Kate's bold brownies

The approach of Valentine’s Day has me thinking of Golden Age couples with great screen chemistry: Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Rock Hudson and Doris Day … there are lists and lists, which you you can find everywhere online. Most of these lists,if they’re really complete,  include the great Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, who made nine pictures together, from Woman of the Year (1942) to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967).

The gruff, earthy Tracy and the refined, nervy Hepburn were great together onscreen and were also rumored to have carried on a long-term offscreen affair though Tracy was married. Like many such stories in Hollywood, there are conflicting stories about whether there really was an affair at all or whether the rumors were just a convenient distraction from their real personal lives. 

Personal lives are usually so messy and hard to pin down and that’s one reason that I usually find stories about actors’ and directors’ work much more interesting than gossip about their private lives. Usually the work is more interesting than their private lives (unless they have adventures like Frankie Franklin’s). To my mind, what’s up there on the screen is all they owe us.

But Hepburn left us something else besides the wonderful characters she embodied in the pictures (my favorite of which is Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter). She left us this wonderful brownie recipe, bold in its simplicity. I copied it years and years (and years) ago from, I think, Good Housekeeping magazine. I’ve found other versions online but not written in quite the same way, and often using ½ cup unsweetened cocoa instead of baking chocolate. Memory fails, and the original is lost, but something about this version — which accompanied a story about her — makes me think it was in her own words. 

These are my favorite quick thing to make for when I want that bit of chocolate after dinner that’s more than just a square from a Trader Joe’s darkest bar. (You know the feeling?) They’re great by themselves, or with a scoop of vanilla (or dulce de leche) ice cream.

KATHARINE HEPBURN’S BROWNIES

Makes one 8- or 9-inch square pan

Melt 2 squares unsweetened chocolate and 1 stick butter in heavy saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup sugar. Add 2 eggs and ½ teaspoon vanilla. Beat like mad. Stir in ¼ cup flour, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1 cup chopped walnuts. Mix. Pour into buttered 8-by-8-inch pan. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 40 minutes. Let cool, cut into 1½-inch squares.

Recipe notes: 

Instructions can sometimes be vague, especially in older recipes. Here we’re talking about 1-ounce squares of unsweetened chocolate — 2 ounces total for the recipe. 

Since I have a microwave, I never use a saucepan for this one. Stick the chocolate in a Pyrex measuring bowl, put the butter on top and melt for about 2 minutes on High. The butter keeps the chocolate from seizing up, so don’t worry about that. Then mix the rest of the recipe right in the bowl.

The pan size isn’t critical either. My best small baking pan right now is 9×9 inches and they come out fine, just a little thinner — and if you use a pan that size, start checking for doneness at 30 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean.

This recipe takes well to all kinds of variations. You can try it with cocoa powder. You can add a couple of tablespoons cocoa powder. Use half white and half brown sugar. Substitute pecans or almonds or hazelnuts for the walnuts. Add chocolate chips. Add white chocolate chips. 

"Stardusted" is now available in paperback!

It really is a different thing to hold your own book in your hands, turn the pages and read your words as part of this new thing, a physical object, rather than just seeing them on a screen. Especially when you’re an indie author and have control — for better or worse! — of every step from the initial idea to the writing, editing, getting others to read/edit/comment, right through to designing the cover.

Stardusted proof copy.
Hot off the presses: the proof copy!

I was pretty excited when the proof copy came in the mail!

It’s been great to hear that readers like Stardusted, and I’m excited that now those who don’t like to read on their phones or tablets can find it in paperback form at Amazon. (And for those who don’t do Amazon, we beg your patience as we figure out the ins and outs of publishing independently in other ways! Those other ways are in the works … stay tuned …)

The joys of research

Trying to get historical fiction right is a challenge, but also a joy. One of the reasons I was intrigued by the Golden Age of Hollywood as a setting for a story was that I knew it would be fun to research. I’ve always been as fascinated by the behind-the-scenes stories in the entertainment world as by what ends up onscreen. And the most fascinating of these stories to me are not the ones about who fell in love with whom or who was not the wholesome innocent people saw on the screen. No, I’ve always found the making of movies an absorbing world to peer into.

How did the director find that location? Why did that costume designer always put that actress in big, fluffy sleeves? What horse is that that keeps showing up in different movies with different riders? In some cases, I’d be satisfied just by having that knowledge to add to what I already knew. But there’s something about using that research to inform a story about fictional characters that makes the research even more fun.

My favorite kinds of books for research are memoirs, biographies, and books with lots of photos — not so much the glamorous movie-star portraits (though I love those), but the ones that show the guys behind the camera, doing their best to catch the moments being created in front of the camera. I love “hearing” the actual voice of a performer or director, finding out how they were feeling about that role or this scene, that co-star or this location.

Some sources I’ve loved while writing Stardusted include:

Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age, edited by George Stevens, Jr. Absorbing interviews from the American Film Institute featuring directing icons such as Howard Hawks, George Cukor, Frank Capra and others.

The Moon’s a Balloon, by David Niven. Goodreads notes that this is one of the bestselling memoirs of all time, and it’s well deserved. Niven was there, beginning his long career in the 1930s, and he was every bit as astute an observer and sensitive writer as he was a suave, polished English gentleman, the kind of role he often played in pictures. He went everywhere and knew everyone, went away to help defend Great Britain in World War II, came back a hero, and went back to work.

Hollywood Hoofbeats: Trails Blazed Across the Silver Screen, by Petrine Day Mitchum, Audrey Pavia. You cannot escape the fact, if you read Stardusted, that the author is a dyed-in-the-wool, googly-eyed, unapologetic horse nut. I already knew, from bits and pieces I’d read in various magazines, something about a number of movie and TV horses, but to find them all in one book — from Trigger to Hidalgo — was horse heaven for me.

I love to work the research I’ve done into a story, but I also love to share things that I find amazing, surprising or just weird, and I’ll do more of that here.

September 25, 2019

Here comes Santa Claus

Sure, it snows in California … in the mountains. But a lot of California is just too warm, too desert-y, or too close to the ocean to experience much snowfall. The mild weather and sunny days in Los Angeles have been terrific for shooting movies since the industry was young. But all that sunshine around the holidays has always had more people than just Irving Berlin dreaming of a White Christmas.

To get folks into the gift-shopping spirit, beginning in 1928, merchants renamed a stretch of Hollywood Boulevard “Santa Clause Lane” and staged a parade on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Except for a few years during World War II, the parade has been an annual Los Angeles tradition. Read more here:

https://la.curbed.com/2017/12/22/16803768/los-angeles-christmas-old-photos?fbclid=IwAR282BnnGc7z3E-PY5_nY1tR2GdXHMAUxiPDuJmqe5cpXHQoiPlX_BFopF8

Way before Ralph Lauren polo …

… there was Walt Disney, playing polo. Read more here:

https://video.disney.com/watch/mickey-s-polo-team-4bb39f3097f35a8833003b15?fbclid=IwAR2R7RlzrYpc-06Pi1Dx_2SHcWUKWKFGlApjiVG0hRyboum-7rhDW7H2NkA