Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Recipe: Coconut Oil Cowboy Cookies

My mom and I didn't have any butter when we wanted to bake cookies over the weekend, but she did have coconut oil, so we looked for a recipe that specifically called for that. We found this recipe on The Whole Dish.

Ingredients (double the recipe to make more cookies!)
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup melted coconut oil
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup sweetened shredded coconut, loosely packed
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Add the oats, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt to a large bowl. Stir to combine.
  3. In a medium bowl, add the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and egg. Whisk until smooth. Add the melted (but not hot) coconut oil and vanilla. Whisk until well combined (about 1 minute).
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir until all dry ingredients are moistened.
  5. Add the chocolate chips, dried cranberries, and shredded coconut. Stir until they are well incorporated in the cookie batter. This is a thick batter so this will take some effort.
  6. Drop large rounded tablespoons of cookie dough onto a baking sheet. Leave about 2 inches around each cookie. Use your fingers to press the cookies together if they are crumbly. Bake for 8-9 minutes. Do not over bake. Cookies will look soft but will continue to crisp as they cool.
  7. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Then, transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to continue cooling.
As usual, I did make some changes to the recipe. We had already run out of chocolate chips and brown sugar, so we skipped the chocolate chips and used regular sugar instead. But we did have little bits of Heath Bar toffee, so we put in a cup of those instead. And since we had already made coconut cookies earlier, we skipped that for this recipe, too. This recipe says to add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, but we did the opposite and the cookies turned out fine. We rolled the dough in our hands to make little balls, and then pressed them onto the cookie sheets. I also recommend using parchment paper on the cookie sheets for easy clean-up. We did double the recipe, so we almost got 50 cookies out of this recipe!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Recipe: Chewy [Pumpkin] Coconut Cookies

I put "pumpkin" in brackets because the original recipe does not call for pumpkin. But I didn't have any butter on hand, and pumpkin puree can be used as a butter substitute (as can olive oil, applesauce, etc.).

Ingredients (double the recipe if you want to make more cookies!)
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter (or a little more than 1/3 cup pumpkin puree)
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups flaked coconut       
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla until light and fluffy. Gradually blend in the flour mixture, then mix in the coconut. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Cookies should be about 3 inches apart.
  3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until lightly toasted. Cool on wire racks.
I did double this recipe, so there were almost fifty cookies! If you do use pumpkin, the batter will not get "light and fluffy," but that's okay. And I would recommend using parchment paper on the cookie sheets; you can remove the cookies immediately from the cookie sheets onto the rack, but the dough does stick a little bit. And 10 minutes was good in my oven, since the cookies were still pretty wet at 8 minutes.

Enjoy these tasty treats!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Cincinnati Ballet Performs "The Nutcracker" at the Kennedy Center

Since 2011, I have seen "The Nutcracker" ballet around the time of the holidays. This year I saw the Cincinnati Ballet perform this famous piece at the Kennedy Center the day before Thanksgiving. What a way to start the holiday!

I love seeing how each company puts its own twist on this ballet. Most start the show just outside of the house or already at the party, but this one starts inside the kitchen with the help preparing all the food and drinks, which I thought was a really nice touch! The maids were on pointe trying not to spill the champagne, and the chef was running around with a huge cake just about to topple over. Even a maid and butler were getting a little frisky before all the guests arrived!

The party scene was the usual, with Herr Drosselmeyer coming in and making a scene (although he did several magic tricks in this performance, which was very clever!). The boys were given many different toys, rather than just trumpets (although all the girls got dolls as usual); Herr Drosselmeyer non-nonchalantly gave Clara the nutcracker (I was expecting some sort of flourish!). But speaking of flourishes, the Christmas tree was huge! It always gets bigger in this ballet, but this time it kept growing and growing...I thought it would never stop! And of course I liked the fun dancing at the party, especially when the grandparents who could barely walk suddenly went to bust a move!

The dancing doll did not dance as robotically as I had hoped. Image found here.
The dancing bear was not effective either. Rather than looking like a dancing bear, it looked like a man dancing in a bear suit. Image found here.
Once the party was over, the mice came out to play! The baby mice were cute, but their tails were so long that I kept waiting for them to be stepped on! The mice danced like tough guys, almost like moves from Single Ladies (except not nearly as fabulously). The mouse king was comically effeminate: rather than fighting with a sword, he swatted the nutcracker away with a kerchief. At one point Herr Drosselmeyer came flying in like Peter Pan to get in the fight! And of course there were soldiers to back up the nutcracker, although their costumes made their thighs look huge for whatever reason.
Why were the mice wearing yellow sashes? Image found here.
Image found here.
Image from here. Those thighs made me think of Squidward.
After that, Clara and the nutcracker prince were transported to the snow forest. Children were dressed as "snowballs" and tumbled across the stage doing cartwheels and flips. Then the couple was greeted by the Snow Queen (Maizyalet Velázquez) and Snow King (Patric Palkens), whose costumes were a little less than stellar (rather basic. See below). I noticed in the program that none of the principal dancers were women, which I found very odd; Velázquez is a soloist, so the senior soloists must have been dancing later in the week. I've seen stronger dancing, but I did like how they were throwing snow across the stage and truly adding to the festive theme. I really felt like I was in a snow forest!

Image found here.
The Snowflakes were essentially wearing nightgowns. Image found here.
After the intermission, we were in the Land of Sweets! The Sugar Plum Fairy (Chisako Oga) and her Cotton Candy Cavalier (Cervilio Miguel Amador) were on the same skill level as the Snow Queen and King, and their costumes were just as plain (see below). And why male dancers wear any other colored tights than white is beyond me. White looks the best!

Image found here.
Then it was time for all the dances of the sweets! The Spanish chocolates were up first (I couldn't find a photo), and then the Arabian coffee came out. The Arabian dance is one of my favorites because it's so sensual. This time there were three dancers: James Gilmer was being fought over between Courtney Connor Jones and  Maizyalet Velázquez. I liked the play between these three dancers, and the two women reminded me of the music video for Beautiful Liar (see below). There were some moves with a scarf, but there were so few that it wasn't memorable; I felt bad for the dancers who had to be the "scarf attendants," because they really didn't do much.

Image found here.

Then what would usually be the marzipan dance was instead a dance of "Mirlipoos." I'm not exactly sure where the name comes from, but they were brightly colored poodles (and "Minnie the Poodle" followed Clara around as her buddy throughout the show). While certainly unusual, the poodles were funny, showing mannerisms of dogs like lolling their tongues and jumping around playfully.

Poodles instead of marzipan! Image found here.
Minnie the Poodle. Image found here.
The Chinese tea dance was next, with a main dancer (also Palkens) dancing with a large bow staff accompanied by a Chinese dragon.

Image found here.
Then the Russian candy canes (played by Jake Casey, James Cunningham, and Christopher Lingner) had their turn, which is always a crowd favorite. They were fantastic! So energetic!

Image found here.
Instead of Mother Ginger coming out next with her children, there was a hen with all her chicks! The chicks were cute, but I will admit I missed the hilarious role of a man playing Mother Ginger.

Cute little chicks! Image found here.
Then the Rose (i.e. "Dewdrop," played by Sirui Liu) and the Flowers came on stage. Since this is near the end of the ballet, I will admit that I started to doze off a bit. I didn't love the costumes, especially the garish floral fabrics chosen for the Flowers to wear. But I guess making the bodices green like leaves or a stem is creative...?

Image found here.
I did enjoy this performance, but I was not "wowed" like I have been in the past. Even for writing this blog post, I was looking up videos from other companies, and I saw this one of the Arabian coffee dance from the Moscow Ballet (see below). Now THAT is amazing! I know it's hard to compete with Russian ballet companies, but still: you can always strive to be better!

Here's an article from DCist if you would like to read more.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Movie Review: The Edge of Seventeen [SPOILERS]

Image found here.
I knew The Edge of Seventeen was a sort of "coming of age story" that would be full of teenage angst. I just didn't know how much adolescent agony you could fit into one film.

Let's just start with the previews so you know what kind of mood I was in by the time the movie started:

1. Why Him?
 Oh, how the mighty have fallen. James Franco used to be so cute, too.

2. The Bye Bye Man
So...just another name for the Grim Reaper.
3. Passengers
Just like in my last blog post, I've decided I'm not really into sci-fi. The only reason I'd watch this movie is to watch Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence get it on, and seeing as we're in America, the censoring won't even make it worth watching.

4. Collateral Beauty
Like the three ghosts of Christmas with a twist. Don't let the stellar cast fool you!

5. A Monster Calls
A knock-off Groot

Ok, now that I've set the stage...

The Edge of Seventeen is about a girl named Nadine (played by Hailee Steinfeld) who is the most horrible teenager ever. Here's what makes her so terrible:

-Her best friend (okay, only friend) starts dating Nadine's brother, and Nadine FLIPS OUT. She's so mad at her friend and eventually tells her friend she has to choose between her brother and her. Even I knew in fourth grade that friends who tried to make you choose between friends weren't good friends at all.

-She messages some older guy from her school (she claims that juvi made him hotter) that she likes him, has for a long time, has always wanted to talk to him, wants to give him head...Wait, what?! She goes on to write that she wants him inside her and they could do it at Petland where he works. Yeah...So she already looks (is) crazy. But then when he actually texts her back and drives her to some seclude place to have sex, she acts surprised that he wants to jump her bones! When he tells her he doesn't want to get to know her, he just wants to have sex, she's the most upset that we've seen her in the entire movie (even more so than when her dad died!). She's crying hysterically, like her heart is completely broken. I mean, really? You couldn't see that from a mile away? AND this is the first time in the movie when she actually tries to dress normally and cute and look like a pretty girl. All for that dirtbag criminal. The irony.

-She makes assumptions about other people because of her own securities. She claims her brother is such a jerk for being good looking and having so many friends and being the perfect son, etc., and that he throws it in Nadine's face. BUT the truth is he doesn't! He's got his own problems (serious ones, like having to take care of his mom) and doesn't see his life as perfect or see himself as some son of God. She also thinks her teacher is a sad old man who nobody loves and jokes about his teacher salary, only to find out later that he has a beautiful wife and baby boy at home. She tries to make others feel bad about themselves because she hates herself so much.

-Speaking of God, she has an epiphany while sitting on the toilet (nice touch) that God has never been there for her and never done anything good for her. Hmm, like having a roof over her head, clothes to wear, and food to eat...? Aren't those blessings? Get a grip, girl. There are people in the world who have it SO much worse than you.

-She gets so mad at her brother that at one point she tells him the story of him crying after their dad died, and she said she wished that her brother would love her that much. But why would he?! She acts like a complete bitch ALL the time! I'm surprised he put up with her BS at all!

It's like the movie wants you to hate her. I understand trying to make her out to be a misfit in her uncoordinated outfits who's trying to find her own way, but the audience can't even relate to her because she's just a bad person. She even says in the movie that she feels like she's looking at herself from the outside and doesn't like what she sees. She tries to save it in the last 10-15 minutes of the movie (by actually being nice! What an idea!), but it's too late. The seeds have been sown.

Then I went to Bar Louie to drink away the memory of this movie. I heard this song in the bar, which instantly lifted my spirits; Stepbrothers is a much better movie.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Movie Review: Arrival [SPOILERS]

Image found here.
I'm not really a fan of alien movies, but I thought Arrival looked interesting, since it's more about communicating with aliens rather than going to war with them. Amy Adams plays a linguist that the military hires to learn the language of the aliens and speak with them to find out why they came to Earth. While there are times that the men around her doubt her capabilities, in the end she gets the job done, and the world is not faced with inter-species war.

While the concept is good, the execution didn't do it for me. For one, it drags on, and mainly during the scenes when you want to get to the good part! And the waiting isn't suspenseful; it's just boring. For example, when humans are about to go into the pod, the time it takes for them to leave the ground and fully make it inside the pod takes at least five minutes. You're thinking, "Just get up there! I don't need to watch you slowly move to the inevitable. Get on with it!"

There is a time travel aspect to the film which I wasn't expecting, and I was totally confused. I can never get my head around any movie involving the warping of time, and this was no exception. Throughout the film you see Amy Adams' character having flashbacks, but eventually you realize that they aren't memories of the past: she's looking into the future. The idea is that the aliens do not see time as linear; everything is cyclical. So essentially they can see the future, and so can she. But because of this, you get confused about the plot, because plots should be linear. So you're mixed up about what things happened when. And some things just weren't explained well. There are twelve alien pods around the world, and they are somehow connected, but you don't figure out how the twelve puzzle pieces fit together. At the end of the movie, you have more questions than answers; you don't feel closure. You're thinking, "Wait, what just happened? And what was the point?"

Image found here.
On top of that, I was disappointed that the aliens looked like octopi (well, heptapods). I feel like all portrayals of aliens make them either look like little guys with huge heads and big eyes or somehow have lots of tentacles. I mean, really? Is that the only way other species from outer space could look? Aliens could look like ANYTHING, and yet we insist that they can only take these few forms that our weak imaginations create.

The only redeeming quality of the film is that a woman plays the protagonist, and she's really smart and saves the day; gold star for feminism. But honestly, my favorite part of the movie is that the music from the song "This Bitter Earth" is in it, and I love that song. Take a listen:

I guess the only alien movies I like are related to Star Wars or Star Trek. Everything else is just rubbish.

If you would like to read a good review about the film that includes a nice summary, check out this article.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Lewis Black Comedy Show

Image found here.
Last night I saw Lewis Black live at the Fillmore in Silver Spring! I had seen his stand-up on TV and thought he was hilarious, so when a friend bought tickets, I definitely wanted to go! AND we got to sit in the front row!
Image found here.
John Bowman opened up for Lewis Black. He's another older guy, and his stuttering or stumbling over his words was a bit distracting (just as it is when Black does it, too). I didn't find him particularly funny, but he did sing a song (accompanied by a ukulele) about Gwyneth Paltrow's recommendation to "steam your vagina" as a spa treatment. So that was amusing.

Image found here.
Of course Lewis Black mostly told jokes related to politics. He did say that he thinks he may be out of a job soon, now that reality (i.e. the election mess that we're in now) is crazy enough on its own that he doesn't need to tell jokes. I think he poked more fun at Trump, but he certainly made comments about Hillary as well, particularly since he had to "deal with" her when she was the senator of New York. He also joked about Silver Spring, since he's from the area, and did at one point get on his soapbox about mental illness (not as funny). He did have a running joke about how he was going to create a gun store in Alabama called "Jewy Jew's" (or was it "Jewy Lew's"?), so he peppered that joke into his routine throughout the evening (clearly lots of NRA jokes, too).

I was certainly entertained, but I didn't think this show was as funny as his previous stuff. I laughed out loud a few times, but I just wasn't feeling it. But I am thankful that he didn't heckle those of us in the front row like some other comedians would! And I did buy some merchandise for my dad: he's going to love them as gifts!