mysticonnie's blog

Megalomania continues...
Cheese Diaries
a Conspiracy of 2
Muffin Top

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Watched ROTK again today. It's by far (in my opinion) the best of the three. I bawled like a baby again although I did wind up taking two bathroom breaks this time (the first time, I made it without any!). I haven't really processed it enough (yet) to write a proper in-depth review, but I will say a few things. First, that I've been really, really looking forward to it (if you're reading this, you probably know me, and already know that). It's been really hyped up, by just about everyone, so I was expecting a lot. And it still blew me away. You know how in a really good movie, there will be parts where chills run up and down your spine? Well, I had chills constantly. Oh, and there were lots of tasty Legolas (and Aragorn) moments.

[Warning: spoilers!]

Everybody's been talking about Sean Astin in his portrayal of Sam, and they're right. He deserves an Oscar, or at least a nomination. He really emerges as the hero of the movie, and (literally) carries it. But I'd like to recognize some other actors as well. David Wenham as Faramir gave a very moving, yet subtle performance, showcased the scene where his father, Denethor, denounces him for "allowing" Osgilliath to fall (they were hopelessly outnumbered). In his eyes, you can see the shock, the hurt, and the dismay, yet the attempt to steel himself and remain loyal against such harsh words. It's really too bad that we'll have to wait for the extended edition (hopefully) to see him and Eowyn fall in love in the Houses of Healing. But to be fair to Denethor, or at least explain his madness, I really hope that the extended version will at least reference his use of a palantir.

King Theoden is one of my favorite characters (Oh hell, they're all my favorite characters. Except Tom Bombadil.) and I love Bernard Hill's portrayal of him. When I reread Theoden's St Crispin's day speech in the book, I couldn't wait to watch him pull it off. Arise, Arise, Riders of Theoden!/Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!/ spears shall be shaken, shields be splintered,/ a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!/ Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor! Hearing shout it, while watching him ride along a row of hundreds of Rohirrim and while touching each of their spears was heart-pounding. So I was a little disappointed [huge spoiler]

that they didn't show his funeral. They haven't talked about it at all, so I'm wondering if it's even going to be in the extended version, or maybe they're trying to keep people unspoiled.

Okay, I'm tired, so that's it for now. More later.

Why I love Jeffrey Steingarten, part II

Question posted by Bill Klapp from the previously mentioned egullet forum.

Since I am still taking heat from my wife for once having driven 90 minutes each way in the dead of the Piemontese winter for a taste of highly touted gelato, I am most empathetic with your travels and travails in search of the very best of certain foods. Nevertheless, the Mike Wallace in me wants to ask you, with his patented condescending sneer and arched eyebrow, "Oh, come on now, Mr. Steingarten! Do you really expect us to believe that you tried to bake the perfect pizza using the self-cleaning cycle of your home oven?" Actually, I cannot bring myself to do that, since I share your quest for the perfect pizza (and have long since concluded that there is no substitute for a wood-fired oven), and I personally see nothing the least bit implausible in that particular experiment. Likewise, being a lawyer myself, being critical of Type-A obsessions in others would be the proverbial pot calling the kettle anal-retentive. But you can be honest with us--do you not add a little yeast (and perhaps wheat gluten, too) to the truth now and again, in the interest of the well-told story?


Dear Bill,

You posed this question in such a gentlemanly way! But your questioning whether I would actually set my oven on the cleaning cycle to bake a pizza makes me wonder about your true commitment to pizza. I hope I'm wrong. Of course I would monkey with my oven. No big whoop! After all, I did great damage to my BBQ grill and would gladly do it again, though not quite so stupidly. And just before we sold our San Diego house to move temporarily into a rented version, I finally figured out how to defeat the interlock on the door that prevents one from opening it at the height of the cleaning cycle.

Truth, literal truth--that's a very important question to me and very complicated

In general, I would claim that everything I write is true, usually down to the smaller detaills. Maybe that's because my imagination is not rich enough to make things up. When I've tried, on one or two occasions, the results have sounded false and hollow.

I've been on two panels, years apart, with my friend Ruth Reichl when this question has bee asked: Do you feel the need always to tell the truth?

Ruth's answer is, no. People don't read her to get the truth (even though she is, after all, writing about people and events), but to get a good story, and in any event, she's mainly interested in writing a good story, not a true story. I was shocked.

My view was precisely the opposite. I always tell the truth. I even try to be careful when telling a story not to monkey with the chronology, always tempting when your reporting one experiences that may have occured over the course of a month or a year. People always ask my wife or my assistant Elizabeth, did you really make ten thousand pigeon pies, etc., etc., and they always answer, sure, of course, what did you think. I suppose that people raise the question because they wonder how a grown man could possibly be so dumb....

It's also about this: The world is so weird, so surreal so much of the time that there's no need to make things up. And if you're a writer and find that a story you're telling is turning out boring, either tell a different story or tell this one in a different way.

But before I get even higher on my high horse, let me tell you about the difficulties and ironies in my position. I remember spending an hour or two in the market in Meknes in Tunisia. I was with a group, and everybody in the know had prepared me for an active and interesting market. It was one of the only markets I've been to around the Mediterranean that I would describe as tedious and tiresome. Even the stuffed flatbreads I was hungrily looking forward to didn't seem to exist. The butchers in their stalls decorated with bloody calves heads were using an amazingly huge, oddly shaped, and threatening kind of cleaver, and I should have bought one or two of them, but I wasn't smart enough to think of it soon enough.

Anyway, I had time left in the market and nothing very interesting, and so I wandered off into dark, narrow, and untravelled alleys off the market. Maybe I would discover something interesting, but more likely something really revolting, such as a ten food pile of bloody calf intestines, or even better, maybe I'd be kidnapped and held for ransom. That would be an article!

So, I immediately stopped myself. Here I was, committed to writing only the truth, but trying to make the truth much more interesting than it had wanted to be that morning. In theory, the test is simple. Would I being doing this particular thing if I weren't writing about it? The answer is often yes--after all, I did have a somewhat secret life as a food explorer before I did it for a living. But would I make ten versions of coq au vin with real old live Brooklyn rooster or settle for five? That's a different question. That's for the purpose of meticulous recipe development and testing, which I owe to my readers not necessarily to myself.

Until I come up with a succinct test, I'll leave it at this: Tell the truth, but remember that there are at least two ways of deviating from it. One is making things up and the other is making things better.


Yay! Now they're showing up!

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Argh! My posts aren't showing up!!!

"I can't carry the Ring, Mr. Frodo. But I can carry you." It was very, very, very good. And very sad. Although I knew everything that would happen, I still got all teary, multiple times. I can't wait to see it again, although my ass was aching, and my bladder was ready to explode (3.5 hours!). Bring on the extended edition!

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Why I love Jeffrey Steingarten

(Question posed by GG Mora, on this week's egullet Q&A forum)


Wow! The snowballing culinary revolution in America! Everybody's in on it! Widespread gastronomic knowledge! There'll soon come a day when we won't ever have to eat bad food again! Even Grandma's using Extra Virgin Olive Oil!

Or is it a sign of the coming apocalypse? The olive oil at Grandma's is rancid, because she got a great deal on it at TJ Max...and Grandma, sadly, doesn't know from rancid. Holy shit! Bill and Mary, king and queen of potato chips and onion dip and pigs-in-a-blanket, are suddenly serving tomato-mozzarella salad at their annual open house! But the mozzarella is the plasticky crap from the supermarket, the tomatoes are out-of-season mealy-pink cardboard, the balsamic is ersatz, and they couldn't find fresh basil, so they used dried and supplemented it with fresh dill (they're "creative"!). Your best friend, whose favorite cookbook up until now has been the Marlboro Man BBQ Book, got the El Bulli book for Christmas....He's throwing a no-holds-barred dinner, all cooked from the El Bulli book, and you're invited!

What hath we wrought? And is there any turning back?


Dear GG Mora,

Wonderful question. Or, more accurately, diatribe.

But what right do you have to buy extra virgin olive oil and deprive grandma? The only difference is that you know from rancid. But did you really know ten years ago? Twenty?

We all start somewhere. The only way is up!

What did I or you really know about mozzarella until we had travelled to Campania and tasted and chewed on the true cheese with all of our measly powers? For me that was six months ago. Before then, I was fond of stuff from some places in Little Italy only because it was made fresh every morning.

Yes, there is a way back. Food lovers and writers should talk much more about quality and taste. Don't use balsamic unless 1) you can afford the good stuff ; 2) you can taste the good stuff; and 3) you use it only where this precious treasure belongs.

And if you can't afford it, be secure in the knowledge that great fried chicken is as fine a meal as anything that humankind has ever discovered.

And anybody who prefers waxy, factory-made mozzarella to a bowl of really good potato chips should go back to his or her childhood and start again.

One of the great thrills in exploring for food is discovering inexpensive dishes that are as delicious and satisfying as foods that onlhy the rich can afford. I remember a spaghetti dish I was served at a good restaurant in Siracusa on Sicily. Maybe it was bigolli , thick spaghetti with a hole in the middle. The sauce was chopped onions, a few preserved anchovies, and lots of breadcrumbs fried in olive oil. You'll find recipes for this in several Italian-language cookbooks. I've made it several times with only partial success--my versions lacked the lightness and finesse of the original. But I can tell you that nothing could have been more delicious than what we ate in Siracusa. It must have cost them 50 cents a plate.

The last time I travelled to Bologna, I ate the lasagna in several trattorias. It was similar to the recipe in Marcella's first book, though it was less austere, with more bechamel and more ragu, but still with only four layers. I was speechless with delight, at least for a few minutes. And you can make it yourself from relatively inexpensive ingredients. The main cost is labor. You cannot make it with anything out of a can or a bottle or a package. When I returned from Italy, I asked an "important" restaurateur at an Italian-style restaurant why she didn't serve real Bolognese lasagna. She agreed that nothing in the world could more delicious. But she gave a very complicated explanation for why it wouldn't fit on her menu. (You'll be lucky to find it on five menus in this country.) I asked her whether it didn't all boil down to the notion that she couldn't charge enough for it. Reluctantly, she nodded.

That's the attitude we need to combat.


I'm finally back online! Yay! And I'm seeing Return of the King tonight! Woo Hoo! And Jeffrey Steingarten answered my questions! (see the Cheese Diaries). Sorry about all the exclamation points... there's just a lot of superficial things that are making me happy this week