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.

But enough of Tea and Cookies - there's an orgy over at Bilquis' place!

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.

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 19th 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.