Why I Changed My Mind: Cheesy TV Action Shows


We can’t be highbrow all the time, can we? My personal tastes – those that really speak to me and mean something to me – seem to align with the PBS and arthouse/foreign film crowd. But, as a multitasker, I like mindless entertainment to play in the background while I focus on other things. This realization dawned on me after quite some time, when I finally succumbed to the fairly harmless and unrealistic lure of TV action shows.

At some point I fell under the charming and sometimes hilarious spell of Burn Notice. Stretching believability in every episode, I could set aside all concerns about reality, what could actually happen and suspend all highbrow notions and get lost in the Miami world of burned CIA covert officer, Michael Westen, and his merry band of vigilante co-conspirators. The show had a number of one-time and running jokes (notably, when Tyne Daly guest starred to play opposite series regular Sharon Gless, reuniting the TV cop duo Cagney & Lacey; the character Sam Axe – played by the inimitable Bruce Campbell – always gave his cover identities the name “Chuck Finley”, which is not funny and means nothing to non-baseball fans). Burn Notice went on for a number of seasons, and though it ended in a satisfactory way, and I thought I was ready for it to end – I miss my mindless action show!

I have shifted my allegiances and started watching the remake of Hawaii Five-0, which is actually full of fun and interesting characters. Not deep characters, not deep stories, not great acting. But it’s enough to fill the need for mindless laughs and action. Scott Caan uses humor to escape the shadow of his actor father, James Caan and plays well off his counterpart and Five-0 partner, Steve McGarrett, played by Alex O’Loughlin (I’d only seen him in the late, great The Shield before this). I am thrilled to see Grace Park in this after her killer role in one of my all-time favorites, Battlestar Galactica. With all the cast chemistry, casual fun, Hawaiian views (me being an island-born Honolulu girl), the updated version of the original theme song (who doesn’t love that?) and Magnum PI references, this should satisfy my need.

But it does not quite fill the hole left by Burn Notice – and none of the other mindless shows out there (action or no) quite fill the void.

Old friends and old standbys: Snickerdoodles, M&M cookies and Daim cookies


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Anzac biscuits: Messing with what’s not broken


Having let myself run low on brown sugar, I decided to save the brown sugar for something else and try out white sugar in the ever-popular Anzac biscuit recipe. I cannot say with authority how this turned out because I do not eat the vast majority of the cookies I make. They look and smell normal (although not as dark in hue due to the absence of brown sugar). I will rely on the experimental lab-rat-style eaters in my office for a final verdict.

The thing about baking, as I have written before, is that it is not really a discipline in which you can throw whatever you want to into a bowl and bake it. Precision is important; experimenting with different kinds of sugar, for example, could yield very different results. I have enough experience to know that white sugar in this case is not going to destroy the recipe, even if the flavor is slightly altered. All the time people ask me questions, though, about baking-related matters. They seem to be under the impression that baking is a laissez-faire enterprise, like a casual stir fry. HA. It is not. It is more like a chemistry project (only a lot more fun, likely less dangerous and with a whole lot tastier result). Seriously, I get asked whether baking soda and baking powder are the same thing and can be used interchangeably (the answer is no; each does different things). Some people think milk, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk are the same. No, in fact they are not.

My knowledge comes from experience (and being a stickler for rules, I am pretty glued to following recipes). But I am not a scientist with all the explanations tucked away as to why certain reactions between ingredients work the way they do. (TV/celeb chef guy Alton Brown actually gives a lot of the technical explanations in his books and shows. I recommend turning to him if you need to know the how and why behind baking.)

And the Anzac recipe again in case you’re too lazy to click the link (yeah, sounds stupid, but I can’t count the times someone has asked me to post a recipe again when I have clearly provided a link back to the original).

ANZAC biscuits
1 cup plain flour
1 cup rolled oats (oatmeal), uncooked
1 cup coconut
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 Tablespoons golden syrup (or honey)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda/baking soda
2 Tablespoons boiling water

Preheat oven to 350F/180C
Combine flour, oats, coconut and sugar in a bowl.
Melt the butter and golden syrup or honey in a saucepan over low heat.
Mix the bicarb of soda with the boiling water and add to the butter and golden syrup mixture.
Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and mix well.
Spoon tablespoons of dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving space between to allow for spreading.
Bake for 15-20 minutes. (Mine usually take less than this, so keep an eye on them.)
Cool on a wire rack and seal in airtight containers.)

Anzac biscuits, the second act


Going back to a previous baking of Anzac biscuits, I am prompted to write a bit about the subjective nature of “easiness”. For me, most baking is straightforward and easy. I have been doing it all my life, so I know what to expect, I know what I can and cannot do or change in a recipe, I know what texture and consistency is supposed to be like, so I easily make many different items and do so without too many failures (although previous failed attempts at making the Milky Way/Mars cake have failed more than once!). Thus it can be hard for me to understand what is difficult for new bakers, as they attempt and fail to make things that seem basic for me.

On the surface, baking seems much easier than cooking. You simply follow a recipe exactly as written… et voilà. But that is rarely how it goes. You can follow a recipe and just not have it turn out properly and need to add a bit more flour or adjust something small. As an inexperienced baker, you would not know what to add necessarily. Cooking can be the same, of course, but there is a lot of room for creativity and experimentation with cooking. Baking is more like chemistry, with reactions between ingredients causing different results (i.e. different additions make a cookie crisp versus soft, crunchy versus chewy, etc.). But on some level, you are still relying on the experience and intuition you gain as you bake over time.

Then again, you can be experienced and still end up with a slightly different product each time you bake. Even with the simplest recipe. The humble but delicious Anzac biscuit is a case in point. The ingredients are very basic, the measurements could not be more straightforward, and the method would seem foolproof. However, if you add just a bit too much butter, you end up with cookies that spread across the pan a bit too much and are a bit difficult to handle. If you put too little butter, you end up with crumbly cookies that are difficult to make stick together when forming dough balls. There is a delicate balance in between. No matter what happens to the form, the flavor is still lovely. It’s just the end product and what it looks like (and how well it holds up over the course of a few days or through the post) that differs.

These biscuits turned out very well, but I erred on the side of slightly less butter than should have been used.

In this picture, the cookies in the very back next to the framed photo is a picture of what I consider to be the more ideal Anzac-biscuit outcome.