The Help (AKA Be Careful Around the People Who Cook Your Food)

Rating: Chocolate Cake

There are male viewers who will enjoy The Help, but Mississippi native Tate Taylor aims his adaptation squarely at the female readers who made Kathryn Stockett’s novel a bestseller. If the multi-character narrative revolves around race relations in the Kennedy-era South, the perspective belongs to the women. Veteran maid Aibileen (Doubt‘s Viola Davis in an Oscar-worthy performance) provides the heartfelt narration that brackets the story. A widow devastated by the death of her son, she takes pride in the 17 children she has helped to raise, but she’s hardly fulfilled. That changes when Skeeter (Easy A‘s Emma Stone) returns home after college. Unlike her peers, Skeeter wants to work, so she gets a job as a newspaper columnist. But she really longs to write about Jackson’s domestics, so she meets with Aibileen in secret–after much cajoling and the promise of anonymity. When Aibileen’s smart-mouthed friend Minny (breakout star Octavia Spencer) breaches her uptight employer’s protocol, Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) gives her the boot, and she ends up in the employ of local outcast Celia (Jessica Chastain, hilarious and heartbreaking), who can’t catch a break due to her dirt-poor origins. After the murder of Medgar Evers, even more maids, Minny among them, bring their stories to Skeeter, leading to a book that scandalizes the town–in a good way.
~Amazon.com

I first reviewed the book The Help over a year ago in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In an effort not to repeat myself, I will simply say that I LOVED IT.

I knew that going into the movie version, I was going to be a tough critic.  When I first saw the trailer, I was really upset.  It seemed to…cutesy.  The book handles such important issues that I was worried that Hollywood would simply gloss over them.

After experiencing the film, I think I reacted prematurely.  The film is cutesy.  That does not necessarily make it a bad choice.  Instead, the playful music and bright colors play upon the great juxtaposition of the plot.  One world is filled with laughter and light while the other world is more gritty and harsh.

Do I think the movie is better than the book?  Probably not, but I do see why it is nominated for Best Picture. It deals with pressing societal problems while remaining enjoyable to watch.  The acting was hysterical and I am an even bigger fan of Minnie’s than I was before (sometime soon I am going to attempt to make a Terrible Awful, sans one key ingredient…).  You do learn a valuable lesson here.  Be nice to the people you work with or who work for you.  You never know exactly what might show up on your dinner table, in your purse, or on your front lawn 😉

The Grade

Visuals: 4/5

Plot: 4.5/5

Acting:4.5/5

All right Academy Award nominees, bring it on!  It is my goal to see, review, and invent a treat for every single one of you by Oscar Night.  I’ve already seen Moneyball and Hugo.  Now on to the rest!  Try these while you are waiting.  You won’t regret it…

If these are wrong, I don't want to be right.

Read on for the recipe…

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V For Vendetta (and V’s Eggy in a Basket)

A shadowy freedom fighter known only as “V” uses terrorist tactics to fight against his totalitarian society. Upon rescuing a girl from the secret police, he also finds his best chance at having an ally.

Amazon

It is difficult for me to even begin a post on V for Vendetta because every time I watch it, I get something different out of it. The only part of the film experience that does not change is how much I really enjoy it.

I first viewed this film during my sophomore year of college as a requirement for a Science Ficion class. Before this course, I thought that Science Fiction and I did not get along. When I heard the term, my mind would immediately go to cheesy aliens and some sort of weird, echoey music.

I was totally wrong and that class, with the help of this movie, made me see that.

I now am quite an avid SF fan. I even let that TV show, Battlestar Galactica, take over my life for about a month and a half (and I don’t regret that…mostly). If the me of 4 years ago could have seen the reading list of the me today, she would feel confused and appalled. Whatever.

V for Vendetta is on my top 5 movies of all time list. In fact, it is so sturdily on that list that I don’t anticipate seeing it bumped off any time soon.  I think it has that place of honor because it satisfies both parts of the film-viewer in me:  it is smart enough and has such beautiful cinematography that is makes me truly examine the film and think about it while being action-packed, emotional, and at points absurdly funny enough that I am entertained.

Things I Love:

  • V’s character and his lair
  • “Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof. ” -V
  • Natalie Portman.  She got some serious acting skills, as I already covered in my post on Black Swan.
  • The domino montage about 3/4 through the movie
  • The colors of the film- it is very dark, but certain colors repeat and stand out

Things I’d Change:

  • Sometimes the film is unnecessarily confusing.  I didn’t notice this myself, but when I taught this to high-school students, I found that there are an abundance of names and places that could have been consolidated without losing any of the film’s meaning.
  • The fact that there is no sequel.  I want one.

You need to be in the right mood to sit down and watch a movie like this.  When you find yourself in a mood for a film that is dark and serious and beautiful, have this on hand.

Have these on hand too.

Isn't that so pretty? I am proud of myself.

Read  on for the recipe…

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Whale Talk (and a Make-Your-Own-Pizza Bar)

A varsity letter jacket: it’s exclusive, nearly unattainable, revered…and everything that’s screwed up about Cutter High, as far as T.J. Jones is concerned.  That’s why T.J. is determined to have the Cutter All Night Mermen–the unlikeliest swim team a high school as ever seen– earn letter jackets of their own.

It won’t be easy.  For one thing, they don’t even have a pool.  They will fight for their dignity, they will fight with each other, and sometimes they will just fight.  And then they will realize that a single moment can bring lifelong heartache or lifelong friendship.  For T.J. and his crew of misfits, the quest may be far more valuable than the reward.

~Back Cover

When I was in Kindergarten, I lived under the assumption that everyone was nice, that if I didn’t do anything bad to someone, then they wouldn’t do anything bad to me. One day, near the end of my Kindergarten year, I was happily walking up the sidewalk leading into school and, all of a sudden, I found myself on the ground with a skinned knee. My carefully organized folders with my meticulously colored “homework” assignments were scattered all over the sidewalk and even (gasp) in the mud. I looked up, embarrassed that someone had seen me clumsily lose my footing, when I saw another girl laughing at me. I quickly figured out that I had no fallen on my own accord. She had tripped me. Too proud to let her see how distraught I was, I calmly picked up my muddy papers and limped inside, making plans in my head to exact revenge.

Of course, I never really got revenge on this girl, unless you consider losing my friendship forever an act of revenge. Yes, I still remember exactly who this girl is. We are not friends.

In Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher, T.J. finds another way to get back at the people who are mean for the sake of being mean- he creates a swim team.  The only real swimmer on the team is T.J.   The rest include an angry, one-legged student who everyone is afraid of, a body builder, a genius who is looking for a physical extracurricular activity, a massively overweight boy, and a special education student who is mourning the death of his athletically-gifted brother.

If dealing with each other isn’t enough, they live in a homogeneously white community that elicits strong undertones of racism, especially since T.J., our main character, is African- and Japanese-American.

I truly enjoyed this book.  I read it about a month ago and I can’t stop thinking about it.  It is heavier material, but told in a light way so that you do not feel yourself bogged down with dense and depressing reading.

If I Could Change One Thing… I would add a girl to the swim team.  This is a very male book in the sense that there are very few female characters that have any sort of impact on the plot.  I think it would have been fun to add a female character to the swim team to see how that impacts the team dynamic.

I Would Recommend This For… anyone who likes reading about unlikely friendships, fighting the bullies, athletic competition, or struggles against racism and abuse.  Although it is classified as YA Lit, it is valuable for adults to read as well.

Other Reviews

Make-Your-Own-Pizza Bar

After each swim meet, the team stops for pizza on the bus ride home.  It is on these bus rides that they begin to bond as a team and as people.  They tell things about themselves that they have never shared with anyone before.  While some might argue that is a result of the long bus trips together, I firmly believe it is the pizza.  Pizza is my favorite food and it only seems natural that it would make the world a better place. 

Since people have such unique tastes when it comes to pizza, I like to create a make-your-own-pizza station so that everyone gets exactly what they want.
Pizza Dough:

I make two types:  normal and whole wheat.

Normal- this recipe is originally featured over at Simply Recipes

Whole Wheat-  this recipe is originally featured over at Andrea’s Recipes

Pizza Sauce:

Since it is summer, I chose to make my own and my goodness, I am proud of it.

Ingredients:

  • 10 tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup, total, of chopped herbs of your choice (I used oregano, thyme, basil, and rosemary)

Procedure:

  • Preheat your oven to 250F and cut all of your tomatoes in half.  Place on a baking sheet, skin-side down.  Roast for 1-2 hours.
  • Take them out of the oven and remove the skin.  It should be easy to remove at this point.  Put the tomatoes in a larger pot and put the burner on low.  Stir in the cut-up herbs of your choice.  Let simmer for about a half hour.
  • Using an immersion blender or working in batches with a regular blender, blend your sauce until smooth (or leave it chunkier if you like it like that).
  • Put the sauce back in the pot and continue to cook on low heat for 2 more hours.  This will condense the sauce and make it sweet.

Other Toppings:

  • Grate Mozzarella and Parmesan  cheese.
  • Steam broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, and peppers.
  • Grill onions.
  • Grill eggplant.
  • I felt like two different kinds of pizza so I just went ahead and did it!

    Grill ham, sausage, chicken or any other meat you’d like.

Putting it all together:

  • Preheat the oven to 500F.
  • Have everyone assemble their pizzas.  Do not put too much sauce or toppings on.  In this case, less is more.
  • Pop each pizza into the oven for 10 minutes, or until the crust seems done.
  • Eat.
You know you want that.

Living The Sweet Life in Paris

Croque Madame: Ham and cheese, more cheese, and an egg on top!

A few weeks ago, I spent some time in my favorite city in the world (so far): Paris.

I had been there twice before, once for a high school trip and the other for a more extended study-abroad program.  I adored it both times and dreamt of a time that I could return.

Last August, I decided that since I actually had my life planned far enough ahead of time to book plane tickets, I would schedule my Parisian adventures for my school’s April break.

While I have seen all of the “touristy”  parts of Paris, I wanted to tackle all of the hidden gems that the locals know about and keep secret from us foreigners.

Nutella Crepe for the Latin Quarter

I turned to David Lebovitz, American expatriot in Paris, who has authored several cookbooks as well as the man behind the popular blog davidlebovitz.com.

Like me, he has a keen interest in food and has explored Paris by following his nose to the best bakeries, pastry shops, and bistros.

When I am not in Paris, I live vicariously through him.  When I am there, I follow his recommendations.

A few years back, he penned the book The Sweet Life in Paris.  In this book, he spins tales of Paris, its people, and (perhaps best of all) its food.  I love this book.

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Food Inc. (AKA Mmmmmmm Ethylene Gas)

Rating:  Chocolate Cake

Friday nights are tough for me.  I want to act like a typical young adult and have a good time, but I am just too darned tired.  By the time Friday comes around, I am too tired to do anything but go home, take a shower and a nap (in that order), and then eat something light for dinner.

Basically, I am a boring, little, old lady on Friday nights.

One of the only activities I really can do on nights like that is watch a movie.  Only if the movie is really engrossing will I stay awake for its entirety.

We decided to watch Food, Inc.and not only did I stay awake for the entire movie: I stayed up even later to discuss my reaction to it and it affected the way that I ate for the rest of the weekend.

Food, Inc.is a film about the food industry, showcasing how big business and politics have a dramatic impact on what we find in our supermarkets.

As a society, we have grown so demanding for any food that we want at any time of the year, and at a cheap price no less, that we are fueling a food market that relies on genetically modified food, mass-produced meat from animals who have never seen the sun or eaten food that is natural to them, and corn.  If you take a look at many of your packaged food labels, you will most likely find an ingredient that began as corn.

This is how they are picked

Furthermore, in order to make seasonal foods (such as tomatoes) available all year, the food industries have to employ environmental-unfriendly methods of picking the fruits/veggies when they aren’t ripe yet, shipping them halfway across the world to where they are wanted, and injecting them with chemicals that induce ripening.

During the winter, our tomatoes are rarely vine-ripened, but instead grown on a vine, picked when it is still green, and then fully ripened in ethylene gas as it is transported to its destination.  No wonder Winter tomatoes taste and look like styrofoam!

It does not take much to traumatize me.

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A Tribute to Up and to the REAL LIFE Flying House

Rating: Chocolate Cake

It began as an “uggghhh” kind of morning.  I woke up to the sound of a snow plow scraping against ice (and potentially my building).

Me:  Mother Nature, why?  Don’t we deserve Spring to come?

Mother Nature:  Muahahahaha…I waited until you were routinely going outside in a light jacket and then decided to wreak havoc.  Revenge is sweeter when it includes physical and psychological torment!

Yes, Mother Nature seems evil right now.  Soon, once the warm weather hits, she will be a rosy-cheeked, cookie baking grandma again.  Until then, think Evil Queen from Snow White.

A look at the computer screen told me that I had a two-hour delay from school.  Woo-freaking-hoo.  It’ll take me nearly that long to get to school.

Then, I stubbed my toe.  I blame Mother Nature for distracting me from important things like…walking.

Anyway, all of a sudden, my day started to look up.  First, the two hour delay changed into a snow day.  The pajamas went back on.  Coffee began brewing.

And then I saw this article, yeah, you know, the one that shows us that the house from the movie Up can happen.

In my excitement, I made two important decisions:

  1. I must own that house and live in it.
  2. This blog needs a food tribute to this movie and this real-life floating house.

Read on for recipe…

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Shaken or Stirred? A Tale of Two Hot Chocolates

Rating: Chocolate Cake (of course!)

“For the first time in a decade, Willy Wonka, the reclusive and eccentric chocolate maker, is opening his doors to the public–well, five members of the public to be exact. The lucky five who find a Golden Ticket in their Wonka chocolate bars will receive a private tour of the factory, given by Mr. Wonka himself. For young Charlie Bucket, this a dream come true. And, when he finds a dollar bill in the street, he can’t help but buy two Wonka’s Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delights–even though his impoverished family could certainly use the extra dollar for food. But as Charlie unwraps the second chocolate bar, he sees the glimmer of gold just under the wrapper! The very next day, Charlie, along with his unworthy fellow winners Mike Teavee, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Augustus Gloop, steps through the factory gates to discover whether or not the rumors surrounding the Chocolate Factory and its mysterious owner are true. What they find is that the gossip can’t compare to the extraordinary truth, and for Charlie, life will never be the same again.”     -Goodreads.com

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To say that my copy of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is tattered would be an understatement.  Its worn cover opens up to a bundle of pages that are just barely clinging to a well-loved spine.  The pages are curled and dog-eared, but the story they tell remains bright, shiny, and, most of all, delectable.

Most of us at this point know the story of Charlie and Willy Wonka.  What some of us may forget is my favorite moment from the book, a sweet gesture made by the Wonkanator (that is his superhero name) himself.  Charlie and his grandpa’s starved bodies tell the tale of misfortune and suffering.  Wonka helps them in one of the ways he knows how.  He reaches a ladle down into the flowing river of hot chocolate and fills mugs of hot and frothy goodness for them.

As a child, this prompted two responses from me.  First was a sniffle at how happy this moment made me.  Second was a desire for a bubbly hot chocolate that had been mixed by waterfall.

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