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Murder on the Orient Express

 

Orient Express 1

The much-ballyhooed, star-studded version of Agatha Christie’s classic is out.

What’s Good:

The cinematography is gorgeous. The use of light—interior and exterior—is stunning. So are the scenery and that glorious train. Sigh. We should all travel in such style.

Johnny Depp is so good as Ratchett, a slimy “exporter” of dubious goods, you forget he’s Johnny Depp. Josh Gad also has some nice moments as Ratchett’s beleaguered assistant. Michelle Pfeiffer is a little over the top, but so is her desperate, man-hungry character.

And hello: the story. Does anybody not know how this one ends? It doesn’t matter; the fun is in the journey, not the destination.

What’s Not So Good:

I don’t know who Kenneth Branagh thinks he’s playing, but he’s not Poirot. At least, he’s not any Poirot I know. He’s too tall, too gloomy, and much too athletic. It’s been a while since I read the original but I don’t recall Agatha Christie having her elderly, sedentary sleuth race after a suspect wielding his walking stick as a weapon. I’m not buying that bit with the poo on the shoe, either. Non. Non, mon ami, Poirot this is not he. Not even with that monumental double-decker moustache – which, btw, this “Poirot” never seems to notice is on his face. There’s no thoughtful smoothing of the facial hairs while the “leetle grey cells” are at work. He doesn’t talk about his little grey cells, either; another character has to bring them up. He does talk to the photo of his former girlfriend (what?) but whatever. If you don’t know Poirot, you may be fine with this version but I found it distracting.

As director, Branagh focuses so much on his own character that the rest of the star-studded cast barely has a chance to make an impact. It’s always tricky when there are so many people to follow, but one couple were such nonstarters we couldn’t even remember who they were supposed to be. And bless them, several seemed miscast. I’ll happily watch Judi Dench do pretty much anything, but just between us this was more of a Maggie Smith role. Penélope Cruz seemed like an odd choice, too…but as noted, the supporting cast didn’t have the chance to do much.

Go or No Go:

If you’re a mystery fan, especially a fan of British mysteries, then yes. If somehow you don’t know this story, then absolutely yes. There’s no need to rush, though—I expect this one will be in the dollar theater soon and that’s about all I’d be willing to spend.

Rating:  PG-13 for violence and thematic elements

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The convention center was wall-to-wall women ooh-ing and ah-ing over stickers, paper, stamps, and the latest in paper craft technology. Most of our group was wedged in the back of a booth, weighing the relative merits of border makers. Having already cast my vote, I explained to a hovering salesperson why I did not require her attentions.

“We shop as a group. We pay monthly dues and share supplies  . . .” Before I knew it I was surrounded by scrapbookers eager to know more. “That’s such a good idea!” “I would save so much money that way.” “My husband would LOVE that.”

It’s really not that complicated. Here’s a rundown on the Scrappy Bunch’s uber-efficient, cost-effective system for supporting our scrapbooking addiction.

The Characters:  The Scrappy Bunch has been meeting more or less monthly for over a decade. We make scrapbooks, we create cards or crafts, we engage in group therapy. Some months we knock out an impressive amount of work. Sometimes “scrapbooking” looks a lot like sitting on the couch eating junk food and watching movies. It’s all good.

The Setting:  These days we meet at Michelle’s house because she has room to store all our crap important supplies and she has a space big enough for all of us to work in the same area. We start noonish, often with a potluck lunch, and go until we decide to stop. The monthly calendar is set at our annual retreat so we can plan our lives around our scrappy days.

The Problem: For years we talked about going on a scrapbooking retreat but when it came time to pony up most of us were short on cash. Then there was all the fabulous scrapbooking paraphernalia available: fancy electronic cutters, embossers, stamps, and so on. Those things do not come cheap—but did that stop us from wanting them? Do you really have to ask?

The Solution:  Since we scrap together, it was redundant for each of us to have all the toys; it made so much more sense to share. After “I’ll buy this, you buy that” got too complicated we decided to pool our resources and pay monthly dues into a supply fund. Now when we find something we all want, we dip into the fund and purchase it for the team. We also use that money for basic paper, embellishments, tape runners, and the like. The end result is that we could probably open our own store out of Michelle’s craft room. (Since we scrap at her place our shared supplies live there too.)

In addition to the group stash, each of us keeps a basic set of equipment and supplies:  paper cutters, specialty pens and pencils, the all-important “MPT” (multi-purpose tool), and any unique papers or decorative bits only we will use.

But wait! It gets better:  As long as we were making monthly payments it was a no-brainer to kick in a little extra for a retreat fund. So we divided the retreat cost into twelve easy payments and now we enjoy annual getaways PLUS we’re the proud owners of any gadget our scrappy hearts desire, all for a low monthly fee. We picked up a few “retreat only” members along the way—they don’t live close enough to make the monthly gatherings—so they pay only the retreat portion of the dues.

Caveat: We’re able to do this because:

  1. We’ve been at this a while and we know we’re going to continue getting together to make things
  2. One of our members is meticulous at accounting so there is no concern our money will go astray

I wouldn’t recommend jumping in to the whole monthly dues/shared stuff model with people you just met, but if you have a Scrappy Bunch of your own you might want to try it out. We’ve been doing it this way for years and we love it.

Hey, this post includes Amazon affiliate links and if you click on one and buy the thing I’ll get a few pennies, which I will put toward my Scrappy Bunch dues. The links are all for things we actually use. Just wanted you to know.

Not So Wonder-Full

 

wonder woman 2

Photo by Clay Enos © 2015 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC

Finally, a female superhero with her own movie! Diana, princess of the Amazons, was raised on a secret island paradise and trained to be a warrior among warriors. When an American pilot crashes his plan in her harbor, Diana learns of a massive global conflict going on outside her island’s boundaries. (We know that conflict as WW1.) Believing that she can stop this war—and all future wars—Diana leaves her home to fight for truth, justice, and peace.

The preview was full of promise:  Great casting, rocking music, funny lines, a she-ro who can stand up to bad guys and look good doing it.  On paper, this movie had everything going for it. Gal Gadot for the title role: check. Chris Pine for adorable good guy: check. An interesting assortment of misfits to serve as sidekicks: check. Evil geniuses, nefarious plots, the fate of the world hanging in the balance: check.

wonder woman - steve

I mean, seriously. I’d follow him off the island.

It should have been fabulous, but it just . . . wasn’t. That’s not to say Wonder Woman is bad—it has many redeeming qualities. The scenes with Steve’s scrappy secretary, Etta (Lucy Davis) are worth the price of admission, as are the beautifully-choreographed fight scenes. Nice use of stop action and slow motion in those fights, too; just enough to show us moves we’d miss at full speed but not so much as to be silly. The costumes are gorgeous, the look and feel are appropriately epic. There’s a little humor sprinkled here and there.

wonder woman - ella

We need more Etta.

But for all that, Wonder Woman never manages to touch the heart. I blame the script: it had a been there, done that, worn out the t-shirt already feeling. One climactic moment was lifted out of the Captain America handbook. The humor was often more awkward than funny. In an effort to play up Diana’s naiveté—after all, she was brought up on an isolated island with nary a man in sight—she sometimes comes off as just plain dumb. About the third time she advanced on a villain with her sword raised, intoning, “I am Diana, princess of [whatever]” all I could think was “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya…” The Princess Bride, this is not.

And that rocking music from the preview? That riff shows up occasionally but does not play well with the rest of the soundtrack. It’s as if they bought those few bars from one composer then sent out for a batch of generic music and tried to cobble the two together. No. Just no.

This is a DC Comic story, not Marvel, so don’t bother waiting through the credits. Just take your empty popcorn tub and go, glad that Diana lived to fight another day. That day will come in November, when Wonder Woman returns in Justice League. 

Rating:  PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content

Go or No Go:  Go, but I wouldn’t pay evening prices for this one. Opt for a matinee or wait for cable.

 

1

Crack Cake

The proper name is Fresh Apple Cake, but we don’t call it that anymore. One might think the name comes from last Thanksgiving, when I traded Kerri a cake for a batch of her insanely delicious homemade rolls. We met in a deserted parking lot early on Thanksgiving morning to make a trunk-to-trunk transfer, giggling all the while about how sketchy it looked.

But that’s not where the name came from. That came from Kerri, who texted me later saying “Is there crack in this cake? I can’t stop eating it.” So crack cake it is. But only to us and the people at our office. Which, since I work at a Christian company, is mildly hilarious, especially when people wander by asking plaintively, “Is any of that crack cake left?”

So crack . . . er, Fresh Apple Cake . . . is a mixture of fruit and nuts with just enough flavorful cake to hold it all together. It was my father’s favorite cake but I never really appreciated how delicious it is until recently.

You can serve it with cream cheese frosting—mostly because you can pretty much serve anything with cream cheese frosting—but I generally eat it straight. It’s not really a ‘frost and decorate’ kind of cake . . . more of a ‘rip into it with your bare hands’ kind of thing. To me, it always tastes like fall. Recipe follows – but beware: it is addictive.

Fresh Apple Cake

1 cup Sugar

¼ cup Shortening

1 Egg

1 cup Flour

1 tsp Soda

1 cup Nuts, chopped (I generally use pecans, but walnuts also work well)

1 tsp Cinnamon

¼ tsp Nutmeg

¼ tsp Salt

2 cups chopped raw Apples

½ cup Raisins or chopped Dates

Cream shortening and sugar together. Add beaten egg. Sift dry ingredients together and mix with shortening/sugar/egg mixture. Add fruit and nuts, stir well to combine. Pour in 9×9 pan and bake in 350-degree oven for 45 minutes.

Daily Bread

Well . . .

I was going to show you one of the fun projects I’ve been working on lately, but my camera has gone MIA. And since my semi-intelligent phone is smart enough to take photos, but its semi-intelligent owner can’t figure out how to get the photos off said phone, I’m having to go illustration-free until the camera comes out of hiding.

So I thought I’d chat about this bread I’ve been baking. When I saw the recipe on Facebook, I looked it over and showed it to my friend and fellow-baker, Kerri. “That won’t work will it?” I asked. “I don’t see how it can…it wouldn’t have any flavor,” she replied. So we blew it off.

Until Vikki started bragging about how she’d made the bread and how delicious it was. So I tried it. And it really is yummy, even with only four ingredients. It’s a soft bread with a chewy crust that makes excellent toast. It’s super-easy to make, too, it just takes some time. Between the easy-peasy-ness of it and the limited ingredients required I’ve pretty much stopped buying bread. Why spend all that money when you can stir up a loaf of this goodness with almost nothing in almost no time? Now that I’ve got the regular version down I’m going to try different flours; I have a bag of oat flour from Bob’s Red Mill that’s crying out to be used.

So with many thanks to the anonymous baker who created it, here’s the recipe. I’d show you a photo of my latest loaf, but since I can’t you’ll just have to try it.

Crusty Bread

3 cups unbleached flour
1 ¾ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon Instant (or Rapid Rise) yeast
1 ½ cups water

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and yeast. Add water and mix until a shaggy mixture forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap (unless you have a bowl with a lid, in which case use that) and set aside for 12-18 hours. Overnight works great, or you can mix it up in the morning and go off to work looking forward freshly baked bread at dinner.

12-18 hours later . . . Heat oven to 450 degrees. Once oven is hot, place a cast iron pot with a lid (like a Dutch oven) in the oven and heat (both pot and lid) for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, flop dough onto heavily-floured surface and shape into a soft ball with your heavily-floured hands. Cover it with the upturned bowl and let rest while your pot is heating.

When pot is hot, remove lid and place dough inside. [My pot is heavy, so I generally pull the oven rack out with the handy wooden pot-rack-puller-outer I got from my friendly neighborhood firemen, carefully remove the pot lid, and flop the dough in the pot. The dough is too soft to worry much about the shape.] Cover with lid and bake for 30 minutes. At this point you may remove the lid and bake for an additional 15 minutes, but I never remember to do that and mine to come out just fine. Thump on the bread’s crust if you want to check—if it sounds hollow, it’s probably done.

Remove bread from oven and place on rack to cool. Try to restrain yourself from tearing it apart and slathering hot chunks of bread with butter for at least 15 minutes, it’s better for the bread’s texture if you do. I generally leave the room at this point to keep temptation at bay.

After bread has cooled, slice (or rip apart with your bare hands if you prefer) and enjoy! You’ll need a serrated knife to get through the chewy crust, but the inside is pillow soft. It toasts like a dream, makes fabulous garlic bread, and is perfectly appropriate for sandwiches. In my Dutch oven it comes out in a round loaf, but I’ve never been picky about the shape of my sandwiches.

I guess it just goes to show that sometimes you have to “taste and see” to find out that something is good!

NOTE: I have now tried it with half wheat flour / half white flour and . . . not so fabulous. It makes the bread too heavy. It was edible but didn’t have the light texture and tangy taste of the original. But you never know until you try, right?

A Dresser Reborn

After years of languishing in storage, this lovely dresser came to me by way of my friend Paula. It wasn’t quite so lovely when I got it, and it had a few problems…like a broken mirror. So I fixed it.

Dresser mirror in clamps

A little glue (and stuff) and it’ll all better soon.

Then I sanded it, stained it, painted the knobs, and put it back together. And . . .
drawers sanded drawers
04 Dresser

drawer knobs

Paint makes so many things look better


I didn’t like it.
dresser

Finished?


It was boring. It didn’t want to be boring. So with inspiration from Miss Mustard Seed, a tester pot of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint (in Duck Egg), some fun French fooferah from The Graphics Fairy (I used pieces from this one), and a little dark wax, I added a little flair.
Mirror frame, painted

Love the combo of painted & stained wood!


mirror frame
painted dresser
Now the dresser is no longer boring. And we’re both much happier.
finished project

Finished!


The wax gives it more of a greenish tint, which is just fine, but it’s not as green in real life as it looks in this picture. Either way, I now love it.

The End.

P.S. I apologize for the messy state of my bed, which unfortunately shows in the mirror. Even though I’m not a fan of this quilt anymore (someone left a hairball on my down comforter, ruining it forever, so this had to come out of storage), I do normally make my bed. I just wasn’t in the mood that day.