The Horror of “Get Out”

23 Feb

A week away from the Oscars means a rumination on a nominated movie is a great idea. A good friend and writing mentor, Jeff Meyers, has a take on “Get Out” I find extremely thought provoking and fascinating, so much so I asked him to let me post his ideas here. Whether you liked the movie or not (I realize as much as it invigorates many of us it befuddles others) , I think you will find his essay worthy of consideration and discussion.

It’s no secret that, historically, horror has been regarded as junk entertainment, a genre that relies on cheap thrills and lurid subject matter to draw audiences. And while critics have been willing to extoll the technical and cinematic achievements of the genre, they typically overlook the thematic, intellectual, and emotional resonance of the genre.

The well-deserved nomination of Get Out for this year’s Best Picture Academy Award is only the sixth time a horror film has been considered for such an honor. The first, 1973’s The Exorcist came 45 years after the Oscars were first introduced. Since then, only The Sixth Sense, Black Swan, Pan’s Labyrinth (Best Foreign Language Oscar) and Silence Of The Lambs (the only one to win… and regarded, by some, to be a thriller rather than horror), have been given such regard. Classics like King Kong, Bride Of Frankenstein, Psycho, Alien and The Shining were all, notably, overlooked.

Exorcist small

This dismissal of horror as a serious-minded expression of cinematic art and opinion has such a long and pervasive history that even some its own practitioners feel a need to distance themselves from the label, lest they be devalued as artists. 

In the introduction to The Walking Dead graphic novel, creator Robert Kirkman insisted that his goal was not to scare anyone, and that he wasn’t writing horror but rather “social commentary and character.” Writer-director Jordan Peele asserted that Get Out is not a horror film but rather a “social thriller.” 

With all due respect, Kirkman and Peele are wrong. While genre labels are often fluid and inexact, there is little doubt that a graphic novel that involves hordes of flesh-eating zombies, and a movie about a mad scientist that cuts out the brains of his victims in order to replace them with someone else’s brain qualify as horror. The rejection of the label is undoubtedly the result of those long standing dismissals of the genre. 

Nevertheless, horror’s artistic pedigree is well-established in literature. The works of Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, Shirley Jackson, Mary Shelley, Henry James, and others are considered true classics that confront matters of ethics and morality, politics and philosophy with the same force and vitality as the rest of the literary canon. 

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Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”

To confront the reasons why horror films are so often dismissed it may be prudent to first consider why so many people have such a visceral aversion to the genre. Though gore and violence may occasionally be cited as a reason, what often becomes the deal-breaker for filmgoers is that they don’t like the way horror films make them feel. Ie. They don’t like to be scared. 

And this reaction is completely understandable. In fact, as far as genre labels go, only horror uses an emotion to define itself. The genre describes the very feeling it intends to evoke. But this is also part of the underlying reason why the genre should be held in higher regard. 

When an audience member goes to see a comedy or an action-adventure or even most dramas there is an unspoken social contract that no matter what happens during the film, the story will ultimately deliver a resolution, and the audience will experience catharsis. There may be hardships and dangers along the way, but ultimately justice, victory, true romance, or personal growth will be achieved. 

Of course, not all films deliver a reassuring outcome–and some of the best throw the audience a curveball–but by and large, your average film-goer expects to leave the theater feeling that all is right in the world.

Horror films offer no such guarantee of safety. They do not blanch in the face of evil. And by their very nature rely on our discomfort to generate fear or anxiety. The underlying supposition of the horror film is that all is not right in the world. 

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the finale of “Rosemary’s Baby”

So, is it any wonder that so many filmgoers are reluctant to embrace the genre? 

But horror also has the ability to provoke feelings of anger, empathy, disappointment or injustice that resonate more deeply than simple startles or scares. In fact, those darker more uncomfortable emotions become a vital part of genre’s thematic power. 

Horror, through its tropes, instills in us a sense of humility, the recognition that we are flawed, fragile, sinful and vulnerable beings in an infinitely dangerous universe. It ruthlessly reminds us that we are not the indomitable species we think we are, that despite all our achievements we are, to something somewhere, just another meal, womb, or body to possess. Because horror relies on the inherent uncertainty of life and the dark projections of both the conscious and unconscious mind, it is ripe to examine humanity’s deepest fears and doubts. Horror is not expected to be respectable, and so it can confront matters of social justice and ethical responsibility in ways other genres of film would fail to be convincing. And it can attract audiences that might otherwise avoid those topics. 

Jordan Peele’s Get Out is proof positive of horror’s unique and vital power to address serious thematic issues… and is, in my estimation, the nominated film most deserving to win. 

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A devious critique of liberal racism disguised as a horror-thriller, it is, essentially, a dark mash-up of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner and The Stepford Wives. Much has been written of the film’s savvy mix of social messaging, creepy genre thrills and racial satire, but what is equally impressive is the number of meaty issues it manages to reference: Mixed race relationships, suburban racism, police brutality, eugenics, the slave trade, and even Hollywood’s treatment of minority characters all come under review. 

What is truly remarkable about Get Out is that it is less about race than it is about racism. Peele rejects the role Hollywood often bestows upon black filmmakers—as artistic ambassadors of the black-American experience—and instead looks at what scares black Americans today. He has both inverted and subverted normal horror film conventions in ways that are wickedly smart. For instance, notice how his plot flips the script on the all-too familiar white woman in inner-city peril fantasy. Instead, he strands a black man in an affluent (and politely hostile) white community. And do we need to spell out the symbolic underpinnings of the silver spoon Rose’s mom uses to subdue her victims? Or the ‘cotton’ that Chris literally picks to save his life? 

Get out Cotton

While several articles could be dedicated to Get Out’s confrontation of liberal racism and social microagressions, the genius of Peele’s horror film is best summed up by the choices he makes for his protagonist and how enriched with metaphor they are. In particular, it’s interesting to look at Peele’s decision to cast his protagonist as a respected photographer and how that single, seemingly simple choice allowed him to masterfully exploit his thematic conceits.

Consider the way we first meet Chris, the film’s protagonist. The photographs on his apartment walls are raw and spontaneous—candid moments of urban street life—the kind of work show that Chris is an artist attuned to his surroundings, as he looks for that perfect shot. In other words, he is a trained observer, not only as a black man in a white man’s world but also by profession. This skill will prove vital to the plot. 

 

A creature of habit, Chris brings his camera to Rose’s house, and it’s through his camera lens that he first spots the another young black man, a party guest who seems both familiar and oddly out of place. At first, Chris is excited to find someone he can bond with. But when he snaps a picture, the flash causes the man’s nose to bleed. He charges at Chris, screaming, “Get out!” and as we will later learn, it is a warning rather than a threat. 

Now consider the symbolic power of Chris’s camera— which quite literally exposes the truth of Rose’s family’s victims —and how cellphone cameras have become the proof of longstanding complaints (often dismissed by white America) that African-Americans are being racially profiled, unjustly brutalized and even killed by law enforcement. Chris’ camera, just like the cellphones that filmed, say, the murder of Oscar Grant at Fruitvale Station in San Francisco, has the ability to r eveal the truth. Peele is a smart enough writer to realize both the plot utility and thematic depth of such a character choice and exploits it to its fullest potential. 

Get Out Camera

It is ironic, then, that Jim Hudson, the blind white man who has bid to own Chris’ body (in a creepy slave-style auction that’s disguised as a game of bingo) cares nothing of Chris’ black skin. He only wants his eyes– not just the ability to see, but to ‘see’ life as Chris-the-artist does. This is the very definition—and a gross perversion—of cultural appropriation. Hudson assumes that he can step into Chris’ body and, absent all the things Chris has experienced as a black man, see the world with new eyes. Hudson’s desire also lays bare the sins of white American history. Whether it be the slave trade, the Tuskegee experiments, or our current for-profit prison system, whites continue to exert ownership over black bodies with little consideration for the people they belong to. 

By choosing the horror genre, Peele has selected a vehicle that gives him the freedom to present his ideas without accusations of being pedantic or on-the-nose. While a dramatic treatment of the same material could work, the odds are against it successfully reaching a wide and diverse audience. The calculated chills of horror offer us the promise of entertainment first, messaging second. 

One final point about Get Out … and its ending. After escaping the Armitages’ nefarious plans and killing each member of Rose’s family, Chris flees from his murderous girlfriend only to be intercepted by a car with flashing lights. It is here that the mainly white audience at Get Out’s Sundance premiere let loose an audible groan. They could see where things were headed, what videos on the Internet and a history of systemic racism had taught them to expect: Rose would plead to the police officers that Chris—a black man– had attacked her defenseless white, up-standing suburban family in a fit of rage, and our hero would either be gunned down or imprisoned, yet another black man consumed by American racism. 

Ending Get out

And even then, Peele surprises us, allowing his black hero to walk away victorious. The police car turns out to be the work vehicle of his wise-cracking best friend Rod, a TSA agent.  The audience’s laughter during the final scene was as much about Peele’s gift for comedy, as it was an expression of relief: for once, a horror film was less horrible than the world outside the theater. 

Get Out’s ending is a both a distillation and illustration of the true power of the horror film–to disturb an audience in such a way that they recognize the unsettling issues that fuel the film’s subtext. 

Great horror films refuse to let the audience off the hook, they tell us that no one is safe and that a happy ending is not guaranteed. Though we have been rooting for Chris to escape the clutches of the evil racists (that sort of look just like us… but surely couldn’t be us), horror suggests that he might not make it after all. And this is why the best examples of the genre resonate so deeply. They challenge us to see the fragility of civilization and the hollowness of moral certainty. Horror demands that we appreciate that acts of evil and injustice are a permanent, ineradicable aspects of our world. And maybe, if the film’s message disturbs us deeply enough, we can begin the slow process of change.

For the horror writer, Get Out offers a very clear lesson in craft–and most especially the power of creating unity between story choices and thematic subtext. But beyond those mechanics, it’s important to remember that the best horror is not just about ghosts or zombies or evil cults or mad brain-swapping scientists. Good horror recognize that we are the zombies that mindlessly devour. We are the monsters who prey upon women. We are the race that claims ownership of black lives. Consumerism is the monster. Sexism is the monster. Racism is the monster. Humanity is the monster.

                                                                                                           Jeff Meyers

Spicy “Get Well” Chicken Soup

5 Feb

I’ve been sick for a month and I never get sick. Apparently the whole world is feeling it. For me, every time it seems over, with my defenses down a different bug comes barreling in and takes over. Plus, try as I might when I don’t feel well, I don’t eat well. Comfort food city, you know?

But I hit a wall this weekend: “I’ve had enough of this $@#%~!” 

So I created a spicy chicken soup designed to shock my system with fresh, healthy and spicy ingredients, something I could detox on all week. 

Spicy Get Well Soup

Turns out, though, it also happened to end up one of the best soups I’ve ever made. This is light, fresh and incredibly healthy soup with a spicy kick.  But you don’t have to have the flu to love this soup. I’m even having it for breakfast. It’s that good. 

If you do have the flu, an appetizer of my garlic salad and a bowl of this chicken soup will have you well on the way to recovery. After a weekend of eating both, I seriously feel 100 times better.

And so I present to you: 

TOM’S SPICY “GET WELL” CHICKEN SOUP

This is a great “throw a bunch of stuff in a pot without worrying too much about the amounts and it still comes out amazing” kind of recipe. You could easily vary the ingredients and it will turn out well. But use the specific ingredients noted here the first time you make it to get the genius. Then you can start messing with it.

Note 1: Whatever you do, use all the garlic and chilis noted. That’s the point. And it tastes great.

Note 2: I make this in my 7 Qt. Dutch oven. If you use a smaller pot, just halve the recipe.

Note 3: Homemade bone broth really makes a difference in this recipe. It’s easy. And so good for you. Just do it. A simple, beautiful recipe also below.

Note 4: You could easily make a more Tex-Mex version by eliminating the ginger, then adding some cumin with the garlic (I like to use cumin seed but ground is fine), then tossing in two corn tortillas, broken into small pieces, with the chicken. Even a can of your favorite white or red beans, rinsed. The Tex-Mex version will be wonderful as well, but a little thicker and more like a tortilla soup. Try the original first, though.

Finally: you will never know the fennel is there. Just use it even if you think you don’t like fennel. Umami baby.

INGREDIENTS

1 bulb fennel, white only, cored and very thinly sliced

1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced

3 stalks of celery (and leaves) sliced thin

2 Fresno chilis, sliced into thin rounds, with seeds

1 large Jalapeno, sliced into thin rounds, with seeds

2 colored bell peppers, sliced vertically into strips

12 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

4 carrots, sliced into thin coins (do not peel)

2 quarts bone broth (See a recipe below)

1 stalk lemongrass, snapped in half and crushed

1 package sliced crimini or button mushrooms

1 package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into bite sized pieces

a chunk of fresh ginger, peeled, in one piece

1 head of kale, sliced into ½ inch pieces (or spinach or chard)

1 carton cherry tomatoes, halved

the juice of 2 limes

salt

white pepper

sliced avocado (optional for garnish)

chopped cilantro (optional for garnish)

DIRECTIONS

Sauté’ the fennel, onion, celery, Fresno chilies and Jalapenos in a glug or two of olive oil on low. Go long and slow, let them get soft. This takes a while, 15 or 20 minutes. Then add the bell pepper and continue to sauce for 10 more minutes. The original ingredients could even begin to softly caramelize.

Add the garlic and carrots, toss and continue to sauté on low for 3-5 minutes. Don’t let the garlic burn, just soften. Add a few pinches of salt and a shake or two of white pepper as they cook.

Add the broth and lemongrass. Bring to a boil then turn down as low as you can go. Add the chicken pieces. Let cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes, then add the kale and the mushrooms.

Continue to cook for at least 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the kale has started to soften. At this point, it can cook for even an hour more, it just gets better and better. But you can also now add the tomatoes and lime juice, and let cook another 15 or so minutes. Taste for salt and white pepper. You can add more broth depending on how soupy you want it.

It should have a pretty wonderful kick. Top with chopped cilantro and avocado slices if desired.

SIMPLE BONE BROTH

Take your largest pot (I have a stock pot, into which I put a pasta strainer, so it is easy to strain at the end) and fill it 2/3’s with water. Add 5-6 good meat bones (most grocery stores now sell soup bones) and a few chicken backs or chicken wings. Bring to a pic, then bring heat to low. Simmer for an hour, skimming the impurities from the top.

Add:

2 heads garlic (do NOT peel) halved horizontally

2 onions, with skin, quartered (if you do this through the root, they won’t fall apart too much)

2 fresno chilis, halved

4-6 stalks of celery, cut in large chunks, with leaves

4-6 carrots, with peel, cut in large chunks

1 head of kale, washed and cut into pieces

1 stalk of lemongrass, snapped in half and crushed

a bunch of thyme

1 lemon, halved

a handful of black peppercorns

a couple of whole cloves

Let simmer another few hours, still skimming.  I go 12 hours at least, sometimes even 24, but even by 6 hours you will have a lovely broth.

Strain. I like to then put the broth through cheesecloth or a nut bag (or very fine mesh strainer) to make the broth very clear but you don’t have to.

If you want, you can use the broth immediately.  Or, for later use, let it cool and then stick in the fridge. The next day, you can easily skim the fat off the top… if you want.

If you use a smaller pot, just use a couple less bones and halve the vegetable amounts.

Best Cookbooks 2017

13 Jan

Better late than never, right?

These lists can be a bit silly because I obviously did not read nor cook from every cookbook released this year. I am a proud cookbook whore, however, and read and cooked from quite a few. These are the cookbooks I particularly loved this year, you can’t go wrong with any of them. 

And remember, if you are building a cookbook library, always a great thing to do, I have a good primer here: Building Your Cookbook Library Vol. 1.

On to the best… If you don’t want all five (!!!), see which food type strikes your fancy and pick that one. Or just buy:

GJELINA

 

Based on the recipes from one of Los Angeles’ most highly acclaimed restaurants, this is my cookbook of the year. From the wonderful recipes, much easier than you might expect, to the technique beautifully taught including marvelous pantry items to have in your cupboard and fridge, this is a book I will use the rest of my life. These are rustic dishes exploding with fresh vegetables and amazing flavors. Fish, chicken, beef, lamb, soup, vegetarian… the book has it all. I also love how easy the book is to use… many cookbooks have spines that make them difficult to prop open on the counter. Gjelina has a wonderful spine I wish every cookbook publisher would mimic. It easily flops open and stays open right where you want it. Read, cook and enjoy.

LA VIE RUSTIC

 

Heaven. I’ve written here and here about the cookbook nights my beloved friend Tiffiny and I have, where we pick a new cookbook and try a dozen or so new dishes from the one book. We did this again last summer with La Vie Rustic and the meal was out of this world. These are french inspired dishes that are remarkably simple: when Tiff and I started to go through the book to pick recipes, we were a little worried it would not end up being a stellar, showy cookbook night, given the simplicity of most of the dishes. Goodness, were we wrong. From the best pate any of us have ever had, to killer main courses and sides, this is also a book I will return to over and over. Just wonderful. 

TORO BRAVO

 

My good friend and fellow Yogi Marc Peters (wonderful guy) lives in Portland, Oregon with his family. One one of my trips up there, he introduced me to Toro Bravo, a fabulous tapas restaurant with continual waits out the door. Damn, was that good food. Finally, the chef, John Gorham, came out with a huge, amazing cookbook filled with all the recipes from the restaurant and a ton of stories as well. If you get this, don’t be initially thrown by the first half of the book, which is all stories, no recipes. The stories are wonderful, instructive, and hilarious, and there are plenty of incredible recipes in the second half. The book, the food, the restaurant are all one hell of a party. 

MY MASTER RECIPES

 

Any reader of the blog knows my love for Patricia Wells, about whom I’ve written many times, including a post about how she changed my life. Here is her masterwork, a great reference book with many, many recipes both old and new. Included are a mind-blowing french fry recipe I’ll be posting about in the coming months and a no-rise pizza dough that is also out of this world. All of the recipes follow her simple, fresh approach to the best food possible. She’s a great lady and this is a great book.

ON VEGETABLES

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For me, this probably comes in second for cookbook of the year. Wow. Incredible book. It starts with Jeremy Fox’s moving, rough, personal story, then dives into his approach to cooking, which has been lauded for years and years. An amazing reference book and teaching bible as much as it is a recipe book, it’s hard not to order you to order this book right now. He may be a Michelin starred chef but the recipes are very approachable for the home cook.

Do you have a cookbook that inspires you? Let us know in the comments!

Looking forward to another great year with all of you. I always intend to post more, then life gets the best of me. I’ll do my best and so appreciate all the faithful readers and comments. Here’s to a glorious 2018! With lots of wonderful food and films!

 

Best Films of 2017

2 Jan

Though I am criminally behind in my viewing (see below), here is my annual list. The year started off rough, there wasn’t much I liked until suddenly the year blossomed in late fall; I saw a string of excellent movies that made 2017 feel like a pretty damn good year for features. Additionally, three of these terrific films – The Shape of Water, Coco and The Florida Project – were as visually stunning, albeit in very different ways, as any movie I’ve seen in years.

THE SHAPE OF WATER

It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Romantic. Violent. Erotic. Funny. Dazzlingly beautiful. Magnificent. 

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THE FLORIDA PROJECT

“A movie that defies traditional narrative storytelling” is always, for me, a polite way of saying “boring as hell.” Yet The Florida Project may be my favorite movie of the year (it’s a close call with The Shape Of Water.) Sean Baker’s objective look at the lives of marginalized people living in crap hotels on the outskirts of Orlando is funny, shocking, wrenching and heartfelt. It’s also a stunningly composed film. Baker and his DP, Alexis Zabe, somehow take these scummy yet colorful locales and bring beauty and art to the images. The movie also has some of the best performances you will see all year, many from non-actors. This is an amazing movie.

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THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Whoa. The great playwright, Martin McDonagh, follows up his debut, In Bruges, with the blackest film comedy I’ve seen since War of the Roses. Shocking, funny and shockingly funny, none of the movie’s main characters are who they seem to be initially. Each makes a surprising journey, one of the many pleasures of the film. Save one bit of miscasting in a smaller role, the performances across the board are exemplary. I’ve seen it twice and will watch again.

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LADY BIRD

It can be hard to explain why Lady Bird is such a wonderful movie. It’s a story we’ve seen told many times before and there is nothing innovative about the filmmaking… unless “damn, that is fine filmmaking” is innovative. Given the crap we see on screen, yes it is indeed innovative. Lady Bird may be a simple story told in straightforward fashion, but the writing and acting are so strong, so enjoyable, that writer/director Greta Gerwig uncovers originality and deep emotion, making what should seem old, a coming of age story, fresh and new. I had a smile on my face the entire time I watched Lady Bird. (What a wonderful year of acting is 2017! Everyone shines in this movie.)

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COCO

Pixar seemed to lose some of its magic in the last couple of years. While Coco isn’t perfect, and there are a couple of plot revelations you can see coming from the start, the movie is a revelation because the milieu and characters are so unique, at least for mainstream cinema. Coco is also a dazzling feast for the eyes, one of the most visually arresting movies I’ve ever seen. It goes for your heart and it will get your heart. Bravo.

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THE LOST CITY OF Z

I saw this dense, challenging movie three times in the theatre and was really bummed it did not catch on, though it is easy to understand why given the complexity of both the characters and the ending. James Gray steps into David Lean territory with the true life adventure tale of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who becomes obsessed with finding a lost city of the Amazon. It all works for me: grandiose and beautiful images, a terrific score, richly written characters, and superlative performances from Charlie Hunnam, Tom Holland, an unrecognizable Robert Pattison (becoming such a great actor) and Sienna Miller, a chameleon who may be the best actress working in film today. It will haunt you.

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DUNKIRK

Dunkirk certainly had its detractors. But it did boffo box-office, to use Variety-speak, which is surprisingly and encouraging given the movie is a $150 million dollar art film with no lead character, no real villain and a time-jumping narrative. I loved it. Rarely have I been so tense and keyed up in a movie. Nolan and his team build an incredible amount of dread, heightened by Hans Zimmer’s innovative score, one of his best.  Easily one of Nolan’s best as well.

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GET OUT

Jordon Peele somehow crafted a funny, suspenseful horror movie that slaps you up side the head while also being incredibly satisfying, a true audience pleaser even as it challenges you. Smart, clever and a lot of fun.

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PHANTOM THREAD

Wow. I’ve never used this word before now, but this movie ravished me. Stunningly beautiful with a magnificent score, directed with PTA’s usual precision and incredible performances across the board, I loved this movie. Loved it. It has put some people off as being cold and distant. I get it. Kind of. It’s lush and romantic yet ultimately a bit disturbing. Whatever. Phantom Thread transfixed me from the start and never let go.

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I, TONYA

I don’t know what I expected but it wasn’t this: sharp, smart, hilarious and ultimately surprisingly deep and even moving. The filmmakers somehow make the standard mock-documentary format new and exciting. And the performances are stellar. (It has been such a wonderful year for actors.) This might just be the most purely enjoyable movie I’ve seen all year. What a blast.

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Honorable Mentions: Call Me By Your Name, The Big Sick, Baby Driver, Logan, Logan Lucky, The Disaster Artist, Blade Runner 2049

Did not yet see: Wind River, Phantom Thread, I, Tonya, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Mudbound, Brawl in Cell Block 99, The Darkest Hour, Ingrid Goes West, Good Time, Hostiles – Wish I could just stop and watch movies for a few days!

Tell us your favorites in the comments!

 

Your Perfect Thanksgiving

17 Nov

While this is an amalgam of previous Thanksgiving posts, I hone every year. I know you have your favorites! We all do. But trust me… add a few of these (the cocktail and the turkey in particular.. and the dips… and, well, you know… ) and you will have the best dinner ever. Hell, just follow it all! I won’t let you down. 

Not a lot of writing below… you can scan other Thanksgiving posts for more detail. If it’s on the list below, I’ve made it many times, it’s easy, and your friends and family will be thrilled. 

COCKTAIL

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Cranberry Daiquiri

This is my signature cocktail for people from Thanksgiving thru New Years. Not too sweet and incredibly tasty. Once you have the syrup made, you can make it fast anytime:

Cranberry Daiquiri

DIPS

Pim Cheese corn dip

Spicy Pimento Cheese Dip

The pickle dip is killer. The pimento cheese dip is now referred to as “crack” by everyone who has tried it. Both will make you supremely happy:

Dill Pickle Dip

Spicy Pimento Cheese Dip

TURKEY

There is no better way to prepare a turkey. Nor is there an easier way, though you have to start the dry brine a few days ahead.  You can even prepare it early and bring it somewhere. You’ll never go back:

The Judy Bird

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The Perfect Turkey

 

SIDES (click links for recipes)

What’s better than stuffing?? (Or dressing for many southerners.) Nothing. Here is a post devoted entirely to this glorious dish. Oh and try adding fresh shrimp and lump blue crabmeat to your basic stuffing. Heaven:

Stuffing

stuffing

The Best Macaroni and Cheese Ever. ‘Nuff said:

The Best Macaroni and Cheese

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Macaroni & Cheese

 

Creamed Spinach, Drunken Mushrooms (whoa, wow) and the best Creamed Corn (dairy free!) all can be found here:

Three Amazing Sides

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Drunken Mushrooms

 

Traditional sweet potato casserole is just too sweet for me. So instead I make this crazy good sweet potato salad that is just right. (I eliminate the cranberries, also too sweet, but you may want to keep them):

Sweet Potato Salad

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Sweet Potato Salad

 

I’m not a huge fan of mashed potatoes, which for many of you probably calls anything I say into question. This, however, is a great recipe and travels beautifully:

Mashed Potatoes

Mashed-Potato-Casserole-spoon

Mashed Potato Casserole

 

Two wonderful cranberry recipes:

Cranberry Heaven

Raw Cranberry Relish

Cranberry Relish

 

BREAD

If you are like me and not much of a baker, these drop biscuits may not look like much but wow do they taste great. And so easy to make! You can also make and freeze them ahead of time and just rewarm:

Drop Dead Drop Biscuits

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Drop Biscuits

DESSERTS

The world’s best Pecan Pie:

Pecan Pie

A wonderful Pumpkin Pie:

Pumpkin Pie

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Pumpkin Pie

 

And if you need some chocolate, this is the best chocolate dessert ever:

Chocolate Pots De Creme

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Chocolate Pots De Creme

 

 

 

Homemade Butter… in 5 minutes

14 Sep
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Butter made in 5 minutes

One of my favorite movies of all time is Rosemary’s Baby, still as chilling and brilliantly acted and directed as it was almost 50 years ago when it debuted. A favorite line in the movie has a modern relevance regarding food.

Rosemary (Mia Farrow), as you should know, becomes pregnant after moving into an old gothic apartment building on Central Park. On the advice of her doctor, she begins drinking a fresh, healthy milkshake every day, mixed and delivered by her next door neighbor, Minnie Castavet (Ruth Gordon deservedly won an Oscar for this role). According to Minnie, the shake contains raw egg, gelatin, herbs, and something called Tannis Root.

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Mia Farrow and Ruth Gordon in “Rosemary’s Baby”

Rosemary, along with the audience, slowly begins to suspect there is a conspiracy to steal or harm her baby. Famously, very little happens in the movie yet it ruthlessly crawls under the skin. The ordinary becomes terrifying as we wonder if something is actually happening or if Rosemary’s imagination is running wild. 

When the book (1967) and the movie (1968) were each released, both phenomenal hits, our country and much of the world was in the midst of a decades long embrace of chemically created food over natural: formula over breast milk, margarine or oleo over butter, Saccharin and corn syrup instead of sugar, boxed food over food made from scratch, etc, etc. It seems so obvious now that something natural would be healthier than something created in a lab. But given years of misinformation and outright lies from both the government and food corporations, there was no reason for the public to believe otherwise. (I really despise the FDA, a rant I’ll reserve for another post.)

What’s fascinating today about Rosemary’s Baby is that the shake, made from natural ingredients, is one of the creepiest things in the movie. It becomes a focal point and a source of fear for the audience, and then Rosemary herself. A knot begins to form in our stomachs every time Rosemary takes a sip. As her paranoia increases, she finally snaps and revolts against what she perceives is being done to her. Rosemary then delivers the line I love:

“I want my vitamins from pills, like everyone else!”

Crafted and created in a lab is what was healthy and normal to audiences at the time. Natural was not. Even with our modern perspective, we are thrilled when Rosemary takes this stand. Is she too late? Is anything actually wrong? You’ll have to watch this brilliant movie to find out. (Note: It’s free if you have Amazon prime… the movie is gorgeously shot by William Fraker so try to watch it on a big screen!)

We are thankfully moving away from the days of margarine and corn syrup (lies, LIES!) and the idea that crafted in a lab is good for you. We have returned to the wonderful knowledge that something as simple and wonderful as butter can be enjoyed without the guilt that was thrust upon us for years. It actually is healthy!

Yet true, decadent butter is still hard to find, at least in the USA, thank you FDA. Years ago I was in Italy and ate at a small family owned hotel/restaurant on a farm. After I sat down, they brought me bread and butter. I tasted the butter on the bread and thought my head would explode. I’d never tasted anything so good. I called the owner over and in my very broken Italian kept asking him, ‘What is this??” He kept shrugging and saying, “It’s butter.” I kept saying,  “No, this is NOT butter.” He became frustrated and looked at me like a stupid American and finally threw up his hands. “It’s just butter!” I realized later it was butter that had been churned that very day, with no pasteurization. My goodness, was that incredible butter, so different than what we buy in most stores. 

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Il Falconiere

I’ve recently discovered you can make such butter at home, fast, without a churn! All you need is some heavy (whipping) cream and a food processor. With basically no effort at all, you will have fresh, incredible butter. Give this a try (and let me know what you think!)

For the recipe, click here: Continue reading

Simple Fruit Tarts

24 Aug
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watercolor by Frances Newcombe

This post should actually be entitled Fruit Tarts for Dummies…  or rather, Fruit Tarts for A Dummy. Because, listen, if I can do this … I, me, someone with absolutely no patience for baking or dough or measuring exactly or any of that silliness… if I can do this, you can do this. And you will be so happy.

Fruit trees are one of the many benefits of living in Southern California. Not just fruit trees, but bountiful fruit trees that need very little upkeep. I am as bad at gardening as I am at baking (that patience issue) yet I have in my yard lemon trees, orange trees, apricot trees, a pomegranate tree, a kumquat tree, avocado trees, a macadamia nut tree and a glorious fig tree that goes crazy in season. Consequently, I’m always looking for ways to use the fruit.

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Prepping Fruit Tarts

I’ve written before about Patricia Wells, a chef whose writing and cooking had an incredible influence on my life. In her book At Home In Provence, there’s a gorgeous Apricot-Honey-Almond Tart you can also make with figs. It looked so incredible, and so easy, I had to give it a try. My first attempt turned out so well I kept making these tarts over the summer, in different variations, to master the tarts and see which fruits worked best. And so I give you below my slightly tweaked take on her recipe.

Did I mention how %@$# incredible they taste? Wow, are they wonderful. This recipe slays everyone by both beauty and taste. Anyone you serve the tart will have no idea how simple it is (and there’s no reason to let them know!) They’ll look at you like you had Patricia fed-ex the tart from her kitchen in France. Because it’s best served room temperature, it’s perfect not only for your home but to bring to a picnic or to a potluck. My goodness, these taste good. And they are light as well! While gorgeous, this tart is the opposite of a heavy, dense dessert. But you get all the pleasure just the same. 

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apricot tart, right out of the oven

ONE NOTE: Hearty fruits such a stone fruits or figs are best with this recipe. The blueberry and raspberry versions I tried tasted great but those soft fruits started to break down into mush by the time they were finished cooking.

***!!! As an added treat this week, my beloved friend Frances Newcombe did some art for the post, including a downloadable PDF of the recipe – click here to download what you see below.

For the recipe and download, click here: Continue reading