Friday, July 24, 2015

That's not how this works...

It's hard to explain the allure of movies like Sharknado or Sharknado 2. Neither film was particularly good but both were so bad that they were amusing. Two hours of ridiculous is sometimes exactly what I need in my life. I've written three posts about the movies and experienced my first true live tweeting event last year during the sequel's premiere. To say that I was excited about the third installment would be an understatement. I planned to live tweet with the wonderful Jessica (check out her blog Neek Confessional when you're done here) and was excited that the third movie was taking place at least partially in DC. What could be better?

I'll tell you what - the other two Sharknado movies. The third movie was many things: a long-form commercial for NBC and all of its holdings, ridiculous (in a less than good way), sort of funny, but ultimately just boring. It didn't have the same humor as the first two. Basically Sharknado 3 was trying too hard. It was too Sharknado-y if such a thing is possible. More importantly, it left me with way too many unanswered questions and none of them are about the science of these movies. If you have questions about the science of the Sharknado movies you should not be watching.

Let's dive in (see what I did there?) to the twelve questions left unanswered by Sharknado 3:
  1. At the start of the movie after an inexplicable run through DC (more on this in a moment), Fin shows up at the White House to receive the Medal of Freedom from President Mark Cuban. Why is April, his wife who apparently loves him very much, not with him for this very important event? Sugar Ray is there (he played April's brother in the second movie) but she's not. Now she is pregnant and travel could be an issue but the woman gets on a space shuttle later in the movie with no mind to her unborn child so she couldn't have taken a train? I don't understand.
  2. The entire sequence in DC is confusing. I've lived in the area a total of 12 years and I could not for the life of me figure out where Fin was for most of the section. It was filmed here so obviously they used real streets and scenery but none of it makes any sense. Is this how everyone views DC? Do all non-residents (and I'm grouping the DMV as residents) believe that the White House is next door to the Capitol? Do you think that the Secret Service just knows where a person would be and is automatically able to just be there?
  3.  Why would the nation blame April and Fin for all the sharknadoes? Are they wizards? Do people believe in magic now? In the first movie, there's this bit of dialogue towards the end about government conspiracies being responsible for the sharknado so I get the paranoia but I don't get this. Is the movie trying to make a statement about fame and blame? 
  4. What happened to Fin and April's son? The daughter, Claudia, is a central figure in this movie (she's 18 now, totally knows her way around a gun, and watches a sort of dorky guy die after kissing her - you know, normal teenage girl stuff) but no son. There is a quick line about him after Nova reappears ("Still not a stripper.") but that's it. And then the decision is made to make Nova seem like she's going after Fin...a lot. And in a creepy way. If the fourth movie does not bring this guy back and let him finish the sharknadoes once and for all, I quit all further Sharknado movies.
  5. Has Frankie Muniz aged? Or is he living in some sort of environment that preserves his youthful appearance? He's 30 years old. 
  6. As in the first two movies, cameos abound in Sharknado 3. However, the third movie moves beyond musicians, NBC personalities, and original Mtv VJs. There seemed to be more political figures and pundits in this movie than any of the previous ones. Is appearing in Sharknado 3 (or future movies) the new way to maintain political relevance? Michele Bachmann, Anthony Weiner, Ann Coulter, and Jerry Springer (technically a politician) all make appearances. 
  7. While we're on the subject of cameos, do you want to know why the next Game of Thrones book isn't done? It's because George R.R. Martin is too busy making a cameo in Sharknado 3. He dies just like all of your dreams about finding out what actually happens in the book.
  8. We've established that no one knows how the White House or DC works, but I have to ask do you really think this is how military bases work? There is no way in any version of the universe that these clowns would be allowed on a military base because Fin's the guy that saved New York from a sharknado. I don't care who he knows and who his dad ends up being (more on this in a moment) that's not how this works.
  9. Nova was a favorite character of mine from the first movie. It was disappointing that she was not in the second one; April is boring and terrible. Nova is a better lead. My question is this: why did she and Fin end up in their underwear after the first plane crash? Is there some phenomena surrounding a crashing plane that sucks the clothes off of a person? Furthermore, where did they get their new outfits once they got out of the water?
  10. The cameo you've all been waiting for: David Hasselhoff! Actually, I wasn't waiting for this at all but I can totally see him as Fin's dad. Makes absolute sense. But let's be honest, who would trust David Hasselhoff to pilot a space shuttle
    PS - Benefit Cosmetics was on of the favorites on this tweet. Day made.
  11. Sharknado 3 is one big commercial for NBCUniversal from the move to Orlando to the other properties like the "Today" show and NASCAR but what about the fact that the mission control center for NASA was really a Comcast call center? I have no proof of this whatsoever but seriously this is the only thing in the entire movie that makes any bit of sense.
  12. Lots of improbable things happen at the end of the movie involving a space mission, sharks living in space (a rejected Muppets title - probably), April in space, and April giving birth in the belly of a shark as it plummets from space back to Earth. As I'm not concerned with the science of this movie, the only important question to ask is this: Should April live or die? The makers of the franchise want us, the viewing public, to decide her fate. You can vote over at SyFy if you're so inclined. I would counter this question with this: Does it even matter and do we care? April is my least favorite character so I wouldn't be sad if she wasn't part of the next movie. I think the missing Shepard son needs to own the fourth movie and maybe take on the mantle of sharknado slayer from his dad. He and Nova can reunite and they'll both have a reason to continue the shark revenge plan Nova has had since the first movie. That's the only thing that makes sense in the grand scheme of these movies. 
There you go; I watched Sharknado 3 so you don't have to. You can thank me later.

Esurance meme
Frankie Muniz
Other images by me

Saturday, July 18, 2015

They're called male entertainers

A few years ago my company held its annual meeting in Indianapolis. This event tends to go long into the night as we have an awards ceremony and party after the day long meeting. I, of course, am an old woman so I was in bed by the time the following event did or did not happen. Apparently there was an after-after party in one of the rooms that got a little loud. Hotel security was called and the party broke up. Guess who complained about the noise?

Channing Tatum.

Now as I've already mentioned, I was not directly involved but heard the story the next day from several people. It made me laugh and whenever I see any movie that Channing Tatum is in, this is what I think of first. I can't help myself.

Now if you live in a cave or maybe don't ever leave your house, you may be unaware that Magic Mike XXL is now playing in theaters. The movie tells the tale of a group of male strippers, I mean male entertainers, on a last hurrah kind of road trip to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. That's pretty much the plot. Unlike its predecessor, Magic Mike, the sequel is light and fluffy and full of really, really attractive people taking off most of their clothing. The first movie was darker, Steven Soderberg-y, and played a bit like a morality tale. I saw the first movie on HBO because I couldn't bring myself to see it in the theaters by myself. Normally, going to movies by myself is my favorite but Magic Mike falls into one the categories of movies that should never be seen alone.

To review those categories are:
  1. Comic book movies or movies based on any popular novel series
  2. Romantic comedies 
  3. Buddy comedies
  4. Old school horror movies
  5. Women-centric movies (Pitch Perfect, Bridesmaids, etc.)
  6. Movies that feature ridiculously attractive casts
Magic Mike XXL fits into categories 3, 5, and 6. It's definitely a buddy comedy; these guys (Mike, Richie, Tarzan, Tito, and Ken) are the best of friends. Three years has not broken their dude bond and the trip is part of the process of forgiving Mike for leaving them to start his dream life (you remember: custom furniture business, no more stripping, and a lovely woman). This is really the only plot point outside of the trip. Mike is struggling to keep his business afloat and Brooke is no where to be found. Like the other guys, Mike is trying to figure out his path. The road trip and last stripper convention are like one weird StrengthsFinder assessment.

Thankfully, my friend Jordana was game to join me for the movie. We opted to go to one of the movie theaters that has the recliner seats. Seriously, always go for the recliner seat theater if you can. This is definitely a movie for the ladies; there were maybe two men in the theater (I'm guessing husbands or boyfriends). I had read and heard from other friends that the movie was more event than anything else. They were not wrong and that brings me to category 5. Surprisingly, it's a very feminist movie when you get down to it. Women are not objects in this movie; they are queens to be worshipped and treated with respect. I appreciated that women of varying ages (from 20s through 50s and older) and body types were represented. These guys are super hot sages when it comes to love and sex; we should all just randomly hang out with strippers (I mean male entertainers) who are on a trip of self discovery.

The crowd at the AMC Courthouse was both what I expected and what I couldn't have anticipated. I can only imagine that this is what it's actually like to go to a strip club (I've never been to one and don't plan to go to one anytime in the future). Even before Mike starts his routine to "Pony" the audience was cheering and whooping at the screen. We could hear one group of women discussing going to Myrtle Beach next summer (I don't really think the convention is a real thing). There were several "thank you Jesus" shouts  and more giggling than I've experienced at movie in recent months. It was just so funny and sincere and earnest. Mike and his boys did exactly what they set out to do: entertain us and make us smile.

My favorite moments:
  • Richie's gas station dance to "I Want It That Way" - he got the clerk to smile.
  • The Vogue off
  • The cake/cookie debate between Mike and Zoe
  • Rome's entire existence
  • The fact that Elizabeth Banks is in this movie with an awesome Southern accent.
  • Troy from Community and Michael Strahan are both in this movie. Inexplicably.
I don't believe I can do this movie justice. Frankly, you should just go see it. It's worth it.
Next week: On Wednesday, I'll be live tweeting Sharknado 3. You can follow me @eringarland2 for all the fun. I'll also be discussing the third installment here next weekend.

Car image
Stage image

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Lazy Movie Weekend: You got into Harvard Law?

What do I remember about 2001? It was the year I graduated from college and won a theatre department award (which was pretty cool). It was also the year that I moved to Hawaii to live with my parents because I had absolutely no idea what to do with my life. When you don't know what to do with your life, it's probably best to go back home to the people who love you most. And you know, live in paradise while you figure it out.

2001 was also the year that the world met Elle Woods. As portrayed by the amazingly talented Reese Witherspoon, Elle Woods is exactly the right heroine a person needs when approaching actual adulthood. When we meet Elle she is the picture of California, sorority girl perfection: blonde, tan, accessorized, and just about the nicest person you could ever want to meet. She's the president of her sorority and is anxiously awaiting a proposal from her "perfect" boyfriend, Warner. Elle's friends love her and she can spot a nasty saleswoman a mile away. Elle is on top of the world.

And then everything goes wrong. Legally Blonde is about a lot of things: female friendship, fashion, law school, how East Coast people are super mean, the power of a mani/pedi. When I re-watched the movie this weekend, I realized that it's also about figuring out what you want in your life especially when no one believes that you can be anything more than what's "expected" of you. That's the real power of Elle Woods; she becomes something that no one expected and she does it honestly and from the heart. It's refreshing and incredibly feminist. So let's grab an entire box of chocolates and some champagne and settle in for Legally Blonde.

  1. The movie begins in the best way possible with the infectious "Perfect Day" by Hoku. She just happens to be Don Ho's daughter. This song occasionally pops into my head for no reason and then morphs with Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" which is a very different song.
  2. There are so many things happening in the opening sequence it's hard to keep up. Elle's getting ready for her day, the sorority is coming together to celebrate her impending engagement, there's Clinque Happy perform (a staple for all women in the late 90s/early 2000s). 
  3. Hey look it's Robin (Kimberly McCullough) from the soap opera General Hospital! My mom has watched GH forever and I watched it on and off when I was in high school. Robin Scorpio was my favorite character and I was surprised (and pleased) to see her pop up here. Also I love her hair.
  4. The scene is the clothing store establishes Elle's smarts even if you don't realize it yet. 
  5.  I need a line of friends waiting to help me leave the house everyday. That would be outstanding. 
  6. Warner is the kind of guy that everyone thinks is a really great person but is really horrible. Elle's surprise at the course the dinner takes is best summed up with this line: "You're breaking up with me because I'm too blonde?"
  7. Serena and Margot are right about one thing: mani/pedis are a cure all for everything. I have experienced this myself numerous times. There's something soothing and therapeutic about having your nails done. It's also where Elle hatches her brilliant plan: she'll just go to law school.
  8. Y'all it's Agnes DiPesto from Moonlighting! Allyce Beasley was so wonderful on that show and she's great here too. Despite her misgivings about Elle's ability to get into Harvard, she never tells Elle not to apply. In fact, she tells Elle what she has to do to get in. 
  9. Once Elle sets her sights on Harvard, there's no turning back. She's supported by her friends (her parents, not so much) and starts prepping for the LSATs and has a Coppola make her admissions video. Question: which Coppola? Any guesses? There are a lot of them so who do we think it is?
  10. A perfect score on the LSAT is 180. Elle scored a 179. Just saying.
  11. Given my experience in undergrad admissions, the Harvard Law School admissions committee is even funnier to me now than when I first saw the movie. I know that most high school students think all admissions decisions are made this way. "Aren't we always looking for diversity?" 
  12. Everyone at Harvard is mean. Elle tells her adorable dog, Bruiser, "Don't be scared. Everyone will love you." It's as much for her as it is for him but it's just not true. No one likes her and they have no idea why "Malibu Barbie" is at Harvard. 
  13. One of my favorite quotes (although I love orange): "Whoever said orange was the new pink was seriously disturbed."
  14. Elle's first day of law school outfit is amazing. She tones down the pink in favor of more "studious" greens and blues and even adds some glasses for good measure. I will say that her notebook/pen combo needed more work for someone who wants to be seen as a "serious law student."
  15. Warner: You got into Harvard Law? Elle: What, like it's hard? 
  16. Holland Taylor! It's a shame that she was on that horrible Charlie Sheen tv show but she is pretty great as Professor Stromwell. 
  17. Enter Luke Wilson (my favorite Wilson brother) and Selma Blair. There are just too many great actors in this movie. Of course Emmett (Wilson) is a nice guy who tries to help Elle out and of course Vivian (Selma) is Warner's fiancee and the absolute worst.
  18. If you are not a fan of Jennifer Coolidge then I don't know if we can be friends. She is hilarious in everything she's in including that Hillary Duff Cinderella movie. Paulette is my favorite character in the movie. We'll get to the bend and snap soon enough.
  19. "Don't forget to bring your own Merlot." Avoid any party where this is part of the invitation.
  20. Elle enters the party dressed as a Playboy Bunny. Now most of us would have hightailed (see what I did there?) out of that party upon realizing that it was not a costume party. But not Elle. She sized up the situation, stood tall, and owned it. We should all have the confidence of Elle at that party every day.
  21. "I'm never going to be good enough for you am I?" and "I'll show you how valuable Elle Woods can be." are rallying cries. It's not about Warner anymore; it's about doing something for herself for a change. And doing it in an exceptionally great and Elle Woods way.
  22. Y'all it's Carl from The Breakfast Club! Apparently he lives in a trailer in Boston. I guess that's better than a van down by the river.
  23. Elle versus Warner in Callahan's class - it's a great moment where she proves she's smart and smarter than most of the people in the room. Watching the reactions of everyone else is the best part of this scene.
  24. "Oh! And it's scented. I think it gives it a little something extra, don't you think?" Maybe pink, scented resumes are the way.
  25. Callahan: "Do you think she woke up one morning and said, "I think I'll go to law school today?"
  26. And then Elle gets one of the internship spots. She seems to be the only one of the interns that does anything. Best quote from this sequence: "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands, they just don't." Also, Ali Larter joins an already stellar cast (she is also amazing in the Resident Evil movies too) as Brooke Taylor Windham, fitness guru and possible murderess.
  27. The Bend and Snap sequence: I need to know if anyone has ever successfully used this move. Elle's stats about it's effectiveness are pretty amazing but really ladies, does this work? Also, check out Elle's shoes in this scene. They are amazing (as is the majority of her wardrobe).
  28. Another question: how does Elle actually get all of her "necessities" into the prison for Brooke? I don't think any of those items are on the approved list.
  29. I've spoiled a lot of things here for you (you've had 14 years so deal with it) but I'm not going to tell you Brooke's alibi. It's for her to tell.
  30. Lots of good relationship changes in the second half of the movie. Emmett continues to encourage Elle to be the best she can be; Elle and Vivian start on their path to friendship, and Warner shows how awful he actually is. And so does Callahan. 
  31. As stereotypical as the scenes with Enrique are, it's a nice lead in to Elle becoming the lawyer we all know she is. Her intuition starts to open the case up a bit and seriously, Elle would never wear last season.
  32. Raquel Welch and Linda Cardellini are also great as the ex-wife and stepdaughter. I love how Elle goes from unsure law student to fledgling lawyer in just a few minutes. "The rules of hair care are simple and finite. Any Cosmo girl would have known."
  33. Fun Fact: Reese Witherspoon has 40 different hairstyles in the movie.
  34. The final scene at graduation was added to the film after test screenings took place. Test audiences wanted to know what happened to everyone. Witherspoon was in England filming another movie so her part was filmed separately from the audience and then edited together. I've always thought Luke Wilson looked really weird in this sequence and I was right. He had already started filming The Royal Tenebaums and had shaved his head. He's wearing a wig. 
  35. And of course, Elle proves that we can all get what we want if we work hard, don't lose faith in ourselves and others, and frankly, just be nice to one another. Let's end this the way we began with a "Perfect Day."

Like it's hard
Courtroom scene
Orange is the new pink

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Short Story Hour: Pink Ponies of Doom - The Bake Off, Part Two

I gazed out into the audience of the high school gym and saw a cluster of black and pink shirts, towards the front. They seemed to be singing and dancing in the aisle; I couldn't quite tell. The original Pink Ponies of Doom had decided that the only way to support me in the 100th Annual Franklin Hills Bake Off was to make t-shirts featuring my of my favorite My Littel Ponies from childhood. The front of the shirt featured the sweet, friendly faces of the ponies but the back made them into modern day punk baking badasses. Some spiked pony hair, a few tattoos, and I believe Cotton Candy was even sporting a leather jacket and a nose ring. I'm not sure if it was their intention to scare the older women away from the contest or to just be funny. I'll take whatever I can get at this point. My bakery staff and a few other friends were also sporting the shirts and cheering loudly.

I stood behind my table waiting for the third round of judging to begin. It was down to me, Nora Williams, and Fern Allen. The other six contestants had been eliminated in the cookie and cookie bar rounds. Poor Marva hadn't even made it to round two. Nora was a two time bake off winner and Fern held the record for ten wins. I had already proved I was no slouch; I scored perfectly (150 points) in the first two rounds. The Pink Ponies of Doom cookies were a hit; the judges loved the texture and the combo of sweetness and tanginess of the strawberry cream cheese. I was ahead of Fern by ten points; she lost points for sloppy edges in the bar round. Her raspberry lemonade bars were amazing but sloppiness was a rookie mistake.

The third round was the pie round. Pies were judged on three categories: crust (50 points for texture and flakiness); filling (50 points for taste, overall flavor, and consistency), and creativity (50 point for theme, inventiveness, creative ingredient). Judges could dock points for presentation from any of the categories. 

My entry was a S'Mores pie with homemade graham cracker crust (I made the graham crackers too), homemade vanilla bean marshmallows, and a Nutella chocolate filling. Indulgent did not even begin to describe this pie. The richness of the marshmallow and Nutella was balanced by the graham crackers (not too sweet). It was the perfect pie. Nora made her award-winning peach pie with a crumble topping and Fern kept to her theme with a key lime pie (she was going for beverages of summer). Both looked delicious and super simple; no fancy lattice work or odd ingredients. 

The top two bakers would advance to the final round: original cakes. We would have two hours to assemble our cakes in the school kitchen with the help of one assistant. All bakers had to come prepared to advance through all rounds; I had spent the better part of last night creating sugared oranges and fondant creamsicles for my Orange Creamsicle cake. What as more summery than that?

The judges were finally finished with their pie tasting and were deliberating in hushed tones. The gym was noisy; the high school pep band played and people shouted for their favorite baker. It was hot on the little stage; the lights were fixed on each of us like we were on a televised baking competition. My fan club kept cheering for me and dancing in the aisles to the music of the band. Neither Nora nor Fern talked to me or to each other; they had their game faces on.

The band went silent. The judges had come to a decision. The head of the Bake Off committee, Kathleen, stepped on stage with the results."What a great competition so far! Are y'all having fun?" Kathleen's enthusiasm was infectious. The crowd cheered.

"This is one of the closest bake offs in recent history. Our two final bakers are only separated by two points. Our first finalist, advancing to the final round with 443 total points, Fern Allen!" Fern's family shouted and cheered for her.

Kathleen gave them a few seconds to quiet down. "And our second finalist, moving forward with 445 points and keeping her lead, Maeve Lucas!"

I was shocked. Not only was I advancing I had almost gotten a third perfect score. I'd find out later what I lost points for. Kathleen continued, "Fern holds the record for bake off wins with ten under her belt. This is Maeve's first bake off although most of us enjoy her desserts and pastries every day at The Rolling Pin."

"Our bakers and their assistants will have two hours to assemble their final creation: an original cake. The cake round will be judged on taste and texture for both the cake and the frosting, creativity, and adherence to the baker's selected theme. Bakers, your time begins now!" The crowd roared as Fern and I ran back to the kitchen where our assistants waited.

Jake, my assistant, was at our station and had started removing items from our boxes. Ovens were heating and we set to work preparing the cake batters. My plan was to create layers of vanilla cake with a light homemade orange curd as the filling. The orange vanilla frosting would have that something extra from the orange zest. I had three shades of orange selected for the frosting; my intention was to swirl the colors around the cake similar to the push-pop version of the creamsicle that I loved so much as a child. I'd finish it with sugared orange slices and the hand-rolled fondant creamsicles. Nothing super flashy; just fun and refreshing. Like a creamsicle.

Neither of us could see what was happening over at Fern's station. She didn't look happy with her assistant (her granddaughter) but her cake was coming along nicely. I could smell root beer so I assumed she was making a root beer float cake. It smelled delicious.

Time passed quickly and before I knew it we were down to the last thirty minutes. Jake and and I were applying the finishing touches to the decorative elements of the cake and checking for any errant frosting or anything else that could throw off the presentation. All but one layer cake had baked evenly; a little cut off the top had evened it out nicely. Kathleen popped in to give us our ten minute warning. Our cakes needed to be on stage before the ten minutes were up. I inspected the cake one last time, touched up the flourish on top, and decided it was done. I couldn't do anything else at this point. I glanced across the room at Fern; she had already started on her way out the door. Her granddaughter was far ahead of her holding the door and staying out of the way. Jake and I followed suit. My hands were shaking as I walked on stage. I made it to my table without dropping the cake or falling on my face. 

The crowd counted down the last ten seconds with the type of enthusiasm normally associated with basketball games. The Pink Ponies of Doom were the loudest as far as I could tell. The buzzer sounded; it was over. We presented our cakes to the judges, explaining the ingredients, our special touches, and how the cake fit into our theme. Kathleen did the honors of serving the judges, measuring each slice to ensure they received equal amounts. Fern and I headed to our cheering sections while the judges deliberated. 

"You've got this," Lizzie greeted me with a hug and a bottle of water. "Fern has been making some variation of that cake for years. The judges have to be tired of it."

I smiled but was unsure. "Well, she's won ten times. She must be doing something right." Daisy had already planned the after party, win or lose. Before we knew it, the judges had made their final decision.

"Bakers to the stage please. It's time to announce this year's winner!" Kathleen's announcement got the crowd on its feet. Fern and I made our way back to the stage. We shook hands before heading to our tables.

"Alright Franklin Hills, I have the name of our top baker in this envelope. The winner will receive a trophy, a recipe feature in next week's Franklin Hills Gazette's weekend section, and a $500 gift certificate for the Baker's Square. Thanks to the Baker's Square supply store for sponsoring this year's bake off." 

The applause died down and Kathleen opened the envelope. "This year's Franklin Hills Bake Off champion wowed the judges in each round with inventive ingredients, attention to detail, and a whimsical theme that was carried through each creation. With a near perfect overall score, this year's winner is...Maeve Lucas!"

I had unseated ten time winner Fern Allen. I won. Tree house dreams and plastic ponies helped win baking contests. I collected my prizes and posed for photos with my friends and the mayor and Fern. With a soft smile and wink, she vowed revenge next year. 

My cheering section adjourned to The Rolling Pin to celebrate. I placed the trophy out front behind the counter for all to see. Lizzie, Daisy, and I posed for an updated photo enjoying a Pink Ponies of Doom cookies. All that was missing was the tree house.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Short Story Hour: Pink Ponies of Doom - The Bake Off, Part One

"I smell like peanut butter."

I'm saying this to no one. In fact, even if I was saying it to someone, they wouldn't care. I smell like some baked good pretty much every day. The staff at the bakery say it's comforting and delicious to go home smelling of chocolate and vanilla and spices. Normally I don't notice it but today the smell of peanut butter hangs around me and permeates every fiber of my clothes and it's even in my hair. Peanut butter is in my top five favorite foods from childhood and it's one of my favorite ingredients for baking. But right now it's becoming a bit overwhelming.

There are six batches of peanut butter and jelly bars in the oven, turning a golden brown and oozing with jelly goodness. I haven't made these bars in years but I woke up this morning from a dream about my old tree house and eating PB&J sandwiches with my friends and had to make them. I settled on classics, grape and strawberry, for half of the batch and peach and blackberry for the other half. With these bars, the peanut butter cookie base is the bread and the jelly settles into the dough like when a PB&J sandwich sits too long before you eat. The peanut butter and jelly fuse together and it is delicious. I could eat an entire pan of these bars myself; they're that good. I can never make enough.

Rob, one of my bakery assistants, convinced me to compete in the 100th Annual Franklin Hills Bake-Off. I'm going up against some of the most talented home bakers in this town. Women (mostly) who bake recipes handed down from generation to generation. Women who can smell store bought goods a mile away. It's not enough that I'm a success business owner and own the only bakery in town; these women are the real bakers of Franklin Hills and they know it. They may line up for my croissants and scones every morning but that means nothing. I have to win that trophy to really be accepted in this town. I moved here when I was six but I’m still no closer to being a local than the family that moved here last month. I’ve spent the last four weeks experimenting with several recipes trying to get them exactly perfect and never even considered the PB&J bars as a contender (category: bar cookies).

I've been having dreams about the tree house more and more lately. Sometimes it's just a simple image like today where I'm in the tree house with my friends and we're laughing and having fun as we always did when we were young. Other times it's just the tree house and the backyard. In those dreams, I'm in the tree house looking out and waiting. I don't know what I'm waiting for and I always wake up before I can figure it out. Every time I have a tree house dream, I get an idea for a new recipe or a way to make an old recipe sparkle. That's how I got the idea for my bake off theme: Childhood Memories. All of my entries are inspired by the tastes of my childhood.

The front of The Rolling Pin is dark and quiet. I woke up from my tree house dream and couldn't go back to sleep so I came in two hours earlier than usual. The rest of the staff will be in soon enough. Once they get here, I can leave the morning rush to them so I can focus on my next bake off entry: Pink Ponies of Doom.

Like the peanut butter bars, the Pink Ponies of Doom were the result of a tree house dream right after I entered the bake off. In this one, I was sitting in my tree house with my best friends, Lizzie and Daisy, and we're playing ponies. Between the three of us we had every My Little Pony made between 1983 and 1986. The pink ones were our favorite and my dad affectionately called us the Pink Ponies of Doom. The name stuck with us all through school. We even became heroes of sorts to the kids who got picked on by the popular set. We were famous for exacting schoolyard justice when needed; mean girls beware. After the dream, I dug around in the attic and found my old toys including an entire box of ponies. I needed inspiration to come up with a new dessert. I picked my favorite pink ones, Cotton Candy, Parasol, and Lickety Split, and brought them to the bakery. They watched over me, next to a picture of Lizzie, Daisy, and I in the tree house, as I baked and discarded idea after idea for how to make Pink Ponies of Doom.

How could I turn something so amazing as the Pink Ponies of Doom into a baked good? Cutout cookies, although delicious, are too obvious. Cupcakes are overdone, cake pops are a little too modern for this town, and brownies don't work at all. It has to be sweet and a little sour at the same time (my dad used to call us "sweet and sassy; a perfect combination"). Then it came to me: strawberry cream cheese cookies with glittery vanilla frosting. Cream cheese has that slight tang to it that makes it the perfect balance for sweet strawberries and vanilla frosting. I hadn't gotten the combination right though. The last two batches had been too sweet and the one before that too cream cheese-y. I think I figured it out and today would be the perfect batch. The secret: short bread cookie base. I don't know why I hadn't thought about it before. My grandma made the best short bread cookies and she used to make a box for the Pink Ponies of Doom every time she visited. The buttery cookie with the tangy strawberry cream cheese and the vanilla would be heaven. Those ladies would not know what hit them.

When I heard the back door of the bakery open I realized how long I'd been working on the cookies. Rob, Jamie, and Mona took one look at the kitchen and went about getting ready for the morning rush. They ignored my mutterings about pony designs on the frosting and got the croissants and scones baking away. Muffins, I call them breakfast cakes, were ready (sometimes I help out around here). Mona got the coffee going and by 5:30 we were ready to open. The first customer of the day, Marva Davis, was one of my competitors in the bake off. 

"Maeve," she called out over the counter. "What is that heavenly smell?"

I came out from the kitchen to talk with her. "Just something I'm working on for the bake off. I'm not going to tell you what it is; you'll steal my idea." 

Marva faked offense. "I would never! Of course, you can't trust some of the other ladies. They're gunning for you, you know. You're the youngest competitor and the only one from away. You know how they can be." Marva took a seat at one of the cafe tables. She had already eaten have of her breakfast cake.

"From away? I hate it when y'all use that term. I've lived her for over twenty years, not counting when I went away to college. That has to count for something." I slumped in the seat across from her.

"You know how it is, honey. Some people have been here since the town was founded and they think anyone who wasn't born here is from away. It's just how it is. Now if you win, they'll think of you more like one of us. Not a local, but at least not from away anymore. I don't make the rules; I just live here." She finished her breakfast cake (lemon blueberry) and made her way to the door. "Take care, Maeve. I look forward to seeing what you bring to the competition."

"Thanks Marva." I waved as she walked down Oak Street towards the town square. I made my way back behind the counter and into the kitchen. The Pink Ponies of Doom were ready and the PB&J bars had cooled enough to cut. Both were going out as specials this afternoon; a test run to see how people liked them. I was too close to judge anymore. If people liked them, I would finally get to shift my focus to the final category: an original cake recipe. 

I returned to the kitchen to help with the rest of the morning baking and a few special orders for later in the day. The Pink Ponies of Doom, the plastic and the little girl versions, watched from their ledge. I had two weeks until the bake off. That was plenty of time for me to create the greatest cake of all time inspired by my childhood. A cake so amazing it would the hearts and stomachs of an entire town. 

Easy. Not a problem at all.

Will Maeve win the bake off? What is the best cake of all time? Find out this week in Short Story Hour: Pink Ponies of Doom - The Bake Off, Part Two.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Winosaur Adventures

A couple of posts ago, I discussed my desire to reclaim summer after discovering that I've been doing summer wrong for years. This weekend was a step in the reclaiming process: bringing back the fun of summers past.

It begins with a visit to Dinosaur Land. If I want to reclaim summer it's best to start with dinosaurs.
I first visited Dinosaur Land in 2014 when I took an Instagram road trip and photographed roadside attractions in Maryland and Virginia. During the #misfittoysroadtrip2014, it sleeted and was rather unpleasant weather-wise but my visit was fun and worth the trip. As I drove to my final destination of that road trip (Richmond), I realized how close Dinosaur land is to one of my favorite wineries, Rappahannock Cellars. I vowed to return to Dinosaur Land and visit Rappahannock and this weekend I did just that. Joining me on this for this adventure are Megan and Matt, who are possibly the most photo ready people I know. Who better to take to a place like Dinosaur Land than them?

The trip idea came about like this: Megan and Matt were at my house for dinner one evening and I happened to serve some Rappahannock wine while telling them about Dinosaur Land. I shared my plan to go back and experience both in the same day and invited them along. We picked a date, decided on snacks (very important in winery visit planning), and even selected a hashtag for Instagram (because we're those people apparently).

If you're not familiar with Dinosaur Land it's a Virginia institution (probably). Inspired by a trip to Orlando, FL, Joseph Geraci added the attraction to his corner store in 1963. What started with five dinosaurs has now grown to around 40 with three new displays added in the last two year. The Washington Post magazine did a feature on Dinosaur Land last weekend just in time for our adventure. I love places like Dinosaur Land; they remind me of road trips around Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana when I was younger. Brightly colored statues of animals and prehistoric creatures, amazing gift shops (more on this in a moment), and admission fees that are super friendly (seriously, best $6 you can spend).

We arrived at Dinosaur Land just after noon on a gorgeous summer Saturday. It was warm but not too hot (at least not yet) and there was a slight breeze. I drove and had a decent enough idea of where I was going. White Post, VA is about an hour drive from Fairfax (where Megan and Matt live). The drive down was uneventful but filled with fun road trip conversation and a return to discussing my choice of having CDs in my car. Matt also outlined his three (made up on the spot) goals for the day:
  1. Pronounce Rappahannock correctly. (Accomplished especially after seeing it spelled out on the sign.)
  2. Take a dino selfie. (Done and done.)
  3. Birthday meal for Erin. (Not accomplished because of bad weather on the return home - more on this later.)
Dinosaur Land appears on the road just as you think you might have passed it. There is no billboard announcing its location a mile down the road or even just reminding you it's there. All of the sudden you see the tentacle of an octopus and the fin of a shark and there it is. Geraci's original store is still there, now serving as a huge gift soap for the attraction. His daughters still run the place along with a dedicated staff. I spoke with one lady who told me a bit about the new dinosaurs and what it takes to maintain the older ones. I could tell she loves the attraction and enjoys the visitors questions.

We began our visit by getting distracted in the gift shop: lots of weird animals for sale; not sure if they're taxidermy items or not, moccasins, t-shirts, dinosaur figures and stuffed animals, and fake weapons. If I were 8 or 9 I could have found a dozen ways to spend my money (I settled on a more grown-up approach by buying a mug and t-shirt). We bought our tickets and entered into Dinosaur Land.

Our adventure began at the sign with a large shark, octopus, and other random prehistoric creatures. Matt doesn't like sharks but Megan and I jumped at the change to take photos inside the mouth of the shark (why not?) and we marveled at what the creatures were made out of. I'll let the following photos explain our journey around the park.

No trip to Dinosaur Land would be complete without a photo op with King Kong. Yes, there is a King Kong statue at the end. It's designed in such a way that you can go up a ramp and sit on Kong's hand. This was the one thing I didn't do when I visited the first time; I was alone and it was sleeting on that visit. I had visions of slipping and breaking a leg so I just stood below and snapped a picture or two. This time we made a point of all of us taking our Kong photos. Even T-Rex Manning, my desk dinosaur got in one.

If you haven't visited Dinosaur Land make it a destination this summer. It's fun, a little silly, family friendly, and probably the least expensive way to spend 30 minutes. I finally have my Dinosaur Land t-shirt and have a photo with King Kong. We made Chris Pratt jokes (you all know how much I love him) and had more fun (probably) than most of the small children roaming around the park with their parents.

We could have stopped there, had a late lunch, and headed back to NOVA but what fun would that be? Our next destination was Rappahannock Cellars, one of my favorite Virginia wineries (I'm also a member). I know a lot of people are super snobby when it comes to wine and don't want to hear about how good Virginia wine actually is. Those people are horrible and clearly have not spent an afternoon enjoying the wine, beautiful views, and cheese at Rappahannock. I joined Rappahannock's wine club in January (my dad has been a member over a decade) so not only did I need to pick up my wine but we got to enjoy the lovely members' only tasting room. Our server asked about my parents (which I thought was very nice) and Megan and Matt got to experience some of Rappahannock's best wines (the tasting menu right now is awesome). Check out the emoji rating system Megan employed:

T-Rex Manning even enjoyed a glass or two.


One thing that can be dangerous during a #winosauradventure is that you don't necessarily realize how much time has passed. All of the sudden it was 4 pm and we had to decide our next move. We settled on visiting one more winery, Narmada Winery, another favorite of mine. T-Rex Manning enjoyed a glass of Midnight (their best wine) as the skies got noticeably darker and more ominous.

Driving home was an adventure of its own. Massive thunderstorms started as we made our way out of Front Royal and onto 66 heading back to Fairfax. Visibility was awful; people were driving with their hazards on because we were driving so slowly. They were also still driving like morons because people in Virginia can't help themselves when it comes to driving poorly in any weather condition. By the time we got back to their apartment, we had driven through hurricane like rains and apparently, several areas that were under tornado warnings. I decided to head back to Arlington rather than stay for dinner. The rain tapered off as I drove home but the second I was less than a mile away from home, the skies opened again and I could barely see the turn for my apartment building. I sat in my car for 10 minutes hoping the rain would slow down (it did not). I abandoned my wine to the trunk of my car and ran inside. It wouldn't be summer without some kind of weather event; I'm hoping this one is it for me.

Despite the stressful drive home, the day was exactly as I hoped it would be: fun, silly, and summery. Megan and Matt are hilarious; if Megan asks me "Do I look like a velociraptor when I do this?" (imagine what she might do here) ever again I will probably not be able to speak because I will be laughing too hard. Driving just an hour away from NOVA makes all the difference in the world; a little nature, a little wine, and some dinosaurs. What more does summer need?

All photos by Megan, Matt and me
Washington Post Article
Dinosaurs and Wine

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Lazy Movie Weekend: Why are there madeleine pans?

Something I never thought would happen has happened. No, Pumpkin did not learn how to open a locked bathroom door and save the day. This would require her to focus on something for longer than two seconds. She only has that level of commitment to napping.

The impossibility that has become reality is this: I love summer movies again. I know, I didn't think it could happen either. I love going to the movies but the last few summers have left me feeling a little off. I would see a movie here and there but haven't been truly excited about summer movies in forever. I've only seen three movies in the theater since summer movie season officially started (although I did see one of the movies twice) but I have multiple weeks planned out from now until the end of August to bask in the glow of action and comedy movies, animated gems, and some random dramas and indie films thrown in for good measure. I also joined the Arlington Cinema Drafthouse movie club so I can see the couple I missed from early May. This is how I plan to see Furious 7. The pass was $30 and I can watch a movie per day for an entire year (and drink beer while doing so if I am so inclined). Glorious.

There are probably lots of reasons that this summer's movie schedule is resonating with me. Could it be the abundance of strong and interesting female characters across multiple genres? Maybe it's the fun of animated films and oddball comedies that I'm reacting to. Or maybe it's the summery feel I get from so many of the trailers. But it's not. Despite the fact that all of these statements are true none of them are what brought me back to summer movies. The real reason that I love summer movies again?

Melissa McCarthy and Jason Statham.

How perfect are they together in Spy? Every scene they share made me laugh more than I expected and in unexpected ways. I thought that Melissa McCarthy's Susan Cooper would be the plucky comic relief in this movie but no, she is the straight woman to Jason Statham's bumbling Rick Ford. I imagine when Paul Feig was writing the film he thought to himself, "How can I create a character that should be all the suave and sophisticated cool of James Bond but is in fact a moron with a gun? And wouldn't it be awesome if Jason Statham agreed to play him? I'm brilliant!!"

I've always been a Melissa McCarthy fan. Sookie St. James was one of my favorite characters on Gilmore Girls and she's had amazing roles in Bridesmaids, Tammy, and St. Vincent. As for Statham, I've seen all of The Transporter movies, and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Given what I know of Statham's more popular films, I figured he'd be the tough guy agent and not have any bit of a sense of humor but it turns out he's wicked funny and the dynamic between him and McCarthy is amazing. They throw zingers right and left and what's even better is that Susan Cooper does not let Rick Ford take over the mission. The world needs both of them to save the day.

One of my favorite exchanges:

Rick Ford: We have to stop the sale of a nuclear bomb. They send in someone who looks like Santa Claus' fucking wife!
Susan Cooper: Uh, did you forget? I am undercover because you are not supposed to be here!
Rick Ford: Well I make a habit out of doing things that people say I can't do: Walk through fire, water ski blindfolded, take up piano at a late age.

What Spy really made me realize is that I need more McCarthy and Statham, as a duo, in my life. Yes, I could just watch all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls again or count the times that Frank Martin uses his clothes as weapons in The Transporter movies but it won't ever be the same. I've heard that Spy is potentially going to be a franchise so we could see more of Susan and Rick (and Nancy and Aldo; I adore them too) but it's not definite. I need definite. I need to know when the next movie is going to come out and how many scenes they'll be in together and whether or not the end of the first film will be addressed (I won't ruin it for you). I need answers.

More importantly, I need more of them together. I don't think more Spy movies will be enough. What we really need is a McCarthy/Statham television show. Originally when I thought about this I settled on buddy cop dramedy (that's totally a thing; think of it like a mix of Law & Order and that Andy Samberg show on Fox) but then I realized we'd have to figure out how to make Statham American and I can't have any of that. The accent is a requirement. Or there would have to be some weird plot device/complication that explains why a British guy is an American cop or that there's some sort of country collaboration happening. The complication of those plot elements don't sit well with me. I don't want to serialize Spy because it's definitely better as a big screen movie (an event if you will) so the CIA, FBI, and any other spy organization is out. I wouldn't want to watch a show set in a hospital or school (too many of those already anyway).

And then it came to me: rival chefs.

I'm not saying that Sookie St. James needs to get her own show but I can see these two as rival chefs who duke it out for culinary superiority in a small Midwestern city (maybe Cincinnati or Detroit or Milwaukee). Maybe there's some sabotage or restaurant themed hijinks. Think of all the awesome supporting characters too; maybe a Kirk-like character who works at both restaurants and some busybody regulars who try to get them to fall in love (which they never do by the way). Maybe Jason should be a single dad with an ultra sassy daughter who hangs around the restaurant saying really sassy things (for a 10 year old). I don't have a title yet but I'm working on it. Clearly Amy Sherman-Palladino should be involved and we could get this on ABC Family (they took Bunheads away so they owe me).

I would also be able to ask Jason Statham the question that needs to be answered and yet no one has ever asked: why does Frank Martin have a madeleine pan and the ingredients to make madeleines in his home but serves Lai instant noodles The Transporter? Why? I assume it's because writer Luc Besson figured I would be paying attention to the number of times Statham is shirtless or uses his clothes as weapons (this happens constantly in the entire franchise) rather than this weird baking scene. However, I find the madeleine scene distracting. Why is it there? I bake all the time and I don't own a madeleine pan so it seems weird that Frank Martin, a man that transports illicit goods, would have this in his kitchen. Is it because the movie takes place in France? I hope this isn't the answer because that would be lame and a bit of a generalization of the French people.

And maybe it's in this question that we've found our opening sequence. In one kitchen, Melissa makes a her famous lemon madeleines as a new dessert offering for her restaurant's summer menu. In the other kitchen, Jason, on a whim, decides to make lemon madeleines too (they happen to be his sassy daughter's favorite). Restaurant goers can't get enough and so our rivalry is born.

It needs some work but I think I've found our answer to what to do between now and the next Spy movie (if there is one; I hope there is one). Anyone want to help me think of a title?

Next up on the Island: Chris Pratt can have Jurassic World; I'm going on a Winosaur Adventure! What's a Winosaur Adventure? Check out next week's post to find out (hint: it may or may not involve wineries and roadside attractions).

Shaken, Not Stirred
Susan and Rick 
Quotes from IMDB