Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 5 Underrated Movies of 2011

So it's 4 hours before 2012, and with everyone doing their own lists of resolutions, best and worst of, or personal experience lists, I decided to try to get my voice heard one last time about 5 movies that just can't seem to get the credit they deserve. These are all smaller films, but nonetheless, films that I really couldn't shake, and changed something about myself, if even in the smallest way.

5. Life In A Day

(You can watch the entirety of this movie here)

Perhaps not necessarily underrated, as it seems as though the few people who DID see it liked it, but the concept seems to be too strange for many people to give it a shot.

So it's all footage filmed by amateurs, then put together by National Geographic to 'mimic' everything a person can go through in their life by watching many different people of different cultures go throughout their normal day. It seems like a lot of people thought this could go wrong, and steered clear. However, it was done very well, the clips being put in chronological order according to the time of day Not to mention, considering the THOUSANDS of hours of footage they received, I was VERY impressed with the clips they did choose.

I also heard a lot of people complaining about the 'violent' parts, but isn't that part of life? Life is not all great quotes and getting engaged and baby giraffes and being inspiring. Life is depressing, and there are people out there who DO slaughter cattle for a living, and cry during thunderstorms. This is all part of it, and this was why this movie was great.

My absolute favorite part of this film is the fact that those sending in footage were asked to answer a series of questions. Ranging from "What do you love?" to "What's in your pocket or purse?" These answers really give a lot of insight into different people, cultures, and a lot of it was eerily relatable.

4. Everything Must Go

Maybe you're not a huge Will Ferrell fan, but just listen for a minute.  He plays an alchoholic, fired, and thrown out of his house by his wife in the same day. Drinking PBR like his life depends on it, he lives on his front lawn (where his wife has thrown all of his things), and while he tries to figure things out, turns it into a yard sale so as not to be arrested. Battling with his addiction, possible homelessness, and a bank account he can't access,, this movie was surprisingly emotional.

If you normally write him off, don't. His acting is phenomenal, and brought me to tears at one point, some of the issues in the movie hitting really close to home, and Ferrell's character pulling it off tremendously.  Biggie Smalls' son plays the cute little boy that gives him some hope, and really, it all comes together beautifully. It's an original idea, with an unexpected performance, and an unexpected emotional rollercoaster.

3. Tree of Life

I honestly can not tell you how many refunds I gave to customers because of this movie. The hatred of this movie was so intense, that it got to a point where I couldn't wait to see it just so I could hate it, too. From what I heard, it didn't make sense, nothing was connected, and everything was abstract.

Well, frankly, this was one of the better movies I saw this year, but hey, not because it wasn't abstract.

This movie is about death, and grieving, and trying to figure out death, and I get that. When someone you love dies, it's so hard to figure out. Why are we here, if we're just going to die? God, why did you take them from me? The questions seem as endless as they are unanswered, and your mind wanders to a grand scale...this is what that movie is. This movie takes the thoughts and feelings you have when your loved one dies and shows it on a screen. A beautiful movie, with a beautiful message.

Although it can be a bit abstract at times, just sit back, and relax. Don't ask anything of the movie, don't look for anything, just watch, and wait.

2. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

The first time I heard the title of this movie, I choked a little from laughing. I had NEVER heard of it, and I was certain it was just a dumb kids movie. Looking into it, though, I had never been more intrigued. China's first empress is about to come into power when those around her begin to spontaneously combust. Detective Dee is a clever man with many tricks and fighting moves up his sleeve, and the movie is beautiful, filled with magic, fighting, mystery and twists and turns.

Not to mention, this movie is based on old Chinese Folklore that include 7 stories about a "Judge Dii." And, above all, the plot was so clever, I found myself at the edge of my seat throughout nearly the entire thing. It's astounding how silly this movie both looks, and sounds, when really, it's a gorgeous and witty film, possibly one of the best I've seen in a long time.

1. Today's Special

I have found almost no one who has ever heard of this movie, and it really, truly baffles me. Written and directed by Aasif Mandvi, it's a story about someone looking to be a truly great world class chef, but doesn't get that final promotion due to his inability to be spontaneous with his cooking (and of course with his life). When his father has a heart attack, he's forced to take over his rock-bottom Indian restaurant. With the help of an endearingly mysterious Indian cab driver, he learns how to improve his cooking (and his life of course)!

By far the most inspiring and feel-good movie I've seen in a long time, this one really stuck with me for a good while, and I still think about it. For such a small movie, it really had an amazing impact on me, and I try to share it with as many people as I possibly can. Last winter when people were talking about how inspiring the King's Speech was, no one believed me that this movie could give it a run for it's money, but I honestly thought this movie was stronger in characters and in message.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Holiday Confections Part Two: Buckeyes

Buckeyes are a strange thing for me. I know it's rare to relate something BAD to something as delicious as a buckeye (It's peanut butter, cream cheese, and powdered sugar...covered in chocolate...what's so bad about it, right?), but somehow, I managed to have that happen to me.

When I was younger, I had more step-family than family, and I was certainly not a favorite at family gatherings (or in my case, step-family gatherings). I had a step-grandma who lived in Ohio and when she came down, everyone seemed really happy to see her, but I absolutely hated her. She was mean to me, rude to me, put me down, and hurt me (emotionally and physically). And you know what she always made as a treat? You guessed it. Buckeyes.

They were good. Damn good, actually. Probably the only good thing about her, in all honesty. I ate these things year after year, finding some odd kind of relief to her visits in these little peanut buttery truffles, and it wasn't until this year that I realized that she was the only thing I related to these treats.

Here I am, trying to make something delicious and nice for my co-workers, and I find myself grinding my teeth, holding my hand mixer so tightly my knuckles are turning white, and an inexplicable lump is forming in my throat, and as desperate as I am to think of something, anything, else, she is all I can think of. I thought I had buried the hatchet long ago, but apparently deciding to make something beautiful and delicious was enough to open that can of worms again.

I felt annoyed once again, that even in absence (and in death), this woman is still getting the last laugh.

So, I decided to make these every year until the price of peanut butter is just too damn high for my budget.

These are so good you guys, SO good, and I refuse to think of her when I make, and subsequently eat, these. I want to think about my own Christmases, holidays and friends, and my own moments, in my own life, with my boyfriend and maybe someday my kids and grandkids (and hopefully said grandkids will not think of me the way that I think of her). I want this to be something I can make with a smile on my face, a flutter in my heart, and a twinkle in my eye as I salivate thinking about how impossibly good these are.

I know my photography has been lacking lately...but will return to somewhat normal soon!

So without further ado, here is the recipe to the most insanely, impossibly and beautifully delicious thing I have made in a long time. Something so amazing, that I am unearthing issues long dead so I can eat these and have absolutely perfect moments when I do (and I hope you will, too).



-1/4 Cup Cream Cheese (softened)
- 1 1/2 Cup Peanut Butter
- 1 Cup Graham Cracker Crumbs
- 1/4 Tsp. Salt
- 3 Cups Powdered Sugar
- 10 TBS. Unsalted butter (melted and cooled)
- 12 Oz. Dark chocolate (60 - 75%) coarsely chopped

How to do it:

For the filling:

1. Beat cream cheese and peanut butter until combined.
2. Add Graham cracker crumbs, beat 10 seconds.
3. Add sugar and butter. Mix on lowest speed until nothing in floating in the butter, then increase speed until ingredients are combined.

For the coating:

Melt chocolate in microwave according to package directions. Cool until tepid.

For assembling:

1. Line baking sheet with parchment paper
2. Scoop out roughly 1 TBS of filling, and use hands to form into a ball.

The balls can sit close to each other, but make sure they don't touch.

3. Using a spoon, roll each ball in the chocolate until it is covered.

4. Refrigerate or freeze.

5. Indulge.

I'll be back soon with another recipe!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Confections Part One: Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies

Hey everyone! I know it's been a few weeks, but I haven't been absent for a lack of creating.

Quite the opposite, actually.

I've been making so many things for the last month, but since ALL of them are Christmas presents, I can't post them without ruining the surprise for my friends. So, after Christmas, prepare to be so sick of my posts that you wanna vomit, while simultaneously thinking I'm really impressive. It's okay, I won't judge.

Anyway, I'm here today with one of 5 recipes I'm making for Christmas day.

These brownies are really delicious. Rich, but not too heavy, and the apple cider vinegar really comes through in the brownies subtly enough for some interesting flavor, while still being plenty chocolate-y and covered in a thick layer of cream cheese. 

The recipe I'm providing is for enough brownies for a 9" x 13" pan, but if you half the ingredients, you can make it in an 8" x 8" pan, like brownies are generally made in (I just needed a lot of brownies!)

Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies


Red Velvet Layer:

- 2 Sticks unsalted butter, melted
- 2 Cups sugar
- 2 tsp Vanilla Extract
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- A pinch or two of salt
- 2 Tablespoons red food coloring
- 2 tsp. Apple cider vinegar
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/2 Cups all purpose flour

Cream Cheese Layer:

- 16 oz. Cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease a 9" x 13" pan.

Brownie Layer Instructions:

1. Add melted butter to large bowl and add the sugar, vanilla, cocoa powder, salt, food coloring and vinegar, mixing after each addition.

2. Whisk the eggs in a small bowl, and stir into cocoa mixture.

3. Fold in flour until lightly combined.

4. Pour batter into prepared baking pan, saving 1/2 cup of batter for the top.

Cream Cheese Layer Instructions:

1. Blend together all ingedients in a bowl.

2. Spread cream cheese layer on top of the brownie batter in the pan. Drizzle the remaining batter on top, and use a knife to drag through the cream cheese mixture to create a swirl pattern.

3. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 - 40 minutes.

Drizzle batter back and forth like so
Drag knife through in opposite directions to make this pattern