The Sing-Off, Sam’s Salmon, The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill

One of the best TV programs this fall

American Idol was good until the judges became irrelevant and annoying. Or maybe I was just tired of the format. I didn’t think I’d watch another singing show. But I tuned into the opener for The Sing-Off on NBC last week, and holy harmonies, Batman–it was wonderful.

Ten of the best a’capella groups in the country compete for a $100,000 prize and a recording contract with Sony Music. Unlike American Idol, the groups represent a wide range of ages—from kids in high school to older adults—and backgrounds. They don’t use any instruments, just their voices, to sing incredible arrangements of modern songs with percussion, bass, and lovely vocals. This ain’t no choir music. And unlike American Idol, the judges actually have interesting and useful things to say. Also unlike American Idol, the judges eliminate the groups until three are left. Only then do the rest of get to call in and vote.

We were glued to the TV watching each episode. The programs are all two hours long, but move like lightening. Our favorite groups at this point are Committed and The Backbeats.

This whole show runs a total of three weeks, one episode each on Monday and Wednesday. It started last week, continues this, and finishes next week. Some of you might be depressed, feeling you’ve already missed it.

Not so! You can watch all of the full episodes online at (with fewer commercials). Then tune in for the grand finale. I can’t wait. 

Are you kidding? From a can?

Canned tuna fish is one of those un-meats. It doesn’t taste like fish. It doesn’t taste like chicken. I guess the all-white albacore is okay. But tuna’s not one of those spectacular foods I crave.

So you’d think, as I strolled the isles of Sam’s Club, that I would have passed up the canned Member’s Mark Atlantic Salmon. But one of my wild culinary urges, the ones that rarely pan out, overtook me.

I purchased a pack of five, seven-ounce cans for $11.88. I brought the pack home put it on the shelf and didn’t dare open it. What was I thinking?

Canned salmon? Canned meat?! When was the last time you had a steak out of a can?

It couldn’t be good.

Of course, my sensible hesitations only last so long. I broke down one afternoon when the cupboards were bare. I saw the salmon and thought that it might go well with a salad and baked potato.

I opened the can. It was pink, like the trout I used to catch and immediately fry when I went camping as a boy. I tasted it. And it tasted like .  .  . fish. Real fish. The light delicious taste of those trout I caught so many years ago.

I enjoyed a wonderful meal that day and have had several repeats since. Boneless, skinless filets in water, packed with omega-3 fats, all grown on fish farms in Chile. 

Great movie set in Wales

I enjoy Hugh Grant as an actor. I loved him in Sense & Sensibility with Emma Thompson, one of my most favorite movies ever. And so I was curious about another movie with Grant that received two thumbs up from Siskel and Ebert. It’s called The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill And Came Down A Mountain.

The setup is unusual. In 1917, with the war still raging in Europe, two English cartographers visit the small South Wales village to measure what is claimed to be the “first mountain inside of Wales.” The villagers are proud of their “mountain,” but become alarmed when the Englishmen measure it and find it’s not a mountain but a hill. The villagers are determined not to lose their status. Especially not to two Englishmen. What follows is good humor, drama, and a bit of romantic comedy. I think you’ll fall in love with the characters. It’s a wonderful tale. And it’s on DVD.

As a little bonus, here are the opening lines, given to us by two narrators.

“Narrator: For some odd reason, lost in the mists of time, there’s an extraordinary shortage of last names in Wales. Almost everyone seems to be a Williams, a Jones, or an Evans. To avoid widespread confusion, Welsh people often add an occupation to a name. For example, there was Williams the Petroleum, and Williams the Death. There was Jones the Bottle, and Jones the Prize Cabbage… which described his hobby and his personality. Evans the Bacon, and Evans the End of the World. But one man’s name was a puzzle, and it wasn’t until I was 10 years old that I asked my grandfather about the man with the longest and most enigmatic name of all.

“Grandfather: The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain? Now there’s a long name for you. And a long story. You are not going to fidget, are you? For this is a story… an epic story. Yes, epic.”

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