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.


  1. Kristen, I might try this recipe. Name it Campbell's Macaroni, why the spaghetti name?
    After visiting Aunt Ruth, I liked her gated city, sort of like a mini college campus with older people. They had computer classes, aerobic, wood shop, swimming, golf, a library( with a volunteer staff) and Real Estate office plus more I'm sure. On their bulletin board they posted trips one could sign up for. Cruises, tour groups. I thought why would one want to leave Shangrilla?

  2. I guess I'm as lazy about changing the name as I am about cooking this dish. Laziness just comes over me when I pull out that particular cookbook.

  3. Hey, I know you are a voracious reader, and so I will tell you about the book I am reading. I have read over three hundred pages so far, and am not yet a third of the way through. It is called The Isles. It is a history of Ireland, England, and Scotland. It is a hard read, at least the first part was because of all the Celtic names. You had to skip over many of them since you could not pronounce them even in your mind. But I love English and Irish history since my ancestors came from there, and I even decend from one of the Pletagenet(sp)kings.

    Hope you get feeling better soon. Just curl up with a good and long book.

    Jim Clark

  4. Ooh, you are ambitious, Jim. And Celtic names can be quite a mystery.