Monday, June 28, 2010

Book Review - Jane Slayre

Jane Slayre -- Charlotte Bronte, Sherri Browning Erwin

This is the third of the recent group of classic romance/horror humor mash-ups I've read and it is the very best of them. It succeeds in being a fun, light read because it avoided the traps of the almost-good "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies" and the waste of paper and time that was "Sense & Sensibility & Sea-monsters". No cheap jokes, no junior high sex puns, no glaring and stupid mistakes in the additions, no missed opportunities, and no pointless, tedious grafting onto the original story. The humor is dry, understated, and dovetailed nicely with the original voice of the main character.

That Ms. Erwin not only has read Jane Eyre, but understood and appreciated it, was apparent in her handling of the original material. (I think part of that understanding and intelligence is indicated by the proper spelling of her first name). She maintained qualities of the original characters and, while indicating the humor of the new situations in which she placed them, she never ridiculed or insulted them (I particularly liked her transformation of Mr. Brocklehurst -- it was everything I could desire). I didn't have a single eye rolling moment and my curiosity about how the story would develop and end remained high until the last few pages answered all.

I've read Jane Eyre several times since my first foray in 6th grade. When I first read about this book, I speculated that the Brontes might be better suited for such a mash-up. Their writings are much more emotional, excessive, and interwoven with Byronic Romanticism and Gothic motifs. These made room for adding in the changes without overstretching credulity (not the case with the two Austen mash-ups, which required much subtler humor and, being tighter and less prone to emotional broad strokes, had less room for what was sledged into them.)

Quite a good, fun, light summer read.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hunting Expedition

There's not much that's better in my little life than a trip to the local Barnes & Noble, unless it is a trip to Barnes & Noble with an unlimited bank account. We made a trip up for the express purpose of picking up a particular DVD and discovered they were having a buy 2, get one free sale. So, we have acquired Forbidden Kingdom, the second season of The Wild, Wild West tv series, and the Sherlock Holmes feature film collection.

Of course, once we'd finished with the DVD section, we rummaged through the books, and obviously we found some. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, which looks quite unique and interesting. I picked up Defining Moments in Books, which (unfortunately, in my opinion) has the iconic image from the movie Lolita on the cover. The Husband picked up a book on interviewing and another called Creative Cursing, which he expects will be useful no matter what job he gets.

But the biggest trophy of the day, the prize of the hunt, was the second volume of Bloom County, the Complete Library. The first was wonderful. I didn't know the second was out and it was almost at the end of our tour of the store when I spotted it, grabbed it, and now it's mine.

Time to sink into that.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Exciting Frontiers in Baking - The Sequel in Chocolate

Yes, I tried the rolled cake (the fancy name is "roulade") again this weekend, this time with chocolate. It takes a lousy picture (the lighting in my kitchen is not flattering) but it tasted wonderful.

The details: I have a 17 inch pan which is larger than my recipe calls for (so far I've found 3 different sizes of jelly roll pans. I don't have room for 3 pans.) so I got ambitious and increased the recipe a bit -- 6 eggs instead of 4, 1/2 cup flour instead of 1/3 -- and it seemed to work ok. The cake came out soft and spongy. Filling -- chocolate cream cheese and Nutella. I also made my first ganache to cover the cake. Ganache is EASY! It is also delicious. I must be very careful with this new knowledge.

The final touch was chopped hazelnuts.

It didn't come out too sweet, which did concern me. There's no added sugar in the ganache, just what's in the baker's chocolate and the tablespoon of cognac. I didn't get quite enough sugar in the cream cheese according to some critics, but the cake itself has a lot of sweetness, plus the Nutella is sweet, so I think maybe a few more tablespoons into the cream cheese will do the trick. It's a lovely balance of dark and light chocolates and very satisfying.

It's also a lot of beating. I'm serious. First the yolks must be beaten creamy, then the whites must be beaten stiff, then there's folding and sprinkling flour and floodling around. The ganache is all about the beating (food processor!) and the cream cheese is beaten and mixed.

The one sad occurrence in this success is the slowly encroaching decrepitude of my Cuisinart multi-mixer. The mixer bowl, cheap plastic that it is, doesn't want to stay on the mixer, which means the steel blade won't stay seated unless I press hard down on the lid. Thus resulted in one good, solid splash of half mixed chocolate across the kitchen as the processor tried to launch itself into orbit. With our limited storage space, another multi-use machine is the obvious choice, but maybe not the lowest end version . We've had this one for maybe 5 years now, and the blender pieces all work fine, but I don't think we can get replacements for the mixer parts.

Oh, The Husband and I also visited one of those lovely cookery boutique stores (not William-Sonoma, but a locally owned store) to lust for the LeCreuset pans we want and to get a new iron skillet. We don't fry food much, so I hadn't really missed our old skillet when it wandered off. Now that we are trying to cook more of what we eat, I realized I know how to make corn bread, and it's better in an iron skillet than in a Pyrex pan.

Ironic, isn't it? When we had a big kitchen, we rarely used it or what we had in it. Now that we are exploring the real joys of cooking, we are in a mini-kitchen. Where once I dreamed of travel, I now daydream about kitchens.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Mavro as Nate Ford

I'm following the adventures of Mavro in The Book Of Mavro like its is episodic TV. In some ways it is better than TV (no commercials). It reminds me a little of my favorite show, Leverage, in that it's someone scamming criminal types both because they like it and for the greater good.

I now look at the mail in my spam box with a new eye. Some of that shit is outright WEIRD.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Exciting Frontiers in Baking

I made my first jelly roll cake this week. It didn't last long enough to get a picture of it to post. However, it was yellow cake with cream cheese and strawberry jam filling. I haven't got the trick of filling and rolling quite down -- what looks like stingy filling when the cake is flat becomes OMGODTOOMUCH when you start rolling.

I'm going to try a chocolate one next, with a filling of Nutella and cream cheese (I have a recipe for chocolate cream cheese) and a ganache frosting. Ganache, according to there recipe I found on Cook's Illustrated, is disgustingly easy to make. It's so easy, in fact, I could make it all the time and just keep some in a jar with a spoon stuck in it.

That would be dangerous.

I'll try to get a picture of the next one, if I get it rolled up right.