The secret addiction of a series

Ever since we got rid of our network TV and all those extra cable channels, I’ll have to say that I don’t miss it one bit. I can get all my news on public radio and the internet. We now have cable for the internet and Apple TV. I don’t miss the commercials and the wasted time spent watching dumb sit-coms and those shows and movies you just happen to land on and end up watching the entire thing.

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I’ve come to like the series; multiple, commercial-free episodes. The Brits and Swedes do it really well, especially their murder mysteries and casting of real characters who actually fit the part. They don’t pair a 20-something beautiful woman with a seasoned, well known actor just to bump up the ratings. I find myself watching one episode after another, and looking at my partner for the same craving to just watch one more. Once all of the seasons have been seen, I feel like I need to find another series.

Some of my favorite series are:

  • The Killing – Follows the police investigation of the murder of a young girl, tying together three interlocking stories as investigators chase a variety of leads. View the trailer
  • Homeland – Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody returns home eight years after going missing in Iraq. Carrie Mathison, a driven CIA officer, suspects he might be plotting an attack on America. View on MDB
  • Wallander (Swedish original, British version trailer Starring Kenneth Branagh)
  • Annika Benktson: Crime Reporter – Annika Benktson is a very motivated crime reporter, even putting herself in danger to get the best story. View on MDB
  • Breaking Bad – Informed he has terminal cancer, an underachieving chemistry genius turned high school teacher uses his expertise to secretly provide for his family by producing the world’s highest quality crystal meth. View trailer
  • Foyle’s War – As World War II rages around the world, a police inspector fights his own war on the home-front in investigating murder, robbery, and espionage on the south coast of England. View on MDB
  • Luther – “Luther” follows the cases of a troubled yet brilliant English police detective, DCI John Luther (Idris Elba). Luther is a highly charged emotional man who is not above stretching the law to solve a case or save a life. View the trailer

A comedy of errors, restaurant style

Whenever my husband and I are in Uptown, we often pass Amore Victoria and wonder if we should try it. We usually resolve that the food wouldn’t be very good and always end up at our favorite Barbette across the street. But this time, we were thrilled to see that Amore Victoria had a brand new rooftop patio! How wonderful! So, we crossed the street and entered on the street level.

Amore rooftop from frontNoone was there to greet us, except when we were able to flag down a server who gestured toward the back of the building. We made our way past the tables on the sidewalk, saw the parking lot and spotted an unpainted wooded staircase. Could this be the entrance to the rooftop patio? We climbed the staircase, took in the view, and tried to find a “greeter”, or someone in uniform. Two servers, who looked like deer in the headlights, hurriedly passed us without even making eye contact or saying they’d be right with us. Fortunately, the busser was very friendly and motioned us to a table with a big tray on it. We walked toward the table and waited until someone took the tray before we could sit down. The busser promptly brought two red plastic glasses with water and a lemon wedge. (Why plastic glasses when all the others are glass? How tacky. Are we at Chucky Cheese?) We waited for what must have been 15 minutes before our server greeted us, saying he’d be right back for a drink order. We watched, for the next 10 minutes, as other tables in this very large section looked around for their server. We casually looked at the menu, knowing we’d have plenty of time to decide before the server had time to take our drink order. At least, we thought, the food COULD be good and make up for all of this waiting. The menu had way too many items. I thought of the wonderfully simple quality menus that Gordon Ramsey usually put together after resolving a kitchen nightmare. We chose the same red wine to make it easy, bruschetta with heirloom tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, foccacia with mixed olives, potato gnocci with gorgonzola sauce for me and seafood pasta for my husband.

In the midst of all this running around, I noticed one of the owners at the top of the stairs casually cleaning the menus, completely oblivious to the needs of the servers. I couldn’t believe it! Doesn’t he realize that all the servers are totally “in the weeds”?!

After watching our server race back and forth, and up and down the staircase, he finally approached our table when he was deterred by two ladies to our left who were wondering where one of their entrees ended up. He briskly moved down the staircase one more time, returning with her entree. He took a deep breath, pulled out his tablet and asked us if we were ready to order a glass of wine. We gave him our entire order. We continued to watch the chaotic scene and just laughed about it. What more could go wrong here? The wine came promply after we ordered and 15 minutes later the “heirloom” tomato bruschetta arrived. The bread was overly toasted and the tomatoes were small and nothing special. The foccacia was marvelous. Much later, as we were watching the sun go down over Lake Calhoun, our steaming entrees arrived. My gnocci was fabulous…soft potato pillows in a creamy gorgonzola sauce. My husband’s seafood pasta was also great, including the home made pasta. We felt bad for the server because he really was doing the best he could under the circumstances.

Even though most of our food was very good, we will not return to this comedy of errors. I can’t believe Amore Victoria is still in business. It’s too bad. They need a complete overhaul of their menu and they need to hire more servers! Gordon Ramsey, are you out there? This place needs a lot of shaking up!

Vieux “Farka” Touré

6a00d8341f7e1253ef00e54f23b3818834-800wiI was surprized to realize that Ali Farka Touré died last year from bone cancer at the age of 67. I always thought that he had to be in his mid-fifties. I guess we expect people to live forever, or at least as long as we do. Fortunately, his son Vieux has followed in his father’s footsteps as another great Malian blues master. Ernesto and I saw Vieux Farka Touré and his band at the Cedar Cultural Center tonight. They are the kind of group, much like a lot of west African groups, that could very well play until the sun rises. Vieux spoke a few words in English, so his bass-playing counterpart filled in here and there. He said that, typically a son is named “Vieux”, or “old”, in honor of his grandfather. The bass player also pointed out that Vieux periodically changes keys throughout the set, assuming that everyone else will follow. I suppose he earned the same nickname “Farka” as his father. “Farka” means donkey. Just like his father, he is stubborn like a donkey; nobody will ever ride him! It was a very good show.

IKEA-OS

6a00d8341f7e1253ef00e54f1faf6a8834-800wiThe other day we went to IKEA to purchase a stainless steel kitchen counter. We first located the item, along with its wire shelves, on the IKEA website. So, all we had to do was go over there, find the counters, and place an order in the warehouse and we’d be on our way. We approached the parking lot and immediately found the yellow entrance sign. While taking the escalator up, we started salivating when we saw the brightly colored ad for poached salmon with dill and red potatoes. We decided right then and there to have dinner first.

6a00d8341f7e1253ef00e54f1fab388834-800wiThe IKEA dining room was a bit sparse, but, according to my Swedish mom, the open-faced shrimp and hard-boiled egg sandwich was not to be missed. The two tired ladies were at the ready, their ladles anticipating the floating poached salmon with béarnaise sauce, along with the red potatoes and very overcooked greens. The next stop was the densely packed apple torte resting on a lake of vanilla sauce. I had to have the black current sparkling juice to wash it all down. We passed the high top tables and chose the lower seating with the comfortable dome lights hovering just over our heads. Once we took the last bite of apple torte, we were off to the showroom to find our new “Udden“, with its parts.

The escalator took us to the grand showroom that really just moves you around a very large warehouse from kitchen to office, to bedroom. The signs lead you around, with promises that the checkout is near. We finally saw our Udden, its stainless steel gleaming in the distance. We decided that two wire shelves would create a lot of space for all our appliances, pans, and cutting boards. We took the name and number down and made our way around the showroom toward the warehouse where we would pick up our countertop in boxes, ready to assemble.

We made it to the warehouse where there were sturdy shelves holding multiple IKEA products ready to be loaded onto large dollies. After about ten minutes, we spotted a guy in a yellow IKEA shirt. We sighed with relief that we could finally be on our way. We showed him our order form and he promptly asked us what the shelf number and bin number were on this item. We didn’t notice any such thing, only the name “Udden” and the wire shelf names. He informed us that, since the item didn’t have a shelf number or bin number, we had to go back to the showroom to order it from one of the sales people. As we rolled our eyes at the thought of trudging through the showroom once again, we made our way back, found another Udden and, after several minutes, we located a yellow shirt. This sales person was very noncommittal; somewhat annoyed that we had spotted her. Even though we were standing right in front of our Udden, she said that she really needed a visual of the item! We thought that maybe the IKEA magazine could point this out in a clearer manner.

She walked us back to the warehouse and found one of her yellow-shirted colleagues who was stationed at a computer. This new yellow shirt was fairly new and entered our Udden serial numbers not once, but twice. All she had to do was make a printout and we’d be on our way to the cashier. Unfortunately, the printer was blinking red. A very youthful yellow shirt rescued her and our order form was in our hands. The cashier was very automated with directions and a smile as she motioned toward the pickup counter; the blue counter. Ernesto said, “Well, which blue counter? They’re all blue!” It was indeed the blue counter at the far end of the store. Once we were all packed in the car, our boxes in the back seat, we were relieved to realize that we were actually done with the IKEA shopping experience. Now I know why IKEA is a multi-billion dollar industry. They don’t spend money on training their staff.

 

Playa Fun

6a00d8341f7e1253ef00e54f1d9a2b8834-800wiErnesto and I went to Playa del Carmen last week. This was the fifth time there. I just can’t say enough about this wonderful place. I go to Playa for a truly relaxing vacation. The days started with running on the beach. It’s quite a challenge to run on sand because it has very little resistance, and the tide coming in moves you from left to right. The big reward at the end of the run is to take off your running shoes and dive into the ocean. Breakfast included the usual huevos rancheros and plenty of fresh papaya with a generous sprinkle of lime juice. The rest of the morning and afternoon was spent on the beach body surfing, soaking up the sun, and looking forward to a cold Victoria and octopus, shrimp, and cod ceviche. Later on we’d meander over to the new gay Tukan beach and sit back at the bar with a piña colada while we’d watch people bake on the beach. There were usually a group of guys doing acrobatics, assisted by an embedded bosu ball in the sand. Some days they had drummers to accompany them.

By around 4pm we’d head back to the hotel room for our nap in the hammocks. I really like the Shangri La Caribe hotel. This is the second time we go there. The “garden” rooms we stayed in have two levels. They look like they were designed by an architect influenced by Swiss chalets and Mayan palapas. The second floor rooms, where we stayed, have vaulted ceilings since they are part of the palapa. They all have balconies with hammocks. After our nap, we’d get ready to go out on the town. “La Quinta”, or 5th avenue, runs parallel to the beach. La Quinta has lots of restaurants, most of them Italian. There are plenty of ex-patriot and quaint Mexican bars, and gift shops with hand made crafts. I realized that thousands of people walked up and down the beach during the day, and in the evening, thousands of people walked up and down La Quinta. We did the same, and eventually we actually had to make the one decision for the day. Where should we go for dinner?!

Mum’s the Word

Day One
6a00d8341f7e1253ef00e54f01e9d38833-800wiI just completed day one of jury duty. There must have been at least 100 people in the jury assembly room this morning. We watched a short video about the jury selection process and then we were free to sit for hours, until our name was called. I managed to keep myself preoccupied with work all morning; copying over all of the website files to the new site. We broke for lunch, a generous hour and a half. I am amazed at how many new restaurants there are in the skyways. It’s like a little, elevated city flowing with suits, long cues at all the soup & sandwich places, all abuzz during lunch rush. The afternoon was very long since I ran out of work and I just didn’t feel like starting a new book.

Day Two
9am. I am ready to hear my name. I hope that, at least, the case is interesting. Two large groups of people have been called this morning. The judge and the lawyers will question them, apparently in front of the other jurors. That must be really strange to have to disclose personal information in front of complete strangers!

11:40. Apparently I’m not going to be called this morning since lunch time is drawing near. They probably give an hour and a half for lunch to throw you off. I’d much rather get called and get it over with instead of killing time in the skyways. I feel like I have one of those ankle bracelets on that monitor a felon’s whereabouts. I am free to go home, but I need to make an appearance every day, check in, check out, and check back in.

1:37pm. I moved to the “business center” this afternoon, where I plugged in my laptop yesterday, to avoid any unsolicited chatter. It’s quiet in here and it doesn’t smell like stale cigarettes. Fortunately, I am still able to hear the loudspeaker in this room that is just off the main room. I am reading Dan Brown’s “Deception Point”. It’s not exactly a Grisham; a few levels above. It’s an easy read with good character development, and it transports me to another place. I had to buy it again because Frida knocked over some massage oil, soaking the last five chapters beyond legibility.

2:10pm. Still no word. Am I supposed to sit here all day, every day for two weeks? What kind of a silly system do they have for calling jurors? No wonder people dread jury duty.

I hear my name as the loudspeaker cracks. Then I hear it again. I fumble for my things and make my way out of the “business center.” I frantically enter the main room, saying “Here!” so as not to miss my jury call. We lined up in the hallway, waiting to ascend to our jury room where we would be selected. The curly-haired judge called each of us and motioned toward the “comfortable chairs.” We were all seated and asked, in order, a series of general jury-related questions. Next, each potential juror was summoned to the witness chair to answer random questions posed by each lawyer. Some were accepted, based on their possible contribution to the case, and others were indirectly excused. The excused were inevitably sent back to “the pen.”

Day 3
9am. It could happen today. I could be chosen as an actual juror. The case is slated to end in two days. The remaining potential jurors are given a chance to answer questions on the witness stand. The two potential jurors answered questions asked by the lawyers, abbreviated dialogues meant to speed up the process, since we had to wait for an hour and a half to get started. Fortunately for them, they were the last two chosen, and the three remaining stooges, including me, were sent back to the pen. All the rejects were there, including the ones not chosen and the jurors who had finished their cases. Even though their cases were over, there was still a week and a half left of service. By the end of the day, when we were released early, I felt like a prisoner on “Lost“.

Day Four, Thursday
I sat in the big room today, just to do something different. The two young guys at the next table were babbling about a lot of things, one guy doing all the talking, and the other simply acknowledging with his “ah-hahs.” After the first group was called, without me, I slipped into a pseudo slumber, staying awake with all of the chatter, ring tones, and distant laughter. I opened my eyes at some point and went for my designated five minute break. Fortunately I brought the camera today. I took a number of shots in the skyway with the sun spilling in and people walking briskly to their next engagement. Something to do…edit photos. I read the paper again, just in case I missed something. I meandered into the quiet “business center” with a dog-eared paperback of Othello. I just couldn’t concentrate on the Shakespearean English, so I reverted back to reading “Deception Point” again, just in case I missed something the first time around.

Déjà vu was sweeping over me when lunch was called. Once again, I didn’t make the morning jury cut. Would I be so lucky in the afternoon to be one of the chosen ones? It’s really just a stupid lottery. Yesterday, the odds were definately in my favor since I was among the last 25 people, qualifying for a full group. Sure enough, as soon as the jurors ended their case, they rejoined the pool, as well as several people from the “on call” list. So, I was back at square one, a mere number among many potential jurors.

I was happy to discover that the Royal Orchid, which used to be on “Eat Street”, had a new skyway location. The very animated owner was there too, doling out Thai curries and crispy rolls. I said that I remembered how he used to carve beautiful flowers out of watermelons and cantelopes. I sat down for a quick green curry with vegetables and continued taking skyway photos. Most people were too busy to dodge the photographer, so I had some willing subjects. When I arrived at the pen, I realized that I had forgotten to buy another book. Perhaps I could doze off again. There was only one group called late in the afternoon, but they were sent home because the judge wasn’t ready for them. Surprisingly, the rest of us were given Friday off. We were finally elevated to “on call” status for the following week. I guess that my civic duty was simply to be a potential juror.

Francine’s lost “babies”

Francine just has a way of entertaining herself. She now has five multi-colored, catnip-filled mice that look a lot like her. So, we call it her "baby". We went out of town for a week and came back to discover that none of her “babies” were in sight. So, like before, I put a flashlight underneath the couch, the shelves, and even the bed. We still haven’t solved the mystery. We’ll probably buy another litter of the catnip-stuffed mice, they’ll go missing again, and some day we will find a mountain of dust-bunnied mice in some obscure place.

Feline Mackerels

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It’s been about five months since we said goodbye to Pooper, our beautiful black cat with the white tuxedo. I think of her a lot, especially when I run around Lake Calhoun, where we sprinkled her ashes and laid five large rocks to mark her spot. Ernesto and I had been thinking about adopting a new kitty. I’d email him at work with web page links to possible “new friends” on the Animal Humane Society website. We ended up adopting two Mackerel-type tabby cats named Amber, one year old, and two year old Francine. Amber immediately caught my attention, beckoning me into the room full of cats. We spent some time with her in the “visitation” room and just had to have her. Francine was a little less frisky and was in her own cage. She was very shy at first, but eventually warmed up to us. It didn’t take long for the former Amber, now “Frida”, to meet up with Francine (we kept the name Francine cuz, well, she looks like a Francine). Even now, after only a few days, they cuddle and lick each others’ heads!

The Great Guthrie

Ernesto and I went to the first show, the Great Gatspy, at the brand new Guthrie Theatre on the bluffs of the Mississippi and the former grounds of the old flour mills. I was really impressed with the architecture. On the outside, there are giant screen prints of the great playrights and Tyrone Guthrie. The view from the “bridge to nowhere” was the aquaduct-style Stone arch bridge, the mighty river, and the Gold Medal flour mill.

Guthrie600On the inside, it felt like a cross between a modern European airport and Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey. I was thrilled to realize that the thrust stage was retained, the best part of the old Guthrie on Vineland Place. The Great Gatsby was well acted, although a bit week toward the end. This adaptation had a few jokes about Minneapolis and the lesser known Saint Paul where the main character grew up. We wanted to explore the place a bit more, so we headed up to the “bridge to nowhere” toward the narrow bar at the end. The ceilings became lower and lower as we approached the bar. We sat at the bar, staring at the others around the bar who were also patiently waiting for the one busy bartender to make eye contact. After ten minutes, we willingly offered our seats to an older couple and wished them luck. We made our way down to Cue, a beautiful restaurant on the first floor. They don’t serve food after ten, so we looked elsewhere. Fortunately we ran into the cozy Spoon River, one of Brenda Langdon’s latest successes. We had a savory smoked salmon salad with spinach and crostini with hummos, red pepper spread, and kalamata olives.
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Masa Flan

masaMasa Margarita? When I hear the word “masa”, I think of the corn flour dough used to make tortillas. So, I looked at the drink menu at Masa, a fairly new Mexican fusion restaurant in Minneapolis, and came across the Masa Margarita, which didn’t have any flour whatsoever. I opted for the Mayan Margarita, which didn’t have any references to tortilla flour. I was impressed with the modern décor with bright orange neon and subtle hints of Mexican textiles. Aside from the spicy, grilled Huachinango filet and accompanying black rice and plain lettuce salad, I was more excited by the Crema de elóte soup and the three salsas; salsa with chile ancho, salsa verde, and a smoky chipotle. Why wouldn’t the chefs take advantage of the many authentic Mexican ingredients, like chayote and the more common moles? We paid the bill and headed toward the pseudo Casablanca outdoor patio, complete with modern, molded white plastic couches and towering plastic planters. The server hurriedly advised us that the kitchen was indeed closed, so we couldn’t order the flan as planned. We scanned the short list of mainstream Silver tequilas and happened to find a suitable Herradura among the añejos. The server appeared and proudly placed a flan in front of us, and two overflowing, double shots of tequila. I guess he made amends with the chefs. The flan was, by far, the best part of the evening.