Down and Out in Denver

Happy Birthday Dolly!

Posted in movies, music by Blake on January 19, 2011

The One and Only Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton, Kennedy Center honoree, multi-Grammy winner, Platinum-record singer-songwriter, actress, native of Sevier County, Tennessee, Ms. Magazine woman of the year (1986), crusader for child literacy, founder of Dollywood, and Queen of Country Music, is 65 today.  The woman is both a flat-out musical genius and a sheer delight of a human being.  I’m also pretty sure that she’s my favorite singer of all time: the early classics, the ’80s over-produced schmaltz, and the recent haunting bluegrass.  All of it.

Happy 65th, Dolly!

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Oscar Feast!

Posted in denver, entertainment, fashion, food, movies, parties by Blake on March 8, 2010

My friend Nancy is visiting from out of town for the weekend and so on Saturday night Alastair and I decided to take her to our very favorite Denver restaurant, Potager (see Alastair’s very favorable review here).  It was, and it pains me to say this, a little disappointing. The appetizers — wilted savory greens, spinach and mushroom toast — were both fantastic.  The main courses, however, not so much.  The shellfish stew was more broth with scallops and mussels than it was stew as I understand the term, all topped off with a saffron aioli, which proceeded to disintegrate into unappetizing floating clumps in the broth.  I like mayonnaise in pretty much any form but this was distinctly unappetizing.  Nancy and Alastair both got the roast chicken and while the bird itself was well cooked, the jumble of accompaniments just didn’t work that well, and seemed to be different from what usually comes with the chicken.  This time: arugula, dried apples(?), pine nuts, olives, and about fifteen other things. One got the impression that Potager might have been trying to clean out its fridge.  The flourless chocolate cake, however, was divine.  And the service, as always, was fantastic.

Alastair's Sardine Toast with my Canadian Flag Cocktail Napkins and Grandmother's Monogram Plates

But after a disappointing dinner Alastair and I felt duty-bound  to prepare something pretty fantastic for the out-of-towner, especially as we were going to be settling in for a long night of Oscar-watching chez moi. And a veritable feast it was!  We began with Alastair’s signature sardine toast: sardines, lemon, mustard, minced onion, oil, and butter, all combined and then toasted on a baguette. Delicious.

Caesar Salad with PLENTY of Anchovies

Loyal DOD readers may recall that Alastair and I have ordered a number of disappointing Caesar salads of late, so I decided it was time to make it right.  I used my grandmother’s recipe for the dressing (as well as her bowl), fried my own croutons (pictured below) and Alastair brought over plenty of anchovies.  It was all topped off by some grated parmesan, and I have to say it was pretty amazing.  Tangy and salty and crunchy and thoroughly unhealthy, the croutons particularly.  I think it was seeing the amount of butter and oil I used that might have given Nancy a heart attack, not the croutons themselves.

Homemade Croutons cooked in a gallon of oil and pound of butter

English Cucumber

We finished the meal with a delicious pasta salad prepared by Alastair: shrimp, dill, and English cucumbers, all tossed with perfectly cooked shell pasta and a tangy lemony dressing.  Unfortunately my pictures of this scrumptious concoction all came out blurry.  Maybe a consequence of all the wine we had consumed by that point?

On to the Oscars:  We began eating and drinking and watching at 4:00 as E! began its red carpet coverage.  I always find these things a little bit painful as the hosts bend over backwards to ingratiate themselves with the celebrities.  Though we were grateful it wasn’t Joan and Melissa Rivers, Ryan Seacrest wasn’t much of an improvement.  I just felt embarrassed for him.  That said, he was leagues better than the horrendous Kathy Ireland, Sherri Shepherd, and Jess Cagle, who were hosting ABC’s half-hour coverage before the show actually began.  Ireland, looking far too skinny, was, in a word, wooden.  And yet absurdly peppy at the same time!!!!  All inflection seemed to be thoroughly rehearsed. Please take her away and never let her do this again!

The awards went to the predicted winners.  There weren’t really any surprises.  We all cheered for Kathryn Bigelow as much for the fact that she beat out her ex-husband, James Cameron as for her being the first woman to win an Oscar for directing.  Suck it, Jimmy!  And I loved Sandra Bullock’s remarkably gracious acceptance speech, as she wittily acknowledged the other actresses in her category, gave a shout-out to mothers, and spoke about her own mother’s influence, particularly her insistence that no person, regardless of race, religion, color, class, or sexual orientation, is better than anyone else.  I am also very much a fan of the format where each best actor/actress nominee gets a little speech delivered by someone who knows them.  Many were quite touching.

As for dress, the real reason to watch, it was the general consensus of the room that the following looked horrible: Vera Farmiga (even though we love her); SJP (who fiddled with her neckline the whole night and seemed to have bathed in bronzer); Charlize Theron (who has to really work to look bad); Zoe Saldana (were those ornamental cabbages on her dress?); Kate Winslet (great from the waist up but otherwise seemed to be wearing separates, not a dress; maybe a twinset?); and Miley Cyrus.  We were fans of the sartorial choices of Sandra Bullock, Rachel McAdams (Canadian!), Queen Latifah (all hail the Queen!), Carey Mulligan (hair, not dress), Julianne Moore, Helen Mirren, and Oprah Winfrey. George Clooney’s hair was horrendous and his attitude even worse.  And finally, James Cameron’s wife needs to investigate the power of food; not only is it tasty, it also covers up your jutting collar bone!

Pizza Found!

Posted in bars, food, movies by Blake on March 1, 2010

Readers of DOD may remember my post of a number of weeks ago in which I lamented my inability to find good pizza here in the Mile High City.  Some of you wrote in with suggestions.  I am happy to report that in the last weekend I enjoyed not one, but two good pizzas.  The first was at Osteria Marco (which Alastair wrote about yesterday here).  The second was to be found at Proto’s Pizza on Platte at 15th in LoDo.

Delicious! More, please!

After a later night on Friday Alastair and I decided to take it easy on Saturday and so we headed to Proto’s for a pizza.  Though it was crowded we were seated immediately.  We each opted for a beer and then set about deciding what to order.  We ended up splitting a large caesar salad to begin.  The dressing was tasty, tart, and salty.  The extra-large croutons (almost like wedges of a pita with herbs and seasonings) were quite nice.  The promised anchovies, however, amounted to only two.  I recognize that some people may not like anchovies all that much but those people can request to have them left off their caesar salad.  For some of us, the anchovies are at least half the draw in the first place.  More, please!

Alastair, who had visited Proto’s before, assured me that a small pizza would be plenty for one person, so we ordered one each.  I went for the Proto: tomato sauce and mozzarella, basil and sausage. Alastair was in the mood for a white pizza and got for the Pontiff: olive oil, garlic, fresh spinach, mozzarella and feta cheeses.  Normally it would also have sundried tomatoes but Alastair substituted roasted red peppers, despite the fact that the menu explicitly discourages substitutions. He’s cheeky that way sometimes.  The pizzas were great: thin-crusted, well sauced, and with plenty of cheese.  They were not, alas, large enough.  I’ve got a big appetite and I could easily have consumed two smalls, meaning that I would advise a medium for one person.  If you’ve got leftovers, you can always take them home.  But they’re so tasty, this seems unlikely!

Because we were both still a little hungry we said “yes” to dessert, which is not our customary answer to that query.  I had the New York cheesecake with a raspberry coulis and Alastair sampled the affogato: ice cream (he chose vanilla) in a shot of espresso.  I am very picky about my cheesecake so this was a bit of a risk.  To my mind cheesecake should be seriously dense, have a great graham cracker crust, and should always be served quite cold.  I’m also a purist; while I recognize that there are many fun flavor combinations to be had, I much prefer the traditional version.  If done right, it’s got enough flavor without messing with things.  And I’m happy to report that Proto’s did not disappoint.  It fulfilled all my requirements and thus I cleaned my plate within about 2 and a half minutes.  Delicious!

After dinner we had a quick drink at the nearby My Brother’s Bar (which is currently stocked to the rafters with Girl Scout cookies; they have a large sign advertising themselves as an “official” sales site) and then headed off to the Tivoli to see a showing of “An Education,” the British film about a 1960s schoolgirl named Jenny (played by Carey Mulligan) who is seduced by a dashing older man (played by Peter Sarsgaard) and risks her chances of an Oxford education as a result.  It’s pretty fantastic.  Mulligan is excellent, as are Rosamund Pike as the Sarsgaard’s friend; Emma Thompson as a stern headmistress; Alfred Molina as Jenny’s oafish father; Cara Seymour as her mother; and Olivia Williams as Jenny’s idealistic teacher who says, in one particularly poignant line, that it would simply break her heart if Jenny doesn’t go to Oxford.  I will leave that question unanswered but suffice it to say that the movie is well worth seeing and that I am now excited to have seen at least one movie that has been nominated for an Oscar.  And to have sampled some excellent Denver pizza.  Now if only these places would deliver!

Celine: Through the Eyes of the World

Posted in movies, music by Alastair on February 17, 2010

Be prepared. As Blake reads this post, an audible gasp will be heard around the world… or at least throughout Colorado.

Celine: Through the Eyes of the World, the documentary–concert film chronicling the life of Canadian singer, Celine Dion hits theatres this weekend. The film—in French and English—was culled from nearly 13 months of filming during her 2008-09 Taking Chances Tour. Dion’s first tour in 9 years, Taking Chances sold over 3 million tickets in 5 continents, 25 countries, and 93 cities.

Here’s the offical trailer:

As for the Vancouver Winter Olympics, many of us wondered why Celine was absent from the opening ceremonies. According to reports, the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) invited her but Dion made the choice not to perform. Dion who is once again trying to have a child, was in New York undergoing in vitro fertilization treatment.

(500) Days of Summer

Posted in dating, movies by Blake on December 2, 2009

On my flight back to the Mile High City I happened to look through my copy of Hemispheres magazine (yes, I was on United, natch, and I love the little “In Transit” features) and noticed that when I fly out for Christmas the movie on my flight will be (500) Days of Summer.  I love this movie, so much so that I’ve already seen it a couple times and bought the soundtrack, which I’m listening to right now.  I am not normally a purchaser of soundtracks, though I did go through a streak in college and immediately thereafter (Reality Bites, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Pédale Douce [study abroad in France], Center Stage, and Wild Things, if you can believe it).

But I digress.  I am no film scholar and I don’t pretend to be a movie critic either, and while I loved the movie for some superficial reasons as well (soundtrack, sheer cuteness of the stars), my main reasons for loving it have to do with what I will call its romantic politics.  [Before reading on, readers beware that everything that follows is nothing but an enormous spoiler, though not one that will ruin the movie as it admits from its very first line that while it is a movie about boy meeting girl, it is not a love story.  They break up within the first couple scenes.]

Onward to the reasons that I love this movie:

1. I love that the boy is the one who falls hopelessly in love with the girl, moons over her at great length, and has his heart broken by her.  Instead of the other way ‘round, which is what we usually see in mainstream movies.  Not only that, but we are told from the get-go that he is the one that believes in true love, whereas Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) says in the first karaoke club scene that she doesn’t even believe in love.  And she says it so matter-of-factly.

2. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are adorable.  Kind of ridiculously so. Including their outfits.

3. The scene (in the trailer above) where Tom (JG-L) dances through the park, ecstatic because he is either in love or in lust or thinks he’s found “the one” and she likes him back.  Whatever you want to call that first moment where you really feel like you’ve found someone pretty special and s/he likes you right back, this is a pretty great depiction of it.

4. And conversely, the scene in the bar, before Tom punches out the lout on Summer’s behalf, where he makes fun of the woman’s clothing and even though you know that Summer would have agreed with him in days past, she is now irritated with him and disagrees just on principle.  Have we not all been there?

5. When Tom asks Summer what happened to make her previous relationships end, she says, “What always happens: life.”  Indeed.

6. One of my all-time favorite lines from a movie:  After an argument, Tom tells Summer that he doesn’t want a “commitment,” per se, but he does want her to promise that she won’t wake up one morning and not want to be with him.  Summer: “But, no one can promise you that.”   Amen, sister.  This is one of my many fundamental quibbles with marriage, especially when divorce is not only possible, but utilized by half of all couples who do marry.   Promising to stay with someone forever and love and honor that someone (or whatever language one uses) seems much more like a lovely wish and a means of reassurance than something that any two people can swear they will do.  The bottom line: people change and so do their feelings.  Claiming that one will love someone forever is a beautiful sentiment, but it’s also highly unrealistic for many.  And the second bottom line is this: there’s no way of sorting out which group of people is which at the outset because (at least in theory) everyone means it when they make those promises.

7. Finally, Tom realizes by the end of the movie (thanks to voiceover, we know this) that there is no fate and no destiny, there is only chance when meeting and loving other people.  But that just because meeting someone is a chance event, it doesn’t mean that it is any less wonderful. The movie is not anti-love, in other words, it’s just anti-destined love, anti-“meant to be.”  The Gentleman Friend disagrees with me on this one, saying that Summer’s marriage and adoption of “meant to be” as her mantra is proof of a more complex message, but I contend that Tom is the protagonist and we are meant to see his perspective as that of the movie itself.  Add to that the fact that many viewers might well hate Summer in the end (though all she says to Tom – another truth! – is that she felt something with her husband that she just didn’t feel with Tom), and I’m guessing we’re not all supposed to be taking her side in matters of the heart.   The GF also contends that the presence of Autumn is meant to be a sign that the filmmaker sees the next relationship as perhaps destined (particularly given that they were often in the same place but he was too preoccupied with Summer to notice) but I see it this way: he could end up with Autumn, and he could move on.  Just as we all could.