I’m leaving this picture bigger than I normally do because I want to be sure you get the full effect of the wondrous RDJ at work here.

Do you feel compelled to go see this movie yet? If not, just keep staring until the answer becomes yes.

So. It was with some trepidation that I went to see this movie. Yes, I  love RDJ, but my love for Holmes greatly outweighs that love and I did not want to see him wronged by Hollywood!

And he was not. Now, before Saturday, if you’d asked me, I would have said that I like my Holmes posh and repressing his insanity awesomeness, but RDJ plays it simmering just below the surface and it totally works – he’s got this wide-eyed, middle-distance stare where you just know his brain is miles ahead of the situation. Oh, it makes me weak in the knees! And Watson is super-cool – not a hint of bumbling or idiocy here. Jude Law’s Watson is one who may not be quite as fast as Holmes, but is definitely right on his heels.

And they have amazing chemistry! They have an easy, casual, and obvious affection for one another (The movie takes place right before Watson leaves Baker Street for greener pastures and Holmes is obviously not happy about the changes that will happen to their friendship once Watson is happily married off to Mary.) and it gives Holmes a depth that he doesn’t always have.

I thought Guy Ritchie did a really good job with it, too – it has lots of quick cuts and some quirky camera work (though it works!) and there is, of course, his trademark mumbling (I’m not entirely sure it’s not to hide RDJ’s British accent – it’s hard to tell how good it is because it’s impossible to hear him clearly at all!) which made me long for subtitles.

Mostly I’m excited for the obviously set up sequel – I always wonder why the Holmes movies avoid Professor Moriarty (I mean, come on, he’s the Napoleon of Crime – how can you not put him in your movie?!) and I think, in this case, it was to make him all the more ominous – the plot here is beneath his interest. So I’m hoping, hoping, hoping that I’m right and that we’ll see him soon!


Christmas morning brunch!

So one of those challahs my mom made went into the Drunken Caramel French Toast.

Super-easy – you make everything the night before (and it basically involves smooshing everything into a 9×13 pan) – and super-duper-yummy! Then…we had a throwdown. A cinnamon roll throwdown that pitted my dad’s grandmother’s cinnamon roll recipe:

against this year’s challenger, Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls.

Despite being at a disadvantage (I had to translate my recipe from Spanish, but it was oh, so worth it!), I declare myself the winner. I think the pumpkin cinnamon rolls came out a bit softer than my dad’s and I liked the extra depth of flavor the pumpkin added. But he still says he won (even though by the time we used the stale cinnamon rolls in a bread pudding, there were fewer of mine left in the pan). But it can’t all be sweets, so I also made a Rosemary Bacon Quiche With a Hash Brown Crust (plus two mini-quiches that are bacon-free for me).

This was a big hit! I like the idea of quiche (Eggs and cheese? Yes, please!) but am never fond of it in reality (it’s the pie crust – hate it every time!). The hash brown crust actually makes this lighter than it would ordinarily be. A nice twist on a traditional dish!

The rest of Christmas Eve Day dinner!

After all those appetizers, I decided to stick with something fairly simple for the actual dinner part of things, the Roasted Potato and Leek Soup With Crispy Shallots.

Very rich and very tasty – despite the fact that I totally burned the shallots (they went much faster than anticipated!). To go with it, my mom made not one but two challahs!

Isn’t it beautiful? No, we didn’t really eat two challah for dinner, but I needed one to go with the soup and one for the next morning (all shall be revealed soon!)… For dessert we had a problematic Eggnog Brulee.

It ended up tasting pretty good, but the consistency is not as smooth and creamy as a brulee should be – it was too reminiscent of rice or tapioca pudding for me. The eggs didn’t cook during the stovetop part of it all, but the brulee took a LOT LONGER than anticipated to cook, so maybe that had something to do with it?

Christmas Eve Day hors d’oeuvres!

After breakfast, it was back into the kitchen to press on for the next round of cooking! Up next were our hors d’oeuvres – first we had Chipotle Honey-Roasted Peanuts.

They were…pretty tasty – there were some setbacks, though. I couldn’t find chipotle chile powder, so instead I used Emeril’s seasoning which I don’t think ended up being as spicy as the chipotle chile powder would have been which was what these were really missing – the honey and sugar made them nice and sweet, but there was no heat to follow up. Also…I burned them a little bit. We were doing fine until those last 40 seconds. But they are far from inedible and I’d definitely try it again, maybe adding a considerable amount of cayenne if I still don’t have chipotle chile powder. Next, we had Brie en Croute.

I’ve done this before with jam, but the combination of the bourbon, brown sugar, and walnuts was super-duper yummy! The brie gets all soft and mushy and salty which pairs really well with the sugar-bourbon mixure. Success! Then there were Dates Stuffed With Gorgonzola Feta (because I couldn’t find spreadable gorgonzola).

Another good combination of sweet and salty – yum! We also had caviar. No, not caviar-caviar, Eggplant Caviar.

Very good, but (and I never thought I would say this) a little on the garlicky side for me. Ironically, my dad, who swears he hates garlic (he doesn’t really – he just doesn’t know that he likes it), loved this. There were also Mini Cheese Balls. These were a very clever idea (moosh a combination of cream cheese and chevre around a grape and roll in chopped pistachios) that didn’t really work out very well (my mom, the zen master of the kitchen, was finally able to finagle a solution).

As far as taste goes, they were good enough, but a little bland and lacking in the grape to cheese ratio, but that may have suffered because of the technical difficulties. And finally, there were Polenta Cups With Sweet Peppers, Manchego, and Almonds.

These…were not my favorite. I’ve never been a fan of polenta – it’s just so bland! – and here it was cold (I forgot to bring them to room temperature before serving) and slimy to boot. The filling would have been nice if I’d left out the olives (I hate olives! Also? I didn’t know you could get them pre-chopped.), but I like to follow the recipe (particularly the first time). Finally, as a palate cleanser that I totally forgot to serve, there was Orange Sorbet.

Super-yummy + super-easy = hard to beat. So, yes, mostly successful and yet, strangely unfulfilling this year. I’m choosing to blame the vicious, vicious cold that was clawing at me while I was doing all of this for my food…ennui. My tastebuds were warning me that by the time all the food was here, I wouldn’t really be able to taste it so why put in all the effort!

Stupid food ennui.

Christmas Eve Day breakfast!

So as not to overwhelm you with food and posts and pictures, I’ll try to break everything up as much as possible. The holiday baking actually began at 10:00 pm on the 23rd. Unwise, but worth it for the detour to Up in the Air it allowed us. Thanks to this late night, we had a lovely, freshly baked Cranberry-Apple Coffee Cake Wreath waiting for us the next morning!

It was very yummy – I don’t think I’d ever had a yeasted coffee cake before and it was very nice – sweet but not too sweet. And also useful because I was able to use the leftover cranberry bits from the cranberry liqueur I made. Nothing goes to waste!

To go with it, I also made scrambled eggs and added chives, goat cheese, and some lemon zest. Super tasty!

Catching up!

Oh, so good. Bittersweet, uncertain, open-ended, and more depressing than uplifting, but still, oh, so good. George Clooney is just…the man is just amazing. My mom compares him to Cary Grant – he makes every role seem effortless (I hope he doesn’t fool the Academy too well because if he hasn’t already won some awards, he deserves one and soon!).

And he’s surrounded by amazing people, too – unknown (or at least I didn’t know them) people, at that! Sure, Jason Bateman plays his boss, Zach Galifidjklsafndos (the guy from The Hangover) is one of the people he fires, and so is J.K. Skinner, but his main supporting cast (Natalie and Alex) are people I’ve never seen before (I recognized both of his sisters – one of them is Reese Witherspoon’s friend with a baby in a bar from Sweet Home, Alabama and the other one played…someone’s mother? In some movie? You’d recognize her if you saw her.)

So, yes, go see it and then tell me if you think his character learned anything or if he’ll fall back into his comfortable, and isolating, lifestyle. I can’t decide.

My rating: Go forth and see it!

Decisions, decisions…

I’m still having trouble figuring out my Christmas Eve dinner menu, but I decided to take a break to focus on tonight’s dinner menu and ended up making Sunny Anderson’s Huevos Rancheros with Black Bean Puree.

I have been meaning to make this dish for nearly a year or so now – I wanted to make it while I was house-sitting for my parents a while ago, but they didn’t have the right size ramekins, so I went to the market, bought the ingredients, and then brought home the ramekins…and proceeded to not make the recipe.

I wish I hadn’t waited so long because it’s super-easy and super-duper-yummy. I used the food processor to make the salsa in addition to making the puree and that made everything go all the faster.

And paired with the aforementioned cranberry margaritas? Perfection!

Boozy Tuesday!

No, seriously. Very boozy. Check it out.

Remember this post where I mentioned that I had started making an eggnog liqueur and a cranberry liqueur? Well, they’re done. Observe!

I know I had my misgivings about the eggnog liqueur, but it’s very sweet and smooth and has maybe only the slightest bit too much orange extract. Dangerously easy to drink. Also dangerously easy to drink is the cranberry liqueur.

Taking some inspiration from the ever-wonderful Ezra Pound Cake, I decided to use the cranberry liqueur in a cranberry margarita. It’s very tasty, but a little strong on the lime – next time I’ll definitely dial down the lime and up the cranberry a little bit.

And, remembering that my mom had some Midori stashed away from last year or so, I bookmarked the appropriately named Grinch cocktail.

It’s very yummy – the recipe is in French, though, be sure to get your French-English dictionary out – the hardest thing was figuring out what “1 c. simple syrup” meant (turns out it’s a centiliter which equals 2 teaspoons).

So cheers to you for the holidays – drink up!

It’s been a long time!

Yesterday, my parents and I went to have a family portrait taken. Needless to say, I was not entirely thrilled with this undertaking, having a rather strong aversion to being photographed and the eerie ability to blink at just the wrong moment (it took the ladies at the DMV 25 tries before they got a photo with my eyes open). Fortunately, my psychic blinking abilities were on the fritz last night which helped move things along a bit. Anyway, I only agreed (and reluctantly, at that) because the last time we had a family portrait taken, we looked like this:

Even I can’t continue to argue that it’s not time to get an updated picture… Along with that, Arthur had a vet appointment – he’s looking much happier now that it’s over with and he can relax:

That purple collar is his Good  Behavior collar – not that wearing it is a reward for good behavior – it’s one of the many soothing pheromone products that I recently bought for him. So far, so good, but only time will tell…

So we were in quite a rush yesterday evening taking Arthur to the vet and getting all done up for our photo shoot. 😉 Thank goodness I’m off from work this week and could spend the afternoon making this super-yummy pumpkin and black bean chili from Good Food, Good Wine, and a Bad Girl (I actually couldn’t find a pie pumpkin at the smaller market where my parents live, so I substituted an acorn squash – squash is squash, right?) along with buttermilk cornbread (the same recipe I made here) and honey butter.

Now back to continuing to plan our Xmas eve dinner (I’m having a little trouble nailing down a cohesive menu, but I remain optimistic that it will come together…somehow!)…

The trials and tribulations of cat ownership

Most of you know that I have two cats. Josephine is not smart enough to have worries.

Her top three thoughts are:

  1. I love my endless supply of cat kibble!
  2. Tummy rub!
  3. Ooh, mousie!

Arthur is…too smart for his own good. He’s all angsty and emo – look at him there, contemplating all that’s wrong with the world!

His top three thoughts are:

  1. Kibble is the opiate of the masses.
  2. Tummy rubs, like life, are fleeting and meaningless.
  3. That’s not a real mouse.

I just know he’s got a stash of bad poetry around here somewhere. And so he acts out, desperate to keep his oppressors (i.e., me, the one who supplies him with food and a warm, comfy place to live and won’t let him dye his fur black or wear eyeliner [I ask him if he would jump off a bridge if all the other cats were doing it, but he just rolls his eyes at me]) at bay by doing unspeakable things on my bed. While I’m in my bed!

So, I went to Petsmart and loaded up on enough soothing cat pheromones to stop a tiger! Cross your fingers that Arthur is feeling soothed and content and happy. If the pheromones don’t work, it’s on to Kitty Prozac.

This is…

…my rather artful way of finally remembering to tell you that I got a haircut and am once again the proud owner of my very own fringe!

Also that I have finished wrapping my Xmas pressies.

Perfect for Santa!

Or, just generally, anyone…

Today was a busy, busy day – my parents came over and we got started on getting the shelves up in my living room. I can’t wait to unpack those last five book boxes and finally be able to declare myself moved in!

And I also made a pie (which I’ll try to remember to post about tomorrow – it’s still chilling in the fridge at the moment) and sugar cookies.

It’s my mom’s recipe (I’m not entirely sure where it came from originally) that she made a lot while I was in high school – in fact, she calls them Sugar Cookies Popular With Girl Scouts and Madrigals.

3 cups flour*
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg, unbeaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 yogurt

Put everything into a mixing bowl and beat until blended.**  Roll out on lightly floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness.***  Cut with cookie cutters.  Put on greased cookie sheet (or parchment paper).  Bake at 425 degrees about 7-8 minutes or until lightly browned around edges.

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

For every cup of powdered sugar use about 2 tsp of lemon extract and some water (about 1-2 T.) to make a glaze.  It should be pretty thin, about the consistency of thick paint.  I put the glaze in a bowl, hold the cookie upside down by my fingers and dip the top into the glaze, skimming the excess off on the lip of the bowl.  You could also paint it on with a pastry brush.

*You’ll need lots of extra for rolling out the cookies – the dough is extremely soft, even after refrigerating!
**I couldn’t make myself do this – I creamed together the butter and the sugar, added the egg and the vanilla, then whisked together the flour, baking soda, and salt and added it alternately with the yogurt (beginning and ending with the flour mixture).
***My mom insists that she doesn’t refrigerate this before rolling it out. When I saw the consistency of the dough, I declared her crazy and put it in the fridge to chill while I made my pie. It was still super-soft when I took it out, so it probably doesn’t make any difference – just be sure you have plenty of flour on hand…

I was excited to use my new Wilton holiday cookie cutter set – they’re just the perfect size (so that you don’t feel guilty eating a few at a time) and with 30 different cutters (though I think there are two angels, so really only 29), you get lots of variety! 😉

YA: Sci-fi/Fantasy

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Leviathan has so much going for it – I absolutely couldn’t wait to read it as soon as I heard about it! An alternate history story about World War I being fought between the Darwinists (i.e., England et al.) who have bred all manner of newfangled creates (including two-headed, six-legged dogs, lizards who repeat whatever they’re told in the voice of whoever’s told them, and the Leviathan itself, a huge whale that is used as an airship) and the Clankers (i.e., Germany et al.) who are the steampunkers of the group featuring a girl disguised as a boy and the heir of Austro-Hungary on the run?  What’s not to love?!

But I didn’t love it. At least not at first. It’s told in chapters alternating Deryn (the girl)’s and Alek (the heir)’s points of view and for the first thirty-odd chapters, Westerfeld explains his world-building. And fair enough, there’s a lot of alternate history to fill the reader in on, but I found that it got a bit tedious – I’m not sure whether it would have worked to just drop us in and let us figure it out as we read, but it might have been worth a try.

But once Deryn and Alek finally meet (around chapter thiry-four or so), things really pick up and for those last ten (or so) chapters, I was hooked! Lots of big action sequences and secrets to be revealed – including the one that leaves us hanging, anxious for the next book (I predict lots of political intrigue ahead…).

Like I was saying, Westerfeld has obviously done his homework and put in the time to think things through – here is what appears on the book’s endpapers:

Along with the endpaper illustrations, the book also features illustrations by Keith Thompson which I liked an awful lot (and during all the exposition, were my favorite part):

My rating: B (I want to give it a higher rating because of how I felt about it at the end, but with kind of uneven pacing, I just can’t quite do it…)

Disney has gone to the frogs!

The Princess and the Frog

I went to see this on Friday with some friends from work and was very pleasantly surprised by it! It’s being touted as Disney’s return to hand-drawn cartoons and, hopefully, to their golden days of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and, of course, The Lion King. I would say it’s not quite on the same level as those four, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

The music is pretty catchy, though I don’t think I could actually hum any of the melodies, even on the way out of the theater. It’s done by Randy Newman and usually I think a little Randy Newman goes a long way – his jazzy, sometimes folksy style works here, actually, seeing as the movie’s set in New Orleans in the twenties, so there’s plenty of dixieland to go around and the folksy part works once the main characters hit the bayou.

The characters are all appropriately likable, or creepy in the case of the Shadow Man, though big props go to Disney for making Lotte (Tiana’s spoiled little rich girl friend) a nice, though slightly crazy, sympathetic character who honestly cares about her friend rather than falling back on the rich bitch that she easily could have become.

I can’t think of anything I really didn’t like, but, for some reason that I just can’t quite put my finger on, it falls a little short. I mean, it’s a perfectly enjoyable way to spend an hour and forty minutes and, like I said, I think Disney is heading in the right direction again, but there’s something that keeps it from being a true return to glory for Disney’s animation department.

My rating: Good but not great – you may as well see it, but maybe wait and rent it?

p.s. – My favorite line is from Louis, the jazz trumpet-playing alligator who, at one point, says, “You know what this situation needs? A sharp stick!” Totally made me laugh.

Oh, my goodness…

…have I really not posted anything since the Thanksgiving post? I think I’ve been in a blogging funk since the pictures didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, so here’s a quick update:

  1. The previous post was to be the first in a series of three – that one was Eat… to be followed by …Drink… because in addition to all that Thanksgiving food, I also got two liqueurs started (Parents, they better still be there when I come home for Xmas!), a cranberry liqueur and an eggnog one. The cranberry one looked nice the last time I saw it – the eggnog one, I have my reservations about. I think I may have overdone the orange extract and it smelled pretty strong (yes, even for me!). But I’ll be sure to let you know how the finished products turned out.
  2. The third post was to be …and Be Merry! showing you pictures of my family’s Thanksgiving craft project – pop-up turkeys made simple by the genius that is Robert Sabuda. I always end up feeling a bit inadequate when I do arts and crafts projects with my parents – my dad always ends up making something very realistic and gorgeous (frankly, my mom and I had a hard time telling between his turkey and the one we were meant to eat) and my mom ends up making something that’s perfect and pretty. Mine? Looks like it was made by a 6 year old. Who’s bad at doing arts and crafts. Want to see? (It’s drying flat here, but it did pop up once the glue was dry.)
  3. Let’s see…what else… Oh, my mom and I repainted the walls in my living room – they were a very pretty but very dark sort of eggplant kind of color, but the room is just too small for it – combined with the abnormally low ceilings in here and it really was like living in a cave. But now the walls are white and I’m going to wallpaper up to a chair rail with this (I think it’s a bit more of a teal color in person):
  4. My parents gave me an Xmas tree of my very own! It’s fake, but it’s a good fake and I love it – it looks very festive in here now. So far (knock on wood), the cats don’t seem to be very interested (even in the ornaments) – I’m hoping that, because it doesn’t smell like squirrels and the outdoors, they will leave it alone …
  5. I got nowhere near completing NaNoWriMo – I blame Thanksgiving, but either way…Anne FAIL! But 5,000 words is better than nothing, so I don’t feel entirely like a loser. 😉
  6. I’m busy, busy, busy planning our Xmas dinner (here’s what I did last year). I can’t decide if I want to do another crazy gingerbread project – I wasn’t super-pleased with last year’s (good old Frank Lloyd Wright still gets my blog visit count way up in December, though) and I have an idea that involves a four-layer cake, so I may call that my General madness activity for the season. We’ll see…
  7. Tonight is the last new Glee episode until April. APRIL?! But at least Better Off Ted is back and Chuck‘s return is imminent. Scrubs is on, too, but I’m not sure how I feel about that… Did they really need another season? I thought the end of last season served as a good way of wrapping up the series, but I guess the network had other ideas. I’m sure I’ll keep watching, though!