Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Popcorn Night at the Oscars

I’ll admit it; watching the Academy Awards has long been my guilty pleasure. I think I must have been in junior high when the tradition began. Mother and I would get the dishes done, homework would be finished, Cokes would be poured, and we would settle in for the evening. I don’t remember when popcorn entered the picture, most likely a more recent addition, but we would watch till the bitter end, even when Daddy would shuffle out of the bedroom, blinking through his sleepiness, and remind us that it was way past bedtime. We would assure him that it was almost over; he would frown, pause a minute, and then make his way back to bed mumbling under his breath. And as I recall, in the old days the show was sometimes on a week night, which meant school night, which Daddy was obviously concerned about, and Mother was not.

Since the program is all live, anything can happen, and deep down, I think the powers that be all secretly wish for some unexpected incident to spice things up. All those unexpected surprises they replayed too many times  in the build-up programs before the upcoming spectacle-the streaker, Jack Palance’s one-armed push-up, the Indian girl sent by Brando, Cher’s outfits that were not, as she coyly put it, what the serious actress would wear- I enjoyed them all in real time!

So Sunday afternoon I checked Coke and popcorn supplies, made sure I had plenty of caramels to melt and pour over the popcorn, and this year even sat through all the red carpet prelims in preparation for watching a slice of life I will never be a part of.

I’m not going to worry about combing the Internet and dragging pictures into the blog; they are plastered everywhere for all the world to see, and no doubt by this time most of you have seen more of them ad nauseum, so that monkey is on your back if you want to see more. I am, however, going to join the ranks of entertainment experts and share with you my take of the night’s events-

Starting with the observation that all the warm-up has nothing to do with the merit of the movies or the performances up for recognition, but with what everyone was wearing. Long ago in our family the brutal truth was discovered that indeed it is not what you know, nor who you know, but how you look that seems to be the crucial issue these days. And this is Hollywood in all its radiant splendor, and they seldom fail to shine. The men on the red carpet and during the show looked elegant and handsome in their tuxes and shiny patent leather shoes. Well, except for those two long-haired hippie throw-backs who won for sound or something. And the women are all beautiful to begin with, so be honest; even if they chose a wrong color or a dress that doesn’t quite fit, they still look glamorous. Except maybe for Kristen Stewart. I know she had a hurt foot and all, but In Texas cowboy vernacular, she looked like she had been rode hard and put up wet, so she might have been better off  if she had just stayed in the barn and not shown up at all. My best dressed list includes Jennifer Lawrence, Charlize Theron, Octavia Spencer, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Runners-up would be Amanda Seyfried, Stacy Keibler, Jessica Chastain, Reese Witherspoon’s hair, and Jane Fonda, who must have the most gifted plastic surgeon known to man, or woman in this case. She really looked great, but also kind of spooky that anyone 75 years old could look like that. Trailing behind Kristen Stewart in the worst dressed contest was Rene Zellwegger with her ugly hair, blah dress, puckered mouth, and squinty eyes, Melissa McCarthy in her plastic trash bag, Jennifer Anniston’s stringy hair, and Sally Field’s long sleeves. And let’s not forget the two women who won an Oscar for hair and make-up; the one on the left looked fine; her friend on the right in the pink tights and wreck in her hair? Well, they should have worked their magic on her as well.

As for the show itself, for the most part I enjoyed it. As to the host question, I have seen them all from about 1959 to the present, and yes, some are better than others.I am not a Seth MacFarlane fan, but he did as well as anyone else could  in a job that should come with the caveat in the job description that you will be damned if you do and damned if you don’t, so should anyone be surprised that he got hammered for the boob song, the questionable jokes, the Jewish reference from Ted? I didn’t care for the boob song, either, but he redeemed himself by having Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron dance afterward, and the whole Captain Kirk/Star Trek bit was pretty insightful, considering that he knew what he had let himself in for when he took the job. Come on, he was hired because of his potty-mouth, politically incorrect brand of humor, and then when he used it, people were offended? Grow up.  I got a kick out of his Meryl Streep needs no introduction introduction, and the sock puppet bit made me chuckle.

And those unexpected, uncensored surprises that have graced other shows? The only surprises this year were those jokes that nobody expected MacFarlane to actually use. Again, if they didn’t want him to do that stuff, they shouldn’t have hired him.

I thought the Jaws theme song that came in when the acceptance speeches went too long was a fun choice, as was The Sound of Music reference. The stage design and set were really pretty, I thought. The James Bond montage went too fast, but Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger number brought the house down, and rightly so. It is one of my personal favorites and was a good choice, as it has that quintessential Bond sound. The other musical numbers were included, I guess, because of the current popularity of Les Miserables, but the other musical numbers, especially that one from Les Mis, could have been left out as far as I was concerned. Having the First Lady do her little vacuous speech before the best pictures presentation was also unnecessary. It didn’t raise the stature of the night, but rather just added an element of show business to the presidency, as if the office of the presidency needs more showmanship…

And I could go on, but you’ve endured enough. If you care to take umbrage with any of my observations, feel free to leave me a comment. I  have been having technical difficulties with the comments gadget. Comments are recorded but don’t show up on the blog, so I think readers have quit trying to comment. I think if you will click on the word comment, you can still leave a comment, and I will see it, and I think if you click on comment again, you will see it, but alas, I cannot guarantee it. I am working on getting it fixed, but not having much luck, so bear with me, please.

But I digress. This year I saw only three movies that were up for any award, so obviously I had no favorites and was watching purely for the spectacle and entertainment of the evening. I used to go to the show (as in moving picture show) as we used to call them, all the time. Not so much any more. I plan to rectify that in 2013. So next year after the Oscars, along with my best or worst dressed lists, I can make pithy, informed, thoughtful, insightful, and totally beside the point comments on the actual movies that make it to the Oscars.

See you next year.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tales From The Kitchen: The Two-Ton Cake

One more cooking disaster: the cake I passed off as brownies, sort of. This one happened after we had graduated from Texas A&M and had moved to Edna, Texas, which was right down the road from Victoria, Texas, which made it an easy commute to University of Houston Victoria to work on my master’s degree in reading. At the end of one summer semester, my humanities class had the bright idea to all bring food the last day and have a little end of school party. I volunteered to bring a chocolate sheet cake, the recipe for which had been shared with me by a woman in Edna. It was a recipe I had made only a few times. The class was in the afternoon, so I planned to make the cake the morning of that last day so it would be fresh for class that afternoon.


I had several things going that morning, but the cake was first on the list. The minute I took it out of the oven and saw it was flat as a fat pancake, I realized I had forgotten the baking soda. Well, not to worry; I still had time to make another cake before time to leave for Victoria for class. So I did. Make another one. Just like the first one. Exactly. No baking soda again!

I have no idea what I was thinking, or not thinking, I guess. Proof that multi-tasking is not everything it is cracked up to be. Now time to leave was drawing near. So I just iced that sucker and took off for class.

By the time I got to Victoria, I had a plan. I would just tell them it was brownies instead of cake. We had class and ended with our desserts. As my classmates graciously ate the cake, the truth came out, and we had a good laugh.

Chocolate is chocolate, and if it is sweet enough, well, one can overlook a texture issue. “It still tastes good,” they all told me as they scarfed it down with a gulump kind of sound, and then I swear you could hear that bite go thud! as it hit the bottom of their stomachs.

I had almost an empty pan to take home and no one was listed in the obituaries the next day, so I thought about passing it off as my new recipe. Not.


Now I make that cake all the time, soda included, and it is still a hit.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tales From The Kitchen: Potato Salad Overload

My next kitchen faux pas was also while we were at A&M. It was the turkey day game weekend and John Phillips, Bo Reagan, and a couple of other Aggies down the street were having their girl friends in for the big weekend. The plan was to all enjoy a barbecued turkey meal and then go to the game. As the hosts, the boys were supplying all the food: turkey unknowingly supplied by the ag department’s poultry farm, pinto beans, beer, and potato salad, if I would be willing to make it. Of course I said yes.

John asked how many potatoes he should bring me for the salad. Having enjoyed but not having ever made potato salad yet, naturally I called and asked Mother for the recipe and how many potatoes I would need for ten people. She said to allow one medium potato per person, so I told John ten potatoes. John brings me what, to a kid who is 6 foot 2, looks like medium potatoes, which were actually these gargantuan things-they were giants, probably eight inches long!.

I dutifully cooked all ten of them; it took every pot and a borrowed one to get the job done. Then the only thing I could find large enough to mix the salad in was the full-sized vegetable crisper drawer out of the refrigerator. Which is also what I served it in.

I promise you, we had enough potato salad to feed the entire A&M football team. But it was darn good potato salad, I must say.

I recently made another batch of potato salad for another football meal, the Super Bowl. This time I was cooking for six people and used five very medium potatoes. It only took one pot to cook them. Mother always boiled them in their skins and then slid the skins off while the potatoes were still hot. This method also gives the potatoes a different texture in the salad, and I like that. This time we had enough to go around with just  the right amount left over to for a later meal.


So I guess I have finally mastered the art of potato salad.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tales From The Kitchen: Learning to Make Pie Crust

Following recipes accurately was one problem in my early cooking days (see “Tales From the Kitchen: The Giant Cake,” January 31, 2013); incomplete recipes was quite another matter.

Besides the cook books I received as wedding gifts, most of the recipes I tried to use were from Mother; many of hers were from her mother. Makes sense, right? So I had the pie crust recipe that had been handed down to her by Grandmother, and they both made lovely pies and cobblers with this wonderful crust. I also had the family chocolate meringue pie recipe, so I set out to make those for my new husband.

The filling was wonderful, and I could even manage nice meringue. The crust was another story. I could barely get it to roll out and then move it into the pie pan. But I would come up with a pretty pie, and Bill would dutifully eat the filling and the meringue and leave the crust.

This went on for a few pies, and I finally thought to ask Mother what I was doing wrong. I had the recipe card in hand, and we went over the ingredients. Crisco, 3/4 cup? Yes. Half a teaspoon of salt? Yes. One and a half cups flour? Yep. Half cup of water? Umm, no. Seems I left out that one little detail…

So I set to work and Bingo! Pie crust that I could actually roll out and get to the pie pan in one piece! Pie crust that was actually eaten with the rest of the pie! Problem solved.

Now my pies turn out very edible, thank you very much, and I am something of a snob when it comes to pie crust. I look down my nose with disdain at so-called homemade pies that, upon tasting, are obviously not completely homemade because the crust tastes ready-made. And there definitely is a notable difference. Or its perfectly-formed, mass-produced shape gives it away as well. I don’t get it; the real thing tastes so much better, and it really isn’t that hard (now that I know what I am doing!) to make from scratch, I just can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t do it themselves.

The funny thing is, I have since then tried other crust recipes, and they never turn out as well. Go figure.

This is not one of my prettiest cobblers-for that let me refer you to “Green Grapes,” July 21, 2010-but it is one I had just made and had handy for a picture. When I want to do my best Martha Stewart imitation, I cut out shapes in the crust with cookie cutters. You might notice I am wearing my apron, also a product of my mother. She always wore an apron when she cooked. Many years ago she made this and two other aprons that I always use. The tradition continues and her cooking legacy lives on.