Archive for November, 2008

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Baby, You Can Drive My Car……as long as you don’t go over the speed limit!…and, hey! watch out for that pothole!….that’s not the way to the Piggly Wiggly!

November 26, 2008

How would you like to look in your rear view window and see this face glaring at you?

driving-miss-daisy

Scary!

Ok, not really. It’s just that Jessica Tandy’s Daisy Werthen is a formidable old broad. Strong enough to usher an audience through 25 years or so of mid twentieth century American history. 1989’s best Driving Miss Daisy is just wonderful. Ms. Tandy and her chauffeur through all this history witnessing is the equally formidable Morgan Freeman. And I totally goofed in my last post with regards to no one being better than Dustin Hoffman–Morgan Freeman is just as good. Freeman’s a treasure. The thing that I love about this movie is that the plot is all this American history, so there really is no plot, it’s just life, which made it an extremely character rich movie. And what characters. My favorite part of this movie was when Daisy tells Hoke that Idella (Good Times‘ Esther Rolle) was lucky for dying. It was like an old persons’ secret handshake: they know what’s coming and they want it to be easy. I don’t blame them, growing old tends to suck.

Old, but not sucking: Jessica Tandy was the oldest actress to be nominated for an Oscar, and the oldest to win one. She was 80 years old at the time of the filming. She was also the last lead from the original Broadway cast of A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) to win an Academy Award (Karl Malden and Kim Hunter won their awards for the film version of Streetcar, Marlon Brando won his for On the Waterfront and The Godfather). It took her 42 years.

Driving Miss Daisy was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. And apparently this movie directed itself: Bruce Beresford, Daisy’s director was not nominated. Hell, even Dan Aykroyd got a nom for this movie. Oliver Stone got his second best director award for Born on the 4th of July. That talentless hack Beresford has apparently directed 6 different actors in Oscar-nominated performances. Sheesh , Academy Awards, way to mess things up.


For dinner we raided the pantry, borrowed a can of salmon, bought a new one from the Piggly Wiggly to replace it because we decided to go with fresh salmon:

Mustard Encrusted Salmon w/ green lentils (from the indispensable Balthazar coobook)

  • · 4 salmon fillets (about 6 oz each)
  • · 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • · ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • · ¼ cup Dijon mustard
  • · 6 teaspoons dry bread crumbs
  • · 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to very hot (500 degrees)

Season the salmon fillets on both sides with salt and pepper. On the rounded side spread the mustard followed by a sprinkling of bread crumbs. Press the crumbs into the mustard. Beat a large ovenproof sauté pan over a high flame. Add the oil. When the oil begins to smoke add the salmon, mustard coated side of the fish down. Sear for 2 minutes, until the bread crumbs and mustard for a crust. Turn over and sear other side for 1 minute. Transfer the pan to the oven and finish cooking for about 3-4 minutes. Easy!

for the lentils

  • 1 cup lentils
  • 2 slices of bacon, finely diced
  • 4 sprigs of thyme
  • ½ medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 celery stalk, finely diced
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 cup chicken stock

Rinse the lentils and place them in a medium saucepan. Cover the lentils with 4 cups of water. Bring the water to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a small saucepan over a medium flame. Place the bacon and thyme in the hot pan and cook until some of the fat has rendered from the bacon (about 2 minutes). Next, add the onion, garlic and salt, and cook until the onion is translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the butter, carrot, celery, white pepper and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.

Drain the lentils and return them to the saucepan you cooked them in. Add the bacon-vegetable mixture and simmer gently for 7 to 10 minutes, until the lentils are very tender.

and for dessert, we visited Miss Daisy at the home and had some Thanksgiving Pie (pumpkin pie). Timing is everything. Happy Thanksgiving:

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
  • 1 can (12 fl. oz.) condensed or evaporated milk
  • 1 unbaked 9-inch (4-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell
  • Whipped cream (optional)
  • Directions:
    MIX sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk.

    POUR into pie shell.

    BAKE in preheated 425° F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream before serving.

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Brother, Can You Spare 3 Million Dollars?

November 20, 2008

I had forgotten how much I liked Rain Man. Dustin Hoffman, I can’t think of a better actor the last half of the 20th Century. Hoffman knocks it out of the park almost every time. Here his Raymond is a grand slam. Tom Cruise, whom I rarely like (I think this one, Jerry Maguire and his cameo in Tropic Thunder are the only times he’s not too insufferable) is terrific here. Cruise truly embodies the yuppie greed is good 80’s guy. I really love the scene where Charlie remembers who Raymond was. It’s a powerful piece of acting. Rain Man deserved to win. Lightweight year though: also nominated–Working Girl, The Accidental Tourist, Dangerous Liaisons & Mississippi Burning.


Rain Man the winner for 1988, is like the classiest road trip movie ever made. The car Raymond and Charlie take on the road is probably the coolest car ever. I kept wondering how much gas did it need to run. And would it run on unleaded? I don’t know a thing about cars except when they’re pretty. This one was pretty. But everything in this movie was pretty, even the twenty dollar flea bag motel had really amazing old-fashioned to die for wallpaper. The Babbitt’s hotel suite at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas is pretty snazzy. Gaudy, yes, but snazzy. The Vegas scenes were interesting too: probably every hotel/casino they filmed exteriors at in 1988 (only 20 years ago) has been torn down to build Bigger, Better, Bolder hotels.

It was clever of the screewriters to give characters the name Babbitt. Perhaps it’s an homage to the Sinclair Lewis novel of the same name (From Wikipedia: Babbitt, first published in 1922, is a novel by Sinclair Lewis. Largely a satire of American culture, society, and behavior, its main theme focuses on the power of conformity, and the vacuity of middle-class American life.) Somewhat fitting, no? The only scene in this movie that I don’t like is the rather famous coming down the escalator wearing matching outfits scene. It looks like an updated Diane Arbus photo, only creepier (if that’s possible). Oh, FYI, counting cards is not illegal.

Rain Man is set in many places, but two of the most predominant locales were Cincinnati and Las Vegas–specifically Caesar’s Palace, so for fun we made chili Cincy style and a nice lemony Caesar’s salad.

Cincinnati Chili Recipe

  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 1 pound extra-lean ground beef
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon red (cayenne) pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa or 1/2 ounce grated unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water

1 (16-ounce) package uncooked dried spaghetti (I used corn spaghetti)

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, saute onion, ground beef, garlic, and chili powder until ground beef is slightly cooked. Add allspice, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, unsweetened cocoa or chocolate, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar, and water. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, 1 1/2 hours. Remove from heat.

Cook spaghetti according to package directions and transfer onto individual serving plates (small oval plates are traditional).

Ladle chili over spaghetti and serve with toppings of your choice. Oyster crackers are served in a separate container on the side.

Dont use this much cheese!

Don't use this much cheese!

for the salad:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 to 6 cups torn romaine
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions:

For dressing, combine the first seven ingredients in a blender; cover and process until blended. Place romaine in a salad bowl. Drizzle with desired amount of dressing; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and toss to coat. Refrigerate any remaining dressing.

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The Big Nipple

November 11, 2008

last-emperor_cover

“If New York is the Big Apple, tonight Hollywood is the Big Nipple.”–Bernard Bertolucci on being presented with an Academy Award for The Last Emperor.

So, no, I’m not pandering for more blog hits (ok,maybe, I am, a little) by having a salacious title, I’m just quoting the film’s director.

The Last Emperor looks and feels like the prototypical Oscar winning movie: it’s quite beautiful to look at, lots of different stuff happens over a long period of time, it examines a life of someone who sounds important. But Pu Yi (the last emperor of China) wasn’t important. He was just the last guy. He was somewhat puppet-like. And kind of dull. And mean to mice. But the 60 year old cricket was cool. The film opens in the location of Manchuria, right near the Russian border. I couldn’t help but think that the Chinese could see Russia from their backyard and what a difference that makes. You betcha, just ask Sarah Palin.

The Last Emperor has a plus for every minus. It was filmed in The Forbidden City (the first Western movie to have that honor) It’s long (almost 3 hours). Peter O’Toole shows up for a while and that’s nice. The film looks like it was edited with an Ipod shuffle: the time sequences go back and forth too much. I like my movies to be a bit more linear. I’m looking at you La Vie En Rose.


Is The Last Emperor somewhat overblown? Yep. Should this one have won the top prize for 1987? Probably not. I would have given it to Moonstruck. Or Hope and Glory. Or Broadcast News. But not Fatal Attraction : talk about being overblown.

For dinner we went with a tried and true Sweet and Sour Chicken Chunk recipe that I’ve made for years. This is from a Reader’s Digest cookbook my mom gave to me when I was first married. I always wondered if they condensed the recipes and if so, what did they leave out? Anyway this is one of our favorite recipes and so easy!

  • 1 pound of boneless and skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon table salt)
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 10-ounce can pineapple chunks (reserve juice)
  • 1/4 cup juice from the canned pineapple
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon peanut oil
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 In a bowl, combine the chicken with the egg white, salt and cornstarch. Stir to coat the chicken evenly. Let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature or up to overnight in the refrigerator.

2 In the meantime, whisk together the pineapple juice, vinegar, ketchup, salt, and brown sugar.

3 Heat a large frying pan or wok over high heat until a bead of water instantly sizzles and evaporates. Pour in the 1 tablespoon of peanut oil and swirl to coat. Add the chicken and spread the chicken out in one layer. Let the chicken fry, untouched for 1 minute, until the bottoms are browned. Flip and fry the other side the same for 1 minute. The chicken should still be pinkish in the middle. Dish out the chicken onto a clean plate, leaving as much oil in the pan as possible.

4 Turn the heat to medium and add the remaining 1 teaspoon of peanut oil. Let the oil heat up and then add the vegetables and ginger. Fry for 1 minute. Add the pineapple chunks and the sweet and sour sauce. Turn the heat to high and when the sauce is simmering, add the chicken pieces back in. Let simmer for 1-2 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Timing depends on how thick you’ve cut your chicken. The best way to tell if the chicken is done is to take a piece out and cut into it. If it’s pink, add another minute to the cooking.

Serve with Jasmine Rice

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Hearts of Darkness, Faces of Babies

November 3, 2008

I can’t tell which kind of movie the Academy preferred more, war movies (All Quiet on the Western Front, From Here to Eternity, Patton) or movies with no female speaking parts (Lawrence of Arabia) I’m guessing that the Academy must have done cartwheels when Oliver Stone added 1986’s. Platoon to the war waging and no English speaking female parts pot. And they should have. Platoon is very good, very brutal, very well written (well, Oliver Stone has been generously rewarded for his talent of spinning a pretty good yarn) and excellently cast: Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger are both superb–and both nominated for the best supporting actor award (losing out to Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters) as the Sgts. of good (Dafoe) and evil (Berenger). I love that Stone later cast them both in his Vietnam follow-up film, Born on the 4th of July only with Dafoe being the evil character and Berenger being the good. Also in this cast is 2006’s best actor Academy Award winner, a baby faced Forest Whittaker, also major motion oicture star, super baby-faced Johnny Depp and a whole lot of actors who we now see regularly on American TV: baby-faced Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men), a youngish John McGinley (Scrubs), a baby-faced Kevin Dillon (Entourage) and an even more baby faced Mark Moses (Mad Men). It was quite the treat for me to see Mark Moses, too. Mad Men is my absolute favorite show right now. It’s sooooo great. If you haven’t seen it yet, try to watch it–it’s on Sunday’s on the AMC channel.

Unfortunately, last night my copy of Platoon was not working properly in my DVD player so Jim had to go out to, ew, Blockbuster and rent the DVD. Coincidentally while I waited for him to come back, I watched the tail end of the aforementioned Born on the 4th of July.

Platoon also marks a somewhat important personal milestone for me. This was the first Oscar winning movie I saw in a theater–or more correctly since I’m now dating (later to marry) a true Chicago guy –at the show with , that much beloved last minute Blockbuster DVD fetcher and semi-irregular commentator, Jim. Either I’m getting old or this project is almost finished. Ok, both. Sigh.

For dinner I attempted to cook a Vietnamese pork thing that I found at the Food and Wine website, But it turned out horrible and too hot so I’m not going to post the recipe. All told this really was not a good night for the Oscars in Order crew. Although giving credit where credit is due, Jim did grill the pork chops perfectly. So, kudos to him. What he wont do to watch a brutal war movie…..or eat pork.