A recipe that took as long as the Oscars

Even though I know you should read a recipe before you attempt it, I failed to follow my own advice and embarked on an epic communion with my kitchen Sunday afternoon to make this layered salted caramel shortbread in time for the red carpet action. By the time the Best Actor category rolled around, about seven hours into the show, it was done. Mostly.

But I couldn’t give up. The recipe and picture in Ready Made magazine were swoonable, no?

The goal

The first step involved my least favorite baking instruction: combine flour and cold butter to make a dough. Flour and cold butter do no like each other, but I force them to play nice and let the dough rest in the fridge for an hour. The dough hits the oven and emerges as shortbread; then I make caramel and layer that on the shortbread. Into the fridge for another hour. Next up: a stab at tempering chocolate—a complicated recipe in itself because temperature is key and my candy thermometer is vague. I taste the dark chocolate and it has an odd, fruity taste, and I start to regret buying cheap chocolate at Trader Joe’s. The chocolate (tempered?) gets spread on top of the caramel to set—another eternity.

In fact, it’s not humanly possible to wait until it sets, so I cut into it and it oozes all over the place and marvel at how unlike the picture it looks. It’s as if I entered the Ruin this Recipe contest. Winner!

Huh. Did I miss a step?

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Oscar recognizes the departed, sort of

Is it wrong that the part of the Oscars that my roommate and I were most looking forward to was the retrospective that honors those in film who died last year? Or, as we callously referred to it: the dead list? Probably. We’re morbid like that. But there’s always a surprise or two on the list that makes you say, “Oh, no, really? Sidney Lumet died?” or yell out, “That guy, died? He was in everything.” The name, however, will not ring a bell.

Quite a few prominent folks in the industry went to the big movie theater in the sky this year: Paul Newman, Anthony Minghella, Bernie Mac, Cyd Charisse, Heath Ledger—the list goes on; unfortunately, the way the segment was filmed, alternating between the images and Queen Latifah who was singing a tribute, made it impossible to see the names. Man, you can’t even get respect when you’re dead. Just one more reason not to die—in Hollywood anyway.

Thoughts on the Oscars and the ubiquitous Slumdog Millionaire

I bought into all the hype about Slumdog Millionaire and was eager to see this movie that everyone’s calling a heartfelt love story. “Uplifting” is the word that’s been floated around. Well, I am a sucker for uplifting love stories. And let me tell you. This is one of those movies—if you find poverty, violence, abuse, and death to be uplifting. 

The Oscar nominees were announced this morning, and Slumdog was nominated for Best Picture. Well, what do I know?

I wish, instead though, that the Academy had recognized The Visitor or Elegy, two great little films, but they didn’t draw the numbers that the Brad Buttons or the Frost/Nixon movie did—though has anyone actually seen Frost/Nixon

Anyway, the race for me is in the Best Actor category. The competition is fierce, but my vote goes to Richard Jenkins for The Visitor. His name came as a surprise in place of guys like Leonardo DiCaprio and Clint Eastwood, because his performance was pitch perfect. 

In the Best Actress category, isn’t it an unwritten rule that you just hand the statue to Meryl Streep? That works. She scared me in Doubt.

Good nominations and bad, I’ll be glued to my TV Feb. 22. eating it up.

Random Oscar thoughts

I’m in a post-Oscar slump. The rush of anticipated releases is over, the awards have been handed out, and we’ve settle into a winter lull when there’s nothing worth seeing. Let’s discuss some random Oscar moments then, to ease the pain.

I loved that “Falling Slowly,” the song from “Once,” won and happier still when Marketa Irglova, who did not get a chance to speak after her singing partner Glen Hansard did, was invited back by John Stewart to give her thanks. A sweet gesture for a sweet person. OK, I don’t know for sure if she’s a sweet person, but her character was completely loveable.

Tilda Swinton was a surprise for Best Supporting Actress, and I felt it was well deserved. She talked in the Q & A backstage about playing this character, who feels inadequate in the male-dominated law firm, by wearing too-small clothing, one of those details that can really reveal character. Also, there was some serious sweating, which made me nervous for her character throughout.

Javier, I love you even more after your gracious speech thanking your mother, extended family, and Spain.

Daniel Day-Lewis should be knighted for real. I resisted “There Will Be Blood” because the premise sounded so unappealing: a nearly 3-hour movie about a crazy oil man in the 1920s based on the Upton Sinclair book, “Oil!” Even that exclamation point couldn’t convince me that oil was exciting. I should have known better. Daniel Day-Lewis transformed himself into the most compelling character I’ve seen in a long time. I was a little bit in love with his evil genius.

Finally, why was Nicole Kidman wearing a chandelier around her neck?

Indie Spirit Awards

If you love the Oscars, but wish independent films were better represented, check out the Film Independent Spirit Awards tonight that celebrate the best little movies that could. I look forward to them more than the Oscars–you can discover some great little gems that may have been overlooked.

The vibe is casual (the ceremony is near the beach in CA), so you’re more likely to see sandals on the red carpet than strappy heels. Sarah Silverman hosted last year, which was as hysterical as you can imagine, and Rainn Wilson (Dwight from “The Office”) hosts this year.

The nominees are here.

The show airs tonight on IFC at 5 p.m. or on AMC at 10 p.m., both Eastern.

Can bad hair cost you an Oscar?

Javier Bardem is a shoe-in to win the Oscar this year for Best Supporting Actor for his role in “No Country for Old Men.” But can you seriously win when you character sports the lamest hairstyle ever? Now Bardem is a brilliant actor—in English and Spanish—and choosy in his roles. (I forgive him for the disastrous “Love in the Time of Cholera” because what actor could refuse that lead?) Also, he was positively dreamy in “The Dancer Upstairs,” which is completely beside the point. His hair in “No Country,” though, should not have been allowed. If I were a voting member of the Academy, I might have thought twice about a vote for Bardem. Shallow? Yes. But Bardem might have lobbied the director for a trim.

Javier Bardem's hair

Or maybe there should be a Best Hair category; Bardem’s laughable style could go up against Amy Adams’ gianormous curls in “Enchanted,” or Cate Blanchett’s braided do in “Elizabeth” or her fro playing Dylan in “I’m Not There.” Hairstylists, unite!

Until that day, Bardem should atone for his unfortunate hair choice or there will be blood…

Juno vs. Lars

“Juno” will likely walk off with the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay—it’s smart, quirky, and charming, accolades you think would be hard to come by when your story centers on an unwed teen. Yet, it works. But I would lobby strongly for “Lars and the Real Girl,” which you might know by its more mainstream description: the movie about the guy and the blow-up doll.

I tend to avoid traditional comedies, which rely on slapstick and lazy dialogue, so at first I thought the premise sounded farcical, but I was wooed by the preview. The cast didn’t hurt either (Ryan Gosling, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer) . Turns out, it’s not a film about a sleazy guy who gets his kicks from a mail-order girlfriend, but a story of a fragile soul who sincerely thinks “Bianca” is his girlfriend. After the stares and disbelief dissipate, the townspeople rally around Lars by embracing Bianca in an act of solidarity that makes you want to move to the neighborhood.

I laughed and would have cliché-cried too had I not been on a date when I saw this movie in the theater this fall. My companion, however, turned out to be the kind of sleazy guy who probably has a closet full of blow-up dolls. And I still loved the movie.

“Once” in a while a good musical comes along–even if you hate musicals

Today’s announcement of the Oscar nominations made me happy for one of my favorite little movies of 2007. “Once,” a charming low-budget film about a busker in Dublin who is befriended by a sweet-natured Czech pianist makes you think it’s going to be standard boy-meets-girl fare. Instead, it’s an unconventional romance in the form of a modern-day musical. And trust me, I hate musicals. But not to worry; no one breaks out into a song and dance number. Instead, the songs the two write together are weaved into the plot organically.

The most beautiful number, “Falling Slowly,” has been nominated for an Oscar, and if there’s any justice in the world, it will beat out the three nominated songs from Disney’s “Enchanted” (seriously, three?) and the cloying number from “August Rush.”

This is the song when the pair first sings together.