Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Magic in a muffin tin

Meet my new friend. This is the Bread Pudding Muffin from this book. Kind of. I tweaked it a little. It's really, really good (incidentally, so is the book.

I love this recipe for several reasons:

1. I'm a sucker for anything that comes in a miniature serving.
2. Sifted powdered sugar on top makes me giddy.
3. I heart bread pudding. Really, anything that combines dairy with eggs and carbs (see also: tapioca pudding, macaroni and cheese, et al)
4. I love make-ahead recipes, and this certainly qualifies.

And another reason I love this recipe - it's a bit of a blank slate. Sure, it's good as is. But there are endless possibilities.

The basic recipe:

1 loaf Artisan Bread
3/4 tsp Cinnamon

6 Eggs
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 c. milk
1 1/2 c. cream (or, if you're feeling appropriately stingy, 1/2 c. half n' half and 1 c. cream.)
2 tsp vanilla
Scant 1/4 tsp salt

Powdered sugar for sprinkling.

1. Cut the ends off the bread, save for another use. Slice rest of bread into 1" (or so, maybe a bit smaller) squares; place in a large bowl.

2. Toss with cinnamon.

3. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, milk, cream, vanilla, and salt. Pour mixture over the spiced bread. Give it a brief stir so everything's properly damp. Cover and let stand refrigerated overnight, or up to 24 hours.

4. Line two muffin tins with paper cups. Spoon mixture into the cups, about 1/2 c. each. Depending on how long your bread soaked, you may find it's easier to kind of place some of the bread chunks into the liners to make sure each space gets filled. Spoon remaining custard (it'll be hanging out in the bottom of the bowl) over the tops. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. When they're done, you want the tops nice and golden and the bottoms to be squashy. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, serve warm. Refrigerate the leftovers.

So that's the gist of it. The fun thing is, you could go a bit wild with it by adding:

1. Cardamom
2. Candied hazelnuts
3. Almond extract and slivered almonds
4. Blueberries
5. Diced apples.
6. Finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
7. Vanilla Bean
8. Orange zest
9. Lemon zest

I'm definitely making these again. And again, and again, starting most likely with a Bible Study brunch next week. If you experiment, let me know!

In other news...

1. I bought a new camera, another digital SLR, and the photo above is the first publicly released photo I've taken with it :-) I'm very pleased with it, though I haven't used it much yet. We'll be in Vermont for Danny's graduation shortly, and I expect to take it for an extended spin during that time.

2. I'm still crazy excited about the season finale of House, in which the the heavens open and the world is righted, at least where my favorite ascetic doctor is concerned.

3. If you watched the season finale of Castle and wondered what that song was, it's this one.

4. I have to say, Glee made me sad last night. I hurt for Rachel as she and her birth mother try to eke out a relationship without the benefit of a shared past. I was frustrated on Finn's behalf because, as much as he shouldn't have used the terminology he did, his basic reaction was not unwarranted. His not wanting to share a bedroom with an openly gay young man is as understandable as a teen girl not wanting to share a bedroom with a teen boy. While I appreciate Kurt's dad's reaction, the onus was on him and Finn's mother for putting Finn in that position in the first place. They are the adults. They need to buy a vowel.

But Rachel's mom-ed over Lady Gaga outfit? Adorable.

4. I picked this up at the library and have had a ton of fun flipping through it. The recipes are inventive and fun, the ideas are clever and sophisticated, and the photos are frankly quite impressive. If I turn my artistic attentions to photographing teacups, you'll know why.

5. If you haven't seen Invictus yet, do. Go. Rent. Now.

6. It's 75 degrees in Vermont right now. Just saying. I wonder how the mini bread puddings would be with warm maple syrup.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Not Dead

Sorry. I know, it's been a while. Turning in the book sucked out my will to blog. Or write, really, much of anything.

To catch up:

1. Robin Hood. Thumbs-down, sadly. Honestly, you don't know how much that breaks my heart. I wanted to love this movie, but it wasn't meant to be. You really do have to have characters to make a story work. More on that later.

2. The Losers. Thumbs-up. Honestly, the trailer made it look like the poorer, potato-sack wearing cousin of this summer's The A-Team. Which I haven't seen yet. But The Losers does, it does well. The characters are drawn broadly with much love and affection. The action sequences are fun. The villain is pitch-perfect. If she could sound feasibly British, I'd nominate Zoe Saldana for the Tomb Raider reboot. I recommend much.

3. Letters to Juliet. Thumbs-up. It's swoony and unapologetically romantic in a take-no-prisoners sort of way. When I am old, I want to look like Vanessa Redgrave.

4. Crazy Heart. The scriptwriter really did go with the "less talk more rock" approach. Literally. And while I won't begrudge Jeff Bridges his Oscar in the slightest, I found the story itself to be lacking. My engineer husband (who spends a lot of time these days with a novelist) summed it up this way: "It's like it was an act and a half, rather than three acts. There was a lot of setup, the climax, some plot, and then it was over. I didn't like it.)

*Note* He'll come home from work and tell me I didn't quote him right. But it's pretty close and true to the intended message.

That's it for movies. We've been watching a lot of Top Gear lately. So much that the phrase "Some Say" followed by a pause will now cause a Pavlovian-type giggle reaction. (This is inconvenient for Ridley Scott, since it happened during Robin Hood while one of the actors was trying to be profound. I don't remember who. I was giggling at the time). But it's really delightful and is the only media-related item I've ever found that can make my frequently stoic husband weep with laughter. WEEP.

And honestly, I can't blame him.

One of the reasons I heart it much is that the three hosts - Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond, are all very good at being characters. And I'm all about characters.

So maybe Ridley Scott needed to watch a little more Top Gear, because the sense of character was missing from a film about one of the most famous literary characters.

Lessons We Can Glean From Robin Hood (2010)

1.) It's important to give the audience a reason to like the main character. If we like the character, we will care about his story. If we don't like him, we won't give a cockroach's tush. The late Blake Snyder wrote about this in his seminal screenwriting book, Save the Cat. Basically, give your protagonist an opportunity to save a cat, or something - anything - that makes us like him. It doesn't have to be much. It doesn't have to be a cat. Russell Crowe could have saved a horse, and it would have helped. This is true for anti-heroes as well. Even if they have issues, the likability has to be there.

2.) Characters have to be consistent. When characters are consistent, we believe they're real people. When they're not, we struggle with the suspension of disbelief. So if you give us a smart, gutsy woman like, say, Marian, and especially if you cast a smart, gutsy woman like Cate Blanchett to play her, do not have this character threaten to remove a man's manhood at knifepoint and then have her light a lamp so she can undress behind a thin curtain, giving the aforementioned man a lengthy opportunity to observe and admire the silhouette of her feminine form.

I mean, really.

3.) No plot development is going to be interesting enough to save your story if your characters are flimsy. In fact, if you don't have characters, it's not a story. It's not. It's a recitation of events. Character make story. Stories make character. You can't have one and not the other, if it's going to work. A lot of plot-driven writers struggle with this, particularly sci-fi/fantasy writers. I've seen it in both published and unpublished work. Political machinations don't mean a thing if we don't care about the characters. The reason why is that if we have nothing invested, the stakes will never be high enough to create the tension necessary for a moving plot. And you need high stakes. You need tension. As Lauri Deason once said, "The original Star Wars movies were about saving the universe. The new ones were about tax reform."

And we all know which ones were the most successful.

4.) Pick your tone. Own it. Films like The Losers, Clash of the Titans, and Letters to Juliet work because they know what they are and they're good with that. They're not trying too hard to be too much. Robin Hood swung around from battle epic to comedy to drama to romance in such an awkward way that it didn't work at any of those. (Note: kissing someone in the midst of battle while blood drips onto that person's face...gross. Not romantic. Not sexy. Gross and awkward. No one wants to kiss a bio-hazard.)

So there you go. I've been reading a lot of British Chick-lit lately. I can't wait for this book to arrive at the library (it's currently out). I have a thing for books in which a woman inherits or manages to land into a large, old, decrepit house and has to make it a home of some sort. I don't know why, but I've had this thing for a long time. It's a big plus if the house has a secret history, or if the heroine makes curtains for it. Books like this, this, and this, and obviously this. I just finished Harriet Evans' A Hopeless Romantic, and that was a lot of fun :-)

Speaking of books, need to get back to Simply Sara edits. More later...in less than two weeks :-)

P.S. The frog pic at the top is one of the ones I shot at the Oregon Garden during out getaway weekend. The rest are in the slideshow - go take a peek.