Sunday, October 18, 2009

Couch Potato Wisdom

Ever need a day where you don’t get off the couch?

Me too.  And I was planning to have one on Friday, but it didn’t quite work out that way.  Somehow I wound up doing laundry and going to the store and cleaning the bathroom.  Your basic Cinderella routine, minus the glass slipper (too binding.)  I already have my Prince Charming – who is usually Price Charmless – but this morning he was in such a good mood I was worried he’d had a stroke.  Then I remembered how much we drank the night before, so I had my explanation (and you have yours, as to why I wanted a day on the couch.)

I also had, like, 100 hours of Tivo to clean up.  We almost never watch stuff during its scheduled airtime, resulting in a weekly backlog of shows that either needs to be watched or deleted before it explodes.  (I have visions of the Top Chef kitchen and the cast of How I Met Your Mother spilling out of the cable box into the living room.)

Between magazines and TV shows, I’m seriously considering becoming a shut-in.

For dinner, we met our friend Tim from Buffalo who’s moving to New York next month.  He just found an apartment, so we went to celebrate his new home and new job.  We went down to the Lower East Side to Rayuela.  Neil’s been eager to try this Pan-Latin restaurant, and this seemed like the perfect time.

The décor is modern and the entry area and bar offers comfortable room for having a drink before dinner.  The host was friendly without being overly solicitous, though it seemed odd he felt the need to tell us about missing his trip to Provincetown this past summer.  If he were trying to find a way to communicate his sexuality, he could have just let his outfit do the talking.  That, or the long leering look he kept giving Neil.  If you’ve ever seen a Bugs Bunny cartoon where the fat guy and the skinny guy are stranded on a desert island, and the fat guy looks at the skinny guy and thinks he sees a hot dog, then you know the look I’m talking about.

No matter, I know whom my husband is going home with, and I turned my attention to my drink, which was exceptionally well made.  One benefit of most Latin American cuisines is that the prevalence of lime in the flavor profiles of the food means it’s likely they regularly use fresh lime juice as opposed to Rose’s. 

The dining room is generously spread out over two levels, and the cushioned seating is soft.  However, the downstairs dining area is a mixture of low, wide benches against the walls, and stools on the opposite side of the table, meaning diners either have no back support, or have to lounge like Cleopatra.

I started with a salad of roasted pear, served with baby greens, walnuts and a Cabral bleu cheese.  The pear, seasoned with cinnamon and Chinese five-spice, was delicious and the salad – overall – was expertly dressed, avoiding the death by drowning that seems to befall most salads.

My entrée was a loin of pork in a soy ginger reduction served atop quinoa.  The pork, cooked to a perfect medium rare, was tender and moist, and the sauce was delicate and tangy. 

On Saturday, I finally did get my day on the couch, and it’s time to share with you the contents of my Tivo.  Here’s what we watch, with a handy day of the week guide, so you can set your DVR:


How I Met Your Mother – One of the few three-camera ensemble comedies to survive the dearth in sitcoms we seem to be slowly easing out of.  Neil Patrick Harris pretty much steals the show here, though most of the ensemble is strong, and the characters are eccentric enough to be caricatures of people you’d really know.  The weakest links: Josh Radnor as Ted is almost too much of a simpering sap for anyone to care where his journey for love ends.  And the eponymous Mother hasn’t made an appearance, which is fine – but since the show is told in flashback, they keep bumping up the year Ted’s talking to his kids so their ages don’t seem implausible. 

The Big Bang Theory – My first season with this one, so it may not stick, but Jim Parsons delivers on the true meaning of comedy by fully committing to a character that marches to a totally different drummer.  Socially awkward and completely oblivious, he’ll protest the serving of French Toast on “Oatmeal Day,” then, after conceding how good it smells, throw it out anyway.

House – It’s hard to make an unlovable character embraceable, but Hugh Laurie does it every week, bringing laugh out loud sarcasm and dry wit to a misanthropic character.  It works for two reasons: he’s so well written that you get to see glimpses of the fear, compassion, need, generosity and altruism buried there, and Laurie’s tour de force performance which alternately reveals and hides them.

Weeds and Nurse Jackie (currently on hiatus until 2010) – You know us gays – we love our damaged women.  No one’s doing damaged better than Mary Louise Parker as a suburban widow turned pot dealer turned cartel mule turned wife of a Mexican Mafia kingpin.  Her kids keep saying her luck’s bound to run out, but no one moves passive-aggressively through adversity – iced latte in hand – like MLP.  Edie Falco’s giving her a run for her money, though, with her brilliant portrayal of an E/R nurse on the edge – raising two daughters with her husband while snorting pills supplied by her lover.  The best part – the show hasn’t given in to the temptation to justify or explain her behavior.   Sooner or later, they’ll have to, but a complicated character that doesn’t telegraph the reason for every action is impossible to stop watching.


Melrose Place – Version 2.0 won’t need a clumsy first season to bring on the suds, and this show has something for everyone who loves a little nighttime soap opera: For the purists, characters for the original keep popping in, from Sydney and Michael to Jane and (soon, YAY!) Amanda.  For the kiddies, modern storylines and a huge dose of L.A. cool, complete with location shooting.  And for anyone who likes brooding (read: shirtless) leading men: Colin Egglesfield.


Top Chef – Simply the best.  The Emmys may go to Amazing Race, the ratings may go to Survivor and American Idol, but the coolest, classiest, and most fun reality competition program on the air is Top Chef.  Six seasons in and they still haven’t run out of crazy challenges or interpersonal drama (is Robin getting a pass because she had cancer?  Are the hot chef brothers more rivals than friends?)

Glee – OK, I haven’t watched this since the pilot (after which I downloaded the cast’s version of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’) but I’m accruing the episodes on my DVR.  When I’ve cleaned up everything else, and have a snowy afternoon on the couch – I’m going for it.

The New Adventures of Old Christine – On a laughs-per-minute basis, the funniest show on television, and I am so glad CBS stuck with this show long enough for it to build a following.  The strongest comedy ensemble on network television – hands down.  Julia Louis Dreyfus is unafraid to play her role without a shred of vanity, allowing her character to be sloppy, unintelligent, arrogant, careless and unjustifiably indignant at the smallest slights.  She’s made a petty shrew of a character someone you want to cheer for, and surrounded her with the tart Wanda Sykes (“If you want some of Mama’s sugar, you better bring your own spoon”), the deeply, dryly funny Hamish Linklater, and the ditsy Emily Rutherfurd whose comic timing approaches atomic-clock perfection.

Modern Family – Only three episodes in, this is the best new comedy of the season.  Three families – a nebbishy gay man with a partner and newly adopted infant, his sister and her more nuclear family, and their father – complete with a Latina second wife and her fey, sensitive son.  If it weren’t worth watching for Jesse Tyler Ferguson (The Class) and Ed O’Neill (Married with Children), here’s a bonus: Shelley Long as the matriarch and Ed’s first wife.

American Idol (begins 2010) – Yeah, I’ll miss Paula’s brand of drug-addled crazy (remember when she was accused of “helping” a contestant; anyone else think she may have done it?  Yeah, me too.) and I’m beginning to think Randy Jackson has fewer phrases than a Magic 8 Ball, but I inevitably become addicted season after season.  I’m looking forward to the addition of Ellen DeGeneres (c’mon, you know she’s going to be kind, but also really funny.) 

Plus, the contestants get me every year.  There’s nothing like watching some yahoo cracker from BFE find her voice in front of 30 million people.  Ever notice how they all start out looking like extras from Little House on the Prairie or the Lost Boys, and end up looking like a Vogue spread.  Any show that can turn Clay Aiken into a human being of any discernible sexuality gets my vote, and it should get yours, too (Please call or text it to 1-888-IDOLS01.)


Survivor: Samoa – I took, like, 14 seasons off from Survivor.  I simply couldn’t watch people drop weight and add scabs while lying on some remote beach plotting each other’s demise.  The challenges got predictable (eat gross stuff; run through a maze collecting puzzle pieces and do a puzzle; or the dreaded: stand-here-with-your-hand-on-an-inanimate-object-until-you’re-the-last-one) and so did the outcome. Recent seasons, however, have been re-energized – cross-tribal alliances, completely insane contestants (Coach, from Tocantins, anyone?) and unexpected twists.  This season, the addition of a truly bat-shit crazy Cajun, who hasn’t said a single honest thing all season, has made Survivor event television.

FlashForward – My favorite new show of the season and the best new drama.  The entire world (almost) blacks out for 2 minutes, 17 seconds, each having a vision of the same day – April 29, 2010.  It has to be set in L.A. – that’s the only place people ever dream about the first night of May Sweeps.  I love a complicated plot – but shows with mythologies require a commitment, and pretty much demand you see every episode.  It’s a fine structure for a novel, but difficult in a television series which remains open-ended.  Look no further than Heroes for an example of a show with a great concept for a single season that faltered thereafter.  I hope they have a clear vision of where they’re going and how they’re getting there.

Lost (returns 2010) – Perhaps the best television series of the past decade; a complex multi-character time-bending epic.  Recalling (and embedding) the great works of fiction across media – books, television, film, popular culture – Lost offers ruminations on life’s great questions while delivering a pot-boiling story in which you can simply get, well, lost.


The last good thing to air on a Friday night was Dallas.  Or The Dukes of Hazzard.




Yeah, I know – everyone says the Amazing Race.  I have an on and off again relationship with it; some seasons I’m in, some seasons I’m out.  It just isn’t grabbing me yet this year.  Deal with it.  I’m more into:

Desperate Housewives:  Let’s get a few things straight: the last Teri Hatcher performance I enjoyed was in the movie SoapDish, when she played Dr. Monica DeMonaco while wearing a cocktail dress and drinking three fingers of scotch.  On DH I think she just looks pathetic and crazy.  But I cannot resist Marcia Cross (really, she’s been my girlfriend since she blew up 4616 Melrose Place in 1995.)  Meanwhile, Felicity Huffman is giving her best television performance to date (on film it’s Transamerica) as she struggles to accept a pregnancy she doesn’t want, and I’ll watch Drea De Matteo (Adrianna, from The Sopranos) in anything.  Oh, and if you want to think about how many more years you’ll be going to the gym, check out a shirtless Richard Burgi in this season’s second episode, then remember that he’s over 50. 

Brothers and Sisters:  My first season with the Walkers.  This show is written and executive produced by a guy I went to college with, and he was a brilliant writer back then.  It’s mostly soapy fluff (and between the tone of the show and the presence of Patricia Wetting and Ken Olin, might as well be called familysomething) but it’s soapy fluff done well.  Kevin wants a baby, Kitty’s got cancer, and Justin’s getting married.  Bring your tissues and cry along with Nora – the always marvelous, always weepy and steely at the same time – Sally Field.

And there is one more shows I’m going to have to add, if my flight today is any indication:

Million Dollar Listing – This show may be about the three people in the world least deserving of being broadcast.  I can’t tell you why this show works, only that I’m totally driven to watch it so I can root for them to fail.  Three L.A.-area real estate brokers, Chad, Madison (it’s a boy – sort of) and another one (Jason, maybe?) drive expensive cars around L.A. and sell houses. 

There is no reason it should be entertaining at all.  The highlight of the episode I saw was when Chad – who has to at least be in his mid-twenties but looks about 14 – prepped a property for an open house by constantly adjusting three strands of hair and looking in the mirror.  Then no one showed up.  I have never gotten so much joy out of a total stranger’s disappointment. 

Madison is an angular, queeny priss of a thing who works in Malibu and spent the episode turning up his nose at things, driving around in a BMW 7 Series, and trying to get an exclusive listing from some sex author.  She was easily over 50, with the body of a 25 year old.  Seriously – she had more fiberglass and silicone than the BMW. 

The last one, Jason, was that weird kind of skinny-fat.  Like, he wasn’t large, but he wore clothing that was clearly too tight, so his shirt strained and the buttons gaped and his pants looked all wrong,   All the fabric looked like it was pulled tightly against his mushy flesh and the overall effect was sort of hypno-nauseating.  He sold a small cottage in Beverly Hills (not even the tony section, but the flats) with water damage.  For $3.5 million.

I’m hooked.

And in case you’re wondering what I don’t or won’t watch – here’s the short list:

Mad Men.  I know.  It’s terrific.  Everyone loves it.  It’s filled with parables and cautionary tales.  Whatever – I can’t commit to another drama.

Any reality show about hairdressers, interior designers, “lifestyle consultants” or other form of stylist. 

Grey’s Anatomy.  I’m sure it’s good; I just can’t watch Ellen Pompeo.  Something about her is so off-putting to me, and I can’t figure it out.

NCSIS & Order:SVUCI Las York.  Whatever.  O. Ver. It.

The Real Housewives of Anywhere.  If I wanted to watch a bunch of lazy, hateful, status-obsessed people sit around and snipe at each other, I’d throw a family reunion.

(Just an update, I’m writing this on a plane, with the Food Network on DirecTV.  Sandra Lee has just produced a chicken dish, smashed potatoes, pasta with garlic bread, peach mug pie (meaning, it’s served in a glass coffee mug) and a caramel coffee cocktail.  Did she used to cook for Bennigan’s?  Seriously, I love me some Food Network, and I’m all for using a shortcut here and there (see my post about making the Barefoot Contessa’s Chicken and Dumplings with Pillsbury Pop’n’serve Dough) but this is a bit ridiculous. 

And she was followed by Rachael Ray, who decided to forgo hamburgers for hot dogs.  I’m sorry, but this can’t even be called cooking because these are ALREADY COOKED.  She’s just heating them up.  That doesn’t count.

Hey – at least it’s a break from the endless coverage of that Balloon Boy hoax – brought to you by the fame whores who were on Wife Swap.  Twice.  So you know they’re classy.  Seriously, when your whole plot to get on TV again hinges on synchronizing your story with a six-year old: get help.)

Last night we had a delicious dinner, one of the top three dinners Neil has ever made for me: French Onion Salisbury Steak, Macaroni and Cheese and Mashed Cannellini Beans over spinach.  You’re not getting the Mac and Cheese recipe.  It’s the best I’ve ever eaten and some things need to be sacred.  But the Salisbury Steak came from Cuisine at Home.  It’s all over the internet, and it’s terrific.  It’s a little complicated, but it only takes half an hour to make.

1 1/4 lb. ground chuck
1/4 c. fresh minced parsley
2 TBS. scallion, minced
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 TBS. all-purpose flour
2 TBS. olive oil
2 cups onions, sliced
1 tsp. sugar
1 TBS. garlic, minced
1 TBS. tomato paste
2 cups beef broth
1/4 cup dry red wine
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
4 tsp. minced, fresh parsley
4 tsp. Parmesan cheese, shredded

Combine chuck, parsley, scallion, salt and pepper. Divide evenly into 4 portions and shape each into 3/4"-1" thick oval patties. Place 2 TBS. flour in a shallow dish; dredge each patty in flour. Reserve 1 tsp. flour.

Heat 1 TBS. oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add patties and saute 3 minutes on each side, or until browned. Remove from pan.

Add onions and sugar to pan; saute 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and tomato paste; saute 1 minute, or until paste begins to brown. Sprinkle onions with reserved flour; cook 1 minute. Stir in broth and wine, then add the salt and thyme.

Return meat to pan and bring soup to a boil. Reduce soup by about one-third.  Serve steaks with sauce spooned on top.

I brought home dessert – a cupcake from Crumbs on Amsterdam Avenue – purchased from the most cheerful bakery clerk I ever met.  That’s an attitude adjustment I could learn from; if I worked in the cupcake place I’d be, all, “I suck.  All I do is work in a stupid cupcake place.”  But this girl was, like, “Wow!  I sell cupcakes which make people happy!  This is great!”

Oh – and the corn is back.  Those waxy yellow corn I was curious about.  They appeared in a bulk bin at the candy store on Broadway, as part of something called Halloween Delux Mix.  Why are they lemon?

Anyway, Neil’s dinner was delicious and kept me full and satisfied well into the morning, which came in handy on my flight out west.  I’ll avoid standard airplane humor but I will tell you three things:

  1. The married couple behind me – the one where the wife said, upon finding their seats, “I’m not sitting in the middle again.  I’m not doing it!” and then ended up in the middle seat for 5 hours – yeah, they’re getting divorced someday. Soon.  I always take the middle seat.  Here’s my marital advice: Dude, take the middle seat.  Lady, shut up.
  2. Those Stella Doro Breakfast Treats are better than I remember.
  3. I love JetBlue, but I may never forgive them for making it seem acceptable for people to fly in track suits and flip-flops.

Next time: 4 days in Tucson – Mexican Coke (the soda), Candy Corn Taffy (ugh) and a Lou Albano Special at the Sonic Burger.  Seriously.


DO THIS, New York:
Comese a Rayuela!  Ole!

You’ll probably never watch my whole list of shows, but the ones you’re probably skipping and should be watching at How I Met Your Mother and Old Christine. 

Make that Salisbury Steak

DON’T DO THIS, New York:

No flip-flops at 30,000 feet, please.
Don’t call it cooking if you’re just heating up hot dogs.
Take the fucking middle seat.  J

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I thought your knowledge of pop culture was mainly retro, but I now see that you are able to keep current - what a TiVo!! I had a similar weekend - although I think I did more lounging than you. Finished a bottle and a half of wine by myself on Saturday between the hours of noon and 9 PM ... just because.
    I don't watch most of those shows (like you, I have hit my limit with sitcoms and drama for the current seasons!!), but I definitely love House and Weeds. I also love that gay men are obsessed with broken women - I had no idea! That explains a lot about my circle of friends. Have a safe trip!!