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Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Long Way Down (2014)

This movie did not get particularly good reviews, but I found it strangely enjoyable.  Martin Sharp (played very competently and almost compassionately by Pierce Brosnan) had the world in the palm of his hand uo until a year before when the movie opens.  He had a sexual relationship with someone that he claims he did not know was underage, and as a result he lost his long time morning talk show job, as well as his marriage and for a time, his personal freedom as he spent some itme in jail.  He is humiliated and he has decided to commit suicide.  Unfortunately or fortunately, he has chosen a popular building to hurl oneself off of and on New Year's Eve, also a popular night, and before he can accomplish the jump, he is joined by three other people, also suicidal.

They are all impulsively making a choice to end their lives, and having an audience makes them each hesitate, and they form an unlikely alliance whereby they provide support for each other much in the way a support group would act. Toni Collette's performance is pitch perfect, and the movie is ultimately hopeful and at the least enjoyable.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sopa de Chilies

We roasted two cases of Hatch chilies this fall and my husband also ordered 50 pounds of them that came roasted and frozen so we have a significant amount of real estate in the freezer occupied by green chilies.  I love the earthy flavor of soup, and decided to try to make it.  Delicious!

2 lb. poblano chiles
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 large white onion, roughly chopped
1 small potato, diced
1 hot chile (serrano or jalapeno), stemmed, seeded, and minced
4 oz. spinach, roughly chopped
4 cups stock
1-2 cups milk
Salt and  black pepper, to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Heat broiler to high heat. Place poblano chiles on a foil-lined baking sheet, and broil, turning as needed, until blackened all over, about 20 minutes; transfer to a bowl and let cool. Peel and discard skins, stems, and seeds; roughly chop, and set aside.

2. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, the hot pepper, and then the potato, cook until onions are soft. Add chopped poblanos and stock and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced, about 35 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in spinach and milk, and season with salt and pepper; puree in a blender until smooth.  Adding the spinach at the end then pureeing it makes the color of the soup greener.  You can add a dollop of Mexican crema or sour cream when serving.  A cup of corn can be added after pureeing to make a chili corn soup, and strips of fried tortillas acan be sprinkled on top when served.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Time Present, and Time Past by Dierdre Madden

Dierdre Madden is an Irish author whose latest book was once again long listed for the Orange Prize.  It is more of a novella in length, but it is so densely and beautifully written that you forget just how short it is.  The book follows a family over time, headed by the father, Finlan.  He is a guy who has what I would call permeable ego boundaries and what is perhaps a below average ability to tell one person from another.  He sees connections everywhere he looks, and through his eyes, we see lots of them as well.  The central issues are the ties that family hold now and for all time.  Jane is Finlan's mother and for the most part, her family should either have avoided her like the plague or demanded she change for their own mental health, but her influence on her grandchildren is more positive, so there are pluses and minuses to maintaining connections with very negative family members.  He sees his twin in a divorced father who is painfully separated from his child after a divorce that was clearly in everyone's best interest but the wife is still quite bitter. The desperate love that one can feel for their child can have the effect of making that child feel safe, but it has negative consequences for Finlan's own daughter--he loved her more than anyone else could and it left her unhappy.  So it is not what you would call an inherently uplifting book, but it does show the light and the dark side of human relationships.  Loved it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Killing Kennedy (2013)

The acting in this movie is very solid, but the material doesn't give them much to work with.  The focus is on Lee Oswald and the path that led him to the assasination of Presidnet Kennedy.  In 1959, when Kennedy was deciding to run for president, Oswald was attemptimg to defect to Russia. He was a devoted communist who detested the capitalist society of the United States.  He lived in Minsk for over two years, marrying a Russian wife, before returning to the United States.  The movie depicts him as a paranoid fanatic, who gets very upset and angry at the treatment of Cuba soon after his return. 

On the other side of the coin, we see Kennedy struggling with what to do in response to the missle crisis in Cuba, where he is quite presidential, counterbalanced by his cavorting with women in the White House.  His wife knows and yet she remains devoted to him, and in some ways he to her as well.  None of this is delved into in any depth, and so it is left as a series of events rather than an integrated plot. 

What is crystal clear is that Oswald worked alone, a paranoid and isolated man, separated from his wife nad children and convinced of the rightness of what he is doing. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Spaghetti Squash Gratin

There are several reasons that I order what I do in restaurants, but one of them is to order something that I might be able to make at home.  When I was in Portland recently, my spouse and I ordered a spaghetti squash gratin that was divine.  The reason we chose this dish (which was definitely overpriced at $10) was that we had had a spaghetti squash on our window ledge for months, and hadn't been moved to make anything with it (it turns out these squashes are made to last, because when I cooked it, it was completely fine).  This dish is my attempt to recreate what we ate.

Roast the spaghetti squash--cut it in half the long way, scoop out the seed, and put it cut side down and roast at 450 degrees until the squash is done, about an hour.  Then use a fork to rake the squash out of the shell.  It should look like Angel Hair pasta.

While the squash is roasting make a bechamel sauce.
The basic proportions for this are:
  • 4 Tbsp. Butter
  • 1/4 c. Flour
  • 3 c. Milk (you can use skim to make it lighter, half and half to make it richer, or anything in between)
  • grated fresh nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste.
Melt butter in pan, and once bubbling, add the flour, stirring constantly (this works well with gluten free flour too).  Then gradually add the milk, allowing the sauce to thicken between each addition, but not allowing it to boil.  Add salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg to taste.  The nutmeg is critical.

Mix the squash into the bechamel sauce--there should be enough to  coat the squash, but not so much that it is swimming in sauce.  Pour into a gratin pan, and top with grated Gruyere and Parmesan, then top with some honeyed walnut or pecan pieces.  Bake at 350 until the top is browned.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Flying Shoes by Lisa Howorth

The author of this book took the adage of write what you know very seriously.  Her stepbrother was raped and killed when she was a child, and she is now an adult--that is the exact situation in this book, where a murder in the distant past has shaped the life of the central character in the novel, Mary Byrd, as well as her family's. 

Mary Byrd is an adult in the book and she is contacted about new information in the murder of her stepbrother and summoned back to Virginia to meet with the detectives on the cold case.  Her half brothers were small children at the time of the murder, but within a few minutes of meeting them it is very clear that the murder shaped their childhood--lots of anger there many years after the event.  The book goes from the present in Mississippi, where Mary Burd lives amongst a group of misfit friends, her time in Virginia, and going back to the time of the murder.  Make no mistake, this is not a murder mystery.  It is a story that includes a murder.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Angel's Share (2012)

The director of this film, Ken Loach, has a style that this movie doesn't break with.  He is known for his work depicting the most down trodden amongst us with an unsparing lens.  This movie is not nearly as funny as the cover would have you believe, nor is it at its core heartwarming either.

Here is the story, which takes place in Glasgow.  Robbie is a young man who has grown up in a lower class neighborhood with a rough crowd he has fought all his life.  He explains it to his girlfriend and the mother of his newborn son when she asks why he is being beaten up and beating up the same group of hoodlums.  "My father grew up fighting with their fathers."  She says it ends here, with their son, but would it?  How would that happen?  Robbie has already done prison time, and the movie opens with him court on yet another assault charge.  He gets community service and between the help of Harry, his community service supervisor, and his girlfriend, he manages to find a way out of the perpetual cycle of violence and embark on a new trajectory.  It is nicely done.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Roasted Smashed Potatoes

Yet another variation on the theme of twice cooked potatoes.  This one is a variation on the Cook's Illustrated recipe, but without a time saving difference.  I microwave the potatoes for the first baking.  You can make this for any number of people--but they are best the day you make them.  The microwaving can be done ahead of time.

  •  Small Red Bliss potatoes
  •   Olive oil
  •   chopped fresh thyme leaves
  •   salt and pepper

Instructions

1. Microwave until paring knife or skewer slips in and out of potatoes easily.  This will be less time than to cook them fully, so you have to check them a couple of times.

2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Drizzle olive oil over potatoes and roll to coat. Space potatoes evenly on baking sheet and place second baking sheet on top; press down firmly on baking sheet, flattening potatoes until 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle with thyme leaves and season generously with salt and pepper; drizzle evenly with some more oil. Roast potatoes on top rack 15 minutes. Transfer potatoes to bottom rack and continue to roast until well browned, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Dog by Joseph O'Neill

It will surprise no one who read the author's previous book 'Netherland' that this is a sad book about sad people who really do not perk up as the story progresses.  Both books were long listed for the Booker prize and both books have that particular literary prize's characteristic of great writing.

This book focuses on a disenchanted New Yorker whose long term relationship with his girlfriend is brought to an abrupt end by him one day.  She wants a baby and as so often happens when you wait until the last minute and you want something very badly that relies on youth and is adversely affected by anxiety, it becomes impossible to achieve.  So infertility clinics and drugs are wrecking havoc with both their love life and their relationship until one day, without so much as talking about it or giving a warning sign, he quits.  Which makes his girlfriend very angry indeed, so angry that she strips him of all his money, and he takes a job in Dubai in order to be employed.

The Emirates do not come off as attractive in this book, nor does the man at the center of it.  He is involved in high paid but meaningless work in a society that is high cost and without a soul.  So he floats along for the entire book until the whole thing comes to an abrupt and sudden end.  It is a cautionary tale.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Prayer for Veterans and Peace

I recently visited Arlington Cemetery and while there were many people who did not have a personal connection to someone buried there, I did see many people who were visiting someone specific.  Looking over the vast former estate of Robert E. Lee, now covered in the gravestones of veterans, it is hard not to think about the human cost of war.

This song reminds me of peace, compassion, and the inevitability of history repeating itself. 

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Yes, how many years can a mountain exist
Before it's washed to the sea?
Yes, how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Yes, how many times must a man look up
Before he can really see the sky?
Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

 ~Bob Dylan