The Art of the Binge

So much Netflix, so little time.

I will continue to champion Rectify as one of the best shows out there. Terrific acting. Great cinematography and yes, a plot as slow as molasses, but this cast pulls it off.

rectify

Have you watched The Crown? Minus a bit of uncertainty in the first few episodes related to Elizabeth I’s father, it was well worth my time.

crown

When you read Monica Wood’s book ‘The One-in-a-Million Boy’ you can’t help but wonder why it has not generated more buzz. And then you remember, fame is not usually an indicator of talent.

monicawood

If you are interested in quirky [Australian] television, might I suggest Offspring or Please Like Me. The actors are refreshingly (or perhaps startlingly) normal looking with imperfect teeth and none of the magical lighting that makes 50 year old women look like they’re 25.

offspring

pleaselikeme

Current Fixations

It’s been a while since I found something captivating enough to mention it here, but if you are at all interested in period dramas, check out Andrew Davies’ adaptation of War and Peace. I found myself holding my breath at times.

warpeace

Courtesy of a somewhat codependent mancold, I have spent an unusual amount of time in the company of Netflix. Truly there is very little out there worth watching, but if you’re going to watch a series, it might as well be Broadchurch. Well-cast, and each season only has eight or nine episodes. Translation: you could finish it in a weekend.

broadchurch

Given my seeming lack of effort where clothes and makeup are concerned, it would surprise most people to learn that I’ve been fascinated with couture and fashion magazines for as long as I can remember.

I spent many an hour as a young person attempting to draw clothes with stick figures and markers and was always disappointed that it did not resemble in any way the designer sketches seen in books and magazines.

It wasn’t until I watched Iris on Netflix over Christmas Break, that I suddenly remembered my youthful fascination. I’ve since told every creative person I know about this documentary because it’s thoroughly interesting and inspiring. The professor loved it too.

iris

My love of Iris inspired me to check out another Netflix documentary I’d put on ‘My List’ ages ago: Dior and I. It turned out to be an intriguing look inside one of the world’s biggest fashion houses. And to observe the process of putting together a couture collection.

dior

Best of 2015

I’m surely not the only one who’s had bordering-on-zero luck when it comes to finding a good movie. Thus, at the beginning of the school year I basically decided to give up Netflix in search of greater productivity and efficiency in my life. The streak lasted a couple of months, during which I assiduously avoided watching any multi-episode, multi-season shows, and even movies. But fatigue and boredom finally came knocking last week and I went back to scrolling through countless movie options to see if there might be anything worth watching. And I found a few gems.

I actually found St. Vincent at the library and remembered being intrigued by the trailer. But I was leery of the Melissa McCarthy factor, because have you seen Identity Thief? Tammy? But all was well and this turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable movie.

vincent

Five to Seven seemed destined to join the ranks of the hundreds of lame movies I’ve watched, but the last part of the movie was so good it completely redeemed the mediocre first half.

hero_5to7-2015-1

And then, because I felt I was on a good-movie-roll, I tried While We’re Young. Because I remember laughing at the previews. And maybe Naomi Watts was responsible for St. Vincent’s success.

It was the first movie in a while that actually had me thinking. About life and priorities and stuff. A movie that entertained and provoked? Crazy.

young

Five episodes into the third season of Rectify, I maintain it’s the best show I’ve ever watched. Yes, the story unfolds at a glacial pace, but it does so without being boring. The characters are completely interesting and the acting is remarkable. But more than that, this is a show that has you thinking about it, long after the credits have disappeared from the screen.

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If nothing else, I will remember 2015 as being the year I discovered Ashley Rodriguez’s recipe for Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies. It has changed both my life and my waistline. Found in her well worth-it cookbook, Date Night In, it can also be found on the Smitten Kitchen blog. ‘Can I have ten of these cookies for Christmas?’ the Gort asked me yesterday, ‘to eat whenever I want to?’

download (1)

Given my lack of enthusiasm and commitment in the kitchen in recent months, it does seem odd that I tend to check out cookbooks by the dozen from my local library. Apparently I enjoy the ritual of flipping through pages of recipes and photos without any of the cumbersome follow-through, i.e. cooking. I happened to spot Charles Phan’s Slanted Door in the ‘new and notable’ section. And truly this is one of the best cookbooks I’ve ever read. The recipes and beautiful pictures of food are interspersed with stories of how the restaurant came to be and events in the life of this world famous place. Sadly, my only interaction with the Slanted Door was drooling over the interior while standing outside the restaurant in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. And purchasing something from their to-go business. Now, will I actually try my hand at ‘Shaking Beef’? Survey says…..probably not.

slanteddoor

I heard of this movie via a Facebook post from my brother-in-law. Several weeks, months, later I finally sat down with my little ipad and watched A Most Violent Year. Surrounded by the duds that define the current movie industry, this was a gem of suspenseful, riveting storytelling. And who is Oscar Isaac? It’s like he was born to play this part.

download

Ashamed by my Netflix excess, I’ve essentially gone on a strict viewing hiatus since February/March. But lately, on the rare Friday or Saturday night when I’ve found myself with a few minutes to spare, I’ve watched an episode of Chef’s Table which features world-famous chefs in their milieu. It’s beautiful food and cinematography, yes, but I find the interviews with the chefs thoroughly fascinating.

chefstable

Just when I thought I was done with Netflix (ugh, House of Cards Season 3!) I inadvertently started binge-watching episodes of The Mindy Project. I found myself LOL-ing during many an episode. And at only 22 minutes per episode, the time commitment is minimal. (Don’t waste your time with season 3. There’s a reason the show was dropped.)

mindy

If you’ve visited this blog once in the last two months, you’ve undoubtedly picked up on my obsession with Friday Night Lights. Very late to the party (not sure what I was doing in 2006), I started watching the show after hearing about it from another blogger. And, five seasons and 76 episodes later, all crammed into four (more like three) weeks of my life, I’ve emerged victorious from my binge-a-thon.

FNL

As soon as I finished Friday Night Lights, I determined it was time to return to the written word. I started with Molly Wizenberg’s book, Delancey, and immediately followed it up with her first book. Homemade Life. The recipes are good. And so is the writing.

homemade

Whilst perusing a shelf of selected paperbacks at the library, I picked up Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger. I liked the title, and the cover, and it boasted ‘New York Times Bestseller’. It turned out to be a very good read, reminiscent of The Wonder Years complete with 13 year old boy narrator and 1960’s setting.

grace

Best of 2014

I don’t remember how or why we started watching this, but I will go on record as saying this is one of the best shows out there. IF you can get past the main character, Daniel’s, eerily-similar-to-Forrest-Gump voice. Also he looks a lot like my cousin.

rectify

Kelsey Grammer is a fine actor. Despite its short life-span, and way too many close-ups of physical encounters, this show had a lot of strong performances.

boss

There is much anticipation, chez nous, for the month of February. And not *just* because of Valentine’s Day. House of Cards’ third season should make an appearance then.

hoc

As will The Americans. (And, eventually, season 3 of Rectify.)

americans

The year’s other noteworthy discoveries? These little perfectly salty and (overly) sweet holiday gems. A nice substitute for the year when you didn’t have the time or inclination to make peppermint bark.

pretzels

Finally, summer

I’ve spent all of my adulthood declining any offer of beer because I didn’t care for the taste. And then one day a friend comes over for dinner and hands me a can of Stiegl Radler. ‘I thought we could share this,’ she said. And she told me it was grapefruit beer and I agreed to try it. And now I’m slightly obsessed with it in much the same way I had minor obsessions with Fresca, and those colorful cans of San Pellegrino Pompelmo or Aranciata Rosso, back in the day when I used to consume beverages other than water. I’ve always been a sucker for citrus.

beer

I go through reading spurts. Times when I read a fair amount and times where I check out books from the library and return them weeks later without even reading the first paragraph. I’m currently in the latter phase; a stack of uninteresting, uninspired books beside my bed and I can’t be bothered to look at any of them. Until I got a copy of The Orenda from the library.

A friend had loaned me her copy of Boyden’s Through Black Spruce many years ago. The writing was so good but, try as I might, I couldn’t get into the book. (Same with the very talented Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists.) Part of me worries the same thing will happen with The Orenda, but better a few pages of a good book than plowing through a bad one.

book

Even if I hadn’t managed to see First Aid Kit on my birthday…in Chicago…with my sister…I would still be (almost as) happy listening to their brand new album. Unlike their other Swedish predecessors (yes, ABBA, I’m looking at you) their lyrics are occasionally profound and/or poetic. Unlike ‘it was the time of the flower power’.

firstaidkit

Do you have (an American) Target in your vicinity? Do you wear lipstick? Then you need Boots No. 7’s Entice. One of the only lipsticks I’ve ever managed to thoroughly deplete.

lipstick‘Tis the season…..for iced coffee. Two things plague me in this area, however. One, Starbucks doesn’t have iced decaf coffee, so you have to ask for an iced decaf americano. The taste is a bit strong, and depending on the barista, you might end up with lukewarm coffee with quickly melting ice cubes. Less than ideal. And two, coming up with just the right name for the color of brown I want, so that I can share it with the drive-through barista that they might put the right amount of cream in my iced coffee. Because drinking overly creamy iced coffee is just not a good thing. I realize this is ridiculous, even for a first world problem.

coffee

Waiting for Spring

Maybe some day I will turn into the kind of person who jogs in the dark or speaks rapturously about vegan date bars (as though they’re somehow an adequate substitute for desserts containing butter and sugar.) And maybe that jogging, restrictive-eating version of Nicola will also not fall prey to Netflix and binge watching.

But alas, the time has not yet come for Nicola 2.0.

Hence I spent the better part of last week watching House of Cards on Netflix, at the request of the professor who’d already seen the first season but wanted me to watch it so we could view season 2 ensemble. How good is Kevin Spacey?! And Robin Wright. And the whole cast, really.

(And how thankful am I that I don’t get paid obscene amounts of money to make out with Kevin Spacey……)

All’s I know, is that Nicola 2.0 will not be making an appearance in February either, since that’s when season 2 is due for release (along with the second season of The Americans.) Note to shows: please don’t disappoint in the manner of Arrested Development season 4.

houseofcards

If you’re in need of a well-written tearjerker, might I suggest……Yes, I’m very late to the game. (Apparently it’s been turned into a movie to be released in 2014.) After plowing through Donna Tartt’s latest tome, I was especially happy to find a book can be both ‘short’ and ‘good’.

books

This is, hard to believe, my sixth winter in Cal-gehry. Last year I finally acquired an Eddie Bauer down-stuffed parka and this year I’m investing in better gloves, a hat (toque!) and…..socks.

Yes, I have become the kind of person who spends money on socks. But when your toes feel like icicles 6 months of the year, you don’t have much of a choice. Smartwool, I’m a fan. Only downside, it proved to me what I’d long suspected, my ‘winter’ boots aren’t exactly winterized. Next on my list: Sorel boots. Apparently their ‘Glacier’ boot will keep your feet comfortable in -40 temps.

socks

boots

Matt LeBlanc is (was?) in a show as (mostly) himself. It’s actually kind of funny. And the episodes are short, so if you binge-watch, you won’t be up until 3am.

episodes

Chocolate. With Sea Salt. And Almonds to make it healthy.

theochocolate

If you have a spare couple of weeks and don’t mind wearing out your retinas or corneas or what have you….

goldfinch

Autumnal Amusements

I love using the local public library for borrowing books rather than buying them. But the downside is, sometimes you have to wait a long time to get your hands on a book. Like six or nine months-long. I waited for this book for more than half a year and, I’ve no idea why I thought to reserve it in the first place, but it turned out to be a very good read. Compelling story full of heartbreak and grace.

download

Whilst driving around Calgary one day, I saw the word ‘Stumptown’ painted on the wall of Luke’s Drug Mart in Bridgeland. ‘Tis the name of my very favorite coffee from Oregon. I kept driving because it was impossible to turn around and I had another errand to run, but fifteen minutes later I made my way back to Luke’s to see why they’d painted the word Stumptown on their wall. Turns out they’re shipping beans from Seattle every Wednesday and selling them right here in Calgary. My coffee life just got a whole lot better.

coffee

During one of my waste-of-time internet moments, I learned that Jennifer Aniston (she who is perpetually pregnant) had this trainer named Mandy Ingber using some hybrid yoga method called Yogalosophy. Many months later I found it in the aisles of (Canadian!) Target and many months after that, I finally opened the DVD and did the 35 minute ‘express’ work-out.

It makes me curse every time.

yoga

Summer Fun

Whilst at the dentist office with the boys, I saw an article in People magazine about ‘shows you don’t want to miss’. Or something like that. The professor and I started watching ‘The Americans’ that night, and have become slightly addicted to this low-tech spy story set in the early 80’s. It’s slightly less embarrassing than our late-Spring, Scandal addiction and our subsequent ‘Olivia Pope’ imitations.

americans

The Gort played this board game with his cousins and loved it so much that I bought it for him. And then I got an ipad and found out there’s a Ticket to Ride app for said ipad……Playing this kept me awake and alive on that last day of driving from Indiana to Calgary.

ticket

And, if you’re looking for a ‘divine lush red-violet cream’ shade of nailpolish, check out Essie’s Big Spender.

essie

I knew my taste in movies had gone to the dark side when I watched Madagascar 3 with the boys and thought it was one of the most enjoyable movies I’d seen in a long time. So I hesitate to recommend a movie that received a whopping 41% audience approval rating on my beloved rottentomatoes. But I laughed out loud more than once and it’s only 80 minutes long so, in one critic’s words: ’30 Minutes or Less lacks logic, and it doesn’t make use of its title concept in any interesting way, but the film is funny, fast and entertaining through-and-through.’

30mins

Spring Fever

Nine weeks of restrictive eating will make you crazy if you have a bit of a sugar problem. Especially if you have a Sidewalk Citizen Bakery in the vicinity. I’m convinced I’d weigh 5 pounds less if I had never tried their Morning Glories, sticky buns or ganache-covered brownies. Personally, that’s a compromise I can live with.

morningglory

Wintry April

Blur of snow of wintry temps. Yes, April, that’s you! Fortunately I had the couch to comfort me during your endless gray days.

bond

Most enjoyable movie I’ve seen in a long time – the fashion, the cinematography, the interior styling, creepy Javier Bardem and Scotland. Loved it.

wolves

A very good read.

yoga

And, since we spent another 4 weeks doing the Game On Challenge, what better way to spend April, than with my favorite trainer slash motivational speaker, Jillian.

March Madness

If you’ve spent any time in the US of A during the month of March, you might recall that March Madness refers to the NCAA basketball tournament. All things college.basketball.brackets.finalfour.

[But here in Canadaland, March Madness is a term better suited to the fact that it’s ‘Spring’ though decidedly Winter.]

This March, ‘Madness’ refers to my ongoing quest to attain some level of physical fitness.

the-game-on-diet

The professor and I have spent our March doing this challenge which, aside from its tediousness, is an excellent way to regain some balance in all areas of life.

jillian

After a friend told me she’d been doing Jillian’s 30 Day Shred, I tried to reserve a copy from the local library. This was the only Jillian Shred DVD they had so I picked it up. And I’ve regretted that in many ways. Undoubtedly a good – if slightly exhausting – workout, I haven’t yet come to terms with Jillian’s trainer-esque way of giving harsh peptalks. Continuously. Makes me yearn for Tracy’s largely silent pouting.

tracey-anderson-060611

When I’m not ‘shedding and shredding’ with Jillian, I go back to Tracy’s cardio workout. And, when I’m really feeling inspired, I do her muscular structure exercises too. But not all at once because who in their right mind wants to spend close to 2 hours a day working out? Not me.

fitnesspal

Another friend told me about myfitnesspal.com and though I’ve never dabbled in calorie counting, it has been educational to enter my food consumed a few times a week and see just what it ‘costs’ calorically-speaking. It’s a dubious science this calorie business – absent a scale, who really knows how big the piece of chicken breast was that I ate for dinner, 60g? 3oz? I have no idea. But I like learning about the composition of my food – fat, protein, sugar – and it will hopefully impact my long-term choices for the better.

dinner

Speaking of food, I finished this book in a little over a day. Totally engrossing and simultaneously appalling.

All Things Valentine

Do you live in Calgary, Alberta? Do you have $9? If you’ve answered yes to both questions, get yourself to Village Ice Cream and purchase a pint of Salted Caramel Ice Cream. It might be the best $9 you spend all year.

village

If you’re looking for a non-caloric treat, might I suggest the wonder that is Diptyque‘s Philosykos shower gel. If savored over the course of a year, as I’ve been known to do, it’s practically affordable

diptyque

If you’re not opposed to dropping $80 on a box of chocolate, you really can’t go wrong with La Maison du Chocolat. Perhaps the perfect gift for your long-suffering wife who edits all your papers and deciphers your sleep-deprived gibberish. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

chocolat

If you care to amuse yourself with the written word, by all means pick up this book. Though the end drags a bit, I’m still laughing about a consultant urging a school committee to recruit more Mercedes Parents to their school (as opposed to Subaru parents) because [best-guess paraphrase] ‘for Mercedes parents, the right school has very little do with actual education, and everything to do with the presence of other Mercedes parents.’

bernadette

How to Chase away the January Blues

firstaidkit

One of the most enjoyable CDs I’ve listened to in a long time. Emmylou might be my new favorite song. And the professor likes it too, and we rarely like the same music.

haroldfry

A hopeful and reflective book that’s perfect for the New Year.

lindt

Maybe it’s the snow on the ground but I find myself unable to resist these milk chocolate balls filled with white chocolate. Tasty saboteurs of my New Year’s exercise plan.

moonrisekingdom

In the mood for a quirky movie that captures the emotion of growing up and being human? Try Moonrise Kingdom. One of the coolest movies I’ve seen in a long time. The professor and I both liked it (not always the case – hello Martha Marcy May Marlene). And the bright colors will chase away any middle-of-winter blues.

The images on this page were all found on Google Images. They were not taken by me.

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