Sunday, April 23, 2017

View from an airplane window...

HALLIE EPHRON: For all the negatives about air travel, the one enduring virtue is the view out the plane window.

For an unobstructed view, I try to pick a seat behind the wing, as far back as possible without being too close to the bathroom.  And then, willing the absence of cloud cover,  I can Zen out for hours at a time watching the landscape and sky.

The perfect flight leaves Boston at 5 PM and heads west: buckle up for for a three-hour sunset. Sometimes I remember to take a picture. 

So for your Sunday moment of Zen, here are a few of my favorites. I'll bet you can tell which one was taken flying near the Grand Canyon and which was over the Caribbean Turks and Caicos 

Today's question: What makes you pull our your camera and make a memory?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Food that's too smart to eat

photo by H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons
photo by H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

HALLIE EPHRON: Recently I read in the Huffington Post that Gwyneth Paltrow won’t eat octopus because they’re so smart. (This is what I do instead of writing my next book.)
Octopus are too smart to be food. They have more neurons in their brains than we do. I had to stop eating them because I was so freaked out by it.” One famously escaped from its tank at the New Zealand Aquarium, slithered down a drain pipe, and returned to the ocean.

Sound flaky? Not to me. There are several foods I won’t eat because they’re too smart. Octopus. Dolphin. Guinea pig. Whale.

So why is it okay to eat dumb food but not smart food?
This is a question I prefer not to ask myself.

Other foods I won’t eat for other reasons: shrimp that isn’t wild caught (they’re destroying mangroves that protect the coastline in order to farm at the little creatures and harvesting them with slave labor in Southeast Asia.) Swordfish more than a few times a year (mercury). Eggs from chickens raised in those awful cages.

What’s on your I WON’T EAT IT list, and isn’t it nice to be well-off enough to be making these kinds of choices?

Well, I won't eat octopus because I don't like it. Calamari is too rubbery for me. I wouldn't eat anything that's endangered, and yes, there is something about dolphins that
would squick me if someone put a plate in front of me.
by Fir0002 via Wikimedia Commons

In the summertime, we get fabulously free range eggs from my friends - I can literally see their chickens free-ranging around the dooryard whenever I visit. I admit, I've been too cheap to PAY for the good, cruelty-free eggs, but you're making me re-think that, Hallie. Now the Sailor is being fed by Uncle Sam and we're eating a dozen eggs every two weeks instead of two dozen eggs per week, I could afford the more humane (and tastier) product.

Food I was really grateful to find out WASN'T endangered? Conch. I fell in love with it the first time we visited the Bahamas, and I almost didn't eat it in Key West until someone told me, no, it's okay. There are still evidently plenty of Conch in the sea.

RHYS BOWEN: We had this discussion on Easter Sunday when I always serve leg of lamb. Now neither granddaughter will eat lamb because it's... well, it's a little lamb, isn't it?

Daughter Jane and I agreed that we are coming to feel the same way about eating meat. Cows are intelligent, so are pigs. Actually we don't eat much red meat any more but I do try to make an effort to buy grass fed, humanely raised beef. And chicken. And cage free eggs.

The trouble with going vegetarian is that it's hard to get enough B vitamins and legumes don't agree with my stomach. I love fish luckily. Even calamari and I cook calamari steaks so they cut like butter, Julia. Breaded, about a minute on each side.

Photo by Sandos at the English language Wikipedia
I haven't eaten veal for many years after I read how it is raised. I don't think I could eat grasshoppers or ants.And definitely not guinea pigs! we had an adorable one once who used to sit on my shoulder while I watched TV. Definitely not dolphin, although the dolphin they serve in the Caribbean is actually dolphin fish and not the mammal.
And I just saw on TV that plants send out distress signals to other plants when they are being eaten. What is left? Fruitarian?

JENN McKINLAY: I don't know, Rhys, I think the bananas would probably have separation anxiety about being ripped apart from their hand, because, little known fact (at least to me), a single
banana is called a finger while a bunch of bananas is called a hand.

Okay, no more bananas for me! Honestly, I tried the vegetarian thing. I lasted two weeks. Hooligan 1 walked by me eating a burger and I ripped it out of his hands and ate it right in front of him. Wisely, he said not a word and slowly backed away.

I do try to eat all organic, cage free, not endangered foods, and I will try things like crickets just because you never know if you have a taste for them. Truly, feeding a family has never felt so complicated. And, yes, Hallie, we are sure lucky to have such first world problems.

INGRID THOFT: Tongue. I won't eat tongue. The idea of another animal's tongue touching my tongue and then swallowing it? It grosses me out!

I have no issues with lamb, veal, or anything else that is cute, nor do I give the alleged intelligence of the entrée any thought.

I agree with Julia on the calamari front; way too chewy for my taste. I'm not thrilled by the idea of bugs, but could probably swallow down a cricket or two. However, I draw the line at things that are still alive. Many moons ago, my parents were in Japan and were served lobster (which they love under normal circumstances,) and it was still squirming on their plates. Needless to say, the activity of the main dish detracted from the flavor!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Too smart. (Well, they weren't smarter than humans, but that's not the point.) There is a weird line that I draw, and I can't quite put my finger on it.

Eels, though, those I CAN put my finger on. Pass. Sea bass and other endangered things, I don't eat. And it's either halibut or haddock that's endangered, so I just skip both of them. No veal. I'm very fond of rack of lamb, so, even though it does give me pause...I grill it and enjoy it. Without a mental picture. Ingrid, with you on tongue.

I once interviewed a guy who was the director of the aquarium. And I asked (not for the interview) if he ate sushi. he said yes, absolutely, and he ate fish. His philosophy was that fish are provided by nature, and if we are humane and not wasteful, it's a celebration of how the world works.

The big change though, is duck. I love grilled duck breast, and it used to be one of my faves. Now, though, with Flo and Eddy and their duck friends swimming in our back yard pool, I cannot eat duck. When we see it on a menu, my husband and I exchange horrified looks.

LUCY BURDETTE: Hank, I think that's how the Native American people handle eating animals--to thank them for their sacrifice, etc, etc.

I will not eat veal, and try not to eat pork (because pigs are too
Squid photo © Hans Hillewaert, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia
smart), and won't eat squid after seeing them while snorkeling. We found a whole line of them--as we'd approach, they'd back away. We'd back away, and they'd approach. It seemed as if they were curious about us! (Not that I would eat squid anyway, LOL. Just ask Hallie...)

I feel almost as though I should be vegetarian, but I'm not there yet. But I do go the "kind raising" route, definitely no eggs from caged chickens. And yes, we are lucky, lucky, lucky to even have this question on our collective tables!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: If vegetables send out distress signals, then fruit must, too, right? So where do you draw the line once you go down that road?

I would like to know that things I eat have been humanely treated. I buy good local dairy milk, and really expensive local cage free eggs, and local grass fed beef. I try not to eat endangered fish, and I support local farmers. I am a little squeamish about veal these days, but it doesn't come up as a menu choice that often--nor does octopus, although I'm happy to eat calamari. (Thanks for reminding me about the squid steaks, Rhys. They are amazingly good if you don't overcook them.)

I know tongue sounds really icky, but I grew up going to a German deli here in Dallas that sold it as one of their cold lunch meats, and I loved it! What do I draw the line at? Brains, maybe. I remember my mom cooking them when I was a kid. Was it with scrambled eggs? Or did they just look like scrambled eggs? Now we're all totally grossed out.

But I can't help but think these are all such first world issues. I'm a lot more concerned about how to feed hungry people.

HALLIE: So what's on your 'Won't Eat It' list and where do you draw the line?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Bad Movies We Love

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Were you at Malice when Rosemarie and Vince Keenan accepted their award? They described their manuscript as a mystery featuring Edith Head. Wow. The entire audience swooned. All agreeing it was a fabulous idea, and I can tell you, the wave of “why didn’t I think about that” washed over the entire crowd. Led by me.

Well, that book, DANGEROUS TO KNOW, is an Agatha nominee for Best First now! And hurray. And of course it’s deeply and fabulously rooted in old Hollywood.  So what better for the Keenans (writing as Renee Patrick) to talk about—than movies!

They DO Make ’em Like That Anymore
                  Rosemarie and Vince Keenan

Return with us now to the Second Golden Age of Movie Magazines, the early 1990s—which was twenty-five years ago, and doesn’t that give one pause? Using the standard boy band system of classification, Premiere was the serious one, Entertainment Weekly the cute one, and Movieline the scruffy, pouting troublemaker. Movieline ran blind items, just like Hedda Hopper used to do. And each issue ended with the column that was our shared guilty pleasure: Bad Movies We Love.

BMWL cast its net fairly wide, taking aim at disaster films (the entire Airport series, The Swarm), films that were disasters (Myra Breckinridge), and even Academy Award-worthy fare like The Greatest Show on EarthButterfield 8 and Fatal Attraction. (Also making the failing grade: not one but two movies in which half of our sleuthing duo, costume designer Edith Head, appeared as herself: Lucy Gallant and The Oscar.) The spotlighted titles came from a range of eras and genres, but each possessed some element that captivated—a hypnotic atmosphere, a galvanizing performance. They fascinated despite, and often because of, their flaws.

They were, in short, bad movies we love.

And they’re still making them, though Movieline is no longer around to keep track of them. Permit us to share a pair of favorites, joined in a number of ways. They’re both show business biopics from 2004 with leading men named Kevin that employ the same unusual—some would say baffling—structure. And we watch them over and over.

Vince’s choice is Beyond the Sea, a passion project for Kevin Spacey who co-writes, directs and stars as singer/actor Bobby Darin. 

Funds for the movie were cobbled together from several European sources, which accounts for the staging of the title song on what looks like a blustery afternoon in Bavaria with Spacey in a canary yellow suit crooning to Kate Bosworth as Sandra Dee, so cold you can see her breath. Spacey is several years too old for the role—a fact the movie clumsily acknowledges—and hits a few clams when he recreates Darin’s singing. But his enthusiasm for a bygone era of entertainment when the nightclub was king lends this cracked pinwheel of a movie an undeniable verve.

Rosemarie, meanwhile, harbors a soft spot for 
De-Lovely, which chronicles the life of Cole Porter. Most of the maestro’s songs are sung by what K-Tel used to call ‘contemporary artists’ with varying degrees of success. Robbie Williams tosses off the title song with such élan it’s mystifying he never became a bigger star in America, while the less said about Sheryl Crow’s “Begin the Beguine” the better. 

The more traditional musical numbers are uniformly dreadful—Louis B. Mayer singing “Be A Clown”?—but the movie has a refreshing openness to using the tunes in different ways. Anchoring it all is Kevin Kline’s performance as Porter. He’s wholly believable as a man who wears his genius lightly. His talent brings him joy, and it brings him joy to know it brings others joy. Kline may find himself in the middle of cacophonous chaos, but the twinkle in his eye cannot be faked.


Both movies use the same framing device, taking place in the afterlife with the protagonists telling their own stories in formats they understand: Darin’s as a movie, Porter’s a Broadway musical. And it’s this risky metaphorical gambit—life as a show, and the show as life—that accounts for the films’ strange hold over us. Darin, knowing that illness would eventually claim him early, develops a hunger for performing that sustains him—and is matched by Spacey’s own zeal for the spotlight. And De-Lovely’s ending, with every figure from Porter’s life appearing onstage to serenade him to the Pearly Gates with a rendition of “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” never fails to reduce Rosemarie to tears. Hokey? Absolutely. But it also succeeds in dramatizing the totality of a person’s existence, all the missed chances and found love, in a single rousing sequence.

 There was a third show business biopic in 2004. Ray was a critical and commercial hit, earning a Best Picture Academy Award nomination and a deserved Oscar for Jamie Foxx’s turn as Ray Charles. We enjoyed the movie, but we never revisited it. Maybe it’s not bad enough.

Or perhaps it needed a Kevin.

HANK:  So Reds, what bad movies do you love? (I loved De-Lovely.) And um, French Kiss. And Speed. And best/worst of all, Point Break.  

(Yesterday's winner of an advance readers copy of You'll Never Know, Dear is Finta! Send me your mailing address: hallie "at" hallieephron "dot" com.)

Renee Patrick is the pseudonym for married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist. Both native New Yorkers, they currently live in Seattle, Washington. Learn more at

Dangerous to Know

Los Angeles, 1938. Former aspiring actress Lillian Frost is adjusting to a new life of boldfaced names as social secretary to a movie-mad millionaire. Costume designer Edith Head is running Paramount Pictures’ wardrobe department, but only until a suitable replacement comes along. The two friends again become partners thanks to an international scandal, a real-life incident in which the war clouds gathering over Europe cast a shadow on Hollywood.

Lillian attended the Manhattan dinner party at which well-heeled guests insulted Adolf Hitler within earshot of a maid with Nazi sympathies. Now, secrets the maid vengefully spilled have all New York society running for cover – and two Paramount stars, Jack Benny and George Burns, facing smuggling charges.

Edith also seeks Lillian’s help on a related matter. The émigré pianist in Marlene Dietrich’s budding nightclub act has vanished. Lillian reluctantly agrees to look for him. When Lillian finds him dead, Dietrich blames agents of the Reich. As Lillian and Edith unravel intrigue extending from Paramount’s Bronson Gate to FDR’s Oval Office, only one thing is certain: they’ll do it in style.