When I watch these movies, I think to myself, how would I describe them to an alien? How do I actually feel about them? Is this good “for a noir,” or is it actually good on its own merits? Abandoned is another movie that may have lost its original meaning and significance. Like He Walked by Night this is also a “ripped from the headlines” thriller, except there’s a crime ring instead of a lone killer, and the ring is selling dem babies to unscrupulous couples longing for children. It was not very thrilling or sensational, of course. Perhaps this was very thrilling and sensational in 1949?
Since I am completely disinterested in anything resembling real deal film criticism, I will just say I think my favorite scene was when the police set up a sting to catch the baby-peddlers, and they planted a pregnant woman at the whelping house. A couple came in and asked to “see” the mother. Ultimately they spoke with her too, but I totally thought about the process of acquiring Edith and buying something like a pet. Edith’s mother was lovely, like Lady and the Tramp lovely (and we saw how that turned out, cowlick, freckles, less Lady and more Elly May Clampett). Point being I thought this couple in the movie was about to check her teeth.
There was also a bell I couldn’t unring after a certain point, when I noticed that almost every single line of dialogue was rapid-fire zingers, and not very good ones, at that. From a character’s voice perspective, there were three types of characters in this movie: wise guys, bad guys, and innocent dames. Heaven help us when two wise guys get together on the screen, because then you get snappy fatigue.
Barkeep: I haven’t seen you around much, Mark.
Sitko: I’ve been patronizing the bars with the uncut whiskey.
Barkeep: Are they still operating? I’ll have to take it up with my union.
Sitko: Anyhow, I got a problem.
Barkeep: (looking at Sitko’s female companion) I should be so lucky as to have your problem.
Sitko: I got a friend–
Barkeep: Coulda fooled me.
THAT’S ENOUGH, you two. Irwin Geilgud, tsk. (Though I am intrigued by his title I Was a Shoplifter. Weren’t we all, though.) Geilgud died young too, 42. I can’t find any information on him through a quick search. I always wonder about these Hollywood not-even-footnotes.
Thank god Raymond Burr is so enormous, though, or you would mix him up with the other guy (Sitko) who is trying to white knight the dame in question. I made the mistake of sharing the observation about the dialogue out loud, and then my sister and P. couldn’t unhear it either.
Okay, forget this mess. Let’s talk about the success of the evening: the food!
We remain in the same decade, but we climb out of November release dates back into October, which is more my speed. What terrors lie within? The cover is promising. Yes, I want to get down on whatever is in that pot while gazing out at a storybook castle. Window sill carrots you say? JOLLY GOOD. Oh! It’s cassoulet!
Hooray, there is an article on apples!
And an extensive one on cassoulet, as the cover promised! So many cassoulets it was hard to choose. This may turn out be my favorite week of the festival. It’s the halfway point already, whoa. Eight films goes a lot more quickly than a whole year of Victorian cooking, that’s for sure.
There was also an excerpt of An Alphabet for Gourmets by MFK Fisher. People like to chickity check my cooking cred by ascertaining that I have read all of Fisher, and you know, I haven’t. I am just not that into her, and I don’t remember why exactly. Maybe I will try back in a few years and something will have changed.
Dear Sirs, please send a gross of these to my house immediately, find enclosed a bank check for $48 Kind regards
Also I died of jealousy when I saw this ad:
$57.50!!! What a steal. But that’s about $500 in today’s dollars. Seriously, I did not know they were mass-producing duck presses at this late of a date. There will be a duck press at my future inn. OH, you’re too fancy for pressed duck for breakfast?? GO STAY AT THE HOJO DOWN THE STREET.
What the sherbet
Cassoulet de Castelnaudary
Habichuelas a la Vizcaina (String Beans Biscay)
simple salad (no recipe)
A quick eyeball of the prodigious cassoulet recipe led me to think that it would take about 6-7 hours of cooking and preparation time, which I forgot about when the actual day rolled around. There are dozens of ingredients. Ay carumba! I started cooking at 2:30, and I probably could have pushed it back to 1 or so, seriously.
The first thing I did when my sister walked in was hand her a London Fog. It’s becoming our tradition to have the evening’s signature cocktail first. To be fair, she’s not really a cocktail person (being a Millennial she is like 2% wine, the rest blood and pus or whatever), but I wish I would have snapped the look on her face when she took a sip of Pernod and gin. Poor thing. I drink peaty scotch and apple cider vinegar on purpose and sometimes even Pernod on ice. I like anise-flavored things. But that drink was too much even for me. Sometimes I think people try so hard to make their mark on the cocktail world they do some hateful things.
My girls are used to eating fairly late by American standards (we often eat at 7 or 7:30), and my sister eats later too, but I didn’t want to push things too late since we had a film to watch as well. I did something a little goofy and made two desserts–I thought the whipped avocado might be a terrible flop, so I wanted to have a “real” apple dessert in the wings.
So, my backup plan as the clock was ticking down was to serve the simple green salad with a Dijon vinaigrette (seemed on theme) and the whipped avocado as a first course. I thought that would keep people pretty sated (but not full) through the first half of the movie while the cassoulet finished in the oven.
I decided to mash the avocado with a fork rather than getting out the mixer. It was fine, and no one really noticed the lumps. I did, however, make a change. I could not BEAR to add the 1.5 cups of sugar it called for. For three avocados! I took it down to about a 1/3 of a cup and kept the 4 tablespoons of lime juice. This is a keeper, and so easy.
Let me tell you, this was the shock of the evening! On one hand it’s dumb as fuck to put anything in avocado, which is basically the most perfect food, besides, say, salt and pepper, or dill and hot sauce…yum. But sweetening them absolutely transformed it into something different. My sister was getting honeydew from hers. But with that creamy texture. Pretty amazing!
Yes I served regular avocado in my salad, because I dropped an extra one and the skin cracked. I knew it would go brown. No one complained!
Next to the recipe for Whipped Avocado, I was very happy to find a recipe for forcemeats, which were apparently still a going concern in 1949.
So then we
suffered through watched the first half of the movie, and paused when the cassoulet came out and the beans were done. Yes, I served beans on the side of beans. Green beans are more like vegetables though.
I’ll get the green beans out of the way. I didn’t love them. They were basically tomatoes, onions, and beans with sliced eggs on top.
“I can’t put my finger on why I don’t like this,” I said.
“They taste like oven porcupines,” my sister observed.
That was it! I was done after that. Our mother made them once a week for years and they were just so bland and boring. The rice at the bottom of the pan got soggy and the rice at the top of the meatballs stayed (or got?) crunchy. My mother wasn’t seasoning anything to an interesting degree when I was a kid. I don’t think she learned about the virtues of flavorful cooking until I was in my 20s.
Let’s talk about something more pleasant: cassoulet. I thought about modern cassoulets I’d made, which are much more streamlined and require much less cooking time. Was it worth it? I am going to say, yes, absolutely it was. Though this may be a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I chose the “Castelnaudary” style Gourmet offered, because I liked the look of the ingredients the best. Interestingly, bickerpredia says that cassoulet from this region does not actually contain lamb. I am not going to split history hairs here. (I may be influenced by the fact that I love lamb so much and think it should be in everything.)
I did a little substituting, as I have been doing for this festival. For my Victorian year I tried to go as authentic as possible, but I am much more relaxed this go round, and am getting really used to doing on the fly substitutions all the time!
I did one-stop shopping at my nice local store instead of hitting a butcher. I bought a chunk of cooked ham instead of getting raw, though now I kind of wish I would have used prosciutto or something in my green beans. The cassoulet called for a garlic sausage and three raw pork sausages, but I couldn’t really trust any of the store-made sausages not to have wheat or accidental cross-contamination, so I bought some fancy pre-cooked ones with a reassuringly uptight allergen listing, but they tasted great after plumping up in the broth. My store told me they could order lamb breast, but that they don’t keep it on hand, so I subbed a shank.
After I amassed my ingredients, arguably the best thing ever happened at my house:
LOOK AT ALL THE MEATS I GIVE
Okay, this is not high art. But can I get a job arranging meat for a living? That is all I want to do all day. A pork fat rose. My heart sang.
This was a meal of taking up most of one’s oven. I had a pot going with the beans, bouquet garni, the salt pork, and the pork fat, and another to braise in some onions and rabbit broth I happened to have laying around *cough humblebrag.*
I roasted the duck legs in the oven. I know confit is incredible, but I couldn’t justify the expense of the the duckfat needed to bury the legs, not to mention the extra time. Roasting went very well, and the legs did not dry out.
And did I save this duck fat? Hells yes I did.
So then in stage two, everything pretty much got to be friends in the big pot, but not you, Monsieur Bouquet Garni! You get out of the pool now. Then there is more and more simmering so the beans can finish cooking and the meat can continue getting tender.
I didn’t wrap up the bouquet garni in cheesecloth like I was supposed to, because I think that step is bullshit. The result, of course, is that there were small amounts of parsley in the finished dish. It was interesting–heavy use of onions and garlic to flavor the meat, broth, and beans, but no onions in the final recipe. I think that is one of the biggest things that sticks in my crawdad about old thymey cooking. Don’t throw those aromatics out! My chickens often get my stock veggies and they love them.
Here they are poking around outside my window as I cook. They get two hours in the yard before dark now that the tomatoes are dead. If they stay out all day, they tend to take up residence on my back porch, leeching off the heat loss from my French doors. And loitering chickens means loitering piles of shit.
Then you pull the meat and make it bite-sized, and it gets layered with the beans in a big pan. I am not a fancy French lady doing things all rural and effortlessly, so I don’t actually own a stoneware casserole dish. I knew this was too much food for my standard 13″x9″ Pyrex casserole, so I busted out my cheap turkey roasting pan that I got from IKEA a few years ago. IKEA is great for things you hardly use and don’t want to drop fat stacks of cash on, isn’t it? I’m relieved I don’t have to rely on IKEA for everything anymore, because that’s when you’re in the middle of a big dinner and your cheap turnip twaddler breaks.
It came out like this:
Not much crust, which is ideal, but plenty of broth at the bottom to keep things loose, like a good risotto. It tasted amazing. Some of the beans broke and I was afraid I had cooked them beyond edibility, but they were really great. This recipe is intense by modern standards, and could have been more so if I’d confit’d the duck. But I think it held up in taste. Everyone loved it.
Dessert number two was nice as well, and much more autumnal. There were a lot of crisp/tart/pie recipes in the apple articles, which makes sense, because apples in a crust are OUTSTANDING. I did manage to find a recipe I could do without wheat: Apples Bourgeoise.
The idea behind the dessert was this: you gently stew some apples in syrup, fill them with candied fruit, spread creme patissiere (pastry cream/custard) over the top of this candied fruit and the apples, and sprinkle something crunchy on top, then you broil the whole mess.
When I got this recipe, I thought I could still eat dairy. NOPE. So dig this: I made the creme patissiere with coconut milk and arrowroot. It was fricking delicious.
The market doesn’t have its holiday candied fruit on sale, and I probably can’t eat it even when they do, so I did a quick candied lemon peel for some zing and threw some chopped dates into the syrup as the peels cooked. Why not?
The topping called for almonds or crushed macaroons, so I used some shredded coconut I had mixed with chopped pecans. Then it went in under the broiler.
FOOMP! That shit was legit on fire when I pulled them out, all six of them. P. came up behind me and blew them out like birthday candles. I scraped off the tops and tried again. They were delicious and only a tiny bit cajun. The cream was not at all gross–it really tasted like a custard.
So other than the green beans (ugh) I found some real keepers this week! We were all happy and enjoying ourselves and having fun with new things, which is one of my goals. Finally, in week four, I have hit my mark.
Here is a real review of the film if you care about such things.