Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Le Rou(x)ge et le Noir

Marc @ norecipes and Susan @ Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy started a brilliant blogging event - the first Dinner and Movie of the Month, and I managed to miss it. Well, when I say 'miss', I actually mean, I had to give up, eventually. But let's start at the beginning:
The idea is that you watch the film of the month, then cook/bake a dish inspired by it. Well, I thought, that's almost like my RED SHOES film club that I never quite got off the ground (1), or the online book-inspired recipe exchange I initiated and then abandoned (2)! So, this was right up my street, and, with someone else running it, probably not destined to end in failure as so many of my projects do. Alas, a few of the reasons that make me so accomplished a failure junkie, came into play in this instance, too.
The film was CHOCOLAT - hence the above 'Roux' reference. As you may know/remember, the protagonist's (J. Binoche) love interest, played by Johnny Depp, was a river gypsy called Roux (3). Needless to say, I started fantasizing (and salivating) instantly. (I have a friend who fancies both, Johnny and Juliette, so with all that divine chocolate thrown in, this film makes her melt as if she were made of the sinful substance herself.)
My own fantasies revolved more around ambitious plans of what to make (honest!):

- A gypsy stew, enriched with Mayan chocolate, whose spicy smells immediately conjure up black cauldrons over an open fire, flickering flames and gold and silver flashes from earrings and tambourines?
- A chocolate cake with truffles on top, made to look like a presentation box of chocolate, each decorated individually, with dark and white chocolate stripes and squiggles, walnut halves, and pistachio brittle?
- A raspberry chocolate cake made to look like one giant truffle, in its own chocolate casing, topped with a raspberry mousse and a red lacy caramel fan?

The latter idea came partially from my eldest, admittedly, when I related the scene I remember most vividly, namely the one when Judi Dench (Armande Voizin) lifts her drab skirt to reveal the bright red lace of her petticoat, something I was desperate to incorporate.

As I’m as far away from being a masterchef as Gregg Wallace is from an elegant grasp of the English language in terms of pronunciation and correct grammar (4), all these ideas kept me running back to the PC.
Yep, downfall No1: research. It seems to be my raison d'être. Research, of course, with all the resources at one's fingertips, can be endless these days, and Endless (or was that 'Expansive'?) is one of my middle names. It's the reason why nothing ever comes off the ground, why the house is in the state it’s in, why there is often nothing on the plate - as opposed to A Lot! - for my hungry boys. The research and the fantasising seems to be more important than the actual activity in the kitchen (hmm, sounds familiar from other areas, too!).
So, I ended up with all my cake baking books cluttering the dining table, and documents cluttering my desk top. File after file were filled with information on gypsies (or Roma, Sinti etc, etc) and their food, plus a few more on Olla Podrida and raspberry cakes and cup cakes (‘caramel lace’ brought up Elle McPherson and lacy bras, by the way!), but nothing as yet was filling my plate. Which brings me to downfall No2: sense of timing and logistics, or rather, my lack of it.
I felt I had to watch the film again in order to feel justified in saying "inspired by the film" -- only, we don't own it.
Not to worry, I thought, I know a woman who does. Well, she did, but it was not to be found anywhere. Neither was it to be found in the library, (my BH came back with "Sex in the City" instead...) nor in the plethora of charity shops in A.G. Fine, I thought, Blockbuster it is -- only to discover that my membership card was missing from my purse.
By the time the glorious idea of checking out You Tube was put to me, I had already given up the idea of making and posting anything in time, even though I had actually cooked a delicious gypsy stew, and had bought all the ingredients for some sort of raspberry chocolate concoction, based on 55 different versions. But a) the photograph of the stew had not come out right, b) I had not yet turned my gypsy research into a suitable article, and c) there was no more time to get any baking done, let alone all the fancy fiddly stuff dreamt up earlier in the week! Even the simplest recipe seems to take at least 2 hours, once I enter my time-warp kitchen, so something like a triple decker cake with filling, ganache and complicated topping would take me all day, and we had to leave at 5ish because we had tickets to see Antony Sher (best known as The History Man) in The Tempest at Stratford, and parking space near the Courtyard Theatre (5) is at a premium.

So, there you have it, another instalment of my memoirs, the current working titles of which include: Adventures of a Failure Junkie; How to fail at everything - the 10 step approach; and Too Blonde and too Ambitious to Succeed?
But hey, as my cousin D. said about the East German experiment, “The original ideas were good.” And unlike the GDR version of Communism, my ideas and experiences are usually a lot of fun.

So, now we can come back to the title and photograph of this entry.
Le Rouge et le Noir, 1830, is of course a a Bildungsroman by Stendhal (Henri Beyle, (1783 – 1842, from Grenoble, a town which has been twinned with Essen since 1976) about the upwardly mobile Julien Sorel, an early version of Joe Lampton of "Room at the Top" by John Braine.
I have already explained the roux and the red lace, and while I was most surprised at the absence of the aforementioned scene on You Tube (can anyone explain this to me?), I noticed that there was a lot of use of this colour throughout the film, while other bright colours did not feature at all. There are the red capes at the beginning, of course, Vianne (our heroine) also wears red jumpers, or a red apron, and Joséphine wears a red jumper after her liberating use of the skillet. The red is often more the shade of lobster bisque than crimson, however. For instance Vianne's top and the stripes in Roux's shirt when they're dancing on the boat, or the blanket on Anouk's bed, or the balloon at the end of the film. But it still seems to symbolise the bit of fun and life and sin (?), the dark matter, the brown, almost black (magic) stuff (6) has brought to the people of the village.

PS: See here for the round-up and some seriously yummy looking recipes!
(1) The Red Shoes:
a) a fairy tale by Danish poet Hans Christian Andersen; b) a legendary film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (1948); c) a ballet based on the film and the story by Jochen Ulrich, with music by Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten, premiered May 6th 2006 at the Aalto Theater, Essen, as: Die roten Schuhe.
We watched the film, wore red shoes, ate red food and had a red cocktail. Sadly, similar events never got beyond the planning stage.
(2) I had the idea after I came across a book group who did just that: they read a book, and when they next got together, they all brought a dish inspired by the book. It seemed like the ideal thing for Chocolate & Zucchini, and we started with “Life of Pi” .....
(3) Ah, a number of points here. Roux, in Joanne Harris’ book and in the film, means ‘the redhead’. There is also a hotly tipped band called La Roux, because of the female singer's red hair. A question to the French speakers: is this even correct, or should it be La Rousse? (Yes, I know, this is also slang for The old Bill, according to this dictionary.
Of course, foodies think immediately of the basic technique for starting a lot of sauces, and/or the brothers Roux.
For me, it has a fun element, too. Depp playing Roux, in my mind, turns into "oaf playing sweaty flour". A roux, in the typically German way of naming things, becomes the rather uninspired, prosaic, but nail on the head "sweated flour", or "flour sweat", and "Depp" is German slang for dork, fool, moron, oaf, plonker, retard, shmuck, twit.
(4) Pars pro toto: when he followed the preposition "for" with the nominal form "John and I", I would have felt too queasy to slice a carrot, let alone cook something "elegant" for his ever so educated palate! Such a shame that his palate has only superior taste-buds, but is not capable of forming "elegant" sounds, and that his education does not include basic grammar.
(5) The theatres in Stratford are undergoing major refurbishment, unfortunately, we don't seem to see provision for more parking spaces on the plans, and for some reason, there isn't a late train back to Brum. I'm seriously considering a campaign! - Oh, by the way, this production of The Tempest is sensational!
(6) The chocolate in the photograph, as you can probably tell, is 100% coco from Hôtel Chocolat.

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