Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Great C19 Books-to-Film blog post

I keep forgetting to call my reader's attention to this other blog post that I actually got paid to do. Check out my list of cinematic adaptations of nineteenth-century stories for Amazon.com.

(here I am at Yale in November 2008 with David Francis' rare, working triunial magic lantern... that's how the Victorians experienced "moving pictures"...)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bon Apetit? My Own Wife's Quick and Dirty review of "Julie and Julia"

1. "Julie Powell" was too thin for someone so frequently and loudly lauding butter: if Renee Zellweger can gain weight to become Bridget Jones, so can Amy Adams. I'm assuming Julie Powell really did gain some weight from her year of culinary experimentation, though I have not and likely will not read her book.
2. That brings me to point number two: I'd rather read My Life in France. After watching this movie, I want to know more about the childless Julia Child and less about the childish Julie Powell.
3. Julia Child in Paris appeared to be gloriously economically privileged. I find the mid-20th-century impulse of "servantless" middle-class housewives to master the art of French cooking as vexing as the early 21st-century impulse of middle-class foodies to emulate Alice Waters. It takes a lot of money to purchase fresh/local organic produce and a lot of time to make "slow food." Who can afford to do so, and who is excluded from making such "healthy choices"? It's worth thinking about.
4. The film is a pretty, persuasive paean to marriage. Indeed, I found myself falling in love with Stanley Tucci's Paul Child. What a wonderfully supportive, loving and sexy man, I thought (though I'm not sure if I mean Stanley or Paul, actually). And the scene where Julie's husband, personality-lacking what's-his-name, slathers chocolate cake all over his face was completely charming. It is gratifying to cook for someone you both love and lust after. While I can't quite put my finger on what the message about marriage in the film actually was (like, was it "get back to the kitchen, all you wives who love your husbands! but don't get so preoccupied with cooking that you neglect your husband's other needs"...?), I am left with this notion that "Julie and Julia" is at once heteronormative and it legitimates that pesky gendered division of labor that feminists have struggled with for decades.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pajama Bread

This is a true story. The other evening after work, I put my pajamas on and went into the backyard to pick blackberries. Encouraged by the yield on the backyard bush, I went around to the front yard to pluck juicy ripe berries from the prickly bush on the parking strip. Was I giving my neighbors a little demonstration? Yes. Did I care? No. Well, not until it started raining and I realized I was locked out of my house. What happened was this: while I was in the backyard, *new* housemate #2 came home after a long day in his research laboratory, let himself into the house and locked the door behind him, went upstairs and lost himself in some video game or other (I imagine, generously). A half an hour later, when I wanted back inside, the door would not budge. I knocked on the door: nothing. Then I alternated between pounding on the door and ringing the doorbell for about 45 minutes to no avail. Then I got creative. I tried loosening all the screens on the open ground floor windows: nothing. I tried the basement door: locked, as it should be. Finally I tried the kitchen door: victory! Somewhat chagrined, I let myself in, collected myself, and went upstairs to confront my blissfully unaware housemate. He swore he had no idea I was pounding on the front door. And that, dear readers, is why I did not share ANY of the yield of my blackberry picking labors with him.

Behold, a very healthy yet tasty blackberry banana bread: a recipe I have slaved over for a few years now, and finally, I believe, perfected. The blackberries may be substituted for fresh raspberries or blueberries.

1 1/2 cups white flour
1/2 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 large overripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup all-natural applesauce
1/3 cup skim milk
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup fresh blackberries

Mix dry ingredients in large bowl (flours through salt).
Mix liquid ingredients in smaller bowl (bananas through vanilla).
Introduce dry ingredients to liquid using that method called "folding" (i.e. do not over mix; use a rubber spatula and lots of compassion).
Now, if you are using ripe, fresh berries, comes the tricky part. Blueberries are sometimes more hearty and can just be folded into the final batter very gently. Raspberries and blackberries are a little more delicate. For this batch, I poured about 1/3 of the batter into the bottom of a "Pammed" bread pan. Then I sprinkled half of the berries on top. Then I poured another 1/3 of the batter into the pan, and sprinkled another half of the berries on top. Then I poured the final 1/3 of the batter into the pan, at which point, I looked at my bowl of freshly picked pajamas-in-a-rainfall-locked-out-of-house blackberries and thought, screw this, I'm loading this bread up with my crop. So I dumped the final extra berries on top, and put the whole thing in a 350-degree oven for an hour. When the bread passed the toothpick test, I pulled it out to cool 10 minutes, and overturned the loaf onto the wire rack with the help of the Russian Redneck who came over with a bottle of wine just in time (he has that sixth sense for determining when is the most fruitful time to visit me).

The beauty of this bread is that if you slice it into 8 equal parts, you get 8 equal breakfasts of 250 calories with 1 gram of fat and 5 grams of protein (and yes, lots of carbs, but nobody's perfect, you know?). I think I'll sport PJs around the neighborhood more often, just for kicks.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Russian Redneck Birthday Cake

This recipe is from the vault. Actually it's from Epicurious.com, but I made it this last May for my favorite Russian Redneck. It's dazzling: the pralines are quick-n-easy, the cake layers are packed with pecan pieces, the cake stays moist from lots of bourbon, and the frosting is fabulous.

First, the praline topping:

Who knew that tossing pecan pieces with egg whites and brown sugar and baking them could result in such yummyness? It's difficult not to eat them while making the cake.

Moving on to the cake batter:
It's pretty important to use cake flour and unsalted butter, but I did substitute lowfat milk for the whole milk, and it turned out fine. I also threw in a few more pecan pieces than the recipe called for. The cake bakes up beautifully; in fact, I suspect mine were a tad overdone.

The assembly requires bourbon, and lots of it. I believe my cake would not have turned out as gorgeous and tasty if I had not been sampling the Maker's Mark while I was putting it together. This is my favorite bourbon to bake with because its fragrance, to me, is pure vanilla and fine tobacco. The recipe suggests you brush a bourbon syrup over each of the layers prior to frosting it. I suggest you make thrice the amount of bourbon syrup and soak the layers in that goodness.

Finally, the frosting:
Vanilla Cream Cheese. Too comforting to be elegant, but I tend to think that all homemade frosting is impressive. I impressed myself with this one.

Those lovely lilacs are from my backyard. Seattle in Springtime is something else.

Here I am with a lit birthday cake. I may be a tad lit myself, come to think on it. It was a Russian Redneck's birthday party, and the Bud Light was flowing.

The cake is even better two days later with a tumbler of Maker's Mark...