January 28, 2014

Chocolate cupcakes with crispy magic frosting

Once again, this recipe comes from Joanne Chang's cookbook, Flour.  Is it getting old to say that these cupcakes were fantastic?

One of the reasons why I think I'm having so much success when baking from this book, aside from the recipes being good, is that the directions are so precise.  The recipes might be several pages long, but each step is spelled out so that you know exactly what you should be doing, what it should look like, what you should look out for.

I had to do an emergency substitution in the recipe.  I do this thing where I think I have all the ingredients I need, then when I go to bake, I don't.  Oops.  It happened again.  This time I'm glad I didn't have all the chocolate I needed.  I only had one ounce of semisweet chocolate, and I needed two.  Luckily, I still had mint infused chocolate, so I used an ounce of that.  YUM.  The cupcakes ended up with a nice minty flavor.

So, yes, these cupcakes were delicious.  I would have rather piped the icing on top, but my star tip is smaller than I remembered.  I used a small offset spatula instead.  The icing was thick and hard to spread on a delicate cupcake, but it was good.  It definitely would have been easier to pipe it- and it would have looked much better.  It was a Swiss buttercream icing, which means that I made a Swiss meringue first (heated egg whites and sugar over a bain marie before beating into marshmallowy whiteness in a stand mixer) before adding the butter.  Good stuff. 

January 25, 2014

French lemon-poppy pound cake

Pound cake is my nemesis.  I have never made a pound cake that turns out right.

This was another recipe from Flour, Joanne Chang's cookbook.  I left out the poppy seeds.  I don't like poppy seeds.  I don't have a microplane grater, so I had no way to add lemon zest to the batter. 

With these alterations, it would by my fault, not the recipe's, if the pound cake was terrible.  I'm not sure what to do about the section of the cake at the top that rises and splits open as the pound cake bakes.

That section is delicious, but I wonder if the pound cake ends up baking longer than it should in order for that section to bake through.

I took the pound cake out of the pan and glazed it.  The recipe calls for glazing the cake while it is still warm.  The glaze was thin, but full of tart lemon flavor.  I tried a piece right away, before it cooled completely.  It wasn't very good.  I went out to the kitchen a few hours later and found half a cake left.  It was not eaten by my dog.  It was eaten by two people- not including the small piece I had earlier.  This made me try it again.  Much better!  Lesson learned.  Let pound cake sit a bit before eating it.  The next day, the texture and flavor were even better.

Is that a bear head lurking behind the pound cake?

The recipe has a vanilla variation, so next time I'll try that instead of lemon.  I think the cake itself will turn out more flavorful when I don't have to leave out a major ingredient.  I'm still not great at making pound cake, but I'm getting better. 

January 21, 2014

Doctor Who: The Edge of Destruction

I love Doctor Who.  This episode is terrible.  This is an episode that should be avoided.  The only good thing I can say about it is that it's only two parts, so it is over in 45 minutes.  The entire episode takes place in the TARDIS.  Usually "bottle episodes" are interesting character studies.  This was an incoherent mess.  I will make this quick.  The plot, such as there was one- the TARDIS malfunctions, and they are all knocked unconscious.  After they wake up, they can't figure out what is wrong.  Susan threatens people with scissors, the Doctor threatens to put Ian and Barbara off the ship, and Ian tries to choke people.  At one point, the Doctor drugs everyone.  The Doctor somehow decides that the TARDIS is about to disintegrate.  Barbara determines that the TARDIS is giving them clues as to what is going on.  In the end, there is no outside force making them all crazy.  The Doctor activated the fast return switch when they left Skaro at the end of "The Daleks."  It was supposed to take them back to Earth.  The switch was stuck on because a spring was broken.  It is fixed, and they are saved.  Really.  The end.  Awful. 

There is no reason why they would immediately turn on each other so completely.  This makes all of the characters come across badly.  When the audience finds out that there isn't some entity causing them to act this way, they just seem like insane jerks- completely out of character.  The supposed clues that the TARDIS is giving to them don't make sense.  This whole episode stretches the limits of suspension of disbelief. 

Drink when the 1st Doctor grabs his lapels.

CONTINUITY FUN!  Ian checks the Doctor after they are all knocked out for the first time, and he notes that the Doctor's heart seems fine.  Heart.  Singular.  It is established later that Time Lords have two hearts.

I was glad when this episode was over.  I'm not sure yet what the plan will be for the next one.  "Marco Polo" is one of the missing episodes, lost when the BBC wiped the tapes on which it was stored.  No video of the serial exists. 


Doctor: First
Companions: Susan, Ian, Barbara
Episode: #3, "The Edge of Destruction," two parts- 'The Edge of Destruction,' 'The Brink of Disaster'
Adversary: none
Classic Lines: the Doctor: "One man's law is another man's crime."
Tuck This Away to Impress Your Friends: Ian chooses a coat from the Doctor's wardrobe that was given to the Doctor by Gilbert and Sullivan.  
Next Up: "Marco Polo"

January 19, 2014

Best ever chocolate pudding

A good friend of mine gave me Joanne Chang's cookbook Flour, so I'm going to be gleefully baking from this wonderful book.  I'd try every recipe.  They all look great.

Sure, cooking pudding isn't baking, but it's still yummy.  I made a huge mess in the kitchen while making this.  It looked like Willy Wonka's factory had exploded.  I've never eaten pudding made from scratch.  I grew up on Jello pudding from a box.  Everyone my age must remember Bill Cosby wearing his crazy sweaters and eating Jello pudding in tv commercials.  You know what?  Cosby's Jello pudding wasn't that great.  That pudding made me ambivalent about pudding.

The hardest part about making pudding is waiting for it to firm up in the fridge before you can eat it.  After a few hours, it was ready.  The terrible photos I took with my phone do not do the pudding justice.  This was the best pudding I have ever had.  By far.  It was amazing.  It was creamy, chocolate goodness.  It was so much more than basic pudding.  This pudding changed my mind about what pudding could be.  That's two recipes I've tried from Flour, and two desserts that have been the best I have ever had of their ilk.

January 14, 2014

Random quotes I like

Here are some random quotes that I've either come across recently or that have been brought to my attention again.

"There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends.  I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature."  

Of course I start off with Austen!  This is said by a character in Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey.  I love everything about this quote.  Personally, I don't let a lot of people in.  My close friends mean the world to me.  I would do anything for them.

"I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me."  

I'm a big fan of Shakespeare.  I generally prefer the tragedies and histories to the comedies, but Much Ado About Nothing is one of my absolute favorites.  This quote comes from that play.  Beatrice says this to Benedick during one of their verbal sparring matches.  The entire play is filled with funny, clever, biting dialogue between the two of them.  For me, their banter makes the play.  I adore Beatrice.  She is independent and smart.  She holds her own against Benedick.  Beatrice rocks.

"I wonder that you will still be talking, Signor Benedick. Nobody marks you."

"All I want is the taste that your lips allow."  

I like how this encapsulates, in one beautiful turn of phrase, lusting for someone.  I'm talking purely physical lust.  (Sorry family- this is what you get for reading my blog.)  This quote comes from the song "Give Me Love" by my guilty pleasure, Ed Sheeran.  In my defense, I only like when he rocks out acoustically.  I don't really like his songs as they are released as overprocessed singles.  Ooo, but when this cute ginger Brit is by himself with his guitar- good stuff.  Ah, that is embarrassing to admit.

"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."  

A friend sent this Desmond Tutu quote to me a few days ago.  I tend to be quiet and reserved, and he was encouraging me to speak up for my beliefs.  It's similar to Edmund Burke's "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."  As for the Burke quote, I've seen several variations on it, and I could not find a definitive answer as to which is correct.

That's it for quotes!  Next time- food or Doctor Who.

January 13, 2014

Doctor Who: The Daleks

As the title suggests, this episode marks the first appearance of the iconic Doctor Who villains, the Daleks.  I hadn't realized that they showed up so early on in the series.  This serial is seven episodes.  Seven.  That's almost three hours in one sitting, which is how I watched it.  It felt long.  There was a lot of running through corridors and navigating caves and jungles.  On the other hand- the Daleks!  The Daleks are always fun.

The Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara land on a radioactive planet.  They don't realize that it is radioactive, so they go out exploring.  The Doctor sees a city off in the distance, but the rest of them veto his plan to check it out.  Susan gets separated from them for a brief time and freaks out in her usual Susan way.  The Doctor makes some food from a machine in the control room of the TARDIS.  The food looks like little bars, but it tastes like whatever is requested.  Barbara and Ian want bacon and eggs.  There are a lot of extra things in the TARDIS control room other than the center console.  There are chairs, this food machine, and equipment to help run the TARDIS.  The TARDIS malfunctions when they try to leave.  The Doctor says that it is a specific part that needs mercury.  Oops, he doesn't have any mercury.  They'll have to take the part to the city and get some.  Of course, that turns out to be a big fat lie.  There isn't anything wrong with the part.  The Doctor wanted to see the city, and the Doctor is going to get his way, one way or another.  This doesn't go over well with Ian when he finds out.

They go to the city and get captured by the Daleks.  When the Daleks shoot Ian, it doesn't kill him.  It paralyzes his legs.  The Daleks tell him that if they shoot him again in a short period of time, the paralysis will be permanent.  Later on they do kill people, so I suppose the Daleks have different settings on their guns.  That's unusual.  Okay, a lot of what goes down with the Daleks and the war with the Thals contradicts what is said about all this stuff later on in the series.  CONTINUITY FUN!  For instance, series canon is that Daleks are Kaled mutants.  That's not the case here.  In this episode, they are mutants inside those casings, but they have always been Daleks or Dals.  Series canon is that a Kaled named Davros created the Daleks to be superior beings and conquerors.  In this episode, the Daleks' mutation is a byproduct of radiation from the war.  Is this really the first meeting of the Doctor and the Daleks?  He doesn't recognize Daleks.  The Daleks can't leave the city.  The Thals don't think the Daleks survived the war.  I thought that later on in the series, they paint the war between the Thals and the Daleks as a never-ending struggle since the time Kaleds were still around.  Here, the war was 500 years ago.  Also, the Daleks in this episode are powered by static electricity and need radiation to survive.  How are they supposed to conquer the universe or win a war when they always have to be on a metal floor?  They can't go outside!  Our heroes disable one by directing it onto a cloak on the floor.  The powered by static electricity and needing radiation to survive aspects of the Daleks don't last.  Now is a time to take a deep breath and forget about continuity.

The one on the right's eye stalk looks broken.

The plot?  First everyone has radiation sickness, so they need drugs.  Then the Thals are starving, and the Daleks try to trick them into meeting so that the Daleks can kill them all.  Ian has a go inside of a Dalek.  That one they disabled?  They ripped the mutant out of it, and Ian climbs inside.  It was funny hearing his voice as a Dalek.

Yes, that is Ian inside of a Dalek.

There is an interesting bit about the TARDIS lock, which does not stay true for long in the series.  They need someone to go back to the TARDIS.  Ian says he will go, but Susan says that only she and the Doctor can use the key.  There are twenty-one different ways to place the key in the lock, and if you don't do it right, the lock melts as a defense mechanism.  The thing is, this lock explanation ends up being completely unnecessary.  Ian's legs haven't recovered at this point, so Susan has to go, anyway.  Oh, Doctor Who.  You do love to over-complicate things.  This leads to a long scene of Susan running around the jungle being annoying.

Once they escape, it's not over.  It feels like it should be over.  It's not.  They have to go back because the Daleks took the TARDIS part from Ian.  Good job, Ian!  They have to convince the Thals to help them.

The Thals have some interesting outfits.

A lot of time is spent making their way back to the city.  They split up for a two-pronged attack.  There is some serious flirting going on between one of the Thals and Barbara.

How you doin'?

I'm glad Ian wasn't around to see that!  Even this early on, I think Ian has a thing for Barbara.

Oh, Barbara...

I like this episode, even though it feels too long.  I should have broken it up into two viewings.  It felt like two separate episodes.  The first was everyone trying to escape from the Daleks.  The second was everyone trying to get back to the city to fight them.  The Daleks looked like Daleks have always looked.  The Daleks talked about exterminating people.  The Daleks did their Dalek thing.

I'm eccentric! I grab my lapels all the time!


Doctor: First
Companions: Susan, Ian, Barbara
Episode: #2, "The Daleks," seven parts- 'The Dead Planet,' 'The Survivors,' 'The Escape,' 'The Ambush,' 'The Expedition,' 'The Ordeal,' 'The Rescue'
Adversary: the Daleks
Classic Lines: the Doctor: "The mind will always triumph!"; the Doctor: "You wanted advice, you said.  I never give it.  Never.  But I might just say this to you- always search for truth.  My truth is in the stars, and yours is here."  
Tuck This Away to Impress Your Friends: The Daleks' home planet is Skaro.  The Daleks unwillingly share their home planet with the Thals.  
Next Up: "The Edge of Destruction"

January 4, 2014

Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child

Here we are, fifty years ago in 1963, with the first episode of Doctor Who.  I tend to call each serial an episode because when I watched the show on PBS as a kid, they showed all the episodes of one serial together as one story.  Time to cast confusing pedantry aside and get into the episode.

"An Unearthly Child" opens with a policeman walking by the I.M. Foreman junkyard.  Fans of new Who may recognize that the 50th anniversary special opened the same way.  Cut to a school, where two teachers, Ian and Barbara, are discussing a perplexing student, Susan.  She is a genius, and yet she seems to be hiding an even greater intelligence than she lets on.  Her home life is a mystery.  They decide to investigate, which leads them to the scrapyard, the TARDIS, and the Doctor.

Ian and the Doctor
Ian and Barbara think that the Doctor has Susan trapped in a police box.  The Doctor is angry, gruff, and evasive.  He tries to get rid of them.  When Susan pops out of the TARDIS looking for the Doctor, Ian and Barbara push their way in before the Doctor can stop them.

l-r: Ian, the Doctor, Barbara, Susan
Not one person says that magic line, "It's bigger on the inside!"  Ian has a hard time accepting the internal dimensions of the TARDIS.  He later has a difficult time accepting the idea of time travel.  Maybe because he is a science teacher?  Barbara just goes with it.

Susan tells them that she and her grandfather travel in the TARDIS, which is a nickname she made up for the ship that stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space.  A nickname she made up?  No.  This is just the beginning of the continuity nightmare that is Doctor Who.  You have to let these things go, or it will drive you insane.  This is the show that sunk Atlantis three different times in three different ways.  Time Lords and Gallifrey and Type 40 TARDISes are all things to come in Doctor Who.  The Doctor and Susan are not from Earth.  They are from an advanced civilization.  That's all we have to go on at this point.  For that matter, is Susan a Time Lord?  Is she the Doctor's biological granddaughter?  These are points that have been debated by Whovians, but I see no reason why she wouldn't be, other than she doesn't act like one.  Full disclosure- I don't like Susan.  She mostly freaks out and screams and says how scared she is.  This is her contribution to the show.  Ian and Barbara talk about how smart she is, but she doesn't really demonstrate this intelligence herself.  So, for a long time, I thought she couldn't be a Time Lord.  Time Lords wouldn't act like that.  Time Lords wouldn't be so dumb.  I've let that personal bias go and have accepted that she is probably a Time Lord.  She's a lame one, but she is one.  She does get better over the course of her tenure on the show.  Maybe rewatching these episodes will give me a new appreciation of her character.  One more giant continuity issue- Susan says that TARDIS stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space.  Some later Classic Who Doctors refer to it as Dimensions, plural.  This has gone back and forth.  New Who always says Dimension, singular.  Fun with continuity!

The Doctor is very angry at everyone.  He blames Susan for wanting to go to that school.  He is scornful of Ian and Barbara.  He won't let them out of the TARDIS because he can't let anyone from 1960s Earth know of the technology of the TARDIS.  So, off they go.  The TARDIS makes the classic, wheezing TARDIS noise.  Huzzah!

The Doctor has taken them far back in time.  They all leave the TARDIS, and both the Doctor and Susan note that the TARDIS has not changed shape to match its surroundings.  I thought it was interesting that so early in the show both the TARDIS' ability to blend in and the fact that it was malfunctioning were mentioned.  The Doctor disappears.  Susan has a complete meltdown.  Wow- she is already annoying.  The Doctor has been captured by cavemen, who want him to make fire.  They have been having a hard time making fire lately.  And that's how the whole rest of this episode goes.  Make fire.  You make fire.  We need fire.  Who makes fire?  Yep.  The cavemen capture the rest of them and ask them to make fire.  The Doctor couldn't do it because he needed matches.  Oh, no sonic screwdriver to make fire for you, Doctor?  Later on in the episode, Barbara has a Susan-like freak out at a dead animal.  That was strange.  Barbara is generally level-headed.  I'm glad they gave her character more backbone in later episodes.  It was also weird to hear the Doctor call the cavemen "savages."  Classic Doctors can be condescending and rude (I'm looking at you, 3rd Doctor!), but they aren't usually that bad.  Then again, the first Doctor gets grumpy and angry a lot.

Run away!  Run away!
There are some first Doctor episodes I really like.  This isn't one of them.  This episode doesn't feel like Doctor Who.  This episode makes me wonder how the show lasted.  Oh, yeah, it lasted because the next episode has THE DALEKS.  Once they get back to the TARDIS, the Doctor takes them somewhere else.  He says he can't take Ian and Barbara home because he can't work the TARDIS/it isn't working right.  He doesn't want to take them home, anyway.  He already told them that they can't go home because of what they know about the TARDIS.  They are stuck with him.


Doctor: First
Companions: Susan, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright
Episode: #1, "An Unearthly Child," four parts- 'An Unearthly Child,' 'The Cave of Skulls,' 'The Forest of Fear,' 'The Firemaker'
Adversary: cavemen/prehistoric humans
Classic Lines: Ian, to the Doctor: "Don't just lie there criticizing us!  Do something!"; 
the Doctor: "It's still a police box.  Why hasn't it changed?  Dear, dear!  How very disturbing!"
Tuck This Away to Impress Your Friends:  Ian teaches science.  Barbara teaches history.  They teach at the Coal Hill School.  The address of the junkyard is 76 Totter's Lane.  Susan says the TARDIS has been an ionic column and a sedan chair, in addition to a police box.  
Next Up: "The Daleks"
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