Sunday, March 13, 2011

A great apple cake recipe

This goes out to my friend Chrissi:

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

For the Apples:
* 4 large or 6 small firm apples, peeled and thinly sliced (I prefer Granny Smith)
* 3 tablespoons sugar
* 1 tablespoon cinnamon

For the Cake Batter:
* 3 cups unsifted flour
* 2 1/2 cups sugar
* 1 tablespoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 cup oil (such as expeller-pressed canola, grapeseed, or walnut)
* 4 unbeaten large eggs
* 1/3 cup orange juice
* 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350° (If you are using a dark or nonstick pan, reduce the heat by 25° F). Grease and flour a tube pan with a removable bottom, making sure to tap out excess flour.
2. In a large bowl, combine the apple slices, cinnamon and sugar. Toss together gently, making sure the apples are well coated with the cinnamon and sugar, and set aside.
3. In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the oil, eggs, orange juice, and vanilla, and beat just until smooth. The batter will be very thick.
4. Pour about 1/3 of the batter into the prepared tube pan. If necessary, use a spatula to spread the batter so it covers the bottom of the pan. Layer about 1/3 of the apple slices over the batter. Repeat with another layer of batter, then apples, then batter.
5. Arrange the final layer of apples decoratively in concentric circles over the batter, overlapping the apple slices slightly (they will spread out as the cake bakes). Drizzle the cake with a bit of the remaining cinnamon sugar “syrup” from the apple bowl.
6. Place the cake on a cookie sheet or on top of a piece of foil to catch any drips, and bake in the center of the preheated oven for 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours, or until a tester comes out clean and the top of the cake has a golden “crust.”
7. Allow the cake to cool in the pan on a wire rack. When cool, run a knife or spatula around the edge of the pan, and remove the outside of the cake pan. Gently run a knife or spatula between the cake and the pan bottom to loosen. Invert the cake over a plate and remove the pan bottom (the cake will be upside down on the plate.) Place a cake plate face down on the bottom side of the cake, and holding both plates, flip the cake, so it is right-side (apple-side) up. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Convention Finds- Bad Ronald

Well, I’ve finally got a little time to devote to this blog, and I’ve decided to revive a feature called “Convention Finds”, wherein I review some of the various and sundry videos I’ve found while trolling the dealer tables.

Today’s little flick is Bad Ronald- a TV movie originally aired on October 23, 1974.

Let’s go back to 1970s- before there several hundred cable channels, before these channels broadcast 24 hours a day, before there were VCRs or DVD players. If you wanted to watch TV, you were at the mercy of the three major networks, PBS, and (if you were lucky to live near a large city) a few local UHF stations, all of which went off the air around 2 or 3 AM. To fill these limited viewing hours, the three majors aired more than just the standard sit-com and hour-long drama fare. They tried to be a bit more ambitious, and regularly aired their own movies.

And what movies they were- I remember my mom shuffling my sister and me off to bed so she could watch Helter Skelter, which carried a viewer warning that it might be too intense for younger viewer. I remember my mom being freaked out the day after seeing Trilogy of Terror, especially over the Zuni Doll episode. There was Steven Spielberg’s debut feature, Duel. There were two “Kolchak” movies, which led to the Nightstalker TV series. And there were so many more (Brian’s Song, Something for Joey, Born Innocent) that left their marks.

Looking back on these movies, they tended to have a lot in common. Their budgets were not that big, and some of the sets looked a little cheesy. Since “Made for TV” carried the same cachet as “Straight to video” does today, they didn’t really attract the big movie stars. Mostly they featured actors who had made their careers in television, and who weren’t appearing regularly in a series at the moment. The writing tended to be workmanlike, with the stories being efficiently told within the constraints of a 90-minute minus commercials running time. But the good ones certainly had a certain charm. And because of the previously-mentioned limited viewing options, they could reach a large audience, and, if they were especially memorable, could become part of the pop culture landscape.

Bad Ronald is one of those memorable movies- it certainly has a small cult following to this day. It’s got your TV character actor stalwarts- Dabney Coleman, John Fiedler, Linda Purl, Kim Hunter, and Pippa Scott. Buzz Kulik, the director, seems to have made quite a career out of directing TV movies- he also gave us Brian’s Song, and quite a few biographies (Babe, The Lindbergh Kidnapping, George Washington, Ziegfeld, and more). The script takes care of setting up the back-story quickly so we can get straight to the action, and resolves the story mighty quickly.

So what’s it all about?

Ronald is a high school geek who lives with his mom. In the first scene we learn that his parents are divorced and his mother wants Ronald to be a doctor so he can cure the unspecified medical condition that is slowly killing her. The other kids in school don’t like him, but his mom says it’s better that way- she can have him all to herself.

Ronald heads out to a popular girl’s house, where she and her popular friends are having a pool party. Of course, he gets laughed at when he asks her out, and he runs away, humiliated. He meets up with a 10-year-old girl, who also makes fun of him, telling him (and us) how disliked he is by the neighborhood. And to prove to us that she’s not lying about his defective personality, he knocks her down. The girl hits her head on a rock and dies.

The only thing Ronald can think of to do is to hide the body and then run home to confess everything to his mother. Mom feels that no one will ever believe that this was an accident, and that Ronald will never get to be a doctor, so she does the only sensible thing- she has Ronald wall off the door to a downstairs room, converting it into a secret room where Ronald can live until the whole thing blows over. She covers for Ronald when the police come by, telling them that he ran away.

Having nothing better to do while he’s waiting to be let out, he begins to create his own fantasy world. He writes and draws stories in which he is a prince, and he has a beautiful princess by his side. He makes occasional brief excursions out of his room to get food, but other than that, he’s pretty much a prisoner.

Some time later, Ronald’s mother gets sick and his taken to the hospital, where she dies. Ronald, unsure of what to do, remains in his secret room, drawing and writing. The house is soon sold to another family, one with three daughters. Ronald still makes the occasional food gathering trip, but now he has another reason to leave his prison- he has become infatuated with the youngest daughter, who, in Ronald’s mind, becomes the princess to his prince.

The family tries to shrug off the strange noises and disappearances of food, but it is affecting the youngest daughter, who thinks the house is haunted and that she’s being watched. As Ronald grows more delusional, he begins to see everyone as a threat to him and his “princess”. Things come to a head when he attacks the oldest sister’s boyfriend, imagining him as a devil that must be destroyed.

Things pick up rapidly from here, as Ronald is discovered. His hiding place is breached, the police arrest him, and he is dragged off to jail, crying and screaming.

A lot of people have fond memories of this movie, although, I must confess, I have no memory of it myself. (Strangely though, my wife remembers seeing it several times on TV in Ecuador.) So, when I managed to get a copy of it, I was able to look at it with fresh eyes, and without too many pre-conceived notions.

First off, I was surprised at how much of a dick Ronald was. He wasn’t somebody you could sympathize with easily. In fact, you can’t wait for him to get caught. From the beginning, when he maliciously knocks down and kills the little girl (and then buries the body), to the end when he stalks the youngest daughter, you find yourself liking him less and less.

I also like how there was really no fat in this script. This story had to be told in 74 minutes, and if that means that everyone must talk in exposition, well, then, dammit, exposition it will be. The movie opens on Ronald’s birthday where we learn his whole family history- you’ve got to wonder why Ronald and Mom have to remind each other of the divorce, or that, as part of the settlement Dad has agreed never to see Ronald again, or that mom is terribly ill. I liked that Ronald’s birthday presents were a tool kit and art supplies. Hmmm... do you think either one will play a part in future events?

Obviously, we are meant to see mom as someone who has an unhealthy level of influence on her child, as in Psycho or Carrie. But it’s a little too ham-handed, and Ronald is too much of a dick. If he were more sympathetic, like Carrie White, maybe we wouldn’t be rooting for him to get caught.

Still, all in all, this was a decent diversion. I’m not sure if I’ll ever watch it again, but at least now I can say I’ve seen it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Trip Back to the 90s

I've been in a bit of a reflective mood lately- I've been listening to some of the tapes I made when I was a DJ at grad school, and have been pretty much going through a late 80s/early 90s music kick.

So, in lieu of actually writing anything, here's a brief glimpse into what was spinning in my CD player way back in the (first) Bush years:

First up- "The Mayor of Simpleton" by XTC. To me, the best unrecognized pop band ever.

Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend"- from one of my all-time favorite albums

Lloyd Cole's "Weeping Wine"- the song appeals to the sap in me.

The Connell's "74-75"- an even more criminally overlooked band than XTC.

And, as a bonus, "Make a Circuit With Me" by The Polecats. I saw the video once when the song first came out (about 1982 or so), and it's stuck in my mind ever since then. Thanks to the miracle of YouTube, after 26 years, I've been able to see it again.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Chiller Theatre, Spring 2008

Well, another Spring, another Chiller, another half-assed lazy post from me.

For a Spring Chiller, this year's guest list was surprisingly large, with a lot of great first-time guests. I was kind of exhausted at this one, because we had my daughter's birthday party the day before, and spending the day wrangling a bunch of 2-5 year-olds can take a lot out of you.

Still, I got some good signatures. Plus, I decided to spend some time combing the dealer room, and got three great DVDs, all of which will be making appearances in my soon-to-be-revived "Convention Find" series. But for that to happen, I'll need a little free time to actually watch the movies.

Until then, though, enjoy my shots-

First up, we had appearances from a few of the stars of one of my favorite comedies ever, Clerks. At the top are Brian O'Halloran and Marilyn Ghigliotti, aka Dante Hicks and Veronica "37" Loughran.

Next, looking not a bit like his alter-ego, we have Jason Mewes, aka Jay.

Everyone's favorite TV Mom, Katie Sagal made an appearance, too.

Here we have Armin Shimerman, of "Star Trek: Deep Space 9", and, more importantly, weasely Principal Snyder from "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer."

Friday, April 04, 2008


Found this cool new site that allows you to create playlists and upload songs on-line. I thought I'd give it a whirl- check out my first muxtape at

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

La Fantasma de Chillogallo

My last two posts covered some ghostly occurrences that I, in some way, personally witnessed. This story is something that happened to my wife before she met me.

First, a little bit of background on the layout of her parents’ house- it’s a one-floor dwelling, and it only has windows in the front. Because of this, the only rooms that get any outdoor light are the kitchen, the living room, and her parents’ bedroom. All of the other rooms have small skylights in their ceilings, which let in a little sunlight. In the daytime, these rooms tend to be quite dim without some sort of electric light. At night, they’re pretty much pitch black.

The layout of the house is such that the only way into or out of my wife’s old bedroom is through her sister’s room. Pilar’s room was pretty quiet and isolated from the rest of the house.

Another thing to consider is Ecuadorian cemeteries. They are not like we are used to in America- nice green areas where everyone is buried underground. They are a little spookier- tending to be a bunch of small, above-ground nooks where the bodies are stored. They tend to resemble the portions of New Orleans cemeteries where the poor are buried- no elaborate mausoleums, just spaces that are big enough to hold the body. And those are the nicer ones.

Not too long before I met Pilar, odd things started happening around the house, especially at night. There was the occasional strange noise, doors that were supposed to be closed were left open, and vice versa. A few nights, when she was trying to sleep, Pilar noticed someone entering her room and looking in her closet. Thinking it was her sister, she would ask her what she wanted. Of course, the response would come back from her sister’s room, and not from the figure near the closet. Turning on the light would reveal no one standing there. Pilar also started having weird dreams about skeletons and dead people, and so were other members of her family.

These things were weirding everyone out, because no one knew why they were happening. Finally her father broke down and confessed that he had recently been in a cemetery and had seen some interesting rocks lying around, so he picked them up and took them home. He placed these rocks in his bedroom closet. Not too long after that was when the weirdness started.

It turned out that these were not rocks, but were actually bones. Of course, everyone begged him to return them to he found them. He was stubborn, and refused to. Finally, though, something happened that scared him, although he would never say what it was. This was his breaking point, and he returned the bones to the cemetery. All the scariness stopped after that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ghosts of the Antinea

In an effort to thrill and chill all of my faithful readers, I've decided to go ahead and post a few more ghostly tales. These are all from the Hotel Antinea in Quito, Ecuador, where my wife used to work as the receptionist (and where I met her when I was on vacation).

I’m not really sure of the Antinea's history- it looks like a relatively old building- maybe 100 years or so, and perhaps was once a house that has been converted to a hotel. The front section has small rooms on the second. Most of these rooms face the street. In the back, there are 10 or so suites that all face out onto a small courtyard.

The most common occurrence is from guests who stay in the suites. Many of them ask about the blonde woman they saw in the courtyard. She has been described as having long hair, is dressed in an old-fashioned (19th century) style, and usually looks very sad. Most often she is seen looking in the windows of the suites, as if she’s searching from someone.

There’s also some weirdness going on in the single rooms, too. A few years ago, I went down there with my sister and some friends. My sister shared a room with my friend Olga. During the night they heard a lot of noise coming from the room next door- it sounded like someone was stumbling around drunkenly, moving furniture, and later they heard the sounds of vomiting coming from the room. The next day, they asked my wife if the guy in the room was OK. She told them that no one was in the room, and, in fact, it was completely empty as they were refurbishing it.

Room 12, though, seems to be the center of activity. Guests staying in the room have reported seeing a dark figure moving about at the foot of the bed. Usually the figure moves around the room and then jumps out the window into the garden below. The police have been called several times to investigate, and have searched the premises, but have never found anyone.

When I went to Ecuador to get married, I spent a couple nights before the wedding in that room. I never saw anything myself, but I did feel very uneasy, especially at night. For some reason, I was always too scared to look in any mirrors- I actively avoided them for my entire stay. I'd never gotten that feeling in any of the other rooms in the hotel. My wife actually didn't tell me about the other sightings until a couple years later- she figured that if I had known the stories, I wouldn't have wanted to stay in the room by myself (she’s right). She didn't even want to put me in the room at all, but the hotel was full that week, and that was the only room available. (That room is one of the nicest in the hotel, but, because of all the stories, they tend not to rent it out unless there are no other choices.)

So there you have it- a nice little haunted hotel in beautiful downtown Quito. If you’re ever in Ecuador, it’s definitely a nice place to stay. And, if you’re feeling especially brave, request Room 12.