Bad mood muffins

This week (and yes, I know it's only Tuesday) has been one of the funkiest (i.e. funk-inducing) in a very long time and I could write something really cutesy and blah blah creativity and cooking blah blah journey of rebirth and discovery blah blah about how these muffins just made everything better.

Instead, sometimes you have to remind yourself that we can't all have a pony, pull yourself up by the brastraps (because who has bootstraps these days?) and get on with it. Getting on with it this morning involved some reading, some work, some moping, and one batch of rather tasty blueberry muffins. Of course, this week being firmly ensconced under a little black raincloud (actually a rather large one, judging by the spreading wet patches on our ceiling and the fact that my jeans were wet to the knees when I got home this afternoon) nothing worked out quite like I planned. The muffins were tasty, but I think that, for the first time, the Big Yellow Book failed me. The texture wasn't exactly what I hoped for (a little rubbery and denser than I would like) and I beg to differ with their test cooks - a whole tablespoon of baking soda is too much. Also, the batter made more than a dozen muffins, but they told me it made a dozen, so all the cups overflowed and I ended up with number 5 on their list of Cardinal Muffin Sins - flat tops. That doesn't bother me - it renders a better muffin top experience, but they told me it was a failure, so I felt bad anyway.
Anyway, part of getting on with it is saying, "screw those muffins and the recipe they came in on," so let's just say better luck next time and leave it at that.

Silver lining? Some of my seeds have germinated! I've got little tiny basil-lets sprouting! They're there, even if you can't see them.


March Cake: Dan's Birthday

There's something you may not know about me. I am a very selfish sleeper. I hog the covers. I flail around and sprawl diagonally across the bed. I throw elbows and kick randomly in my sleep. Also, I snore and I drool and I sometimes talk in my sleep. I always said that if I ever got married, (which was such an improbability that surely I needn't even worry about it) I would want my own bedroom. We'd just be one of those (highly hypothetical) couples that didn't always sleep in the same bed and that would be fine!

Fast forward and suddenly I find myself married. When Dan and I began cohabiting I was very, very worried about the sleeping situation. I was horrified to discover that he's also a selfish sleeper. Nightly bouts of sleep tug-of-war over the covers and many bruised shins (and chins) ensued. I thought we'd either rip the covers in half in our sleep or inadvertently beat each other to a pulp drowsily vying for the perfect pike position. (And I'm not talking about diving - I'm talking about the most efficient way of utterly hogging the entire bed and ensuring your co-sleeper's discomfort.)But the strangest thing happened. Somehow it stopped being an issue; now we sleep in synchronized, parallel pike positions, one of us wrapped around the other. We still tug over the covers, but now I know to start the night with the covers pulled almost all the way over to my side to ensure that I'll still have some when I wake up in the morning. I still occasionally elbow him in the face and it turns out that he also occasionally talks (or grunts) in his sleep and somehow despite all this nonsense we sleep just fine, thank you very much. He must be a great guy (and handsome too!). After all, I wouldn't have adjusted my sleeping style for just anyone. I'm not that kind of girl.

Things you should know about Dan: He's a seriously talented writer, and rather fantastic at singer-song-writer-ing. Also, he has a way with finger pistols.
He's also just about the kindest, warmest, loveliest guy you could ever hope to meet. And he likes chocolate as much as I do.

When I asked Dan what kind of cake he'd like for his birthday (which was last weekend) he said "Well, probably Red Velvet or Chocolate." (A wholly unsurprising answer.) I thought and thought about which to make, knowing that Red Velvet would crop up at some point in this year's cakestravaganza. I had a crazy idea and, despite hearing my mom saying in my head (as she does every time I express incredulity at the small amount of cocoa powder in our traditional Red Velvet recipe) "People always think Red Velvet Cake is a chocolate cake, but it's not," I decided to buck tradition, to flout Red Velvet orthodoxy and make a Red Velvet Fudge Cake. I also skipped the traditional cooked frosting recipe and topped it with Cream Cheese Frosting. The result was not your everyday Red Velvet Cake, but damn, it was a good cake.

A note on recipes: There are more different recipes for Red Velvet than you can shake a stick at. I've tried a LOT of them, but honestly, none beats the one I grew up on. The cake recipe I use comes from the East Columbus United Methodist Women's Cookbook (late 70s-early 80s), which was, I believe, a gift to my mom from my dad's mom. This cookbook is full of gems, but the Red Velvet recipe is clearly the best loved. In fact, when looking for the recipe, you can actually spot the page by looking for red stains. Not blood, but food coloring.
This is, in my opinion, the Definitive Red Velvet Recipe. Others contain more butter or more flour, less salt, more vinegar, less food coloring (I actually caved to this impulse and was NOT happy with the resulting color), and (sin of sins!) more cocoa. This is not, after all, a chocolate cake. Just trust me, here. Jean Wagner (East Columbus, ca. 1970) knew what she was talking about. It's a tangy, light, airy, perfectly-crumbed beaut.

This recipe has, incidentally, been the cause of much consternation for me - once I tried to ice a warm cake with the traditional cooked icing recipe, but the frosting melted and left clumps of the flour/milk paste sticking all over the cake (my mom's generous response: "I think you've got the cake texture down, but the icing could use a little practice.") Another time, I baked one of these for a boy I was desperately infatuated with and brought it to school for his birthday. On my way from the car to our lockers, the bottom of the container caved and the whole cake slid out and squished against my belly. Our school uniforms were white shirts and khaki pants, both of which show up red food coloring spectacularly.

But I come by it honestly! On another occasion that has since gone down in the family history books, my grandma was baking a Red Velvet Cake and left the vanilla out of both the cake and the icing. It was wretched.

For Frosting, I turned to Nancie McDermott's Southern Cakes. Her Cream Cheese frosting is gorgeous and her Old-Fashioned Chocolate Fudge Frosting seemed like a good fit for the fudge filling I desired. I'll admit, I had issues with the fudge. (See recipe below.) It didn't work the way it was meant to. So I slapped in some cream cheese and that did the trick.

With no further ado, here's what you need to do next time someone near and dear has a birthday.

Red Velvet Cake
  • 1/2 c. butter, softened
  • 1 t cocoa (I think I put 2 t because surely, 1 can't be enough - sorry mom)
  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t vinegar
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 2 oz. red food coloring (you can use 1 oz, but it won't be nearly bloody enough)
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 2 1/4 c sifted flour
  • 1 c buttermilk
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Mix vinegar and baking soda and let settle.
  3. Beat butter, cocoa, sugar, salt, and vanilla until light and fluffy.
  4. Add eggs and beat until incorporated.
  5. Add food coloring and mix until incorporated. (A note, if you're doing this with a mixer - either hand or stand - be VERY careful to begin mixing at a low speed. Otherwise you'll have a red-splattered everything.)
  6. Add flour and buttermilk alternatively, about a third each time.
  7. Fold in the baking soda and vinegar.
  8. Divide between two 9" round pans and bake for 30-35 minutes.
  9. Let cool in pans for about ten minutes, then invert onto racks to cool.
  10. When thoroughly cooled, use a long serrated knife to divide each layer into two.
  11. Assemble using desired frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Southern Cakes)
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 lb powdered sugar
  • 2 t vanilla
  1. Beat until combined and fluffy.
Chocolate Fudge Frosting (adapted from Southern Cakes)
  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/4 c cocoa
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/4 c butter (1/2 stick)
  • 1/2 c evaporated milk or half-and-half (I used Heavy Cream - was this my mistake?)
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • ~3 oz cream cheese (my addition)
  1. In a heavy saucepan, combine sugar, cocoa, and salt. Mix well.
  2. Add butter and milk (cream) and heat to melt. Mix into smooth brown sauce.
  3. Stir well and bring to lively boil.
  4. Maintain gentle boil for five minutes. When frosting begins to thicken, remove from heat.
  5. Stir in vanilla and set aside to cool for 20 minutes.
  6. Beat the frosting until it thickens and looks shiny. This never happened for me - it was a little grainy. Maybe the sugar didn't completely dissolve or something?
  7. I beat it until it was entirely cool and slightly bigger in volume than before. Then I beat in the cream cheese until it was fluffier and spreadable and went to town.
Cake Assembly:My cake went, from bottom to top: cake, fudge, cake, cream cheese frosting, cake, fudge, cake, cream cheese frosting on top. Top with candle, sing, and make a wish!
**The fudge did make the cake a lot uglier, but it also make it taste spectacular.


There must be some kinda way outta here

Last week was my spring break and Dan's birthday (cake to come), so we ran away to Cape Cod. This is what we saw there.
Slatted fences nestled in between dunes towering over steep beaches and crashing waves.
Sine waves appearing in crossing sea waves.
Blowing grass and orange light with blue water in the background.
Sundog and jetstreams in the waning light of the afternoon. Local teens gallivanting in the surf.


Mini Apple Pies: Ratio-izing my kitchen

I'm always reluctant to accept compliments on my cooking if I've cooked from a recipe. I mean, It's one thing to be able to follow a recipe and another entirely to be able to make a recipe or to cook entirely without one. Right? Usually when I wholly depart from recipes, it's while cooking something like a stew or a dish that resembles something I've made before. When it comes to baking? Oh, hell no.However, I've been wanting to learn a little more about how recipes work so that I can start to make my own. You all probably know where this is going, but a few weeks ago I got the book Ratio by Michael Ruhlman, which is basically the key to understanding how recipes work. It's kind of amazing. I mean, once you know the ratios, you can create whatever you want? No, it's not like you're working entirely without a recipe, but it does give you a nice feeling of freedom to not be slinging flour over your prized cookbooks and to be able to improvise a little - riff, even.

The first riffing I tried was a free-form pear tart. I used the 3:2:1 pie dough with a little added sugar and salt. It was a little tender for such a large tart and maybe should have been baked a little longer. However, for the mini apple pies I made last night, it worked perfectly. The crust puffed up and browned beautifully. It was sturdy, but flaky. Buttery and delicious. The filling? Also delicious, and I made it up on the fly! The apples cooked down to practically nothing and the butter mixture bubbled and, where it escaped the pie shells, caramelized on the pan.

The funny thing is that these little pies tasted familiar. I couldn't place the taste immediately, but I think what I recognized was the taste of McDonald's apple pie, but without the chemical aftertaste or the gumminess. I wouldn't usually liken my own cooking to McDonald's and mean it favorably, but in this case, I'm sure you'll all agree that it's a good thing. A very tasty, buttery, sweet, very good thing.

Try making these - you won't regret it. Oh, also, buy this book and keep the ratios posted somewhere handy in your kitchen. It doesn't seem that they'll fail!Mini Apple Pies

  • 3 parts flour : 2 parts fat : 1 part water (12 oz. flour : 8 oz. butter : 4 oz water by weight)
  • pinch salt
  • 1T sugar
  1. Using a food processor, mix sugar, salt and flour.
  2. Add chilled butter, cut into chunks and process until mixture is crumbly.
  3. Pulse while drizzling water. You may not need all of it.
  4. Makes enough dough for 2 pies or free-form tarts or 8 mini tarts.
  5. Divide and chill dough.
  6. For mini pies, divide dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each into a ball, flatten and roll out to 1/4" thick. (You can also reserve part of the dough for a later use - these mini pies were made from the leftovers from an earlier free form tart.)
  • 1 Apple, peeled, cored, quartered, and sliced thinly
  • 2 T butter
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 c dark brown sugar
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 t cinnamon
  1. Smoosh (that is the best word for it) the butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla together in a small bowl. A fork does a good job of this.
  2. Place dough rounds on a baking sheet (I used a half sheet with silpat).
  3. Place 1/4 of the apple slices overlapping in the middle of the dough rounds.
  4. Spoon 1/4 of the butter/sugar mixture on top of the apple slices.
  5. Fold the sides of the dough into the middle, crimping all the open edges with your fingers to seal the filling in.
  6. Use a knife to cut slits in the top of the dough to allow steam to escape.
  7. Bake at 425 for about 20 minutes (check frequently) or until crust is golden brown. (Seriously, watch closely because I forgot to time the baking.)
  8. Let cool on baking sheet for ten minutes before removing with a spatula.
  9. Serve warm (optional: these would be amazing with a dollop of whipped cream or a small scoop of ice cream).


Clip Show: August and October

I've been trying to catch up with film processing and scanning - I had amassed a pile of a dozen or so undeveloped rolls and I'm working my way through. Last night I uncovered some very happy shots from August and October. The August roll almost fell victim to an accidental exposure situation (owing to a camera's dead battery) but luckily I salvaged the shots that were already exposed. They were of a lovely afternoon spent lounging on the summer roof, drinking fizzy cocktails and reminiscing about the past while debating the merits of a dozen potential futures. It was one of the more memorable afternoons of last summer, in fact, despite its uneventfulness.
The October photos came from an equally memorable day spent with my sister and my dear German Christine, brunching at the Town Diner and wandering around the Mt. Auburn Cemetery. It seems a little morbid, maybe, to find these cemetery shots as satisfying as I do, but there you go. I've always liked graveyards.


Ice Cream Social

I grew up going to church ice cream socials, eating casseroles, cakes, and ice creams from generations-old recipes. Some of those things weren't too tasty (I have a particularly strong memory of some dis-GUST-ing meatballs), but some flavors from those rambling dinners stay with me. One that comes to mind (and one I'm going to try very soon) is a particular kind of ice cream that was made by one of the parishoners at my grandparents' church when I was little. The texture was airy, but a little icy. Not so rich that you couldn't eat three bowls, but so tasty that you couldn't not eat three bowls. Preferred flavors at those socials were vanilla (naturally), strawberry (always made from hand-picked strawberries, most likely), and butter pecan (heavy on the butter).

Ice cream is a habit that seems to follow me around from place to place. During my three happy years in Northampton, trips to Herrel's or Bart's (incidentally, Bart's was the scene of my most spectacular - and hilarious - lack of inhibitions ever. It resulted in such a shock that my dearest friend was accidentally punched in the face by another of our friends. I'll tell you that story someday.) were nearly daily occurrences (featured flavors: oreo mint, Caramel Heath Bar). On the days we didn't go there, we went to Davis (and later the Campus Center) for mudslides (mint chip ice cream - some chose coffee, oreos, chocolate syrup, blender).

I spent a year in Hamburg, where they are rumored to eat more ice cream per capita than anywhere in the world. Needless to say, I ate a lot of ice cream there (Generally I ate lemon or strawberry, as the ice cream more nearly resembled gelato and those are the superior gelato flavors. Late in the year, however, I discovered Eiszeit, where I stuck to anything with Caramel in the name. Or anything I couldn't identify.)

And now I'm in Boston, which as it does in so many things, resembles Hamburg in the natives' feelings about ice cream. Now it's J.P. Licks (Cake Batter Oreo) or Christina's (Chai or Khulfi) or Toscanini's (Bourbon or Burnt Caramel). When I was a kid it was Lic's all the time (grape sherbert, please, or caramel praline).

You see, I like ice cream. I'm not always in the mood for it, but when I am, absolutely nothing else will satisfy.I've got a whole stack of those old Ice Cream Social recipes that I want to try, but a few weeks ago, I found myself in possession of a craving and a pile of clementines on the brink and I decided to try something new. The result? Delicious, creamy, light, but intensely flavored Clementine-Cinnamon Gelato. (By the way, I'm convinced that orange-cinnamon is the next Great Flavor Combination.) It's like being smacked in the face by a bag of clementines, but liking it and asking for more. It's like drowning in a sea of clementine and preferring the juice to air. It's an avalanche of clementines and, rather than run for cover, you stand there and wait to be bowled over. It's not subtle, but why should it be?

I suggest trying this while you can still get your mitts on some good citrus. You might come out the other side slightly battered and orange-stained, but you'll thank me. I promise.

Clementine-Cinnamon Gelato
  • ~8 clementines, pureed and strained
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 c water
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 t egg white, beaten until foamy
  1. Mix everything but egg together until blended.
  2. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  3. Fold in the egg white.
  4. Bang all this in your ice cream maker and press go.


Oscars Liveblog!

12:02: Well, that wraps it up. On to the after parties, which I will not be liveblogging.

Also, it's great that it wasn't a big studio picture for once. It had been a while.

With absolutely no fanfare, it's The Hurt Locker! Restoring my faith in the Academy for another year.

Captain Douchey was just shaking his head and frowning at Kathryn Bigelow. Perhaps she should have thanked him specifically.

Yeah, The Hurt Locker was really amazing.

If there's any justice in the world Avatar also won't win Best Picture. So nice to have a woman win for Directing.

Kathryn Bigelow! HOORAY!

So much potential for goodness or badness.

If anyone can lend a sense of drama, it's Barbra Streisand. And she wore a pants suit!

That was lovely.

Sandra Bullock prepared her speech. That's nice.

That was predictable. Kind of disappointing. Where's the Oscar drama? Still coming up?

It always feels like he's giving a eulogy. Like tears are a breath away.

Couldn't he do up his tie?

I wish Stanley Tucci were my friend. Also, I want Meryl Streep's bracelets.

St. Meryl.

See, this makes me really wish that Gabby would win.

Gabby's going to cry because Oprah knows how to deliver a line.

Carey Mulligan is adorable, but should not be bottle blonde.

Helen Mirren has a spiderweb tattoo!

Tony Blair!

Bringing out the big guns... Oprah's there to pitch (presumably Gabby). Votes are already in!

Best Actress time! Big potential for drama.

He's so mellow.

When the Dude says "Raise your hand, man" you'd better stand up.

Kate Winslet is so fabulous. And I'm so very happy for Jeff Bridges. Maybe it's because he didn't get a nom for Stick It.


I WILL go see Ondine just to see Colin Farrell speak in his own accent.

I would believe anything Julianne Moore said about anything, but especially nice things about Colin Firth.

Vera Farmiga seems like she's just lovely.

A lot of people say that if Jeff Bridges wins, it'll be a lifetime achievement award. I say those people haven't seen Crazy Heart. He absolutely deserves to win.

Michelle Pfeiffer looks fabulous.

Best Actor time!

Kathy Bates! I think Avatar won't translate to DVD.

James Cameron looks unhappy. Threatened? Nervous? Bored?

"I'd like to thank the Academy for not counting Na'vi as a foreign language."

Best Foreign Language Film. Quentin is high as always.

This might be happening at an after party.

Keanu Reeves! Why is he introducing The Hurt Locker?

I repeat, George is bored.

11:05: Fisher Stevens was Larry in Only You. Genius.

The Cove - it's like Whale Wars, but competent.

Documentary - having not seen any of them, I generally count on the most depressing one to win.

George is bored.

Up in the Air was so great.

That's the one Avatar had to win.

But I'm totally okay with Up winning.

10:51: As with everything, Avatar's soundtrack was fine, but Not Original. My vote: Sherlock Holmes.

Of course, I generally expect my Interpretive Oscar dance to have something to do with the music. Maybe that's just me.

I LOVE interpretive Oscar dance!

James Taylor is so classy and this is a lovely song.

10:37: Preternaturally young-looking Demi Moore gets to introduce the memorial montage. For once she's not wearing black.


Cinematography is a tight category too. You know what I'm voting for.

What the hell kind of fabric is that dress.

I still like Inglourious Basterds a lot.

Yay! Down with Avatar! See, JC, the 3d is cool, but you can't ride it to the end!

Will it be a twofer?

Look at the viking sound editor go!

We have HOPE! The Hurt Locker beats Avatar on a technical award!

It's like a PSA for why we should care about Sound Editing.

Lots of horror movies. Quentin liked it. Also, it turns out Zac Efron is also a miniature person.

I've never seen her in anything, but I think I really like Kristen Stewart.

I love the horror movie with Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin! It's paranormal!

If anything's going to take down both Avatar and The Hurt Locker, I think it'll be Precious.

Frosted boobs!

Costume Dramas! Sandy Powell is amazing. That's a lot of look, but she rocks it.

Costume Design... Please give this one to The Young Victoria. Ugh. I cringe at SJPs dress.

"This Oscar sees you." BLAH.

Avatar wins for Art Direction. This is where the Avatar landslide starts.

Sigourney Weaver is gorgeous.

And she's eloquent again.

I have high hopes for this speech...

Mo'Nique looks ridiculously good in Precious. And she wins!

9:55: Best Supporting Actress! This is the toughest for me to call.

9:53: Huh. I'm not sure how I feel about not having the lifetime achievement award at the big event. I miss the big syrupy montages.

Queen Latifah looks radiant!

Things just got interesting... with the screenplay win, Precious makes a serious run for Best Picture gold. Shaping up to be heartbreak all around for Up in the Air.

I really need to see An Education, don't I?

I LOVE Rachel McA's dress.

Jeff Bridges is awesome. A Serious Man also looks good.

The Young Victoria was CRIMINALLY overlooked. Also, I forgot how much I liked Star Trek.

James Cameron is laughing because he knows he has to. I think it's brilliant.

YES! Ben Stiller as a Na'vi.

Gherkin Schmerkin.

Carey Mulligan shows Zoe Saldana how a young actress should dress for the Oscars. I understand ZS is wearing Givenchy, but that dress was just not a good idea.

BLESS ED ASNER! Lou Grant forever!

Up for Best Picture! Oh man, I'm going to cry again!

Macaulay Culkin has grown up to be a ten year old Steve Buscemi.

This John Hughes montage is the stuff happiness is made of.

Molly Ringwald and Matthew Broderick! It's the 80s!

The Hurt Locker - the evening starts out well for The Hurt Locker. Please note the absence of Avatar in this category.

Robert Downey, Jr. and Tina Fey. Delicious together. Best Original Screenplay! Inglourious Basterds, PLEASE!

I have that sick sinking feeling that I always get when there's a movie I really don't want to win.

District 9. I didn't realize it was set in Apartheid-y times. That makes it a little deeper than I originally thought.

T-Bone's the strong silent type.

Hooray! I'm no country fan, but i love everything about the music from that movie.

Crazy Heart! I wish it would win everything. Everything that Inglourious Basterds doesn't win, that is.

Did anyone see Paris 36? Hear of it?

Also, I'm with the Fug Girls re: Miley Cyrus needing to stand up straight. It looks like she either has scoliosis or is afraid her boobs will pop out if she stands up straight. Unforgivable.

Best song: are they not going to perform any of them?

Cut to Bradley Cooper, cue my heart to skip a beat.

UP! Hooray! Now, it would be awesome if it won Best Picture, too.

Best Animated Feature - we all agree it's going to be Up, right?

Vera Farmiga's dress sticks out two feet from her knees. You think they had to put her in the front row?

Lifetime TV for women! The Blind Side. I feel like I've seen the whole movie via clips and trailers.

Waltz!! "That's an Überbingo!" Also, I LOVE his speeches with their extended metaphors!

Stanley Tucci is SO SCARY!

Long clips!

8:44: Penelope REALLY knows how to dress herself. AND Best Supporting Actor is NOW! Waltz! Make it Waltz!

Alec is randomly rocking a Mid-Atlantic accent. Did he study up with Gomes?

She sent him "a gift basket with a timer." And he reciprocated with a "Toyota."

It's the JELLYFISH from Avatar!

Apparently goofy race jokes are de rigeur.

"Rugby and tensions between blacks and whites." ??

8:35: Meryl Streep has the most losses for Best Actress.

Steve and Alec are already the best Oscar hosts EVER.

P.S. for all you Netflix subscribers: did you know that you can watch Dr. Horrible on their website?

NPH kickline!

8:33: I dig the old-school chorus girls.

8:32: "
Why does a prisoner drop the soap? No one wants to do it alone." Weird. But funny.

Neil Patrick Harris! But he said he wasn't doing it! HOORAY!

On the nose. That's a GLITTERY set. All the best actors and actresses all together. Renner dumped the model and the hotel in time for the show, I guess.

I don't know if you all are Twits or not, but Roger Ebert is seriously in love with Christoph Waltz. Check it.

8:27: Well that was uncomfortable. Now it's time for the real show.

Meryl is wearing Chris March again! Awesome! Project Runway for the win!

Kathy Ireland takes the prize for WORST INTERVIEW QUESTION EVER. "What can you share with us?" It even left GABBY without an answer.

Winslet in YSL. Lovely.

Again, I don't care about Miley cyrus, but I want her earrings. Also, I wish Kathy Ireland would relax her right arm. It looks painful.

It's the PWC geeks with their VERY IMPORTANT briefcases!


While we're stuck on commercial, watch this.

8:16: I will only say this once. These words have never passed my lips before: Cameron Diaz looks fabulous. Oscar de la Renta CANNOT go wrong.

SJP is TOO TAN. Also, that dude says of her dress "You should steal it." He's a closet case.

Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer. That's a new fantasy couple. The Captain still has it.

Even the commercials are worse on ABC.

Sandra Bullock... also in Marchesa. Marchesa must make a ton of money for the Oscars. Do you think that she is a wheeler-dealer for Harvey Weinstein?

George Clooney is holding on to his girlfriend's butt.

Jake Gyllenhaal is beautiful.

Maggie's lipstick isn't my favorite color.

8:02: Anna Kendrick is a miniature person. All of the Supporting Actress nominees look good, but it's a lot of look that's going on in that booth.

Sherri Shepherd? I thought it STARTED at 8? Do I still have to WAIT?

I hope you've all switched over to ABC now. All sorts of old footage in montage.

Kate Winslet looks like a million bucks.

And there's Jeff Bridges. I wonder if Jeremy Renner is still AWOL. Also, JB's wife is gorgeous.

7:51: This also makes me like Gerard Butler a bit more.

I also don't really care about Gerard Butler. Though I might amend that if he actually does moon the Academy.

7:44: The Back-Up Plan looks hideous.

ROBERT DOWNEY, JR. LOVE LOVE LOVE. DROOL. Even with the tinted glasses and Jr. Republican haircut. I dearly, deeply love him.

Gabby looks FABULOUS. Marchesa did her proud. And she says she wants to do a movie with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. I, too, want to go to there.

YES! Quoth the Fug Girls: "J.Lo vs Seyfried, in similar Armani! i suspect J.Lo might have thoughts about that tomorrow on GFY... -H"

Tom Ford is getting a LOT of mentions tonight. I agree that Rachel McAdams looks all kinds of fabulous. Though Dan and I both prefer her brunette.

Meryl Streep is lovely. I want to be her friend. "You were cheerleading a little bit but that's okay."

I'd like to draw your attention to this blind item. So far we seen George Clooney, Morgan Freeman, and Colin Firth. That leaves Jeremy Renner and Jeff Bridges.

Oh, I CAN'T wait to see what the Fug Girls have to say about J.Lo. and Amanda Seyfried wearing BASICALLY the same dress. I hope we get an open letter from la Lo.

Colin Firth.... He can do no wrong. But I think he's had a little tipple before showing up!

IS Clint Eastwood really that great? I've never gotten that. Also, another shot of Intern George's hair and it's a REAL mullet. However, I can't hold it against him because he was signing autographs.

In case you need it, there's a slideshow here.

Who is the Brit with the Dentyne and the terrible accent?

Charlize Theron frosted her tits for the evening.

Stanley Tucci is great. I like his beard. I like his glasses. I love him very much.

I love how tall Katheryn Bigelow is. Do we think JC was too uncomfortable with such a tall woman? What a little man.

Helen Mirren in the background!! She's so great I love her. Also, Clooney has a wavy mullet.

SJP looks wackadoo (CHANEL?!) with the biggest bun I've ever seen.

7:14: Mommy Cyrus is scary.

I've bailed on Baba Wawa because the Red Carpet is just so good. However, I just clicked over to hear about Mo'Nique's hairy legs and open marriage. Baba apparently thinks if your husband likes hairy legs, that's all that matters.

Sandra Bullock is 45?

7:07: Is Antonio Banderas playing Castro? Whither the sexy?

7:06: Fug Girls just reminded me: Carey Mulligan looks great. Also, I wish Miley Cyrus would just stay home. Not interested.

Check. Tim McGraw is in The Blind Side. I'm a bitch.

7:04: Amanda Seyfried is playing Red Riding Hood? Who's directing that? NEED TO KNOW MORE.

7:03: I just saw Penelope Cruz. Lady knows her color.

7:02: Why are Faith Hill and Tim McGraw there? It's not the CMAs.

Tyler Perry presents Tyler Perry's tux by Prada.

Sandra Bullock looks lovely. Her hair is perfect, her dress is kind of amazing. She seems nervous.

Diane Kruger is lovely and her English is great, but her dress is dreadful.

Giuliana appears to be wearing a pair of bedazzled spiderwebs on her ears.

Is Maggie G pregnant? I hate saying that, but it really kind of looked like it from the side.

6:52: Tina Fey is lovely! And Michael Kors deserves a prize for everything he's ever designed.

Two thoughts: Sandra Bullock seems to look spectacular and is presuming that she's won. Also, Diane Kruger is wearing something that looks like a bunch of cotton balls hot-glued to a sheet.

Sigourney Weaver is so much taller and better than Ryan Seacrest. Also, I love her dress. WAIT. She's POLE-DANCING in a DISNEY movie?!

Mr. Jay is wearing Tom Ford. Serendipity.

Tom Ford. Yum. But what a schmoozy mofo.

The vowel-hoggers Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard are with Ryan now. Maggie's dress is Dries van Noten, but looks like one of the prints from Jean Paul Gaultier for Target.

And Ryan Seacrest is Adiosing someone else to talk to someone more important again. This time "bye, Jason Reitman, I have to kowtow to James Cameron," who is wearing a pocket square in "Na'vi Blue." I bet he picked out his wife's dress color too.

Tina Fey is here! Looking fabulous. I hope Alec Baldwin calls her Lemon from the stage.

"She's a chick that's halfway like a dude... I mean that as a compliment." Is that code for "lesbian?"

Please alert Michael Scott that they have released the PT Cruiser Couture Edition.

James Cameron has arrived. He's had a haircut and flatiron treatment. In other news, Vera Farmiga (in Marchesa) is lovely. Her dress may be fabulous, but E! only gives us tight shots. WTF.

6:28: WHY DOESN'T RYAN ASK ABOUT THE DESIGNERS? Also, it's kind of cool that they have a DJ, but couldn't they do better than Joel Madden?

Zoe Saldana! That dress is CRAZY. Love it. She's seriously had the PR speech about motion-capture memorized, then. Did James Cameron hand out talking points?

6:13: You know, I'm proud of Giuliana. She looks a little less skeletal than she did at the GGs.

What's Mo'Nique wearing on her head? Oh, and Zoe Saldana has arrived wearing something CRAZY. Enter the crazies.

Ryan Seacrest clearly wants to be talking to Mo'Nique and not Anna Kendrick all of a sudden.

6:09: There is Anna Kendrick! It's ... pink and frilly. Also, Mariska Hargitay showed up!

6:06: Welcome! We're getting started now! Looks like we're getting started with a bang - Anna Kendrick is there. From the two inches we got to see, it looks like a Mother of the Bride special... scary. Happy to see that Giuliana is actually not ON the Red Carpet. And they put a tent between her and the carpet! Hooray!

Oscar Day!

I'll be back this evening with the official Darby O'Shea liveblog (hooray!), but first, let's get our little brains going about what to expect tonight.

The Fashion
Gabourey Sidibe: She's famously plus-sized and doesn't seem to fit into either category of 'flaunt it' or 'self-flagellate because of it,' a fact which is refreshing in and of itself. However however will Hollywood dress a fat girl for the Oscars? This blogger does a good job of summing up why Marchesa is both such a predictable (she dresses everyone) and shocking (she's never dressed anyone above a size six) choice for Gabby.

The Newcomers: Carey Mulligan and Anna Kendrick: They've thrilled and inspired question marks with their Red Carpet choices already this season, but what will they wear to the Oscars?! The fug girls say it better than I ever could.

What I'll be looking for: Obviously, the crazies (the starlets, not the movie). Who will come closest to approximating Björk's Swan Dress (is Gaga attending this event)? The old stand-bys. I expect to see people like Demi Moore and Julia Roberts and Jennifer Aniston in slinky black numbers (if they're all in attendance). The (C)Kates (Blanchett and Winslet) had better thrill as ever. Can Helen Mirren live up to her fabulous (dead sexy) custom Lacroix from last year? (Probably. We should all be that hot at 65!)

But most importantly: Christian Siriano dressed Christina Hendricks for the Golden Globes (with spectacular results including cheers and jeers, and many 'golden globes' jokes). But will he dress anyone for the Oscars? If yes, who?!

The Awards

The New voting system: The sound bite I keep hearing is that, with ten nominees and a 'one vote' system, a movie could win best picture with only 11% of the vote. If you think back to other years where there were two front runners and a surprising third movie won, you can imagine how this minority-wins situation could be shocking with ten nominees. So, now the voters (oh, how I wish I were one) RANK the ten movies. USAToday has a reasonable explanation of it over here. What does it all mean, though? If enough people rank Avatar at 10 because James Cameron turns people off, could it lose because of the new system?

Best Picture: Full Disclosure: I've been a bad movie fan and I've only seen four of the ten nominees. I'm hanging my head. However, that doesn't mean that I don't have opinions on the matter!
10: I saw Avatar. It's fine, it's beautiful, but I don't believe that it should win best picture. It should win every technical award it's up for because it's technically amazing. But it should be satisfied without the big prize. (I'm not ranking it 10 because I think it's the least good of this very good batch of movies, but because I really don't like James Cameron - you see how this could work with the new voting system? - and because I vehemently believe that something that poorly written shouldn't win just because it had cool technology.)
9: District 9. I didn't see it and I don't care.
8: I didn't see The Blind Side (which I amusingly keep mistyping as the Bling Side), but it reads a little too big-screen Lifetime TV for Women.
7: I haven't seen A Serious Man. I don't have much to say about it, except that between it and A Single Man, I've been confused for months.
6: An Education has been at the top of my will-see list for ages, but I still haven't seen it. The style, though, makes me a little weak in the knees.
5: I didn't see Precious, but its brave subject matter and casting decisions win it a place in my heart already. Also, I would personally front the money for a TV show or something featuring Gabourey Sidibe. I love her. Also, Mo'Nique's GG acceptance speech was pure gold. All that being said, does courage and non-traditional casting equal best picture? Though it would be nice if an indie film would win. Been a while since that happened.
4: I also saw Up, which I think is a brilliant movie. I would be absolutely okay with it beating Avatar. But I still don't think it should win.
3: Up in the Air was an astonishing and utterly satisfying movie. It wouldn't upset me in the least if it won. I don't think it will, though.
2: We're going to watch The Hurt Locker at 3:50 (ET) today. I'll report back, though I have a hunch it's a damn fine movie.
1: And finally, I think I want Inglourious Basterds to win. It's so refreshing to see a movie about the Nazis that isn't overwrought and Historical and self-flagellating (I'm thinking of Der Untergang et al). Also, it was beautiful, brilliantly acted, and really REALLY well written. I also recognize that it probably won't win, but that's my vote.

Most of the other categories seem like a lock, but I think there is most room for a surprise in the Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress categories. Best Actor seems like a lock for Jeff Bridges, but could Colin Firth or George Clooney squeak out an upset? And what if they should decide it's Morgan Freeman's turn? In Best Actress, the front runners seem to be Sandra Bullock (which I still can't believe) and Meryl Streep (my personal preference), but Helen Mirren is always a formidable force. In Supporting Actress, I have NO idea who will win. Dan says Anna Kendrick is going to be the evening's surprise winner. I think Mo'Nique has the best chance (she's won every award she's been up for this year), but Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick were fabulous and Maggie Gyllenhaal was amazing in Crazy Heart (that was an effing amazing movie). So, I just don't know.

Those are just a few things to chew on while preparing for the broadcast tonight. What I'll be watching:
3:50 PM (ET): The Hurt Locker (on DVD)
6:00 PM (ET): E! Red Carpet Coverage (where I'll be commenting on Giuliana Rancic's diet and body issues again - bad feminist)
7:00 PM (ET): Baba Wawa's last Oscars Special on ABC
8:00 PM (ET): The Broadcast on ABC.

Stay tuned here and comment away!


The Spirit of Adventure

Dan and I watched Up a few nights ago. Besides it being an utterly brilliant and moving film, it reminds me of all the reasons I'm so glad I'm in a relationship with such a lovely, talented man. However, it also reminds me of one thing I always thought would be part of my life that has failed to materialize. I'm talking about adventure - and the movie (while the first few minutes do remind you that a life lived quietly can be satisfying) just made me wonder where, exactly, my adventures have been hiding?

I'm not talking about hitching our house to some balloons and heeling it to Venezuela (and I'm certainly not talking about waiting til one of us dies to do it). But why can't we have a slightly smaller-scale adventure? A carefully considered, planned and saved for, relatively risk-free adventure with a comfy fall-back position? We're not too prematurely old for that, are we? Are we?!

While we're cooking up this scheme - we'll keep the details hazy for the time being - I thought I'd polish up some baking skills that might come in handy.

And, in case you're confused, this is not a St. Patrick's Day post -- it's an adventure post. Alas, I don't have the recipe for adventure just yet, but I have recently had an adventure in coming up with the recipe I'll be sharing with you in a moment. And it's a recipe that may come in handy for you, come the 17th.Last summer, Dan and I took a trip to Ireland, which you may already have heard about. I delighted in many of the culinary treats (scones, Murphy's, fish and chips, etc.) but the simpler the treats, the better - isn't that always the way? I became obsessed with Soda Bread. And by Soda Bread, I don't mean the stone-shaped and stone-heavy loaves full of raisins that you can buy at the supermarket this time of year (at least in Boston). I mean Soda Bread - simple, crumbly, crusty, heavy, slightly sweet, brown bread.
This month, Bon Appetit showed up on our doorstep boasting an article detailing one person's search for the Perfect Soda Bread. And there was a recipe. So last night I gathered up my ingredients (albeit missing buttermilk, but I tried making a substitute with milk and vinegar) and went to work.I've got to say, frankly I expected more. I don't blame Mrs. O'Callaghan for this. I blame the translation of the recipe (did they just FORGET the salt?) or something. Also, I can't entirely blame the magazine for the utter failure of my first go at Soda Bread, as I don't think the buttermilk substitute worked. But, the result was HEAVY, dense, gummy, and tasteless. So I did a little thinking, did a little reading about Soda Bread and about flour, and came up with a plan.
What resulted was not a perfect specimin, but it was a damn sight better than yesterday's attempt. The taste is subtly sweet, subtly nutty, and very brown. The texture is still a little denser than I would like, but it did rise this time and it doesn't feel so much like eating cement.

But maybe, like the Big Adventure, Soda Bread is something you have to work at, experiment with, and plan for. I'll keep plugging away at the Perfect Soda Bread recipe and hope that the Perfect Big Adventure falls into place sooner or later.

Ms. Jones's Soda Bread
(very loosely adapted from Mrs. O'Callaghan's Soda Bread)
  • 1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 c cake flour
  • 3 c graham flour (it has a delightful texture and taste!)
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 c dark brown sugar
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 2 c buttermilk
  • 1/4 c butter (chilled, cut into chunks)
  1. Pre-heat oven to 425. Lightly butter or oil a loaf pan.
  2. Whisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Cut in chunks of butter until only pea-sized pieces remain.
  4. Add buttermilk and stir until flour is incorporated.
  5. Turn dough out and knead until dough is smooth, but not so much that gluten starts to form.
  6. Press dough into loaf pan - this size recipe will fill the loaf pan to the top. (Alternately, you can shape into a loaf and bake on a sheet pan.) Cut a cross into the top of the dough, about 1/4 inch deep.
  7. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until bread sounds hollow when tapped and top is well browned.
  8. Eat warm (or toasted) with butter. Also excellent with apple-pear butter, if you have any of that sitting around.