Friday, September 30, 2011

Banned Books

Celebrate Banned Book Week (September 24 through October 1) by reading a banned book.  Following are ten of my favorites.
  1. In the Night Kitchen (Caldecott Collection).  Maurice Sendak's story of a young boy dreaming he's in a baker's kitchen is one of the most frequently banned books because the boy is drawn naked.  When my son was a preschooler this was one of his favorite books, and he never noticed the lack of clothing.
  2. Bridge to Terabithia apparently promotes occultism, Satanism, and New Age religion, so book banners would have us believe.
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird.A white attorney defends a black man accused of raping a white woman.  Enough said?
  4. Harris and Me.  My best guess on this one is that censors find the language and the boys' sexual curiosity objectionable.
  5. The Diary of a Young Girl was banned for "sexually offensive" passages and for being a "real downer." 
  6. The Catcher in the Rye,the most censored book from 1966-1975, was considered "obscene." 
  7. Lord of the Flies is frequently censored for "excessive violence and bad language."
  8. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cryis guilty of depicting Southern racism and using the N-word.
  9. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, first published in 1884, was banned one year later by the Concord Public Library for being "trash suitable only for the slums." Today it is often banned for its use of the N-word.
  10. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  Masturbation.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Harry's Makeover

Back in January of this year, I posted a review of David Kelly's new legal drama, Harry's Law.  Back then I loved the show.  Well, things have changed.  Season Two began two weeks ago, and Harry's Law has lost its charm and its street cred.  When the show first aired, critics hated it but viewers loved it, so NBC brought it back for a second season.  For some reason, despite viewers enjoying the show, they decided to give the program a makeover.  Wrong decision, t.v. executive-type guys.  If something ain't broke, it don't need fixin'.

Gone from Harry's Law are Malcolm Davies (Aml Ameen) the paralegal and Damien Winslow (Johnny Ray Gill) the neighborhood protector.  In diminshed roles--and soon to be gone--are Jenna Backstrom (Brittany Snow) the receptionist, the shoe store, and the Cincinnati neighborhood.  Harriet's practice has been regentrified:  No longer practicing law out of the shoe store, she's upstairs in the second-floor loft with a high-profile office to match her new high-profile attorneys and cases.  O.k. the one change I like is that Tommy Jefferson (Christopher McDonald) is now sharing office space with Harry.  More Tommy J is a good thing.

Don't expect to see any more elderly women paying for legal services with socks full of change.  Don't expect to see Harry mediating between gangbangers.  Expect to see more clients like Eric Sanders (Alfred Molina) who has been accused of murdering his wife.  Frankly, I don't care for the show's makeover:  Harry's Law is downright boring now.  Who cares if Eric Sanders murdered his wife?  Who cares if he lives or dies?  Who cares if the show lives or dies?  In its current configuration?  Not I.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Apple Time

Fall just wouldn't be fall without apples.  And I wouldn't dream of letting fall pass without going apple picking at least three times.  The weekend our favorite apple orchard opens for picking, my husband and I are there gathering Galas.  Last weekend we went out for Jonathans and Cortlands, and, finally, in late October we'll head back for Winesaps.  The drive itself in autumn is magnificent:  Winding around the two lane highway, we are enveloped by the yellows and oranges of the fall foliage.  In the orchard we breathe in sweet apple scent as delicious as the pies and applesauce I'll make.   The Galas and the Cortlands are best for lunchboxes.  The Winesaps and Jonathans, also good eating apples, make the best pies.  Incidentally, of all the apple varieties, the rich red Jonathans are the most picturesque hanging on the trees.

Apple Crunch
My son's favorite.

5 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup  (1/2 stick) soft butter plus extra for preparing the pan

Preheat oven to 350˚ and butter an 8" square baking pan.  Spread the apples evenly in the pan.  Mix the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the apples.  Mix the flour, oats, brown sugar for the topping; cut in the butter:  Spread topping mixture over the apples.  Bake at 350˚ for about 50 minutes.  Serve this warm.  It's really good with ice cream--chocolate, cinnamon, caramel, vanilla, whatever your passion.

Good for using up the last apples.  Go ahead and mix varieties; the flavor will be even better.

2 pounds apples
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup sugar (optional)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Wash, peel, and core the apples.  Cut them into eights and drop into the boiling water.  Mix in the cinnamon and nutmeg.  Simmer the apples until soft, about 8-10 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in sugar, if desired.  The sauce will be chunky.  If feeding this to a baby, leave out the sugar and purée in a blender.  Cover and refrigerate.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Best-Ever Brownies

I have hunted for years for the perfect brownie recipe, and I have finally hit on it.  I got the original recipe for these brownies from Martha Stewart--not personally, mind you, but from her webpage.  Martha's brownies call for the best-quality unsweetened chocolate you can find, i.e. Callebaut or Valrhona, some chocolate chips, instant espresso, and walnuts.  Well, some problems there.  I don't know what a Callebaut or a Valrhona is and found plain old Baker's unsweetened chocolate delicious and quite rich, so much so that the chocolate chips would have been overkill.  (And believe you me, if I say adding more chocolate is overkill, it's overkill.)  Also, as I don't have any instant espresso in the house, I just used instant coffee, Maxwell House, if you must know.  And, because my son has a tree-nut allergy, I left out the walnuts, which Martha says are optional anyway.  A few tweaks and I do believe I've improved on the master.  Martha says you can store these in an airtight container for up to two days.  Go ahead and do so...if you have any left.

Chocolate Brownies

2 sticks of unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the pan
8 ounces of Baker's unsweetened chocolate
5 large eggs
3 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoon instant coffee
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350˚.  Butter a 9x13" baking pan.

In a micro-safe bowl melt the chocolate and butter together.  (Alternately, I have melted them in the oven as it heats up, but that requires a close eye on them, so that they are only in the oven long enough to melt, but not long enough to begin cooking.)  Set aside to cool.

With the paddle attachment of the mixer, beat together eggs, sugar, and coffee for ten minutes at high speed.  Reduce to low speed and add the slightly cooled chocolate and vanilla.  Slowly incorporate the flour and salt.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 35 minutes.  When cool, cut into 3" squares, or whatever-size your appetite dictates.

    Friday, September 16, 2011

    Back-to-School Movies

    With the autumnal equinox just a week away and most schools back in session, it's time to face it:  Summer's over.  Rather than mourn its passing, pop some corn, pour some apple cider, and put a good school movie in your DVD player.  Following is a list of sixteen of the best:
    1. Blackboard Jungle(1955).  An idealistic English teacher (Glenn Ford) in a high school in the ghetto is challenged by juvenile delinquents.  Look for a young Sidney Poitier.
    2. Bye Bye Birdie(1963).  A teenager from Sweet Apple, Ohio (Ann-Margret in her first role) wins a national contest to give army draftee/rock star Conrad Birdie a farewell kiss on The Ed Sullivan Show.  Also stars Dick Van Dyke, Janet Leigh, and Paul Lynde.
    3. The Trouble with Angels (1966).  Hayley Mills and June Harding play two trouble-making girls at a convent school who seriously test the patience of the Mother Superior (Rosalind Russell).  This touching movie with its surprise ending is a lot of fun.
    4. To Sir, With Love(1967).  Sidney Poitier is a teacher in an inner-city London school who teaches his rebellious students how to survive after high school.  Great song by Lulu.
    5. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie(1969).  Based on the Muriel Sparks novel, the film stars Maggie Smith as an eccentric school teacher at a girls boarding school in 1930s London.
    6. American Graffiti(1973).  Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, and Candy Clark star as teenagers in 1962 enjoying their last summer night before college.
    7. The Paper Chase(1973).  Timothy Bottoms is a Harvard law student trying to survive his first year without antagonizing his law professor (John Houseman), a task complicated by the fact that he's fallen in love with the professor's daughter (Lindsay Wagner).
    8. The Breakfast Club (1985).  John Hughes' classic movie about a group of teenagers spending a day of detention together.
    9. Dead Poets Society(1989).  Corny, yes, but this enjoyable flick features Robin Williams as an English teacher at a New England boys boarding school in the 1950s who inspires his pupils to live life to the fullest.
    10. Good Will Hunting(1997).  Robin Williams is back playing a therapist, who, while helping a troubled, young math genius (Matt Damon) heal, comes to terms with his own painful past.
    11. October Sky (1999).  Based on the book, Rocket Boys, Jake Gyllenhaal is the young Homer Hicks, a boy fascinated by rockets in Coalwood, West Virginia in the late fifties.
    12. Never Been Kissed(1999).  Drew Barrymore, a reporter researching a story on contemporary teens, returns undercover to her old high school.
    13. Legally Blonde(2001).  To get her boyfriend back a jilted sorority girl (Reese Witherspoon) goes to Harvard Law School.
    14. School of Rock (2003).  A ne'er-do-well substitute teacher (Jack Black) teaches some musically talented elementary students the gospel of rock and roll.
    15. Mean Girls (2004).  In order to get into the Plastic clique, a new student (Lindsay Lohan) must become as shallow and mean-spirited as the popular girls.
    16. Sky High(2005).  Will Stronghold, son of the two most powerful superheroes, attends an elite school for superhero offspring; unfortunately, he has no superpowers of his own.

    Wednesday, September 14, 2011

    You Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley

    by William H. Armstrong
    128 pages
    ISBN:  0881030481

    Sounder is a simple, beautiful tale--a parable even--of an African-American sharecropper, his family, and his hunting dog Sounder in the nineteenth-century South.  Dirt poor, the family lives off of corn mush and whatever possums and coons the father and Sounder can hunt down.  After a long dry spell of nothing but corn mush, the family wakes up to the smell of pork sausage and ham bone.

    The next day the sheriff and two deputies come to the cabin and arrest the father for stealing a hog.  In an attempt to defend his master, Sounder is shot and seriously injured.  With the father gone, his eldest son, only a boy, must take over his father's work to help his mother support the family.  The stoic mother for her part holds them all together:  She takes in laundry, shells walnuts, sings or hums hymns, and tells her children Bible stories.  As for Sounder:  He waits for the day he can go hunting again.

    The characters, all nameless save Sounder, are heroic Everymen representing the downtrodden everywhere who are oppressed at the hands of their fellowman, yet so richly drawn are the characters that they stand as individuals, too.  Sounder, a Newbery classic, is a transcendent story of loneliness, loss, and suffering, but of hope, love, and loyalty, too.

    Friday, September 9, 2011

    Son of Liberty, Too

    Woods Runner
    by Gary Paulsen
    Wendy Lamb Books; Reprint edition
    January 11, 2011
    176 pages
    ISBN:  037585908X

    Usually, stories about the American Revolution, i.e. Johnny Tremaine, take place in town--Boston, Philadelphia, Lexington, Concord--but Gary Paulsen (Hatchet and Harris and Me) has set Woods Runner on the Pennsylvania frontier.  Thirteen-year-old Samuel, the eponymous Woods Runner, must depend on his wilderness instincts to rescue his captive parents from the British, while avoiding getting caught or killed himself.

    His parents' capture comes shortly after Samuel and his family receive news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.  Samuel is deep in the woods on a hunting expedition when their settlement is attacked by British soldiers and Iroquois warriors.  Samuel sees smoke coming from the settlement and runs home to help only to find the settlement wiped out and everyone either dead or missing, his parents being among the missing.  Although only thirteen, Samuel is skilled at survival in the wilderness, far more skilled than his city-bred parents, and he must use those skills to track them.  Unimaginable horror awaits him on his quest.

    Most accounts of the American Revolution are romantic, stirring stories of heroism and patriotism.  Not this one.  Woods Runner is a riveting, graphic story of the brutality and insanity of war.  As Paulsen points out in the novel's afterword, "combat is outrageous" and young soldiers die terrible deaths far from home, alone and forgotten.  The American Revolution is no exception:  Our most patriotic war lasted "eight long slaughtering years," and half of those who fought, died in battle.

    O.k., this video might be stretching a connection to Woods Runner, but at least Paul Revere and the Raiders are in period costume.

    Friday, September 2, 2011

    $200 A Day, Plus Expenses

    The Rockford Files (1974-1980)
    Creator: Stephen J. Cannell and Roy Huggins
    Starring: James Garner, Noah Beery, Jr., and Joe Santos
    Guest Starring:  Gretchen Corbett and Stuart Margolin

    Handsome, rugged, laid back, sarcastic, and a darn good detective.  Too bad he never gets paid.  James Garner is James "Jim" Rockford, a pardoned ex-con cum private eye who lives--and works--in a raggedy trailer in a parking lot of a Malibu beach.  With no pretensions--he doesn't even own a tie--or ambition, Jim spends his days fishing.  His diet consists of the fish he catches, coffee, eggs, tacos, hot dogs, beer, Oreos™ and the occasional steak.  When he needs the money--or when he's suckered into taking a hopeless case--Rockford works.  His father Rocky badgers him to take a real job, but Jim's happy with his lot in life.

    A skilled driver, Rockford takes us on many a car chase in his gold Pontiac Firebird.  Jim avoids fights like the plague, but when cornered is not above sucker punching his enemies.  Rockford's friends include L.A. police detective Dennis Becker, his attorney and sometime ladylove Beth Davenport, and the cowardly conman Angel Martin, Jim's cellmate from San Quentin.  Other memorable characters are Gandy Fitch (Isaac Hayes), a former prison mate who calls Rockford "Rockfish," and Lance White (Tom Selleck), a smoother, more sophisticated and successful private investigator.

    Each episode opens with Rockford's answering machine playing a message that pokes fun at him.  Like this one from Sgt. Becker:  "Jim.  It's Dennis.  Thanks for helping me with my taxes.  Now how are you with audits?"  The Rockford Files is the quintessential 70s detective show, arguably the best ever.