Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor: Death of a Perennial Presence


Katie Couric opened the CBS Evening News: "Tonight America says goodbye to one of its biggest stars, Academy Award-winning actress, Elizabeth Taylor … If movie stars are America's royalty, then Elizabeth Taylor was queen and her long reign has come to an end."

Treated as the top news story of today, Couric spent more than 8-minutes at the beginning of the broadcast describing the 79-year-old actress––her life, her loves and her career––and another 3-minutes at the end recounting Liz Taylor's work as a spokesperson for AIDS.

The time devoted to this story on national news attests to the power of film, which transcends its medium. Millions of people feel as if someone they knew personally has died. Her UK obituary recounts the milestones of an extraordinary life lived both on and off camera. The NYT posted a summary of her life, stating that "In a world of flickering images, Elizabeth Taylor was a constant star."

I often wondered if she got tired of shining.

Giant, 1956
My favorite Elizabeth Taylor movie Giant captures on film the peak of her physical beauty against the backdrop of Texas cattle, oil and excess.

All three of the movie's stars loomed larger than life in celestial Hollywood, but James Dean died in a car accident before the film's completion. Rock Hudson died in 1985 from AIDS.

"All gone" my mother once wrote in an album under a picture of my dad, my grandfather, an uncle and their friend. My dad died in a car accident when I was 9-years-old, and I used to stare at that picture, run my fingers across those words.

Pictures somehow accentuate the loss. The loss of youth, the loss of beauty, the loss of life.

Father of the Bride, 1950

After watching more than a dozen videos on YouTube, this one called "Elizabeth Taylor: A Thing of Beauty" (4 minutes) has wonderful film clips from some of her best movies.

My favorites: Giant (1956), Raintree County (1957), Elephant Walk (1954), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Father of the Bride (1950), National Velvet (1944), and Little Women (1949).

The artist and the artifact, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pie Making 101

The recipe for this delicious Chocolate Silk pie comes from the Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls, TX. A family favorite, someone I know prefers this pie to cake for her birthday.

Any excuse to visit the Hill Country will do, but just thinking about the Blue Bonnet Cafe's pies makes me glad that they sell their cookbook.

The last time I made this pie, I failed to take pictures of each step. I do, however, have pictures of how to make a crust, and that's the part cooks fear most about pie making.

For pie crust,  Betty Crocker's recipe, an old reliable made with ingredients I usually have on hand, is an easy one for beginners. If you have a food processor, the Barefoot Contessa's recipe is outstanding. It makes a buttery, sturdy yet flaky crust, but it requires more time and ingredients.

Instead of rolling the dough on a floured board, I roll the crust between sheets of waxed paper. My 8th grade Home Economics teacher in Beverly Hills, CA taught that the secret of a good pie crust is to handle the dough as little as possible.  If you have to gather the dough into a ball and roll it out again, you might as well start over. The crust will turn out tough, not flaky. 

Here's an idea what the combined flour, shortening and salt look like.
With shortening cut into dry ingredients, the incorporated flour should be smaller than pea-size.
Next add ice cold water a tablespoon at a time (2–3 T. for a one-crust pie).
Stir in water with a fork.
Looks about right.
Gently gather dough into ball.
Here's the secret to aid even the most tentative pie-maker. Place dough ball between 2 sheets of wax paper. You can also use Saran Wrap, but wax paper is easier to handle.
Roll from the center out to the edges, picking up the rolling pin each time.
Peel back the top layer of wax paper and then lay it loosely back in place so that you can flip the flattened dough to the other side. This makes it easier to transfer the dough to the pie pan. The wax paper can tear holes in the crust if you haven't loosened it first. 
Loosely lay the crust into the pan and gently press into place, without stretching the dough.
The crust should extend at least an inch beyond the pie pan. Roll the excess crust to form an edge. You can pinch off excess dough from one place and add to thin spots.
Use thumb and forefinger to form the decorative edge of the crust. Sometimes I use the knuckle on my right hand placed inside and then pinch around it with the thumb and forefinger of the left hand. (Here, I'm holding the camera with my right hand.) You should be able to see how rough this crust looks. Not a Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.
Next, prick holes in the crust with a fork. Very important to make sure the holes go through the dough as air pockets that form underneath while the crust bakes, if the steam cannot escape, will cause bulges in the crust. The bulges do not go away when the crust cools. Other tips: line the unbaked shell with foil and place pie weights on top of the foil. You can also use dried pinto beans in place of pie weights. Lift the foil with weights out after about 10-minutes baking so the crust can brown all over.
Even a not-so-perfect crust gets forgiveness if the filling is luscious.
The recipe for Chocolate Silk pie follows. 

You need a stand mixer because eggs require 2-minutes beating after each addition.
Resist the temptation to get a spoon and start tasting. It's the butter, no, it's the chocolate, no, it's the texture …
Pour into crust and refrigerate.
This pie is unbaked, so to make sure eggs are safe, before using, I place each egg in a bowl of water to check for cracks. Eggs should be fresh and high quality. The long beating times produce "heat" that cooks the eggs.
You can even freeze this pie and save for later. I can't wait till December to make this again.

Chocolate Silk Pie
Early in the day:
Set out 3 eggs and ¾ cup butter so they are room temperature when you start.
Roll out pie crust. Prick with fork; bake at 450 for 10-12 minutes.  Cool completely.

Melt 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate baking squares in a glass bowl in the microwave being careful not to burn.  Allow chocolate to cool completely.

Cream together for 4 minutes:
1 cup sugar
¾ cup butter (not margarine) at room temperature.

Blend in cooled chocolate and 1 ½ tsp. vanilla.

On medium speed, add eggs one at a time, blending for 2 minutes after each egg.

Put mixture in cooled pie shell and chill several hours or overnight.

Later, whip 2 cups heavy whipping cream, adding a few tablespoons of powdered sugar at the end.  Spoon on top of pie. If desired, garnish with chocolate curls or sift powdered cocoa on top.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sweet Boys and Angry Birds

When 4-year-old grandsons Beau and Beck come over, sooner or later they say, "Gran, can I play on your iPod?"

Their favorite game: Angry Birds. Also one of the NYT Top 10 Must-Have Apps.

Some pictures from a day in the life. I take that back. A few hours in the life because they go home at night to wake their mom and dad as often as possible.

"I didn't get the pig!"
This is scary. What will this generation know when they reach my age?
A matter of perspective …
Advancing, Beck unlocks levels of increasing difficulty.
Does this look familiar?
Beau fell asleep across my lap and kept snoozing when moved.
Beck said, "Take a picture of us."
Remember, Beau is asleep.

 New venture, thread over and under horizontal handles.
Beck said, "I can't do it. It's eleven." Eleven what?
"I need it longer."

"I need help, Gran." So Gran added some ribbon.
Love watching little hands at work.  

"I need to get Poppy."
"Poppy, you need to come see this."