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Me and Sylvia on the canal in Qibao (April 2011)

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Penelope Fitzgerald


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Monday, July 11th, 2005

Bread and Chocolate

Our reread of The Phantom Tollbooth stalled around Chapter 17, because of the presence of Demons -- ever since about when Milo was in the Forest of Sight, Sylvia has been asking with trepidation, "Are there Demons in this chapter?" most every night, and I would reassure her that there were not any yet. But once we got to Chapter 17, where there are Demons, Sylvia did not want any more. I tried encouraging her a bit to stick it out through the scary part in expectation of a happy ending -- one indeed which she is already acquainted with and had talked about in earlier parts of the book -- but I did not want to lean on her about it.

So, we have moved on to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Yes, we are reading this partially in expectation of the new movie that's coming out -- we watched and enjoyed the Gene Wilder film and are looking forward to the new one.) I'm a little surprised because Sylvia didn't think too much of James and the Giant Peach, which I always thought was pretty similar; I guess the addition of Chocolate makes all the difference. She is crazy about this book.

We have decided to try making chocolate candies as a cooking project while we read this book. I have not made candy for several years, but last time I did they came out pretty well. I think the addition of Sylvia's enthusiasm will be helpful. Also tonight she said she wants to bake Challah bread with me, another thing I have not done for a long time. (Maybe ever? I've made egg breads but I don't know if any of them were specifically challah.) So -- looking forward to the kitchen stuff, I'll let you know how it goes.

posted evening of July 11th, 2005: Respond
➳ More posts about Sylvia

Thursday, July 14th, 2005

Candy

The candy-making date is to be this Saturday afternoon. We will make chocolate fudge and marshmallows, and dip them in chocolate; also brazil nuts and peanut clusters, and a couple of molded chocolate shapes.

Meanwhile in the read, last night we had Chapter 13, "The Big Day Arrives". Sylvia was participating in the book as much as I have seen her do, pointing out the different characters in the picture, describing who they were and what their roles in the story were.

Update: Also Connie and Julia are going to come over and help, and bring strawberries for dipping.

posted morning of July 14th, 2005: Respond
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Friday, July 15th, 2005

Fudge

Tonight was phase 1 of our candy-making weekend; we made chocolate fudge. Here is a recipe, from Woodstock Candy, a fine place to get fudge if you're in Ulster County:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups granulated white sugar
  • 1 cup cream
  • 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Combine sugar and cream and cook over moderate heat. When this becomes very hot, add the chocolate. Stir constantly. Cook until mixture reaches soft-ball stage (238 degrees). Remove from heat and add butter. Cool slightly, then mix until fudge starts to thicken. Transfer to a buttered tin. Cut into diamond-shaped pieces before fudge hardens completely.

Right now it is in its buttered tin hardening; soon I will go down and cut it into small diamond pieces. (And some larger diamond pieces also, which will not get dipped in chocolate but might get sprinkled with confectioner's suger instead.)

Sylvia helped with the measuring and mixing but got bored and wandered off during the boiling which I did not want to let her help with because of the high temperatures involved. (Boiling fudge is a grueling procedure in the hot weather.) I am perennially too shy about boiling candy though, in that I shut off the heat the moment my candy thermometer touched the 238-degree "soft ball" line, indeed it may still have been a degree shy of the line, when I think it would actually have been better to err on the high side of the line. I have done the same thing with caramel and had it not harden as fully as I wanted. But we'll see.

After we made the fudge (and Sylvia's interest in the process returned, when there was suddenly the prospect of fudgey spatulas to lick), it was time to get ready for bed, so we came upstairs. Tonight's section of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (chapters 16 and 17) coincidentally included some talk about fudge-making, which was exciting.

Update: Well the tentatitive upshot is, I probably did not heat it up enough (as reckoned above), and I definitely poured it into too large a pan. The pan I used is 6" square, and the fudge is not tall enough in it. I should probably have used a loaf pan. As far as not having heated it up enough, at this point after 3 hours sitting on the counter, it is...soft. No way around it, it's soft. And I sampled a bit of it, it was quite grainy. Which I think if the sugar had gotten hot enough, it would not be. So I am putting it in the fridge now, maybe it will get hard enough in there; but I think it will be grainy regardless. And too short.

posted evening of July 15th, 2005: Respond

Saturday, July 16th, 2005

Fudge part II, Marshmallows part I

This morning we cut up (and sampled) the fudge, and cooked the marshmallows. Verdict on the fudge is, I should definitely have cooked it hotter than I did. It gets pretty hard in the fridge but softens right up at room temp. (Which is fairly high right now.) So the plan is, to keep it in the fridge until we're ready to dip them, and figure once the chocolate sets around them, they can soften without many bad consequences. And yes, the texture is definitely too grainy. But this is not a make-or-break thing; Sylvia is still quite enthusiastic about the results.

Marshmallows are fun to make! I think they are going to come out a fair bit drier than commercial marshmallows but this is not (in my view) a negative. Here is the recipe (taken from Food Reference):

  • 2 tablespoons of gelatin
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 2 cups of white sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 3/4 cup of mixed cornstarch and powdered sugar (1/4 cup of cornstarch, 1/2 cup of powdered sugar)

Soak the gelatin in 1/4 of a cup of cold water in a small bowl and set aside to swell for 10 minutes.

In a large saucepan pour the sugar and second measure of water. Gently dissolve the sugar over a low heat stirring constantly.

Add the swollen gelatin and dissolve.

Raise the temperature and bring to the boil. Boil steadily but not vigorously for 15 minutes without stirring. (Final temperature should be soft-ball.)

Remove from the heat and allow to cool until luke warm.

Add the vanilla extract and whisk the mixture with an electric mixer or beater until very thick and white.

Rinse an 8 inch sponge roll tin or fudge dish under water and pour the marshmallow mixture into the wet tin.

Refrigerate until set.

Cut into squares and roll in mixed cornstarch and icing sugar. (We will not be doing this since we are dipping them in chocolate instead.)

The Joy of Cooking has a slightly more complicated recipe. When you whip the syrup up into marshmallow it is a lot of fun watching it get foamy and stiff, like whipping cream but moreso.

posted morning of July 16th, 2005: Respond

Candy-making

This afternoon we put it all together, the candies are covered with chocolate and sitting in the refrigerator waiting for Sylvia's play group to come over tomorrow and eat them. Verdict? -- I need practice but I think I could get pretty good at this confectionary stuff.

  • The fudge is pretty much of a loss, much too soft to use as candy centers -- though I did get a couple of candies right after the fudge came out of the fridge.
  • The marshmallows are very interesting, more like fondant than marshmallows, quite tasty and good for centers if they are handled with extreme care -- they break apart fairly easily. The best technique is to put a dab of chocolate on wax paper, a marshmallow on that, and spoon some more chocolate on top of it.
  • The nuts and fruit were fun and easy to do, and we ended up making most of our candies out of them. Also we put crumbled bits of marshmallow in the peanut clusters, which seems like a nice innovation to me.
  • I think I tempered the chocolate properly. The cocoa butter did not separate. However it gets quite soft at room temperature. Perhaps a bit of shortening would help stabilize it. Or some guar gum.

Then this evening, we read Chapters 18 and 19 of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

posted evening of July 16th, 2005: Respond

Wednesday, July 27th, 2005

A lousy movie

We watched Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Friday night and it left me flat. Now "it left me flat" is certainly not a recommendation; but it took until last night, when I was talking about the movie with Mark, for me to realize how much I actively disliked the movie. I had been too distracted by the pretty colors and animation, and the fabulous acting of two of the leads, to really get how lame it was.

Let's think about three things: the book; the old Wilder movie; and the new movie. These are three quite distinct things with not all that much really in common, besides the skeleton of the plot and some similarities in characterization. The book is masterful. The Wilder movie is fun and superficial. The Burton movie stinks.

Both the Wilder movie and the Burton movie have one major deviation from the book's plot plus many little ones. The Wilder movie has the part with Charlie and his Grandpa drinking the soda that makes you float, and Mr. Wonka getting mad at them for it; made up from whole cloth, nothing like it in the book; and whatever -- it's kind of funny though it does not really add much to the story. (Well actually I really like Grandpa Joe's speech after Wonka gets mad. But as I said whatever.) You can fit it in reasonably with the characters as they're presented.

The Burton movie deviates hugely from the plot of the book at the end of the movie; I am not going to go into detail about how because that would be a spoiler, but it's about the lamest ending I can imagine. Seriously -- I was relating it to Mark last night (who is not planning to see the movie) -- and with each clause of my summary he was gasping with incredulity at the total cheesiness/kitschiness of it. And also, there is the little matter of Johnny Depp's performance -- it seemed to me like he was in a totally separate movie from the rest of the actors. And this is not at all true to the book -- Wonka is eccentric, but he is extremely connected to what is going on around him.

So there you have it -- a pan from Jeremy, who is usually quite easy to please when it comes to movies.

Update: A similar reaction to the new movie from Timothy Burke, who expresses himself better than I.

posted evening of July 27th, 2005: Respond
➳ More posts about The Movies

Something interesting about seeing the bad movie of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was seeing how closely Sylvia has been paying attention to the plot of the book. We were 3 chapters away from the end, when we saw the movie; and all through the movie Sylvia was pointing out details that were different from the book. (Fortunately the matinee was sparsely attended and she could talk without annoying anybody.) And then when we went back to the book, she spent the last three chapters pointing out things that were different from the movie -- especially the last chapter, where the movie diverges widely -- she got really excited at the notion that it was essentially a different story.

posted evening of July 27th, 2005: Respond

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

Hmm...

posted afternoon of May 20th, 2012: 2 responses
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