Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Perfect Banana Bread

I've used this recipe at least 5 times already this semester and it's fantastic. 


4 ripe bananas, smashed
1/3 C melted butter 
     (vegetable oil)
3/4 C granulated sugar
1 egg, beaten 
     (1/4 C Egg beaters)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 C all purpose flour
1/2 C chocolate chips 
      (highly recommended but          optional)



Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C).

Mix butter in with bananas. Add sugar, egg and vanilla - mix.

Sprinkle baking soda and salt over mixture, mix thoroughly. 

Add flour, mix. Add chocolate chips last, if desired.

Pour batter into greased 4x8 inch loaf pan. 

Bake 1 hour. Cool on rack.


Due to the unusually high number of bananas in this recipe, the center of the loaf may remain a little gooey. It is advised to not cook the bread longer, as this may cause it to burn. Instead, enjoy the gooeyness. 




Merry Christmas, one and all!


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Cookies

  • This recipe is modified from one available on the Hersey Kiss website, their Triple Chocolate Cookies - I didn't feel like going into a chocolate coma, so I changed it to a sugar cookie recipe. I also really hate cleaning up after cooking/baking, so I like to use as few dishes as possible. That's why I use oil instead of butter (easier to mix) and don't bother sifting dry ingredients together in a separate bowl. These turned out just fine.

  • 1/2 C vegetable oil
    3/4 C granulated sugar
    3/4 C packed light brown sugar
    2 tsp vanilla extract
    2 eggs (1/2 C Eggbeaters)
    1 Tbsp milk
    2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
    1 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp salt
    Around 45 Hersey Kisses

    Remove wrappers from chocolate pieces. Preheat oven to 350°F.

    Mix oil, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in large bowl until well blended. Add eggs and milk; mix well.

    Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually add to sugar mixture, mix until well blended.

    Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheet.

    Bake 10 to 11 minutes or until set. Gently press Kiss (no, not with your face, that would hurt) in center of each cookie; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. 

  • Makes about 45 cookies.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Happy Birthday to me!

And all of my birthday twins, who include:

Bill Paxton - An actor who has the remarkable talent of being one of my least favorite characters ever (Private "Game over, man" Hudson in Aliens) and the director and star of one of my favorite movies (Frailty).

Also, he can make that face. How sexy is that?
Craig Ferguson - A stand up comedian who has made one of the greatest comebacks in show business (second only to Robert Downey Jr.) and the only late night talk show host I have seen do a filming of his show. So far

Also has the distinction of being my sister's future husband, though he doesn't know it yet.


Soccer the Dog (Wishbone) - This dog taught me pretty much all I know about classical literature and how to enjoy it.







Alan Doyle - The lead singer of Great Big Sea (my favorite band) who just released his first solo album on Tuesday. Give Boy on Bridge a listen, it's fantastic.



Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dark Shadows - Movie Review


*/5

Dark Shadows is simply another reminder of why I never watch Tim Burton movies. I think this may be the last one I ever see. Rarely do I hate a movie as much as I hated Dark Shadows. If I had not gone to the theater with my mother in law (who loved the movie, so to each his own), I might have left. If I'm being totally honest, had I not been with her, I never would have gone in the first place.

Dark Shadows tells the story of Barnabas Collins, a man so desirable that a scorned witch kills his true love, curses him to vampirehood and buries him in a box for 200 years. He resurfaces in the 1970s, meets his descendants, and does some stuff. For two hours. I think the best summation of this film was already done by io9 in their review of the movie - that this movie could make all other vampire movies obsolete, as Dark Shadows actually makes you feel the soul crushing eternity of immortality. When a movie, like the recent Avengers, is three hours long but feels 15 minutes, the filmmaker has done a good job. When the movie is two hours in length and seems to go on for years, it is a catastrophe.

I don't think I have a single genuinely nice thing to say about this movie; I can't even complement the actors. While I do like Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, their continued affiliation with Burton is infuriating and makes me want to strike them both upside the head with a boxed set of Danny Elfman music. Carter and Eva Green's terrible American accents were upstaged only by Depp's British one. The rest of the cast was an utter waste, turning vaguely talented actors into boring shells of their former selves. If you've seen any other Burton movie, you have heard an Elfman score, so the music isn't even worth mentioning.

So, delightfully, on to the writing. The screenplay was helmed by Seth Grahame-Smith, the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I haven't yet finished the book, so I can't say if this is true of all his writing, but my god, did this story drag. And meander. And although nothing seemed to happen, not a damn thing that did made any sense. Characters do things for utterly inexplicable reasons, backstories are given and then dropped, people simply wander out of the movie and are never seen again and so much new information is added in the last half hour it will make your head spin. There is a witch, and she has the ability to curse someone into being a vampire (ignoring all rules of vampirism in the process). There are also ghosts, hippies, a werewolf and for no apparent reason, Alice Cooper. I will admit, the only part of the movie I enjoyed was when Cooper was singing. No traditional rules of magic and supernaturality were followed - a major pet peeve of mine - and things seemed to have been made up entirely on the fly. 

The only redeeming quality of this movie - provided you like shots of waves crashing on rocks - is that there are at least 15 shots of waves crashing on rocks. Rather than using a fade like a normal editor, or even a clockwise wipe like Star Wars, this editor chose to insert footage of his holiday at the beach every chance he got. Over and over and over again.

Lastly, since it has been bothering me since yesterday, how the hell were there descendants of Collins if he had been an only child and never had children himself? Cutting off the family tree at that branch would have saved me a two hour headache.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Avengers - Movie Review

*****/5

It is not often that I see a movie more than once in theaters. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie and Mean Girls are the only ones that come to mind. In addition, I am quite certain that there has only been one movie that I wanted to see again immediately after the credits finished rolling. And that movie is Marvel’s The Avengers.

The Avengers, helmed by my personal god Joss Whedon (of Buffy and Firefly fame), is the culmination of an unprecedented five films (Iron Man 1 and 2, Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk), with at least three more sequels in the works (Iron Man 3Captain America 2 and Thor 2) and the idea of two more Avengers movies*. With close to a decade of anticipation and an astronomical budget ($220 million, which makes the gross of $207 million from the opening weekend alone even more impressive), there was a huge amount of pressure on this film. As I practically worship Whedon, I had nothing but faith in the movie, but I had to agree with the sentiment that if it bombed, it would take many careers with it. Fortunately, it is just as amazing as everyone hoped.

The basic premise makes it a seamless sequel to all of the aforementioned films – Thor’s brother, Loki, plans to take over Earth using the power of the Tesseract, the secret weapon used by Hydra in Captain America. Nick Fury, played by the ever magnificent Samuel L. Jackson, recognizing the threat Loki poses, assembles a group of the world’s most powerful, bringing Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanov into a room together for the first time. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson reprise their roles here, but new to the group is Mark Ruffalo as the third Hulk in as many movies, and in my opinion, the best. He portrays the character as utterly self-loathing, while still being likable to the audience, which is surprisingly unique.


Thor soon joins them, played by the unbelievably hunky Chris Hemsworth, to battle his brother. Tom Hiddleson, as Loki, is one of the stand-out actors of the film, being both whiny and annoying, and utterly terrifying. The scene where he threatens Natasha/Black Widow is absolutely chilling, and we truly feel that not only is he willing to destroy everyone on the planet, he will enjoy every minute of it. His past is no cause for this derangement (being the adopted son of the All Father has it’s perks), so I must agree with Banner when he says, “That guy’s brain is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him.”

This leads me to another point – the writing in this movie is just superb. I expect nothing less from Whedon, as he has a beloved skill of writing tense action, razor sharp wit and utter heartbreak, often all in the same scene. The humor in Avengers in no exception, with a few scenes so funny that I could not catch following lines because the audience was laughing so loud. My personal two favorite punch lines have no dialog, forcing us to recall the beginning of the joke. I won’t give either away, but I will advise all readers to stay all the way through the credits, as there are two bonus scenes for this movie.

As with any other review, I must find one thing to nitpick, and with Avengers, there is really only one thing that I can think of. Through most of the movie, Bruce Banner does his utmost to keep the Hulk at bay, and when he is unleashed, all hell breaks loose. This is standard procedure and no real surprise. However, when the final battle comes and in order to fight Banner must ‘Hulk out’, he suddenly has the beast under control, with no real explanation for what caused this sudden change in demeanor. This may be a deleted scene, or perhaps something I missed, but I was left in confusion about how the Hulk became a choice rather than an affliction.

All in all, a great movie, and definitely one I recommend seeing in theaters – at least once.

* Also, there may be a Nick Fury movie. Crazy!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Meeting an Idol

I'd like to start off by saying that I am really, really sick right now, and was last night when this momentous event happened. I can possibly attribute the tears to feeling like I was going to die, but probably not. I'm sure I would have cried anyway.

Regardless, last night I went to the Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series talk in Syracuse. Every year a handful of authors are invited to speak about their books, writing in general, and their lives to an audience of interested readers. Last night the guest speaker was none other than Laurie R. King, mystery writer and personal godess to yours truly. Her books about Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, has long been my favorite series, which I have spoken about before.

Last fall, when the 11th book in the series came out, she had an illustration contest for a microstory to accompany the book. Though I did not win, mine was the first submission sent, and in returen I got an awesome poster. I was determined to get the thing signed, so I carried it around in my car for months so as not to forget it.

Naturally, on Monday morning I woke up feeling like death, and only got sicker throughout the day. By the time my mom was ready to leave, I was actually contemplating not going, a true sign of how sick I was. I have worshiped this woman for at least a decade, I have a tattoo in tribute to her, and I was considering not going to see her talk. That was a low point in my life, I can tell you.

Fortunately, my mom convinced me to get off my butt, take some painkillers and go. I'm so very glad I did.

The woman dresses like Marilla Cuthbert in her promo photos, and doesn't change a bit in real life. She walked out on stage and spoke the first sentence from The Beekeeper's Apprentice and I began to cry.

"I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him."

Never mind that I was myself fifteen when I first read the book, and madly in love with all things Sherlock Holmes (still am, for that matter), but King has been one of my great writing influences since then as well. Hearing her recite the first words of one of my favorite, and certainly my most read, books of all time was quite moving. As I'm sure you inferred from the whole weeping thing.

Anyway, the rest of her talk was great, made better by the fact that the painkillers kicked in halfway through and I felt human again. She talked about her own practices when writing, the new projects she has in mind and answered questions from the audience, including mine. Once the talk was over my mom and I quickly exited the theater, attempting to find out where she would be signing books, having been informed by her Facebook page that she would be. We were then told by an usher that all of the signings had happened earlier in the day.

This was the second time that evening I was moved to tears, and this time it wasn't in a good way. My mother, bless her, doesn't take no for an answer and, in a move worthy of Holmes himself, figured out where the reception must be located by checking every door we came to.

I think we were technically crashing a party, but I don't care, since it was here that I actually got to meet Ms. King. I almost cried again, but I was able to hold it together enough to gush like a teenager at a Backstreet Boy's concert (or another, more relevant group). She is a lovely person, and seemed to genuinely appreciate the fawning, or at least had the grace to not be visibly appalled. It was quite a moment for me, and I only wish I hadn't been so damn sick, so maybe I could have formulated an intelligent argument for why she should let me write a screenplay of one of her books. Oh well.

At least I got my poster signed.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Chronicle - Movie Review

*****/5

Chronicle was the first movie I have seen in theaters in months, and I was extremely pleased to discover that I had not wasted my money on it. When I first saw the trailer I thought it was going to be a lame X-Men knockoff, and while I did love Push, I do not tend to like repeated versions of the same idea. Chronicle is, essentially, what X-Men would be if it were just based around the kids, with no Professor X or Magneto. There are no "good guys" and "bad guys", merely three teenagers who are suddenly endowed with incredible and unexplained gifts. What makes this movie truly extraordinary is that it is honestly realistic. No, I don't believe in telekinesis, but if a group of 17 year old boys were suddenly able to do so, this is how it would turn out.

Without giving too much of the plot away, the boys, Andrew, Matt and Steve, all acquire these powers and spend some months playing with them, becoming stronger, and learning how powerful and dangerous they can be. Then one of them goes crazy and starts killing people. If this were to happen in real life, that is just about how it would play out. They wouldn't suddenly become super heros and start rescuing orphans and kittens, they would mess with their neighbors until they realized they could do a lot and get away with it. And then they would do it. I thought the acting was really phenomenal, Dane DeHaan (Andrew) in particular. He looks and acts like a young Leonardo DiCaprio and he portrayed an emotionally unstable teenager with enormous talent. I look forward to seeing more of him in the future.

My only major problem with the movie was the cinematography. I am a fan of the handheld camera style and I think it has been done well a number of times. Chronicle was not nauseating like Cloverfield, and the quality was better than The Blair Witch Project. I would have been entirely on board with it if new cameras were not added. We are introduced with Andrew's camera and told that he will be taking it everywhere with him - he is the narrator and we are seeing his movie. Then we begin to receive footage from other camera: another student, security cameras and police cameras. Suddenly, the intimate feel of a handheld camera is lost. What makes that style so special is that it feels real - like an unedited documentary that only you are seeing. When new cameras are added, this point is defeated. You become aware that at least an editor was needed to collect and compile all the footage, and there goes the
intimacy. Dave and I had a long conversation about this, and while his point is correct - there was not really a way to show all of this via one camera, when the cameraman goes insane - I wonder why the filmmakers decided to go the handheld route to begin with.