Oscar Picks 2016

First, it’s been a really long time (like, exactly one year) from my last post. Sssssorry about that. There’s plenty I could have written about, but didn’t. So I hope to post more this year. However, there are more pressing matters at hand, like which Hollywood-types will receive an award from other Hollywood-types, which important social issues you should care about most, and of course, who wore it best!

Yes, it’s once again time for the Oscars. Below are my picks for who “will” win (vs. who “should” win). Notable standouts for who I think is more deserving instead of who I am actually predicting as a winner are “The Big Short” for Best Picture and George Miller for “Mad Max”.

I really loved both of these movies and Miller’s story recreating the action-drama after all these years is really something. However, I have the film winning a lot of technical awards (and you should read about the making of the movie itself, it’s pretty remarkable). And “Big Short” is able to tell such a complicated story in and easy, funny and jawdroppingly stunning manner (essentially no Wall Streeter has gone to jail over the financial crisis!) and was much better than the grunting, although grand “Revenant”.

So, without further ado, the envelope(s) please:

OscarBallot2016

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Oscar Picks 2015

While I realize I haven’t updated this blog in quite a while, the 87th Annual Academy Awards are tonight and that seems a good time as any to get back into the habit.

While I did again see all the Best Picture nominees this year (please stop nominating so many!) this was another year of not suberb pictures. I’m not saying Birdman and Boyhood weren’t especially innovative or provocative or inviting, but, like last year, I doubt we’ll remember this past year as a great year in film.

In the end, the most interesting race this year, I believe, is the race for Best Director. Both Birdman and Boyhood were really superbly directed movies. Thus, I believe the academy will split that category with Best Pictures. Personally, I believe it’s Birdman for Best Picture (since the story was better) and Boyhood for Best Director since what Richard Linklater did really hadn’t been done before, but it could go the other way.

A special shout out to the whole internet for helping with basically all the “lesser” categories since I basically had no clue as to those.

Without further adieu, here are the picks:

Oscar 2015 Picks

Mt. Whitney and Los Angeles

My father always wanted to climb Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48. So, this year, we entered the lottery and “won” a slot the weekend of June 28.

Whitney is basically between Las Vegas and Los Angeles outside the Mojave Desert in the Inyo National Forest. While you can make the trek from base camp at 8,360 ft to the summit at 14,505 ft in a single day, we got an overnight permit to break up the trip.

I actually wonder if it would have been easier to do the day trip as if you do the overnight trip, you must carry an entire day’s and night’s worth of materials up with you, which was the hardest part. You essentially climb with your overnight bag 5.5 miles the first day, then sleep at trail camp, leave your stuff, take a day pack to the remaining 5.5 miles to the summit, pack up the rest of your stuff at trail camp, and hike back down again. If you just do the day hike, you only bring what you need for that single day.

Both days were pretty tough and it’s something I can say I did, but . . . never again! On that second day, it was grueling where every step felt like a mile long. I wanted nothing more than to get to the bottom of that trail. And when I did, I could hardly walk.

After the hike, my Dad and I spent a few days in Los Angeles as I had only ever been there once, and only for a few hours. We stayed in downtown, which, while it is being revitalized, still has a ways to go. It obviously speaks to the development of the city, being so spread out, but you can tell it was neglected until recently. Still, there were definitely stretches that had a ways to go. And, I know I knew this, but it is just not a city that you could really do anything in without a car.

A few photos are below and the reaminig are on Flickr.

tent
Tent set up and ready for bed

trail camp
View of Trail Camp

leo carillo
Beach at Leo Carrillo State Park

LA
View of LA from Griffith Observatory

Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall

Tartine’s Chocolate Coffee Walnut Tart

tart

My favorite bakery must be San Francisco’s Tartine. While there’s always a ridiculous line, luckily, the bakery puts out a cookbook with ways to make the tasty items at home.

I’ve written about two other recipes from the cookbook for this blog before: my first post for Tartine Brownies and another for their Gougères.

Today’s office Cooking Club theme is pies. And, while I considered making a shepherd’s pie, I thought I’d turn to the ol’ standby for a good recipe.

Truth be told, I don’t know that I’ve ever actually made a pie. I’m usually not the biggest pie person (save my father’s apple pie on Thanksgiving). I’ve heard of the dread people have of making the pie crust (and considered cheating and buying one) but the Tartine crust and this recipe looked pretty straightforward.

The original recipe was for a chocolate hazelnut tart, but one of the variations was for this version so I decided I’d go with it. I think I’d like to go back and make the original version, too. (To make the original, just substitute an equal amount of brandy and roasted hazelnuts for the coffee and walnuts, respectively, and add the zest from half an orange when whisking the eggs).

Honestly, I really liked the tart. The presentation would definitely be improved if I had a formal tart pan (or even made it in small tartlet pans). But that’s for another time – I will enjoy this tart now, thank you!

Pie Crust

Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick, 115g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (100g) sugar
Pinch of salt
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups (250g) flour

Instructions

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugar and salt and mix on medium speed until smooth. Mix in egg and mix until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the flour all at once and mix on low speed until just incorporated.

On a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a disk 1/2 in thick. Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least two hours or overnight. Remove the dough from the fridge and, on a lightly floured surface, roll it out to 1/8 in thickness. Be sure to keep your work surface well floured and move quickly to ensure the dough does not get warm. Place the pastry shell carefully in the pan and then place in the refrigerator until it is firm, about 15-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Dock (make small holes) in the bottom of the shell with a fork, making tiny holes two inches apart. Place in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the shell is golden brown. Set aside, awaiting the filling.

crust
Crust ready for the oven

Filling

Ingredients

6 oz (170g) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (Actually, difficult to find! I used Ghirardelli baking chips)
1/2 cup (1 stick, 115 g) unsalted butter
1/4 cup strong coffee
2/3 cup (135 g) sugar, divided
3 large eggs
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted walnuts

Instructions

Preheat over to 325° F

Put chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. In a saucepan, combine the sugar, coffee and 1/3 cup (70g) of the sugar. Place over medium-low heat and stir until the butter is melted and the sugar dissolved. Pour butter mixture over the chocolate and stir with a rubber spatula until the chocolate melts.

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, combine the remaining 1/3 cup sugar, eggs and salt on medium speed until the mixture is a very pale yellow, light and flows off the whist in a thick ribbon when paddle is lifted out of the bow, 3-4 minutes.

Pour one-third of the egg mixture into the melted chocolate and whisk to lighten the mixture. Fold in the remaining egg mixture with a rubber spatula. Pour the filling into the pastry shell and smooth the surface with a spatular (mine ended up pretty smooth so I didn’t need to do this). Arrange the walnuts evenly on top.

Bake the tart until the surface of the filling loses some of its shine but hasn’t puffed up like a soufflé, 7-9 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

Tart will keep, well-wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Oscar Picks 2014

This Sunday is the 2014 Academy Awards. I actually saw a lot of the films this year including all the best picture nominees. It’s been tough to do since the academy decided to allow up to ten nominations in the Best Picture category. But you do get to see a wide range of films and you feel a little better making Oscar picks.

Below are my full slate of Oscar picks. This year seemed more difficult than most because, well, it hasn’t really been a stand out year in movies. I doubt we’ll talk about whichever film wins best picture this time next year.

A few caveats to my picks:

1) These are who I think will win, not necessarily who should win.

2) Gravity was a horrible movie and I sorta can’t even bring myself to pick all the technical awards that I did pick for it to win. However, technically, cinematographically and visually speaking, the film was beautiful. If they would have just muted Sandra Bullock’s annoying complaining voice the whole film it could swept the awards, but I, I just couldn’t . . . no.

3) Can Leonardo DiCaprio just win an Oscar, please!?! I’m not saying The Wolf of Wall Street is even his best work – remember, you never win for the film you actually win for, you win for your body of work – and in that vein, come on! He was actually pretty good and I think if the academy didn’t hate him for some reason, he would be on the top of everyone’s list. And if we’re saying because he’s pretty and he played on that in his earlier roles, why are we even thinking of giving it to Matthew McConaughey? He only recently started doing anything serious and there have been way too many Ghosts of Girlfriends Past films to outweigh his recent foray into serious acting. (Yes, that is a real movie and it’s only from 2009!) Although I do think he will win, I’m really pulling for Leo!

4) Jennifer Lawrence is such a good actor! If you haven’t seen American Hustle yet, see it just for her performance (Christian Bale is superb, too). The scene where she has her gloves on and is cleaning her house singing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is just superb. That kid’s goin’ places!

5) How do some of these films even get nominated? I’m not talking necessarily about the major award categories, but I saw all the animated shorts and a good three of the five were bad. Not like, I just didn’t get it and it’s more of an inside Hollywood thing, just bad! And the viewing of these shorts I saw included a few honorable mentions. Those three were easily better than three of the nominated ones. What should have won, but wasn’t even nominated, was The Blue Umbrella.

Image

Shenandoah National Park

As I’ve said before, autumn is the best season, not least of which is because of the fall foliage. Within two hours drive of Washington, DC, is Shenandoah National Park, set in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and a great place to see the area’s fall foliage.

So I rented a car and took a day trip out through the park’s famous north-south road, Skyline Drive. The day I went was particularly cold, so I didn’t get to have my lunch picnic or do any hiking as I had wanted to, but the drive was beautiful and the foliage was still nice. Certainly, not at peak, especially at the higher elevations, but my 42 mile drive from the park’s northern entrance to the highest point on Skyline Drive, Skyland, was well worth it.

I lent Michael my camera and in return, I borrowed his Leica M8.2. The camera had some significant drawback compared to more current cameras. For me, it’s biggest shortcoming is the LCD screen on the back of the camera. It was so low resolution that it was basically useless in terms of being able to display the image you had just captured and I used it more for deciding if the image was composed properly. Additionally, the images all required a small amount of work in Lightroom to get right – not that any camera is going to take perfect pictures without some work – but I tend to find my Sony NEX-7 images either look pretty great in RAW or requires a decent amount of work on each image. With this camera, all the images required a small amount of work. Not really a complaint, just something I noticed.

A few pictures from the trip are below with a good sampling on Flickr. The entire set is on Shutterfly.

Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive

Shenandoah foliage

Shenandoah foliage

Shenandoah foliage

Shenandoah foliage

Oregon

ice cream
Salt and Straw Ice Cream

I have family and good friends who live in Portland, Ore. I was going out there about once a year for the past few years and it generally worked out that I would be there in early December. Weather is a big deal in the Pacific Northwest. They get a lot of rain, and it rains a lot outside of the summer. Thus, while I enjoyed visiting the people I knew there, I do hate rain! So, the past year or two I’ve made it a point to go in the summer and the change the sunshine brings is easily recognizable. Therefore, today’s lesson is: go to Portland in the summer!

The Columbia River Gorge is less than an hour east of Portland and is simply stunning. I remember hiking up mountains and to hidden waterfalls when I was a kid. The scenery is picturesque, especially on a clear summer’s day.

The Oregon coast is also equally amazing. About two hours west of the city, the rugged coastline and large rocks of the coast make for a stunning backdrop.

I went on a day trip to the gorge and a two-day trip to the beaches around Lincoln City. A few choice pictures are below, with more at my Flickr page and the entire set on Shutteryfly.

gorge
Columbia River Gorge from The Vista House

Panorama Point
Panorama Point in Hood River

Nye Beach
Nye Beach With Yaquina Lighthouse in the Background