A simple pasta dish.

Sausage and mushroom pasta with pecorino romano – one pot and one skillet. Moderate knife skills required, and I’ll assume we all know that pasta should be cooked until it is al dente and no further, on penalty of death.

1 onion (or one small onion), diced
1 red bell pepper, cored and cut into 1″ strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch crushed red pepper
15-20 cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 pound fresh chicken/turkey sausage, Italian-flavored, casings removed
1 pound dried pasta (farfalle, rigatoni)
¾ cup to 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions in heavily salted water. Drain, reserving one cup of the cooking liquid, returning the pasta to the cooking pot. Ideally, you want the pasta to be done just after the following process is completed.
2. In 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet, sweat onion and red bell pepper until translucent and just thinking about browning, 7-8 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper and cook 30-60 seconds more.
3. Move pan contents to edges. Add mushrooms to center (using more olive oil if required) and cook until they release their liquid and brown slightly, 5-10 minutes.
4. Move mushrooms to pan edges and add sausage, cooking thoroughly. I like to let the meat sit when I first add it so that it browns on one side, then I break it up into small bits and sauté it.
5. Add the skillet’s contents and the cheese to the pasta with ½ cup of the cooking liquid, stirring quickly to form a sauce using the residual heat from the pasta and the liquid. If the resulting sauce is too dry, add some of the remaining cooking liquid just until the pasta is coated and wet, but do not add so much that you get a pool of liquid on the bottom of the pot. Add a few turns of fresh black pepper and serve.

NFL picks.

Usual disclaimer – I am not much of a football fan, let alone any kind of expert, and I am not placing any actual bets on these games – but here are my picks:

San Diego (+14) over NEW ENGLAND – New England to win
GREEN BAY (-7) over New York

I’m leaning towards the under on both games – anywhere from 46.5-48 on the first game, and 40.5-41.5 on the second.

Disneyworld eats (second trip).

So before I get into new places, let me reiterate how much I like Raglan Road. We went twice, and I had the shepherd’s pie and Guinness both times, while my wife and I split the bread-and-butter pudding once. Other dishes I can recommend: The Guinness and onion banger is delicious, served over mashed potatoes and topped with a ladle-full of their beef stew, making it ridiculously hearty; their chicken and sage banger is also very good and a bit lighter than the pork banger, plus it’s a more reasonable portion than the prior dish; and the “pie in the sky” (chicken and mushroom pie) is hearty without being heavy, although it could never reach the heights of a proper steak and mushroom pie. We ordered a side of chips at lunch, and they appeared to be hand-cut. One caution: The Dunbrody Kiss dessert may sound delightful, but the cornflake layer on the bottom turns into a chewy, icky mush, and ruined the dish for me the one time we ordered it back in ’06.

Other than Raglan Road and a couple of breakfasts at Boma, we ate in the parks this time around. Most pleasant surprise was Flame Tree BBQ in Animal Kingdom; it’s real Q, complete with pink smoke ring. They offer pulled pork, shredded beef, ribs (St. Louis), and smoked chicken. My wife went with the pork sandwich; the meat had a mild smoke flavor and was just a little bit dry (unavoidable given the quantities they must smoke and serve). I went with the ribs, which were a little tough but were covered with spicy-sweet bark, the most glorious part of barbecued ribs in my book. The baked beans that came on the side had a smoky molasses flavor, but the corn muffin was nothing more than mushy corn cake. It’s easily one of the best values anywhere on the property.

The Prime Time Café at Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM) had good food, but was way overpriced. We both went with the pot roast, which was very nicely done, with most of the fat cooked out and plenty of well-browned surface area; it sat on top of some ultra-smooth mashed potatoes that served mostly to soak up whatever ran out of the pot roast. At $17 for lunch, it’s a bit dear, and large portions at lunch aren’t a big plus to me. They do make a good chocolate shake, though.

Get the smoked turkey leg if you have to eat at Magic Kingdom, or maybe the tuna on multi-grain bread at Columbia Harbour House. The Kingdom really doesn’t offer much for full-service options, and their quick-service selection isn’t great, either. The Sleepy Hollow stand, tucked in a corner in Liberty Square, has funnel cakes and Mickey waffles, two guilty pleasures.

We ate our way around Epcot, as usual, but hit a few new places this year:

  • The Biergarten in the Germany pavilion, offering a dinner buffet at $27 per adult (not including booze). Dinner buffets don’t usually thrill me, but the selection at this one was excellent, and our server, from northern Germany, told me that most of what was on the tables was authentic German food. The various sausages were all fantastic, as was the warm German potato salad (cider vinegar, mustard, and bacon … seriously). The salmon in dill sauce was solid, although I’d bet I got a piece that hadn’t been sitting under the lamps for long. The beef roulade tasted great but had dried out, while the pork schnitzel (breaded and fried!) was outstanding. Desserts were a disappointment. Live music is part of the appeal, with your typical goofy Disney humor.
  • The Rose and Crown in the England pavilion served straightforward versions of some of what you’d find at Raglan Road. We went twice; I wasn’t blown away by the pot roast, which was fattier than the one I had at Prime Time, but the bangers and mash were excellent, with outstanding color on the sausages. My sister got the fish and chips the time she came with us, and the breading on the fish was ultra-crisp and golden brown. Guinness on tap here is a bit colder than I’d like.
  • The San Angel Inn in Mexico was a disappointment. The menu seems less geared towards authentic cooking than other Epcot restaurants, and the prices here were out of line with 1) what I expect at a Mexican restaurant and 2) the quality of the product. I ordered the pescado a la ranchera, seared tilapia served over rice with an avocado cream sauce and roasted poblanos. The tilapia was quasi-blackened; the fish was almost certainly frozen at some point in its post-life life. I did like the avocado cream sauce, which was about as smooth as soft-serve ice cream.
  • We did the “princess dining” dinner at Askershus in the Norway pavilion. It’s steep at $29 per adult, but you are paying for the characters (your kid gets a photo with one of the princess characters, and the remaining princesses walk around and visit all the tables). The food was very good, probably the best of any place we hit at Epcot. Dinner starts with a koldbordt buffet of cold cuts, smoked fish (the smoked salmon was ridiculous, ultra-smooth with a sweet smoky flavor), and salads. For the entrée, I went with the baked salmon with mustard; I was disappointed that the mustard was yellow mustard, which I think is kind of nasty, but the salmon was perfectly cooked and the potato pancakes underneath it were fresh and crispy. My wife went with the braised pork shank, a huge portion where the meat just slid right off the bone. Dessert is family-style, with three desserts coming on one plate: a “rice cream” (pudding) with sweetened strawberries, a cappuccino cheesecake that tasted more like mousse than cheesecake, and a “princess cake” with a white chocolate mousse. All three were delicious. Note that this restaurant’s menu appears to change seasonally.
  • We hit the quick-service restaurant at the Morocco pavilion, the Tangierine Café. The “lamb wrap” was a gyro in all but name, with very juicy lamb shaved to order and served on a hot fresh flatbread with just a little bit of yogurt sauce (can I call it tzatziki if it’s not a Greek restaurant?). It’s a bit messy to eat while you walk, but either it was delicious or I was starving, because I inhaled the thing.

Finally, I can’t discuss Epcot without mentioning the Patisserie in the France pavilion. Their chocolate mousse is dark and very smooth; I can’t imagine that they’re making a true mousse with an egg white foam, a labor-intensive and fussy preparation, but that sure as heck is what it tastes like. Their éclairs are solid, with chocolate pastry cream inside, and the strawberry tart has a hard shortbread crust filled with sweetened whipped cream. I just wish you could get a proper espresso somewhere around there, but the only coffee they serve is Nescafe.

More Jane.

I didn’t mean for this to become the all-Jane Austen blog, but I stumbled on this AP article on Andrew Davies, the screenwriter behind the famed 1995 Pride and Prejudice adaptation and behind this Sunday’s new take on Northanger Abbey. For a guy who talks about making changes to novel texts in his adaptations, he’s all the way at the “faithful” end of the continuum of adapters.


I have a rule when it comes to novels: If there’s a map of a fictional place in the front, move in the other direction. I can’t think of a book since the Lord of the Rings series that had such a map at its start and didn’t end up the worse for it.

The fact that the author took time to make up a country or a region or a continent or whatever does not impress me; it tells me he was more enamored with the creation of irrelevant details than he was with things like plot, character development, or themes. This preference for creation over craft bedevils the fantasy genre as a whole, and it’s the reason why I rarely bother to read anything from that section of the store.

Gregory Maguire’s Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West has sold over three million copies, earned mostly positive reviews, and spawned a massively successful Broadway musical. So I want to hesitate before calling the book something of a bore, a revisionist fantasy that reflects the awkward worldviews and odd fascinations of a teenaged boy even though it was written by an adult man. I won’t hesitate, but I want to.

Wicked is a parallel novel, telling the “other side” of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by providing a backstory for the Wicked Witch of the West, as well as her sister, trying to make them sympathetic characters. The Wicked Witch of the West is given a name, Elphaba, which in and of itself has a mythology in the novel, and she’s a Hermione Granger sort of child, an intellectual who takes up the causes of the oppressed; she’s shunned from birth because she was born with green skin (a point which is explained later in the book in what I found to be a very unsatisfying way), and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that until her death she has major daddy issues.

Wicked struck me wrong in multiple ways. Reusing someone else’s characters and setting is unoriginal; recasting them and altering facts or personality traits is unethical. Maguire alters entire characters and turns chunks of Baum’s original story on its head. He also clearly intended for this to be a novel of ideas – it’s a superficial one at best – and again, if you’re going to do that, make up your own universe first. Wicked‘s text also includes some awkward descriptions of sex and bodily functions, almost as if the book was written by a teenaged boy or someone who had that particular species’ fascination with those two subjects and unfamiliarity with the former. I admit that it’s not easy to write about sex – there’s an entire award devoted to the problem – but Maguire’s style is just painful, from perfunctory descriptions of the mechanics of sex to oddly jarring mentions of defecation or regurgitation.

The novel moves quickly despite some clunky prose and the aforementioned problems, because the material itself is so lightweight. I don’t mind lightweight reading if it’s entertaining and was intended to be lightweight, but Wicked is almost devoid of humor and suffers under the weight of some of its pretensions, including an explicitly stated question on the nature of evil that is only sparingly addressed. I’m tilting at a windmill given the book’s success and the way it has opened up a cottage industry for Maguire, who has since written similar books revising Snow White and Cinderella to his liking, but I’d like to see someone dump some water on Maguire before he desecrates another classic work by writing an adolescent retelling.

Food Network.

Just came across an interesting New York Times article written last month about the change in strategy at Food Network. It starts with the surprising (to me, at least) revelation that “Emeril Live” has been cancelled, at least to the effect that they are no longer filming new episodes. I knew they’d moved it on their evening schedule – “Good Eats” is now on at 8 pm on weeknights, which is fine by me – but wasn’t aware they’d stopped filming and canned six people.

I’m pretty sure I’m in a coveted demographic for Food Network’s execs: 34 years old, highly educated, a parent, high disposable income, big spender on food and cooking items, and so on. Yet my Food Network viewership has been declining for years, even though I have worked at home since late 2001 and, of course, have a Tivo that allows me to watch whatever I want. This article confirmed for me why they’ve largely lost me as a viewer: They’re dumbing the whole thing down.

I originally watched Food Network, starting in the late ’90s, because I was learning to cook. I stumbled on “Good Eats” in late 1999 – “The Fungal Gourmet” was the episode – and I was hooked. I also watched “Emeril Live,” “The Naked Chef,” and “Molto Mario” regularly, and would usually just flip to Food Network if I was home and bored. My need for instruction has waned – even “Good Eats” is repetitive at this point – but I’d still watch for recipe ideas or little kitchen tricks if they were showing that type of programming. Instead, the nights are filled with contrived travel shows and reality series; the “Ace of Cakes” seems like a nice guy, but really, who cares about the back-room operations at a cake store? If I’m not learning, and I’m not being entertained, I’m not going to watch.

But perhaps the bigger problem is the way Food Network is going to drive away its top talent, in effect leaving them in a position where they are betting that their own brand is strong enough that they can manufacture new stars along the way. Food Network has not received any cut of the revenues its stars have received from sales of celebrity-endorsed products, such as Emeril’s Emerilware line from All-Clad. They’re now “insisting on a stake in book deals and licensing ventures, and control over outside activities” both in new contracts and in renewals with current talent, and I can see why that would lead some of the brighter stars to walk away.

When FN first launched its “Next Food Network Star” competition, a co-worker and close friend of mine with the Jays encouraged me to apply, knowing that I loved to cook and had the interesting background that typically appeals to reality shows. So I went to their site and looked at the application … which looked to me like indentured servitude. You give up everything, including your recipes, to Food Network. I like being on TV as much as anyone, but not at the cost of my soul. If that’s the devil’s bargain the Faust Network is offering, they’re not going to get the best talent coming in the door, and that means they’re not going to get the most desirable audience for their advertisers.

Persuasion (2007).

When it comes to film adaptations of classic novels, I’m a purist – I want them to hew closely to the original text. The 2007 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion (showing on and off this week on PBS) was a disappointment, although unlike a lot of Janeites, I don’t view the 1995 version as all that great either.

Anne Elliott is a 27-year-old maiden who, eight years previously, was talked out of accepting a marriage proposal from a young naval officer named Frederic Wentworth; Anne’s father is a baronet, while Wentworth was untitled and poor, and therefore her family and a close family friend all urged her to decline the proposal. Eight years later, Frederic returns to Anne’s life via a small coincidence, still unattached but now quite wealthy, and apparently harboring a little resentment over the earlier snubbing.

The problem both filmed versions have revolves around Anne. In the book, Anne has a quiet strength of character and an unhappy acceptance of her maiden status, which, given her age, is presumed to be permanent. In both films, however, she’s a terrified little mouse – the 1995 version has Amanda Root (as Anne) wandering around with her eyes wide open in terror the entire time, while the 2007 version has Sally Hawkins trembling her lips half the time and bursting into tears whenever she’s alone. Anne Elliott was based somewhat on Jane Austen herself, and it’s hard to accept the character as an über-effeminate weakling.

Because the 2007 version is so short (under 90 minutes), most of the secondary characters get short shrift and find their foibles sharpened to caricature status. Anne’s father goes from an oblivious snob to a wastrel bore. Her sister Mary goes from a self-centered invalid to a sniveling witch. Her other sister, Elizabeth, mistreats Anne in the book but is barely evident in the novel. Anne’s cousin, Henrietta, is promised to a young curate in their parish who appears in the book but doesn’t appear at all in the film.

And the ending … ah, the ending. Suffice to say that an English lady would not be found running all over Bath, half out of breath, in search of anyone, and certainly wouldn’t be caught playing tonsil hockey in the middle of the street with the man of her dreams.

If you’ve read Persuasion – and if you haven’t, you should – and want to see a film version, go with the ’95 version, which is at least faithful to the text and long enough to bring out some of the subtler characterizations of the secondary figures. The 2007 version, unfortunately, seems destined to be a curiosity as a misguided attempt to improve on the prior version by making everything shorter and more severe.

This Sunday, PBS’ “Complete Jane Austen” series continues with a new adaptation of Austen’s Northanger Abbey, probably the least well-known of her six completed novels, featuring the silliest of her heroines.

I’m back …

… and I missed something right in my wheelhouse, a comparison of baseball to classic movies. From Buster Olney, by way of Fire Joe Morgan:

If you want to quibble with the fact that he won the award in 1978, or with his placement in some particular year, OK, I get that. But to ignore the MVP voting entirely, as if it isn’t at least some kind of barometer of his play over the course of his career, is embarrassing. This is like saying, “Hey, forget the Oscar voting of the 1950s. Marlon Brando was clearly overrated.”

I think that’s a fabulous idea. Let’s compare the mindblowing stupidity of MVP voting to the mindblowing stupidity of Oscar voting. For example, guess how many combined non-honorary Oscars Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, and Federico Fellini won?


That’s right – just one, won by Welles, for writing the screenplay to Citizen Kane. Three of the greatest directors in the history of motion pictures died with a total of zero Best Director statues.

Citizen Kane itself was nominated for best picture (one of ten in 1942), but lost to How Green Was My Valley. When the American Film Institute published its list of the 100 best movies of the 20th century, Citizen Kane was #1. How Green Was My Valley wasn’t on the list.

Paul Newman didn’t win a Best Actor Oscar until 1986, for The Color of Money, a Lifetime Achievement Award in all but name. Cary Grant never won an Oscar. Humphrey Bogart won one, for The African Queen, but not for Casablanca, a movie that didn’t yield a single win in any of the four acting categories. Peter O’Toole never won an Oscar; he was nominated for Lawrence of Arabia but lost to Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird. Audrey Hepburn won once, for Roman Holiday, but wasn’t even nominated for My Fair Lady in one of the most blatantly political votes in the history of the Oscars. (The award went to Julie Andrews for Mary Poppins; Andrews starred in the Broadway version of My Fair Lady but was replaced by Hepburn for the film.)

Stanley Kubrick won one Oscar, for Best Effects/Special Visual Effects for 2001, but was 0-for-3 as a director. An American in Paris beat out A Streetcar Named Desire (which was nominated) and The African Queen (which wasn’t) for Best Picture in 1952, while Singin’ in the Rain – an infinitely better picture than An American in Paris, and possibly the best musical ever – received just a pair of minor nominations two years later. Stanley Donen was never even nominated for an Oscar.

Consider some of the best contemporary figures too. Johnny Depp has just two nominations and no wins. Nicole Kidman has one, for The Hours. Martin Scorsese has just one Best Director win, this past year for The Departed. And everyone knows how long it took Steven Spielberg to win his first Best Director award – long enough that he won the Irving Thalberg Award first.

So yes, please, let’s compare MVP voting to Best Picture/Director/Actor voting. We could argue all day about which is worse.


I’ll be offline starting on January 9th, running through the 16th, for vacation. I’ll keep an eye on comments here, but won’t be posting on this site or writing for ESPN.com. Thanks.

Hall results.

Quick note: ESPNEWS will replay the Jim Rice segment from my appearance at 5:20 pm EST. Enjoy.

I’m not surprised by anything except Raines’ poor showing.

Anyway, here’s a comparison of my final tally to the actual percentages, with the last column representing a straight difference (my % – actual %)

TOTAL 120 Pct 543 Actual Diff
Gossage 108 90% 466 86% 4%
Rice 82 68% 392 72% -4%
Blyleven 79 66% 336 62% 4%
Dawson 79 66% 358 66% 0%
Morris 58 48% 233 43% 5%
Smith 44 37% 235 43% -7%
Raines 42 35% 132 24% 11%
McGwire 29 24% 128 24% 1%
Trammell 29 24% 99 18% 6%
John 22 18% 158 29% -11%
Concepcion 16 13% 88 16% -3%
Murphy 13 11% 75 14% -3%
Parker 11 9% 82 15% -6%
Mattingly 6 5% 86 16% -11%
Baines 4 3% 28 5% -2%

My tally’s estimates were within five percentage points of the actual figures for five of the top six guys; I’m pleased with that. I ended up a high on the three main stathead favorites (Bly, Rock, Tram), and low on the three guys who really don’t have any business in the Hall (Rice, Morris, Smith). Assuming I do this again next year, I’ll try to identify a few more retired voters, since that’s a good chunk (as many as 200?) of the voter pool.

But seriously, who the fuck voted for Shawon Dunston?