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Operation UNunhappy Over & Out

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“And that letter hath she delivered, and there an end.”  ~William Shakespeare (Two Gentlemen of Verona, II, i)

SAVboatsnight

This will be the last entry of my “Operation UNunhappy” blog.  For those of you that have read all (or even some of) the words I’ve written over the past two and a half years through this outlet, I thank you and I appreciate your support.  I’m not saying I’ll never write or blog again, but if I do, it will be under a different guise and theme than this one.  I may keep this blog and just change the name, or maybe I’ll start a whole new one in the future…I haven’t decided yet.

What I have decided is that I have come to believe you can’t achieve happiness by constantly seeking it.  I believe that, if we’re lucky, we get to experience small moments of happiness here and there, every once in a while – sometimes they appear of our own making, and sometimes they are pleasant surprises bestowed upon us by others or by fate. I think mostly they’re just a byproduct of regular old life; hopefully just by living your life the best that you can, you have more happy moments than unhappy ones.  But to constantly be on some incredible journey to seek out this overarching, grandiose every-moment-of-life overflowing barrel of happiness – it’s just not possible.  Or advisable, in my opinion.  “Happy in that we are not over-happy,” said Hamlet, one of my favorite Shakespeare lines – even way back then, there was a cautiousness against overdoing it in the search for contentment.   

A few years ago I made some big changes in my life to try to get happier, which was the impetus for starting this blog.  Did the changes work?  In some ways, I’d say yes, definitely.  Has everything progressed the way I’d hoped it would?  I’d say no, not really.  I’m starting to feel stuck again and those feelings of wondering have come back, leading to ruts of anxiety and uncertainty and frustration.  One of the other reasons I don’t feel like continuing this blog series is because I fear it could be on the verge of becoming a constant complaint-fest about all of the many things and people I’m frustrated with – no one wants to read about that, and I don’t think it would be good for me to write about it all the time.  

I do feel like I get more easily and quickly frustrated with the daily intricacies of life than most people.  I don’t know if it’s a genetic thing or just my personality.  Maybe it’s that inner perfectionist that I keep trying to fight, wanting everyone and everything else to be perfect too.  I’ve had fantasies of just being completely 100% honest all the time with people and situations that irk the hell out of me, but I’d probably need to invest in some body armor if I wanted to make that dream a reality.  Why can’t we just say what we’re feeling and thinking of all the time?  (Or at least like 65% of the time?)  I mean, I know why, but it just seems sometimes that we’re so obsessed with being polite and non-confrontational that we’re dying inside of repressed feelings and sentiments that, if we could just free them, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.  Maybe that’s the real key to contentment, but we’re so concerned with how everyone else feels all the time that we continually neglect our own needs of expression, and silently go on in glum survival-of-the-mediocre mode.  God I really must come from British roots after all…

I know I have it pretty good in the overall scheme of things.  Everyone has to deal with many aspects of life that are frustrating, annoying, angering, overwhelming, heartbreaking; if we’re lucky, we have family and friends and captive co-workers to be our sounding boards and help us through those tough times.  If we’re really lucky, we can afford to pay therapists to listen when family and friends get tired of doing it (or when we’re too annoyed with family and friends to talk to them about it). And if we’re broken – well, we all deal with that in different ways…some good, some not so good.  Healing is hard.

I’ve enjoyed writing this blog, and it helped me in many ways to face both past and present challenges.  It was cathartic to write about losses and traumas in my life (I still miss the smell of popcorn paws every day), and I meant every word of the heartfelt Life Letters to My Nephews; being Ant Kristi to my nephews is definitely near the top of the list of what makes me UNunhappy during the good times. Thanks for bearing with me as I waxed on (and on and on) about my trips to England and my fascination with the Tour de France.  And I apologize for those less-than-stellar posts (mediocre movie & croissant reviews, you know who you are). 

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I feel like I’ve gotten out of this blog what I needed to…and I hope it provided a moment or two of occasional entertainment, education, or value (somehow) for you too.  For better or worse, things end; isn’t that one of life’s most important lessons?  Thanks for the words of encouragement during these times of transitions over the past few years.  I’ll keep the blog site active for now and if you stay subscribed, you’ll get any new posts that may come along under a different/new blog name, but it may be a while. 

“Tis time, I think, to trudge, pack and be gone.”  (Yes, one last Shakespeare quote, from Comedy of Errors, which seems fitting for a large portion of my life thus far.  You are now freed from any more random Shakespeare quotes!)

Operation UNunhappy over and out.

Ant Kristi

Waiting

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“I am to wait, though waiting so be hell…” ~William Shakespeare (Sonnet 58)

Doesn’t it seem sometimes like we spend most of our lives waiting?

  • When we’re young kids, we can’t wait to get “bigger.”  Any version of bigger will do, as long as we don’t stay “little.”  We wait for the bus, or for family members to pick us up from school.  We wait with one eye open for Christmas morning to arrive.
  • As teenagers we wait anxiously until we get our driver’s license.  We wait for our parents to say it’s ok to wear makeup.  Or go out on our first date.  Or stay out past 10:00 PM.  And then when we break curfew, we wait (grounded) in our rooms on a Saturday night for that one cute guy to call and talk about nothing for four hours.
  • In college we wait for “real life” to start while we sluice through the learning of information that we wonder if we’ll ever use.  We wait for Mr. or Ms. Right to show up, and then we wait out the realization of our mistakes as we watch the imposters walk away.  We wait for graduation, so that we can then start waiting for our “big break” to come along.
  • So then “real life” starts, the big break never shows up, and we wait for a puny paycheck from a stair-stepping job to pay rent and buy food, all on our own.
  • We wait in traffic to get to the job with the puny paycheck.
  • We wait on a tax return to give us back (not enough) money that was deducted from our puny paycheck.
  • We wait for a few measly days of vacation time in order to get away from the job with the puny paycheck.  We spend half that time waiting in airports or on long stretches of highways or on buses that smell like bratwurst.  But we glimpse a spark of paradise, and we can’t wait to go back.
  • We may decide to bite the marriage bullet and tie the knot (or knots), in which case we then wait for a year while all kinds of “important” wedding plans can be made.  Which all seem so useless when we’re later waiting for our final divorce decree to be mailed to us so that we can get untangled from that knot.
  • If it’s in the cards, we wait for nine months to greet a child.  If it’s not in the cards, then we still wait many more months…or years.  And then we wonder how long we’ll have to wait to be ok with that.
  • We start to get older.  Maybe we wait on another few stair steps, through another few jobs.  We wait for that “fulfilling” career opportunity to come along, the one we don’t mind waking up for in the morning.  We wait for dreams to finally happen, and we wonder what’s taking them so long.  We’re not getting any younger you know.  Anytime now would be fine.
  • We start waiting in more doctors’ offices.  Waiting for more test results.  Waiting to feel better.  Waiting to find out what the genetic roulette wheel might have in store for us as we enter the later phases of life.
  • And then of course as we get much older, like black-socks-with-sandals older, the ultimate waiting begins.  You know, for that last curtain call.  The final ka-bang.  I hear some people move to Florida during this time to make the wait more pleasant, but how could it be, with all the humidity and the hurricanes?  No thanks.

Yeah yeah, all the positivity-addicted optimists out there will read this and say something like “you can’t just wait for life to happen to you, you have to go out there and make it happen for yourself!”  If you’re sitting next to one of those people, punch them in the arm for me.  (Thanks.)  Actually, I’m willing to admit that’s probably true to a degree; I think we do reap (or suffer) the rewards (or consequences) of our choices.  And we’re each responsible for those choices of course.  

But I also think there are many people out there (more than we could ever know about probably) that feel a bit paralyzed when it comes to making life choices.  Especially the big ones.  And so they get caught in a pattern of waiting.  I think this happens to everyone at some time or another.  It’s just that some people are able to find their way out of the waiting room, and some people aren’t…or, it just takes them a bit longer, for whatever reason.

So, if you’re stuck in a waiting rut, what to do?  I wish I knew.  It’s easy to just say “go do something.”  I know it’s much tougher to make that happen sometimes.  Lack of motivation, resources, support – they’re all contributors to getting stuck.  

I guess the best we can hope for while we’re caught in the stuck waiting room of life is some really good 80’s music to entertain us while we’re there…like Pat Benatar or Bananarama.  Duran Duran and Simple Minds also acceptable.

À la prochaine.

Ant Kristi

Diary of a Fourth Grader, Part 2: The Trumpet

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“What’s the business, that such a hideous trumpet calls to parley the sleepers of the house?” ~William Shakespeare (Macbeth, II, iii)

Last week’s post introduced you to my fourth grade diary and precious gem queens that ruled outer space.  We continue the series this week, with a glimpse into perhaps the reason why I’m not a very musical person.  I do like certain kinds of music (80’s music can’t be surpassed for entertainment value and I’m also fond of classical music when I’m stressed), but I don’t ever go to music clubs or music festivals, it’s just not my cup of tea.  

But when I started reading through my fourth grade diary, I was reminded of a music memory:  my attempts to learn how to play the trumpet.  For some reason I can’t remember, I decided I wanted to join my elementary school band class.  (I think it was my idea…or was it my parents’?)  And when it came time to pick my instrument, I picked the trumpet because it was the closest thing to what my Dad had played when he was in school: the coronet.  I actually do remember the trip to the music store to pick out the used gold trumpet in the brown case with the red velvet lining inside, that was exciting. Less exciting: my mom signed me up for weekly lessons with a trumpet teacher there at the music store.  I didn’t like him, or the lessons.  I guess I thought that once we bought the instrument and I took it to band class, I’d just magically know the trumpet by musical osmosis or something.

January 7, 1980

January 7, 1980

(Transcript: “Today we had P.E.  We played this game with numbers, myne was 1.  I had my trumpet lessons today.  My teacher is fat.  Here is a picture. [drawing] That’s him.  And then I did some more homework. It was a rrrrrr day.”)

Ah, I’m afraid I wasn’t very politically correct at nine years old, sorry about that.  And I think I may have just watched “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” because that picture looks suspiciously like Violet Beauregard after she ate the forbidden blueberry gum.  I remember it being very crowded in the confined space of the tiny little lesson room, it was like a closet off the sales floor of the music store.  I remember he also had a mustache and glasses, and I’m pretty sure the real reason I didn’t like him was because he felt the need the empty the spit valve on his trumpet extremely frequently, which I thought was really gross.  That’s another thing I hadn’t thought through very well when I picked the trumpet – the spit valve situation – and it became pretty disgusting pretty quickly.  No one had told me about that little detail. Rrrrrr indeed.

My trumpet troubles continued:

January 23, 1980.

January 23, 1980.

(Transcript: “Today I finished By the Shores of Silver Lake.  Mrs. Fullerton started to read Tee-Bo aloud to the class.  Today I was practicing my trumpet and I couldn’t figure out how B flat sounded.  I watched the circus on TV.  And also Happy Days again.  I ate chicken for lunch.”)

I still have no idea whatsoever what B flat is supposed to sound like; is it one of the more difficult notes to master?  Or is it a scale?  I learned to read music at that time, I remember learning that, but I couldn’t read it today if you paid me a thousand dollars.  It’s like I’ve completely blocked it out, which is weird to me; you don’t forget how to read your written language once you’ve learned, so why would one forget how to read music language once you’ve learned it?  Or maybe I just thought I learned how, which would explain why I was really bad at playing the trumpet…that sounds more plausible actually.  

Also, I started to really hate the little red ring that the trumpet mouthpiece would leave around my lips after playing it.  The other kids in band class made fun of me for it.  I was really bad at emptying the spit valve and it made me gag up a little sometimes.  We weren’t getting along too well in this short-lived relationship, the trumpet and I.

You can guess what happened next, right?

February 4, 1980

February 4, 1980

(Transcript: “Tonight I had to wash my face, and I got soaking wet. (all Dad’s fault!) I didn’t take a bath.  I watched Little House on the Prairie.  I ate chicken for supper.  I had homework to do! [smiley face] We went across to Miss Trihio’s class & watched some movies. (Fairie Tales) We had P.E. today. We did gymnastics in P.E.  I read Inky & Texas for S.S.R.  Stacey walked without me!  I had trumpet lessons [another blueberry Violet drawing] / I quit!!!!!!!”)

Well, what another traumatic day that was…I’d had to walk to school by myself, do actual homework (although I seemed happy about that), and Dad messed up big-time on the face-washing (but thanks for trying Dad).  No wonder another trumpet lesson was the last straw.  You know someone’s serious about quitting something when they use SEVEN exclamation points and in increasingly larger and angrier sizes.  I kind of wished I’d done that when I resigned from that last horrible job I had a few years ago, just to show the level of commitment I had to quitting that time too.

Also, we ate a lot of chicken, and I butchered the spelling of Miss Trujillo’s name, sorry about that (but I was obviously hooked on phonics).  I never did learn another instrument after the trumpet trials, although I can play the first few bars of ‘Silent Night’ on the piano for some reason.  I guess I just don’t have a musical brain, but I have no problem appreciating a good 80’s hair metal rock ballad when the occasion calls for it.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Diary of a Fourth Grader, Part 1: Diamond Queen

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“Write down thy mind, bewray thy meaning so, an if thy stumps will let thee play the scribe.” ~William Shakespeare (Titus Andronicus, II, iv)

During my recent post-Tour-de-France doldrums, I found myself flipping through a memory scrapbook that my Mom made for me a few years ago.  Inside one of the plastic sleeves in the book was a small white diary that I apparently received for Christmas 1979; I was 9 years old and halfway through the 4th grade.  Each day had it’s own dated page and I very obediently began documenting the (not-so) dramatic happenings of my 9-year old life on January 1st, 1980.  The diary could only hold my pre-tween attention span for a few months (the last entry was in April sometime), but there’s a little bit of memory (fool’s) gold in the pages that were inscribed.  

Here’s a segment from that first day:

January 1, 2009

January 1, 1980

(Transcript: “I played at Tricia’s house today with Tricia & Stacey.  We played like we were queens.  I was queen Diamond, Tricia was queen Ruby, Stacey was queen Emorld.  We all ruled part of space.  I ruled the stars.”)

I have no actual memory of this whatsoever.  It’s so strange reading my own juvenile handwriting about things that were obviously important to me at the time, but that apparently didn’t warrant standing power in any of my remaining brain cells. I’m still friends to this day with Tricia, I’ll have to ask her if she remembers this.  (Stacey & I parted ways not too long after this was written actually; she said a bad word one day in front of my little brother and I got so mad at her, I immediately swore her my enemy forevermore…plus I just really didn’t like her, so, yeah.)

But I do give us extra points for imagination – you have to admit, that was a pretty great play game we came up with.  And I must’ve been the one to propose it, otherwise how would I have ended up the top queen, of diamonds no less?  And of course the queen of diamonds would end up ruling the diamonds in the sky – the stars.  (Points taken away though for my gross misspelling of emerald…and I was a good speller in school too, that one shames me.)  I wish I knew what Queen Ruby was given to rule – Mars maybe, the red planet?  I think this storyline could be the next big idea for the Avengers series, I may have stumbled onto something big here…

A few days later I extolled on the power of being put in charge and my resulting tattletale status:

diary2

January 4, 1980

(“Today was the last day of school for the week. Stacy & Trisha got in a fight again.  Also I got a new school coat, and a ski jacket.  It is yellow.  In school the teacher left the room for a minute and she left me in charge.  I wrote six names down.  Dad isn’t going to be here to tuck me in at bedtime.  Boo-Hoo.  We had soup for supper.”)

The kids in my classroom must’ve hated me.  Why did I get two new coats at once, that’s weird.  And obviously I wasn’t the only one who had problems with Stacy (I feel vindicated).  Oh and I’d bet one million dollars that the soup we had for supper that night was Campbell’s Bean-with-Bacon…soup of champions right there, and one of the only food things with meat that I’ve missed over these last 21 vegetarian years.

Nine-year-olds are weird.  But stay tuned for more riveting adventures from Diary of a Fourth Grader in future posts.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Tour de Doldrums

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“Alas, you know, ’tis far from hence to France…” ~William Shakespeare (Henry VI, Part III, IV, i)

I haven’t felt like writing anything lately.  Every year around this time I, along with countless others around the world, enter a real phase of melancholy brought on by le fin of the Tour de France.  For 23 days each July, cycling fans are glued to all types of media to garner every possible detail about the 22 teams racing around France.  We watch 198 professional riders roll off the start line on Day 1, perched on the edges of our seats and waiting for the inevitable stories of human drama that will unfold over the next three weeks.  We count down each kilometer as they make their way on winding French roads through unimaginable and literal mountainous obstacles. We hold our breath with every crash, suffer through unending commercials from revenue-hungry networks, and cheer on our fan favorites as they turn themselves inside out for historical glory.

And then all of a sudden we blink and we’re watching the weary and wounded roll into Paris three weeks later, on the last day of the race.  The contingent is usually around 160 riders by that time, depending on the number and severity of the crashes, the amount of sidelining sickness within the peloton, and the number of stupid mistakes yet made by some (yes there are still, incredibly, unbelievably, riders who still get thrown out for doping in this day and age [thankfully it was only one guy this year], but this year’s “DUH” award goes to the rookie rider who though it would be ok to hitch a short ride in a team car in order to get a flat tire fixed.  Jumped in the backseat right in front of the race referee…they should’ve given him a bobble head trophy which continually shakes its head in disbelief.)

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For me, my typical Tour day here at home would involve getting up early to catch the live broadcast each morning (both on TV and via online links to European stations), which would begin anywhere between 5:00-7:00 AM and would usually last around 4 hours.  (I always feel bad for the Australia fans during the Tour, coverage for them is in the middle of the night, from about 10:00 PM to 2:00 AM.)  Then there was an evening recap broadcast from 7:00-10:00 each night but I would usually only watch the last hour or so of that one to catch any new interviews or analysis.  (I would walk 3.5 miles on the treadmill each day while watching the morning live race so that I wouldn’t feel quite so couch potato-ish.) 

During the in-between hours, I would catch up on Twitter for race and rider commentary, team videos, and news stories, which probably took another 2-3 hours each day.  Then there were online podcasts to listen to from journalists at the Tour, another hour or so daily.  (The Tour is the most reported-on sporting event in the world each year, so there is a copious amount of information available each day.)  I was on vacation from work this entire time, so the Tour became my stand-in occupation.  Would that I could only be paid for the vast amount of Tour de France knowledge absorbed by my brain during the month of July…I’d be a rich woman.

Signs seen in Leeds storefronts for the 2014 TdF,

Signs seen in Leeds storefronts for the 2014 TdF, “Yellow is the New Black; Proud Supporters of the World’s Greatest Cycle Race.”

A supporting storefront in Harrogate, Stage 1 of 2014 TdF.

A supporting storefront in Harrogate, Stage 1 of 2014 TdF.

I can’t really explain my obsession (although I did try in this past post).  It’s tough to be a cycling fan after the revealing history of the past several years.  Part of it comes from the two Tours I’ve had the privilege of seeing in person – in France 2010 (in the Alps) and in England in 2014 (for the Grand Depart).  Once you’ve felt the electric current of the race up close and personal, once you’ve experienced the biggest sporting event in the world in person, you watch with a certain loyalty and nostalgia of one who remembers the awe.  It does take a lot of loyal fan commitment to stick with the race through three entire weeks.  But when you really take time to learn the race and see what it takes for one man, let alone 160 of them, to finish this massive accomplishment, often limping through the final stages with broken ribs and bandaged limbs but surviving on hope of riding into Paris on that last day – well, it just kind of hooks you I guess.  

Mark Cavendish before the Grand Depart on Stage 1 in Leeds, 2014 TdF.

Mark Cavendish before the Grand Depart on Stage 1 in Leeds, 2014 TdF.

Press Commentary boxes on the finish line in Harrogate for Stage 1, 2014 TdF.

Press Commentary boxes on the finish line in Harrogate for Stage 1, 2014 TdF.

And after that last Sunday, when the final rider has rolled across the finish line on the famous Champs-Élysées and the volume of Twitter chat takes a sudden plunge a few hours later, fans are left to face the following days in an empty vacuum.  The romanticism of the race has ended for another year.  We wonder what to do with empty hours that used to be filled with fantastical images of French scenery (we miss you, polka-dot cows).  We manage a small smile in wistful remembrance when overplayed commercials we used to hate now populate other programs.  We flip the calendar to August and hobble back into work (a few pounds heavier for all the croissants we’ve consumed), wondering which races the riders will do next (and how can we secretly watch them while at the office).

But mostly, we just start counting down to next July.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Tour de France 2015 Croissant Comparison

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“This is the excellent foppery of the world…” ~William Shakespeare (King Lear, I, ii)

The 2015 Tour de France is just over one-third of the way through its 23-day jaunt around the French countryside, having started on July 4th in the neighboring Netherlands and slated for its traditional finish in Paris on July 26th.  One cannot profess to be a serious Tour de France fan without consuming at least a few handfuls of croissants (and/or baguettes) during those three weeks, and so, as a pure service to fellow French pastry fans (of course, there was no personal gain in this for me whatsoever, ahem) I have conducted a thorough comparison of some of the rumored-best croissants in the Austin area.

Stopping for a bite to eat on my trip to the Tour in 2010 (this was near Alpe d'Huez).

Stopping for a bite to eat on my trip to the Tour in 2010 (this was near Alpe d’Huez).

I did some of my own croissant research ahead of time to find out the highest rated and most popular bakeries in the area to help me decide where to go.  I decided to compare both plain butter croissants as well as chocolate croissants from each source, because, well, they’re both very delicious options.  (In French we say “pain au chocolate” instead of chocolate croissant, and it’s important to know this doesn’t mean it’s made from chocolate dough, but rather there is supposed to be a bit of chocolate piped into the middle of regular pastry dough.)  I also did limit myself geographically to central and north Austin (to save on gas $$$), and I put an upper spending limit on what I’d buy: no more than $3 per croissant (because anything more than that is just crazy talk).

The reviews are also listed in the order in which I purchased and tried them, not necessarily in ranked order.  Croissants were sampled from:

  1. Upper Crust Bakery
  2. La Madeleine Country French Cafe
  3. San Francisco Bakery & Cafe
  4. Quack’s 43rd St Bakery
  5. Tous Les Jours Authentic Bakery

You now have two more weeks of the Tour to take full advantage of this very important information, so allons-y, read it and eat:

1)  Upper Crust Bakery (4508 Burnet Road, Austin 78756; cocktail/small size Plain Butter Croissant $1.45, cocktail/small size Chocolate Croissant $1.90)

Upper Crust Bakery & Cafe

Upper Crust Bakery

I’d heard about Upper Crust for quite a while now but for some reason I’d never been there since moving to Austin.  It’s both a large full bakery and a cafe with quite a bit of seating for those wishing to dine in.  When I arrived around noon, they were already sold out of their regular-size croissants so I had to settle for their “cocktail” size options instead, which was fine because they were still a decent size and less than $2.00 each.

The plain croissant had nice layers inside but no flakiness of the crust (which I consider essential to a croissant), the bottom was nicely browned but not too much, I could taste the butter (and visible yellow egg layer) inside, and it had very nice “pull-apart” action from the ends with a decent chewiness.  I thought it was good but not great.  The chocolate croissant had a cinnamon-sugar topping which I didn’t care for at all (it made it too sweet in addition to the chocolate), and a decent amount of chocolate inside that was not overly sweet (which is good).  However it had a soft donut-y cake-y type texture instead of typical croissant layers; for that reason and because of the topping, it was my least favorite of the chocolate croissants in this review.

2)  La Madeleine Country French Cafe (9828 Great Hills Tr, Austin 78759; Plain Butter Croissant $1.89, Chocolate Croissant $2.79)

La Madeleine

La Madeleine

La Madeleine is a chain-restaurant mostly in the south and southwestern US that also has within each location its own small bakery, focusing on French-themed pastries.  The butter croissant was a great size for the cost and had a very buttery taste indeed; the color on the outside was a little too brown in my opinion, but it had good pull-apart action, a very good chewiness on the inside, and its taste overall was very good.  My main issue with this croissant was that it had too much space/air inside of it and not enough substance (see picture below).

The chocolate croissant had a really nice flakiness on the crust and decent layers inside, and its butter flavor was good and not too strong.  The chocolate was a nice dark-tasting chocolate but unfortunately there was just hardly any of it – as you can see from the picture below, the chocolate “tunnels” inside were near-empty; my other issue with this one is that they gave me an extremely small size croissant from the bakery rack, which was probably half the size of the ones in the display case – I had to hand it back and ask for a regular-sized one instead of a mini-one.  The baker seemed miffed at this and said “well they all proof to different sizes.”  Ok then, if you’re going to give me a mini-one, charge me for a mini-one ($.99); if you’re going to charge me nearly three times the cost of a mini-one, then give me a decent-sized croissant.  Thank you.

La Madeleine - near empty chocolate "tube"

La Madeleine – near empty chocolate “tube”


La Madeleine - big empty space inside butter croissant

La Madeleine – big empty space inside butter croissant

3)  San Francisco Bakery & Cafe (2900 W. Anderson Ln, Austin 78757; Plain Butter Croissant $2.09, Chocolate Croissant $2.39)

San Francisco Bakery & Cafe

San Francisco Bakery & Cafe

I’ve been to San Francisco before for lunch with a friend but hadn’t tried its pastries before.  They have a small bakery case up front by the register but the place is mostly a cafe.  I thought their butter croissant had a great butter taste and smell, excellent dough-y layers and chewiness, and great flakiness of crust.  It was a good size, not too large or too small, and although the bottom of it was a little too browned, in my opinion this was the best of the bunch that I reviewed.

Unfortunately the chocolate croissant was not the best of the bunch, mostly due to the overly sweet and too-rich chocolate inside – there was a decent amount of chocolate but it had way too high of a sugar content for my taste.  The crust was also too dark and the croissant part itself tasted a little bland; however there were good layers inside, good crust flakiness outside, and it wasn’t at all cake-y.  My biggest issue at San Fran was the prices – for the size of the croissants, I thought they were pretty expensive.  Many of the chocolate croissants in the display case were literally half the size as some of the others, yet they were charging the same price for all of them.  Ask for a larger-sized one and they’ll give it to you.

4) Quack’s 43rd St Bakery (411 E. 43rd St, Austin 78751; Plain Butter Croissant $2.25, Chocolate Croissant $2.99)

Quack's Bakery & Cafe's HUGE croissants

Quack’s HUGE croissants

I’d never even heard of Quack’s before I did the research for this post, but I’m glad I know about them now.  They had a LOT of fantastic-looking baked goods in their multiple display cases, and when I saw the croissants I had to ask them “are those the giant sizes, do you have any regular or mini-sized ones?”  (They don’t.)  Their croissants are HUGE, which is good because they’re also expensive, but really it’s like you’re getting two croissants in one so it’s not so bad.  Their plain butter croissant had amazing flaky crust layers outside and a good color, while the inside was very airy (almost too much so); it had a good chewiness but there was a lack of a real buttery taste inside.  It was very good but not the best I’d had.

Airy layers of Quack's butter croissant

Airy layers of Quack’s butter croissant


Impressive flaky layers of Quack's chocolate croissant

Impressive flaky crust layers

However the chocolate croissant – oh my WOW.  The best layered croissant by far that I sampled (see picture below), both outside and inside.  Excellent layers.  The croissant was a bit flat and not raised like some of the others, but I’m assuming that’s because all the butter in those layers weighed it down a bit.  This croissant was also humongous, way larger than any of the other chocolate ones I tried, but unfortunately its chocolate tunnels were tiny in proportion to its size and there was a minimal amount of chocolate inside.  The chocolate that was there though tasted high quality, dark-chocolatey and not overly sweet.  The non-chocolate part of the croissant tasted just ok, but it was really the layers that made this one shine.

The unending layers of Quack's chocolate croissant.

The unending layers of Quack’s chocolate croissant.

5) Tous Les Jours Authentic Bakery (6808 N. Lamar, Austin 78752; Plain Butter Croissant $2.00, Chocolate Croissant $2.00)

I’d also never heard of Tous Les Jours before this project.  They’re a Korean bakery that also makes French and European pastries and apparently it’s a chain with 30 US locations; the atmosphere inside the Austin location is nice and they have trays and trays of breads and pastries laid out in the non-cafe area; you’re supposed to grab a tray and some tongs, pick your pastries, and then the cashier goes through this elaborate ritual of putting each pastry in its own swanky little plastic bag and sealing it with a gold twisty tie.  I’m not a fan of breads and pastries being out in the open air, where just anyone (most of the trays are right at kid eye-level) can put their germy hands and fingers on them if they want or flies with poopy feet can land on them if they make it in through a door.  I guess I like it better when they’re in pastry cases or behind the register where the baker can hand you your baguette if you will.

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Tous Les Jours Authentic Bakery

My first impression of the butter croissant selection was that most of them were pretty small for the $2.00 price.  On the other hand, I thought that the same price of $2.00 that they were charging for the pain au chocolate was reasonable.  They did also have teeny-tiny mini-versions of each of these too, literally maybe two bites max, for $1.00 each.  (They were the smallest chocolate croissants I’d ever seen, I didn’t even know you could make them that small.)  The butter croissant was probably my least favorite out of all the ones tried – it was almost completely flat, as if the doughy layers inside were just too heavy to hold themselves up.  There was a decent flakiness to the outside crust, but inside there was a yeasty rather than buttery smell and taste; in fact, I couldn’t really taste any butter in it at all, although the inside was very greasy.  Overpriced for the quality.

Unfortunately their pain au chocolate was not much better.  It had a strange shiny, sticky glaze over the outside top layer which did not smell or taste good, and glued down all the flakiness; I actually had to peel off the top layer because I found it very unappetizing.   This croissant was also very flat, the dough layers were good but too heavy, and there was a very minimal amount of chocolate inside (I had a hard time even tasting it).  I couldn’t detect any butter taste at all, and like its companion, I wished it had been more airy and less heavy.

One bakery/cafe I can highly recommend that I’ve been to before but did not include in this review is Baguette et Chocolate Authentic French Bakery (12101 Bee Cave Rd, Bee Cave TX 78738), it’s just too far for me usually.  I did go to a few other bakeries that had been recommended but didn’t get croissants for them for different reasons:

  • Texas French Bread (2900 Rio Grande, Austin 78705) wanted $3.75 PER CROISSANT (!!!)…and they were about half the size of Quack’s bigger croissants; when I asked why they were so expensive I was told “we use real butter and cream.”  And?  Are those particular cows dipped in chocolate and rolled in gold shavings?  Sorry, those prices are way too high for me (and probably for most university students in the area, but they tend to cater to Austin’s “celebrity” clientele I hear, *coughlancearmstrongcough*).
  • Phoenicia Bakery (4701 Burnet, Austin 78756) told me they only make/offer croissants three days a week, but the guy behind the counter couldn’t tell me which specific days.  There were none available when I was there.
  • Bee’s Knees Bakeshop (109 Cypress Creek Rd, Cedar Park 78613) is gluten-free only, so they don’t make bread items like croissants.

Well, my job here is done.  I do believe I’ve eaten my last croissant for the next 12 months or so, and I may have to fast now for the rest of the Tour.  Next year’s Tour de France food review, I’ve already decided, will be the Battle of the Baguettes.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Summer Staycation Movies, Review #2: Dialing, Dancing and Deciding

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As explained in last week’s post, in between stages of this year’s Tour de France (which kicked off in the neighboring Netherlands on Saturday and IT’S SO GOOD SO FAR), I’m trying to fit in a few movies each week so I can review them here.  This week’s installment is all classics, all the time.  And some of them fit the “classic” definition much more than others, in my not-much-worth movie opinion.  Here we go:

1) Dial M For Murder (1954; Grace Kelly, Ray Milland, Robert Cummings)

dial

I’d always heard of this movie but I’d never seen it.  A week or so ago I watched a bit of the Grace Kelly biopic starring Nicole Kidman, and realized I’d never seen any of the princess’s films.  This was her first of three movies made under the haunting eye of Alfred Hitchcock, and I thought it was just ok. Not horrible but not great.  It was originally filmed in 3D but I can’t for the life of me figure out why, since the entire movie takes place almost all in one room, the living room of a London house (which started to seem claustrophobic after a few scenes, but maybe that was Hitchcock’s intention); perhaps it would’ve actually been better with those funky 1950’s 3D glasses on?  And also: the movie has an Intermission, a real throwback!

The plot revolves around a love triangle between Margot Wendice (Kelly), her older husband Tony  (Milland), and the American man she’s having an affair with, Mark Halliday (Cummings).  When Tony finds out about Margot’s indiscretions, he decides to logically divorce her and move on with his life; oh wait, I meant to say he absurdly plots to murder her without ever having confronted or talked to her about the situation. (Very dramatically drastic.)

The first 20 minutes or so is a pretty boring account of Tony outlining the bit-by-bit murder plan to the common thug he’s hired to help him (although we do start to get a real sense of how far Tony has fallen off his rocker).  Hitchcock uses weird far-off overhead camera shots sometimes, which also felt strange (I did notice the recognizable director immediately though in a cameo-placed shot in the picture on the wall).  And Tony’s slicked back greasy hairdo seems to solidify his villainous status.

There’s never any reason given for why Margot strayed from her marriage, other than Tony’s busy work schedule (and?); perhaps she got tired of Tony bugging her about leaving the fire burning in the fireplace after she went to bed (oh sorry, that was me that got annoyed at that).  The real interest in the movie starts with a heartfelt “OH NO!” moment when we realize Tony’s watch has stopped (his murder plot involved precise time-points for him and the hired thug) – the audience is actually invested in the plan at this point, having been privy to its every detail ahead of time.  So when the plan starts to go awry, and we’re bombarded with the schizophrenic music score during the attack scene itself, we’re completely roped in at that point and hanging on to find out what happens.

I won’t ruin the outcome for you, but I will say I was very amused by the Britishness of some parts of the movie.  When the police are at the house investigating, they are offered a tray full of proper cups of tea, and they actually drink it, I found that funny for some reason; when a crime was reported to the police, the person calling states “Please come quick, there’s been a ghastly accident” (does anyone really talk like that except the British, which I love by the way?); and what’s a checkroom?  They keep referencing leaving things at checkrooms at tube stations and I hadn’t heard that before, but it sounds very British.

There are plenty of twists and turns in the second half of the movie to keep you tuned in.  And near the end of it, one of the best movie lines I think I’ve heard in a long time:  “In a couple of days, you’re going to have the most wonderful breakdown.”  (I’ll have to remember to try to use that in real everyday conversation sometime.)  I recommend this movie for the mystery storyline, Grace Kelly’s perfect 1950’s outfits & coke-can curls, and the intriguing plot; watch it when you’re in a nostalgic mood for old-timey phones with those round finger dials.

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2) Band of Outsiders (French title: Bande à Part) (1964; Anna Karina, Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur)

Bande_a_part

I chose to record this film simply from the description given on my program guide, which said something like “Two bandits meet a young girl in English class while in Paris, and plan as a gang to act out the burglary of her wealthy aunt’s Parisian mansion.”  I like watching movies set in France or England, but my mistake on this one was not doing any additional research ahead of time.  If I had done that, I would have discovered that this movie is the all-time favorite of one Quentin Tarantino….and I would’ve deleted it before I even started.

Let’s just say Tarantino and I (and most sane people?) have very different tastes in movies.  Don’t hate me, but I couldn’t stand Pulp Fiction.  And I’m sorry if I offend any French art cinema fans, but this may have been one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.  To call it bizarre, quirky or goth would actually be higher compliments than it deserves.  It’s a French film spoken in French with English subtitles, which doesn’t bother me since I do speak French, but I know most people either love or hate subtitles.  It was filmed in Paris but it’s not a Paris I’ve ever seen…it looked more like a really bad grey suburb of Pittsburgh.  And the beginning title sequence will give you a migraine if fast-flashing pictures are one of your triggers, so just a word of warning there.

The two bandit guys, Franz and Arthur, are horrible drivers, but then I guess their attention is all on their new girlfriend Odile and the stacks of money she told them (perfect strangers) about in an English class.  (That was already extremely annoying.)  The early scene in the English classroom is just plain crazy to me – since when is whistling, drinking alcohol from flasks, openly passing notes and sexually harassing the teacher accepted in any classroom anywhere, even in France?  Arthur is especially creepy, and Odile’s naivety comes across as self-imposed moronic.

Most of this film just makes absolutely no sense to me.  At one point Odile crosses a field behind her house, runs past a roaring lion in a cage, and throws a raw piece of meat to a tiger on a chain (never explained).  There are stacks of money in the house where Odile lives with her aunt, but there is hardly any furniture anywhere in the house.  The bandits wear full stocking masks but no gloves (fingerprinting techniques didn’t exist in Paris in the mid-60s?).  New Orleans-type jazz plays over some scenes, totally out-of-place.  They film a scene in the car where the top is down but it’s pouring rain – why didn’t they put the top up then instead of five minutes later when they were all already soaking wet?  All the winter-bare trees on location looked just like the evil trees in The Wizard of Oz. 

The strangest scene of all is THE DANCE.  The bandits and Odile are having drinks in a diner when they suddenly just decide to get up and do a choreographed dance in the middle of the floor (not a dance floor, just next to the tables); it would be like us getting up and doing a line dance at Denny’s, with waiters and customers walking around you and trying not to bump into you.  Apparently it was based on an American dance called The Madison?  Never heard of it, but apparently Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction dance scene was based solely on the jerky little number from this film.

BandaPart5

But most frustrating of all was the HORRIBLE sound quality in this movie.  Constant background noise: traffic, construction, other people talking…it’s so distracting and very hard to even hear the characters talk. But I now think the director actually wanted the sound to be horrible – because in the middle of the diner scene, Arthur actually proposes a minute of silence – and the editors actually cut all sound, it just goes silent while they stare at each other for, well, not a minute but 36 seconds.  “YOU READ MY MIND!” I yelled at the TV screen, it was such a welcome relief to my ears.

The movie wasn’t a complete loss – I actually learned two new pieces of information that I’d never known before: 1) Apparently Billy the Kid was shot and killed on July 13th – my birthday.  I’ve always loved anything to do with Billy the Kid but now I feel even more of a bond; and 2) There was another earlier genocide in Rwanda in 1964 where 10,000-14,000 Tutsis were killed, 30 years in advance of the 1994 genocide with which most of us are more familiar.  The fact that this movie taught me those things, in the same film, is yet another testament to its odd components.  But my final recommendation is to avoid this movie if at all possible, it’s just too weird, and it’s definitely not a “classic.”

And last for this week is:

3)  High Society (1956; Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra)

High-society-Grace-and-Bing

After the disturbing disaster that was Band of Outsiders, I needed a completely opposite-direction pick-me-up film, so I thought what could be better than a 1950’s mayhem musical with the two most famous crooners of all time?  And for the second time in a week, I picked a movie with Grace Kelly in it – this was her very last film she made before officially becoming royalty and giving up her acting career.  (And it was also a musical remake of the earlier play and 1940 film, ‘The Philadelphia Story’ starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart; I watched that movie after this one and trust me, ‘High Society’ is much more worth reviewing.)

I’d never actually seen any movies with Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra in them, I’d only ever just heard their songs.  I was pleasantly surprised by Bing Crosby, I thought he was very smooth in this movie, and played the character of wealthy Dex very believably.  His voice really is hypnotic, and I read that his friend (and co-star for this movie) Louis Armstrong once said Crosby’s voice was like “liquid gold being poured out of a glass.”  I really enjoyed his jazz song duet with Armstrong and the band, and I don’t even really like jazz.  (However I did not enjoy the song he sang to the young prepubescent girl in the beginning, it was creepy.)  My only quip with his role in this film was that he was 26 years older than Grace Kelly at the time – way too much of an age difference to be playing her former and maybe-future love interest, in my opinion.

Oh so the storyline is one of Tracy Lord (played by Kelly), a high society socialite who has to decide if she’s going to go through with her next-day nuptials to fiance George, get back together with her ex-husband (and now next-door neighbor) Dexter (Crosby) who professes he still loves her, or go in a completely new direction with a sudden third suitor and magazine reporter (there to cover her high-dollar wedding), Mike (Sinatra).  Poor baby, what a predicament.  “What do you do besides collect husbands, Miss Lord?” she’s asked at one point.  The script was full of some very good one-liners like this one.  When asked by Mike what she did in her spare time, Tracy quips “I sometimes endure arrogant reporters.”

Grace Kelly’s acting was much better in this film, in my opinion, than in ‘Dial M’ from just two years earlier.  She was given more of a chance to stretch her acting limbs in this one (including some flawlessly impeccable French that she must’ve picked up in Monaco), and while the ending is predictable, she did a good job of helping to make the journey to the end an enjoyable one.  Plus she once again looked “like a statue to be worshipped,” as she was referenced during the movie – her tiny waist!  The dresses she wore in this film were simply exquisite (just try to ignore the hat choice at the end though).  And she also wore her real engagement ring from the Prince of Monaco during this movie, a huge rock that should have had its own speaking role, it took up so much room.

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I hope this isn’t sacrilege, but I did not think Frank Sinatra was a good actor in this film.  I don’t have anything to compare it to, since I haven’t seen any of his other movies, but he seemed artificial and wooden and just…bad.  (Especially compared to Crosby, who seemed so natural.)  I found myself thinking “he should’ve just stuck to his singing career.”  I’ve read that he was a stickler for insisting on only doing one shot of his scenes, even if he didn’t do very well in them.  I did enjoy his fun duet with Crosby “Well Did You Evah,” especially the line where he sings to Bing “Don’t dig that kind of crooning, chum!” and Bing replies “You must be one of the newer fellows!”  I thought that was a funny dig at Sinatra and the younger Brat Packers moving in on Bing’s territory.

I was a little confused why this movie was classified as a true musical, since there really weren’t that many singing numbers it seemed.  But it’s good clean 1950’s fun – the clothes, the songs, and some great cars, like a coral-colored (!) station wagon and a fantastic silver bullet Mercedes convertible.  Louis Armstrong has a really good scene-setting song on a bus in the beginning.  And there’s even a 5-minute long Overture at the beginning, which is what they did I guess before previews existed?  Anyway, this is one to put in your pocket for future watching.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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