June Daring Bakers Challenge!

This month’s challenge was to make a danish braid. A little bit more straightforward than last month’s Opera Cake, but still a challenge as not only does making a danish require making a dough similar in process to a puff pastry, it’s also a yeast dough. Yeast seems to scare quite a few people. But not me. What scares me is my Kitchen Aid dough hook. Now I love my pink lady and, in the past, I have said I would more than happily run away with it if only it would ask me. But I would definitely make it choose – it could have me or the dough hook. Not both. When I use the dough hook, my dough always, always comes out tough and then proceeds to not rise. So I was a little wary of doing this the easy way.

But let’s face it, those of you who know me, know I’m all about doing things the easy way. πŸ˜‰

And it worked! The dough was very tough to begin with and I wasn’t sure that my mixer was actually strong enough to keep going, but I thought ‘I always worry that I’m over-dough-hooking the dough, maybe I’m under-dough-hooking the dough’ and let it go on its merry way. Now I won’t say that the dough did not seem a little on the tough side, but in the end, whatever I did worked.

The recipe we were given made enough danish dough for two braids, so I went with a cherry filling (with a cream cheese filling that I forgot to take a picture of):

and the apple filling provided in the recipe (along with an almond pastry cream which I again neglected to take a picture of):

Then you roll out the dough, put your fillings in the middle, cut the edges into strips, and braid away!

Then they sit for TWO HOURS to rise (I don’t know how anybody actually manages to make this for breakfast).

(That’s before the rise on the left and after on the right.) Then into the oven for about a half an hour apiece. The cherry-filled one ended up being less aesthetically pleasing than the apple one – I think I cut the strips on the left side a little bit narrower than those on the right and they sort of expanded and pulled apart a little bit during baking. But it still tastes yummy!

And now a couple of close-up… The cherry and cream cheese braid:

And the apple and almond pastry cream braid:

We’ll see how well they hold up. Right now they are terribly delicious – maybe even one of my best kitchen creations – they’re just a bit warm, the outside is a little bit crunchy, and the inside is chewy and sweet. Yum!

The only drawback is that it did take me three days to make it. I made the dough on Friday, the fillings on Saturday, and then put everything together and baked on Sunday. That and I now have rather an abundance of apple filling, cherry filling, pastry cream, and cream cheese filling. I haven’t quite decided how to use it up yet – more danish? Pies? Something else?

This challenge was really fun and I’m very, very proud of the way the braids turned out. Even though it was time-consuming, I would definitely make it again, although it does require planning ahead. Again, click on the Daring Bakers logo up at the top of this post to go to the master blogroll of participants to see what everybody else has been baking up!

ETA: Having made a lackluster version of this using a dough recipe from Martha Stewart (in an attempt to use up the rest of the fillings), I feel obligated to post the far superior Daring Bakers version…

Click here for the recipe

Yum!

So I did a lot of baking and cooking this weekend – and I’m not even done (due to a botched batch of pizza dough, I have to go to the market tomorrow and get more olive oil and yeast so I can have another go)! I made ravioli filling to get rid of the rest of my wonton wrappers, then I tried to make the aforementioned pizza dough in order to make calzones to get rid of the rest of the ravioli filling, tomorrow I’ll make pesto with my basil which is running rampant on the balcony at the moment, and I also made cherry cheese-cupcakes to use up the rest of the cherries I had from making something that I can’t tell you about until next weekend…

It’s just Martha Stewart’s Ricotta Cheesecake topped with cherry pie filling (made from real cherries – which is oddly cathartic to make seeing as I don’t have a cherry pitter), poured into muffin papers, and then baked for 30 minutes. I’m not sure the small size is as appropriate for this particular recipe because, although it’s very tasty, it doesn’t have the same dense texture as the full-sized version. But, still very yummy…

Fiction: Essays

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris

I was going to say that my initial reaction to this book compared to the other one was that these essays were a bit more sad. Not, like, crying-sad, but, wow, life is really depressing sometimes when you’re not looking-sad. Except that I can easily think of two things that made me laugh really hard. Outloud. Late at night. If my neighbors now think I’m crazy and decide to call me…Laughy McLateatnight (look closely and it’ll make sense), it is David Sedaris’ fault.

So, I suppose the one-line review of this book would be:

More pitch-perfect writing from a master of memoirist humor.

My rating: A-

Summer blockbuster tally, part 4

I liked the original Get Smart, I like Steve Carell, and I like Anne Hathaway (she brings honor to our name!). Combine them and what’s not to love, right? Alas, this logic is wrong.

I did not like the movie Get Smart. I think probably the main problem is that the original TV series was so iconic that it was impossible to not compare the two (and find the movie lacking). The things that were funny were all things that were directly inspired by the series (i.e., the cone of silence will never NOT be funny), although I think I laughed the hardest at a short gag (literally) involving Max in a fighter jet which is not usually my sort of humor. And I know it’s unfair to expect Carell to do a Don Adams impression, but everytime he said ‘Missed it by that much’ or ‘Would you believe…’ it just wasn’t the same without Adams’ distinctive voice.

And, I don’t know why, but they completely changed the characterizations of the characters! I remember most of the humor coming from the fact that Max is pretty much a bumbling idiot who only succeeds due to the cleverness of those around him (usually 99), but he doesn’t know he’s a bumbling idiot (and those around him don’t think any less of him for being one). Also, 99, while being able to totally kick ass which was cool, was fairly unlikable for most of the movie – it probably doesn’t help that I don’t think Anne Hathaway and Steve Carell have very good romantic chemistry – the vibe I get from them is more favorite uncle-favorite niece, so it was pretty creepy to have them get together. And it sort of seemed like they were both playing the role of the straight man which doesn’t really work in a comedy. And I think the movie couldn’t decide if they were making a comedy (which doesn’t have to make sense) or a clever spy-thriller (which does) and ended up splitting the difference.

Dwayne Johnson is cute as agent 23 and I thought Alan Arkin made a good, beleaguered chief. Masi Oka and…the other guy were were cute as the tech guys. I was disappointed in Terence Stamp’s Siegfried (the original actor cameos and he looks so good that they should have gotten him to reprise his role – no cameo from Barbara Feldon, though, and I’m fairly sure she’s still alive…) – mostly because in the series, the bad guys are just as inept as Max, but here, while not really threatening, they were mostly just bland.

So disappointing as a whole, I’d say, although it has made me want to watch the original series (even though I’m kind of worried that it wouldn’t be as funny as I remember).

Summer blockbuster tally = 2-1-1

ETA: In other news, I think Next-Door Neighbor is having a cocktail party. In the 1960s.

DOCTOR!

I am BESIDE myself with the awesome that is Doctor Who!!!!!! Why, oh, why do none of you watch it so that we can talk in high-pitched squeals about it?!?!?!?!?!?!

IS IT NEXT WEEK YET?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

IR Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing With Fire by Derek Landy

Let me start off by saying that this review may be a bit biased because I love Skulduggery Pleasant. Seriously, right now, he and Sherlock Holmes are mud-wrestling in my head for the number 1 spot on my literary crush list.

Yeah. It’s hot.

Anyway, if you haven’t read the first one, none of this one will make any sense, but let me say that Skulduggery and Valkyrie (nee Stephanie) are back in fine form here. There is world-threatening danger, lots of action, lots of creatures (vampires and spiders and a Grotesquery, oh my!), and lots and lots of the trademark Skulduggery wit. I’m not sure I would recommend this to the younger set very readily because the aforementioned creatures (especially the vampires – the sparkly Cullen clan, they are not) are fairly scary and Landy doesn’t hold back in the fight scenes – people are hurt and people die.

Valkyrie really comes into her own in this book – last time I complained that when the action shifts its focus from Skulduggery Pleasant, I found myself skimming ahead to the next time he appeared. But now, not only are Skulduggery’s lessons in elemental magic and Tanith’s lessons in fighting rubbing off on Valkyrie, she’s also picking up Skulduggery’s brand of wit. She’s still not quite as cool as he is, but she’s getting there.

And fortunately for us, it looks as though Skulduggery and co. haven’t completely averted the end of the world, only postponed it for a bit, so I’m expecting there to be a sequel – yay! Although, I must say, for a book that got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly last time, there was not a lot of press for this one – I only thought to check when my eye caught on my copy of the first one and I thought ‘Shouldn’t it be about time for the second one?’ Turns out it was released in May, but I didn’t hear anything about it and when I went to B&N to pick it up, they didn’t have any copies of it and Borders only had one! I’m hoping for Skulduggery’s sake that there was a run on them moments before I entered the shop because otherwise, that’s disgraceful behavior on the part of the bookshops!

Also. I’m not crazy about the more cartoonish cover of this one. The UK version is much better:

Much more stylish and cool, which I think suits the book better.

My rating: A

Fiction: Essays

When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris

Let me start off by saying that I am incredibly late, probably the last one, to the Sedaris party. I read his Christmas book a couple of years ago and was mildly unimpressed. I didn’t hate it, but I certainly didn’t feel the need to run out and buy his back catalogue.

Now I do.

I read the excerpt posted by Borders on their website. Then I went to the bookshop and leafed through it, landing on the essay where he talks about how his partner, Hugh, always walks 20 paces ahead of him, as though he’s trying to run away from him. And I was hooked. I said Tony Hawks was good at being likable despite our differences, well, I think I am about as different as is possible to be from David Sedaris and not only do I like him, I find myself identifying with him. Nodding my head and thinking ‘Yes, your experiences hitchhiking, quitting smoking, and observing the differences between spiders in your house in Normandy and your apartment in Paris are just like mine!’ (Those of you who know me will know that I’m being facetious here as hitchhiking is too scary, I don’t smoke, and I would certainly never willingly get close enough to a spider be it in Normandy or Paris for long enough to observe anything about its nature.) But somehow, I get what he’s trying to say, what the hitchhiking, smoking, and spiders are stand-ins for in my life.

At any rate, without knowing it, David Sedaris’ writing is what I think everyone who does this sort of writing (Sloane Crossley, Tony Hawks, Bill Bryson, and certainly anybody who has a blog) is aiming for. Certainly some of them come very close – Bill Bryson in particular – but after hearing Sedaris’ voice, you realise ‘Oh, that’s what they were going for.’ He has the perfect mix of humor and observation and poignancy and message to the point where it’s almost subliminal. You’re just reading, laughing, and then when it’s over, you find yourself in an oddly pensive mood and you think ‘But I was just laughing, that was really funny, wasn’t it?’ And it turns out it wasn’t.

Except that it totally was.

So, yes. Go read it. And then start a blog to see if you can recreate his voice. I dare you not to.

My rating: A+

Summer blockbuster tally, part 3

I don’t know if it really counts as a summer blockbuster, per se, but I saw it in the summer and I liked, nay, loved it, so I’m including it here. Yes, I loved Kung Fu Panda. There. I said it. I’d say it again if I had to. (And I’m going to round out the evening of posts with a book review just so that a glowing review of Kung Fu Panda isn’t the first post you see what you come here. I said I loved it. I didn’t say I was proud of that fact.)

But it’s awesome! You should totally go see it. I saw it because I like Jack Black and I thought it would probably be pretty stupid, but it’s not! It’s funny and sweet and, I don’t care if it’s just animation, the fight scenes are brilliant! Jack Black is great – the Fantastic Five (or whatever they’re called) are a little underdeveloped – I would have liked to have seen more of them, except for Tigress, but everyone else was great – very funny. And Ian McShane as the evil snow leopard was awesome (I’m totally planning on overusing that word in this review, so if it’s bothering you, you may as well just scroll on past now) except all I could think whenever he spoke was ‘That’s no snow leopard, that’s Lovejoy!’

I laughed, I cried (yes, I did – it has what has to be one of the most beautiful death scenes ever), and then I laughed some more. So, yes, definitely go see this.

Summer blockbuster tally = 2-1-0

A miscellany…

I’m so behind on things I wanted to post about – a movie review, a book review, Next-Door Neighbor’s name (!), and my garden! My garden is up first, though, because things happen so fast – it seems like the moment I take some pictures and upload them to post, something new has changed. So far everyone’s doing fairly well – the corn was slightly damaged by a very windy thunderstorm on Sunday, so we’ll see how he holds up. But at least he has a friend now – seriously, this is one of the cutest things ever!

Say hello to his little friend! Taken before Sunday, so he’s not leaning quite as precariously as he is at the moment. But how darling is that little baby corn?! I didn’t actually plant it, so it must have fallen (?) off of the main stalk. I don’t know if it counts as two since they started as the same one, but, provided the big one hasn’t bit the dust, I expect we’ll (or the squirrel will, at any rate) find out.

The cherry tomatoes seem to think that there’s some sort of race on:

and they’re totally winning. The whole thing is practically covered in flowers just waiting to turn into little green tomatos. The other tomato plant is faring pretty well, still:

He doesn’t quite have the personality that Lazarus did, but I like him anyway. There is one strawberry:

and there are lots of snap pea pods:

I think I’m meant to be eating these fairly soon, but I’m not sure… The eggplant is still attempting to overthrow the balcony, though it’s finally gotten some flowers so maybe it will turn its attention to those rather than balcony domination.

And after a few weeks of freaking me out from its place in a glass on the dining room table, the avocado finally got planted in a fit of ‘I know it’s not doing anything, but I can’t take it staring at me anymore!’ And now it’s doing something.

With friends. So that is all the gardening news to be had, I think. I’ll keep you posted if anything sprouts legs or falls off the balcony. Hopefully some harvesting will be taking place soon!

Practically vegan in every way…

…except for the frosting. Because I couldn’t bring myself to actually buy margarine. But other than that, they are vegan-friendly! And, of course, they’re carob, not chocolate, so they’re me-friendly. πŸ˜‰

I have to say that I absolutely did not think this was going to work – the batter was very runny and not at all a typical cupcake batter texture. For once, oddly enough, the carob powder did not suck all the moisture out of the recipe. But after the 18 minutes of baking was up, they’d risen just like a normal cupcake and they’re lovely and moist. I’m a little worried that they’ll firm up now that they’re in the fridge, but it’s just so hot and humid here that I didn’t feel good about just leaving them out on the counter either…

Recipe is from here. I have to especially give props to the frosting recipe – very nice – not too sweet, not too cloying and again, the carob behaved itself and everything was perfect!

Except for my cake decorating skillz which obviously leave something to be desired. And except, of course, for the margarine. πŸ˜‰

I have lots of things I’ve been meaning to post – mainly pictures of the garden – there are baby vegetables out there, just waiting for the squirrel to pay a visit! – but in the face of the world’s most massive writer’s block, I’ve undertaken another sooper sekrit project which is pleasantly occupying my time in the evenings…