Therefore, I'm dissecting parts of the season finale of Glee. Just to clarify, this isn't a recap (I seriously considered calling it a Gleecap, but that was just too annoying) as much as it is a review of the sections that I found noteworthy. Let's get started with the songs...

"Faithfully/Touchin', Lovin', Squeezing/Anyway You Want It/Don't Stop Believin'":
I love a good '80s power ballad, and this mash-up/medley fit the bill nicely. Besides tying in very nicely to the pilot, the songs really fit the performers' voices. While Cory Monteith (Finn) sometimes gets flack on the TWOP forums for not having the greatest voice (and for the producers' prodigious use of Auto-Tune to correct it), I thought that "Faithfully" (as well as "Jesse's Girl" earlier this season) was perfect for him. Also, considering that the group is mix of people with different dancing abilities, the number's staging made sense. No, it wasn't nearly as ambitious (or insane) as Vocal Adrenaline's "Bohemian Rhapsody" choreography, but New Directions' staging looked like something that would be feasible for an actual high school show choir.

On a more shallow note, I should be making fun of the girls' use of Bumpits, but given that the entire look had a 1960s vibe (which is a little strange, since the music was solidly planted in the 1980s), the look worked. I also am digging the boys' black outfits with gold ties and the girls' gold dresses. The costumer for this show deserves serious props for finding a single dress that looks good on a bunch of different body types.

Questions, Observations, and Minor Nitpicks:
  • Did anyone else think that Rachel was channeling Celine Dion during the beginning of "Faithfully"?
  • I love Brad (the piano player for New Directions); he always looks so happy and into it when the kids are singing, regardless of who is singing and what the song is. His face during the middle part of the medley was priceless.
  • During a reaction shot of the judges during the number, I could see Quinn's mom sitting behind them, even though she didn't come in until later in the number. However, consistency/logic has never been Glee's strong suit.
  • Did we really need a key change in "Don't Stop Believin'"?
"Bohemian Rhapsody" and The Birth of Beth/Drizzle
While I can accept that New Directions lost to VA (I didn't think that ND would win going into Regionals), I refuse to accept that "Bohemian Rhapsody" would win over the Journey medley. VA has done some impressive numbers, including the incredible version of "Rehab" from one of the first episodes of the season. However, "Bohemian Rhapsody" left me cold for a number of reasons. Besides the fact that it was pretty much a showcase for Jonathan Groff, who did most of the heavy lifting in terms of the vocals, the choreography was just too over the top for me. I could accept the polish of "Rehab," but "BH" was just too much. Also, I am still PISSED at Jesse and VA for egging Rachel, so there was no way I was going to be able to enjoy "BH" without some sort of serious comeuppance. Seriously, VA needs to cure cancer or something before I can appreciate a number the group does on its own terms.

On the other hand, "Bohemian Rhapsody" worked well as a parallel for the birth of Beth/Drizzle. The cuts were sharp and well-chosen, so hat's off to the choreographer, director, and editor. I am still highly amused by the juxtaposition of Quinn's screams with the song and with the doctor saying "The baby's crowning" with VA surrounding Jesse and him popping out of the center of the crowd. In fact, the editing/birth of the baby was the one thing that kept me from flipping channels during "BH."

"To Sir, with Love":
I don't like the song "To Sir, with Love," and I didn't really expect to like this number because of the maudlin nature of the song (I always think of this scene from Boy Meets World when I think of the song). That said, this number was surprisingly moving. The lead-up to the song, with each of the club members telling Will how they have changed over the course of the year, was genuinely sad (even though Mercedes's line "Glee club will never end, Mr. Schue, 'cause you are glee club. You're in all of us now" did make me roll my eyes).

The arrangement worked well and parts of it had a definite 1960s, girl-group flavor. Also, the very minimal staging really made the viewer focus on the song, the kids, and Will, who was appropriately choked up during the proceedings. The fact that the kids also looked completely stricken during the song made me forget about my cynicism about the song and get lost in the moment.

While it might seem out of character for some of the characters, such as Santana, to get so emotional about the thought of the end of glee club (it is very likely that the cast was so emotional about it being the end of the season), I thought that, given the capricious and emotional nature of teenagers, it worked. I also liked the shot of Sue watching from the back of the auditorium. Again, her softening up might seem OOC, but she was definitely in a more vulnerable place after that crazy confrontation in the judges' room.

"Over the Rainbow":
I have surprisingly little to say about this song. Matthew Morrison and Mark Salling did a beautiful job harmonizing, and the kids' reactions were very sweet. However, while it is nice to know that New Directions would live to see another day (not that there was much doubt for the audience - the show's been picked up for a second and third season), I can't help but think that "To Sir, with Love" would have made a more powerful ending to the season. However, since I like resolution, I'd probably be bitching if things were left up in the air.

Overall, "Journey to Regionals" reminded me of what I loved about the show. Despite the breakneck pace of the first season and the multitude of unresolved plotlines (Jesse, what the hell happened?), I plan on tuning in for the show's second season.

Please feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section. Also, I'm toying with the idea of making this Glee dissection a semi-regular part of the blog. Any takers?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Glee: Some Thoughts on the First Season

Oh Glee, how far you've come. Since the show debuted a year ago, the cast has become very popular (and almost annoyingly ubiquitous), and the series has become something of a cultural phenomenon. That said, the first season has had a lot of highs and lows, and ultimately, I have found it entertaining if rather uneven.

The pilot was very promising, and I have must admit that the first half of the season, which ended with "Sectionals" was strong. Even with some strange missteps, such as "Acafellas" and two crazy pregnancy plots, the first set of episodes had a nice mix of snark, snap, heart, and music. Not only was the show's tone fairly consistent, but the musical numbers were well selected and entertaining (if somewhat over produced). "Sectionals" was an extraordinarily satisfying close to the first half of the season, and I couldn't wait for the second half to start in April.

And then, when the show returned, something was very off (at least to me). Watching the back nine episodes has been a somewhat schizophrenic experience. Mixed in with some fun moments, such as "Like a Virgin" and "Gives You Hell," there have been way too many after-school special/one to grow on episodes. As much as I loved the Mercedes-Quinn bonding in this second half of the season, episodes like "Laryngitis" and even (sigh) "The Power of Madonna" left me cold. In fact, besides "Journey," which had me weeping like a baby, the only episode I thoroughly enjoyed from the second half of the season was "Dream On," which managed to combine Neil Patrick Harris, Joss Whedon, and "Safety Dance."

Besides the sometimes overly didactic tone, there were some other notable problems with the back nine. Perhaps the two most glaring problems have to do with the show's admittedly well-deserved popularity. In some cases, it really felt like the show was buying into its own hype. Rather than having songs that wove into the plot seamlessly, we were treated to theme episodes. "The Power of Madonna," which I really wanted to like, and "Theatricality" seemed to have the songs pre-selected without regard to the plots or storylines.

The other issue is that many of the plot devices seemed thrown in to appeal to the show's clamoring fan base. Why not have Jonathan Groff play Rachel's love interest? The fans want Idina Menzel to play Rachel's mother - let's get on that! This, along with the bizarre themes for each episode (funk, home, dreams, hello), made the show seem like it was making things up as it went along, rather than having a well-developed idea of where it was going. Sometimes, watching a given episode seemed more like Glee crossed with an insane version of Mad Libs. While taking the fans' suggestions and ideas to heart is admirable, it is also important to not just cater to the fans' whims but to also have a strong story.

This is not to say that I am giving up on Glee just yet. "Journey" did a lot to redeem the show, at least from my perspective. Although the plot still went at breakneck speed, there was a lot to like about this season ender. The songs, particularly the Journey medley, did a nice job of calling back to the pilot, and even though "To Sir, with Love" had me rolling my eyes a little, it still got me choked up. Also, I thought the redemption of Sue made some sense. Besides her quick defense of the kids in New Directions when confronted with outsiders trying to tear them down, I could honestly buy that she wants to have Will and his club around to antagonize next year. Plus, since I believe Will when he said that Sue really loves her students, I like to think that she didn't want to hurt them by having the club disbanded, particularly after hearing them sing to Will in the auditorium.

I might write a little more on Glee this summer; since Fox is showing all of the episodes again, it will be interesting to see how they hold up to another viewing...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Looking Ahead to the Tonys

I must admit, I'm not all that jazzed about the Tony Awards this year. Besides the fact that I will watching them with my brother and sister, there isn't a lot that excites me about the performance. While there are some definite heavy hitters among the nominees (the Leading Actor in a Play nominees include Denzel Washington, Alfred Molina, and Christopher Walken), the musicals, which are, to me, the main attraction, don't excite me very much. I'm unfamiliar with the new musicals, and while the revivals have gotten some excellent reviews, the show that I would love to see (Ragtime) has already closed and it isn't likely that they will have a snippet to show during the ceremony.

That said, here are my two wishes for next Sunday's ceremonies:
  • They actually pay some attention to the plays. Honestly, if Scarlett Johansson and Denzel Washington can't get the nominated plays some television time, then the plays will never get a fair shake.
  • I want Sean Hayes to win Best Actor in a Musical just so the guy who wrote this article can go suck it. Incidentally, the writer has tried to backtrack and say that he was trying to start a dialog (insert an eye roll here).
If you are looking for more Tony fever than I can muster up this year, the New York Times has an entire section dedicated to the Tony Awards. Ben Brantley's Did He Like It site also has a page listing the nominees with illustrations of what Brantley thought of the best play and musical nominees.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Tony Fever

The Tony Awards are just a few days away, but I have been very bad about posting anything about them. However, I hope to remedy that this weekend! Stay tuned...

Foodie Fridays: Simple but Satisfying

Since warm weather (and farmer's markets) have come to the Boston area, I've found myself opting for light dinners with very minimal cooking. Besides the occasional dinner of scrambled eggs, I've also started eating a lot of salads. Even though I love meat, salads make a lot of sense when it's too hot to cook.

My sudden salad obsession has also been fueled by the wonder that is homemade salad dressing. For years, I've resisted making it, because it seemed like something that was certainly passable when purchased. Previous attempts to make grocery store staples (like graham crackers and marshmallows) also seemed to disappoint. However, one sleepless night, I got bored and started messing around in the kitchen with a balsamic vinaigrette. Here is my recipe (adapted from the excellent one found in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything):

1/3 cup olive oil (if you have good olive oil, use it, but my cheapo stuff worked well)
2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (or to taste)
salt and pepper
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of honey
dried dill

Combine the olive oil and vinegar (Bittman suggests using a blender, but I used a whisk and it worked out fine). Add a dash of dill as well as the garlic and honey. Whisk/blend to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

This can be refrigerated, but be certain to let it warm up a bit and whisk to combine before serving.

A nice accompaniment to the salad is Bittman's olive oil bread, which is sort of like a biscuit. Since my cupboard was very close to bare, I made a half recipe of it and it was perfect for dipping in the vinaigrette.