Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Where Aussie Tours Probably Don't Take You

I just finished Paul Newman by Shawn Levy, which described a charmed life from when Paul was the child of a prosperous sporting-goods dealer in Cleveland, until he was a vigorous old man, darting between movie sets, race tracks, the Newman's Own company and his beloved philanthropies.

Did it feel a little naughty to keep the book-cover picture of a shirtless Paul in his primest prime on my nightstand for a week or so? Yeah, kinda. Let's just say it was an easy book to pick up. I was always eager to read on. This does not, repeat, does not, make me one of his nympho fans, the women who constantly pushed Joanne and the daughters aside, just to stand speechless and panting before him.

I am, however, adding his eight or nine best movies to my Netflix queue. What's funny is that he made a ton of clunky pictures. But his best work was so good that he remained a titan of the movie world.

He started on a lark, in college, playing in the kinds of skits where you make fun of the professors and fellow students. It struck him as a handy way to avoid the sporting-goods business. So, with a wife and baby son, he went off to Yale Drama School. That was where he faced his first class exercise, discovering that he'd have to dig deep and show actual emotions. Yikes!! This was certainly not the same as being a funny man back at Kenyon College!

So he became a Method actor, the kind that's always asking, "What's my motivation?" These folks are a headache for their directors and fellow thespians. But the development of his craft over the years--well, show it to me, Netflix, as he grows from the young man whose actorly wheels could be seen turning in his head to the seasoned pro whose most subtle glance said volumes.

Anybody want to watch with me?

Also on the Finished Book Pile: The Turning by Tim Winton, a collection of short stories set in a workaday town on the western coast of Australia. They depressed me at first. "Angelus" did not sound like a town I would want to live in or visit, in spite of the seaside atmosphere, the whales swimming by just beyond the point, or the surfing that residents did over Christmas break. But as I met the same people in several stories, I got caught up in their lives, particularly the policeman father. He was the only straight cop on Angelus' crooked police force. Would he hold up under the pressure? Would his marriage survive? Would his sons pull out of childhood unscathed?

And now for something tasty, you can try:


9 lasagna noodles
1 10-oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained (I used chopped broccoli; my family thanked me heartily for this substitution)
1 c. Parmesan cheese
1 1/3 c mozzarella cheese
1 1/3 c cottage cheese
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 TB salad oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
2 8-oz. cans tomato sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. each: dried basil and oregano.

Cook lasagna. Drain. Pour cold water over noodles. Set aside. Mix 3/4 cup Parmesan, the mozzarella, cottage cheese, spinach/broccoli, nutmeg, salt & pepper. Spread 1/4 cup of this mixture on each noodle. Roll up and lay, seam side down, in a 7x11 baking dish. (I had leftover cheese mixture, which I sprinkled on top.)

Saute onion and garlic in oil. Add tomato sauce, sugar and herbs. Cook 5 minutes. Pour over rolled-up noodles. Cover. Bake at 350' for 30 minutes.

I think I always made it wrong before, setting the rolled-up noodles on their ends, like cinnamon rolls. The pan didn't look very filled-up that way. Stuff fell over. It was a mess. How handy for you that I've already made that mistake, so you don't have to. Just lay those noodles down on their sides, lazy-like, and it will all look and taste right.

This dish passed the Skooby test, big time. Calories, for those of you that care (and he didn't), are 277 per swirl.

Recipe from one of those community cookbooks. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Behind the Scenes

I'm having myself a few sick days here. Gone from cold to croup back to another cold.

The upside of all this is sitting on my bed, ordering instant movies from Netflix. Tortilla Soup, Bottle Shock, There Goes the Neighborhood, and For Your Consideration.

Neighborhood and Consideration were total screwball movies, great mood-lifters. I was especially in the mood for Consideration because it played out behind the scenes of a movie set and I had just finished Waiting on the Weather: Making Movies with Akiro Kurosawa by Teruyo Nogami.

I've heard of this famous director, but not yet seen any of his work. Nogami served as a script girl on a dozen or so of his pictures. The book would probably mean more if all the names she dropped--movies and actors--were familiar ones. As it was, they were just a collection of syllables, unless they appeared in enough of her anecdotes for me to form a picture of the person.

However, I mined a treasure or two from Nogami's memoir.

First, there was Kazuo Hasegawa, an actor who oozed sex appeal. One sidelong look from him melted the women, yes it did. One time, the company descended on a fishing village. All the villagers let their work slide for a day, to watch the movie-making. Hasegawa, on a boat in the little bay, came out and "bestowed flirtatious glances on the fishermen's wives. When he swept the starboard boats with his gaze, rapturous cries rose up from that side, and when he did the same on the port side, identical cries could be heard from there."

Turning to the crew, he said "'Well, whichever way I face, I guess I can't pee here!'"

Nogami's tales of working with animals delighted me. Tigers, horses, ants . . . Yes, ants. How do you get ants to follow your script? First, collect 50,000 of them with a vacuum. Next, kill 30,000 to crush them and make a pheromone trail for the others to follow up a tree, just as the script demands. Does it work? Read Nogami for yourself.

Next up, Horns by Joe Hill. Hill dreamt up a fascinating premise: his protagonist wakes up after a night of drunkenness only to find horns growing out of his head. No one can see the horns, but when they are around him, they confess to terrible things they have done or want to do. It could have been an illuminating portrait of human nature. Unfortunately, Hill threw in three or four cow patties per page so I slapped the book shut somewhere before page 20, brushed off the muck and went on to something else.

Next up, Searching for Whitopia by Rich Benjamin. That's "white" combined with "utopia." Benjamin, a black man, visits some of the whitest counties in the U.S. (he stops in St. George, as well as in Coeur d'Alene) and concludes that all us honkies just want to get away and live in nearly-million-dollar homes in gated communities in the exurbs. (Exurbs are the raw-but-developing towns beyond the suburbs.) To be fair, Benjamin is a pleasant fellow who throws excellent dinner parties for his new white friends. He also admits that all the white folks he met were affable and kind. He knows we are tired of being called prejudiced. For now, he blames systemic factors for keeping blacks down, i.e. zoning, blacks' difficulty getting home loans in decent neighborhoods. And he concludes that blacks need to solve a few of their own problems if they want to get ahead.

But let me just go on record as one who has never, will never, afford a nearly-million-dollar home. If I could, I'd be living in Brooklyn, next to the author. Furthermore, I resent gated communities and I'm tired of the exurbs even though I always end up there because I get priced out of the lovelier, more established, more walkable neighborhoods that I adore.

We may look like dough, Mr. Benjamin, but we aren't all rolling in it.

As for your recipe, I call it Campbell Spaghetti, though that's not very accurate. It was supposed to be a spaghetti sauce made from Campbell's Tomato Soup, but I got lazy one day and did something else with it. We all liked it. My husband hints for it often. It doesn't do him much good; I'm a queen-of-my-own-kitchen sort of cook, but her majesty deigned to fix it twice in the last few months.

CAMPBELL'S SPAGHETTI (or whatever; shall we have a naming contest?)
1 lb. ground beef
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped onion
2 cans (10 1/2 oz. each) Campbell's Tomato Soup
1 soup can water
1 tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. thyme
1 1/2 cups macaroni, dry

Brown beef, garlic and onion. Blend in soup, water and seasonings. Stir in macaroni; cover and simmer 20 minutes. Makes 6 servings, 335 cals ea., for those of you that care.

See? Isn't that a lazy recipe? What I like best about it is that the macaroni, if you do it right, ends up just on the squishy side of al dente. Mmmmm.

Top with parmesan, if you think you have to.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Homework Done

All righty, then. I've made it through the major Europe homework books, the big tomes, the 900- and 600-page, too-big-to-read-in-the-bathtub books. I can tell you about the good tidbits, and warn you about the slow-going parts.

First up, Austerity Britain by David Kynaston, describes England just after WWII. I never understood just how bombed out they were. The nation had a terrible housing shortage. So that was problem #1 to be solved.

After suffering through all the deprivation, the people just wanted the government to take care of them. So 1945 was the beginning of the British welfare state.

Kynaston's book swings between people's personal accounts of rationing, i.e. how many coupons meat cost and how terrible it was, how hard it was to get nylons, and even the rationing of electricity. Imagine going into a shop where the clerks worked by candlelight because electricity ran only five hours a day.

The greater portion of the book is brainy, political stuff, like a long article in The Economist or something. I'm talking articles with no pictures, you understand.

My second bit of homework was Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow, who promise to tell readers "What makes the French so French." On the train from London to Paris, I read a magazine article about a growing community of French expatriates in London. They loved the freedom of England, but missed the french bread. After reading the Nadeau-Barlow book, I understand a little better about the freedom; their description of higher education in France paints a picture of an ultra-competitive system, one where your fate is sealed early. If you cannot gain entrance into the Grand Ecoles, which are a mighty big step above their so-so universities, you will never amount to much.

Nadeau and Barlow also discuss the French welfare state, the expectations people place on their government, their willingness to pay the high taxes that this sort of state requires.

They also promised to tell me why the French, "who smoke more cigarettes, drink more alcohol and eat more fat,. . . have fewer heart problems and half the obesity rate of the British." I don't remember what the authors said about this, but I can tell you that I saw some very slender French girls in a cafe on the Trocadero, mowing through a lunch of French fries and cheese-draped bread. How do they do it? I wondered as I picked through my turkey salad.

Sixty Million Frenchmen also includes a lot of political stuff.

I'm sending the book to Abbey. I eagerly await her opinion on it. But please return it when you're done, girl. That cute little paperback is an actual souvenir from a Paris bookstore.

As for your recipe, we feature:

Sour Cream Fan Rolls

Perhaps the recipe's instructions to cut strips of dough, stack them, etc., cut some more left you just as paralyzed as it left me. Truly, I can't be bothered with all that. Just roll each blob of dough into a circle, cut into wedges, roll up like crescent rolls, and you will have some fat, tasty rolls without the frustration of all that cutting and stacking.