Thursday, May 5, 2016

What We've Been Watching: Baking, Driving, Immigrating, and Building


Each week, amateur bakers tackle a different specialty (bread, cookies, etc.), the difficulty of which increases as the competition unfolds. Mary Berry, a leading cookbook writer, and Paul Hollywood, a top artisan baker, search for the country’s best amateur baker by testing the competitors’ skills on cakes, breads, pastries and desserts, crowning a winner after 10 weeks of competition.
I'd been told by four separate people how great this show is, including our daughter Rose who is absorbing all their baking wisdom. She is now making her own croissants since getting interested in puff pastry after one episode.

All it took was one episode and I was hooked, watching at least one every evening.

I like that the bakers are all amateurs. In fact, we get to see shots of them in real life with their families, on the job, and baking in their own kitchens. Because each episode is filmed on the weekend and they get to practice the week before at home.

I like that everyone is so nice (that's why the only American cooking competition I watch is MasterChef Junior — even Gordon Ramsay won't be mean to kids). I like that it is, as one newspaper article said, so "aggressively quaint." In fact, I hear that at the end the winner gets ... flowers. Isn't that nice?

I like how there are still national differences between the British and Americans, even in something so small as a cookie. If this show is any guide, British cookies are never to be less than gingersnap crisp while Americans have a wider range of tolerance, depending on the cookie. (Want to start a fight? Ask in a crowded room which is the best chocolate chip cookie, soft or crisp.)

Most of all, I have realized just how much I know about baking. I can tell when the doughs are too wet or dry or not rolled properly, when something is going to rise too much or little, when a glaze is too thick or thin, and so forth. I try not to comment too much and Tom, the most patient of men, has been watching them all with me.

One season is on Netflix and you can also watch it at PBS online. I also hear that you can find it on YouTube. If this raving isn't enough, here's an article that says all I didn't take the time to articulate.


As her marriage dissolves, a Manhattan writer takes driving lessons from a Sikh instructor with marriage troubles of his own. In each other's company they find the courage to get back on the road and the strength to take the wheel.
This film is a small gem of quiet "indie-ness" with just enough quietness and just enough content and ... most importantly ... just enough contrast between the two main characters to give us context.

Is it about living in the moment, as Patricia Clarkson said in an interview?

Is it about the woman being sent an unknown but definitely male teacher just when she has sworn "I loathe all men,", as Ben Kingsley said in an interview?

The answer is both and much more as we found when talking it over afterward. You have to be patient and let the story unwind, but it is worth it.


An Irish immigrant lands in 1950s Brooklyn, where she quickly falls into a romance with a local. When her past catches up with her, however, she must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within.
This was a wonderful film, evoking what it must really feel like to be an immigrant to America. One of my daughter's roommates has an aunt from the Ukraine who saw this and told her that this was exactly what it felt like to immigrate. Coupled with that theme is Eilis's personal growth to maturity, which also captures the idea that often one has arrived (at being an American, at being grown) before one recognizes it.

Overall this is a lovely, quiet story where the people act like real people without having to face manufactured crises to reveal the truths beneath. It was refreshing and we loved it.


An unemployed construction worker (Homer Smith) heading out west stops at a remote farm in the desert to get water when his car overheats. The farm is being worked by a group of East European Catholic nuns, headed by the strict mother superior (Mother Maria), who believes that Homer has been sent by God to build a much needed church in the desert...
I'd never seen this classic and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The story behind the movie is as much of a miracle as that the movie depicts. The film was made with the passion and shoestring budget which Mother Superior had for her chapel. Ralph Nelson put up his house to provide half the budget, Sidney Poitier took a small salary with the promise of a percentage of earnings (for which he earned his Academy Award), and the production designer did yeoman work in begging and borrowing props, building the chapel, and organizing the schedule so they could shoot it in 12 days.

The result was a classic which still speaks to us today over 50 years later.


  1. Oh gosh, my husband and I love the Great British Baking Show! It's a dangerous thing, though. We've found that it causes an almost irresistible craving for dessert. Much cheesecake was consumed during the last season we watched.

    1. It's actually made me up my cooking overall!