Thursday, October 17, 2013

Once Upon A Time in Wonderland: Alice meets a Genie

Thursdays at 8pm on ABC (U.S.) and City TV (Canada) 

Once upon a time there was a little British girl named Alice who had wondrous adventures with white rabbits, giant caterpillars and talking cats in a magical world called Wonderland. That part we already know.

But this story begins when an enthusiastic Alice returns home to her family…and is dismayed that nobody believes her amazing stories.  They all think she’s either telling tall tales or going batty. Alice is determined to prove them wrong, which leads her back to Wonderland as a young woman. She’s searching for physical evidence to present to her father, but Alice finds more than she ever imagined when she meets a chivalrous, handsome genie-in-a-bottle named Cyrus who sweeps her off her feet. She rubs him the right way and they set off on a romantic adventure, pledging their hearts and their futures to each other. But their lifetime of happiness is cut short when Cyrus is felled by the evil Queen of Hearts and tossed into a boiling sea. Oh dear.

Now Alice is back in England, shackled in a mental institution, desolate and heartbroken. She no longer cares if anyone thinks she’s crazy. She’s given up on life. In fact she’s ready to let the doctors perform a risky procedure to ‘take the pain away’. She’s willing to forget Wonderland and Cyrus if it will make her hurt less. It’s in this bleak moment that her magical past reappears when the knave of hearts and the infamous white rabbit show up to bust her out of the loony bin and take her back to Wonderland where Cyrus may still be alive!

Once Upon A Time in Wonderland (whew…what a mouthful!) is a spin-off of ABC’s hit series Once Upon A Time, which blends classic fairytales with modern day stories. OUAT uses multiple timelines and non-sequential flashbacks to weave its tales and if this pilot is any indicator, Wonderland (yeah, that’s what I’m calling it) will do the same. The main plot is the progress of Alice and her two sidekicks as they journey through Wonderland looking for her lost love. The knave is a little bit dodgy and rough around the edges, but probably a big softie at the core. He’s got a criminal reputation in Wonderland that he’s not keen to re-visit. But he’s agreed to stick it out if Alice gives him one of the three wishes she’s keeping in her shoe (yes, you read that right). The time-obsessed White Rabbit is less than trustworthy. He’s indebted to the Queen somehow and he lured Alice back to Wonderland on her direct orders. Now he’s reporting back with her every move while she searches for Cyrus. At the same time, it looks like the story will delve into Alice’s past adventures in Wonderland, fleshing out her romance with Cyrus and their time together before his faux death.

The Good
-The casting of Alice is perfect. Relative newcomer Sophie Lowe is a delicate beauty with fire burning behind her eyes. She’s the perfect mix of strong and sweet. I love how she still looks like a wide-eyed little girl, and yet like every good modern heroine, she can kick a little ass when she needs to.

-Even though we only got a small taste, I’m already loving the chemistry between Alice and Cyrus. They just sparked on screen together. Their initial interaction was both chaste and sensuous at the same time and there was something deliciously old fashioned about their connection. They actually felt like fairy tale sweethearts. “You know, when you really love someone, you don’t need proof. You can feel it”. Handled badly their scenes could have made me gag, but I was so charmed that I think I actually sighed audibly!

-The Knave is an intriguing sidekick already. He’s morally conflicted yet begrudgingly chivalrous, rescuing Alice from the jaws of the ravenous Cheshire cat. His back and forth banter with our heroine will up the comedy factor, which is always a good thing in a fantastical series that can’t afford to take itself seriously.

The Bad
-How could they have screwed up so badly with their depiction of the Queen of Hearts? She’s a botoxed Barbie; stuffed into stiff haute couture dresses she can barely move in. And those lips??? She looks like she’s had more collagen injections than Meg Ryan after her infamously bad makeover disaster. It was impossible to take her seriously as a villain. I giggled at all her attempts to be menacing.

-Jafar. Oh BOY. So it turns out that behind the Queen of Heart’s schemes is an even more powerful villain - Agrabah sorcerer Jafar. Yes the snake staff wielding badass from Disney’s Aladdin come to life.  He’s been secretly holding Cyrus captive and he needs Alice back in Wonderland to locate the genie’s bottle and give up her three wishes. Jaffar is played by Lost’s Naveen Andrews, which obviously means I WANT to love him…but the whole thing just felt preposterous. I really hate when Once Upon A Time (and now it’s spin-off) uses ABC’s Disney connection to bring very specific characters from their cartoon movies to life: Belle, Mulan, Ariel and now Jafar. The great thing about classic fairy tales is that they’ve been interpreted so many times in so many different ways. Re-inventing the characters feels natural and there are really no limits. Look what OUAT did with Little Red Riding Hood, turning her into the Big Bad Wolf! But the characters specifically invented or given shape by Disney cartoons don’t work the same way. They are only associated with one animated interpretation and when they’re brought into the OUAT universe the actor’s end up looking like kids in bad Halloween costumes. It doesn’t feel inventive or creative…it just feels weird. Especially when they’re not taking the character in a surprising direction, they’re just putting a human face to a cartoon. I mean what’s next? Is Simba going to come padding along?

-What bloody time period are we dealing with here? If Alice’s father’s carefully coiffed mustache and Jane Aust-ean attire are any indicator, she was definitely a child in old-timey England. She looks to be in her mid-20s now, so that should place us sometime in the early 20th century right? And yet the knave was living in modern day Storybrooke (the town in Maine that serves as the setting for Once Upon A Time) when the rabbit tracked him down to find Alice. Did they go back in time to Alice’s mental institution because there was no subtitle indicating that? It certainly didn’t look modern in that creepy hellhole, with its archaic treatment of the mentally ill. I’m thoroughly confused.

-Why was Alice – at least a teenager at the time – running around Wonderland in what looked to be an oversized 10-year-old’s party dress? That’s taking childlike wonderment a little too literally. And it kind of makes Cyrus seem like a pedophile for hitting on her.

Will I Watch this Again?
Overall, I’m a little disappointed so far. I was really enchanted with the trailer for Wonderland but a lot of the elements of the pilot left me cold. The romance really has me hooked and I can’t wait to see more of that, but hopefully the cartoonish villains don’t spoil the party too much.

Ratings for the pilot were pretty disappointing, with only 5.7 million viewers overall and a 1.6 in the 18-49 demo. Wonderland was thoroughly trounced by CBS' comedies and even bested by The X Factor. It did edge out NBC's comedies, but that's not saying much. I think ABC may have overestimated OUAT’s popularity and public’s appetite for a spin-off.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sleepy Hollow: Don't Lose Your Head

Mondays at 9pm on Fox (U.S.), and Global (Canada)

That was a really bad joke in the title - I couldn't think of a subtitle and I just let the cheese take over. 

Following the Once Upon A Time and Grimm trend, Sleepy Hollow is a re-invention of the tale of Sleepy Hollow for modern times. I’m not well versed in the previous source material, so I wasn’t attached to any pre-conceived notion of what the story should be. There was that Johnny Depp film I’m sure I watched, but can’t remember a single minute of, and vague memories of a cartoon from my youth that involved pumpkins…or a pumpkin head? 

In this version, Ichabod Crane is a revolutionary war soldier – a British defector fighting with the Americans – who is frozen by this witchy wife and wakes up 250 years into the future. Unfortunately, Ichabod’s arrival coincides with the reappearance of the supernatural horseman he beheaded on the battle field. He’s headless, hopping mad and wielding a blazing battle-axe. 

A disoriented Ichabod crosses paths with police officer Abbie Mills, when he stumbles across her active crime scene. The headless horseman has just murdered her partner and mentor and she’s the only witness. But she’s keeping the headless detail to herself… because it’s bat shit crazy! Ichabod is hauled into the police station for being really, really weird and questioned about his connection to the crime. Naturally he babbles on about George Washington and slavery and earns himself a one-way ticket to the loony bin. But his detailed description of the horseman catches Abbie’s attention and she springs him from his padded room to help her track him down. 

Without delving into the entire plot of the episode, the horseman is revealed as ‘Death’, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Something bigger and badder is controlling the whole show, George Washington’s bible may be the key to fighting it off, and Abbie and Ichabod are fated to battle the forces of evil as a team. So now we have the set up for the series and a semi-plausible motivation for our heroes to stay together. 

I wanted to enjoy this show more than I did. The preview made it seem lighthearted and playful, but the full episode felt heavy handed and melodramatic. And when your plot involves a headless guy riding a white horse with blazing red eyes…a serious tone is hard to swallow. While the comic moments were certainly more palatable than the dramatic ones, the time travel humour was too predictable. Yes, cars are scary, women are bold pants- wearing creatures, and our culture is weirdly obsessed with coffee chains. What else you got? 

The chemistry between the two leads Tom Mison (Ichabod) and Nicole Beharie (Abbie) was sadly non-existent. I didn’t feel a real connection or sense of camaraderie. Hopefully they’ll find their rhythm soon because that’s an essential part of any dual lead series. It also irked me that Abbie rolled with the punches so quickly after her initial skepticism.  This is WEIRD shit! Why are you not freaking the hell out? 

Random Musings
Ichabod is a truly terrible name to use repeatedly…but it isn’t really nickname friendly. Maybe they’ll just call him Crane? It’s certainly better than Bod. 

Favourite Quote
Cop: (re: headless horseman): “Do you think he can hear us?” 

Will I Watch This Again?
I’ll give it another few episodes to see if I warm up to it. I’m not terribly interested in the story so far, but if they do some unexpected things in the supernatural arena they might peak my interest. 

Pulled in some surprisingly good numbers – 10.10 million viewers overall and 3.5 in the 18-49 in the demo to grab the #1 spot for the night (although Dancing With the Stars had more overall viewers). Three of the networks have yet to debut their schedules though, so we’ll find out if Sleepy Hollow can hold off the competition in week 2. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Trailer Wars 2013

I unabashedly adore trailers. A good trailer that gives you goosebumps, makes you giggle uncontrollably, or brings on a surge of overpowering emotion is like crack (ugh...I feel like Rob Ford has ruined crack jokes forever...). Good trailers don't always turn into great movies or shows (I'm looking at you Tristan and Isolde!) but it's still fun to judge them on their own merits. 

I'm always really excited when the trailers for a new TV season are released at the Upfronts. I've read about all the new series and I'm dying for a first taste. There are always a few highly anticipated concepts that I'm really disappointed in and some unexpected gems that peak my interest. The trailers for the 2013-2014 Network TV have been out for a couple of weeks now and I've had to time to watch and re-watch, roll my eyes in disgust, and whoop with delight. 

Here are my picks Top Trailers of the year. The CW was basically disqualified because they released 30 second spots and 'scenes'. Those are not trailers and they suck.

Only time will tell whether these shows will live up to the standard their trailers have set. 

1. Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (ABC)

I'll be honest - this number 1 spot was pretty much a given. The Marvel Universe on TV with Joss Whedon at the helm??? Unless this trailer featured narration by Fran Drescher and a soundtrack by Nickelback I was destined to love it! But it really is a kick-ass spot in its own right. It's action packed with gravitas and stakes, peppered with classic Whedonverse humour at precisely the right moments. "Don't touch Lola". It pays homage to the bigger properties that spawned it - with quick shots of Thor's hammer and Captain America's shield - but focuses on building its own universe. It also does a pretty good job of introducing new characters without resorting to dry bio-pack information.

2. Surviving Jack (FOX)

This show was not on my radar at all. It was created by Justin Halpen, inspired by his 2012 book I Suck at Girls. This is the same guy who brought us Sh*t my Dad Says so you can see why I wasn't expecting much. But surprisingly this trailer is hysterical. First of all it manages to make the early 90s (a sort of weird transitional period between the polka dot insanity of the 80's and completely schizophrenic goth/boyband/punk late 90s) feel like a unique time period. Which is kind of cool! Secondly ALL of the characters seem funny and three-dimensional. Usually there's at least one cliche character in a comedy trailer who makes you to cringe. But most importantly, Christopher Meloni comes across like a superstar. He plays the hard-ass, man's man, secretly loveable Dad role perfectly. He's everything one-note Shatner was not. I'm crushed this is a mid-season series because this trailer really made me want more NOW.

3. Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (ABC) 

I was prepared to roll my eyes at this  trailer because I hated the idea of a Once Upon A Time Spin-off. It seemed like a bad move. But I quickly got swept up in the epic melodrama and romance of this concept. Other than the title there is no real reference to Once Upon A Time - which is is great! It felt like I was stepping into an entirely new world; a beautiful universe that could exist entirely on its own. The characters demanded attention - Alice is a captivating child-like waif you just want to hug and the Genie had me swooning immediately. It's no easy task to hook your audience on a love story in under 4 minutes, but I'm already invested. The incredible music choice definitely helped. That score just screamed DRAMA, HEARTBREAK, FANTASY.

4. Rake (Fox)

This Fox series seems like an incredibly ambitious show. There are a hell of a lot of plot threads in a trailer for a single episode of a series. But that's what intrigues me so much. This show will obviously have procedural elements because the main character is a lawyer who seems to be tackling new cases all the time. But it's also rich in serialized character drama; he's in love with a prostitute, he's a gambling addict, he has a crazy stalker. This trailer is one big, crazy complex mess that really, really works. It's funny, it's poignant, and it makes you think. And they did a great job of highlighting the punchy, intelligent dialogue. 

5. Hostages (CBS)

What? A CBS Series??? Yeah...I'm as surprised as you are but this one really hooked me. It told a really great story from start to finish. I understood exactly what was happening to the characters and why (which sounds like a given, but unfortunately a lot of trailers fail at that) The stakes for the series were clearly set up and they are damn high! Obviously there's a fantastic cast with Dylan McDermmott, Toni Collette and Tate Donovan. And I really loved how the trailer highlighted the duality of all the characters with supers that outlined their conflicting personas. "FBI agent...Terrorist. Husband...cheater. Advisor...Conspirator". I'm skeptical that a high concept show like this has enough legs to become a long running series but that's not the trailer's problem! It did its job very well.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hot Docs 2013: The Manor

The Manor was a personal film, directed by and staring Shawney Cohen, who was  conflicted about his unusual family business. Since the late 70s when Shawney was 6 years old, the Cohen family has owned and operated a sleazy strip club in Guelph, Ontario. In many ways The Manor has been good to the Cohens, providing them with jobs and bringing them wealth and comfort. But is it also a poison that has spread throughout the family? Shawney’s overbearing 400lb father, who runs the club, is struggling with an overeating complex that even gastric bypass surgery can’t cure. His 85lb mother is a lonely wisp of a women who lives on laxatives. And his brother is a douchebag in training who practically lives at The Manor, romancing strippers and zooming around in luxury cars.  And Shawney is just…confused….does he hate the club? does he want to be with his family? what is he doing with his life?

It was a very interesting film, that provided an intimate, no holds barred insight into how a fractured family relates to each other. We watched all of the Cohens struggle with deeply ingrained issues that consumed their lives and chipped away at their relationships. And they were all fascinating personalities – no weak characters in the bunch. But when the film was over I was left thinking...”and”? And what does this family say about our world? Has anyone learned anything or changed their lives? Do I care?

I don’t need all of my stories to be tied up in a pretty bow, but I need to feel like they are trying to make a point. I didn’t get that with The Manor. At the end of the film everyone was in exactly the same place they were when it started. There was no hope or despair…it was just status quo. And although the strip club setting allowed for some hysterical and disturbing moments, I wanted Shawney to draw a stronger connection between The Manor and his family’s problems. It felt a little disjointed.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Hot Docs 2013: Downloaded

Downloaded , a film by Alex Winter, charted the rise and fall of Napster in the late 1990s/Early 2000s. We all know the story – in 1998 Shawn Fanning an 18-year-old internet fan dropped out of college to create a file sharing system that would allow fans to exchange their favourite songs on an unprecedented scale. He teamed up with another teen, Sean Parker, who managed handled the business affairs, and Napster was born. It was a massively popular, attracting over 20 million users, mostly teenagers. But the recording industry panicked over piracy, artists like Metallica and Dr. Dre lost their sh*t, and everyone sued the hell of them. By 2002 Napster had lost their legal battles, declared bankruptcy and users had moved on to Kaaza, Limewire and later Torrents.

This film was a strangely nostalgic experience for me, like revisiting my late teen years high through the lens of this revolutionary music service. I was around the same age Shawn Fanning was when he created Napster and I was a HUGE music fan at the time. I used to collect CDs like they were going out of style…which I guess they were! When I discovered Napster it was incredible. I could pull up obscure pop songs I hadn’t heard in years. Instead of waiting by the radio for hours to hear a brand new single I could simply download it and play it over and over until the album came out. At the time it didn’t stop me from purchasing music, it only fueled my CD obsession because I had easy access to different artists and I could sample before buying. It was like having an HMV listening booth in my bedroom. Or more accurately, my parent’s bedroom since they possessed the sole household computer back in those days.

Looking back at it now, it’s crazy to realize that Napster was only a huge cultural phenomenon for 2 years. These days I blink and 2 years just disappear. But as a teenager, 2 years felt like a lifetime.

There’s been a lot of debate about whether Napster fostered a new generation of kids who believe they have the right to free music. And they definitely sparked that desire. Before Napster it was a given that if you wanted any type of media you had to pay for it. They showed us it was possible to get media for free. From there we had to decide for ourselves what we were willing to pay for and how much we were willing to pay for it.

But I think more importantly, Napster created our current culture of immediate media gratification. There’s no waiting to hit up the record store, bookstore or video store anymore. If you hear a song you like, or want to check out a new TV show, it’s one click away. If I can’t find something immediately that I’ve randomly decided I must have, I huff and puff and whine. I’m used to having the entire wide world of media at my fingertips and it’s unacceptable to me that it should be any other way. Napster created that expectation. Others have nurtured it and expanded upon it, but they were the first to show us it was possible. I think THAT is their true legacy.

Downloaded did a great job of not only telling the Napster story, but also revealing the people behind it and how the chaos affected their lives. After Aaron Sorkin’s depiction of Sean Parker in The Social Network, it’s hard for me to see him as anything but a douchebag, but Shawn Fanning was a fascinating character. He had a truly utopian vision for an internet in which file sharing connected people around the globe. And he never anticipated the backlash or how out of control everything would get.

 I loved one of the later scenes in the film where Shawn Fanning and one of his former Napster business guys were being interviewed…and the business guy started calculating just how much money Napster had managed to raise and loose during their battle with the recording industry. He estimated that they were about $500 million dollars in the hole when they finally declared bankruptcy. As he continued talking, the audio faded out and the camera focused in on Sean Fanning’s face as he reacted to the $500 million figure. He was staring off into space with all of these complex emotions playing on his face. It was like horror mixed with utter disbelief…and exhaustion. Years later, the realization of what a monster Napster became still hits him.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Following: Serial Killer Shocker

The Following was definitely one of the most talked about pilots of the 2012-2013...and the fact that it was held back until mid-season only increased the anticipation. I probably could have got my hands on a copy before it aired, but I was itching for a pure TV experience and I waited until it officially debuted.


The series is centered on former FBI agent, Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), who is drawn back into the bureau when a serial killer he arrested stages a horrifically violent prison escape. Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), an extremely intelligent and dangerous literary professor slaughtered 14 women on a college campus before he was finally imprisoned in 2004. Obsessed with the work of Edgar Allen Poe, Carroll fancies himself a death artist - a visionary who 'experiences' art. He cut out the eyes of his victims, turning them into a grotesque work of art. His final victim Sarah Fuller (nice to see Maggie Grace again!) escaped with a stab wound and her eyes in tact when Hardy shot Carroll and saved her (taking a knife to the heart in the process). 

In the pilot, Carroll is on the loose and Hardy is back on the case as a consultant. The years haven't exactly been kind to Hardy and he's become a lonely drunk with a pacemaker, who has never shaken the Carroll case. Hardy is convinced that Carroll will come after Sarah Fuller again. He needs to finish what he started. While she is under 24-hour protection Hardy and the FBI make a horrifying discovery. Through the power of the Internet Carroll has attracted a gaggle of groupies and wannabes: followers who are hanging on his every word. He convinces one young woman to disrobe in the middle of a makeshift FBI office and stab herself in the eye with an ice pick. He turns another creepy prison guard into a murderous protégé who helps him bust out of prison. 

Sidenote: Are ice picks ever used for anything but murder? People are always getting stabbed with ice picks in TV and movies. But when's the last time somebody actually picked at ice with one? 

The pilot comes to a morbid end when Sarah Fuller is abducted by her gay neighbours who were working undercover for Caroll for over 3 years -  watching over her until Caroll was able to complete his masterpiece. Hardy is too late to save Sarah this time and she meets an excruciating end. Caroll is willingly recaptured and sent back to prison, but his reign of terror is far from over. There are over 300 active serial killers at any one time in the U.S. and Carroll has recruited and trained a large chunk of them. Now he will sit back and gloat as they carry out his orders and commit their own heinous crimes. 

Yes this is cop show and there will more than likely be weekly murders/cases that need to be solved. But the tone is very different than a CSI or a Law and Order. This show is SCARY - like horror film freaky. It's a shadowy figure, knife in the dark, 'look out behind you!' terror fest. I guess shouldn't come as a surprise since Kevin Williamson wrote and directed the pilot. It's just been a long time since a TV series made me want to leave the lights on and hide under the covers at night! 

Kevin Bacon is perfectly cast in the role of Ryan Hardy. He's always had a haggard, run-down appearance and it's easy to believe him as a broken lawman. But it's James Purefoy who really mesmerizes in the role of Joe Carroll. In the flashback scenes, as a psychopath blending into society, he's utterly charming and likeable. But when he stares down Hardy in an interrogation room, his face transforms. He becomes twisted and menacing, with a smirk that chills to the bone. This is an intelligent, dangerous villain worth investing in. And what's fascinating is that he only had a short sojourn outside prison. It appears that he will be behind bars for the foreseeable future. I'm fascinated to see how the show is able to develop his character in a static location. It's a challenge for any actor to bring a strong enough presence to sell that, but I think Purefoy can pull it off. 

There are lots of interesting sub plots and side relationships to play with here. Somehow Hardy became involved with Carroll’s wife during the arrest and trial. I’m dying to find out more about how their affair developed. I would really love to delve into her psyche as well. How horrifying to discover that the husband you love, the father of your new baby, takes pleasure in cutting up young women! How is this woman coping? 

There’s some great tension between Hardy and the current FBI agents. He was called in as a consultant because nobody knows Carroll like he does, but he’s been off the job for years. Yet he seems to be the only one people will deal with, the only person capable of connecting the dots, and the FBI are forced to let him take the lead. 

One aspect of the series that does irk me slightly is the assumption that there are tons of brilliantly deceptive people in the U.S. who are gullible enough to become Carroll’s puppets. The creepy prison guard who murders puppy for practice is completely plausible, but the fake gay couple who spent years cuddling up to each other and playing best friend to their neighbor just so they could abduct her at precisely the right time? Hmmm. And the perky, warm babysitter who managed to fool everybody and bond with Carroll’s ex-wife and son in a long con to kidnap Carroll’s son for him? It's a stretch. People who are weak minded enough to idolize a serial killer aren’t generally smart enough to pull off these elaborate set-ups. However I’m willing ignore those small issues if the story proves compelling enough. There are far more important issues than plausibility in great storytelling! 

The show had 10.3 million viewer overall and a 3.1 rating in the 18-49 demo (5th overall bested by the CBS comedy line-up and the Bachelor). That’s a really solid start for a Fox series, although they promoted THE HELL out it. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Healthy Cookie Fun

I love baking a variety of cookies to share with my family at Christmas. But I have a sister who doesn't eat wheat, dairy (except for eggs) or processed sugar...which makes baking a little difficult. Every year I struggle with Gluten Free Vegan recipes from random websites and they always turn out a little wonky. They were either structurally unsound or suffered from unfortunate aftertaste syndrome. Maybe I just need a little more practice, but I'm unmotivated to skip butter when I don't have to. So this year I decided to skip the specialized recipes and focus on adapting already successful cookie. FINALLY the results were predictable and delicious. Here are a few of the yummy treats.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

2 1/4 cups of light spelt flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup coconut oil
1 3/4 cup cane sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp hot chili powder (cayenne powder) - optional

*this adjusted recipe is courtesy of Martha Stewart*

1. Pre-heat the over to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper
2. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl
3. Beat coconut oil and 1 1/2 cups of sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy
4. Add eggs and beat to combine
5. With mixer on low, gradually add flour and beat just until combines (don't over mix)
6. In a small bowl combine remaining sugar and cinnamon with the chile powder
7. Form tbsp sized balls of dough and roll them in the sugar mixture
8. Place balls a few inches apart on the cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes
9. Let cool for 4 minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

These chocolatey cookies fall somewhere in the middle of chewy and crunchy - let's call them chunchy. They have a nice spicy bite from the chili powder that kicks in a few seconds after you swallow. But be forewarned the spicy/sweet combo may not work for everyone. My mother scrunched up her face after eating one and proclaimed her distaste. But my brother, sister and boyfriend gave them a stamp of approval

-I find that coconut oil is the nicest textured and flavoured butter substitute. But other options are vegan 'butter' or shortening.
-Spelt flour is wheat free NOT gluten free. So, while I use spelt and kamut for my sister, if you're baking for someone who is avoiding gluten, try rice flour.

Cranberry Orange Drop Cookies

2 cups (packed) dried cranberries
1/3 cup orange juice
2 cups light spelt flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup cane sugar
1 large egg
1 tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp grated orange peel
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup unsalted natural pistachios
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cranberries
(....long list of stuff for this one!) 

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper
2. Put dried cranberries in a small bowl, add the orange juice and let them soak for 30 minutes
3. Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, ground ginger, baking soda and salt in medium bowl
4. Beat coconut oil, honey and cane sugar on medium speed until smooth
5. Add egg, minced ginger, vanilla extract, grated orange peel and beat until well blended (about 2 min)
6. Gradually add the flour mixture
7. Stir in walnuts, pistachios, fresh cranberries and dried cranberries with any juices that have accumulated
8. Drop cookie dough by rounded tbspful onto baking sheet a couple of inches apart.
9. Bake until golden and almost firm to touch in centre - about 18 minutes
10. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes then transfer to rack

*adjusted recipe courtesy of Epicurious*

Flourless Double Chocolate Pecan Cookies

This third recipe is technically a cheat because it uses a whole whack of confectioners sugar, but it's completely flourless so it's safe for the gluten free folk. I convinced my sister to set aside her processed sugar phobia and give one a try. They are definitely my favourite of the bunch.

3 cups of confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp coarse salt
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
4 large egg whites, room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper
2. Whisk together sugar, cocoa powder and salt in a large bowl
3. Stir in chocolate and pecans
4. Add egg whites and stir just until incorporated (do not over mix)
5. Drop dough by large chunks (anywhere from 2 tbsp to 1/4 a cup) onto the baking sheets
6. Bake for 22-25 minutes - tops will be dry and cracked

*adjusted recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart*

These cooked almost have a meringue like texture on top due to the egg whites, but inside it's cakey goodness. When I first made them I wondered about the coarse salt because you get larger chunks of it in a few bites, but it's actually quite satisfying - like a salted chocolate bar.

I prefer my chocolate to be a little sweeter so I actually used half semi-sweet and half bitter sweet chocolate