Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Is the Spiderman singalong truly meant to be Broadway bound?

A lot of recent attention has been given to the previews for the upcoming musical Spiderman;Turn off the Dark,including a spot on 60 Minutes and various write-ups about how well the first show was and mainly wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

This is a pretty pricey musical,even by Broadway standards. The budget has gotten as large as 65 million,nearly dwarfing many a Hollywood blockbuster film. That wouldn't be so bad if the show was amazing to behold,yet the problems with the production are not that much different from any major film flop.

Along with the technical mishaps which hold up the works for a long time that even the most patient audience can endure,the script of the show is rather sloppy. From what I gather,it starts off with four teenagers imagining the origins of Spiderman and throwing in a character from Greek mythology known as Arachne who gives Peter Parker his superhero outfit but later turns into a villain.

The Green Goblin enters the scene and at some point,just about every bad guy in Spiderman's enemy rolodex is called forth to do battle. Granted,I'm not very scholarly in my comic book knowledge but this sounds like they threw in more than the kitchen sink here,folks. Great visuals and a confusing plot are the key ingredients in any pop culture recipe for disaster and like many a bad movie before it,the only saving grace here may be in the music:

The tunes in question were created by Bono and the Edge, the main forces behind this show who I suspect got a taste for making a superhero musical during the time they contributed a song to the soundtrack of Batman Forever back in 1995.

Just from listening to "Boy Falls from the Sky",you can tell that it's twisted pop goth energy has more in sync with "Hold Me, Thrill Me,Kiss Me,Kill Me" than say anything from the soundtrack of the first Sam Raimi Spiderman movie.

Even in the animated portion of the music video for "Hold Me,Thrill Me,etc",Bono places himself in the forefront there as both tormented hero and gleefully wicked foe,clearly demonstrating his desire to be the centerpiece of such a project. Be careful what you wish for seems to be a saying that Bono either has never heard or bothered to listen to,which he may soon regret:

Interestingly enough,a better choice of pop superstar to bring a comic book based musical to the stage would have been Prince. His set of songs for Tim Burton's 1989 Batman film were written as character studies,with certain ones meant to be sung by Bruce Wayne("Vicki Waiting"),Batman ("The Future")and Vicki Vale("Lemon Crush").

Of course,the most popular songs were the ones created for the Joker and many would agree that Prince really seemed to enjoy letting loose on such naughty numbers as "Electric Chair","Trust" and the infectious evil "Partyman",the last of which played a significant presence in a key Joker scene in the finished film.

While a Prince styled musical would be darker and overtly sexual than a family friendly audience would expect from a Batman production,no one could claim that they didn't get their money's worth there:

An even better fit for Broadway adaptation would be Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog,the Joss Whedon online musical sensation. Not only does this bittersweet superhero satire have a strong following,the success of animated flicks like Despicable Me and Megamind prove that folks are receptive to a story that places the bad guy as the sympathetic leading man.

Not to mention that the budget would be far less than the one for the lunches for the Turn off the Dark crew alone. The true appeal of Dr. Horrible is not in the special effects or the superhero mythos that it mocks but the basic blend of love story with humor and pathos that admirers of all genres can easily identify with:

Perhaps by the time Spiderman:Turn off the Dark hits the stage in January 2011,the major kinks will be worked out and a real shot at making some of the investor's money back can be seen. Stranger things have happened and in this case,a little remodeling could be a financial lifesaver.

Then again,look how long it's taking Hollywood to even consider greenlighting a decent Wonder Woman movie. I know it's a different medium but hey,if Marvel can get it's act together to connect the key players in their comic book franchise on film,surely DC can do the same. Keep the faith,true believers!:

Friday, November 26, 2010

A few books to add to your Black Friday shopping cart

Happy Black Friday and welcome to a slew of shopping madness as the holiday season officially begins. Whether you've been standing outside in the cold for hours or frantically clicking around online to find some great gifts for bargain prices,this is surely the most overwhelming time of the year.

So,to refresh your busy buyer's brain,let me recommend a handful of literary items to consider picking up if your inspiration has started to wear out. Books are easy to gift wrap,after all,and their value lasts far beyond the end of New Year's Eve(plus,no hangover).

First on our list is Dewey's Nine Lives,a follow-up to Vicki Myron's book about the beloved Spencer Library mascot,Dewey Readmore Books. In addition to a few new tales from those who were quietly but strongly touched by that remarkable cat's presence(including the man that married Vicki herself)but stories about other faithful felines shared by people who wanted to let folks know that cats are just as loving and loyal as man's best friend is,in their own special way.

Dogs have had their day for quite some time now and making room for these incredible kitties on your bookshelf or bedside table is purr-fectly right(please don't hold my pitiful pun against this sweet book,I beg of you!):

For a tasty tome fit for any coffee table,Carl Warner's Food Landscapes is a real feast for the eyes. This innovative British photographer has been taking the world by storm with his recreations of reality carved,sliced and diced from various edible items.

In addition to the book,a fabulous 2011 wall calendar that features many of the amazing pictures from Carl's collection(alas,not the gorgeous chocolate train seen here on the left)but a number of pics that make every month truly mouth watering. I treated myself to this calendar and can barely wait for the proper time to hang it proudly in just the right spot:

For the teen girl who needs a read that's educational and entertaining,we have a pair of intriguing looks at the past. Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution has a present day heroine,Andi,who is mourning the death of her brother but finds new purpose in life when she discovers the diary of Alexandrine,a confidante to a prince during the time of the French Revolution.

As Andi learns more about the perils that Alexandrine faced in order to save the prince,the connections between their struggles become a bit too close for comfort. Donnelly has written historical fiction for adults as well as young people and this emotional mystery can be appreciated by both:

Cora Harrison takes a real life acquaintance of author Jane Austen and launches her into a romantic leading lady role in I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend. When Jenny Cooper visits her cousin Jane,the world of courtship is a rather new yet delightful experience to behold.

Soon enough,Jenny is lost in love with Captain Thomas Williams and is in desperate need of advice from Dear Jane on how to govern her actions,along with her heart. A good way to introduce Austen to an unfamiliar reader or enchant a devoted fan:

Speaking of Austen,it may seem difficult to find something fresh for the person who has just about everything to do with her but you should never say never,folks. David M. Shapard,who came out with a nicely annotated edition of Pride & Prejudice,has now turned his attention to one of the best known posthumous works of that good lady.

The Annotated Persuasion comes complete with helpful factoids on every opposite page of the original text,plus numerous maps of the locales mentioned in the course of the plot and illustrations that highlight the everyday details of the character's lives.

As many an Austen player will agree with,it is good to have other perspectives on even such well trod ground as this:

Finally,for those who adore the Regency period in all of it's glory, especially as fuel for fiction,no better guide can be had than Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer Kloester.

The beloved writer of historical romances did intensive research as part of her creative process to bring her classic couples to vivid life on the page,from the social hierarchy to the slang of the streets and Kloester puts it all together for you in a neatly written and illustrated volume.

Even if your friend or family member hasn't read any of Heyer's books,they may be encouraged to do so with this tempting tome as a timely gift. Since her works are now readily available,it might be good to pair one of them with this handy guide and let their literary adventures into this delightful domain get off to a roaring start:

Have a happy and hopefully not too hectic time holiday shopping this season,folks and try to remember that while it is supposed to be better to give than receive, giving a break to the person who's not the best shopper in the world on what ever sad choice they made for you is a gift in itself:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Some practical pop culture advice for Turkey Day

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and as we here at LRG take a blogger's day off to celebrate this special time of feasting,movie marathons and shopping sprees that rival the running of the bulls in Spain for safety measures,it seemed like the perfect opportunity to offer up a handful of holiday hints about the most important aspect of the day.

That,of course,would be the turkey. Granted,not everyone chooses to adorn their dinner table with the traditional bird but for those who are tackling that culinary challenge,help from any source can be most welcome. So,without further delay,here are our official LRG Turkey Day Talking Points to savor and smile at:

STUFFING AIN'T EASY: An important part of the turkey prep work is the stuffing and while some recent schools of thought suggest that it's better to cook your filling outside of the bird,going old school can still be done with little risk of post-meal illness.

However,while you are cramming that mix of breaded herbs and spices into your turkey,keeping an eye on what is actually going in there is a good way to not lose your head over any unintended surprises on your supper plate as Mr. Bean did(and yes,I know this is from the Christmas special but it's not like they have Thanksgiving in England and for good reason!):

BE SMART BUT NOT SLICE HAPPY: If your food shopping gets done at the last minute,you might have to resort to creative methods in order to make what you have on hand fit into the Thanksgiving Day paradigm. That is a tricky situation,even for experienced chefs,but with the right flavor combination and savory skill,triumph over edible adversity can be achieved.

Even if your guests are pounding the table and demanding to be fed,take your time in the kitchen and don't rush to get everything on the plate at once. Otherwise,the turkey won't be the only piece of meat that gets chopped there:

FRESHNESS IS AS FRESHNESS DOES: The trend for seeking out and serving "substantial" food is a fine way to go when making up your menu but don't try to handle ingredients that are too raw without proper supervision. Otherwise,your main course can easily get the best of you in more ways than one:

DON'T SWEAT THE LEFTOVERS: The best part of Thanksgiving dinner are the many ways in which you can keep on enjoying the turkey goodness days later,especially in sandwich form. Yet,getting all worked up over someone taking the last of the leftovers can be a tad much,even if that special sandwich is made just the way you like it. The taste of fear is a real appetite and companionship killer:

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all,with plenty of food and friends to share this time with. With all of the madness going on in our world on a daily basis,it's nice to step back and cherish the good things that we have in our lives,no matter how small and simple they might seem.

One of those basic joys is sharing a good laugh,so don't forget to pass the punchlines along with the potatoes. Do remember,however,that subtlety is a seasoning that flavors the most pungent of cutting remarks with salty goodness so use it sparingly and smartly:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Untangling some twisted fairy tale films

For your family viewing pleasure at the multiplex this Thanksgiving week,the newest Disney animated film with a fairy tale theme is making it's debut. Tangled is a remodeling of the classic Rapunzel story,with Mandy Moore providing the vocals for the now spunky heroine who uses her extra long locks to escape her tower and find adventure in the outside world.

Instead of a prince,her companion is a thief named Flynn Rider(Zachary Levi)who reluctantly accompanies Rapunzel on her quest in order to reclaim the treasure that puts him on the run from the law. The emphasis of this seemingly typical Disney Princess tale is on the humor and action portions of the plot,in hopes of luring a larger audience(i.e.,boys) than their last fairy tale based movie did.

That stratagem may work,as early reviews indicate,and while this may appear to be a radical move on Disney's half,it's really just another entry into the fractured fairy tale formula that has done both well and ill in animated form. Tangled,to it's credit,does look like a good time and is a story that certainly could do with a major makeover:

Disney did take a small step forward in this direction last year with The Princess and the Frog by jazzing up the basic setting of the story(New Orleans in the 1920s)and expanding upon that old sight gag about kissing a frog only to turn into one yourself.

While the film did make a respectable profit and garnered a few Oscar nominations including two for Best Original song,it was still considered to be a letdown. Many of the critics enjoyed the old fashioned romantic musical angles of TPATF,which may have been a turn-off to a strong portion of the targeted market,especially in the repeated viewing category.

Other factors were in play here regarding the overall success of the film(a couple of controversies about the new locale and addition of voodoo into the story line),yet the message that many have taken away from this is that in order to get a broader audience,you need to build a broader platform for your film:

The high water mark for popular off-beat fairy tale films is Shrek,the 2001 surprise hit animated feature loosely based on William Stieg's snarky picture book. By mixing broad humor and tongue in cheek pop culture riffs on traditional children's fantasy characters,Shrek spawned a major entertainment empire.

With three sequels,several made for TV specials and a Broadway musical version,Shrek has gone above and beyond the call of duty in bridging the gap between classic and postmodern appreciation of fantasy lore. The only downside here is the spreading thin of the material over time,that has lost a bit of it's initial charm for even some of Shrek's die hard fans:

Other attempts to copy the Shrek magic have less than enchanting. Happily N'Ever After boasted a serious array of Hollywood talent(Sigourney Weaver,Sarah Michelle Geller and George Carlin,to name a few)to provide the voices for their characters caught up in a scheme lead by a evil stepmother to control the path of fairy tale legend.

However,the combination of poor quality computer animation and a weak as watered down milk rendering of the story made this film a rather dismal outing indeed. How it managed to get even a direct to video sequel is beyond me,folks:

A slightly better offering in this department was Hoodwinked!,which chose to place a Rashomon spin on the Red Riding Hood tale by having each of the characters give their version of the events to the local police. Again,a nice mix of well known actors headed the vocal cast list such as Anne Hathaway,Glenn Close and Chazz Palminteri.

This funky fairy tale received mostly mixed reviews and suffered more from a lack of marketing that anything else here. Hoodwinked does earn a few bonus points for trying to emulate the stop motion style of Rankin-Bass fare and hopefully when the legal disputes over the release of it's sequel are cleared up,the original film can shine a bit more in the spotlight:

While I wish Tangled the best of luck in the holiday box office derby race it's about to enter,I do hope that live action takes on fairy tale fare are still in the running as well. Enchanted proved that such a concept has crossover appeal and can be considered quality goods by the critics.

That could possibly clear the way for a big screen version of Into The Woods to finally get made. The project has been on the back burner for some time now and it would be wonderful to have this incredibly creative take on the folly of fables shared with wider audiences via the silver screen.

This may be a faint thread on which to grasp upon but happy endings are sometimes possible even in the real world arena of pop culture wonder. There are worse wishes to make,after all:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Is it really that hard to find the right Wonder Woman?

With the recent resurgence of interest in Hollywood for bringing DC Comic heroes back to the big screen,you would think that Wonder Woman would at least be in mid-production right now. However,the lady is still waiting in the wings for a live action film.

There's talk about starting up another WW TV series helmed by David Kelley but I honestly don't see the guy who gave us Allie McBeal and her creepy dancing baby as the one to do justice towards properly depicting the Amazonian Princess for any screen,big or small.

Something tells me that my nightmares about a whiny yuppie version of Diana Prince who turns into a super heroine even campier than Adam West ever was are shared by many out there.

A major obstacle seems to be in the casting;Joss Whedon recently talked to Entertainment Weekly regarding the hold-up for the Wonder Woman movie and his ideal actress for the part was Angelina Jolie. While I can see his reasons for that,Jolie is too big a star to slip into that part without overwhelming it with her unique brand of celebrity charisma.

The best options for casting any iconic superhero/fantasy character in a live action format are either one of the following;an unknown talent who can make the part his or her own,as Christopher Reeve did for Superman and Daniel Radcliffe in the Harry Potter series,or a gifted character actor that can embody the role and not overtake it(Christian Bale's Batman and Michael Chiklis' The Thing come readily to mind). In the second category,there are many fine actresses out there who could be perfect for this part and here are a few that should be given serious consideration:


Even for those of us not familiar with the Terry Goodkind books upon which the sadly canceled Legend of the Seeker syndicated series was based upon,it was crystal clear that the role of Kahlan Amnell,the Confessor sworn to guide the Seeker on his mission to save their world from the forces of evil was a pivotal part of the story.

Bridget Regan made that character come to life for old fans and new,bringing more that just a pretty face and sweet fighting skills to the part. Her biggest strength is in the sincerity she gives to the character,never resorting to cheesy antics or a wink and nudge lilt to her performance. In that,Regan shares an affinity with Lynda Carter,the standard bearer for Wonder Woman,and can be easily seen as a worthy contender for that throne:


Harder for some to imagine is Tabrett Bethell,another LOTS regular,as the ultimate female super hero since she's best known as a villain. Her character,Mord Sith Cara,on the series veneered back and forth between both sides of the moral coin during the second season and nearly lost her inner battle towards the end.

However,Bethell was able to make Cara more than just a one dimensional supporting player and just as convincing during her brief moments of triumph over her darker nature as she was in unleashing it. Yes,she's a blonde but that's what hair dye is for,folks. What is most important is the blend of strength and vulnerability that Bethell can bring to the table here:


As Elena,the girl caught in the middle of a centuries long rivalry between blood drinking brothers in The Vampire Diaries,Nina Dobrev has proven herself to be a credible heroine so far. Many fans of the various vampire romance series these days have even expressed more admiration for her character and her resolve to retain her humanity despite having an immortal beloved than a certain Ms. Swan.

While that is a debate for another day,Dobrev certainly has the right phyiscal features and strong persona to be Diana Prince as well as Wonder Woman. Her acting range for the current season of TVD has been nicely stretched as Dobrev is playing both Elena and her lookalike vampire ancestress Katherine,with several scenes of each one facing off on the other openly. With such a knack for duel roles,Dobrev seems to be a smart choice,particularly if a younger version of WW is preferred:


With her frequent guest appearances as Lois Lane in the fourth season of Smallville,Erica Durance has made a formidable impression on the series and with Superman fans. It's no surprise that she has become a regular cast member since the fifth season and not only due to the importance of her character in the show's mythology.

Durance has the smarts and persistence necessary to make Lois Lane go beyond the typical "girlfriend who needs to be saved" mode that such a role can fall into. Over time, her stint on Smallville has served her well and it's really not that hard to see Durance as a member of the caped and cowled set there. She's proven herself capable of being a tough cookie with a sweet side for love that doesn't allow for unwarranted compromise. If anyone can throw down with the big boys in the Justice League,it is this lady right here and now:

Casting is not the only problem in adapting Wonder Woman,as Joss Whedon also pointed out-the lack of a central city,her origin story is set during WWII and a lesser known rogues' galley. However,these difficulties can be creatively overcome.

City? Make it Washington,D.C-that is where the first season of the 70's series placed her and it's a good fit. Origin story update? Have Diana arrive to America as the ambassador for her Amazonian homeland,newly discovered by the outside world.

Villains? Well,one of her major opponents in the comics has been Ares,the Greek god of War who could make for an interesting big screen bad guy and in various animated outings,Wonder Woman has gone up against the Cheetah and Circe(another Greek supernatural type). Not to mention on the Super Friends,she fought Darkseid on occasion and he's certainly a major player in the DC Evil Doers cannon.

Basically,what I'm trying to say is that making a viable Wonder Woman movie is a challenge but it is one that can be met. All it truly takes is the right combination of artistic folk and the will to see it out to completion. Wonder Woman deserves to have her Hollywood shot at the brass ring,as much as Batman and Superman have been given over the decades(despite their various failed attempts along side their successes).

A TV series is all well and good,but the time has come for Wonder Woman to truly take the pop culture world by cinematic storm and whoever does honor this legendary warrior maiden will have all others in the field scrambling to bring more comic book divas to a cineplex near you. Hopefully,we won't have to wait until another millennium to realize that dream:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Check out what's lurking around the Holiday Movie Trailer Park these days.

With the release of the next to last Harry Potter film this weekend and other major motion pictures(some of which are meant as prime Oscar bait)this season,plenty of promos for even more new movies will be crowding the multiplex screens.

Most of them will be for potential blockbusters,due to arrive in 2011,and even if it may be awhile before you can hit the theaters yourself,that doesn't mean you can't catch up with the latest hits on the trailer parade.

First up on our list of red hot cinematic contenders is Red Riding Hood,starring Amanda Seyfried as Valerie, the newest incarnation of the classic Grimm Brothers heroine.

Valerie is a young woman of courting age in a medieval village that's under siege from a werewolf and in order to protect the man she loves,an alliance is made with a self proclaimed hunter(Gary Oldman)to find out who the local shapeshifter truly is. Catherine Hardwicke,who directed the first of the Twilight movies,is behind the camera here and hopefully she can bring some new flair to this time honored tale of terror(March 2011):

Another well known literary damsel in distress is getting a fresh new face as Jane Eyre makes her millennial debut. Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland leading lady Mia Wasikowska takes the title role with Michael Fassbinder as her Mr. Rochester,plus a few other familiar British actors on the supporting player side such as Judi Dench and Jamie Bell.

Director Cary Fukunaga's main emphasis for this version of Charlotte Bronte's most widely read novel are the Gothic elements of the story and judging by this trailer alone,mission accomplished indeed(March 2011):

Tis the season for saving young ladies as a remake of the John Wayne western that won him an Oscar, True Grit ,is set to arrive under the movie house tree by Christmas Day. Joel and Ethan Coen take up the reins here and along with newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross,the 14 year old heroine seeking help in tracking down the man who killed her father,Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges are on board as well.

Bridges plays Rooster Cogburn,an alcoholic disgraced lawman who somewhat officially takes up the quest and if anyone has the guts to reprise a legendary role as this one is,Jeff Bridges is certainly up to the task at hand.

The Coen brothers contend that their adaptation of the 1968 novel by Charles Portis will be closer to the original source material than it's Hollywood predecessor was. While that surely will be a subjective matter of opinion, the Coen brothers have a proven record of being no strangers to the cutthroat world of desperate souls out in the wild West and masters of that particular domain in all settings. Definitely a red meat movie that feeds the mind as well as the body(December 25,2010):

For a more off beat take on the Western genre,we have Cowboys & Aliens to look forward to. Daniel Craig stars as Jake Longeran,a stranger to the small town of Absolution who is a mystery even to himself.

As he is being confiscated by local law enforcement for various crimes as well as pursued by vengeful regional despot Colonel Woodrow Dollarhyde(Harrison Ford),the arrival of space invaders on the scene puts everything on hold.

The only thing standing in the way between the outer space attackers and the townfolk is the strange shackle on Jake's arm that possesses high tech powers clearly not of this world or the time period. Iron Man's director Jon Favreau has teamed up with top notch sci-fi writers Damon Lindeloff and Alex Kurtzman for what looks to be one hell of a ride for next summer-keep your fingers crossed,folks!(July 2011):

Last and possibly least on our lineup is Green Lantern,the next DC superhero to be unleashed on the silver screen. Don't get me wrong,fan folk-I dig seeing the home world of the Green Lantern Corps and several of it's residents(including major GL nemesis Sinestro)but Ryan Reynolds is not my ideal Hal Jordan.

From what I recall from the comics,Reynolds has more of a Guy Gardiner personality which ,for those unfamiliar with the various GL players over the years,allows more for the wisecracking snarky antics that his fans love best about him.

However,sometimes even a predictable actor can surprise you and given the fact that script is going beyond the basic origin story,this might be a decent comic book based adventure-emphasis on might be to be taken rather strongly here(June 17,2011):

So,whether or not you're watching a movie at a theater near you or courtesy of Netflix,these trailers should give you hope of future film related good times for next year.

As for the Harry Potter fans who will be swarming as many screenings of Part One of The Deathly Hallows before New Year's Eve as they can,let us enjoy this successful series to the very last frame and refrain from driving those who haven't read the books crazy about what's to come in Part Two.

As another anointed hero would not so gladly remind us,with great power comes great responsibility,even for the supporters on the sidelines:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Top Chef gets their Just Desserts,a TAR couple is lucky in more than love and who will be the Next Iron Chef?

For the last challenge of this first season of Top Chef:Just Desserts,the Final Three were tasked with making a four course tasting menu. On Day One of their prep,they had to choose a sous chef from three well known ladies in that field-Elizabeth Faulkner(who had guest judged during the Seth Red Hots meltdown episode),Sherry Yard and Claudia Fleming.

Danielle wound up with Elizabeth Faulkner and Yigit had Sherry Yard while Morgan ended with Claudia Fleming,who he was rather dismissive towards despite telling all of them that he had their books on his shelf. After that initial day of set-up(that went well for at least two out of the three finalists),former TC:JD contenders were called in to be selected for active duty.

Tim was picked via cookie pull for Yigit and so was Tania for Danielle. Morgan's luck of the draw granted him Heather H,not one of his biggest fans. The remainder of the Not Ready for Prime Pastry Time players got to join the other guests and judges out in the dining room to taste the array of hopefully spectacularly sweet treats.

Danielle added a goat cheese plate to her round of desserts,wanting to offer up a palate cleanser in between sugar courses. She served it with hazelnut cake and fig jam that she made herself. It really went over well,better than even judge Johnny expected.

Johnny also had some doubts about Danielle's "ice cream sampler" during the prep but that plate truly knocked some socks off there.

The baked Alaska had Judge Gail swooning in delight,plus the strawberry sundae and root beet float along side it made everyone extremely happy. Danielle has not been the most consistent chef in this competition but she certainly made a strong showing for the finale feast.

Morgan's plan was to have a color theme for his desserts,which worked out for only half of his plates. His opening serving of passion fruit cannoli with mango carpaccio and fluid gel with tarragon jelly was a nice display of yellows that also tasted pretty good.

His big trouble arrived midway,as the manjari souffle cakes on his third dish(served with cocoa nib paper) kept collapsing. Even tho the judges received souffles that were intact,it was hard not to notice the soggy mess that the rest of the party were given.

That paved the way for Yigit to take it home;one of the stand out desserts that he made was a strawberry sorbet with lemongrass ginger ice cream and a berry consomme. The level of sophistication in such a simple dish really rallied the judges to Yigit's corner.

The true triumph of Yigit's menu was his muscovado coconut and pineapple cake. It was incredibly moist and delicious,which earned him the win. I was happy to see Yigit become the first TC:JD champion-while he get a little too big for his britches at one point,eventually Yigit settled down and did produce a number of quality desserts throughout the competition.

Danielle was mostly off course for most of the challenges and a tad dippy as well but she did get it together by the end. Morgan did have the strongest run in terms of quality but his constant grim mouthed behavior was really off-putting as things went on. Not only was he obnoxious to Claudia Fleming during their kitchen time together(he didn't even bother to give her a proper goodbye when they were done),his sidebar comments about former contender Zac were uncalled for.

Yes,Zac was rather over the top at times and I can easily see how he could get on your nerves but calling him "an annoying fairy" and still expressing the desire to punch him in the face(well after Zac was eliminated from the finale)was beyond the pale. Plus his general condescending attitude towards women and lingering resentment about his divorce that kept popping up at odd moments,Morgan struck me as a rather repulsive sour ball of a human being.

Now that I've gotten that bitter taste out of my mouth,congratulations to Yigit on his win and best of luck to him with his culinary career. Top Chef:Just Desserts was not bad for it's debut season but I do hope that the next batch of pastry chefs are ready to bring the baking more than the drama.

Coming in early December is Top Chef All-Stars,which brings back a number of former favorites for a second shot at the brass ring. That promises to be quite the range of seriously sizzling showdowns-can hardly wait!:

It was a real surprise to see celebrity chef Ming Tsai be taken out of the running for The Next Iron Chef last Sunday,along with Celina Tio. The next to last round had Seduction as it's theme but Tsai's plate of lard laced pork was extremely unsexy to most of the judges.

So,now it's down to Chef Canora and Chef Figione for the final battle this weekend.Frankly,neither one of them made much of an impression on me but I am curious to see how they handle Kitchen Stadium and whatever the secret ingredient will be,so I'll be watching the finale despite not having a dog in this hunt. Good luck,guys,you're going to need it:

Things were getting off to a rocky start for Chad and Stephanie on The Amazing Race,as the two of them overslept and were late to begin the newest leg that sent everyone to Oman.

Their mojo changed for the better as Chad chose a very scenic spot to propose to Stephanie who happily accepted(he had his mother's ring on him the whole way,a sweet touch there).

The two of them managed to stay in first place for most of this leg and by a sheer bit of luck(plus a penalty wait assigned to cranky couple Jill and Thomas),Chad and Stephanie were Team Number One at the Pit Stop as well. They've been somewhat argumentative for awhile but this instant engagement seems to have been a real shot in the arm for Chad and Stephanie,which could bode well for them for the rest of the race. I also hope that renewed energy extends over to their marriage plans,too:


THE FASHION SHOW: This second season of Bravo's attempt to reclaim the fashion runway has undergone some major renovations. Instead of individual competition,the designers have to work in teams as part of a "fashion house" and Iman is now the host,with Isaac Mizrahi in mentor mode.

This show is only two episodes in and we have one guy who crashed and burned already,leaving his house before their presentation and another who has incurred the wrath of Iman during judging twice. The best change here is in letting Iman take over as She Who Must Be Obeyed-her diva power is awe inspiring,to say the least or as Calvin would say,oh here hell come go:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A house is more than a home at the Tulsa Sugar Art Show

One of the major foodie events of the season is the annual Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show,held in Tulsa this year and hosted by Kerry Vincent(who was kind enough to send me the lovely photos of some of the entries for this post),the regal face of Food Network Challenge when it comes to pastry related themes.

The Sugar Art Show is more than a place to show off some fancy cake work(altho there is plenty of that on display);it's an educational experience for those still learning the pastry art ropes as well as a meet and greet for professionals in the business.

Much like my beloved Food Network Challenge,there is one major theme based competition and this time out, the name of the game was Mansions and Monasteries. The Grand Prize winner for 2010 was Flora Aghababyan,who created the amazing confection that you see on the right.

Her cake was titled "Visions of Heaven" and is her take on a German monastery. Since donations for the charity Angel Flight are raised from the votes on favorite showpieces by visitors to the SAS,the moniker of the top winner was really very apropos,indeed.

With the show having only finished up by early last month,highlights from this event should be broadcast on a cable channel near you by 2011,hopefully sooner rather than later. As cake and pastry art programs become more of a staple on many a network,the Sugar Art Show is surely a sweet ready for prime time player in the game:

What particularly amused me about the Mansions and Monasteries motif was in imaging what sort of big house I would have selected to recreate this way. Naturally,many of my candidates would have come from movies or TV,with period pieces being strongly favored(I wouldn't rule out anything more contemporary,like Wayne Manor,for example).

The many adaptations of Pride and Prejudice have been fortunate in securing great houses and estates for location shooting,which makes it a plethora of plenty in this regard. Whether you prefer Keira Knightley or Jennifer Ehle as your Elizabeth Bennet,I'm sure that every Jane Austen fan would love to share a slice of Pemberley together:

A mansion or great house can be just as vital a character as any of the people within it's walls,either as a source of warmth and prosperity or a haven of personal horrors and misfortunes. Some of the more intimidating ones,such as Shirley Jackson's Hill House or Poe's infamous House of Usher,have a supernatural bent to them while others seem to be sinister reflections of the dark side of their owners.

One of the classic examples of the latter category is Manderley,from Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca. While that challenge might seem daunting,much like the feelings that the second Mrs. De Winter had upon taking over her new home,but the end results would have been worth it(bonus points for adding a Mrs. Danvers figure in one of the windows):

The biggest house on display wasn't in the Mansion/Monastery competition,however. For the work shop event Halloween's Last Hurrah,a large haunted house was the focal point of that incredible set piece.

It was wooden based but completely covered in fondant and other decorative edible attachments,not to mention the yard and it's fearsomely flavorful occupants. I liked how approachable the entire set-up was,without coming across as childish or overly whimsical. The right balance was successfully struck.

Halloween's Last Hurrah put me in mind of two other frightfully friendly mansions from TV days of yore,the Addams Family residence and the home of the Munsters.

My personal preference would be 1313 Mockingbird Lane,a place that's a bit more down to earth than the Victorian anarchy of the Addams abode. While the Munsters' home is pretty run down to be sure,the welcome from it's uninhibited inhabitants would be a tad warmer there(especially if you stopped to say hello to Spot under the stairs):

Having a house as your cake construction theme may appear to be a relatively simple challenge,unlike having to use ghost stories,urban legends or Sex and the City 2 as your inspiration(SATC2 is actually the scariest one out of that bunch). Yet,it does pose it's own array of hurdles to overcome.

Whether you're dealing with a huge mansion or a standard two family dwelling,the devil is in the details. Folks can be true sticklers for exactness here,plus the tone of the whole project is just as important.

One thing that I've come to know about sugar artists is the care and craftsmanship that is part and parcel of their calling. That precise attention to the end result is what separates the casual cooks from the serious chefs and much like any other field of art,making something feel like home is the highest compliment that can be paid.

The Oklahoma Sugar Art Show is such a haven for those on both sides of the pastry counter and as welcoming as that funky little house on the block where everyone flocks to for fun and good time shared by all. The key ingredient in any recipe,after all,is a touch of love and sometimes blood is not as thick as sugar water: