October 20th, 2008
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child - The Cabinet of Curiosities - 66Pendergast turned his pale eyes on her. "My methods are unothodox, but they have one advantage."
"And what is that?"
"They work."

The 2008 Man Booker Prize WINNER!

October 14th, 2008

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction represents the very best in contemporary fiction (from the UK, Ireland, and the Commonwealth). One of the world’s most prestigious awards, and one of incomparable influence, it continues to be the pinnacle of ambition for every fiction writer. It has the power to transform the fortunes of authors, and even publishers. In 2004, not only did Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty reach the bestseller lists, but previous winners The Life of Pi (2002) and Vernon God Little (2003) were also amongst the bestselling books of the year. Congratulations to last year's winner Anne Enright for her novel The Gathering.

The White Tiger by Aravind AdigaThe White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
The Complete 2008 Nominee List

October 13th, 2008
Robin Hobb - Assassin's Apprentice - 173The sea was cold, the night was black, and if I'd had any sense, I'd have wished myself elsewhere, but there is something in a boy that takes the mundanely difficult and unpleasant and turns it into a personal challenge and an adventure.

Banana Bread

October 11th, 2008
Banana bread

* 1 cup granulated sugar
* 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
* 2 large eggs
* 3 ripe bananas
* 1 tablespoon milk
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 teaspoon salt


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan.

Cream the sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a small bowl, mash the bananas with a fork. Mix in the milk and cinnamon. In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Add the banana mixture to the creamed mixture and stir until combined. Add dry ingredients, mixing just until flour disappears.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Remove bread from pan, invert onto rack and cool completely before slicing.

Spread slices with honey or serve with ice cream.
- Food Network

The only way in which I deviated was to exclude one of the three bananas; it got a little gross since I had planned to make this a few days ago. But I will say, however, that this was hands down the best banana bread I've ever eaten. I HIGHLY recommend this recipe. The 15 minutes you let it cool before turning it out will be a very long 15 minutes...

Tango Sur - Chicago, Il

October 9th, 2008

I recently vacationed in Chicago, staying with my best friend (awwwwwww). One thing we discussed was going to a dinner somewhere that might be worthy of a review. Without hesitation he picked Tango Sur. I have experienced American steakhouses where dark wood and dim lights create ambiance for big steaks; and Brazilian steakhouses where meats (on swords!) are brought to the table in waves; and Japanese steakhouses where I get cranky if my Teppen chef does not transition the onion volcano into a choo-choo train. Tango Sur was my first Argentinian steakhouse.

No gimmicks, just good food.

We started with what my friend told me was basically an appetizer ritual when he goes to Tango Sur: Spinach & Cheese Empanadas. Not to detract from the rest of the meal, details still forthcoming below, but the empanadas we heavenly. The entire meal was delicious, but the appetizers stole the show.

Luckily we ordered the appetizers and our entrees at once, so I did get something else to write about. I had the Bife Vesuvio - steak stuffed with spinach, cheese and garlic. It may seem slightly redundant to get something stuffed with spinach and cheese after the empanada, but I was tantalized by the garlic (I believe it was the only item on the menu that specifically listed garlic. What was a guy to do?). Ultimately it was the right order; it was delicious. The steak, actually, was fine. I feel like it was a hunk of flank steak or something similar -- tough and plain. It was seasoned perfectly so that I almost forgot how dangerously close it came to being dry. The stuffing was out of this world. I feel like garlic and cheese on anything is almost cheating, but I won't complain. I loved it.

We both ate an incredible amount of food, but it is hard to pass on dessert so we decided to split a slice of carrot cake. Even the dessert was great. It was slightly more dense than what I consider a traditional carrot cake, which was right up my alley.

We bought wine from the over-priced wine store across the street from the restaurant. Tango Sur is b.y.o.b. and they charged (I believe) no corking fee. As a practical matter, the over-priced wine from the store was still less expensive than it would have been off a restaurant menu, so take that into consideration if you go to the same store.

This was a great restaurant and without his suggestion, I never would have found it on my own.

Tango Sur is located at 3763 N Southport Ave, between Grace and Waveland.


October 8th, 2008

Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1012804/

RedbeltREDBELT is the story of Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a Jiu-Jitsu master who has avoided the prize fighting circuit, choosing instead to pursue an honorable life by operating a self-defense studio with a samurai's code.

An accident on a dark, rainy night at Terry's studio between an off-duty officer and a distraught lawyer (Emily Mortimer) puts in motion a series of events that will change Terry's life dramatically, introducing him to a world of promoters (Ricky Jay, Joe Mantegna) and movie star Chet Frank (Tim Allen). Faced with this, in order to pay off his debts and regain his honor, Terry must step into the ring for the first time in his life.

Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) runs a martial-arts studio, always emphasizing the arts' use being rooted in self defense only. He has a reputation as a passivist, but his honor is tested when a series of events back him against a wall. He is played like a fool and has to regain his honor and come up with enough money to pay off his debts.

This was not your typical martial-arts movie -- well, it wasn't really a martial-arts movie at all. Sure Terry is a teacher, and the movie involves a competition, but the movie is more about the web woven by writer and director David Mamet. The plot is mainly about the trouble Terry suddently finds himself in with no feasible way out and the jiu-jitsu is used almost like a prop. I enjoyed how each of the characters became involved, voluntarily or otherwise. Each player was a pawn in the game. I enjoyed this movie only for what it could have been. In execution, it was a weak effort.

And while David Mamet may be known for his obscure plots and confusing endings, this movie left much to be desired by way of substance. It was VERY rushed and moved too quickly. To defend the pace, the ideas were not that complex and required little to set them in motion. But the movie could have easily been given some depth and lengthened. I feel that this story could have been better sold to HBO or someone as a mini-series rather than a stand-alone movie. There were many characters that warranted more attention than they were given, but before you knew it, the movie was over.

Maybe Mamet was trying to capitalize on the popularity surge that mixed martial arts has enjoyed recently. I fall in with the crowd that has made MMA fighting something to watch. I have to admit that I was disappointed in the lack of fight scenes.

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October 3rd, 2008
Being John MalkovichCraig Schwartz: Can I buy you a drink, Maxine?
Maxine: Are you married?
Craig Schwartz: Yes, but enough about me.

Samuel Adams Octoberfest

October 2nd, 2008

As my horizons broaden into more seasonal beers, as they have lately, this was a natural choice. Whose favorite "season" doesn't involve Germans celebrating beer anyway? Octoberfest was featured as a rotating tap at a restaurant/bar; so my first experience is based solely on Octoberfest draft.

In a word: delicious.

To elaborate: I said that it was almost like having a meal in a glass, but that was misinterpreted as full-bodied. I realize that I chose my words poorly. This beer tastes like your favorite crusty bread soaked in beer. That may not appeal to you. It wouldn't appeal to the late Dr. Atkins. It appealed to me just fine.

I have a new reason to look forward to fall: the leaves change color; the temperature begins its descent; and Samuel Adams Octoberfest hits the shelves (and taps).

I'm walking!

October 1st, 2008

As my fourth week "post-op" (knee surgery. no big deal.) comes to a close, I face an exciting milestone. Tomorrow I get to put weight on my right leg for the first time in a month. I told my physical therapist that I will crutch through the office all day and take my first step(s) under her watch. Though I admitted that it will be something like Steve Martin towards the end of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. (I apologize that the link isn't to the exact scene referenced, but I cannot find it. This is the closest I could come.)

Have you ever done that? Where you slip a movie reference, allbeit maybe an obscure movie reference, into day-to-day conversation and then immediately turn your eyes on your audience, watching intently for any signs of recognition? You don't do it to feel superior by stumping this person, someone may not know at all (though this happens, but under different circumstances). You do it reaching out in the night for someone you may call "brother." Simply someone with whom you may share a moment, however brief.

My reference was lost on my physical therapist. She's never seen Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. I was a man on a lonely island with no one to appreciate my reference. My solution? you ask. You should all get your hands on a copy of this movie.

This Side of Paradise - F. Scott Fitzgerald

September 29th, 2008

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott FitzgeraldThis Side of Paradise established F. Scott Fitzgerald as the prophet and golden boy of the newly dawned Jazz Age. Published in 1920 when Fitzgerald was just twenty-three, it is the story of Amory Blaine, a privileged, aimless, and self-absorbed Princeton student whose journey from prep school to college to the First World War is a prescient account of what Gertrude Stein would later call the Lost Generation. Fitzgerald memorably describes Amory and his contemporaries as "a new generation...grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken." An exuberant pastriche of literary styles, this dazzling, virtuosic chronicle of youth remains recognizably relevant today.

This story is about Amory Blaine, a young man whose story we follow from his early childhood of great privilege through his college graduation to see him develop a great skepticism. It may have been his life's great economic downturn, maybe it was his poor luck at love, or maybe a mix of these and more led Amory to his new perspective. As readers we feel sorry for what has been forced to endure, but the silver lining comes as Amory and his mates discuss love, politics and growing up. The opinions they share are substantial, eye-opening, and they still ring true generations later.

This book was recommended to me a few years back by a friend. I asked her what her favorite book was and this was her response. It obviously took me awhile to get around to reading it, but I am glad I did. Better late than never, as they say.

I feel the book is best broken up into three sections: pre-college, college and post-college. And the first and third sections were my favorites. The pre-college section covers his childhood as Fitzgerald writes him as an Elizabethan "mack daddy." I laughed continuously as the young man with the silver tongue would, always minding his manners, attempt to seduce any woman he encountered.

The college section, which is the majority of the book, we begin to see the transformation of Amory Blaine. Through a group of friends that I found similar to the Dead Poets Society from the movie of the same name, Amory begins to finally see pain, suffering and injustice. He is handed a social conscience and wears it from then on as a badge of courage. This section of the book grew a little monotonous for me and was where I had to strengthen my resolve to get through it.

The post-college section, though somewhat pessimistic, was my favorite part of the book. In this final few chapters to the book I believe I found why my friend had recommended it. While I agreed with some of Amory's arguments at the end of the book and disagreed with others, I found them all to have merit. I must admit that I am even depressed that many of Amory's complaints about the state of society still plague society today. I applaud the author for writing a book that is still relevant so many years later.

This Side of Paradise is a short book where you may breeze through the beginning, lose interest in the middle, and become somewhat empassioned towards the end. I did not love this book, but I enjoyed parts of it a good deal. I'm glad to have now read some Fitzgerald other than just The Great Gatsby.

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