Thursday, December 30, 2010

Films of 2010

I've been cruising the Web this morning looking for Top 10 movie lists to fill out my Netflix selection. It's sometimes hard to navigate the recommendations. I'm not sure why, but it seems like movie reviewers have become more and more subject to their particular, individualized taste. Maybe there are just too many films, or not enough trustworthy national reviewers-- if you have recommendations of Top 10 lists worth paying attention to, please post. Mostly, I don't want to watch dark underground slasher/horror films or Sundance-type indies that go nowhere. One reviewer's list was loaded with "relaitonships on the verge of collapse" films, and another was too gory for consideration. Still, I gleaned a few I'm looking forward to that I would not have otherwise heard about.

After seeing The Fighter before our Christmas trip to Chicago, we have been having a little Christian Bale film festival. Steve hadn't seen The Machinist or American Psycho, which, taken together, do show an interesting range by Bale, and if nothing else, his attention to his own physique! I'm going to add Laurel Canyon to our viewing, and we're thinking of rewatching Empire of the Sun as well. I have another on "video on demand" from Netflix, All the Little Animals, which is also supposed to be a stellar performance.

One of the films that stood out on lists, and that was among the best we saw this year, was actually three: the Red Riding series. I first saw it listed as part of the Palm Springs Film Festival when we were there last January (what a great way to start the year that was!). Reminded of it later in the year, I added it to my Netflix queue. If you like the murder mystery series done by the BBC over the last three decades, you are in for a treat with this series. A tale of police corruption and serial killings in gritty Northern England, the 1970s period is captured stunningly well and the films have excellent performances and a rich feel. The first one stars Andrew Garfield, who costarred in The Social Network and is a young actor to watch.

Although the reviewers are saying that 2010 was a good year for the studios, I have to disagree. I don't remember a year where I had so few films to put in my queue, or so many weeks when we would have liked to go see a film and couldn't find a single thing we'd go to the theater to watch. It is possible that more and more often, the good films come out in Jan-March of the following year, to focus the Oscar buzz, but I can't say I've even heard about more than a handful of films I'd go out of my way to see. When I'm anxiously awaiting Toy Story 3 to come out on DVD so I know we'll have something worth watching, the studios aren't doing a good job.

It's hard if not impossible for me to imagine life on the farm without Netflix, especially Netflix Watch Instantly. I remember when I moved from Chicago to Joliet with my first husband, how nervous we were about the loss of movie options. There was an amazing video store in Joliet, with no organization-- as films came in they just gave them a number and added them to the collection, which would have been chronological except they were also acquiring older films as they went along. That place kept us busy and provided lots of entertainment. Now, though, every year is a good year with access to the Netflix catalog. It's just a matter of finding the recommendations.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Venison Chili

It is mid-December, but the temperature barely creeps above the zero mark and the day begins after I rise and is over before I leave work, so it certainly feels time to start the venison chili going. Because my friends won't be grinding their venison until January, I put a note on the campus bulletin board looking for someone who had extra. I knew I wouldn't hear back from any of the professors, but surely a staff member somewhere had deer meat to spare.

Sure enough, one of the administrative personnel just down the hall from me (on the college side, not the monastery) had about 50 packages of ground venison and couldn't imagine eating more than 30 of them. How many would I like?? I think five will get me through until my friend gives me more at the end of January.

I have always loved meat chili, and haven't found a better recipe than the simple one. With this 50/50 mix of venison and pork and chipotle chilis with adobo, it is smoky and delicious.

Venison Chili
Saute a chopped onion and chopped garlic in oil until translucent. Add about a pound of venison/pork mix and brown. with a few chipotle chilis with their adobe sauce from a can, as well as a liberal dose of chili powder (2 Tbs at least), salt and pepper. When meat is brown, add a large can of tomatoes, two small cans of red kidney beans, and some frozen corn. (You can also add barley, but cook it first, because it takes too long to cook in the chili.) Simmer until ready to eat!

At the noon hour, unable to listen anymore to politics on NPR, I turned on the local college radio station. A woman was talking about carnivorous culture-- basically, the horror of meat-eating. The jargon was so over-the-top, and rolled so melifluously from this woman's tongue, that it was like we don't live in the same country or speak the same language. She was talking, of course, about meat production in this country, factory farming, and the attendant evils. OK. I'm down with it. I did feel incredibly lucky to live where I do, having options and being able to know how the animals are more or less raised and killed. I am taking control of that in our kitchen more and more. Then I thought, "If I lived in Chicago, would I ethically have to become a vegetarian?" Hmmm. I just don't see that happening.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thin Ice

This is the season of people falling through the ice in Minnesota. On Mondays, I read the weekend's newspapers, looking for items mentioning the monastery, and each of the three papers: Saturday, Sunday and Monday, had small items in the margin of the "Local & State" section about people falling through the ice. They are headlined this way: "Cushing Man Goes through Ice;" "Man Falls through Thin Ice"; "Car Goes through Ice."  The car was actually an accident-- the woman lost control and her car tipped sideways into the lake. Two people came to her rescue.

The other two were not so lucky. One went into the lake, ATV and all, as he was heading to an ice fishing spot. The other, an elderly man, had gotten off his ATV and was walking to an ice fishing spot when he went under.

It is early December, after all. And though we've had some very cold weather, we've also had some not-so-cold weather. For the rest of the week, the paper ran warning stories about thin ice, including a pre-weekend spread with a large graphic that showed how thick ice needs to be to support a: human; b: ATV; c: automobile.

I think it's best to think of Lucy Van Pelt and her declaration that she never eats December snow. Except for ice skating on local shallow ponds, with supervision, it's probably best to stay off the ice until January, even in Minnesota.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Winter Projects

Here we are, more than halfway through Advent, and I have not much in the way of baking or cooking or even spiritual reflection to offer. This year things are moving hard and fast. I find I still have trouble transitioning to when Steve comes in from outside. When the ground freezes and the landscape season is over, the house that I usually pretty much have to myself most of the year gets retinhabited by Steve. And he comes inside with energy and the house turns upside-down.

Last year, Steve had an idea for a book, and spent the time up through Christmas pretty much reading and thinking. This was easy for me to warm up to. Two years ago, making paintings was the project-- with big canvases being stretched and tarps and lights and photos to be taken-- there was a lot involved.. This year, making furniture is the name of the game. There is welding, and a new set of kitchen stools, preceded by prototypes (one of which collapsed under him at dinner) and with seemingly endless consultation. Then came the slabs of wood, the discovery of new designers and web sites. The few pieces of furniture we have get rearranged, and everything is on the verge of being destroyed/revised. There are elaborate plans for a kitchen remodel to follow.

Let's just say, it was easier when writing books was the project. This is not a contemplative season. The stools are beautiful, and so is the slab of oak that will become our new coffee table. AS for the kitchen, we'll see how I do through the upheaval. It will probably help my diet!