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Rachael Ray's E-V-O-O

Scene & Herd meets NOLA

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I love "Inside Dish" host Rachael Ray.

It's not because of what she does. Of the Food Networkers, I far prefer Ina Garten, aka the "Barefoot Contessa." Anyone who can use 2 pounds of butter per 30-minute show is OK by me. I'm also starting to develop a small crush on "Everyday Italian" host Giada De Laurentiis. She has an amazing nose and I love the way she massages words likes "Parmigiano Reggiano."

I love Rachael Ray because of the reactions she provokes. She is the most loved chef on TV, and the most loathed. Snobs mock Ray's unsophisticated recipes and are put off by her nasally voice, goofy catchphrases and relentless enthusiasm. She says "awesome" a lot.

There's even a blog devoted to Ray-hating. It's called the Rachael Ray Sucks Community. The bloggers who post there refer to Ray as "Raytard" and profess to hate her because "she is repetitive, she talks with her hands way too much, she giggles incessantly, she puts olive oil and chicken stock in everything, she wears really ugly clothing, she talks out of one side of her mouth like she's had a stroke, she looks like 'the Joker' when she smiles, and she can't stop talking about her family." The bloggers seem especially worked up about Ray's frequent use of "E-V-O-O" as an abbreviation for "extra virgin olive oil." It's worth visiting the blog just for the animated image showing "Raytard's" face morphing into the Joker's.

Members of the Rachael Ray Sucks Community would not have enjoyed the scene at Borders bookstore in Buckhead last Tuesday evening. Ray stopped by around 6 to autograph copies of her latest best-selling cookbook, 365: No Repeats -- A Year of Deliciously Different Dinners. To secure a spot in the autograph line, fans showed up before the store opened to obtain tickets.

The autograph line inside the store started forming at 2:30 p.m. and by the time Rachael Ray arrived, the line wound a long maze through the aisles of the store's upper-floor, and the store's supply of Ray's new book was sold out.

Ray arrived at the signing table at around 6:15. The autograph-seekers didn't riot or applaud, but several people did yell out how much they loved her. Part of Ray's appeal is her down-to-earth, "I'm just a regular gal" persona -- an image she reinforced by loudly complaining that her low-on-the-hip jeans didn't fit well and that she was at risk of flashing plumber's crack at the people standing behind her (incidentally, the store's children's section). "I'm too old to be fashionable," she joked.

Conversations with her fans ranged from normal (talk of the show or recipes), personal (when someone asked how her husband is, she replied, "I don't know, I'm never home.") to weird ("The appropriate response to 'See you later, alligator' is 'After a while, crocodile," she explained to a child).

Diary of an elfman: Last Thursday evening, I went with a group of friends to see Horizon Theatre's terrific production of David Sedaris' The Santaland Diaries.

The play is a stage adaptation of a radio essay that Sedaris read on NPR some 13 years ago. It tells the true, first-person account of the depressed, cynical Sedaris' short stint as a Christmas elf at Macy's in Manhattan. The story is anything but depressing, though. Sedaris is a comic genius. When the play's not dry-funny, it's sharp-funny or bend-over-laughing funny. Hell, even the sad parts are funny.

In the Horizon version, actor Harold M. Leaver's "Crumpet the Elf" is quite different than Sedaris' character. Though the play's words are almost exactly those of Sedaris' essay, Leaver's Crumpet relishes the absurd situations that Sedaris' elf merely observes and slogs through. With the help of amped-up performances by Bradley Bergerson and Marcie Millard (who stole most of the scenes she appeared in), Leaver tones down the melancholy and goes straight for the laughs. The crowd (myself included) clearly loved it, but I imagine that some Sedaris purists might object. Instead of pooping on the party, they should just download Sedaris reading The Santaland Diaries himself on iTunes. Or better yet, enjoy them both. The play runs through Jan. 1.

Walking To New Orleans: It wasn't until after I made my Saturday plans that I realized that both of the events I would be attending were fundraisers for the victims of the natural and man-made disasters that destroyed much of New Orleans.

Castleberry Hill's Gallery 327 hosted not only the works of renowned NOLA painter James Michalopoulos, but the artist himself was on hand and chatting with gallery-goers. Michalopoulos is famous for his paintings of New Orleans homes that impressionistically capture the funky, jazzy, hot drunkness (or, if you prefer, the jazzy, drunken, funky hotness) that draws visitors to the city. Michalopoulos' home was not destroyed by the storm, but it was looted. He plans to return to NOLA early in the new year.

Meanwhile, over at the Earl, 30 Atlanta musicians gathered for the second annual Happenstance. The musicians gathered at the bar at 10:30 Saturday morning (a feat in itself!) and were then randomly divided into six groups of five people. The groups went off for the day to compose and rehearse a 20-minute set of music.

It's essentially rock improv, so it shouldn't be a surprise that a lot of the music was aimless and unmemorable. What made it worthwhile was the spirit of adventure and glimmers of greatness that popped up in each set. Each group adopted a name for the night. My favorite bits included the Do, Wait Don't's energetic version of the Beatles' "One After 909," the Whales' rubbery rhythm section and funny lyrics (their first song listed different types of whales, "Sperm!" and possible whale activities, "Doing drugs!"). I also think that the people who performed as Space Key should consider actually starting a real group together. But hey, that's just my opinion.

For more on Andisheh's outings, visit Scene & Herd at andy2000.org.

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