Monday, April 30, 2007

Stargazey Pie: An Adventure in Food

This is one of those odd stories that pops up once in a while. A couple of weeks ago we saw Ladies in Lavender (2004), a very sweet film set in Cornwall, in which - in one scene - a dish is served called "Stargazey Pie." This pie is so called because it's made with pilchards or herring - whole ones - whose heads poke out of the pie crust and gaze heavenwards.

I made this years ago for a Celtic-themed party. The bottom crust is laid, the innards are basically the whole fish laid on their sides - tails in the middle, heads to the outside - and an eggy mixture is used to fill the rest of the pie. The crust is laid on top with slits made in it for the heads to poke out (as though the fish were all tucked into bed) and so they bake, their glassey eyes turned upwards. The idea is that the oils in the head drain down into the pie. Mmmmm.... (Homer Simpson-type sounds): fish-head-oil... drool...

Well, I had a hell of a time finding whole small fish. I think I ended up with smelts from the St. Lawrence Market. I seem to recall only one person at the party liked the pie (he'd had it before) and he had two big pieces. I didn't repeat it.... but one day I will. Mwah-ha-ha-haaaaa!


Suzanne reminded me today that one of my favourite things that start with "F" would have to be felines, and, in particular, the wonderful Tibby. He lives with my parents but I'm kind of an honorary mum. This picture was taken by Barbara (ace girl cat photographer) and it is the best picture ever taken of him: I think it captures his sweet expression and gorgeous colouring. Now Tibbles is a big boy, about 20 pounds, but he's also big boned, honest guv! When he stands on his hind legs, he can hook his front paws on the kitchen counter, to give you an idea of how long he is. He loves people, loves talking back, is gentle and affectionate. He often comes when he's called. His actual name is Tybalt, as in "Tybalt, Prince of Cats" but of course he's been Tibby since day one. Well, he's been other names too:

Tibby ~ Tibbles ~ The Tibmeister ~ Tubby Tibby ~ Tibby Wibby ~ Tibbles and Bits (courtesy of Uncle Derek) ~ The Ginger Donut ~ Cat with Wibbly-Wobbly Walk ~ Inspector Tibblesworth of the Yard (because he likes to inspect the yard) ~ The Honey Cruller ~ The Ginger Whinger ~ Chatty Catty ~ George ~ Herbert ~ The Sausage Machine (don't ask) ~ and finally... That's MR. TIBBS.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Planning Ahead for Leftover Pizza

I was talking to Captain Luke not long ago, and extolling the virtues of cold pizza. I think it extends to all that cheesey/doughy/tomato saucy Italian food, because it's the same with lasagne. And we both admitted to buying a size larger pizza than was necessary the night before, so there'd be some left for breakfast. We even came up with a new script for a message you might leave on your lover's phone:

"Darling, I've slipped into that red silky number, the mangoes are sliced, the edible vanilla massage cream is ready, the jumper cables are under the bed... and the pizza has been delivered and is congealing in the fridge."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

My New Christmas Movie

I'd heard of the movie The Shop Around the Corner (1940) with the release of the remake, You've Got Mail (1998). I finally got to see the earlier version and - again - I have to wonder why I had to wait so long to discover it. It's based on a play by Miklós László and directed by Ernst Lubitsch. It was also remade in 1949 as the musical In the Good Old Summertime.

The setting is Budapest, most of it just before Christmas, but it doesn't feel kitchified as so often happens with quaint European settings in Hollywood movies (foreign stereo-types are the subject of my next post). Frank Morgan is in it, just a year after he appeared as the Wizard of Oz. He plays the owner of a successful leather-goods shop, with a staff of six. What a lovely store to work in! They don't seem to have much to do except re-arrange wallets and dust briefcases. The supporting cast are interesting and so well-developed. The squabbling between our hero, James Stewart, and our heroine, Maureen Sullavan, is destined to melt into love and it all comes to a delicious climax on Christmas Eve. I think this is my new Christmas must-watch movie.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Not Just About Film, Food and Fiction. There's Flowers Too.

Dave and Mario gave me this violet years and years ago, and it still blooms in it's cheerfully relentless way almost all the time. I keep it topped up with soil and twice a year or so give it a fertilizer stick, watering from the bottom. It loves this northern exposure and, for all its modesty, is the most cheerful thing I see each morning.

Summer Feast

Today I bought the first mangoes of the year. And some little forelle pears that I am eating as I type, with some cheddar cheese and some tea. Mmmmmmmm... very happy girl.

Here's a picture of the best of the bunch before I cut it up. I think this is one of those foods, that - as much as I love eating them - look prettier than they taste, but for that reason alone they're worth it.

The mangoes are filling the kitchen with the most wonderful smell and I'm preparing to perform my cavewoman routine on the weekend. I'll peel one, slice it into long slivers, then lean over the sink and ravish the pit, juice running down my arms. Most unlike my usual dainty ways (no smart comments please). BUT... those slivers I sliced before... in a bowl... feeding myself like sealion, head back... in he goes... a quick chew and smacking of lips. Also, cut up into pieces with some Balkan yoghurt. Sigh.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Cooking, Movies, Cooking for Movies, Cooking to Movies, Movies to Cook By

It's been decided. The Oscar Ballot winners have asked the... runners up... to cook a meal inspired by the movie Big Night. Stay tuned for all the laughs that will ensue. I am half-thinking of suggesting we just recreate the final scene with the cooking of the omelette. But my guess is we won't get away with that and that timpano and risotto will somehow be involved.

Yesterday I had some friends over and we watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). Yes, I have to admit, it was my first viewing. Now, I didn't fall about laughing very much, but I think that was because I was feeling stunned by it all. But today I kept laughing out loud as things came back to me (don't send the men in white coats). I think what I need is at least one more viewing to really appreciate the dialogue. I loved Graham Chapman playing King Arthur absolutely straight up, with a sort of WWII British war hero voice. And the grenade of Antioch bit, with Michael Palin as the cleric reading:

"And the Lord spake, saying, 'First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it.'"

The scary Tim, Brave Sir Robin, Anthrax Castle ("Oh! The spanking, the spanking! And after the spanking comes the oral sex! Yes! Yes!") I know the other Python movies well, but for some reason never caught this one. How embarrassing. But now I have embraced my heritage properly. No more quizzical looks about the Knights-who-say-Ni! The DVD has lots of extras. We just watched the coverage of Michael Palin and Terry Jones going back to the Scottish locations where they filmed. They are such charming men and met some equally charming locals. I have decided for my next career move to get a job working in a gift shop in a remote Scottish castle. Somehow, I believe this is my calling. Caroline warned that the castles are cold and drafty so I shall stock up on big sweaters.

Earlier in the day I had to get some work-work done and also cook for the evening. I usually cook to music only, and would pick the most inspiring for whatever dish I had to make (usually opera for Italian, etc.) But yesterday I had the tv on in the background, tuned to Turner Movie Classics. A miasma of movie magnificence! (Jen, that's for you, if you're reading this.) Citizen Kane (1941), followed by King Kong (1933), The Big Sleep (1946) and Philadelphia Story (1940).

As I heard Citizen Kane announced, I thought (it had been many years since I saw it): "Gor blimey, I mean, what makes it the best movie ever for so many people?" But just listening to the sound alone was mesmerizing. It's a brilliant script, flawlessly cast and with choices about pace and interpretation that leave me completely gob-smacked. I have to get this on DVD, I bet Criterion has an edition.

Mark told me a while ago that for him the original King Kong, and especially Fay Wray, was the best. I waffled on a bit in disagreement, but I'm eating my words (and left-over lasagne). I'd forgotten how enchanting Fay Wray was - and what a screamer! The stop-start animation is incredibly primitive but the other effects were amazing for the time, like Kong climbing the Chrysler building, and the planes coming right at the camera. And ultimately it's suspenseful and moving.

I took a break to watch the start of The Big Sleep. The titles are hysterical. The entire sequence is overlaid with wafts of cigarette smoke. You really have to see it to believe it. It's like an homage to smoking. Each name is sort of blown away with it. I wish smoking were healthy for you and smelled good. It looks so sexy. Remember Paul Henreid lighting up in Now Voyager and Liam Neeson (in glorious black and white) at the start of Schindler's List? The Big Sleep is completely incomprehensible. Apparently when Raymond Chandler was consulted on a plot point, he - too - was unsure of what actually happened. I've seen this movie five times and never figured it out. But that's not really the point. The point is to let it wash all over you with it's noirish style.

The Philadelphia Story was on when Barbara and Christine arrived and they picked up their cues magnificently, doing fine Katherine Hepburn impressions: "Hellooo you." Hee hee!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

And When You've Had Enough Trifle....

Here's a wonderful new tea my folks introduced me too. It's green tea with ginger and something else I can't remember, some currant extact. Well, it tastes great and you can just feel it doing you good! You steep it for 1o to 15 minutes, covered.

I can't recommend it enough. That's my strong opinion of the day! Hee hee.

My New Love

Well, I never thought I would say it about a dessert, not having the sweetest tooth in the world, but I have fallen entirely in love with this: Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Cherry Trifle. It's like Black Forest cake in trifle form but ten times better. I made it for Easter and I was a bit nervous, not liking to serve something I'd never made before and I'd never made a chocolate custard. Well... I'm not going to go on. All I can say is, when next you visit my home for dinner, you will most likely be having this for dessert. So get used to the idea my loved ones! Mwah-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaaaa. As you can see by the picture, I really do need a proper pedestal glass trifle bowl, like wot Nigella had in the tv show. My glass bowl is a bit sad looking and doesn't show the layers to their full potential.

Oh, okay, I'll go on about it a bit more, by absolutely no popular demand whatsoever.

It is basically this: very rich chocolate sponge sandwiched with black cherry jam, topped with drained sour cherries, doused in cherry brandy, topped with chocolate custard (8 eggs, dark choc, cocoa and sugar), and then lashings of fresh whipped cream and dark chocolate shavings.

This is what they'll serve in heaven three times a day.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Finally a Fiction Post! And the Fun Question of the Day

I finally finished The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I don't think I've ever read anything so slowly. So last night I picked up A Midsummer Night's Dream, and I'm still on the introduction, but it's pretty dense. I'm re-reading it as I'm writing something of my own and it's inspired by this play. In fact, the introduction has given me some fresh insights already that I intend to incorporate into my own story.

We played a game at a party a few years ago: if you could meet anyone in history or fiction to sit down and have dinner with - who would it be? For me it's still Shakespeare. Although Jesus would be nice too. Maybe we should expand the dinner party to four people: you and three others. Okay, so here's the question of the day: Who would be at your dinner for four (you are one of them) and then... if you could only have one guest, who would it be?

Monday, April 2, 2007

Another Thrilling Discovery

I was loitering palely on Queen Street on Sunday, and guess what! Hollywood Canteen has opened a cafe right there (I don't know the exact address and it isn't on the website, but it's somewhere between Parliament and Sherbourne on the south side of Queen.) It's a gallery as well, with rare, vintage posters for sale. The dvd/video collection is still up at Coxwell and Danforth, but you can peruse the inventory online and have one delivered downtown. Now, Barbara and Derek are always reason enough to travel to Coxwell and Danforth, but the one thing my area has been missing is a really good video store with tons of old movies. My large popcorn bowl spilleth over!

Sexy English Rotters

I don't think English actors make the best villains because they are necessarily superior actors, but for a couple of other reasons: (1) they sound right: There is something about the classic "received pronunciation"* form of English accent that lends itself to a slight flaring of the nostrils as though in reaction to a bad smell in the room, to a lip-curling yet melifluously delivered statement of withering and elegant put-down; (2) they seem intelligent, hence the idea of the evil genius; (3) being foreign in any form to an American audience means they have a whole world of nasty types to play, hence every Nazi in every WWII film ever made was pretty much played by some English chap. And by the way, I'm talking about rotters... elegant, erudite, and cruel. None of your thugs and louts here.

Contenders are Hugh Grant (not when he's being endearingly naughty, but when he's really horrible like in An Awfully Big Adventure, 1995 ), Ralph Fiennes, George Sanders, Ian McKellen, David Warner, Patrick Malahide, etc... but just for fun, let's go back to James Mason! He sure knew a thing or two about the withering put-down. Of course he was given the lines by the screen-writer, but he had a wonderful way of delivering a threat with a slight furrowing of his noble brow, a pursing of his firmly-moulded lips as though pondering his decision with sensitivity.

For a good ten years or so, the great English villain was Alan Rickman. He seethed magnficently, complete with curling lip and narrowing eyes. To Masterpiece Theatre fans he first burst on the villainous scene in The Barchester Chronicles (1982) as the awful Mr. Slope. But for most fans, it was the moment the elevator doors opened in Die Hard (1988) to reveal his Hans Gruber, complete with a posse of follicly-blessed model/dancer Eurotrash thugs.

He held that position for years but in my opinion the mantle has been passed to Jason Isaacs. He was psychotically villainous as Col. William Tavington in The Patriot (2000), enchantingly villainous Captain Hook in Peter Pan (2003), and gorgeously villainous as Lucius Malfoy in some of the Harry Potter films.

Last night on Masterpiece Theatre, they had R.L. Stevenson's Kidnapped (2005). (Jen Star: the guy playing Alan Breck would be great as Jamie Fraser aged 50 or so... gnashing of teeth. Check it out and let me know what you think!) Paul McGann played cruel Col. McNab. He was kind of English villain de rigeur somewhere between Alan Rickman and Jason Isaacs.

So there are my thoughts for tonight. Mmmmm! Such delicious ones. After all, an English rotter is often a sexy rotter.

* less a regional accent than the general accent of eduated people in London and the southeast of England, thereby the centre of power. Not so much posh-sounding as educated-sounding.... (not necessarily being educated).

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Thrilling Discoveries

Last night TVOntario's Saturday Night at the Movies had as their line-up Compulsion (1959) and Frenzy (1972): two movies I'd never seen or even heard of. Compulsion is based on the Leopold-Loeb case of 1924, when two intelligent and privileged young men, considering themselves above common morality, committed a heinous crime just for the thrill of outwitting the law. They didn't outwit the law and Clarence Darrow was hired by their parents to defend them. There was no question of their guilt, but Darrow, as an opponent of the death penalty, managed, in a thrilling final statement, to get them life sentences instead of being hung. It's a remarkable movie for the time, for - among other things, the homosexual undertones. The cast was incredible: Orson Welles as the Darrow-inspired defense lawyer, Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman as the two accused, and E.G. Marshall as the D.A.

In 1993 a friend of mine and I spent several months trying to track down one good thriller in the cinemas. It was so frustrating; we found nothing, until... one night instead of going to see a new release, we rented the recently released video of Jennifer 8 (1992). WOW. I watched it twice in a weekend and a couple more times after that. I think that apart from the gripping story line (what an ending, it still gives me chills), the actors were so superb: Andy Garcia as the tormented cop, Uma Thurman as the blind woman who is probably the bad guy's next victim, Lance Henriksen as Garcia's cop/friend and Kathy Baker as Lance's wife. It's always a joy when a "genre" movie, like Aliens (1986), Silence of the Lambs (1991) and The Maltese Falcon (1941) happen not to be just great thriller or horrors, but just brilliant movies of their own accord.

The director/writer Bruce Robinson is one of those names I always look out for. Smoking in Bed: Conversations with Bruce Robinson is a great read if you're interested in the frustrations and achievements of an intensely handsome young actor who turned to writing and directing and attempted to survive creatively in the Hollywood film industry. He's honest and funny and still - despite a lot of drinking and smoking - a very handsome devil. According to, his new project is The Rum Diary (2008), based on a Hunter Thompson book, starring Johnny Depp. Huh. Wonder if Depp's turn as Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) is relevant to this? Well, as long as Bruce Robinson's name is attached to it, I'll be seeing it.

The other director I feel that way about is John Sayles. I watch Lone Star (1996) every few months, and that's a whole bunch of times in 10 years. But I always see something new. His other movies are must-sees too, although there are some I haven't been able to track down yet. He has a new one coming out this year: Honeydripper. Yay!!! According to postings on, it's set in 1950. Danny Glover (yay!) is a club owner/musician who is a fan of live music and is reluctant to have a jukebox in his venue. The bar next door has one and is doing great business. Glover decides to bring in a famous guitar-player. That's it! The soundtracks to his movies are always great, with original music usually by Mason Daring. I play the Lone Star soundtrack constantly. That's the thing about a favourite movie: it's so great to have the soundtrack at hand to bring back the feeling of the film when you are at work or otherwise engaged. The other film composer I listen to endlessly is Ry Cooder. I've worn out the double-CD set of his film music already! Oh... one more thing: John Sayles Thinking in Pictures: The Making of the Movie Matewan is another really interesting and generous read.