Sunday, October 28, 2007

A year in...

Birthday itinerary
Originally uploaded by jyew.
11:30 - Arrival of transport
12:00 - Lunch @ everyday cook
1:30 - Coffee @ Sweetwater
3:15 - Movie screening of The Darjeeling Limited
5:30 - Retrieve birthday specials
7:00 - Wine and Cheese @ the UM Museum of Art
8:15 - Dinner at eve

This the "schedule" that my dear sweet husband planned for my birthday yesterday. He surprised me with it on Wednesday after I had spent the week pestering him about where we should go for dinner (yes, I am shameless that way...)

I had a great time :) Apart from the fact that I enjoyed everything that we did, more importantly, it was just about spending the day with Jude. This is a busy semester for him- what with teaching and preparing for his prelims- and time is our most guarded commodity right now. So the fact that he set aside almost the entire day to celebrate my birthday with me was more precious than any present he could have bought.

I have few thoughts for my birthday this year. Somehow, once you've reconciled yourself to the fact that you're finally in your thirties, everything else after is kind of moot... I did make a decision though: I refuse to be one of those women who whine and moan about growing old. There is so much in my life right now that I'm proud of and thankful for that growing older has actually been a most awesome journey. I'm in a better place emotionally, physically and intellectually than I had been 10 years ago, and more than ever, secure in the love of my family and friends. And I have the love of a wonderful man who makes me happy everyday. So if this is what it means to grow old, then I say, bring it on! :)

[Birthday photos here.]

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tune of the week: Marcel King - Reach for love

I recently got my hands on the compilation set Palatine: The Factory Story 1979 - 1990. One of the tracks that has stood out for me is the above track by Marcel King. It's a track that should have been a hit in the '80s - '90s and seems a little incongruent with Factory Records' other acts.

Marcello Carlin, who maintains the brit music blog "The Church of Me", articulates this incongruence more explicitly by saying:
Produced by Bernard Sumner, it received enthusiastic, if slightly baffled, notices in the music press but sold minimally, even though it filled the floor of the Haçienda regularly; to this day [Happy Mondays lead singer] Shaun Ryder regards it as the best record Factory ever released...

Listening to "Reach For Love" now, it seems like a pop single just slightly out of its time - it should have been a huge hit, but Factory's legendarily crap distribution and marketing facilities militated against that, as did lack of radio play. There is also the question of whether "Reach For Love" was slightly too intense a song and performance to become that huge a hit.

I got the video quote above from the excellent BBC america blog "Anglophenia".

What fascinates me about this track is how little known it is despite it's awesomeness. I would have surely hit the dance floor with my "side punk" hairdo when I was a teenager ;) I see some parallels between this track by Marcel King and Lee Osler's "Back to Ypsilanti" that I raised in a previous blogpost. Both are tracks that have a very obvious pop/dance appeal and in my opinion should have been much popular. But for one reason or another, both tracks and their performers have faded into pop obscurity.

I did a little investigation into Marcel King and apparently he was the lead singer for a motown-esque band called Sweet Sensation that had a number 1 hit with a song called Sad Sweet Dreamer. I am sure you've heard it before. I've attached the youTube video below for good measure.

Tragically, Marcel King has since passed away. The result of a brain hemorrhage, as stated on the "Find a grave" website (???).

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mystery present

So I opened the mail-box today and was surprised by an early birthday present, a beautiful ivory scarf from Anthropologie! But there was no enclosed card and no return address on the purchase slip. Few people know of my penchant for all things Anthropologie, and even fewer know our address, which leaves me a little baffled at who my secret gift-giver is...

But whoever it is, thank you! It's a gorgeous scarf, with lovely embroidery, and beautifully packaged. It comes at the perfect time just as the weather's turning chilly and I have a feeling I'm going to be wearing my first birthday present of the year a lot over the next 5 months!

Thank you, thank you, whoever you are! :)

*Update: My sister, Sherri called last night and hurriedly screamed into the phone, "It's me! It's me!" She wanted to be absolutely sure no one else claimed credit for her lovely gift :) Thank you again!

Boys will be boys...

One of several high-points at our friend, Dan's birthday party yesterday (for another, see here) was watching Jude and Tobin test the boundaries of each others' "tickle threshold"... I'm so glad I managed to capture the moment :)

[click for The Tickle Sequence]

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

An extended Like Water for Chocolate moment...

These days, when Serene Koh gets upset, she cooks. I figure it's cheaper than therapy. Or shopping, which is what I would have done in my past life. But since that requires funds I do not currently possess- and Ann Arbor isn't what one would consider the shopping mecca of the world anyway- cooking it was today...

I was feeling a little crummy that I had to squander my Fall break on a meeting in my windowless basement office instead of being to do my own work. And so when I got home in the evening, I raided the fridge and cooked up a teeny-mini storm. For dinner, it was sup kum hor fun, which is basically pan-fried rice noodles with seafood in an egg-based gravy (adapted from here). It's pure comfort food from home, and something readily available at many food stalls in Singapore. Jude and I haven't really found anywhere here that does a good version so I figured what we crave and can't get outside, we'll just have to recreate on our own... It turned out pretty well, and quite close to the real thing, actually- my mom would be proud! :)

For dessert (yes, I was that upset...) I made a simple apple crisp from Simply Recipes. It calls for hardly any ingredients at all, and was ridiculously easy to make. We had some slightly tart Michigan Honey Crisps lying in the fridge which are perfect for this recipe. The apples should be tart because you don't want the dessert cloyingly sweet like an apple pie. It ended up being a most delightful juxtaposition of texture and flavor- the sweet and buttery crunchy oat topping against the tender, slightly tart apples (the flavor intensifies beautifully as it baked), served warm and made even more yummy with a scoop of cold, creamy ice-cream...

So yes, it was one extended Like Water For Chocolate moment- channeling all my frustrations into the cooking. Thankfully no one cried after cake or went into a quail-induced frenzy (mostly because I didn't make cake or quail. Ok, sorry... Go read the book.) I feel much better than I did this afternoon and we had a good dinner plus yummy leftovers- almost makes being moody worthwhile. But only almost... :)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lawrence Lessig on Corruption

Something that I came across via BoingBoing. I have been curious with Lawrence Lessig's new preoccupation with corruption, ever since he announced it in June this year. Having spent 10 years dedicating himself to the fight over intellectual property and copyright, Lessig has chosen to take on a new concern for the next 10years. The above video constitutes as his first public thoughts on the topic and I have found it a very stimulating watch.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Grace is Gone

I love John Cusack- always have. Ever since his boom-boxing days in Say Anything, he's been that celebrity crush who's always accessible somehow... He's not out-of-reach swoonworthy like Brad Pitt for example, or incredibly debonair like George Clooney. He just comes across as that guy who'll take you out on a date on a bus, make you laugh till your guts hurt, and then watch you as you stuff your face with a giant ice-cream sundae and not judge because he's having one too...

I was upset when they turned High Fidelity into a movie, but he (and Jack Black) saved it; I can't believe I sat through Must Love Dogs, but was at least grateful for the delightful chemistry between him and Diane Lane; and Serendipity has got to be one of the most formulaic and predictable romantic comedies ever made, and yet it was made somehow watchable because he was in it. I think people too often think of John Cusack as a comic actor more than anything else, but part of his allure for me is that aside from the goofball charm and sparkling wit, he is also often capable of exuding a kind of ordinary sadness, an everyday melancholy that's not dramatic or overwrought. Even in his comedies. You empathize with his plight, laugh with him, laugh at him, sometimes, but then you feel a little sad too, and you just want to reach out and give him a hug...

But this... this is heartbreaking.
[click for website and trailer]

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Across the Universe II

So it's been about two weeks, and I'm still mersmerized by the song. Unbelievable. It's just one of those songs you can listen to over and over again, and with each time, you discover one more thing about it that just gets to you...

To begin with, the lyrics contain just some of the most evocative visual imagery committed to song:
Words are flowing out like
endless rain into a paper cup
They slither while they pass
They slip away across the universe...

Thoughts meander like a
restless wind inside a letter box
they tumble blindly as
they make their way across the universe...

Yesterday, John Lennon would have been 67, and if nothing else in the world, the man was a poet. And the entire song just goes on like this- waves upon waves of sumptuous poetry.

My cousin Terri and I had a conversation- ok, it was more of a one-sided outrage on her part- about who has made the better cover of the song. Until the movie, I'd only heard the original, and the one that Rufus Wainwright did for I Am Sam.

I love the gorgeous guitar instrumentation, and it is an absolutely stunning video (although Dakota Fanning does scare me a little). It helps that Rufus' signature drawl is ever alluring, of course... But Terri opened a whole other world when she recommended Fiona Apple's cover, featured on the Pleasantville soundtrack (which explains the video a little):

The video isn't as well-shot as Rufus Wainwright's but what she has done to the song is just beautiful... All lush and shimmery. And her voice has that amazingly mellow, melancholic yearning that's just perfect with the lyrics.

Enjoy, and I hope the song stays with you as it's staying with me... :)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

This is Jude's most anticipated film of 2007

* UPDATE * Just discovered 2 pretty good articles in today's Sunday New York Times about the movie and the band.
- "The Cult of the lads from Manchester" by Dennis Lim
- "Music to brood by, desolate and stark" by Simon Reynolds
(Reynolds is one of my favorite pop culture critics/theorists and he's written several times before about Joy Division. Most recently in his book, "Rip It Up and Start Again", he chronicles the years postpunk music was active.)

Already open in Europe, this clip is an interesting mashup from vintage footage of the band with scenes from Control, the biopic about Ian Curtis, the deceased lead singer of the now defunct band, Joy Division. Based mostly on the book "Touching From a Distance" by Deborah Curtis (the wife of the deceased protagonist), the film is directed by Anton Corbijn and features the relative fresh faces of Sam Riley and Samantha Morton. Reading up in anticipation for this movie, it seems that most of the live audio footage features performances done by the cast themselves. I am eager to hear how they've interpreted the music. You can view the official trailer below:

Joy Division, the other bands that they spawned - New Order etc, the record label that they helped shape - Factory Records, the cover art for each of their record releases designed by Peter Saville, and the nebulous genre of music that they were credited with - postpunk, were a very important part of my teenhood.

There's hot chocolate...

...and then there's Peruvian drinking chocolate.

The kind of chocolate you sip, not gulp; that doesn't need the unnecessary adornment of marshmallows because you don't want to to ruin the deep, dark richness of something so gloriously amazing; it's the kind of drink that doesn't just go down your throat, it slides- slowly and smoothly, allowing you to taste every complex flavor, every velvety molecule...

So Jude and I were at Whole Foods for dinner and we decided that instead of coffee, we'd try something different tonight. We got hot chocolate instead, and the guy at the coffee bar suggested that we try two different kinds- one Peruvian and one Costa Rican, just to taste the difference. We got the Costa Rican one first and it was good, one of the better hot chocolates we've had.

Then he made us the Peruvian one.

And with one sip, Jude and I stared at each other like we had just experienced something phenomenal. Because it almost was. We were literally floored... It is the single best hot chocolate we've ever tasted. Like espresso is to coffee, this has got to be the best way to really taste liquid chocolate. Served only in a small cup, this single-source artisan hot chocolate has very little milk content, which means you get to taste the deep intensity of the chocolate. And like good wine and coffee, good drinking chocolate is heavily influenced by its region of production. Because the region of Peru that produces this chocolate is also abundant in bananas and orchids, this means the chocolate is infused with very complex flavors that mingle sweet fruity notes with rounder, deeper floral ones...

So yes, Peruvian drinking chocolate at Whole Foods- the most luxurious $1.99 you will ever spend... :)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Eames Elephants

Jude and I love a well-designed piece of furniture as much as the next couple, but in particular, we both really appreciate the Eames designs (and what they've done for Herman Miller) for their modern simplicity and clean lines. Charles and Ray Eames are renowned for their designs that while stunning in their own way, are not obtrusive. Most importantly, the two of them were able to beautifully meld functionality, design and comfort into everything they made, choosing flexible three dimensionally shaped materials that would better support the human form rather than upholstery. One day, we tell ourselves, we will have one piece of Eames furniture in our house. One day... :)

So anyway, in honor of Charles Eames's 100th birthday, the Eames Office is making available the iconic Plywood Elephants in limited quantities. They were never in production, and hence have never been put on sale. Now, for $1907, those of you with some spare cash can own a small piece of design history. For regular folks like us, we'll just have to make do with a most delightful stop-motion animation, "A Gathering of Elephants" put together by Eames' grandson for the occasion.

[click for streaming video]

What works is better than what looks good. The looks good can change, but what works, works.
-Ray Eames

[As seen in Boing Boing.]

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Love song for a ...

** UPDATE: According to the ever insightful Pitchforkmedia website (and thanks to Jude's music guru-ness), there's controversy a-brewing with the SNL short. Apparently they lifted the backing track from a certain Richard D. James, a.k.a Aphex Twin. Check out the original below and compare it with what Adam Samberg did with the track.


This was the highlight of our Saturday night- watching Andy Samberg and Adam Levine of Maroon 5 croon a love song to Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad... Yes, you heard right- the guy who rapped fiercely about Magnolia cupcakes, the Chronicles of Narnia and Justin Timberlake's D*** in a Box has done it again!

Saw the mp3 on srah's blog and remembered that I should share this before NBC rips it off YouTube. This is making me so happy on this rainy Monday afternoon :)

[In the eventuality that the video is removed, you can watch it here.]