Sunday, March 23, 2014

Divergent: Let them eat cake!


Divergent's release date has been on my calendar for months. It was a blockbuster at the box office this weekend.  I'll watch it again. I'll probably watch Insurgent on opening weekend, too.

 Unfortunately, much of the movie was as insipid as this poster.

1.  Sunrise to indicate dawning of a new day over a destroyed city
2.  Protagonist walking an "uphill climb" to get to that "new day"
3.  Hot love interest staring at her bum (yes, I realize that their backs are to each other, but it completely looks like he's staring at her bootie.)

Yeah, yeah, I get what it's all about.


I sighed a lot during this movie.  I've read the book as many times as I've read Hunger Games and Pride and Prejudice. It has elements I really enjoy. I had high expectations.


Unfortunately, some of the reasons I like the book were completely neutered.

Plot Points

Where was the chocolate cake? What's a good book without a food that makes you think of it?  In taking away the chocolate cake the Dauntless are known for, some of the richness of the story was destroyed. Instead, they focused on the whole hamburger thing.  Without a bun.  Really? Chocolate cake is so much more telling of Dauntless than a meat patty.

Where was the fear?  Yes, lots of scenes remained that intimidated people who were scared of heights. But what about the violent scenes that showed so much about the dangerous world they lived in and a person's character under pressure? What about Peter?  No cloak and dagger/eye-gouging stuff?  Was Edward still hanging out with them--both eyes intact?  How are they going to get around him in future movies? They touched on Al's fear of being excluded and how he responded to his fear. I understand why they cut his crush on Tris and her rejection of him, but I still missed that plot point.  What about when Tris let Christina take the flag as a win because she felt she was on shaky ground with their friendship? The film only hinted about the relationship with Will and Christina, so the tension between Christina and Tris is minimal for the next installment. What about the fear scene with Marcus Eaton and Four?  I don't want to see a man beat his child, but I did want to see Tris try to help him through that fear and the others.  There was a bonding in the book when they traveled through Four's fear landscape that I missed in the movie. And on that note...

Where was the chemistry?  Even though Tris was supposed to be this scrawny, child-like, not-so-pretty girl, the book made us see her as Four did. Strong, brave, sexy.  So many of the cute lines and moments from the book were deleted for the movie. Four is totally hot in the movie. Don't get me wrong.  Still, his vulnerability and need for Tris was missing.  Furthermore, why in the hell did they make her fear of being close to Four turn into a rape scene?  A perfectly sweet scene was transformed into a menacing and twisted one.  In the book, there was a hint of sexual groping in her assault when Al and the others tried to toss her into the pit, but that aspect was removed from the film. If some of the violence was left out to protect young audiences, I think adding a rape scene with a sweetheart might do more damage to influence young viewers than showing a mother getting riddled with bullets to protect her child.

Where were the lies?  Although the movie managed to heavily stress some of the themes through imagery--birds/flying/freedom and reflections/seeing true self--it mostly skipped over the duplicitous nature of human beings. Sure, Jeanine talks about human nature and we get she's a big ol' liar, but all of the bits in the book about the protagonist's own proclivity toward dishonesty (she did test as Erudite, too, after all) were removed.   She said in the book, "I couldn't be Candor. I lie too easily." Her duplicity is a running plot line through the trilogy, and its absence weakens her character.


When I saw the casting I was a little nervous.  The movie proved my anxiety was for good reason.

Shailene Woodley...bless her heart.  She did her best, but she is no Tris.  It's not her fault. It's casting. (Note: April 6, 2014: I learned she's cast as Hazel in The Fault in Our Stars and think she is PERFECT for this role. I"m very excited to see her in that movie.) Check out this list of some people's choices.   Yes, I'm being completely superficial, but isn't seeing the story the point of taking a book and making a movie? At times, Woodley's big eyes--that were supposed to be blue like most of the other Abnegation--pulled me in and I wanted to root for her. But she just looks too old (meaning 19? versus 16) and too solid. She's supposed to be scrawny, pale, blond, not especially pretty, but interesting.  She claims to look like a child.   Even Four tells her she doesn't have any muscle. It's not like he was saying she was fat. She gets her ass kicked easily because there's not much of her.

I have to remind myself that this is a movie and not a book. They take liberties to tell a similar story but not the same one.

They achieved success with a lot of casting choices.

Four was right on target. (After all, Theo James caused Mary all sorts of trouble as the Turkish gentleman in Downton Abbey, and he possesses the sexiness to pull off the male love interest.)

Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd as Andrew and Natalie Prior were good. I couldn't have asked for better.  I believed them. So many relationships were removed in the film. (I get it. They have to cut for time.) I wish the visitation day would have been kept. It's so cool how she connects with her mother as she watches her in the halls of Dauntless. Of course, if that scene were included, though, they'd have to bring back the chocolate cake. After all, before Natalie left she told Tris, " Have a piece of cake for me, all right? The chocolate. It's delicious."

Christina got away with being smaller than Tris because she captured so much of her spirit.

Kate Winslet rocked Jeanine Matthews.  I look forward to seeing her again in the next film.

Side note: Did anyone else think they were trying awfully hard to make Jeanine look a little too much like Hillary Clinton? I know I know I know... Hollywood never gets political.

All of that being said, I will probably watch it again.  Even if it's just to see this part:

I'll just bake my own chocolate cake.

What about you?  What are your thoughts on the movie? The book? 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Has anyone seen my...?

I point at the unwrapped box in Garrett's hand. "What's that?"

"It's because one of you is always losing your keys," my mom repeats.


"I lose my phone all the time." We have special places for our keys. They are rarely misplaced.

Garrett says if there were a nature show about me, the Call of the Brandi would be has anyone seen my phone?

But it's the thought that counts, so we thank my parents.

Two weeks later...

Running from room to room, I quiz the kids with the same daily questions. "Where is my phone? Has anyone seen my phone?"

Max grins. "Why don't you use your key finder?"

I don't know where he gets such a smart mouth.

What about you? If you could put a tracking device on something, what would it be? 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Winter Soups: Virtual Potluck Party Roundup

Daffodils are lifting their lovely heads. Trees are budding.  The sun is warming the earth and our spirits. In short, spring has sprung, so our virtual potluck party must end. 

Thanks for joining me each Tasty Tuesday as friends--old and new--gathered to share their recipes. As a party favor, here's a link to last summer's virtual potluck party with salads as well as a round up of all of the soups. 

Happy eating!

Since I threw the party, I brought a couple of soups, too.

Thanks for coming to the party.  Don't be a stranger. Come back soon!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Leprechaun Poop

Need an easy recipe for the little leprechauns in your life?

Mine transform from leprechauns to screaming banshees when I suggest they try anything with mint. 
So, since my children think all things "booty" and "toot" are hilarious, I called these cookies Leprechaun Poop. They saw it through new eyes.

They gobbled up Leprechaun Poop.

Lucky me.

I'm not sure where I first saw the recipe...probably Pinterest.  I guarantee you won't find it by looking up Leprechaun Poop, though, so here you go.

1 bag of ready-made sugar cookie mix
1 Cup of mint chocolate chips (or chop up the Andes mints)
1 Cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 egg
1/2 Cup butter (softened)
1/2 teaspoon mint extract
green food coloring until you achieve desired shade

Stir it up. 
Scoop little balls about 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. 
Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes. 

Leprechaun Poop

Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday Favorite: Easy Icing

Need a fast way to frost a cake? It's your lucky day!
Half the batter made cupcakes.  Half the batter made this easy cake.

My friend Dee Dee gave me this "recipe" a while back and I finally tried it.

1. Remove cake from oven.
2. Place Hershey's chocolate bars or candy kisses on top.
3. Watch them melt.
4.  Eat cake while still warm.

I tried this the other day with leftover Valentine candy.  It was delicious. Thanks, Dee Dee!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Winter Soups: Valarie Lawson and Nana's Potato Soup

This winter has been exceptionally...wintery.  Our snow days have been extensive, but who minds those when you have good soup and good friends?  Thanks for joining me again for another Tasty Tuesday and a virtual potluck. I'm so glad you did because Valerie Lawson is here!

Aside from her mass of curly hair, the first thing I noticed about Valerie was her t-shirt. Like her, it was smart, artsy, and funny. To this day, when I see her at an SCBWI event, I look to see what she's wearing because I know she'll make me smile. 

And she brought potato soup for Saint Patrick's Day week. What luck! I'm definitely smiling now.
Valerie Lawson...she's wearing a funny t-shirt beneath that smile, y'all.

I’m so thrilled that Brandi invited me to participate in this virtual potluck. As many of you know who follow my blog, I am no cook. I was raised by my father, the microwave king, who still thinks cut-up hot dogs in macaroni and cheese is a fancy meal. He actually served this meal to my daughter recently, much to her horror. I think we’ve spoiled her. Or rather, my husband has. He is the cook in the family. He has a natural intuitiveness in the kitchen, lucky for us. Otherwise I’m afraid we’d live off fast food and cold cereal. My husband can look at the contents of our pantry and see what might work together as a meal. He does this weird thing called experimenting with food - and it almost always turns out fantastic. If I tried this, I’d end up with a fried crispy mess and a fire extinguisher.

My husband learned much of his instinctual cooking techniques from standing at his mother’s elbow while she cooked from scratch all through his childhood. She was also a natural cook who never wrote down a recipe, never used a measuring spoon. Thankfully, my husband had the foresight to write down a few of her favorite dishes before she died last year. I’m happy to share it with you, today.

This soup is simple and yet comforting on a cold, winter night. It is a meal all by itself or with some warm, crusty bread. I hope you enjoy it.

Nana’s Potato Soup


4 peeled and cubed Potatoes
½ cup chopped Celery
¼ cup chopped Onion
1 Tbsp Butter
1 ½  cups Milk
¼ tsp Greek Seasoning
Salt and Pepper to taste

Suggested garnish:
Crumbled Bacon
Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Sour Cream
Chopped Green Onions


Cover the potatoes with an inch of water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil for ten minutes.

While the potatoes are boiling, sauté the celery and onions in butter over a medium-high heat until translucent, about four to six minutes.

Pour off half the water from the potatoes, leaving the remainder of the water in the pan. Add the milk to the pan, along with the vegetables and seasonings. Turn the heat down to medium. Let flavors come together and allow the soup to simmer for about twenty minutes. Then your soup is ready.

Garnish as you please.
Nana's Potato Soup

Grab some soup and spend more time with Valerie over at her blog
Barbies on Fire. For me, the title of her blog was enough to tempt me to check it out, but once I got there I loved what she did with the place. She publicly challenges herself and shares her progress with the world while making it completely fun and mixing in great book reviews, author interviews, and more. 
Have fun with Valerie. I'm so glad I could introduce you!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Friday Favorite: Ghirardelli's Double Chocolate hot cocoa

Search your grocery store shelves for a hot chocolate mix without high fructose corn syrup. Go ahead. I'll wait right here.

 It's hard, right? 

We love having hot chocolate "tea" parties

But I finally did it. 

Sure, the first ingredient is sugar, but I know what sugar is.  And cocoa.  And vanilla.  

And deliciousness.

free of high fructose corn syrup and full of fabulous yummy  


Excited kiddos preparing for their "tea" party.  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Winter Soup: Brandi's Tomato Soup

My sorority house often served the comfort food combo of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup on a cold day.  I loved it. Still do.

So, as uncreative as I am in the kitchen, I knew I wanted to figure out how to make my own heart-warming goodness. Most people say they create tasty recipes "through trial and error."  Not this girl.  I completely goofed and accidentally added some things and forgot other things because I tried to remember how to make a soup after reading a couple of different recipes.

No one could be more surprised than I was to discover how yummy my mistakes tasted!

All of these ingredients are readily available at my house.

Brandi's Tomato Soup

onion (red or yellow work)
stick of butter
3 cans diced or whole tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
1 TBS. tarragon
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup of sour cream (pure cream tastes good, too)

  • Dice onions and cook them in butter until clear. If you cook them until they begin to brown, well, that works, too.
  • Add tomatoes and chicken broth and tarragon.
  • Boil. Stir occasionally. Simmer about 40 minutes.
  • Add sour cream and mix with your fancy emulsion mixer until smooth.

Special trick
Whole tomatoes work better than the diced if you use the emulsion mixer.  If you've ever slightly lifted the mixer to try to mix up those little diced pieces, then you know what happened. Yep. It looked like someone had stepped on a ketchup packet and splattered it everywhere.

Complete Magical Meal Suggestion
What pairs better with tomato soup than grilled cheese?  The other night I used heart-shaped cookie cutters on the grilled cheese. Everyone was happy.  For a little luncheon with friends, toss a bag of Caesar salad and cook up some frozen mini quiche. Add the grilled cheese sandwiches and cupcakes for a tea party with a cozy, comfort food feel.

Check back next Tuesday when Valerie Lawson will help us get into the St. Patrick's Day mood with some potato soup!