Friday, March 30, 2012

Movie Review: "This Means War"

I actually saw this movie about a month ago, before everybody started getting sick, but I'll review as best I can remember.

 Although it didn't get much love from critics, I really liked this movie. I'm not a romantic comedy kind of person, I prefer action or sci-fi, but this was a good date movie. I love Reese Witherspoon, and there's a sci-fi connection with Chris Pine (Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek movies) and Tom Hardy (Picard clone in the last Start Trek:Next Generation movie). It has the predictable rom-com conventions: cute meetings, secrets, misunderstandings, a love triangle, but it also has car chases, gun battles and explosions. Really, it's sort of a mash-up of traditional romantic comedy and buddy-cop action movie, which sounds strange, but somehow works, probably on the strength of the actors.

 If you don't know the premise, two secret agent partners (CIA? It's never specified) fall for the same woman, she doesn't know they know each other, and while she feels guilty for dating them both, and agonizes about which one to choose, they use all their agency resources to sabotage each others' dates. And of course, their job intrudes in the form of the gun-running terrorist out for revenge against the agents who killed his brother.

 You would think all the movie cliches would drag this down, but it actually feels pretty light and funny. I've never cared for Chelsea Handler, but she works well as the stock character of married best friend living vicariously through her single buddy. It's probably not in theaters anymore, but it will make a great rental next time you can't decide on an action movie or a rom-com.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sharing a Recipe - Kahlua Kiss Cupcakes

Today, I thought I'd share a recipe I created for Valentine's Day - Kahlua Kiss Cupcakes. Chocolate and Kahlua are my absolute favorite dessert pairing, and the darker the chocolate, the better. I use my favorite dark chocolate Hershey's Kisses, but you can use whatever flavor you want; the mint ones work well, too. This would qualify as semi-homemade, since all of my cupcake recipes start with a cake mix.

Kahlua Kiss Cupcakes
1 box Devil's Food cake mix
24 unwrapped dark chocolate Hershey's Kisses
1/4 cup Kahlua

Kahlua Buttercream Icing
1 stick butter, softened
1 stick Crisco, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
2 T. milk
2 T. Kahlua
1/2 tsp. vanilla

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tin with cupcake liners.
Prepare cake batter according to package directions, replacing 1/4 cup of water with 1/4 cup Kahlua. Fill muffin tins about one-third full and set unused batter aside. Bake for about 6 minutes. Remove from oven and place a kiss in the center of each cup - batter should be just firm enough to support it without the kiss sinking to the bottom. Use remaining batter to fill muffin cups to about two-thirds full. Bake another 10-15 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting. Makes about 24 cupcakes.

For the Kahlua Buttercream Icing, use an electric mixer to beat butter and Crisco together until blended. Gradually add in powdered sugar, milk, Kahlua and vanilla, beating until smooth. Adjust powdered sugar and milk amounts until icing has the proper consistency - you want it thick enough to hold its shape without running down the sides of the cupcake. For a fancy presentation, drizzle with a little chocolate syrup and sprinkle with dark chocolate shavings.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Geek Road Trip!

 We took our first geek road trip as a family this weekend - down to Kansas City for Planet Comicon.(Well, technically, Overland Park, Kansas.) We decided to make it a day trip on Saturday, which was pretty ambitious considering it's about 3 1/2 hours each way. Both kids took the car ride amazingly well, even did some napping.

I got Gil Gerard and Erin Gray autographs - geekgasm!
 We had never been to Planet Comicon before, but this year's guests were a big draw: Gil Gerard, Erin Gray and Felix Silla (Twiki) from Buck Rogers - my absolute favorite TV show as a kid; Edward James Olmos; and Lando himself, Billy Dee Williams!

 This convention was a lot of fun! I don't know how attendance has been in past years, but this one was packed! The crowds were daunting at times, but convention staff did the best they could to move people through, opening new lines when registration backed up, and answering questions and directing people where they needed to go. The main panel room was packed for Billy Dee's and Edward James Olmos' talks, but it was large enough to accomodate everyone, although the sound system could have been better. (Or maybe Billy Dee Williams just mumbles.) The main problem with the room, called the Atrium because of the ceiling of skylights, was out of the convention staff's control - on an unlikely 80 degree day in March, the skylights turned a packed room into a sauna at times.

Billy Dee Williams, at maximum zoom from waaaaay in the back
 I didn't hear much of Billy Dee Williams talk (I was in the back with a fussy baby) but what I heard was entertaining. The biggest response came from an audience question, What from your body of work do you most want to be remembered for? and his answer: "Colt 45!"

Edward James Olmos was a wonderful speaker, you could tell he was really enjoying himself. He answered questions about Miami Vice, Battlestar Galactica, and everything in between, and wrapped up his talk with a rousing round of "So say we all!" (for you non-geeks, it's a Battlestar thing.)

Edward James Olmos

Boy and Daddy with stormtroopers

Boy and me with Emperor Palpatine (you can't tell because of robe shadow, but he has the best facial prosthetics I've ever seen on an Emperor costume)
My favorite part of any convention is always the costumes, and some of the participants here really went all out. Here are photos of some of my favorites.

Pinkie Pie the Stormtrooper

The shortest Optimus Prime ever

Avengers Assemble!

The Penguin and Poison Ivy

Mojo Jojo

Captain Barbossa, complete with undead monkey puppet

No, it's not Billy Dee, just a really good Lando costume

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Book Review: Mockingjay

 One thing about being sick, at least I have time to read. I whipped through this book in a day - the perfect book to read when you're sick, because no matter how bad you feel, at least your life isn't as bad as poor Katniss'.

 "Mockingjay" picks up right where "Catching Fire" left off. This one has a lot more politics and a little less action than the other two. I can't say much without spoilers for people who haven't read the first two books yet, but I can say that Katniss learns nothing is as simple as it appears on the surface, and nothing and no one can be taken at face value. There are no heroes, there's no black and white, only varying shades of gray.

 At first, I was a bit disappointed when I finished this book. I suppose, subconsciously, I was hoping for a happy ending, but I really should have known better. I won't give anything away, but this book isn't going to give you any warm fuzzies, or feel-good moments. It will give you a lot to think about. This whole series is one that will stick in your mind for a long time. I'm really glad these books are so popular with teens - this is Quality Literature that will make  kids think about what we take for granted in society today. I'd suggest teaching these books in high school English classes, but I suppose turning them into homework would leach all the fun out of reading them!

 Now, bring on the movies!

Monday, March 19, 2012

My Kids Are Trying To Kill Me

 I have quite a backlog of blogs in my head, waiting to get out - about three weeks worth. Why the buildup? The plague-carrying children in my house. (Seriously, medieval rats have nothing on these two.)

 About three weeks ago, the boy started coughing. He insisted he felt fine, (even though his voice sounded like a three-pack-a-day smoker) and even though he kept coughing about a week, it didn't really slow him down any. Now, for a five-year-old, he's really good about covering his mouth and washing his hands, but with a kid coughing for a week, you just know it's going to spread. Then, about four days after his coughing fits started, the baby got sick. Not very sick, just a two-day runny nose and a low fever for about eight hours. (By the way, she's 17 months old, and this was her first fever, ever. I don't know where she gets that great immune system - it wasn't from me!)

 Once the baby started showing symptoms, I started cancelling my plans for the next week. I knew I was going to catch it, too - I catch everything that goes around. (When the boy was in daycare, I caught EVERYTHING that went through there - even when he didn't.)

 And I was right. By early the next week, I had a low fever and a stuffed up head. But of course, what mildly inconvenienced the baby knocked me flat for 2-3 days. By the weekend I was feeling better, almost back to normal, and I thought, "Well, that wasn't so bad."

 And then early the next week, I started coughing. And my head stuffed back up. And I lost my voice.

 Apparently, even though the kids were sick at the same time, they had two different viruses. And they both passed them on to me (though not to each other?!!) I knew two kids would be more work, but I didn't realize they would tag-team me on illnesses.

 So it's been a week now, and I'm still coughing, sniffing and hoarse. And it's been the warmest March ever, (80 degrees for a week straight, in Nebraska, in March? That's just unnatural!) but I haven't been able to enjoy much of it. By the time I'm back to normal I'm sure we'll be back to normal late March weather - rain, wind, the occasional ice storm. But if we have to stay indoors, at least I'll be able to catch up on my blogs!