Sunday, 25 June 2017

AMGods Ep 108: Come to Jesus /pt 1

Harsh winds
May toss the darling buds
Uproot the shooting sprouts 
When Spring clouds over 
Thundering vengeance
On silly Summer's love.

Food glorious food! 
The scene where Shadow meets Easter in Gaiman’s book is a fun picnic on a blanket in a park. This, however, was to be no picnic; no walk in the park. It was a pull-all-the-stops FullerStyle Feast-o-rama. I came to the meeting with little sketches of a pretty buffet dotted with bunny sculptures.

My early sketch for Easter's banquet

This is one of a series of sculptures by Jordan McLaughlin that I wanted to use on the buffet but sadly, we couldn’t get them released from the Burlington Art Gallery in time for the shoot
              At the meeting we began by discussing culinary extravagances one might find on a lavish Easter buffet - such as cucumber-covered whole salmon, big hams and coloured eggs. But this was all way too normal for Bryan. He turned to me and casually said: wouldn’t it be fun to have roasted rabbits leaping over the table as if they were captured in stop-motion?

FUN !!!????
Well if I had a walk-in oven and 2 weeks to order an iron armature, it might be fun. But the shoot was in four days so fun was not part of the formula. The idea, however was irresistible. 
My sketch for Easter's Banquet - revisioned

            Back in my studio, I steampunked an armature together out of flexible pipes anchored to a huge gnarled grapevine root on which I balanced roasted rabbits that I had wired into different positions.
            Transporting this contraption out to the countryside location was probably the greatest challenge of all but luckily for me, my brother volunteered to help and together, we wrangled the thing into his van. Cushioned between Styrofoam and ice packs, it made the 2 hour journey out to the countryside retreat where we were filming.
Setting up my leaping roasted rabbits at the location
Artemis eats!
On the central table, I created a little hunting vignette with the roasted rabbits leaping over a charcoal grill – as if the Goddess of Hunt herself had arrested wild hares mid-leap and was enjoying a little cook-out in an abandoned overgrown vegetable patch in the middle of a forest.
I used corn husks to make roasting masks for the rabbits (their charred faces looked too Chilton-esque to be appetizing) and ears (because rabbits’ ears come off when they are prepared for cooking; they are just skin and fur)

The Seafood Challenge
The markets are full of gargantuan lobsters waiting for their close-up…whole salmons are a classic chaud-froid buffet presentation…giant shells and seaweed create a gorgeously dramatic tableau. 
            But the seafood table presented the biggest challenge because hot summer days and the shifting sands of shooting schedules and a country location smells like trouble. A smell that no amount of aerosol spray, air cleaners, fans or prayers could erase. 
             Our scenes kept getting delayed and delayed and delayed again. I was prepared for a 2-day shoot but we were there for 4 days trying to keep everything fresh. We stuffed the display with towels soaked in Fabreeze, poured lemon juice over everything, disassembled, froze and reassembled the food displays over and over each time but the smell returned like zombie breath, much to our dismay. 
             Somehow we mitigated the situation each time the crew returned to our set and our scenes were shot MOS - “mit out smell” (actually MOS means "without sound") 
Smells like the sea -- until Day 3 when it starts to smell like Death's sneakers
Quiet on Table Three! Those chicks are cute, but...
Thorny Crown Roast of Lamb, Cabouchon Gem Eggs and Antique birdcages filled out the third tablescape. Everyone agreed with me that it would be so cute to have real chicks in the cages. Until it was time to shoot the scene – they would not stop peeping. Loud obnoxious peeping. 
            The chick wrangler gave up trying to quiet them and the chicks were asked to leave. Thank goodness we had marshmallow Peeps and they stayed in the picture. Until they were decimated by hungry wasps. A sad sight indeed.
Crowns and cages - chickless.

Chocolate Bunnies and Stigmata Cookies
When I was a schoolgirl I loved Easter because of all the decorated sweets. I remember making panorama eggs – large pastel-coloured sugar egg with a hole in the side that revealed a scene made of tiny marzipan bunnies hiding jellybean eggs in green coconut grass. 
          So, great: we’ll do the same idea in chocolate. It has been done in magnificently by Choccywokkydoodah. But for American Gods, the camera may only flash by – if at all, so not so much exquisiteness required.
It's not Easter until the chocolate bunny shows up.
      My assistant Melodie assembled a bunny carrying a cross along a path of rose petals (de la rosa as in “Via Dolorosa) to put inside a huge chocolate egg. She spent hours covering the egg in a gold ribbon and pearl lattice but alas, our big chocolate Faberge egg was never seen.
Stigmata Cookies                                                                            Blue Cross Faberge Cookies
       Nothing says Easter like bloodied shortbread. Everyone at the tone meeting was enjoying the “Jesus eating jelly beans” gag so much, I felt it was a now-or-never moment for Stigmata Cookies. So my assistant Gina made up dozens of them as well as some more elegant Cross Cookies decorated with French lattice pattern used so beautifully on Faberge eggs.
We made Jello eggs, glitter-sprayed eggs and hand painted hard-boiled eggs. Going for that Faberge feeling.
OK I confess - I stole these photos off the interweb to use for the tone meeting.

Deviled Eggs for Easter
We need trays of hors d’oeuvres that were easy to make and easy for the actors to eat but as pretty as a goddess. So why not everyone’s fave, deviled eggs! 
Deviled eggs
Peeps! - more pix stolen from the www for tone meetings
            We Easterized them by dipping the shelled, hard-boiled eggs in water dyed with food colouring before cutting them in half lengthwise and piping in stuffing. Others we made into Easter baskets by stuffing upright hard-boiled boiled egg halves with egg yolk stuffing, ringing the top with parsley and finishing with a parsley stem handle.
My sketch for orgy food

Bilquis' Orgy needed fruit and a soma fountain. 
After all, one needs sustenance at these physically demanding events. So I suggested fruit platters decorated with Bird of Paradise flowers and peacock feathers for our Queen of Sheba. 
        I wanted them to be small enough for naked servers to carry around on their heads but Props didn't get the memo and all the trays were (surprise!) about 3 ft in diameter. Once they were dressed with the fruit they were heavy enough to crush a small elephant.
       The Soma fountain got changed to a pink chocolate fountain for Easter but after four days of nursing the molten chocolate like a newborn, the chocolate fountain was never used. 
Giant brass trays of fruit - thank goodness you can't see all the fruit flies that began to build an empire as I built the displays.

So that's enough of my sad food styling stories. Get thee to the kitchen -- I believe it's time for a treat:
Tasteless, perhaps...but yet so very tasty
Shortbread Stigmata cookies
You’ll need a hand-shaped cookie cutter to make these, and to make the round depressions for the jam, a bottle cap that is about  ¾-inch in diameter.

2 cups Butter, softened at room temperature
1 cup sifted Icing Sugar
½ cup Cornstarch
3 ¼  cups all-purpose Flour

Strawberry Jam
Parchment paper

1 In a small mixing bowl, combine Cornstarch and Flour. Set aside.

2  In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric beater on medium speed, gradually adding Icing Sugar until well incorporated and slightly fluffy.  Stir in Flour mixture with a spoon just enough to combine then beat batter on low just until blended. Do not overbeat.

3  Cut parchment to size of baking sheet. Turn half of the batter out onto one sheet of parchment that has been lightly dusted with icing sugar. Roll out to 1/8-inch thickness and slide onto baking sheet. Cut out hands using the cutter, make the depressions by pushing the bottle cap into the middle of each hand and slide the cookie tray into the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up. Once the dough has firmed, remove from fridge and take away the excess dough, leaving the hand shapes on the parchment. Gently slide the hands around to reposition them on the parchment to give them lots of space to expand. If the dough is too soft to handle, put it back in the fridge to firm up. Add the trimmings back into the rest of the dough. Repeat until all dough is used.

4 Spoon a small amount of jam into the depression of each hand then bake at 325 F until edges begin to brown.


More on 108 – coming next week: Godsplaining and more!
With all this food, there’s little time and space for Godsplaining. So I’ll do a separate post for that (Easter's pagan beginnings; more about Bilquis' roots; more about Gillian's character Media) in the coming week. 

Plus I’ll tell you what I have learned about what’s to come for the GodSquad in Season 2.


A footnote: PETA is always present when we film with animals and we treat them with the greatest care and respect. PETA always makes sure that my food work is made only from animals that are fully certified as humanely raised for food. For example, in the Market scene of 107, I was required to substantiate to the PETA representative that the oysters were not suffering as they sat on their half-shells on trays of ice during filming. This is the extent to which we go to keep our actions humane. And we wouldn't have it any other way. 

Unless otherwise noted, all text and images produced by and copyright of Janice Poon/Feeding Hannibal/AmericanGods Table. Use without permissions strictly prohibited.

22 comments:

  1. Totally enjoying your posts on styling food for AG! Until I read the recipe, I thought the stigmata cookies were Linzer cookies. :)

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  2. Yes, they are delicious made as Linzer cookies but then you have to cut out twice as many cookies to make the "sandwiches" and you use a lot of jam. For the show, I made them as shortbread cookies - the dough is simpler (no ground almonds) and not as sweet because there is just a dot of jam in the palm. Either way, they're fun!

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  3. Thank you for sharing just how much work (and fish smell) you had to contend with for those scenes! And wow, it was so gorgeous!! - these posts are fascinating, thank you:)

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    1. Hi Alex! Nice to see you in the comments again - thanks for checking up on me (if I didn't have readers like you to complain to, I'm not sure I could carry on with this insane business!)

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  4. :)! Complain away! Love these posts- and yes, I should be working but I am seeing these as an educational distraction! Honestly, I don't know how you all do this... It's wonderful for us but you must need a semi-coma to fully rest up after one of these jobs, all of that in 4 DAYS!!?? wow.

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    1. I have several very talented and dedicated assistants who help me through and, luckily for me, my chef brother was visiting me and helped me do everything. It was like having two of me!

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  5. Hi, I've been reading your blog for years and I'm a shameless fanboy. I've got your book "Feeding Hannibal" and I confess I've read it cover to cover, something I've only ever done with Nigel Slater before! Anyway, you seriously had to "substantiate" your claim that the oysters weren't suffering? How the **** do you do that? They haven't got a brain for crying out loud! I genuinely would like to know the answer to this so I hope you see this post. Regards, Matt

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    1. Hi Matt - it's so nice to hear that you read the whole cookbook! So many unexpected things happened on that show - and it was such an amazing experience with incredible people that I really wanted to share it with the fans of Hannibal - especially since you viewers are who we were doing the whole show for in the first place!

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    2. What about the oysters though?

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    3. Well Matt - I've been thinking about those brainless bivalves. To answer your question, I reread my copy of Kurlansky's "The Big Oysters"; I googled; I looked deep into my heart and mind. Oysters don't have a central nervous system, so they don't feel pain in the way we experience it, but I had them on ice that day so I think they were pretty numb to the goings on. I told this to the Peta person on patrol and she seemed satisfied with that answer and let the show go on.

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  6. You gave me lots of ideas for an Easter/Solstice party come next Spring!

    I've been pricing ostrich eggshells online to use as decoration, and have in mind repurposing your white chocolate teacup from "Feeding Hannibal" as a hatching egg...

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    1. Once you get the knack of making chocolate shells with balloons, you can do a lot of decorative (and tasty) things with them - and Easter is a great time to bring them out. The best thing is you can eat your mistakes and use leftover melted chocolate as a topping on ice cream. (melt a little butter in with the chocolate to thin it out and it hardens when you pour it over the ice cream)

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  7. The stigma cookies also reminded me of the Hand of Miriam. They made me laugh! Great work!

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    1. Oooh, great idea! And not as silly. Hand-shaped cookies could be decorated like Hand of Miriam by piping coloured icing on them in decorative motifs and an Eye on the palm. Might have to make some!

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  8. Also the panorama egg, which I have never heard of, reminds me of an almost-forgotten Brazilian commemorative item: the capelinha de melão (little melon chapel).

    Capelinha de melão / é de São João / é de cravo / é de rosa / é de manjericão
    (Little melon chapel / it's for St. John / it's made out of carnations / roses / basil)

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    1. I just looked up Capelinha de melao and I LOVE IT!!! How could this fall into disuse - it's so lovely. I love the little cloves stuck in the melon to look like stars. People don't know how to play with their food anymore -- it's like Mr and Mrs Potatohead. You don't push the eyes/ears/nose into a real potato anymore - the kit comes with a plastic potato. Why would anyone want to play with that?

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    2. That's it, cloves was the word I was looking for but couldn't find. Cravo in Portuguese means cloves and also carnations.

      I have never played Mr Potatohead with an actual potato, I was given a Play-doh version when I was a kid (Toy Story hype) and bought the same to my niece last year. :-/

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  9. Just remembered to catch up with your blog! I love the twist of all that beautiful looking seafood actually smelling terrible, though I'm sure it was no fun at the time. And thank you for the recipe, I laughed out loud when I saw the cookies, which also made me think of a hamsa, and maybe creating a "henna" iced version for a less controversial treat. ;)

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  10. I am completely in agreement and support your concern for treating the animals humanely. Good Job! But why support PETA to be in charge of this oversight? They are one of the most awful organizations that exist. Based on lies, pseudoscience, and scare tactics, they represent everything that is wrong with so many supposed solutions to very real problems. There has to be another group that could provide this service...

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    1. PETA reached out to Bryan Fuller and I think that's how they became our on-set watchdogs. We had so many different animals on AmGods and, on set, they are always under more than a bit of stress (you know, acting) and productions always to make sure the wranglers are handling them well.

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  11. pooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooon

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  12. Thank-you for your answer. Now, When do we get part 2 of "come to Jesus"? :-)

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