Green Beans with Two Mustards

Looking to make salads recently in this warm autumnal weather in Geneva, I had all the ingredients for this dish, another from Madhur Jaffrey’s Food for Family and Friends.

Ingredients

  • 3 tblesp lemon juice
  • 1 tblesp Dijon mustard
  • pepper and salt to taste
  • a dash of cayenne pepper
  • 6 tblesp olive oil
  • 1 11/2 tblesp yellow mustard seeds
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into thin slivers
  • 675g green beans, ends trimmed

Method

  • boil salted water
  • mix the lemon juice, mustard and spices
  • heat oil in a small pan and when hot add the mustard seeds, then, as soon as they begin to pop, the garlic. Stir until the garlic is light brown, cool briefly and add to the rest of the dressing. Beat to a creamy texture.
  • put the beans into the boiling water and boil vigorously for 3-5 minutes. They should remain crisp-tender.
  • drain thoroughly, add to the dressing and toss
  • if making ahead, refrigerate and take out 30 minutes before serving so that they aren’t fridge cold

I used maybe half the amount of oil asked for and I used grape seed oil. It was a big hit served with potato salad and a chickpea and carrot salad.

three salads

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Little Fishes – Oz movie #11

Little Fishes
Director Rowan Woods
2005

There are two kinds of drug addicts in trouble – that is to say, short of their next fix. One turns only to those closest to them. The other would never do this. Hugo Weaving, as Lionel, is the first of these. In the crunch of withdrawal he begs his step-daughter Tracy (Cate Blanchett) to score for him. Tracy, who has been trying to escape her shit-filled shooting-up past, even though that leaves her struggling daily through a life that seems to have little to recommend it. Lionel knows what a wrong thing he is doing, but his shame-faced desperation cannot be contained.

Fast forward to the end. The beach scene. Upbeat? Of course not. There are four people in this scene. One of them is dead. The other three have just been involved in a failed attempt to buy drugs at wholesale price to push at a profit. The two men heading off into the water will never change. Tracy is no doubt still hoping to do so, but her past is her fate. How do you escape that? If her way to do so ends up here, on this beach, two people dead, the rest of them possibly on the run from a sociopath who might have killed them already but didn’t, what sort of escape is that? If her only way to change the past is by repeating it, what sort of escape is that? If her past is her fate, what future can she have but a disastrous one? There are no good answers to these questions.

Noni Hazlehurst as the mother of Tracy and Ray, who is a petty drug dealer with no qualms about using Tracy if need be is so real. It’s all real, and quintessentially Australian. I may sound like a broken record (for those old enough to know what that expression means), but I’m in awe of this Australian tradition of telling it as it is. Rowan Woods is a master of it and I don’t understand why somebody who has made both this and The Boys is not some crazily successful director.

Just before the release of Little Fishes he was interviewed on the Australia Film Commission site. As this organisation doesn’t exist anymore, the interview appears via the Wayback Machine. Fearful of its disappearing in entirety, I record it below. I was struck in particular by this:

DE: There has been a lot of talk in recent times about the weakness of Australian scripts. Do you think schemes like Aurora and SPARK are effectively addressing a problem in the Australian industry?

RW: They are, but most of the issues that people raise about scripts and scriptwriting in this country are, I think, a by-product of the size of our filmmaking community and the fact that there’s not a lucrative end point for scriptwriters. In America there is much more competition among scriptwriters, and scriptwriters are able to be sustained, whereas in this country they’re absolutely not able to be sustained – there’s only a few that can make a living from being scriptwriters, and often they have to supplement their income by writing TV or doing other things completely. Which automatically means your formative years, in your 20s and 30s, aren’t the sort of rigorous background that American and European scriptwriters have as a basis for their career.

I’m lost here. As I spent time making the acquaintance of these Australian films, I’m struck by how strong and interesting the writing is. The complete opposite of the tedious scripts of the US. Crap comes from crap competition. Almost every time I watch an American movie, I’m crying inside, begging for a script, for characters, for something real. But we aren’t going to get that because when you invest many millions in something, apparently safe is the way to play it. It seems to be some sort of mathematical equation, the more money in a film, the worse the script will be. Anyway. Here it is in full.

Director Rowan Woods talks about his latest feature Little Fish

Rowan Woods talks to Dan Edwards about the research and development that went into Little Fish.

Dan Edwards: You’ve spoken in several interviews about the importance you attach to culturally connected stories. Do you feel a personal connection to Sydney’s south-western suburbs?

Rowan Woods: Yeah I do. I have a very strong personal connection to that place. I was born in Berala, which is a suburb a couple of stops down the train line from Cabramatta. But that’s kind of beside the point because I spent most of my time growing up in Balmain. But my parents were both teachers of English as a second language – they were sort of pioneers in that teaching movement that started in the 60s. And they taught mostly south-east Asians. Most of the first wave of Vietnamese, Loa and Thai folk who came to Australia before the fall of Saigon, and then after the fall of Saigon as refugees. My parents taught many people who become lifelong family friends. But also from my teenage years on I would travel out to Cabramatta and shop there, and have done all my adult life. And then I made a short film out there 10 years ago [Tran the Man, 1994], and we shot in the house of some Thai friends. So my connection to the south west of Sydney, and Cabramatta in particular, goes way back.

DE: Do you think a sense of cultural connection to a particular time and place is something generally lacking in Australian cinema?

RW: Perhaps, yeah. I have noticed that more often than not we don’t tell stories that are genuinely connected to our culture and have a specificity about the story-telling and the characters…And I think it’s no surprise that when we do it, they’re often our most successful films…they’re usually festival-driven films that market themselves to a core audience outside the multiplex. And even some of our more blatantly commercial films like Muriel’s Wedding and Strictly Ballroomhave succeeded in a cultural specificity on their own terms.

DE: Little Fish was in the first round of projects to go through the NSW Film and Television Office’s Aurora Script Workshop. What kind of impact did Aurora have on the script?

RW: I think it had an important impact. We were at a stage of script development where we had run out of puff, and it certainly put wind in our sails. There were no huge diversionary ideas that came out of Aurora, but it did confirm what was strong about the script, and it gave us confidence. Workshops like Aurora are really a very concentrated version of that stock movie industry approach of getting readers to test your material, but with a workshop like Aurora you get interactive readerships from several people at once, and they’re film practitioners with amazing CVs. It would be very, very expensive for projects to do that on their own. So it’s very useful.

But I am also cautious about hothouses like Aurora and SPARK, because I think that often if you’re not experienced and confident about what you want out of the script there is the danger of being diverted to a place that isn’t an organic extension of you as a writer or director. In our Aurora program I’m a little bit curious about the fact that both Cate [Shortland] and I came out of that with projects, while the others haven’t come through. It makes me a little bit nervous about less experienced people going into a hothouse like Aurora or SPARK and being able to properly take advantage of the wonderful information and ideas on offer.

DE: There has been a lot of talk in recent times about the weakness of Australian scripts. Do you think schemes like Aurora and SPARK are effectively addressing a problem in the Australian industry?

RW: They are, but most of the issues that people raise about scripts and scriptwriting in this country are, I think, a by-product of the size of our filmmaking community and the fact that there’s not a lucrative end point for scriptwriters. In America there is much more competition among scriptwriters, and scriptwriters are able to be sustained, whereas in this country they’re absolutely not able to be sustained – there’s only a few that can make a living from being scriptwriters, and often they have to supplement their income by writing TV or doing other things completely. Which automatically means your formative years, in your 20s and 30s, aren’t the sort of rigorous background that American and European scriptwriters have as a basis for their career.

DE: Can you tell me a bit about the research that went into Little Fish? I believe there was a year long research period?

RW: I’m always quite obsessive about the research I do, but in the case of Little Fish we were a little bit more over the top because Cate [Blanchett] got pregnant, so we had to put our schedule back eight months. I went out and did more than 100 hours of interviews with various people who were almost the real-life equivalents of the characters in the script. I also did formal research on various aspects of the script that I thought were blanks in my knowledge base, to do with refugees, drug addiction, and particularly the after-life of famous sporting identities. At a certain point we started to really chase the real-life equivalents of the script – that became very useful to the actors in particular, for voice and movement reasons. Also the library of DVDs [generated by the research] was useful at the end stage of script development, and was available to everyone in the crew, particularly the designer and cinematographer.

But one of the great things about doing research is being able to throw it all away. Because at a certain point everyone that’s working on the film should feel confident that they can speak for the characters and for the story.

DE: So the research becomes almost an unconscious background?

RW: Yeah, and that’s when it’s great. When you can throw it away and make unconscious decisions on behalf of the characters and story. That’s what I crave coming into rehearsals.

One of the reasons I do all that is I don’t have a storyboard. I research and I have a visual plan, but none of it involves storyboarding. I like to be fluid in the way that I shoot, but also have that backlog of information and ideas sitting in the back of my head. I did this on The Boys and on all my projects; I have quite a rigorous process parallel to my research, which is the forming of a visual plan across several parameters, to do with lens, light, colour palette, position of camera, style of camera operation, sound, and music. I have a huge graph that goes right across a room that maps all of those elements. And then at a certain point we lock into that and that’s thrown away, but we’ll know whenever we shoot a scene that it will fit all of those parameters, so I don’t have to storyboard.

DE: Have you considered doing anything else with the research material? Something more documentary orientated?

RW: It’s useful in the sense that nowadays you should be looking at DVD extras anyway. With The Boys I used a lot of the background material and made a little documentary about the making of the film, but it wasn’t a slapped together shallow documentary-it was actually quite a serious film about the process. With Little Fish I’ll have an even bigger backlog of material, particularly in relation to the hundreds of hours of interviews that we did. I was particularly excited by a lot of the interviews we did with famous Rugby League players, who spoke very openly and honestly about what it was like for them after the glory years were over.

Little Fish premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival in July, and opens nationally on September 8.

Felony – Oz movie #10

Felony
Director Matthew Saville
2013

After a debut like Noise, it’s hard not to be a rabbit in the headlights next. Everybody’s watching and you’ve got nowhere to hide. Some six years later, 2013, Felony was released. I think it’s fair to say it was damned with faint praise. Not to mention, by the odd reviewer who had no idea at all what the movie was about, the occasional slating.

Weirdly, some reviewers hated the ending because it was ambiguous and others hated it because it wasn’t. I think the answer to this is that the ending is both ambiguous and not. We know what is going to happen the moment the camera stops. We don’t know where that will take the protagonists.

As in Noise, Saville deals here with simple moral issues made complex by human weakness. Both movies are set in police procedure. And in a less obvious way, noise is present in Felony, this time, in the form of seeing without hearing. This works really well, most strikingly in the scene straight after the crash where Jim (Courtney) observes in the distance the discussion between Toohey (Edgerton) and Carl (Wilkinson). Notably also when Jim takes a call and Carl watches, again without hearing.

We are lucky in Australia to have so many in the business of cinema who become stars elsewhere, as is the case for both Jai Courtney and Joel Edgerton, who still do low budget honest movies at home, not to mention the appearance of Melissa George. Perhaps it’s cathartic for them after the superficial glitz of the US scene. Matthew Saville is a huge asset for Australian cinema. There is something to be said for doing what you want to do, even if it isn’t going to make you fame or fortune. Such is the fate of this movie.

Well worth getting your hands on.

 

Stephanie Alexander’s sponge topping

I don’t eat desserts out often as I think however adventurous the rest of a meal is, dessert is for comfort. Restaurants don’t seem to get that. The last dessert I recall eating out that really fitted the bill in that regard was an apple crumble, piping hot, with lashings of equally hot custard on the side in Manchester eight years ago.

No surprise then that Stephanie Alexander’s sponge topping is an essential part of my limited dessert repertoire. Indeed, the author herself clearly sees it as more than just a dessert, as it is in her basics section which kicks off The Cook’s Companion.

rhubarb with sponge topping

Ingredients

  • 60g butter
  • 4 tablespoons castor sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 150g SR flour, sifted
  • 1/4 cup milk (about 65 ml)
  • 2 cups drained poached or pureed fruit

Method

Preheat oven to 180C. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Fold flour and milk alternately into egg mixture to make a soft batter. Put fruit into a 1 litre buttered pie dish and cover with topping. Bake for 30 minutes until well risen, firm and golden brown.

To this I add: I’ve tried it with apple and with rhubarb. I’ve also used small individual ramekins instead of one large dish. Cream, creme fraiche and strained yoghurt are all good accompaniments. Sometimes I serve with a little syrup on top.

It’s okay to make the topping ahead, even put it in the fridge if necessary, and as the fruit’s also been precooked, it’s a good dessert for not having to hang about in the kitchen with guests around.

apple with sponge topping

And, it’s comfort food that will simply make everybody happy. I do wish restaurants understood how important that is.

 

Chickpea and carrot salad

There are many recipes available for this combination. I started with this from manella on allrecipes and made a couple of changes based on my available ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 2 tblsp olive oil
  • 3 tblsp lemon juice
  • 2 cups grated carrot
  • 1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed. I peeled them too.
  • 1 clove garlic finely chopped
  • fresh coriander leaves washed and chopped in lieu of parsley
  • 2 teasp ground dhanna jeera mix 60% coriander 40% cumin in lieu of ground cumin
  • spring onion, one white finely chopped

Method

Thoroughly whisk all ingredients except the carrot and chickpeas, which are then added. Refrigerate until 30 minutes before serving.

Fabulous and the bit that was left over was great for b/f in the morning.

Served it with potato salad and a cold green beans dish. Worked really well as a combination.

three salads

The Hotel Lord Byron in Rome

It’s part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World partnership, but for me the important thing about The Lord Byron was as much the comfort as the luxury. They don’t necessarily go together. I particularly appreciated the ambiance of the lounge. It has good lighting and music at a sound level which can be relegated to the background. Thus it served as a place to have a pot of tea with a book in the afternoon, or to the tones of 1950s crooners, an aperitif.

I can understand why, after checking in, the staff suggest that you visit the lounge for a complimentary welcome drink. It’s tucked away in the basement and it’s easy to imagine people not finding their way there unless enticed to. But once discovered, we found that we were happy to spend a lot of time there, dining twice during our three night stay. The food is excellent.

In the mornings buffet breakfast is served in the adjoining restaurant.  It’s a thoughtful selection, everything is attractive, fresh and asks to be eaten.  I think it’s probably the most beautifully presented breakfast I’ve experienced too, though perhaps the Sofitel in Lyon might challenge it. It’s comforting to find a hotel which does a good bircher muesli. The cold items like salmon and cheeses were of a superior quality and as well as scrambled eggs sitting next to the bacon, eggs were also available cooked to order. There is ample staff and nothing ever looks picked over. The tea was La Via del Tè, new to me. If only shipping weren’t 50 Euros to Switzerland I’d be buying it to drink here.

Other touches we especially liked:

  • smart phone entirely free for use during the stay
  • the possibility of continental breakfast served in the room without charge
  • bicycles for use of guests
  • fine crockery
  • umbrellas in the dressing room, no question of fighting it out with other guests for an umbrella at reception
  • wifi was good quality, a relief after the debacle of our last hotel in London
  • a sense of spaciousness in the lounge and restaurant, tables were well spaced, which I greatly appreciate
  • being book lovers we were pleased to note the presence of the library, another lovely public sitting area

We were upgraded to a suite. There was a walk in dressing room with plenty of room for bags, and a generously sized marble bathroom. These rooms were off the hallway. We walked through from there to a sitting room furnished with a 2 person sofa, an armchair and ottoman and a round table. The bedroom could be closed off by sliding doors if wished. There was a TV in both rooms. The view was beautiful, taking in the gardens of the Belgian Embassy. Airconditioning was excellent. Staff were very helpful with advice, printing out theatre tickets, transfers from the airport.

If that all sounds too good, I can offer two negatives. For us the lighting in the room wasn’t good enough to happily read by at night. We didn’t ask, but if we had, it wouldn’t have surprised me if they had a solution to offer us. It was that sort of hotel. And we did find noise intruding from the suite opposite ours on two days. The noise probably wouldn’t bother most people, it was in the morning, a family going about their business. I don’t think it would have affected our sleep if we hadn’t already been up as well. The room had no noise issues affecting sleep and automatically operating blinds ensured darkness.

The hotel is located above the Villa Borghese. It’s about three kms to hit the really tourist parts of Rome, which is exactly the sort of distance we wanted. We had no problems walking to the Vatican which is further than lots of the standard attractions. Later on it was a 10 Eu cab fare back to the hotel. It’s a quiet clean area with museums as well as the open space of the park at hand.

I don’t know if I’ve ever stayed in a hotel which was such good value for the price. For three nights we paid 546.00 Eu, having booked a Junior Suite, but we could have taken cheaper options. This price included breakfast and is a 3 for 2 deal which seems to be standard at the Hotel Lord Byron

To end, the view from our room, which we hope to revisit soon:

Belgium Embassy from our hotel room (4)

Belgium Embassy from our hotel room (1)

Potato salad with yoghurt dressing

One of my favourite cookbooks is Madhur Jaffrey’s Food for Family and Friends. I’m surprised I haven’t already made note of this recipe on my blog, having made it for many years.

She calls this ‘The Best, Lightest Potato Salad’ and says the waxier the potato the better.

The dressing

1 cup of plain low-fat yoghurt
1 tblesp vegetable oil
1/2 teasp cumin seeds
1 tblesp yellow mustard seeds
salt and pepper
the white of a spring onion cut into very fine rounds

The potatoes

Boil, cool and peel. Cut into pieces.

Method:

  • In a small pan, sizzle the cumin seeds in the heated oil, just for a couple of seconds, add the mustard seeds and as soon as they start popping…
  • tip the contents into the yoghurt which is in a serving bowl.
  • Mix in along with salt and pepper and onion. Stir in the potato pieces.
  • Refrigerate until needed.

Yesterday I had very young potatoes and didn’t peel them before chopping. I use full fat yoghurt.

Pictured here with her Green Beans with Two Mustards Salad and a Chickpea and Carrot salad.

three salads