Monday, May 28, 2012

A Movie(ng) Afternoon: We Bought A Zoo

Friday night.  Homemade sour cream, chicken, green chile enchiladas.  Hubby's work compadre expected for dinner, (our first non-family dinner guest in our new house.)  Awesome playlist created and dancing on the fragrant, evening air.  Some tasty, local brew and Captain Morgan, (apple soda for Emily.)  ...  Phonecall.  Vehicle trouble.  Lots of time passes... waiting.  Another call.  Company not going to make it tonight.  Bummed.

Trying to lighten the mood, I sent the daddy/daughter duo to pick up a movie while I popped the enchiladas into the oven and cooked up the refried black beans.  All would not be lost!  Yes, we were all pretty disheartened at the loss of our amigo joining us for dinner, but no need to feel down.  Redbox to the rescue again!!

We Bought A Zoo in hand, my beloveds returned to a warm house filled with delicious smells of corn tortillas, cheese and cilantro.  We stuffed our faces and due to the now-late hour, we had to retire for the night and decided to embark upon our film journey the following day, (after all, it was a three-day weekend.)

The next morning was a delight.  Seeing how excited my eldest daughter was to be going on her date with Daddy brought an unexplainable joy to my indubitably sappy, mother's heart.  Their bi-monthly planned day consisted of a trip to the park and an intermission for ice cream before returning home to learn a "routine" that would be performed for me later.  (Emily just loves choreographing cheers, dances and plays to perform with friends... but this time... Dad.)

After my very full morning with the baby and a little extra "me" time to take a hot bath then play with some long-overdue and stagnantly-awaiting art, I was ready to settle in for a little movie watching in the mid afternoon, (as was the ol' man after quite the eventful day with the energetic little imp.)  I laid the little one down for a nap, put out some Club crackers and Tillamook Cheddar and we were ready for our trip to the Zoo.

I love it when I am watching a film and suddenly there is a major point with which I can seriously relate.  Like the main character, Benjamin Mee, I too lost a spouse to illness.  It's a bumpy, scary and LONG road to recovery.  Matt Damon portrays the struggling partner left behind with a hefty plate of two children, (one a troubled teen,) and full-time job to nurture/maintain in the wake of tragedy.  As per usual, Mr. Damon plays the part masterfully and believably.  From the start, I was empathetic and feeling his every, conveyed emotion.  Seeing his late wife everywhere... everything a trigger to frustrating sadness, his 14-year old son falling deeper and deeper into a dangerous, downward spiral of trouble and depression, quitting his job and refusing to take his journalistic talents online versus the field, (where he loved and lived to be,) this man needed a desperate change.

Deciding to relocate and just "start over," he and daughter Rosie, tag along with a real estate agent in search of the perfect new beginning,
Rosie Mee played by Maggie Elizabeth Jones
finding what he thinks to be the exact location of said fresh start in a beautiful fixer-upper ranch-style home set on a lush, scenic plot of 18 acres.  Little does he know in all his eagerness and immediate desire to purchase the property that it's not just a house on some lovely land... but a Zoo.  After this news becomes known and that the sale of the house also includes the animals, (or else their unfortunate demise is imminent,) Benjamin's hopes are dashed.  But, after witnessing the unquestionable light in his 7-year old's eyes at the idea of living on and owning a Zoo, he feels he is seriously being led to buy.  And, he does.

Matt Damon as Benjamin Mee with Spar the tiger
The tale is weaved with strands of humor, laced with very realistic elements of truth, love and sorrow and made complete with a rather wonderful, charismatic cast.

Scarlett Johansson as Kelly Foster

One rather refreshing surprise was Scarlett Johansson, who normally just rubs me the wrong way, (an absolute stunning beauty but boring actress.)  Well, I am never one to remain silent when my opinion is altered.  I had forgotten she starred in this film and the soddy smirk on my face was definite evidence as to my lack of enthusiasm for this fact when the movie started.  HOWEVER... what a nice change from her usual bimbo-ish, I'm-so-freaking-gorgeous-I-don't-have-to-act-well roles.  She seriously made me like her in this single afternoon.  Playing Kelly Foster, the head zookeeper, she nailed the character.  Even her more masculine, outdoorsman-type walk suited the part.  I was shocked and impressed.

In conclusion, I am recommending this movie to ALL.  It was beautifully made and well acted and terrifically scripted.  My husband liked it so well, he raced over to the computer afterwards to do some more research.  (That's how I always know he liked a movie; he dives in deeper.)

The REAL Benjamin Mee with Matt Damon
Oh!  And did you know it's a true story?  Yea!  Based on actual events and a real-life place called Dartmoor Zoo in the Southwest region of England in Devon.  That's right... and the real Benjamin Mee wrote this charming little story, (the book, not the movie, but what this movie IS based upon.)

It's a comedy.  It's a drama.  It's a family film.  It's an animal lover's mantra.  It's fun.  Just watch it.  You'll see.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Never Disappointing: Sadie's

True-to-form and ever-faithful Texas girl that I am, finding the perfect Mexican cuisine to suit my Tex-Mex-spoiled palate is anything but an easy task here in New Mexico.  I have lived here in Albuquerque a little more than year now and have noshed at many a proclaimed "authentic New Mexican" restaurant.  As much as I have come to admire, enjoy and CRAVE the regional staple: green chile, (which is available everywhere here,) there still seems to lack a true understanding of quality Mexican food among the plethora of "Mexican" eating establishments.

There is, however, one amazing exception.  Sadie's.  Certainly not a Tex-Mex eatery, but Sadie's was the official mind-shifter responsible for allowing entry into my head the possibility that New Mexican cookery can be just as delectable.

Last Saturday evening was my 10th visit to this now-beloved restaurant; 8th visit to my personal favourite location: Sadie's East.

My husband and Mother-in-Law in front of Sadie's East.

From the very first moment of entry, Sadie's East welcomes you.  The front doors, obviously handcrafted, complete with whimsical red chile handles bring you into an inviting entryway dressed in Southwest textiles and Mexican decor, the distinct and tantalizing aroma of corn tortillas and chiles pulling you in with a smile.  Friendly and accommodating staff await you promptly, seating you either instantly or within minutes.  (Sadie's on 4th is a hit or miss when waiting and service are concerned.  I have been there twice and must say it's an entirely different vibe, one I don't care to repeat.)

Each and every visit to Sadie's has been a memorable, fun and FILLING experience.  All waitstaff are incredibly amiable.  We've yet to have a repeat server, yet each one has seemingly been better and more pleasant than the previous.  One thing I greatly appreciate is their abundance of staff, each table not only having a server but also a "helper" of sorts who takes care of your drinks exclusively for the entirety of your stay.

Is this ALL there is?  Great staff, traditional design, inviting smells of classically-favourite foods?  Oh nooooooooooooo, my friend.  

The Food!

Hungry?  Sadie's.  "Nuff said," as my little brother states often.  The inconceivable amount of food per portion can be intimidating to any who prefer to lightly pick at their meals or dieters.  Prepare to be full beyond full and almost always have to leave with an accompanying "doggie bag."  They are definitely not stingy; no portion control here.  

Keep in mind, however, that you will indeed pay for such beastly-sized dinners.  After our first couple of visits, the hubby and I got wise... especially once our eyes found a heaping MOUNTAIN of piled-up deliciousness.  We inquired to find that the mound was actually their famous Sadie's Nachos.  And not only are these humungous, (will feed anywhere from 3-6 people,) but they are unequivocally scrumptious, too.  The half order is just shy of $9 and the full order is a mere $10.99!  Where else can you feed so many with ONE dish at such a reasonable price?

Sadie's Nachos.  My FAVOURITE!
Photo courtesy of

As I have already stated, these nachos are not only unprecedented in their massive size, but also beyond delicious.  They can be topped with chicken or beef, (I recommend the beef.)  The deluge of toppings also includes refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, guacamole (always yummy,) cheese (the finest,) and FRESH jalapeños (not the pickled kind either... these are hot and good!)

Another favourite here is the Sadie's Chile Relleno: a huge green chile stuffed with cheese and deep fried.  As with all Sadie's dinner entrees, the relleno is surrounded by a veritable moat of frijoles and papitas, (small cubes of pan-fried potatoes,) and is smothered with your choice of red or green chile, or as my husband orders- Christmas, (meaning both red AND green.)  After tasting one of these fine, fried peppers stuffed with cheese, my Dad proclaimed it to be "the best relleno he'd EVER had," and he is actually from New Mexico and had always shown allegiance to a family friend-owned hideaway in Clovis where he grew up.  (This place is now closed, owners have retired, but even I have had their famous rellenos and found them to be quite lovely.)  Never in a thousand years did I think my father would announce a NEW relleno favourite.

In addition to splitting the nachos with whomever may be dining with me, I usually order a beef taco a la carte.  It's never been disappointing; shell freshly fried, the ground beef spicy and more grated cheddar than you'd think legally possible.  Sometimes, I also order a side of guacamole, which is invariably fresh, but isn't the cheapest for the size you get.  The chile con queso is another smart order, but get ready to pay entirely too much for this savory dip.  (I have to admit my own queso blows this one out of the water... and I'd never charge over $7 for a tiny bowl.)

A simple substitution:
Try the refried beans instead of the traditional frijoles.  They are LOADED with flavour.

One last endorsement...

 Please don't discount the salsa!  Absolutely and without question some of the tastiest and HOTTEST salsa you'll ever eat.  It's genuinely spicy to a degree that will leave your mouth ablaze all while teasing your taste buds with its unmatched flavour.  You'll drink plenty of water and swear it's "just too hot," the same time you're reaching for yet again your 50th+ chip to dip into it.  Every guest I've brought along has quite verbally and figuratively made their appreciation of the salsa known.
*You can also purchase this famous salsa in a jar... and while it is indeed better than any standard off-the-shelf-mass-produced hot sauce, the jarred product pales in comparison to the fresh.

Photo by: Eric Williams,
Come hungry... leave MORE THAN full.  Sadie's will leave you content, happy and craving it within a week.   I guarantee it.
I just went Saturday, and I'm already planning another trip.

Been to Sadie's?  What's your favourite menu item?  Haven't been... what's your favourite 
Mexican food place?


Sadie's East on Urbanspoon

WANA112 Daily

Saturday, May 19, 2012

An Adventurous Ride with Tin Tin & Redbox Customer Service

On occasion, I will deem it necessary to make Friday night a movie night for the family. Since going to the actual cinema costs just about everything shy of your blood and firstborn, renting is the obvious, most economic choice. Redbox to the rescue!

I have been curious to see The Adventures of Tin Tin for a long while now and as it wasn't sold out on Blu Ray, since I didn't wait too late in the day to visit the notoriously red kiosk that's now seemingly on every corner, that's exactly what I got.

After getting the little one fed and happy, we all sat down with our steaming bowls of chicken, potato, corn chowder and french bread and prepared to be entertained.

From the first few seconds, one's eyes cannot be torn away from the phenomenal animation; so life-like, you almost forget you're watching a cartoon. This movie has, undoubtedly, the best and most realistic CG animation I have seen to date. No detail was left unconcerned. The textures of the skin, the shine in the hair, the actual, properly-conducted, humanistic movements and expressions of the characters. The only things to continuously remind you that it isn't real, are the exaggerated, caricature-style noses on a majority of the characters, which added comical flare.

The story was just starting to pick up and we were all intently watching, (the movie was only 21 minutes in,) when suddenly the abominable happened... the ugly, dreaded multi-coloured squares began to mar our perfect picture. Pixels. Sound: gone. Skipping?? I had cleaned the disc before putting it into the Blu Ray player as it had been abundant with sticky, child-sized fingerprints, (the drawbacks of renting "Family" films from an unmanned source. My theory is there are plenty of parents out there who rent these movies for their kids and just leave them in charge of the disc, off to whatever adult activity keeps them away from their children as much as possible.) But, I digress...

We eject the disc and hubby cleans it even more... but there it is: a scratch. Tiny and barely noticeable, but enough to ruin our Family Movie Night indeed.

Naturally, I was promptly on the computer to retrieve Redbox's instructions on what to do in this tragic circumstance. After searching their site and deciding on the Chat with a Representative option, I wait, and wait... and wait, (even though the chat dialogue proclaimed I was 1st in line.) FINALLY, a human-posing bot named "Larry" comes on the screen to assist me in my crisis. After explaining my situation and directed to clean the disc, as I'd already done... then asked if I'd tried playing it on a different player, (RIGHT! Like we all have an extra Blu Ray player lying around,) I was finally offered some consolation in the form of two promo codes worth $1.20 each. This was certainly welcome, but I inquired as to my responsibility for the remainder of the price for renting a Blu Ray. (Blu Rays cost $1.65; DVDs cost $1.20.) After all, the offensively-scratched disc in question WAS a Blu Ray. It was then a REAL person must've replaced the bot, because I was offered yet another promo code as an apology for the inconvenience. Cool. Now I was appeased.

Without delay, I was off to the nearest Redbox to make my exchange. I was back home in a jiffy and our adventure with Tin Tin was underway yet again.

*deep breath*

What a thrill ride! As only Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson can deliver, The Adventures of Tin Tin was a veritable, on-the-edge-of-your-seat journey complete with an engrossing plot line, Indiana Jones-esque action, explosive cinematography, and witty, comedic banter as only the British can most-assuredly deliver.

The title character, Tin Tin, is a loveable bloke; an intelligent-beyond-his-years investigative reporter/journalist with a baby face appearance recollective of the likes of Elijah Wood and Daniel Radcliffe. Captain Haddock is just as loveable with his jocose antics and inebriated prattle. Voiced by the ever-so talented Andy Serkis, Haddock adds hilarity in all its forms to this already amusing film.

At one point, my 9-year old daughter stated that she didn't see how this movie was "for kids." In agreement with this, I replied, "Just because it's animated, doesn't mean it's for kids." And, it really wasn't actually. The plot was a tad difficult for her to follow in places and there were several jokes/references which only cultured and knowledgeable ADULTS would understand. Michael and I were enjoying it exceedingly.

In summary, I recommend it highly... but not for the youngest of audiences. I'd say 10 or 11 and older. Be prepared to be amazed at the beyond-stellar animation and intensely surprised at how enthralling this film really is.


What films have YOU seen lately that you'd recommend?

WANA112 Daily

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Difficult Assessment... Paisano's.

Sunny's Say-So Albuquerque restaurants

   Mother's Day, 2012.  My hopes were high, confidence incontrovertible as I made Paisano's my celebratory dining choice to commemorate my motherhood on this day.  Reviews digested and beautiful family in tow, I was sure it would be the best Italian lunch ever.
   Prepared for my newest adventure as a foodie blogger, I absorbed each detail with sponge-like precision.  The restaurant's exterior was noted, a tribute to authentic countryside cafes of Old World Italy.  The sky was thick with gray clouds, the smell of fragrant, soon-to-fall rain heavy upon the cool air... all of this adding to my fervor and motivation for the task at hand.  "Take it all in, Sunny," I whispered to myself as we entered the place.
   Cozy and classically decorated, the establishment was inviting and reminiscent of another time, when restaurants were mom and pop owned, before the sting of franchise vaulted in like a corporate scorpion, poisoning all sense of family-owned uniqueness.  I was comforted by the delicious smells emanating throughout and still positive the reviews I'd read would ring true on every level.
   After a fairly long wait, which I didn't really mind after seeing they knew a regular patron by her first name, (which was a pleasant sight,) we were at last seated on the closed-in patio, laden with mosaic-tiled tables, whimsically-coloured chairs and fresh greenery climbing the surrounding walls.

    My dreams of having the perfect dining experience were dashed, however, as soon as we sat... not due to shoddy service or an improperly-cleaned table, but my youngest little gem soon became the most fussy she'd ever been at any eating establishment.  She demanded food immediately and was less than quiet about it.  My husband and I scrambled to appease our 5 1/2-month old for well over half an hour, all the while ordering our drinks, perusing the menu, helping our oldest daughter decide what to eat, (which wasn't an easy task considering Paisano's does not offer a children's menu,) then eventually ordering our meals.

   The prices were high, as anticipated, but higher than I'd have liked.  I'd read a rave review of the Caeser salad, which I had to try.  Conquering a Caeser salad properly is not the simplest of tasks for any kitchen.  The exact balance of flavours must be perfect.  I am picky when Caeser is concerned so I didn't fuss about the additional charge of $2.50 that would be tacked on because of the substitution for a house salad.  My husband ordered the lentil soup, (another dish proclaimed to be "the best in town.")  The starters came.  How disappointed was I at that first bite of what I was sure to be the best Caeser salad?  Extremely.  The presentation was lovely, the ingredients unique... but, oh my! the overwhelming taste of anchovies!  Now, I enjoy the subtle flavour that fishy little critter adds to a Caeser indeed, but this was an absolute wreck.  Who wants a fishy salad dressing?  Not I.  I shuffled the tomatoes over to my eldest daughter and picked at the artichoke hearts.  I was, however, slightly more appeased when after reporting the condition of the salad to our server, she promised to deliver the message to the kitchen and upon returning, informed us that the additional charge had been removed from the bill.  At least they care about their patrons' opinions.
   I tasted the lentil soup to see what the fuss was all about... *sigh*  It was nothing to write home about and it certainly did not meet up to its standard of comparison with Jacob's so-good-his-brother-gave-away-his-birthright-for-it lentil soup as I had recently read in another blog.
   The bread came and olive oil was drizzled over a plate of herbs and spices.  Reaching into the basket, I was a little taken aback that the bread was not warm, but still pleased at the flavours coming alive on my tongue after dipping a hunk in the now-perfumed oil.  It would have been better warm, I'm convinced, and even better yet with butter.
   I felt compelled to order the stuffed portabella mushroom as it was yet another talked-about favourite in recently read reviews.  THIS was beyond delicious.  The mushroom was meaty and cooked to perfection.  Combined with plenty of cheese, tantalizing herbs and the most wonderful marinara I've ever had, this is sure to become a favourite on my list of scrumptious appetizers.  (The pool of chunky marinara doubled as a nice bread-dipper.)
   Our entrees arrived and everything was plated beautifully.  I had the Stuffed Shells.
   The filling was a divine concoction of cheeses and spinach, topped again with that lovely marinara which just about made up for the rubbery shells.  The freshly-grated Parmesan was impressive in it's larger-than-average sized shavings.
   Hubby had the Linguini alla Livorno.  The pasta was very good, but the flavours weren't unusual as I'd already had them in the Caeser salad: tomatoes, Greek olives and artichoke hearts.  I would have preferred the pasta dish to the fishy salad.

   My daughter ordered a pizza.  Oven-baked to a lovely colour, topped with Canadian bacon and green chile, THIS was the best of the entrees at our table.
   All in all, the service was efficient.  Our drinks were never empty and we didn't ever have to wonder where our server was.  The food was hit or miss I'd say.  If you know what to order, then Paisano's might be a delightful destination for a dinner date.  I'd recommend leaving the kiddos at home especially in the absence of a children's menu and kid-friendly foods. 
  My heart was certainly heavier at the end of the meal, even in the presence of our Molten Chocolate Cake and Gelato, which was fairly tasty, but not that amazing.  I'd say... overpriced.

   I couldn't help but think my days as a critic/food blogger were over as soon as they had begun.  How could I fully concentrate on "taking it all in" when there were even more important things to worry about, like feeding my little one and making sure a fussy baby didn't spoil any others' dining experience?  It was a difficult assessment indeed.
   My gorgeous husband wrapped me in his arms upon arriving home, and seeing that I was downtrodden, offered me some comfort food in the form of soothing and encouraging words.  He suggested I venture out once a month, more when finances allow, alone, and continue on my journey to be a genuine Foodie.   
   After mulling the idea over with a Mother's Day Mai Tai in hand, I think I will. _______
Paisano's on Urbanspoon