Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Now you're cooking with... ?

Just when you think you know what you need to know to make a decision...

You buy olive oil, you know to look for "Extra Virgin," right? The ubiquitous Rachel Ray even goes so far as to call it EVOO (because, evidently, those extra four syllables are four too many). Well, "extra virgin," which refers to the acidic level of the oil - less than or equal to .8% (you know, if you were wondering) - is only part of the story. Turns out, you also want to look for "first cold pressing" - "cold," because if they have to heat the olives to expel the oil, it, as you can only imagine, changes the flavor, and "first," because, really, who wants seconds from tired, already pressed olives?

Actually, heat (and other far more obscure sounding technologies) are only used on the sad and mangled remains of the olives after they've been pressed - sad and mangled remains technically called "pomace," in case, you know, you were wondering. What is produced from these second, third and subsequent pressings (hot or otherwise) is generally not edible and should be used for things like soap and candles.

But, and this is where it starts to get scary, it turns out that olive oil is to the E.U. what cocaine is to South America. No, really. Except sort of backwards. Instead of pushing the real thing (I'm talking about the white stuff - not the secret formula soft drink, which supposedly once had the white stuff in it, but that's a story for another blog), oil producers pushed anything but. There you are, in the kitchen, happily pouring what you think is extra virgin olive oil from the hills of Puglia, but instead you're pouring hazelnut oil from Turkey. Nice.

The New Yorker published an article (which I read, even though it wasn't written by Malcolm Gladwell) last summer about the olive oil trafficking in Europe, most of which filters through Italy, though I suppose it's technically "anti-trafficking?"

You've got Greek and Spanish olive oil being shipped to Italy for packaging and being sold - this is legal, mind you - as Italian olive oil. You have other oils entirely (soy, canola, hazelnut) being treated and colored and then flamboyantly packaged and sold as EVOO, at EVOO prices - and, in the best scam of all, low grade Italian olive oil being doctored, altered and sold as the highest quality oil - the hardest ruse to uncover even with chemical analysis of the "oil." These last two are not considered legal, even by the friendly consortium that, well, regulates would be a stretch, the olive oil trade in the E.U.

So, what are you cooking with? Well, if it tastes peppery, bitter and fruity, it's probably good quality olive oil (though whether it's Italian, Greek, Spanish, Moroccan, or... that's anybody's guess). When it comes to EVOO, being label conscious just won't do you a lot of good. Oh, and the big brands? Colavita, Bertolli, Nestle? They've all been peripherally touched by scandal - in fact, Unilever just unloaded the olive oil and vinegar portion of the Bertolli brand to Grupo SOS. Hmmm. Fancy that.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Too Close for comfort

Few actresses do calculating, cold and ruthless as well as Glenn Close. There's a reason she was cast as Cruella De Vil, the ne plus ultra of female evil doers.

In Patty Hewes, Close's character on Damages, we get Close at her despicable, devious best. And that makes for some seriously addictive TV.

Thank the heavens above Damages wasn't made as a movie, offering only a scant 60 minutes of Patty Hewes; as a television series, we get to wallow in hour after hour after hour of pitiless manipulation, relentless ambition, and Machiavellian scheming on a scale seldom before seen on screen (large or small).

Rose Byrne, Ted Danson, Tate Donovan--they all more than do their part--but this is Glenn's show. She runs it, she owns it, she chews it up and she sword swallows it whole.

Suffice it to say, I'm glad that I didn't find this show until this summer, because had I found it when it first aired last summer (as in oh seven), and then had to wait until sometime next year (as in, hello?!, oh nine??), I'd be foaming at the mouth. Seriously, even now I can't believe that I have to wait four to six months before Season Two airs. Four to six, I say, because I can't find a clear answer anywhere as to when FX is going to air Season Two--January, April, January, April? Somebody tell me, please? I think I'm going through Hewes withdrawal.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Real Lit

Consider this minor redemption; I may read Crack-lit, but I also read Lit-lit (if there can be net-net, there can be lit-lit).

In addition to my foray into fervent teen-aged vampire romance, I also recently read Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett, a book I read both as fast as I could and as slowly--wanting as I did to know more, more, more about the characters and the story and also dreading turning the last page to see no more words, to find no more revelations.

Improbably peopled with characters from around the world, Bel Canto somehow weaves a mesmerizing and believable tale of discovery and romance, growth and friendship, and of course, life and death. Kidnappers and hostages, opera singers and tycoons, politicians and villagers -- all tossed together like a mixed salad. And once you toss a salad, you can't untoss it.

Patchett has a way with words that shapes each of her characters particularly; her language shifts to suit them. Sharp and clear or lyrical and a bit blurry, her phrasing offers as much insight into her characters as a singer's phrasing does into a song.

Of course, me being me, as I was reading the book, I couldn't help but notice that it's tailor-made to be adapted into a movie (other than the limited scope of the location), and lo and behold, it appears as though the team behind Capote (RT:91), which garnered Phillip Seymour Hoffman his Best Actor Oscar, is preparing to make the movie. Finally. The book was published in 2001.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Okay-I should be embarrassed by this, and maybe I am, a little-but you know, I've talked about "CrackTV," now I'm talking about "Crack-Lit" (chick-lit? ha! that t'aint nuthin.)

I read four books, totaling over 2500 pages, in four days. Now, I'm not making a claim that these books are Dickens or Dostoevsky, but they are addictively readable (I'm becoming something of an expert on addiction these days - take it from me, this is a beneficent form of the problem).

The series, by Stephenie Meyer, about vampires, werewolves, and one likable but ordinary girl, has hit the female tween market like a tsunami. Not since the Harry Potter series (400 million copies and counting) or The DaVinci Code (40 million copies) has a book garnered such fervent fans and readers.

The series may not be for everyone, from a purely plot and character standpoint, and hence may not reach as wide an audience as HP or DVC (I've read them, I'm entitled to take liberties). But let me tell you, it's a good lesson in readability and story-telling.

The movie comes out in November-and, well, if you read this column at all regularly, you know my feelings about adaptations. And I'm particularly torn about my expectations on this one. What do you expect when you learn that the same writer responsible for adapting the book wrote the movie "Step Up" AND the Showtime show "Dexter"? No, really. Melissa Rosenberg wrote them both. On the other hand, Meyer's book is a story about vampires and a 17 year old girl. Huh.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Four percent is NOT a solution

Wow. This is not a review to be proud of:

A poorly constructed, derivative sci-fi stinker with a weak script and poor action sequences.

Ouch. Rotten Tomatoes says... 4. Yep. 4%.

That actually takes some doing. Paris Hilton's latest movie got a 5.

According to The-Numbers.com, Babylon A.D.'s production budget was $45,000,000 and its first weekend take was $12,000,000. That's not pretty. On the other hand, Speed Racer, although it managed to wrangle a 36 on RT (don't ask me how), supposedly had a $120 million production budget, and only brought in $18 million its opening weekend. So, maybe $12 million isn't looking so bad.

Still, Vin, take notes. In Hollywood - it's better to blond than bald.