I Take Back What I Said Before: ‘Animorphs’ Without Author Involvement

So back in June, I wrote this post about the announced Animorphs movie. I was filled with cautious optimism and made the case that yes, it is in fact possible to make this movie good. Unfortunately…a couple days ago, Michael Grant Tweeted again. This time, it was a Tweet indicating that he and Katherine Applegate have decided to no longer participate in the adaptation process due to creative differences. He did not give details, but he linked to a post Rick Riordan made a few years ago explaining his involvement with the production of The Lightning Thief movie, citing it as “the general idea” behind why he and Applegate did not want further involvement. To that, the only thing I can think is yikes. This is not going to be good.

I’ve discussed the possibility of an Animorphs adaptation time and time again. As anyone that’s read my blog before knows, I would love to see a good adaptation, and while I have a lot of thoughts on what specifically I’d like to see – movie versions of the Chronicles, a multiseason TV series for the main series, a few minor plot changes to improve the flow – I’m open to seeing pretty much anything because Animorphs is awesome. But Grant and Applegate stepping back is alarming.

The issue is not really the author’s involvement or lack thereof. A movie does not need to have the author involved to be good. The Lord of the Rings movies, several movies based on Jane Austen books, and many more are evidence of that. In some cases, I don’t doubt that author involvement in a medium they’re not familiar with might even make things worse – for example, if someone is so protective over their work they push back against every change, even if it would make things better. Catherine Hardwicke discussed her experience making Twilight a couple years ago, and she brought up that Stephanie Meyer resisted her push to make the movies more diverse. That’s a clear example of a change that is harmless at worse and very beneficial at best, and it’s pretty clear that in that regard, Meyer’s involvement was not constructive. But there’s something that seems very different about authors initially being involved, indicating excitement, and then not just leaving, but citing creative differences on par with The Lightning Thief movie.

I first picked up a Percy Jackson and the Olympians book a long time before the movie was announced. I don’t remember when exactly, but since I borrowed the first two from my sister, and later bought the others when they came out, I assume this was around 2006. So when I saw the movie…I can’t say I was a fan! Not because they’d made changes – though I’ll admit that bothered me some at the time – but because none of the changes made any sense. They damaged character arcs and caused completely avoidable plot holes. I’m not a big stickler when it comes to plot holes – I generally think that a) half the “plot holes” people complain about aren’t really plot holes and b) that often times, it doesn’t really matter all that much. But it is frustrating when they’re a result of one thing being changed without other changes being made to make the first change logical. Which is my real issue with changes in adaptations – changes can and should be made to adapt a work to best in a new medium. But some changes are not only unnecessary, but actively harmful to the story.

Grant’s comparison of his and Applegate’s experience with Riordan’s could be nothing major. Maybe just a disagreement with the script, or over which parts of it should be adapted. But I can’t help but think of – and worry about – some of the very deep problems with The Lightning Thief movie. One such problem is the aging up of characters in a transparent attempt at appealing to a broader audience. There are, of course, reasons to age up characters in an adaptation – child labour laws, avoiding working with an inexperienced actor, an event in the text that is plot-essential would be problematic to film with someone young, etc. But The Lightning Thief was a very clear children’s book. There was no reason the characters had to be aged up. This was one of the issues that Riordan took issue with. And I worry a great deal that this is what the producers are trying to do with Animorphs.

I don’t actually think aging up the PJO characters was that big a deal – it wasn’t ideal because we’re talking about a story about children for children, and the series-wide story was, in part, a coming of age story, but it wouldn’t have been a dealbreaker for me. With Animorphs, though, the character ages are absolutely essential. It’s a war story. The kids are child soldiers. It’s not about heroism, it’s about trauma. The fact that the story centres around a handful of young teenagers that are in no way prepared for the task they’ve been given and shows years of them being beaten down by fighting this war is important. We live in a time of so-called “gritty reboots” in which characters are aged up and random purportedly mature storylines are tossed in for the sake of a weak attempt at appealing to older audiences. This is true in everything from Riverdale to whatever Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is. Are these changes necessary? Do they really make the story more mature? I’d say no. At the same time, they’re not actually harmful to the story. But you can’t get Animorphs darker by aging up the characters. You can’t get a more mature story by focusing more on romance and throwing in sex and curse words. All that that would do is weaken the very strong themes that exist in the series.

There is a difference between an adult story and a mature story. Whether a story is adult is about content, while whether a story is mature is much more about the themes and the ways in which the content is displayed. A children’s story can be mature. An adult story can be immature. And so many of these reboots come across as trying to seem mature, but not actually being mature – it’s adult stuff happening for the sake of it, without any attention to the consequences. This is the same reason that most of the post-Hunger Games flood of dystopian YA fiction just didn’t work as well. Many of those were just shallow imitations attempting to replicate the success in a paint-by-numbers style with the setting as a backdrop, rather than a crucial element of the story. So the follow-the-leader stories felt much less mature than The Hunger Games, while containing probably the same amount of adult content. While I could spend a whole post talking about The Hunger Games series and the strengths, shortcomings, and thematic ideas, the real point is that it’s not the age of the characters, level of explicitness, or language that makes something mature. It’s consequences and respect for themes. So aging up the Animorphs, to add sex or even to make the sheer number of violent injuries they sustain less uncomfortable? It wouldn’t serve any purpose but making a mature children’s story feel like an immature teen story.

All this about age and maturity is the most obvious way in which an Animorphs adaptation could go wrong. It’s a big sticking point, and so I can easily imagine that as one of the “creative differences” that led to Applegate and Grant parting ways with the project. Unfortunately, there was a lot of other stuff wrong with The Lightning Thief movie, and while one particular one of those issues is less likely to happen in an Animorphs movie than the aging up part, it would be much worse. And that’s the fact that The Lightning Thief movie was really racist.

There are many issues with the books themselves – the way the premise hinges on the superiority of Western civilization; the few characters of colour, most of whom are sidelined and the majority of whom die. When reconsidering the books, I find myself thinking a lot about this idea. Some of these issues were improved in the sequel series. Unfortunately, they weren’t at all in the film, in which Grover was less a character than a series of racist stereotypes. I shudder to think of something like that happening to Animorphs.

As much as I love the series, I have to acknowledge that race was often not handled well, as was the case in the PJO books. In some cases, it was the nineties tokenistic approach to diversity. In others, it was an uncomfortable treatment of indigenous characters. However, there are other ways in which the characters of colour were handled that subverted tiresome tropes we see again and again – such as how black girl Cassie is portrayed as the heart of the team whose idealism is worth fighting for and preserving. Other people have to sacrifice for her. At the end of the series, she is the designated survivor that has more to live for than any of her teammates – too much to risk death on a potential suicide mission. An Animorphs movie is an opportunity to improve upon the failings of the original series as it pertains to race. But the comparison to PJO makes me suspect that it will not do that at all. Now I’m going to worry that they will make Cassie a less idealistic, moral, non-violent character for the sake of softening pretty, white blonde Rachel’s violent tendencies.

I was cautiously optimistic when this movie was announced. But now I’m just wary. A profound disinterest in actually adapting the character arcs and themes inherent to a work will almost always lead to a product that is not only a bad adaptation, but a bad story in its own right. We saw it with The Lightning Thief and Artemis Fowl. We saw it with any number of other works. We’ll undoubtedly see it many times again. But if it’s the case with Animorphs…I’m out. I can’t watch this.

Spring, Summer, and Social Distancing

Over the past several months of being stuck at home, time has really been blurring together. I only sometimes know what day of the week it is. I haven’t worn hard pants since B.C. (before Covid). I haven’t spoken to friends in forever. I’m just here, floating through life in a haze. And so I was shocked when I actually thought about it for a second and realized that this quarantine has been going on for nearly six months (possibly longer by the time I actually post this). Whaaaaaat. Crazy.

So what exactly have I been up to since March in this time of strife and social distancing? For that, we’ll have to consult my camera roll! Turns out, I’ve been taking quite a few pictures and going on quite a few walks. So let’s take a look.

Here’s some flowers, some from the sidewalk and some from a grocery store in a vase on the kitchen island. Pretty!

It’s been extremely hot for the past few weeks, but for a while there, the weather in Michigan was absolutely lovely. So there have been a lot of walks. And the thing about walks is, I see a lot of deer. I have a problem, you see – if I see a deer, I must take a picture. Also a chipmunk. And frogs.

Aside from pictures of small animals, I’ve been doing a lot of cooking. Lots of bread, of course – have I mentioned that my starter’s name is Jane Dough because my friends didn’t think Rye of Sour-on was funny? – but also coconut milk pasta, rice bowls, pizza, pesto (from the basil growing on the deck), and a lot more. Here are pictures of some of that:

Oooh, here’s something new and exciting – for the first time in forever a few days ago, I picked up my camera! And took pictures with not my phone! That’s nice. I think they came out pretty well!

These past few months have been a lot. Every day feels like it’s had about ten insane news stories at once, and March simultaneously feels like five minutes ago and ten years ago. I barely know what’s happening anymore. I was supposed to be moving to Texas about now, but that’s been delayed for obvious reasons. But hey – I have food, fresh air, pretty places around me, and a very comfortable bed, so I can’t complain at all.

Tiramisu And Rescuing Messed Up Desserts

I came to the sad conclusion a while back that I just…don’t really enjoy chocolate as much as I think I do. Many things sound better in theory than they taste – mozzarella sticks, most pizza, fried foods. gooey chocolate desserts. Heavy chocolate dishes just don’t do it for me, and if I’m going to have one, it needs something like vanilla ice cream to cut through the richness.

This tiramisu, though, that I made a couple months ago now? Oh, yeah. That hit the spot. It was creamy and satisfying, while also being light enough to not coat the tongue unpleasantly. This was despite the couple blunders I made in the process. I used this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction, and from the beginning, I was a little off. The store didn’t have ladyfingers, and I was in no mood to make them, so I used Nilla wafers. Not for the purist, perhaps, but it worked just fine, so I wouldn’t be opposed to using them again. Still, not the most auspicious start!

The next issue was that I misread the instructions. Instead of beating the mascarpone with the rum and the cream with the vanilla extract, I beat the mascarpone with the cream. I only realized what I’d done when I tried to move on to the next instruction. I ultimately shrugged and stirred in the rum and vanilla extract, hoping that the lack of “medium peaks” wouldn’t make all that big a difference (spoiler alert: it didn’t. Yay!).

After that, I had to cook the egg yolks and some sugar over a double boiler. My makeshift double boiler, as I didn’t have bowls of the right sizes, was to hold up the top bowl, containing the egg yolks, using a thing that I don’t know the English word for (tongs doesn’t quite describe it, I don’t think, but similar. I think it’s called a pakkad in Hindi?), and whisk the yolks and some sugar with my other hand. Using a salad fork. Because I only used two egg yolks. And given the bowl I used, that wasn’t enough to make a whisk practical.

As I do not own a sifter – seriously, do I look like the kind of person that would own a sifter? I’m twenty two, a giant geek, and I just admitted to a ridiculous makeshift double boiler – I just sprinkled cocoa powder on top using a spoon. It was very uneven. But who cares! Because dessert!

img_3389

After that, I left it in the fridge for a few hours, as the recipe commanded. Then when I pulled it out to serve, voila!

img_3391

You know something? It was damn delicious. So turns out, you can mess up on multiple stages of making tiramisu and it will still be awesome because it is cream, coffee, and rum, and with that, it’s almost impossible to make something not tasty.

‘Animorphs’ and the Difficulties of Adaptations

Several weeks ago now, Michael Grant, the co-author of Animorphs, Tweeted something intriguing. At that point, I did not have the time to talk about it, and it soon became overshadowed by lots of other stuff, but now we have actual news to talk about!

Grant’s initial Tweet indicated that progress is being made towards an Animorphs movie. As of several days ago now, we have actual confirmation that one is in the works. I am somewhat skeptical.

As everyone that knows me knows, Animorphs is kind of my favourite thing ever. So I would love nothing more than for there to finally be an adaptation. But rumours of an Animorphs movie are not new. At all. This has been rumoured for years. and nothing has ever come of it. Even though this is much more substantial and promising than all the other rumours – Grant and Applegate have acknowledged it, the producers have made a statement – I’ve been burned before. As you probably all know from my other posts, I’m a DC fan. As a DC fan, I can’t help but remember the Cyborg, Nightwing, and Batgirl movies that we were told were in the works. I can’t help but remember the Flash movie that went through multiple directors, scripts, and release dates, but is still nowhere in sight. So I’m going to be unconvinced until we have actual evidence of a script/casting/filming. However, as skeptical as I am that this movie will come to fruition, I’m also way less cynical about the quality than pretty much everyone I’ve seen talking about this.

I saw one person argue something along the lines of, “did you learn nothing from the TV show and the botched Artemis Fowl movie”, and I think that’s a ridiculous stance to have. That’s the question you ask once they’ve actually done something. They have not. So to ask it now is basically making the argument that the problem with the TV show and the Artemis Fowl movie was that they made an adaptation, not how they made it. That is not true. The problem with Artemis Fowl being turned into a movie wasn’t that it was done. The problem with AniTV wasn’t that it was made. The problem is that these things were done without respect for what the stories they’re purportedly based on are about.

When I was younger, I absolutely loved Artemis Fowl. Because of that, I am absolutely certain a movie based on it could have been both excellent and accurate. The problem wasn’t the source material being too hard to adapt. They didn’t have a shortage of money – the budget was over a hundred million dollars! The problem was a complete lack of regard for what they were adapting. Creative changes are one thing. A movie where if you change the names, no one would have any idea what it was is another. Artemis Fowl is a story about a twelve year old villain protagonist doing bad things, making friends, and begrudgingly becoming a better person. Artemis Fowl the movie…well. I normally try to hold off on judgement until I watch something. But having seen the trailer, summaries, and reactions from people whose judgement I trust? It was none of those things the books were. That was entirely unnecessary. The people behind the Animorphs movie will very easily be able to get around this simply by caring about the content of the story.

The problem with the TV show is trickier because it was bad writing hindered further by just how many constraints they had that they didn’t know how to get around. Some of those constraints are inherent to the work, which I’ll get back to, but the bad writing absolutely is not, and nor are other constraints, like the shoestring budget. When making the show, they had one Hork-Bajir costume, had to replay the same stock footage of animals over and over again, and as I understand it couldn’t even afford to have all the cast in the same episode. Of course it wasn’t going to look great! There are ways to get around that, even if this movie has the same nonexistent budget. Definitely if there’s better writing involved.

Now. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that Animorphs is an incredibly difficult work to adapt. But that’s not because of the budget or visual effects or any such thing, but because the only reason it can be the story it is is because it was a long running series of children’s books. The length of the series helped convey the passage of time that’s essential to the narrative. That they were children’s books made this violent story about war accessible to children in a way that a show that faithfully adapted all those elements would not be, and enabled the story to be focused on children, as the themes demanded. Ethical dilemmas and the horrors of war were the cornerstones of the series. Converting that to a visual medium is no easy task. Anyone making an Animorphs adaptation must face a choice – tone down the graphic violence and themes to present a somewhat sanitized story, stripped of its horror elements, that’s far less bluntly about war and ethics…or present what’s in the text and in doing so, create an adaptation that’s inaccessible to the target audience. Either option is pretty bad, and not just because doing the first would miss the point, and doing the second is unfair. They’re bad options because they wouldn’t work to get more people to watch it.

If you make a lighter, softer Animorphs story, that’s basically the TV show. And it would not work for anyone. Animorphs is very funny, but it works because the humour and horror/tragedy are allowed to breathe on their own, rather than constantly breaking the tension of serious moments with dumb jokes, and changing that would mean losing what makes the story unique. Existing fans would hate it. Adults wouldn’t be into it because when you lose the heavy thematic stuff, you have a show about kids for kids when adults prefer material about adults. Even kids probably wouldn’t be into it because it’s based on a series that really isn’t that culturally relevant and most kids in the target demographic today probably haven’t read it. When I was reading them, well after all the books had been released, they were ubiquitous in classrooms and libraries, but they were never in complete sets, it was hard to track them all down, and I never knew anyone else that read them. Now? I taught chess classes for a bit in March in a second grade classroom, and I never saw any Animorphs on their bookshelves. Makes me very skeptical that kids are still reading them. Therefore, in order to get kids interested, I’m thinking they’d need to do much more than lean on the “kids turning into animals” angle. That clearly wasn’t even working when I was younger, judging by how I never knew anyone else that read them. So no nostalgia factor, no slam dunk in terms of the hook, meaning the people behind it will have to make sure it’s actually a good and unique story. Lighter and softer is not that.

Similarly, if they were to decide, hey, kids these days don’t read these and so we need to target adults other than the nostalgic ones, let’s do that by making this a hard R horror, it wouldn’t actually work. To explain why, let me use the example of the Animorphology podcast that, despite my general disdain for podcasts, have been listening to since they first started. The host that did not read the books as a child talks quite frequently about how she wishes the adults in the story had a bigger role. When answering a listener question about how the series would be different if targeted at adults, she started talking about how the characters would be older and there’d be more romance and sex, before realizing that the question had been if the series were targeted at adults, not about adults. Then she made the case that it wouldn’t have been written for adults, because adults don’t often want to read books about children. So doing the typical gritty reboot – aging up characters until they’re high school or college age, adding gratuitous sex and cursing, leaning into the violence and gore would probably not appeal to adults, who can look it up and see that it’s based on a series of children’s books. An that’s on top of how it would lock out the audience that it’s meant for.

But none of this means it can’t be done, because fortunately, it’s not a binary choice. It’s a scale. There are ways around what makes it difficult. The movie can be scary and dark without making it rated R. Lean into the psychological horror of it – scary without gore, or at least, less gore. Show the aftermath of the violence, rather than Cassie ripping out someone’s throat with her teeth. It can very much be done. It will be enormously difficult. But it is possible. It just needs some creativity.

Another argument I’ve seen is that it has to be animated to work, and while that seems a more fair argument to me, I also don’t think that would solve any of the core issues of making an Animorphs movie/show. I don’t know enough about the industry to say this with any degree of certainty, but an animated adaptation seems likely to be just as expensive and even more time consuming than a live action one. It could theoretically look better than a live action one, but that’s certainly not a fact. There would be studio interference and pressure to tone it down there as well – probably even more so, because animation is so often targeted towards young children. Most importantly, animation would get caught up in what I argued earlier is the core dilemma of an Animorphs adaptation: faithfulness to the theme. So how exactly would animation be a better way to handle it?

Animation can be good. It can be beautiful. It can be powerful. But by necessity, it absolutely brings in a distance. By its very nature, it would be a somewhat sanitized version of the story, because an animated person losing a hand – the Animorphs cut off a lot of hands – is much less gruesome than a non-animated person. I’m sure an animated Animorphs adaptation would be good. But I’m not at all convinced it would be better than live action. In fact, I think my main reservation to a live action movie is…a movie, animated or otherwise, is not the best format for Animorphs. That is, for the core series.

As I’ve been saying for years now, I think the best possible way to handle this would be to make The Hork Bajir Chronicles and The Andalite Chronicles a two part movie series, and follow up with a TV show with the series if the movies are successful. Those two novels are the most self contained stories within the series, while also leading into each other and the main series. Given that it’s the main series that’s going to be adapted – judging by what the article breaking the news said about how the producers are excited to be bringing the Animorphs (as characters, not a series) alive for a new generation – there are just a few pitfalls they have to avoid, because as I’m saying, this is going to be hard for them.

  1. Aging up the characters for the sake of appealing to an older audience/avoiding having to make a story about child soldiers
  2. Toning down the dark themes
  3. Cramming too much into a single movie

If they do any of these things, they’ve already lost. There are other areas that probably aren’t automatic losses, but are dangerous enough to best be avoided, too – for example, updating the story from the nineties to present day is unlikely to make it more relatable or appealing and very likely to introduce many, many problems that would turn the story into a complete idiot plot where it’s entirely luck that keeps the good guys alive. And these are just the things the powers that be can control – they also have to find good child actors.

The Animorphs fandom is a little strange sometimes. We love these books, but we also often come across as embarrassed by them. We leap to talk about how the writing is simplistic or poorly paced or any number of such criticisms just to make it clear to whoever we’re talking to that we know they’re children’s books. And they are. But that in no way means that they’re bad. I don’t think the writing is all that simplistic, either. These are amazing books that we love for a reason, that are amazing even with so many things working against it – they came out at a pace of a book a month as a means to sell merchandise to children. They’re the epitome of trashy sci-fi, and they’re glorious. So while the movie might be terrible…here’s to holding out hope that it follows in the books’ footsteps and is awesome, instead.

Garlic and Cheese Stuffed Bread

Yeah, yeah, I know, you’re all sick of bread and if you’re not, you definitely hate rambling blog posts filled with pictures of mostly irrelevant stuff before you can get to the recipe. This will not help with the first one, but for the second…here is a link to skip right to the recipe.

I…barely ate bread before quarantine. I mean, I’ve always loved bread, but I started cutting back on it quite a while ago, and for a long time, had mostly cut it out of my daily routine – the occasional crusty loaf with soup, or a sandwich once every couple of weeks, but not as a daily part of breakfast. Buuuuuuut then quarantine happened and I started baking constantly. It was like a siren’s song – all those lovely pictures of bread on the Internet, how could I resist the urge to make some?

Also, I started a sourdough starter, so I’ll probably be posting about my first attempts at that pretty soon. I’m still settling on a name – I thought the Rye of Sour-on was cute, but my friends seem to be in favour of Jane Dough (or Grain Dough) or Beauty and the Yeast. Here it is:

But I digress. With most of the bread I’ve been making, I followed existing recipes pretty closely, so I didn’t really think it worth posting about. But this one, I messed with a fair bit, so here goes.

The dough was pretty standard – two and a quarter teaspoons of active dry yeast, three quarters of a cup of warm water, a tablespoon of sugar, one and a half teaspoons of salt, about two cups of flour (I was out of bread flour, so I used all purpose. It worked fine), a drizzle of olive oil. I added a little bit of onion powder, too. I let that rise for about an hour, and chopped about five large cloves of garlic. Once the dough was done rising, I stretched it out until it was pretty flat and spread out the garlic and cheese on top. Then I folded the dough over the layer of garlic and cheese so that it was it was sealed in and shaped it into a loaf. On top, I put some butter, more garlic (…I got annoyed and used jarred minced garlic here. Yeah, yeah, don’t judge me. But if you’re going to do the same, I’d probably swap where you put the jarred garlic inside and the chopped garlic on top), and more cheese. Then I baked it at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes.

Ta-da!

img_3399

Garlic and Cheese Stuffed Bread

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 and 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • Chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • Shredded cheese
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Butter

Method

  1. Add the sugar, yeast, and water to a bowl and stir to combine. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes until the mixture foams up.
  2. Add salt, onion powder, olive oil, and 1 cup of flour to the yeast mixture. Stir until smooth. Continue adding flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until a soft dough forms.
  3. Knead the dough until smooth and no longer sticky.
  4. Cover the dough with a damp towel and let rest to rise for an hour, or until doubled in size.
  5. Deflate the risen dough and stretch it flat.
  6. Spread the chopped garlic across half the dough, reserving some for the top of the loaf. Do the same with the cheese.
  7. Fold the dough over the layer of garlic and cheese, pinching the dough closed around it and forming a loaf.
  8. Transfer the loaf into a greased pan.
  9. Gently spread butter over the loaf, then spread the reserved garlic and cheese on top.*
  10. Let rest for about half an hour.
  11. Bake at 375°F for 35 minutes.

*If you would like the garlic and cheese to adhere better, replace the butter with an egg wash – beat one egg with a tablespoon of water and lightly brush it over the surface of the loaf before adding the cheese and garlic.

The Goddamn Snyder Cut

So here’s the thing: I have not once posted in long form about the Justice League movie since before it was released in theatres. Sure, I’ve commented on social media and to friends, and yes, I have a number of drafts with thoughts on different elements of it. But because I was so disappointed with the released product, and because I knew full well it was not what Zack Snyder had intended to release, and because I just didn’t have it in me to write a full blown critique for the studio sanctioned version, I just…never actually wrote about it in depth. I never spoke about it on this blog again after I saw it. It was a big change from my level of excitement in 2017. It’s very different from how I can never ever shut up about Batman v Superman. But finally, that’s going to be able to change. 2021 on HBO Max. Finally.

I watched the Vero live stream two days ago and immediately began geeking out once Snyder made the announcement. This was and is a huge moment. 2020 has been a rough year, but this? A director getting to finish the project that was derailed by a whole lot of stuff? Awesome. Good news! Yay! Everyone loves that. But if we set aside all conversations of creator freedom and artistic vision and all that for a second because other people have undoubtedly expressed that better than I ever could…I’m just delighted at the prospect of this three and a half hour movie as chock full of allusions and literary references as BvS coming out because Giant Nerd is my middle name.

As anyone that reads my posts knows, I adore Batman v Superman. I rewatch it all the time. But I have not watched the theatrical cut since the ultimate edition was released, because the ultimate edition is just such a better movie. I used to write about it all the damn time. Two and a half years after the release of Justice League, I have still only seen it once. I originally had tickets so I could watch it with a friend after seeing it for the first time on opening night alone, but I didn’t go. I didn’t want to see it again. But now we’re going to see the version that we were sold initially.  And that means my nerdiness is coming right back to where it was in 2017. So…you know how I promised I was done talking about philosophy, mythology, and religion as it pertains to superhero movies? PSYCH. Turns out that next year, all of that will almost certainly be coming right back.

Quarantine Quaffing: The Good Old Fashioned Art Of Cooking To Escape Boredom

What’s a girl to do in a time when everyone’s supposed to be self isolating as much as possible, and after that, when there’s a stay a home order? It seems…food. Here are some of the many things I’ve been making in the past month or so.

We begin at the very beginning of self isolation, when the staying at home was a little bit more casual – you know, before it became mandatory and everywhere started running out of paper products. At this point, food hadn’t really been very appealing to me for a while, so I was at the point of needing things that were easy to eat and boldly flavoured. So I made some pseudo-shakshuka. I did not have the patience to poach the egg, at all, so I fried it and put it on top of the tomato sauce and tossed some goat cheese into the mix. I cheated a bit by using tomato paste instead of just cooking down the tomatoes for however long it took, but I think it still tuned out pretty well!

You know when you finish most of a box of pasta, then have tiny quantities left of several different ones that aren’t enough individually to make an entire meal? I used the remainder of a couple boxes to make pasta salad! Some celery, red onion, half a tomato, and a whole lot of pesto and balsamic vinegar! Does it look good? Not even remotely. Was it delicious? Hell yeah it was.

You know what else is delicious? Chocolate chip cookies.

IMG_3243

These cookies were awesome. I put them in a box and they stayed soft and chewy for the whole week and a half it took to finish them. You can’t go wrong with cookies! I mean, next time I make them, I’ll add a bit more salt, and maybe a little more maple syrup. But they were still great.

Confession: I put ridiculous quantities of garlic into absolutely everything I make. Because of this, when I came across the phrase “roasted garlic soup” in something I was reading…I immediately had to try it.IMG_3250

An enormous quantity of roasted garlic, some fried minced garlic, vegetable broth, herbs, a splash of cream, and bam! Soup! It was awesome. (I can’t remember if I included chopped onion or not. I don’t think I did? But I put onion in almost everything, so it’s hard to be sure.)

I almost always make avocado toast on fried bread. Sometimes, I include cheese or onions. This time, I had a bit more time, and I wanted something a little different, so I tried it on garlic bread instead, with crispy cheese.

I like to cook. But I’m really not often fond of recipes that take a whole lot of time or need precise measurements. I’m a fan of things that I can throw together quickly and get a tasty result. But when you’re sitting at home under a low buzz of anxiety, sometimes you need some foods that are a little more involved – so I made pierogi. They are not pretty, but they survived and they taste good.

They had a potato and cheddar filling. I boiled all of them, then fried some and froze the rest. They defrosted surprisingly well, too. I only had trouble with two of them – those two got stuck together and one tore when I tried to separate them. Luckily, they’d already been boiled, so frying them went fine.

And because we’re in quarantine…I think it’s time for the obligatory bread pictures:

The one on the left is garlic pull-apart. The one on the right is cheddar rosemary. The dough for both was your basic bread dough, plus the add ins. Like the cookies, this also needed a bit more salt. Other changes I’d make for the garlic one would be to add more butter and maybe even whole roasted cloves, instead of minced garlic. For the cheddar rosemary, I’m thinking jalapenos. I can never stay away from that flavour combo for too long.

I’ll probably post the recipes later. How’s everyone holding up in quarantine?

Lessons Learned From Teaching Small Children How To Play Chess

So. For the past month or so, I’ve been teaching small children chess on a weekly basis. It’s very good pay and it’s easy to fit into my schedule. I got word yesterday that the remaining two classes in the session have been cancelled due to coronavirus concerns, so while I’m hanging out at home with very little to do, I thought it time to reflect. Here’s what I learned.

First of all. I really need to work out more. I am not the most physically fit of people, I will admit. That made carrying the heavy box containing all the chess supplies from my car to the school rather difficult. I will deny that it was all due to me being out of shape – it was a very large box, I am not a large person, there was often quite a bit of snow on the ground, and opening a door while holding something that requires two hands will be a challenge no matter how strong you are. All that being said…I should have less trouble carrying a heavy box.

Second of all. I really haven’t grown since I was about ten. I’m not that short. I know that sounds like what most short people say, but really, I’m not – I’m about as tall as the average American woman, and that’s how it’s been since I was about ten. I taught this chess class in second grade classroom, and I had no trouble at all sitting on the chairs meant for seven-year-olds. I did have trouble reaching the heights necessary to hanging up the demo board, and that was while wearing heels, as I’ve done pretty much every day since graduating high school. I take that to mean adults make everything bigger than they need to be.

Third of all. Kindergarten teachers should be paid more. My class contained people in grades ranging from kindergarten to third grade, and even though I only had to deal with nine kids, it was a lot. I’d turn to work with one kid for a few minutes, only to be interrupted thirty seconds later by a dispute between two others about the legality of a move. When I went over to look at their board, I’d find that the problem went back much further than the disputed move, because there was no way the pieces should have ended up in that position to begin with. (A player can’t have both their bishops on black! Doesn’t make any sense!) And that’s far from the most chaotic a class can be. Kids shout at each other. And throw things (thankfully not at me). And refuse to listen when I’m trying to teach them something with the justification that “I’m great at chess” (even when that same kid has been involved with multiple disputed-moves-that-couldn’t-have-happened-anyway). I brought coffee in an attempt to look more authoritative, but that didn’t seem to help. I was just doing this for an hour a week. Kindergarten teachers do it every day. All I can do is shake my head and marvel.

Holiday Cooking

Technically, I’m supposed to be eating as healthily as I can right now. But you know what, it was the holidays, so starch! Dessert! Things that are terrible for you but delicious! No regrets!

Now. We are not Christian. We do not believe in Jesus. Nonetheless, my mother is somewhat of a fan of Christmas. She likes presents and nice food and warm pajamas. She even got a set of very fancy toys for my sister’s cat. So on Christmas, I intended to make jalapeno cheese bread. Seasonal? Well, no. But it’s delicious. Who am I to question that?

I seeded and diced up my jalapenos, grated my block of cheddar, added some cream of tartar to a cup of milk for a buttermilk substitute…then realized that, unfortunately, the yeast did not make it out of the shopping cart. Well. There’s a bit of a disappointment.

So what do we do? We adapt! We use the other stuff in the kitchen to make some other form of bread that does not require a raising agent! The obvious answer here was gougères. Why is that the obvious answer? Well, I love them more than is healthy, I have made them enough that I have the recipe committed to memory (see here), and they come together quickly.

IMG_3131.jpg

Because I am lazy, I used a muffin tin to make them. Unfortunately, the texture that you get when you do that is not nearly as excellent as when they have more of the surface area directly exposed to the heat, which you get when you spoon them onto a tray like you’re supposed to. They don’t have nearly as much of the wonderful contrast of that lovely toasty outside with the light and fluffy inside. But they still taste good, so. There’s that.

A couple days after that, I wanted a snack. And most things weren’t sounding very appealing. I briefly thought about getting some Ruffles and making a dip, but I wasn’t feeling it. I normally love chips and dip, but it didn’t sound right at the time. So what’s a girl to do? Well, I’ll tell you – garlic bread. Cinnamon toast. Bruschetta. A weird thing with caramelized onions and goat cheese. A CROSTINI PLATTER. Or, you know. Not a platter platter, but an assortment. You know what I’m saying. I’ve been very good lately about cutting down my bread intake. But, as noted earlier, the holidays mean screw being good, it’s time for food.

You know how you should almost always add more garlic than a recipe calls for? My philosophy with garlic bread is to not only use a huge quantity of garlic, but to use multiple types as well – I make the garlic butter by adding roasted garlic, minced garlic, and garlic powder to softened butter and a little shredded parmesan. First baking it at a lower temperature to crisp up the bread, then turning on the broiler for a couple minutes to brown the surface…oh,my god. So, so good. To make the cinnamon toast, I do pretty much the same thing, except with cinnamon and a bit of sugar instead of garlic. As for the bruschetta…I sometimes make it using the same garlic bread described above. And instead of using raw tomatoes, I like to cook them with some garlic because I don’t really enjoy raw tomatoes.  So, traditional? No. Delicious? Hell, yeah. Unfortunately, I do not have a recipe for any of that because those are entirely based on what feels right in the moment. Gotta embrace my inner hippie.

NEW YEAR’S EVE. You know what that’s time for? Something over indulgent, chocolatey, and covered in salted caramel! (Recipe here)

This was not the world’s brightest idea. The reason why it was not the world’s brightest idea is that I’m not really a big dessert person. Like, do I like things that are sweet and chocolately and good? Sure. But I hype it up in my head, and when I actually eat some…it’s not as good as I expect. It’s not satisfying. At heart, I’m a savoury snacks gal.  My junk food of choice will always be the humble potato chip. But the problem with that is…chips on New Year’s? That’s just depressing.

Jalapeno Cheddar Gougères

  • Servings: 24
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 eggs
  • 5 jalapenos, diced
  • 1 cup grated cheddar
  • Rosemary
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F
  2. Bring butter and water to a boil
  3. Lower heat to medium
  4. Add the flour
  5. Stir for a couple minutes, then remove from heat.
  6. Let cool until warm, but not hot.
  7. Stir in eggs, one at a time.
  8. Add the cheese, jalapenos, salt, pepper, and herbs.
  9. Spoon onto greased tray.
  10. Bake for 10 minutes.
  11. Lower heat to 350°F and bake for another 20 minutes.

 

Salted Caramel Rum Tart

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour.
  • 1 and 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Chocolate chips
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Method

  1. Mix flour and baking powder together.
  2. Beat the 1 stick of butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and eggs until creamy.
  3. Add to the dry ingredients.
  4. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes and 350°F.
  6. Cook white sugar over low heat until golden brown.
  7. Remove from heat and add remaining butter, small pieces at a time.
  8. Stir in 1/2 cup of cream.
  9. Return to heat and cook until thickened.
  10. Add rum and salt.
  11. Pour caramel over cooked cookie base and leave until set.
  12. Heat remaining cream to a boil.
  13. Slowly add cream to chocolate to make ganache.
  14. Pour ganache over tart.
  15. Leave to cool until set.

Becoming Less Clueless: Interviewing

I theoretically understand what I need to do in an interview. But I’m really bad at them.

It’s not that I don’t know the answers to the questions I’m being asked – of course I do. They’re either about me or reasonably basic technical questions about things I’ve done and know. But I get self conscious about everything – my voice is too high pitched, I can’t pull off a suit, do I have a giant pimple on my forehead preventing my interviewer from processing a word I’m saying, when are scientists going to develop technology that would allow me to be a brain in a jar – oops, was that another question? It definitely doesn’t help that I really haven’t done many of them. In August, though,  I applied to a job that I really, really want. And the application process here? Well, it helped me get a lot more confident and a lot less clueless about the terrifying prospect of a job interview.

One of the things that I find discouraging is getting back a form rejection before even getting to a coding challenge, let alone the interview stage. I have no idea what that means – what specifically did they find unappealing? These are entry level positions, and so it’s rather unlikely that many candidates have much  more to offer than I do. So what is it? There’s only so much I can change, and for all I know, the rejections stemmed from other candidates being from “better” schools! Luckily, this application process was not like that. A couple months after I sent in my application, they sent me a coding challenge.

Fine, I thought. This is good.

A coding challenge is something that I can control, far more than I could with if someone was deciding whether to call me based on my resumé. Some companies will send you a timed test, which are almost universally hated, but this was better. I got a problem and ten days to return my solution. And you know what? I do know how to program. I may not be the world’s best speaker. I may panic at everything. But I am good at getting things done. Good enough that a few days after I submitted my solution, I got an email from someone in HR asking me to set up a phone interview. That’s when my obsessive reading of the Glassdoor page started out.

Now. I am a giant nerd that thrives off having as much information as I can on any given topic. So I read every single review of the interview process and wrote down answers to every question people said they were asked. I read countless lists of interview questions and practiced my answers to those. I made flashcards. I even recorded myself talking so that I could get more confident with the sound of my own voice. And when the interview actually happened…it went well! So I got an invite to an in person interview.

This was far from perfect. I stammered through a few answers. There were questions to which I didn’t like my answers and that I wish I’d answered differently. But it went well enough. My preparations weren’t perfect, but they were good enough that I got an offer. It made me realize…I don’t have to be ready for everything. I’m probably never going to be the kind of person that’s effortlessly confident and always believes in her own ability. But I am capable of preparing for the most likely questions well enough that I’ll be solid, and sometimes, that’ll be enough.