Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Musings on the Boob-Tube, or What I’m Watching Lately

Considering I had to take a forced hiatus from television for a few years, only being able to watch programs like Blues Clues, Barney, and Sesame Street (which are all wonderful shows if you’re in the 2 to 6 year-old age range), I have finally been able to come back to the Adult World and, consequently, am able to watch what I want to watch not what I’m forced to watch. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m probably watching too much television, but I can’t help it with all the great shows on the air. Along with many other United Statesians I am hooked on Grey’s Anatomy, ER, House, Medium, and Desperate Housewives, after all what else is there to do on any given weeknight? And considering how exciting my life is (read with deep sarcasm) could I possibly say that television is all I’ve got?!? Anyway, here’s a run-down of what’s taking up my time on any given night:

Desperate Housewives
Yeah, so, chalk me up to desperation when I’ll waste an hour of my life on Sunday nights to keep up with all the happenings on Wisteria Lane. As usual there’s never a dull moment. Characters I thought were bad (and wasn’t sure about) are chalking up to be not so bad after all (like Orson) and the characters that I knew were bad just got killed off on the last episode (Orson’s ex-wife and his twisted mother). And just when things were getting interesting inside of the strange love-quadrangle (Edie – Mike – Susan – Ian) the writers wrapped up the plot – Edie backed off, Mike’s recovering his memory, Susan chose Ian, and Ian’s comatose wife died. Gabriele’s at a new page in her life – for the first time she’s on her own. Lynette is learning how to compromise in her marriage – working for her husband Tom at their new pizza parlor business. Looks like Susan will finally get married – I wonder. And Brie, well, who knows what the next episode will bring? (Yawn!) Are you bored yet? Well, I’m getting bored too, looks like there’s not as many sparks flying around suburbia as last season.

Now, here’s a show! I’ve always been a fan of the comic book concept even though I never really read them as a kid, and I don’t think Mad Magazine falls under the same genre. What can I say about the show’s concept except for that it’s innovative? I enjoy the melding of the comic book, the graphic novel, and the television series. I’ve been watching it eagerly each week and enjoying every moment of it. The computer generated effects bring the superhero concept to life and vividly – technology can be a good thing especially when it generates fans and revenue! All I can say is why didn’t I think of this first?

The Black Donnelly’s
This is a new series which premiered last night (Feb. 26th). I had seen the previews and wasn’t sure if I would like it, because being of Irish-American descent I wasn’t sure if I wanted to contribute to the ratings by watching a program that stereotypes Irish-Americans. After Heroes I decided to stick around and see for myself and I’m not sure what to think. As far as the writing is concerned, the show is tops, but I’m not buying the whole concept. Why?

The Donnelly family
a) Is fiercely Irish-American – Are there really Irish-Americans who are still so, well, Irish anymore? After all, the Irish have been in America for a very long time already, don’t you think they’d lose some of their customs by now? I felt like I was watching a remake of the Quiet Man minus the quaint scenery and cottages and the religious and moral elements.
b) Is living in some undisclosed location in New York City – Like where the heck are they? Hey, I’m from the Midwest, I’ve never been to New York so give me a clue as to what borough!
c) Is stereotypically Irish-American – In the first episode all they did was brawl and drink and commit crimes, the only thing missing was Irish accents.
d) Don’t seem to have jobs – There is a bar in the series where they all hang out (especially during traditional wakes), but all they did was run around. What happened to the hardworking Irish stereotype and why isn’t that portrayed in the series?
e) Are Black Irish – Like whatever that’s supposed to mean! Yeah, I do know what it means, my family is Black Irish through my father’s mother’s father’s side (Mullan line). So, because they’re Black Irish, are they are magically cursed or something? Geez! Well, me too Donnelly brothers, so get over it!
f) Participates in traditional Irish wakes – Like when in the United States would they allow a dead body to lie in state in a bar? I have never seen it nor heard of it. I know that back in Ireland they used to do this, but I think it’s gone out of custom even over there. Hey, but what do I know.
g) They exist in an unknown period of time – Okay, so I think the events that transpired in the first show are supposed to have happened after 2005, but I’m not sure. Who can really believe that in a traditionally Irish-American neighborhood (even in NYC) that people are running around and living that way the writers have portrayed it here? It all seems so surreal and hokey to boot.
h) Are at war with the Italian-Americans – Hey, as long as they’re going to portray the Irish in a stereotypical fashion, why not the Italians too? In this series there is a Mob Boss doing business from a bar and all his Goombaas (ha-compadres) are slick, packing heat, and are expert kickers, punchers, and stick wielders. Give me a break!

You might ask, Are you going to watch again next week? And I’ll have to say, Yes, I’ve got to see if my questions are answered or at least semi-satisfied (and, can’t you tell that deep down inside I really like this show?).

Boston Legal
This used to be a quirky series that mixed it up – off-beat lawyers at a prestigious Boston firm representing jaw-dropping and eye-popping cases – but it’s turning out to more of a circus side-show than anything else. The shock value has worn thin and I can’t say whether I’m amused or disgusted with each week’s antics, crazy clients, even crazier lawyers and their lack of moral values. How many times can Denny Crane get sued in one season and retain any credibility? How many more times are the various lawyers going to sleep with each other (heck, why don’t they just have one big orgy!)? And how many more weeks am I going to tune into this show? Doubtfully very few.

Here’s another crackpot! Dr. House does have some redeeming qualities, although I’m at a loss to list them here. Okay, so I like medical-mystery shows and I admire a wise-ass who’s not afraid to do his own thing – devil-may-care to the Hippocratic Oath and the legal system. I’m hooked.

For the record, I HATE NBC right now as they purposely scheduled Medium at the same time as LOST! on ABC! Why did they have to do that? I don’t have any way to tape Medium so I can watch it later (what’s Tivo?) so I have missed three episodes already. GRRR! I know, I know, I can hear you saying, Get with the times, Merry! Download it and watch it later! Okay, I will.

Where can I begin with this one? Well, you’ll just have to tune in and see for yourself. I totally admire the writers on this series, they’re doing a spectacular job. I did get therapy when LOST! took a winter break (before Christmas until after the New Year) but the promise that the series was returning gave me the strength to hold on until February. And, yes, they are taking another little break again (hey, you just gotta love Sweeps week) but I’ll be okay, this time.

Ugly Betty
I really enjoyed this series (based on a Mexican Soap Opera called Betty la Fea) but I haven’t been able to watch since I went back to school in January. Hopefully during the summer they’ll rerun the series from the first episode so I can catch up. (I guess I could download it on my computer, but that’s way too advanced for my reptilian brain.)

Grey’s Anatomy
Come on! Who could believe that they would actually kill-off Meredith Grey? I never bought it for a second, after all, I am a Writer. I knew that Shonda Rimes, et al, was only employing a cunning technique to boost viewing. Anyway, if Meredith died they’d have to change the name to plain old “Anatomy,” and who wants to watch a show with a title like that? Nevertheless, I don’t miss an episode if I can help it and plan to keep watching!

I’ve always been a fan of ER even though it is getting a trifle slow, seems like each episode is recycling prior episodes although I can’t remember which ones. But I keep watching the series, so that says something about it. I’m wondering where the writers are going with the current cast of characters. Is this the last season?

Men In Trees
I never saw this from the beginning – Friday nights are too crazy for me and the kids are usually awake later, so axe this one! The few episodes I did catch were nice and chick-flickey (Ah, delight!), but after a while it all melded together – too chick-flickey, too much sleeping around, too much un-reality. Oh well, it seemed promising!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Pączki Queens

Fat Tuesday is the traditional day to overindulge before the forty days of Lent begins, especially on the Polish-style Bismarcks known as Pączki. You can buy Pączki in many bakeries around town with the customary filling of prune and also with any other filling imaginable like raspberry and even blueberry. Store-bought varieties are okay, but in my opinion, they are overly doughy, heavy cakes, which make you feel just as bad as their day’s moniker, FAT! Regardless, I still crave Pączki on Fat Tuesday no matter how they make me feel after I’ve eaten them.

When I woke up yesterday, I couldn’t get those Pączki out of my mind, so with mouth watering I called my sister, LDS, at 8 a.m. to ask, “Are you going to buy Pączki today?” She replied, “I don’t think so.” Then she asked her hubby and he called out that he was already too fat and didn’t need to add fuel to the fire. I was mildly disappointed, but agreed with her, “Yeah, I don’t need to eat any either, even though it is Fat Tuesday.” We continued talking about Pączki and I told her how I’d always wanted to try to make my own and read my recipe to her. Then she read me hers. We decided it was a lot of work to make them from scratch and ended the call.

A few minutes later my phone rang.

“What do you think if I come over right now and we make some Pączki together?” she said. I thought it was a grand idea.

We started them at 10 a.m., which any baker would tell you is insane, you really need to get up before the crack of dawn as doughnuts are usually eaten at breakfast time, but what do we know? Getting the dough made wasn’t difficult. We confidently set it to rise and, an hour later, it hadn’t done much of anything! The dough is supposed to be double in size, so we waited a little longer. Of course, I had to run out to pick up the kids from school – half day, and when I had returned LDS had patted the dough out and had cut it into circles. The Pączki were resting comfortably on cookie sheets so they could rise again.

The rest of the process isn’t too hard. We heated oil in a heavy kettle and then fried the Pączki four at a time. They really puff up even more during the frying! After one side is cooked, you give them a flip, and when they’re golden brown, drain them on paper towels. We sprinkled some with powdered sugar, and then switched to granulated. That’s better by far. As they cooled on wire racks, we made the fillings: Poppy Seed and Vanilla Custard.

The Poppy Seed filling was interesting, consisting of chopped nuts, poppy seeds, honey, sugar, flour and cream, but, after it cooled down, it came out thicker than mortar and we had to thin it with more cream. The Vanilla Custard turned out too salty, lumpy, and nearly inedible which was surprising since we’re both pretty good cooks, but we made do.

Filling the Pączki was interesting to say the least, and a trifle disturbing! We didn’t have the proper equipment – I was using a pastry bag with decorator tips. After jamming the tip into each Pączki and squeezing the heck out of the bag I realized they must make some special apparatus to fill doughnuts, I just didn’t know what and I wished I had one as my hand was cramping. Despite this, we did the best we could. A couple of the Pączki cracked on top like they were erupting and, a few minutes after stuffing all of them, the filling began oozing out of the holes. So, how did they turn out?

Delicious! Homemade Pączki aren’t too sweet or doughy. The texture is rather light, and with the added orange zest, they had a hint of citrus flavor. The fillings, especially the Poppy Seed, added just enough interest and sweetness to satisfy. And homemade Pączki don’t sit in your stomach like a brick for three hours after you eat them. This is an advantage as you can eat more than one, which we all did, but not feel like you totally overindulged. I will say that after all the time and work and fussing that there is definitely nothing better than Pączki made with your own two hands.

As we sat at the table, eating these delectable treats, everyone agreed that my sister and I are now officially the Pączki Queens of Fat Tuesday, and we decided that Pączki-making would become a yearly tradition for us.