May toss the darling buds
Uproot the shooting sprouts
When Spring clouds over
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?
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|
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
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.