Film review – Love in the Time of Monsters

Cheesy themed vacation destination + toxic waste = zombies in Bigfoot outfits = The key to my heart.

The story centers around Marla as she reluctantly accompanies her sister Carla to surprise her fiancé after she finds out he’s taken a summer job at a gimmicky lodge. When they come into contact with toxic water (a common zombie theme) the costumed employees go a bit off script.


In the event of a zombie swarm, the only thing I can think of that is worse than being turned is it happening while wearing a ridiculous uniform. I mean, if I’m going to be an undead menace I would at least like to be a scary undead menace. But when it comes to watching a zombie swarm, it’s pretty satisfying seeing the disgruntled Bigfoot impersonators of Uncle Slavko’s All-American Family Lodge develop a taste for human flesh.

The film has all your classic horror archetypes, but treats them in a refreshingly new way. The weird bearded guy who lives nearby knows he’s the kooky neighbor. When some of the others take refuge with him and tell him to call the police, he sort of sighs and says, “Kid, I’m an angry old man who lives in a shack in the woods. I don’t have a phone.”


“Since when is this a democracy?” “Since America.”

When the group of survivors is mulling over their options for getting the lodge doctor (who, despite the chaos, is still dressed as Abe Lincoln) the samples he needs to cobble together a cure, the only non-zombie Bigfoot left gets exasperated, shouting, “You’re going to kill more people than you’re going to save! That’s how these things always go!”

I’ll let you guess whether or not he makes it through to the end.


Love in the Time of Monsters is campy horror at its finest – Anchored by skilled veteran actors, punctuated by snappy dialogue, and propelled forward on continuous waves of gore. It’s more Club Dread than Camp Crystal Lake, with some of the characters coming across a bit over-the-top, but still enjoyable to watch.

There’s brief nudity, but it’s amusing nudity involving a menagerie of zombie woodland creatures and a lot of blood. There’s a rousing battle cry of “We love family vacations!” There’s an all-you-can-eat pie buffet. There’s this guy.


I generally use half-star ratings, but I’m going to break with tradition here and give it a score of 3.75/5 stars to give it a bit of a bump up in my comedic horror section.

The film is available both on DVD and VOD, though bonus features are only on the physical copy. I watched it VOD, but I’d be intrigued to see just how much bonus content is on the DVD and whether or not it makes it worth paying a few more dollars.

Faking it – Seltzer cake

A long time ago (in a blogosphere far far away) I wrote up a post about making cupcakes using diet soda, a pastime that was oh-so-chic on the internet of 2010. I honestly have no clue what made me remember that baking escapade, but I think it was probably something to do with the way this week’s gloomy weather made me want to eat cake.

Since my home is filled to the brim with La Croix (yes, I am one of those people) I thought it would be fun to attempt the same cake magic using seltzer instead of soda. If it’s the bubbles that makes the process work, why not seltzer? You get the fat/calorie benefit of not adding eggs or oil and also the no artificial sweetener benefit of not using soda. And while I’m aware that boxed cake mix is not exactly clean eating, turning it into a less-guilty pleasure while also trimming back the preservatives sounds like a win to me.

The first step of this process is to gather your ingredients.


Yep. That’s it. Two ingredients – 1 box of cake mix and 12oz of seltzer. I’d stick to cakes that have pudding in the mix, which seems to be most of them. I chose vanilla as a standard base flavor to build on. From the many flavors of La Croix I settled on Apple Berry because it sounded seasonally appropriate.


Find yourself a ridiculously large bowl, because this is going to foam up like one of those school science project volcanos. Mix it together until you have a smooth batter and pour it into your pan of choice. I was going to make cupcakes as a comparison but I got super lazy (seriously, this perpetual drizzle is exhausting) and decided to just tip it into a 13×9 pan and see what happened.

The end result? A cake that was light and fluffy, sort of an angel food cake hybrid. I thought I could detect a faint hint of berry flavor, but mostly it just tasted like cake. Which is a success!


The nutritional info will change depending on the type of cake mix you use. If I only cut this into 10 pieces (which I think seems like huge pieces) the nutritional stats per piece will look exactly like what’s written on the box.  This is because there are no additional calories/fat/etc. added to the mix. Realistically, I think the stats could be even lower, especially if you portion it into cupcakes.

Stats via

Stats via

I forgot that my original recipe suggested adding 5-10 minutes to the baking time, so I just baked this according to the package directions. It’s cooked through, but I think an extra 10 minutes would probably help firm up the texture a bit and help it retain structure when you cut into it. Especially if you’re planning on baking two round cakes and layering them.


When it comes to icing, I highly recommend the Cool Whip version I outline in the original post, but not having those ingredients on hand I thought I’d extend the experiment to making myself a single serving of topping. I mixed together about 2Tb of lowfat cream cheese, 1/2tsp (ish, I wasn’t strictly measuring) of vanilla protein powder, and a little splash of milk just to thin it out a bit. Not as good as the original, but in a pinch it was still pretty tasty.

If you decide to bake up a batch of seltzer cake, I’d love to know what flavor combinations you use and how it turns out!

You say potato, I say microwave potato

There are a great many things I love about infomercials, but generally not included on that list are the actual products being sold. No offense to the (I’m sure very hard-working) marketing department at the infomercial mothership, but when you sell kitchenwares with names like Dump Dinners and Curl-a-Dog I’m not exactly reaching for my wallet.

However, I seem to have stumbled across the as-seen-on-tv holy grail – A product with both a ridiculous commercial and actual functionality.

Yes, that’s right. It seems you can have it all. (Provided your definition of “all” includes laughing at an ad while microwaving a potato.) The aptly-named Potato Express is a single-function product that is designed to bake potatoes in the microwave. It’s a no-frills contraption – essentially a quilted pouch that insulates the potato and steams it into submission.

Potato Express microwave potato cooker

They claim that you can cook up to four full-sized potatoes in four minutes, and based on reviews I’ve read I’d say that’s a bit of a stretch. But being a single potato-loving lady, this faulty spud math doesn’t really bother me. I have successfully cooked a large potato (or sweet potato) or two to three smaller potatoes in their advertised time frame.

Once your potato is cooked through, they have a lot of ideas about what you could do with it. I derive great joy from imagining someone cramming a bunch of marshmallows in the pouch with the potato and wondering why it doesn’t look like the picture when they pull it out.


But also, all kidding aside, it’s actually an amazingly useful product. Sometimes I’ll cook myself a few baby taters to go with eggs for breakfast. I’ve made a sweet potato to use as a base for taco fillings. This afternoon I went from zero to cheesy lunch potato in exactly four minutes.


Does it taste as good as an oven-baked potato? Honestly, almost. Obviously the skin doesn’t get wonderfully roasted. But I know plenty of people who skip eating the potato skin anyway. Otherwise, at least in my experience, the flesh cooks up with exactly the same texture in the microwave as it does when you spend an hour waiting for the oven to do it.

So, in summary:


You can order one directly from the As Seen on TV folks for $9.95, or I’ve also seen them available in-store at both Bed Bath & Beyond and Target.

Film review – Zombeavers

Last night’s Season 2 premiere of Z Nation spread the camp on pretty thick (just the way I like it). Nuclear fallout? Little House on the Zombie Prairie? Undead strippers? Using zombies as a shuffling hat rack? And that’s just a fraction of what they managed to pack into an hour.

So, when I woke up this morning to a dreary, rainy day, I was inspired to tackle another bit of zombie camp that’s been sitting in my Netflix queue. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Zombeavers:

For starters, I love comedic horror with a passion. My favorite kind of comedic horror is the particular brand of meta horror perfected by the late great Wes Craven (I’m watching Scream right now as I write this). My second favorite kind is comedic horror that is more self-aware than meta, and Zombeavers definitely falls squarely in this category. They know they’re campy, they’re proud they’re campy, and they’re just going to keep dialing up that camp-o-meter until they break off the knob.


The premise of the movie is fairly classic as far as zombie plots go – toxic waste accidentally falls off a truck, resulting in the creation of zombies that terrorize hormone-driven coeds in a remote cabin. Except the truck accident is a totally deadpan chuckle-fest, the zombies are beavers, the coeds are comically sex-crazed and the remote cabin is adjacent to a second remote cabin where a charmingly foul-mouthed, totally hip-to-the-kids older couple lives.

zombeavers 2

Yes, there is gratuitous nudity. Yes, there are ample beaver jokes. But there’s also genuine hilarity in all of it. When the girls go swimming, one of them peels her top off and revels in baring her chest. Later on, one of the dude bros gets maimed by a zombie beaver, and they need to make a tourniquet. The same girl goes to take off her bikini top and her boyfriend dismisses her, saying, “No, that’s too small” and grabs her dog’s life vest instead.

It’s goofy, the special effects come in just above low-budget level, the zombeaver attacks are amusing to watch, and the characters develop in (very) unexpected ways. Perhaps what I liked most about Zombeavers is how the film thumbs its nose at the tired final girl trope. That and how the beavers were intelligent enough to chew through all the phone lines (those lovable scamps!), which were of course the only means of communication since the cabins were too remote for cell signal.

All in all it’s an enjoyable watch and the perfect diversion for a rainy Saturday. My verdict: 3.5/5 stars

Summer Reading

I’ve been on a bit of a creative consumption kick again, voraciously devouring books. It’s helped that this past week has been perfect patio weather to settle into lunchtime reading, so I thought I’d kick myself back into writing mode and share what’s been on my book list of recent.


The bad: Armada (Ernest Cline)

I desperately wanted to like this book, newly published just a few weeks ago. I loved Fanboys (a film for which Cline wrote the script). I enjoyed Ready Player One (his debut novel). I wish I could blame my disappointment on my expectations being too high, but that wasn’t the case. It’s just a bad book. Not only is it a bad book, but reading it made me reevaluate how I felt about his first book.

The premise is solid – A teenager who excels at video games suddenly finds himself swept up in a real-life defense of Earth, enlisted along with the rest of the top scorers of a game that was designed to secretly train people to pilot drone ships. Not a totally original sci-fi plot, but it’s one with promise nonetheless. But that’s about where the promise ends.

Every paragraph is peppered with pop culture references, to the point that I started to wonder whether Cline is even able to describe anything on his own without pulling from Kubrick or Konami. Then, sometimes he makes a reference and explains the reference in the same sentence. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this practice irks me. The point where I actually, out loud, exclaimed, “You have to be kidding me!” is when he inserted (spoiler alert) into a sentence about the plot of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. That wasn’t me warning you about me writing a spoiler – he literally typed the phrase mid-sentence when name-dropping a film that was released in 1977.

He not only referenced books, movies, games, and television, but also tons of scientists. Which led to groan-worthy sentences like this one –

Everyone but Hawking nodded grimly.

In talking with a friend on Facebook, I realized that what I liked about Ready Player One is that it was like a love letter to the author’s childhood. And since his childhood pretty closely mirrored mine, it was a light-hearted, feel-good reading experience for me. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the world he created in that novel didn’t really involve much creativity. I described it as “not so much authorship as it is content curation,” which continues to ring true every time I come back to the statement.

And if RPO was content curation, then Armada is content curation on steroids – Cline sold the movie rights for the book two days after he announced he was writing it, two years ago.

1/5 stars

The good: Replay (Ken Grimwood)

The novel opens with the main character dying. No need for a spoiler alert here, because this is actually the premise of the book. Jeff Winston has a heart attack in his office in 1988, passes out, and wakes up in his college room (and college body) in 1963. After stumbling around in a confused daze, he realizes that it isn’t the afterlife – it’s his life, ready for him to live it again. If you’re thinking this sounds remarkably like the plot of Groundhog Day, now is a good time for me to point out that this novel was published seven years before that film was made.

I really enjoyed Grimwood’s unique variation of time travel, out of the protagonist’s control and only ever backwards, within his own life. He explores this central theme of time in a lot of interesting ways – What is time? Is it more important to use your time for yourself or for others? Is it possible to do both? Given the right tools, can one person make a difference in the world (for good or bad)? How important is money to a life well lived?

Winston was a character that it was easy to identify with, because his reactions to waking up in the past seem similar to what my own would be: Confusion, followed by panic, followed by skepticism, followed by giddy opportunism. He’s likeable, even when he’s not, and still wholly relatable nearly 30 years after it was written.

3.5/5 stars

The great: The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair (Joel Dicker)

The internet seems to be squarely divided on this one – reviewers either love it or hate it. Originally published in French, it won and was shortlisted for several major literary awards. When the English translation was released last year, I immediately scooped it up… and then left it languishing on my bookshelf. At 640 pages, I was preemptively daunted every time I thought about picking it up.

Cut to the beginning of this week, and the breezy sunshine inspired me to cram the massive tome into my purse and take it along to lunch.  I tore through it, finishing the book over the course of two lunches and two evenings of reading. It is, essentially, a story within a story within a story. The character of Harry Quebert is a famous writer and mentor to the protagonist Marcus Goldman, also a writer. The book is structured as Goldman explaining the process of another book he wrote while researching the summer that Quebert also wrote his most famous book, all in an attempt to solve a murder that happened that same summer that Harry is being accused of committing in the present day after the body is discovered on his property.

Confused? I think that’s the whole point. The plot is beautifully woven together, floating seamlessly in time between different events, sometimes revisiting them multiple times. The best way I can describe it is a book written about writers, for writers, by a truly gifted writer. While I normally have trouble following a book that jumps around in time, here it felt natural and essential to telling the story.

The only reason I hold back a star is the author’s treatment of the so-called “love affair” between Quebert and 15-year-old Nola Kellergan. Multiple characters question the ethics of it, and he repeatedly explains it away with various iterations of “love is a powerful and mysterious force,” and “well, it was the 70s” and “Nola was mature beyond her years,” etc. I’m not thrilled that authors continue to romanticize this idea of a nubile child muse. I’m not saying that their affair shouldn’t have been part of the plot (I think it works as a plot device), but I do think it could have been handled better in the perspective of the narrator.

4/5 stars


These three are next up on my reading list. I think I’m most excited about The Sculptor, because it’s been quite a long while since I’ve read such a substantial graphic novel. It also comes highly recommended by a handful of writers I admire, so stay tuned to see how it pans out. And if any of you have a book you’d like to recommend (or recommend against), let me know in the comments. My to-read list is epic, but I’m always ready and willing to add another book to the shelf.

Film Review – Advantageous

After spending a good chunk of the holiday weekend patriotically binge-watching The West Wing, I wanted to cleanse my streaming palate with another genre. Suffice it to say that Advantageous didn’t just cleanse my palate. It grabbed my palate with both hands and power-washed it, in the best way possible.

I wasn’t entirely sure how to write a plot synopsis, because the film is about so many different things. It’s about a mother (Gwen) wanting to do what’s best for her daughter. It’s about the intricacies of relationships within families. It’s about the pressure put on women to possess an ideal balance of intelligence and beauty. It’s about finding your place in the world. It’s about the automation of the workforce. And more and more and more.


Advantageous is simultaneously straightforward and complex. It strikes me as a sort of dystopian feminist David Mamet play, in that most of the scenes take place in single rooms as contained conversations between two or three people. These conversations are intimate, heavy with mood and yet nuanced enough that the weight is applied in layers. You feel all the frustration, all the agony, and all of the love as well.

It’s worth adding that Advantageous also carries the mood over into the visuals. Soft pastels, muted light, large swaths of cold metallic accents, lingering shots on Gwen’s face as she looks at her daughter. It’s clear that this is set in the future, but mixed in with all the technology there are still touches of now.


This isn’t an action flick and yet I was still on the edge of my seat, genuinely riveted by the twists and turns. I was also emotionally exhausted by the end of the film, which to me is the mark of a story well told. Advantageous is currently available to stream on Netflix, and I would absolutely suggest that you do so.

4/5 stars

Leftover makeover – Breakfast egg bake

I’m always at a bit of a loss when it comes to figuring out what to do with leftovers. Sure, you can pop them in the microwave and eat them again, but then you’re really just eating a sub-par version of the thing you ate the day before. (Unless you had soup. That reheats like a champ.)

I decided I’d try merging together last night’s dinner with this morning’s breakfast, and I’m very pleased with the results. It’s a pretty simple process, and you could use all sorts of things for the base. I happened to have roasted sweet potatoes, but that bottom layer could be any cooked vegetables, rice, beans, or even a bit of pasta. In fact, I think pasta would work splendidly.

To start, preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease a ceramic dish with your oil of choice (I went with a bit of olive), and add your bottom layer of food.

Roasted sweet potatoes

Then, put a few spoonfuls of something tomato-based on top of your bottom layer. I used salsa, but you could also use tomato sauce, chopped fresh tomatoes, bruschetta topping, etc.

Potatoes and salsa

Since these leftovers are presumably coming out of the fridge, put the dish in the oven to heat up the bottom layers. 7-10 minutes should do the trick, but this will vary based on what you use for your base. It’s not an exact science, so don’t sweat it. Whatever food you’re using has already been cooked previously, so you’re just warming it.

Take the dish out of the oven and sit it on a heat-proof surface (e.g. the stovetop or a folded dish towel on the counter). I had a slightly larger ceramic container so I was able to crack two eggs into the dish. If you only have ramekins you can follow the same steps, dividing the ingredients between two small ramekins and cracking one egg into each ramekin.

Baked eggs

On top of the eggs I sprinkled salt and pepper, then added a bit of shredded cheese. This part is very adaptable as well. Want to keep it paleo? Skip the cheese. Want to give it more bite? Add chopped scallions or a handful of fresh herbs. Want more spice? Dot the top with some Sriracha.

Eggs and cheese

Put the dish back in the oven and cook for 10-15 minutes, essentially until the whites are just set and the yolks are soft. The cooking time depends on how runny you like your yolks, and also a bit on how reliable your oven temperature is. I cooked mine for 12 minutes and it was the perfect consistency for me. There was a little bit of liquid from the salsa, so just take a look when you take it out of the oven to make sure you’re seeing salsa liquid and not uncooked egg whites.

Baked eggs

All that’s left to do is grab a spoon and dig in! If you’re a wheat-eater, feel free to dip some toast in this bad boy. Want to dip without the wheat? Rip a corn tortilla into strips and go to town.

From start to finish this took me about 20 minutes, which is a perfectly respectable amount of time to spend making weekend breakfast.