JESS KNOWS BEST #22: Jess Knows…Baking?

by Jess Blackshear

As an occasional writer for CWR, I’ve always felt like my columns are really only aimed at a limited audience. I’m married to a comic book author, so it would seem like I’d be a perfect fit amongst my well-read colleagues, but the truth is that I’m so busy between my full time technical job, our 12 year-old (pre-teen, OMG) son, and the few hobbies I enjoy, that I really don’t reserve time to keep up with comics. I know, I know, I should have just let the secret stay…secret.

Now, I have something else to offer that I know I have in common with you geeks: A love of food. More specifically in my case, baking, but you can bake savory as well as sweet — and I’m hoping to offer a little something for everyone here. Before I launch into what my Kitchenaid and I made this week, let me give you a little background about myself and how I’ve come around to this topic:

I was raised in a small town in Washington, and taught to cook by my mom, and by extension, her parents. A combo of Arkansas meets Texas showed me how to make a proper southern cornbread, and how to drink a really dark cup of coffee! Though both grandma and grandpa passed away before my teens, I have very clear and specific memories of being at their house – and they pretty much all involve food.

My older brother and I would both ride our bikes over to G and G’s; I enjoyed having a cup of “coffee milk” with grandma, and I learned later that Ricky would eat breakfast at home, then ride the three miles up and down some major hills in order to have Grandma cook breakfast for him all over again. Smart kid! I remember helping wrap venison with my mom, aunts, and grandma, while the men broke down the week’s hunt in the garage, and I remember my grandpa debating whether cornbread belonged in stuffing at Christmas. While I didn’t learn many of their recipes until later in life, they all taught me the basics, which is all you need to know to get started.

I was just 17 when I first met Brandon, and we were married five short months and an 18th birthday later. Scandalous, I know! Over the past 13 years, we’ve made a lot of meals together, some of which are good enough to be designated “On the Menu” for our future dream restaurant. Fast forward to now…and Brandon’s wonderful mom. Karen is the type that takes in strays and ends up being “mom” to everyone on the block. She never hesitates to offer encouragement when you need it, and she doesn’t ask for anything in return.

A couple years ago, I heard a great idea for a 4th of July cake – when you cut into it, the layers look like the United States flag. After I found the instructions online, I realized I wanted to make my cake not only look amazing, but taste amazing, and thus began my experimentation with flavors and recipe substitutions.

The recipe and cake were a hit, and unbeknownst to me, I’d suddenly picked up a hobby in common with Karen…which prompted her to do what she does best. Over the last couple years, she’s equipped my baking arsenal with a tool box full of icing bags and tips, cookie cutters, a dough mat, countless baking books, and of course, the coup de gras, a Kitchenaid stand mixer! All of that said, the biggest and best things she’s given me are confidence and encouragement. The tools are great, and for some recipes, I wouldn’t be able to make them without my super-duper mixer, but I meant it when I said that all you need to start is the basics. In this new version of Jess Knows Best, I’m hoping I can share what I’ve learned with you, and maybe pass on some of the confidence and encouragement that has been given to me. At the same time, I’m going to be working to make my recipes a little healthier for the family, without compromising flavor.

Next time, I will dive head first into one of my favorite and most-used recipes for “Breakfast Cookies.” They taste like a treat, but are actually quite good for you. A scary idea, I know, but remember this is Jess Knows Best… and I’m hoping you’ll find that’s true as this column switches gears and heads into the kitchen!


JESS KNOWS BEST 21: Farscape: The Complete Series [Blu-ray]

by Jess Blackshear

Farscape is an Australian-American sci-fi tv series that follows a group of characters on the run from a corrupt band of authorities known as the “Peacekeepers.” In the first episode, modern-day astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) accidently flies into a wormhole near earth and is flung into the middle of a space battle. Along with a stranded Peacekeeper, Crichton is rescued by the fleeing prisoners, and ends up aboard their living ship Moya. Two regular characters, Rygel and Pilot, are animatronic puppets courtesy of the Jim Henson Company (think alien creatures, not muppets).

Farscape was a series before its time, and helped set the tone for a lot of modern sci-fi series’ with its blend of action, humor, smoldering sexuality, and more action.

Further to the point, here’s a list of award wins and nominations.

Have I piqued your interest yet?

Okay, on to my review!

Packaging: My first impression upon opening the 20-Disc box set was that there were no paper inserts in any of the four season cases…so it was a no-frills packaging job. However, I quickly realized that each season has a TON of extras, so the effort instead went into the content. I can live without glossy paper inserts.

Video: While I’m a bit disappointed that the video does not offer what I’ve come to know as “the Blu-ray experience,” the show does look as good as it ever has. After getting through the first 3 seasons in upgraded SD PAL, season 4 is simply a visual dessert by comparison. It was the only season filmed in anamorphic widescreen.

Audio: I have no complaints about the audio quality for the show (5.1 DTS-HD), but I do recommend that you keep your audio remote nearby when you first insert a disc or while switching between the show and extra features; the initial A&E logo page is super loud, while many of the interviews and extras are extremely quiet.

Extras: There are over 15 hours of bonus features across the 20 discs. As a Henson/Muppet fan, I was especially happy to see “In the Beginning: A Look Back with Brian Henson” (Season 1 disc). Also of note are the rarely seen behind-the-scenes special “Farscape Undressed” (S2), Blooper Reel (S2), Behind the Scenes Interviews with Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Anthony Simcoe, Gigi Edgley, Wayne Pygram, Rebecca Riggs, and Paul Goddard (S3), 31 audio commentaries among the 88 episodes, and David Kemper’s emotional wrap speech from the final day of filming. I dare you to take one look at Claudia Black’s tear-stained face and not burst into tears.

While many of these extra features were released with the 2009 DVD set, the Blu-ray set does feature a brand new documentary featuring the cast and crew. “Memories of Moya: An Epic Journey Explored,” was also filmed in HD.

Sadly, the set does not include “The Peacekeeper Wars” (the two-part series wrap-up from 2004) since Lionsgate still retains the rights to the series, but you can pick up the standard version on DVD for about $12. Alternately, if you have a multi-region or region free Blu-ray player, a Euro version was released in Germany in June 2011.

Buy or borrow? Buy! Ultimately, if you already own the DVDs, I’m guessing you’re a big enough fan of the Farscape series that buying the Blu-ray set is a foregone conclusion. While it doesn’t offer a lot of new content or the true Blu-ray feel, my personal feeling is that this is the best the series has ever looked. If you’re a devoted Scaper, or an interested newbie with an extra $100 laying around, you should definitely add this to your collection.

Get it 51% off at Amazon right now!


JESS KNOWS BEST #20: Olympic Fever!

by Jess Blackshear

This is my second Olympics with a DVR, and I will never watch it any other way.

While I have seen a few comments here and there from people “left wanting” by NBC’s coverage, I find myself unable to identify with their reasoning.

Here are the top 5 things I love about watching the Olympics via DVR:

1) NO commercials. Period.

2) I only watch the back-story stuff that I want to watch. For example, I liked seeing Shaun White’s story about how he stayed in a long-term care home as a child with heart problems — and then was able to give back to Target House with the “Shaun White Great Room” as an adult. I find it the epitome of the Olympic Story to hear about atheletes that have overcome REAL obstacles. However, I really could give two craps about privileged kids who sob about how they had a “rough time with a coach and had to hire a new team with just under a year until the games.” Waaaah.

3) I get to completely skip the events I’m not invested in!

4) I still have time to watch my “other stories”! On a night where I’m only interested in one or two events, I don’t have to put up with the “main event” being interspersed throughout the 3 hour broadcast (ie, the way they feature figure skating now). Fast-forwarding through commercials and other events compresses the feed so I don’t feel like it took 3 full hours to get through one thing…and I still have time to watch Lost and Tosh.0!