I Still Haven’t Seen “12 Years a Slave,” and I Probably Won’t.

First of all, congratulations to John Ridley on winning an Oscar for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay for “12 Years a Slave,” and also to Steve McQueen, Brad Pitt and everyone else who helped this film land Best Picture. It’s an incredible accomplishment on its own merits, but the fact that two black men were so central to the vision of such a successful movie make these awards especially noteworthy. As an African-American, I’m aware of feeling a tangible sense of pride in their accomplishment.

I haven’t seen “12 Years a Slave;” 2013 was pretty busy and I saw fewer movies than I would’ve liked. I had multiple chances to buy a ticket, but I always chose something more escapist.

When it was released, it received an inordinate amount of promotion in the media I generally consume, particularly on MSNBC. Over there, different hosts relentlessly promoted the film, sometimes on the same day — panel discussions, multiple interviews with the writer, director and stars, ongoing reporting of its progress at the box office, etc. At the time, I was working from home with MSNBC on in the background: the saturation coverage drew attention to itself because the entire tenor of the channel changed for a sustained period.

Discussing race (particularly slavery) in America is very difficult, so I’ve lowered expectations to be satisfied whenever it blips on the radar. Even beyond MSNBC, people who don’t typically cover film were enraptured by the apparent cultural phenomenon this movie “12 Years a Slave” had created.

By all accounts, it’s a truly excellent film. Top-notch performances, stunning production values, emotionally-riveting moments that horrify and exult. It certainly made a lot of money ($140M on a budget of $20M) and it ran the table through awards season, partially a result of good marketing, but underneath it all, quality.

And I have absolutely no desire to see it.

I was born to middle-class, educated black professionals who 1) wanted to make sure I knew our history and 2) understood that no one else had any interest in teaching it to me. One Black History Month in elementary school, I asked our teacher if we were going to hear about Toussaint Louverture or Nat Turner; she had no idea to whom I was referring. The only TV program I remember our entire family watching together is “Roots.” Much of the assigned reading in my Introduction to the Black Experience class freshman year of college was on my bookshelf before I’d ever seen a PG-rated movie.

So, I wasn’t moved when I first saw trailers for this lush period piece with actors, producer and a writer I admire. Days after its opening weekend, the heartfelt proclamations from talking heads who’d been swept away by the film’s alternating brutality and beauty left me cold.

I’d never heard of Solomon Northrup until the PR blitz leading up to the release of “12 Years A Slave.” However, once I became familiar with the story of how his freedom was stolen and how he endured, survived and escaped, I didn’t develop an interest in seeing the film; no disrespect intended to Mr. Northrup or the filmmakers.

Only a few black people I know went to see this film. My stepmother: “I could barely stay in my seat. Such ugliness, so hard to watch. Nothing new.” From looking at 2013 movie box office stats, I wonder how many other black Americans felt similarly:

1) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
2) Iron Man 3
3) Frozen
4) Despicable Me 2
5) Man of Steel
6) Gravity
7) Monsters University
8) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
9) Fast & Furious 6
10) Oz The Great and Powerful
69) 12 Years a Slave

I suck at math, but I’m pretty sure more black people forked over hard-earned money to see “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas” and “Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor” than “12 Years a Slave.” Which suggests to me that any national conversation about race spurred by “12 Years a Slave” didn’t include a significant or representative amount of African-Americans. Again, I might be wrong, but I don’t think so.

I have no idea how to go about addressing, let alone resolving our racial problems. Good art that dramatizes our ongoing struggle to accept and understand each other can raise awareness and foster empathy. So, yes: let’s continue to look at the past so we can understand how we got here, and why we’re stuck here.

But that doesn’t mean art exploring racism should be confined to an historical setting, and that shouldn’t create a dramatic ghetto for actors of color. Clearly, corporate media disagrees with me.

Perhaps that’s why “Fruitvale Station” was shut out of the Oscars.

Or why African-American actors are much more likely to gain recognition portraying maids and criminals than they are as businesswomen or frustrated everymen.

Setting aside action films and historical dramas: what was the last film you saw with a black character where his/her race wasn’t directly related to the character’s actions/motivation? I can’t name one; I’m sure I can think of a few if I gave myself more time.

Here’s The New York Times’ 1853 account of Solomon Northrup’s ordeal and his pursuit of justice. It’s an amazing individual story and a noteworthy event in American history.

I’m told it’s also an excellent movie.

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Blood-orange Melomel: serendipity in a glass

After I prepped my 6-gallon batch of metheglin last month, there was still plenty of honey stuck to the inside of the shipping container, a 1-gallon milk bottle. I inverted the bottle over a bowl and collected an additional 360 grams of honey. Good organic honey is at least $10/pound. Waste not, want not, nahmsaying.

I decided to brew a one-off. I filled a large stockpot halfway with water and brought it to a boil before adding:

  • 360 grams honey
  • 1 vanilla bean (scored lengthwise)
  • .5 g whole cloves
  • 3.5 g star anise pods
  • 5 g diced orange peel
  • 4 g cinnamon sticks
  • 30 g granulated sugar

I let it simmer for 15 minutes, then skimmed off the foam and let it cool before straining and pouring it into a sterilized 1/2 gallon bottle. (I set aside the vanilla bean, too.)

When the must was about body temp, I added:

  • 3 grams of Côte des Blancs yeast
  • 4 g cinnamon sticks
  • .5 g whole cloves
  • juice of three limes
  • soggy vanilla bean
  • 15 ml fresh grapefruit juice
  • .5 g pectic enzyme

I shook vigorously to combine the ingredients, topped it off with filtered water until there was an inch of headspace at the top, then topped it off with an airlock.

Eighteen days later, I used a hydrometer to measure the alcohol content: 9.4% ABV. To my palate, mead tastes best at 9-11%, so I racked the metheglin to remove the lees at the bottom and put the bottle in the fridge. (“They” say your houseplants love wine lees, but I already have a fruit-fly infestation from the ethanol fumes in my kitchen)

metheglin after racking

Lees left over after the metheglin’s first racking. I saved the vanilla bean.

My local natural foods store showcases the best produce by the front door, and when I walked in that morning to buy coffee, a gorgeous basket of blood oranges stopped me in my tracks. Back at home, I juiced three ripe ones and added:

  • 125 ml blood orange juice
  • 20 g granulated sugar
melomel after the first racking

Still a bit cloudy.

I let it sit for another day before removing the vanilla bean and racking again to remove sediment and fruit pulp.

First of all, the color’s beautiful, reminiscent of Ruby Red grapefruit. Thanks to the pectic enzyme, it’s relatively clear; in the bottle, it looks sort of like a rosé. I want to share this with friends, so I’m exercising great self-control. So far, I’ve only sipped two small glasses on its own; well-chilled, I get notes of honey, citrus, vanilla, and orange blossom with a little bit of anise and cinnamon on the finish.

blood orange melomel is the bomb

Blood-orange melomel; adding this specific juice was a flight of fancy that worked out extremely well.

blood orange melomel in a wine glass

Notes: honey, citrus, vanilla, apricot. I get a little bit of anise and cinnamon on the finish.

The revelation: I put 4 0z of melomel in a Stella Artois glass and topped it off with Session lager, creating the most flavorful shandy I’ve ever tasted. The crispness of the beer and the softness of the honey-botanical flavors are a sublime combination.

melomel shandy

Melomel and lager combine to create a shandy with honey and citrus notes.

Serendipity occurs when you find something you weren’t looking for; it’s one of my favorite words.

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Broccoli-Pancetta Quiche for a Sunday Afternoon

I made this for a friend who came over on a Sunday afternoon. She’s an amazing cook, so I was pretty pleased with myself when she asked for seconds. This would probably make a great dinner, but the prep required might be more than many of us feel like doing after a long day at work.
No matter; it goes extremely well with Mimosas and conversation.

For the quiche:

  • 1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 6 eggs
  • 3/4 cup half and half
  • 1/2 lb pancetta, diced
  • 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2 small purple potatoes
  • 1 sprig baby broccoli
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes (sliced in half)

For the crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick frozen unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons ice water
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • black peppercorns
  • salt

Equipment:

  • large mixing bowl
  • pastry cutter
  • flat spatula
  • a good, sharp knife
  • 9-inch pie plate
  • rolling pin
  • mortar and pestle
quiche before baking quiche after baking

Preparation:

I used to worry about making a perfect crust. Eventually, I grew up and realized that perfect is the enemy of the good. This is a modified version of a 3-2-1 dough — the relative proportions of flour, fat and water. For optimal results, I keep the flour and butter in the freezer before starting my prep.

First, wash your thyme, strip the leaves and toss the stems. Using a sharp knife, finely chop the thyme, then set it aside. Your hands are going to smell great.

Use a mortar and pestle to grind some peppercorns, then add a little salt. (What do you mean you don’t have a mortar and pestle) Fine, use table salt and pepper.

Dice the frozen butter with a sharp knife and return it to the freezer. Next, combine the flour, sugar and salt and thyme in a mixing bowl. Add the diced butter to the flour mixture and use a pastry cutter to chop until the butter is evenly distributed. (I usually stop when the butter chunks are slightly smaller than peas.)

While stirring with a flat spatula, add the ice water until it’s absorbed. Next, drizzle olive oil over the dough and use the pastry cutter again to combine. Don’t stir too much; you’ll get a tougher crust. Use your hands to gently gather it into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and put it the fridge for 60 minutes.

Fry the diced pancetta until brown; mix in the diced onion, then drain and set aside in a large bowl.

Boil the diced purple potatoes until tender; drain them and shock them with cold water. Drain again, and add to the bowl of pancetta and onion.

Dice the baby broccoli and sliced tomatoes, and put them in the bowl so they can make some new friends.

Crack 6 eggs into a different mixing bowl, add the half-and-half, and whip it good. Toss in the broccoli, potatoes, pancetta, onion and tomatoes, then stir gently until it’s all combined.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Sprinkle a good amount of flour on a clean work surface and roll out the crust until it’s at least a foot in diameter and approximately 1/8 inch thick. Lay it over the pie dish and let it flop over the sides by an inch, then trim it with a sharp nice or kitchen shears and roll it back to create a nice rim. The rim’s important; it looks nice, but it’ll also help contain the quiche so you can fill it up to the top of the dish.

(Semi-pro tip: I roll crust out on a lightweight cutting board; when I have the thickness I want, I invert the pie plate on the cutting board and invert it before forming it into a neat shape.)

Pre-bake the crust; you can use pie weights, or you can put a cup or two of dried beans to hold it down. Put it in the 350F oven about 20 minutes; it should be a *very* light brown.

Let the crust cool for a few minutes, then sprinkle half of the Gruyère across the bottom. Pour the liquid ingredients on top, then spread the remaining cheese across the top of the batter.

Put the pie plate on a cookie sheet and place it in the center of your oven until the center is firmly. This took about 45 minutes; in my experience, when the cheese has browned to this color, it’s a good indicator that it’s nice and firm at the center.

Enjoy, and share.

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