Summer blockbuster tally, part 2

I went to see Pixar’s new movie, Up, yesterday. I almost didn’t because I wasn’t really feeling in the mood for a movie, but at the last second I changed my mind because I wasn’t sure when I’d have time to go see it otherwise.

And I’m so glad I did go.

I really don’t now how Pixar do it – how do they write such amazing stories? How do they write such interesting and realistic characters? How do Pixar keep their writers? Because if I were the rest of Hollywood, I would be offering those writers HUGE salaries to come and write a worthwhile, thoughtful, funny, amazing movie for me!

The basic plot of the movie is fairly simple, Carl Frederickson (voiced by Lou Grant Ed Asner), having recently lost his wife, is the last hold out on his block, refusing to sell his house (and everything it stands for) to the faceless developers who want his property. So, attempting to fulfill a lifelong, but unattained, wish to go to South America with his wife, he ties thousands and thousands of balloons to his home and sets sail – along with an accidental stowaway in the form of Russell (small mailman!), a wilderness scout who is trying to get his Assisting the Elderly badge.

But the animation is beautiful and the plot/theme of the movie is actually much more complex than it seems at first. There are jokes and exciting chase scenes and dogs who sort of talk and are very funny (and menacing and sweet), but I would say that Pixar have gone and done it again – like The Incredibles, they’ve more made a film that had to be animated because to CGI it would have been to expensive than made an animated film. There’s just so much depth to everything – the characters, their actions, their motivations, their thoughts – that is usually so hard to find in the big summer blockbusters.

So, yes. Go see this. Don’t dismiss it as a cartoon or a kids’ movie. It’s not. Well, technically, I guess it is a cartoon, but you know what I mean.

I didn’t actually see it in 3D (I go to the movies for escapism – I have enough dimensions in my real life…and you have to pay extra for the glasses), so I’m not sure how that would affect your viewing pleasure, but I can honestly say that I enjoyed it immensely, even without the special effects trickery of an extra dimension.

Summer blockbuster tally = 2-0-0

May Daring Baker’s Challenge!

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

I had never made apple strudel before so this was a very interesting challenge. I will admit to being worried after I read the instructions (anything that involves tissue-paper-thin dough is usually very frustrating [e.g., phyllo dough]), but it ended up being fairly simple.

Although my dough never got stretched out to the 2×3 foot dimensions that were given in the instructions, I think it could definitely be described as tissue-paper-thin:

It looked pretty yummy when it was done, too:

But then I took a bite and I was, well, a bit disappointed. I think it came out tasting like it was supposed to, it’s just that this kind of dessert is not at the top of my dessert hierarchy. This is a very delicate, not overly sweet dessert – probably a big scoop of vanilla ice cream would have helped it a bit but since ice cream falls quite low in the hierarchy, I didn’t have any on hand to serve with it – and I’m afraid my dessert tastes run to the more substantial.

I gave it to my parents to share with my grandparents and reports came back that were positive, so even though I’m not a huge fan, I think I’ll count this as a success!

Click on the Daring Kitchen logo to see our temporary blogroll where you’ll find lots of beautiful strudels to drool over!

Apologies again for the poor quality photos – I still haven’t found the plug for my camera charger and have been forced to rely on Edward who, despite taking perfectly good holiday snaps, is a tad out of his element with attempts at artful foodie photography…

I’M SO 80s-TASTIC!

So after conquering my first Monkees song, I set my sights on something a little bit easier.

Now I just have to get myself an awesome 80s outfit like Pat’s rockin’ in that video, find myself a sleazy girlie club owner to play my bass at, and I’m good to go!

*That was my plan, but it turns out that Pat is, to quote Kathy Griffin quoting Cher, ‘a crazy bitch.’ And by ‘crazy,’ I really mean ‘tricky.’ And by ‘Pat,’ I really mean ‘her bassist.’

Because I had the bass line down and was like ‘Yeah, I’m awesome. That’s me pretty much.’ and then out of nowhere it dives down to this growly, super-low note! What the what?! So I called up my dad and said ‘Uh, Dad, Pat Benatar is wanting me to play a note that does not seem to exist on my guitar – should I open up a wormhole and travel to another dimension in which a D is actually not lower then an E and thus not too low for me to play?’ And then he explained that often times, guitarists retune their lowest string (E) to D. Just for the hell of it (and to screw with newbie bassists). And when I say ‘for the hell of it,’ I really mean ‘to enable themselves to play lower notes than they usually can’. So I did and it totally worked.

Which was a relief – I did not want to inadvertently mess up the space-time continuum and risk coming back to a world where spiders are lobsters and have united with Dan Brown to become our overlords. Because that would NOT be cool. Not even Pat and her floozy minions could dance THAT away.**

**Sorry, I seem to have drifted off into my own head a bit far here. Please to be ignoring my ramblings…

IR Sci-fi/Fantasy

Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones by Derek Landy

I think I mentioned a few book reviews back that I was anxiously awaiting the release of this book – in August. Well, I happened to stumble across information that lead me to believe that it had been released in late April in the UK. Lame! So I immediately hied myself over to good old .co.uk and ordered myself a copy (leading me to have to force myself through Eon at a rather high pace).

It did not disappoint! This book really belongs to Valkyrie – I think it’s the first time that the narrative has really shifted from Skulduggery. Don’t get me wrong – he’s definitely there a satisfying amount (I would most certainly let you know if there was not enough Skulduggery in this one), but just something about the tone felt like Valkryie was in the forefront here.

There are so many characters to be reunited with – Tanith, China, Ghastly, Bliss, Solomon Wreath, and Guild – and such a long time since I’d read the last book that it took me a while to remember who they all were – and a few new characters – most notably Fletcher Renn – that I’ll have to remember next time around, but they’re all definitely worth the effort. Skulduggery is still the outstanding character (I mean, come on, he’s a 400 year old, animate skeleton with magical powers – how could he not be outstanding?!) – his normal charming, debonair, slightly violent self, but I think Valkryie is really coming into her own as well.

The humor is quite crackling, the action is exciting (though perhaps a degree more violent than the last), and the characters are fantastic. I really can’t recommend this series enough – thank goodness there are still six more books to come!

My rating: A

YA Sci-fi/Fantasy

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

This book is going to be a bit awkward for me to review. I trudged through the first 400 pages pretty reluctantly – really the only thing that kept me going was the thought of the next book which I’d ordered and was on its way and which I would be desperate to read the moment it arrived – all of which meant that I had to finish this book, which I’d foolishly started the same day I ordered the next book, quickly in orer to clear the way for the next book.

The premise was promising – in an alternate, vaguely Asian world where women are definitely secondary citizens, 11 dragons and their dragoneyes (people who are able to control the dragons) carefully keep things in balance, supporting the emperor and using their powers to manipulate the weather, crops, etc. I think. Goodman didn’t really explain what else they do (though I may have missed the more thorough explanation in my haste, I suppose)… There are actually 12 dragons, but the Mirror Dragon has not appeared to choose a dragoneye in over 500 years. Eon, a girl masquerading as a boy, is training to be the new Rat Dragon dragoneye but is instead chosen by the missing Mirror Dragon.

The first 400 pages are full of political intrigue but mostly Eon trying to navigate her new courtly position while learning to control the Mirror Dragon (who mysteriously [though not really] seems suddenly reluctant to cooperate with Eon) and have her real identity remain hidden. Most of my frustration with the book was due to the uncooperative Mirror Dragon and its reasons for being reluctant. I had realised the problem about 200 pages before Eon did and, as she just kept making bad decision after bad decision, I really just wanted to reach into the book and smack her on the back of the head in an attempt to knock some sense into her!

But at page 400, when Eon finally, finally figures things out, it really picks up and gets rather exciting. The intrigues all come to a head, the bad guy is really bad (until all of a sudden he’s not which seemed to happen to quickly and he was really too bad for me to feel any sympathy for him at all), the really, really bad guy is really, really bad, and the cliffhanger for the next book is set up.

So I’ll probably read the second one just because I want to see how it all ends and I would recommend the last 200 pages or so, but you do have to read the first 400 to get there, so…I’ll leave it to you to decide.

My rating:

first 400 pages – C

last 200 pages – B+

Ask and you shall receive!

In the last post about my kitchen, Claire asked to see my floor and who am I to deny a faithful reader!

I don’t remember if I’ve told everybody about the troubles we went through with this floor. It’s actually black granite and white marble. Now, I did not set out to have the most luxurious kitchen floor per square foot of apartment space, it is just that it’s actually impossible to find foot-by-foot square black and white tiles, made out of  any substance, that do not have a texture or pattern or some other abomination to them.

So black granite and white marble it was!

My dad put the tiles (including a chipped one!) down soon after I got back from my trip and grouted them, using black grout to match the black tiles. Unfortunately, it turns out (and he did do his research before he started the project, but nothing he read warned about this) that marble is very porous and needs to be sealed before the grout is put on. I think you can see where this is going… Long story involving all sorts of salvage attempts that didn’t work short, he ended up having to hire a tile guy to come in, pull up the now-stained white tiles, seal the new white tiles, and then lay down the white tiles (using white grout this time).

So it set the entire kitchen project back about a month, but I think it was worth it in the end. The tiles are beautiful and shiny and I’m terrified that I’ll spill or drop something on it, but I love it!

And as you can see, so does Arthur who desperately wanted to be in the picture – I tried to get Josephine to be in the picture, but she was asleep in their house (tuckered out from hiding under the bed during the wind/thunderstorm last night).

May Daring Cooks Challenge!

Yes, you read that correctly, this month marks the first EVER Daring Cooks challenge! Since I have more trouble with my cooking, I decided to sign up in order to challenge myself to try new techniques and just to make myself cook more, in general. I’m not sure how the vegetarian side of this will work – the Daring Bakers are very accommodating and the Daring Cooks seem to be no different, but, frankly, if a host decides they want to do a crown roast, I’m not sure how that’ll work. Maybe we’ll just get an entirely alternate challenge? Or it may be that I just don’t know that much about actual vegetarian cooking – meat-free cooking, I can do, just not actively vegetarian – and tofu can actually be sculpted into a cunnng replica of a crown roast…

But, at any rate, here is our first month’s challenge, hosted by the founders of the Daring Bakers themselves, Lisa of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice: Ricotta Gnocchi!

I ended up doing this in two days – letting them sit in the fridge overnight to set up a bit more. They were tasty – very cheesy – and not terribly difficult to make (though it was a bit frustrating having to work with such a moist, sticky ‘dough’), but I don’t know that I would make them again. I’ll freeze the ones I have left and enjoy them later, to be sure, but I think that might be it for me. (It doesn’t help that the sauce takes an entire stick of butter to make and I feel like I ate more than my fair share of it draped across my serving of gnocchi.)

The sauce was our main way of personalising these – the basic recipe given to us consisted of a stick of butter and a few teaspoons of water. I got rid of the water and added lemon, basil, and garlic to the butter – making a sort of pesto-type thing, I suppose – which was very tasty.

So, yes. Not a failure – quite the opposite I’d say (please forgive the bad photos – I had to use Edward since my mother has taken her camera on holiday with her – though they really serve to obscure the true, hideous shape of my gnocchi…) – just not something I’m entirely thrilled with.

I don’t think we have a Daring Cooks blogroll or icons yet, but click on the Daring Kitchen logo above to check out the website!

Arthur finds a perch!

Arthur has a new favorite spot in my kitchen. It’s quite impressive that he got up there – he has to jump up on a counter, then to the top of the fridge, and then he has to jump across to the space between the ceiling and the tall cabinet!

I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before Josephine follows him up there…

A tasty combination!

So, the other day I decided I wanted to make an apple pie. My mom makes super-good apple pie and, though I’ve helped her make it, I’ve never done one on my own. The last two-crust pie I’d made was nothing less than a disaster, so I was a bit nervous about how this would turn out. I also decided that I wanted to try one of those ones with cheese in the crust (if it’s good enough for Pushing Daisies, it’s good enough for me!) – and I’m more of a fan of those pies whose ratio of pastry to fruit content is high, so I was looking for a recipe to satisfy both of those requirements.

This one did, and, though I don’t think I’ve stumbled upon my ultimate of apple pie recipes, it is still very tasty and my success has inspired me to keep trying other recipes.

I did sustain a fairly painful injury while making this pie – I managed to cut myself on the blade of my food processor. They’re not lying when they say that those things are sharp! So there were a few frantic moments of ‘Don’t bleed on the dough! Did I bleed on the dough?!’ (I don’t think I did, but just to be safe, I plan on keeping this pie to myself.) So…be careful with your food processors, everybody – they’re just waiting for you to become complacent and then they strike!

Let the summer blockbusters begin!

Now I admit to at first being slightly skeptical of this movie. I knew I wanted to see it, grudgingly, simply because Simon Pegg was playing Scottie, but every time I’d see a preview for it I’d start out thinking ‘Oh, come on, it’s Star Trek, stop trying to make it look all exciting and sexy’ and yet, by the end of the preview, I’d be squirming in my chair, thinking ‘Ooh, it’s all exciting and sexy! I must see this!’

So see it I did. On opening night, no less. And it did not disappoint!

It’s a little confusing since there is time travel at work here and my moviegoing companion’s theory is that this is how they’ll revamp the franchise and be able to continue making more Star Trek films. But I don’t care! It is exciting and there are explosions and villains and everyone plays their characters just right and everyone manages to get their catch phrases in (e.g., Damn it, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a _________; I’m giving it all she’s got, Captain; Chekhov comically wrestles with his ‘V’s) and a red shirt dies. Oh, and there’s real Spock, too. When his presence was revealed, someone in the audience actually cheered. As they should have.

So yes. Go see it. Very good, super-fun, a perfect way to kick off the summer blockbusters for the year!

But also, I’ll tell you where I went to see it. I went to see it at the drive-in! It was actually really fun. There was a big group of very well-behaved high schoolers in the row in front of us who had a very elaborate sound system set up. Unfortunately, it sort of fell apart right as the movie was starting, so we did end up having to use the car’s radio (and I was worried about the battery dying after running the radio for two hours without the car being on, but it worked out just fine). So we brought in some food for sandwiches and cheese and crackers and settled in – could have done with a few blankets, though, it’s still quite chilly at night here – and the moon rose beside the screen as we watched the movie. Very nice. If you haven’t been to a drive-in for a while, it’s definitely time to go again!

Summer blockbuster tally = 1-0-0

This post is brought to you by exclamation points and the word ‘Look!’

So close! At long last, everything in it is fully functional! Look!

And yes, that IS a sprayer you see there! Look!

Now. You might have noticed that my sink is black. I know. If you had told me a year ago that I would have a black sink in my kitchen I would have laughed you right out of wherever we happened to be when you told me that. A black sink? Ridiculous! But there was a special on when I ordered the counter and this is what I could afford, so I went with it. I’m still a little wary and not entirely unconvinced that it won’t murder me in my sleep, but I think – I think – it works.

I also have found the perfect clock for my pink and green kitchen! Look!

Isn’t it super-cute? I found it here on Etsy (man, Etsy is so addictive…) – on sale, no less! And guess what it actually is – it’s a record! An Elton John record, to be specific. See? Look!

And I also got (not from Etsy, from ModCloth) a key hook – which I needed because I definitely kept losing my keys in the depths of the chaos that is currently my apartment. It, too, is super-cute and matches my entryway wall color very well. Look!

Soon, I promise there will be full photos of my finished kitchen – I’m still waiting on cupboard doors, glass to go in the cupboard doors, a little spacer to fill in the gap between the end of the cupboard and the stove, and a light fixture. And to get everything settled where I want them to go. But I’m really excited about it!

p.s. – Remember, if I wake up dead one morning, don’t trust anything the sink tells you.

IR Sci-fi/Fantasy

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

Well, yet another beloved series has come to an end (Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl [supposedly, though I’m holding out for more there], and now Percy Jackson).* It came out yesterday and I read it in one sitting (while my parents [unsuccessfully] wrestled with my kitchen sink – raise your hand if you’re a princess!). And, lo, it was awesome.

It’s time for the final showdown between Percy Jackson (aided by the rest some of the campers from Camp Half Blood) and Luke/Kronos. At stake? Manhattan. Oh, and Mount Olympus (on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building).

Big things happen – there are betrayals and deaths and real consequences to people’s choices and actions and triumphs and losses…and humor, too – no one does slapstick and wry observations like my Percy! I don’t want to give too much away, so I will just say that I was entirely satisfied with this ending (unlike Harry Potter’s stupid epilogue – yeah, I’m still bitter about that).

I’m sad to see Percy’s story come to an end. Riordan’s obviously planning a sequel to the Percy Jackson series if the prophecy at the end is any hint, but whether or not it’ll feature Percy and Co. again, I haven’t heard yet. Part of me hopes so because I’d like to see Percy and Annabeth and Grover and, grudgingly, Rachel, again, but Percy’s story has a good ending to it as it stands, so I’m not sure he needs more story.

My rating: A+

*So now I’m just looking forward to Skulduggery Pleasant (August 25, baby, I’ve already got it in Edward’s calendar – but what the hell is this?! Is this new?! Is this something I need?! Okay, no, I’m calming down, I think it’s just the paperback version of Skulduggery Pleasant, though why it’s called Scepter of the Ancients is beyond me – subterfuge and trickery, that’s what it is!). He’s all I’ve got left!

YA Fiction

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Holy fucking hell, this book will make you CRY! Also, don’t read it before bed – it will keep you awake, staring into the dark until you finally give in and watch a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother in order to try and lighten the mood a bit.

Here’s why: Mia, her younger brother Teddy, their mom, and their dad are driving to the grandparents’ house to visit them on a snow day. Between one paragraph and the next, Mia becomes the sole survivor of a car accident. The rest of the book is an out-of-body Mia reflecting on her life, what’s left of it, and whether or not she should stay.

So yeah.

It was good but definitely have a good sitcom on hand. You’re gonna need it.

My rating: A-

Fiction: Sci-Fi

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

I will admit that this book definitely lies outside the realm of my usual to-read list, but it came highly recommended by my movie-going companion so I thought I would give it a try. Besides, it’s good for me to get outside of my reading comfort zone, right?! And I’m glad I did.

I’ll be honest, the first 100 pages or so were actually painful to read. The characters aren’t very likable and the language is sort of dated and stilted (partially due to the age of the book and also partially on purpose because of the drug culture being portrayed) and it was fairly confusing and more than a little bit dry. In short, it’s about an undercover policeman who’s posing as a drug dealer and, because of the amount of drugs he has to take to stay in character, he begins to lose his grip on reality and it becomes less and less clear whether or not he’s a cop posing as a drug dealer, a drug dealer posing as a cop, or something else entirely. See? Confusing!

But at around page 100, though I still didn’t care about the characters, I became very wrapped up in trying to figure out what was happening and which reality was the real one. It’s also a book that I think would definitely benefit from a second reading – but I’m not sure I’ll get around to that since rereads are not usually my thing.

So yes, an interesting read and a book I’m glad I read, but I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to read more Philip K. Dick. I suppose it’ll just depend if any other books of his are recommended to me.

My rating: B

p.s. – Had a bit of a discussion with the loanee about whether or not this book should actually be considered sci-fi. I say that it’s just fiction* since the sci-fi elements are not the point of novel, just the background that’s used to get across the author’s larger idea, but he maintains that any dystopian novel (or utopian novel, for that matter) belongs in sci-fi. I think we just agreed to disagree.

Even though I’m totally right.

But then I thought ‘What about speculative fiction? That’s a thing right?’ I have to find out more before I can incorporate it (or not) into my argument. Thoughts?

*Yes, I know the title of this post is ‘Fiction: Sci-Fi’ but I’m leaving it that way just in case anyone’s desperate to read it because that’s where it’ll be found in the library/bookshop.

Adventures in bass guitaring!

Guess who just learned to play her first proper song (i.e., not something called Cattle Crossing or D-Lite or, god forbid, You Go, Slav [no, I didn’t get it for a long time, either])! That’s right – it’s me!

This afternoon I learned ‘Randy Scouse Git’ by none other than The Monkees* (I know, it’s another baffling title, but it’s a very catchy song!). I feel very cool and proud of myself.

Um, I know there’s no one playing bass in that video, but it’s in there nonetheless – and my teacher says that it’s a fretless one, too, just like mine!

*Yes, I think the Monkees are super-cool and, no, I’m not ashamed of that fact.  Well, only a little ashamed.