Thumbs Up: Top Movies of 2011

February 7, 2012

Spencer and I see at least one movie each week at a movie theater, NOT on DVD. It’s one of the things we really enjoy in life, especially since we usually dine at a favorite restaurant either before or after the show.

In fact, if I weren’t a food-and-wine professional, I may well have been a movie critic.

So here are out top movies of 2011. We rate each movie from 0 to 5 stars. Zero is a movie without a plot or a really bad (unsatisfying) ending. Five is a world-class, totally unique, unexpected experience.

We’ve given only a handful of five-star ratings since we started cataloging and rating our movies in 1986 (!).

Each of the movies below garnered a four-star rating. Nothing won five stars in 2011.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Empire of Silver

Jane Eyre

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Beginning of the New Revolution

Page One

Midnight in Paris

The Dead Celebrity Cookbook

January 20, 2012

I am bombarded daily with press releases, new-product announcements, and updates on new books, especially cookbooks. I often read the subject line and quickly delete the item if it doesn’t pique my curiosity or have anything to do with an article I’m working on or plan to write.

Some of the emails and cover letters I receive are particularly inane or funny, and not intentionally! Here’s the funniest one I’ve received in a LONG time, about a new book entitled, “The Dead Celebrity Cookbook: A Resurrection of Recipes from More Than 145 Stars of Stage and Screen.” The cover letter says:”

<<Frank DeCaro reminds us that many Hollywood celebrities enjoyed cooking long before it was “cool.” The man everyone knows as the movie critic on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart has compiled recipes from over 145 of Hollywood’s favorite stars who are no longer with us and included them in “The Dead Celebrity Cookbook.”

<<People are breaking tradition and inviting their favorite “dead celebrities” to their Christmas dinners via their recipes; in fact, having “dead celebrity cooking parties” is fast becoming the latest Hollywood trend. This has huge appeal for Hollywood trivia buffs, foodies, or anyone who loves great recipes spiked with hilarious commentary, such as, “feasting on Sinatra’s barbecued lamb, taking a stab at Anthony Perkins tuna salad, or wrapping your lips around Rock Hudson’s cannoli” (and really – who hasn’t?).>>

Are these people for real? Only in Hollywood, sigh.

Here’s the entire release, in case you just have to read more, along with a recipe for Peter Falk’s Pork Chops:

The Dead Celebrity Cookbook – A Collection Of Favorite Recipes Of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Stars

Los Angeles, CA, December 28, 2011 – For anyone who loves Hollywood memorabilia, is an entertainment junkie, and loves to eat and cook – they will treasure Frank DeCaro’s ‘The Dead Celebrity Cookbook: A Resurrection of Recipes from More Than 145 Stars of Stage and Screen’ (HCI Books). Frank compiled favorite recipes from some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Lucille Ball, Elizabeth Taylor, Sonny Bono, Liberace, Michael Jackson, John Denver, Frank Sinatra, Rock Hudson, Humphrey Bogart, and Peter Falk, just to name a few.

“I love these dead celebrities! They’re the stars I grew up watching, and they deserve to be remembered even if they were more talented on screen than they were in the kitchen. Frank clearly worships them as much as I do, and after reading ‘The Dead Celebrity Cookbook’ you will, too.” -Rosie O’Donnell

“Celebrities die–eventually–but their recipes live on, thanks to Frank DeCaro’s thorough and thoroughly delicious book. DeCaro’s dry wit is tasty, and judging from these yummy concoctions, most of these celebs died really happy!” –Michael Musto, Village Voice

Inspired by a “Dead Celebrity Party” during his college years, DeCaro thought the one thing missing from the event was the food of the dead. Since then, he’s been collecting recipes of the stars and lucky for us, he’s put them together in, THE DEAD CELEBRITY COOKBOOK: A Resurrection of Recipes from More Than 145 Stars of Stage and Screen (HCI Books – October 2011- $19.95).

DeCaro, who is best known for his nearly seven-year stint as the movie critic on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and now heard weekdays on his own call-in radio show, gives us a giggle while feeding us treats from Tinsel Town, like Liberace’s Sticky Buns, Mae West’s Fruit Compote, John Ritter’s Favorite Fudge, and Bea Arthur’s Vegetarian Breakfast.

THE DEAD CELEBRITY COOKBOOK is here to remind you that before there were celebrity chefs, there were celebrities who fancied themselves as chefs. They were whipping up culinary delights, and sometimes sharing them with us on shows like Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas or even Johnny Carson. DeCaro gives us some entertaining and informative commentary before each section of recipes in chapters that include: “Talk Show Chow,” “An All-Night Oscar Buff,” and “I Lunch Lucy,” a whole section dedicated to the red-haired TV goddess.

Says DeCaro, “I miss those days when celebrities still had mystery about them, and a glimpse inside their radar ranges seemed, for any fan, like a window into the world of glamour and excitement, which is why I put together this book.” This book delivers recipes that the stars are dying for you to make.

For more information, please go to:


Best known for his years as the flamboyant movie critic on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Frank DeCaro is heard each weekday morning on his live national call-in program The Frank DeCaro Show on Sirius XM Satellite Radio. A writer and performer, DeCaro pens the “Icons” column for CBS Watch magazine. The author of the pioneering memoir A Boy Named Phyllis, DeCaro previously wrote the “Style Over Substance” column for The New York Times. Visit the author at and on Facebook, and follow him at

Available online or at bookstores or to order directly from the publisher, contact: (800) 441-5569 or

THE DEAD CELEBRITY COOKBOOK: A Resurrection of Recipes from More Than 145 Stars of Stage and Screen

Frank Decaro

ISBN: 978-9-7573-1596-1– $19.95 — October 2011



Brini Maxwell, author of Brini Maxwell’s Guide to Gracious Living and creator of “I adore this book so much I find myself on the horns of a dilemma–make the recipes or kill myself so I can be in the sequel.”

Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough,, bestselling authors of more than twenty cookbooks including Lobsters Scream When You Boil Them and 100 Other Myths About Food and Cooking: “Hankering for star-powered recipes? With this laugh-out-loud encyclopedia of Hollywood culinaria, Frank DeCaro brings out the real ‘celebrity chefs’ in spades. Or with a spade.”

Lisa Lampanelli, comedienne: “Frank DeCaro has the most delectable treats I’ve ever tasted — and the recipes aren’t bad, either! My dying wish is to have one of my recipes in The Dead Celebrity Cookbook II. Anyone for the Queen of Mean’s ‘So-Good-You’ll-Slap-Yo-Mama Chicken ’n Waffles’?”

Bob Smith, author of Remembrance of Things I Forgot: “Frank DeCaro’s two obsessions–food and the famous–have been hilariously united in The Dead Celebrity Cookbook. Reading Frank is like breaking your diet with your funniest best friend.”


Peter Falk 1927-2011

He was one of the great ones–appearing in films as disparate as The Princess Bride and Wings of Desire in the same year, 1987. But no matter what Peter Falk did (and he did a lot), he will always be remembered as the police detective in the rumpled raincoat on the mystery series Columbo. The character, one he played for more than thirty years beginning in 1971, is one of TV’s most indelible portraits. Among Falk’s most beloved films were the cult hit The In-Laws, the one-two Neil Simon punch of Murder by Death and The Cheap Detective, and six pictures with his buddy, the director/actor John Cassavetes, including the 1974 classic A Woman Under the Influence. The Emmy- and Oscar-nominated actor published his memoir Just One More Thing in 2006, and it wasn’t a moment too soon. Falk was diagnosed with dementia two years later. Just one more thing: His pork chops are as toothsome as he was.

Peter Falk’s Pork Chops

6 pork chops

1 medium onion, finely chopped

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup white vinegar

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon thyme

1 cup water

½ cup liquid from jarred vinegar peppers

1 cup (or more) vinegar peppers

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350°. Brown pork chops in olive oil in a heavy frying pan and remove to a casserole. Cook onions until translucent in same oil and add to casserole. Deglaze pan by adding white vinegar and stirring up all brown bits. Add to casserole along with all remaining ingredients except vinegar peppers. Bake for 1½ hours. Add vinegar peppers and cook 15 minutes more. Remove pork chops and peppers to a warm serving plate. Add 2 teaspoons corn starch to pan drippings to make gravy. Pour over pork chops and peppers and serve.

Cutting Room Floor (sidebar):

You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but Idris Elba, the hulking British actor best known as Stringer Bell on HBO’s The Wire, has said that his edgy detective character on Luther owes a debt to Falk. Luther, a childhood fan of Columbo and creator Neil Cross, explains that both the classic American mystery show and the smoking hot BBC crime series are “howcatchems” not whodunits, and no one did that better than Lt. Frank Columbo.

“Lobsta” in “Glosta!”

November 11, 2011

Glosta lobsta: Braiden wrestles a 1 ¼-pound lobster

During the second port call of our Fall Foliage cruise on the Holland America Line, we stopped in Gloucester, Massachusetts, a.k.a. “Glosta.”

It was a small and not very interesting town, sadly. But we did enjoy lunch at the Seaport Grille, a popular waterfront restaurant and bar, before we got back on the boat.

I was drawn to this particular place (among several recommended dining options) when I saw one of the specials of the day–Steamed lobster with coleslaw, puréed squash (which reminded me of sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving) and potatoes au gratin–all for an astonishingly low $12.95.

I didn’t eat much of the starch or coleslaw, but I did manage to eat the entire lobster. Here are the poor creature’s sad remains.

Glosta lobsta eaten

After I excitedly emailed the “before” photo to a select group of family and friends, I received this response from my talented web designer, Christopher Prouty, founder of Studio 99 Creative.

“There is no better lobster than a Gloucester lobster,” he said. “And here’s a tip. A splash of vinegar in your melted butter adds some incredible flavor… got that from an old Maine lobster man.”

I was intrigued. But what kind of vinegar to use, I wondered. Balsamic would certainly be a big statement. Apple cider would add an interesting tang. Blueberry? Not so much.

Another round of emails elicited suggestions from both Chris and his wife, Amy.

“Malt vinegar for me,” Chris replied, “but Amy is a traditionalist and likes white. You know you get the right amount when it is indiscernible, yet different than regular butter. Yum-yum.”

BTW, my Gloucester lobster paired perfectly with a glass of California Sauvignon Blanc.

New York, New York

November 4, 2011

Some of you know that Spencer and I have been anticipating a Fall Foliage Cruise on the Holland America cruise line for well over a year now. We actually signed up (and chose our cabin!) last year during our cruise of the Scandinavian countries, St. Petersburg, and Estonia.

The Fall Foliage Cruise finally came to fruition right after a significant birthday for me (I’ll let you guess which one!), as well as a milestone birthday for Spencer en route.

The cruise began in one of our favorite cities in the world, New York City.

So we stole 36 hours before it began to celebrate my birthday with dinner at the legendary Jean Georges.

We also tried Mario Batali’s new paean to all things Italian–Eataly–get it?!?! for lunch, then our final dinner at Eleven Madison Park–a stellar experience all-around.

Photo from our hotel room

Here is a photo from our centrally located and LOVELY hotel–the Renaissance Times Square. Highly recommended.

In subsequent posts, we’ll give you updates on our port calls and notes from the journey–high winds, a hurricane, all sorts of nautical tales, and “lobsta.”

So please stay tuned!

Compelling Cupcakes!

September 6, 2011

Huckleberry Cupcakes

Just before the Labor Day weekend began, I got a call from our doorman that a delivery had arrived.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Cupcakes,” Nick replied. “Do you want me to send the delivery man up with them?”

“If it’s cupcakes, then you bet,” I replied.

Turns our our good friends at Cupcake Royale had sent over samples of their September flavors–Huckleberry and (just in time for the start of school) Peanut Butter & Jam Cupcakes. (We wrote a Taste column about this fine company and visionary owner/founder Jody Hall for The Seattle Times Pacific Northwest magazine in February 2010.)

Resisting the mightiest temptation, I didn’t dive in immediately, but gave Spencer a call with the good news.

“I’ll be right up,” he said.

Somehow, I managed to deter his visit to my office and we both held of on sampling the compelling cakes until after dinner.

I must admit, the Huckleberry Cupcake, with its silky white body studded with berries and its icing so very, very huckleberry good, hit the spot when paired with a nightcap (just a wee glass!) of Australian Shiraz-Viognier we had left over from the evening before.

The Peanut Butter and Jam Cupcake

The PB and J went down nicely with a more “normal” accompaniment–a glass of cold milk. Peanut butter is one of my favorite foods in the world, and I go “nuts” for anything that’s salted caramel, so this cupcake flavor combo really rang my chimes.

You might have seen Cupcake Royale on a recent episode of the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. Here are more details on the company’s September offerings.

Huckleberry Cupcake

Say goodbye to summer and hello to huckleberries. It’s a fair trade-off in our book and we always celebrate September with our Huckleberry Cupcake (aka “the Huck”). We fold in fresh, local huckleberries (fresh, as in they were picked for us this past weekend) into our vanilla cupcake and top it with a huckleberry buttercream frosting. This cupcake brings all the bears to the yard. We have partnered with local farm Foraged & Found Edibles to provide us with our huckleberry crop this year. In case you don’t know what a huckleberry is, think of it as the little brother to a blueberry but with even more flavor.

Peanut Butter and Jam Cupcake

Peanut Butter and Jam, sitting in a tree. This classic combo has our vanilla cupcake, filled with fresh local strawberry jam (fresh, as in they made it last week) topped with a super fluffy, salty peanut butter buttercream. Sprinkled with chopped peanuts and a coarse sugar and sea salt mix.

Spider: 2, Braiden: 0

August 23, 2011

Last week we spent a few days on the Oregon Coast in Lincoln City, then two days in Astoria, a charming maritime-based town on the border between Oregon and Washington.

It was a good, if rather hectic, trip.

Last Monday  in our hotel room in Astoria, I woke up with two insect bites on my left forearm. We’d slept with our balcony door propped open, and I figured a hungry mosquito had made a midnight feast of me.

The “mosquito bites” itched like crazy and got very red and raised over the next two days. From the outset Spencer, who’s deathly afraid of spiders, said he thought they were not “mosquito bites,” but spider bites.

By the time we arrived home on Tuesday night, they were looking pretty angry. By noon Wednesday, there was a pink ring radiating out from the two bites and moving up and down my arm.

Spencer insisted I call our doctor. I did better and sent the iPhone photo (above).

Christy, the nurse, called back quickly with a bevy of questions and a concerned/worried tone in her voice.

Our doctor called a few minutes later and slapped me on antibiotics and Benadryl Anti-Itch Cream to fight sepsis!!!

As much as I hate taking medicine, almost instantly, I began to feel better.

Over the next several days, the puffiness and pink circle went away. I was so relieved. Thanks heavens for penicillin!

It’s been a tough couple of months for the left side of my body, between my run in with the tape dispenser in March, and now, a venomous spider in August!

Let’s hope these incidents don’t come in series of threes.

Salmon Burgers Redux!

August 5, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I ran an article about finding the best salmon burger in Seattle. Ray’s Boathouse Cafe won by a mile.

When I sent the link to my brother and sister-in-law in central Florida, they were inspired. So that very evening, with their three teenagers off at camp and a quiet night on their hands, Nancy and Brad grilled up a batch of salmon burgers purchased from Fresh Market.

Sad to say, they weren’t very impressed with the burgers (we would have been better off just grilling a piece of salmon, Brad reports), they were impressed with the evening’s wine pairing, a bottle of  Cruz Allen 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir from Mendoza, Argentina.

In a follow-up email, Brad had this to say about Argentinian wines in general:

“Although known for Malbec, Argentina is producing other great varietals now. They are excellent quality for the price. Argentina is similar to Australia about 5-10 years ago, before Australia was ‘discovered,’ and prices went up. Here is a good piece on Argentinian wine making.”

Thanks for the insight, Nancy and Brad!


August 2, 2011

A few weeks ago, with a new camera in hand that gave me an excuse to attend an event I might not normally have gone to, Spencer and I set out in the Lex for Fremont, a.k.a, The Center of the Universe.

Our destination?

The Red, White, and Dead World’s Longest Zombie Walk.

As reported by the seattlest blog, “Last year the event managed to get 3,894 zombies to come to Fremont, taking the world record. However that was soon beaten by 4,026 undead bodies at England’s Big Chill Music Festival. This year the event managed to take back the title by bringing 4,233 people to the streets!”

The Zombie Squad had a colorful booth, and we met lots of other likely suspects along the way. The hearse in the photo above seems a particularly appropriate backdrop, as does the sign in the background advertising local radio station 107.7, The End.

Since this is, after all, mainly a food blog, I wanted to prove to you that zombies work up an appetite when they are out doing whatever it is zombies do all day. Here they are eating real food–no human flesh!–along the sidewalk.

There were zombie children. . .this one with a zombie baby perched on his shoulder. . .

And zombie families.

A young zombie boy enjoyed breakdancing with adult creatures of his ilk. . .

While a zombie d.j. spun appropriate tunes for the somewhat dazed, bloody crowd on this uniquely Seattle and totally unforgettable summer afternoon.

Out and About with Dry Soda’s Tasting Truck

June 10, 2011

Be on the look out for DRY Soda’s jaunty new “tasting truck” at your local supermarket and around the Northwest.

The truck debuted at DRY’s Pioneer Square headquarters early last month with a lively Kick-off Party in honor of its upcoming Savor-the-Flavor Tour.

First stop? Portland, with other West Coast cities soon t0 follow.

You can savor DRY Soda in six flavors: Lavender, Lemongrass, Blood Orange, Rhubarb, Cucumber, and Juniper Berry. It’s available in grocery stores, restaurants, luxury hotels, and boutiques in the United States and Canada and even in select international locations.

And, of course, from the tasting truck!

ART’s Dish of the Day

June 7, 2011

One of our favorite places to pop in for a late-afternoon, after-work glass of wine and appetizers is our neighbor just across the courtyard, ART Restaurant & Lounge in the Four Seasons Hotel.

We’ve long been fans of Chef Kerry Sear’s amazing sliders–available in salmon, veggie, and beef iterations. We’ve also loved his shrimp appetizer, which featured perfectly cooked chunks of shrimp with a shooter glass full of spicy tomato juice. Eat a bite of shrimp, sip the juice, and you had a cool-tasting treat.

After a recent menu change, we were heartsick to find out the former shrimp app had disappeared, replaced with a new version–Poached Blue Shrimp with Lemon-Cilantro Aïoli and Chili Olive Oil.

But not to worry. It’s a gorgeous dish, served in a clear cup over dry ice, so that it leaves a trail of “smoke” as it passes through the dining room.

Which more than qualifies ART’s Poached Blue Shrimp as our Dish of the Day.

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