Thursday, December 27, 2007

By special request

After posting about my bundt cake extravaganza, Laura asked if I'd be posting the recipe. Well, here it is, in all it's fattening but delicious glory. It's ridiculously simple to make since it builds off a cake mix. Sure, that's cheating a little bit, but I'm still a novice in the kitchen and take help where I can get it.

Triple Chocolate Cake


  • 1 (18.25 ounce) package devil's food cake mix
  • 1 (3.9 ounce) package instant chocolate pudding mix
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the cake and pudding mixes, sour cream, oil, beaten eggs and water. Stir in the chocolate chips and pour batter into a well greased 12 cup bundt pan.
  3. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until top is springy to the touch and a wooden toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool cake thoroughly in pan at least an hour and a half before inverting onto a plate If desired, dust the cake with powdered sugar.
Note: mix up the flavor by using chocolate mint chips or peanut butter chips.

In other cooking adventures, I repeated my Thanksgiving baking contributions and brought both pumpkin pie and macaroons to my sister's house for Christmas. I also tried my hand at what looked like an extraordinary simple recipe for making some sugary sweet toasted nuts. Unfortunately, it turns out that the bottom rack of my oven gets a lot hotter than the top rack, so one entire cookie sheet of nuts turned into a carmelized, smoky, disgusting mess. Those had to go directly into the trash, but the other half turned out well enough. That said, I'm in no rush to make them again. I didn't love the way these came out, and nuts are too expensive for me to do this often. Plus, I hate the word "nuts."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

It runs in the family

So my Aunt Dorry has always, for as long as I can remember, made chocolate bundt cakes as her standard dessert. I really can't remember the last time I went to meal there when chocolate bundt wasn't offered up with coffee at the end of the evening. It's consistent appearance is actually sort of funny at this point.

Well, last night Todd and I went to a fabulous dinner at Josh and Todd 's. With my new-found affection for cooking and baking, I was more than happy to be bringing dessert. I cast around for suggestion, soliciting recipes and tips. One of the things that I've come up against as a new cook is a limited accessibility to all the tools and instruments required for most recipes. I don't have the money to go out and buy everything The Pampered Chef has to offer, and living in a New York apartment, I definitely don't have room to store it all, either. So I had to rule out some recipes just based on their intense preparations (and by intense, I mean something as simple as whipping heavy cream, for instance). Anyway, after much consideration, I found a recipe for a triple chocolate bundt cake that looked awesome. I don't think I'm going to make it my signature dessert the way my aunt has--I have hopes for a greater range than that--I have to say, the chocolate bundt cake didn't disappoint. I think I cooked it about five minutes too long, but otherwise I was really happy with how it came out.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Attend the Tale

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street opened last night, and Jen and I were at the Ziegfeld to see it. I went in somewhat apprehensive but also hopeful, and overall, the movie satisfied.

Johnny Depp is, as almost always, excellent. His voice isn't amazing, but his intensity and acting abilities made up for his somewhat limited range. And, I was very pleased when I realized the talk-singing that dominated the preview was really no where else in the movie. He plays Sweeney with moments of rage but overpowered by sadness and despair. His Sweeney is a man just this side of defeated, kept going only by Mrs. Lovett and his inability to forgive. He makes Sweeney sympathetic but not likable, just as he should be.

Tim Burton's other casting choices were...questionable. I went in with extremely low expectations of Helena Bonham Carter, and she really was the weakest link. I was aggravated that she was cast for a couple of reasons: 1) I'm just totally over her. I think she does the same damn thing all the time. 2) She only ever shows up in movies her boyfriends or husbands direct (Yes, I know this is a slight exaggeration, but it still feels that way). Remember when she was with Kenneth Branagh and she was in Frankenstein, Theory of Flight, and everything else he made? Maybe she should find a part she's right for and actually go on an audition for it, because I'm sad to say that my low expectations really weren't overcome. Her acting was good, actually, and I like the way she played Mrs. Lovett, but she simply could not sing the part. She just doesn't have the voice, and it seems to me that that should be a deal breaker, wife of the director or not.

Sacha Baron Cohen was wonderful. He made one of my historically least favorite characters/parts/songs into a highlight. He really rocked it. Alan Rickman as the evil Judge Turpin was good, though his voice is really nothing amazing. And Timothy Spall as the beadle seemed to be in a different movie all together. Very over the top. And the rest of the cast skewed very, very young. Though that worked in some places (a child Toby, for instance) the lad who played Antony simply wasn't believable as a sailor who'd been all over the world. It's fine to try to create a juxtaposition between Antony and Johanna's innocence and the world weariness of the rest of the characters, but this took it too far.

I thought most of the musical cuts made worked well, though I really did miss The Ballad of Sweeney Todd. They could have played it over the end credits or something. And I wish they would have kept Kiss Me. As it is, Antony and Johanna have no direct interaction, which makes their love affair slightly harder to buy.

It wasn't an unequivocal success for me, but it was pretty good. I liked it and would recommend it.

Small side note: Remember how Christina Ricci's breasts and cleavage were practically characters unto themselves in Sleepy Hollow? Well, the same is going on here. I imagine that a great deal of Burton's directorial notes to both Bonham Carter and Jayne Wisener (Johanna) went something like this: "Deeper breaths! I want to see them HEAVING."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Light Fell review

Check out my latest Enfuse Magazine review this time for the yet-to-be-published Light Fell.

My copy looked nothing like the image here, by the way. Because I got pre-pub galleys, mine has yellow cover with plain black font. I like to believe that all the random New Yorkers who saw me on the subway with it were intrigued and wondered who I reviewed for (New York Times? Village Voice? Enfuse Magazine?). Probably, they just thought it was an ugly cover, though.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

CNN continues to be the dumbest fucking news channel this side of Fox

Just in case anyone was wondering whether CNN headquarters was still populated with total idiots: Yes, it is. I give you, their recent slip-ups:

Barack Osama
Obama Bid Laden

and even,

Obama, Nebraska

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Double Header: Juno and I Am Legend

When Caryn and I were in college, we were great fans of the movie marathon. Planned the day before, we’d pick three, four, or even five movies to see in a day. Pulling this off required some serious forethought; we looked at start times, running times, accounted for previews and credits: it was awesome. We even found ways to work the system for free popcorn, bulk candy, and giant-sized sodas. Was this ethical? No. Were we poor but movie-lovin' college kids? Hell yes.

This past weekend, Todd and I did an extremely modified take on the movie marathon and saw Juno and I Am Legend. There were no stolen, sugary treats in sight but, like any good marathon, there was wide spectrum of movie quality on display.

Juno, written by current It Girl Diablo Cody, tells the story of an unwanted teenage pregnancy with sass, obnoxiousness, and some unexpected warmth. What I loved about this movie was how well ensemble members played off each other, the snappy dialogue, and—very importantly—the lack of moralizing. And, frankly, the cast was a dream. With two, count ‘em, two, Arrested Development alums--Jason Bateman and Michael Cera--you know you’re off to a great start. Jennifer Garner, J.K. Simmons, and Allison Janney are also fabulous in their roles. The foundation and heart of the entire film, though, is Ellen Page. Seen before in the ultra-disturbing and nonsensical Hard Candy, I went in not knowing what to expect. She beautifully carried the story and emotions of this movie and is a real star in the making.

I Am Legend, on the other hand, is devoid of both ensembles and up-and-comers. Given that this is far more widely marketed, I don’t really need to do the whole summary part of the review. Just in case any of you live under a rock, though: Will Smith battles zombie-like humanoids as the presumably last normal human on earth. I give Smith a lot of credit for making such a solitary movie captivating. Interacting for most of the movie with only a dog, he really does one hell of an acting job. And I Am Legend does have a few good scares in it; I jumped more than once at the zombie attacks. Unfortunately, logic was apparently deemed completely optional by the creative forces behind this movie. The leaps of faith audience members are forced to make are just too much. And I Am Legend shared a bit too much with War of the Worlds in terms of resolution. I won’t say more for fear of spoiling the incredibly stupid ending for those of you who haven’t yet seen this. But anyone who has seen both will surely know what I mean. Thumbs down.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Well how about that

According to Ben Brantley, New York Times theatre reviewer, all my friends and I are apparently wrong, wrong, wrong. He thinks that The Homecoming is amazing, riveting, genius, nigh-perfect, even.

And, he can't stop yammering about how wonderful Raul Esparza and Eve Best are in this thing. Frankly, I thought they were the two worst performances on stage.

I stand by my critique and think that Ben Brantley is applauding the production out of fear that he'll be called stupid if he admits that he didn't know what the hell was happening either.

Cooking up a storm

Wonder of wonders, my claim to cook more once I moved into my new apartment is actually not total B.S.! I’ve been a baking more than ever, and Saturday night Todd and I whipped up a whole meal. I thank the fun food-related books I’ve been reading (and I still have two Ruth Reichl’s to go!), Dorrie’s blog, my slightly more user friendly kitchen, and the fun of cooking with another person instead of just with Camilla. She’s really not a lot of help, after all.

Todd and I found ourselves in Union Square on Saturday, so we decided to take advantage of our proximity to Trader Joe’s. We bought bottle after bottle of cheap wine to try, then ventured over to the food market to see what they had. We came home with the fixings for a meal that would easily have cost us twice as much at a restaurant: lemon and herb marinated ahi, mushroom risotto, green beans, and multigrain french bread. And, to top it off, we made (aka microwaved) mini chocolate lava cakes for dessert. I was impressed with our success; everything turned out really well!

Everything, that is, except my left thumb, which I, like a genius, stuck in the giant shaft of steam pouring up and out of my steamer. I’m not disheartened, though; all those Top Chef contenders are peppered with burn scars, proving that even the pros make these boneheaded moves now and again.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Santa's "O" face

Ok, this doesn't make me feel all Christmas-y, but it does make me laugh.

How extra creepy is that stalker-ish, "he sees you when you're sleeping," quality now?!

A Matinee, A Pinter Play...

So Jen and I took in The Homecoming tonight. On the one hand, what a fabulous cast: Ian McShane, James Frain, Michael McKean, and (my personal favorite) Raul Esparza. On the other hand, what an unenjoyable play.

The first act was B O R I N G. A whole lot of set up that really felt like it didn't need to take anywhere near all the time it actually took. The second act picks up a lot, but the plot takes such a turn into the absurd that I felt totally mystified. Jen and I admitted to each other over coffee after the show that we felt like we just weren't getting it. Surely these characters couldn't have really been saying and doing the things they said and did in earnest, could they? They must all be some kind of metaphor or representation for something else, right? We mulled over many half-baked theories, some of which might have made an interesting college essay and none of which made for a particularly riveting night at the theatre.

Most disappointing, really, was my Raul. He just wasn't good. Accents are absolutely not his strong suit, as evidenced in Taboo, Comedians, and any other show where's he's supposed to be British. I'm not sure if he was so focused on the accent that he forgot to act or what, but while the rest of the cast was natural and at least somewhat authentic, he seemed mannered and uncomfortable. I have a theory that now that he's marginally famous, at least in the theatre world, he's scared to take risks. It's like he knows he's being watched and so afraid of getting it wrong that all the raw emotion and intensity that made his earlier performances so powerful gets completely stifled. Truly, a knockout performance still wouldn't have made this show successful for me, but I do look forward to the day that he wows me again.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette

So my not so secret guilty pleasure books are those historical novels detailing which people in various royal courts are getting it on, scheming against each other, and plotting for their own ascension to the throne. Philippa Gregory specializes in this genre and is responsible for such fun reads as The Other Boleyn Girl, The Constant Princess, and The Queen’s Fool, among many others. I recently picked up Abundance, expecting something similar and found, instead, a beautifully written account of Marie Antoinette’s successes and failures as dauphine and then queen of France.

Sena Jeter Naslund, who also wrote the extraordinary Four Spirits, approaches Tointette’s (as her intimates call her) story from a very personal perspective. We travel with her as she crosses the border from her native Austria and is reborn as French royalty. We feel her desire to charm and please everyone around her, even as she finds ever luxurious ways to also please herself. Marie Antoinette is presented as selfish, yes, but also as both innocent and determined. Told from this personal perspective, readers are presented with Marie Antoinette’s considerations about her fashion choices, hair styles, and favorite artists more often than the state of French economics and politics. The approach allows us to revel at her early successes and sympathize with her later plight; what we can’t do, is rationally understand what prompts the populace’s about-face. Instead, Naslund richly explores Marie Antoinette’s emotional response to mob mentality, her love and appreciation for her friends and supporters, her sensitivities to both kindness and callousness, and the strength upon which she draws when faced with imprisonment, separation from her family, and, ultimately, the guillotine.

Naslund is a gifted writer, and her talent does not go wasted here. For anyone with an interest in this subject matter or type of character study Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette is a wonderful read.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

It's time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough

My biggest accomplishment of this weekend? Putting up my Christmas tree! I'm really pleased with the way it came out, though I do wish it had a few more lights on it. I blame my mom; growing up, my father was in charge of stringing lights on the tree. After each strand, my mom would assess it and decide it needed more. We always ended up putting enough on to light up the whole room. I bought three strands the other day, thinking that would be more than enough. Thanks to the brightly lit trees of my youth, though, I think I need about twice as many to really look perfect. Either way, I think it looks pretty good, and it definitely feels more like Christmas now!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Fuck Huck

I don't think too many of my readers are of the red persuasion, but just in case any of you have been pulled in by Mike Huckabee's charm (even I'll admit he does well in interviews), I thought you should see these articles.

The first details the role Huckabee played in the release of a rapist, Wayne Dumond. Thanks to Huckabee's advocacy, Dumond was freed and went on to rape again, this time killing his victim. The Huffington Post has covered this issue thoroughly, and Huckabee didn't take too kindly to the critical look they took at him. He fired back through the media, and today the Huffington Post had this response.

I think what's particularly interesting here is not that this horrible person was released and went on to commit more horrific crimes. We don't actually live in the movie version of Minority Report, after all. What happened is awful, and there actually is every reason to believe that the powers that be (Huckabee, the parole board, etc.) could have seen this coming. But human error exists. That aside, though, there is a lot to be upset about here. The apparent political nature of Huckabee's decision making is disgusting, as is his refusal to recognize his contribution to this situation.

Blah, blah, blah

I feel like it should already be the weekend. I went to Nino’s last night for some amazingly delicious vodka sauce with Rena, Carole, and my BFF Gerri. Girls’ night out was so much fun! We sat around laughing and chatting for so long that we wore out our welcome. The Nino’s staff got to the point where they did away with any and all mood lighting and turned on the brightest lights they had in the hopes that we’d finally take the hint (we did). Somehow the night felt much more like a Friday to me than anything else, and now I want to be out of the office doing more fun things.

I’m this close to finishing the book I’m reading and ready to move on. I’ve actually loved the book (I’ll review it soon) and have a book to read for Enfuse this month plus my January book club novel to get to, so I wish I were at home in bed reading instead of at my desk.

And, I’m eager to get my Christmas tree from the dudes who have set up camp across the street from my apartment. That’ll happen tomorrow, and if it turns out as lovely as I hope it will, I’ll post pictures of my festively decorated home soon.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Best of 2007, Take 2

Since we all did pretty badly on the Times 10 Best Books of 2007 list, I'm hoping the
100 Notable Books list will make us all feel better.

At least here I've read a few (The Abstinence Teacher, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Yiddish Policeman's Union) and heard a few authors read excerpts (Richard Russo, Ian McEwan, Michael Chabon).

And if this still seems like a pathetic familiarity with the latest and greatest on the literary scene, I comfort myself with the justification that I like to wait for books to come out in paperback (for easier subway reading) and that most these books will be just as wonderful whenever the hell I get to them. The few exceptions are those so mired in the times that they need to be read within our current world context. And if they're that time sensitive, they certainly won't become part of the canon. And, therefore, no one will remember them in a few years, and I won't forever be embarrassed for not having read them.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Weekend Review

Well, look at me. The minute NaBloPoMo is over, I take a two day break. And this right after I implored everyone to keep blogging a lot. The weekends are often a time when I like to forget that computers exist and focus my energies on watching some Netflix, reading, or (gasp!) actually getting up off my duff. Now it’s Monday and mandatory duff time again as I sit at my desk, so I’m ready to blog again.

I had a book-centric weekend. My first Saturday stop was to what was billed as a used book and music sale in the UWS. The publicity made it sound like it was going to be a great place to find countless unexpected treasures. Instead, it was an old man in a room selling all his old crap. It was actually sort of sad. He seemed kind of jazzed that anyone was there (the place was empty when we walked in), and I didn’t want to totally disappoint him by walking out empty handed. Luckily, I found a copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover in good condition; since I’ve never read it before, the five dollars he was charging seemed worth it.

Next I was off to an independent book publisher’s conference. Publishers set up tables in the General Society Library in midtown and chatted people up about their books. It was just like all the conferences I attended when I worked in college publishing, except that I was on the other side of the table and not miserable. I didn’t buy anything (though I was sorely tempted), but I did collect lots of info to pass on to Laura for possible Enfuse connections.

Yesterday was more low key, and my big accomplishment was pulling out my box of Christmas decorations. I don’t have a tree yet, but I did string lights all along the railing of my loft. It looks so pretty!