Thursday, December 29, 2011

Just Like Martha

Merry Christmas everyone! Ok, so it's a little after Christmas but the blogging has waited until now because I was traveling on Christmas to sunny California. So here I am, blogging from the left coast. In this blog post, I take creativity to a whole new level. Allow me to explain:

For the past ten years, I have thrown a Christmas party with a friend of mine which has gradually morphed into an elaborate and semi-formal dinner party with 41 people. I am allowed to take care of very few things myself in the planning of this party, but one thing I am responsible for is the place settings. And you would be foolish to think I make anything easy and just put placecards at everyone's seats. I have to be more creative than that. So, in honor of my recent baking, I figured I could make cookies to use as place settings. Recall, a few weeks ago, I made Martha Stewart's sugar cookies and she had many precious ideas for decorating cookies for the holidays, including turning the cookies into Christmas ornaments. Aha! A cookie that doubles as a placecard and an ornament! I fail to see how this could go wrong.

So, a couple days before the party, I made up the dough for the cookies. That was pretty easy and there was only one moment of uncertainty. The recipe calls for some brandy. In my house, we have 4 crystal bottles that hold various liquors. I don't know what they are but I knew one was brandy because my mom used it last time we made these cookies. Only she wasn't home to tell me which was which. So, I played a little Russian roulette with the bottles and just guessed and hoped. After all, liquor is liquor, right? I figured, "What's the worst that can happen?" In a bizarre turn of my fortune, I guessed correctly! Then again, apparently I had a 75% chance of guessing correctly because three of the bottles held brandy. But I didn't know that at the time so I declare it still a win.

Anywho, I made the dough and then got distracted so I didn't make the cookies until the next day. The original plan was to cut out the cookies with holes left for ribbon to be tied through to make an ornament and then pipe peoples' names on the cookies with red and green icing. I actually even bought the red and green icing. However, then I thought about it. I thought about how much my hands started cramping when I was piping the happy faces on the snowmen the other day. I thought about how many people have long last names. I thought about the fact that there were going to be 41 place settings to make. I thought that I must be crazy. So then I decided it would be a better idea to get gift tags that you tie onto stuff and write peoples' names on the gift tags. This somehow seemed less crazy to me.

And actually, it was. By the time I was cutting the cookies out, I had my mom and a friend from college helping me out (my sister had staunchly refused to help, deciding that I'm insane and should have just gotten some damn placecards). We picked out the most Christmasy of our cookie cutters so we had toy soldiers, snowmen, gingerbread men, hearts, etc etc. There were at least 10 different types. Martha even told us how to turn the cookies into ornaments. All you have to do is use a straw to poke a hole in the top of the cookie before you bake it. I thought this would be hard because sometimes the cookie dough gets a little sticky but it was actually remarkably easy! A Christmas miracle!

After baking (and yes, burning a few), we picked the best looking cookie ornaments to be the place settings. We got a nice assembly line going with me writing the names on the gift tags (how I obtained the gift tags is a story in and of itself and one I won't get into here but let's just say that I can't see things that are in front of my face) and my mom and friend tying the tags to the ornament/cookies. I was grateful for the helpers because that would have been the most annoying part for me. They all eventually got done and were adorable. Thanks, Martha for giving me the tools for a precious place setting for a dinner party:

The cookies were yummy, they were adorable, and (I'll save you the suspense) people really liked them. I'm not sure if any of the guests kept them as ornaments but several people did eat them before dinner was even served and then used the nametags as, well, nametags and attached them to their dresses, suits, etc. Overall, a success and while it may not be an interesting read, it made me very happy. So there.

Critical Reception:
The critics agree that pressed butter cookies are yummy. I even found someone to agree with me that the green Christmas trees are the yummiest ones. Which makes sense because they are. I ate so many of those cookies, it was insane. I'm a bad sharer when it comes to these cookies. I feel like I should make them a lot more often because they're so delicious.

A Disney Moment: Cinderella
We finally made it! A full length animated feature! And how nice to get back into it with an obvious classic like Cinderella. It was just sheer charm from start to finish. A delight really. I've always loved the "Sing Sweet Nightingale" scene where Cinderella bubbles start harmonizing with each other. I think it was a brilliant and whimsical move to tell much of the story through the mice (especially Gus-gus). The wicked stepmother is wonderfully wicked. I mean, the characters were all perfection.

One delightful moment for me: I never realized that Cinderella didn't know she was dancing with the prince. That was a pretty crucial piece of information for me. I never really thought of Cinderella as being a gold digger or prince-obsessed but it was really sweet to me that she didn't even know that she was with the prince. She just fell in love with this man that she danced with. It's a very endearing story in the end.

I have only one complaint about Cinderella. The scene with the fairy godmother is too long. Honestly, if that scene had been even two minutes shorter, this movie would win in this grouping of five movies. But as it stands, this was an exceptional grouping so Cinderella can only rank a 2/5. It was very very close to number one but it was a really tough decision and I hate labeling any of the movies in this grouping as low as even a 3. Except Ichabod. Which was way sub par compared to the rest of these. Anyway, thumbs up to Cinderella.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Pressing Christmas Tradition

Happy holidays everyone! I'm absurdly in the Christmas spirit and part of being in the Christmas spirit is making some traditional Christmas cookies like a good Italian should. In my family, we do Christmas cookies lite. By that, I mean that we don't make 18 different types of cookies. However, we do make one type of cookie in three different colors! So that's almost the same thing. The Christmas cookie we make is the spritz (or butter) cookie from the Joy of Cooking. This is one of the few times I'll support using a Joy of Cooking recipe for baking.

For those of you unfamiliar with spritz cookies, they're like a sugar cookie, but you use a cookie press to make fun shapes like trees or ornaments. A little background on the cookie press: years and years ago, my mom had a classic old metal cookie press. Then it broke or disappeared or something. Regardless of the reason, we didn't have a cookie press anymore. So, in order to bring back the tradition, we had to obtain a new cookie press. The problem is, all of these new-fangled cookie presses are plastic and awful. We have two including the Cookie Pro Ultra II Cookie Gun. Sounds impressive but actually was not and led to an angry phone call with the manufacturer last year. The truly epic cookie press battle took place last year but it culminated in us obtaining our current cookie press, affectionately known as "The Dead Lady Cookie Press". That's right, we bought it at an estate sale, where we found it in a pile of crap in the old dead woman's basement. It was almost creepy but we were too excited to have found an old metal screw top cookie press to care. So that's the story behind our cookie press and that's what we use now. (This was a necessary diversion because the cookie press is the most crucial part of making spritz cookies.)

On to the baking! Spritz cookies are actually extremely easy. Cream some butter and sugar, add some egg yolks and vanilla, then add some flour and salt. That's it for ingredients. Then we modify slightly and break the dough into thirds before chilling and dye one third green and one third red (although the red usually comes out more pink than red but I do the best I can). There's nothing exciting to report about any of this except that it's a little annoying because you have to wash everything after using each of the dyes. Then I chucked the dough in the fridge to chill for a few hours.

Here's where things got interesting. Cookie presses come with discs with cutout shapes that you use to create the various shaped cookies. However, the cutouts don't necessarily give you a good indication of what the cookie shape will be. My mom and I identified the tree, the camel (yes, camel.), the IUD/penis shape depending on who you're asking, the butterfly, the spiral, and the blob. So those were the ones we made. There was also a dog/reindeer but we didn't feel like cleaning another one. We started out with the green dough to make the trees because the trees are my favorite. My mom and I were supposed to have another baking minion at this point but he was busy trying to break into his aunt's house with a crowbar. You just can't make this stuff up.

Even with our superior cookie press, pressing the cookies isn't easy. It takes some significant arm strength and the dough has to be just the right temperature. Too cold and you can't press it through the cookie press and too warm and it's a soft mess. Also, if the dough's too cold, the cookies don't stick to the tray and you can't detach the cookies from the press. We stubbornly tried pressing the cookies when they were too cold. These cookies are therefore infused with love and cursing, like all good Christmas cookies.

Eventually we managed to press all of the green dough into trees (though we did have to creatively rebuild a couple). At this point, our baking minion returned to help press some red cookies. The first attempted shape was the spiral shape but that one notoriously doesn't stick to the pan well so we only made a couple of those. I also forgot to take the red dough out of the fridge in a timely manner so the dough was once again too cold. Baking minion tried to warm the dough in the cookie press by wrapping his warm hands around the metal, which seemed like far too a logical solution to me. Finally, we got into a rhythm with the butterfly cookies which turned out to be ornaments(?) as long as they were large enough. Into the oven for about 10 minutes.

All we had left then was the plain dough colored dough. The reason we don't dye this dough is because these are the cookies we add red and green sprinkles to. We started out with the camels but they were hard to make so we only made two camels. Don't worry though, there is a picture of them. It still boggles my mind that a camel shape even exists. For the rest of the cookies we used the IUD/penis shape. However, when pressed through that shape, lo and behold, the cookie was a heart! So we made many heart shaped cookies with red and green sprinkles. Oh, I should also mention that once there is too little dough to go through the cookie press, we made circular cookies with thumbprints in the middle and filled them with sprinkles. I don't particularly care for the sprinkle cookies but I love love love these spritz cookies. Especially the green ones. Because somehow they taste better. Don't argue with me, they're better! Anyway, the cookies are tiny shapes of buttery goodness and they just melt your heart with Christmas joy. Here are some pictures and sorry for the poor quality of the second one (but that's the only way you're getting to see the camels):

Critical Reception:
The truffles are a hit. I've been told that I could make them and sell them for 20 bucks a box and make an awesome profit. I think the favorite type so far has been the cookie encrusted truffle but I haven't asked enough people yet. Plus it's hard to eat more than a few in a day. That said, the truffles are succeeding in bringing Christmas joy and I would definitely make them again with some better white chocolate. And dear readers, you should try it yourself! It's a pretty easy recipe despite the minor roadblocks you read about in my last post. Be brave and get your hands covered in chocolate!

A Disney Moment: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
So, I spoke too soon. We're not quite at the full length feature films yet. Similar to Fun and Fancy Free, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is two stories in one movie. First we have Mr. Toad. I don't recall ever having seen Mr. Toad before so my only knowledge of Mr. Toad comes from Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland. And that ride can only be described as a hot mess so it doesn't give much insight into the plot. And even after watching it, I'm still not sure what the plot was because it wasn't that memorable. Mr. Toad steals a car because he wants to drive it and goes to jail and then breaks out and somehow ends up with a plane. I just didn't really care. It was entertaining enough while I was watching but it just didn't stick with me.

The second half was the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The first thing my sister and I noticed was "Ooh! Narrated and performed by Bing Crosby!" We love Bing Crosby and especially his gorgeous singing voice that can just relax you in the best way possible. Unfortunately for us, it worked too well. By about halfway through the introduction of Ichabod (via a slightly lengthy song), I was dead asleep. About five minutes later, my sister was asleep. We both woke up when the movie was pretty much over. Feeling extremely confused, we decided to go to bed and give it another shot the next day.

The next morning we watched Ichabod again. Ichabod as a character is kind of annoying. But that aside, it was really pretty good until the very end. The end has an ambiguity that I didn't care for. I suppose that's Washington Irving's fault but it still annoyed me. Overall, it was better than most (if not all) of the dark times Disney films, but due to the clump of 5 films that Ichabod and Mr. Toad belongs to, it only ranks a 5/5.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

And That's Why You Never Bake After Finals

Hello friends! My next baking adventure (and I really do mean adventure) is a multi-part affair. I am making Ebony and Ivory Truffles from the Death By Chocolate cookbook. There's been far too little chocolate in my life and I seek to amend that. The Ebony and Ivory truffles involve making essentially one semisweet chocolate and one white chocolate ganache, rolling them together (after a complicated process of stirring and chilling that I'll tell you about in a minute), and coating them in cocoa. But wait! There's more! The note from the author suggests getting creative rather than just rolling the truffles in cocoa. He suggests nuts or coconut or the Ultimate Ganache or crumbled up Deep Dark Cookies. Well, I'm super creative so I decided to do all of those! I'm officially nuts. And I mean the crazy kind, not the kind I'm about to roll truffles in.

::groans at own bad joke::

That was Exhibit A for why one shouldn't bake immediately following finals. For those of you not privy to my special kind of hell this week, Thursday I had two final exams practically back to back in two extremely difficult subjects. Additionally, I had other work to do like homework assignments and group papers and other nonsense. Needless to say, there was stress. And how do I relieve stress? Apparently by baking because I'm crazy. After coming home on Thursday and deciding this would be a good idea, I started with banging out the Ultimate Ganache and the Deep Dark Cookies. I figured, "I've made both of these before! In fact, I've made the cookies twice so this should be a cakewalk!" Yeah, no.

On the bright side of life, I had an epiphany. I realized that baking chocolate is the same thing as chocolate chips and the latter is cheaper and on sale because it's Christmastime. Yay! Anyway, on to the cookies. I won't describe the details here because as I've said, I've made these twice. There were, however, a few stumbling blocks. For example, the chocolate just wouldn't freakin' melt. Seriously, 45 minutes and I still had chunky chocolate. I need a designated chocolate melter because I so don't have that sort of patience. My good old water bath method didn't work well for some reason (perhaps because my house was cold?) and it was just really really frustrating. So while I was staring at chocolate, waiting for it to melt (which is not unlike watching a pot waiting for it to boil), I decided to at least measure out the chocolate for the Ultimate Ganache. Multitasking! I'm legitimately shocked I got any measurements right because baking after two finals is something akin to baking while drunk. Which I haven't done. Yet.

Anyway, I got kinda lazy and didn't break the unsweetened chocolate chunks in half like I was supposed to. Exhibit B. Big mistake. After checking the progress of my melting chocolate and finding it still unmelted, I decided to just go ahead and finish up the ganache. Maybe it's that I'm scared of boiling heavy cream and I don't let it boil enough but for some reason, it didn't melt the chocolate in the pretty way it did the last time. I don't get it. Most notably, the unsweetened chocolate was particularly resistant to melting. I should be good at melting chocolate by now dammit! Anyway, after whisking the hell out of the ganache, I eventually got it to smooth out but let me assure you, it was a process. After finishing that, I went back to my cookies to find my chocolate still. not. melted. After 45 minutes. Insane. Clearly frustrated, I just chucked the mostly melted chocolate into the mixing bowl and declared that the remaining chunks would be chocolate chips. Told you I'm crazy. Exhibit C, folks.

My mixer did not like this decision. It tried to jump off the counter again and it did not enjoy trying to mix with those chocolate chunks in there. I can't say I blame it. I wouldn't take that kind of abuse if I were the mixer either. Anyway, after adding the chocolate, I had to add the flour and cocoa and I don't know why but when I turned on the mixer to blend them, it was like Hiroshima. Mushroom cloud of cocoa and flour. Pieces of batter were literally flying out of the mixer. It was puzzling. And annoying. And messy. And I so didn't care because I took 2 finals that day. Those were the major hurdles and after that, I just baked the cookies and contemplated writing the presentation I had to give the next day. In case you were wondering, I only contemplated and did not in fact do it that night.

Fast forward to Friday evening. Another long day and the last official day of classes. In a fit of crazy, I decided to make the truffles Friday night and do all of the dipping in stuff on Saturday. Cool. So, again, I had to boil heavy cream and pour it over chocolate. Let me put this in perspective for you. 15 oz of white chocolate in one bowl. 16 oz of semisweet chocolate in another bowl. 1.5 cups of boiled heavy cream. That's it. And, only 1/3 of that heavy cream is designated for the white chocolate. Seems odd, right? Anyway, I boiled the heavy cream and then kind of eyeballed how much had to go in each bowl. I know, I know, not scientific. But what was I supposed to do? Pour the boiling cream into a measuring cup? Seriously, I'm not sure how I should have handled this.

Let stand for 4-5 minutes. Stir with separate whisks until smooth. I only have one whisk. Used a spoon for the other. Alas. The semisweet chocolate was perfection. It got nice and smooth and it was awesome. But the white chocolate. Oh, the white chocolate. The chocolate refused to melt. The whole thing was just way too thick and the chips weren't even close to melting, even after vigorous stirring. So I think to myself, "Maybe you eyeballed the cream all wrong and there's not enough cream." Then I agreed with myself so I boiled another 1/8 cup of cream or so. Basically just enough to cover the bottom of my saucepan. Poured that over the chocolate and let that stand for a few minutes. Returned to stir again and still, the white chocolate wasn't even close to being melted.


My chocolate may not be melting but my brain sure is. Think, think, think. Ok, I cannot microwave the chocolate because it's in a metal bowl. That would be bad. Then again, it's in a metal bowl...I have a saucepan...I'll make a makeshift double boiler! Awesome. So, I set the bowl on top of my saucepan (being careful to not let the bowl touch the water), boiled the water, stirred my chocolate and voila! It almost entirely melted! There's no way in hell that a recipe with 3 ingredients should have been this difficult. Maybe I just don't have the baking techniques yet to play with the big dogs. Or maybe it's bad luck. Or poor judgement. Next direction: let stand for an hour at room temperature. Good judgement: time for a glass of wine.

After an hour of sitting, I had to refrigerate for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Ok. Easy. Nope, not easy. Remember how delightful that semisweet chocolate was being for me before? Not anymore. I don't know what the hell I was supposed to stir it with (possibly a jackhammer) because that stuff was pretty hard. I broke my whisk trying to stir it. Seriously. I'm just as shocked as you. It's not fair, I followed the ridiculous timings to the letter and even set a timer so I wouldn't screw it up. Sad panda. Anyway, I abandoned my whisk and stirred with great difficulty with a spoon. The white chocolate, however, was stir-able. Figures. Then I was supposed to put a heaping tablespoon of the semisweet chocolate on parchment paper and top it with a flat tablespoon of the white chocolate. Way easier said than done. The white chocolate was really sticky. I had much trouble rolling the combined chocolates into balls. They were kinda deformed and I had to rechill the white chocolate several times and it was messy. And frustrating.

And here's the reason why: I should not have been using white chocolate chips. This has been an extremely valuable lesson for me. In frustration, I flipped through the Death By Chocolate cookbook and right there in the first few pages, it informs me to only use certain types of white chocolate and particularly to avoid those with vegetable or other oils in the ingredients. Oh. This now explains the somewhat oily nature of my white chocolate ganache. I know this blog post is getting long but it's an important point to get across. When working with white chocolate (and particularly when making candy), just suck it up and get the good stuff.

Let's fast forward again to Saturday now. Time to put the coatings on the candies. I decided on cocoa, cocoa with cinnamon added, Ultimate Ganache, crumbled Deep Dark Cookies, coconut, and walnuts. Cocoa, no problem. Ganache, no problem. The rest though...blergh. The stuff wouldn't stick to the semisweet chocolate parts of the truffles. So I guess that's the good thing about the crappy white chocolate. It was difficult, there was a lot of molding and shaping of the truffles, but it got done in the end. Then, I realized that I had about a quarter cup of heavy cream left and decided to make more because I'm crazy! I didn't want to use the white chocolate again so I consulted Joy of Cooking for a recipe. I found one that included adding liquor to the truffles. Score! So I made another two types with rum added and decided to coat them in Ultimate Ganache and powdered sugar. This post is too long so I won't further elaborate but here they are, my post-finals crazy truffles:

Frustrating as they were, at least they're beautiful. Now, I only tasted one (the Ultimate Ganache one, obviously) and it was really delicious. So so so so chocolatey. I think you have to be a chocolate fiend to enjoy these though because they really are a hefty dose of chocolate. I may have made the ganache coating too thick. Oh well. By the way, my whole kitchen is just a mess of chocolate. In this project, I used almost all the bowls I own and there is chocolate everywhere from my floor to my counters to my refrigerator door. Looks like Sunday will be a good scrub-down of my kitchen. Like I said, I'm a little nuts.

Critical Reception:
People flipped for the coconut snowmen. At first the consumers weren't entirely sure what they were but once I instructed them to turn them so that the hat was on top, they got it. They were described as "sinfully sweet" and "dangerously good because it's hard to have only one". One person commented that this was their favorite thing that I had made so far. One of my officemates declared me Queen of the Sweets after having two coconut snowmen. Man, I guess those mind control drugs I put in the snowmen really worked!

A Disney Moment: Melody Time
The last of the dark times Disney films! And it's about time. I'm ready for some full length stuff again. This is another film that is comprised of seven shorts loosely held together by...a paintbrush? That's just weak, Disney. By the time I got to watching this one, I just didn't care anymore. All of these movies kind of blended together in my mind. The most famous short in this film is Johnny Appleseed which I thought was actually really boring and heavy handedly religious. Honestly, I don't even remember much about it except that I didn't like it.

The highlight for me was a short called "Little Toot". Once again, one of my favorite shorts has the vocals performed by the Andrews sisters. This short features a little tugboat who wants to be just like his father, Big Toot. However, Little Toot is kind of an idiot and causes an ocean liner to crash into what I assume is New York City. Wait, what? No one addresses this obvious disaster except to exile Little Toot in chains to a buoy far out in the ocean and relegate his father to towing the garbage barges and getting covered in seagull crap. Really, folks? A ship has crashed into the city! There are buildings that are literally toppled over! It's like 9/11 times a hundred! Yes, 91,100! You're not even going to address that? The very next scene though, has Little Toot alone in the ocean with terrifying buoys (think of the trees in the forest in Snow White) chanting "Shame! Shame!"

Of course, then Little Toot finds a ship in distress during a storm and redeems himself (with the requisite scene where we think our protagonist has died) by towing the ship to safety. So anyway, I can't get past that ship crashing into the city but at least it's a short that stuck with me. You can find it on YouTube if you want to take a look. This movie gets a 4/5 and I'm glad to be done with these compilation shorts films. Good riddance. Next up, we have a group of 5 films that include some real classics and I cannot wait!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Getting in the Christmas Spirit

Well, I guess I lied about not baking until finals were over. I took a couple study breaks on Saturday to come up with a delightful holiday treat. I specifically chose something that would have multiple steps that involved chilling in between the steps so that I could keep on diligently studying. No, seriously, I was studying! You can put away those skeptical looks now. Feeling very Christmas-y, I decided to finally tackle a treat that I've been dying to make ever since I started this project but couldn't until now because it's very wintery. Coming to you from the cookbook that brought us the Cookie Dough Truffles, I give you....Coconut Snowmen!

The picture for these is SO cute. It's so cute that here is a link to the picture. Basically, they are balls of coconut (like the truffles) coated in white chocolate, topped with a chocolate covered marshmallow to look like a hat, with an adorable icing smiley face. They're awesome. The recipe said that the yield was 4 dozen coconut snowmen but I figured that I was too stressed out to pipe 4 dozen smiley faces so I halved the recipe. So, I turned on the Christmas music station on my tv and got to work.

First step was making the coconut balls. They were just coconut, sweetened condensed milk, confectioner's sugar, and butter. However, it was a lot of coconut and a lot of sugar. As a result, I had a really really thick dough-type mixture. Oh, and I should mention, sweetened condensed milk annoys me. It just pours out of the can soooooooo sloooooooowly. Anyway, after a while, the MixMaster refused to blend any more of the coconut into the dough (and in fact, tried to make a suicidal leap off the counter. Seriously.) so I just started kneading the dough with my hands to incorporate the coconut. Fun fun. Then, I had to roll the dough into individual balls about 1 1/4 inches across. This was actually not too bad. The bad part's coming soon, I promise.

Commence coconut ball chilling!

After chilling, I had to coat the balls in white chocolate. I melted some white chocolate chips in the microwave (easy enough) and then I was faced with the same dilemma I had with the Cookie Dough Truffles. How does one appropriately coat a ball in chocolate without a) making a huge mess, b) getting a really thick coating, and c) getting a spiky covering and not at all the smooth coating that appears in the picture? The answer is that I don't know. Because all of those things happened to me. I tried rolling the balls around in the bowl, I tried putting the chocolate on my fingers and kind of painting it on, I tried swirling the chocolate around the ball and nothing worked. Alas. So, I have some slightly spiky chocolate covered coconut balls. Back in the fridge to chill, you fiends.

After a brief break to regain my composure, I got to what I'm sure will be your favorite part of this process: coating marshmallows in chocolate to look like top hats. I melted some milk chocolate this time and the directions told me to coat the marshmallows and then put them on waxed paper and swirl the chocolate on the bottom to get hat brims. Easy, right? WRONG! Let me paint a picture for you, dear readers: picture me standing at the counter of my kitchen with a bowl of fairly hot chocolate. I have a bag of jumbo puffed marshmallows. Silent Night is ironically playing in the background. Unlike the coconut balls, the marshmallows are pretty pliable. You know what that means? It means that when I try to pick them up out of the chocolate bowl, they are slippery and squeezable. Which means that they slip right out of my fingers. It sometimes took up to four attempts to pick up a single marshmallow. Siiiiiiiilent niiiiiiight....

I wish you could have been there to see it because even in my frustrated state, I remember thinking "This is pretty funny" and I don't feel I am adequately describing the absurdity of the process but it'll have to do. I managed to do some decent swirling of chocolate to get some hat brims, though my chocolate coating isn't perfect and there are some spots of marshmallow that poke through. My caring level was low though because I had chocolate under my fingernails and I hate that. Into the fridge, you heinous beasts!

The final step was the assembly. But first, can someone explain something to me? Why is it that the white chocolate coating does not get all melty when you hold it but the milk chocolate one does? Even after chilling, the chocolate covered hats start melting really quickly while the coconut balls were left out on my counter for like an hour and didn't melt one bit? It doesn't make any sense to me but it makes me sad. Anyway, using the remaining milk chocolate like glue, I attached the hats to the snowmen heads. This was surprisingly painless. Then the only thing left was to pipe on some faces. I was supposed to use orange icing for a little carrot nose but you know what's expensive? Icing. So I didn't. So here they are, for your judgement, my coconut snowmen:

They're not perfect, but they're my screwed up little babies so I love them anyway. I have no idea how they taste. I don't care for coconut or marshmallows really so I figure I'll let someone else be the guinea pig. I literally can't fathom how someone would eat this though. It's too big to just pop in your mouth and you can't really bite it. Maybe you eat the hat first and then eat the jolly snowman? I just don't know. All I know is, I love Christmas.

Critical Reception:
People really loved the butterscotch oatmeal cookies. I even had one person tell me that it was their favorite thing that I had made so far. Yay! I'm thinking of possibly eliminating this segment from my blog because so often I have very little to say in it. Thoughts?

A Disney Moment: Fun and Fancy Free
Next on our list is Fun and Fancy Free which is another one of those compilation feature films but this one has only two segments: Bongo and Mickey and the Beanstalk. I was pretty excited for this because I've seen Mickey and the Beanstalk and I've loved it. It's such a classic with the goofy semi-retarded giant and the happy valley song and the descent of Donald into cannibalistic madness. Well, more on my viewing of Mickey and the Beanstalk in a moment.

The film opens with our old friend Jiminy Cricket singing a delightful song "Fun and Fancy Free". I actually really enjoyed that and it was nice to see Jiminy again. Then we launch into the story of Bongo, a circus bear who longs to escape to the wild. The beginning of the segment had some Pinocchio overtones similar to when Pinocchio is working for the puppet show but it lost its charm pretty quickly. In fact, the whole segment dragged and I could not understand how the story of Bongo could be stretched to half a film. Yeah, it couldn't. As cute as Bongo was, he couldn't carry the segment. I spaced out about halfway through and when I came back, there were bears slapping each other. Somehow this was a good thing and it was confusing for a while until I realized that if you love someone, you slap them. Excellent message, Disney. Way to go with that one. Pretty much Bongo was a flop.

I forgot to mention, when reading the credits at the beginning, listed for Mickey and the Beanstalk were Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Huh? I don't remember them in Beanstalk. Odd. So we come to the Beanstalk segment and there's some premise with a party and Jiminy crashing the party and Edgar Bergen offers to tell the story of Mickey and the Beanstalk with Charlie's snide comments. Charlie kind of creeps me out. Anyway, as the cartoon portion begins, I recognized Bergen's voice as what I was used to but there were also interjections by Charlie that I did not remember. Very odd. And once or twice, the action cut back to the party, which was another feature I did not previously remember. It's not like the incorporation of Charlie was necessarily a bad thing but it was jarring to my memory of the cartoon. It's like listening to a song you know by heart and it starts skipping at weird times. Not enough to ruin it but just enough to make you feel uncomfortable. I still enjoyed Mickey's adventures (particularly the scene where they're all starving and Donald goes crazy) but it just wasn't quite what I so fondly remembered.

I finally figured out what was "wrong" with the cartoon after reading a book on Disney films that I took out of the library. (Yes, I actually use the library.) The version that aired on tv substituted Ludwig Von Drake for Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. All of a sudden it made more sense to me because I remember good ol' Ludwig now. So anyway, with Bongo being a flop and with me having a somewhat varied memory of Mickey and the Beanstalk, this only ranks either a 2 or 3 of 5. Good, but not good enough. I really can't wait to get back to real films.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Butterscotch, Briefly

Hello peoples! This will be a very brief post because I'm in academic hell right now. Seriously, after this, baking may not recommence until about 10 days from now. Sad, I know. Blame my professors for giving me two exams in the same day. And before anyone says, "Well, if you have so much work, why are you baking?" let me just say that sometimes you just need a little break from thinking. Baking allows for the brief mental holiday. Anywho, today I'm making Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies from the Bake Sale Cookbook. I had all the ingredients already (yeah, I actually had butterscotch chips. I have no milk in my house but I have butterscotch chips. Go figure.) so I could dive right into the baking.

Beat butter, sugar, and brown sugar. Cool, I can do this in my sleep. I miss that KitchenAid though. I didn't get quite the fluffyness that I got the last time I baked. It got sufficiently beaten though. The only wet ingredients in this recipe are two eggs and vanilla so I was already anticipating a pretty thick dough. Whoops! I seem to have dumped about an extra half a teaspoon of vanilla into the batter. Umm...yeah. I either got overconfident in my pouring abilities or I am overtired. No, just kidding, I'm just really overtired. So yeahhhh...hopefully they'll be ok.

After blending the dry ingredients (and after the mandatory puff of flour when I turned the mixer on), I had to stir in three cups of oats and one bag of butterscotch chips. Man, was that hard to stir. Even before I added the oats I triple checked the recipe because three cups of oats seemed like way too much. However, I battled through, loudly and aggressively, and eventually had semi evenly blended batter. Then I had to drop by TEAspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. It's usually tablespoonfuls so I was intrigued by this direction. I also tried to be diligent about the measuring because I always make cookies that are too big. The recipe said this would make about 4 dozen cookies. I call bullshit on that one. I made between 5 and 6 dozen cookies.

I decided to speed the baking by using two cookie sheets. Two problems with that. The first was that the pan on the bottom shelf burned the cookies. Yes, I should have rotated the pans halfway through but I am just so tired and it wasn't going to happen. Also, when the cookies burned, they burned in a weird way. It was like sugar oozed out of the cookies and then burned (the picture should demonstrate this phenomenon). Or maybe the butterscotch chips oozed out. Do butterscotch chips melt? What is butterscotch anyway? So many questions. Anyway, now my kitchen has that caramelized, blackened sugar smell. Score. Oh, and the second problem was that the cookies stuck to the pans. Which rarely happens to me so it was a little weird. Too tired to contemplate it further. Here there be cookies:

They're yummy. I don't really know if I've ever had or enjoyed butterscotch or oatmeal and I've certainly never had them together but they were pleasant cookies, though a bit sweet for my taste.

Critical Reception:
I served the pumpkin cookies (redux) on Thanksgiving as one of the many desserts. They were much loved and my grandmother asked me for the recipe. Nuff said.

A Disney Moment: Make Mine Music
Aaaaand, another collection of shorts that Disney passed off as a feature film. However, this one I really enjoyed. It was slow to start but really picked up with Casey at the Bat. Anyone who knows me knows that I love a plot with a depressing ending. And this movie has a couple of those for me to enjoy. I also liked the classic Peter and the Wolf. I even liked the narrator telling me which instruments represented which animals. The only downside for me was the twist where they had a whole scene about the duck dying and going to heaven and then (spoiler alert if anyone cares) he's not dead after all. That was annoying.

Other highlights for me included Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet and The Whale who Wanted to Sing at the Met. Johnny Fedora's music was performed by the Andrews sisters who I totally love but the whole time I couldn't stop wondering if the song existed before the cartoon or if it was written for the cartoon. If it was written before the cartoon, I really wonder why the Andrews sisters were singing about the true love of a pair of hats. It was cute and fun though and I enjoyed it. The Whale who Wanted to Sing at the Met had just the level of absurdity that leads you to believe that the whole thing is a dream sequence. And it is. Because Willie the Whale gets harpooned and dies instead of getting to sing at the Met. It was still just shocking enough to make you say "Noooooo! Willie the Whale! Singing in heaven is not softening the blow for me!"

Overall, some good shorts, some that fell flat, but of the 5 dark times Disney films, I'm going to put it as my favorite. Winner!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pumpkin Cookies Redux

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! In this very brief blog post (because I'm busy with things like, you know, cooking Thanksgiving dinner), I revisit the Iced Pumpkin Cookies that I made not too long ago. The reason I'm baking these again is because a) my mommy really liked them and was sad that I only let her have three cookies last time and b) it's Thanksgiving and pumpkin is a Thanksgiving thing, right? I wasn't entirely sure if I should even blog about this baking adventure since it's like one of those really lame sequels where it's just recreating the first successful film to make more money but I decided that I won't be baking much this week so I'd rather not leave you blog post-less.

So on to the cookies. This time I decided to double the recipe so I can serve them as one of the Thanksgiving desserts. Plus the recipe really only calls for half a can of pumpkin and what was I going to do with a half a can of leftover pumpkin when I still don't even really like pumpkin? Exactly. So doubling the recipe. Being at home, I got to once again use the lovely KitchenAid mixer and got overly happy about how well the butter and sugar was creamed. Seriously, it was so white and fluffy and it was like new fallen snow. I've been baking too much. Anyway, nothing interesting to report about the baking. It was smooth because I've done it before. The doubled recipe made a hell of a lot of cookies though.

Things got a little fun during the icing phase of the cookies. Since I doubled the recipe I figured I should double the recipe for the icing too, right? Wrong. Wayyyyyy too much icing. Also, despite assurances from my mom that we are never out of vanilla extract, we ran out of vanilla extract. Now, it's Thanksgiving week and I had already been to the supermarket twice that day and I so was not braving the Shop Rite crazies again so I (of course) Googled "vanilla extract substitute". Apparently you can use maple syrup! Cool, right? And we actually had that so that was exciting. Then my mom and I spent some bonding time icing the cookies and slightly competing to see who could decorate the cookies better. Overall, a smooth, relaxing baking experience. We stacked the cookies on a plate to cover them for turkey day and when they were halfway covered, they looked like a cave of cookies. Behold! The Cave of Wonders Cookies:

I was not inclined to try these cookies again since I really just don't like them. My mom loves them though and my boyfriend liked them a lot so, success. Now, this has nothing to do with anything but go see The Muppets. I went to the midnight showing and did not stop laughing for the entire movie. It was fantastic. I won't gush because I do enough of that but I ranked it in my top ten movies that I've seen. Ever.

Critical Reception:
So the cinnamon bread has been decently well received. My boyfriend was surprised and delighted that I went out of my way to make him the cinnamon bread he loves. My sister and mom agreed that I used the wrong proportion of starter. I did the bad math. With the amount of starter I had, I should have made 4 loaves of bread, not 2. Oh well, live and learn, right? Still tasty, just a little denser than I would have liked. P.S. Go see The Muppets.

A Disney Moment: The Three Caballeros 
Ok, so powering through the dark Disney days, the next film was The Three Caballeros. I remember that song! So I had higher hopes going in than I did with Saludos Amigos. That was a mistake. Apparently the premise is that it's Donald's birthday and he's opening gifts. Within approximately 30 seconds, my sister and I got annoyed and turned on subtitles so we could understand Donald. It was late, we were tired, and we just couldn't deal with it. So, in the first segment, Donald receives a projector with a film documentary on birds. Oh boy. So boring. I can't decide whether or not I should be ashamed to admit this, but we fast forwarded through part of this. We just couldn't do it.

Next was a segment about Pablo the penguin. It reminded me of Pedro the mail plane from Saludos Amigos. We didn't find Pablo very interesting. It's just the whole documentary style of the segments that doesn't grab me. The next segment was about a flying donkey. This one was mildly entertaining. Partially because I thought it was cute that the donkey's name was Burrito. I just asked my sister what she thought about this segment. She didn't remember it existed. Nuff said.

Next, Donald got the popup book from hell because that other bird pops out of it and then they jump into the book to sing about the samba. One of the better segments but still not great. Then we meet the third bird and we sing Three Caballeros. Yay! The only memorable part of the movie! But it was so short. Sad. The next segment tells a religious story about Christmas and pinatas. It's confusing. Then the birds fly to Mexico on a flying carpet sarape. This was the point where we got a little crazy. Donald's love interest had crazy eyes and she terrified us. All of the men in the segment were creepers (because yes, the movie has real people in it and yes, that annoyed us) and after calling them creepy repeatedly we realized, South America...late 1940s...NAZIS! Every time we saw one of the creepy men we'd just yell "Aaaaaah! Nazis!" Yeah, we're mature.

I don't even care about talking about this film any more. The movie ended with a really tripped out scene that rivals Pink Elephants and anything that would been seen in Alice in Wonderland. I think this one ranks about a 2/5 because I liked the actual Three Caballeros part and the shorts were ever so slightly tied together by Donald opening birthday presents. And because the other 4 movies in this 5 movie grouping are just really bad. There's such a low bar. You know what doesn't have a low bar though? The Muppets. Just sayin'.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Kitchen Smells Like Cinnamon and Sugar

Welcome back to another edition of "In the Kitchen with Jen"! In this installment we will watch as Jen attempts to make bread from scratch. Some background: There's this bread called Amish Friendship Bread. It basically works like this: After receiving some starter dough in a plastic bag from a friend (there's the Friendship part!), you mash the bag and add ingredients to feed the starter over 10 days before baking the most heavenly cinnamon bread ever. Before you bake it though, you have to separate out 4 bags of starter from your dough to give to your friends. That's right folks, it's a chain letter. With dough. Fascinating, right?

I received some starter several months ago and made this bread and it's really really good. It was so good that I saved a bag of starter for myself each time which meant that I was baking bread every 10 days. This was fun until it got too exhausting. My boyfriend, however, was extremely disappointed when I stopped baking the bread because he loves it. So, I decided to revisit this recipe mostly to make him happy and so I could bring home a loaf of cinnamon bread for Thanksgiving break.

One problem: I have no starter. According to the letter that comes with the starter, the recipe for the starter is an Amish secret and you can only obtain the starter from a friend who got it from a friend who got it from a friend who got it from the Amish! Oh no! Aaaaaaaand I call bullshit on that one. A quick Google search revealed several recipes for the starter which were all pretty much identical. So much for your secret, Amish people. So I did a bit of planning ahead and 10 days ago, I went to the store to buy some yeast to make my starter.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble! Oh wait, wrong holiday. Anyway, I let the yeast dissolve in warm water (not hot, so as not to kill the yeast) and then added milk, flour, and sugar. Typically this starter is passed around in plastic bags but I felt like I had a bit more flexibility so I put it in a Pyrex bowl and loosely covered it with a kitchen towel for it to rise. One of the recipes I saw warned against using any metal bowls or spoons because it's bad for the yeast and the dough won't properly rise (?) so I was very careful to use only wooden spoons. I don't really know if this was necessary.

Anywho, here's my second problem. I don't want to have to pass starter dough to 4 people. It's exhausting. So, I found a comment in one of the recipes that shared my feeling on this. This person said that it's fine to just not add the ingredients during the 10 day cycle and just bake with what starter you have and it turns out just as good. So there's gonna be a bit of mystery attached to this cinnamon bread. I really hope it works.

So, for the past 10 days, I've been stirring my starter with a wooden spoon and it keeps rebubbling every time I stir it so I think that's good. Now on day 10, we're ready to bake! It looks like there's so much starter in that bowl. Hmm. I'm starting to really doubt my plan. It looks like almost a full cup too much starter. Too late now though! The recipe itself is really easy and they just list the ingredients all together and pretty much say "Add these." So I decided to use a little of my baking savvy and added all the wet ingredients to the starter first and then added all the dry ones. I don't know if I wasn't adding fast enough or what was going on but the batter got a bit lumpy. That's when I decided that the no-metal rule had expired and pulled out my hand blender. Things got a bit dicey here because seriously, the bowl was almost overflowing with batter. I started to feel better at this point though because I remember having that same problem the last time I made the bread so maybe the starter proportion is ok. I hope. :-/

So after mixing in all the ingredients (I should mention, there is some variability with this recipe. You can use either vanilla or chocolate instant pudding in the batter and you can add nuts or raisins or chocolate chips. I went with the vanilla pudding and can you guess? Chocolate chips, of course!), I had to prepare the pans for baking. What that meant was spraying them with Pam and then coating the sides of the pan with a cinnamon sugar mixture. I'm actually pretty good at that technique because I've had a good amount of practice and my mommy taught me how to tap the mixture around the pan. The final direction before baking was to pour the batter evenly in 2 loaf pans. Did I mention this makes 2 loaves of bread? I probably shouldn't blog when I'm this tired...

Where was I? Right, pouring batter. This is actually more challenging for me than it may seem. See, I have pretty tiny hands. So it's really hard to hold the big bowl with my tiny hands. I can pour two-handed no problem but when we get down to the end and I have to use one hand to hold the bowl and the other hand to scoop the remaining batter out, things get tricky. I could really use a third hand. Or like, 5 since I'm wishing for things. Might as well go all out. Anywho, after successfully pouring the batter (and by successfully, I mean that I finished but did get a bunch on my shirt), I sprinkled the remaining cinnamon/sugar mixture over the tops and stuck them in the oven for an hour.

Oh God, my house smells so good. Even if this bread tastes awful, it would be almost worth it just to experience this smell for a few hours.

So, after the specified hour, the middle still wasn't done so I left it for another 5 minutes or so. As a result the edges got a little crispy. Oh well. Doesn't matter, look how beautiful these things are:

Beautiful. Taste-wise, definitely delicious. It seems a little denser than I remember but maybe that's because I overcooked them a little bit or maybe the starter really was off or maybe my memory is useless. The last one is probably most accurate. In any case, mission accomplished. If anyone is interested in getting a bag of this starter, talk to me and I'll hook you up. I'm thinking that if I make this again, I'll follow the directions and then just freeze the starter I don't use for future use (apparently it keeps in the freezer for at least 6 months). Hehehe, it smells so good in here.

Critical Reception:
Well, the brownie cookies have been well, but not widely, received. I missed colloquium due to a bout of feeling miserably sick so I didn't get to share my brownie cookies. One of my office mates agrees that they're mysterious but thinks they're more cookie than brownie. I'll be taking some home this weekend so maybe my mommy can tell me what they are. Mommies know everything.

A Disney Moment: Saludos Amigos
Oh boy, we've entered into what I'll call the "Dark Times Disney Disasters". Ok, so maybe they're not that bad but the next 5 films in the sequence are not what I would call up to the Disney standard. The first of the next 5 films is Saludos Amigos or as I will call it "An Ode to South America". The very first thing of note about this film is that there are people in it! That doesn't seem right. If movies like Mary Poppins and Song of the South aren't included in the list of Disney animated films, why do we have to watch Walt Disney and his animators board a plane to South America? Crazy.

For those of you who don't know, Saludos Amigos is really just a series of shorts stuck together that all take place in South America. To give you historical context, these were made during WWII. That's all I'll say about that. The first segment is Donald Duck goes to Lake Titicaca. It's boring. The problem with this whole movie is that it seems like it's a Travel Channel special for all of South America with cartoons thrown in to make it more appealing. Except it's not. It's mostly just boring. Grr.

I don't even feel like talking about each of the segments. I will say that the segment about Pedro the airplane who carries the mail over the scary looking mountain was mean. We thought Pedro had crashed in the scary mountain! Jeez, even the narrator said "And Pedro was gone." Disney can be mean. The only other thing of note was that the last segment really just served as an introduction to one of the main characters in Three Caballeros (which is our next film on the list). It's hard to rank the next 5 because I think they're all mostly terrible but I think this one might be the worst. Pedro was the only redeeming quality of the film to me and that was iffy at best. So I guess it's 5/5 (over the next 5 movies). All uphill from here then, right?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Is it a Brownie? Is it a Cookie? I'm So Confused!

Welcome back! For today's culinary delight, I bring you Chewy Brownie Cookies. I've actually had a request for a baked treat sans chocolate. I thought about entertaining that request until I decided that I'm no short order cook. I bake when the spirit of baking moves me and my baking decisions are based on the pictures in my books. So if all the delicious pictures are of chocolate desserts then the request-er is shit outta luck. So there. This is MY kitchen.

So with that bit of aggression out of my system, let's get back to the Chewy Brownie Cookies. This recipe is from an oldie but a goodie, the Bake Sale Cookbook. I'd love to say that thought went into choosing this recipe but the truth is, the picture looked yummy and I didn't want something overly complicated today. The picture makes them look like a lighter version of the Deep Dark Chocolate Fudge cookies. And the recipe didn't call for melting chocolate for once so I was pretty into that. The first step in the recipe was to preheat the oven and place sheets of foil on the countertop for cooling cookies. Huh? Why wouldn't I just use a cooling rack like I have for every single other thing I've baked? I couldn't think of a good reason so I ignored this direction. Plus I just don't have that much counter space.

Next, I got to combine brown sugar, shortening (remember, code for Crisco!), water, and vanilla. After digging around in my cabinet for a bit, I brought out my really really big bag of brown sugar that I bought from Costco. Seriously, this is a huge bag of brown sugar. I almost dropped it on my head. That would've hurt quite a bit so I'm glad I didn't. Anywho, after measuring out the brown sugar and heaving the bag back up to the top shelf of my cabinet, I had to measure out 2/3 cup of Crisco. This being the Brand Name Bake Sale Cookbook, they actually did call for Crisco so that was exciting. On the other hand, Crisco is kinda gross. It's so slimy but firm and I just tried not to think too hard about it as I spooned it out into the 1/3 cup measuring cup.

I miss using the KitchenAid Mixer. My mixer was not inclined to blend these ingredients well. I had to scrape down the sides of the bowl about 6 times and it was just annoying. (Santa, are you listening?) Things got a little easier after adding the eggs but the whole mixture seemed a little grittier than it should've been. After that, I was supposed to combine the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking salt and then add it to my mixture. I don't know why I felt so lazy today but I didn't feel like dirtying another bowl so I just measured the ingredients and tossed them in. I'm sure it'll be fine. Then I had to beat just until blended but this was hard because so much of the batter was sticking to the sides and not mixing in properly. I feel like some parts of the batter were over blended and some were under blended and can you even over blend a batter like this? I don't actually know. Hopefully not. In any case, then I just had to add two cups of chocolate chips. Two cups seemed like a whole lot of chocolate chips for the small amount of batter that it looked like I had. Nevertheless, faithful slave to cookbooks that I am, I followed those directions and stirred in those chocolate chips.

The final step was to, of course, bake. Here are the directions: "Drop dough by rounded measuring tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart." Can someone explain to me what rounded measuring tablespoonful means? I've seen this before and it still confuses me. If I were to actually use my measuring tablespoon then I would have really small cookies and then how would I get the dough out of the tablespoon? It seems inefficient to me. I just use a regular kitchen tablespoon, like the kind you use for eating. I guess it's just one of those unsolved kitchen mysteries that I'll have to figure out in my own good time. Anywho, with a short baking time, these cookies were done pretty quickly. There was one odd moment where, after 3 full batches of cookies, I attempted to make a 4th batch but only had enough dough for 3 small cookies. After staring at it for a few seconds, I decided that would be absurd and turned off the oven. Sorry if I've offended you by wasting batter but...too bad. So, here they are:

They smell delicious. I love the smell of chocolate in my kitchen. They look like cookies. They smell like cookies. But they brownies? But not entirely like brownies. Like thin chocolate chippy brownies? Like a brownie/cookie hybrid? I really don't know but they do taste good. Definitely strange but I would recommend this recipe for anyone who wants a brownie cookie. In hindsight, I maybe should have been anticipating this outcome. After all, they are titled Chewy Brownie Cookies.

Critical Reception: 
Yummy yummy cookie sandwiches. The best review I got was from a fellow grad student who said, "Holy crap, these are awesome!" Not really sure what else to say. Everybody liked these cookies and people were pretty excited when they realized there was filling between the cookies. Good job, Food and Wine Cookbook.

A Disney Moment: Bambi
It’s impossible for you to understand my reaction to Bambi without a little family history. As a kid, I was more or less ambivalent towards Bambi. I didn’t really hate it but I didn’t really have a desire to watch it either. More or less forgettable. My sister, on the other hand, was TERRIFIED by Bambi. What made it even more comical was the fact that she thought that the bad guy in the movie was The Thicket. Not Man, who shoots Bambi’s mother in another rather heartless move by the Walt Disney Company, but The Thicket. No matter how many times we tried to convince her that The Thicket wasn’t even a person and was in fact where Bambi lived with his mother, she couldn’t be persuaded and lived in fear of the movie until the day that I made her rewatch it with me as an adult.

Now the only thing that’s scary is how boring that movie is. Honestly, the “camera shots” are boring, the songs are dull and can lull you to sleep, and Bambi’s so dumb that you wish that the hunter had shot him instead of the mother. But enough about that. Instead of really giving you my opinions on this film, I will instead describe what watching it with my family was like.

My mom, sister, and I settled in to watch Bambi after basking in the triumph that was Dumbo a few hours previously. About 30 seconds in, it was declared, “This movie is BORING.” That should set the tone for you. We had some extensive conversation about the deadbeat deer dad and whether or not Flower was a boy or girl. Then we got to the scene where Bambi is introduced to the meadow. At this point my sister started cowering a little bit because she’s hearing about how dangerous the meadow is and clearly thinks this is where things start to get real. Maybe the meadow is the real enemy!

Nope, just some deer frolicking around.

My mom had wandered out for some reason and wandered back in just about when Bambi is sliding around on ice. Her contribution: “Jeez, this movie is slow moving. Bambi’s mother is still alive, there still hasn’t been the fire…” “WHAT?? THERE’S A FIRE???” is my sister’s response. She legit had no idea there was a fire in this movie. This then led to my mom telling her “Oh yeah, Bambi gets shot too.” “WHAAAAAT? WHAT IS THIS MOVIE?” When she asked if he lived though, that was my turn to feel a little stupid. I could not at all remember if Bambi lived or died after being shot. And I didn’t care. I don’t much feel like discussing Bambi any further except to note a couple of things. One is that he continues the great circle of deadbeat deer dads which annoyed us. Another is that it’s nonsensical for him to be a prince when his father is a prince. A third is that Faline (Bambi’s girlfriend) should learn to stay put in the thicket where it’s safe until Bambi gets back a split second later. That’s so annoying. Also, there were several moments that Lion King ripped off of Bambi, the most noticeable of which was when the dogs are leaping at Faline when she’s on a ledge. Pretty much the hyenas leaping at Simba in the elephant graveyard. Lastly, where the hell did Bambi get shot? One second he’s lying as if dead on a rock and the next, his father shows up and is all “We have to go! Get up!” and Bambi just wobbles to his feet and runs away with his father. There’s no blood and there’s no indication that Bambi was anything but surprised by the noise of the gun. Dumb. Overall, the movie just annoys me and holds no entertainment value. Definitely the worst of the first five Disney films. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Glorious Return to Chocolate

Well hello people! I would apologize for not baking/posting for a full week but as they say, with great power comes great...baking. And without power, there is no baking for me. That's right, I have been without power since I have last posted. Also, I have not yet been to my house today so I have no idea if I have power back. CL&P tell me I have a 76% chance as of this particular moment of having power when I get home so we'll just hope that I'm on the good side of those odds, shall we?

So anyway, to escape the infernal cold of CT, I ended up back at home for the weekend which meant more baking with mommy! In choosing a recipe, I knew it would have to have chocolate. It's just been way too long without chocolate in my baking, don't you agree? My mom found a recipe in the Food and Wine Cookbook for Milk Chocolate Cookies with Malted Cream. We partially chose this recipe because it had a picture (and we all know how much I love pictures!) and kinda looked like modified Oreos. Plus, it didn't look too hard. So off we went to our friendly neighborhood Big Y Stop and Shop to get some ingredients. The most important ingredient to obtain was, of course, chocolate malt powder (such as Ovaltine, as the book specifies). Apparently the only type of chocolate malt powder is Ovaltine though. And all they had was a pretty large container of it when all we really needed was half a cup. So, now my house has a ton of Ovaltine that we don't know what to do with. And all I can think of is Christmas Story and Little Orphan Annie's secret message: Be Sure to Drink Your Ovaltine ("A crummy commercial?!?"). Maybe we'll make some hot chocolate with it around Christmas time.

Anywho, enough about Ovaltine. Once we got back to the house, we proceeded with the baking. Step 1: Preheat oven. Step 2: MAKE THE COOKIES. Yup, taken verbatim from the book. Ok, so after "Make the Cookies" were actual directions but I found the first sentence of the step to be kind of obvious, don't you? So after creaming some butter and sugar (because that's just what you do when you bake), we had to melt some chocolate. We very nearly had a big fail here. Despite the fact that we went to the store, we decided that there was no reason to buy milk chocolate because Halloween was such a fail this year and we had tons of leftover chocolate. Not a problem. Except that when my mom and I are together, our combined IQ plummets. We needed 6 ounces of chocolate. We had a 3 oz bar of Ghiradelli's, a 1.5 oz bar of Ghiradelli's, and an assortment of 0.5 oz bars of Hershey's chocolate. So, my mom did the math and laid out the appropriate collection of chocolate to be melted. We were rapidly unwrapping until my mom paused and said, "Wait, are these 0.5 oz bars or 0.25 oz bars?" Well, how should I know? You were in charge of that! So we had to fish the bag out of the garbage to get our answer and found out that they were indeed 0.5 oz bars and my mom had somehow gotten confused and had almost put just about double the number of Hershey bars in. Fortunately, we hadn't melted the chocolate yet so we just picked out the unwanted chocolate and ate it. So I guess there's a bright side to everything.

The ingredient adding part from then on was uneventful so I won't bore you with it. The only thing of note is that the chocolate took extra long to melt because it's minus a zillion degrees in our kitchen. The next step was to roll the dough between two pieces of parchment paper to "a scant 1/4 inch". That wasn't terrible exactly but the dough was pretty tough to roll and the parchment paper kept sliding around when I tried rolling it. This time, after the overly thin cookies of last week, we actually took out a ruler to measure 1/4 inch. How precise of us, right? So we chilled the dough and went hunting for a 2 inch round cookie cutter. Hmm. The holiday pack we used last week doesn't have a round one. The plastic bag of cookie cutters that I found in the basement did not have one, though it did include several Halloween themed cookie cutters. I guess I could've made Halloween cookies last week but have an inability to find things that are right in front of my face so oh well. Hmmm. My mom is endlessly more creative than me though so she found a 2 inch round porcelain espresso cup that we could use as a cookie cutter. Of course. Don't know why I didn't think of that. Possibly because it was absurd but whatever.

I wish I could include a soundtrack in this blog to capture the frustrated screeches and curses that can be heard while I'm baking. It would be even more comical on days when my mom and I bake together. We had some problems with using a cup to cut deep enough through the dough, and then there were some problems with getting the cookies off the parchment paper and onto the pan, and sometimes there were issues of the cookie getting stuck inside the cup and then cracking in half as we tried to pry it out. Needless to say, it wasn't exactly the smoothest operation. And the whole time we were kinda like "we have to do this HOW MANY times???" But anyway, into the oven they went.

That scant 1/4 inch was either a load of crap or the cooktime is a load of crap because the first batch was rather burny. We tried cutting the cookies thicker but this just led to bigger cookies so the next batch was also slightly burny. After that, we reduced the cooktime and had better cooked cookies. The last thing to do was to make the filling since these are basically cookie sandwiches. We decided to half the recipe for the icing because of how many burny cookies there were and because the recipe suggested an inch of filling on each cookie and that felt excessive. The filling is really just sugar, butter, and chocolate malt powder. It was an extremely thick filling. We were told to put it in a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch tip. We did and then could not get the stuff to budge out of the pastry bag. ::insert comical grunting here:: However, by removing the tip, the opening was wide enough to start piping. Using an icing spreader tool (which my mom informed me was actually an oyster opener. Whatever works, I guess.), we managed to fill some of these cookies. This took a great deal of care because the cookies are less like cookies and more like crisps and as a result are quite brittle. However, we figure out about halfway through that we were going to run out of filling. So much for halving the recipe. So, rather than just make more, we milked that filling for everything it was worth, including scooping out the filling that was stuck in the previously rejected tip and the folds of the pastry bag. Those feats were accomplished using the wrong end of a spoon and a tiny wooden stick. I wish I could adequately explain how ridiculous this was but I think you kinda had to be there. Suffice it to say, you would've laughed had you seen it. So anyway....ta da! Cookies!

These cookies are good but we can't quite think of what they remind us of. They're almost like Teddy Grahams but not quite because they're much crispier. Neither my mom nor I quite know how to describe them. They're yummy though and that's what matters I guess.

Critical Reception:
The Martha sugar cookies were well received I think although they didn't keep as well as I had hoped and were pretty hard by the time I gave them to other people. There weren't many cookies left anyway though and people didn't talk about them much because all anyone was talking about this week was the lack of power. They disappeared by the end of colloquium though so I guess they were well enough liked.

A Disney Moment: Dumbo

Time is a funny funny thing. I hated Dumbo when I was a kid. Like, really didn’t want to watch it. I was fully dreading having to rewatch Dumbo. Well, I don’t know what happened but it’s my favorite of the first five films. The first thing we noticed was that it looks so flat compared to the other early films. A Google search told me that this was due to a lower budget. Really though, you can see the difference. There’s just such an absence of detail in Dumbo, especially compared to something like Pinocchio. That said, the story is still just charming. I don’t even know why but the story has a nice flow and you really feel Dumbo’s sadness when his mother is taken away even though he never says a word (Damn you, Walt Disney for tugging at our heartstrings!). I also love Timothy Mouse as the slightly more sassy Jiminy Cricket character. He’s just terrific.

One of my favorite things about Dumbo is its plethora of well-crafted songs. I remembered the standards like “When I See an Elephant Fly” and “Baby Mine” and obviously, “Pink Elephants” which I thought was the trippiest scene in any movie ever until I saw some of Walt Disney’s “Lost Films” as I’ll call them (but that is a story for another day). There are so many others too though that are all equally impressive. The whole movie is pretty much a series of lovely songs with very little dialogue, to be honest. What I had really forgotten though was the gem of a scene where they’re pitching the circus tent and singing about how they’re happy-hearted roustabouts. Roustabouts! You just don’t hear words like that in kids’ films anymore and I love it. There was a higher expectation of intelligence back in those days. Just the sheer number of clever puns in “Elephant Fly” is amazing. Seen a peanut stand, heard a rubber band! Love it love it love it.

The final thing I’ll note before I gush too much about how much I loved Dumbo is that I didn’t realize that it takes Dumbo until like, the last 4 minutes of the movie to fly. Which is so funny since everybody knows Dumbo will fly and that’s the dramatic climax and all. That said, it was still so satisfying when he did. Do yourself a favor and go be a child for a little while and rewatch Dumbo. I don’t think you’ll regret it. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Mother Knows Best (And So Does Martha)

Happy Halloween everyone! This weekend, I was fortunate in that I got out of CT for the great storm of snow-tober. So I am currently sitting at home in Jersey, grateful that I don't have class on Mondays because I'm 99% sure I have no power at my house in CT and that would pretty much suck. Because baking doesn't really work when there's no power. I was also very fortunate in that, despite the fact that over half the town is powerless, we made it through the storm unscathed. However, with all the downed trees, it basically looks like a bomb went off in my town. That's enough on the current events, let's get to baking, right?

So, after attending an exciting (read: I'm just grateful we won) Giants game, my mom and I decided it would be a lovely day for baking something. I perused the plethora of cookbooks we have at our house and found pretty much no books relevant to baking. However, we do have Mah-tha. Entertaining by Martha Stewart is one of the most precious books I have ever read. The pictures in the book are so dated 80s and the attention to detail is just excessive at times. Like a recipe for "tea eggs" that involves cracking hard boiled eggs and soaking them in a solution for many hours just so that when you serve them with the shell peeled, there are dark shatter lines on the whites of the eggs. That said, maybe one day I'll read the section on "How to Set Your Table" and get my little white gloves from Martha. Oh, and a slight aside for anyone who doesn't know: Martha Stewart is from my hometown, a fact she rarely owns up to. I'm not really sure why we so excitedly claim her, given her past, but we're kinda low on reputable celebrities from my town so I guess we take what we can get.

The recipe we decided on (because Martha seems obsessed with tartlets and we didn't feel like making tartlets) is for Iced Sugar Cookies. Ok, now I know what you're going to say. How many sugar cookies are you going to make for this blog? Well, I'm gonna make them till I get them right, dammit. Thus far, I've made 2 different recipes for sugar cookies and neither one tasted all that good. They looked precious but I want yummy sugar cookies. And if anyone will have the answer, Martha will.

Accompanying this recipe is a story about how Martha used to throw cookie decorating parties for her daughter's friends around Christmas so that they could bring home sugar cookies to hang on their trees. Don't know about you but those cookies never would've made it to my tree. I would have just eaten them like any normal child. There's also a picture of child decorated cookies (or at least I assume child decorated because otherwise Martha really needs to work on using a pastry bag) and a picture of a very large, terrifying, cat-shaped cookie. Last year for Thanksgiving, my family bought a pack of 50 holiday cookie cutters in order to get one turkey shaped cookie cutter so my mom and I were like, Yay, Halloween shaped cookies! Decision made, we began.

The first direction was to, of course, sift together the dry ingredients. As I'm walking to go get a bowl, my mom says "Oh no, we're so not doing that." My mom has a lot more experience with baking than I do but I trust her so I deviated from the directions and took the cheater's way out. Next was creaming the butter and sugar. Oh KitchenAid mixer, how I have missed you. You work so much better than my MixMaster. (Santa, are you listening?) Anyway, butter and sugar sufficiently creamed, we had to add the wet ingredients. You know, the egg, the vanilla, the...brandy? Oh Martha, you clever girl. This recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of brandy! To put that in perspective, it also only calls for 1/2 TEAspoon of vanilla. Methinks I found where the flavor is coming from!

Next we had to add the dry ingredients. This is where my mom got clever. The dry ingredients were 2 cups flour, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp baking powder. She measured half a cup of flour and poured it into the full cup measure. Then she tossed the salt and baking powder in that and stirred it all up. Then she put another half a cup of flour on top of that and deemed that mixed dry ingredients. I see her point, we did save ourselves time in cleaning dirty bowls. So gradually adding that mixture, and then the last cup of flour, we had a lovely, delicious smelling sugar cookie dough. Then we tossed it into the fridge to chill while we ate dinner.

::yummy yummy dinner::

Now, we just had to roll out the cookies, cut out fun shapes, and bake. Martha suggests rolling the cookies to about 1/8 inch thick. Those are really thin cookies. We had trouble getting our cookie shapes off the floured table. Oh, I forgot to mention! You know those holiday cookie cutters we have? Yeah, there's one turkey and 49 Christmas ones. So instead of Halloween cookies, we have stars, teddy bears, wreaths (which I think could be made to look like really fluffy cats), hearts, and candy canes (which my boyfriend decided were the penis cookies. I'm not sure why, but this led to many many many penis jokes from my mom and myself). So anywho, the cookies were supposed to bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees but I think Martha needs to check her cook time because that first batch was a batch of crispy critters. Most of the second batch flat out burned. After that, we rolled the cookies a little thicker and only baked them for about 7 minutes. The final result was slightly undercooked cookies but that worked just fine for us because boy, were they yummy. I had 3, my mom had 3, my boyfriend had about 8 and they were enjoyed by all. I'm tellin' ya, it's the first sugar cookie in a long time that hasn't made me say "Meh." In fact, we were supposed to decorate the cookies with icing but we made the executive decision that icing would ruin these already perfect cookies. So, for future reference, I'll cut them a little bit thicker, and cook them for slightly less time but overall, I am excited to make these cookies again sometime. Or at least add some brandy to whatever sugar cookie I bake next. Here's our cookies for your viewing pleasure:

Critical Reception:
The iced pumpkin cookies were pretty much a big hit. As I mentioned, my officemate loved them so I left a few in the office for her to enjoy and brought the rest to colloquium. My advisor took one look at them, asked what kind they were and when I said pumpkin, he responded with "Ugh, why would you make those?" My answer: because I had leftover pumpkin. So, if nothing else, my advisor and I share a hatred of pumpkin cookies. I will admit they smell good though. The rest of the cookies disappeared in the hour that colloquium took place so it seems they're being eaten by people not attending colloquium. Naughty stat students. Oh, and my mom also agreed that the cookies are awesome so if you like pumpkin, I guess I'd recommend the iced pumpkin cookies on Disclaimer: what follows is a very long Disney Moment. It's not my fault. Fantasia is long. Feel free to skip it and/or come back to it on another day.

A Disney Moment: Fantasia
My God, Fantasia is long. I actually watched Fantasia a few years back in college at the tail end of a happy movie night (I think I may have fallen asleep before the last segment) so my memory of it was still pretty recent. Pretty recent but obviously not good as I thought Sorcerer’s Apprentice was the first segment. Anywho, I kinda spaced out during the first segment since this was the third Disney film in a row I watched that day (yes, more or less back to back to back) plus it’s kinda boring anyway. I just remember swirling colors and lights and stuff. As I’m sitting here writing this, I can’t quite remember what segment comes next. I actually have to really think about it. Oh yeah, Nutcracker Suite. I love the Nutcracker and I always associate it with the actual ballet rather than the fairies and dancing mushrooms so I didn’t much pay attention to this one either. Next was the Sorcerer’s Apprentice which is an obvious classic and I have no complaints with. However, at this point I started thinking about how many segments were left. We still had to get through Rite of Spring (i.e. dinosaurs), Pastoral Symphony (i.e. Greek stuff), the dancing hippos and ostriches, AND the terrifying segment and it had already been a good chunk of time. I was determined to get through it though.

That I think is the problem with Fantasia. There’s no real sense of being in the film as a whole. You can get into the segments just fine (for most of them) but watching Fantasia as a whole sort of feels like a chore. Anyway, I’ve always kinda liked the evolution of life segment, partially because I like Rite of Spring for its sheer crazyness, the dinosaurs always reminded me of Land Before Time (seriously, they look exactly the same!), and because I thought it was funny when the dinosaurs got stuck in the tar and fell down. That’s all on that. Oh! I forgot the “Intermission” segment where there’s just a line that vibrates differently with each instrument. I’m really not sure how I feel about that part. Probably just that it’s forgettable. The Greek mythology segment got a bit fun in my family as we tried to name all of the mythological creatures. There was some debate over whether or not Pegasus was a proper name of a winged horse or if it referred to all winged horses and there was also a debate about what the Greek god of wine was (I said Dionysus and was right. Thank you four years of Latin and freshman mythology notebook.) Now that I’m thinking of it though, does anyone else find it weird that the whole time, they’re pretty clearly in Greece but they use Bacchus for the god of wine, which is the Roman name for the god? Or am I just a dork? Yeah, probably the latter.

Sorry this post is so long already but the movie is long so blame Walt Disney, not me. The Dance of the Hours segment was fun as always and I had a ballet geekout trying to decide if the lead hippo was really going up en pointe or if she had flat shoes. I also always forget that there are evil alligators in that which is a nice surprise every time I watch because apparently I have the memory of a goldfish. Finally we come to the last segment. This is the reason that I always hated Fantasia. The last segment scares the living daylights out of me. I mean, what the hell? There’s flying skeletons and demons and nudity and fire and loud noises and graveyards and it’s terrifying. It creeped me out as a 24 year old watching this for at least the 5th time. It makes me so uncomfortable that I am actually grateful for the Ave Maria segment once it rolls around. Though, upon this viewing, I decided that I really hate that the beginning of the song is done without the soloist. It just sounds awkward. The harmonies are nice behind the soloist but without the soloist, it just sounds disjointed and random and not pretty.

Anyway, Fantasia has some good moments and some bad ones, and while I’m not against the idea of taking famous works of music and making them more appealing to the public by adding animation, it is Just. Too. Long. So I rank it about a 4 out of 5 (reminding you that I’m only ordering the films in groups of fives or so). Last thought: I’ve always gotten a tiny thrill when Mickey comes out after Sorcerer’s Apprentice to congratulate Stokowski. It’s the best part of the film. Oh, and since this post is already too long, let me add this last last thought: Since the credits typically come before the film in these early films, my sister and I have actually been reading the credits. We even have our favorite animators that worked on the early films and we always look for their names in the credits now. We also used it as an excuse for why some segments of Fantasia weren’t as good. “Oh, well, Cy Young wasn’t working on that one so that’s why it sucked!” or “Eric Larson was supervising that one, that’s why it was so good!” We’re also big fans of Vladimir Tytla who, in case you were wondering, was the animation supervisor for Night on Bald Mountain. Even if it’s terrifying, it’s still an amazing piece of animation. In fact, maybe the horror is what makes it so amazing. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to Get Rid of Extra Pumpkin Without Really Trying

Welcome back friends! Today we solve the problem of me having half a can of pureed pumpkin left in my fridge. I don't have any real need for pumpkin in my life so the solution is more pumpkin cookies! And before you say, "But you just did that!" allow me to rationalize my decision. First off, I wasn't involved in every part of baking the pumpkin cookies last time. So, I denied you opportunities to laugh at my ineptitude. Secondly, this is totally a different recipe! This one is for ICED pumpkin cookies! So that makes it totally different. Obviously. And thirdly, I just felt like it. So there.

As I mentioned, this recipe is for Iced Pumpkin Cookies. This recipe is brought to you by and has some sufficiently vague directions for your entertainment. It's also kinda two recipes in one because I had to make the pumpkin cookies and then I had to make the glaze for the "iced" part. Uh oh. Who remembers the last time I had to make a glaze? To remind you, I ended up with an overly thin glaze that ROLLED off my brownie cups. So I think that this is a sufficient enough challenge for a week when I have a probability exam.

The first step was to combine the dry ingredients which I missed the opportunity to do last time. Uh, yeah, that was easy. Not much to report there. Next step was to cream the butter and sugar. Uh oh. I appear to be out of salted butter. Who runs out of butter? And there's no way I'm going out for butter so unsalted butter it is. Technically, the recipe didn't specify salted vs. unsalted but when I made a similar recipe previously, it specified salted. Hope they turn out ok. Next, I mixed in the pumpkin, egg, and vanilla. Other recipes I've followed are specific about the order that things are added in, particularly for wet ingredients, but this just seemed like a free for all of "Toss it all in! It'll be fine!" I'm already suspicious of recipes that aren't coming from cookbooks and this really isn't helping the cause.

Mix in dry ingredients. Check. "Drop on cookie sheet by tablespoonfuls; flatten slightly." Well, I tried. But the dough was pretty sticky so I ended up with slightly flattened, slightly spikey looking cookies that weren't the perfect hemisphere cookies displayed in the picture. No big deal though. Now bake cookies. Between baking batches of cookies, I spent my time trying to memorize probability proofs for my midterm tomorrow. Miserable as that was, at least my kitchen smells like sugar and spice and everything nice.

And now for the glaze. I was really really dreading this after last time. However, I followed the directions precisely, and when I was done I got a way more solid looking glaze than last time. I was told to "add milk as needed to achieve drizzling consistency" and am not entirely sure what that means but I did have to add a tiny bit of milk so that I didn't have gloppy drizzling. I was also told to drizzle the glaze with a fork. This...worked. I'm just as surprised as you are. This recipe was 100% smooth and flawless in execution. Sorry to disappoint all of you who enjoy reading about kitchen disasters but either I'm getting better at baking or this recipe was absurdly easy. I even got advanced with my drizzling technique:

Aren't they pretty? I tossed them in the fridge for a couple minutes to solidify the glaze before bring them to colloquium but other than that, flawless pumpkin cookies. Oh, also, I tasted one but I really don't like pumpkin cookies so I'm no judge of how good they are. I only really tasted it so I could say that I tasted it. I thought they were gross but my officemate just said they're delicious so I'm gonna go with what she said. Success!

Critical Reception:
I don't really have much to add about the baked goods from last time. My mom had some of the cranberry crisp and liked it (though she suggested that if I ever make it again to cut the sugar in half, which I totally agree with) and I brought the Fall shaped pumpkin cookies into my office and people have been slowly chipping away at them so I guess people like them. Or they're starving. I'm going to bring them to colloquium to let them be finished off today so maybe I'll have more to add after today. Sorry for being so boring today, but it has been just an uneventful week for baking. I'll try something really crazy next time, k?

A Disney Moment: Pinocchio
Ever since I was pretty young, I remember really hating Pinocchio. I found the “I Got No Strings” segment annoying and overly catchy and the whole thing was lacking in common sense to me. Then again, I was a good kid who was never once swayed away from going to school by a traveling marionette show. However, viewing the movie as an adult, I must say, it was a lot more appealing than I remember. There were still some pretty obvious problems including that Jiminy was not a terribly effective conscience and that the timeline of the story makes zero sense. I mean, how long was Pinocchio on Pleasure Island? It seems like the whole thing happens in about 24 hours but Geppetto manages to get himself (and his two pets) swallowed by a whale, leaving his cottage for spiders to take over with cobwebs in that time. I just don’t quite get it. On the other hand, the artwork of it is sheer beauty. I really took note of how detailed every little thing was in the film. I also thought that some of the camera angles (so to speak) were really interesting. The angles really jump around and the one that stuck out in my mind was when Pinocchio is skipping away with the two anthropomorphized animals that sell him to Stromboli. It wasn’t a shot from above exactly, nor was it on the plane of where the characters were. It was more like at a 45 degree angle to the action. It’s hard to explain. But it was cool enough for me to take note of it.

Let’s see, what else? Pinocchio’s still an idiot but being a newly made boy I guess that’s forgivable. Oh! How the hell was Jiminy breathing underwater for so long? It was literally aggravating me as I watched. I was ok with Pinocchio underwater because he’s made of wood (and even had the foresight to sink himself down with a rock because wood floats. Kudos for that one, Pinocch.) but poor Jiminy would have drowned several times over during their search for Monstro. Also, I’m pretty sure this is the movie that taught my sister the “but why?” response and I may never forgive Pinocchio for that. The bottom line though for me was that I’ll remember it as one of the most beautifully drawn films I have ever seen. I rank this one about even with Snow White (maybe slightly higher) and is still a classic. Plus, I respect any children’s film that uses the word “jackass” so freely and then uses the power of animation to turn it into a pun.