Tuesday, 13 June 2017

AmGods Ep 107 A Prayer for Mad Sweeney

For want of a heart
A coin is lost
For want of a coin
A kingdom is lost
Faith is lost.

At last! Food in the script! Screen snacks! A lot of the food I made for this episode fell in the unappetizing category of mouldy prison meals and sea-sickening sailors’ rations. 
Made "mould" on the bread with cotton ball bits, watercolour and powdered colouring
               But there were some lovely English mansion kitchen and market scenes in Essie’s early days and those scenes were a dream to create: historically accurate meat pies, boiled puddings, spit-roast pigs...a market full of meat vendors, bread and pies, vegetables overflowing in wicker baskets and wheelbarrows.
A whole pig roasting on a spit with trussed birds and sausages getting smoked in the fireplace

Dressing the kitchen table with duck in plumage pies, asparagus pie, smoked ham, cabbages and more

meat pies and pretzels for sale at the market

Game hanging in the kitchen

Pastry "coffins" waiting to be filled

And begorra! Flaming Turnips!
Also fun – but sadly, on the cutting room floor: Essie carves scary faces in turnips - the historical forerunners to our very own Jack o’Lantern pumpkins. Legend is that because he could get neither into heaven nor hell, Stingy Jack's wandering soul used to haunt the hills of Ireland on horseback scaring the bejeezuz out of everyone. To light his way, he would carve out a turnip and carry a burning piece of coal in it as he galloped over hill and dale in the misty Irish night.  Stingy Jack
        carving turnips for Stingy Jack                                           a candle in a carved turnip by the window 

But a bit more Godsplaining about Mad Sweeney who is becoming almost lovable to us now that we know his hard-luck story and his noble hard-fighting heart. After all they’ve been through, he believes in Laura – and that she will return the king’s coin to him once/if he helps bring her back to life. 
Leprechauns, once upon a time were feared and revered spirits that time reduced to mad, flitting birds & faerie folk.
Today, these once powerful magical spirits are reduced to ignominious station of breakfast cereal salesmen
- image Orlando Jones

Mad Sweeney - Our King of Leprechauns
is based on the medieval Irish myth of Buile Suibhne aka Mad Sweeney. 
             He was a powerful king who loved to go to war but when he attempted to prevent the establishment of a church on his land, he was punished by a curse that banished him to wander the wild woods. His wife tried to stop him from leaving by grabbing his robe, causing it to unravel and leave him naked. So hence began his madness. He grew feathers and was doomed to fly about aimlessly in the form of a bird until he would one day be killed by his own spear. (sort of like a certain US president and the blue bird of Twitter).

King Sweeney's men had to eat whatever game they could catch in the field. I made guinea hens into crucified ground squirrels for the scene of the soldiers around the battlefield campfire.
              His is a rich legend full of foes, friends, kindness and cruelty and Pablo Shreiber’s portrayal gives us a glimpse of Mad King Sweeney's complex history. Check out my Godsplaining post from Episode 101 to see a photo of the huge wall in Dublin that tells his story in gorgeous mosaic.
              Once you start empathizing with him, you’ll need to know how to swear. Here are a few good insults to rip out next time you are at the pub:

Banjaxed – broken
Eejit – foolish person
Effin and blindin – swearing
Gobshite – inept fool
Manky – disgustingly filthy
Wagon – overbearing contrary unattractive woman
Bollix – stubborn unpleasant man

Now here's the sweetest part: something to eat from darlin' Essie! 
Here’s a great recipe for the sweet bread Essie stole from the young master’s plate and left as an offering for the leprechauns trusting that they would repay her in good luck. It’s from my food styling assistant who made dozens of loaves for the shoot and for hungry me who can never resist another little bite of warm cake.
borrowed this photo from "Hostess at Heart" Julie Menghini with gratitude 
Spicy Applesauce Oatmeal Loaf

Serve in thick buttered slices to bewitch your own Mad Sweeney

1 ¼ cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup rolled oats
¾ cup raisins
¾ cup brown sugar
2 lg eggs, beaten
½ cup corn oil
¾ cup applesauce
½ cup milk

1 in a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and stir until well blended. Add rolled oats, brown sugar, raisins and stir to combine well.
2 In a small mixing bowl, beat together eggs, oil, applesauce and milk. Add to flour mixture and stir just until mostly blended. Do not mix too much. Batter should be lumpy.

3 Lightly grease and flour a 9” x 5” loaf pan and pour in batter. Bake in an oven preheated to 350°F for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Next week -  It's a foodapalooza! Easter really knows how to throw a Goddam party. 
There's so much food in this last episode but it will leave you so hungry for moar! No worries! Bryan Fuller & co are already busily working on Season 2. 

Oh no...bunnies wait in Essie's 17th century kitchen with the other ingredients. 😭 

AmGods Ep 105 Lemon-Scented You

The kiss that awakes
The spark that starts
A volcano in your heart.
You must follow.

             At last we get to the beating heart of the matter: Shadow has a brilliant light that Laura can see now that she’s dead. She wants and needs to get back to him…back to love and back to life. It’s possible, she realizes, when that kiss from Shadow sparks her dead heart to beat just once – a taste of reignited life. Born again, so to speak.
Natali's storyboard for the kiss and the heartbeat.   image v natali/starz

Is Shadow still Laura’s puppy? Not if Wednesday has anything to do with it. A raven has just informed Wednesday that Laura is on the scene, so he quickly pulls Shadow away, and in the process, exposes their presence to two small-town cops who have come to arrested and jail them.
             The prison transforms to a futuristic boardroom where TechBoy, Media and the weirdly enigmatic Mr World try to convince Mr Wednesday to surrender and join their side. 
             The pitch is one of the most spectacular A/V presentations you’ve never seen, complete with rainbows and unicorns. And Mr Wood making one last stab at things as a gnarly tree with man-eating roots and shoots.

But this is a blog about Food and Godsplaining, not a recap. 
So on with the Godsplaining since this is a totally foodless episode. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Nunyunnini comes to America
In a gorgeous animation directed by Vincenzo Natali, the powerful spirit god Nunyunnini is embodied by the great Wooly Mammoth revered by the first people to cross into America via the elevated Bering Strait . 
                                                                      The Nunyunnini Elders                               image StudioTendril / Starz
              That Mammoth-worshipping tribe cannot adjust to the new world and is eaten/absorbed by Buffalo-worshippers of the land. The old god Nunyunnini’s disappearance is confirmed when the Wooly Mammoth becomes extinct. The children have forgotten him. 
                                                     The Children designed and animated by StudioTendril                                 image Starz
               Was Nunyunnini destroyed or merely changed? Perhaps a thread of him survived in the Buffalo, rebranded as a new belief. Today, Buffalo faith has faded; could Nunyunnini now be toiling beneath the yoke of an even newer god poised to spring back and reclaim his uber-god status?
                        White Buffalo concept art             image Starz
               Death is not a problem for Gods – they live by it – thrive on other’s death/sacrifice and they might lay dormant and reincarnate when conditions are more favorable. It could happen as today’s Americans continue to revive old belief systems like astrology, feminism, yoga or tarot. Or Vulcan’s bullets.

One-eyed Odinn with Huginn at his left shoulder and Muninn at his right. 
Raving ravens Huginn and Muninn
A raven shows up at Wednesday’s door to warn him that Shadow is being pulled astray by Laura. A fan tweets, “Is it Muninn or Huginn?” Well, that’s why I’m here, Godsplaining.
                Huginn and Muninn are two ravens in Nordic folklore that act as Odin’s messenger. Huginn is Thought and Munin is Memory. It’s often said that humans are the only creatures that think about the future; Huginn is the exception. This raven is all about thought. And he thinks Laura is going to cause trouble.
Odin with his ravenous wolves
More of Gods’ little pets
We also see a couple of drooling wolves occasionally streaking through the undergrowth and these are Freki and Geri They are Odin’s hungry companions and he feeds them his war-dead and the spoils of his conquests.
                 And are those bunnies doing the devil’s work? Again? Of course the rabbits hopping all over the road are this episode's Easter eggs: episode 107 is all about the goddess Oestra.

Technical Boy
Tech Boy is young brash inexperience god and doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. He was born from human belief but he has the soul-less mind of a computer. Like the internet, he can be a bratty troll or a powerful tool.  Interestingly, he might one day make the New Gods look old. Kinda makes you think – how quickly and inexorably The New becomes The Old.
                               This is how the New Gods roll                       image Starz
Gillian Anderson IS Media. She inhabits Marilyn Monroe who is the message of desire, Bowie the musical message of fame and Lucy the message of television and we will see her one more time this season as Dorothy who is not in Kansas anymore. You will love her in this season’s finale episode when she crashes Easter's party in her Easter bonnet.
from the finale - Techboy, his Children and Media   image Starz

Mr World
We need to take a closer look at the marvelous gangster Mr World. He is never what he seems. He’s a smooth-talking chameleon with his eye forever on the end game. But because spoilers, this bit of Godsplaining must wait til next season when we encounter him again.
                                Leader of the New Gods Mr World             image Starz
Mad Sweeney
Last but never least, our unlucky Leprechaun who unluckily gets arrested for murdering Laura but luckily gets taken to the same prison where Shadow and Wednesday are being held and makes his escape in all the mayhem and bedlam. Laura wakes up in a nearby morgue and the chase is on.

Next week, we can sit back and enjoy the story of Mad Sweeney’s Coming to America and more Godsplaining about our mad American Leprechaun.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

AmGods Ep 104 - Git Gone

I lean in but then I check right out.
I don't flinch because it doesn't hurt.
What is god if there's no one there.
And there's no proof
That you ever cared
About me.
                                            Bryan Reitzell

There's very little food in this episode - but it's sweet, sour, bitter and salty -- there's a lot to digest. 
           It's Laura's backstory and with it's unfolding comes the realization that she's an asshole but we actually are rooting for her. Even as she reveals herself to be an unfeeling self-centred willful person, we go along with her just like Audrey, her betrayed BFF. Seeing their relationship gives us a bit of insight into why and how we tolerate - even love - people who seem incapable of reciprocating. 
           And how we hope that love will be her redemption even as we know that the gods are powerful and her fate has been sealed by Anubis. 
          Or has it? 
Anubis frequently appears as a dog.

More Godsplaining: Anubis

Anubis is the Egyptian God of the Underworld. Ancient Egyptians believed he ushered the dead to their afterlife decided by the weight their deeds as measured against a feather. As the God of Embalming, Anubis was a very important deity and his sombre dog-faced image can be seen on the walls of burial chambers and on artifacts retrieved from tombs deep in the pyramids. 
            For more on the Egyptian mythology of Anubis, see my Godsplaining in Episode 103. (scroll way down to previous episodes or click this link: http://janicepoonart.blogspot.ca/2017/05/american-gods-ep103-head-full-of-snow.html

On a lighter note, here's a sartorial look at Anubis because sometimes fashion is more fun than my pedantic history rantings. From his pin-tucked shirt to his flowing robes, all of Anubis' clothes feature fine pleating as befits one who meticulously measures good and bad.
          We shot Anubis' climb to Judgement with Mrs Fadil one l-o-n-g summer day only to find the costume department had dressed Chris Obi in the wrong version of Anubis' robe. We had to reshoot the whole thing because the robes have their own important story to tell.  
                                              Details from  Costume Designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb's Anubis               images courtesy Starz
For more from fashion-watchers Tom and Lorenzo, check their blog for a closer look at the costuming of American Gods. 

Laura and Shadow's backstory

This would be a tender love story except for the blood spray and severed limbs. The two lovers are both seeking to fill their emptiness but they don't know what. They are yin and yang: Shadow questions nothing and Laura questions everything. Shadow accepts and Laura rejects. She even rejects her destiny as Anubis attempts to guide her to her bleak afterlife with a terse condemnation: "You believe in nothing - therefore you will spend an eternity in nothingness". 

            To describe Laura's ennui, Brian Reitzell composed Queen of the Bored and it's sung in this episode by Garbage's Shirley Manson who captures Laura's mood perfectly. 

            In the script, Laura drinks pots of wine and eats pies whole to show her growing ennui. In the edited episode, we get but a brief glance of pie as preparations are made for Shadow's welcome home party. But there is a constant presence of flies and fly spray so I couldn't resist the opportunity to give you a recipe for Shoo-Fly Pie.

At last, we eat!

An American Heritage pie from 1800s Amish Dutch Pennsylvania: Shoo-Fly Pie You can't tell b/c my photography is so shitty but the bottom layer is gooey and the top part is cakey.

Shoo-Fly Pie

A half-cake, half sugar-pie concoction that could only have been born in a place that had neither fruit nor cream, Shoo Fly Pie is nevertheless a fascinating slice of Amish-American history and worth a try! Best served warm with great lashings of barely sweetened whipped cream. Use medium or light molasses as you may find blackstrap molasses a bit too strong. Or use corn syrup instead of molasses, add pecans and a drizzle of chocolate on top if you want.

One unbaked 9" pie shell
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup cold butter cut in 1/2" cubes
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup hot water
3/4 cup cold water
2 eggs, beaten slightly
1 cup molasses

1 In a food processor or in a mixing bowl using a pastry cutter, combine flour, brown sugar, salt and butter. Process only until butter is cut into small oatmeal-sized bits and mixture is crumbly. Set aside.
2 In a small mixing bowl, dissolve baking soda in hot water then add molasses and stir until blended. Add eggs and beat together. Add cold water and stir until blended. Add half of the flour mixture, stir just enough to blend ingredients and pour into unbaked pie shell. Top with the remaining flour mixture and bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool pie completely before cutting to allow the egg-molasses layer on the bottom to firm up.

The food in the scene between Wednesday and Shadow was actually take-away from a nearby restaurant. I couldn't prepare the food for this scene (would have done Rainbow Chopped in Crystal Fold to represent Sweeney's pot of gold) because I was fully engaged in doing a massive food scene for Episode 108. So I'm giving you some recipes for old-fashioned small-town inauthentic American-Chinese Take-out that you can snack on as Wednesday lectures Shadow in a small-town old-fashioned American-Chinese cafe. 

Sweet and Sour Spareribs

1 lb pork ribs cut in 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp Chinese 5-spice
1 Tbsp cooked corn oil

1 Tbsp cornstarch for dusting
oil for deep-frying

1 Place rib pieces in a mixing bowl and sprinkle with soy sauce, garlic powder, 5-spice and oil. Toss well to coat ribs in seasonings and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. Just before cooking, sprinkle on cornstarch and toss to coat all rib pieces completely. Sprinkle on more cornstarch if necessary. 
2 Heat 2 inches of oil to 375 degrees over medium-high heat in a heavy pot or very deep heavy pan. Gently drop 8 to 10 pieces in the oil, separating them with a heat-resistant slotted spoon so they don't stick together. Cook for 3 - 4 minutes and remove. Check to see if meat has cooked through and adjust timing accordingly. Repeat until all ribs have been cooked. They can be salted and served dry but for the old authentic inauthenticity, a good soak in Sweet and Sour Sauce is essential!

1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 cps water
2 tsp mashed ginger
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/4 cup chopped bread-and-butter pickles
1/4 cup pickle juice

2 tsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp cold water

1 Combine cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl and stir to make a slurry. Set aside.
2 Combine all other ingredients in a saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat. While stirring the pot constantly, slowly drizzle in the cornstarch slurry. It will thicken quickly as it boils. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the ribs cooked as above and simmer for another 15 to 30 minutes. Serve with Fried Rice.

Easy Peasy Fried Rice

2 tsp oil 
1/4 small onion, chopped 
2 cups cooked rice
3/4 cup frozen peas, defrosted in boiling water and drained
1/2 tomato diced
1/2 tsp soy sauce
chopped lettuce for garnish

1 In a large saute pan, heat oil over medium-high heat and add onion. Stir quickly to brown slightly. Add peas and rice and stir to heat. Sprinkle on soy sauce and toss to coat completely. Continue stirring until rice has heated through completely. Add chopped tomatoes, stir just to mix, not cooking the tomatoes. Serve on a bed of chopped lettuce.

Fortune Cookies

Fortune cookies, which are not at all Chinese but were invented in California by a Japanese baker, are now made in factories using a press but you can make them by hand at home. Home-made, they are way more delicious and you get to make up the fortunes. Practice the folding with a circle cut from paper. It's quite simple once you get the hang of it. The really fun bit is making up the fortunes with your guests in mind. Hehehe.
Make your own fortune cookies: Easy as 1 2 3
1 - slide cookie off baking sheet
2 Put in fortune and bring A + B together forming cylinder
3 Holding AB together w left thumb, finger put right thumb in C and right finger in D, pull down and pinch together
3/4 cups sugar
3/8 cups egg whites
1/2 cup melted salted butter
1/4 tsp vanilla 
1/2 cup flour
12 small strips of paper printed with fortunes or messages 

1 In a mixing bowl, combine sugar and egg whites and stir until sugar dissolves. Add butter and vanilla, stirring to blend. Add Flour and stir to blend completely.
2 Lightly butter a cookie sheet and on one half, using an offset spatula, spread 1 tbsp of batter into a 3-inch circle. Repeat on the other half and bake in an oven preheated to 375 degrees. Bake for 5-6 minutes or until edges start to brown. Let cool for 1 minute until cookie is cool enough to handle but still supple. Place one fortune on each circle and fold (see diagram) to enclose fortune. You can prop cookie in a muffin cup to harden as it cools. Wear rubber gloves while folding if cookie is too hot to handle.  If cookie gets brittle before you have a chance to fold it, place it back in the oven for 2 minutes to re-soften. Repeat until batter is used.

Next time: 

Episode 5, Lemon-scented You.  I won't be able to post Ep 105 and Ep 106 until I get back from the Split Screen Festival of Television Arts where I'll be on a panel discussing Hannibal's influence on art and culture with Raul Esparza (Chilton in Hannibal) plus several prominent New York artists. Bryan Fuller will be Skyping in and discussing American Gods as well as Hannibal 4. 

Join us in New York at the IFC Centre if you can on June 8!