Friday, March 23, 2012

Hunger Games Movie Review

Alright. Let me start by saying that by itself, The Hunger Games was a decent movie. If the book hadn't been quite as fresh in my mind, I would have enjoyed it much more. I think all of the people that I went with enjoyed it, and that seems to be the general consensus online. Something about it just rubbed me the wrong way, though. It's decently true to the book, but they did that thing I hate where they change little details that have no reason or right to be changed. If you haven't seen it yet, or haven't even read the book and plan to, you might want to stop reading now. There will be plenty of spoilers. Also, I apologize for the length of this post. I just couldn't stop.

Now, I'm not going to talk about everything in the movie that bothered me. That would end in a 20-page post. I'll just mention some of the stuff that really rubbed me the wrong way. Let's start with the little things that threw me from the beginning. Most of these are minute details that are addressed in the book, and just completely left out or changed in the movie.

Food is a huge theme in the series. The HUNGER Games. Come on. The very first mention of food is in the first couple of pages in the book... the goat cheese that Prim leaves Katniss. That leads to the mini-feast that Katniss and Gale have in the woods - goat cheese, basil leaves, bread, berries. The idea being that even though times are so hard, life sucks, it's the Reaping... they can still manage for themselves. They can feed themselves and their families, pretty well, too. In the film, they wait until a good 10/15 minutes in to show any food, and it's just a roll... after Katniss misses a deer she shoots at (yeah, cuz that would happen). There are lots of other instances throughout the movie that food should play a big part in, and it's glossed over. They practically threw away one of the main themes in the story.

One other little thing that I just have to mention is Buttercup. I know, it's not important at all to the story (or to anyone but me, probably), but Buttercup (Prim's cat) is named as such because he's the color of a buttercup. Yellow. The cat in the movie was black and white. How difficult would it have been to find a yellow cat for that 2-second shot? Ok, sorry, had to get that off my chest.

The mockingjay pin. No Madge. She found it at some junk stand. Need I say more?

A huge thing that they completely cut out was Katniss thirsting nearly to death in the beginning of the Games. There's a solid chapter, maybe two devoted to her not being able to find water. In the movie, she finds it right away and had no problems. Honestly, I think she has it way too easy in the arena, in the movie. Same goes for Peeta. They never talk about the cut on his leg getting infected, Katniss doesn't even try to bandage it or anything. He just had a little gash on his thigh, he takes a nap, Katniss gets some medicine, and he's all better. I know it was PG-13, but if they can show bloody, horrible deaths, they can make the main characters suffer properly.

Another huge thing that they almost left out completely is Katniss's prep team - Octavia, Venia, and Flavius. I don't know that they even show all three, but they only show any of them for a couple of seconds. They're some of my favorite characters in the books, they're around through all three in the series, and I think play a pretty big role. One of my favorite moments in the second book is when Octavia and Flavius have to quit before the Quarter Quell, and one of my favorite moments in the third book is with Octavia. Well, to build up to that, they would have to actually introduce them and let us get to know them. I'm sure they're going to be glossed over for the entire trilogy, and that's pretty unforgivable to me.

Ok, enough with picking apart the details. Let's talk about Katniss. She's so smart, she's feisty, she can play people and act a part when she has to... in the book. The Katniss portrayed in the movie seems half-retarded most of the time. She only has a personality when something terrible happens. Now, in the books she has tons of internal monologue. I get that that's difficult to portray in a movie without having cheesy voice-overs or something. But then have her talk to herself once in awhile, or act out what she's thinking/feeling. Any time she's in public, she pulls it together and smiles and wins people over... in the book. In the movie she just sits with her mouth agape, unable to speak intelligently, looking like a special child. I don't know if it was an acting problem or a directing problem, but I like the movie Katniss a lot less than the book version of the character.

I'll admit, I do want to see it again, to try and separate the movie from the book in my head. This time around, I had been reading the book just hours before I saw the movie, and every little thing that was changed or left out offended me on a personal level. If I give it some time and distance, I might be able to tolerate, if not like the movie. On that note, let's talk about some things that were done right.

Effie Trinket. The movie version could not have fit the book version better if they'd tried. She was perfect. Some of her little one-liners and comments that weren't in the books may have even made her better. Good job on that one, movie people. Cinna. When I heard Lenny Kravitz was playing Cinna, I cried on the inside. Well, I was very pleasantly surprised. He embodied Cinna very well, and it turned out to be a fantastic casting decision. Rue. I think I like Rue better than even the main characters, in the book. The first time I read it, I sobbed for a solid 10 minutes when she died. The movie definitely did her justice, and that death scene was spot-on. Kudos.

I'm still not sure how I felt about Haymitch. When I saw Woody Harrelson cast in the part, I didn't know how to react. I like Woody Harrelson, but I just couldn't see him as Haymitch. He still doesn't fit the book version in my head, but I didn't hate him, either. He definitely did the character justice. He could have/should have been drunker, and I'm sad they didn't show him molesting Effie and falling off the stage at the Reaping, but that wasn't his fault.

Well, I've gone on long enough. To sum up, I didn't like the movie. That might change with more viewings, and if I'm able to think about the book and film as two separate entities. (The only franchise that I've been able to do that with is Harry Potter. If I didn't think of the movies completely independent of the books, I wouldn't love them like I do.) They did get some stuff right, and if I hadn't read the books at all, I probably would have loved it. Heck, I didn't even like the Golden Compass movie after reading it, and they were pretty much completely true to the book other than changing around the order of events a little. I'm super picky when it comes to book-to-movie films. I just don't understand why they change every little detail when it would take no extra time or effort to stay true to the book. On an A-F scale, I give it a C. I can't go lower than that because it didn't suck as a movie. I also can't go any higher than that because they left too much out, and made too many changes. I'm sure I'm going to make people mad because I didn't love it, but it's just my opinion. You're entitled to yours, and I'm entitled to mine. If you loved it, great! You didn't experience the crushing disappointment that I did. :-P

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Boy with the Bread

The midnight premiere of The Hunger Games is TONIGHT! In celebration, I baked something. It's what I do.

I absolutely love The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook, by Emily Ansara Baines. There are recipes for pretty much everything food-related ever mentioned in the entire series. Some are directly from the books, like the Lamb Stew with Dried Plumbs that Katniss loves, the Goat Cheese and Apple Tart that Peeta mentions, and this Hearty Raisin Nut Bread that Peeta gives Katniss when her family is starving. Then there are a lot of recipes that are inferred from the books - like a whole chapter on wild game... squirrel, rabbit, muskrat (tree rat), venison, and wild turkey recipes. There is also more normal fare, like Greasy Sae's Spicy Vegetarian Chili, and Harvest Heirloom Apple Cake, that aren't specifically mentioned in the books, but may stem from something said in passing, or the author argues could be available to the characters. There are also "tips from your Sponsor" with every recipe - little hints and modifications. If you're a fan of the series, and like to cook, I highly recommend this cookbook.

I thought this Hearty Raisin Nut Bread was appropriate to try out. I love Peeta - The Boy with the Bread; it's from the first book/upcoming movie; and it's pretty significant to the Katniss/Peeta relationship. Also, if I had to pick the character that I most identify with, it would totally be Peeta.

 Now, the original recipe that I'll post is for 2 loaves... which is appropriate, but I cut it in half since we would never eat two loaves before it went bad.

1 (.25 ounce) package OR 5 tsp. active dry yeast
1/2 C. warm water (110 degrees F)
1 1/2 C. warm milk (110 degrees F)
1/2 C. butter - melted
1/3 C. honey
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. white sugar
2 eggs
3 C. whole wheat flour
3 1/2 C. all-purpose flour
2 C. raisins
1 C. chopped walnuts
1 egg white
2 Tbsp. cold water

- In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the milk, butter, honey, salt, cinnamon, sugar, eggs, and whole wheat flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough all-purpose flour to form a soft dough.

- Place raisins in a bowl of tepid water. Let soak until needed.

- Turn dough out onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to coat. Cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

- Grease two 8.5" x 4.5" loaf pans. Punch down the dough. Turn out onto the lightly floured surface; sprinkle with raisins and walnuts, and knead them in. Divide dough in half.

- Roll dough into loaves. Place loaves into the greased loaf pans. Cover and let rise until doubled, about one hour.

- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Beat egg white and cold water; brush on top of the loaves. Bake at 375 degrees F for 40 minutes, or until golden brown. If top browns too quickly, cover loosely with foil for the last 15 minutes. Remove pans to wire racks to cool.

It's hearty and delicious. The whole wheat flour gives it substance, the raisins are sweet, the nuts are crunchy. It's yeasty and smells delicious baking. You should probably make some of this right now, and give it to your starving future wife. You should also read the books, go see the movie, and get this cookbook. Ok, everyone has their to-do lists. Go.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Hunger Games

So the premiere of the Hunger Games movie snuck up on me much more quickly than I expected. I had planned on doing a whole week of posts leading up to it, recipes from the Hunger Games Cookbook, discussion of the book, etc. But now the premiere is tomorrow night! I figure right now I'll just give an overview of the book for anyone who hasn't read it, and discuss it a little. I'll try not to give anything major away. I may still attempt a recipe tonight or tomorrow to post. I'll definitely have a post after the movie, either praising it or ranting about it.

Anytime anyone tries to describe the Hunger Games, it sounds like the most unappealing book. Doesn't matter who, or how it's described. When people first started telling me about it, I had no desire to read it. Once all of my friends started raving about it, and the movie was announced (and looked totally awesome on its own), I figured I would cave and just read the first one. Well, I read the first book in one sitting, in about 10 hours. Then, of course, I had to get the second, Catching Fire, and the third, Mockingjay. I devoted the next two days to reading those, with little more than bathroom and food breaks. In my description, I'll concentrate on the first book, since maybe I'll actually do a full series of posts when the next two movies come out.

The Hunger Games world is a post-apocalyptic civilization called Panem, and is populated by the remainder of the human race. It's what used to be North America, but instead of countries and states, it's divided into Districts. There are 13 districts, each with a specialty - mining, textiles, agriculture, etc. In the center of the Districts is the Capitol. The Capitol is where all of the wealthy, eccentric citizens live, and it's the hub of the government. The leader is "President" Snow, but it's pretty much a dictatorship. If you break a rule, or say anything against the Capitol, it's punishable by death.

Once, the Districts all rose up against the Capitol, trying to regain their rights and freedom. This resulted in the supposed destruction of District 13, as well as the institution of the Hunger Games. As punishment for the revolt, every year there are two children - a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 - chosen from each District. They're sent to the Capitol, beautified and made into celebrities, trained in wilderness survival and how to use various weapons, and sent into an arena. There are weapons and supplies scattered around, which are usually taken by the strongest and toughest in the bunch. The contestants then proceed to try to kill one another. They fight for survival until one is left - the victor. The Games are televised, and the citizens of the Capitol watch for entertainment, and the citizens of the Districts are forced to watch as their children are killed off. Since the Districts are kept poor and wanting, the victor's District gets food for a year, and the victor is set up in a fancy house with plenty of money, basically a celebrity. They're usually too emotionally and mentally scarred to enjoy any wealth or stardom, though.

The first book is set around the 74th Hunger Games. The main characters are from District 12 - Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark. Katniss's sister is actually chosen for the Games, but is only 12 years old, so Katniss (16 years old) volunteers to go in her place. Peeta is actually the youngest in his family, but he's the same age as Katniss and his brothers don't volunteer to go in his place. Katniss knows a bit about wilderness survival and a lot about hunting since she was taught by her father before he died, and she hunts illegally in the woods to feed her family, and sell meat on the black market. Peeta's family owns the bakery in town. They're a little more well-off than Katniss's family. He becomes known as The Boy with the Bread, because once when he and Katniss were younger, he intentionally burned some bread so he could give it to her, since her father had just died and her family was starving.

I won't give away anything major in the plot, but as you can surmise, Peeta and Katniss are sent off to the Capitol, fancied up, trained, and sent into the arena for the 74th Annual Hunger Games. Since there are two sequels, you can probably guess who wins the Games, but you'll just have to read it for yourself.

It's difficult to describe the books any more succinctly than that. When someone asks me what they're about, I usually just say they're about kids being forced to fight to the death. Unappealing sounding, right? Well, give them a chance and I guarantee you'll be sucked in and instantly obsessed. I was, anyway. They keep you on the edge of your seat most of the time, they're pretty excellently written, and as you get to know the characters, you just have to keep reading to see what happens.

Now, I hate when book-to-film movies deviate too much from the book. I know they have to scale them down to fit it into two hours, but when they change little details that had no reason to be changed, or they change major plot points, I end up hating the movie. So, after I see it tomorrow night, you'll either get a gushing post about how amazing it was, or a rant about how they changed everything and it was horrible. I'm also going to try to make something from the Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook tonight or tomorrow, so you can get a little taste for the book... literally. So if you haven't already read these books, I highly recommend that you go out and buy or borrow them. You won't regret it!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Dale's Ridge Trail

Sooo I didn't bake anything for St. Patrick's Day. I have a Shamrock Shake Cupcake recipe and an Irish Car Bomb Cupcake recipe that I want to try, but I didn't have any parties to go to or anything, and an entire batch of cupcakes would never get eaten at my house. I did go hiking the other day, though! It was just too nice out to not wander around in the woods. I just went to a little 2-mile trail by my house called Dale's Ridge Trail. The trail is on land owned by a historical society, and the Dale House is right by the beginning of it.

It's actually an appropriate St. Patty's Day post since the namesake of the trail and house was Samuel Dale, an Irish immigrant. Just a little history lesson for ya.... Samuel Dale came to America in 1766. During the War for Independence, he served with the Northumberland militia and fought in the Battle of Princeton. He bought the land that the trail runs through in 1789 and built the house 1793. I haven't been in the house yet. I think they're only open on Sundays or something. Maybe I'll check it out some day, but I'm more interested in the trail. The first part of it runs along Buffalo Creek. I was very excited about all the wildlife I saw.

There were lots of ducks, and that second picture, I'm pretty sure, is a beaver. See it? Yeah, it wouldn't stand still long enough for me to get a decent picture. It was walking along the banks, and jumped in the creek and swam around for awhile, then got out and scampered away. There's also a little spring-fed pond along the trail that was totally full of frogs, but they were too quick to get any pictures.

After the pond, there's a pretty steep set of switchbacks to get up on top of the ridge, but other than that, it's an easy, fairly flat hike. At one point, it goes under some hardcore power lines, but the views are worth the ugliness of the power lines.

I only saw one other person on the trail, and it was a jogger. I felt a little foolish with my day pack, hikers, thick wool socks, water bladder... and this middle aged guy ran by me with just a t-shirt, running shorts, and sneakers. It is nice that it's such a versatile trail, though. I can gear up and go for a nice hour-long hike, or I could strap on some running shoes and go for a jog. I'll definitely be visiting Dale's Ridge again. It's only a few miles from my house, it's a nice length for a quick hike, and it's got some great views, wildlife, and plantlife. In the summer, I don't know that I'll be able to resist jumping in the creek, though!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Vegan Pumpkin Pecan Bread

As we've discussed before, my favorite season is autumn. By far. I love the smells, the leaves, the chill in the air, sweaters and fall jackets, and most of all the food... cider, lots of fresh local apples, fair food, baked pumpkin everything.... I know it's spring and no one wants to think about fall again for a long time, but while there's still a bit of a winter chill hanging on, I thought this bread was appropriate. It smells and tastes like fall. I'll bet if you take a slice outside on one of the nicer days and close your eyes, you could almost hear the leaves falling. Is that just me? Ok, well it's still delicious... and vegan!

This recipe will wrap up Joy the Baker Appreciation Week. The Kale-Spinach-Banana-Peanut Butter Smoothie, Trail Mix Cookies, and now the Vegan Pumpkin Pecan Bread all came from Joy Wilson's newly released Joy the Baker Cookbook. No, I'm not a paid spokesperson for Joy the Baker. I'm just a huge fan, wanted to break in my new cookbook, and spread the word that Joy the Baker is made of pure awesome.

Vegan Pumpkin Pecan Bread!

3 3/4 C. all-purpose flour
2 C. packed brown sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 - 15oz. can pumpkin
1 C. vegetable oil
1/3 C. pure maple syrup
1/3 C. water
1 C. chopped pecans
8 whole pecan halves (optional)

- Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Grease two 8" loaf pans and set aside.

- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, oil, maple syrup, and water.

- Add the pumpkin mixture to the flour mixture all at once. Fold the ingredients together, making sure to incorporate the flour mixture well, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl. Fold in the chopped pecans.

- Divide the batter between the prepared pans and, if you want to, arrange 4 pecan halves on the top of each.

- Bake for 60-75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for about 20 minutes in the pans, then transfer to a cooling rack. Serve warm.

Now, as you can see, I did not arrange pecan halves on top. Instead, I mixed together about 1/4 C. brown sugar and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and sprinkled it on top. I love me some cinnamon-sugar on top of my breads. You could go either way.

This bread is wonderful. If two loaves seems like too much, one loaf would make a great gift... or if it's just too good to give away, freeze it for later!

Yes, I totally made it un-vegan by smothering it in butter and enjoying it with a glass of milk. It's ok, I'm not vegan, the recipe just happens to be!

Whelp, that brings JtBAW to a close. Not sure what's coming next. I want to get hiking some day this week, hopefully someplace new that I can blog about. When my Hunger Games cookbook gets here, be prepared for a series of Hunger Games posts to tie in with the film release... recipes, possibly a discussion of the book(s), a review of the movie, etc. Until then....


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Trail Mix Cookies

Before we get started with part 2 of Joy the Baker Appreciation Week, I have some exciting news. Remember those contest posts for that healthy living contest that I did? Yeah, well no big deal, but I WON! I'm getting a free healthy living cookbook, and I got a $50 Amazon gift card! I'm very excited, if you can't tell. :-)

Ok, enough of that. For this installation of JtBAW (it's just easier to type, sorry), I made Trail Mix Cookies. This recipe made a TON of cookies. Literally. I have 2000 pounds of cookies. Ok, maybe just 5 dozen... and at this point, probably more like 4 dozen. They're disappearing quickly.

They're like oatmeal-raisin cookies, but about a million times better. It really is like trail mix... in cookie form. Hence the name, I guess. Shut up.

2 1/2 C. old-fashioned oats
1 C. all-purpose flour
1 C. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 C. (2 sticks) unsalted butter - softened
1 C. granulated sugar
1 C. packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 C. peanut butter chips
1 C. M&Ms candy
1 C. roasted, salted peanuts
1/2 C. golden raisins

- Place racks in the center and upper third of the oven, and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (or just spray with non-stick spray) and set aside.

- In a medium bowl, whisk together the oats, flours, baking powder and soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

- With an electric stand mixer, beat together the sugars and softened butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on medium speed for about a minute after each addition. Stop and scrape the bowl as necessary. Add in the vanilla and beat until thoroughly incorporated.

- Stop the mixer and add the flour mixture all at once. Beat on low speed until just incorporated. Add the peanut butter chips, M&Ms, peanuts, and raisins. Finish mixing together by hand, so as to not over-mix. Roll tablespoonfuls into balls (or use a cookie scoop) and place on baking sheets. Bake for 10-13 minutes, or until lightly browned around edges. Remove from oven and let cool for about 10 minutes on the cookie sheets, then finish cooling on wire racks.

They're pretty magical. I may have eaten half a dozen as they came out of the oven. Maybe. You can, too. I won't judge.

The one tip, to let the mixer go for about 3 minutes to get the butter and sugar mixture fluffy... yeah, that may have changed the way I bake. I never used to cream butter and sugar that long, but it totally makes a difference. The cookies are lighter, the dough was smoother... thanks for that, Joy!

I'm thinking I'll do one more post to wrap up this series, probably this weekend. Until then, you should probably go and make these cookies. Like, now. You won't regret it. You should also probably check out Joy the Baker's blog.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Joy the Baker

Joy the Baker is awesome. If you've never been to her blog, you should check it out. She just released a cookbook and to break it in, I'm going to do a series of posts about it.

I've actually been baking quite a bit recently. I made my mom Chocolate-Butterscotch Brownies to take in to her classroom. I made my dad an Apple-Raisin Pie because he put in a request. But those posts will have to wait. Because this week is Joy the Baker Appreciation Week. JtBAW, for short. (Ok, let's not actually call it JtBAW.)

Last year, one of my bosses at the Brooks Center told me I should check out Joy's website, and I've been hooked ever since. She has a quirky personality, and a very familiar way of writing that draws you in. I feel like we're old friends, even though we've never met. (Although that will totally change when I go to her book signing in Brooklyn at the end of the month!) She's the one who got me into collecting random plates and dishes. I sent her an e-mail when I started my collection, and she even responded! She's that cool.

To start off this series, I made something a little out of my comfort zone. Not preparation-wise, but out of my eating comfort zone. I made a Kale-Spinach-Banana-Peanut Butter Smoothie. I know, it sounds scary. Let me share the recipe, and then we'll discuss.

1 heaping cup of chopped kale leaves
1 heaping cup of spinach leaves
1 1/2 C. skim milk (or soy or almond milk for a vegan option)
1 frozen banana, cut into chunks
2 tsp. honey
1 Tbsp. natural creamy peanut butter

- Remove kale leaves from the center stalk and roughly chop. Clean spinach leaves and remove any thick stalks.

- In a blender, blend together the kale, spinach, and milk until no large chunks of leaf remain, about 45 seconds. Stop the blender and add the banana, honey, and peanut butter. Blend until thoroughly combined. Drink right away.

So the taste is much more pleasant than I expected. The predominant flavors are the peanut butter and banana. It doesn't taste salad-y at all, which is what I expected. My problem is with the texture. The little leaf bits are a little too... leafy... for me. I blended it for a good couple of minutes, but maybe a little longer would help. I don't know.... I drank it all though, and it does taste great. I'll have to either play with it to get it smoother, or just get used to it. I have a ton of spinach and kale now, so I've got to make more!

So there you have it. We kicked off Joy the Baker Appreciation Week with something super healthy! Make sure to check out Joy's blog. She also has a couple of podcasts available on iTunes. The first is just the Joy the Baker podcast with Tracy from shutterbean. (If Tracy ever releases a cookbook, that's a whole other appreciation week.) This is the one I listen to (although I'll admit I'm a few weeks behind). They actually rarely talk about baking/cooking, and it's pretty girly most of the time, but they're hilarious together. She also has one called We're About to be Friends. I haven't checked this one out yet, since I'm horrible at keeping up with podcasts. I'm sure I will one day, though!