Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Game of Thrones

I have never read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. To be honest I wasn’t at all familiar with his work until HBO decided to build a series around it so I have no idea how the television counterpart, Game of Thrones, stacks up against the novels. I do know that if you like sword and sorcery stuff Game of Thrones delivers the goods but, having said that, I almost abandoned the series on more than one occasion; now that I'm all caught up and through the first season I can happily report that I’m glad I stuck with the show.

Like all of HBO’s original programming, the production values for this series are impressive. Game of Thrones boasts a terrific cast, wonderful costumes and sets and sumptuous locations and photography. I am particularly fond of the stylish opening credits, which sweep over an animated map of the kingdom and are accompanied by an appropriately sweeping musical score. To me they promise excitement, intrigue and romance, which is just what I want from a show like this.

Coming into the series without any prior knowledge of the world or the people that make it up, though, made it difficult for me to get my footing. It’s not that the story is confusing or hard to follow it's just that there's so much of it. So many characters, so much plotting and scheming, so much talk of cool things like dragons and White Walkers but, for those first few episodes, the series feels like a lot of set-up and preamble and the expectation of cool things to come. Which is all well and good to a degree but there was a same-ness to the first half of the season that, at times, made it tedious for me. I liked it well enough but not as much as I wanted to like it. I just wanted the show to get on with it - whatever “it” might be - already.

This is not unlike the feeling I got when I first saw The Fellowship of the Ring. My only previous exposure to Tolkien’s Middle Earth had been the Rankin & Bass animated feature of The Hobbit, which I really liked (I even had the read along with the record book when I was a kid) so I went into the first part of Peter Jackson's epic trilogy armed only with a faint sense of nostalgia and an odd affection for Gollum (don't ask - I don't really understand it, either). I left underwhelmed but hopeful that the next installment would be a better fit for me. Going back and seeing the movie a second time I found I actually liked it because now I knew the characters and could more readily invest myself in their struggles. This was definitely an instance where I think reading the books and being familiar with the world of the story would have helped in the beginning. I feel pretty much the same way about Game of Thrones.

The biggest problem I have with this sort of front-loaded storytelling is simply that it takes longer for me to get attached to the characters, something I realize I pretty much require out of any program I'm going to commit long-term to watching. Keeping everybody's names and lineages straight in my mind takes time away from me forming those necessary emotional connections. For the most part. There were some characters I attached to pretty quickly and they, along with the aforementioned great production values, were the reason I kept watching. Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion is pretty much irresistible from the word go because, by necessity, he must use his wits rather than his might to get by. Plus he’s snarky and charming and sexy and his bravado masks the pain and disappointment that he has suffered throughout his life and all of that is interesting to me. I was quick to love Arya, too, because what’s not to love about a feisty young lady who rails against the patriarchy? It's been done so many times but it's done well here and is helped in no small part by the considerable charms of young Maisie Williams.

Characters who have the least amount of power at the onset are great because isn’t it fun to see how they might gain power and control over the course of a series like this? They also have more room for personal growth and tend to change and evolve in more pronounced, perhaps even profound, ways. I think that’s certainly the case with the character who held my interest the most over the course of these first ten episodes, the one I kept tuning in for when I really thought the show had little to offer me: my number one crush, Emilia Clarke's Daenerys. Oh, how I love this character. Not just because she looks like a live-action version of the Lady Amalthea (though that certainly works in her favor) but because her character arc plays out so wonderfully. I think of all the characters on the show she evolves and changes and grows the most over the course of the season and it is terrific to watch. Clarke's acting is subtle and convincing. She is capable of projecting vulnerability and naïveté but there is steel at her core. I was amazed by both the depth of her character’s thoughtfulness and by her incredible emotional strength. She feeds off adversity and transcends it to such a degree that her story borders on religious allegory. I found the whole thing riveting (and yes, by extension I loved Drogo and her dynamic with him). This was easily the best, most engaging part of the show for me and, because of that, the final scene of the first series made any earlier misgivings moot and could not have created a better set-up for what's to come. Bring on the fire. I'm ready.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Gateau au Citron

gateau au citron

So, how pretty is this? And every bit as tasty as it was easy to make. I think this cake confirms the adorable Molly Wizenberg's status as my number one crush of the moment.

gateau au citron

Flipping through her book last night - noting both the tasty sounding recipes and the marvelous Camilla Engman illustrations (I love beautifully designed cookbooks so much) - I had the sudden urge to go all Julie & Julia on it and work my way, one by one, through every single recipe it contains.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Baking Crazed


Over the weekend my recent baking kick mutated from a hobby to a compulsion. I'd finish one recipe and want to start another one immediately. Baked oatmeal, Nutella cookies, blueberry-molasses granola, chocolate pie, lemon yogurt cake, tiny bread loaves... Sometimes I even had multiple recipes going at once. For three days I hardly left the kitchen. I realize it's madness to run the oven nonstop in mid-June but I can't reason with the muse. If I'm meant to bake then bake I must.


These are the only foodie photographs I have to commemorate the insanity. I was in too much of a rush to document most of the madness. I do intend to photograph some of the edibles before they get all eaten up, though. And I did manage to leave the kitchen long enough to watch Karen Gillan's interview with Craig Ferguson, which re-broadcast late last week:

I’d seen part of this when it first aired but missed the beginning and never bothered to look for clips online to catch what I missed. I love how gangly and fidgety she is and how her cute short dress makes her look even more like a great tall China doll. Not since Ten, Captain Jack and Martha teamed up for the S3 finale have I been so simultaneously smitten with all the principle cast members at once. I will miss Eleven, Pond, Roman Rory and River this summer while Doctor Who takes its mid-season breather.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Of Food and Foxes (Belated Weekend Roundup)

chocolate pie

My first attempt at mother-in-law's chocolate pie, which took longer and was a bit more involved than I was expecting. I devoted a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon to this thing and at least half an hour of that, I'm certain, was spent hand beating egg whites to make the meringue topping (an unpleasant but rather rewarding experience). I'm pretty sure I undercooked the filling, which I now know ought to have been more or less set by the time I poured it into the crust. I actually lifted off the browned meringue and put the pie back into the oven to firm up before popping the whole thing in the fridge. It's not the prettiest dessert I've seen but it tastes quite good. Husband seems to approve, which is the most important thing. I plan to give this one another go soon.

lemon coolers

The lemon coolers I made Sunday were much simpler. These were a request from my friend Martha, who loved this type of cookie as a kid. Like husband, she was pleased with how her dessert turned out (and so was I).

papa fox

When I wasn't baking I tried to do some painting. I'm really happy with this fox. Husband says he looks very "Grandma Moses-esque." I'm not sure he's familiar enough with her work to know what he's talking about but I adore Grandma Moses so I'll take the compliment.

scratchy foxes

Two little guys I did late Saturday night. I'm trying to free up my style a little bit and not make everything so tidy and overworked.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Weekend Eats

christmas in june grapefruit

I nearly pitched this grapefruit, which had been in my fridge since Christmas and looked, going by the skin, like it had gone off ages ago. Luckily I sliced it open out of curiosity before giving it the old heave-ho and found, much to my delight, that the contents were in great shape. I ate the whole thing.

ginger spice cake truffles

I have no idea who invented the cake truffle. Probably someone who likes playing with their food as much as I do. These were made using leftover ginger spice cake and cream cheese frosting, which I mashed together, shaped into balls and dipped in melted white chocolate. They aren't nearly as pretty or tasty as the red velvet truffles my friend Jamie makes but for a first effort they'll do.

My gorgeous Frenchman's Lunch from Crown & Goose. Eaten Sunday morning at Book Group brunch while the ladies and I discussed Ally Condie's fantastic Matched (the only book I've managed, so far this year, to read from start to finish).