And The Food Movie Oscar Goes To……

It’s Oscar time! And as I was deciding what snacks to lay in for the graveyard shift that is watching the Oscars live here in the UK, I got to pondering over the food movies I really love. Which slice of epicurean cinema has left me feeling the most pleasantly sated and lingered on the palate of my imagination the longest? What film would win my personal Food Movie Oscar?

Before I get to my nominees and winner, let me first make clear what the term “food movie” means to me. I define it as a film wherein food-how it’s prepared, how it’s eaten, and/or  how it affects the characters- is a driving force in the film, both narratively and thematically. So that unfortunately excludes movies where food is featured heavily but rather tangentially really, hunger-inducing though they may be. Otherwise a lot of these movies would have made my list, movies like Woody Allen’s “Hannah And Her Sisters”, which features a series of delicious-looking Thanksgiving feasts, not to mention the efforts of the Stanislavski Catering Company. Or “The Big Chill”, which features the “throw it at a wall” method of testing the readiness of spaghetti alongside a lot more cooking and eating. Joan Crawford spends a lot of time in the kitchen in  the fabulous noir “Mildred Pierce”, but this is a mother-daughter thriller.  There are lots of delicious food moments in “Heartburn”, especially Carbonara in bed. I’m not always a fan of Martin Scorcese, but I do enjoy his evident appreciation for food in his films, most notably all the cooking that goes on throughout “Goodfellas”, from the hilariously delicious prison catering,to the absolutely yummy meal being prepared just as Ray Liotta is about to be get nabbed by the cops once and for all. Scorcese’s interminable “Ages And Ages Of Innocence”s is enlivened for me only by the incredibly elaborate banquets that pepper the film.

Now I realize that the definition of food movie that I’ve offered still leaves room for a very wide range of films, not least those involving cannibalism. After all, from “Soylent Green” to “Eating Raoul” and “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover”, man eating man has played quite a varied role in cinema. (It occurs to me as I mention “Soylent Green” that Charlton Heston spent a great deal of his career in the 60’s and 70’s receiving some nasty cultural shocks at the ends of his films.) But don’t get overly distressed; I have no intention of passing off either “Alive” or “C.H.U.D.” as food movies, whatever their relative merits.

So I suppose I’ve narrowed my definition a bit further: The five films that make my list of nominees, that truly moved me,  are all about characters who cook, who express themselves sometimes entirely through food, whether they are home cooks or professionals, man or beast. Food- and the perils and sacrifices of its preparation- is the heart not only of these characters, but also of these films. So regretfully “Julie & Julia” doesn’t make my list. However much food and cooking appears in the film, it’s essentially a story about the writing of a book and the writing of a blog; food is really more of a means than the end. “Chocolat”, however beautifully made, also fails to make the cut. because although most of the film’s characters are transformed by chocolate, it’s really a story about a witch of sorts facing up to her nomadic nature. Plus I must admit to something of a bias: I personally don’t really care for chocolate. I wanted to edge “Sweeney Todd” on to my list of nominees, but although I adore the treacle-black satire inherent  in the piece, that’s the gift of the far superior stage version. So no cannibalistic films make the cut. Likewise, I considered Morgan Spurlock’s fascinating documentary”Supersize Me”, but eventually rejected it. As scary and illuminating as his experiment with fast food was, I still think it was a fundamentally stupid thing to do.

So here, without further ado, are my nominees and personal winner for the Food Movie Oscar:

  • Big Night. (1996) Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci’s sad and tangy tortellino of a film about two brothers trying to keep their restaurant afloat in 1950’s New Jersey. Cooking is their life and their ambition, and the cooking on display is simply spectacular. The timpano at the film’s climax is an astounding culinary feat that reflects the layers of hope and artistry and determination that resound throughout the film, and the simple little omelet the brothers share at the end is simply heartbreaking. (Plus Stanley Tucci is briefly nude, which is pretty scrummy too. )
  • Like Water For Chocolate. (1992) Food is sex and love and desire and grief in this Mexican feast of magical realism. Her thwarted love for a man causes family cook Tita to season chicken with rose petals, causing insatiable lust, and a wedding cake with her tears, driving an entire wedding party to ruin. Beautifully sensuous and odd, this is one delectable melodrama wherein food is both a gift and a weapon.
  • Eat Drink Man Woman. (1994) Food is the what keeps families together and the expression of paternal love in this beautiful early film from Ang Lee. The story of a widowed senior chef who is losing his sense of taste as ha and his three increasingly wayward daughters navigate life in a changing Taiwan is like a perfect Chinese broth: light and clear, but surprisingly and warmingly complex and just a touch spicy.
  • Ratatouille. (2007) Disney does food deliciously in this utterly charming tale of a rat who dreams of being a great chef. Not only does the film take the care to get the food details right and nail the hectic atmosphere of a busy restaurant kitchen, but that climactic dish of the titular ratatouille is surprisingly moving. The message that anyone can be a great cook is delivered sweetly enough to get kids into the kitchen themselves.

And drum roll please for the final nominee, and my personal Food Movie Oscar Winner:

  • Babette’s Feast. (1987) Far and away the best film about the transformative power of cookery ever made, this Danish film is the slightest but most nourishing of tales. Two elderly sisters living in a remote  and devoutly religious coastal community in 19th Century Denmark take in a Parisian refugee as their new housekeeper. She cooks for them for 14 quiet years, then one day learns she has won the french lottery. Instead of using her winnings to escape back to France, she uses the money to create an astounding feast for the sisters and their guests in thanks for them having taken her in so long ago. The resulting  meal, exquisitely portrayed in both its preparation and consumption, brings love and light and life back to everyone who eats it. Simply and truly divine.

So there are my picks for the Food movie Oscar. Agree? Disagree? Think I may have made some egregious omissions or errors? We at Fabulous Foodie would love to hear your views.

 

Jump Into Some June Food Fun

Normally I note the daily observances but the truth is – there are monthly observances as well. For example, June is:
fruit bowl

  • Candy Month – which I might have placed in October for convenience sake but no one asked me
  • Dairy Month – the timing of this seems to me like someone looked at the daily holidays and decided since all this ice cream was around, might as well throw the dairy doors open wider
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month – June makes complete sense for this to my mind. ALL that citrus-y goodness and weekends of “pick your own” – delicious
  • Frozen Yogurt Month – god, it’s been ages since I had a first class frozen yogurt
  • Papaya Month – I’m still very much on the fence about papayas. Maybe I’ve just not had really good ones.

Of course, we’ve examined some of the daily June observances in days gone by with monthly round ups, things like German Chocolate Cake Day and how German doesn’t mean German in the way you think. Or how we skated lightly over Peanut Butter Cookie Day (thanks to my personal distaste for all things peanut butter) and then made up for it by offering a plethora of choices for those interested in a Rockin’ Rocky Road Day.

But who wants to sit home all summer READING about all this food when you could be out and about among the food and other foodies. Food festivals are the answer and June is awash with Food and Drink Festivals across the United States:grilling

But what about if you are not in the USA (as – let’s face it – most of the world isn’t). No worries. Food festivals speak the international language of YUM! In the UK? Check out:

mangosLooking to wander a bit further afield? If all this talk of food making your thirsty, maybe you should think about the World Of Beer event in Montréal this weekend. Perhaps you’re someone who likes to play with your food. Go on! Mom isn’t watching. Head off to Spain’s Festival of Wine Drenching  in Haro, capital of northern Spain’s Rioja-producing region. Yes, you read right – wine drenching. Just you, a white shirt, water pistol full of cheap red wine and 5000 other people with the same. Hijinks – as they say – will ensue. Also on this month around the world?

  • International Mango Festival might be a good way to observe Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month – all you have to do is be in New Delhi, India on June 30 to July 2, 2013. Apparently it is QUITE the long standing event, having been established in 1987 and offering an ABUNDANCE of pickles, jams and the like as well as mango-eating competitions, tastings, quizzes and a mango market.
  • The BC Shellfish Festival is a great reason to check out Vancouver Island in June
  • Taste of Amsterdam is the four day Amsterdam arm of the “Taste festivals” (the same gorup that does Taste of London) and this year it is being held from June 6-9

Coffee Conundrum, Caffeine Continuum

To do justice to food as the most wide-ranging and personal of subjects, I needed additional voices to chime in. Result? A series of fabulous foodie guest posters including dungeekin, who offers this surrealist and somehow scientific sounding examination of coffee physics. — Deb.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Physics Of Coffee Mugs Explained


When you need it most it’s in the smallest mug….

So I noticed today that the lovely Gotham Girl was asking one of those deep philosophical questions that go to the very heart of our existence here in the Universe:

“Why are all coffee mugs so small?
or do they just feel that way when one hasn’t had enough coffee?”

Well, it’s been a long time since my PhD in Applied & Theoretical Caffeination, but I can still recall the basics and so, in the interest of Bringing Science To The Masses, permit me to explain the phenomenon.

It’s a noted scientific fact that the mug size decreases in inverse proportion to the need for coffee, due to quantum irregularities. The phenomenon was first noted by Isaac Newton, in fact, who was in dire need of a triple espresso after an unfortunate apple-related incident left him lying flat on his front for three weeks. However, while his work on mug size led directly to both his Laws of Bowel Motions and a severe case of caffeine withdrawal, he was unable to explain the reason for the events he observed.

Many people believe that the breakthrough in understanding the coffee/cup/need relationship was best postulated in Folger’s Caffeine Uncertainty Principle, which reputedly came to the great man after a heavy night on the Jack Daniels. The Principle states that because the act of needing coffee changes the quantum state of the coffee itself simply by being present, we can either know how much coffee is in the mug or how good it tastes – but not both. A purist would, of course, note the fundamental contradiction inherent within the Caffeine Uncertainty Principle, though lack of space prevents me explaining it here. However, many in the field now agree that Folger would have produced a better Principle had he not been hungover when he postulated all over the page.

However, some caffeticians believe that this Universal question can better be explained by the groundbreaking work of none other than Albert Einstein in his 1918 General Theory Of Javativity, which states that:

where c= cup size, N= need for a brew and e= The Eurgh Constant*, brought about by not having coffee and believed to be the largest ‘real number in existence**.

Now clearly, I don’t have to tell you that Einstein’s theory leaves significant gaps for the thinking caffetician. The theorem makes no allowance, for example, for the significant effects of spacetime on the surface area of a cappuccino, for example, which many believe was Einstein’s greatest error (after his choice of hairdresser).

That said, Einstein could not have been expected to predict the later work of Professor Maxwell House of Princeton, who proved that coffee exists in multiple quantum states, acting like both a wave, a particle and a good smack around the ears at the same time, and whose seminal work (thankfully just missing his mocha when he released it) on Latte Theory is still being studied for both insight and any sense at all.

So you can see from just this simple primer that the question has taxed some of the finest minds in history, and we still have much to learn about the physics of the coffee mug. However, mine is now empty so I shall refill it before it reduces to subatomic size. Join me next week, when we’ll be investigating the theological schisms caused by Marmite sandwiches through history.

* This footnote intentionally left blank.

** The Eurgh Constant is defined as the square of the cube of the likelihood of you getting a kick in the teeth if you don’t bring me a double espresso right now, multiplied by the Fine Structure Constant and divided by the number you first thought of. Plus 42, obviously. The equation is ç?2E2. You’re welcome.

Dun Geekin is Syphilitus Professor of Coffee Sciences at St Arbucks University. He holds a PhD in Pure and Applied Caffeinetics from Javard, a BArista in Theoretical Wiredness from Costa College, and a 10-yard swimming certificate.


Walking the Walk in London

My favorite walking tour company in London – London Walks – has been filming parts of their walks. I’ve been on – oh, about 15-20 of their tours and they are GREAT! Oddly enough, I’ve never gone on their foodie tour but now that I’ve seen this video, it’s on the top of my “next time in London” to do list.

Food Truck Find

I had this whole plan for writing an in-depth and amusing post yesterday. I was going to do it after a quick dash down to Macys. The dash down went fine. Got down there, found what I wanted and then I headed home. That’s where it all went horribly wrong. If you want to know what happened next and why I was no longer in the mood to write when I got back, head over to Greater Gotham and find out.

In the meantime, I thought I’d pass along a recent food related discovery I’ve made lately. Now, they may not be news to everyone – I’m often the last to know – but on the off chance you don’t know about The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, here’s the deal. Gourmet magazine did a piece on New York street food (it’s always the topic of choice this time of year – it’s a Vendy thing) and one of the vendors they mentioned was The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. A fabulous name, I am sure you will agree.

It would have ended there – with me noting that I need to visit them since they have dulce de leche flavored ice cream – only I saw that they had a Twitter feed. I went to check it out and lo! Best Tweet EVER.

“When lining a cone with nutella, swaddle the cone; cradle it gently. I imagine I am holding The Infant of Prague.”

And lordy, lordy – the description of the Monday Sundae ensures that I know what I am doing next Monday. Dulce de Leche and laughs. I love them and I’ve not even met them yet.

Musuem of Munchies?

I have thrown open the windows of the apartment and am enjoying the cool, relaxing temperatures of the morning. But that’s not what I am here to discuss today. Actually, it’s not so much a discussion as a drive by hot tip.

I have just discovered that there is a NY Food Museum. Now, you might think – hello? you have two blogs – this one on food and another about NYC. How could you not have known there was a NY Food Museum. Well, in my defense – um – well, look. It’s only 10 or so years old and has no permanent home. No? Not buying it. Never mind. I’m telling you now.

NY Food Museum. Great stuff. Their mission is to “To encourage people to think about the food they eat.” I love that mission. One of their upcoming events: 9th Annual NYC International Pickle Day (10/4/09). OK, I admit to not being a pickle fan but it sounds like a blast.

There is also a New York Museum of Water that can fill you in on what’s in that water you are drinking. Do I want to know? I mean – after years of drinking the water in Houston (where ice cubes periodically ended up smelling like sulfur), I’m finally able NOT to think about it too much.

Happy National Spumoni Day

Happy National Spumoni Day, everyone. A bit early for those of you in Canada but when is early dessert a bad thing? Still – I have to be honest with you, my ice cream loving friends. The word Spumoni always makes me think – not of dessert – but of that machine they run over ice rinks to smooth them out. Yes, I know that’s a Zamboni – I’m just saying that it my opinion, the word Spumoni isn’t exactly culinarily lyrical and has the wrong sort of feel. Still – it is what it is.

But what is Spumoni exactly and how can I keep from mixing it up with the Zamboni?

  • Spumoni is a layered ice cream dish where as the Zamboni layers ice.
  • Spumoni is Italian in origin and the Zamboni is from California (And no – Mr. Zamboni wasn’t from Italy either. He was born in Eureka, Utah)
  • Spumoni led to the creation of Neopolitan ice cream. The Zamboni led to – um, Frank Zamboni meeting Sonja Henie. Which I am sure was nice for both of them.
  • Spumoni is now unknown in Naples, land of its birth. Presumably there are ice rinks in or around Naples so someone there might know “Zamboni.”  Spumoni surely is known throughout the land of the Zamboni’s birth – California.
  • Spumoni quite often involves fruits and nuts. The Zamboni involves nuts and bolts.

I don’t know about you but this little exercise has really cleared things up for me. They aren’t really similar at all.

I don’t know what I was thinking. I really feel I am on a roll. What do you, kids? Should we tackle another culinary confusion next time? Cannoli vs cannelloni?

Menu For A Cavalcade Of Canapes

Last Saturday was my mother’s 80th birthday, and as a family (by which I mean my sister and I) we decided that instead of going out to dinner we would hold an open house at my sister’s with a finger food buffet. Given that there would be at least 20 people present, a sit-down dinner was out of the question, and anyway finger food allows people to mingle and be more discrete about the amount of food they actually enjoy consuming at these occasions. Also, you don’t have to worry about Cousin Agnes the Vegan, Or Uncle George the Lactose-intolerant when planning your menu.

After all, canapes (or finger food) are all about variety. And let me say here and now that the only difference between canapes and finger food is the willingness of the host to carry a tray of food around the house and not look offended when people say a polite “No Thank you” to the delicacy on offer. But my point about both is that variety is the key, even if you’re obeying the Hosting Etiquette Edict to serve only three forms of canape. You can achieve a very high level of variety with only three canapes (one meaty, one cheesy, one veggie- there ya go), so just imagine the rainbow of flavours you can achieve if you really let yourself go. After all, most canapes are actually very easy to prepare, can be served at room temperature, and therefore can be made in advance. But I digress.

For my mother’s party, we decided to serve her favourite canapes, as well as a few of our own. So we decided on a theme; “Canapes Through The Ages”. This allowed us to serve food that reflected the changing times, as well as our Anglo-American heritage. Canapes that have never been seen on these shores (or indeed on any shore after 1978) shared tray-space with British stalwarts, and the latest in contemporary party food. And while the resulting menu may not strike anyone as being terribly high-end, it certainly meant that any given guest would find at least three kinds of canape that they personally remembered with great fondness, or with which they were currently enamored.

Two final notes before I give you the menu; we (myself, my sister, and a dear friend) cooked it all ourselves instead of buying shop-bought where possible, and we were not above mingling through the party with trays.

A CAVALCADE OF CANAPES THROUGH THE AGES

  • Deviled Eggs
  • Cherry Tomatoes stuffed with Cream Cheese and Chives or Tuna Mayonnaise
  • Homemade Sausage Rolls
  • California Dip With Vegetable Cruditees
  • American Shrimp Cocktail
  • Cheese, Pineapple, and Cocktail Onion Kebabs (stuck into a half-grapefruit, of course)
  • Goat’s Cheese and Tomato Pisalladiere
  • Dates Stuffed With Parmesan
  • Carved White-Trash Ham
  • Duck Liver Pate and a Selection of Cheeses with Crackers
  • Homemade Yakitori

By the way, my mother did get to have a cake too. I may be canape-Obsessive, but I’m not downright mean.

Green Carts in Gotham

I confess, foodie friends, that on a day like today – hot, humid and grey – I don’t feel especially inspired to do much beyond delving deeply into a dish of white chocolate raspberry truffle Häagen-Dazs (the key, I am sure, to living a long and happy life). But I am refraining from such activity for a bit longer so I can share some local (local to me anyway) food news with you.

Here in Gotham, mini-Mayor – known to the rest of you as Mike Bloomberg – can often be found pushing food-related legislation intended to improve people’s health or lives whether they like it or not. Sometimes I agree with him, sometimes I don’t.

As a non-smoker, I wasn’t terribly put out when the smoking ban made the smoking section in restaurants a thing of the past. Oh, some of my friends have been temporarily banished to the sidewalks on an evening out but they’ve managed just the same and I get to spend less time at the dry cleaners so there you are.

I didn’t care for the idea of restaurants being compelled to post the calorie count of every item. Not that I didn’t think people could use the information – but it seemed to me, to be a logistical nightmare for the restaurant owners. Not the big chains who control and/or dictate their entire ingredient flow and production process. I mean, the cafe owner who doesn’t know EXACTLY how many calories are in every single item he gets from every supplier or EXACTLY how many calories are in this slice of pie vs. the other one.

Besides, I didn’t want to be faced every single morning with the truth about my morning Starbucks and muffin. I know – knew, I should say – that there were better choices but a Venti Mocha Frappaccino made me HAPPY, DAMN IT! Then those hideous numbers came and denied me my plausible deniability. My morning routine became tainted by guilt, by the shame of the self-destructive. It was the same drink and the same muffin I had overpaid for lo these many years. But now, I was forced to face the fact that no only was I overpaying for what was essentially ice – I was also undermining any healthier eating later in the day because my overpriced ice was coated in chocolate sauce. Fine. I gave them up.

But just recently, one of mini-Mayor’s pet projects from a few months back has come into effect and it is one that I can get behind whole heartedly. The Green Carts Legislation. The city has created 1,000 new permits for street vendors who exclusively sell fresh fruits and vegetables. Of course, there are 9000 other food vendors who would like permits for the stuff they are selling – soups, hot dogs, pretzels etc. But these 1000 permits are very specific about the fresh fruit thing and are to be targeted in neighborhoods that are VASTLY under-served by major supermarket chains and where obesity and diabetes rates have skyrocketed way past the average. In fact, the official press release had some numbers that surprised me a great deal.

“A recent study by the Department of Health found that supermarkets in Harlem are 30 percent less common than on the Upper East Side, and that while 20 percent of Upper East Side bodegas carried leafy green vegetables, only 3 percent of those in Harlem could say the same.”

Sounds like the only thing they have less of than supermarkets is banks. But that’s another issue for another time. 30 percent? A lot. Of course, I’m not sure what is being done to address the price of these now more accessible fresh fruit and veggies. Putting them within reach physically but out of reach financially won’t help anyone. I’m still perusing information regarding this legislation to see if that is being addressed.