Monday, September 22, 2008

Quick Looks at Movies and Books

How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table by Russ Parsons
"Eat locally, eat seasonally." A simple slogan that is backed up by science and by taste. The farther away from the market something is grown, the longer it must spend getting to us, and what eventually arrives will be less than satisfying. Although we can enjoy a bounty of produce year-round -- apples in June, tomatoes in December, peaches in January -- most of it is lacking in flavor. In order to select wisely, we need to know more. Where and how was the head of lettuce grown? When was it picked and how was it stored? How do you tell if a melon is really ripe? Which corn is sweeter, white or yellow?

Russ Parsons provides the answers to these questions and many others in this indispensable guide to common fruits and vegetables, from asparagus to zucchini. He offers valuable tips on selecting, storing, and preparing produce, along with one hundred delicious recipes. Parsons delivers an entertaining and informative reading experience that is guaranteed to help put better food on the table.
This description may make the book sound clinical but Parsons infuses it with details and personality that make us relate to what he writes about. The argument about whether fat or skinny asparagus are better? Been there. Argued that. To reduce the heat of a pepper remove the ... no, not the seeds ... the ribs, which is where the capsicum is stored. Aha!

For each fruit and veg he provides a very basic preparation method that we might not have considered. Then he goes on to a few more interesting recipes for each. Not too many, but just enough to pique our curiosity and taste buds and make us want to come back for more. Grade: **** 9 thumbs up.

Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table by Sara Roahen
A cocktail is more than a segue to dinner when it's a Sazerac, an anise-laced drink of rye whiskey and bitters indigenous to New Orleans. For Wisconsin native Sara Roahen, a Sazerac is also a fine accompaniment to raw oysters, a looking glass into the cocktail culture of her own family—and one more way to gain a foothold in her beloved adopted city.

Roahen's stories of personal discovery introduce readers to New Orleans' well-known signatures—gumbo, po-boys, red beans and rice—and its lesser-known gems: the pho of its Vietnamese immigrants, the braciolone of its Sicilians, and the ya-ka-mein of its street culture. By eating and cooking her way through a place as unique and unexpected as its infamous turducken, Roahen finds a home. And then Katrina. With humor, poignancy, and hope, she conjures up a city that reveled in its food traditions before the storm—and in many ways has been saved by them since.
What this description perhaps fails to get across is that this is more about falling in love with New Orleans as a place than being a cookbook. In fact, there are no recipes included, although you may find yourself reading it with a pen and paper nearby for note taking on the numerous cookbooks and websites that Roahen mentions. That's what I did. Roahen communicates fully just how intertwined food and place are in this unique US city. I fell in love with New Orleans (doesn't everyone?) during the course of many visits and, to my limited knowledge, this book rings very true. It is a wonderful way to answer the question that Louis Armstrong put, "Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?" For a more complete review, go to Homesick Texan, which is where I came across this book in the first place. Grade: **** 9 thumbs up.

One Door Away From Heaven by Dean Koontz
“Geneva, even if the girl isn’t making up all this stuff, even if she’s in real danger, you can’t take the law into your hands.”

“There’s lots of law these days,” she interrupted, “but not much justice. Celebrities murder their wives and go free. A mother kills her children, and the news people on TV say she’s the victim and want you to send money to her lawyers. When everything’s upside down like this, what fool just sits back and thinks justice will prevail?”

This was a different woman from the one with whom he had been speaking a moment ago. Her green eyes were flinty now. Her sweet face hardened as he wouldn’t have thought possible.

“If Micky doesn’t do this,” she continued, “that sick b*****d will kill Leilani, and it’ll be as if she never existed, and no one but me and Micky will care what the world lost. You better believe it’ll be a loss, too, because this girl is the right stuff, she’s a shining soul. These days people make heroes out of actors, singers, power-mad politicians. How screwed up are things when that’s what hero has come to mean? I’d trade the whole self-important lot of ‘em for this girl. She’s got more steel in her spine and more true heart than a thousand of those so-called heroes. Have another cookie?"
UFOs, aliens, an empathetic dog, a crippled girl, and a host of supporting characters overcoming past traumas to reach out to others all are combined by Dean Koontz in a book that is the most compelling statement I have ever seen made about the right to life, no matter what one's condition. As always with his novels, few things are what they seem.Two basic plots run parallel before their heroes find themselves coming together to fight off a very evil villain. "What is one door away from heaven," is a question that one character has asked another since her childhood. The answer, along with the overall theme of the book, is enough to make us all examine our lives more carefully ... and be thankful that Koontz's writing reflects his beliefs so honestly. Grade: **** 9 thumbs up ... way up!

On the Waterfront
"Some people think the Crucifixion only took place on Calvary. Well, they better wise up!"
No one in Hollywood today has the guts to write a priestly role like the one Karl Malden played. Also Marlon Brando give us a fantastic look at someone who was raised without very little moral guidance and now has to find his own way amid much conflicting advice. I got this from the library and then was cooling off on it until Tom and I read the description on the back, which I share with you here:
Marlon Brando gives one of the screen's most electrifying performances as Best Actor in this 1954 Academy Award® winner for Best Film. Ex-fighter Terry Malloy (Brando) could have been a contender but now toils for boss Johnny Friendly on the gang-ridden waterfront. Terry is guilt-stricken however when he lures a rebellious worker to his death. But it takes the love of Edie Doyle, the dead man's sister, to show Terry how low he has fallen. When his crooked brother, Charley the Gent, is brutally murdered for refusing to kill him Terry battles to crush Friendly's underworld empire.
I was glad that I had recently read Good News Film Reviews' tip about spotting crosses and crucifixes right before watching this. You wouldn't think so unless you keep an eye out but there is symbolism all over the place. Truly an excellent drama about redemption. Personally speaking, I'm not sure I'll want to watch it again but am glad I watched it overall. Grade - *** Liked it despite the absence of flubber..."

Sunset Blvd.
"The poor dope. He always wanted a pool."
This movie starts off watching a dead man floating in a pool, with a voice over from the man himself. You then hear this quote and you remember that Billy Wilder's dialogue crackles with verve and multiple layers of meaning. We then flash back to see the story of Joe who is an aspiring screenwriter but on the run from repo men when he dodges into a driveway to throw them off the track. He finds a dilapidated house from the 1920's and Gloria Swanson as the equally dilapidated former silent screen star who lives in the past and is planning her comeback. Joe finds himself lured into becoming her rewrite man and gigolo.

It is an unforgettable film that is a blistering expose of Hollywood which still holds true today. Interestingly many stars of the silent screen had parts in this to add authenticity and Cecil B. DeMille actually played a much more significant role than we would have thought ... and did so with surprising gentleness and charm. Grade: **** 9 thumbs up.

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