Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Thursday, May 31, 2012

GOT's Battle of Blackwater,The Next Food Network Star gets Chopped and a compromising Mad Men situation

A major highlight of it's second season,Game of Thrones presented the Battle of Blackwater in all of it's glory as Tyrion and company prepared to fight off Stannis's army and naval forces as they reached the edge of King's Landing.

While Cersei was tucked away with the other ladies of the court(and coping with the threat of the siege by drinking copious amounts of wine and shocking Sansa with some of her less than encouraging thoughts),King Joffrey was on the battlements,watching his uncle's plan to smash the invading fleet unfold.

The first assault from the Lannister forces went off without a hitch,as the wildfire that Tyrion discovered some time ago was put to extremely good use. Not even Davos,the most experienced sea man amongst Stannis' men,was able to figure out what was up until it was far too late. Granted,I've read A Clash of Kings,so I knew what to expect,but this sequence was a stunning surprise,nonetheless:

That massive display of fire power was not enough to deter Stannis,who took what men he had left ashore. With the city gates being pounded upon by the enemy, it soon fell to Tyrion to lead his forces outside via an underground tunnel on a map provided by Varys.

Morale amongst the troops was low after The Hound abandoned the fight due to his fear of fire overwhelming him and Joffery taking the first excuse from his mother to flee the scene. Tyrion had no choice but to take command and inspire the men with a rousing yet realistic appeal.

Tyrion may not be tall in stature,yet when he speaks,the man is truly majestic. It's such a shame that his family refuses to appreciate his good qualities and it is something that they will regret in the future. While Tywin does save the day with his fortuitous arrival,there would be no city around to preserve if it were not for the "half man" in charge:

The second season finale is this coming Sunday,and it's supposed to be an extra ten minutes long. Considering the number of story lines to settle and cliff hangers to set up for next time,that additional time is crucial. Dany's visit to the House of the Undying alone should be just as show stopping as the wildfire explosion,if not more so. Also,keep an eye on Arya,whose business with Jaquen is far from over:

The challenge this week for the folks on The Next Food Network Star was to play a round of Chopped,with three of the toughest judges on that show to cook for(Scott Conant,Alex Guaranaschelli and Marc Murphy)ready to add their two cents in.

Each team had a dessert basket featuring some form of Hershey product and a few wild card items(pineapple,panchetta and pop corn,for example)and instead of facing off on the other teams,they all had to compete against their own team mates.

That meant that every team had to send one person up for elimination and that came down to Josh from Team Giada,Nikki from Team Bobby and Martie on Team Alton. Martie's excessive talking nearly did her in,but her camera challenge saved her bacon,so to speak.

Nikki was spared by the same challenge,so Josh was sent packing. He wasn't much of a cook to begin with and his constant rock n' roll talk was getting tedious. Next week,the contending teams have to make stylish dishes for Fashion Week and hopefully make a tasty turn on the catwalk. Sounds like flavorful fun!:

On Mad Men,Joan was out and out asked to sell her body to a Jaguar executive in order to help SCDP land that much needed car account. It wasn't totally surprising to see Pete pursue this,but it was sad to see most of the partners(except for Don)go along with this sleazy arrangement.

At least Joan was savvy enough to take Lane's advice and hold out for a partnership,even if he made that suggestion only to cover his rear on the embezzlement he recently made from the company.

*sigh* You might want to think that this whole plot line is very contrived but I have no doubt that things like this went on more than you would want to believe back then. Joan's pragmatic nature will pull her though this and those guys may be startled at just how much power they've given her now.

Speaking of power,Peggy has decided to make a move of her own and accept a better paying position elsewhere. Tired of being second guessed by her co-workers and occasionally bullied by Don,she gave her resignation to him in person,as the office was busy celebrating their latest victory.

Don wasn't too thrilled at this news,but in the end had to accept it. That exchange between them was intensely heartfelt,with Don going through the five stages of grief right before our eyes. Hopefully,this will not be the last we see of Peggy,who may have jumped ship at just the right time:


DESIGN STAR: The new season has already begun,with the designers tackling their regular first challenge of making over the house they're going to stay in. It's a little too soon to tell who will last but a good sign of longevity in this game is being able to work well with others. Some people have
passed that initial test nicely,while you can see trouble coming down the line for those with cranky "Do it my way!" attitudes. Play smart,not hard,folks!:

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Some prominent paperbacks of summer

The latest issue of Entertainment Weekly offered up several "must have" lists for summer time fun. Books were naturally included,and I noticed a nice
selection of softcover titles for folks to catch up on those highly touted hardbacks that just didn't fit into their reading budget when first released.

One novel that caught my eye was The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach,a baseball themed story which usually makes a non fan of the game like me run the other way down the New Fiction aisle.

However,I have read a number of great reviews about this tale of a college athlete whose doubts about his talent affect more than one life around him and since it was on so many Best of the Year lists,it is at least worth a try in paperback(which I'll be borrowing from Booksfree).

A good writer can make just about any subject intriguing,so why deprive myself of what could be a fabulous read?:

A book that I was happy to see on the EW list was one that I was fortunate enough to enjoy when it was in hardcover and hope that readers gobble up like Pac-Man pellets in paperback.

Ready Player One is Ernest Cline's fictional tribute to pop culture and video games as a futuristic society in dire straits finds it's only solace in a worldwide online game called Oasis,where a set of three keys hidden within can grant the lucky finder complete ownership and vast riches.

The hero of our story is Wade Watts,a teenager with little social status in the outside world but his internet persona becomes an instant superstar when he stumbles upon the first key. He also turns into a target by a rival corporation and a possible romance with a mysterious new ally is on the horizon. I won't say anything more but even if you're not a video gamer,this book will send you on a true wild ride:

You might think that interest in Julia Child is over and done with,after the film release of Julie and Julia,yet more and more books about that grand
dame of cooking keep on rolling out. One of the non-fiction titles on the EW list was the reissue of Noel Riley Fitch's biography of Child,Appetite for Life.

Fitch includes diary and letter extracts from Ms. Child,that add a rich flavor to his descriptions of her life and times. While I haven't read this biography,I did read Fitch's take on Sylvia Beach a few years ago and was thoroughly enlightened,so this portrait of a culinary genius should be just as stunning:

Last but far from least,Alice Hoffman's stroll into historical fiction earned a spot on the EW paperbacks of summer shelf. The Dovekeepers relates the siege at Masada from the point of view of several women,some of whom were assigned to tend the dovecotes yet a few had plans of their own for the coming battle.

This blend of historical retelling with feminist insights may sound like ultra serious reading,but if you're in the mood for something more to chew on mentally after devouring a few amusing beach books,Hoffman's lyrical style and sense of story may be the bridge between brain candy and food for thought:

There are plenty of other titles on that list,too and which ever one you choose,enjoy it to the fullest. Reading is fashionable at any time of the year,even during the months where outdoor activity is all the rage. Books are more enduring that say,designer perfumes that just about anyone can have named after them these days. Perhaps,they should make a special scent for readers,that would certainly be worth mentioning in EW,if you ask me:

Friday, May 25, 2012

Partake of some pop culture barbecue this holiday weekend

Memorial Day weekend is, for most people,the traditional start to the summer season and the usual way to celebrate this festive time of the year is with a barbecue.

People do flock to the beach and the multiplex as well,yet, the lure of that excuse for cooking outdoors that always gathers a crowd of hungry friends and family who share a few helpings of fun and frenzy along with the burgers and hot dog buns is hard to beat.

For some indoor amusement,here are a few clips from pop culture past that have a barbecue flavor to them. Most of these morsels are TV related but they're just as tasty as anything off a major motion picture menu:


One of the best sequences in the early part of Gone With the Wind is the barbecue at Twelve Oaks,where Scarlett hopes to get Ashley alone and find out if the rumors about him marrying his cousin Melanie are true.

She has to do more than prepare her thoughts,however,since proper young ladies of that day were required to stuff their faces(after being laced up in corsets that literally took your breath away)before arriving at any party,in order to be able to "eat like a bird."

Scarlett never did like obeying the demands of polite society but when it comes to claiming your true love,she reluctantly gave into the game,thanks to some smart maneuvering by Mammy:


By the time the likes of Roseanne came about,barbecues had become less formal affairs. On a Mother's Day episode,The Connors had everyone over for a backyard grilling party that had a lively debate about the best way to lit charcoal,servings of guilt trips from neglected moms and a load of laughs from Nana Mary,the greatest great-grandma ever.

Nana Mary also contributed her special potato salad,that she whipped up on the premises and even kicked Roseanne out of her own kitchen to make. Since it was supposed to be an excellent dish and Nana Mary tended to be less than tactful in her speech,that was probably a good move there:


Speaking of potato salad,that side dish caused quite a ruckus on a Reba episode,when the wrong brand was bought for Van's football team's pre-game dinner. While this wasn't a strict style of barbecue,it did have all of the food fixings that most of those meals would have,plus the added bonus of long standing traditions that many folks adhere to for such occasions.

Reba couldn't understand what the fuss was about,considering that Jake's bubble gum in the iced tea seem more of a fatal faux pas to her. One lesson to learn from this is never underestimate the special food needs of a football team,particularly right before the big game:


While the Bundys and the Rhoades on Married With Children rarely got along,they did spend a few festive moments together. One barbecue meal bought them a little closer than intended,due to the unexpected flavor twist given to the burgers from a quick fix to the grill's ashes,courtesy of dimwitted Kelly. That unsavory sizzle was repulsive to most of the Bundy clan but amusingly enough,not to Steve who had a real bite of personal satisfaction that day:

Hopefully,any barbecue that you attend this holiday weekend is much more enjoyable than that and that you get to truly savor the beginning of these warm days. Barbecue isn't just a summer time treat but it does suit the season well and the mere thought of it in winter can make your heart and taste buds sing:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

GOT players rethink their strategy,The Next Food Network Star takes a tongue tied tour and a not so merry Mad Men Christmas

We're getting close to the end game on this season of Game of Thrones and already,some folks are considering their previous moves.

Arya,for one,in her deal with Jaqen regarding the three names to give him to settle their debt. She wants to stop Tywin from marching on her brother Robb but he departs with his men too soon for her to cash in that final chip with the mysterious assassin.

With Tywin too far out of reach for elimination,she forces Jagen's hand to have him help her and fellow enforced laborers Gendry and Hot Pie to escape. By naming Jagen as the last to die,Arya manages to use her advantage well but there is still bloody business between these two that will be concluded before all is said and done here:

Meanwhile at Winterfell,Theon's sister Yara arrives with only a handful of men,causing Theon to wonder why his family isn't sending more support his way.

Turns out that the Greyjoys have no interest in Winterfell due to it's distance from the sea and that Yara has arrived to take her baby brother home for a chat with Dad.

Theon is less than thrilled with that response and even less receptive when she proceeds to tell him how stupid his actions have been,especially in killing the Stark boys(who are not dead,rather hiding in plain sight,thanks to Osha and the Maester).

Once they are alone,however,Yara does give him some heartfelt advice,which if Theon had any sense he would take. He'll regret his ruse regarding Bran and Rickon soon enough and with worse consequences that he thinks:

The challenge this week on The Next Food Network Star was for each team to act as foodie guides for a group of tourists on board a bus.

They were assigned different New York neighborhoods and eateries to highlight-Team Alton had the Lower East Side,Team Bobby was given Harlem and Team Giada wound up with Arthur Avenue,which plays into her specialty nicely. They also had to make a dish related to the places they were taking about and add their own twist to them.

Speaking of specialty,I'm starting to notice a trend rather quickly amongst the contenders who wind up in the Bottom Two. Both Judson and Kara were not happy with the food choices being offered to them at their respective locations(pickles for Judson,chicken and waffles for Kara)and therefore,let that lack of enthusiasm show in their presentations and in the food.

The same thing happened last time,with Kistie's displeasure over the soup course leaving a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Guys,you can't expect to play in your own ballpark every time-what kind of contest would that be? Judson stayed and Kara left,which I think was the right choice since his presentation was much more polished and he can learn to blend in more sincerity in his persona. Next time,the teams will be facing a Chopped challenge and Chopped judges,which should be fun and then some:

Christmas time arrives on Mad Men and Santa has quite a few interesting gifts in his bag for the gang at Sterling Cooper Draper Price. Don gets a frustrated wife and a broke plate of spaghetti,Joan gets a summons for divorce and the firm is granted another shot at landing a huge car account.

Some folks decide to treat themselves,such as Don and Joan who take a break from work with a test drive and a lovely flirtation at a bar. Neither of them will ever hook up with the other,since they are both up on each other's game too well for that. It is nice,however,to see them enjoy the moment away from familiar eyes for once.

Lane's gift to himself is a forged bonus check,to pay off some back taxes back in England. Oh,Lane,this is going to end so badly,I can feel it in my bones. Then again, he might get a special Santa surprise with the possible new deal coming though. I hope so,for his sake:


TRUE BLOOD: A delightful addition to the cast this upcoming season is Christopher Meloni,best known as Eliot Stabler from Law and Order:SVU. He'll be playing Roman,the leader of the vampire officials called The Authority and he certainly has the commanding presence for that part. Meloni has been on a HBO series before,the prison drama OZ and fans will have to see for themselves whether or not his new role is more threatening than that previous jailhouse stint:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Setting out a sample tray of sweet BEA Buzz books

The annual convention for folks in the book business,BEA,is set for early June and this year,the show is starting to get a bit more open to the reading
public. Not only is there a day being set aside for a selection of indie book store patrons to check out what lies ahead for fall reading,a downloadable sampler featuring excerpts from over 30 titles to be showcased at BEA is available for free online.

Since I now have a Nook(it was a gift from my family,upon publishing my first E-book),I was able to browse through the selections and found a few that were worthy of extra early attention. Take note,book lovers,of this six pack of sizzlers coming to your shelves soon:


Dennis Lehane follows up his historical saga novel The Given Day with a look at the Roaring Twenties in Live By Night,due out in October. The plot chronicles the rise of a young gangster who uses his charms in the era of Prohibition to gain power and prestige. Film rights to the book have already been sold and earmarked for Leonardo DiCaprio,no stranger to Lehane's fiction from his performance in the adaptation of Shutter Island.

This new book is the second in an intended trilogy but no doubt,it will be as compelling a page turner as The Given Day was on it's own merits. As to the
movie,hopefully DiCaprio will team up with Martin Scorsese again since that man has a definite feel for the flavor of that time period:

Memorist J. R. Moehringer tackles a real life anti-hero in his first novel,Sutton. Legendary bank robber Willie Sutton started his life of crime in the hey day of the twentieth century,becoming well known for the subtle style of his heists and the many successful escapes from the hands of the law over the years.

The story of his life is told here,in an imaginary interview as Willie has finally finished up with his bandit ways and willing to talk about what motivated him more than the money to do what he did. This riveting story is scheduled for a September release and will hopefully be flying off the shelves in a legal fashion:


Amanda Coplin introduces herself to readers with The Orchardist,a novel set in the rural Northwest around the turn of the century where two pregnant girls on the run from trouble take refuge at the home of a reclusive fruit grower.

Talmadge has been used to a quiet existence,untroubled by strangers but the pair of lost sisters find their way into the deep recesses of his heart. That new found companionship is further disrupted by the invasion of armed men on Talmadge's land and he has to choose between slamming shut the doors to the outside world and staking a new claim for the sake of his new friends. The Orchardist will be on sale by late August and should be ripe for the literary picking by then:

Iris Anthony's debut novel,The Ruins of Lace,unravels the lives of Lisette and Katharina during the craze for Flemish lace in France during the 1600s. One is a lace maker who defies the ban on the precious trim in order to fulfill her inner artistic passion,the other a lady determined to use it as
a weapon in a deadly game of wits with a powerful noble.

Now,while this book is the first by Iris Anthony,she is not an entirely brand new author. She is using this pen name to separate herself from her previous eleven titles under her better known nom de plume. Who Iris Anthony actually,I don't know but it does add a nice air of mystery to this intriguing tale and should hold up by the time it arrives in October:


Food writer Bee Wilson explores the impact that cutlery and other kitchen items have had upon our lives this October with Consider The Fork:A History of How We Cook and Eat.

From the seemingly simple spoon to forks,chop sticks and cooking pots and the gadgets of molecular gastronomy ,Wilson traces the changes in culinary tools and how technological advancements can be tracked by them. A fork may not appear to be such an important or influential thing at first but it's the little things that can mean a lot,even on the dinner table:


Arriving in late August, Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass should be a welcome adventure for teen readers(and even non-teens,I suspect). Upon serving out a sentence of hard labor for her crimes,eighteen year old assassin Celaena is offered a chance at a full pardon if she participates in a contest to select the next royal assassin.

She is the only female in the competition,up against hardened criminals for a chance to give three years of faithful service to Prince Dorian before being set free. Her training brings Celaena closer to the captain of the guard yet doesn't prepare either of them for the sudden deaths of the other contestants. Celeana must find out who the killer is before she becomes the next target but her investigation leads her down a rather unexpected path. Looks like Katniss has some formidable competition in tough gal territory:

I hope you get a chance to look over these and other tempting new reads coming our way,even if you can't get to BEA this year. Trade shows are incredibly fun and informative,however,they can get a little hectic at times,too. So,just enjoy the bounty of great books heading out for bookstores and libraries and be glad that you're not caught tongue tied in front of some of your favorite authors(trust me,it can happen!):

Monday, May 21, 2012

Magic Mike and the male stripper advantage

The latest issue of Entertainment Weekly has a big fold-out cover highlighting the male stars of the upcoming movie Magic Mike,which is about the world of male stripping. The main character is played by Channing Tatum,who happens to have been a male stripper at one point in his life and some of his experiences have been drawn upon for the screenplay.

In the interview that goes along with the cover,Tatum was asked if he was concerned about people respecting his acting abilities due to his past and he replied that no one cares about that,if you have talent. He even said if Meryl Streep had been a stripper,that wouldn't have been a big deal.

As much as I would like to believe that honestly made statement,the same standards simply don't exist. So far,Channing's extra special connection to his new film has gone under the radar of the censor happy folk but if this was a movie about female strippers and the lead actress had some real life experience in dancing on a pole,plenty of eyebrows would be raised and protests announced. Magic Mike,however,appears to be getting quite a bit of respect in some circles since Steven Soderbergh is the director and his art house credits help to raise the bar here:

The movie may well turn out to be a good one but I find it rather annoying that for men to be strippers on film,it's seen more as a power trip and/or a joke whereas women are usually depicted as being losers in every way for the same thing. Granted,a campy flick like Showgirls makes that image hard to ignore but why is it that something that is considered a negative for women being made a positive for men?

On the other hand,there are those in the audience who are happy to see more male nudity and any excuse for that is great in some quarters. Perhaps this is a way to mainstream that other inequality in Hollywood,where most of the leading men aren't as exposed as their leading ladies.

After all,if The Full Monty can become a Broadway musical that still gets performed in repertory companies today,maybe this is a sign of better things to come:

Then again,I can't help but think about what happened with the 1996 movie version of Striptease,based on Carl Hiaasen's humorous crime novel about a woman who had to resort to stripping to pay for legal counsel in a child custody case and gets tangled up with a lot of shady characters in the bargain.

The book was smart and funny,but the film was not and most of the promos for the film focused on Demi Moore's physique. Moore was happy to oblige in that department, showcasing her body as much as possible in the ads and TV appearances. Unfortunately,her good looks weren't enough to save a film saddled with a sloppy script and a buffet of overacting.

Striptease was a box office bomb,followed by bad reviews and several Golden Raspberry nominations(it won six of the seven it was up for). It's a shame that such a prime opportunity for a strong savvy and sexy fictional female to be presented on screen turned out to be a real bust:

So,you can see why I can't resist giving the side eye to Magic Mike. While folks can argue over whether a positive pop culture image of a stripper of either gender is something to promote,I don't think it's too much to ask that women at least get a bit of the respect that men do when playing similar characters on film or TV.

Perhaps this isn't the most serious subject to make a fuss about,however,it would be nice for gals to be in on the joke instead of being the punchline. Some guys have all the luck in this category,one way or another:

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sharing one last dance with Donna Summer

One of the darlings of disco has taken her final bow. Donna Summer passed away yesterday at the age of 63,due to cancer. As with many celebrity deaths,we all feel a little something there but Donna's departure saddens me deeply. I grew up in the era where her music was born and imagining the world without her is hard yet fortunately,the legacy of song that she has graced us with makes Donna Summer a true immortal.

To celebrate the beauty of her life,I have gathered up a few of her songs that reflect my personal feelings towards her and maybe some of yours as well. To start with,let's take a listen to" Mac Arthur Park",which has the most confusing lyrics on earth. It was written by Jimmy Webb and originally sung by Richard Harris(yes,the actor)back in the late sixties,which makes Donna's rendition a cover version. Yet,her wonderfully melodramatic tones made that crazy cake in the rain tune all hers:

Early on in her career,Donna was known for her sexy numbers such as the infamous "Love to Love You,Baby" but she wanted to be known for more than just that.

Still,her flair for sensuality was blended with her taste for solid get-on-your-feet-and-dance songs that made the lusty bravado of the lyrics feel rather proper in their place. Two of her most popular tunes were "Bad Girls" and "Hot Stuff",that became back to back performances in concerts and
made a tasty tuneful treat for audiences of more than one generation:

As disco faded out of fashion in the eighties,Donna attempted to make the switch into the newer styles of music with varying degrees of success. The title track from her 1980 album,The Wanderer,reached as high as number three on the Billboard charts and was received well enough but isn't as instantly recognizable to most of her fans,I suspect.

This song is a personal favorite of mine,for reasons I can't readily explain. It's noticeably different from her usual 70s songs,yet the song is distinctly Donna with a hint of mischief in her voice that gives it a pleasingly quirky air. Hey,maybe I did just explain why I like it!:

A song that did resonate strongly with the new wave of eighties music was "She Works Hard For The Money" in 1983. It topped a lot of charts and is still considered one of the best numbers performed live on the Grammy Awards.

This anthem to working women endeared Donna to those who were too busy to hit the clubs on the weekend and yet loved to have a better reason than cleaning up to move around. One of those ladies is my mother,who this song has become an all-time favorite.

I know that Mother's Day is past us now,however this ode to strong and steady females on more than one front should be the official theme song of that day:

To wrap this tribute up,the clear choice is "Last Dance" from the soundtrack of the quintessential disco movie,Thank God It's Friday which won an Oscar for Best Song,thanks to Donna. While the song writer was the one who actually took the award home,her gorgeous rendition of this song is what really earned that honor,in my opinion.

Condolences to the family and friends of Donna Summer, who will feel the loss of her more keenly than those of us in the audience. Speaking from the heart of that audience,we thank you dearly,Donna,for sharing all of your dances with us:

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Game changes on GOT,dark shadows over Mad Men and who is the dream team on The Next Food Network Star?

With all that's happening in Westeros on Game of Thrones,it's easy to overlook Jon Snow and his travels north with the Night's Watch,so let's play a little catch-up.

After leaving the homestead of creepy Craster,he and his band of brothers went forth to seek out the wildings and find out what Mance Rayder,the self proclaimed "King Beyond the Wall",is up to.

Jon gets separated from his group when left alone to finish off a wilding woman named Ygritte,the last one alive from a raiding party. His reluctance to kill her has caused the two of them to wander off from anyone they know out in the chilly countryside and for Ygritte to encourage Jon to join her people. How sincere she is about recruiting him for Mance is uncertain but the one thing that is certain is Jon Snow isn't as steady about his emotions as he would like to be:

Meanwhile in Qarth,Dany is determined to get her dragons back and is not eager to rely on her only ally amongst the governing Thirteen,Xaros,whose hand in marriage she has already refused. It turns out that her instinct to stay independent was a good one,as Xaros and his warlock pal were the ones behind the dragon heist.

Xaros plans to use them as part of his overall takeover of Qarth,to become a king in his own right and expand the influence of the city's bounty. He and his mystical friend do want Dany to stay in the mix and after a bloody coup on the council,insist that she claim her "children" at the House of the Undying,which was the whole reason for this switch from the book,as I suspected. I don't mind the twist,since it keeps things interesting and peaks my curiosity even more to see how the show unveils that sequence for us all:

On Mad Men this week,Betty's eating issues are being worked upon at Weight Watchers but she is still ignoring her emotional ones.

Her envy of Don and Megan's new life together,along with her frustrations about her own situation,put Sally in the middle as Betty dropped a clue about Anna,the first Mrs. Draper.

Sally did get into a fight with both Don and Megan over that revelation but was made to realize that she was being used by her mother and the ruckus was squelched soon enough. Man,that girl is being made to grow up fast this season!

It's too bad that Betty still resorts to passive aggressive tactics when things aren't going her way. I can see her discomfort at the WW meetings and it's a shame that she doesn't embrace the positive energy handed out there.

I do have some sympathy for Betty's body image struggles but that doesn't excuse her from needlessly stirring up trouble just to make herself feel better and having Sally do her dirty work to boot:

Things are very different,indeed,on this season of The Next Food Network Star,as instead of everyone competing against each other in a pack,the contenders are divided into three teams lead by three major players on FN.

Team Bobby,Team Giada and Team Alton had a huge opening challenge as each group had a day to start up a restaurant. They also had to do a live promo for their venue and each person was responsible for one course. By the end of the night,two people from two different teams were up for elimination and in another new twist,they had a cook-off to determine who would be going home.

So far,I'm liking this format and the hands-on mentoring that is happening here. Also fine with Cristie being the first to head on out,as she had a bad attitude about being given a soup course and it showed on the plate. Next week,the remaining competitors are tasked to run a foodie tour in NYC,which promises to be not too appetizing for one of them:


HELL'S KITCHEN: The new season will begin in June,on Monday nights with a new season of Master Chef following right after it. Back to back Gordon Ramsey programs sounds great in theory but might be a tad Jekyll and Hyde in reverse. One show has him nurturing potential chefs and the other allows him to scream at them. Take your pick,people-do you want your GR reasonable or raw?:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Censoring colorful reading casts more than 50 Shades of Grey on libraries

The most talked about book of the moment is E.L. James' novel 50 Shades of Grey,the first in a sexy trilogy that began as an online sensation and is now available in print form. The book has been labeled "Mommy porn" since the core audience for this erotic series seems to be over the age of 21 ladies(some of whom may not even be mothers)and that less than charming nickname is catching the eye of the censor happy crowd.

Reports of libraries pulling 50 Shades off of the shelves are coming in,fast and furious. One of the most recent removals was in Florida,where a local resident is petitioning for the book to be put back into circulation. That particular branch had about twenty copies,due to the long list of library patrons waiting to read it,and to deny tax paying citizens the right to reserve a popular title at their local library is flat out wrong,regardless of how you may feel about the contents of the book:

I don't blame the librarians themselves,clearly these decisions were made by their bosses who fear reprisals from the usual small minded suspects. However,I do hope that this matter is settled soon,for the good of the reading public in choosing what they want on the shelves. In the meantime,I do have a few recommendations for folks still waiting to get a hold of a copy of 50 Shades and looking for a bit of heat not related to the weather. You may be able to find these titillating titles at your library,hiding in plain sight,I wouldn't be surprised.

First up is Cecilia Grant's debut Regency romance,A Lady Awakened,which was reviewed at this blog a few months back. This story of a widow making a secretive bargain with a young nobleman in the neighborhood in order to inherit her husband's property is more than a mere excuse to roll in the hay. The characters are well thought out people,with emotional ranges that expand beyond the bedroom.

That being said,A Lady Awakened is suitably spicy for a forbidden fun read and the author will be releasing a new title along the same lines in June called A Gentleman Undone. Reading ALA first may not be necessary but it should be quite the warm-up,if you know what I mean*wink*:

Another steamy favorite of mine is Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart,the first in her fantasy series about a young woman that uses her unique talents and endurance for pain to save her kingdom from the clutches of evil doers. Now,this is a lengthy book to be sure but that is one of the best things about it,in my opinion.

If you're looking for a tempting tale to share with your significant other,this book should be your ticket to ride(particularly if your partner has a taste for Game of Thrones). The Kushiel series has fans both male and female that adore it,despite any off-color denials they may make:

Finally,for my fellow Jane Austen fans,a modern classic of sorts in this category is Mr. Darcy Takes A Wife by Linda Berdoll. The book was originally published in 1999 under the title The Bar Sinister and gained a rather notorious reputation for it's very intimate details concerning the Pride and Prejudice couple continuing their honeymoon,so to speak.

The new title came with a reprint in 2004 and a sequel soon followed,Darcy & Elizabeth:Days and Nights at Pemberley. While there are those who prefer not to venture beyond the parlor doors with these characters,one must admit that imaging the unbridled passion between Miss Lizzie and Mr.Darcy after the last page has turned is nearly impossible to resist:

Whatever lively lit you chose to indulge in,it's good to keep in mind that today's shocker quickly turns into tame fare in another generation or two. The history of scandalous books is a mixed bag,ranging from high art to sheer entertainment,but the right to read freely is always in style.

More of this fuss over 50 Shades will increase when the film version is made,no doubt about that. The wave of raised eyebrows and proclamations regarding decency at the movies when that time comes should be taken with a serious grain of salt,as this will have hardly been the first sexy book based motion picture. When it comes to pop culture, nothing is new under sun,or under any shade of grey indeed:

Monday, May 14, 2012

Being pummeled by The Weight of the Nation

Tonight,HBO starts to air Weight of The Nation, it's four part documentary about the hot button topic of overweight Americans,most commonly referred to as the "obesity epidemic." As an overweight American myself,I have a few decided opinions about this program(which I haven't seen but have been reading and hearing a lot about lately). Yes,we do have more than our fair share of folks struggling with their body size and some of them do have health issues because of this,myself included.

However,from what I have heard about this series,most of the material seems to be going over ground that has long been covered already. Too much advertising of fast food and the abundance of sugary,salty goods are to blame and people need to be educated about the evils of bad eating before it's too late! Well,my anxious friends,let me enlighten you on a few points.

No one denies the long term ill affects of a poor diet or that it's healthier to be at a sensible weight for your height. What the problem is that you seem to think that heavyset people don't know that and the best way to get them to change is by scaring the hell out of them in the media with all of this dire talk about how this "crisis' will destroy our country. Guess what,guys-we're way ahead of you. We've been working on this problem on our own for years(check the profit margins of most commercial weight loss programs for proof)without the lot of you panicking over this:

I know that some of you mean well with this onslaught of worry over weight but assuming that people who are this way don't have knowledge about it is insulting,along with calling it an "epidemic." If you look up the term epidemic,diseases such as malaria,smallpox,the black plague and HIV/AIDS rightly are listed. Having too many fat people is not in the same ball park or even near the stadium of suffering. Implying that overweight people are on the level of a deadly virus doesn't help your cause at all.

Getting off the personal politics here,being overweight in such a image conscious society is difficult and finding positive characters in film and TV who are large sized is about as easy as locating a discount store in Beverly Hills. However,there have been a few more prominent faces out there and some of them do address weight loss issues in a nurturing,caring manner that is far more effective than any of the bullying,boogie man tactics invading the media and pop culture these days:

It would be beneficial to those wanting to spread the word about weight loss in fictional forums to remember that fat people are people first. Not everything in their lives is about those numbers on the scale,they also have other items on their plates that are not edible.

They're also smart and savvy,such as Penelope Garcia on Criminal Minds whose razor sharp computer skills help to save the day or federal prosecutor Caroline Julian on Bones who often saves Booth and Brennan from their impetuous methods of investigation.

The reason that these characters fit so well into their ensemble casts is that they are valued for their skills first and foremost, not seen merely by any perceived physical drawbacks.

Ignoring the weight issue for any character would be just as bad as paying too much attention to that factor,but it would be nice to encourage more appreciation of that person as a fully developed individual rather than the sum of their heavy parts. As RuPaul so eloquently puts it,"If you can't love yourself,how the hell are you going to love anyone else?":

So,if you really want to create a movement towards healthier eating and living,especially with the help of pop culture,stop lecturing and start treating overweight people as human beings instead of talking points. Adding some flavor and fun to the discussion will bring more guests to the table and something might actually get done. Plus,if we all start to sing a better song,dancing will follow and that's a great form of exercise that everyone can enjoy. It's a true win-win that is worth a try:

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Pop Culture Salute to Stepmothers

With Mother's Day on the weekend horizon,I thought it would be nice to acknowledge a few maternal figures who are usually portrayed as bad guys but are not always so. Yes,I'm talking about stepmothers,those women who take on a second marriage and try to make the best of it,especially for the kids.

For example,one of the most beloved mothers in television history is actually a stepmom. Carol Brady,who got three new sons along with new husband Mike,always made an effort to treat both her girls and boys the same way in terms of love and discipline.

An early episode of the Brady Bunch had Mike and Carol trade parenting places with the children to see which one of them could bond the best. Carol wound up having to teach the boys baseball,but they actually taught her a thing or two,in a humorously respectful manner. Turns out Mike wasn't any better at conducting cooking lessons with Marcia and her sisters but that attempt at spending equal time was appreciated by all :

Another spunky stepmother came from the syndicated TV series,Reba in the early 2000s. Barbara Jean was overtly sweet to everyone,which was annoying at times yet her sincere desire to be a member of the rather extended Hart family eventually won over all of them. While her stepkids did see her as a bit of a ditz,they did accept Barbara Jean as part of their lives long before Reba herself did.

Oddly enough,the stepchild that Barbara Jean bonded with the most was Kyra,whose sarcasm and fiery temperament made it hard for her own family to like at times. Something about their two rather opposite natures,however,just clicked together and their kinship created a nearly perfect harmony:

Fictional accounts of stepmothers,fairy tale or otherwise,tend to make them the household aggressor but in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility,she is the one being persecuted. Mrs. Dashwood is not only forced by law to hand over her home to her stepson,Fanny,her stepdaughter-in-law goes out of her way to make her feel unwelcome,not to mention her husband's half-sisters as well.

Despite these troubles,the elder Mrs. Dashwood shows true decorum in enduring these trials,unlike the younger Mrs. Dashwood,who should be more gracious if she truly intends to be considered a lady worthy of holding an estate. Then again,some things can not be taught to those unwilling to learn:

Finally,it's fitting to also showcase a step-grandmother,even if she isn't exactly the best role model in town. While Sally Draper on Mad Men does have a stepmother in Megan,they haven't had too much personal interaction this season unlike Pauline Francis,who has become an on-the-spot babysitter and unlikely confidante for the budding teen.

Don't get me wrong,Pauline is not a warm and cuddly person,plus her habit of handing out pills to the females in her family to fix any need is not a good one. Yet,despite her gruff exterior and strict ways,she does mean well and seems to truly want to give Sally some sensible advice about handling life's little challenges:

Happy Mother's Day to all mothers of every type everywhere. Remember,biology does not a good parent make but even if you have had some strife with your step mother in the past,that doesn't mean you have to be at each other's throats forever. Believe it or not,there will be a time when the two of you can sit down and share a glass of apple juice to laugh your former friction away:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Game of Thrones gets chaotic,TAR's winner and we go Around the World in 80 Plates

Bravo unveiled their new cooking competition show last night,Around The World in 80 Plates,where contestants travel to different countries and get to know the local cuisine before preparing it at eateries in the area for the natives,who vote for the best version of their regional food.

There's a big cash prize at stake,naturally,and our hosts/judges are Curtis Stone and Cat Cora who didn't get a lot of one on one with the chefs here but the opportunity for that may occur soon(I hope).

The first stop was London and the arriving chefs had to quickly divide into two teams(Red and Black)and go through a Course before tackling the main challenge. The Course was a pub crawl,aka hitting the bars,and each team had to find three of them.

At each pub,the teams had to finish a plate of standard pub food(black pudding hash,steak and kidney pie,fish and chips)and/or a drink before moving on to the next one. Red Team won the Course and as a reward,were granted an Exceptional Ingredient to use for the main challenge that the other team couldn't. That ingredient was potatoes,a huge blow to the Black team since fish and chips had to be part of their menu.

For the big challenge,each team took over one of the pubs they visited and had to make every dish offered to them for the regular customers and the judges.

That caused a problem for both groups,since none of them tried the steak and kidney pie,opting to finish off a yard long glass of ale instead. Not smart,folks-you would think a pack of chefs on a competition show would taste all of the food available to them,right? Plus getting drunk that soon in the game wasn't a great idea. They also were allowed to add appropriate plates of their own,which helped and hindered the results.

The Black Team,for example,was able to compensate for not having potatoes by making polenta fries to go with their fish and chips. Special guest judge Nigella Lawson really liked them and so did the pub diners.

They also offered a halibut that went over just as well and wisely chose to go with a dessert.

The bread pudding,made by "Cheven"(his name is Kevin,so this is a combo of Chef and Kevin. Believe me,he's not as interesting as this may sound)was a crowd pleaser that earned the Black Team the win for this round.

Cheven got annoyed when fellow BT member Chaz was singled out for honors here,due to the bread pudding being his idea. Chaz,however,provided the right tone of leadership required to make all of the team's efforts succeed,so he deserved that immunity award there.

The Red Team had to vote off a member of their group and a ripe contender for that spot was "Nookie"(I'm sorry but I can't take a man seriously whose nickname is the same as a Limp Bizkit song).

His steak and kidney pie was so terrible that Nigella Lawson proclaimed it to the stereotypical notion of how awful some people claim British food to be.

"Nookie",however,convinced others on his team to vote Clara off,instead. Granted,her vegetarian version of a bubble and squeak(which is a mash-up of Sunday roast dinner leftovers)didn't wow anyone but the feedback from the diners didn't name Clara's dish as a deciding factor in liking RT's menu or not.

That steak and kidney pie was outstandingly bad but he got away with it,for now. I'll be watching this show for awhile and hopefully,there will more food focus than team member manipulation as we go on. The next stop is Leon,France and with any luck,the only fishy thing about that round will be on the plates.

It was a two hour finale on The Amazing Race,where the next to last leg was in Japan and Ralph and Vanessa were tagged out,due to her badly sprained ankle.

She really should have wrapped that up in some sort of bandage,particularly during the game show challenge where you could clearly see how swollen and purple it was. Vanessa did her best there and Ralph,to his credit,was mainly concerned for her welfare.

The final leg was in Hawaii and two of the three remaining teams had trouble along the way. Team Border Patrol got lost at one point and Team Big Brother took a taxi when the clue stated that they were supposed to walk(Rachel even read it out loud before they went off!). None of that mattered in the end,as Dave and Rachel,the military couple,won the Race. Despite their fighting,which got nasty at times,those two did manage to work well together and set a TAR record by being the team to win the most legs,a nice feather in their cap indeed:

Things are getting out of hand for most of the main players on Game of Thrones,as Dany is having trouble getting anyone to give her ships in Qarth and losing her dragons(something that didn't happen in the book but I think I know why it was done for the show. The next episode will soon tell me true on that score)and Arya had to cash in her second dead man chip sooner than expected.

A major sign of chaos spreading throughout the realms,however,was the riot in King's Landing. Upon sending Myrcella off to Dorne,the Lannister royals made their way through the streets of starving citizens,one of whom chose to throw a piece of literal crap at King Joffery. He took that as well as expected and soon violence broke out all over the place.

Sansa was nearly ravaged by a pack of men,as she became lost in the confusion. Fortunately,Sandor came to her rescue and brought her back to the frying pan instead of the fire raging outside amongst the residents of the city. Only Tyrion expressed any gratitude for that action(or even cared about what happened to Sansa)but Sandor had his own reasons for saving her,as we will see as time goes on:

Meanwhile,the Starks are taking a direct hit at their base,as Theon Greyjoy captures Winterfell. That wasn't hard to do,considering that the place is stacked with a skeleton crew,due to Robb waging war,and the only other head of the family at home is Brann. Way to go,Theon,in bulling a little boy who happens to be crippled into calling you "Prince."

For added measure of misery,Theon's new friends caught a Stark banner man,Ser Rodrik,and his outrage over Theon's disloyalty lead to an impromptu execution.
It's too bad that Theon didn't listen to the Maester's advice,because now he's in this gruesome game for keeps. Robb was furious upon hearing this news and his wrath will be the least that young master Greyjoy has to worry about, but worry he should:


MAD MEN: Megan's decision to pursue her acting career seems to have shaken up both Don and Peggy pretty badly. While the agency will probably do just fine without her,that departure is being taken as a personal judgment by the two of them,who at one point,sound as if they're arguing about their child that an adult in their lives,if you ask me. Whatever the subtext,it was good to see Peggy not take any of Don's misdirected anger anymore and tell him off: