This week’s recipe: Fried Chicken
It’s the Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas–the most wonderful time of the yeeeeear! Since it starts in late October, the most wonderful ten weeks of the yeeeeear! Mark and I are connoisseurs of the Hallmark Channel, and I use that word without irony or exaggeration. We LOVE this shit, and the Christmas movies are the best of all. We created a whole website that generates plots to Hallmark Christmas movies. But every year, Hallmark churns out a new crop of wholesome, heartwarming, formulaic movies, generally starring the same five or ten people, and Mark and I watch EVERY ONE of them. You might think I’m exaggerating but I’m not. When we go through the channel listings to pick which movies to DVR, we say, “Seen that one, seen that one, seen that one.” It’s frankly a little pathetic, so thank God for Hallmark’s original content. Here are some of this year’s fine offerings:
This movie stars Alexa PenaVega, previously best known for starring in Spy Kids. It also stars someone named Carlos PenaVega, whom I immediately assumed was Alexa PenaVega’s brother and was VERY concerned that they were love interests. They are, in fact, love interests, but Carlos is Alexa’s husband and they have some sort of Christian lifestyle blogger racket going on, so all’s well that ends well. Anyway, Alexa PV plays Laura, a former dancer and single mom whose husband died…ON CHRISTMAS??? Alexa PV is 29 and the girl who plays her daughter is rapidly coming up on 11 so I guess Laura was a teen mom, but it’s okay because her daughter, Nikki, retains a childlike belief in Santa that makes her seem much younger mentally than she is physically. Laura is dating a coworker, Scott, who you know is a douche because he wears a suit and doesn’t know that Laura can dance. Also, he keeps bringing up her dead husband, which is a pretty douchey move, to be fair. Laura and Nikki are headed to Utah to save the old Enchanted Lodge hotel for in time for the big Christmas Eve show. Nikki spends the whole drive to Utah, and much of the movie, bitching about how it’s not snowing, even though she hails from LA. (NB: I went to the Hallmark Web site to check on a few things, because this blog is nothing if not rigorously fact-checked, and they claim that the movie is supposed to take place in New Mexico, not Utah, which would make the fixation with snow even more confusing. But IMDB and business.utah.gov claim that it takes place in Utah, as does my memory. Take that as you will.)
At the hotel, Laura runs into Ricardo (Carlos PV), her ex-boyfriend and former dance partner. You know that they still have feelings for each other because they both have the same framed photo of the two of them in their houses. Ricardo is a dance teacher but, when Nikki expresses interest in dancing in the Christmas show, Laura intimates that something very dark happened to her when she started dancing. What could it be? Did she take to the pole? Despite Laura’s pastor-from-Footlose-esque objections, Nikki begins dancing at Ricardo’s studio, leading to the classic line, “Let’s do it with antlers!” (when the young dancers put on their reindeer headbands). You will be very surprised to hear that Laura also get mixed up in the devil’s dancing when Ricardo’s partner leaves to audition for some world tour and Laura has to take over. Luckily, even though she hasn’t danced in years, she has brought many dancer’s outfits with her to Utah. This move has basically the same plot as Dirty Dancing, only with 100 percent less social consciousness, Jews, and abortion. Spoiler: they even try and fail to recreate the magic of the famous Dirty Dancing lift. Carlos PV, you’re no Patrick Swayze.
Trouble arrives with douchey Scott; when he texts her, his face shows up beside his message because no way do you remember who he is. Turns out Laura is in trouble at work, probably because she literally never does her job, which is to remodel the Enchanted Lodge in time for Christmas. She is too busy dancing and going on a badly green screened ski lift. When Scott stabs her in the back, she realizes the relationship is over, but there’s more conflict yet! Turns out that Ricardo’s partner got the “lead role in a two-year world tour,” but they will only take her if Ricardo dances with her, even though he didn’t audition and they’ve never seen him dance. The conflict gets resolved in some way that I can’t remember, and Laura gets hired as the new general manager of the Enchanted Lodge, because of her extensive experience in…dancing? Construction? The last shot of the movie is amazing–Laura and Ricardo kiss in the snow and then freeze, but the snow keeps falling. Their love defies the laws of physics!
Coming Home for Christmas
This movie stars a Hallmark channel stalwart, Danica McKellar of The Wonder Years. She seems to specialize in playing some variety of household servant to a rich/royal family who eventually gets with whatever single heir is available, and Coming Home for Christmas fits the mold. Even for a Hallmark movie, this has a crapton of exposition crammed into the first 90 seconds under the guise of “Wow, what a year it’s been!” We learn that McKellar’s character Lizzie works in insurance; that her company went under; that she rejected a proposal from her boyfriend; that she studied art history; that she fears that she’s overly complacent; and that her dad died…ON CHRISTMAS??? Lizzie’s sister Meghan has been hired by the Marley family to sell their historic estate. Meghan insists that because Lizzie worked in insurance, she is fully qualified to become the house manager of a historic estate. There is a theme in Hallmark movies of people getting jobs for which they have no experience and are totally unqualified. If I were the family that hired Meghan, I’d fire and then sue her for nepotism.
Lizzie shows up at the Marley estate, and you can tell that the butler is NOT amused to be answering to this woman. She has been hired without a job interview; instead, she has a cursory meeting with Robert, the scion of the Marley family in charge of selling the estate. He says that he trusts Meghan’s word on any transaction (he shouldn’t), and Lizzie asks, “So I’m a transaction?” If this were a different kind of channel, this would be the prelude to a Fifty Shades of Grey-type relationship, but instead, it becomes a boring investigation into why Robert (Bob) Marley and his family don’t like Christmas. One possibility: Robert’s parents died in a car accident…ON CHRISTMAS??? But the true answer lies with family matriarch Miss Pippa. Black friend and Folgers product placement vehicle Anna warns Lizzie to stay away from Pippa, who is not played by Shirley Maclaine, but Lizzie’s can-do spirit and lack of professional boundaries lead her to pester the old woman with her ideas about the annual Christmas gala, which Lizzie is also in charge of planning due to her extensive experience in insurance. Maybe it’s just because I work in Development, but I find the idea of just starting to work on a Christmas gala in December to be horrifying. Anyway, Pippa is a major bitch, asking Lizzie, “Why aren’t you married? You’re in your thirties, no?”, officially making this a hostile work environment.
Robert’s playboy brother Kip arrives and immediately starts hitting on Lizzie. Robert feels possessive even though he has evinced no more than a professional interest in her, and he is upset when the two start planning the gala together. I don’t know why he is so upset when she and Kip go to a gala-related business meeting; personally, I always wear short, skintight dresses with cleavage ovals to business meetings. There is much friction between Kip and Robert; at one point, Kip says, “Robert, you may be the executor of the estate, but you’re not the executor of me.” I’m going to keep that line in my back pocket. The friction increases when their sister Sloane arrives with her kids. Sloane’s husband isn’t there because he’s unemployed and they’ve had to…gasp…dip into her trust fund. The problems of real Americans! The family starts to scheme on how to improve Sloane’s relationship. “Don’t look now, but you’re kind of acting like a typical family,” Lizzie tells the Marleys. “You’re fired,” says Pippa. Just kidding, they all laugh and act like that’s a totally normal thing for an employee to say.
There is chopping down of Christmas trees, snowball fights with blond moppets, and a gingerbread-building house activity becomes a dick-measuring competition for Robert and Kip. There is a pond on the estate that is the focus of much conversation but we never get to see it; guess it wasn’t in the budget. Pippa goes from basically ignoring Lizzie’s existence to lending her a diamond necklace and counting her as a family member in the space of a few days. She’s a tough nut to crack, indeed. Lizzie is going to attend the gala but feels torn between Kip and Robert. If she were open to threesomes it would solve a lot of her problems. At the gala, there’s a classic Hallmark Misunderstanding Moment: Robert overhears Lizzie telling Kip that she’d love to go to Athens with him…and walks away right before she says “but I can’t.” The conflict gets resolved in some way I can’t remember, Kip concedes Lizzie to Robert, and she presumably becomes a lady of leisure while dicking over her sister, who now doesn’t get the commission on the Marley estate.
With Love, Christmas
Our heroine Melanie works for an advertising agency, where she has been sacrificing her professional development because she has a crush on a coworker, Donavan, who stole the big Christmas-related account. The account is for a cellphone company that…also is a Christmas company? Whatever. Donavan doesn’t “get” them (I don’t either) and he seems to be in trouble at work.
Meanwhile, the office Secret Santa pool is going on, and Melanie gets assigned Donovan. She has to get him a gift under $50, which seems like a lot of money for an office Secret Santa gift, but whatever. She doesn’t know what to get him, so she sends him an email from an anonymous account asking him what his favorite things are. Maybe it’s just the times we’re living in but this seems like a surefire way to get sexually harassed, but instead, Donavan writes back that he’s too busy for this nonsense and she should just get him a tie. I don’t see what Melanie sees in this guy, who she has admitted she knows nothing about and who has thus far revealed himself to be quite a dick. Anyway, after Donovan bombed the big Christmas cellphone account, the boss, Mr. Farnsworth, teams him up with Melanie. They clash because she thinks Christmas ought to be about warmth and he is some sort of business robot. He is genuinely semi-autistic. Every time Melanie is like, “Christmas is all about love and family and wonder,” he is like, “No, it is about commerce.” But SURPRISE he has Melanie as his Secret Santa too! Who could have seen it coming? (Mark and I saw it coming.) And OTHER SURPRISE he didn’t have any good Christmas memories from childhood, which is why he hates Christmas. Melanie decides to teach Donovan about Christmas by feeding him cookies (he doesn’t eat sugar, because he is terrible) and forcing him to listen to carolers. Shockingly, neither of these convert him to Christmas-loving. Still, when we see Donavan at home, his bookshelf is festooned with paper snowflakes and little Santa hats. So who knows what that’s about.
Melanie convinces Donavan to come to her sister’s house for dinner, where they get to witness some truly terrible child acting from Melanie’s nephew, who presses his shitty snowman art on Donavan. The snowman art awakens a love of family and the Christmas spirit in Donavan, and he starts getting into the back-and-forth with his Secret Santa over email. “He has a sense of humor!” Melanie says of Donavan, on no evidence whatsoever. Although Donovan is notoriously distant and closed off, he opens up to his Secret Santa after 48 whole hours. Things seem to being going swimmingly until Mr. Farnsworth tells Melanie that she’ll be competing against Donovan for the Big Promotion, which will be announced at the Christmas party. Never mind discussing salary and benefits and responsibilities and anything else that might go along with a promotion; it will simply be announced like the winner of Miss America. Farnsworth tells Donovan that he ought to be more social at work in order to get the promotion, so he attends an after-hours work outing at a heavily greenscreened ice skating rink that is randomly studded with Christmas trees. (You never see his and Melanie’s faces while they skate; Mark is convinced that the actor who plays Donovan is afraid of skating and they were using a body double.)
Donavan reveals to his Secret Santa via email that his mom died…ON CHRISTMAS??? No, actually, she died on Christmas, and his dad was
a violent alcoholic never much for holidays. Meanwhile, sparks begin to fly between him and Melanie when he offers her his scarf (everyone in Hallmark Channel movies wears their coats unbuttoned and their scarves untied under the coat’s lapels, even when it’s snowing out). Despite all this, Donovan’s pitches continue to lack “heart,” and when he gets a call from his dad, we learn that his dad is a grumpy New York workaholic who wants to work through Christmas and avoid the crowds by Rockefeller Center Macy’s Times Square Grand Central who has no time for his son, since Donavan is not arguing any cases before the Supreme Court this year.
Donovan asks his Secret Santa if there are any Christmas traditions she’d like to try, and she writes that she’s never taken a horse-drawn sleigh ride. “Even I’ve taken a sleigh ride,” Donovan types, as if it’s as impossible to have an American childhood without a horse-drawn sleigh ride as it is to escape middle school without reading The Catcher in the Rye. He wants to meet his Secret Santa but Melanie freaks out because…reasons. You can tell that Donavan’s changed at this point because now he’s wearing a sweater instead of a suit (even though it’s the day of the big pitch meeting and he looks totally unprofessional), and he agrees to do the pitch together with Melanie instead of steamrolling her and her ideas as he did five minutes earlier. The cellphone company loves their pitch, which involves a little boy calling Santa on a cellphone to get his dad a snowblower or something. There’s a classic Hallmark Misunderstanding Moment when Donovan asks out another coworker who he thinks is his Secret Santa, but it quickly gets resolved in some way I can’t remember; Donovan’s dad says he’s proud of him; Melanie gets the big promotion; Melanie buys Donovan basketball tickets because basketball was how he used to bond with his dad; Donovan buys(?) Melanie a horse-drawn sleigh ride; both of them spend over $50 on their Secret Santa gifts; the girl whom Donovan had asked out slow-dances with Farnsworth; and everyone discovers the true meaning of Christmas.
So anyway, here’s some chicken. Turns out that, despite my love of Hallmark Christmas movies, I am Jewish (regular readers of this blog will be shocked to discover this fact). It’s Hanukkah right now, and despite the larger culture’s attempts to convince you otherwise, Hanukkah is NOT a holiday remotely on par with Christmas, in terms of either religious significance or general awesomeness. Hanukkah is a bullshit holiday that celebrates a bunch of religious zealots fighting a civil war on their secular counterparts, and it has been turned into something important and worthwhile solely because of its proximity to Christmas. However, I do appreciate its emphasis on fried foods. I have more of a sweet tooth than a…fried tooth? but I enjoy some fried shit occasionally as much as the next person. So I decided to take advantage of this holiday season to finally make a fried chicken recipe that’s been on my To Make list for almost a year. I made thighs only, because white meat is terrible, and they came out beautifully–crispy on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside. Even though I used canola oil, which the (rather bossy) author of the recipe FORBIDS YOU TO DO, I’d still give this recipe high marks.
From Weed ‘Em and Reap
In a medium size bowl, whisk together eggs, water, & hot sauce.
In another bowl, combine the flour and spices.
Dip the chicken in the egg, and then coat it in the flour/spice mixture.
Heat the oil to 350 degrees F in a deep pot.
Fry the chicken in the oil until brown and crisp.
(Dark meat takes about 14 minutes, while white meat takes about 10 minutes)