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The Ref

Image credit: The Ref, 1994

Never has there been a more requested holiday film in the history of Cinema Sips than this week’s pick, The Ref (Disc/Download). After finally watching it, I understand why. In a year when we’ve all essentially been held hostage inside our homes, it makes sense that people would want to watch a Christmas film about a couple held hostage inside their home. This is exactly the type of dark yuletide comedy we need right now.

In a lot of ways, The Ref reminds me of a stage play. Most of the action takes place in one setting, the dialogue is quick and clever, and the choreography within the larger group scenes is perfectly executed. Denis Leary plays a cat burglar on the run after a botched jewelry heist (for those of you who’ve seen To Catch a Thief, picture the complete opposite of Cary Grant), but before he can set sail for the Caribbean, he’s got to hide out in the home of a bickering Connecticut couple on the brink of divorce. It was a little jarring to see Kevin Spacey in…well…anything, but as Lloyd, the eye-rolling, sarcastic husband of Judy Davis’s snobby, perpetually unhappy Caroline, he really pulls me into this scene of marital discord. There are a lot of side plots that seemingly go nowhere, but overall I appreciate the way this film uses Christmas to highlight the absurdity of wealthy suburban America. These people are heinous on a normal day, but throw Christmas into the mix and you’re one ugly pair of L.L. Bean slippers away from total meltdown.

Something I can personally relate to in The Ref is the bourgeois tendency to “try something new” for your holiday meal. I’m thinking in particular of the time I thought it would be fun to make Spanish Tapas for Easter. In The Ref, Caroline’s absurd theme is Scandinavian Christmas, resulting in a smorgasbord of unpronounceable dishes. Let’s celebrate her good intentions with this traditional Swedish Glögg. If you want to get very authentic, you can throw in some Aquavit. But if you’re like me and don’t want to be stuck with a bottle of Aquavit for the next twelve months, bourbon will do just fine.*

Swedish Glögg

1 bottle Red Wine

1 ½ cups Bourbon

½ cup brown sugar

Zest of 1 orange

2 tablespoons raisins

1 tablespoon cardamom pods

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, sliced

1 Cinnamon stock

8 Cloves

Garnish: Blanched, slivered almonds, raisins, or dried cranberries

Combine all ingredients except the garnish in a pot on the stove. Heat, and let simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and let it steep for an hour. Finely strain to remove the spices, and reheat to warm. Put a few almonds and raisins in the bottom of each serving glass, and pour in glögg.*

This might seem like a lot of prep for a drink, but really, what else are you doing this year? And if you’re trapped at home with a spouse you’ve come to detest, maybe you need a whole pot of this stuff to get through the holiday. So Merry Christmas, and let’s hope that by next year we’ll all be on a boat to Jamaica. Cheers!

*Note: If you’re pressed for time, and/or incredibly lazy about making things on the stove, you can always warm up some Trader Joe’s Winter Wassail Punch and throw in some red wine and bourbon. Still festive, still delicious, and extremely easy.

The Sandlot

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The Sandlot

Image credit: The Sandlot, 1993

The Sultan of Swat! The Titan of Terror! The King of Crash! The Colossus of Clout! THE GREAT BAMBINO! Like Smalls in this week’s film The Sandlot (DVD/Download), I grew up clueless about all Babe Ruth euphemisms. You mean he’s not just a candy bar?? , said my ten-year-old self.  I credit The Sandlot and A League of Their Own with teaching me everything a gal needs to know about faking her way through an interest in summertime baseball. This was of course a helpful skill if I was ever going to become the future Mrs. Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez.

With Stand By Me-esque narration and a realistic depiction of awkward blended families, The Sandlot is a great coming-of-age story set in an era when kids could just play ball for hours without worrying about being kidnapped or strangled on the way home. Their greatest danger was a drooling English Mastiff behind a rusted fence, and the wrath of an oddly quiet Denis Leary once he learned his Babe Ruth-autographed baseball had been lost. And everyone knows Leary’s a Red Sox fan. So… yeah. No real danger there.

After gaining valuable life lessons on teamwork, the dangers of chewing tobacco, and kissing a hot lifeguard, the kids manage to get into “the biggest pickle” and have to resort to creative problem-solving. So while watching The Sandlot, I recommend drinking a Dirty Pickle.

Dirty Pickle

4 oz vodka

1/2 tsp dry vermouth

2 tsp dill pickle juice

Small dill pickles for garnish

 In a shaker filled with ice, combine vodka, vermouth, and pickle juice.   Shake until chilled, then strain into a martini glass.  Garnish with a pickle spear.

dirty pickle

Who would have thought that 23 years later, I’d still be watching The Sandlot on a hot July day, hoping that nobody would make me go outside and play. Gotta say though, I’m glad to have graduated from a Fruitopia to a chilled cocktail. Cheers!