Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Moment of Sincerity from Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear
Jon Stewart - Moment of Sincerity
Rally to Restore Sainty and/or FearThe Daily ShowThe Colbert Report

Friday, October 22, 2010

Literary Halloween Costumes: Couples Edition

Let's face it; Halloween, with its perfect storm of strange behavior and slutty costumes, seems to be the ultimate single person's holiday. Unlike Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year's/Valentine's Day, Halloween is a haven for single people looking to act out, dress inappropriately, and hook up. However, if you are in a couple, fear not! Halloween also gives couples the excuse to act dysfunctional or to find a pretty easy compromise when it comes to costumes (he wants something scary, she wants something elegant). To go along with my earlier posts on literary costumes from last year and this year, here are some costume ideas to help you celebrate Halloween with your other half:
  • Heathcliff & Catherine from Wuthering Heights: If you find yourself in a rather unhealthy (but passionate) relationship, dressing as Heathcliff and Catherine gives you and your significant other the perfect excuse to scream at each other (or, conversely, to ignore each other and try to make each other jealous) in public all in the name of "being in character." For Heathcliff, he will need black slacks, black boots, and a black, button-down shirt. Wild hair and crazy (but mesmerizing) eyes are huge bonuses. Her costume is a little more difficult, since a period gown would be nice. However, a gown with a voluminous skirt, a shawl, and an elaborate updo would definitely work in a pinch.
  • The Phantom & Christine from The Phantom of the Opera: Since the musical has become entrenched in people's minds as what the Phantom and Christine should look like, these costumes are not that difficult. The Phantom could definitely get away with dark slacks, a vest, and a white shirt as long as he had the iconic mask (easily found in most costume shops). If he could get a tux or black tie and tails, so much the better. Christine is pretty easy, since a white gown and long hair (dark or otherwise) would work. To be cute (or annoying, you decide), carry around a small boom box or ipod with speakers playing "Music of the Night" constantly.
  • Dr. Frankenstein & his Monster from Frankenstein: If both partners want to wear something creepy, Dr. Frankenstein and his Monster (who is not named Frankenstein) would be easy to put together. Dr. Frankenstein just needs a suit or a lab coat. Even though most people think of something that looks like Lurch when they think of the Monster, he/she could just wear ragged clothing and hideous makeup (think pale skin, scars, etc.) to signify that he/she is the reanimated dead.
  • Lenny & George from Of Mice and Men: This is perfect for two guys or any couple with disparate heights/body types. Overalls or jeans and dark shirts would work for both guys. Get Lenny a stuffed rabbit to pet.
  • Robin Hood and Maid Marian from The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood: Although a green tunic, tights, and hat is the traditional look for Robin (thanks Errol Flynn/Disney), he can also wear darker, less monochromatic clothing. Boots, dark slacks, and a dark shirt would suffice as long as he has a bow and quiver of arrows. Maid Marian needs a gown and headpiece/hat. A corset-style top on the dress is a plus.
Couple/Duo Costumes from Children's Books:
  • Pooh and Piglet from Winnie-the-Pooh: Like Lenny and George, Pooh and Piglet would benefit from a couple with different heights and body types, but this would be cute worn by anyone. For Pooh, you could go to the trouble of renting or making a costume, but a red shirt, some ears, a large pot (with "Hunny" written on it), and some yellow face makeup (with a black nose) would work too. Piglet just needs pink tights and a leotard/shirt/shorts and pink ears and makeup. If being Piglet doesn't appeal, the other person could easily dress up like Christopher Robin by wearing a polo shirt, shorts, socks, and shoes (British accent optional)
  • Curious George & the Man in the Yellow Hat: Too easy - George needs a tail and ears (or a monkey headpiece or hat), and he can get away with wearing brown sweats or a brown shirt and pants. The Man in the Yellow Hat needs to wear yellow, but the most important piece of this costume is the yellow hat. You can buy one online or make it yourself.
  • Dorothy & the Scarecrow/Lion/Tin Man/Toto/Wicked Witch/Glinda from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Dorothy's costume is simple but iconic; besides the blue-and-white checked dress and basket, she will need ruby slippers or silver shoes (depending on if you want to pay homage to the Judy Garland movie or the original books). Depending on what you have available (and who Dorothy's partner will be), Dorothy's partner could be a good witch (poufy pastel dress, wand, tiara) or a bad witch (black dress, green face, pointy hat, broomstick). He/she could also go as one or Dorothy's friends. The Scarecrow is probably the easiest costume to come up with on short notice. Besides some makeup and hay, all you need are some ragged clothes and a willingness to stumble around all night.

Foodie Fridays: Carmelized Onion & Bacon Pizza

Although I have nothing against bacon, I admit that I don't always understand the bacon craze. Why would anyone want deep fried bacon? Or bacon cupcakes? Or turbaconducken? However, in some recipes, bacon makes perfect sense. Its crispness and smoky flavor make the perfect contrast with creamy ricotta and sweet onions. This pizza recipe, adapted from Savory Bites and Smitten Kitchen, is the perfect end-of-the-week meal for an evening of television, surfing the net, or even (in my case) updating your curriculum vitae and getting ready to apply to grown-up jobs.

2/3 cup ricotta (give or take a little)
1 red onion
4-5 strips of bacon
1 tsp. brown sugar
a pinch of salt
2 Tbls. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Pizza dough (I used approximately 1 pound of dough, which I purchased from a local pizza place)
Mozzarella and parmesean (if you so desire)

1. Cook your bacon until just crisp. You can use leftover bacon or you can simply cook it in the oven while you are preparing the onions. Drain the bacon and chop into bite-size pieces. If you didn't cook your bacon in the oven, turn your oven to 350 degrees to let it preheat.

2. Chop the onions so you get half rings. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sprinkle them with the brown sugar and salt. Sautee the onions for 15-20 minutes until they are dark brown and sweet.

3. Put parchment paper on a baking sheet and sprinkle the paper with cornmeal (you can use a pizza stone if you have one). Roll the pizza dough out on the prepared baking sheet. You can create a crust by pressing your fingers into the dough. Brush the dough with the remaining olive oil, and sprinkle it with minced garlic.

4. Spread the ricotta cheese on the pizza dough. Top the cheese with the onions and bacon. If you like, you can also sprinkle on some mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.

5. Bake the pizza at 350 for 15 minutes, and then bake it for 5 minutes at 400 degrees. My oven is evil and burned (or "carmelized," as my friend likes to say) the bottom of my crust. However, this did not detract from the yumminess of this pizza.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Literary Halloween Party Ideas

Since I've tackled literary-themed Halloween costumes last year and this year (with a couples version coming up!), I thought I might try to come up with some literature-themed Halloween party ideas. Beyond the obvious idea for having a Halloween party with a general literary theme and telling guests to come as their favorite character from literature, here are a few more ideas I came up with:

Alice in Wonderland: Whether you are partial to the Disney cartoon or the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton version is your cup of tea (pun intended), this theme is very flexible. Besides having a mad tea party, you could also hold the party in the Queen of Hearts's court, complete with jam tarts and red (and white) roses. This is also the perfect theme if you want to be a little quirky/eccentric, since Wonderland is many shades of crazy. As an added bonus, Alice in Wonderland has a ton of characters, so this gives your guests a range of characters to dress up as. If you need more inspiration, Lenny's Alice in Wonderland site has a lot of excellent party ideas ranging from the menu to the party favors.

The Great Gatsby: If you are looking for something with a more adult theme and you want to give your guests a chance to dress to the nines in fabulous 1920s regalia, then a Great Gatsby-themed party might be right for you. If you want to pay homage to one of Jay Gatsby's parties, then break out the champagne, decorate everything in art deco, and be a little (or very) ostentatious. For something a little more low-key, you can replicate the reunion tea that Nick had at his humble abode, which featured the usual suspects in terms of an afternoon tea. Party Remedies also offers some easy ideas.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: This is another child-friendly theme, and I could see it being a lot of fun for a neighborhood party. Besides decorating your front door to look like a wardrobe, you could take advantage of anyplace that has their Christmas decor out by transforming your party room into a winter wonderland (since Narnia is in perpetual winter until Aslan returns). You could serve Turkish delight as well as tea party foods (what is it with all of these books and tea?). has a surprisingly elaborate list of ideas that can make your Narnia party one to remember.

If you don't want to commit to just one book, you can throw a party with a specific genre as the theme. This could be particularly fun for several reasons. Besides utilizing all the cliches of the genre, this theme is a little more open-ended, so you have a little more wiggle room in terms of what the party can include and guests can be more creative when it comes to costumes. In terms of genres, the possibilities seem endless, but here two of my favorites:

A (bad) romance-novel themed party: Even though there are some good romance novels out there, most people are more familiar with the stereotypes associated with the genre. This can allow you to let the party be delightfully tacky and over-the-top. For the decorations, you can go crazy with boldly colored pillows, flowers, and candles. Or, if you want more of an exotic theme, try to go for the harem look with a tent and vaguely Middle Eastern decorations (authenticity is not the point - this is a bad romance party). The food should be finger food, or you could go a different route and serve things that are insanely suggestive (or completely in your face).

Just for fun (and because you can probably go to a used book store, library book sale, or flea market and buy these by the ton), use Harlequin Presents romances as party favors. Honestly, what is a better icebreaker than letting your guests look at books with titles like Powerful Greek, Housekeeper Wife? You could even hold a contest for the most ludicrous passage in a book.

A mystery: Besides the ubiquitous murder-mystery theme, you could go a little more PG and just have a regular mystery for the guests to solve. Set the mood with a dark, spooky atmosphere in the house. Invite guests to dress up like their favorite sleuths (Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, and Miss Marple come to mind), and have them solve puzzles to earn more clues.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dissecting Glee: "Grilled Cheesus"

It has been a crazy month, but I really wanted to write a post about the latest episode of Glee. Up until yesterday, Glee had been a huge disappointment since it returned for its second season. I found "Audition" annoying and the Britney Spears episode tedious and inane (similar to Britney herself). When I found out that Ryan Murphy and company were going to do a serious episode about faith and religion, I braced myself and mentally prepared to break up with Glee forever. Since Glee doesn't do subtle particularly well, I expected "Grilled Chesus" to be ridiculously anvilicious at best, insulting at worst. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the episode, and I thought that it was the best episode of the season so far.

First off, let me just say that "Grilled Cheesus" is probably one of the most divisive episode of Glee, and a quick peek at the Glee forums at Television without Pity indicates that most reactions will fall into one of three camps. The first camp was horribly offended by the portrayal of religion (and, in some cases, atheism) in this episode, the second camp thought that it was too maudlin and over-the-top, and the third camp found the episode's treatment of religion thoughtful (even if the episode itself was a little too heavy handed). I happen to fall in the third category, but I can definitely see how some people's mileage may vary.

The Plot: As I mentioned, tackling religion on a show that is equal parts camp, soap opera, and American Idol is a risky venture. It really surprised me how angry some people were on the TWOP forums about the portrayal of religion and atheism. I thought that the show did a good job looking at all of the different aspects of religion and how people view religion. Even as it questioned the view of God as a combination of a genie and a concierge (see Finn's absurd and selfish wishes when he prays to the apparition of Jesus on the grilled cheese sandwich), it also acknowledged that spirituality can mean different things to different people. Finally, and most tellingly, it presented the atheist perspective without forcing Kurt and Sue to renounce their atheism or finding a neat and tidy resolution to the characters' doubts about God.

The Music: There was a lot of music in this episode, and I must admit that I didn't pay much attention to some of the songs. One of my nitpicks is that, with the overabundance of music featured in "Grilled Chesus," some of the songs that deserved more airtime were cut. In all honesty, I really could have done without "I Look to You" and "Papa, Can You Hear Me?", which took me out of the moment because, rather than thinking about Yentl and Streisand, all I could think about was Nelson Muntz singing it on The Simpsons. That said, I found myself really loving several of the numbers.

"Only the Good Die Young" - I love how Puck tried using this song to substantiate his claim that religion and spirituality is about making the most of the time you have. As a former Catholic school girl, I couldn't help but laugh at Puck's reasoning. However, I appreciated the lightness of the number and how much fun the characters seemed to be having during the song.

"I Want to Hold Your Hand" - This was a devastating sequence and arrangement. Also, the actor they got to play young Kurt looked uncannily like Chris Colfer. That is all I have to say - I have something in my eye...

"One of Us" - This is the song that should have been longer, and not just because the cast looked amazing in their white and black ensembles. It seemed like the perfect ending to the episode, and the minimal staging highlighted the music. My only issue (besides the truncated length of the song) was the final cut to Finn's empty plate. It just felt a little strange, even though the director probably wanted to leave the audience with a fairly open-ended ending image. Rather than having a shot of the cast (bathed in the ethereally white light of the stage) or of a recovering Mr. Hummel (both of which could be construed as religion saving the day), showing the empty plate and crumpled plastic wrap certainly made the ending ambiguous.

Other Observations:
  • Even though subtlety is far from this show's strong point, there were quite a few tiny moments that were well done. For instance, the scene where Kurt, Emma, and Will are in the waiting room at the hospital, and Emma slips her hand into Will's was a wonderfully understated touch.
  • I love that crazy, evil Sue is juxtaposed with her softer side. Her relationship with her sister is lovely.
  • This episode also showed us the nicer side of Santana, Puck, and Brittany. They all seemed very genuine when they were talking to Kurt.
  • For all of her quirks, Emma actually gives pretty good advice.