The Foolproof Pie Dough: A Primer (Part I)

Need an easy pie dough recipe? Use this one! The added bonus is that you can do shots while you wait for it to chill.

O Pie-oneers!

As I mentioned in my first post, Cooks Illustrated  opened my eyes to the ease of making your own pie pastry. Cooks Illustrated is a wonderful bimonthly periodical that doesn’t just provide recipes; it delves into the science and chemistry behind the food and teaches you HOW to cook in addition to WHAT to cook. It explains the Maillard reaction resulting in fond, and osmosis in brining meat, and the breakdown of cell walls when salting zucchini. I read an article and I suddenly have my own tiny ghostly Chef Gusteau floating over my shoulder, saying, “Anyone can cook!” In addition to the science and imaginary culinary cheerleaders, the magazine provides equipment ratings and user-submitted life hacks (#1 life hack: running your blowdryer on one of those price sticker labels on jars or dishes for 10-15 seconds will soften up the glue and let you remove the…

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Pie Week: Jack Daniel’s Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie

Apparently it’s Pie Week over at Epicurious, and never one to question what legitimacy an organization has for declaring that an arbitrarily selected time period should be set aside for celebrating pie, I’m going along with it, just like I go along with Pie Day. And Pi Day for that matter. At some point I’ll declare the month of my birthday Pie Month. And when I retire, I’ll establish a Pie Year.

I’ve been busy as all hell lately because that’s just where we are in the software lifecycle: the part where I’m so fucking busy at work that I come home and my brain has been pummeled so thoroughly that it’s all I can do just to drool on myself a little, never mind summon coherent sentences and get my fingers to type them out. But for Pie Week and Uncle John who needs a pecan pie recipe, I will do my best.

A caveat though: my editor, Earl, who sometimes doubles as my fiancé, has gone to India for 3 fucking weeks – because we weren’t quite separated enough by the Atlantic Ocean, he had to throw the Indian Ocean in there too, asshole – so any mistakes or gratuitous swearing are absolutely his fault. Absolutely.

This recipe comes from Ken Haedrich’s Pieble. I’ve made it at least half a dozen times, and I love it because it wants me to put whiskey in it. This pie can be kind of a butt because of the pre-baking (I’ve had not a few warped crusts in my pecan pie-making lifetime), but I find that nobody really gives a shit because you’re giving them pecan pie full of chocolate and Jack Daniels.

Ken Haedrich’s recipe is followed by my notes.

1 recipe pie pastry (Part I and Part II)

– 4 large eggs, at room temperature
– 1 cup (202.282 g) sugar
– ¾ cup (59.147 mL) dark corn syrup
– 2 tbsp (29.574 mL) Jack Daniel’s whiskey
– 2 tbsp (28.35 g) unsalted butter, melted
– 1 tsp (4.929 mL) vanilla extract
– 1 cup (104.185 g) pecan halves
– ½ cup (85.049 g) semisweet chocolate chips

1. If you haven’t already, prepare the pastry and refrigerate until firm enough to roll, about 1 hour.
2. On a sheet of lightly floured waxed paper, roll the pastry into a 13-inch (33.02 cm) circle with a floured rolling pin. Invert the pastry over a 9½-inch (24.13 cm) deep dish pie pan, center, and peel off the paper. Tuck the pastry into the pan, without stretching it, and sculpt the edge into an upstanding ridge. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes, then partially pre-bake and let cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (176.667ºC).
3. Combine the eggs, sugar, and corn syrup in a large bowl. Whisk well to combine. Add the whiskey, butter, and vanilla. Whisk again until evenly combined. Scatter the pecans and chocolate chips evenly over the cooled pie shell. Whisk the filling once more, then slowly pour it over the nuts and chips.
4. Place the pie on the center oven rack and bake until the filling is set, about 45 minutes, rotating the 180 degrees (Π radians) halfway through the baking, so that the side that faced the back of the oven now faces forward. When done, the top of the filling will be toasted brown and the perimeter slightly puffed.
5. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool thoroughly. Serve at room temperature, or cover with loosely tented aluminum foil, refrigerate, and serve cold. Either way, it is wonderful.

– I may have mentioned how I have a tendency to forget to leave my eggs out long enough for them to be room temperature. Just run them under warmish-hottish water for several minutes when you forget too.
– What, your country isn’t obsessed with corn and you can’t find dark corn syrup anywhere? That’s ok. Use golden syrup, maybe with molasses if you can find it. Then please do me the favor of explaining to me why the hell you call it a “corn exchange” if it doesn’t have much to do with corn. Thanks.
– I have been known to bump the whiskey up to 3 tbsp (44.360 mL), but mostly when I know that children aren’t going to be partaking. Contrary to popular belief, baking/cooking alcohol doesn’t burn all the alcohol off, and it won’t do to get your kids (and honestly, small Asians) drunk and hobble their impulse control even more than it already is.
– Screw pecan halves. Cutting pecan halves into neat pie wedges is a bitch. Chop those halves up coarsely.
– I always – always – add more than just ½ cup chocolate chips.
– Don’t be lazy and use the pecans from last year. That shit goes stale and people can totally tell. Not to mention after all that time, who knows what insects have laid their eggs in there and what kind of larvae are crawling around, hidden in the little grooves and crevices of the nuts. I speak from horrifying experience, people. Just pony up the $5 for a new bag of nuts.
– That note, “Either way, it is wonderful”, is a rare editorial within the actual text of the recipe. Usually he saves those little notes for before or after the recipe, so you know this one is special. Please pretend I said nothing about larvae, because it really is a great pie.

Deez Nuts

United We Stand: 10 Things I Love About My Country #10: Art & Fashion

FINALLY! I disappeared down a rabbit hole of wedding invite calligraphy and lice removal (unrelated) and haven’t been able to blog as prolifically as I’d like, but the invites are out, and the lice are contained (or at least, I desperately hope they’re contained now) so I can turn my attention to the last topic in our 10 Things I Love About My Country: Art and Fashion. Freakin’ Steve and Suzie.

I’ve been dreading this one. I’ll be frank: I’m an intelligent person, and I’m not afraid to openly declare this about myself. I know a lot of things, and the things I don’t know, I grasp fairly quickly. But when it comes to art, I am SO STUPID. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand what ‘composition’ is or the point of abstract art or how art is supposed to make me feel when I’m looking at what is basically horizontal stripes. I can’t say that I’ve ever looked at any piece of art in any sort of medium that has remotely moved me the way music or a novel or even poetry – another area where I’m stupid – have.

However, as Art Stupid as I am, I can at least recognize when other people find it genius. And this distinction is where I fail even worse when it comes to fashion. Most of what I know about the fashion world comes from Zoolander and Project Runway. I probably know enough so that I don’t look like a complete degenerate walking down the street, or to wear crop tops with high-waisted pants, but generally this is the flowchart that guides what I put into my wardrobe:

Jenny’s Fashion Flowchart

So it is with this caveat that I present this final list of 10 Things I Love About My Country: I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about. But hey, I’ve seen people pull all kinds of crap out of their blogging asses, so if they can do it, I can do it.

1. Tavi Gevinson/Rookie
Tavi Gevinson started a fashion blog, Rookie, at the tender age of 12 (she’s now 18) and quickly became a fashion icon with the attitude of “I wear what I like”, favoring retro/vintage looks. She appeared on NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! which is probably the only reason I’ve heard of her. The site had the potential to become a place of fluff and little substance, but under Tavi’s guidance became a community not just focused on fashion, but also social awareness and affirmation. She also brings her feminist slant to a population of young women at a time in their lives when such exposure can be highly influential. There’s quite a bit of pop culture, relationship advice, and the general shooting of shit that girls like to do as well. It’s the kind of site I wouldn’t mind finding my eventually-teenage daughters visiting one day.

2. American Gothic (Grant Wood, 1930)
American Gothic is one of the more famous paintings to come out of the United States. Even an unwashed philistine such as myself has heard of it and can summon its likeness just at the mention of the name. I love that this painting has been parodied by The Muppets, The Simpsons, LEGOs, Beavis & Butthead, Mickey & Minnie, and – would you expect anything less from the internet? – cats, among many others.

There’s a lot of stuff in this painting having to do with repeated themes and statements about hard work and domesticity, but it would be disingenuous for me to discuss them with anything resembling authority. I’ll just stick to liking the man’s overalls and how much he looks like Henry Fonda circa On Golden Pond.

3. The Landsdowne Portrait (Gilbert Stuart, 1796)
Gilbert Stuart’s more famous portrait of George Washington is the one that appears on the $1 bill. But I’m fond of this larger, more detailed portrait for personal reasons. It’s displayed in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., which was one of the places I took Earl on our first date.  The painting serves as a big centerpiece for the presidential wing, and the loop to see the exhibit gets an enthusiastic start because the first thing you see is George Washington with his hand extended like he’s showing you in.

There are a lot of elements to this painting having to do with Washington’s federalist and democratic policies, as well as  lot of symbolism having to do with power, loyalty, and to some extent, literacy. These things go completely over my head. My favorite thing about this portrait is Washington’s thin-lipped grumpy expression, owing to his poorly-fitting, hurty dentures.

4. Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell is best known for his illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post. He also did quite a bit of work for the Boy Scouts of America, but we’re going to ignore them because they’re huge assholes on the subject of homosexuality. After his illustrations, he’s also known for four paintings inspired by FDR’s State of the Union address in 1941. These paintings are now outdated, showing only happy Christian white people, but the Freedom from Want painting is a huge family sitting down to eat a proportionally huge fucking turkey together, and anything depicting a huge turkey for dinner is going to be my favorite (Rockwell’s own opinion was that Freedom of Speech was the best one).

But of all his works, my favorite Norman Rockwell works are his depictions of Santa Claus. Nobody captures his eyes (how they twinkle) or his dimples (how merry) or his cheeks (like roses) or his nose (like a cherry) like Norman Rockwell. I have a copy of A Visit from St. Nicholas (“‘Twas the night before Christmas…”) where the illustrations are entirely repurposed pictures by Norman Rockwell. It actually belongs to my children, but when they aren’t looking, I totally paw through it and savor the pictures like a mug of hot chocolate, only in print.

5. Layered Hair
I have strange hair. It’s not thick and coarse like the hair so many other Asians have; it’s light and kind of fluffy, but not exactly thin and fine. I also have a long oval face, and very long hair looks terrible on me. So until my sophomore year of college (not too long after The Rachel), I was battling between long hair that went flatter the heavier it got, or short hair that made me look 7. Then my best friend introduced me to the person with whom I’ve developed one of the most loyal, devoted, and steadfast relationships of my life: my stylist, Kim.

Kim and I have been together for 18 years now. I followed her through 3 different salons before she found a place to stay where she has more control of her hours, and isn’t subjected to the despotic tyranny of a Turk named Sugar (seriously, that was his name). Nobody else ever touches my hair except maybe Angela, the shampoo lady, who has these sinewy bundles of mighty lamb-leg for forearms, because 10 minutes of getting your hair washed by Angela is like 40 minutes of sex.

We’re at the point now where I tell Kim, “I’m tired of this. Can we do something that isn’t Mom Hair?” and she just starts coloring and cutting. In those 18 years, I have had layered hair in some form or another, whether a layered bob, or a reverse bob, or short layers, or long layers, or some kind of flippy do. It works great because it gives the illusion that I have a lot of body and volume in my hair when really it’s just a good cut. I barely have to do anything. Even now, when my hair has rather abruptly decided that after 37 years of being straight, it would like to be wavy, layers are serving me well.

6. Bill Watterson
Bill Watterson is the genius behind Calvin & Hobbes, for which I will love him forever. Of all the comics I followed, I remember Bill Watterson’s announcement that he was discontinuing Calvin & Hobbes most viscerally, and in a sense, when Bill quit comics, I did too. My favoritism for this particular comic strip over others has many reasons: the ribbing and affection between Calvin and his anthropomorphic stuffed tiger, the clear intelligence of Calvin despite his poor performance in school, the mad brilliance it took for Watterson to dream up Calvin’s snowman creations, the never heavy-handed social commentary, and frankly, how normal Calvin’s Mom & Dad were. That my youngest, Dr. Lecter, bears a lot of similarity to Calvin isn’t lost on me either. One day she’ll do this sort of thing to me, and I’ll be part insulted and part delighted:

7. Georgia O’Keeffe
She says her flowers aren’t all about vaginas, and I of course respect the artist’s position regarding her own art work. But they really do look like vaginas. I can’t do a writeup about her vaginal flowers better than this post, so I’ll just leave that there. But what I like about her flowers-that-are-not-vaginas  is that she helped make vaginas ok to talk about openly in a non-sexual, normalized way. Even now, I like that I can just throw the word “vagina” out repeatedly and casually, to the point where my kids are completely comfortable talking about vaginas and pubises and penises as proper biological terminology for anatomical parts. Not long ago, I had this discussion with my then 8-year old Clarice:

Clarice: Mommy, where do babies come out?
Me: The vagina. But sometimes they get stuck and then they have to be cut out just above the pubis. Like you were.
Clarice: Oh. Doesn’t that hurt?
Me: Yes. It hurts lots.

Easiest sex talk ever. Except that we never actually discussed where the baby came from. I’ll let you know how that goes some day.

8. Boy Shorts
As my flowchart indicates, I don’t put a lot of thought into what I wear. I don’t even really care about rolling into the grocery store in yoga pants and the CHEERLEADER sweatshirt I stole from the Lost & Found at volleyball nearly a decade ago. On rare occasions involving illness, I’ve worn sweatpants to my No Dress Code office before, and in the past, pajamas, and quite possibly, gorilla slippers. Clearly, fashion is not a priority at all. But as with many things, I do have my limits, and my Giving A Shit threshold begins at Visible Panty Line (VPL).

If the reprobates at Home Depot are to be believed, men seem to like looking at butts. I can believe this, because even despite identifying as heterosexual, I like looking at butts. I can’t stop people from looking at my butt, but I can stop them from knowing exactly what kind of underpants I’m wearing based on how the buttflesh gets indented by the elastic and then highlighted by the pants, or skirt, or dress. Many people get around VPL by wearing thongs. But what if I don’t feel like having my nether regions flossed that day? What if I wake up and just don’t feel like perma-wedge is going to help my productivity?

I wear boy shorts! They’re like boxer briefs for women, but shorter and cuter, and because the cut of the leg hole is so low, nobody can see what kind of underwear I’m wearing!

Except now I’ve told the entire internet what kind of underwear I wear, so there goes that mystique. WAY TO GO, JENNY.

9. Annie Leibovitz
Annie Leibovitz has the questionable distinction of photographing John Lennon with Yoko Ono just a few hours before he was killed, and also getting thrown under the bus by Miley Cyrus after Disney got angry about her be-sheeted photo shoot with Vanity Fair. She’s also taken many other photographs of famous people from Queen Elizabeth II to R2-D2. Like Georgia O’Keeffe, she has a distinct style and you can see her influence in work produced by photographers who’ve come after her, like this wonderful picture by Art Streiber of the Princess Bride Reunion:

I don’t understand painting or sculpture, but I find photographs much easier to digest, and I love Annie Leibovitz’s preference for capturing what people do rather than who they are.

10.  Mount Rushmore (Gutzon & Lincoln Borglum, 1927-1941)
I nearly put Mount Rushmore in my Architecture list, but I couldn’t defend it as a building or some kind of civil structure. But as an enormous sculpture, I think it definitely qualifies as art. It’s a controversial choice given that it was carved out of a granite mountain resting on lands – sacred lands – seized from the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota. Slightly less controversial than the Crazy Horse Memorial, but still not without issues.

And sure, if you ignore the part where the United States dispossessed indigenous people of their land, there’s still the issue of why the presidents featured in the monument – Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (Teddy), and Lincoln – were chosen: for preserving the Republic and expanding its borders. So let’s think about this: the US government kicked native people off the lands they’ve lived on for generations, decided that it should deface that land they’ve just taken, and then make the nut-kicking choice to celebrate that occupancy by vaunting the very people who enabled it! It’s just so American, to sweep in, displace others, and pat ourselves on the back for it. In fact, I just had a discussion with a friend about whether the Man Booker Prize has been ruined by including Americans (I still say no, because #NotAllAmericans, and I think Earl is convinced now too).

So why the fuck is Mount Rushmore on my list? Well…as a piece of sculpture, it’s still pretty impressive. Aside from all the (murderous, barbaric, atrocious, brutal) expansion business, each of those presidents did great things for the United States. Plus, you look at those giant heads and you think, “Yep, that’s totally Teddy Roosevelt.” It’s instantly recognizable and infinitely spoofable. It’s about as American as American gets except for the tragic lack of apple pie.

And it always comes back to pie.

Here ends the series. It was a great deal of fun, if not exhausting! Huge thanks to Steve and Suzie for the brilliant idea, both in concept and in topics, and letting me play along. I’ve enjoyed learning things about Scotland and England, and I sincerely hope I’ve done the United States justice. Now to stop slacking on those pie-related posts!

United We Stand: 10 Things I Love About Steve’s Country #9: Films & TV

Well, the referendum came and went, and with it,  40% of Scotland’s hopes for an amicable breakup with England. Now they’re doing the equivalent of that couple that reconciles with lots and lots of therapy, for which I wish them the very best. However, this does mean that Steve and Suzie can still watch the Olympics together, waving the same flag and cheering for the same athletes.

Unfortunately this series has left us all a bit drained. We’ve racked our brains thinking of our respective countries’ favorite inventions, and architecture (and if these search stats are accurate, BOY do people like igloos), and language, and customs, leading to now with #9 in the series: our favorite TV shows and movies from Scotland, England, and the USA. But what do we do when we’re drained? Well, we go on vacation somewhere and pretend we’re not from where we’re from. In essence, we switch. This week, I am Scottish!

I have a confession: I am not Scottish. I can’t even do one of those “Oh, yeah, I’m part Cherokee, part Irish, part Scottish, part Norwegian, and part Dutch” things white Americans are so fond of doing because I’m 100% full-blood Chinese. So, dear Steve, my apologies ahead of time to you and your Scottish brethren. My only goal was to avoid putting Braveheart on the list because it’s too obvious.

1. The Wicker Man (1973)
I much prefer psychological horror over monster-based horror movies. Even better if monsters serve as the backdrop to the psychological horror, as is the case with 28 Days Later or The Descent. There’s also something attractive about that ’60s and ’70s shaky camera cinematography that makes the footage seem more raw and voyeuristic. But beyond that, this movie has Scottish people dressing up in creepy costumes, and nakedly squirming up against the wall trying to sex-osmosis the policeman on the other side, and people fervently worshiping phallic symbols. If not for the whole sacrificing virgins thing, they almost sound like my kind of people.

Even though there is a tragic dearth of bees, this version is so much better than the 2006 reboot. Among the many mistakes the later version made were the far more absurd storyline and making the neo-pagans joyless about the ritual where they dress up like furries, but the greatest mistake of all was moving them off the coast of Scotland to off the coast of Washington State. Because there’s no brogue in Washington State.

2. Trainspotting
Some people, like Bob Dole during the 1996 presidential election, like to criticize this movie, saying that it glorifies the world of drugs and drug addiction, but I’m pretty sure that if New Jack City hadn’t already discouraged my curiosity in drugs, Trainspotting killed off any that might have remained. I have a really difficult time watching people do drugs on screen after watching this film now (I’m not even going to try Requiem for a Dream), but it was really gritty and engaging, and it portrayed subculture in a way that didn’t make me want to roll my eyes, like how On the Road made me feel. Also, it’s full of Scots, and Ewan McGregor is nice to look at.

3. Gregory’s Girl
This movie came out in the early 80’s and had to be re-recorded for American audiences because the accents were so thick (by which I mean “awesome”). It’s an endearing film that might be thought of as Napoleon Dynamite If It Had Been a Teen Rom-Com. It’s a fairly progressive story for its time, too, with a girl’s athletic prowess rather than her sexuality being what attracts the eponymous Gregory. He’s also encouraged to respectfully pursue and be pursued by love interests without scheming or silly tropes. And he has an adorable relationship with his little sister where she offers him dating advice because he’s that helpless. Altogether a very sweet movie.

It’s probably also the last legitimately Scottish TV show/film on my list.

4. Highlander
Come on. If Braveheart wasn’t going to make my list, Highlander had to. It has everything:
Good songs? Check, check, check, check, check, check, and check.
Tagline? Definitely: “There can be only one.”
A really really terrible horrible bad guy? Yes, very!

James Cosmo playing a gruff Scottish paternal figure again? Yup.
A movie so Scottish that they made a French guy play a Scot and cast a Scot as an Egyptian Spaniard? Aye!

I’m really fond of this movie. Not so much the sequels or the television series, but the original will always be a classic.

5. Brave
Ahhhh, a Disney movie that spits in Romance’s eye. I watched this movie with my daughters and came out of the theater very pleased. For years I’ve been complaining that hardly any Disney movies celebrate the mother-daughter relationship, and definitely none of the animated ones. It’s always “Daddy’s girl” this (Little MermaidBeauty and the Beast, AladdinMulan), or “special boy” that (Lion King, TarzanFinding Nemo). Even Frozen‘s focus on the sister-sister relationship had a predecessor in Lilo & Stitch. But finally,  a story about a mother’s devotion to her daughter and vice versa! A heroine who cares more about being true to herself and her family than when her prince will come! A female character with messy curly hair! And cake as a major plot point to boot!

Ok, so maybe this movie and the last are more about Scottish characters than they are Scottish films, but I think they still count.

6. Gargoyles
We’re starting to stretch things a bit now. Gargoyles was a fantastic cartoon series that ran from 1994-1996. It blended folklore and literature together into a dramatic cartoon series about a clan of gargoyles who turn to stone in the daytime and come alive at night, breaking out of the stone. The six gargoyles comprising the clan living in modern day Manhattan were originally from medieval Scotland, but were cursed to sleep in their stone forms until their castle rose above the clouds.

Enter a Manhattan skyscraper, a transplantation of said castle, the super rich and morally bankrupt guy who paid for it, and thus we have a plot.

It wasn’t just the folklore, the numerous nods to Shakespeare (Oberon, Titania, Puck, and Macbeth all feature as characters, plus monikers of Iago, Banquo, Fleance, Lennox, and Macduff), and the camaraderie of the gargoyles though. The cast of voice actors included or guest-starred a significant portion of the bridge and Engineering from the Enterprise NCC-1701-D (Jonathan Frakes, Mirina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Michael Dorn, and Colm Meany). Kate Mulgrew and Nichelle Nichols also made regular appearances. Other non-Star Trek stars such as John Rhys-Davies, Tim Curry, James Belushi, Paul Winfield, Hector Elizondo, Roddy McDowall, and James Avery lent their voices to the show.

I have talked this show up to Earl now to the the point where I plan to binge-watch it with him. I encourage everybody else to do the same.

7. DuckTales
Scrooge McDuck. Totally Scottish. Except for that one time when he got amnesia and started talking with an American accent. That was a terrible day. I’m leaving you with the scene I love and remember best, when Scrooge throws a fucking tantrum, yelling the same thing over and over again, thus forming my earliest impressions of Scottish people. I mean, if people were ducks.

8. So I Married an Axe Murderer
I know, I know, I’m severely pushing the boundaries on this one, given that Mike Myers is Canadian and Brenda Fricker is Irish. I’m not even quite sure why Charlie Mackenzie’s parents, Stuart and May, were written as Scottish other than to give us wonderful moments like this:

So I Married an Axe Murderer is one of my most favorite movies of all time. I love that Mike Myers indulges himself by playing his own father, portraying him with that same gruff exterior we see in Scrooge McDuck and Groundskeeper Willie. But just like Uncle Scrooge taking in his three nephews and Groundskeeper Willie saving the wee turtles, Stuart Mackenzie has a wonderfully sweet moment  amidst the gruffness where, at his anniversary dinner, he first yells at all his guests to shut up and then toasts his wife with an understated yet tear-inducing speech.

Who’s ready to get married now?? Can we get married in Scotland instead, Earl? Earl?…No?

9. The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson
Don’t look at me like that. I know this is an American show that airs when it’s late (late) on the east coast, and that the Scottish host became a US citizen in 2008. But he still sounds Scottish, and has Scottish bands on his show, and even filmed once from Scotland. I don’t get to watch this often because it’s on so late (late), but when I have been able to catch it, I have loved it. Craig Ferguson is so personable and decent and open about his issues with grief over his father’s suicide and mother’s death, and his recovery from alcoholism.  And he’s funny and honest!

Just watch this and see if you aren’t moved by his compassion:

10. Goldfinger
Hear me out! According to Ian Fleming himself, James Bond was born to a Scottish father and Swiss mother. The greatest Bond of all – and I feel confident in saying that everybody who disagrees with me is wrong – was Sean Connery, the same suave Scot who made an Egyptian-Spaniard sound splendid.

I grew up on James Bond movies. Somehow my parents were content to let me watch movies about intrigue and sex and violence and poisonings, and even from that early age, I recognized Sean Connery’s supremacy over the likes of Roger Moore, George Lazenby, and Timothy Dalton. Of the James Bond movies that we serially and repeatedly watched, I remember You Only Live Twice and Goldfinger best. And of those two, I loved Goldfinger best. I don’t even care about the anti-Korean racism that was Oddjob’s literary provenance. On screen, he was this scary guy wearing a scary bowler hat doing scary things to golf balls.

But the counterpoint to Oddjob’s kidney-chopping brute strength was James Bond’s unflappable ingenuity, who, like Westley vs. Fezzik, devises alternate methods to overcome Oddjob’s physical brawn. For that bit of gumption, we can thank two Scots: James Bond for having it, and Sean Connery for selling it.

Besides, they made a video game out of it. That means the movie was awesome.

Well there’s my attempt to be Scottish. Whether I was successful or even convincing is questionable, but I guess ignorance has its advantages sometimes, because it was a heck of a lot easier than picking my favorite American TV shows and movies.

What have I missed, actual Scots? What American movies and TV would you add? Americans are welcome to weigh in as well! Whether you weigh in with Scottish or American TV & films is up to you, though.

United We Stand: 10 Things I Love About My Country #8: Actor & Actresses

Yay! Scotland didn’t break up with the UK! I do hope everybody gets what they want out of even having the referendum.

It’s Week 8(ish) for  Steve and Suzie and me! They’re spectacularly Scottish and awesomely English respectively, and I’m American, and here we are once again listing our favorite things about our countries. This week it’s actors and actresses! Also, from this point on, when I say “actors”, I mean “actors and actresses”.

I thought actors would be easy, but when I started mentally cataloguing my favorites, I ran into two problems. First, I don’t really do the Hollywood thing. I don’t watch that many movies anymore, having not a lot of spare time with two young children running underfoot. It’s a 2-ish hour commitment that I just can’t make when I could curl up with a book for 30 minutes and fall asleep. Second, I found my favorite actors to be largely English. There’s just no escaping the anglophilia.

Then, when I thought about my favorite American actors, I found myself reluctant to talk about some of them because as famous white men, they already receive a ton of accolades (and a lot more money). I thought about taking a page from Steve’s playbook and listing my favorite actors acting “American”, and realized I’d have to put David Spade (Joe Dirt), Jeff Foxworthy (The Jeff Foxworthy Show) and Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) on the list, and Daniel Day-Lewis isn’t even American.

So here’s the criteria I’ve settled with: I’m going to list my favorite American actors who aren’t famous white men. Because what’s more American than the people on whose backs and with whose support America was created??

1. Jennifer Lawrence
I’ve talked about my Jennifer Lawrence hard-on before, I think. I like how frank she is and how she seems to remember her roots. I like how she speaks plainly and doesn’t seem to care what people think, but not in that Rihanna I-Don’t-Want-To-Be-Your-Child’s-Role-Model sort of way. I like that her name is actually “Jennifer Lawrence”, and she didn’t feel the need to change it to Ginnifer or some stupid shit like that. And I like that despite her young age, she’s already so actively involved with charities.

Favorite Film Role: Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook
Next Most Favorite Role: Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games
Favorite Off-screen Moment: the Post 2013 Oscar Awards Interview and when she left the red carpet to comfort a crying fan.

2. Whoopi Goldberg
Oh Whoopi Goldberg. I don’t even care that your liberal heart bled all over the stage of The View, or that weird thing with Ted Danson where he left his wife for you, and then you wrote that weird act where he yelled racial slurs and put on blackface to roast you. You win my heart forever for stabbing Q in the hand and playing a singing and dancing nun in Sister Act. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention your iconic portrayal of Celie in The Color Purple.

Favorite Film Role: Celie in The Color Purple, Shenzi in The Lion King
Next Most Favorite Role: Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation
Favorite Off-screen Moment: Any time Whoopi got into an argument with Elisabeth Hasselbeck on The View.

3. Pat Morita
You didn’t even know he could speak perfect English, did you? DID YOU?? Or that he was held in an internment camp?

Everybody loved Mr. Miyagi. To this day, I still say “squish…just like grape“. Yet he had a complexity you couldn’t possibly be aware of. I once saw this B movie starring Pat Morita – the name escapes me now, and I can’t be bothered to figure it out – playing an evil mob boss with several ladies of the night in his employ. The only scene I can recall, because it shattered my pristine vision of a wise, kindly Mr. Miyagi, is the one where one of these ladies starts to give Pat Morita’s character a massage. She says, “There are two-hundred and six bones in the human body!” somewhat vapidly, reaches under Pat Morita’s towel, ostensibly to “massage” his “stiffness” away, and then coyly says, “Make that two-hundred and seven.”

And thus, by memory the saintly old man who patiently taught a poor kid karate was squished, just like grape.

Favorite Film Role: Arnold on Happy Days
Next Most Favorite Role: The Emperor in Mulan
Favorite Off-screen Moment: His legacy. Pat’s daughter’s piece about how playing Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid brought him both success and destruction

4. James Earl Jones
One thing common in all my favorite actors is diversity. James Earl Jones can do drama, comedy, action, fantasy, commercials, or anything else he damn well pleases. He can play good guys, bad guys, good guys who act like bad guys, or bad guys who act like good guys. His voice acting skills allowed him to run the gamut in fathers, from a shitty dad like Darth Vader to a dad so devoted that he’d risk his own life, die, and then force his incorporeal spirit to appear just to give his boy a pep talk.

“You are my son” just wrecks me every time. Also, look at all these accolades!

Favorite Film Role: I can’t choose, so I’m listing several. Darth Vader in Star Wars, Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian, Terence Mann in Field of Dreams
Next Most Favorite Role: The king in Coming to America, Frank Couzo in Best of the Best
Favorite Off-screen Moment: When the poor guy thought he’d won a Tony in 2012

5. John Leguizamo
Another very versatile actor on both stage and screen, John Leguizamo has the kind of face where I can’t decide if he’s very handsome or very haggard. I recently saw Chef with Earl, and I was impressed that I could buy him as a sous chef as easily as I can buy him as a gangster, or a singing dwarf, or drug dealer, or a soldier. He’s brilliant and eloquent, and he’s a family man, and he supports funding for the arts, and he says things like this:

“Latin people for Republicans are like roaches for raid,” he adds. “It doesn’t make sense. [Republicans are] not for us. You’re not for my values. We’re working class people mostly and blue collar. We’re your cops, we’re your firemen, we’re your carpenters and the things we need – we need to protect our unions, we need to protect our Medicare, we need to protect the working class person.”

Favorite Film Role: Sid in Ice Age, Toulouse-Lautrec in Moulin Rouge!, Chi-Chi in To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Love Julie Newmar
Next Most Favorite Role: Tybalt in Romeo + Juliet, Benny Blanco in Carlito’s Way
Favorite Off-screen Moment: Whenever he explains how he developed Sid’s voice. Also, the fact that he knows the difference between “nauseated” and “nauseating”

6. Jodie Foster
Jodie Foster is one of the few child actors who didn’t grow up to be a complete mess. The first movie I ever saw starring Jodie Foster was The Accused, which could very well be one of my earliest feminist influences. The only reason her portrayal of Sarah isn’t my favorite film role is because I haven’t had the nerve to see it again; I remember the visceral fear and feeling of betrayal she conveyed though. I have had the nerve to watch The Silence of the Lambs over and over though (hence pseudonymizing my children “Clarice” and “Dr. Lecter”).

She’s also had quite a bit of success as a director, and gave me such lovely lines as “Listen to me, Jane. If anything happens to him, anything at all, I’ll kill you. Now, I don’t mean that I’ll just hurt you. I mean that I’ll kill you.” This line from Little Man Tate was probably one of my earliest notions of motherhood, or at least the kind of mother I wanted to be.

Favorite Film Role: Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs
Next Most Favorite Role: Dede Tate in Little Man Tate, Sarah Tobias in The Accused
Favorite Off-screen Moment: Jodie Foster’s 2013 Golden Globes Lifetime Achievement acceptance speech

7. Joan Chen
“Who??” you ask. Her most famous role was probably as Pu Yi’s opium-addled wife in The Last Emperor. Joan Chen later developed an acting career on both American and Chinese screens, and later began rejecting American roles that were offered to her because she kept getting cast as the stereotypical “omg ur so exotic” dragonlady. In my opinion, her most overlooked role is the fleet-footed quick in the movie that brought us the sport of JuggerThe Blood of Heroes. Which is apparently called The Salute of the Jugger now. Talk about diverse roles! Here, watch Joan scramble around with a dog skull, and see if you can spot Vincent D’Onofrio not long after he decided his rifle was his best friend:

Favorite Film Role: The Empress in The Last Emperor
Next Most Favorite Role: Kidda in The Salute of the Jugger (formerly known as The Blood of Heroes), Yee Tai Tai in Lust, Caution
Favorite Off-screen Moment: Michel Martin interviewing Joan Chen on Tell Me More

8. Sigourney Weaver
I don’t think there’s a more badass heroine than Ripley. No superpowers, no wads of cash. Just grit, iron-clad resolve, and skillful taping together of a myriad weapons into one BFG. But then Sigourney Weaver did the voiceover for the American productions of Planet Earth, and although nobody can out-narrate Richard Attenborough, she did a remarkable job of it. She’s played a variety of roles as well: high-powered women, scientists, a huge asshole, a blond bombshell, and more. In my heart though, she will always be this maternal hardass right here:

Favorite Film Role: Ellen Ripley in Aliens, Gwen DeMarco in Galaxy Quest
Next Most Favorite Role: Dana Barrett in Ghostbusters
Favorite Off-screen Moment: Sigourney Weaver’s interview on the Graham Norton Show.

9. Forest Whitaker
I know Forest Whitaker is easy to hate because of his work on Criminal Minds, but I love him. The crazy thing is that I haven’t even seen his most notable films, like The Last King of ScotlandThe Butler, or Ghost Dog. He just seems like the nicest fellow, which I suppose made it really handy in selling Idi Amin as a nice guy at first. He’s an utter sweetheart in Good Morning, Vietnam and Phenomenon, but then he’s good at being a jerk too! Maybe that’s thanks to James McAvoy (holler, Scotland!). Here, see him go from genial to bloodshot and scary:

Favorite Film Role: Edward Garlick in Good Morning, Vietnam
Next Most Favorite Role: Nate in Phenomenon
Favorite Off-screen Moment: When Forest Whitaker didn’t call anybody in on the clerk who aggressively patted him down and accused him of stealing even though he would have been perfectly right to, because he didn’t want the clerk to lose his job. Instead he asked that the store change their policy of TOTALLY NOT RACIALLY PROFILING! (The clerk was fired anyway).

10. Zoë Saldana
What? Not Alfre Woodard or Angela Bassett or Cicely Tyson or Regina King? Nope. I give it to Zoë because how the hell did she go from playing the last-minute principal ballerina in Center Stage (am I the only one who can’t resist watching this terrible movie whenever it comes on?) to Uhura and then to the voice actor for a giant blue alien with a tail? I haven’t made it to Guardians of the Galaxy yet, but I’m really looking forward to seeing her pull Gamora off. Just watch the intensity of her face in this even though she’s wearing all that gear for the graphics modeling!

Favorite Film Role: Neytiri in Avatar
Next Most Favorite Role: Eva in Center Stage
Favorite Off-screen Moment: This interview, where she’s a big nerd and swears a lot.

Ok folks. Whom have I missed? 🙂

Weekday Chicken Pot Pie

I have a few rules for myself about cooking, aside from the obvious ones like “Have good knives and don’t use them stupidly.” Among them:

1. Don’t compromise on ingredients; food is not where I try to save money.
2. Ask the kids to help. Dr. Lecter likes to say, “I LOVE cooking!” not just because she likes the exaggerated /u:/ pronunciation instead of /ʊ/, but also because she likes pouring and stirring things.
3. Cater to your guests, because that’s polite. Sure, overcooking a filet because you like it well done is repugnant and horrible to me, but I will do that for you if I love you enough. And sure, eating vegetarian is an alien concept to me, but I will make you a vegetarian feast if I’ve invited you over.
4. Any recipe calling for a giant pot of gravy is a good recipe.

This is a good recipe.

Dutch Oven Full of Chicken Gravy Godly Nectar

It comes from Cooks Illustrated. It differs from most pot pies in that there’s no bottom crust, and the top crust is made of tasty savory crumbles. Between the parmesan in the crumbles and the meat, mushrooms, tomato paste, and soy sauce in the filling, this pot pie punches you in the face with umami.

They call it a weekday recipe because it’s speedier than conventional pot pie. From the first slice to getting the pot pie on the table, it took me an hour and a half, but I spent some of my cooking time IM-ing with Earl about wedding plans on my phone. Poorly at that:

Earl: [good stuff about planning]
Me: Oh, nasty
Me: Mario
Me: Mario
Earl: Mario?
Me: Fuck
Me: Neato
Earl: ohhh.
Me: Fuck this Swype bullshit.
I think if you wash and slice up the vegetables ahead of time the night before and avoid wedding planning while cooking, you could probably get this thing done in an hour. Recipe, instructions, and photo from Cooks Illustrated. My notes follow.


This recipe relies on two unusual ingredients: soy sauce and tomato paste. Do not omit them. They don’t convey their distinctive tastes but greatly deepen the savory flavor of the filling. When making the topping, do not substitute milk or half-and-half for the heavy cream.


1½ pounds (680.389 g) boneless, skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs
3 cups (709.765 mL) low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons (29.574 mL) vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup (141.748 g))
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices (about 1 cup (141.748 g))
2 small celery ribs, chopped fine (about ½ cup (70.874 g))
Table salt and ground black pepper
10 ounces (283.495) cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed, caps wiped clean and sliced thin
1 teaspoon (4.929 mL) soy sauce (see note)
1 teaspoon (5.333 g) tomato paste (see note)
4 tablespoons (½ stick) (56.702 g) unsalted butter
½ cup (60.243 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup (236.588 mL) whole milk
2 teaspoons (9.858 mL) juice from 1 lemon
6 sprigs minced fresh parsley leaves
¾ cup (99.932 g) frozen baby peas

Crumble Topping
2 cups (10 ounces (283.495 g)) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons (5 g) baking powder
¾ teaspoon (4.5 g) table salt
½ teaspoon (2.15 g) ground black pepper
⅛ teaspoon (.233 g) cayenne pepper
6 tablespoons (85.05 g) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch (1.27 cm) cubes and chilled
1 ounce (28.350 g) Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about ½ cup (13.323 imperial tbsp))
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (188.531 mL) heavy cream (see note)

1. FOR THE CHICKEN: Bring chicken and broth to simmer in covered Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook until chicken is just done, 8 to 12 minutes. Transfer cooked chicken to large bowl. Pour broth through fine-mesh strainer into liquid measuring cup and reserve. Do not wash Dutch oven. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450ºF (232.222ºC).

2. FOR THE TOPPING: Combine flour, baking powder, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper in large bowl. Sprinkle butter pieces over top of flour. Using fingers, rub butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Stir in Parmesan. Add cream and stir until just combined. Crumble mixture into irregularly shaped pieces ranging from ½ to ¾ inch (1.27-1.905 cm) each onto parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake until fragrant and starting to brown, 10 to 13 minutes. Set aside.

3. FOR THE FILLING: Heat 1 tablespoon (14.787 mL) oil in now-empty Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, carrots, celery, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 5 to 7 minutes. While vegetables are cooking, shred chicken into small bite-size pieces. Transfer cooked vegetables to bowl with chicken; set aside.

4. Heat remaining tablespoon oil in empty Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add mushrooms; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms have released their juices, about 5 minutes. Remove cover and stir in soy sauce and tomato paste. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has evaporated, mushrooms are well browned, and dark fond begins to form on surface of pan, about 5 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to bowl with chicken and vegetables. Set aside.

5. Heat butter in empty Dutch oven over medium heat. When foaming subsides, stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Slowly whisk in reserved chicken broth and milk. Bring to simmer, scraping pan bottom with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits, then continue to simmer until sauce fully thickens, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and ⅔ of the parsley.

6. Stir chicken-vegetable mixture and peas into sauce. Pour mixture into 13 by 9-inch (33.02 x 22.86 cm) baking dish or casserole dish of similar size. Scatter crumble topping evenly over filling. Bake on rimmed baking sheet until filling is bubbling and topping is well browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining parsley and serve.


  • I use chicken tenderloins. Breasts can be a little tough, and thighs are annoying to trim if you don’t want a lot of grease. You don’t even have to knife out that annoying silverskin/tendon thing, because it melts once you poach the tenderloins. Then the meat is super easy to shred. Think of it as a timesaver!
  • These directions leave the carrots still mildly crunchy, which I love. If you like them very mushy, or intend to feed a young toddler or something, you might want to steam them a little first.
  • I never remember to add the peas. They’re in step 6, if you’re wondering.
  • They’re serious about the heavy cream too. Don’t skimp on that fat.
  • Likewise for the whole milk. I mean, what is even the point of skim-milk gravy? Next I suppose you’ll want low-fat bacon. Gravy and bacon are meant for hedonic eating, and you need all the full-fat calories to fuel that joy.
  • On that note, what the hell are you going to do with the 2 remaining tablespoons of heavy cream when they sell heavy cream in 1-cup portions? Pour it in a measuring cup and then top off to 1 cup with the whole milk for the gravy! Use the rest of your whole milk for Oreos.
  • I actually completely forgot the lemon and parsley too. Lousy wedding planning. I imagine the sour of the lemon is supposed to make the umami of the rest of the pie pop, but it tastes fine without those extra aromatics.

Enjoy the gravy, folks. And all that other stuff that gets mixed into it, I guess.