Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Toasted Muesli

I’ve made my own toasted muesli.

Three times.

This is big news.

It’s big news possibly because it’s my only cooking news (having otherwise gone back to the tuna-sandwich dinner school of thought). It’s also big news because, being honest, I thought I would never make my own breakfast cereal. Like making bread, I thought making muesli was a nice idea, but one for very earnest, organised people, and that the process was probably not nearly as easy all those earnest, organised people said (honestly, how often do people who make their own bread preach to you that it’s so “easy”). Well, although I’m not yet converted to bread-making (for now, I’m buying Vogels or bread from Brooklyn Bagels, thanks) I have undergone a complete cereal turnaround. And so now I’m spreading the home-made muesli love.

Inspired by a lovely climbing friend, I’ve been experimenting with an American granola recipe. Like my friends’ tasty version, my muesli seems to sit on the dessert-esq side of breakfast cereals. For slightly less intense granola/muesli recipes, try either this or this. But, if walnuts, spices, lots of dates and honey is how you like the oats in your muesli to roll (please tell me someone got that joke), read on.

Toasted Muesli

1kg whole oats

¼ cup canola oil

A generous ½ cup of honey

200g chopped dates (you could use cranberries, or any other dried fruit instead if you like. Just add them after you’ve finished toasting though)

100g roughly chopped walnuts (or whichever nut variant you like. Experimentation is a good thing)

1 vanilla pod

1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon (though this is kind of approximate. I’m not really one for extremely accurate measures)

1 teaspoon nutmeg (ditto on the “approximate” amount)

Two baking trays (one large and one small should be ok)

Set the oven to 140°. Combine the honey and oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Keep stirring this mixture until it foams and bubbles right up. Take the pan off the heat and add the oats, stirring them round well.

Split the vanilla pod and scrap all the seeds into the oat mix. Add the nutmeg, cinnamon, dates and walnuts. Stir very well. Spread the muesli mix across the baking trays and put in the oven for 30-40 minutes, turning the muesli over every 10 minutes. When the oats on the edges of the trays, at the back of the oven begin to turn brown-gold, the muesli is done (a very accurate way to measure, I know).

Leave the muesli to cool on the trays. Store in a large plastic container and make the world (or maybe just your flatmates) jealous of your muesli-making skills.

Unfortunately, I killed my little point-and-click camera (who knew they didn’t like travelling, sans case, in climbing bags) so I’ve only got photos of my first batch of muesli (I toasted it a bit too much – you don’t want your muesli to be quite this brown when you take it out of the oven).

xx Esther

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Separation City

I’ve been meaning to write about this film for a long time. Directed by Paul Middleditch and written by Tom Scott, Separation City is a Kiwi (with lots of Aussies and a couple of Germans too) film that was released here last year, was and released in Australia in mid-March this year (no idea what cinemas it’s showing in, sorry).

Put very simply, Separation City is a film about relationships and breaking up in Wellington. The poetic irony is that I watched it, and then was broken up with, in Wellington (screw you, poetic irony). The film follows Simon, (Australian Joel Edgerton), who is married, increasingly unsuccessfully, to Pam (Dannielle Cormack). Simon and Pam are part of a group of several professional, mid-30s friends who all have small children and who all are trying to figure out love and life. Rhonda Mitra plays one of these friends, the supposedly German/Dutch Katrien, though Mitra has got the plummiest accent you’ll ever hear. Katrien’s husband Klaus, (who does sound legitimately German) cheats on her, and Simon, frustrated and not connecting at all with Pam, falls in serious unrequited love with Katrien. Unsurprisingly, stuff gets problematic.

L-R - Katrien, Pam, Joanne, Harry, Simon

That’s the simple outline. Separation City is about a lot more than just break-ups. To begin with, it’s got a sharp, dark, sense of humour. Also, being set in Wellington, it’s got politics, sleazy politicians and wry journalists. When it examines families and the daily, often cringe-worthy dynamics of family life, (used condoms, chocolate cereal for breakfast, remembering to buy "cheapish but still drinkable Aussie Shiraz" for a dinner party), it’s amusing, accurate and not prepared to gloss over the awkward things that matter. Finally, the cinematography in Separation City is fantastic. Wellington comes across as the spectacular, hilly coastal city it is, though in Separation City, Wellington's absolute best side is shown - it’s nearly always sunny and only mildly breezy (filthy lies). It’s worth watching the film just for the beautiful scenery.

And now I have a confession to make. I really wanted to love this film. It’s set in Wellington! Joel Edgerton is very good looking! Les Hill (who plays Simon’s journalist best friend, Harry, and who is, hand down, the films’ best actor) is (without hyperbole) the greatest character ever!

But I couldn’t love it. I could like sections of it a lot, but in places the film feels forced and contrived. The voice over provided by Simon and Katrien is especially contrived and unnecessary (though Simon’s can be quite funny). The pace is very uneven, and although the sections with the men’s group are all at once hilarious, poignant and revealing, they feel somewhat out of place, like they could be from another film.

This is not to say you shouldn’t watch Separation City. It is very much worth seeing. But just don’t go to it expecting to fall in love.

xx Esther

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Bittersweet 'Welcome'

I am not much of a cryer in movies. This may sound a little surprising from someone as emotional as myself, but it usually takes a fair bit of sadness in a film for me to lose it. This is what happened during a screening of French director Philippe Lioret's Welcome. This is probably the saddest film I have seen all year!

Set in the northern French town of Calais, Welcome is the story of Bilal (Firat Ayverdi), a seventeen year-old Iraqi Kurd immigrant. Bilal has survived a walk (yes walk) from his homeland, now setting his sights on crossing the English Channel to reach his girlfriend, Mina(Derya Ayverdi). Mina and her Iraqi family have migrated to London, with Bilal having promised to join there, and make a life together. After attempts to smuggle the border on a cargo truck, Bilial decides to swim the Channel. In this plight he meets Simon (Vincent Lindon), a heart-broken middle-aged swimming instructor. Simon takes the young Iraqi under his wing, teaching him the skills that made himself a French champion. The kindness Simon shows is at great personal risk, and the Calais authorities are soon on to him. Assisting immigrants is a major offence, with the issue a very real one for French society. However, in true French style Simon's shift from lifeless individual to one of compassion causes a change of heart in his much younger and very attractive ex-wife Marion (Audrey Dana). Love scenes and passionate embraces, the hallmarks of any French movie, ensue.

It is not all tragedy. The bond between Bilal and Simon is moving. While other citizens in Calais look to the immigrants as a form of vermin, Simon takes the time to engage with one of these desperate and impoverished individuals. Plainly, Simon gains as much from the relationship as Bilal, with the coach having his passion for swimming revived through his young protege. The stamina Bilal has shown in making his way to France, all in the name of a girl whom he has spoken to since leaving his homeland, shows more personal strength than that needed to swim the English channel. At only seventeen, he has lived beyond his years, something that is the case for many young immigrants. At the same time, his love for Mina and dream to be a famous footballer connect Bilal to many of the Western citizens whom regard immigrant like himself as a unwanted aliens. Lioret manages the balance of topical and complex themes with personal bonds, making Welcome avoid becoming a lecture on the rights and wrongs of immigration.

What really got me about this film was the confronting realness of the plot. Any Australia knows how topical and distressing issues of immigration are. This is a situation that is seen throughout the world. In France, stories like Bilal's are ever-present. I think it is so important for films about these issues to be made. Films, like Welcome, that do not attempt to gloss over or resolve the situation. Intersections with vignettes of the French immigration authorities, and escaped immigrants like Mina's family in London effectively convey the complexity of the situation. The perspective of each group is explored; the hesitation toward helping immigrants, their desire for a better life and Simon's choice to help one of these individuals to achieve this.

This is great film, but make sure to take lots of tissues!