The Final Table: Netflix’s Newest Cooking Competition

The Final Table, a Netflix original global cooking competition, tries to become the biggest culinary competition the world has ever seen. Yet it seems to fall a little sort of these big claims. 

This show chose 24 talented chefs from around the world to compete (in teams of two) for a single seat at the final table. This legendary table has the biggest chefs in the world already sitting at it, chefs who have changed the culinary world of fine dining entirely. This includes chefs like Anne-Sophie Pic, Grant Achatz, and Helena Rizzo.  (I’ll admit I had never heard of them before this show, but they do seem really awesome.)

Anne-Sophie Pic

I absolutely loved the first few episodes of this show. They did a great job showcasing new and interesting culinary dishes and ingredients from various cultures. I mean, I have never seen or heard of Nopales before (a cactus used in episode one: Mexico as the native ingredient chosen by legendary chef Enrique Olvera).

This is not from the first episode, but is a great shot of Ash Heeger and Alex Haupt

I also loved that the chefs got two chances to make a great dish before they were removed from the show. I thought the editing and pacing was nicely done, with a good balance of tense cooking moments combined with slower more relaxing moments as chefs were introduced and we learned about different dishes. This show was interesting and explored new ways of cooking from other cultures. I really enjoyed learning about these new styles, techniques, and ingredients. 

During the beginning stages of this competition, it seemed reasonable when chef teams were asked to leave, they had failed twice to make a suitable dish, after all. As the competition entered the middle stages, however, I started to become more and more uncomfortable with the show. For me, episode six: USA was really the point I noticed things starting to go downhill. (Warning: some spoilers ahead.) 

I cringed through the entire episode. I disliked their choice of judges; Dax Shepard, Colin Hanks, and Sam Sifton. I especially disliked this because they seemed to try to have at least one female judge for every episode, except for the episode from the USA. I really felt that they could have done a better job choosing judges there. This was also the point I started to notice that all of my favorite teams, the chefs I’d come to care about were slowly getting eliminated. 

The next episode, Italy, cemented this feeling of growing unease with the show when the last females on the show (and the only female team) were eliminated by the end of the episode. (Also, Carlo Cracco seems super pretentious, especially in comparison to the other legendary chefs.) Monique Fiso actually broke down into tears after her elimination, saying she had sacrificed everything to be in this competition (she had no income coming in since she couldn’t work in her restaurant). That was definitely the moment this show wasn’t fun to watch anymore. 

Carlo Cracco

By the time I got to the finale, the only chefs left were the team from Australia (Mark Best and Shane Osborn) and the team with Canadian Darren MacLean and American Timothy Hollingsworth. Literally, all the of the “global” chefs from the show had been eliminated. (And all the chefs I cared about watching). After finishing the episode my only reaction was “Meh.” I didn’t really have any feelings, except disappointment.  

Does the lack-luster finale have to do with the casting of the chefs? The structure of the competition? I’m not sure, but I know that it didn’t feel very global by the time I got done watching it. 

Overall, if you love cooking competitions, you might like this one (and I do highly recommend the first few episodes!). But you might also feel pretty disappointed by the lack of representation by the finale. 

Exploring New Worlds: Hilda Review

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Hilda, a new animated children’s show on Netflix, is a perfect mix of exploration and friendship, adventure and humor.

I seriously can’t recommend this show enough.

Hilda is based on a graphic novel series written by Luke Pearson focusing on the adventures of Hilda as she explores her world, including her new home in the city of Trollberg.  Hilda and her mother previously lived in the forest where Hilda’s friends were the creatures she met there (including one called Woodman. Yes, he is made entirely of wood.) They later move to Trollberg where Hilda befriends two other middle school students, Frida and David. Together, the three of them explore the city and discover some of its secrets.

This is a light-hearted series focusing on adventure, friendship, and comedy. It is perfect for anyone from young children to adults because all audiences will get something out of it.

One of the best parts of the show is the fun fantasy elements carefully woven into the daily life of the characters. Hilda meets strange and wonderful creatures, discovers secrets and explores every hidden (and unhidden) inch of the world around her. 

Let’s look closer at the main themes:

Friendship:

Hilda’s main friends in the show are Frida and David, whom she meets in her class after she moves to Trollberg. 

 

David, Hilda, and Frida

Hilda is also always making friends with the various creatures she meets on her adventures. She seeks to understand them and doesn’t run away from difficult or strange situations. Some of her other friends through the season include Alfie the Elf, and Tontu, a Nisse (a house spirit).

At the beginning of the series, Hilda doesn’t really know how to make friends or interact with others socially. She grew up in a very limited social environment, making friends with only the forest creatures around her house and no one her own age. After the move to the city, Hilda learns how to be a good friend to David and Frida, especially in difficult situations (interpersonal and otherwise). Her new friends must also learn to adjust to all of Hilda’s quirks and faults.

Home:

Hilda and her mom playing a game

After moving to Trollberg, Hilda often feels out of place and homesick for her old house in the woods. Throughout the series we get the chance to see her connect with her new city and new friends as she begins to call this place her home. In one episode she is temporarily trapped in a suspiciously similar house in the woods (even though her house in the woods was destroyed) that grants her every wish, except for letting her leave. She finally realizes that her way out is to wish for the one thing she really wants: a door back home. The house grants this wish and she finds herself in her new apartment with her mom again, finally accepting that this is the place she now calls home. 

Fantasy and Adventure:

Another thing Hilda does well is incorporating unique and fun fantasy elements in unexpected places. One of my favorite examples of this is the way they mention several times a specific weather station on the radio. This station is hosted by Victoria Van Gale, who has eerily accurate weather predictions. Somehow only about three people in the whole city tune in (because no one else except Hilda has found her station). We meet Victoria Van Gale in person in a later episode during which Trollberg experiences some crazy weather phenomena. 

Hilda is consistently finding hidden secrets, meeting mysterious creatures, and going on crazy adventures while the show maintains a light-hearted whimsy that makes every episode fun. Hilda’s world is made up of Rat Kings who trade you secrets in the gutters, large flying Woffs (like puffy, floating cloud dogs- seen in the first picture of this post, along with Hilda’s deer-fox, Twig), and nightmare spirits who give you bad dreams. Using her determination and resourcefulness, Hilda and her friends find their way out of almost any situation. 

Hilda and David flying through a storm

The gorgeous animation, using soft, dreamy colors for the background and more intense colors on the main characters (especially Hilda’s red sweater and blue hair), bring this world to light in a way that is truly special. Hilda is a carefully created universe shown in such a heart-warming way that you are bound to rewatch it again and again.

I really loved this show and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great cartoon show! 

Happy watching! 

The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell: Review

christine mcconell

Netflix’s recent spooky additions during October this year included a baking show called The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell.

Christine McConnell, the show’s main character and real-life baker, gained recognition as a self-taught baker who’s Instagram baking posts showcase her creepy (and delicious) desserts. Her show on Netflix is an interesting mix of baking how-to and spooky, puppet-filled plot.

I enjoyed the quirky, dark humor of the show and the subtle world-building. In fact, the two things this show does best are world-building and baking.

Watching this show will definitely make you hungry as you watch McConnell make her spooky (and delicious) creations. She makes everything from chocolate-peanut butter “bones” in the first episode to a cake replica of her house. Seriously. McConnell's house

10/10 for edible spooky houses.

She also makes some other craft projects throughout the course of the show, including items like this creepy candle with a face, and a stunning, hand-made red dress for a date. There’s no denying that McConnell is incredibly talented at making lovely, spooky-themed creations, both in real life and on this show. By taking the time to show how she makes these items, the mood tends to stay pretty light-hearted and relaxed.

creepy candle

The other thing Curious Creations does well is world-building. From set design to spooky characters, the world (and, specifically, the house) McConnell lives in is fascinating. The subtle layers of world building keep you guessing at the mysteries of this universe. How did McConnell come to live in this house? What is the rest of her family like? (To this question, we do see some answers in later episodes). How did all of these creatures come to be here? What or who is Christine McConnell exactly? And what kind of world does she live in? So many questions.

In one episode we see Christine in her bedroom, just waking up for the morning. It seems that she is “sleeping” with her eyes open, looking almost dead. This small detail gives interesting hints about the world of Curious Creations. I genuinely loved the idea of this creepy house and the kind-hearted, though dark and mysterious, woman who lives in it. I also love how she treats the creatures who live in her house like family, bring in the trope of the gathered-family and true warmth to their relationships and interactions.

McConell

From details like the spider-web cupboards to the reappearing skull (of a previous mailman, apparently) and all the creatures living around the house, world-building gets a 10/10 here. Quirky, spooky, and mysterious, Curious Creations aces this test.

On the other hand, while I enjoyed watching The Curious Creations, I did feel like it took its genre-breaking a little too far. In some ways, breaking the genre molds of typical baking shows and typical spooky shows is what makes Curious Creations so unique and fun. But breaking the genres like this comes with a price.

Curious Creations doesn’t fit very well in any genre. Is it a baking show? Yes, but it doesn’t give quite enough detail to become actually useful as a baking show. I felt that a few too many steps were jumped over in the recipes for anyone to actually try to follow along with unless they are a professional baker with professional tools. In an attempt to showcase McConnell’s creations to the fullest, the show jumps over a few too many minor steps to be a really good baking show.

Is this show a children’s show? The rating is PG, but some of the content seems a little bit too raunchy or scary to make it a really good children’s show.  I mean, serial killers welding axes does seem a little scarier than PG, and let’s not even talk about the time they tortured a neighbor in the basement. (I’m also not going to talk about my feelings on Rose (an undead raccoon) as a character. I understand that she was written to be obnoxious, but she crosses the line into highly annoying a few too many times for me to like her very much. I’m not sure she helps to make this a “kids show” either, although they might find her the funniest of all audiences.)

rose

Is it a fictional, spooky show with a plot? Technically yes, but the plot is left underdeveloped so the show can focus on the baking. I wish they would have given more screen time to some of the other quirky characters living in McConnell’s house and addressed more some of the other intriguing plot points. By always cutting back to the kitchen so McConnell can talk about baking, the plot felt like it was cut a little bit short.

Breaking these barriers leaves Curious Creations in a strange, new territory for a spooky show. Who is the intended audience for this show? Children? Parents and children together? Young adults looking for something slightly spooky? I can’t help but feel that all audiences will be left a little confused and disappointed by how this show has divided itself between baking and fiction.

Final Thoughts:

If you love baking and spooky shows you will enjoy this one! It has a lot of super interesting concepts surrounding it that add to the mood of the show and help make it truly unique and fun. I really enjoyed both Christine’s baking and the idea of her house, but I didn’t fall in love with the show itself.

It is still a really good show to watch to get in the spooky mood!

Happy watching!

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes (Vegan!)

pumpkin

‘Tis the season for all things pumpkin spice! Last week, in celebration of fall, I made vegan pumpkin spice cupcakes to take with me to share at work and eat after going to a local haunted house. (You can’t go wrong with something sweet after something scary!)

I followed this recipe from lovingitvegan. It was easy to make and has a great vegan buttercream frosting to go with it.

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Unfortunately, I realized only after I began baking that I didn’t have any pre-mixed pumpkin spice. So I combined the spices together myself- which gave it a more personalized flavor. Just use cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. You may also use allspice to add extra spice to your mix. Add these spices together until you get your desired taste. (Mine was a little heavier on the ‘spice’ part of the pumpkin spice, and in the future, I would definitely be more careful with the cloves!) This recipe called for 3 1/2 tsp in the cupcakes themselves and a bit extra for the frosting, so keep that in mind if you are thinking of making your own.

I also made a flax egg for the first time as an egg replacement. It works incredibly well to bind the batter together, just like an egg would. To make a flax egg, mix 1 tbsp ground flax meal with 3 tbsp water and let it sit for a minute or so until it starts to thicken.

I had some extra batter after I made a batch of twelve regular-sized cupcakes, so I made an additional eight mini-cupcakes as well. I actually loved the mini-cupcakes even more than the regular cupcakes. Cupcakes usually have too much sugar for me to handle, so a mini-cupcake makes it easier to eat (especially if you are watching your sugar, but still want dessert).

Here is the recipe:

Making Homemade Einkorn Bread

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Einkorn, an ancient strain of wheat similar to spelt and emmer, appeared on a documentary I recently watched about the sustainability of current farm practices, including the growing of wheat. (This one! Right here! Its called Sustainable.)

Why is einkorn important?

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Einkorn is a grain that promotes genetic diversity in the grain crop, which helps nearly every element of the farm from the land and animals, to the crop itself. Regular wheat is one single strain of grain that is constantly mass produced, draining the soil, forcing the use of pesticides, and losing nutrition from the wheat itself.

On the other hand, a grain like einkorn helps restore the soil, and because it is genetically diverse, limits the need for the protection from bugs or disease that pesticides provide. It also hasn’t lost its nutrient value like regular wheat has. Eating einkorn provides more protein and potassium (along with other nutrients) than regular wheat.

The documentary discussed how this kind of wheat grows so well and interviewed a baker who uses einkorn in his bakery every day. I was very curious to try some einkorn bread of my own, so yesterday I made my first loaf. (In the future I’d also like to make more bread using other kinds of ancient grains! The taste is similar to whole-wheat bread, rather than regular white bread flour, which is exactly what I love from my bread).

How to make einkorn bread:

I followed this recipe from Live Simply.

The ingredients are very simple:

Water, yeast, olive oil, honey, and salt along with all-purpose einkorn flour. (You may use whole wheat, but the author of the recipe, Kristin Marr, suggests using the all-purpose for this particular recipe.)

After the yeast has been activated, the ingredients combine quickly into a sticky dough. It is important to not overwork the einkorn dough because it won’t rise correctly if you do.

The bread then proves for an hour before another 30-minute prove in the loaf container. Finally, it goes into the over at 375 for about 35 minutes. When I pulled my loaf from the oven, I was initially worried it was burnt. Actually, it really wasn’t burnt (well, maybe just a tiny bit on the very top), since the einkorn flour turns a darker color after it has been baked.

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Overall, this first try at making einkorn bread was a success! I definitely want to make another loaf, since this one is mostly gone already and I plan to eat the rest with some homemade soup tonight. This particular recipe doesn’t make an overly sweet or salty bread, so it goes well with nearly any dish.

Here is some more information about einkorn!

 

The Underground Girls of Kabul (An Inside Look into the Lives of Afghan Women)

kabul girls

The Underground Girls of Kabul, written by journalist Jenny Nordberg, is a look into Afgan culture and the lives of Afgan women. Nordberg specifically explores the phenomenon of families dressing their daughters as boys, or bacha posh.

In Afganistan, a girl child is called “dokhtar” (daughter) while the boy is “bacha” (child). The girl is not the chosen child, she is “other”. The phrase “bacha posh” means “dressed like a boy” and is the term for those children who are neither son nor daughter. They are the girls dressed as boys.

Before reading this book I assumed it might be a heart-wrenching look into the confined lives of Afgan women, but this book proves over and over how much of a falsehood that thought was. In many ways, Afgan women are indeed mistreated and confined, but this book is a hopeful look at how their society might be transformed and is in the process of transforming right now.  The presence and existence of these girls proves there is a kind of resistance to the control of society and a subversion of the tightly controlled roles and rules surrounding the behavior of women.

Reading this book also helped to open my eyes to the actual culture of Afganistan and its people and history. To be honest, I hadn’t read that much about Afgan culture before this and I was surprised in many ways to hear stories from the women themselves. Of course, there are some truly horrible and saddening moments in the book, but I understand more clearly why their society behaves this way.

For example, one eye-opening moment for me was when Nordberg points out that in some ways the West is more obsessed with gender roles (in childhood) than Afghans are. A woman she interviewed explains that, in Afghanistan, “people are driven by something much more basic- sexuality. Everything before puberty is just preparation for procreation. That is the purpose of life here.”

Part of the reason that Afghan culture keeps women so tightly confined is that they are in a constant state of war. When everything else is unstable, the Afghan men keep a tight grip on any reasons they have, specifically their reputation and their women. Controlling women means that, to an extent, they have control over life- the literal production of life which can mean safety and future security for their family.

Nordberg’s suggestions in the epilogue of the book as to how Afghanistan can move out of this cultural mindset include two important factors, that the country must enter a sustained time of peace, and that part of the change must begin with “powerful men educating many other men”. The women in Afghanistan won’t be able to achieve economic or political power until they are supported by their fathers and husbands.

This book really changed my perspective on Afghan culture and the Middle East. Nordberg helped me understand a little more clearly what living on the inside of such a culture looks like. Ultimately, there is great potential for hope and progress, but the road towards that goal will be long and difficult.

 

 

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

Shot Code C

On Friday last week I made my first batch of vegan chocolate chip cookies to take with me to a dinner party. They were so easy and fast to make, and they tasted delicious! I also brought the extras in to work the next day—my coworkers loved them too! It’s a nice feeling to know that more people might be able to eat your dessert if they have lactose issues or adhere to a vegan diet.

I followed this recipe.

Ingredients:

2/3 cup refined coconut oil, melted

2/3 cup vegan granulated sugar

2/3 cup packed vegan brown sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

teaspoons vanilla

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

teaspoon baking soda

teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

bag (10 oz) vegan semisweet chocolate chips (1 1/2 cups)

 

However, I’d like to make another batch soon with some chopped walnuts added for a bit of extra crunch and nuttiness.

The steps, posted below, only took a few minutes to follow. (And you can safely eat the dough because there aren’t any eggs! Not that the presence of eggs stopped me before…)

 

  • Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, mix coconut oil, granulated sugar and brown sugar until well mixed. Stir in almond milk and vanilla.
  • Stir in flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt until dough forms. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop dough by slightly rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  • Bake 11 to 14 minutes or until edges are light brown and tops look set. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets. Remove to cooling rack; cool completely. Store in tightly covered container.

 

Recently, I’ve been trying to learn how to bake more vegan desserts and have had a lot of success with both banana bread and apple cake. It turns out that great dessert doesn’t need milk and eggs, it just needs a lot of sugar.

Cheers to baking!

-Sarah