Monday, February 27, 2012

Luscious Sticky Buns

I spent the weekend reading Jennifer Reese's awesome book, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.  After making a list of foods I want to make at home, including croissants and danishes, I decided to make one of my old standbys, sticky buns.  With Cinnabon cinnamon rolls coming in at around $4 a roll, these are definitely worth the effort.  I'm not sure what the individual price for one of my homemade buns is, but I doubt the whole batch costs $4.  Plus, if you do any baking, you're bound to have all the ingredients on hand.

Sticky Buns

12 Tbsp. butter
1 pkg. active dry yeast
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup milk
3-3 1/2 cups flour
3/4 + 1/3 cup light-brown sugar
1 Tbsp. corn syrup
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Melt 6 Tbsp. of butter in microwave and let cool.  Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water with a pinch of sugar.  Stir in granulated sugar, salt, egg yolks, milk, 4 Tbsp. cooled butter and 2 1/2 cups of flour.

By hand--or if you're lucky with your Kitchen Aid mixer, knead dough until it is smooth and elastic, about five minutes, working in enough of the remaining flour so that the dough isn't sticky.

Put in a buttered bowl and cover with elastic wrap.  Let rise in warm spot until doubled, about 45 minutes.  To test, press dough with your fingertip.  If an imprint remains, the dough is ready.

Butter a 9" pan.  In a saucepan, combine 6 Tbsp. butter, 3/4 cup brown sugar, and corn syrup.  Stir over low heat until smooth.  Pour into prepared pan.

Combine the 1/3 cup brown sugar and cinnamon.

Punch dough down.  On a lightly floured surface, roll and shape dough into an 18" x 9" rectangle.  Brush with remaining melted butter.  Sprinkle with brown sugar/cinnamon mixture.  Roll up the dough starting with a long side.

Cut into 9 slices and put in the prepared pan.  Cover and let rise until doubled, about 40 minutes.

Heat oven to 375°.  Bake until browned and bubbly, about half an hour.  Let cool in pan for five minutes.  Invert onto plate.  Let stand for 30 seconds before removing pan.  Cool slightly before serving.

Click here to order from Amazon:  Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn't Cook from Scratch -- Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods.

Jennifer Reese's website: the tipsy baker.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Private Peaceful Dreads Dawn

Private Peaceful
by Michael Morpurgo
Scholastic Press (2004)
208 pages
ISBN: 0439636485
For Grades 7-12

World War I has been completely overshadowed by World War II, but The Great War, as it was known then, with its trenches and gas and tanks ushered in modern warfare and killed more soldiers than any war before or since.  Recently, the last World War I veterans having died, a spate of books and movies, i.e. Stephen Spielberg's War Horse, have come out telling the stories of the men and women who should never be forgotten.

From Michael Morpurgo, the author of War Horse, comes Private Peaceful.  Morpurgo says, "I happened to interview three farm boy veterans, then well into their eighties, from my village of Iddesleigh, in Devon, England.  They spoke movingly, hauntingly of the terrors they had lived through, of the comrades they had lost.  There was no poetry in their stories, only horror and regret and great sadness for the loss of good friends.  So I came to write Private Peaceful."

Private Peaceful is the story of Tommo Peaceful, a fifteen-year-old English boy who, though too young to enlist, lies about his age and joins up with his older brother Charlie to prove to himself he isn't a coward.  The novel opens with Peaceful sitting up all night dreading the dawn when the truly horrific consequences of the war will come to bear on his life.  As he waits through the night, he remembers his life story, including his pastoral childhood with his brothers Charlie and Big Joe, his father's tragic death, his kind mother, and his sister-in-law Molly with whom he is in love.  With its graphic description of trench warfare and twist ending, Private Peaceful is a must read novel about the War to End All Wars.

To order from Amazon, click Private Peaceful.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Drinking Rum with Johnny Depp

The Rum Diary (2011)
Directed by Bruce Robinson
Written by Bruce Robinson and Hunter S. Thompson
Starring Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Giovanni Ribisi and Richard Jenkins

I love this movie.  I'd heard that The Rum Diary wasn't very good, so I passed on it in the theater to wait for it to come out on DVD.  Now I'm kicking myself.  Set in a turquoise-colored world (sky, water, mountains, buildings interiors, clothing, eyes) with splashes of red (plane, convertible, bathing suit, dress, roses, lipstick, nail polish, book), The Rum Diary should be seen on the big screen.

Johnny Depp, delicious as always, is Paul Kemp in this film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's novel.  Kemp, a failed novelist sick of New York and the Eisenhower administration, takes a job as a reporter for the San Juan Star in Puerto Rico in 1960.  Of the two and a half unpublished books he's written, Kemp says, "They had no voice.  I don't know how to write like me."  In his new job he wants desperately to write important stories about the conditions on the island for the indigenous people, but is thwarted by his editor, who wants him to write the horoscopes and feel-good pieces for the tourists.

Kemp finds himself caught up in the struggles between the island natives and American expatriates, including his roommate cum photographer who bets on cock fights and matches Kemp in his alcohol consumption, the shady American property developer who tries to woo Kemp from the paper, and the developer's lovely fiancée Chenault with whom Kemp has become obsessed.  The movie is at once beautiful, funny, and quite intriguing.

To order from Amazon click on the following links:
The Rum Diary
The Rum Diary [Blu-ray]

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Goodbye Whitney Houston, Jill Kinmont, and Florence Green

This month saw the passing of some remarkable women, most famously, Whitney Houston at the tender age of 48.  We also lost Jill Kinmont Boothe.  An Alpine Skier paralyzed in a 1955 Snow Cup race, she went on to become a teacher and a painter.  Two movies were made about her life and her loves:  The Other Side of the Mountain and The Other Side of the Mountain: Part Two

Florence Greene, the last surviving World War I veteran, passed away this month in England.  Last year on her 110th birthday the former R.A.F. waitress said, "It seems like such a long time ago now."  (I wrote about the Lost Generation last Veteran's Day, which you can read about here.)

On a happier note, this month marks the seventh anniversary of the launching of  Billions of viewers watch--and link to--many millions of videos.   If you can't find it on YouTube, you can't find it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Spend Valentine's Day with Cary Grant, Harrison Ford, Colin Firth, or Johnny Depp

Here is a list of my favorite romantic movies.  Though you'll see no vampires in any of these movies, you will find some ghosts, a few fairies, a couple of witches, and one time traveler.  A word of warning:  Not all of these movies end "happily ever after," but they're all as romantic as a Shakespearean sonnet.  I'd love to hear from you:  Post a comment about your favorite romantic film.  If you're looking for good Valentine's Day cookies to eat while watching one of these movies, click here for the recipe.

  1. I Married a Witch (1942).  Veronica Lake stars as a Salem witch who was burned at the stake and returns to seek vengeance on the descendents of the Puritans who let her burn, in particular a politician played by Frederic March.
  2. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir(1947).  Gene Tierney plays a widow who buys the home of a dead sea captain (Rex Harrison), only to learn that he haunts the old place.
  3. Roman Holiday(1953).  Audrey Hepburn is a princess who escapes from her royal duties for a holiday in Rome, where she meets a journalist (Gregory Peck) who, hoping to get an exclusive, pretends not to know who she is.
  4. Lady and the Tramp (1955).  The classic Disney story of a romance between a classy cocker spaniel and a stray mutt.
  5. To Catch a Thief (1955).  Cary Grant is a retired jewel thief living on the French Riviera, who must catch a copycat thief to prove his innocence. Grace Kelley plays his love interest.
  6. Sleeping Beauty (1959).  Another Disney classic based on the fairy tale. Sleeping Beauty has the most awesome, kick-ass of all the Disney princes.
  7. Some Like It Hot (1959). Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, hiding from Chicago gangsters, dress in drag and join an all-girl band headed for Florida. Sugar (Marilyn Monroe), the band's singer, wants to meet and marry a Florida millionaire. Instead, she falls for Tony Curtis (without his dress), while Jack Lemmon (in drag) lives out Sugar's dream when a millionaire falls for him. 
  8. Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961).  Two misfits (Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard) fall in love in New York City in this classic Truman Capote tale.
  9. A Shot in the Dark (1964).  Hilarious Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) awkwardly attempts to woo a murder suspect (Elke Sommer).
  10. Romeo & Juliet (1968).  The best and most beautiful film version of Shakespeare's classic love story.
  11. Love Story (1970).  A wealthy Harvard boy (Ryan O'Neal) and a poor Radcliffe girl (Ali MacGraw) fall in love and marry; then must cope with her terminal illness.
  12. Harold and Maude (1971).  The ultimate May-December romance.  Maude (Ruth Gordon) is an adventurous octogenarian full of life, and Harold (Bud Cort) is a nineteen year old obsessed with death.
  13. Sunshine (1973).  A nineteen-year-old woman (Cristina Raines) living in the mountains with her musician husband (Cliff de Young) and two-year-old daughter learns she has terminal cancer.  This one is not on DVD or VHS, but you can watch it at
  14. Buster and Billie (1974).  Popular high-school student Buster (Jan-Michael Vincent) falls in love with Billie, the town "tramp" (Joan Goodfellow); unfortunately, his friends won't let them have their romance.
  15. Days of Heaven (1978).  Doomed triangle between a shy, rich Texas farmer (Sam Shepard) and two migrant workers from Chicago (Richard Gere and Brooke Adams).
  16. Somewhere in Time (1980).  A young writer (Christopher Reeve) travels back in time to find his true love (Jane Seymour).
  17. The Princess Bride (1987).  A swashbuckling adventure that tells a story of true love between Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) and a lowly stable boy (Cary Elwes).
  18. Benny and Joon (1993).  A mentally ill woman (Mary Stuart Masterson) living with her protective brother (Aidan Quinn) falls in love with an eccentric loner (Johnny Depp).
  19. Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994).  Hugh Grant plays a man who falls in love with a woman (Andie MacDowell), but they must attend two more weddings and a funeral before their stars align.
  20. Six Days, Seven Nights (1998).  Harrison Ford and Anne Heche, stranded on a desert island, must put aside their mutual dislike and work together to get off the island.  Guess what happens?
  21. Snow Falling on Cedars (1999).  Ethan Hawke is Ishmael, a reporter covering the murder trial of a Japanese American war hero (Rick Yune), whose wife (Youki Kudoh) is Ishmael's former childhood sweetheart.
  22. Chocolat (2000).  Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter open a chocolate shop during Lent in a rigidly moral French village.  She further incenses the villagers, when she has a romantic liaison with a gypsy (Johnny Depp) passing through.
  23. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001).  An homage to Pride and Prejudice, this is the story of Bridget's yearlong quest for love, which she chronicles in her diary.  Who is Mr. Right?  Is it her boss the rakish Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) or is it the seemingly conventional attorney Mark Darcy (Colin Firth)?
  24. Across the Universe (2007).  Beatles's songs form the backdrop of this 1960s love story between Jude (Jim Sturgess), a working-class lad from Liverpool, and Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), an upper-class American girl.
  25. Ghost Town (2008).  Ricky Gervais plays a dentist in for a routine colonoscopy, who dies for seven minutes.  When he awakes, he has the special ability to see ghosts, all of whom want something from him.

    Thursday, February 9, 2012

    Facebook Time Travel

    The Future of Us
    by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
    Razorbill (November 21, 2011)
    356 pages
    ISBN:  1595144919

    The Future of Us is a page turner if ever there was one.  Emma and Josh, best friends since preschool, are two high school students in 1996, a time when fewer than half of all teenagers have ever used the Internet.  When Emma gets a new computer from her father, Josh helps her set it up and together they discover a site called Facebook, a full eight years before it is launched.  Facebook proves to be a cyber time machine that clues them into what their lives will be like in the year 2011.  They learn their occupations, their spouses, their children, and where they live.  Whereas Josh is delighted with what he learns of his future, Emma is deeply disappointed.

    Emma and Josh begin trying to control their futures:  Josh to keep his as is, Emma to change hers.  Every day Facebook reveals changes in their destinies based on their actions in 1996, some deliberate, some random.  In fact, every time Emma hits "refresh," her future is different on Facebook.  She begins to worry:  "I don't want to create any ripples that could ruin either one of our futures."  The ripples aren't doing their present friendship any good, either.  Can they learn to live in the present and let the future take care of itself?

    To order from Amazon, click on The Future of Us.

    Thursday, February 2, 2012

    Robbing the Rich and Giving to the Poor

    When I was in high school, I only received two As in gym class--yes, we were graded for our performance, not just for showing up to class in our gym clothes.  One of the As was for gymnastics, the other for archery.  Many years later--I won't say how many--my son took an after-school archery class.  On the last day of class, the instructor had the parents engage in a competition with their kids and each other.  We were to shoot an arrow right into the center of a pumpkin, the spot marked by the instructor.  We were given two chances.  My first arrow hit right into the pumpkin's bulls-eye to the approving nod of the instructor.  My second arrow didn't stick, as it landed right atop the first arrow.  As I seem to be a natural at the sport, I sometimes think I would have been right at home in Sherwood Forest.

    And that, perhaps, is part of the reason I love the legend of Robin Hood.  (That and his socialist stealing from the rich to feed the poor.)  Of the Robin Hood movies, my favorite hands down is Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves.  Sure, Errol Flynn brings a joie de vive to his Robin Hood, but the 1938 movie just isn't as exciting, nor as humorous, as the 1991 version.  And, yes, I know that Kevin Costner's English accent is nonexistent.  And I know that there was no Moor in the original stories, but, hey, it's Morgan Freeman.  Plus, I like the way the movie uses the Moor to build on the original legend, which is in keeping with the tradition of storytelling:  As the story gets retold, new elements are added on.  Whether or not you like Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves, you might really get a kick out of Mel Brooks' 1993 spoof of it:  Robin Hood:  Men in Tights.  Also worth noting is the 1973 Disney animated version, which my daughter and I watched a couple of dozen times when she was two.  I still hear Phil Harris's voice when I read dialog by Little John.

    The best and most accessible Robin Hood book is Howard Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, an excellent retelling of the Sherwood Forest bandits for middle school students.  As in the movies, you'll find Robin Hood, Little John, Maid Marian, Will Scarlett, Friar Tuck, and the nefarious Sheriff of Nottingham.

    To order the book and movies from Amazon, click on the following links:
    The Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
    The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
    Robin Hood (Disney Gold Classic Collection) (1973)
    Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves (Two-Disc Special Extended Edition) (1991)
    Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Extended Version) [Blu-ray] (1991)
    Robin Hood - Men in Tights (1993)
    Robin Hood: Men in Tights [Blu-ray] (1993)