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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Watch With Me: What is a Food Film?

Do you love food films? And what is a Food Film?
(notice the capital letters.. uh, huh.. very subtle. Hmmmm…)

While working on my novel in progress, which centers around production of a food film, I’ve been researching, oh, a couple of topics. One of those is food in film and the types of films depicting food. I admit to always always always having had a fascination for film, and food on film? Please. Of course! BUT, just as I thought when I began this post, I would make it short, succinct, and just-post-for-goodness-sake's some film links. Nope, nada, and no way. This warrants further discussion. Discussion of if food appears in a film, is that then a Food Film? Take last year’s The Help. Beautiful food and food styling by Martha Foose – but does that make it a food film? What do you think?

Now heaven help us, I am not suggesting that The Help is not a Food Film – or any less compelling than say the Surreal - yes, more capitol letters are warranted - 1962 Film, Exterminating Angels. But I am inclined to think we  are on to having a rollicking delicious course of conversation to peruse and quite possibly we can arouse some intense discussion. Yes?

So back to the beginning. One of the first food movies I can remember that fell into this category was “Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?” starring Jacqueline Bisset. The Great Chefs "to die for" dishes include a baked pigeon in crust, Italian lobster specialty, pressed duck, and a chocolate bomb. 

Watch the trailer from the outset of that movie.

There are many courses in this feast of food films.

Food in film has become a much more frequent and modern prop. Perhaps much like the place that food holds in our culture. Part angel, part demon.

To be sure actors and actresses ate in vintage films too. Beginning in 1925 there are some featured here in the 50 best food-on-film-moments.  

Films such as Julie and Julia, Marie Antoinette, Ratatouille, The Trip, Chocolat, Like Water For Chocolate, Harry Potter, Eat Man Drink Woman, Big Night, Tampopo, Babette’s Feast, Mostly Martha, and The Wedding Banquet, are the obvious, popular, and loved choices here. And that is just fine, I tell you. But look for even unusual films in this list, perhaps hidden under a tantalizing mound of umm, shall we say, cultured butter that makes life so much easier two lovers dancing around in Paris.

But even as pleasant and, dare I say, foreign and titillating as some of these are I am still putting these in the category of films that meet the demands of cinema and a mostly Hollywood penchant driven by the bottom line to give good food and an acceptable but rather predictable and milque-toast-esque story.

So began my quest for meaningful, even surreal, films that go beyond and not only betray, oops I meant portray, emotion and food – an artistic story and food as a medium of that art.

But that my friends, is Part Deux. 

I invite you to leave your comment about Food in Film! 

And in honor of appetite in the spirit of Eat Man Drink Woman I give you..

Manapua - Stuffed Buns
basic yeast dough:
5-6 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups warm water
2 tbsp shortening
1 tbsp yeast

1 lb char siu roast pork or 1 lb roasted chopped chineses sausage

or 1 can sweet red bean paste

directions for yeast dough:
dissolve yeast in water. add sugar and shortening. mix in enough flour to make a fairly stiff dough. knead until smooth. cover and let rise in warm place for 2-4 hours until double.

directions for manapua preparation:
chop stuffing into 24 portions. divide dough into 24 pieces, then flatten with palm of hand. place one portion filling in middle of dough circle. pleat edges of circle and press firmly; pleat entire circle in this fashion. wrap up entire circle and press all edges together to close. place filled buns on squares of paper and let rise 10 minutes. arrange buns in a steamer 1/2 inch apart and steam 15-18 minutes over high heat; remove and serve.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Guest Author Post and Novelist Interview: Urve Tamberg, Estonia's Heroine

I met Urve Tamberg at the StoryMaster's Workshop in Seattle. When she told me her novel took place in Estonia and was called "The Darkest Corner of the World", I think I said something brilliant like, oh, I know Estonia. In "Encino Man" that's where the unearthed caveman got his nickname "Stony."

Luckily, Urve, continued to talk with me. And on the flight home from Seattle I opened her book. Turns out I knew nothing about Estonia. Ma ei teadnud midagi - I knew nothing.

But as I spent time with the young Madli, and the risks she took to save her family (which would have been tough for someone twice her age) I couldn't put the book down. "The Darkest Corner of The World" became an evocative, powerful and - not an easy task - wonderful journey into a young girl's life.

Merci, Urve, for sharing YOUR journey with us.

Urve Tamberg, Author

On Facebook: Urve Tamberg - Author
On Twitter:     @utamberg 
On Pinterest:   utamberg

Welcome to The Planting Cabbages Novelist Interview. Urve, I am so glad you are here! 

Planting Cabbages: When did you start writing and what motivated you?

I didn't realize I wanted to be a writer until a few years ago. I've always been an avid reader, and somewhere in the back of my mind, had the desire to write a novel. Like many people, I didn't think writing would be as difficult as it was.

As the daughter of immigrant parents, I grew up in Toronto hearing stories about the history and culture of Estonia. I led a double life for most of my childhood. I was a normal Canadian student during the day, and an Estonian at night and on weekends. My “Canadian” friends didn’t understand why I had to go to Estonian school on Friday nights, or rhythmic gymnastics on the weekends. And where exactly was this tiny country that had been forgotten by the world for decades after the Soviets occupied it?

I was inspired by the little-known true stories of stubbornness, ingenuity, and bravery. Because Estonia was a tiny country locked behind the Iron Curtain for almost fifty years, many of its stories have never been told. In the last twenty years, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, people have finally dared talk about their experiences. When I was growing up, my parents didn`t speak much about the war but once in a while, something big would slip out. For example, I was an adult when my father told me about two brothers I never knew he had. Both were in their twenties when they were deported to Siberia. I still don`t know the reason. There are so many stories still buried in memories because people don`t think that their personal tales are important. But they are. 

My first book, The Darkest Corner of the World, is inspired by the true stories of the Estonian people and their struggle to survive during the Soviet and Nazi occupations during World War II.

PC: Often the journey from being a writer to being a published novelist is a story in and of itself. Tell us about yours.

It took me four intense years of historical research, and learning writing craft before I submitted the manuscript for publication. I think the hours that I put in were probably the equivalent of another university degree, though the end result is a published novel, not a degree.
I could never have done this on my own. Like any profession, it's important to connect with your peers. From the start, I have been part of amazingly supportive and perceptive critique groups. Organizations such as CANSCAIP and SCBWI provided important resources, and still do.
I met my editor, Barry Jowett from Dancing Cat Books, at a course run in Brantford. At a one-on-one meeting, he liked my first page, and wanted to see more. And based on some good advice, I didn't rush to send him the manuscript. In fact, after much consideration, I ended up rewriting the whole novel from first person to third person before I sent it to him. That took a year. Fortunately, when I contacted him, he did remember the novel, asked to see the entire manuscript, and the rest is history. 

PC: Who are the writers who first inspired you to write and who are the
writers you read now? What's changed?

 I have always loved books and stories. I mostly read literary fiction, and enjoy reading about a complicated protagonist in an interesting setting. Some of the books I've enjoyed recently are Room by Emma Donaghue, Purge by Sofi Oksanen, Property by Valerie Martin, The Book of Negoes by Lawrence Hill, and The Kite Runner by Khaleid Hosseini. I'm re-reading Graves without Crosses by Arved Viirlaid (one of the handful of Estonian authors translated into English) as research for my next book.

As a child, I loved Nancy Drew, Enid Blyton, and Noel Streatfeild.

So what is the relationship between Nancy Drew and World War II in Eastern Europe, you ask? For me, it's the strong independent female protagonist who thinks on her feet, and is able to outsmart the antagonist(s). She is empathetic, articulate, and able to trust her instincts.

PC: How important is 'everyday life' to your work?

When I went to school, history was taught as a series of dates and treaties and wars and battles, none of which interested me in the least. Now I realize I'm interested in how ordinary people felt, and the every-day dilemmas they faced.

When I was researching, I was struck by how some people could manage to show compassion even at the darkest of moments. For example, on June 14th, 1941, thousands of people were woken up in the middle of the night by Red Army soldiers, and told they were being deported to Siberia. Some of the soldiers told their prisoners where they were being taken, and to pack warm clothing, and sewing machines, and food. Other soldiers forced their prisoners into the back of a truck wearing little more their night clothes.

PC: Do you see your work in terms of literary traditions and/or broader
cultural or political movements?

Overall, I don't see my work as political, but I will make a couple of observations.

Winston Churchill said that "history is written by the victors." For most of the twentieth century, the Soviet Union was the "winner." They illegally annexed the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania during the second World War, and for five decades the Iron Curtain limited communication between the West and the Eastern Bloc countries. Letters were censored, and people on both sides of the ocean were afraid to tell their stories.

After Estonia regained independence in 1991, stories slowly started to filter out, but even now there is very little written in English, much less written for a younger audience.

Another reason that Estonia's stories have not been told is because of its tiny population. There are about 1.5 million Estonians in the world. Much of the literature to date has been written in Estonian, so fluency in the language has been a necessity to do research .

Having said all that, I really just want to write compelling stories with intriguing characters, and page-turning action, all with the backdrop of World War II in Estonia.

PC: What aspect of writing and working as a writer is the most challenging?

 Since this is my first novel, there are three things that were challenging for me. I call them the three Rs - researching, rewriting, and relevancy.

As someone with no background in history, I had to research everything from the dates of major events to bathrooms, shoes, and bathing suit styles. Accuracy was very important because I felt that I had to honor the people of Estonia who lived during that time period.

E.B. White said, "The best writing is rewriting." I gave myself permission to use my first novel as a learning experience and spent years learning about the craft of writing.  It was very tempting to rush the process, but it took about four or five years from conception to publication, and countless rewrites. I joined critique groups, SCBWI, CANSCAIP, and started going to courses and conferences. I love that I'm always learning something new, and that writers are so generous about sharing their experiences.

And finally, relevancy. How could I make this story appeal to teens? I knew the story had to draw them in on an emotional level and decided to included romance and betrayal.  Also, Madli likes all the same things today's teens do. Boys, summer vacation, parties, movies from America, and travelling. 

PC: What reading, other than fiction, is important to your work and why?

 I spent months reading life histories, and textbooks in both Estonian and English. My ability to read Estonian gave me access to a richness of work that wouldn't be available to anyone who didn't speak the language (needless to say, there aren't many of us).

PC: What genre is your fiction? Do you see yourself as changing genre or "branding" your work?

I write historical fiction for young adults, though a number of adult book clubs have read The Darkest Corner of the World. I think teens like good historical fiction that makes them wonder "What would I have done?" I like to challenge my characters with morally complex decisions at a vulnerable time in their lives to see which path they choose.

 PC: What is the current state of fiction, as you see it? 

I'd like to address Canadian fiction, since that is more familiar territory. I think that Canadian literary fiction is on very solid ground, and while writers do not necessarily write about the Canadian experience, they embrace themes of immigration, travel, and multiculturalism.

Award-winning Canadian authors with international recognition include Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, and Yann Martel (Life of Pi is nominated for an Oscar this year).

(A little promo for the Great White North! Oh, Canada!)

PC: How do you think American fiction might best develop in the next ten years?

That is an interesting question. On the simplest level, people will always want to read great stories. I think the question then becomes "How will they discover a great story?"

Typically, I read a book because a friend recommended it, or I "heard" about it, either because it won an award, or it was on a best-seller list.  

I think the biggest challenge in the future will be marketing a good book. Since I write historical fiction for teens, I need to reach a diverse audience. This would include both the readers and gatekeepers. The gatekeepers are teachers, librarians, as well as parents.

PC: How is Fiction relevant or valuable to contemporary society and culture in the U.S. and/or at an international level?

Everyone loves a good story. It is through stories that we learn about the world around us and we learn about ourselves.

I'm intrigued by the similarities between some of concepts in dystopian literature, and the reality of living under communism in the twentieth century. Teens may not realize that events they perceive as dystopian actually happened in the twentieth century. It might be a great way to start a discussion.

Let me give you an example.

In The Hunger Games, Panem is a post-apocalyptic nation where the countries of North America once existed. The Capitol exercises political control over the rest of the nation.

For most of the twentieth century, the Soviet Union was controlled by a centralized bureaucracy based in Moscow. The USSR was comprised of fifteen nations including the former republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania which had been forcibly occupied by the Soviets.

The people of the USSR were rarely allowed to travel to the West, and if they did, members of their family were held back as insurance so that the person would return. If they didn't return, their family faced arrest, torture, and deportation.

There are many more examples and I hope talking about these real-life scenarios might pique their interest in history.

Urve shares the delicious recipe for the milk and onion soup "cure" in her novel. 

Estonia has many folk remedies for "curing" colds and fevers. One of them is milk and onion soup. My mother used to make this when she was ill. I have to confess that it never really appealed to me, but she swore by it. It's a very simple recipe (makes sense to keep it simple if you are ill)

Slice 1/4 cup of onion, and slowly sauté in butter until onion is soft and translucent. About 15 minutes.

In the meantime, pour 1 to 1.5 cups of milk in saucepan and slowly bring to simmer just until warm.

Reduce heat for onions, and pour milk onto onions. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Enjoy! Feel better! Get well!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Spanish Travel Tales: The Paella of Barcelona

How do you handle the advent and event of food while traveling?

How Is The Paella? 

This was a question that I asked in Barcelona and further on into our Camino and one that I am contemplating as I get ready for our Night in Barcelona Cooking Class tonight at C’est si Bon! The serious envisioning of the Paella we will make is into overdrive. I have a beautiful new large pan to use and anoint and we will do this together. Our Paella will have both pork and seafood in it. I still have to shop for the squid and maybe scallops? And we need more lemons than our lemon tree can provide to slice and ring around the edge of the pan as it is presented. As was the case with the best Paella we had in Spain I can see the long table then, and tonight, as we smell the spritz of lemon as it’s squeezed over the top. Oops, sorry, I didn't mean to get you in the eye. Oh and we’ll make shrimp stock with the group. The saffron is from Spain. My heart is swimming with blissful intention that this Paella will be exactly what we need. Tonight.

How was the Paella in Barcelona?

Hostal Campi was less than half the price of a hotel, especially in the Ramblas area of Barcelona. The real reason I chose this Hostal was it’s ranking on Trip Advisor as the closest Hostal to the Boqueria, Barcelona’s market. Since we had left North Carolina on a Sunday it was well into Monday night by the time we arrived into Barcelona. Morning and Boqueria couldn’t come soon enough.

But it was Monday night at 10:30 pm. The shank of the evening in Spain. People were just rousting about the Hostal getting dressed (though based on what some were or weren't wearing they didn't seem to have put much effort into it) to wander outside. 

We asked for recommendations and always view this with a bit of skepticism. Did they really know we were serious about food and paella? We perused and perambled and ended up having dinner at a hotel like restaurant just around the corner. Bad move, I thought, but it was fairly busy. It was a few steps up from the street with an open patio. We sat down enjoying the Barcelona night. Once we turned our attention from the active bar scene inside we saw anew. Our table had an excellent view on about 3 or 4 homeless men or vagrants or maybe they were tourists just out on the town from Madrid? The waitress became "our" waitress and was very friendly in a nice welcome to Barcelona way and just as the laughing Barcelonians on the street opened their second bottle, the waitress uncorked our Ribera del Duero. 

I think we first ordered a dish that would become an old Camino friend, Ensalada Mixta, and then there would be a Paella. This Paella would be our very first Spanish one. This Paella was recommended by Hostal Campi. I think. My phone was on wireless and thus out on the street quite belligerently would not google map anything and so maybe this was the place and maybe it wasn't. But this Paella that we had not even seen yet, but oh did we smell it, this Paella already was living on commemorated in song and poem. I tried to quell the voices with more Ribera. Be still. 

The warnings I had read were that unless you are near the seafood market (we were only a few steps away) that the Paella of Barcelona could be such a dish as to be uninspired and even, get this, quite possibly not magnificent. This close to the sea? In Spain? Really? 

Ours arrived crackling warm and seafoody and we even ate the first bites from the serving spoon just for fun and because we were so hungry. It was thick with flavor and rice and small bits of seafood. The oven was so hot that it had cracked the mussel shells. Wow. But whether because we were exhausted or had too high expectations – it was not magnificent. But the moment of our first night in Barcelona was magnificent with the food being simply, okay, I can say it, ordinaire. 

Huh? What of that, Dorette? These were separate things. Food and the moment. They could be separate things.

Well, no worries. Tomorrow we would see and be the Boqueria market and the food would change. This theme also would present itself. Many times on the Camino. How is the food? What is it? Is it good? Should we eat here? Where is it good? How is it good? What exactly do you mean, IS good? 

Umm, okay so you see I have some distance to travel on The Way of Endless Tastes. 

How do you handle the advent and event of food while traveling?

Now on to finish shopping for tonight's Paella. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Spanish Travel Tales: Too Many Cooks and Cafe Con Leche

What are you afraid of leaving when you travel? 

If you are not afraid, then your work here is done. But if traveling scares you, then read on. Be not afraid. Be very afraid. Okay, maybe it will be okay. 

Flying in to Barcelona the sun splayed its last gorgeous rays across the Mediterranean. This port of many cruise ships was where people, lots of happy vacationing, drinking, paella hungry people would be cruising. Barcelona was the center of culture – art, cuisine, architecture, music – and tourists as we soon found out, LOVED Barcelona. 

My stomach was upset. There was a level of comfort left behind as we got off the plane in Barcelona. But this comfort was the kind that comes from the outside. Comfort that you could pick up and walk on with. Hold. And like any kind of physical comfort, it was an illusion. Wasn't it? 

I realized with a frisson up my spine that lo and behold, indeed I was a little afraid of doing without. Pilgrimage meant facing some things I had successfully avoided in my life. If anyone asked what that might have meant I might have tried to come up with something lofty and that would have cast me as a lofty creature. A lofty creature who cried like a baby and craved Creature Comforts. The truth was simple. As calmly as I could I whispered the first comfort I would miss. Coffee.  

I hope you’re not disappointed with my answer. (Or maybe your disappointment WAS something I had to face? But that is a later post. Or maybe a BOOK.) 

The coffee I meant was deep dark rich coffee. You must know what I mean. The kind that begins when you pour the oily beans into the hopper of the Maestro Baratza every morning and then press the button on the burr grinder. Almost simultaneously the red water kettle whistles it's completed it's boiling task and gets turned off to cool a little bit while you unload the dishwasher. Soon enough these coffee grounds, fluffy like loamy rich soil, these grounds get covered with just below the boiling point water. You wait and pour in more water as the grounds absorb so much more than you ever thought possible and you don't, of course you don't, want the coffee to be too strong. Then there's the chopstick that stirs it all together and ahhhh.. The coffee is strong enough and releases it's aroma through the walls, the house, the woods, the cul de sac, and in my imagination, the entire coffee desperate world. 

For this coffee I would be missing I would then cover the 15 year old gold-domed French Press Pot with a towel and lower the plunger ever so slowly and deliberately. Steadily a thick black stream poured into my cup and anyone else’s who was sitting at the morning wood table. Jaryd Snover, Erick Snover, Jeremy Salamon, Alice Hall, Trevor Dolan, Madeleine Hill Vedel and Damon Fowler. Yes, all these and more have sat or stood with coffee in their hands looking out the bay window at the wrens and cardinals at the feeder. Here also was Almond milk. Honey. Ice, if it was the beginning of a hot summer day of kid-chefs. And that was all there was to the lost comfort of coffee. 

Bwaaaaaa. I blubbered like a lost child to think of it. 

Or was there more? Would I miss the ritual of making coffee for others? 
Sharing it? Why was Coffee Time so much more than just, coffee? What did it all mean? 

I wiped my eyes and blearily stared into the faces of the crowded Barcelona night. The very bricks of the street were curved in this Wonderland of walking. I tried to walk steadily. I practiced saying Cafe Con Leche to calm myself. Cafe Con Leche. Cafe Con Leche. Everything would be ok. So far no one suspected me of this crazy weird affliction. Hunger. 

What do you miss when you travel? 

Others Without Coffee, Tumbling in Madness on La Rambla. 

Along with the fear of no coffee was no books to read. Books. Are. Everything. 

Books of the kind that you wake up craving. (Along with that coffee.) The scent of books and print, paper like when you walk into an old secondhand bookstore like Librairie Gourmand or Shakespeare and Company in Paris or Nice Price Books in Carrboro or The Bookshop of Chapel Hill.

But oh, yeah, I jostled and tightened the straps. I had books with me. Right now in my backpack. They were there. Right on my back. There was Too Many Cooks, A Rex Stout Mystery. 

And Elizabeth David's An Omelet and a Glass of Wine. 

But I wasn't carrying them. No. They were Carrying Me. For everyone knows, not only are books everything but books are a way to carry a world within while you were traveling. And in this new world you could look up and safely saunter, and enter this new world while you were holding (clinging to?) another world. This world colliding thing was a mirror like duality, was it a polarity coming into play? 

Boy, I was in for some long and serious and lonely trouble. At the rate I was going I wouldn't have anyone to talk to on this walk across Spain. Not with this dire strangeness tumbling from me. Or maybe this wasn't strange talk at all for what I was about to be. Or maybe I already was what I was to become. I could say it. I was becoming A Pilgrim. 

Only the Beginning of Purple Pilgrim Feet On the Ground

As newly born Pilgrims we had just debussed from the Blue Aeroport 2 doors and stopped a policeman to ask where was Boulevard Ramblas? He pointed and we turned at the Hard Rock CafĂ©, my backpack feeling heavier and heavier. How would I walk to the other side of Spain with all these books? I wouldn't I said, sternly. You are going to have to be brave, books. Books, you will be left somewhere where someone else will find and care for you before we get to Pamplona. 

Lord, why was I being so dramatic? Could I be as brave a Pilgrim as I was asking my books to be? Silly, these thoughts were silly.  

We walked down La Rambla, the crowded bustling (I wanted to say rambling,but that too was silly) pedestrian walkway from Placa Catlunya. It was close to 10:00 pm. It was silly to be in a panic about not having coffee or books when we had something real - and not imagined - ahead of us. Where was Hostal Campi? And dinner? Maybe this was yet one more thing I had to face besides coffee and books. Wake up. Walk up. Walk on in the dark. And just and simply be where I was. Not worry about tomorrow, next month or something as delicious to contemplate, yet safely tucked away, a whole year from now.  

But now that I was paying attention as a Pilgrim, where on earth was I? We turned onto Carrer de Canuda and rang the buzzer to Hostal Campi. I had no idea what was waiting for us. 

At Gaudi's House, Where We Pilgrims Were Not Staying

I breathed. I smiled at Rich. Yup, he had no idea what I was thinking. But I had no idea what he was thinking. This was just the beginning. Only the beginning. Just the start of being where we were. And nowhere else. 

Being was ok. Coffee beaning! And Pilgriming. Lord help us. 

What are you afraid of leaving when you travel? 

Nice Coffee, Nice Coffee.

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