The Help (AKA Be Careful Around the People Who Cook Your Food)

Rating: Chocolate Cake

There are male viewers who will enjoy The Help, but Mississippi native Tate Taylor aims his adaptation squarely at the female readers who made Kathryn Stockett’s novel a bestseller. If the multi-character narrative revolves around race relations in the Kennedy-era South, the perspective belongs to the women. Veteran maid Aibileen (Doubt‘s Viola Davis in an Oscar-worthy performance) provides the heartfelt narration that brackets the story. A widow devastated by the death of her son, she takes pride in the 17 children she has helped to raise, but she’s hardly fulfilled. That changes when Skeeter (Easy A‘s Emma Stone) returns home after college. Unlike her peers, Skeeter wants to work, so she gets a job as a newspaper columnist. But she really longs to write about Jackson’s domestics, so she meets with Aibileen in secret–after much cajoling and the promise of anonymity. When Aibileen’s smart-mouthed friend Minny (breakout star Octavia Spencer) breaches her uptight employer’s protocol, Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) gives her the boot, and she ends up in the employ of local outcast Celia (Jessica Chastain, hilarious and heartbreaking), who can’t catch a break due to her dirt-poor origins. After the murder of Medgar Evers, even more maids, Minny among them, bring their stories to Skeeter, leading to a book that scandalizes the town–in a good way.
~Amazon.com

I first reviewed the book The Help over a year ago in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In an effort not to repeat myself, I will simply say that I LOVED IT.

I knew that going into the movie version, I was going to be a tough critic.  When I first saw the trailer, I was really upset.  It seemed to…cutesy.  The book handles such important issues that I was worried that Hollywood would simply gloss over them.

After experiencing the film, I think I reacted prematurely.  The film is cutesy.  That does not necessarily make it a bad choice.  Instead, the playful music and bright colors play upon the great juxtaposition of the plot.  One world is filled with laughter and light while the other world is more gritty and harsh.

Do I think the movie is better than the book?  Probably not, but I do see why it is nominated for Best Picture. It deals with pressing societal problems while remaining enjoyable to watch.  The acting was hysterical and I am an even bigger fan of Minnie’s than I was before (sometime soon I am going to attempt to make a Terrible Awful, sans one key ingredient…).  You do learn a valuable lesson here.  Be nice to the people you work with or who work for you.  You never know exactly what might show up on your dinner table, in your purse, or on your front lawn 😉

The Grade

Visuals: 4/5

Plot: 4.5/5

Acting:4.5/5

All right Academy Award nominees, bring it on!  It is my goal to see, review, and invent a treat for every single one of you by Oscar Night.  I’ve already seen Moneyball and Hugo.  Now on to the rest!  Try these while you are waiting.  You won’t regret it…

If these are wrong, I don't want to be right.

Read on for the recipe…

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Movie > Book? Impossible!

Rating: Green Leaf

Orphaned and alone except for an uncle, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives in the walls of a train station in 1930s Paris. Hugo’s job is to oil and maintain the station’s clocks, but to him, his more important task is to protect a broken automaton and notebook left to him by his late father (Jude Law). Accompanied by the goddaughter (Chloe Grace Moretz) of an embittered toy merchant (Ben Kingsley), Hugo embarks on a quest to solve the mystery of the automaton and find a place he can call home.

~Fandango

Have you ever had faith in an idea that you thought was truly unshakeable, until one day, you realized you were wrong? At that moment, when you realize that everything you thought to be true in the world is just a bitter lie, how do you feel?

When I sat in the movie theater last week and saw my world crumble, I reacted in a way that I could never have predicted.

I was THRILLED.  I walked out of the dim theater like I was floating, set free of some invisible shackles that I hadn’t known existed.

Those of you who read regularly may have picked up on the fact that I enjoy books. I enjoy movies too, but books are my thing. One of the foundations of my entire way of being is that the act of reading is special and unique, and that films just cannot replicate or replace that.

After reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick and then watching Hugo, the film based off of the book, I can safely say that I have found a movie that beat the book.

I’m shocked too.  Do other anomalies like this exist?

I love the book.  Don’t get me wrong.  It was recommended to me a few months ago by one of my fourth grade students who was so proud that she had managed to read a “big book.”  In fact, because we didn’t have it in our school library (that has since been rectified), that student brought me in her copy an lent it to me so that I could read it.  Imagine that!  A student loaning a book to a librarian 🙂

Anyway, I did not want to take her book for long so I settled down that night to read it.  It was entrancing.  After I finished the book, I then went on to YouTube to watch “Journey to the Moon.”

The film takes the beautiful idea of the book and weaves it into an artistically masterful work whose delivery enhances its message.  The purpose of the film is to celebrate the way that movies construct dreams.  Scorsese uses intricate technique to mesh together Hugo’s dream world and his own grittily romantic Paris.  The first moments of the movie, when the cogs in a clock transform into the streets of Paris, give a taste of what the audience can expect for the next two wonderful hours.

So yes.  Here is where I admit it.  I was wrong.

Whew!  That was hard.

The Grade

Visuals: 5/5

Plot: 4.5/5

Acting:4.5/5

All right Academy Award nominees, bring it on!  It is my goal to see, review, and invent a treat for every single one of you by Oscar Night.  I’ve already done Moneyball.  Now on to the rest. While you are waiting, try this out.  You know you want to.

Read on for the recipe…

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The Song of Fire and Ice…and Cupcakes

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

-Back Cover

Hello out there! I am, in fact, alive. You may wonder what I have been doing for the past 4 months. Here is a sampling: full time job, night classes, cooking, cleaning, mourning the loss of Milly (my pet fish), spending time with family, friends, frantically shopping when I woke up and realized that Christmas was only two weeks away, playing in the pitiful amount of snow that we have accumulated, playing with my Christmas toys that Santa brought me, etc.

Oh, and A Song of Fire and Ice Series.  That.  After some calculating (which was difficult because I don’t always work with numbers this big), I have concluded that that monstrosity of a series is a full 4,864 pgs.  Compared to Harry Potter, that may not be so bad, but this series is no Harry Potter.  This series is dense with detail and imaginative ideas that make you stop and think.  I read sloooooowly.  I have been working on this series since Thanksgiving and just finished yesterday.  For me, that is an epic amount of time to spend on one story.

The patience that it required for me to work through this masterpiece is evidence enough to show you that it was fantastic.  If it were a food, it would be my request for my last supper.  If it were a person, we would be best friends.

Because I could not handle having this level of emotional connection with a book, I began to associate the book with George R.R. Martin instead.  Of course, by now, I am familiar enough with him that we are on a first name basis.  As I worked my way through his story, I routinely talked to George, asking him why he had the characters do certain things or when I would get to see another character again.  Now that I have not touched the series for a full day, I am starting to miss George and our (albeit incredibly one-sided) conversations.

I could ramble for hours about this series, but I am going to leave you with this instead.

What I Liked:

  • Incredibly detailed
  • George isn’t afraid to kill a main character who you love (or hate)
  • The chapters are told from a variety of perspectives

What Drove Me Crazy

  • Incredibly detailed
  • George isn’t afraid to kill a main character who you love (or hate)
  • The chapters are told from a variety of perspectives

Conflicted much?  Yes.  Read this series.  Now.  Go use those gift cards you got over the holidays. Let me know your burning questions and thoughts in the comments.  Oh, and make these cupcakes too.

Read on for the recipe…

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Thursday Next’s Battenberg Cake

They are a series of books based upon the notion that what we read in books is just a small part of a larger BookWorld that exists behind the page.

A fantastical place populated by off-duty and sometimes mischievous bookpeople from the Classics to Fanfiction, and ruled over by the wheezing bureaucracy known as The council of Genres. It is their task to maintain the pageant and integrity of the books within their charge, and these efforts are sometimes thwarted by the very evildoers and bizarre plot devices that give the Bookworld its appeal.

Aided in this endeavour but sometimes disagreeing with them are Jurisfiction, the policing agency within Fiction. The adventures follow one of their operatives: A woman from the Realworld named Thursday Next, whose reality-based credentials bring a dimension of independent thought to the proceedings, something that is often absent in the mostly predetermined Bookworld.

Confused? Excellent – turn to page one and start reading!

-Jasper Fforde’s description of the Thursday Next Series

I first encountered Jasper Fforde when I, intrigued by the title, read Shades of Grey.  As you can tell from my post on it, I LOVED it.  Later on, when I was basking in the joy known as the library, I noticed that Fforde had published other books. Of course, I took the bait.

Of the several series that Fforde has dreamed up, I chose the Thursday Next series.  Any character whose name is Thursday Next must be pretty darn interesting, not to mention that the first book is entitled The Eyre Affair.  Jane Eyre fan fiction?  Yes, please.

What kept me reading this series is Fforde’s hilarious, fantastical, and original take on BookWorld.  He puts us (readers) in our place.  The characters in books are alive and have their own dramas behind the scenes.  They jump between books, have other jobs, and characters who are linked romantically in books may actually hate each other.  Even more exciting, they have a certain level of free will, meaning that if they are unhappy enough with how the author wrote their story, they can change it!

Hint:  The “original” Jane Eyre has a very different ending from the one we know and love.

Basically, if you enjoy the concept of characters truly coming to life, I suggest you check these out.  They made me giggle some of the time and happy all of the time.  Except when I was sad.  But, that was because sometimes, sad things happen.  But, yeah.  You get my point.  Read them.

Battenberg Cake

Thursday Next is a fantastic and spunky character.  She is surrounded by a wonderfully loony family and her mother is the only one who really cooks.  While most of her cooking is quite awful, she is known for her Battenberg cake.

According to the great brain of Wikipedia, Battenberg cake “was created in honour of the marriage in 1884 of Queen Victoria’s granddaughter to Prince Louis of Battenberg, with the four squares representing the four Battenberg princes: Louis, Alexander, Henry, and Francis Joseph.”

Typically made with marzipan, this cake does not agree with Thursday, who detests almonds.  I decided to make a Thursday-approved Battenburg cake.  Try making one yourself!  It is not nearly as complicated as it looks.

  1. Mix up the batter for your favorite white cake.
  2. Split the batter in half.  Color one half red (or any color you want, really).
  3. If possible bake each half in a loaf pan.  I didn’t have two load pans so I improvised…

  1. Bake as the cake recipe directs until the cakes are firm.
  2. Let cool.
  3. Cut each cake in half so that you have two long strips of each color.
  4. Heat up the jam of your choice.  I used marmalade.
  5. Assemble the cake.  Stick the pieces together by “frosting” each side and then pushing the cake strips together, to make that lovely checker.

  1. Make or acquire your favorite frosting OR get marzipan (If you want marzipan).  I made a pistachio frosting, basically by mixing pistachio butter in with white frosting.
  2. Frost your assembled cake.  Do not be afraid to use a lot of frosting.  Because you are trying to mush together four strands of cake, frosting is the great concealer.  And it’s yummy.
  3. Eat, preferably with tea, as Thursday would.

Five Things You Should Bring to See Harry Potter in Theaters

Well, folks, I never thought that this weekend would come.  The Harry Potter franchise is releasing its last movie, hoping that it is all grown up and will be able to fly.

Wow.

Since this worldwide phenomenon has been going on for 14 years now, I thought I would offer a few words of wisdom on how to prepare for this final installment.

Here are five things that you should bring with you to that theater tonight…or tomorrow…or next week…or whenever you get around to seeing it.

1.  Knowledge of Harry Potter

Nothing is more annoying to me than someone in a movie theater who just won’t. stop. talking.   Worse is when that person is incessantly jabbering because they have no idea what is going on.  I understand that other people may not have read all seven books and seen the first seven movies multiple times, but for the love of all that is Harry, please know who the main characters are, who is dead already, and why Harry and Voldemort don’t get along.

If you go to the movies with the idea that you are going to be cute and ask a friend for clarification on every facet of the movie, be aware that you may not be so cute by the end…unless you somehow manage to pull off wearing popcorn.

Don't be that guy.

2.  A Good Attitude

Now, I have never been one to dress up for a movie, nor have I ever seen the midnight showing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t let myself get sucked into the energy that these books/movies elicit.  I have on occasion (or for every movie) worn lightning bolt socks.  Subtle, but fun 🙂  You do not have to wear anything special, but don’t be one of those people who gets to the theater and cynically looks around for people to laugh it.  Maybe you are a grumpy-poo, but a lot of people have been waiting a long time for this moment.  If you are not into the magic and fun of the franchise, why did you just spend $15 on your IMAX 3D ticket.  Loosen up and have some fun.

PS.  And laugh when something funny happens.  My favorite line of the series is coming up in this movie.  It has to do with Mrs. Weasley and cursing (both with her wand and her language).  Watch for it.

3.  A friend

For many of us, this love of all things Harry Potter has been going for 14 years.  I started reading the books in late 1997 when I was ten, almost eleven, just like Harry was.  If you let me do the math, the Harry Potter series has been a part of my life for almost 2/3 of it.  Wow.

Anyway, what made this series great was that it inspired people to interact with each other about it.  My friends and I decided what house we would be in (Ravenclaw), who our favorite characters were (Hedwig and Hagrid), and who we would be if we went to Hogwarts (hopefully a less obnoxious Hermione).  Around the book release dates, the books and their plots were topics of conversation as we ran laps for soccer practice and studied for tests.  When the last books came out (I was in college at the point), my friends and I (all with our own copies) sat around reading and reacting to the book at the same time.

If at all possible, don’t go to this movie alone.  Find someone who has shared your experience with this book and go with him.  If these people are too far away or unable to come for whatever reason, at least bring them with you in spirit.  That is the best way to honor this series.

4.  Snacks

Personally, movie theater popcorn and soda are not going to be good enough for this last movie.  Considering that J.K. Rowling spend a lot of space in her books describing food, it only seems right to create and sneak in (I am a bad person) some Harry Potter food.  Earlier this year, I perfected my own version of butterbeer.  Good luck trying to bring that in.

For this most auspicious of occasions, I decided to create something that Harry tends to get on the train to Hogwarts and that has always intrigued me: Pumpkin Pasties.

Basically, they are little handheld pumpkin pies.  I made some for fun.  My taste-testers unanimously approved.

Pie dough:  I used Simply Recipe’s Pate Brisee.

Inside:  Mix together 1 cup of pumpkin puree, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 tbsp each of cinnamon and nutmeg.

  • Preheat your oven to 400F
  • Roll out the  pie dough to 1/8″ thick and using a saucer, cut it into 6″ circles.
  • On each circle, place 2-3 tbsp of the pumpkin mixture.
  • Wet the ends of the dough (where you are going to seal it) and fold the dough over on itself to enclose the pumpkin.
  • Crimp with a fork to seal it.
  • Put a few slits in the top so that it doesn’t explode.
  • Bake for 15 minutes or until the crust is golden.

These travel really well, so once they cool, you can absolutely stash them in your purse/pocket and they will arrive safely at the movie.

5.  Tissues

Last, but certainly not least, I would recommend a box of tissues or, if you are trying to be environmentally-friendly, a hankie.  I know that I am going to bawl like a little baby simply because this last movie feels like it is marking an end to my childhood.  More than going away to college, living on my own, or getting my first “real” job, this last movie feels like a closure.

For those of you who do not have this personal connection, you may want to bawl because of what is going to happen in this movie.  I won’t sugarcoat it (as I thought of doing with the pumpkin pastie), people are going to die.  People you like are going to die.  You may not be happy with how this ends.

That is why you should be safe and bring something to wipe the tears away, just in case.

StoryThyme: The Queen of Hearts (and a Scrumptious Summer Tart)

StoryThyme is a celebration of Mother Goose poems, fairy tales, and children’s stories.  In true Hungry Bookworm tradition, I create a foods inspired by these magical texts.

Today’s poem “Queen of Hearts” is almost always included in compilations of Mother Goose nursery rhymes.

The Queen of Hearts she made some tarts all on a summer’s day;
The Knave of Hearts he stole the tarts and took them clean away.
The King of Hearts called for the tarts and beat the Knave full sore
The Knave of Hearts brought back the tarts and
vowed he’d steal no more.

Origin: This poem’s origin can be found in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, first published in 1805. The Queen of Hearts, while being one of my favorite characters, is certainly not a woman who inspires much sympathy from the reader. She terrifies Alice and rules through power and fear. This poem demonstrates the use of power, showing that a good beating keeps the knave from stealing the delicious tart.

Thoughts: Don’t mess with the Queen of Hearts. Apparently, her tarts are so delicious that that are steal-worthy, but don’t let that fool you. I think that translates pretty well to real life. Isn’t it the people who try to seem nicest on the outside the meanest on the inside? Watch out for people who smile to much.

Cherry-Vanilla Tart

Cherries don’t have a season; they have about a minute when everything comes together and they are perfect. That minute happens around this time of year, and I intend to make full use of it. I always associate the Queen of Hearts with the color red, so it makes since that she would make a cherry tart.

Ingredients:

  • Puff pastry (you can find this in the freezer section of your grocery store)- You only need one sheet
  • 2 quarts of cherries-pitted- I’m sure you could use frozen cherries too- really, use as many cherries as you would like to go on the tart
  • 12 oz Mascarpone cheese
  • 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • the zest of one lemon
  • 2 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg yolk

Procedure:

  •  Roll out puff pastry sheet to 15×5 inches or 12×12 inches. Place on a baking sheet. Fold the edges over to form a border. Prick bottom of pasty with tines of a fork. Chill for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 400°F. Use a pastry brush to brush on egg wash (the egg yolk beaten with some water) over exposed surfaces. Place in hot oven and cook until nicely browned all over, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven to a rack, let cool completely.
  • Place pitted cherries in a baking dish and put in the oven at 400°F  for 20 minutes.  You can do this while the puff pastry is cooking.  Take them out and cool completely.
  • Mix together the mascarpone cheese, confectioner’s sugar, the lemon juice, and the vanilla in a medium bowl until well combined. Refrigerate until needed.
  • Assemble the tart. Spread the mascarpone mixture over the bottom of the tart shell. Arrange the cherries on top of the mascarpone mixture.

This post is part of Weekend Cooking, hosted At Beth Fish Reads. Stop in and see what else is cooking this weekend.

StoryThyme: Curly Locks (and Strawberries with Cream)

Welcome to a new feature here called StoryThyme, a celebration of Mother Goose poems, fairy tales, and children’s stories.  In true Hungry Bookworm tradition, I am going to create a food inspired by these magical texts.

Today’s poem “Curly Locks” is almost always included in compilations of Mother Goose nursery rhymes.

Curly Locks, Curly Locks,
Will you be mine?
You shall not wash dishes,
Nor feed the swine,
But sit on a cushion

And sew a fine seam,

And sup upon strawberries,

Sugar, and cream.

Origin:  This rhyme has no set origin, but it seems to be linked to the Victorian era.  During that period, curly hair was so in demand that having it could determine your life’s social status.  If you didn’t naturally have curly locks, you sought to acquire them, either through curling or wigs, as soon as possible.

Thoughts: You know, as a straight-haired person, I’m not sure whether I should feel offended or not!  Does this mean that I am going to have to feed the swine?  And **gasp** wash dishes?!!!  That seems like hair discrimination to me.

What, am I forbidden strawberries too?

Maybe I just need to go out and get my hair curled…

Except for the fact that the last time that happened, I was in third grade and it made me look like a poodle.

Do poodles, then, get strawberries and cream? Is that good for them?

Dulce de Leche Strawberries

In defiance of Mother Goose, I decided to sup upon strawberries, sugar and cream anyway.  In a gesture of solidarity, I suggest that all of you straight, wavy, spiked, and bald-headed people (oh and heck, come along curly-haired people) make this recipe as soon as possible.  With a tiny bit of preparation, we can all enjoy Dulce de Leche Strawberries, thank you very much.

You may be wondering, what is Dulce de Leche.  Basically, it is milk and sugar that is cooked until it thickens and caramelizes.  It is a very popular around the world and it seems to have originated in Argentina and Mexico (correct me if I’m wrong).  There are many ways to make this delicacy (that you will just start eating by the spoonful), and I decided to follow the advice of David Lebovitz since I trust him in all food matters.  This will take 1.5 hours of almost-completely passive time and will give you a whole lot of joy, especially when you dip strawberries in it, or put it on your tea, or spread it on your toast, or…you get the picture.

Ingredients:

  • 14 oz of sweetened, condensed milk (I used skim)
  • As many strawberries as you can eat

Procedure:

  • Preheat the oven to 425° F.
  • Pour condensed milk  into a shallow baking dish.
  • Set the dish within a larger pan, such as a roasting pan, and add hot water until it reaches halfway up the side of the pie plate.
  • Cover the pie plate  with aluminum foil and bake for 1 to 1¼ hours. (Check a few times during baking and add more water to the roasting pan as necessary).
  • Once the Dulce de Leche is nicely browned and caramelized, remove from the oven and let cool. Once cool, whisk until smooth.
  • Dip strawberries in this heavenly concoction and eat.  Then grab a spoon and just dig in.  Swoon.
  • Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Warm gently in a warm water bath or microwave oven before using.