November 30, 2016

The Tearling Trilogy

I am currently reading the Tearling trilogy by Erika Johansen for TLC book tours. I'm excited to read this series because I've heard very mixed things and I always like to experience a thing for myself so that I can make my own judgment. I trust other people to guide me, but I like having the final say.

It is unfortunately slow going because I've ended up having to run errands on my lunch break pretty frequently the past several weeks, which is my main reading time. Luckily, there isn't a major holiday this week so I'll have more time on my weekend. Keep coming back for my reviews!


November 22, 2016

Review: The Dude Diet

The Dude Diet Clean(ish) Food for People Who Like to Eat Dirty
By Serena Wolf
Available now from Harper Wave (HarperCollins)
Review copy

I knew I was going to love THE DUDE DIET from the moment I saw that lovely plate of nachos on the cover. Serena Wolf is the blogger behind Domesticate Me, which started by journaling her efforts to get her boyfriend Logan to eat better. Now, there are a lot of blog-to-cookbooks out there, and not all of them are worth it. (Deb Perelman's The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is my gold standard, in case you want to question my taste.) Wolf has experience going for her; she's not just a blogger, she's also a Le Cordon Bleu Paris graduate and recipe developer.

Because THE DUDE DIET started as a blog, it is written in a very conversational tone. This makes it approachable, although I'll admit to liking my recipes in plain jane English. (I think I shuddered when quesadilla was shortened to 'dilla.) For the other downside, I do dislike the intense slant towards dudes. It makes sense in the context of Wolf's blog, where she was developing a diet for a specific dude. But the back copy of this cookbook rubs me the wrong way. There are plenty of women out there who could use a course in how to make easy, filling, and balanced meals. Fortunately, most of the dude focus is just the marketing.

THE DUDE DIET starts off strong with an intro about Wolf's inspiration and her boyfriend's decision to change his life for the better. As I grow farther away from my college metabolism, I've certainly been compelled to cut out more of my cheat foods and up the vegetable content of my go-to meals. I could related. Wolf also gives a quick set of "Dude Diet Commandments" to give you general guidelines to follow even if the recipes aren't floating your boat. Then there's an extremely helpful chapter on which staples to stock your pantry with and which kitchen tools to buy. (Not all at once, of course.) I've lived on my own long enough to own most of Wolf's recommendations, but THE DUDE DIET is very much written to be accessible and useful to cooking novices.

Speaking of life changes, almost immediately after my review copy of THE DUDE DIET arrived I got adult braces.

You know you wish your smile was this metal.
That meant a fun week of eating mushy food and longing for absolutely any texture. You discover a new rock bottom of food when you're contemplating how much the snack you're eating tastes like baby food and you look down and see that it was made by a baby food manufacturer. I'm past that hump, thankfully, but I am still working on expanding my chewing repertoire and have to follow the typical braces restrictions after that. None of those nachos on the cover for me; I can't eat corn (or other hard) chips.

Fortunately, THE DUDE DIET contained foods I can still eat. Scrambled eggs are very friendly to those who don't have much chomping force, and the Big Green Scramble adds some nice soft greens like sauteed zucchini and spinach to the eggs. It's a simple recipe that adds some extra nutrient punch without making the process of scrambling eggs that much more time consuming. And I definitely have the Chocolate Chip Banana Pancakes saved for a slow weekend.

The recipes range from breakfast and dinner to dessert and cocktails. Sometimes, as with the Chronic Chili Cheese Dogs, they might not be that far off what you do already, just with suggestions such as whole-wheat buns and 100% bison dogs.

Others go farther afield, like the Cauliflower Mac and Cheese with Chicken Sausage. (Which does remain easy to cook.) I made this without the sausage for a softer texture. I also left out the Dijon (because I don't like mustard) and the panko breadcrumbs (because I do not understand putting a crunchy layer of breadcrumbs on top of creamy mac and cheese and ruining the mouthfeel). Adjusted to my preferences and needs, it was pretty similar to my family's mac and cheese recipe, and I didn't really notice the addition of the cauliflower. (I did notice the lack of egg providing a nice binding element, so I might toss that in the next time I try this with the sausage.)

THE DUDE DIET is a beautiful cookbook full of recipes that got my imagination going. The fact that they're healthy is a major bonus. I look forward to making many more of the meals within. This cookbook is definitely going on my keeper shelf.



November 7, 2016

Movie Monday: We Are X

X Japan is one of the founding groups of the Japanese visual kei genre (arguably the founding group) and have attained international success in their three decades as a band. They have a unique sound that mixes speed metal with pop balladry, driven by the skills of band leader, song writer, drummer, and pianist Yoshiki.

Yet like many foreign bands, especially those that don't sing in English, they've never found mainstream success in the US.

We Are X is a British documentary framed by X Japan's concert at Madison Square Garden on October 11, 2014. It starts with a glimpse of the successful concert, then delves into how the band got there. Yoshiki remains the focus, but each band member gets some time in the spotlight (except for new guitarist Sugizo). Most of the strife facing the band in We Are X is Yoshiki's health problems, including asthma, a torn ligament, tendonitis, and more. It is only toward the end that the deaths of lead guitarist hide and former bassist Taiji are addressed.

There's very little of X Japan's actual music in We Are X. If you aren't a fan, don't expect to get a real sense of their sound, as only tiny snippets are ever played. (And no snippets of my favorite song, "Silent Jealousy".) In fact, a sense of X Japan at all is hard to grasp. For all the focus on Yoshiki, he is a reticent subject in interviews. He can be poetic about his musical journey, but many questions get simple, intriguing answers that he refuses to give a follow up on. (The reason Taiji was fired remains a secret.)

There are some moments of intrigue that will draw viewers in, such as the decade the vocalist Toshi spent in a cult that brainwashed him to believe X Japan's music was demonic. This moment is teased early in We Are X, then more fully explored in the section about Toshi.

I found We Are X to be a frustrating documentary, too shallow for fans and too disjointed for newcomers. The chronology is all over the place, and not much is done to help viewers sort out the timelines or keep the various personalities straight. Stan Lee, Gene Simmons, and Marilyn Manson are all introduced as Yoshiki's fans and American champions of the band, but there's no insight given into what brought them into X Japan's orbit.

The documentary is beautifully shot and edited, with a sense of style more often seen in art films. Archival footage of the band is used to show their more colorful years, and it is genuinely affecting to see lingering close-ups of hide in his last live performance with the band in 1997. There is plenty within We Are X to encourage viewers to explore more deeply into the band's history and discography.

This is a documentary that shows even without sex and drugs, rock n' roll can take a physical and mental toll on musicians. It also explores the question of how such a talented, successful band can fail to break into the American market. Many interviewed scorn America's closemindedness to music not in English; X Japan just laments their inability to learn how to sing in English natively.

X Japan is a fascinating band that deserved a feature documentary. I wanted more from We Are X, and I'm not sure if my high expectations doomed my watching experience from the very beginning. Still, I'm glad it got made and that it's popularity at Sundance has helped bring more attention to X Japan.

November 6, 2016

A Date with a Misprint

Today at Barnes and Nobel, I purchased an amazing misprint of A Date at the Altar, the new novel by Cathy Maxwell.


As you can see, especially if you look at the series title Marrying the Duke, one layer being off misaligns all of them. The main image is too far up, revealing the gutter. (Some alignment marks are visible.) The gloss is left on its own, as is the metallic embossing. You can even see where the X cuts off to accommodate the lady's hair.

I checked and the inside is perfectly readable, so I happily bought this misprinted copy. I love the way it reveals the work that goes into making a perfect copy look so snazzy.

October 24, 2016

Movie Monday: War Dogs

War Dogs If asked to guess what the director of the Hangover trilogy's follow-up project would be, I wouldn't have guessed it would be a political satire about war profiteers and the way the US government enables them.

Miles Teller stars as David Packouz, a masseuse who is drawn to the glamorous life of arms dealing by his childhood friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). The story of War Dogs is based on the Rolling Stone article "The Stoner Arms Dealers" by Guy Lawson and is generally more friendly to David than Efraim. Efraim is portrayed as a sociopath with a hilariously fake, creepy giggle. (Hill's giggle made my theater laugh every time.)

It's a fascinating story, and enough to carry much of the movie. The US government outsourced many contracts for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, giving small outlets a chance to make big money, including two twentysomethings who didn't know anything. To underbid genuine contractors, all they had to do was make shady deals with people the government couldn't work with directly.

Todd Phillips does a great job pointing out how outrageous it is, including the fact that the real Packouz and Diveroli will soon be eligible to sale arms again. At the same time, he's clearly very impressed with two dudes who managed to make a ton of money (unethically).

Teller and Hill do great work, as usual, and Bradley Cooper is strong in a small role as a real-deal arms dealer. I was impressed by Ana de Armas as Iz, David's wife. She gets the role of the nag who harshes David's buzz, but Armas does a great job of selling her vulnerability. She's a woman with a kid to protect, who wants to know that she can trust her husband far more than she wants a fancy apartment.

Phillips injects a great deal of flashy style into the proceedings, keeping the movie rolling along even when there's exposition about just how arms deals work. He even goes for an arty ambiguous ending. War Dogs is a fun movie most of the time, but it is also a sobering one.

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