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…

Continue reading

Advertisements

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…

Continue reading

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.

Room by Emma Donoghue

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.
-Back of the Book

This summer, I decided to make a drastic lifestyle change. In an attempt to save my bookcase, and my wallet, I have been acquiring my books through the library and loans from fellow readers. Of course, this pains me. Some of the books that I have read in the past few months, I have wanted for my very own.

Other books, I have yearned for, but are reserved at the library for months.  I, unfortunately, am not the only person who wants to read them.

One such book was Room by Emma Donoghue.  I read about it on other blogs, saw it skyrocketing in the NYT Bestseller Lists, and saw the beautiful cover at my local bookstore.  Yes, I still go to the bookstore in the same way that a recovering drug addict likes to mimic his old habits.  I pick up books, gaze longingly at their back covers, smell the new book smell, and even sit down in a chair to peruse them.  Then, I put them back and trudge sadly outside, making a mental list of books I WANT.

I went to the library in search of Room and my librarian told me that if I get on the list to reserve it, I should probably get it around October.

And as if this struggle weren’t enough, then Borders decided to put on a giant sale (sob) and I could get the book for half off.  My resistance could last no longer.

I read this book in less than 24 hours.  As in, I began it as soon as I broke down and bought it and went to sleep hours after my normal bedtime because I wanted to know what happened.  Eventually, my eyes insisted on sleep, but my brain kept thinking about it.  My dream that night consisted of me, living in my bedroom, with a book case that was overflowing with books.  In fact, the books started multiplying, threatening to overtake all of my living space.

While I do not have room for an infinite number of books, I am fortunate to have more space than Jack and his mother do.

Imagine being Jack, growing up with your only concept of the world an 11 X 11 room and a TV.  Meanwhile, Ma knew what the world is like and was locked into a room and raped.  Now, she is trying to raise Jack the best way she can.

The book is divided into two halves.  The first half is cramped into the tiny space known to Jack as Room, culminating in a daring escape attempt.  The second half is in Outside, and focuses on how Jack and Ma manage being Outside of Room after 7 years (for Ma) and his entire life (for Jack).

This story, told completely from Jack’s point of view, is phenomenal.  It is a coming-of-age story, a thriller, a commentary of our world, and a tale about how strong the relationship can be between a mother and her child.  I would read it at the beach, with a classroom of students, or late at night with a flashlight.

If I Could Change One Thing…  I would like to see a meeting between Ma and Jack and their captor (Old Nick) after they are Outside.  The only flaw in the second half of the book is that while it remains incredibly interesting, it cannot match the narrative tension of the first half.  Meeting Old Nick again would have certainly raised my blood pressure.

Other Reviews

Jack’s Macaroni and Cheese

One of Jack’s favorite meals while he is imprisoned in Room is Kraft macaroni and cheese.  Yes, the kind with the yellow cheese powder.  I decided to make the same style of macaroni and cheese, but with real cheese.  I am quite pleased with the result.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of cooked short pasta (I chose spirals because that is the best kind, obviously)
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups skim milk
  • 2 oz cream cheese
  • 1 tsp garlic
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Procedure

  • While the pasta is cooking, mix the flour, salt, and pepper in a medium saucepan.  Add in 1/2 cup of milk and whisk to get the lumps out of the flour.  Add in the rest of the milk.
  • Heat the mixture over medium heat until it reaches a simmer.  Make sure you are stirring frequently.
  • Add in the cream cheese and stir until it melts.
  • Lower the heat and add the garlic, mustard, and shredded cheese.  Once the cheese melts, you can pour it over the cooked noodles.  Stir and eat.

It is the same style as Kraft, but wow, a little effort can go a long way.  It is tastier and healthier than the original and I think that Jack would approve (once he got over the change in color).

The Book Thief (and Liesel’s Pea Soup)

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. By her brother’s graveside, Liesel Meminger’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Grave Digger’s Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found. But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up and closed down.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak is one of those books that should be required reading.  It contains everything that I want from a book.  I laughed.  I cried.  I laughed while crying.  I was invested in the characters, the gruesome narrator, and the little town it is set in.  In short, I LOVED THIS BOOK.  I wanted to read it at the stoplight when I was driving.  I snuck peaks at it while sitting in a movie theater during the previews.  I woke up at 3AM just so I could read more. 

Find this book as soon as possible.

You may be wondering why, on the back cover, death is capitalized so that it is “Death.”  That, my friends, is because Death is the narrator of this book.  Yes, you read correctly, Death.  Not just some person named Death.  This narrator is in fact the entity that comes when you die to take your soul away.  Instead of being terrified by him (I think it’s a him?), I found myself amused at his sarcasm and dry wit.

Who would have thought that Death would be funny?  I guess people never hang around long enough to get to know him, poor thing. 

Anyway, I’m going to cut this short so you can go about your business trying to get yourself a copy of this gem.  Happy hunting!

Liesel’s Mama’s Pea Soup

One of the only foods that is mentioned in this book, and it is mentioned repeatedly, is the pea soup that keeps these hungry people going.  Since they are very poor, it is described as a meager soup that is not incredibly tasty, but it is nourishing. 

 I prefer my pea soup tasty, so I added in a few ingredients to kick it up a notch.

Ingredients:

  •  Peas (I shelled mine since they are in season but you could just as easily use frozen)
  • Enough chicken broth to just cover the peas in the pot
  • Lemon juice to taste
  •  Olive Oil to taste
  • Smoked Paprika to taste

Procedure:

  •  Put the peas in a pot with just enough chicken broth (or water if you want to make this vegetarian) to cover the peas over medium heat.
  •  Cook for about 20 minutes, until the peas are cooked through, but slightly al dente.
  • In a blender, or with an immersion blender, liquify 3/4 of your mixture.  Thwen add in the rest so that your soup has some texture.
  •  Squeeze in some lemon juice.
  • Place back on the burner until the mixture is the consistency you like.  You’ll notice that mine is rather thin, but if you left this on the burner for longer, it could easily be much thicker.
  •  Pour into a bowl and top with some smoked paprika and olive oil.
  • Serve with some sort of crust bread.  The one pictured is a bagel thin broiled with parmesan cheese. 

In My Mother’s Kitchen

Mothers show their love in many ways.  They tuck you in at night, hold your hand when you have bad dreams, and nurse you back to health when a tummy-ache arrives.

They also show their love in the food they make for you and the relationship with food that they create in your home.

The book, In My Mother’s Kitchen, is a collection of short memoirs written by prominent figures ranging from Maya Angelou to Dorie Greenspan, on the lessons that they learned while in their mothers’ kitchens.

Each shares a unique and beautiful tale, exploring how baking a cake or separating eggs teaches us about cooking and about life.

I would not change one word, punctuation mark, or idea in this book.  I was drawn into it and could not stop reading until I had finished it.

In honor of Mother’s Day, and my mother, I thought I would share a moment in my mother’s kitchen and the lessons that I learned from it.

One dish that we make almost every winter is fudge…pounds and pounds and pounds of fudge.  And then we eat it all!  Just kidding.  We give almost all of it away.    Our fudge is not just any fudge.  It is a smooth, silken, melt-in-your-mouth ambrosia that will win over people who don’t even like chocolate all that much.

We have a very intricate system, that has been honed and developed to a fine point over the years, to make this candy. 

I measure and mix most of the ingredients into the large pot and proceed to heat and stir until it is a uniform substance of sugary, creamy deliciousness.  When I was little, I would ask my mom if we could make batches of this fudge base for me to take to school as “soup.” 

At this point, the real tricky part comes into play.  My mom takes over the stirring, we turn the heat up and I am in control of the candy thermometer.  Our thermometer is not digital, but a well-worn, practically antique device that has worked for us for a number of years, so we stick with it.  Along with having to keep a close eye on the temperature, as we have to get it to a certain temperature at a certain time (stressful yes?), I have to keep the steam from the fudge from condensing on the thermometer and obscuring my vision.  In order to help me with this, every year, I fashion a wooden skewer with a paper towel tied around one end to serve has my mini squeegee. 

Once we get to that temperature, then the real fun starts.  We have to frantically throw more ingredients in, stir as fast as we can (that’s mom’s job) and then pour it into the prepared pans before the fudge starts to set.  Whew! 

Then, we must find a place to keep the pans as they are setting because if they are too cold, the fudge is crumbly, too warm and the fudge is sauce. 

We have had our fair share of failures in this endeavor.  Full pans of fudge have ended up in our trash unless my dad manages to step in and save some as ice cream sauce while we are in the midst of our tirades.  It takes a brave man to do that.

We have made grocery store trips to restock on ingredients.  We have muttered and yelled and cut pieces out of the fudge while holding or collective breath in hopes that it worked.  We will never give out less-than-perfect fudge as gifts.

Once we have completed this arduous task and sorted the fudge into tins, we rest, exhausted, and slightly uncomfortable from the amount of sugar we have had to eat to “test” the fudge.

When someone asks for our recipe, we look at each other, knowing that even if we were to divulge the recipe in its entirety, it would not end up like ours.  We have put too many years into perfecting our techniques and no one person can recreate the love that we put into each batch.  We smile at each other and laugh, knowing that we both fully intend to make our way to the kitchen the next year and endure this process again. 

So what lessons have I learned from our yearly fudge ritual?

  1. If it is hard, then it is worth doing.  Always challenge yourself and test your limits.
  2. Perfect is what you make it.  You will have to make quite a few mistakes before you really know how to do something.
  3. We all make mistakes and experience hardship.  It is how you handle those times of trouble that defines you as a person.

Around the holiday season, you can expect to see a post on our fudge.  I probably won’t give you the recipe, but I will certainly give you some pictures to drool over.

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and to every other mother out there!

What about you?  What have you learned in your mother’s kitchen?

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Joining Beth at Beth Fish Reads for her fun Weekend Cooking Party. Every weekend. It’s open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share! Go on over and see some fun posts.

The Art of Racing in the Rain (AKA More Dogs Should Write Novels)

Rating: Green Leaf

Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life’s ordeals.

On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny’s wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, Zoë, whose maternal grandparents pulled every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoë at his side.

**********************************************************************************************************************************

As a small child, every time that Christmas rolled on by, I would dutifully sit on Santa’s lap and ask him for the deepest, darkest desire of my heart.

“Santa, I want a puppy.”

Since my family is, for the most part, very allergic to dogs, my parents hoped that this was a wish that would fade.  Unfortunately for them, not only did this need fade, but it has become stronger over the years.  I am adult enough to recognize that attempting to raise the kind of dog I want (Black lab!) in my apartment would be cruel and unusual, but I know that the moment I have a house with a yard, my eyes will start actively looking for my dog.

In fact, I am so fixated on this that I already know the name of my first dog.  His name will be Fiyero, named after the character from Gregory Maguire’s Wicked.

After having read The Art of Racing in the Rainby Garth Stein, I now know the name of dog #2, should I ever move past dog #1:  Enzo.  I also know what I will make for him and me as a treat (recipe found below):

Continue reading