Friday, July 27, 2012

Cooking Adventures with Nora Ephron

I've just finished reading Heartburn (see previous post) by Nora Ephron and I really loved it. The novel included a bunch of fun recipes scattered within the story so my sister and I decided to cook/bake our way through as many of the recipes in her book as possible this week. I don't want to make this blog too random and it is still dedicated to reviewing books gone Meryl Streep movies. However this was really fun and yummy, so here are some of the things we made!

Day 1: Cheesecake 
This picture is also in my Heartburn post, but I've put it here again anyways. This was our first recipe. It wasn't perfect because we ran out of regular sugar and we had to top the 1 cup off with some brown sugar. We also didn't make our own crust because we had a pre-made crust already. This crust was chocolate. We added the sour creme late also because we ran out and had to go get some more before we could add it in for the last 10 minute baking.
Chilling out in the fridge with sour cream on top. It didn't turn out exactly as expected because we waited longer than we should have to add the sour creme part. It tasted alright though: extra tangy!
*It tasted a lot better on the second day because the new layer of sour cream & sugar had a better consistency.

Day 2: Toasted Almonds

So this took all of 10 minutes to complete, but I had actually never done this because normally I a.) dislike nuts, except when they are in peanut butter and b.) have seen my family toast in the microwave. But today, my sister and I wanted to do something easy and quick so we just did these and counted it as a recipe for the day. We didn't exactly follow the instructions because we didn't have blanced (white) almonds. We used the regular brown kind so it was a little harder to see the burned parts. Anyway, so basically you just have to melt butter in a pan and cook the almonds until you can smell them or in the case of blanced almonds, see the burned parts. My conclusion on Ephron's toasted almonds compared to making them in the microwave is this: More butter, more better. 

Day 3: Key Lime Pie
Making Key Lime Pie was amazing because we didn't have to use the oven or the stove. After mixing everything together, you just have to let the pie freeze. Overall the pie was really simple & quick to make and very much worth it because it tastes so good! I recommend making Key Lime Pie any day, but it is especially perfect for the summer!

Day 4: Swiss Potatoes
Today we made Swiss Potatoes, which are just like potato pancakes. We made ours a lot smaller than the size that Ephron suggested, but they were still very good. However, they were very time consuming to make and I only suggest making them if you a.) really love potato pancakes (which I do) or b.) if you have a lot of time/patience. We had to wash and peel all the potatoes and then grate them, which took a while because we wanted to make a lot of them. You can use a Cuisinart Potato Slicer, but we couldn't locate one.  Then my sister fried the potatoes pieces in a hot frying pan filled with oil, which was difficult at first because the potato pieces stuck to the pan and were difficult to flip at first. The Swiss Potatoes were absolutely delicious and greasy and salty and unhealthy and wonderful. I really loved them, despite all the time they took to make!

Day 5: Vinaigrette 
We are planning on making Ephron's special vinaigrette later today. I'm sure it'll be amazing! As for the last 2 days of this week, we're not sure what to make next, but I figured this post is long enough as it is!

*Thank you to my wonderful sister for helping me out with this because I really have no clue what I'm doing when it comes to cooking/baking/anything in the kitchen.*

**And thank you Nora Ephron. I miss you! Here's to you and here's to food...**

Monday, July 23, 2012

Heartburn, Nora Ephron (1983)

Film: Paramount Pictures, directed by Mike Nichols (1986)
"And then the dream breaks into a million tiny pieces. The dream dies. Which leaves you with a choice; you can settle for reality, or you can go off, like a fool and dream another dream."

Heartburn is Nora Ephron's semi-autobiographical creation about the breakdown of her 2nd marriage after her husband Carl Bernstein (under the fictional name Mark Feldman) cheats on her with Thelma Rice (real-life Margaret Jay), a woman with "a neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb" (4). Ephron (under the name Rachel Samstat) is a food writer seven months into her pregnancy when she discovers the affair and now she must decide what she wants.

Although, there are countless books about marriage, infidelity and heartbreak, this novel is far from standard. Off the bat, this novel is hilarious, and while divorce and affairs are not, Ephron found a way to look at her situation and laugh about it. Ephron writes deftly and truthfully about the end of her marriage while inserting subtle jokes, reflections, anecdotes/stories and recipes that help carry the story along. The recipes are especially good because they add some interest to the story and they make Ephron's character, Rachel, a food writer even more believable. (This coming week, my sister and I are going to cook our way through her book. Cheesecake today!) In addition, her reflections and stories were consistently entertaining and relevant. Throughout the book, Ephron reflects on the past and talks about how good things once were, while remaining funny and light-hearted.

Most importantly, Ephron is insightful about her life, her experiences, and the roles of men and women in terms of how to deal with the end of a marriage. And yet, through it all, she doesn't take herself too seriously and she's not afraid to let herself go, which is a quality that not all writers have. Sometimes writers isolate their readers through their over-orchestrated, elaborate, far-fetched, embellished stories. However, as usual, Ephron's writing is simple, funny and very touching and insightful.

Although, Ephron advocated not using the pronoun "I" in one's writing, I often fall into this trap and I'm going to write this entire paragraph anyway (*I'm sorry!): I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel. It was actually, really wonderful. At first, I was skeptical about reading this novel because I figured it would be boring, but as it turns out, I had a hard time putting it down. I highly recommend this novel and as the Chicago Tribune puts it: Heartburn is "proof that writing well is the best revenge."
*I miss you Nora Ephron!

**I have not actually seen this movie, and I know it was a flop when it first came out, but I've seen parts of the movie and it looks cute. I must say, however, that the novel is probably better than the film, but the movie does look nice.

***Ta da! My sister and I made this cheesecake today from the recipe out of this book. My sister did most of the work because I really have no idea what I'm doing in the kitchen. But it was really fun, and I'm sure it'll be yummy, despite the fact that we ran out of regular sugar and had to use brown sugar to top the 1 cup off. We also started making the cheesecake before we realized we had no sour creme. Hopefully, we can add some later and it'll be okay. If not, oh well! Not bad for the first cheesecake that I've ever (sort of) made...thanks Nora Ephron: We'll eat this and remember you

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Update: The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)

Meryl Streep as Anna (right) and Sarah (left)

Film: United Artists, directed by Karel Reisz

In a previous post, I wrote about the novel The French Lieutentant's Woman by John Fowles. At that point, I had not seen the film adaption. Last night, I watched the movie and it's quite different from the novel in that it interweaves two different stories: the book's original story of Sarah Woodruff and Charles Smithson in Victorian England and the story of Anna and Mike, the two actors portraying them.

Overall, I thought that the film was pretty good, but I wasn't overly fond of the second story of the actors' love affair. It felt like the original story was far too brief for what the novel actually offered. Although the film is over 2 hours long, the film felt short because so much of the original story was cut in order to make room for the second story. The second story didn't seem neccessary, but I understand how it might add some appeal or interest to the film for some movie viewers. The second story gave the film a more contemporary twist.

Anyway, I wasn't a huge fan of the added story, but I did like the majority of the film. It had a nice balance of tragedy, drama, suspense and romance. Both Meryl Streep (Sarah/Anna) and Jeremony Irons (Charles/Mike) gave strong performances, and they had the right chemistry for the story. Many of the supporting actors also gave strong performances.

 The landscapes (i.e. the Undercliff and the sea) used in the movie were beautiful and they served the story well. Speaking of elements that served the story well, Carl Davis' score for the film was excellent, especially during the unspoken moments between Sarah and Charles. The score also added the right amount of drama to the story without being overdone or melodramatic. Davis' music carried the story along very nicely.

Overall, I enjoyed the film and much of it was well executed and beautifully done. I would recommend this film, but I suggest reading the novel prior to seeing the film because the novel goes into much more depth. I prefer the novel to the film, but I did appreciate the film.

*Also, the ending in the film is much happier than Fowles' ending. I liked the film's ending much better than Fowles' ending because the film's finish is much happier and brighter, although possibly unlikely.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections, Nora Ephron (2010)

I Remember Nothing

Again, this book does not entirely follow the theme of this blog which is Meryl Streep related books/movies, but it did involve some somehwhat related Meryl Streep information:
  1. Ephron discusses the book and movie Heartburn, which Streep stared in.
  2. Ephron writes about Lillian Hellman and her book Pentimento. A story from Pentimento was turned into the film Julia, which starred Jane Fonda, Jason Robards and Vanessa Redgrave. Streep has a small part in this film, and it was Streep's first film.
  3. Ephron worked with Streep three times.
Anyway, I just finished this book, and I really loved it, with the exception of the fact that it made me miss Nora Ephron even more.

The book is really a collection of essays and Ephron's thoughts and reflections on life and how she couldn't remember anything anymore. She writes about everything under the sun from lists of things she will miss (i.e. Fall, waffles, walks in the park)/will not miss (i.e. technology, bras, dry skin) to the "Six Stages of E-mail" to going to the movies to the sequence of chicken soup (before or after?) the common cold. Some of the material in the book is slightly outdated because the book was originally published in 2010. Two years later, some minor details and current events have shifted. Nonetheless, the book was extremley enjoyable.

This book was a quick read, but it was funny, fun and engaging throughout. I got really angry everytime I had to stop reading. Naturally, everything Ephron wrote was hilarious, witty and candid, yet still very intelligent and insightful. Ephron is very honest in her reflections and she doens't hold anything back. I found myself literally laughing out loud during this book, much to the sheer confusion of those around me. This is a total cliché, but this book is pure joy. Only Nora Ephron could have written this.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:
  • "My parents had drinks and there were crudités for us-although they were not called crudités at the time, they were called carrots and celery." (33)
  • "Heat up the Teflon pan until carcinogenic gas is released into the air" (70)
  • "One of the greatest things about this land of ours, as far as I'm concerned, was that we never fell into the dessert-spoon trap." (74)
  • The Six Stages of Email ("I have done nothing to deserve this...") (103)
  • Ephron's list of things she's refusing to know about (10). This list includes The Kardashians and Twitter.
*Overall, everything in this book is memorable and worth reading.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Update: The Hours (2002)

Film: Paramount Pictures (US)/Miramax Films (Worldwide), directed by Stephen Daldry

In a previous post/review of Michael Cunningham's The Hours, I mentioned at the bottom of the post that I had not yet seen the movie adaptation of the novel. Last night, I watched the movie, and I would like to add some more of my thoughts briefly.

Both the novel and the film were quite excellent. Both were wonderfully constructed, thoughtful and compelling. What I especially liked about the film was that, a lot of the same or similar powerful language/dialogue found in the novel was transferred to the movie. Of course, the dialogue was changed and somewhat different, but I liked that the movie still had a lot of the language that was so beautifully executed in the novel.

Often times, in movies, imagery and visuals have more important role, but in this film, the language was maintained along with the great imagery. The combination of the three stories was well sequenced in a way that the audience would not be confused.

 The film was also accompanied by a great emotional score by Phillip Glass, which realy helped the film along, while providing the right emotional notes for the unspoken and even spoken events taking place.

Overall, the film was excellent and complete with wonderful acting by the three main leads, skilled directing by Stephen Daldry and a great script. In addition to the acting by the three leads in the film (Streep, Moore, Kidman), all of the supporting actors had strong performances that really helped the main stories. In particular, I thought Ed Harris (modern-day Richard Brown), Claire Danes (Julia Vaughan), Allison Janney (Sally) and Jack Rovello (young Richard "Richie" Brown) delivered strong performances.

I highly reccomend the film, and once again, I highly reccommend the novel.

*Of course, the film is an abbreviated version of the novel and I did miss a few of the parts that were cut out of the film. (i.e. Sally's part in Clarissa's life is great minimized, less of Clarissa's history with Louis and Richard is explained)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Meryl Streep Movie Club, Mia March (2012)

Film: not a movie, but it discusses Meryl Streep movies (obviously) 

The Meryl Streep Movie Club tells the story of three estranged women-two sisters and a cousin-who must reunite at the family inn on the coast of Maine when they learn that their family matriarch (Lolly) has cancer. Interwoven within their stories is Meryl Streep Movie Night and its effect on each of the characters' transformations.

Eh. I wasn't crazy about this book. Of course, I bought it and read it because it's Meryl Streep related, but I didn't like it that much. Firstly, this novel describes three women (Kat, Isabel, June) and the novel alternates between each of their stories. Usually I am fine with reading a novel that has three different characters with separate stories (i.e. The Hours), but often times in this novel, it felt like the author was getting ahead of herself, which made reading confusing.

Also, I felt like this novel didn't do Meryl Streep and her body of work much justice. March selected 10 movies for the characters to view, which was fine. (Although I would have used a few different movies). But when the characters watched and discussed the movies, their discussions often felt simplistic, strange or juvenile. It also just felt awkward when all the characters would sit down and attempt to have deep conversations about the movies. It felt as if March was trying way too hard to make her characters sound profound. I understand that Meryl Streep movies are amazing and they really are. I love Meryl Streep and her movies (who doesn't?). But I didn't enjoy what March did with her characters and their dialogues about the movies, because their discussions didn't seem thorough enough to impact any of the characters' growth.

During their discussions, the characters primarily referred to the characters in the movie by "Meryl" and the other actors' names. (i.e. "But Meryl does...Because she knows Dustin Hoffman, knows her son") In my opinion, this was quite strange because it would be more natural to refer to the characters in the movies by the names of the characters, rather than the names of the actors portraying the characters.

There were also some plot issues. For example, the novel spans more than a month. It starts at the beginning of summer and it ends in September. But at the family inn, it's Meryl Streep Movie month. They usually watch a movie every Friday night. The author does note that they randomly watch movies whenever they feel like it, which is fine. But I think it would have been nice to add a piece about how amazing the movies were, which is why they just kept watching the films way past Meryl Streep Movie month. Of course, you can watch Meryl Streep movies all year round, but I was confused by the timing of the movies.

Anyway, I digress. I wasn't overly impressed with this book, but I suppose it is a nice fluffy beach read or something of the like. And the novel definetly had its strengths. I liked that the novel was based around Meryl Streep movies, because they are really amazing. And I liked that the novel illustrated the general power of art. In this case, it was the power of Meryl Streep's art, but overall this novel spoke to why we-people, anyone, continue to create art in all mediums. People in this world create art for various reasons, of course, but art is still alive today because of its profound effect on people of all kinds.

*I felt like I was really harsh towards this novel. I'm sorry.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Hours, Michael Cunningham (1998)

Film: Paramount Pictures (US)/Miramax Films (Worldwide), directed by Stephen Daldry (2002)

The Hours, which won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, centers around the lives of three women on a single day. The story traces each of the character's individuals struggles which are interwoven as one is writing, one is reading, and one is living through horrors. The Hours  explores despair and the desire to still live as we all must live through every hour of our lives.The three women are as follows:
  • Virginia Woolf, 1923: as she is writing her novel, Mrs. Dalloway
  • Laura Brown, 1949: as she is struggling with the everyday tasks of being a housewife in post-World War II California
  • Clarissa Vaughan, end of the twentieth century: as she seems to be living through Mrs. Dalloway's life. In fact, her friend Richard has nicknamed her Mrs. Dalloway. When readers first meet Clarissa she is preparing to buy flowers. ("Mrs. Dalloway said that she would buy the flowers herself")
The Hours was a really beautiful, wonderfully constructed, emotional, touching book, and I highly recommend it. Cunningham is inventive and insightful through his use of the historical record concerning Woolf's life outside of London during the 1920s to create what Woolf's inner life might have been like.  Her struggles, however, are illustrated in a way that her story is still more about living than dying. In addition, the audience is not compelled to pity Woolf and her troubles. Instead, Cunningham makes the audience long to see who she truly was, as he expertly inserts segments of Woolf's writing into his modern phrases.  

Equally impressive to Woolf's well-crafted character is Cunningham's ability to fully create the lives of Laura Brown and Clarissa Vaughan who are each connected to Woolf and to each other. Both Brown and Vaughan have struggles of their own, and yet both characters put others before themselves. Brown continues her role as a loving housewife and mother, despite her unhappiness. She dotes on her son Richie and she ensures her husband's happiness by standing by his side. Vaughan glides through her life as a lesbian in New York City as she concerns herself with trivial tasks such as throwing the perfect party to honor her friend Richard who has just won a major literary prize.

 Both Brown and Vaughan hide their sorrow and pain and they trudge through life as if nothing has happened to make them feel otherwise. And on the surface, nothing happens. Brown bakes a cake for her husband's birthday, talks with a neighbor and reads a book. (Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway). Vaughan buys flowers for her friend Richard's party, prepares the party and receives a visit from an old friend. No important striking action takes place, besides an incident between Richard and Clarissa (near the end). Beneath the surface, however, much action does take place. Both Brown and Vaughan struggle as they long to remain hidden, while they long to come out of hiding. Woolf also struggles tremendously as she longs to return to the bustling, city streets of London, receives a visit from her sister Vanessa, dodges her husband's remarks towards her health and embarks on a new writing journey as she puts Mrs. Dalloway's story on paper.  Much is actually felt, longed for, loved, lost and feared.

 Brown reads Woolf's writing and imagines what death would be like, but of course, she never brings an end to her life, despite the comfort that she finds in knowing that death is possible. Vaughan lives a life similar to Woolf's character Mrs. Dalloway. Vaughan cares for her gay friend and one-time lover, Richard who is on the verge of dying. She concerns herself with his well-being, instead of her own. She is shocked to receive a visit from Richard's former lover Louis. Clarissa also interacts with her daughter Julia, Julia's strange friend Mary and her current lover Sally. 

In other words, The Hours does not contain much action, but each character has their own set of complexities and complex relationships. Also, all three stories are connected, despite their different time periods, locations, family members, friends and situations. This connection is not fully revealed, however, until the end. Throughout the novel, Cunningham makes his readers hunger for more knowledge. Cunningham makes his readers search for the connection between the three stories. Cunningham uses his expertise in story telling by combining the three stories into a single, cohesive, beautifully constructed metaphor for life's repetitiousness. Life repeats. Pain can be found in each and every lifetime, despite what the times may suggest. Pain unites us all in some way or another. Pain breaks us all down in some way or another, and yet, we must keep living through each hour of our lives because after this hour comes another hour. 

"The time to live is hide is over. The time to to regret is gone. The time to live is now."

*I have not actually seen this movie yet, so I cannot compare it to the novel. However, I have seen portions of this movie and I think I can say that both the novel and the film are excellent in their own ways.