Friday, November 23, 2007

Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner

Last two days I cooked a Thanksgiving dinner for eight. I got most (not all) of my fruits and vegetables--organic, of course-- at the Hollywood Farmer's market. I try to buy my fruits and vegetables in the farmer's market all year to support Southern California farms and to reduce energy used to grow my food. The market was spilling over with great looking fall produce I got--corn, grapes, pears, sweet potatoes, red leaf lettuce. The day before Thanksgiving I got a free range 10-lb. turkey at Whole Foods market, and I'm glad I got a smaller free range turkey rather than a monster bird raised in lock-up.

All year long I've been reading on blogs about buying food from within 100 miles of where I lived. Yes, I buy my fruits and vegetables all year from local farmers at Farmer's Market, but I do make exceptions for spices such as cloves, allspice, and cinnamon from Trader Joe's and Ralph's. I've just discovered a new fair trade organic coffee called Peruvian Cafe Femenino at Trader Joe's which smells just wonderful. Another exception is tea, which I'll buy fair trade. Thinking of my spices I was reminded of the spice trade from India for thousands of years imported spices like cloves and cinnamon.

Besides the spices, I wanted to dedicate my menu to native American foods--corn, squash, sweet potato, turkey, cranberries, and, of course, pumpkin--and wanted to connect with these indigenous foods by cooking them. One way to give thanks on Thanksgiving is to honor the Native farmers and cooks who created the great American foods. I planned the menu to be as American as possible:

California green salad with corn and red wine vinegar/olive oil dressing
cheese bread
California white wine

turkey with herbs de provence
Spicy roast sweet potato butter- from Pueblo Indians
Oaklohoma Corn and Squash Pawnee
Cranberry orange sauce
fruit nut stuffing with cranberry, apricots, and walnuts
green beens with almonds

pumpkin pie
pears and grapes
Peruvian coffee and tea
chocolate mints (a gift from my guests)

Ok, the herbs de provence --thyme, summer savory, lavender, basil, fennel seeds--is a herb mix from the south of France, but I said earlier I let myself use spices and herbs from across the seas as well as Peruvian fair trade coffee.

I learned that green beans also originated in the Americas. Green beans along with kidney, navy and black beans belong to the plant species known as Phaseolus vulgaris. Peruvian indigenous peoples first cultivated all these beans which originated from a common bean, and then other Native peoples brought the green and other beans to other parts of South, Central, and North America. The Spanish explorers brought green beans first back to Europe. Of course, Native American farmers first cultivated corn, squash, sweet potato, and chocolate as well as pick wild grapes and cranberries. Some Native Americans mourn Thanksgiving because it led to such deaths for Native people, but I think the holiday can be redefined to honor the greatness of Native American farmers and cooks whose discoveries benefited us all.

As I cooked I really got into the smells and feel of fall foods--cranberry, sweet potato, pears, grapes, apples, turkey. People kept on saying that it was a lot of work to cook for eight, and it is, but shopping and cooking with these wonderful American foods is a way to experience the fall as well as to give praise to American food traditions and local farmers.

Friday, November 16, 2007

On the Picket Line With the Writers Guild

Friday morning in the 2nd week of the Writers Guild strike against the multi-media corporations I joined them to picket at the Bronson Gate of Paramount. To me the strike is very simple. The huge multi-media corporations are putting TV shows online and making money from this but not giving the writers any money at all as if writers should work for free. In an online video "Sara Silverman Strikes" she said if the producers give the writers money for TV shows repeated online the multi-media corporations still will be fabulously wealthy. All the writers want is to be paid for their work.

Many years ago I was interviewing novelists in Los Angeles, and I interviewed novelist -screenwriter Daniel Fuchs who wrote the wonderful novel triology of novels about poor Jews during the Depression in the Williamsburg neighbrohood of Brooklyn and was also a Hollywood screenwriter for decades starting in the mid-1930s. Fuchs told me that in the late 1930s he wrote a screenplay but the producer took Fuchs name off it and put his family member's name on it; the screenplay won the academy award. Fuchs said the screenwriters were trying to organize a union but it was too weak to protect the writers making sure they got credit for their work.

Later in the early 1950s Fuchs wrote the screenplay for Love Me or Leave, a big Hollywood film starring Doris Day. He said the Writers Guild was much stronger then and protected writers, making sure they got credits for their work. His screenplay for Love Me or Leave Me did win the academy award, so finally he got the award that his brilliant writing deserved. So Fuchs taught me how necessary the Writers Guild is for the protection of writers. Every artists and writer should, I think, walk the picket line with the Writers Guild.

I had been watching youtube videos made by the striking screenwriters all week, and for some good videos see

I live six blocks from Paramount, so I walked over down Melrose to the Bronson Gate where about eight writers were picketing, said, "I'm a writer who lives in the neighborhood, and I've come to support you. "They said, "Get a picket sign at the Windsor Gate," so I walked 1/2 block more to the Windsor Gate where 30 pickets were, got my sign, and walked back to the Bronson Gate. So round and round we went. Lots of cars honked in support. Workers on a waste disposal truck honked in support. Some cars crossed are picket line driving onto the studio.

The screenwriters said they had pickets there from 6:00 am to 10:00 and from 10:00 - 2:00, will be picketing Monday and will have a march/rally on Tuesday on Hollywood Boulevard. My small platoon was high spirited and had shakers and clappers to make noise as we picketed. Sometimes the writers danced, sometimes made jokes, or discussed restaurants in the neighborhood. I said the general public is supporting the writers, not the producers, and one writer agreed, but said the producers haven't made any new offers by the second week of the strike. Somebody brought donuts for our group. All in all it was fun, and I'm going to join them again next Monday on the picket line.

Monday, November 05, 2007

J.M. Coetzee's novel Foe

I just read J. M. Coetzee's novel Foe where he creates a heroine Susan Barton who is a castaway cast ashore on an island where an Englishman Cruso and black slave Friday in this retelling of Daniel Dafoe's Robinson Crusoe. I liked the original novel, and, of course, it lacked females. I was intrigued by having a female castaway but didn't like what I thought the flat telling of Barton's story about her year on the island, meeting first Friday who can't talk because slavers ripped his tongue out, and then Cruso who give the heroine shelter. When the novel was written circa 1700, there were Englishwomen writers, poets mostly, in this era, but no women novelists like Daniel Dafoe.

After a year on the island, a ship comes by, rescue the three castaways, but Cruso dies abroad ship while Susan and Friday make it to England. In London, Susan meets author Foe (original name of Danie DeFoe) and convinces him to write up the story which she hopes will make herself well-to-do. Foe begins, but unfortunately he has debts, so he flees from the baliffs who come after him. Destitute Susan and Friday then take up residence in Foe's house, where Susan writes the missing Foe letters. I thought that amusing: the novel's leading character, a woman, takes over the writing, arguing with the author how the novel should go and also asking and begging and pleading the author to return.

The problem is Susan throughout the novel tries to get Friday to speak but never succeeds. Friday dons Foe's wig and black robes and dances for hours and plays on the flute one tune endlessly but he'll never communicate to Susan. At time Susan seems sympathetic to Friday, trying to get him to Bristol to put him on a ship to return to Africa, but at times she seems like she's acting like a slave master herself. At the end Susan and Friday rejoin Foe, who tells Susan to teach Friday how to write English, which she does but Friday still won't speak.

Rethinking the novel, it's about stories and who tells them. Some critics now think of Robinson Crusoe as an allegory for European colonialism, so Coetzee, a liberal white male author from South Africa, writes about one of the characters left-out of the original, the white woman. But Coetzee can't tell Friday's story: Friday always refuses the domination by the white author/colonialist. Maybe that's Coetzee's point. Friday will tell his story in his own novel, not one written by any whites.