Friday, November 27, 2015

Worthwhile Movie #12 - The Hundred-Foot Journey

Where has this movie been hiding? I had not heard of it before it came up on my suggestion list at Amazon. Still, I wasn't interested at first because Hundred-Foot Journey was made in 2014 and I have trouble with all the gratuitous junk in modern movies. Then I saw that Helen Mirren was in the lead and that it was about food and decided to give it a chance.

The Kadam family left India after violence broke out in their hometown of Mumbai. As they travel through Europe, looking for a new place to live, their car breaks down in a small French town. Papa Kadam decides to buy an abandoned restaurant and settle there. Unfortunately the restaurant is directly in front of a chic French eatery and the owner, Madame Mallory, is not a bit pleased with their invasion.

What follows is a sometimes hilarious, sometimes painful story of the war between the two eating establishments. But it's more than that. It's the story of how a young man realizes his dreams. It's the story of the clash of cultures and how people learn to live together in harmony in spite of them. And it's the story of the poetry of good food.

Helen Mirren is amazing.

If you are used to modern-day action films, this two hour flick may seem to plod at times, but I highly recommend it. Because it has no sex and just a smattering of violence and profanity, you can actually relax and enjoy yourself while watching. It's a great story, well-acted and beautifully filmed.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary Schmidt

Gary Schmidt is a masterful writer. I've read and enjoyed The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now, so I was looking forward to reading his award-winning Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.

Turner Buckminster is the preacher's son who has just moved to Phippsburg, Maine. He has trouble making friends until he meets Lizzie, a young girl who lives on a nearby island. She is a descendant of former slaves; the good folks of Phippsburg do not look kindly on their mixed-race friendship. The painful lessons he learns as a result of choosing to go against public opinion help Turner to grow into a man.

This felt like a Dicken's novel much of the time because there were many odious people in it. I read the first half of the book in small chunks so as not to be overcome by the bleakness.Thankfully, grace is extended by some of the townspeople and others learn to be more loving and forgiving than before. The story is beautifully written with vibrant characters. Lizzie Bright is especially delightful.

Even though, I'm glad I read it, I was disappointed in two things: its positive take on Darwin's writings and it's unmitigated sadness, which made it too heavy for a children's book.

Has anyone else read this? What did you think?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Eat with Joy by Rachel Marie Stone

A few years ago, when I first saw the word "foodie," I was amazed that anyone would admit to loving to eat. It seemed vaguely sinful. But as I've read other books about how communal eating meets deep human needs, I've been forced to rethink that. (After all, the word "companion" means a person with whom you share bread.)

Food writer Michael Pollan states that even though our nation is the most health-obsessed in the world, we are the least healthy. Eat with Joy: Redeeming God's Gift of Food grabbed my attention because it attempts to find the middle ground between gluttony and compulsive calorie counting.

Stone contends that our obsession with health keeps us from appreciating God's grace expressed to us through food:

Why did God make eating so pleasurable? The biological explanation - food is pleasurable so that we'll eat - is legitimate in its place, but it doesn't go far enough. It doesn't explain Le Cordon Bleu and fine wine, or chocolate for that matter... I suspect and prefer to believe that God made eating sustaining, delicious and pleasurable because God is all those things and more. (p. 24)

But how do we get back to eating as a means of grace? Stone suggests three ways. The first is to eat in community. She points out the most eating disorders are practiced in private. The second way to eat more wisely comes when we eat with gratitude. Thirdly, when we slow down, food takes its proper place. She goes as far as to say that if we grow our own food and cook it from scratch, we'll become just as satisfied with the process as with the eating. (I don't garden, but I do know the satisfaction of home-cooked meals. The more I eat them, the less I enjoy all the "fake" foods that are available in stores and restaurants.)

Lastly, she points out that our emphasis on nutrients and calories robs food of its true purpose, which is to remind us of God's goodness. So a cherry is not a shiny orb of tangy sweetness grown from a beautiful tree blossom, but a five-calorie delivery system for antioxidants, vitamin C, potassium, iron, fiber and magnesium. (p. 138)

My favorite quote from the book: Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than useful. (p. 152)

While I appreciated Stone's insights, I was a little put off by some of the side issues in the book such as food justice. If you want a less technical book on the joys of eating in community, I highly recommend Shauna Niequist's Bread and Wine. (reviewed here)

P.S. I just happened to be reading a food-themed novel and enjoyed this quote that coincides with the ideas in Eat with Joy. The protagonist loved old recipes because they were "less concerned with fat or antioxidants. They were unselfconscious and more concerned with being tasty than being hip. They were food without an identity crisis." (from A Table by the Window, p. 238)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

London-on-a-Dime (Bookstores)

Before we travelled to London I googled, "cheap bookstores in London" and made out a list. But only one of the bookstores ("Any Amount of Books" on 56 Charing Cross Rd.) had what I would consider inexpensive books. Most of the other stores only had new titles, which don't interest me at any price.

Fortunately, I already knew that thrift stores in England are called "charity shops." I did a search for Oxfam stores (like Goodwill) in London and put about 10 of them on my xeroxed map of the city. That way when we were in that part of town to visit a museum or historical site, we could zip over to a nearby charity shop and look at their used books' section. A few of the Oxfam stores were just bookstores. I was thrilled to find vintage books in these places for 2 to 3 pounds.  Even though that comes out to about 4 to 5 dollars, I was pleased to find some books on my wish list. They are more valuable to me as souvenirs than all the overpriced junk in the tourist shops.

(One of my favorite Oxfam bookstores was three doors down from the Eagle and Child Pub in Oxford, so be sure and look it up if you take a side trip to C.S. Lewis territory.)

Sadly, I did not find any Elizabeth Goudge titles, but consoled myself with a beautifully bound copy of Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford (pictured above). It's a 1949 tiny blue hardcover printed by Oxford University Press as part of its World Classics. It's lovely to hold!

Previous posts on saving money in London are here (tours) and here (food).