Thursday, April 30, 2009

Jhumpa Lahiri

My choice of reading of Interpreter of Maladies didn't actually have anything to do with my cooking an Indian recipe two nights ago. In fact, I've been reading lots of slightly older lit (this won the 2000 Pulitzer) because I've been shopping for books at remainder stores and library sales. And that's what one finds there. I read Lahiri's The Namesake quite a while ago, and have been meaning to get around to this, her earlier book.

Subject: Indian expats, especially women, especially arranged brides with no lifeline. Subject: forced adjustment to life in the US. I knew that Indian food would be a big element of the stories. Lahiri doesn't just have familiar smells and tastes play a standard role, but in several stories makes food and cooking play a role in the loss of coping. The first story, "When Mr.Pirzada Came to Dine" involves a reasonably adjusted Indian family inviting a man from Pakistan/Bangladesh to dinner each night, as the young daughter tries to understand the complex international situation in her parents' country. Native food is pretty much a background to the other issues.

Elsewhere, food description seems to have a different function. In the title story, "Interpreter of Maladies," an American-born Indian couple are sightseeing at a ruined building in India. The wife, whose behavior is odd (I won't go into it) is characterized by her constant munching on a snack of puffed rice with peanuts and chili peppers wrapped in newspaper (so she obviously bought it from a street vendor). Mustard oil is "thick on her frosty pink lips." She drops a trail of puffed rice, which attracts hungry monkeys who live in the ruins.

In several stories, the Indian husband becomes the cook for an Americanized family. This lets you know that family structure is a mess. And the motif of a woman with food around her lips is used often. The most disfunctional woman is in the story "Mrs. Sen's." The young and lonely Mrs. Sen is viewed -- sort of -- through the eyes of a little American boy that she is baby sitting for. Understanding little of what he sees, the boy watches her chop and prepare huge quantities of vegetables, chicken, and fish. He notes how she constantly calls up her husband at work and witnesses her inept efforts to learn to drive. Mrs. Sen's craving for fresh fish becomes more and more obsessive. Finally, she cracks up her car because she wants to go to a distant outlet for a day boat (like most of the stories this is set in New England). Luckily the boy is unhurt, but that's the end of babysitting.

Food in these stories is definitely an element of strangeness in the strange land where the immigrant women find themselves.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Aloo Gobi

As I was thinking how to cook my cauliflower from the farmers' market tonight, I realized that I had all the ingredients for aloo gobi. My own introduction to the dish (and I think that of many other non-Indians) came from the film "Bend it Like Beckham." The heroine of the film wants to be a soccer player, and is very good, but her parents believe that it's better to make good aloo gobi than to "bend it like Beckham" -- another concept, this from soccer, that I learned from the film.

The line is pretty memorable, but what's very memorable is the DVD extra of the film director, Gurinder Chadha, in the kitchen with her mother and her aunties, who watch and give advice while she's trying to explain to her audience how to make aloo gobi. This extra feature is fabulous, maybe better than the film itself.

I made my aloo gobi in a big orange cast iron pot -- you can see the cauliflower, potatoes, tomatoes, onion and most of the spices stewing above. For serving, I added the recommended chopped coriander leaves. I was missing some of the spices, but not what I considered to be the most essential. I've also eaten aloo gobi in a couple of Indian restaurants since I saw the film, and this version (located by googling "aloo gobi beckham") is a little different; the restaurant ones were drier and less tomato-y.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Hungarian Fruit Preserves

Raphael Patai (1910-1996) wrote about his childhood and his education in Budapest in the autobiography Apprentice in Budapest: Memories of a World That Is No More. I found it very readable. He creates careful portraits of his family, his teachers, and his peers, with little asides about where they eventually ended up and what they accomplished. He often mentions that one or another person or family were among the four-fifths of Hungarian Jews exterminated by the Nazis. Patai creates a very complex narrative with lots of background and history, without ever really seeming to digress. I've read several of his other books, which are scholarly but always readable too.

Patai mentions many family meals, student meals, and shared food experiences, but really only offers one long and detailed passage on food and its preparation. He explains the preparation of preserved fruit, which his mother prepared each summer, and the embedding of goose livers in goose fat to preserve them. "I loved to eat," he writes, "and often went on foraging expeditions to get a snack in between the regular five meals a day."

He would sneak into the pantry where he found large quantities of preserved fruit and goose livers, and help himself. These two foods were contents for the sandwiches he was given for his mid-day meal at school -- though butter with fruit preserves or goose fat with liver were always separate treats, to comply with kosher restrictions. "I do not remember ever having left over even the smallest piece of these sandwiches."

I was especially interested in this passage about fruit preparation:
Toward the end of every summer ... Mother would go to the market with the maid, and purchase huge quantities of fruit -- apricots, black plums, greengage, and the like -- and, assisted by the maid, would prepare preserves. The fruit was peeled, cut up, and cooked for a long time with lots of sugar in large pots, poured into pint- or quart-sized jars, liberally topped with salicyl, a white salt-like substance used to prevent the formation of mold, then tightly closed with parchmentlike paper that was tied down around the opening of the jar with a strong string. The jars were placed into several very large pots, each of which could accommodate perhaps six or eight of them, and the pots were filled with water so as to cover the jars, and put on the stove to be boiled for a considerable length of time. All these steps were considered necessary in order to prevent spoilage. When the time came to open a jar, the top layer of salicyl as first removed, then Mother would carefully inspect the contents to see whether, despite all her precautions,they showed signs of decay.
Patai's childhood favorite fruit preserve was made from "quinces and sugar (and perhaps some spices as well?), boiled in water until the fruit was soft enough to be passed through a sieve." This puree was cooled, hardened, and when it became the consistency of hard cheese, could be eaten in slices without bread. He also describes sneaking into the larder and poking around beneath the goose fat to take a piece of the hidden goose liver.

In subsequent paragraphs, Patai also lists his favorite childhood desserts. He describes how his grandmother rolled out dough and wrapped it around apples to make turnovers. In one long passage (p. 150-152) he describes all this -- the only detailed description of food in the autobiography, It's definitely a treasure in helping to picture one aspect of the life of Hungarian Jews at the time.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Crepe Stands

Sunday at the Farmers' Market I noticed two crepe makers with big circular griddles. To spread the batter and make the crepes thin, they used a sort of trowel, and their technique and equipment remind me of the crepe stands that appear outside cafes in Paris in the winter (or at least, did appear during the times I spent there). They were very seasonal: from Twelfth Night until Mardi Gras. Crepes aren't traditional during Lent, so they stop.

The fillings for crepes here are a little different: some Mexican flavors, some cheese, mainly quite savory crepes. I don't think I saw jam, chocolate, or Nutella -- a favorite in France. (Myself, I hate Nutella.) I don't think they had the "Popeye" crepe either -- that's with spinach. And here, the crepe maker was a young man (you can just see his tattoos) -- while my memory is that in Paris the crepe makers were usually small, elderly, rather plump women in cloth coats with an apron over them.

In spring, the Paris crepe kiosks reappeared outside the cafes with a soft-serve ice cream machine. I suspect that here, the crepe sellers will continue to sell more crepes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Recession Food

The economic downturn has affected the food business -- I've read about a bubble in restaurants that's now being shaken out, I'm aware that Whole Foods and other upscale high-priced food sources are losing business, and so on.

Today's L.A.Times today wrote up another kind of recession business: Where culinary dreams take shape, The business in question here is a commercial kitchen for rent, mainly to start-ups who can't fund their own facility. In L.A. only food prepared in a certified kitchen is legal for sale, so such a place is all the more desireable:
There are dozens of stories behind the bowls and stoves and recipes at Chef's Kitchens, an incubator for food businesses. Stories of people shedding careers or adjusting to new and unexpected challenges. People with a dream and a cleverly decorated cookie or a family tamale recipe or the goal of owning a restaurant.
In these bad times, the Chef's Kitchen owners are able to make money from people who are looking for a way to make money -- aspiring caterers, wannabe restaurant owners, would-be farmers' market sellers, hopeful suppliers to Whole Foods, etc. The optimistic kitchen renters probably manage to pay the rent as they go along, so the profits of the incubator don't require that the budding chefs' endeavors succeed.

Seems as if supporting peoples' hopes for success -- realistic or not -- leads to one of the only growth industries as people lose jobs, investments and real estate go bad, and so on. I admire the entrepreneurs who founded this business, as it's really completely honest, unlike many businesses that in fact prey on the newly desperate, or offer them unrealistic advice and unfounded optimism.

As the owner says: "You really need to not just be a good cook, but a good businessperson. ... People who think they are going to jump in and cook a few chocolate chip cookies and make a living at it are probably setting themselves up for failure."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Escoffier was a Neuroscientist

In 1907, approximately, the renowned French chef Escoffier invented tournedos Rossini, "a filet mignon served with foie gras and sauced with a reduced veal stock and a scattering of black truffles." The same year, a Japanese chemist named Kikunae Ikeda began a quest to understand the taste of Dashi, Japanese kelp broth. He found the same elusive taste in soy sauce, asparagus, tomatoes, cheese, fish, and meat.

Ikeda eventually identified glutamic acid as the underlying molecule for this taste. He claimed that a taste bud for this substance existed along with the widely recognized four taste bud types for detecting salt, sugar, bitter (or alkaline) substances, and acids. Ikeda's analysis showed that glutamate broke down easily, but that monosodium glutamate, a salt of glutamate, could be manufactured and used as a food additive to boost the delicious quality of food. He used the Japanese word for delicious, umami, to describe it. Though the substance became widely used, his science was doubted for almost 100 years: experiments in 2000 and 2002 finally confirmed that the human tongue has umami receptors.

Veal stock and its derivitive demi-glace sauce, are fundamental to Escoffier's cooking. These preparations are incredibly rich in glutamates. They evoke a deeply felt response, a sense of delicious quality, when used in the dishes he invented. His process for making veal stock develops the protein from veal bones and other ingredients, and dissolves the glutamate in the broth. Beyond this ingredient, Escoffier's innovations in serving food hot and in simplifying and separating dishes (instead of a huge decorative buffet service of elaborate presentations) brought out subtle flavors, which are more perceptible in hot, isolated sips or morsels.

The parallel story of the intuitive artist of cuisine and the analytical chemist begin one of the many fascinating chapters of Jonah Lehrer's Proust was a Neuroscientist. After describing these two fundamental discoveries, Lehrer describes current experiments in understanding what happens with the body and brain when one tastes. He presents the complexity of understanding the combination of objective and subjective experience. He suggests how Escoffier understood how to work with this challenging combination: to use the power of suggestion to make diners enjoy and appreciate their food. He also describes some recent experiments showing the subjectivity of wine tasting -- and exploding many claims to expertise.

Our neurological reality, says Lehrer, is that "When we sense something, that sensation is immediately analyzed in terms of previous experience." And "The fallibility of our sense -- their susceptibility to our mental biases and beliefs -- poses a special problem for neural reductionism. ... what we experience is not what we sense. Rather experience is what happens when sensations are interpreted by the subjective brain." (p. 69 and 70)

Further, individuals vary in their underlying taste (and smell) sensitivity to many specific substances. As people taste more things, the make up of their sensory apparatus changes: more odor receptors develop and sensory perception alters. Escoffier, claims Lehrer, realized this, and reacted, for example, by offering tasting menus so that individuals could develop their palates. Neuroscientists have codified what the culinary artist learned by another sort of observation.

"Cooking is a science and an art," says Lehrer. (p. 74)

In each chapter of his fascinating book, Lehrer contrasts artists' perceptions and insights against the finding of neuroscientists: two ways to often discover the same thing. Proust's depiction of memory, Gertrude Stein's experimental linguistics, Virginia Woolf's search to understand consciousness, and Stravinsky's use of shocking sounds all make for interesting material for Lehrer's chapters. Again I must thank my cousins Bill and Barbara for recommending a wonderful book.

Squash Blossoms

Squash blossoms were almost the first thing I saw as we entered the produce part of the La Jolla open air market today. Each blossom had already given birth to a tiny baby zucchini. They were very fresh looking. I bought 8 of them -- at $5.99 a pound, this cost only $1.50, which is an amazingly low price. I also bought some eggs, some all-red strawberries, and some cookies, planning our lunch. The eggs are very fresh: the hens laid them on Friday. As well, I bought some vegetables and fruit for later meals, and enjoyed walking around and looking at the stalls.

I washed the blossoms very carefully: last year, one of my blossoms had a little fly in it. They were quite clean. I spooned some cream cheese into each one, and put egg and matzoh meal on them. I used three eggs, and after I had browned the batter-covered blossoms, I swirled egg around to make a sort of squash-blossom omelet.


The result was quite nicely balanced -- I learned from last year when I used stronger cheese and overwhelmed my blossoms.

We bought lavender shortbread cookies from a stall called CalAsia Food, which has very beautiful products. They were delicious with the all-red very ripe strawberries. A total farmer's market lunch.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

In which I order a huge burger

... and the burger followed an order (shared) of spicy boneless chicken wings.
What was I thinking?
Well, I only ate half of the burger. It was really good. I'll try not to do it again.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

California Mexican


California Mexican food can be wonderful. I believe that it's based on the cuisine of Baja California, of which the border is only 30 or 40 miles from here, but on the other hand, the "Mexican" people were the Californians, before the USA got here and overpopulated everywhere. Could you say that California Mexican food came with the territory? Or was it really invented more recently? I don't know -- one long-existing place we've eaten says they've had some of the same recipes since the 1940s. Sunset magazine and its spin-off cookbooks wrote about all this from its beginnings, more than 100 years ago.

Sunday, we had huevos ranchero and a scrambled egg burrito for brunch. The place we ate wasn't particularly Mexican -- there were lots of ordinary American foods like sandwiches available, as well as coffee drinks. Today we ate lunch at Sbicca in DelMar. It's named for its owners -- sounds Italian, doesn't it? We ordered the fish tacos -- batter-fried with creamy dressing, which is local style -- and quesidillas with chicken, havarti cheese, and avocado, papaya chunks, and baby greens. I'm thinking fusion, or maybe confusion. But delicious.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Blogs

I've found some new and interesting food blogs to read. New to me, that is. Recent items that I think are worth looking at:

"African and African-American Cuisines", a post at BetumiBlog describes American confusion between Afro-Carribean cooking, African-American cooking, and the many types of cooking in Africa. I was interested to learn how rice, yams, and other staples vary among the various traditions. The author appears to be an American food scholar with lots of personal and travel experience.

Safari Cooking: The Cook and Safari Cooking: Equipment are two posts describing how food was organized and prepared for safaris of 100 years ago, and is one of a series of posts on historic food in Africa in the past. It appears in the blog Gherkins & Tomatoes, a food-history blog.

Food Museum blog offers thoughts on food issues -- what I've read so far suggests that it's quite varied and appealing

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pomiane and Jewish Cooking

The Jews of Poland: Recollections and Recipes by Edouard de Pomiane (French original, 1929; English translation, 1985) is out of print and hard to find. My usual libraries don't have it, and the price is high. I've been looking for it for a long time, and especially interested since I read another of his books (blogged here). Finally, I found an affordable copy, and I've now read it. And I understand its obscurity.

Most books of "recollections" about Jewish food are based on interviews with elderly Jews who represent a lost era. And most are conducted by other Jews. Pomiane, born in 1875, was the son of Polish nobility who fled after resisting the mid-19th century Russian owners of Poland. Though Jews of that era suffered too, people like the Pomianes had no particular interest in Jewish problems or high awareness of their persecution (though he does describe an eyewitness account of the Kishinev massacre). Pomiane, though born and raised in France, thus reflected a combination of French and Polish upper-class view of Jews.

Pomiane was a research doctor whose hobby was food and cooking; in the 1920s he even had a radio show about cooking, and wrote many popular cookbooks. His interest in Jewish food was unusual for his era. Both his knowledge of Polish and his decision to go to Poland and interview Jews in cities, towns, and villages was extraordinary -- perhaps unique. His descriptions of Jewish dishes and also his recipes are really interesting, though I think most sophisticated Jewish cookbook authors have used this source, so no recipe is totally surprising.

It's somewhat painful to read his work, enlightening though it is. I wouldn't call him an antisemite. Rather, he views Jews as the other, as most extremely exotic, despite their interesting food. Pomiane describes Jewish life in Polish cities and shtetels from completely outside, and doesn't fully relate to them the way that Jewish food writers usually do. He has no nostalgia: only curiosity. As a Jewish reader of many books on Jewish food, I found this slightly jolting, and then totally useful and fascinating. And as I say, my conclusion isn't that he was really antisemitic, just alienated from his subjects -- even to an extent from the assimilated French Jews whom he admired and befriended. I find it hard to accept my identity as part of such an alien group, but the book offers another way to understand how it was to be a Jew nearly 100 years ago, something I'd like to be able to do.

The food descriptions and portrayals of his Jewish informants are intriguing, since he is reporting directly on what was being cooked in the 1920s, not on post-emigration nostalgia for it. He seems to have enjoyed meals in both restaurants and homes, as well as watching cooks in their kitchens, and as a food writer was very observant. He was interested in details, like which fish they ate and how they cooked it, though he didn't like the use of sugar in fish preparation. He especially found Sabbath slow-cooking in the bakers' ovens interesting, and tried to reproduce it in his own kitchen. He questioned both cooks and rabbis about kosher practice, though as the translator points out, never really grasped the principles of kashrut. (The translator notes his lapses when giving his recipes.) His description of the Jewish quarter of Paris is as interesting as his description of the Polish Jews.

Usually when I read about Jewish memories, I think of my father who came to America from a shtetl in 1921. Reading this, I thought about a character whom I don't often consider: M. Klusinski, the landlord who ages ago rented us a small, cold room with a coal stove and shared bathroom. This was in Grenoble when we were just-married students.

Klusinski, when we knew him, was a wealthy French businessman. His large house stood on a hillside -- our apartment, probably, was meant to be servants' quarters. He had come from Poland, and had quite negative views of the Jews he had known. When he described them, though he wasn't virulently antisemitic, he chilled me by his cold stereotyped attitude. I think by mutual agreement, we didn't talk to him at all often. It's been a long time, and I'm not so chilled any more, not by Pomiane. I really enjoyed this book.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lunch and a Walk

We took a nice stroll on the beach, and then realized we were hungry, so we stopped at a little lunch place near the Shores. Pleasant!

Rhinoceros

In Coronado we had lunch at a restaurant called Rhinoceros. The soup-and-sandwich combos were nicely done. The lobster bisque was quite rich and creamy, and the meatloaf sandwich had nice roasted poblano pepper with it. Rhinos were everywhere -- the owner must be a serious rhino collector. The kitchen was in full view, which I like in a small restaurant.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Barbarella

Behind the bar at Barbarella, one of our local La Jolla restaurants, there's a sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle! Really nice -- she also designed the tile work on the pizza oven. Evelyn and Tom had a really good time there last weekend, so we decided to try it again, and it was great.



To our surprise, when we arrived there with Ellen and Alec tonight, we discovered that they had a special Passover menu. You can see their Seder plate on the bar near the bottle of Grand Marnier. We ordered the Passover menu, including the dessert of ice cream with chocolate covered matzoh, and the starter of matzoh ball soup. Amazing. The hostess and owner did their own chocolate dipping -- they didn't clue in the waiter, though. He asked what we wanted to drink and I said "Four cups of wine," and he didn't get it.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Food in a Historical Novel

I just wrote about my positive reaction to Louis Bayard's The Pale Blue Eye here: "The Pale Blue Eye: A Novel"

The author, as far as I can tell, did a very good job with historical details about military training, about the life of Edgar Allan Poe, and about rural 1830s America. I was quite interested in the many meals he described -- home cooking, tavern cooking, and the institutional food of the captive student audience at West Point. The food details illustrate the vivid way that the author creates the atmosphere of this enjoyable book.

Benny the tavern keeper, whose establishment is a frequent locale for the action, makes a "flip" -- "the hot iron had just been plunged into its eggs-and-ale bath -- and the air cracked with caramel, and a fire shivered in the hearth, and before I knew it, I was sitting at the counter, and the missus was slicing up her roast turkey, and Benny was pouring the flip into a pewter flagon..." (p. 54)

In the parlor of an officer, the narrator, Augustus Landor, is served "johnny cakes and beef dodgers," along with tea. (p. 69) In another officer's parlor, "we drank coffee larded with lumpy cream, and ate dodger cakes and pickled oysters. The scent of Molly's pot roast tickled the air." (p. 124) Note: Johnny cakes and various "dodgers" appear to be made from fried dough -- maybe like a light pancake, I think. Corn dodgers are still on menus from time to time.

The students also offered Landor a feast -- though in secret, with the windows covered with blankets. "Bread and butter had been smuggled from the mess hall and potatoes from the officers' mess, a chicken had been hooked from someone's barnyard, and a basket of speckled red apples had been claimed from Farmer de Kuiper's orchard." (p. 147)

The staff medical doctor -- a major character -- provides a contrast to the "dismal fare" in the cadet mess, according to Landor. "The hoe cakes and waffle cakes were of the first order and the pears, I was delighted to ascertain, were liberally spiked with brandy." (p. 165) At dinner with the doctor's family, Landor ate "roasted canvasback with cabbage, peas, and stewed apples. There must have been bread, too, for I have a distinct memory of Dr. Marquis cleaning his plate with it, and I remember, too, the way Mrs. Marquis, prior to eating, removed her gloves inch by inch, as though she were sliding out of her own skin." (p. 250)

The anti-Pollan?

Have I (we?) been gullible about the benefits of slow food? Here's an answer to some of the advocates of free-range pigs: "Free-Range Trichinosis" by JAMES E. McWILLIAMS in today's NYT. He says: "The natural dangers that motivated farmers to bring animals into tightly controlled settings in the first place haven’t gone away." And he cites a study showing increased pathogens in free-range pigs, including the parasite trichina -- that's the one that made us fully cook our pork roasts in the past. The one we thought was gone forever. Well, eternal vigilance is the price of everything, I guess.

See this:
"Free-Range Trichinosis"
To produce pork that’s safe and tasty might mean taking greater control of the animal instead of letting it roam partly free.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

ATLANTIC FOOD BLOG: Getting better...



I said I was so far disappointed in the Atlantic's food section -- here's an article that was all news to me:

Artisans

A Seder Different From All Other Seders

No more Almond Kisses! Or any other Barton's chocolates--the iconic company is another recession victim. read more

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Lorikeet Eats Nectar

video

At the San Diego Wild Animal Park, Lorikeet Landing allows visitors to feed the birds from little cups of nectar. The zoo website describes the colorful birds:
Lories and lorikeets have a body part that is unique among parrots: a brushlike tongue! Instead of eating mostly nuts and seeds like other parrots, lories and lorikeets dine on flowers, pollen, and nectar.
Miriam and Alice enjoyed feeding them. After the nectar was gone, one lorikeet brushed the edges of the little cup with his tongue.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Disappointment but not surprise

There's a fairly new online food journal: http://food.theatlantic.com/ that I've been trying to like. I also subscribe to the Atlantic magazine -- free, for expiring airline miles -- is there any other excuse to kill trees?

Once in a while, I find an article in the magazine that really interests me, or that makes a big splash and becomes a "must read." Mostly, ho-hum. Same with the online food journal. Example: food safety and health advocate Marion Nestle has a little few-word column there but on issues that are getting a lot of play and more detail elsewhere. I just can't find anything really compelling there -- and I wish I could.

One thing that makes me uncomfortable: they are presenting the journal of a man who had stomach-altering surgery so he could get thin. It's so sad, since the record of this type of surgery is terrible. Many victims lose weight for a while, and then regain it, but come out in poorer health. The death rate from the surgery is also said to be unacceptably high, at least from other sources I've read. So it's sad that these food journalists are promoting this dangerous procedure -- after all, once the man has had it, he's going to be a proponent since he has to make the most of his own life. I think a less personal and more investigative approach to this issue would be of greater value.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

"The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas"

Update: why this is on the food blog. The theme of hunger and contrast between the Nazi family's beautiful, carefully prepared food and the starving concentration camp victims who surround them is a strong theme: perhaps one of the strongest in the film.

We just watched the DVD of "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas." It's a very hard movie to watch because it deals with the Holocaust in a brutally frank and chilling way. Dramatically it's a little thin: it pushes the watcher's buttons in a predictable way. Each character represents a different stereotype who develops in a 1-D way, and it has a fairy-tale plot that's too much like a fantasy. One can't help making a comparison to "Life is Beautiful" and this film doesn't stand up to the quality and subtlety of that one.

The individual performances were superb, though, including an SS officer acted with skill by David Thewlis -- who played Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter movies. There were also 3 amazing child actors.

My Israeli friend Vitta at fitness class loaned it to me, as she thought I would like it. That is somewhat true. Horrifying though it was, and predictable though it was, I watched intently.

UPDATE: I used the British spelling in my post because that's the primary spelling in IMDB.