Monday, January 30, 2017

2017 Screen Actors' Guild Awards: The Red Carpet Review

I missed the SAG awards last night, but I hate to miss seeing all the red carpet fashions! Fortunately, an internet full of photos is right at my fingertips. As I was looking over the various fashions, I found myself saying, "Hmm, I've seen her wear better," or sometimes even, "Well, that's definitely an improvement over her last red carpet gown!" So I decided I'd compare each celebrity's look to one of her past looks and rate either better or worse. Here goes!

Amy Adams: This year and at the 2014 SAG Awards
Adams often chooses classic glamour, with works well with her svelte figure and beautiful coloring. Her SAG gown this year was a softly draped black column with a plunging neckline, accessorized with a heavy low choker and matching bracelet, low chignon, and heavy eye makeup. Not a bad look, but a little on the bland side. I preferred her gown at the 2014 SAG awards: a one-shouldered cobalt blue column with asymmetrical details on the bodice, a long slit, a small train, and a narrow metallic belt and matching metallic shoes, with her hair in a 1920s-inspired marcelled bob and bright coral lips. The second makes a statement; the first, just a yawn. 

Brie Larson: This year and at the 2016 Golden Globe Awards
Larson is not afraid to go cutting edge, but she went fairly conservative last night. Her fitted white gown had a halter top with thin asymmetrically placed v-straps and a mid-thigh slit. The lines were simple but pretty and flattering, but the bodice was not terribly well-fitting (you can see that it gaps away from her body under her arms, especially on her right side) and the fabric fell a little too stiffly to the hem. Much like Adams' gown, above, it was a fine look, but not memorable. But at last year's Golden Globe Awards, she shone in a clingy metallic gold halter with side cutouts and a narrow keyhole slit in the bodice. Note how this bodice neatly skims her sides, staying firmly in place, and how the fabric puddles gracefully into a soft train. Similar styles, yet a few small details make the difference between and okay look and a terrific one. 

Bryce Dallas Howard: This year and at the 2016 Golden Globe Awards
Howard's red carpet looks tend to be hit or miss; I feel like she hasn't quite found her style yet. She's worn some crazy, low-cut, avant garde looks and some conservative, almost matronly outfits. Her gown last night was a beautiful cranberry red v-neck that was fitted to the knee then flared. It skimmed her curves and teetered on the edge of being too clingy, but didn't quite get there. I loved her double-strand beaded necklace and simple low updo with sideswept bangs. I hope she opts to continue with this style, because it works much better for her than either of the extremes she's tried. Case in point: Her drab gown for last year's Golden Globes. Although it was a beautiful color and fabric, the style was boring and too old for her, and did nothing for her lovely figure. 

Ellie Kemper: This year and at the 2016 SAG Awards
Kemper's gown last night was a gorgeous one-shouldered midnight blue column, accessorized with drop earrings, a loose updo, and a silver clutch. Simple, flattering, and elegant. Compare to her gown at last year's SAGs, which had an oversized print, gathered in at the waist to overemphasize her hips, and had a slightly overlong hem and slightly too-low bodice that made it seem poorly fitted. She looks much more elegant - and confident! - this year. 

Emma Stone: Last night and at the 2015 Oscars
Stone is not afraid to take a risk on the red carpet, and it usually pays off. In fact, even when it doesn't, she's still pretty fabulous. Her gown last night was a gorgeous soft black chiffon with a few long-stemmed white flowers printed on it. The spaghetti strap bodice had a soft ruffle running from the right strap down to her left hip, with the exposed bodice made of semi-see-through black lace. It was a bit of an "exposed undergarment" look for me, but she was covered, and the lines were just gorgeous, plus redheads always look stunning in black. At the 2015 Oscars, she wore a 20s-inspired long metallic gold column with a high slit, a small train, and long fitted sleeves. The color didn't quite work with her coloring, but otherwise the dress was perfect. These looks are pretty close in terms of almost being perfect, but if I had to choose between the two, I think I'd go with the 2015 gown, just because of the stunning and dramatic lines it created. 

Janelle Monae: Last night and at this year's Golden Globe Awards
Monae tends to favor pantsuits on the red carpet (and nearly always black and/or white), but she's been branching out into short gowns of late (but still black and white). Last night she wore a cocktail length black, white, and gray dress with poufy flowers on the bodice and around the neck, with matching wristlets, and a tulle underskirt. The yoke of the bodice and the skirt had geometric black patterns on them. It was a bit outrageous, but kind of cute in a retro 1950s kind of way. I liked the playfulness of her "teddy bear ears" hairstyle and youthful makeup. She wore a very different look to the Golden Globes earlier this month, although also a retro (1960s that time) look, with a black sequined bodice and poufy bi-level white skirt with polka dots. It was a great concept, but the skirt was disproportionate and looked heavy instead of "floaty", and the severe pale lips and stiff updo didn't feel right for her. Last night wasn't ideal, but she's moving in the right direction. 

Julia Louis Dreyfus: This year and at last year's SAG Awards.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus rarely makes a fashion misstep, and last night was no exception. Her black column emblazoned with leaves from the top to the knee was simple and gorgeous. The large print added enough visual interest that she eschewed elaborate jewelry, hairstyles, or makeup, carrying a simple black clutch and leaving her hair loose and tucked behind her shoulders. Classic and perfect. Last year, her dress was not quite as flattering: another strapless, straight across black and white dress, but this one with a flared skirt ending just above the ankle. It needed a belt of waist detail to avoid over-lengthening her torso, although I adored her diamond bow choker. Not a bad look, but last night outshone it by far. 

Kerry Washington: Last night and at the 2014 SAG Awards
Washington often just misses the mark on the red carpet, so I was pleased to see her in this off-the-shoulder, clinging white lace gown with bell sleeves and a small train. The see-through lace covered a mid-thigh length white sheath (rather than the ugly granny panty often worn under this dress style), and Washington's long sleek hair and heavy eye makeup effectively drew the viewer's eye to her face. A lovely, flattering look. Compare to her two-piece outfit from 2014, with a pretty but voluminous black satin skirt and fuzzy pink belly-baring sweater, 

Laura Carmichael: This year and at the 2014 Golden Globes
Carmichael is another actress who vacillates between drab and fab on a regular basis. Her gown last night was a perfectly serviceable black column with spaghetti straps and a few pastel flowers scattered across it. Pretty, but it looks like something you could get off the rack at Macys (not that there's anything wrong with that *glances in my closet at my favorite off the rack Macys gown*). But check out a different column that she wore to the Golden Globe Awards in 2014: a sleek, fitted, white sheath with a low sweetheart neckline and dramatic narrow black panels along the right side. Just a few details and she looks striking instead of ordinary. 

Meryl Streep: Last night and at the 2014 Oscars
Oh, Meryl. It's like you just don't care any more. Well, maybe you never really cared that much, but you seem to be hiding it less and less lately. Her gown last night looked...comfortable. White with silver patterning, Streep's gown was basically a fancy granny nightgown: voluminous with no defined waist, high round neck, long sleeves. Her hair and makeup were neat and unobtrusive, but by no means dressy or elaborate. But her Oscar look in 2014 was equally comfortable and non-fussy, but so much more polished. Her loose-fitted blousy top was off one shoulder and flowed into loose, 3/4 length sleeve and had a flowing black skirt topped with a sparkly belt. Her hair was in a simple low chignon and she wore a pair of bracelets that echoed the belt. Simple, and comfortable, but polished. Don't become a frump just because you're so ridiculously successful, Meryl. Please. 

Natalie Portman: The SAGs last night and at the Golden Globes a few weeks ago.
Yes, I know it's hard to find a couture maternity gown. But even if you can't, there are better options than wearing a white tent. And that is seriously what Portman was wearing: a tent. The last thing you need when you're pregnant is volume, and that dress had waaaay too much volume. The huge bubble sleeves, the vast train that fell from the nape of her neck, the wide A-line was just too much. I didn't love her Golden Globes gown, but by comparison, it was wonderful. Actually, the only things I didn't like about her GG gown were the color and the Christmas garland trim. 

Nicole Kidman: This year and at the 2016 SAG Awards
I often say that you have to give Nicole Kidman credit for taking risks. Sometimes they pay off (often when very few others could make them pay off), but sometimes they really don't. I feel like Kidman's gowns from this year's and last year's SAG awards are a perfect example of those two extremes. Kidman's bright green sequined gown with long side ruffles, a plunging-to-the-waist neckline, and giant parrot heads as short sleeves is not something that most people could pull off. Yet this look actually works for me on her. The color is stunning with her pale hair and skin, and the fringy feathers of the parrot heads actually add some visual interest and draw the eye up to her face, and the softness of the dark-lined ruffles prevents the shininess of the sequins from taking over. The drape is lovely, and despite the oversized, square shoulders, she looks slender and well proportioned. Contrast this to last year's ruffly pink and purple striped concoction, which made her look short-waisted and droopy, and you'll see why this year is the clear winner. 

Octavia Spencer: Last night and at the 2013 Oscars
Like many other plus-size actresses (Melissa McCarthy and Gabourey Sidibe come to mind), Spencer has struggled to find styles that flatter her, showing up in some really terrible and some really wonderful looks along the way. Spencer's gown last night featured a column skirt and a textured black top with 3/4 sleeves, an opaque yoke, and a flared peplum. It was a pretty look, but kind of boring. The same gown in a cobalt blue or an emerald green would have been striking, or perhaps the black version accessorized with softer hair or a pop of color in a cuff bracelet or handbag, or even adding a long slit and fabulous metallic shoes. But it needed something to bring it to the next level. She hit it exactly right at the 2013 Oscars with this soft pink, fitted to the hip, off the shoulder ballgown with full tulle skirt and short train, accessorized with a matching bag, high chignon with long bangs, and long drop earrings. The difference between good and great. 

Rashida Jones: This year and at the 2014 Golden Globes
Jones is not often on my "poorly-dressed" list and is even more rare on my "well-dressed" list. She tends to stick to the middle zone of "fine, but nothing special," occasionally drifting closer to one of the two extremes. Her look last night was still middle ground, but definitely drifting solidly toward the positive end of the spectrum. The soft pink chiffonlike fabric had a beautiful soft, feminine flow that was emphasized by the delicate darker pink floral print, the ribbon bow belt, and the fullness of the skirt, which flowed into a soft train. I liked the halter-style top with its exposed shoulders but high broad collar, especially against her loose dark hair. She looked like she was ready to add a picture hat and attend a tea party at a Southern plantation - and I honestly mean that in a good way. She looked elegant, feminine, and relaxed. Her look at the 2014 Golden Globes, in contrast, was also middle ground, but drifting slightly toward the "poor" end of the spectrum. The concept is good, but the cut of the neckline and armholes are boring, the belt is just a hair too high and too dark for the gown (it should have been metallic to match the embroidered palm trees on the skirt), and the slit is too far to the side so instead of showing leg it shows the lining of the skirt. Not bad, just meh. Keep drifting the way you're drifting, Rashida. I like it. 

Salma Hayek: Last night and at the 2013 Oscars
I can't decide whether Hayek has never found her own style or whether she just likes (and wears) everything. Unlike many actresses who find a certain silhouette or style that works for them and stick to variations on that (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Reese Witherspoon are good examples), Hayek floats around from classic elegance to sexy and revealing to risk-taking couture. Last night was a bit of a retro/ethnic look, with her soft yellow single-shoulder gown with a deep ruffle along the neckline, edged with pink and a coordinating pink ribbon belt and large pink flower on the shoulder. It was a bit youthful and 1970s-looking. The fabric and style felt too casual to me. Contrast this with her stunning midnight blue velvet halter column with heavy gold detailing on the collar paired with a dramatic updo, very evocative of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady - it was classic Hollywood glamour at its best. And while Hayek looks good in pretty much everything, I have to admit that I much prefer her in glamour mode. 

Sofia Vergara: This year and at the 2014 SAG Awards
Although Vergara tends more strongly towards high glamour, similar to Hayek, she varies her style regularly. Last night she opted for a knee-length full cocktail dress, with strapless silver spangled bodice and flared black skirt with tulle underlay and beaded overlay. paired with long sleek hair, sparkly drop diamond earrings and cuff bracelet, and bright red lips. It was undeniably a pretty look, but more casual than I would expect on the red carpet. As with Hayek, I love Vergara's glamorous look, as in the gorgeous art deco-inspired silver strapless gown paired with a stunning heavy emerald necklace and long, wavy locks. Va va voom!

Sofia Bush: This year and at the 2016 Golden Globes
I'm not that familiar with Sofia Bush, and if you showed me these two photos, I would have no idea they were of the same person. Which shows just how much differentce a dress and some styling can make. Bush's dress last night was a vivid bright pink strapless column with a large ruffled detail at the waist (yes, it reminded me vaguely of a Georgia O'Keeffe painting but let's all get our minds out of that place and move on), and an ankle-length hem showing off lovely silver strappy sandals, paired with half-up, half-down hair, subtle makeup, and a silver clutch. Her look at last year's Golden Globes was actually quite similar to what Amy Adams wore last night, and it has the same effect: very pretty, but kind of boring and predictable. I prefer a little risk-taking. 

Sophie Turner: Last night and at the 2016 Oscars
Turner's long, slender figure is definitely flattered by the silhouette of a fitted column with a long slit, but these two gowns show how a few details can make a difference. Turner's 2017 SAG gown fit her beautifully, but the fabric looked a bit stiff as it reached the floor, and the asymmetry of the bodice made her breasts look uneven. I liked the wavy blond hair and the scarlet lips perfectly matching the color of the gown were great, but the overall look fell a little short for me. On the other hand, the ice blue clingy satin she wore at the 2016 Oscar Awards had the details of a soft train, a higher slit, and a more structured bodice with an interesting shape, all of which were more interesting and more flattering. Again, the details make the difference between good and great. 

Taraji P. Henson: Last night and at the 2015 Emmy Awards
In my opinion, Henson often goes just a hair too far in her red carpet fashions. The skirt of her gown was lovely, with its mauve color and black/silver patterning, but the bodice was a bit too bare for my taste. Bare can be done well (see Halle Berry at the 2002 Oscars or Lea Michele at the 2012 Oscars), but Henson looked too bare (and too unsupported), particularly in contrast to such a voluminous skirt. I liked her revealing look much better at the 2015 Emmys, with a black velvet gown with lace panels at the side (sort of) revealing a lot of leg, but tastefully so, and there was also a triangular peekaboo cutout in the bodice, which was sexy but still supportive. Paired with diamond straps and a bracelet and a sleek, angled bob, I found Henson's 2015 look much more striking - and far sexier. 

Uzo Aduba: This year and at the 2016 SAG Awards
I found Aduba's look last night to be very striking: a white, off the shoulder bodice paired with a straight black column skirt, but the really great feature was a large white side train which created great contrast and visual interest, and softened the crisp geometric lines of the base gown. The neat updo and warm makeup were just right for the crispness of the gown, and really seemed to suit her beautifully. I actually really liked her emerald green gown at last year's SAGs, but compared to her black and white ensemble, I can see that the structured and tailored silhouette works much better for her. 

Viola Davis: Last night and at the 2015 Golden Globes
Davis generally looks good on the red carpet, and often looks great. I would argue that last night was more in the "good" category. This crisp white column looked good against her skin, but the bodice appeared to be too tight, and the hem was just a hair too long, causing the fabric to buckle at her ankles, and the slit was too far to the side, revealing skirt lining instead of leg. The diamond collar necklace was lovely, but the black clutch felt out of place, and her hairstyle didn't add much to the look, nor did her makeup. In contrast, her 2015 Golden Globes gown fit her beautifully, was also a flattering color (an effect emphasized by her perfectly coordinating scarlet lips), and was tied together with the silver detailing on the bodice, the silver clutch, and the diamond cuff and earrings. Also, her fuller, wavier hair and more dramatic makeup added a polish to the overall look that felt like it was missing last night. 

Overall, there were very few looks that I really loved - Kidman, Kemper, and Jones were among my favorites - but there were not a lot of looks that were truly awful, either. I guess a lot more celebrities are playing it a bit safe these days. But at least we have the Oscars to look forward to!

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Easy (Relatively Speaking) Lasagna

Although it's been a pretty mild winter so far (knock wood), I've still been enjoying cold-weather comfort food. And one of my favorites is lasagna. I like making lasagna because although it's somewhat labor-intensive, I usually have most of the ingredients already on hand. I've experimented with a few different recipes, but the one shown below is the base I like to start with. I monkey around with the ingredients, depending on what I have on hand, but this is a good starting place. The wonderful thing about cooking (as opposed to baking) is that you can adjust a lot of things depending on your own taste and what's in your pantry.

Here's the basic list of ingredients: sausage, ground beef, garlic, onion, parsley, sugar, basil, salt, whole OR diced canned tomatoes, canned tomato sauce OR paste, ricotta, egg, Parmesan, mozzarella, oregano, and lasagna noodles. 

I usually have frozen ground beef on hand because I buy the bulk packages at Costco and freeze it in 1 to 1-1/2 pound bags. The original recipe calls for 1/2 pound of ground beef, but I like a very meaty sauce so I throw in a whole pound. I thaw it in the microwave at 30% power, flipping it over every couple of minutes and pulling off the thawed portions as they get warm.

While the beef is thawing, I chop up a whole onion. I chop it fairly fine, but you can leave it larger if you prefer a chunkier texture to your sauce. You can also use a cup of frozen onion, no need to thaw it first.

 Once the beef is thawed, break it up into chunks.

Pull the casing off the sausage and pull the meat into chunks. I slice it end-to-end with a sharp knife and peel the skin like you'd peel a banana. Again, the recipe calls for a 1/2 pound but I like the sauce meatier, so I use a whole pound. I find that using half sausage and half ground beef adds a nice hint of spiciness and added flavor, but you can use all beef or all sausage if you prefer.

If I happen to have fresh garlic on hand, I'll chop that up finely, but I always have a big jar of minced garlic in the fridge. The recipe calls for three cloves, so about 3 teaspoons of minced. My family loves garlic so I measure rather generously.


I put the beef and sausage into a large frypan and add the garlic and onion on top, so it cooks in the fat of the meat. Cook and stir until well-browned, and drain off the fat.

Once drained, add 2 tablespoons of dried parsley, 1 teaspoon of sugar (if you're using tomato paste instead of tomato sauce, add a little extra), 1/2 teaspoon salt (again, add a bit extra if using tomato paste) the can of tomatoes (undrained!), and the tomato paste or sauce. If using tomato paste, add 2/3 to 1 cup water. I like to add the 2/3 cup and let it simmer for a while, then add additional water if it looks a little thick. Also, you can use either plain canned tomatoes or the kind with added herbs/onion/garlic/whatever.

Bring to a boil and simmer on low (uncovered) for at least 45 minutes. Stir occasionally and add a little water if needed to keep your preferred consistency.



While the sauce is simmering, in a medium bowl, mix together one egg, 16 oz. of Ricotta (I buy a 32-oz. container and eyeball the halfway mark), 1/4 cup grated (or shredded) Parmesan, a tablespoon of parsley, and 1-1/2 teaspoons of oregano. Be sure there are no streaks of egg and that the herbs are evenly distributed.

 Get ready to layer everything together in an ungreased 9x13" baking dish!

Start by spreading 1 cup of sauce in the bottom of the dish. I like to use a 1/4-cup measure as a convenient scoop, then spread the sauce around with a large spoon.

Lay out 4 lasagna noodles on top of the sauce. Every lasagna recipe I've ever seen uses a 9x13" pan, so I have no idea why lasagna noodles are not the proper length, but I just break one noodle short and lay it across the end of the pan. You can pre-cook the noodles if you prefer, but I find they're a really nice consistency if you leave them uncooked.

 Next, scoop half of the ricotta mixture onto the noodles and spread it out a little with a spoon.

 Cover that with another cup of sauce.

Top with mozzarella. How much? Eh, however much you like. Probably about 2/3 of a cup or so.

Top with another layer of noodles, the rest of the ricotta mixture, another cup of sauce, and another 2/3 cup of mozzarella. a third layer of noodles, the rest of the sauce, a last 2/3 cup of mozzarella, and 1/4 cup of Parmesan. In other words, the layers from bottom to top are: sauce, noodles, ricotta, sauce, mozzarella, noodles, ricotta, sauce, mozzarella, noodles, sauce, mozzarella, Parmesan.

 Look at that glorious thing! Bake it, uncovered, at 350 for 45 minutes.

When it comes out of the oven, DO NOT CUT IT UNTIL IT HAS RESTED FOR AT LEAST 15 MINUTES! Once the cheese cools and sets a bit, it will be much easier to cut and serve. As a matter of fact, this time I made and baked the lasagna earlier in the day, let it cool for half an hour, cut it, then threw it in the fridge. I took it out for half an hour to bring it up to room temperature then baked it again at 350 for about 15-20 minutes.

This lasagna is relatively dry, without a lot of extra sauce. If you like a "wetter" sauce, feel free to throw in additional tomato sauce (or paste and water) and increase the seasonings slightly. (The sauce will also be much wetter if you use less meat.) Again, this is really a base recipe which is a good jumping-off point to adjust however you prefer. You can substitute fresh herbs for dried, change or adjust the seasonings to suit your taste, use more or less garlic or onion or cheese.

Here's the recipe I started with, along with my notes on the changes I made:


½ lb. Italian sweet sausage, removed from casing and crumbled (I use a full pound)
½ lb. ground beef (I use a full pound)
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine (or 3 tsp minced garlic)
1 medium onion, chopped (or about 1 cup frozen onion)
2 tbsp parsley
1 tsp sugar (increase slightly if using tomato paste)
1 tsp basil
½ tsp salt (increase slightly if using tomato paste)
1 (16 oz.) can whole or diced tomatoes, undrained (plain or with added garlic/onion/herbs)
1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce (or use a small can of tomato paste and 2/3-1 cup water)
16 oz. ricotta
1 egg (optional)
¼ c. grated (or shredded) Parmesan
1 tbsp parsley
1-1/2 tsp oregano
2 c. shredded mozzarella
¼ c. Parmesan
12 lasagna noodles, cooked or uncooked

Cook sausage, beef, garlic and onion till browned; drain fat. Stir in parsley, sugar, basil, salt, tomatoes, and tomato sauce (or tomato paste and water). Break up tomatoes if needed. Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes. Combine ricotta, egg, Parmesan, parsley, and oregano in a large bowl. Spread 1 c. sauce in ungreased 9x13” pan, top with 4 noodles. Spread with 1 c. ricotta mixture and 1 c. sauce. Cover with 2/3 c. mozzarella and 4 more noodles, then the rest of the ricotta mixture, 1 c. sauce, 2/3 c. mozzarella, and 4 more noodles. Finish with the rest of the sauce, the rest of the mozzarella, and Parmesan. Bake uncovered at 350 for 45 minutes. Let sit for 15 minutes before cutting.

It's especially good served with fresh crusty bread, a green salad, and a nice hearty red wine. 


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