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Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Joy of Cooking

This is the 33rd year that I have been cooking with my spouse. It all started in a gorgeous 1871 Victorian mansion in Providence when I was in college.  The most beautiful house I have had the privledge to live in and the inspiration for the purchase of my current home.  The kitchen was literally a closet, and the cookbook selection was meager, but that is where I really learned the joy of cooking.  I cooked with the same two people every Friday night, and it was such fun.  We were on the brink of the weekend.  No one ever complained about the food--even though we really didn't know much about what we were doing.  Generations of friends in the future owe their meal quality to those brave souls who ate those early meals.  We were better than most, and that was enough.  I loved those days--even then, I knew it was a gift.  At that point I didn't understand how people could spend $20,000 a year (I have since discovered that it is not much of a challenge), but I did understand that afternoons where my only obligation was to put a meal on the table for 20+ people were days that were numbered.  I still cook out of three of those cookbooks from those days--it is nostalgia, pure and simple. 

Today, six abodes and four boys raised to men later, we occasionally get a glimpse of the joy of cooking.  Last weekend was one of those times.  My spouse was his usual exuberant self at the Farmer's Market--I asked for tomatoes, and got do much more in return.  Not to mention what we had leftover from the week before!  But it became a day of "making space in the fridge" that was perfectly orquestrated.  While he made a delicious broth for pho (he spoke to the Asian greens growers at the market and got lots of sage advice that he wanted to put to work immediately) and a shrimp gumbo, and a Vietnamese Caramel chicken dish that is just as delicious as it sounds, I made a mixed greens gumbo, a butternut squash and penne pasta dish, and we collaborated on a ratatouille.  We ended up with a little bit of summer for the freezer and food for the rest of the week. 

We have always cooked big.  It goes back to those early days of cooking for 20.  We just never really grew out of it, and cooking for four boys, that seemed like a strategy bound for success.  We had a milk refrigerator and a beer refrigerator at one point.  We went through serious food.  Now we need some finesse, and we have more or less managed to get a better hold on it, if not be wholly successful.  For example, we emptied one of our three freestanding freezers into a friends, and we have yet to get every last thing back, due to lack of space.  We could probably eat for the better part of a year should the apocolypse commence.  Be that as it may, it is still really nice to have a joyous day of cooking.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Butternut Squash with Penne

We have a lot of squash on the vine in our yard, so we have started to have something with winter squash in it in the refrigerator at all times.   That is how you know it is fall (not to mention that it is already often too cool for me to sit comfortably outside on the porch in sandals).

Prepare the Squash:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
First peel the butternut squash and cut it into 1/2-3/4" cubes.  Put it all into a roasting pan, and toss it with a tablespoon of olive oil, then some salt and pepper, and finally toss with 1/4 cup of flour.
Bake for about 45-50 minutes.

This step can be done well ahead of time. 

Prepare a pound of penne until al dente, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.  Toss the pasta with 1/4 c. olive oil and 1 c. of grated romano cheese (this can be omitted for a vegan--add more pasta water to get the creamy consistency that the cheese adds).  Then add the cooked squash, and about 1/4 cup of chives and toss.  Add small amounts of pasta water to obtain the desired creaminess of the sauce.

Viola--a fall treat!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Salmon Fishing in Yemen (2012)

I very much enjoyed this movie--I do love both Ewan McGregor and Kristin Scott Thomas.  They have each played a wide range of characters in a number of movies and done so with intelligence and skill.  So I was predisposed to enjoy this.

The story is that a sheik in Yemen who has a lot of disposable income and a passion for fishing wants to bring a change to Yemen.  The vehicle of change is to create a habitat that would support salmon, which in turn would mean bringing water--the classic story of irrigating the dessert.

Harriet (Emily Blunt) is the person the sheik works with to find the people who will make his dream a reality, and Fred (Ewan McGregor) is the salmon scientist--and fly fisherman--who is the brains behind what they will need to make it happen.  The British government, desperate to have some good press about British-Arab relations that doesn't involve embarrassment on their part is part of the grease that eases this project forward.

Harriet and Fred are involved with other people, and they are not people who sleep around.  So when they start to have feelings for each other it is complicated--they do not rush head long into an affair.  Instead they talk with their respective significant others and move slowly in terms of each other.  It is good relationship etiquette, which you so rarely see exemplified in either movies or books.  The project (which is a fantasy, to be sure) is not welcomed with open arms and at points is actively sabotaged by the local people.  It is a small lesson in diplomacy as well, when it finishes up--how to go about change, who to involve, and how fast to move.  Very fun movie, light, and yet you are left with things to think about.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, Written by Himself (1845)

I read this with one of my sons for a very interesting college course about American culture.  The core question in the section of the course that includes this reading is this:
How can a country that was based on the premise of 'liberty and justice for all' have supported slavery for so long?

It is a sobering question to tackle, and one of the key texts is this narrative, written by a man who was born into slavery of a black woman slave and her white master.   The book was written less than a decade after he escaped from Baltimore to New York, with some undisclosed help, and then moved northward, to work, and then to become the most prominent abolitionist of his time.

The first hand account of exactly how a man who was intellectually gifted handled the psychological experience of slavery was very well conveyed--and it was not done with drama or rancor.  The tone is matter-of-fact--this is the way it was.  The physical brutality, the humiliation, the profound lack of basic human rights that existed within homes that professed to be moral and spiritual is depicted without regard for who will be harmed by the knowing of the truth.  It is as it should be.  But the psychology of slave and slaveholder--the damage that is done to the humanity of each--those are the most eloquent parts of the book.

There are two reasons that this book has power today, long after enslavement became illegal in America.  The first is that there are still enslaved people here--they are women who are trafficked for sex, largely from Eastern Europe and Russia.  Their plight is not different than Fredrick Douglass'.  The second is that race is still a loaded subject in the United States, 150 years after the Civil War and almost 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1965.  Yes, we were able to elect a black President, but no, we cannot forget the fact that he is black.  We cannot just let him govern. So, Frederick Douglass, that brave move to escape, and the trials and tribulations that followed still have relevance for us in America.  Thank you for sharing your story.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Romney: Uninsured have Emergency Rooms

Well, finally.  Romney talks about his health care plan.  It is not good news for pretty much anyone.
In his interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday night, Republican  presidential candidate Mitt Romney pointed to emergency rooms as a form of health care for people without insurance.
“Well, we do provide care for people who don’t have insurance,” Romney told interviewer Scott Pelley. “If someone has a heart attack, they don’t sit in their apartment and — and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.”
OK.  Pretty much all of us would go to the emergency room in this scenario.
But what about your preventive care, so that you don't end up with a heart attack? 
Where should the uninsured get their stress test?  And exactly how would they pay for their meds?
The most expensive care in American is delivered in the ER, and in ways it is the worst care--both for the patient and the folks who are picking up the bill.  It is great if you have a gun shot wound or a stroke, something where getting competent care ASAP can literally mean the difference between life and death.
But for pretty much everything else, it is a terrible idea, for everyone involved.  Those who get the care and those that pay for it. 
So, is this how he would envision chemotherapy being delivered?  Diabetes care?  Mammograms?
That is your solution?  It is more of the same--nothing ventured, and surely nothing gained in the era of spiraling helath care costs and a rising deficit.  No one will accuse you of upsetting the apple cart, Mitt.

In the past, even Romney has said that people shouldn't seek health care in the ER--in 2010, when he told MSNBC that part of the impetus for the Massachusetts health-care law was to keep people out of the ER.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to have millions and millions of people who have no health insurance and yet who can go to the emergency room and get entirely free care for which they have no responsibility”.
When Romney and Ryan, the dynamic duo, propose to dismantle Medicare and issues vouchers that no one is obligated to take, and then the elderly will be in this position.  You and I. Unless we are able to man up and pay for our care. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Big Year (2012)

There are several things that I really liked about this movie, which features Owen Wilson, Jack Black, and Steve Martin as serious bird watchers.  But first, the plot.
As the story begins, the three guys are strangers setting out on a quest to be the year's top birder. Referred to by fellow birders as going for "the big year," it's a contest of who spots the most species of birds in North America in a single year. There's no prize money, it's run on an honor system and you are supposed to deny that you are going for a big year. Some sort of birding etiquette.

The guys are in varying stages of modern adult-male meltdowns, which means they've come to the party with flannel shirts, binoculars, birding notebooks and something to prove. Black plays Brad Harris, a  financially strapped computer programmer, divorced, and a genius at identifying bird calls. Martin is Stu Preissler, a captain of industry at the top of his game, now looking to retire and give in to his weekend birding obsession. Wilson is Kenny Bostick, the reigning birder with a record 732 sightings in one year but fearful that someone else might overtake him.
The scene is set.  While they are not above trying to trip each other up, it is not at a level of nastiness that even approaches stuff we see in every day life--especially now that we are in the middle of a venal political campaign where the truth is of no value.  So it doesn't get ugly, even though they are not all chummy about it.
And it might be a bit on the dull side if you have any idea what the world of birding is all about--I have no idea if the 'fall out' from a tropical storm in the middle of bird migration is likely to yield an unusual number of bird species sightings--but I do know that Attu Island in the Aleutian chain is a real phenomenon for birders working on their life list.
There were two high points for me--one was that all three men are faced with relationship choices during their big year--they need to decide what is important to them, and in two of the three cases they make the right decision.  it was like holding a mirror up to an obsession and asking just how far are you willing to go, and one of them failed the test (though he won the contest).  The other is that there is a subtext that birds are cool and important, and as we are a country in the midst of fracking up entire swaths of the country with little to no regard for the environmental consequences, to be reminded of that is a good thing.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Romney Hour

The one thing I keep finding myself saying when reading my Facebook feed vis-a-vis Mitt Romney is "Did he really say that?"  There is a reason that video links are routinely posted.  It all seems too incredible to be true.   The man could be President.  Start acting like you could do the job.  Seriously, it is embarrassing.  The only thing that saves us this that Europe isn't paying that much attention, and China laughs when he roars.

The release of a video filmed at a $50,000/plate fundraiser epitomizes the Romney story.  He starts off by dismissing almost half of Americans as not even worthy of his consideration because they do not pay Federal income tax.  First this is a problem because we do not have confirmation that he himself pays Federal income tax.  He probably does, but probably not very much.  Secondly, his father's parents were on public assistance at one point--are they also not worthy?  Then, as Jon Stewart quickly pointed out, a family of five who made  $50,000/year wouldn't pay income tax because their income was too low--which is what it cost to get into this fund raiser.  Stewart also noted that the tax reduction that Romney gets, which saves him several millions each year, would pay for food stamps for the next several hundred years for the aforementioned family of five.  Not to mention that he needs those people on the dole--the ten states with the most people on public assistance are Romney states.  

The other gaff that startled me is that he doesn't have any idea what people make.  He thought 'middle class' meant you made $200-250,000/year.  That would put you squarely at or above the 97th%.  There has to be an upper class in his mind--that much is very clear and consistent.  So he thinks that there are now about 2% of Americans who are middle class.  That should be alarming news to him.  Sadly, I suspect what it really means is that he has no idea what it costs to live in America.  He doesn't know anything about living from check to check

So I find myself agreeing with Paul Krugman's recent op-ed piece in the NY Times.  Romney doesn't value workers.  He values money and the people who control it at the top.  He is by no means the only Presidential candidate to feel this way.  The weird thing is that everybody knows it.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Controversy

I worry that we are not focusing on the big picture here.  This week a Portland K-8 pricipal Verenice Gutierrez called the sandwich an example of racism and 'white privledge'.
“What about Somali or Hispanic students, who might not eat sandwiches?” Gutierrez said. “Another way would be to say: ‘Americans eat peanut butter and jelly, do you have anything like that?’ Let them tell you. Maybe they eat torta. Or pita.”  So she is calling this subtle racisim.  I think it is worse than that.  She doesn't think the Somali or Hispanic children are American.
I think that sounds more like the problem that we need to address rather than the peanut butter and jelly sandwich--especially since it appears that the average high school graduate in the United States has eaten 1500 of them over the course of their life to date.  Some might see it as 'white privledge', but in my experience it is an act of convenience.  The ingredients are inexpensive, have a long shelf life once opened, are universally popular, and it is a sandwich that when assembled the night before tends to improve rather than deteriorate over the next 24 hours.  The privledge that PB&J offers is open to children of all cultures.
When would Gutierrez suggest that you would become American?  When you no longer eat tortas?  When you can identify with a sandwich as a lunch time option?  When you find a PB&J in your lunch bag?
More so than any other country, the United States has cultural influences from around the world.  That is the beauty of our country, the great advantage that we have, and so seldom celebrate.
Two things.  I think that the sandwich-equivalent is one of the few universal foods that the world shares.  So a sanwich, per se, would be one of the things that is universally recognized--falafel on pita, caranitas tortas, steamed pork buns, smörgåsbord, gaisby, stuffed naan, banh mi.  While it can be argued that colonialization has caused a mixing of European and indigenous foods, it doesn't render Americans of all cultural backgrounds incapable of recognizing the sandwich.
Secondly, peanut butter is a late arrival on the American scene.  It wasn't until 1900 that we had peanut butter at all.  It is a fair assessment that combining it with fruit jam and assembling it between two pieces of white bread is the America of the 1950's putting it's very personal stamp on the sandwich.
I suggest it is time to get over the PB&J controversy and focus on the issues that are more directly related to creating a welcoming and multicultural school environment for all Americans.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Colors of the Mountains (2010)

This is a Film Movement film from Columbia, and it upholds the high standards that the series has for stunning cinematography combined with compelling stories.  These movies are not for the faint of heart.

This film is about the FARC in Columbia--it is told through the eyes of children.  Manuel (Ocampo) and his buddies Julian (Nolberto Sanchez) and Poca Luz (Genaro Aristizabal) live in a small farming community high in the Colombian mountains of Antioquia. Manuel's proud, stubborn father, Ernesto (Hernan Mendez), is under threat from the local rebels for having failed to show up to their meetings. The rebels control the area, and remaining neutral is not an option.  Ernesto does not respond quickly or appropriately to the danger, and I spent the whole movie waiting for the consequences of that indecision to occur.
Shortly after a jaw-dropping scene in which a pig is blown up by a landmine, Manuel loses his new soccer ball in the minefield. He spends the rest of the film using the hapless Poca Luz to try and recover it in scenes both mildly comic and suspenseful--it is almost a surrogate for the situation that the adults are living under.  The innocent become the victims. Ernesto's increasing tension about their safety is shown to be justified when the FARC kidnaps Julian's father (Antonio Galeano). Simply unlucky to live where he does, Manuel understands none of the reasons behind the violence around him: He is at times irritating in his niavete.  Which is the beauty of telling this story from his point of view.  His father isn't responding either, and yet we tolerate it better in Mauel's case.  Stunning natural scenery conjures a sense of space and freedom that contrasts powerfully with the increasingly narrow options of its inhabitants.  The action takes place in Columbia but the message could have come from a number of Central and South American countries. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Apple Challah

Happy New Year!

1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
1/4 cup  honey
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2  egg yolks plus 1 whole egg
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) table salt
3-4 cups all-purpose flour

2  apples diced

Make your dough: Whisk yeast and 1 teaspoon honey into 2/3 cup warm water and let stand until foamy, a few minutes.
In the bowl of a stand mixture, whisk together yeast mixture, oil, remaining honey, eggs and yolk. Switch to dough hook and add flour and salt. Use dough hook on a moderate speed until it pulls all of the flour and wet ingredients together into a craggy mass. Lower the speed and let the dough hook knead the dough for 5 minutes, until smooth, elastic and a little sticky--add flour until it is the right stickiness.
Transfer dough to large oil-coated bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size.
Add apples to the dough--fold them into the dough.
Dough can be either woven into a round loaf, or made into a long rope and wound together in a spiral.

Beat an additional egg until smooth and brush over challah. Let challah rise for another hour but 45 minutes into this rise, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Bake in middle of oven for 40 to 45 minutes. It should be beautifully bronzed; if it starts getting too dark too quickly, cover it with foil for the remainder of the baking time.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month 2012

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and it is also the anniversary of the end of chemotherapy for my childhood cancer survivor--he got his last dose of chemotherapy on September 11, 2001, literally as the World Trade Center collapsed in New York City. Before I had a cause to champion, something that was much closer to me personally than my other causes, like Recycle, Reuse, Reduce or Renewable Energy--things that are still near and dear to me, but are born out of wanting to do the right thing, and the passion of youth rather than first hand pain, I didn't realize the process of getting a month 'named'. Now I do. Here is the proclamation by the President of the United States: Every year, thousands of children across America are diagnosed with cancer an often life threatening illness that remains the leading cause of death by disease for children under the age of 15. The causes of pediatric cancer are still largely unknown, and though new discoveries are resulting in new treatments, this heartbreaking disease continues to scar families and communities in ways that may never fully heal. This month, we remember the young lives taken too soon, stand with the families facing childhood cancer today, and rededicate ourselves to combating this terrible illness. While much remains to be done, our Nation has come far in the fight to understand, treat, and control childhood cancer. Thanks to ongoing advances in research and treatment, the 5 year survival rate for all childhood cancers has climbed from less than 50 percent to 80 percent over the past several decades. Researchers around the world continue to pioneer new therapies and explore the root causes of the disease, driving progress that could reveal cures or improved outcomes for patients. But despite the gains we have made, help still does not come soon enough for many of our sons and daughters, and too many families suffer pain and devastating loss. My Administration will continue to support families battling pediatric cancer and work to ease the burdens they face. Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer deny health coverage to children because of pre existing conditions, including cancer, nor can they drop coverage because a child is diagnosed with cancer. The law also bans insurers from placing a lifetime dollar limit on the amount of coverage they provide, giving families peace of mind that their coverage will be there when they need it most. And as we work to ensure all Americans have access to affordable health care, my Administration will continue to invest in the cutting edge cancer research that paves the way for tomorrow's breakthroughs. This month, we pay tribute to the families, friends, professionals, and communities who lend their strength to children fighting pediatric cancer. May their courage and commitment continue to move us toward new cures, healthier outcomes, and a brighter future for America's youth. NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim September 2012 as National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. I encourage all Americans to join me in reaffirming our commitment to fighting childhood cancer. IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty first day of August, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh. BARACK OBAMA

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Blue Valentine (2010)

The cast of this movie is fantastic.  Ryan Gosling plays Dean with the intensity that the character deserves and requires.  Michelle Williams plays Cindy with a fragile hue that really shines in her later depiction of Marilyn Monroe in 'My Week With Marilyn' so haunting.  The front story is that this is about a relationship in decay--the scenes vacillate between when they first meet and the things that lead up to their marriage, and then the final chapters of their living together six years later.  But what it really is alcoholism, and how it can end things like conversation, partnership, planning for the future, and relationships.
Unfortunately, that is probably not everyone's take home message.  Cindy is from a working class family and she has big plans.  She is smart, she is in college and she plans to go to medical school.  That is up until the point she has somewhat consensual rough sex with a jock who may be used to ignoring 'No' and who may just not care and gets pregnant after the condom is left inside when he withdraws.
That man is clearly not father material.  Nor does she have a great of idea of what father material looks like because her father is at least verbally abusive to her mother in a way that is very painful to watch--and Cindy is still living at home in order to swing college (she is not alone--more and more college students are defraying the cost of an education by avoiding the costs of room and board--may they all not live under such a dreadful roof).  By the time Cindy figures out she is pregnant, she is flirting and sleeping with Dean--who ultimately suggests they raise this other guys' kid.  Not that this is a sure fire path to destruction of a relationship.  No--Dean is portrayed as a good father-but he is a father who gets up, has a beer, and therefore is not the soberest of all parents.   The downward spiral is painful to watch, and no one really gets away unscathed.  Compelling acting, but most definitely not a romance.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ratatouille Sandwich

Gabrielle Hamilton, the owner and chef at 'Prune' and the author of my best loved food memoir last year 'Blood, Butter, and Bones', has this sandwich on her menu. I would never have tried it except that my sister-in-law posted about her own version of a Ratatouille Sandwich as her first post on Facebook--so it must be good, right? I had no idea. In fact, it had been years since we even made ratatouille at our house.

 My boys are no what I would call overwhelmingly fond of eggplant (there is one exception, but he has been out of the house for four years so it not like we are building meals around him these days). Add on top of that that it has not been an exceptional tomato year recently--not to the point where I have has to grapple with what to do with excellent, but slightly over ripe tomatoes.

But all that changed this summer.  We have been reliably attending the local farmer's market, and just as reliably cooking what we bring home.  My spouse had just read about the proper assembly method for an exceptional ratatouille, and we collaborated on it.  I did the dicing off each ingredient and he set about cooking them separately.  The result was outstanding, and when assembled on fresh bread (from the Prairie Flour Bakery, in our case), it is a sandwich for the ages.  You can add cheese or whatever you like, but it is excellent, just ratatouille and bread, room temperature.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Skios by Michael Frayn

The second of my 2012 Man Booker long list books is also not a likely winner--it is just too fun and upbeat to be competative, I fear. Frayn is the author of one of my modern favorite plays (Copenhagen), but this book is squarely in the realm of his other well loved play 'Noises Off'. It plays on the theme of mistaken identity from start to finish, and while the premise is a bit of a stretch, suspention of believe is often a necessary first step in enjoying fiction. So off we go. Dr Norman Wilfred is a "genuine celebrity" in the world of science management; he is the key note speaker at the Fred Toppler Foundation on the fictional Greek island of Skios, invited to give his classic lecture "Innovation and Governance: the Promise of Scientometrics". Snore. Fortunately, that is not what ends up happening.

Let the exchange of identity begin!  At the airpoort Oliver Fox by chance picks up Dr Wilfred's identical suitcase at the carousel, and when he sees Nikki, the foundation-appointed minder,  waiting at arrivals with a sign saying "Dr Norman Wilfred", he decides to assume the academic's identity; he is soon charming the other guests with his clueless but witty remarks on scientometrics. Dr Wilfred, meanwhile, is duly whisked off by Oliver's pre-ordered taxi to a villa (again, you have to suspend belief to like this), where he goes to sleep and wakes up to find Oliver's newly arrived weekend guest, Georgie,  in his bed. Of course, Georgie and Nikki are the best of friends, Nikki, while not quite sure hoe Dr. Winfred got to where he is at so young an age, is more occupied with planning a brief fling with him than sussing out his real identity, and there apeear to only be two cab drivers on the whole island, and they are brothers who communicate with each other--mandatory for the farce to be completely pulled off.  Meanwhile, Oliver's angry girlfriend arrives on the island; a Greek shipping magnate and a Russian oligarch also become embroiled in the action.  It is a romp, pure and simple, and I for one very much enjoyed it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Mirror, Mirror (2012)

This is not many things as a movie--it is not a faithful retelling of the Grimm Fairy Tale.  It does have the elements of a classic fairy tale--there is an evil person who seems to have the upper hand (Julia Roberts, not exactly well cast in the role of the Evil Queen).  There is a good person (Snow White, portrayed by the Audrey Hepburn-esque Lily Collins, son of pop singer Phil Collins), who we are rooting for.  Royalty and magic are involved--but the thing that gripped children in the Grimm's tales is missing--it does not leave children motivated to do the right thing because they are motivated by fear.  Disney, took that part out of fairy tales a long time ago, and Tarsem Singh, the director,  does not bother to put it back.

The story opts for for slapstick comedy instead of mounting tension, with the good guys almost invariably coming out ahead.  Maybe for a story that you know the ultimate outcome, the entertainment and enjoyment along the way is the most important part.  I don't know.  All I know is that the reviews of this movie were lukewarm at best and I really enjoyed it despite all that.

The costuming of this movie is over the top sumptuous and unusual.  The boldness (and occasionally the hilarity) of the colors and designs was memorable and added measurably to the enjoyment of the movie.  Eiko Ishioka, the Japanese stylist, who died in January, is responsible for that.  She was the Oscar-winning costume designer, best known by non-Japanese for her costumes for Francis Ford Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula" as well as pop stars Bjork and Grace Jones, and the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics. Ishioka's aggressively sumptuous, sometimes surrealistic, creations are breath taking.  And the seven dwarves are the icing on the cake of this slightly silly but largely enjoyable movie.
And don't miss the Bollywood-esque trailer at the end.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Vegetable Strata

This is a savory bread pudding, and a great way to use up stale bread of any kind.  I also like to use vegetables that I have cooked for another meal, which is a way of repackaging them without looking exactly like leftovers.  The basic recipe was in the New York Times recently, and I have modified it to use any cooked and seasoned vegetable.  I recently made it with ratatouille, and it was delicious.
1/2 pound stale bread, sliced about 3/4 to 1 inch thick, and cubed
2 c. of sauteed vegetables (mushrooms, onions, garlic, summer squash, roasted tomatoes
1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (1/2 cup, tightly packed)
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (1/4 cup, tightly packed)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
Note: If your bread is very hard, carefully saw it into slices with a sturdy serrated knife. Dipping it into the milk for half a minute may help, but this also may cause the bread to crumble as you slice it.
1. If the bread is soft, toast it lightly and rub each slice front and back with the cut clove of garlic. Cut in 1-inch dice. If the bread is stale, just rub the slices with garlic and cut them into 1-inch dice. Place in a very large bowl, and toss with 2/3 cup of the milk. Set aside.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil or butter a 2-quart baking dish or gratin. 
4. Prepare vegetables--or better yet, use some that you have leftover from another dinner, and transfer to the bowl with the bread cubes. Add the cheeses, and toss together. Arrange in the baking dish.
5. Beat together the eggs in a medium bowl. Add salt to taste (I use 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon), the remaining milk and the mushroom broth. Add a few twists of the peppermill and pour over the bread. Press the bread down into the custard mixture. Sprinkle a little Parmesan over the top, and drizzle on the remaining olive oil. Place in the oven, and bake 40 to 50 minutes, until puffed and browned. Remove from the oven, and serve hot or warm.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

This is the third 2012 Booker Prize long list nominees that I have read, and for the first time, I think this one could win.  It is serious and well written.  The plot is one that we know all too well--Anne Boleyn is now married to Henry VIII, they have a child and while you would think that all is well in the paradise that they have created, it is not. 
Henry is anxious for a clear cut heir, and Anne's first child is a girl.  The people of England have not really warmed to Anne, and she is no help in that arena.  She is wildly jealous and very anxious that her daughter supplant Katherine of Aragon's offspring.  She is unrealistic, and not all that easy to get along with, so she quickly loses whatever allies she once had.  She didn't get very good leadership training, and she didn't have the advantage that Henry had--conniving advisors who were bound to survive, no matter which way the King's wind blew.
This is a sequel to 'Wolf Hall', which won the Booker Prize two years ago (that is this books biggest drawback--it is 'Book Two' to a brilliant piece of work, which is slightly better than this to my read).  It is a story told from the house of Cromwell--so we really get into his head, and it does not make us like him any better for the intimate view we get.  He is not a sympathetic character.  He offers Anne a way out, an option she has to take or leave, on the spot.  It is like a Mafia story--one chance and one chance only.  She failed to see it for what it was, and she was hanged.  Even though we know the whole story, it is still a very good read.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bernie (2012)

Jack Black is  undeniably hysterical in this slightly dark comedy. He plays Bernie, whose day job is a funeral director, but in acutuality Bernie has so many more talents--he sings, he dances, he prances, and he is flawlessly talented and likable at all times. He is prissy and effeminate--and unmarried. The implication is that he is in the closet, everyone know that the he is gay, but nobody minds, even though it is East Texas.

The movie unfolds as a documentary (or docu-drama), with thre big names, and a lot of bit parts, some of which are played by real Carthage, Texas residents.  Usually I am put off by that style, but it worked for me in this movie.  Bernie befriends Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), who is an impossibly wealthy widow he met at her husband's funeral.  She wants to travel, and Bernie goes with her.  She is also the meanest person in Carthage, and no one will stand up to her.  Money wears the pants in that town. Why does Berni do it?  Hard to say.  Is it greed, kindness, a need to please?  Bernie is so funny and unpretentious, it's possible to overlook the answer.
The third major character serves as the supposed voice of reason, the District Attorney, Danny ''Buck'' Davidson, played by Matthew McConaughey in all his drawling, showboating glory.  I wouldn't have recognized him--none of the glitzy, sexy character.  He is stripped down here.  He left his 'fuck me' boots at home for this movie, and plays the man who keeps telling us he is doing the right thing, but who nobody likes.
The story unwinds to an entirely predictable conlcusion--getting there is where the fun lies.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Duo in Denver, Colorado

This was the place I had the best meal on my recent trip to Denver--which is saying something because it was a trip with some very memorable meals. It is tucked into a neighborhood (we parked on the street about half a block away in front of a house with a sign 'Hippies Go to Side Door' on the porch. It was that kind of a neighborhood, where there were a lot of Volvos and Subarus and kale). The restaurant itself has a wonderful layout, and was quieter than some of the places we were in as well--I was with a fellow 50-something year old, and our hearing is not what it used to be, so this was a distinct advantage.

The bar has interesting cocktails (I had one calle 'Spring Thyme', which was vodka muddles with blueberries, thyme, and lemon--very nice), but the seasonal menu was spectacular--short but oh so sweet. We each had a trio of salads--a pickled salad with beets as the primary ingredient, a salad that was called a ceasar salad, but it had elements of a cobb salad as well--but everything was chopped very small, including the croutons, and a grilled peach with it's center filled with a grilled chevre. We thought about splitting one, but elected to each have our own. My friend had Rabbit Roulade, a rabbit loin rolled around a filling of pancetta and spinach, served with carrot puree (the perfect balance of sweet and savory), pea shoots and a mustard jus. I had the Ravioli, which were stuffed with sweet corn and ricotta, and served with a basil mint pesto topped with a tomato, basil, and pea shoot salad. Both entrees were spectacular.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Read the Republican 2012 Platform

We Deserve Better--I couldn't agree more. I am sure this was just some sloppy copy editing, but it works for me.

I read the Republican platform this week, after RNC prominent leaders were quoted as saying that you shouldn't pay too much attention to it. House Speaker Boehner stated that he didn't know anyone who had read it. Well, that is disturbing in and of itself. Why are they discouraging reading it?

The obvious reason is that they really need people who in no way benefit from their agenda to vote Republican. So what did I find?  There were things that I expected, of course.  The much publicized stand on outlawing abortion, even in the case of rape or incest.  The party has come off as misogynistic at best, and at worst advocating that women should be stripped of autonomy over their own lives--they don't just hate us, then want to control us. When someone joked about attending the RNC in Tampa as stepping back 400 year, there were some aspects of the platform that are just that.

They have an equally anti-civil rights stand on same sex marriage.  Atrocious, but not surprising.  It is an anti-immigration platform--they have no perspective on what makes this country great, but again, no big surprise.  The states in the south that have enacted tough laws related to undocumented labor have no one to pick produce, so it is rotting in the field.  Short sighted, maybe a bit xenophobic, but not surprising.   The thing that surprised me at first was the attack on institutions of higher learning.  The one thing we have going right in education and they want to dismantle it.   Why?  We are still the envy of the world in that arena.

The platform outlines several policy goals affecting higher education, including calls for expanding alternatives to traditional colleges, increasing private-sector participation in student loans, and combating liberal bias at public institutions.  Those alternative programs include “community colleges and technical institutions, private training schools, online universities, life-long learning, and work-based learning in the private sector.”  So, they recognize that better educated constituents are less likely to vote Republican, so let's let's figure out ways to keep them less educated--and as a bonus, let's have private banks make money lending these students money so that they owe the private sector bankers money as well.  Give them less opportunities for success and make them pay as much or more for the privilege.  Just when we need innovation and opportunity to address 21st century problems, they publicly stand for providing less of each. 

It is so ironic that in my lifetime there was a time when white Southerners wouldn't vote Republican because it was the party of Lincoln.  Also in my lifetime it ceased to be the party of fiscal conservatism.  Now they are the party that doesn't want anyone to read what they stand for, because there just aren't enough people who benefit from these beliefs for them to carry the day.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Dictator: Is the U.S. an Autocracy?

We are coming up on the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and the annual appraisal of where we are as a nation as a result. Better or worse? Safer or less safe?
Here is Sasha Baron Cohen's take on the subject. He is much like Michael Moore--more likely to use a sledgehammer than a light hand when making a point, even when the later would yield better results. It is not results they are after--it is the message, pure and simple.  So it is with brute force that they say what they mean.

And make no mistake.  Sasha Baron Cohen's movie 'The Dictator' is not a good movie.
But does he make a good point?
His character goes on a diatribe that is markedly out of place in terms of a comedy (even a dark one), and lacks the comedic timing of 'The Daily Show's sharp tongued well aimed barbs.  Here it is.  See what you think.

"Why are you guys so anti-dictator?
Imagine if America was a dictatorship. You could let 1 percent of the people have all the nation’s wealth. You could help your rich friends get richer by cutting their taxes and bailing them out when they gamble and lose. You could ignore the needs of the poor for health care and education. Your media would appear free, but would secretly be controlled by one person and his family. You could wiretap phones. You could torture foreign prisoners. You could have rigged elections. You could lie about why you go to war. You could fill your prisons with one particular racial group, and no one would complain. You could use the media to scare the people into supporting policies that are against their interests."

When does democracy become autocracy?  And are we there?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Pig, A Barn, A Party

Last night was our fifth annual barn party, held at the Secrest Octagonal Barn in West Liberty.  The barn itself is a gorgeous piece of architecture to behold.  It soars 75 feet above the third floor of the barn and while it was built to store hay (and has an ingenious system for delivering hay to the level where the animals lived), the magnificence of it was clearly to demonstrate the wealth of the owner and the skill of the builder.

I do think that a great place is a very good first ingredient in an enjoyable event.  But it is never enough.  The right mix of people and entertainment makes for a memorable time.  This party is hosted by 8 people, and we each invite people from all parts of our lives--our friends, our neighbors, and our co-workers.  People we like and would like to spend more time with.  That is the very best part of the party.
The second best part is that the music is live, and it is fun, and it is good.   And loud.  You can stand outside the barn all night and enjoy the music (thankfully there aren't close neighbors to the barn, because I am pretty sure they would be able to hear it as well, and that might not be the best part for them).
Finally, the food is always spectacular.  We provide the meat, but from then on it is a pot luck, and I have always eaten well.  So join us next year!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty (2012)

This movie is based on Mary Norton's celebrated 1952 novel "The Borrowers". Apparently it has been on the mind of Japan's Hayao Miyazaki, the great animator of the modern age, for more than 40 years. He did not direct this version himself, but having planned and written the screenplay and hand-picking director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Miyazaki and his elevating, protective spirit hover over this production like a most benevolent deity. And Miyazaki is a hero of mine. The world that he animates is lush with birds and bugs and plants and sounds. So the Borrowers go Japanese in this version of the story. I loved this movie (with the exception of Arrietty's mother, who loses her individual appeal by he frequent shrieking, which is annoying and doesn't add to the overall story, or help us sympathize with their plight). The story is that Arrietty and her family are 'little people'--very little people, who would fit nicely in a doll house. They live under the floors and in the walls of people's houses, and 'borrow' what they need for their subsistence. They do not under any circumstances interact with humans. The house that Arrietty and her parents live under inhabited by Haru, a housekeeper who is not well dispossed to them (she has apparently been blames for some of the disappearances) and Shawn, who is a young boy anticipating an operation for his heart that he is unclear about his chances of surviving. The Borrowers are the closest thing he has to a friend, and while he makes a few missteps, he is on their side. This is in the arena of 'Kiki's Delivery Service' in terms of quality, and I found it peaceful and enjoyable.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

This book opens the 2012 Man Booker Prize nominee reading season--which lasts for quite some time, because I still have one book from the 2011 season yet to read, but the very most exciting time to begin is right now, when there are 12 possibilities as winners, all equivalent in their ability to take the prize (or even make the short list). One of the challenges is that often at this point, very few of them are available in the United States, and so what I read first is dictated by that--what I can read first, without having to resort to Amazon.UK. In the past I have been able to get some on the Kindle, but that avenue is limited this time around. The good news is that 5 of the 12 are in print in the U.S., and this is the first one I read. Well, it definitely won't win. Not enough gravitas. It is a joy to read. I almost couldn't put the book down. The story is that Harold gets a letter from Queenie, someone he has not heard from in a very long time. She tells him she is dying of cancer. Harold writes a reply that has the same emotional content of her letter to him--it is perfunctory. But en route to the mailbox to post it, he undergoes a transformation that even he does not understand. He decides to walk to Queenie's bedside. Which is about 500 miles away. He has inadequate foot wear, no rain grear, no advanced training, no sunscreen, no map, nothing. The rest of the book is about the people he meets, the past that he is escaping, the things that matter to him (some of which surprise him), the things he learns--about himself and others, and the way the pilgrimage changes him. It is like Queenie's letter has unstopped a dam of pent up emotions in Harold, and he cannot stop them coming. They rain down, one after another, and it is a wonderful thing to behold.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Root Down, Denver

This restaurant was happening the Friday night that I was there recently. The happy hour goes until 7:00pm, with half priced drinks that you can have in the bar or in the restaurant, which might explain why at 6:00pm the place was completely packed. THe drink selection was interesting, and you could order food at the bar, so if you got waylaid there for any length of time you would be contented, and at half price, the drinks were a good deal.

Now for the food. I really liked all of the dishes we got and my dining companion liked three of the four. Her objection, which was completely legit, is that the dish we were served was not the dish that was described to us. we thought we were getting a salad with some sauteed and fried seafood--what we got was some very well fried seafood, no salad. Tasty, but we would have ordered something else had we known.
 We started with the red curry carrot soup, which was delicious.  I liked that they didn't bat an eye when they said we wanted to share it--they just brought us two spoons.  I like a place that facilitates you sharing dishes, and this is a place where you could get a number of small plates and taste a range of what they have to offer.
The mussels we got, with a red curry coconut sauce, did make us smile. Better than we would have expected and my only disappointment was that there really too much of the rich sauce for two of us to mop us with the grilled bread. We really could have used a third mouth to feed.

The duck hoison slider that the best dish of the night in that it was flavorful, interesting, and something that you would not be all that likely to whip up at home. The meat was shredded and the flavor was well distributed throughout without being messy. In retrospect we should have gotten the larger version of the dish, which would have given us a slider each, but that is not what we ordered, and the good news is that the slider bun was both delicious and easy to cut, and then eat a half of. The pickled vegetables that accompanied the dish were inspirational--they literally made me want to go home and make some myself for future sandwiches.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Harvesting Grapes for Wine

I recently had my first opportunity to pick grapes--we were visiting a friend of a friend's 6 acre personal hobby vineyard--which sounds like it might be a modest place, but it is not. We harvested almost 1/2 a ton of grapes and only did about an 1/8 of an acre worth of harvesting. So six acres can produce a prodigious amount of wine--certainly more than one could drink between seasons. The vineyards were wonderfully kept--which clearly takes a monumental amount of time, and begs the question of the fine line between a hobby and a job.

I learned two important lessons from my afternoon in the fields. The first is that while I wasn't terrible at harvesting grapes, I wasn't going to make a living doing it. I had comfortable shoes, sunscreen, and large hat, and good equipment, but I definitely was not speedy. I also did not have enough water, which I really should have known better about. The corollary to this lesson is that they are not charging nearly enough for wine.  It reminded me of the time I took a basket weaving class at a local museum. We made what has to be the easiest basket design available, and used weaving material that had been gathered and prepared prior to the class--so we did not even procure our raw materials--and yet I came home with a half finished basket and a firm belief that baskets were far too cheap considering the workmanship that goes into them.   Such was the lesson I learned when picking wine grapes. 
The second lesson that I learned is that wine grapes at harvest taste delicious. We picked Syrah, Gewürztraminer, and Villard Blanc grapes--the Gewürztraminer in particular tasted impossibly sweet and vaguely like the wine that it eventually produces. The experience in the fields made we want to do something that I have never wanted to do before--take a class at UC Davis. It is slightly inconvenient now that I live 2,000 miles away rather than 200, but it would be great fun to learn more about this entire process.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

My second son is taking a class in British Literature, and I am reading the books along side of him. I have not had the best reading year of the last decade this year, and of the 12 books they are reading, I have read exactly zero of them, despite the fact that they are all old enough to be off patent (so 70+ years from publication), and available free of charge on the Kindle. It's a sign.

David Copperfield is the book we start off with.  I have read a half dozen or more Dickens (can you really count 'A Christmas Carol' as one?  If so I might be closer to ten books) and I have owned the complete Dickens oeuvre for two decades, so not a bad place to start the semester--a guy I already know and like.  Dickens named this the favorite of all his works and several other heavy hitters agree with him. Henry James remembered  hearing it  aloud by his mother. Dostoyevsky took it to a Siberian prison camp. Franz Kafka called his first novel an imitation of it. James Joyce paid it reverence through parody in Ulysses.  Virginia Woolf, who otherwise betrayed little regard for Dickens, confessed the durability of this one novel, for it belongs, she said, to "the memories and myths of life".  The book was also Sigmund Freud's favourite novel.  Charlotte Bronte referred to the novel in a letter to William Smith Williams on 13 September 1849, noting that "I have read David Copperfield; it seems to me very good—admirable in some parts. You said it had affinity to Jane Eyre: it has—now and then—only what an advantage has Dickens in his varied knowledge of men and things!".
It is damn good--they are all right about that. It is felt to be the most autobiographical of Dicken's work (although not strictly so), and to my ear, it is the one that has the best outcome for the largest number of characters (although not everyone gets out alive, and there are several very unsavory characters in the mix). Dickens is a great story teller, an author whose novels have a broad sweeping scope and the ability to keep the reader interested over the course of a character's lifetime, which in Dicken's England is bound to have a lot of ups and downs. David is born without a father, his mother is young and niave, which serves neither of them well, and he does acquire an evil step father at an early age. He has a few significant set backs as a child and is left an orphan at a young age, but overall he fares pretty well, and this is among the most uplifting of Dickens tales. Fantastic!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!
My youngest son read this poem for a class on understanding American culture,
and I felt that it was right on target for Labor Day. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Second Home in Denver

I was able to have Sunday brunch at this restaurant in Denver on a recent trip there. The brunch menu is fantastic--with straight ahead breakfast food, a salad and sandwich section, and then some things in between. I saw a plate go by which was piled high with fried chicken--and doughnuts. This place does do 'fry' right. I had a salad and a sandwich, and unbeknownst to me, the sandwich came with fries--which were delicious. The food we had at our table was well prepared, and we all agreed that the menu had numerous items that we would be happy to come back and try. The atmosphere of the restaurant was pleasantly noisy, and there were tables that were outside, enabling them to take advantage of a gorgeous day. The chef here, Jeff Bolton, is competing this weekend in the Cochon BBQ cook off in Memphis. He is cooking a whole heirloom pig in a caja china, and I wish him great luck. The charcuterie plate at Second Home includes some options from La Quercia, in Norwalk, Iowa, so he knows his pork, that is for sure. Good luck to Jeff and I hope to return to Second Home to try some of the food the dinner menu offers.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Hunger Games (2012)

The first warning is that this is a long movie, logging in at almost 2 1/2 hours. Unlike many movies that are this length, I did not finish watching it and feel like there were whole swaths of it that could have been cut. On the contrary, I felt the lead in to the 'Hunger Games' of the title was if anything a bit on the short side. I have read this trilogy, so I knew what was going on, but laying out the dystopian society that is the backdrop to the main action in this movie could have been even a bit more thorough. The second warning is, don't watch it late at night. The second half is a race for survival, and again, I read the book. I knew what would happen before it unfolded on the screen, and yet I found myself completely caught up in the action, and definitely could not have dropped off to sleep afterwards.

The society depicted here is on the one hand very advanced--bullet trains and sleek skyscrapers--and on the other hand very shallow and petty. So we are prone to hate the government right off the bat. It is an extreme classist society--the people in the Capital have all the money and resources, all the food and none of the work. They live off the Districts, who work in a kind of enslaved labor, divided by industry or agriculture. Katniss is a 16 year old girl from District 12, which is a coal mining district, poor and oppressed--think Appalacia, or better yet, her last movie, 'Winter's Bone'. Soul crushing poverty, mixed with a totalitarian regime, and a father who died in a coal mining accident. Much like 'Winter's Bone', the mother is weak, and it is left to the eldest daughter to fend for the family. She is brave, smart, cunning, and she knows how to hunt. The government has a Romanesque tournament every year, where they go to each district and randomly choose a boy and a girl (ages 12-18), is a process called 'The Reaping'. These children are placed in an arena and the whole Capital watches as they kill each other off, one by one, until there is a sole child standing. Katniss volunteers for this barbaric ritual when her sister is chosen, then spends the rest of the movie struggling to stay alive, and grappling with the lose-lose situation that she has plunged herself into. Lots of good material here, and the movie remains more or less faithful to the book as well.