Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Below is an article I had written about a famous comfort food dish known as Macaroni and Cheese:
MACARONI AND CHEESE
Macaroni and Cheese is a famous dish known throughout Europe and other Western countries, especially the United States. My own memories of the dish date back to my childhood when my parents and grandmother used to serve it to me and my siblings . . . especially from the pre-packaged box form created by the company, Kraft. But I have eaten traditional homemade Macaroni and Cheese every now and then.
Although known today as an American comfort dish, Macaroni and Cheese was a dish made from Parmesan cheese and past that originated in Italy. Pasta and cheese casseroles have been recorded in cookbooks as early as the 14th century's "Liber de Coquina", one of the oldest medieval cookbooks. The dish also made its first appearance in England during the same century, in the famous English medieval cookbook titled "Forme of Cury".
The first modern recipe for Macaroni and Cheese appeared in Elizabeth Raffald's 1769 book "The Experienced English Housekeeper". Her recipe called for a Béchamel sauce with Cheddar cheese, which is mixed with macaroni pasta, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and baked. The dish also appeared in the famous Victorian cookbook, "Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management" and included two recipes for the dish.
Many would be surprised to learn that the future third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson may have been responsible for the introduction of Macaroni and Cheese to Americans. He first sampled the dish in both in Paris and in northern Italy, and later incorporated the dish at his Virginia home, Monticello. As the country's third president, Jefferson served Macaroni and Cheese at a State dinner in 1802. Mary Randolph, sister to Jefferon's son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph Jr., included a recipe for the dish in her 1824 cookbook, "The Virginia Housewife".
Below is a recipe for "Macaroni and Cheese" from the MyRecipe website:
Macaroni and Cheese
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (10-oz.) block extra sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (optional)
1/2 (16-oz.) package elbow macaroni, cooked
1. Whisk flour into butter
Preheat oven to 400°. Microwave milk at HIGH for 1 1/2 minutes. Melt butter in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat; whisk in flour until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute.
2. Whisk in warm milk
Gradually whisk in warm milk, and cook, whisking constantly, 5 minutes or until thickened.
3. Whisk in cheese
Whisk in salt, black pepper, 1 cup shredded cheese, and, if desired, red pepper until smooth; stir in pasta. Spoon pasta mixture into a lightly greased 2-qt. baking dish; top with remaining cheese. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until golden and bubbly.
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Below is a gallery featuring images from "PERSUASION", the 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen's 1817 novel. Directed by Roger Michell,the movie starred Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds:
"PERSUASION" (1995) Photo Gallery
Saturday, November 11, 2017
"THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE" (1986) Review
The year 1920 witnessed the beginning of Agatha Christie's career as a mystery novel with the release of her first novel, "The Mysterious Affairs at Styles". The novel also introduced a new sleuth to the literary world, Belgian-born Hercule Poirot. Another seven years passed before Christie introduced her second most famous character, Miss Jane Marple, in a few short stories. But in 1930, Miss Marple appeared in her first full-length novel called "The Murder at the Vicarage".
Fifty-six years later saw the first adaptation of the 1930 novel - a 102 minutes television movie that starred Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. "THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE" featured the elderly sleuth's investigation of the murder of a wealthy magistrate and former Army colonel in Miss Marple's town of St. Mary Mead. The magistrate, Colonel Protheroe is so disliked by most of the citizens of St. Mary Mead that even the local vicar, the Reverend Leonard Clement believes his death would be a great service to the village. Reverend Clements ends up eating his words when Colonel Protheroe's murdered body is found inside the vicar's study. While investigating Colonel Protheroe's murder, Miss Marple and Detective Inspector Slack unearth a good number of suspects; including the Colonel's new widow Anne Protheroe, her lover Lawrence Redding, the Colonel's only child Lettice Protheroe, the high-strung curate Christopher Hawes, St. Mary Mead's mysterious new citizen Mrs. Lestrange, small time poacher Bill Archer and even the good Reverend Clement himself. Anne Protheroe and Lawrence Redding each confess to the crime, convinced that the other was guilty. However, both Miss Marple and Detective Inspector Slack realize that both are innocent and continue their investigation of the murder.
When I first read Christie's 1930 novel, I must admit that it did not particularly move me. The plot seemed like a typical murder mystery set in a small village. There was nothing extraordinary about it, aside from Miss Marple's continuous relationship with Inspector Slack. Mind you, I have seen mediocre or bad adaptation of some first-rate Christie novels. And I have seen some excellent adaptations of her mediocre novels. The 1986 adaptation of "THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE" proved to be one of those productions in which my opinion of it matches the original novel. How can I say this? I found it a bore.
The best I can say about "THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE" is that it is a close - but not completely accurate - adaptation of Christie's novel. Unfortunately, T.R. Bowen did nothing with the screenplay to improve on the story. And Julian Amyes' direction of the movie nearly put me to sleep. It was so boring and slow. Amyes tried hard to make the killer's revelation interesting. But not even that worked. Between John Walker's dim lighting of the scene and Amyes' snail like direction, I fell asleep and had to rewind back to the scene in order to learn the killer's identity. When a person falls asleep during a scene featuring the killer's revelation, it is time to go back to the drawing board - so to speak.
Also, the movie was not served well by most of the bland characters that populated the story. Most of them - aside from a few - struck me as dull and one-dimensional. Some of the best characters in a murder mystery tend to be the original victim. Unfortunately, Colonel Protheroe turned out to be one of those rare cases in which the main victim proved to be uninteresting. I found his character so one-dimensional. Not even Robert Lang's energetic performance could make it work. The character of Reverend Clement had been down-sized by the story's translation from the novel to the screen. Apparently, Bowen could not find a way to make his character a major part of the investigation . . . which occurred in Christie's novel. Only a handful of characters seemed interesting to me. And I have the performers to thank. Cheryl Campbell managed to inject some real energy into her portrayal of the vicar's younger and sexy wife, Griselda Clement. David Horovitch was at his sardonic best as the police inspector who tries his best to dismiss Miss Marple's sleuthing skills. Joan Hickson earned a BAFTA nomination for her performance as Jane Marple in this movie. I do not know if she truly deserved that nomination. But I must admit that I enjoyed her subtle, yet sly performance as the brilliant, amateur sleuth. I especially enjoyed her scenes with Horovitch's Slack.
I guess there is nothing else I can say about "THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE". It is not one of my favorite Miss Marple productions. Actually, I feel it is one of my least favorites featuring the elderly sleuth. The original story simply did not strike me as interesting and screenwriter T.R. Bowen did very little to enliven it. Also Julian Amyes' slow-paced direction did not help matters. The only pleasures I managed to derive from this movie were the first-rate performances of Joan Hickson, David Horovitch and Cheryl Campbell.
Saturday, November 4, 2017
"CHARMED" RETROSPECT: (6.11) "Witchstock"
During its eight season run, the fantasy-drama "CHARMED" has occasionally featured an episode dealing with the topic of time travel. These time travel episodes usually prove to be well-written or exceptional. However, there comes a time when the series produced a time travel episode that end up being a dud. The series' Season Six episode, (6.11) "Witchstock" proved to be the latter.
Directed by James A. Contner and written by Daniel Cerone, "Witchstock" begins at least a month or two following the first-rate (6.10) "Chris-Crossed". At the end of the previous episode, oldest sister Piper Halliwell had suggested that younger sister Phoebe and even younger half-sister Paige Matthews leave the family's manor to pursue their romantic desires. Phoebe left San Francisco to live with her boyfriend, the very wealthy Jason Dean, in Hong Kong. And Paige left the manor to live with her own wealthy boyfriend, a male witch named Richard Montana. However, the sisters' separation proves to be a little problematic, since they have to deal with a magic-sucking slime found inside a local warehouse. Their new whitelighter from the future Chris Perry (in reality Halliwell) manages to bring Phoebe back from Hong Kong to vanquish the slime, but was not able to find Paige. Piper and Phoebe achieve their mission . . . somewhat. A piece of the slime manages to attach itself to Chris, and the latter inadvertently transport it back to the Manor.
When Paige shows up, she explains that she tried to leave Richard's manor without teleporting, due to his addiction to magic. During this conversation, Piper finds a pair of red go-go boots that once belonged to their grandmother, Penelope Johnson Halliwell. She gives them to Paige, who tries them on. Seconds later, Paige finds herself transported back to January 1967, due to the spell her grandmother had put on the boots. She also discovers that both her grandmother and grandfather (Jack or Allen Halliwell) were peace-loving hippies on a crusade to rid the world of evil through the magical power of love. They had also transformed the manor into a "magical be-in", unaware that one of their guests is a warlock. Meanwhile, Piper and Phoebe summon the ghost of their now dead grandmother to explain what happened. Grams informs them about her past as a hippie and the tragic circumstances that led to her first husband's death at the hands of a warlock. Piper and Phoebe realize they have to travel back to 1967 and prevent Paige from inadvertently changing the past. Meanwhile, Grams helps Chris and Piper's ex, former whitelighter-turned-Elder Leo Wyatt deal with the demonic slime that threatens to take over the manor.
Sounds exciting, right? I wish I could say that "Witchstock" was exciting. In the end, the episode proved to be a piece of crap. First of all, screenwriter Daniel Cerone failed to make any real connection between the demonic slime first introduced in the pre-titled sequence and Paige's initial trip back to the Age of Aquarius. The main villains of the episode - two warlocks portrayed by Jake Busey and Kam Heskin - proved to be rather lame. The demonic sponge featured in the early 21st century scenes proved to be even more lame. In fact, the demonic sponge reminded me of the lame electrical demon that the sisters had vanquished in Season Four's (4.07) "A Knight to Remember". Talk about lack of originality.
Cerone also failed to create any real emotional connection between the sisters - especially newbie Paige - and their grandparents. The sisters seemed flabbergasted by Penny Halliwell's hippie persona, which was a far cry from the militant demon hunter who raised Piper, Phoebe and the now dead Prue. The episode had a chance for Paige to really get to know her grandparents - especially her grandmother - and it failed on all counts. Piper turned out to be the only sister who witnessed their grandfather's death. Yet, she reacted with very little or hardly any emotion. I realize that she had never met her grandfather during her lifetime. But the man was blood. The family carried his surname. Holly Marie Combs could have expressed some emotion . . . some sadness over the passing of her character's flesh-and-blood. Unfortunately, that never happened. Cerone's script was too busy treating the hippie personas of Penny, husband Allen (or Jack), and whitelighter Leo as jokes. Watching 1967 Leo act high and hit on Paige was embarrassing to watch. I felt sorry for Brian Krause in these scenes. I also felt sorry for Dorian Gregory, who was forced to portray Black Panther Luther Morris, who not only found himself in the same jail cell as Piper and Phoebe in a very cringe worthy scene; but also turned out to be the father of the Halliwells' police detective friend, Darryl Morris.
The worst aspect of "Witchstock" proved to be the mistakes that heavily tainted this episode. In one early scene; Phoebe, who had become fascinated with Chinese astrology, informed younger sister Paige that the latter was born in the year of the Ox. WRONG! Paige was born in early August 1977, which meant she was born in the year of the Snake. The screenwriter could have easily looked this up . . . or else he failed to remember that Paige was born in 1977, not 1973. Also, Grams should have been portrayed by an actress old enough to pass for a woman in her mid-30s. This episode was set in January 1967. Which meant that Grams should have been 35 or 36 at the time. After all, her daughter Patty was born in 1950. And the episode was set three to four years before the birth of the latter's oldest daughter, Prue. Actress Kara Zediker, who portrayed the younger Grams, barely looked 30 years old. And I find the idea of a mid-30s Grams and her slightly older husband as hippies. Perhaps there were hippies from their generation. But their fellow witches all seemed to be five to fifteen years younger. Worse, you can hear Rare Earth's version of "Get Ready" being played in the background in one of the earlier 1967 scenes. This should be difficult, considering that Rare Earth's version of the song was released in 1969 . . . over two years after the setting of this episode. The latter should have featured the Temptations' 1966 version . . . or another song from 1966/67.
Was there anything about "Witchstock" that I liked? Well . . . thanks to Rose McGowan, I found Paige's initial reaction to the "Manor of Love" rather amusing and managed to chuckle at her handling of a womanizing Leo. Despite my dislike of the Penelope Halliwell character, Jennifer Rhodes injected a breath of fresh air into the episode. She also managed to create a nice chemistry with both Brian Krause and Drew Fuller; as Grams, Leo and Chris dealt with the demonic sponge. And Holly Marie Combs had a nice moment of personal angst for Piper, who silently lamented over her sisters' departure and her new-founded loneliness.
But despite these positive little moments, "Witchstock" was a disaster to me. Was it the worse "CHARMED" episode I have ever seen? Fortunately for director James A. Contner and screenwriter Daniel Cerone, my answer is no. I have seen worse from earlier seasons. And all I have to do is watch the series' Season Eight. There were plenty of horrors from that season to form a list of the series' worst episodes. But "Witchstock" was not a pleasure to watch. Not by a long shot.