Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dinner and a Movie: Cold Comfort Farm

Remember going to the video rental store? Sometimes Blockbuster could come up trumps. I love the convenience of Netflix but sometimes I miss just browsing. Thanks to browsing, I discovered Cold Comfort Farm in the "New Releases" section back in 1996 and rented it because I recognized Kate Beckinsale from Much Ado About Nothing and I already had a penchant for period pieces.

Cold Comfort Farm is a really good example of when a film adaptation works. I actually think I might like the movie better than the book! The most obvious reason why is the cast, which includes Joanna Lumley, Eileen Atkins, Rufus Sewell, Stephen Fry, and Ian McKellen. Cold Comfort Farm is wonderful fun (Joanna Lumley's character Mrs Smiley would tell me to say it's "amusing" instead of "fun") and still makes me laugh after at least a dozen viewings. I never get tired of watching Flora Poste (Kate Beckinsale) attempt to tidy up her appalling country relatives and evade the advances of Mr. Meyerburg (Stephen Fry), the libidinous Lawrentian.

From Cold Comfort to deliciously warm comfort...

This is the old and oversized, warm and extremely cuddly sweater of supper dishes. Isn't there just something supremely satisfying and enveloping about anything au gratin? I like that this recipe has lovely fresh green herbs, which lend a nice freshness.


2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 eggs
1 ¼ cups (½ Imperial pint) heavy cream
1 ½ lbs waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into matchsticks
4 oz. hard cheese, grated (I use a mixture of Gruyère and Cheddar.)
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
1 tablespoon chives, minced
2 tablespoons thyme leaves, minced
nutmeg, salt, and pepper

Place a baking sheet in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375º Fahrenheit. Butter a large oval gratin dish and set aside. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally and being careful to turn down the heat if the onions threaten to brown. Stir in the minced garlic and cook just until garlic is fragrant and remove pan from the heat.

Beat together the eggs and cream in a very large mixing bowl. Stir in the potatoes, half the cheese, all the herbs, and season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Add the onions and garlic and stir to combine. Pour mixture into prepared gratin dish and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Place gratin on top of the baking sheet in the oven and bake for about 50 minutes, or until nicely browned.

Serves 4 to 6

Adapted from “Creamy Potato Gratin with Herbs” in Hilaire Walden, ed., Traditional British Cooking (London: Hermes House, 1997), 166.

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Cold Comfort Farm photo source

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Diana Mosley

Madame Yevonde, The Honourable Mrs Bryan Guinness as Venus (1935)

You may know that Paul and I recently bought a house. During our move, we took a bunch of books over to the used bookstore and I happened to come across a copy of Diana Mosley: A Biography of the Glamorous Mitford Sister Who Became Hitler's Friend and Married the Leader of Britain's Fascists. Even though we were actually at the bookstore to reduce the number of books in our house, I had to have it. I love books about interwar socialites. I am a frivolous person.

I honestly didn't much sympathize with Diana (not just the politics, though goodness knows, those were unsympathetic enough) and none of the Mitfords emerge looking like very nice people. Did you know that Nancy Mitford actually supported Diana's wartime imprisonment? Not very sisterly behavior. However, liking the characters doesn't have to prevent one from liking a book. I really found the whole thing quite fascinating. I know the book is titled Diana Mosley but I could have gobbled up more about Diana's Mitford upbringing and her society role as the wife of Bryan Guinness. See? I definitely like the amusing, frivolous bits.

So here's the nit I have to pick: Jan Dalley (the author of Diana Mosley) keeps describing Oswald Mosley's Valentino-esque looks. As if! If we're going to go around comparing him to film stars, Mosley is a total Fairbanks dead-ringer:
Left: Douglas Fairbanks / Right: Oswald Mosley

Aside from the facial features, the only other things the two had in common were fencing skills and marriages to blonde English socialites. Fairbanks's last wife was Sylvia Ashley, who had been married to Anthony Ashley-Cooper. She later married Clark Gable.


I chose this recipe because it seems like just the sort of thing one might be served at a country house--it would look much grander if the fish still had their heads. Being landlocked, we take what we can get.

This is a quite simple (and quick) way to cook fish. Be sure to get trout that still has its skin--the flour coating makes it crisp and delicious--which helps keep the flesh moist.

Buttered Trout

2 trout, cleaned and gutted
2 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper
pinch of dry mustard
2 tablespoons butter
juice of 1/2 lemon

Sprinkle the trout (inside and outside) with a generous amount of salt. Cover and place in the refrigerator for an hour.

Mix the flour, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and mustard together in a shallow dish. Set aside. Wipe the interior and exterior of the trout well with a damp paper towel.

Dredge the trout in the seasoned flour and then fry in a large skillet in which the butter has been melted over medium-high heat. Cook the fish about 5 minutes per side, turning down the heat if the butter starts burning. The fish is ready as soon as the interior becomes opaque.

Place the cooked fish on warmed plates and pour the lemon juice into the hot pan. Stir into the butter and pour over the fish. Serve immediately with boiled potatoes and a green vegetable.

Serves 2

Adapted from Favourite New Forest Recipes.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Katharine Hepburn's Super-Amazing Brownies

I love Katharine Hepburn's brownie recipe. I tried a KH brownie for the first time a few years ago at the café at Watermark Books and keep an eye out for them every time I'm there. I finally decided to make some at home. I've been meaning to share my Katharine Hepburn brownies since this summer when I took them to an Occupy Wichita meeting and pot-luck dinner* (where they were gobbled) but hadn't gotten around to it until I was reminded by Jenny and her KH brownies post. Frankly, they're too good to waste on strangers. Keep them all to yourself. They're crisp on top and ridiculously gooey in the middle. It's how brownies are supposed to be, otherwise you've just got chocolate cake on the one hand or fudge on the other. I've made a slight alteration from Miss Hepburn's original recipe and subbed sprouted whole-wheat flour for the all-purpose. It's only 1/4 cup so you'd never notice, but I figure it makes them much healthier. Right? Am I right?

Katharine Hepburn's Brownies

¼ lb unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 eggs, at room temperature, beaten
1 cup walnuts, chopped
¼ cup finely-milled sprouted-wheat flour

Preheat oven to 325˚ Fahrenheit. Grease an 8” x 8” pan, line with parchment paper, and then grease the parchment, as well. Set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan over low heat, melt together the butter and chocolate, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. As soon as most of the chocolate is melted, remove from the heat and continue stirring while the remaining chocolate melts.

Stir in the vanilla, sugar, and salt. Beat in the eggs then stir in the walnuts and then the flour. Pour into the prepared pan and even out with the back of the spoon. Bake about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool brownies, in pan, on a cooling rack then cut into 9 squares. Enjoy!

Adapted from Saveur magazine's recipe.

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Movie poster from Wikipedia

So, while the brownies were in the oven, I had a chain thought to "I should really watch The Lion in Winter one more time before I decide whether to sell it back to the used book store." So, I watched it. I have to say that it's really not the greatest movie ever. I haven't taken it to the used book store, but I probably should go ahead and do that. Thing is, the movie always seems like a good idea but then I watch it and think, "why did I just bother to sit through that?" Now you know I love Katharine Hepburn, but there it is. The movie has its moments, but I really enjoyed the play more. (I had a friend in high school who played Prince John in the production, so I'm sure that made it more fun, too.)

Edwardian illustration of Eleanor of Aquitaine

I think the real-life Eleanor of Aquitaine was much more interesting than how she's portrayed in The Lion in Winter. I've had a soft spot for her since reading A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver as a pre-teen. If you'd like to know more about Eleanor, she's featured in the first episode of historian Helen Castor's She-Wolves: England's Early Queens, which is a nice rundown of medieval and Tudor political wrangling. I spent so much time studying British politics in school but I still get a kick out of it. I really like watching Parliamentary debates, too, especially when they get all heated and call each other things like "semi-house-trained polecat" and "pig's bladder on the end of a stick." Paul and I call each other those things all the time, typically with English accent and in a public place. Lord knows what the people at the hippie grocery store think of us.

I do love that between Netflix and my Amazon prime account, I can watch pretty much any British comedy or drama I want (just a few months later) but they need to get with it when it comes to educational programming. I'm tired of having to watch Lucy Worsley on YouTube! The last time we were in London we were flipping through channels and there was a guy who was getting paid to go around France and see how things were now compared with the write-up in an old guidebook. That is seriously my kind of television.

*What a disorganized mess! I say "dinner" but it was really just a few slices of watermelon, a very sad crudité platter, and a very very sad antipasti platter, if it could be called that. The contents of the "meat" and "cheese" appeared predominately petroleum-based. We were really only there for a film co-sponsored by the Sierra Club but the video quality was so bad that it gave me a migraine AND there was no air conditioning (it was 95 degrees!). I told Paul when we left that I wasn't surprised that conservatives seem to have the upper hand around here. Maybe it's just that they run the A/C?

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