Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pumpkin Cornbread

I love cornbread. And pretty much anything that includes pumpkin. So, this recipe was a no brainer for me to try. I tried it with a main dish that fell flat but this was waiting for me - still warm, moist, lots of pumpkiny goodness. Made my night instantly better. That and Kermit and Miss Piggy made an appearance at the Oscars...still bummed they didn't get to perform "Man or Muppet." back to the cornbread, top it with some honey or maple syrup, and you have a lovely treat for a cold night.

I used honey for my topper; maple syrup adds a touch more sweetness than honey

1 cup flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup cornmeal
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp molasses

1) Preheat oven to 400F and grease an 8x8 baking dish
2) In  medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, spices, brown sugar, and cornmeal
3) In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs and then stir in the pumpkin, oil and molasses
4) Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until combined, and then pour the batter into the pan, smoothing out the top as much as possible
5) Bake 30 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean

Serve warm with honey or maple syrup

Recipe from Tasty Kitchen

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Happiest Millionaire

I grew up on a healthy dose of the classic live-action Disney films. I can quote The Apple Dumpling Gang verbatim and still prefer the original Escape to Witch Mountain than any remake they've done since. I was, however, not a big fan of the Love Bug movies - weird I know. I somehow missed The Happiest Millionaire until now. My sister should be pleased - she would have hated it. Me, on the other hand, I would have dug up the soundtrack and driven my parents crazy singing "Fortuosity" continuously while wishing I could have a pet alligator.

The Happiest Millionaire tells the story of the eccentric Biddle family, millionaires in 1916 Philadelphia. As the story opens, a new butler, John Lawless joins the family and Cordy, their teenaged daughter is having trouble growing up when her Father won't let her. So, Cordy goes off to a girls' school, falls in love with a car happy young man from New York and then chaos ensues as the wedding approaches when their two very different families clash.

The look of this film was so familiar - it's a musical in the best of traditions. The sets look like a cross between My Fair Lady and Hello, Dolly! In fact, the opening number "Fortuosity" has a dance routine to it that was a cross between Kelly's "Singin' in the Rain" number and a little bit of "Elegance" from Hello, Dolly! The songs, written by the Sherman Brothers, are fun and engaging and I really enjoyed the casting. Fred MacMurray is perfect as the irate yet loveable Father, a much more huggable Rex Harrison-type. Lesley Ann Warren made her screen debut in this film; while I loved her as Cordy, I just kept seeing her as Miss Scarlett.

The length of the film was daunting; I was impressed by the attention spans of kids in the 60s. The film even includes an overture, intermission and entr'acte - its set-up was a lot like The Great Race which is also marathon length (but so worth it if only for the characters Jack Lemmon plays and an epic food fight). However, at no point does the film drag which, at almost 3 hours, is impressive. However, it's worth the commitment. The last 30 minutes of the film are the best part, including a dancing sequence in a small, crowded bar, that as a choreographed scene, is extremely well done. I know I sound like a dance geek and a musical nerd, which I am, but I think anyone could enjoy this film. So don't be intimidated with the length, make a batch of popcorn and resign yourself to humming "Fortuosity" for the next week.   

Thursday, February 23, 2012


From Goodreads
Few books are improved upon once they become films. It is the book lover's lament; films rarely live up to our expectations. Beloved characters are twisted, plot lines ignored or changed as to be unrecognizable. Sometimes, if you love a book enough, watching a poor Hollywood adaptation can be painful. Now sometimes I break my own rule and see the movie long before the book finds its way to me. On most of those occasions, I find the book to still be infinitely better than the film. Gives me more insight into the characters, gives me more adventures that had to be left out of the movie. Stardust was one of those few books however that was actually better as a film.

Stardust is the story of Tristran Thorn who grows up in a town called Wall, so named for the wall that the townspeople guard between reality and Faerie. In love with the town's beauty who expects to marry much better than a shop-boy, Tristran promises to cross the wall and bring her back a fallen star they saw. However, surprisingly, the fallen star is a person, Yvaine and is less than enthusiastic about being given as a wedding present. However, witches are hunting the fallen star, so sticking together, Yvaine start their journey back to Wall. It involves witches and pirates and homicidal princes. Fun times all around.

So, I adore this film and have since I first saw it in the theaters. Reading the book this week, I find the casting spot on, the story enchanting and the quirky characters added or augmented from the book to be just right. Quite frankly, the characters are more likable and better developed in the film than in the book. Tristran and Yvaine in the book are sort of tedious and I wasn't quite sure if they ever even liked each other, even once they were together. They also don't seem to grow as much in the book or they grow and it's unbelievable. This was one relationship that needed some Hollywood finessing to make me care what happened to them. Bonus, the pirate captain is ten times cooler in the film than in the book - making him more eccentric and important in the film was a good call for all the characters.
Image from LiveJournal

Most of the major plotlines were in both book and film but the witches were less frightening in the book, rather a letdown after the awesome battle scene you get in the film. They just sort of fade away in the book; Yvaine even kisses one goodbye. Also, the king storyline in the book wasn't as interesting. I liked how the film made the ghostly princes a touch of comic relief and there resolution was also much more clear in the film than in the book.

The book was just a lot...less than the film if that makes sense. Gaiman's writing is always engaging and quirky so Stardust is fun to read but it's not as much fun as the film.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Afternoon Tea

I fell in love with tea while I studied in England. Those pesky British make sure you are addicted to cream teas from the second you land. Finding a decent afternoon tea stateside isn't always the easiest though. So, I resigned myself to missing afternoon tea. Then, last time I was down in Walt Disney World, I dragged my mother to afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian and remembered what all the fuss was about. So, when it came time for my birthday, something I haven't paid much attention to the last few years, I decided to have a tea party. As well as being an excuse to read lots of fun tea cookbooks, and start a places to have tea bucket list, it also meant I could try out a recipe I'd been holding onto for years. Sally Lunn's is a famous tea shop in Bath, where I lived while in England. The shop is famous for Sally Lunn buns and it was only a few months after I got back to the States that a blog I followed posted a recipe for the famous Sally Lunn buns. However, I never really had any reason to make them. Until now.

I have lots of recipes to share from my afternoon tea but most are ones you can find in any decent tea cookbook. Jam cookies, cucumber sandwiches and a fabulous honey spice cake (which led to me have a fight with a bundt cake pan but that is neither here nor there). One thing I did learn from putting on afternoon tea is why it fell out of popularity when people stopped keeping cooks. It takes a LOT of work to put one of these together on your own. It was fun but I think next time I'll just find a nice tea shop.

My afternoon tea spread
The Sally Lunn buns are just behind the strawberries. I made clotted cream to go with them and served them with the choice of raspberry or strawberry jam. Of everything I made for the tea, the Sally Lunns were actually the easiest and baked the best in my oven. They baked up nice and golden and tasted exactly like they should have.

Sally Lunn buns with Clotted Cream

4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/4 tsp. (1 package) instant yeast
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1 cup milk

1) In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. In small saucepan, melt butter.
2) With electric mixer, beat eggs until fluffy and pale lemon yellow, about 5 minutes. Add milk and beat until smooth, about 1 minute.
3) By hand with dough whisk or wooden spoon, add the flour mixture to the egg mixture in three additions, alternating with the melted butter and beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Cover mixture and place in refrigerator for at least 24 hours or up to three days
4) When ready to bake, remove dough from refrigerator. Stir down the dough, just a few strokes, with a wooden spoon.
5) With a 1/4 measuring cup, scoop dough into well-greased or cooking sprayed standard muffin tins.
6) Lightly butter a sheet of plastic wrap and place, buttered side down, over the buns. Let rise until puffy but likely not doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours. During last 15 minutes, preheat oven to 375F
7) Uncover the buns. Bake at 375 about 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Turn the buns out of the tins and cool on wire racks. Serve warm or cool completely and then store.

Clotted Cream

1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature

1) In a small bowl, using an electric mixer, combine heavy cream and sugar. Whip until stiff peaks form.
2) Gently fold in sour cream and mix until very thick
3) Place in refrigerator and chill until time to serve

Monday, February 13, 2012

Freezer-Friendly Minestrone Soup

Because of my schedule lately, and a planned tea party I have coming up to celebrate my birthday, cooking has been put at the end of my list. At least until this week when I start seeing if my baking talents will hold up to making a tasty afternoon tea. So, I pulled out a batch of minestrone soup I made back in December to get me through last week.

It took me a long time to find a minestrone recipe I liked. See, I am weird and don't like beans. I find their texture gross and sadly, minestrone soup often has a lot of beans included. So, I was excited when I found this recipe on-line years ago. I also love that this recipe makes a LOT of soup - enough to freeze at least five Tupperware containers with two servings a piece in them as well as having enough left over to eat for a week after I make the original batch. I try to make it in November or December and I find I usually eat the last container around the end of March. The soup keeps well in the freezer though I find I need to add some water to each container when I first take it out of the freezer. Otherwise, the soup is almost too thick.

See, I have another dish!
Minestrone Soup

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
2 small zucchini, chopped (2 cups)
2 medium carrots, sliced (1 cup)
1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 carton (32 oz.) chicken broth (4 cups) or 4 cups of water
4 cups tomato juice
1 cup dry red wine or water
1 Tbsp dried basil leaves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried oregano leaves
1/4 tsp pepper
2 cups uncooked rotini, mostaccioli, and shell pasta mixture (I usually just use rotini straight)

1) Spray 8-qt. nonstick Dutch oven with cooking spray; heat over medium heat. Cook garlic and onion in Dutch oven about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender.
2) Stir in remaining ingredients except pasta. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 45 minutes.
3) Heat to boiling. Stir in pasta. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer uncovered 10 to 15 minutes or until pasta is tender.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Did Cinderella Eat Your Daughter When You Weren’t Looking?

From Goodreads
Sigh, I need to be careful here, I know. I don’t have a daughter of my own nor will I have one any time soon. I only have my experience as a daughter myself, along with four years of women’s studies where I read books like this by the dozens - Particularly ones that look at how fairy tale mythology operates in today’s culture. I wrote my thesis on that after all. It was even focused on Cinderella. My conclusions dealt with the idea that Cinderella is an ever-adaptable myth; whether you put her in science fiction or horror. She is also at her best when she is surrounded by strong support groups, often female, rather than isolated as she is often pictured. Even Disney’s Cinderella had her band of faithful animal friends to fall back on for a dress. So, I’d say I came to this particular examination of Cinderella and how she translates in the modern world "girlie culture" with a fairly solid background of knowledge. 

In Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, I agree with the main thesis. I cannot argue against the fact that the way culture and society inundate girls from the second they leave the womb with conflicting messages of pink, princess, sex and more pink is a problem. However, that problem goes in both directions because don’t we inundate boys with black, blue and how to be a "real" man from the start as well? I’d say gender modeling hasn’t quite gotten to the equality stage we’d like and science, as Orenstein explains, may not ever let the sexes be entirely on the same footing because, like it or not, some of it is genetic. There are some things we do seem to be hardwired to do, to be. What made me anxious reading this book was how anxious that made Orenstein. Is it a bad thing if there are a few inherent differences? Shouldn’t we celebrate those as much as we do when we make a step forward in gender equality? Wouldn’t it be slightly boring if we were all the same? 

I know, it bugs me that I was wondering that too. But Orenstein is anxious, worried, almost obsessed with the fact that she might be somehow either not raising her daughter anti-girlie or not raising her girlie enough. As I am not yet a parent, I have to ask – does everyone get this worried about this? As I thought about my own childhood, I tried to think about my parents and how they approached raising my sister and me, opposites from the day we were born. I come from a Disney family so the Disney Princesses were always there in some fashion. I had a Beauty and the Beast lunch box for years in elementary school, I saw all the movies when they came out, and we went to the parks all the time. I, however, wasn’t a kid when Disney Princesses was a brand, when parents spend fortunes to let their daughters go to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, when it seems like a family vacation to Walt Disney World is now somehow ruined because the little princess doesn’t get to have breakfast at the Castle with Cinderella. 

Personally, I loathed wearing dresses as a kid (still do), had more guy friends than girls (that changed when I got to high school), could play tackle football with the best of them and wanted to be smart, brainy Belle when I grew up. The fact that she was a princess somehow didn’t really seem to register. She liked to read, she spoke her mind and she wasn’t afraid of the Beast. Oh, and I hated the color pink. I have made my peace with it over the years but I’d still pick blue over it any day of the week. My sister? Adores dressing up, loves pink, can ride any horse you put her on and will give you an opinion of any college basketball team in the country on demand. Now, I’d need to ask but I don’t think Mom and Dad ever fretted over whether to buy me the Barbie house versus a book nor do I think they worried when Ally discovered horses, makeup or declared her wish to become a sports broadcaster. I think they were just always present; paying attention, supporting us and letting us find our own way whether that was by decking out in pink and frills or enjoying earth tones and hiking boots. 

And that brings me to my biggest issue with this book – I don’t think Orenstein needs to be that worried. She is ever present in her daughter’s life, a little girl who seems to have a healthy curiosity, who enjoyed Disney Princesses until she graduated to Wonder Woman and who sounds, quite frankly, that she is more aware of women stereotypes than I am. This is a little girl who asks questions and who has a mother informed, interested and open enough to answer and then see what her daughter does. Culture and society are not going to change any time soon. We still see trends today that we’ve seen from the 1950s. At the same time, there are new trends, trends yet to show themselves and trends we haven’t even thought of yet. Yes, Cinderella is always going to be there, be she in Ashenputtel, Cendrillon or Cindy garb, but I think the best way to deal with her is head on and see what happens. I think we may find our daughters just might surprise us. Or, maybe I’ll go into spasms of worry the second I have a baby daughter of my own but I think having a little more faith in ourselves as caretakers and our daughters as bright, intelligent women with equally strong women ahead and behind them will be the best cure to Cinderella fever we’ll ever find.