Sunday, January 01, 2017

Bat curry, batty thoughts, shallow thoughts, other stuff


For Christmas, Mark gave me Culinary Delights from the Seychelles, a captivating and peculiar vintage title that includes recipes for delicacies like turtle steak and fruit-bat curry: “Skin the fruit-bats and remove their heads and insides, wash thoroughly to remove the blood, cut up and set aside.

Don’t hold your breath.

My sister gave me Mario Batali’s Big American Cookbook and my father gave me both A New Way to Dinner by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs and Alton Brown’s Everydaycook. So much I want to try from Everdaycook: coconut oats, a roasted-broccoli sub, chicken salad, kale salad, two brussels sprouts recipes. Healthy fare. Sadly, for the first time in several years my New Year’s resolutions include the word “diet.” 

More on cookbooks in coming weeks.

We always drive down to Los Angeles after Christmas so there we were for the last few days of 2016. In L.A., I like to eat and go to movies. To get a jump on my New Year’s diet, I tried to focus on movies this trip. Other than some Blue Star donuts, Kettle Glazed doughnuts, several pounds of Korean bbq, stray leftover Christmas candy, a friend’s daughter’s homemade macarons, and movie theater popcorn, I think I did really well.

Two movies from the trip that I must recommend:

*Our first day in L.A., Owen and I saw O.J.: Made in America, the 464-minute ESPN documentary about the life of O.J. Simpson. Owen was furious when we sat down at 1 p.m. because I’d forced him to walk the two miles to the theater, we were the only people there (“It’s just weird!”), and his Coke was flat. He said, “I’m so disappointed in this whole situation and I’m so disappointed I let myself get talked into this.” He said he might text his father during the first intermission and leave.
TFW you are about to watch an 8-hour documentary with your mom.
He didn’t. When we walked out of the theater at 9:15 p.m. he was incandescent.

OJ: Made in America is an enthralling, transcendent masterpiece. I know it’s hard to square “ESPN” and “OJ” with “enthralling, transcendent masterpiece,” but trust me. Trust Owen.  I wince when people describe something like a piece of cake or a movie as “a religious experience,” but I’m about to do just that. Bear with me here. I’m going out on a limb. 

Recently on a podcast I heard someone define God as “everything we don’t understand.” I wasn’t raised with religion and the most familiar image of God in my Judeo-Christian world was an elderly man with a beard who passed down a bunch of laws on a stone tablet. This never seemed plausible to me probably because my parents never tried to convince me that it was plausible. (My grandmothers did, but parents trump grandparents.)

But the idea that God is “everything we don’t understand?” That works for me. 

Every now and then I think I get a glimpse of an underlying wholeness to the chaotic world. Corny though it sounds, sometimes this happens to me in movies. This year it happened in an Indian film called Court and in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Dekalog, which was my favorite cinematic experience of 2016 and perhaps my favorite cinematic experience ever.

And it happened with the O.J. documentary. I momentarily comprehended something previously incomprehensible. In this case, I understood how an achingly beautiful young man blessed with talent and grace went from hero to villain to pathetic buffoon over the course of a few decades. How the particularities of his journey intersected with larger forces roiling American culture. How a vast cast of bizarre and vivid characters (the film is narrated by journalists, preachers, former teammates, black childhood friends of O.J., white adult friends, Marcia Clark, jurors in the trial, . . ) all figured into the saga. The film showed how football, beauty, hubris, riots, history, vice, character, sex and a thousand other things fit together perfectly. Horribly, but perfectly. Inevitably. What had previously seemed crazy, complicated, and contradictory made complete sense. If you wanted to, you could even extrapolate the laws laid down by the old man with the beard from the O.J. tragedy. 

It took my breath away. When it was over, we walked out into the night and the vision started to dissolve. But I know that the coherence is there. This is probably not your experience of faith, but it’s the closest I ever come.

I’m sure I sound like a lunatic. 

On our last day in L.A. Owen and I saw 20th Century Women which you will be relieved to learn I am not going try to describe as a religious experience. It was just a sweet, wise, flawed film featuring a dazzling performance from Annette Bening as the single mother of a teenaged son living in Santa Barbara in 1979. There were so many charming things in this movie: Greta Gerwig dancing, Billy Crudup smiling, a shambling old house, snappy dialogue, Our Bodies, Ourselves, Judy Blume’s Forever.

Permit me a shallow moment: If Annette Bening has had plastic surgery or attempted any other anti-aging interventions, she hadn’t done so in the months before making this film. I am ashamed to admit that it took some adjusting on my part. You see wrinkles so rarely on the big screen that they come as a shock when you do. (Marcia Clark made some surgeon very rich.) But there she was up there, the great actress and beauty Annette Bening, with normal-person wrinkles. She did not seem to feel very bad about her neck. In fact she did not seem to feel bad about her neck at all. God bless her. She looked like all fair-skinned women in their 50s looked until very recently, albeit with star charisma, and once my eyes and attitude adjusted, I found her extraordinarily beautiful, not in spite of the wrinkles, but because of them. 

I mentioned that it was strange to see an actress who hadn’t had plastic surgery in a movie and Owen said, “I know, that was really nice.”

Happy New Year, everyone! 

14 comments:

  1. I'm very much looking forward to hearing about New Year cookbooks - and, of course, bat curry. Eventually. I used to have a number of cookbooks of that style/vintage and they seem to share a blase approach to various kitchen activities which are baffling today, i.e. skinning things and removing organs and whatnot.

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  2. Good Gawd bat curry. Alas I am a culinary neophyte.Instead of a diet I'm going to try the vegetarian route. Wish me luck. I get a kick out of your Owen stories. Brings me back. Good times.

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    1. I can tell you from personal experience that a vegetarian diet is not a sure fire key to weight loss, or to better health, unless it also emphasizes green vegetables and minimizes or eliminates dairy, sugar, and refined carbohydrates.

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  3. Re: Batali Cookbook: I want to make the Smith Island Chocolate Cake .. many layers.

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  4. If you're going to sit in a theater for 8 hours, a 2-mile walk beforehand sounds quite reasonable, even necessary.

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  5. Thank you for this. Happy New Year.

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  6. Happy New Year! I got Everyday Cook from the library, and I was a little entranced myself. I can't even think about that bat curry. But I am sure if I was hungry enough it would sound delicious!
    I am going to have to have a really good think about the OJ movie. It might do me good to see it since I abhor everything he stands for and has done. I'm not sure I could sit through it, but if Owen can, maybe I can. Eight hours is a long time to watch something. I admire your tenacity.
    As to the religious nature of your experience, I totally understand. I, too, have glimpsed the wholeness of the universe underneath all the human imposed structure. And, I am not religious at all. Spiritual a bit, maybe. The serendipity of the experience being related to OJ floors me, but I believe you. You, as always, Jennifer, have given me a lot to think about. Where else could I have this conversation? Don't stop blogging!

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  7. Now you're making me want to try that documentary again. My husband and I watched about an hour and a half of it (at home), in little bits and pieces, but there was so much focus on football, and my husband kept falling asleep, as he does. I did keep thinking, though, that the football part would probably soon have been over, leaving the film free to explore stuff I actually am interested in, like people and personalities and culture and politics. But football? I just couldn't get through it. So, question for you: do they keep talking about football the whole time, or is that over after the first couple of hours?

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  8. in case I never said it, I love your voice and I am glad you're back...I was wondering if you had given it up and I am glad you did not, as your family dynamic speaks to me and I went with my brother to see Ali long ago and would trust an OJ rabbit hole like this-I hope you also saw Rogue One because duh and I am going to the NASA woman movie, of course I am and I might actually make that Harvey Wallbanger Cake thing :)

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  9. I've made both recipe's for Alton Brown's Brussels Sprouts, and they were excellent. The roasted broccoli sub he acknowledges is Tyler Kord's. I've been cooking from Kord's "A Super-Upsetting Book about Sandwiches." Read the book even if you don't cook from it. Very entertaining.

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  10. I don't think I could have handled all of the documentary in one sitting, but I found it fascinating and it gave me context for what LA was like at the time of the trial. Did you watch FX's mini-series as well? I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would and I gained sympathy for Marcia Clark. Plus Sterling K. Brown is wonderful as Chris Darden. I was in high school during the trial and my parents' didn't have cable so I only knew the general outline of what happened.

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  11. Luvcookbooks1/3/17, 5:47 AM

    Hi,
    I have A New Way to Dinner and recommend the recipe, "Barley Salad with Persimmons, Onion Confit and Goat Cheese". Initially, I passed it by because I don't like the texture of pearl barley and couldn't imagine it in a salad. It turns out that the recipe uses hulless barley, which is more whole than pearl barley, and a delicious chewy grain. I was also taken aback by the use of persimmons (just because) but found they were delicious and there were not enough in the recipe, made it again with 4. The greens for some reason hold up well in the refrigerator and it tastes even better the next day.
    Oh, and did not have leftover oil, so you can skip the step where you strain the confit.

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  12. Happy New Year!

    I enjoy your many reviews as they always give me something new to look for (or avoid) in movies, books, food, etc.

    Two movies that blew me away this year are Cake (Jennifer Aniston with no makeup) and Tangerine (filmed on an iphone, my new favorite Christmas movie.) Out for a while but new to me on Netflix.



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  13. I highly recommend the green rice with or without shrimp from 'A New Way to Dinner.' Fresh and lively and green -- good January fare. I look forward to your thoughts on a ANWtD. I borrowed it from the library and was inspired and impressed. Happy New Year!

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