Friday, November 25, 2016

Butter Pecan Layer Cake

For Thanksgiving I decided to make a Pecan Pie, but then I found this recipe online, and decided to make a Butter Pecan cake. The original recipe is here- I've made a few changes, and I split the work over three days, so here is my version. It is the most elaborate, and definitely the tastiest cake I've made in a long time. It ages well. One day after being assembled it still tastes great. 

The plan below is how I should have broken the work up. What I did was make the icing and cake the second day, and assemble on the third. The icing suffers a little from being refrigerated- you might have to beat it a second time to bring the texture back, and this is a nuisance. It was still delicious, but I wouldn't make the icing a day ahead again. This is also the most time and labour intensive step.

Day 1
Brown Butter
Bourbon Caramel Sauce
Day 2
Day 3
Swiss Meringue Buttercream Icing

Best Butter Pecan Layer Cake. 
12 generous slices, 16 reasonable slices.

Day 1:
Brown Butter
4 sticks of unsalted butter (each stick is 8 tbsp)

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over low-medium heat. Stir frequently with a silicon spatula. The butter will foam quite a bit. Scrape the sides and bottom, as you stir, to keep the butter browning evenly. It took me about 25 min of near constant stirring to have the butter change colour.
As turns brown pour the butter out, along with all the milk solids, into a heatproof dish. I put it into a glass jar with a wide mouth. Let it cool a bit and put it into the fridge for later use.
Put the butter out about an hour before you start making the cake or the icing- it will need time to come to room temp before it can be used.

Bourbon Caramel Sauce
1 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsp bourbon
1 pinch of salt

Put the sugar and water in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Gently swirl the pan to combine- do not stir. Crystals might form on the sides. Ignore them.
Simmer till the mix turns brown- took me about 25 min at medium-low heat. It burns easily, so will need constant vigilance at this stage.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter- make sure the butter is not too cold or the mix will seize.
Add the cream and stir.
Add the bourbon and the salt.
Put the pan back on the heat and simmer for a few minutes while stirring.
My caramel was full of lumps so I had to strain it into a jar- after this is both looked and tasted great. Set this aside to cool, then refrigerate.

Day 2: Brown Butter Pecan Cake
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups finely chopped pecans
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 of the brown butter, softened
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
2 egg yolks (keep the whites)
3 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup buttermilk (1 1/4 cup 2% milk with 2 tsp of vinegar left to sit for about 10 min)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Melt the 3 tbsp of butter in a pan or skillet at medium heat. Add the chopped pecans (2 cups).
Stir frequently, till browned. Took me about 7 min.
Take them off the heat, and set aside for adding to the batter later.
Butter 3 8-inch cake tins, line with parchment paper, butter the paper, dust with flour and set aside. I suspect 2 9-inch tins would also work well, and result in a cake that is easier to cut, though less impressive to look at.
Make the buttermilk, if not using store bought, by putting vinegar into 2% milk and setting this aside for some minutes before use.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
Use an electric stand mixer with the paddle attachment to combine the brown butter, oil, white sugar and brown sugar till pale and smooth (about 7 min). Mix in the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, adding the vanilla with the last egg.
Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low speed just until combined, then add in 1/2 of the buttermilk and mix just until combined. Repeat alternating flour and buttermilk, ending with the final 1/3 of the flour.
Fold in the pecans till evenly mixed through.
Divide batter evenly among the 3 prepared baking pans.
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. It took me 32 min.
Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack while in the pan.
Run a knife around edges of the pans to ensure the cakes are loosened, and invert them onto the racks to cool completely.
When the cakes are cool level the tops. I had to do this for just one of them- the other two came out pretty flat.
If making the cakes some time or days before assembling them, brush them with 2 tbsp simple syrup each (1/3 cup sugar heated with 1/3 cup water till the sugar dissolves) before storing. 
I put each cake on a separate dinner plate, brushed it with syrup, and then wrapped it up in plastic for the next day. They sat out on the counter overnight and came to no harm. It was about 62F/17C in the house.

Day: 3
Brown Butter Swiss Meringue Buttercream

6 large egg whites (you can use 2 from yesterday)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (16 tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
the remaining 1/2 of the brown butter softened
3 tsp vanilla extract

Dip a paper towel in a tiny bit of vinegar and wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with this to remove any trace of grease.
Make a double boiler by placing the mixer bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. The bowl isn't supposed to touch the water but it after about 20 minutes of stirring I let the bowl get into the water a bit in an effort to speed things up.
Place the egg whites, sugars, and salt into the bowl and whisk gently but continuously. Keep whisking till the mix reaches between between 150 and 160 degrees F (took me about 35 min). I started by placing the mixing bowl on a baking rack that I arranged over the saucepan. When this seemed to be too slow I inverted a small glass bowl in the saucepan and rested the mixing bowl on that, to get closer to the boiling water.
Attach the bowl to your mixer and use the whisk attachment to whip the egg whites on high speed until thick, glossy peaks form and the bowl no longer feels warm to the touch. It will take about 5 min for the mix to look glossy, and about 15-20 min till the bowl cools.
When cool switch to the paddle attachment and reduce the speed to medium-low. Add both butters, about 2 tablespoons at a time, beating after each addition. The meringue will deflate slightly as butter is added, don’t worry. Once all the butter is added, beat until the icing is smooth and silky. This took me about 5 minutes.
Add the vanilla and beat on low just until combined.
I made the icing a day before making the cake, and had to refrigerate it. This meant that the next day I had to take the icing out a couple of hours before assembling the cake, wait for it to warm up, put it back into the mixing bowl, and beat it again to get a nice glossy look to it. It never looked as nice as it did on the first day.
I tampered with the ratio of sugar, using a quarter cup of white and 1 3/4 cups of brown. This changed the structure of the icing a bit, and made it a bit looser. It tasted great but didn't look as shiny, or hold the layers up quite as firmly as an icing with more white sugar might have done.

Put the first layer down on a plate or cake stand. Top with about 1/4 of the icing. Place the next layer on top and cover with another 1/4 of icing. Add the top layer and fill any gaps that there might be on the sides.
Cover the top and sides with a very thin layer of icing and put the cake in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This crumb coat will make it easier to finish icing the cake tidily, with fewer stray crumbs.
Pull the caramel sauce out- I had to microwave mine to melt it, and then put it out in the cold to get it to a cooler temperature.
Cover the top and sides with the remaining icing, trying for as smooth a surface as possible.
Make sure the caramel is cool before you pour it over the top, or it will melt into the icing. Top the cake with the caramel sauce working outwards from the centre. It should make its way to drizzling down the sides without any help from you.
Toast 1/2 cup of whole pecans in a little butter, till brown, about 5 min, to top the cake.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Some pointers for survival.

I am going to write the South Indian girl's guide to living with a white boy (or girl? I don't know enough about living with white girls). Based purely on anecdotal evidence.

Here are a few things. 

1. They will try to put their big feet on everything- on tables you might eat off, on you, on the nice chair you do your best to keep clean. This might even be with shoes on. Or even worse their mum will do this. And to keep things pleasant you will have to swallow that shriek of outrage and gently maneuver them out of that position.Or suffer.

2. You will have to be polite when the mother of your relatively aware white boy wants to put on a safety pin in solidarity with People of Colour. I understand white people are anguished about Trump as well, and maybe everyone in your church is wearing a pin, but  church full of white people, with one token Indian named Bob is part of the problem. I will make this a while chapter- things the white mum or your white boy may say or do. How to navigate without losing your mind, the goodwill of this nice older lady, or making your white boy feel terrible for being the progeny of old white people. My take is he can't help it. Just as I cannot stop my nearly 70 yr old Indian father from saying racist things without meaning to. All I can hope for is that he doesn't vote for Modi again .

3. Food- there will be an entire chapter about food.
How to turn his endless bottles of salsa into the tamatar-pyaaz component of your sabji or chicken curry.
How not to turn purple when your nice Southern boy suggests putting a ham hock, or some sausage in with your lentils to give it some fat.
How not to cry inside when he takes your biryani, puts cheese on it, wraps it in a corn tortilla, and eats it with chipotle sauce.
How not to murder someone when they look at the paneer you made, all on your own, from glorious full fat milk, from American cows as big as Indian cars, and say "It's just like Tofu right?" NO IT BLOODY WELL ISN'T. Just like how not all white people are the same....
There will also be some ranting about pound cake and it's incomprehensible popularity.

4. You will have to train them into getting used to you stealing their towel occasionally. Actually I don't think a lot of other people do this. This is not a brown girl thing, it might just be me.
Also- housekeeping and gardening. I grew up with grandparents who were enthusiastic gardeners but I have never encountered anything like the suburban American's passion for lawn maintenance. Just seems mad. 

5. A relative that you encounter only at family gatherings, like Thanksgiving and Christmas which are coming up, might ask you if Indians pay income tax. Yes. And we have had the concept since before this country was called America. Next?

Monday, November 7, 2016

Apple cake

German apple cake- Apfelküchen

This is perfect for days on which you do not feel like shopping for specific ingredients. Chances are everything you need is already in the pantry.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract (optional)
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract 
  • 2-3 apples (I used Gala), peeled, cored and cut into slices
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease or spray a 9" tart or cake pan. 
In a small bowl whisk the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a stand mixer, or with a handheld mixer, cream the butter and sugar till light and fluffy- about 2-3 min.
Prep the apples.
Add the eggs, one by one, and mix.
Add the vanilla extract, and almond extract if using.
Turn the mixer to low, and slowly add the dry ingredients. Mix slowly till well incorporated.
Transfer the batter to the prepped pan. It will be sticky, and will need smoothing out with a spatula.
Arrange the apples on top.
Mix the last 1/3 cup of sugar with cinnamon in a small bowl and sprinkle it on top of the apples.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

It might look as if the top is browning too fast but do not cover the top. A few dark bits are better than the whole thing going soggy.
If in doubt about whether it is done take it out after 40 min- it will continue to cook a little longer in the pan.
I'm not sure what makes this cake German but that's what the recipe said so I'll go along.

Source: Eva Bakes
Be careful if you hit that link. You'll get a great food blog but also unending Republican ads about how a vote for Clinton would be a vote against Modi's government (if only we were so lucky).

Monday, September 5, 2016

Suburban living

One of the houses down the road has sprouted a Trump yard sign in their lawn.

This is a thing Americans do. They are devoted to the growth and upkeep of grass- lawn care is rigidly enforced by most housing associations, and people will make snide remarks about your unkempt grass if you don't keep it perfectly manicured. I'm always trying to talk my white American husband into leaving our grass overgrown because who are these people to tell us how to keep our garden?? He has been too deeply programmed to feel shame over this, and cannot be talked into this tiny subversive act of letting our lawn be. I find it ridiculous that in this land where people are always banging on about freedom, social programming is so strong that the opprobrium one would face for long grass is greater than that directed at convicted rapists, or known paedophiles. 

Anyway- the Trump sign. I've walked past it every day for the last month or so, and usually our little beagle has pooped on the walk, so I'm often carrying a nicely tied plastic bag of shit. I want very much, every time I pass the sign, to leave the bag by the sign. I fear getting caught though, and I also fear that the residents of the house might bring out a gun.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Stray thoughts and something of a rant.

I woke up to something about Gloria Steinem on my Facebook feed. Gloria Steinem, famous feminist writer, who said girls were with Bernie because that's were the boys were. Following which Madeline Albright joined in to also wag her finger at young women who might not vote for Hillary, saying they would go to hell for not standing with a woman. Hillary Clinton- who is most certainly not standing by a lot of women by continuing to be associated with Bill Clinton- notorious harasser of women.

I want to see her stand by women like Monica Lewinsky, barely out of school when the President of the United States coerced her into being a little silly. Someone whose life has become public fodder in the worst way, and probably will be infamous till she dies. How on earth are you supposed to survive this? How are you supposed to beat off the President of the United States, arguably the most powerful person in the world? Shouldn't we be protecting young, and older women, from this kind of predator instead of parading him about for his political value. Stand alone, without him, and tell me again about your feminism. I would listen.

Today there is a massive strike across India. I am excited about this because we need to stand together and fight. We have the numbers, if only we could collect somehow and exercise them. I'm not at home, and despite the questionable ways in which nearly every union functions, I think unions are terribly important. We need checks and balances to the system. Our government can't be allowed to run away with every sector of our economy and just hand it to a small group of industrialists. Why on earth does the BJP want to privatise the railways? At least with the Congress their economic policies were outlined in terms of classical neoliberal theory. The BJP don't seem to bother with trying to rationalise anything- cows and Bharat Mata ki Jai is all. 

It also made me annoyed that so many of my Indian friends appeared to be complaining about being unable to get to work. Think a little bit about why people are striking. Join them. Show some solidarity with people less better off that you at your amazing arts collective, or great IT job. A higher minimum wage will help a lot of people out, and you want people to eventually have enough money to buy the nonsense that you are selling right? Many more were out at brunch (which is probably why Nandan Nilekani lost that election in Bangalore- people who might have voted for him seized the opportunity of the election to go on a 3 day weekend break instead). I saw pictures of people at the Oberoi, enjoying high tea, celebrating the bund; the incongruity of which might render you speechless so here I am to point the finger for you. I like high tea, and the Oberoi too, no actually I have never been at the Oberoi though I imagine it is nice, but there is a time and place.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Thoughts- some but not all related to Father's Day

It is Father's day and my Facebook feed is a stream of people putting up sepia tinted pictures of their fathers.

I cannot relate. I love my father, and I wish I could see him more often, but I am unable to channel all of this on Father's Day.

At the moment I am trying to get him to send me the phone number of my grandaunt so I can call and check on her. He is in Bangalore and I am in the U.S- the time difference matters and if he doesn't get on this within the next ten minutes or so I will have missed my window to make this call for yet another day. He is in the middle of dealing with his own mother, who has Alzheimer's and has of late been hitting the young girl we have hired to help care for her. I doubt my father can relate to the way we think of Mother's Day. Loving and caring for his mother have changed him, just as her illness has changed her.

 Every day we try to hold on a little bit more to the memory of who she used to be, so that we can handle who she has become now. Doing that hurts too, because things are so different, and we wonder how we became this way. Old age is horrible. Let no one say otherwise.

On Father's Day I think to myself, I hope I can be as present for my parents as they were for their own. I am all the way across the world, and have a decade or so to make it possible for them to live here, or convince myself that life would be better if I moved back.

What this means is that in my father's best years, and my mother's, which are now, I will be far far away. We are missing out on having fun with each other but there isn't a way in the world you could get me to move back to Bangalore at this point. I am so happy to have grown up there, but it now it makes me sad. Landing there and not being at the little airport near Indiranagar makes me sad. The long long road back to Koramangala makes me sad, as does the visible evidence of the corruption linked to the new airport. The air is impossible to breathe, and I feel the grime coating me- settling on me as I settle into the city. All the bisibelebhath and lunch thalis in the world cannot make up for the loss of the city I grew up in.

Landing in Delhi or Mumbai do not have the same effect. No matter how unbearably hot, or noisy Delhi is it will always have my heart. Delhi was ever uncomfortable- you just accept it and move on. Mumbai I have no feelings for- so landing there or not landing there have no meaning to me. Bangalore was my home, and I am having trouble accepting that it has changed so much, and become so very unlivable.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Skinny Broccoli Gratin

Makes 2 generous serves.
280 calories per portion.

Garlic- 1 small clove
Shallot- 1
Nutmeg- one small pinch
Mustard powder- optional- I used this because I saw the Colman's sitting in the pantry looking neglected
Milk- 1 cup, 240 ml- I used skim
Butter- 1 tbsp
Flour- 2 tbsp
Cooking spray, or a couple of drops of oil

Broccoli- 4 cups frozen, 400-450 gms
Onion- 1 or 2
Mozzarella- 28 gms

Salt and Pepper to taste.

  • Heat up a small saucepan and put in a few drops of oil. 
  • Put in the chopped shallot, and 2-3 min later the chopped garlic. 
  • Keep on heat till you can smell the garlic cook. 
  • Put in the butter and lower the temperature to keep it from burning.
  • Add the flour and cook till it stops smelling raw- 4-5 min. 
  • Add the milk mixing as you go. I did it in two rounds and settled in for a lot of stirring, but you can be more elegant about this and add the milk little by little. 
  • Add the nutmeg, mustard powder and some salt. 
  • Keep stirring, seek out the lumps and eliminate them. 
  • This should thicken in 5-10 minutes, over medium heat. 
  • Add water if needed and bring to a boil. 
  • Add salt and pepper as needed and take off the heat. I made sure there was enough sauce to cover the vegetables that I had put out in a glass baking dish. 
  • I used frozen broccoli- which I steamed for 2-3 minutes before setting aside. 
  • Mix the chopped onion with the broccoli, and a little salt before putting into a glass baking dish. 
  • Cover with the béchamel and bake for 20 minutes at 400F. 
  • Pull the dish out, add the mozzarella to the top and bake for another 15 min at 400F.
If the cheese seems too meagre you could increase the quantity, or add some flaked almonds to the topping.  I ate the almonds before they could get to the dish, so had none to put on, and it worked fine anyway.
I ate this over some plain pasta, but can see it going very well with warm bread.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Kale Palak Paneer

Some weeks ago we bought a bag of kale, thinking that we too should get with the times. Kale is terrifying, and I don't know too many ways to make it palatable, having failed more than once. Using it in Palak Paneer worked out well and here is the recipe.

Spinach leaves- I used 1 cup of frozen spinach to one handful of fresh kale- 2-3 cups
Kale- take it off those awful stems2-3 cups
Ginger- by eye- approx as much as the garlic
Garlic-not crazy amounts
Green Chili- I like lots
Cream- I add this tbsp by tbsp, and find myself adding 4-6 before I am happy.
Onion- who has time to cut more than one?
Tomato-chopped fine
Cashew nuts- one small fistful
Paneer- as much as you have. I'd use at least 400 gm
Coriander Powder
Garam Masala
Milk- one cup (maybe)

Heat the oil.
Add Cumin.
Add the Onion- cook till soft.
Add the chopped Ginger and Garlic- cook till this stops smelling raw.
Add all the spices except for the Amchur and cook roast off.
Add the Tomato, Green Chili, Spinach, Kale and Cashew nuts. Add some milk to help things along.
Cook all of this till the Kale is softened and the Spinach cooked. This should take 10-15 minutes. Make sure it doesn't get too dry by adding milk.
Turn down the heat and transfer to your food processor in batches to blend. Kale has a very odd texture, and I did my best to get rid of this by pulverising it.
Add a little bit of oil to another pan, heat up, and brown the cubed Paneer. (Don't do this if you like the Paneer to stay soft)
Add the Amchur, Cream and Paneer to the pan, with the kale-palak mix, and bring to a boil.
Keep adding Cream and Salt till happy.
Finish by stirring in some Amchur.

I have no measurements for the spices. Just go with your gut, and be generous with the Amchur. It fixes everything. As does Cream.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Micro snakes

"It is like micro snakes, all trying to crawl up my nose and into my brain."
Says J about my hair.

It is so humid here that it feels like we could open the balcony door and just swim off into the sky.

Don't blame the hair. It is just trying to deal with summer, like all the rest of us.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Je ne regrette rien

Asparagus- so wonderful in the eating, so unpleasant the olfactory aftermath.
Oh well.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Spiders in the Stupa

I woke up screaming this morning at 4.52. J noted the time, as he prefers not to be woken up before 7.00.

I dreamt that I was with a friend, probably my Italian former-flatmate Jonathan, with whom I have enjoyed living and traveling. He's given to mystical musings, and has a deeply philosophical approach to many things, combined with the chance that any little things may drive him batshit. He is a dreamy temperamental sort. I am less dreamy, and often just as cranky.

In the dream Jonathan and I were walking in a crowded city, and looking for a quiet spot to rest and muse. The constant rushing, and racket of the city had gotten to us, and we needed to recover. We might have been in Thailand, it definitely felt very Asian. We might have been Buddhist monks, not sure. We did know that we had been left this Stupa in the middle of the city (by a benefactor, by friends, Airbnb booking, remains unclear). There was a giant gate, and a driveway that sloped down. The compound had lots of trees, overgrown greenery, and a complete absence of people. Some way in there was a beautiful black, red, cream and golden stupa, matching the work on the gate but larger. The top was not domed or pointed but shaped more like a gopuram- so kind of broad haipin like. I have a very clear picture of this still, even though it has been several hours.

We walked up to it, I was a step or two ahead of Jonathan. I walked towards the locked door, and had climbed up the first step when I saw a massive brown, white and yellow spider in the middle of a web that went diagonally across the entry way. It was looking at me, and moved as I started turn to run away.

At this point I freaked out and woke up crying. J rolled over, and had me tell him the dream. When I was done, and whimpering again from fear (I really do not like spiders) he said something which did nothing to make the situation better.

"Maybe it just wanted to give you a hug".

He tried to fix this later by adding "You know, like Charlotte, from the book". But it was too late.

No doubt tonight I shall have terrible dreams about spiders trying to hug me with all 8 legs, J will try to calm me by wrapping himself around me, I will try fight him off as if he were a spider, though he has only half the number of limbs,  and it will end with more frights and flailing, for at least one of us.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Things I watched in December and January

Some of these might have been in November as well- but here is the round up.  


Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2014)
I am a bit sad that Han and Leia's marriage became a casualty of the Star Wars story. This is all. I watched this twice with J, he loves the chases, and is a child of the original trilogy. I go along because I love the scope of things, but am bored by the inability to come up with an original story line. Might as well have gone and watched the very first ever- Star Wars: A New Hope. Though the new leads are great, and I like movies with female pilots/drivers/captains. 

In the Heart of the Sea (2014) 
Horribly boring. I don't know why anyone would try to make a movie about the writing of Moby Dick, when there isn't really much of a story there to tell- just make Moby Dick. I occasionally fall asleep at the movies, but never at the beginning. This movie sent me right off, with an incredibly slow start, though I have to say it never really picks up. The shots of the sea are beautiful, but that's the best thing about the movie. Most glaring misuse of opportunity that I have seen in a while.

Hasee to Phasee (2014)
Argh. Some bits were funny, but overall I found myself clenching my teeth, wishing the ridiculous mannerisms of the female lead would magically melt away. Siddharth whatsit is pleasant enough, but so boring that I've already forgotten his last name, and I have no intention of finding out.

Muriel's Wedding (1994)
I remember watching this as a child and loving it, not that I could have understood very well at the time. I love ABBA, and Toni Collete, and stories about women who do not have to marry to have their world complete.

DDLJ (1995)
I watched this one rainy morning, while doing chores. Has not aged well. Now that I am not a 10 year old, and am in a relationship with an actual human being, this movie seems more ridiculous than ever. Also I have lived in Switzerland- people do not just let Indian hitchhikers sleep in their barns, take kindly to women crawling on bar counters, or have shops open at 6 pm. That Ghar Aaja Pardesi song is still beautiful though.

Phoenix (2014)
This was playing at a theatre across town and I dragged J to it. This is about a woman coming to terms with the knowledge that her husband has done a terrible thing to her, working her way towards accepting his perfidy. I loved it. The music was excellent, as was the dialogue. There were long tense moments of silence, and the end was fantastic. It's not on Netflix, should anyone want to watch it. I suggest no breaks. 

Hannah Arendt (2012)
I am so happy I chanced upon this. I haven't seen too many movies where people have serious philosophical discussions, where talk of ethics doesn't devolve into parody. It was very very good. I know I watch too many Holocaust movies, but this was a most excellent one about the nature of evil, and how one might approach thinking about it. German, I think, and I like that they aren't afraid of long periods of silence.

Remembrance (2011)
Was really not that great, though Netflix had me believe otherwise. In this a Jewish woman manages to escape a concentration camp with her Polish revolutionary lover. They are separated soon after, and don't meet again until several decades have passed. I just don't have it in me to watch a movie about the power of love, I think. 

Ida (2014) 
So this is a black and white movie, set in Poland, where a girl who is about to become a nun discovers that she has Jewish heritage. Then she meets an aunt, who is a high-powered something or the other, and they go on a road trip. It was very good, very silent, and very lovely to watch. Very affirming in a way that Remembrance was not. 

Le Diner de Cons (1999)
Oh I don't even know. I'm sure this was funny at some point but it hasn't aged well for me, and this was the first time I was seeing it from beginning to end in one sitting, having seen bits and pieces before. Middle-aged cheating French men are my least favourite type, and I want to encounter less in in cinema, as in real life. 


Peaky Blinders
J and I watched this together. We powered through 3 seasons of Boardwalk Empire, to find that the other two cost $40 each or something (not doing that). This was our fix of Irish gangsters. The music was a bit jarring at the beginning, there is so much of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds that you can take, but they moved on to a very P.J Harvey heavy season. We loved the show, and I look forward to its return later this year.

Jessica Jones
Another thing J and I watched together, mostly because I made him, and he likes watching people being thrown against building, of which there is a lot. As J pointed out over and over- the dialogue was regrettable, except when David Tennant was delivering it. He is fantastic. Krysten Ritter was too, but her character got a bit tiresome. Also she looks so much like Michael Jackson that it was most distracting. I was happy to see familiar faces on the show, but also happy for it to end. Marvel characters appear to be written by 13 year old boys, and one might argue that this is better than 50 year old men, but that is neither here nor there. I found the discussions of heroism tiresome. I am just not the target audience for this kind of show. 

Top of the Lake
I am, however, the target audience for this kind of show. Very well written. And lovely camera work. Most predictable end, but that wasn't the point of it. I was happy to watch it and look forward to the next season. Elizabeth Moss carries the whole thing on her most capable shoulders. It is very dark though, and almost completely unrelieved by humour.

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
I haven't seen enough Australian tv, and this is a lovely introduction. Phryne Fisher is a detective in Sydney in the late 20's. The show has a lovely eye for detail, and lots of interesting characters, including a Communist cab driver, an interfering aunt, a dapper police inspector, a bumbling junior policeman, and a delightfully bosomy right-hand woman. I cannot recommend this enough. If you have to watch one thing for joy this year- you can't go too wrong with this.

Appropriate Adult
This was my introduction to Emily Watson, and I have stalked her since. Like so many other excellent things this is an iTV miniseries. Dominic West plays a serial killer and Emily Watson plays the social worker assigned to his investigation. 

The Great British Baking Show
I have an unfortunate addiction to cooking shows like My Kitchen Rules, Masterchef (Australia and UK only please), and Top Chef. This one is great, full of stupid puns, and doesn't take itself too seriously. It's just a baking competition, not like and death with bellowing, as most American cooking contests would have it. 

Death Comes to Pemberley
Yes ok. Nothing spectacular. But lots of familiar faces. And Matthew Rhys. Who gives excellent smouldering stare. Also James Norton- whose beauty must be celebrated. 

is about a vicar who served in the 2nd World War, and his friendship with a detective, with whom he solves cases. He has an inexplicable attachment to a women who will not become his girlfriend, but who visits him often, is very proprietary. He has limited means, compassion for a closeted gay colleague of his, a stern housekeeper who delivers many sharp set-downs, and a sister with a black boyfriend. James Norton is most excellent. I found the show charming, and I look forward to the next season.

Happy Valley
Also has James Norton in it, but as a rapist and murderer. Someone joked on Twitter the other day that people pitched new shows to the BBC saying " Detective show, but here- insert name of small town".  Happy Valley is set in the Yorkshire Dales against the context of high drug use and trade in the area. Sarah Lancashire plays a police sergeant whose daughter committed suicide after being raped by the James Norton character. I had great fun watching this- would highly recommend.

Is set in the town of Broadchurch, where a young boy has been murdered. A homegrown detective, played by Olivia Coleman, has been passed over as lead investigator, and is forced to work with a surly senior detective from Scotland, played by David Tennant. The story is great, and the cast is very good. Arthur Darvill from Doctor Who shows up, and he is wonderful. I want him to be in everything. This show is very very good.

The Escape Artist
Is a miniseries in which David Tennant plays a defence lawyer dealing with a dangerous client. There's no way to describe it without spoilers. It is a short three part series, and less compelling than Broadchurch, but it is a different, series. He is very good, as always, and I would watch anything with him in it. 

The Politician's Wife
Emily Watson and David Tennant play a married pair of ambitious politicians in this three part drama. The writing was somewhat predictable, but it was well-made, and fun for a weekend afternoon. The series describes the corruption of a marriage, with the two playing spy vs spy for a good part of it.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Movies this week

The Martian
This was more fun than I expected. It was nearly a week ago but J and I are still wandering around the house singing Starman. Most excellent use of a song. The movie was completely predictable of course, but it didn't hit too many false notes for me. I enjoyed the smart aleck responses, I enjoyed the declaration that Mars was going to fear this man's botany powers, and I was happy to finally see something with Jessica Chastain in it. It isn't a life changing movie, but it wasn't filled with fools, in fact there wasn't even the one, and I was quite happy to spend $2.25 on it.

J and I have been waiting to watch Spectre for months. Except for the joy of uninterrupted Daniel Craig for 2h 38 min there is little to recommend the movie. It turns up fantastically foolish dialogue- for example at one point Moneypenny tells Bond "You have a secret, something you can't tell anyone because you don't trust them". No shit. Any other really basic words that you'd like to explain to us in the middle of what's supposed to be a spy thriller? So boring. Once you've seen Daniel Craig in a swimsuit every movie without that is a wasted opportunity. There might have been one joke that worked, but in general the dialogue fell flat. Also there were too many flashbacks and throwbacks to previous movies, we heard about Vesper Lynd and Le Chiffre more than there was exposition about the villain of the piece. It seemed kind of a waste of Monica Belluci, to give her so little to do in the movie. Could no one come up with an independent story-line for this movie. Also this train hurtling into Morocco was most suspicious, seeming to carry only spies, and wealthy Europeans on vacation, the two being inter-changeable I suppose. So nice of them to take the movie to North Africa and throw in a black driver at least.

Tragic realisations

I might have to come to terms with the fact that I do not like Japanese food.

I have a very dear Japanese-Swiss friend. We used to go to a restaurant called Sushi-train, in Geneva, about once a month. There I ate rice, with fried bits of fish on top, and rice wrapped in seaweed with cucumber, and let myself think that sushi was something I could do. And Claudia, twice as polite as everyone else, on account of being both Japanese and Swiss, left me my illusions.

Now I am in the U.S, and living with another sushi enthusiast (C and I were joined at the hip for 4 years), but this one will call me out. We've tried a whole host of Japanese restaurants in the area. J has a dear friend whose father was born in Japan to an army-dad. J himself enjoys fishy foods of all descriptions. So we find ourselves eating sushi a lot. And it always leaves me with a very odd feeling.

Branching out to other kinds of restaurant-Japanese fare has not been successful either. I do not like cold soba noodles, which appear frequently on menus. I like warm soba noodles, when made spicy and with peanuts- so basically Thai style.  I do not like miso soup- it is so odd. I do not like tofu- though I know I must learn to love this, as a mostly vegetarian person trying to get by in the U.S without dying of boredom. I do not like soups with raw, or semi-cooked eggs in them. I thought I loved ramen but I do not like broths where I can smell the fish above all other things, and soy to me is not a flavour. I have not tried chawanmushi- an egg custard with bits of fish and scallions, but I hope to next time. I want to love edamame, but eating more than 2 (one edamame, two edamame?) leaves my head throbbing. Teriyaki chicken leaves me cold, as does hibachi- neither is interesting enough for me to use up calories over them.

I do like gyoza- but you have to be a monster to deny a pan-seared dumpling. Shumai, again a dumpling. All dumplings are amazing, and I don't know if loving these is enough.

I don't like Japanese food. And I am sorry to have to admit it.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Movies one weekend in November

One of my New Year's resolutions is to write more. So am cleaning up old blog posts and letting them loose into the world. Also I may not watch or read anything without leaving at least a line or two about it. So prepare for many opinions in 2016.

November 2015

I have a paper due in a week. Procrastination in full swing. I have baked two batches of muffins, and watched several movies. The first batch of muffins was excellent- Banana Double Chocolate Chip Muffins, no butter or oil but applesauce instead. I was suspicious of applesauce- seemed like a bizarre American ingredient to me to begin with, but now I am a convert. I boiled up a bunch of apples that were going bad, because J is always buying too much fruit in the hope that I will help him eat it. He is not in luck. I eat fruits when they are cut and served to me by adoring grandparents after dinner, but not otherwise.

The second batch of muffins was supposed to serve as breakfast- so they had oats, bananas, cinnamon, cashews and applesauce. These did not turn out so well. They were far too runny, and deflated a bit while cooking. They were also weirdly grey. The almond extract I threw in at the last moment made the whole thing smell ever so slightly artificial- not because the essence was off, but because not even almonds smell that strongly of almonds. I gave up on these, but J has already eaten more than half, so despite their shrunken grey form I assume they are acceptable. Also he does not know where I have hidden the chocolate ones.

This weekend we started Lamhe (1991). J gave up rather soon, when Sridevi launched into her second dance, so about ten minutes into the movie. This film is nearly four hours long, and most of it is songs. Endless painful songs that do nothing to advance the plot. The creepiness of this man who falls in love with a woman, and then her daughter 18 years later was too much for us to handle. Anupam Kher is spectacularly annoying in his buffoonery, and Sridevi's high-pitched chirping was intolerable. As were Anil Kapur's sweaters, even if it was the early 90's. I did not finish this, I wanted to, but some time after watching Waheeda Rehman get on a roller-coaster with these mad hatters I gave up. Painful.

Humpty Sharma ki Dulhaniya (2014) was a more successful foray. Despite being ill-disposed to Varun Dhawan I found him quite tolerable. J lost patience with the Alia Bhatt character, but returned to watch every song, and practice his dance moves. I enjoyed some parts of the movie very much and was troubled by others. What did this girl study and what was her plan for after she got married? Big blank considering how smart she seems to be. Ashutosh Rana as the dad was most attractive. The sub-plot involving the plan to trick the fiancé into confessing his homosexuality was very nicely done. I was not expecting anything good to come from that set up, having been burnt by countless homophobic jokes in Hindi movies before, but this was a delightful change. For this alone I exempt the movie of criticism for the ridiculous plot and exasperating conclusion. And then there was Humpty's English poetry. In that moment I was in love too.

Nosferatu (1922)- we watched this on Halloween at a little local theatre, where they decided to allow the movie to be accompanied by an orchestra, performing music of their own composition. The music destroyed the movie, was completely off time, and included random bit of sentences, like "Beware the furry one" and "Aaaaieeeeee". I'm sure if there had been silence in the hall the movie would have been a lot spookier, as it happened, it was just tiresome. We did eat dinner in a great Chinese restaurant afterwards though. The waiter was high, and kept hiding J's beer bottle from him at the table (v bad at hiding).

Save the Date (2012) stars Lizzy Caplan. She is wonderful in everything, and even though the movie is a bit of fluff it is fun, and doesn't have the single cringe-inducing moment. Alison Brie is great too, and I look forward to seeing her in more things.

Heartlands (2002) was my find of the week on Netflix. I love Michael Sheen, almost as much as I love Lizzy Caplan. I loved them both before Masters of Sex, and so much more since that show. He was also a most excellent guest on Craig Ferguson's show, where they talked about medieval theme parks, and the importance of living without irony. Michael Sheen plays a man who learns his wife has taken up with the captain of their darts team, hops on the road to Blackpool, and has adventures on the way. The darts team captain was a familiar face as well- Jim Carter/Mr Carson from Downton Abbey. I would watch this again, when looking for a pick-me-up.