As I’m sure we all know, the Oscar Awards are coming up this Sunday. Now, normally I don’t get too excited about the Oscars. I live in Los Angeles, so you can’t avoid the awards… they’re everywhere, creating traffic jams and making life somewhat inconvenient for local Angelenos. We usually watch the ceremony at home, but I’m never excited about it the way I used to be. That’s because over the past decade, there haven’t been too many films that I connected with on an emotional level. I was starting to lose faith in Hollywood. I think the decline really started for me with the premiere of “Battlefield Earth”… or maybe it was “From Justin to Kelly”… or “Glitter”… you know, there are really too many to list.
I didn’t used to be this jaded. Once upon a time, I really cared about the Oscars. In fact, I used to go to college right across the street from where the Oscars were held. Exciting, right? One night, after the awards, I ran over there with my college buddies to see if anybody was sneaking out the back door of the auditorium to avoid the red carpet. And guess what? We saw Robin Williams. He was holding his Oscar for “Good Will Hunting.” And he took a picture with us silly, overexcited college students, because that’s just the kind of awesome guy he is.
Yup, that’s me on the left, smiling like the biggest nerd that ever lived. I was so excited. The Oscars were a thrill. Movies were a thrill. But that excitement has faded over the years, as Hollywood has produced more and more forgettable films.
This year, things changed. I’m very happy to say that my disappointment in the film industry has shifted. For the first time in a long time, I really enjoyed myself at the movie theater– and not just once, but many times. Some terrific films were released this year… great stories with heart that really made you feel something. I’m actually looking forward to the Oscars on Sunday. Not only is Billy Crystal hosting (thank you Academy!!), but some really wonderful films have been nominated– and many of them are historical, which means they’re right up my alley.
Here are my top 6 movies of the year, in no particular order:
Midnight in Paris
My Week with Marilyn
I loved all of these movies. “The Artist” was probably my favorite, followed closely by “Midnight in Paris”– but I’m a sucker for the 1920’s. “The Help” may be tied for first place. It made me laugh, cry, and feel like I was given a window to another time and place. Utterly fabulous.
Courtesy of The Help. © DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved
What better way to celebrate the Oscars than with a recipe straight from the set? I found this recipe on the Food and Wine website, where Vanessa Gregory wrote a post about Southern food from The Help. “The Help” is a film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel of the same name. It is an inspirational story about a group of diverse, extraordinary women in 1960s Mississippi who build an unlikely friendship around a secret writing project. The film examines the complex relationships between African-American maids and the white families who employed them. Food plays a major role in the film. Because the story deals with race and class issues, the cooking is diverse– from chicken deep fried in Crisco to gelatin aspics to cocktail meatballs to collard greens, the food is a reflection of the social issues of that time period. Director Tate Taylor, a Jackson native, wanted authentically Southern food to dress his set. He decided to recruit real Southern cooks in Greenwood, Mississippi to create the on-set food for “The Help.” No caterers or food stylists for Jackson… he wanted the real deal, women who had Southern cooking in their blood.
The non-professional cooks hired for “The Help” had to create a massive amount of food for the film, preparing much of it in a hot outdoor kitchen on set. It was a big challenge, but the women were enthusiastic. Lee Ann Flemming, a newspaper columnist who baked Minnie’s infamous chocolate pie for the film, told Food and Wine about meeting actor Chris Lowell. “Chris loved my cucumber tea sandwiches,” Flemming boasted. “He said, ‘I ate about 25.'”
Food and Wine provided the recipe for Flemming’s sandwiches, so I gave them a try… and boy oh boy, Chris Lowell was right! This is some tasty finger food. So in honor of the Oscar awards and my rediscovered love of movies, here is one of Lee Ann Flemming’s recipes from “The Help”… Cucumber Rye Tea Sandwiches. They’d make a terrific Oscar party appetizer, and a fun conversation piece now that you know the story behind them.
Who are you rooting for in the Oscars this year? Have you fallen in love with the movies again?
- 1 large seedless cucumber, peeled and cut into 3-inch lengths
- 3 tbsp cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 36 slices party rye or 18-36 slices of rye bread
- 12 oz. cream cheese, softened
- 1 scallion, finely chopped
- 1 Persian cucumber, thinly sliced
- Freshly ground black pepper
You will also need
- 2-inch cookie cutter (if you can't find party rye)
- Using a box grater, coarsely grate the cucumber lengthwise, stopping when you get to the seedy center.
- Transfer the cucumber to a bowl and stir in the vinegar, lemon juice, sugar and salt. Let stand for 15 minutes.
- If using rye bread slices, use a 2-inch-round cookie cutter to cut out 36 rounds from the bread. Cover with a slightly damp towel.
- Transfer the grated cucumber to a colander to drain; squeeze out the excess liquid. Return it to the bowl. Stir in the cream cheese and scallion.
- Spread the cucumber cream cheese on the bread rounds.
- Top each with a Persian cucumber slice and arrange on a platter. Sprinkle with pepper and serve.
- Make Ahead: The cucumber cream cheese can be refrigerated overnight. Return to room temperature before spreading.