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Downton Abbey

Matthew and Mary, Downton Abbey

If the soundtrack does not make you swoon, then surely the costumes and good acting will win you over.  Julian Fellows has out done himself with a brilliant script and a cast that any director would die for.  Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Brenden Coyle and Michelle Dockery are all superb.  And let’s not forget our favorite Dan Stevens who played Edward Ferrars in the Masterpiece Sense & Sensibility that converted us all from loyal Emma Thompson fans to devout Masterpiece Theater fanatics. All four episodes are posted for free viewing online for a little while longer:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/watch/index.html

Just a teaser:

But really, do yourself a favor and watch it.  It is time well spent.

The French Know What’s Best

Back in the day of Baker’s Square, I loved ordering the French Silk Pie.  I don’t usually care for pie, but this one was chocolate, light enough so I could eat the whole thing, and even came with whipped cream.  What’s not to like?  A few days ago I had a total flop when I made Elana’s Brownies- I forgot the agave.  Not only did my error withhold sugar from the brownies, it denied them their glue.  My usually-wonderful walnut and chocolate chip concoction came out of the oven in crumbs.   To resurrect my failure, the ruins went into the food processor with melted butter and white sugar, processed to a very fine crumb then pressed into a pie pan and baked.  Then I aded the most wonderful filling:

French Silk Chocolate Pie

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs

Cream butter and sugar. Blend in cocoa and vanilla. Beating at high speed, add one egg and beat until thoroughly incorporated. Repeat with each remaining egg. Keep whipping until fluffy. Spread in cooked pie shell of choice and keep refrigerated

Gluten Free is the way to be

This month marks the one year anniversary of going gluten free.  I have been pain free for a full 12 months!  What a drastic change it has been to our wheat-farm-owning family!  All of the flour was expelled from the house and replaced with rice, teff, sorghum, tapioca and almond flours.  The cupboards have been filled with corn tortillas, pop corn, rice cakes and almond butter.   My mom is a brilliant cook and baker, which really made the transition easier.  Birthday cakes, scones, cookies, brownies and all sorts of other treats are still made and consumed in our home without all of the side effects of wheat.  It is a beautiful thing.

My absolute favorite GF brownie recipe:

Elana’s Pantry Chocolate Chip Brownies (www.elanaspantry.com/brownies)
1 (16) ounce jar salted almond butter, smooth roasted
2 eggs
1 ¼ cups agave nectar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ cup cocoa powder
½ teaspoon celtic sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup dark chocolate chips 73% cacao

  1. In a large bowl, blend almond butter until smooth with a hand blender
  2. Blend in eggs, then blend in agave and vanilla
  3. Blend in cocoa, salt and baking soda, then fold in chocolate chips
  4. Grease a 9 x 13 pyrex baking dish
  5. Pour batter into dish
  6. Bake at 325° for 35-40 minutes
Makes about 24 brownies
The Best Cake
Dowd and Rogers “take the cake” on the best GF cake mix.  Usually a fan of chocolate baked goods, I was pleasantly surprised by these beautifully moist, flavorful cupcakes.  This product has the best crumb I have ever experienced with a gluten free bakery product.  I topped them all off with an ameretto cream cheese frosting.  They were heavenly.

Happy 235th Birthday Jane Austen!

After flipping through my newsfeed on Facebook, handing out some happy birthdays and doing my fair share of stalking, I log off and move on to my next course of action in my nightly routine-Jane Austen FanFiction.  FanFiction, according to UrbanDictionary.com is “a piece of fiction within a fandom utilizing characters and situations from a pre-existing work including (but not limited to) books, television programs, films and comic strips.”  There is a staggering amount written for Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and I fully intend to discover it.

What is it that attracts so many readers and writers to this odd genre?  What compels us Austen-ites to log on after a long day of work and read about the lives of Lizzy and Darcy with their strong wills and Regency era mannerisms?  Being guilty of this indulgence, I cannot help but compare my addiction to that of my addiction to Facebook.  It is the phenomenon of being able to hold on to old friends; to study their latest thoughts and to be privy to their moments of joy that draws us in.  Much is the same with FanFiction.

In an article for Time Magazine, Masterpiece Theater’s The Complete Jane Austenexecutive producer Rebecca Eaton says “I wonder if the fact of the formality of getting together, the rules of engagement, the obstacles that are necessary to overcome, have an appeal for young women, particularly now, where getting together is pretty easy.  Maybe there is an appeal to it — a yearning for it.”  It is that yearning for the lives of Austen’s characters that has sparked so many FanFiction stories.  They provide us with the perpetual opportunity to check in on our old friends from our much loved copies of Pride and Prejudice.  This yearning for connection with the regency world has brought about a phenomenon that has taken hold of the FanFiction blogging community.

After searching through a vast array of Austen related websites to find new FanFiction, I finally hit the jackpot.  The Jane Austen FanFiction Index (jaffindex.com), a website that catalogues all of the FanFiction on the web for Pride and Prejudice, has ruined all hope of abandoning my love of FanFiction.  Among its 4,000 titles and counting are tales written by authors young and old, stories modern and regency, and in all languages.  In order to search its vast collection, an extensive search engine is provided for readers.  It gives the option to pick exactly which part of the story you want to read about; readers can choose anything from an alternate first proposal to the life of the Darcy children.  Whatever your mood, there is bound to be a FanFiction story to match, and the JAFFIndex search engine is designed to help you find it.

After reading my fair share of FanFiction, I decided to try my hand at creating a story of my own and discovered that becoming a FanFiction author is as simple as create, write and post. Or so I thought. First, you need to create a scenario that differs from the other 4,000 FanFiction works already published.  After finally discovering an untapped topic, the story begins to take shape and the dialogue begins to flow.  You may be feeling good about your story telling abilities at this point, but then you discover that the simple task of timing the introduction of your great ideas has a huge impact on the plot.  It can take your original brilliance in an entirely new direction.

After you smooth out your various character plots and story lines to your satisfaction, remember that you must write in a style that sounds like Austen.  “Please be witty, cleaver and correctly portray everyone’s favorite heroine” you hear from the legions of fans.  Failure to follow these guidelines may result in angry comments by compulsive Austen lovers.  After laboring extensively creating clever interactions and descriptions, it is time to choose one of the many FanFiction sites to post on.

Austen FanFiction can be found on sites ranging from large posting communities, to Austen-specific blogs.  One of the most popular larger blogs is www.FanFiction.net, a site that allows any user to post a work for any one of the hundreds of novels listed in the database.  Unlike the previous site, www.Austen.com allows its users to post only Austen related fiction in one of two categories; Regency or Modern.  Similarly the “Bits of Ivory” section of www.Pemberley.com allows its bloggers to post in an area designed specifically for each of Austen’s books. Upon choosing a site, creating an account and ultimately uploading your piece, congratulations are in order.  You may finally claim to be a contributor to the vast Austen FanFiction blogging community.

So as I check for comments on my latest contribution to the Austen legacy, I flip to my favorite FanFiction site to find the newest posting of Austen stories.  And while I am reading through the latest blogger’s offering, I can’t help but wonder what kind of people these electronic authors really are.  Are they as incurable about reading FanFiction as I am?  I think so.  The thousands of chapters, the fresh contributions, the works that attempt to keep the story going, reveal the impact Austen’s ideas have on a large and lively community.  The FanFiction blog is the new outlet for the Austen-ites of my generation.  The blog provides the venue for the seemingly endless Austen influenced material.

If you ever find yourself eager to continue your acquaintance with Lizzy and Darcy, or want to try your hand at making better decisions than our favorite headstrong heroine, I invite you to discover the world of Jane Austen FanFiction.  But be forewarned, the automatic email updates for new chapters and posts create quite an addiction challenge.  And if you are feeling adventurous and embark upon creating a story of your own, you run the risk of hours of frustration over a new twist in your original plot idea.  You may even suffer from a lack of sleep.  But one thing is for certain, if you love Austen, FanFiction is something you must discover for yourself.

Conforming

My family has always been anti-establishment, especially when it comes to where we buy our food.  Jewel and Dominick’s have been ingrained in my mind as over priced, over preserved, over processed monsters that provide groceries for the uninformed.  Now, please do not misunderstand me.  My parents have never spoken these words- this is simply the logic of a child who has grown up at farmers markets, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.  When the Target began to carry groceries, I turned up my nose in disgust.

This past weekend I found myself house/dog sitting for some friends that live near a super target.   As I only had to cook for one it did not seem practical to do anything fancy, so I settled for a run to the super store to pick up some basics.  As I walked out into the parking lot with bags of groceries balanced on each arm, I realized how far I have come from my non-conformist tendencies.

What once was a destination has now become a convenience.  “We’re out of milk” is now answered with “I’ll just run to target”.  It seems that the older I get the more I let society dictate my life.  (with the exception of this gap-year, but even then we are seeing more of a trend towards this out-of-the-box thinking. See this Time Magazine Article on Gap Years)

On one front, I still stick to my roots.  I always buy the organic label.  Somehow, that just makes my convenience justification perfectly justifiable.  But does that make it right?

An Education.

Part of being an un-enrolled student (or so I have recently identified myself) is having the drive to be self educated.   It has come to my attention that the only way I will ever keep up with my self awarded title of a “well read individual” is to go out of my way to read the classics for myself.   There is no longer a summer reading list, AP literature class or independent reading.  The demand that I must be reading a book at all times has been lifted.

As empowering as I am sure many un-enrolled students must find this, I have found it to be unnerving.   Thus I have set out on a quest to find a list of the classics and devour it.  A few google searches later I found myself at the Penguin Classics website, where the top 10 classics are clearly outlined.  They have decided that the top 10 classics are:

1. Of Mice and Men (J. Steinbeck)

2. Jane Eyre (C. Bronte)

3. Pride and Prejudice (J. Austen

4. The Odyssey (Homer)

5. Hamlet (W. Shakespeare)

6. Moby-Dick (H. Melville)

7. Metamorphosis (Kafka)

8. Oedipus Rex (Sophocles)

9. Walden (Thoreau)

10. Inferno (Dante)

How many of these have you read?  Be honest, are you anywhere near completing the top 10 novels of all time?

I am halfway through this list, but here in-lies the problem- I don’t actually want to go through the trouble of reading all of them!  Mark  Twain sums up my feelings perfectly: “A classic is something everybody wants to have read, but no one wants to read.”   I go down the list of the remaining novels that I have not read.  I give up.  Maybe a romance novel?  Yes, thats the ticket.  I need to find the best romance novel ever written.  Oh wait, I’ve already read Pride and Prejudice.  And almost all of Jane Austen’s novels for that matter.  Back to square one.

I would like to think that I will never be anything but “well read”, but I must confess that I have found that title to be much harder to earn than I had originally anticipated.  As much as I love to read, I want to read things that are interesting to me-not just stories that have had an impact on history.  I don’t particularly care for futuristic novels, sci-fi, or anything evil.  That just about rules out every book on the market.  I love having read books like Brave New World and Frankenstein, but being “un-enrolled” is proving to be a much more difficult motivator than my wonderful AP Literature teacher.

the inevitable.

I have often been subjected to the effervescent behavior of my relatives at family reunions.  They gush about how I look more and more like my mother every year, how tall I am getting, how many freckles I have (always my favorite) and how they cannot believe how fast time flies.   I always had a tendency to inwardly groan whenever great aunt so-and-so would make her way towards me, knowing full well that these comments would be the exact words to flow from her mouth.

Today I found myself waiting outside of the dressing room on a rickety bar stool at one of my favorite shops.  Notice I was not the one in the dressing room-no, I was the one with the “SAT in a box” flashcards trying figure out the root of x to the fourth power divided by twenty three hundred.  I was in “my” section of the store waiting on my 7th grade sister.

Ever since I gained access to the keys of the family car, my sister and my mom have both enjoyed the shopping trips that Liz and I take to find her new clothes.  My mom, never a shopaholic, joyfully agrees to stay home while my sister leaps at the opportunity to go out with another teen-or come to think of it, maybe its just the fact that we usually stop and get milkshakes on the way home.  Whichever it is, the shopping situation is quite agreeable to all of us, so I was not surprised in the least when I found I was the one driving the family set of wheels to nearest shopping center.

Pulling in to our usual children’s store, I was taken aback when my sister stated that she wasn’t sure that we would be able to shop there.  “What is she talking about?” I thought to myself “we always come here.  I hope this whole junior high girls thing hasn’t given her fancy ideas about where her clothing should come from.”  After perusing rack after rack of clothing and finding nothing suitable I realized that the only way were were going to be the least bit successful was to take her to my usual place.

MY usual place.  Liz and I are almost six years apart.  That is a lot of time.  I have sometimes felt more like another mom than an older sister.  But as I sat on that rickety stool in my favorite shop, I realized the girl on the other side of the curtain was a lovely young lady.  Not only is she starting to act the part-ie taking responsibility, investing in friendships, developing life skills-she is now wearing something close to my size.  She is starting to look like a young lady too.

It was a sobering moment when I realized that I could have missed all of this if I was at school this year.  Her first volleyball game.  Her crochet club at my house, the stories of the favorite substitute teacher coming to her class tomorrow.  I could have missed my little sister growing up.

They only grow up once, the saying goes.  And after the next ten months, I will hardly get to witness any of her next six years.  My family will become a family of four.  People will know my parents and my siblings, and I will become a “phantom” child.  I will no longer know the names of all of my siblings’ friends who come over after school to mooch off of my mom’s excellent cooking or to provide an excuse for my brother to not have to practice his cello.  I will be my own entity.

These little moments remind me of the great joys of my gap year.  Leaving the nest is inevitable, missing my siblings lives is not.