Turkey stroganoff

Our family tradition on Christmas Day is a big sit-down breakfast but then a lot of munchies and sandwich fixings on the table for people to enjoy as desired.

Well, for various reasons – nobody staying overnight, and what have you – Dad had a lot of leftover turkey as thing were breaking up yesterday. He was going to split it between Elecia and me but Elecia told me to take it all, and I did.

Tonight’s dinner menu, therefore, is turkey stroganoff. I’m heating up some mushroom soup to which I’ve added a little worcestershire, soy sauce and dry mustard. I’ll add the leftover turkey and warm it through, and then take it off the heat and whisk in some sour cream (actually, a slightly-healthier sour-cream-and-Greek-yogurt blend I got at UGO this evening). I’ll serve it over rice, which is going in the rice cooker.

… and now, a few minutes later, I’m actually eating it. Turned out pretty good.

A christmas eve stroll

Since the time change, most of my walking has been in the middle of the day, as a break from work, ideally all the way down to the Duck River Greenway but sometimes just up to the square and back.

Today, however, the paper sent us home at noon. I’m not going over to Dad’s house until after our early-evening communion service at First UMC, and so the afternoon was free for a neighborhood stroll.

My walk was a chilly one, despite the beautiful sunny sky. I kept my hands in my pockets for most of it. Still, it was a pleasant walk, and no dogs tried to run me off.

I hope your Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are pleasant and meaningful.

crazy cool medallions

Well, with both Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake booked for last night’s “Saturday Night Live” the main question was whether they’d do “The Barry Gibb Talk Show” even though one of the characters, Robin Gibb, has passed away in real life.

I was thrilled when I heard the music from “Nights on Broadway,” the Bee Gees hit that Fallon and Timberlake parody as the “Barry Gibb Talk Show” theme song. But then, a few seconds later, the heavy rainfall knocked out my DirecTV signal.

I wondered for a second whether the real-life Barry Gibb would be offended by the skit – or, more specifically, by the portrayal of his brother. But then I saw my friends online saying that the real-life Barry Gibb had made a cameo appearance in the skit.

I had figured all along that if Barry Gibb ever made an appearance on “The Barry Gibb Talk Show,” it would go something like the time Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro crashed “The Joe Pesci Show” or the time that Mark Wahlberg threatened Andy Samberg the week after Samberg had appeared in “Mark Wahlberg Talks To Animals.” That is to say, the real-life star shows up, defends himself and declares that he doesn’t behave or sound anything like the character in the skit. Then, for purposes of comedy, the real-life star gradually starts behaving like the character in the skit.

But Barry didn’t interact with Fallon and Timberlake at all – he just sang with them, popping up unannounced during the closing theme song. Instead, it was Madonna (another unannounced cameo) dressing down Fallon-as-Barry-Gibb.

Even so, it was pretty funny – and would have been a nice surprise if I’d been able to watch live.

The man in the santa hat

It’s been a few weeks, I think, since I’ve posted about my weekly visits to Learning Way Elementary. All is well; I just didn’t have any interesting stories, and “I went to read to the kids again today” just seemed repetitive.

I really look forward to my weekly visit to Ms. Aymett’s class – I had her name right all along, by the way; it’s Regan. One of the news releases was wrong. Serves me right for trusting a news release about anything.

Today, of course, would be my last visit until after the holidays, so I wore my Santa hat, which everyone seemed to appreciate. I worked with two young men; there was a booklet that told the (true) story of Koko, a gorilla that was taught American Sign Language and that adopted a kitten as a pet. They took turns reading the story to me and then we went through various worksheets related to it. We got through that activity and then moved on to the second set of stories in the booklet, which was about how tadpoles become frogs.

As I was getting ready to leave at the end of the hour, one of the girls in the class came up and gave me a little hug, which was sweet. I’m going to miss seeing the kids for the next few weeks.

The man who came to dinner

I usually try to scan the TCM schedule, but I missed somehow seeing that “The Man Who Came To Dinner” would be on tonight, and I missed the first half-hour. I’m watching the rest of it now, and TCM will be running it again on Christmas Eve morning, and I have just set the DVR.

Critic and radio host Alexander Woollcott, a member of the famed Algonquin Round Table, turned up unannounced one day at playwright Moss Hart’s house. He stayed a few days, was unspeakably rude to the household staff, and generally behaved badly, even writing a snarky farewell comment in Hart’s guest book. Hart, who was accustomed to Woollcott’s behavior, laughed about it later with his collaborator George S. Kaufman. Hart commented that it could have been worse – Woollcott could have broken his leg and been forced to stay longer. The two playwrights looked at each other for a second and realized that their next project had fallen right into their laps.

“The Man Who Came To Dinner” is the story of Sheridan Whiteside (played in the movie version by Monty Wooley), an arrogant radio commentator and columnist who is – reluctantly – arriving for a speaking engagement in a small town, in the company of his long-suffering secretary (Bette Davis, who wanted to do a comedy as a change of pace). He’s scheduled to have dinner with one of his hosts, and on the way in he slips and falls on the ice, breaking his leg. He is forced to spend the Christmas season in a wheelchair, taking over his hosts’ home and pretty much making their life a living hell. Christmas gifts for Whiteside pour in from various world celebrities, and the gifts include a flock of live penguins.

Meanwhile, the secretary falls in love with the local newspaper editor, who (like many journalists) fancies himself a writer and has written a play. Whiteside, who can’t bear the thought of losing his right hand, schemes to break the couple up by bringing a glamorous leading lady to town to fawn over the journalist and his play. Meanwhile, his wacky friend Banjo (based on another Algonquin Round Table member, Harpo Marx!) shows up to further liven up the proceedings. Banjo is played in the movie by the inimitable Jimmy Durante.

A revival of the play in 2000 starred Nathan Lane in the role of Sheridan Whiteside, and was broadcast by PBS a few days after the close of its official Broadway run. I remember seeing that, and it was pretty funny. I see on Wikipedia that there was also a 1972 “Hallmark Hall of Fame” TV movie with Orson Welles (!) but I’ve never seen that one. From the description, they updated the play to modern times and had Whiteside as a TV personality. It was not well-reviewed, in any case.

If you get a chance, and you’ve never seen this very funny movie before, set your DVR to catch that Christmas Eve airing.

Berry tasty

Yesterday, when I was at United Grocery Outlet, they had bags of cranberries on sale in the produce department. On a whim, I decided to buy a bag, and last night, for the first time ever, I made cranberry sauce. The recipe on the bag just called for sugar and water, but – with a vague recollection of other cranberry sauce recipes I’d seen in the past – I opted for orange juice, the bottom of a plastic bottle of honey and a little stevia.

The resulting sauce didn’t set up as much as I was hoping, but it was quite tasty. I had some with breakfast this morning.

Then, during the day, I tried to figure out something else I could do with the sauce. I ended up baking some chicken thighs in a mixture of my homemade cranberry sauce, soy sauce, grated onion and red pepper flake. (Perhaps too much red pepper flake. Ask me tomorrow.) The sauce itself has berries in it, but for purposes of this glaze I used a stick blender to make the cranberry sauce smooth before adding the other ingredients.

Cranchicken

Friends, this turned out rather good. The extra sauce was wonderful over rice.

cockeyed caravan

Turner Classic Movies will show one of my all-time favorite movies, “Sullivan’s Travels” (1941) Thursday night at 9:15 p.m. Central (10:15 for you easterners).

It’s directed by one of my favorite comedy directors, Preston Surges, and stars Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake (along with a lot of Sturges regulars like William Demarest). It’s a movie that is, in some ways, more relevant now than when it was first made. I’ve blogged about it before, but (as with “Christmas In Connecticut” earlier in the week) I feel like doing so again.

John L. Sullivan (McCrea) is a movie director who spent the 1930s making silly musical comedies like “Hey Hey in the Hayloft” and “Ants In Your Pants of 1939.” But he yearns to make a Serious Movie about Serious Issues of poverty and disenfranchisement. He’s picked out a “Grapes of Wrath”-style novel he wants to adapt for the screen. Sturges, when writing “Sullivan’s Travels,” just made up a title and author for the novel: “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” by Sinclair Beckstein. “Sinclair Beckstein,” of course, is a reference to Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis and John Steinbeck. “O Brother Where Art Thou” is a play on words which would have been funnier as a parody title in 1941, because the phrase “Oh, brother!” was more widely used as an exclamation of shocked annoyance. Joel and Ethan Coen, of course, are big fans of this movie and appropriated Sturges’ made-up title to turn it into an actual movie, released in 2000.

Sullivan pitches his idea for a Serious Movie to the heads of the studio where he’s under contract. They are extremely reluctant to mess with a good thing – Sullivan’s silly comedies have been making them a lot of money. But instead of just saying “no,” and alienating one of their top talents, they try to talk him out of it by pointing out that he came from a well-to-do family and has no first-hand knowledge of poverty.

He agrees with them that he lacks experience – but that only gives him an idea. He’ll go out into the world, dressed as a tramp, with the intention of observing poverty first-hand. Sturges recognizes, and shows us, how absurd that idea truly is, and teaches a very funny lesson about the folly of thinking you know someone else’s pain. But perhaps his primary message is that comedy – like “Sullivan’s Travels” itself – does a greater social good than we sometimes recognize.

But this isn’t a message movie – this is a funny movie, one which only coincidentally has a message or two. McCrea is absolutely perfect, and Veronica Lake is incredibly sexy. What a wonderful way to spend 90 minutes.

A screwball for christmas

Well, I’ve blogged about “Christmas In Connecticut” numerous times in the past, so I figured I would just post a Facebook update about it this year. But I kept adding to it, and so I figured, what the heck, it’s my blog, and if I want to repeat myself, what’s the harm?

Anyway, “Christmas In Connecticut” is well-known and loved by those who’ve seen it, but I often run into people who’ve never seen or even heard of it, and so I like to recommend it when I get the chance. It’s one of the best comedies with a Christmas setting. It will air numerous times this month on Hallmark Movie Channel and will air Dec. 22 on Turner Classic Movies.

I’m referring here to the original 1945 movie starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet and S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall. There’s also a 1980s TV movie version, directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and starring Dyan Cannon and Kris Kristofferson. The original, as usual, is the best.

Elizabeth Lane (Stanwyck) is a Martha Stewart-like columnist for a leading women’s magazine. Millions of adoring fans look forward to her first-person accounts of life with her husband and new baby on their Connecticut farm. Her recipes are just as eagerly-anticipated.

Elizabeth Lane is a fraud. She’s single, living in a little Manhattan apartment, and can hardly boil water. The recipes come from her restaurateur friend (Sakall, always wonderful), and everything else comes from her vivid imagination. Publisher Alexander Yardley (Greenstreet) has no idea, and is just as caught up in Lane’s mythology as anyone else.

When a war hero (Morgan), who survived for days at sea, has no place to spend the holidays, Yardley thinks it would be patriotic – not to mention good public relations – for Elizabeth Lane and her husband to host the man at their beautiful Connecticut farm. Perhaps Yardley himself could drop by to share in the delicious Christmas dinner:

Lane has just bought a very expensive fur coat on credit and can’t afford to lose her job – as she surely would if Yardley learned the truth about her. So she has to come up with a husband, a baby and a farm, at least for Christmas. If you know anything at all about classic Hollywood movies, you can easily figure out what comes next: once she’s convinced everyone she has a husband, she finds herself falling in love with the war hero. How does she extract herself from the lie without alienating everyone?

It’s a very funny movie, with four very funny stars. See it if you get the chance.

Schedule update

posterOK, I’ve finally gotten with my Times-Gazette co-worker Martin Jones to figure out who’s doing what dates of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

If you’re interested in seeing me in the show, I’ll be doing four of the currently-scheduled dates:

  • Saturday, Dec. 14, at Mel’s (7 p.m.)
  • Wednesday, Dec. 18, at Fair Haven Baptist Church (6:30 p.m.)
  • Thursday, Dec. 19, at Mel’s (7 p.m.)
  • Saturday, Dec. 21, at Community High School (7 p.m.)

Martin will be playing our shared parts at two other performances:

  • Tuesday, Dec. 17, at Fair Haven (6:30 p.m.)
  • Sunday, Dec. 22, at Community High School (2 p.m.)

A few additional performances may be added after the first of the year.

Remember, you don’t need tickets for any performance, and there’s no admission charge, but please come prepared to make a donation to the Friends of Mandy Jean fund.