Monday, November 29, 2010

I've got my love to keep me warm

Bugger this weather. I want bare legs and washing on the line, cotton frocks and playsuits, my cats' fur to smell of grass and sunshine. This is supposed to be BBQ season! Who feels like Christmas shopping in this miserable weather? I've yet to start in earnest but at least I've a list now.

Caution Vegans!!! there's a lot of fur in this clip being worn by animals that aren't the original owners...
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Friday, November 26, 2010

Why should I care if they save Private Ryan?

I'm a little confused. I just saw SPR for the first time and what a disappointment. Maybe it's because I've seen a lot of combat films but it really was pretty ordinary. Historically, it seems like a load of nonsense. Yes, I know it was 'based' on a true story, but they found that brother in a recreation room in England, not really a 'behind enemy lines' mission is it? Something like that just never would have happened. The opening minutes are realistic - yep, lots of gore. But does it, as Spielberg claims, recreate actual war footage? Not quite. Still, it would be quite an effective opening - if it related in any way to the story that follows. After that it's pretty much a standard war film, sticking very closely to the genre conventions (the word cliche springs to mind). It's almost as if Spielberg's trying to remake a movie from the forties, one from his childhood. With one big difference: this film lacks a moral core. I can't quite see what the point of it is. Was the mission worth it? Absolutely not. Do I care that they saved Private Ryan? Not in the least. Then what exactly is this film for? Unlike the films of the war years here's no sense of what the whole point of the war was. And this was a very strong sense of the times, soldiers knew what they were fighting for. This is a crucial gap in the film. You need the tension between a morally just war and what it actually makes people do. There's no ambiguity here. Everything is black and white. What is Spielberg trying to say? That war is hell? Got that in the first five minutes thanks. The war was ghastly but this film also makes it pointless. And this certainly isn't an anti war film by any means. It's an action movie with a war setting. Not the greatest war movie by a long shot. It's not as though I'm an expert on the war, or if I know much about cinema. But I have watched a lot of war films and this is one that left me unmoved.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Lazy glamour

Been feeling a bit poorly and spending all my time in my jimjams watching documentaries. What better way to feel sick than in some of these!

Needless to say I don't quite match these standards!

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sweet dreams

Though I'd never go to the races myself, I approve of the racing season for one reason only: hats! Next year I think I'm going to treat myself to a little bit of nonsense. Look at the sort of wonders that are out there (and are too expensive for me to ever consider!)


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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A kitchen goes to war

I'm amazed that the National Library let me borrow this - and just a little bit nervous!

This is a 1940 publication: A Kitchen Goes To War - Famous People Contribute 150 Recipes To A Ration-Time Cookery Book. It appears to be made in collaboration with the Great Britain Gas Industry, it was quite common for such organizations to publish cookbooks and household hints (I have some from the 50s produced by a petroleum company, that in addition to recipes gives handy tips for women drivers.) Anyway, first things, 'famous people' at this particular time in Britain means the upper class, whose exploits the public would have followed in the society papers. So here we have some - ahem - well known names as Lady David Douglas-Hamilton, Viscountess Halifax, Lady Milne-Watson, Margot, Countess of Oxford and Asquith, Chef de Cuisine of The Savoy and The Dowager Lady Nunburnholme. Hoity toity eh? But it would have given housewives the sense that this was indeed a 'people's war' and that they were all in it together. More familiarly we find recipes from authors Rebecca West, Agatha Christie and Stella Gibbons.

This is early days in rationing so let's take a look at the ingredients: margarine, lard and dripping instead of butter; tinned corned beef, salmon and herrings; fresh cod and rabbit; offal; many, many potatoes and swedes (there are a billion recipes for swedes!); very little in the way of seasoning beyond salt and pepper, there's the odd nutmeg and cayenne pepper and of course, generic curry powder; white sauce in every second recipe; sweetened condensed milk and golden syrup instead of sugar. Eggs are still eggs at this stage rather than powdered. Onions still seem plentiful. And you'd never know there was a fuel shortage given the cooking times.

The recipes are pretty austere: macaroni cheese, swede soup, cod baked with milk and potatoes, rabbit pie. Agatha Christie contributes a recipe for Mystery Potatoes (potatoes mashed with anchovies), there's a recipe for cabbage stuffed with sausage meat (boiled for two hours) and rabbit pudding consists simply of one rabbit, one rasher of bacon, salt, pepper and a pastry crust of water, flour and margarine. More surprisingly there are a few recipes for lentils, a gnocchi of semolina parmesan cheese (most unlikely) and some idiot suggests foie gras and gruyere cheese on toast (graciously suggesting housewives can substitute 'the more modest citizen's chicken and ham paste, which alas! will lack the charm of the truffles').

Railway pudding
6 oz flour
3 oz margarine or dripping
2 oz sugar
1 egg
A little milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
Sift the flour with the baking-powder and a pinch of salt. Rub in the fat, add the sugar and mix with the beaten egg and about 4 tablespoons of milk. Put in a greased pie-dish, and bake in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes. Serve with warmed jam on top.

American cream cheese and pineapple salad
Place pieces of pineapple on lettuce leaves and garnish with small balls made of cream cheese, rolled in a mixture of paprika pepper, chopped parsley and finely chopped nuts. Serve with French dressing.

Irish stew made with sausages
1/2 lb sausages
2 lb potatoes
1/2 pound onions
1 pint water
Pepper and salt
Cut the sausages into neat pieces, place them in a saucepan, just covering the meat with cold water; add a pinch of salt and a little pepper. Cut the onions into quarters and add to the sausages. Simmer for an hour. Cut the potatoes into rather large pieces and add; cook over a low flame for another hour or until the potatoes are soft. Correct the seasoning and serve in a hot dish.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

On my book pile

I've been busy busy reading lately. I've recently finished two more books on wartime propaganda so am quite keen to catch up on some films, something I've had a break from of late. Films and the Second World War by Richard Manvell is more of a filmography than an analysis but does allow you to get a small glimpse of propaganda films outside of Britain and the US. For instance, Japanese film makers didn't require a happy ending, in fact, the worse the better. Giving your all for lord and master was the goal. To do so at the cost of intense personal suffering just made it all the better. Russian propaganda was fueled by a vicious hatred of the Germans. They weren't discrete about showing the suffering of the Russian people at the hands of the Nazis and frequently showed close ups of dead and maimed bodies, most unlike the restrained British. An amusing contrast of propaganda styles is revealed through the frustrated and bewildered response of an official in the US: I can't find the exact quote but it's along the lines of - stop sending us films of British folks grinning and bearing it, stop sending us films of British folk singing amidst the bombed ruins of London, get out there and sock it to the Germans! What worked wonders for British morale simply confused the Americans.

I followed this up with a book on Nazi propaganda films and that was an extremely tough read. Written by a very angry German scholar there is much editorializing. It quotes heavily from Nazi press books released with the films and the reading of them is turgid - overblown, hyperbolic and mangled prose that simply makes no sense at all. I was glad to be done with it. More so when it concluded it with an account of all the formerly enthusiastic German actors and directors who claimed, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that they were forced into collaborating.

Recently my young man asked me about the worst year of the war and I had to confess that my actual knowledge of the war beyond the home front and a smattering of SOE adventures was pretty thin. So I snapped up a book by Richard Overy on the events leading up to the war, called 1939 or something. I then attempted a military history of Dunkirk - Major General Julian Thompson's Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory - but didn't get very far. Turns out I'm not very interested on the accounts of individual regiments and lists detailing what arms they were equipped with. From what I read I did get a rather dim view of the French - though I think the author was a bit rough on the Belgians. It's bit like criticizing Tasmania if it gets invaded, it's not really in a position to do much is it?

Things got much better with Dambusters by Max Arthur. It's a brilliant oral history and leaves you wondering how anyone made it through the war alive. An absolute cracker and of personal interest as Kim's father had been invited to take part in the famous raid. It's also very well balanced by oral accounts of the German villagers who survived the attack. I then got back onto familiar ground with the story of an SOE operative, Denis Rake. Which I rather enjoyed, even though he was a bit of a fibber, and think it will take me down a new path - stories of the French Resistance.

So that was this week's reading. I've got some great source documents about cooking during the war that I'm keen to share with you soon.

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