Saturday, October 18, 2014


I love documentaries. Considering how popular the Ken Burns series is on PBS, I’m surprised that more people don’t take advantage of the wealth of product out there.

Unlike Mr. Burns’ work, most documentaries are minimally funded, and lack the manpower, production values and famous voices that are his trademark.  But what these smaller films may lack in bells and whistles, they generally make up for in content: often presenting a far grittier, highly personal, thought-provoking, at times disturbing at times delectable look at life.

2013’s FINDING VIVIAN MAIER is a good example of a small but highly satisfying documentary. If you didn’t catch it while it was in theaters last spring, you’ll be happy to know that it’s now available through Netflix and other venues. The film is, for want of a better explanation, a tale within a tale within a tale. It is the fascinating account of one man’s search to uncover the story behind thousands of never-before-seen, truly incredible photographs, and the woman who took them.

Had writer/producer John Maloof, who bought a box of her negatives back in 2007, not had such an inquisitive nature, ability to recognize how truly special the photographs were, and a willingness to invest years of his life and money in the project, Ms. Maier’s work would have undoubtedly died along with her.

The photographs, most of which were taken in the 1950s and 60’s, are remarkable in the simplicity of their subject matter, and the stories they tell. 

Mesmerized by her work, Maloof wanted to know more about her. A Google search provided no clues. Museum curators and gallery owners had never heard of her. It was only when he returned to the Internet some weeks later that he found a newly posted obituary notice containing the few clues that would take him on a road less traveled.     

Maloof tells his tale in front of and off camera, beginning with the first in a series of circumstances that would change the course of his life, and the legacy of hers.  

Vivian Maier was, by all accounts, an odd, – some would say eccentric woman with a questionable French accent: a woman who protected her anonymity as if she had something to hide. She worked as a nanny, residing in the homes of the children she cared for, often in a small attic room above the family’s living quarters.

Over the course of the film, Maloof interviews several of these now-grown children, who tell differing accounts of life under her charge. Whenever possible, he also talks with their parents, neighbors and local shop keepersall of whom paint a picture of a woman who lived life well under the radar.

Eventually, his quest takes him to New York and Europe, as patterns emerge, and theories are refuted. But make no mistake, finding the real Vivian Maier was no easy task, as by all accounts she had no friends and never spoke of relatives, or her past. Few outside the children, were even aware that she had a camera, let alone amassed such a staggering amount of undeveloped film.

She kept these rolls and negatives, along with hundreds of old receipts, newspapers and snippets from her life in trunks and boxes stacked one upon another, upon another, upon another, from floor-to-ceiling. Maloof would eventually come to own, sort, print, and catalogue their contents, along with a curious assort of items retrieved from a storage locker literally hours before they were to be trashed.  

Between the footage of the faces, places and objects that were a part of Vivian’s world, Maloof fills the screen with her mostly black and white photographs, each one more extraordinary than the last. A laborer grabbing a smoke. A car full of children. An elderly woman riding an escalator. A tousle-haired child clinging to her mother’s coat. A blind man and his dog. A shoeshine boy. A dirty spoon.  Rows of newspaper-reading commuters on a train. A movie marque.  Newsstand. Trash canEach one more remarkable than the last. They are culled from a staggering number of images culled from 100,000 negatives, 700 rolls of undeveloped film, and 8mm and 16mm stock. 

One of the important and never-to-be answered questions which Maloof and the people he interviews ponder is whether or not this very private woman would have wanted the attention bestowed upon both her work and her life. Opinions differ widely. Gallery owners, respected photographers and museum curators also weigh in, adding an additional layer to the story, which continues to this day.

As late as last September, former commercial photograph and attorney David Deal filed suit in a Chicago court, claiming that he had discovered Maier years before Maloof, and had located a long lost heir. The sad part of this story, aside from the fact that Maloof put so much of his heart in this project, is that the suit has put a temporary hold that could last for years, on her work being exhibited, sold, and generally enjoyed by others. The film, at least for the moment, endures. Don’t miss it.  


It would be easy to assume that these two documentaries and their subjects are slightly different versions of the other. After all, both Maier and Cunningham could be described as single, eccentric, private, and talented photographers with a unique point of view. But summaries can be deceiving, and it would be a shame if you passed over one or the other, thinking that it was more or less a rerun of the first.

For starters, you’d be hard-pressed to find two more different personalities. Maier was an almost invisible presence, few knew her or about her. Her self-portraits contain not the slightest hint of a smile, whereas Cunningham is a Manhattan fixture. Hundreds know him by sight, thousands by name or by his columns in the New York Times. He is an approachable man who smiles easily. It is an almost silly, mischievous, child-like smile. If they were rolls of film, Maier would be 120 black and white, while Cunningham would be full-blown Kodachrome.

His story, as told by documentarian Richard Pratt captures Cunningham in mid-flight, seldom still, and always after that special shot, waiting to take its place in one of his two columns in the New York Times or weekly blog.

The first column, “Evening Hours”, covers the runways, parties and social events of the well-connected. The second, “On the Street” captures the trends, first takes and unexpected, highly creative fashions on the street, at small gatherings, clubs and yet-to-be-recognized fashion houses. “The best fashion show is definitely on the street”, says Cunningham. “Always has been, always will be.” 

He is an equal opportunity “shooter”, which is, perhaps, why people from all walks of life seem to adore him. “He means so much to people like us” exudes a cross-dresser who has appeared in his column more than once. The same could be said by those on the far more traditional and pedigreed side of the social spectrum. Fashion, is fashion.

And so it is that Cunningham’s photographs cover the waterfront, giving the reader a unique perspective of what people in New York are wearing on any given day.  

The film is loaded with examples of his work; candid shots of people in motion. Unlike many runway and studio photographers, he shies away from the outrageous catwalk clothes and stagnant, all-too-perfect posed shots of the well-coiffed, dramatically lit, highly made-up, alarmingly slim models, preferring to catch a spectacular bit of unexpected inspiration wherever, whenever.

But he is most at home on the street, where he sees how people take a designer’s piece and make it their own, or better yet, mix and match read-to-wear items, combining colors, textures, belts and accessories and turning them into something “totally new and fabulous”.

A whippet of a man, Bill Cunningham zips around the city on his trusty Schwinn,(his 29th, the other 28 having been stolen over the years), camera ready to roll at a moment’s notice. During the making of the film he turned eighty. Still going strong nearly five years later, it is obvious that retiring is not on this octogenarian’s list of things to do.

The film is as much about what he does as how he does it. Press and his crew to their best to keep up with him; filming his ‘day’ from the wee hours of the morning to the wee hours of the morning. By the time the film was put to bed, they had done an admirable job of capturing his spirit, watching him work, interviewing friends and fans, asking the right questions and getting some surprising answers.

  “I was just interested in clothes: it’s probably a little peculiar.

The photographer is, by his own admission, a workaholic: perfectly content to work day and night, eat on the run, and do without the things most of us need or strive for. He has, he says, never had or yearned for romance, a cozy home, or the kind of friendship where secrets are shared, and confidences kept. But make no mistake; he does have friendsand lots of them.  

That said, even people who have known the man for decades, admit that they know precious little about him. Ask them where he hails from, what he does in his spare time, or what his political or religious affiliations are, and they shrug their shoulders. 

What they can tell you is that back in the late forties and early fifties he was a haberdasher: his marvelous creations topping the heads of high society patrons and Hollywood’s reigning movie queens. But when the army called, he had to close down his one-man salon on the 10th floor of Carnegie Hall, and go to war.  Upon his return, he found a new career, when a fellow photographer gave him a $39 Olympus camera. “Use it like a pen,” he said: “Like you take notes.” And so he did, taking his career in an entirely new and highly satisfying direction. 

The few friends who have been to his Carnegie Hall hideaway describe it as a tiny place with rows of file cabinets taking up all but a sliver of a space just wide enough for a cot and narrow walkway.  It is little more than a holding station, a place to catch a few zzz’s, file his negatives, wash, dress and move on.
"These are my filing systems, and this is my clothes closest."

It is unpretentious to say the least, with no kitchen or bathroom.  Well, there is a bathroom, but it’s out the door and down the hall, an arrangement more like something you’d expect to see in a boarding house than the lodgings of a New York Times institution.  

And he is an institution: known and admired by celebrities, fashion editors, designers and the city’s elite, as well as the white and blue-collar men and women, dandies and young things who make up 95% of the city’s population.

The word “icon” comes up frequently when those in the industry talk about Cummings. A mild mannered, unpretentious fellow, he doesn’t look or act like an icon, but you don’t want to contradict Vogue’s Anna Wintour, who uncharacteristically has nothing but praise for his work, and nose for “new”.  

She and others in the know speak of him in glowing terms, admitting that he often spots fashion trends months before they do. “I sometimes will look at his pages in the Times or online and just be so amazed that he and I and my team and all the rest of the world we were all sitting in the same fashions shows, but he’s seen something on the street or on the runway that completely missed all of us,” she says, adding, “And six months later, that will be a trend.” 

Out and about by eight a.m., the photographer is armed and ready to catch Manhattan’s workforce as they race from here to there, morning latte in hand, briefcase swinging, running shoes, flip flops, high heels or boots nipping at their cuffs.  He snaps them dodging traffic, stepping out of or into cars, cabs and buses,  jumping over puddles, and leaning against the wind. 

“When it rains, it’s a whole different scene, or when there’s a blizzard is the best time. Things happen; people forget about you” he says. They don’t pose or primp. And so it is that his photos catch them in midstream: emerging from the subway, cooling off on a steamy afternoon, or gossiping with friends. Click click, shutter, wiz, his camera documents what he refers to as the reality of how people dress”, head-to-toe, back and front, zooming in on their hats, coats, shoes and collars: funky and fabulous.

The job requires a good deal of patience, with Cunningham waiting and watching for the next big idea. “It’s always the hope that you’ll see some marvelous exotic bird of paradise” he says, “meaning a very elegant, stunning woman, or someone wearing something terrific.”  So it’s a waiting game. And, as Bill says, “There are no short cuts.”  

After a long day on the street, Bill pauses briefly to drop off the day’s “catch” at a catch-all, hole-in-the-wall combination photo/copy/ FAX/ATM and Internet emporium,  one of the few in town that still develops film, before grabbing a sandwich and cup of coffee and heading again.

During one such pit-stop, he lifts a couple of shirt-covered hangers from a filing cabinet’s handle and holds them up to the camera. “This is my clothes closest” he says smiling, but he’s not kidding. Like Little Orphan Annie and her red dress, Cunningham wears the same basic outfit day in and day out, save for a few accommodations to inclement or bone-chilling weather. Black tie, no tie, guest or honoree, he’s easy to spot in his trademark azure-blue cotton smock. When one wears out, he buys another on his next trip to Paris, where he first discovered the street sweepers’ uniforms years.  Pressed, folded and packaged in cellophane wrap, they are hardly what you would call ‘couture’. 

But that’s Bill: a man who films fashion, but is not encumbered by it. When his plastic poncho tears, he repairs it with masking tape. Why buy a new one he asks, when it’s going to tear after one or two wearings anyway? Why buy an expensive jacket, when his camera will no doubt rub against the material and ruin it? Why indeed?

He is a man of modest tastes and needs, and yet he is so at ease around those to the manor born, many assume that he comes from a privileged background. Hoping to put an end to the speculation, Pratt gently asks the questions that beg answers. And Cunningham answers them, though you can see that he is a bit uncomfortable talking about himself. He would much rather get back to the business at hand. Work is his play. Fashion is his passion. There is no time for affairs of the heart. Music or hobbies.  Never was. “I was just interested in clothes” he says, “It’s probably a little peculiar.” And so, while others spend their nights at home with the family, reading a good book, or perhaps, taking in a show, Bill is out on the street, winding his way through the city on his bike, chasing the trends. Depending on the night, he may be covering a gala, or taking in the ambience at a small club or café.

Over the course of the film we meet some of his more colorful subjects. Among them―a former United Nations representative from Nepal, who stands by a rack of his outfits, pulling out or modeling one after another after another. “This is my alphabet suit” he says, sporting a white and black number covered in large black letters. Then, “This is my lollypop salesman suit”a wildly colorful outfit patterned in endless rows of candy suckers. “When I wear this” (he lifts a yellow and red Scotch plaid jacket from the rack), “people smile, and it kind of cheers them up a little bit.” And you smile, because you see in him and his outrageous outfits what Bill saw.

But it was Mr. Alphabet’s last turn at bat that made me laugh out loud. “This used to be my old sofa,” he says, with a nod to a rather unusual jacket. “My pants used to be my ottoman. “ It was, in my mind, at least in my mind, an homage to Carol Burnett’s famous Gone with the Wind sketch, where the comedian glided down  “Tara’s” famous staircase wearing a pair of long velvet curtains – still attached to their curtain rod.

Sometimes truth truly is stranger than fiction.

The lollypop man and others like him make Cunningham’s day. He loves the fact that, with so many people sporting cookie-cutter looks, there are those who dare-to-be-different. It takes courage, he says, and he admires them for it. Perhaps because he is, in his own way as courageous as they are, daring to fly in the face of the very fashion he covers. 

Interestingly enough, no one seems to care if he shows up at their black tie gala in that cotton smock, explaining that this and other eccentricities are part of his charm.  

BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK is a lovely way to spend an evening. And no doubt, while you’re watching it from your easy chair, perhaps downing a beer or glass of wine, bag of potato chips, or other munchies in hand, Bill will be combing the streets of Manhattan, armed with his trusty camera, looking for the big thing in fashion. 

As for his apartment, by the end of filming, Cunninghamalong with his ninety-six year old neighbor, received word that they would have to find another place to live in order to make way for more offices. She had been there since the 1940s, he, since the early fifties. Where such news would throw most people his age, Bill took it in strike. “You can’t interrupt your life” he says, standing outside the building taking pictures of his filing cabinets being rolled down the street to his new digs. Was he looking forward to living in a more traditional space?  Ummmmaybe not. He laughs and says,

“Who the hell wants a kitchen and a bathroom?  Just more rooms to clean.”

But not to worry, according to a film footnote, Cunningham, “had his new landlord remove the kitchen cabinets and appliances to make room for his filing cabinets.”

Some things never change.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


After the Wedding is the kind of movie that evokes discussion between viewers.  One of the main questions put before us, is whether anyone has the right to use their power to control other people’s lives, manipulating circumstances in order to achieve a desired outcome, even with the best of intentions.

It comes to us from Denmark, but begins in India, where Jacob Petersen ( Mads Mikkelsen), an idealistic Danish transplant in his early forties, spends his every waking hour trying to make life a little easier for the fifty-five children in his care. As the manager of a small orphanage, he is both teacher and father figure, taking pains to see that the children are housed, schooled, fed and loved.

When we meet him, he is ladling rice into bowls from his pick-up truck, and handing them out to the poor and hungry.  But we soon learn that the funds needed to continue this work and keep the orphanage’s doors open, are nearly gone. With bankruptcy looming, the home’s director is heartened when she receives word that a Danish billionaire named Jorgen Hansson (Rolf Lassgard) has expressed an interest in their work, to the point of making a sizeable donation. 

But Hansson's interest comes with the stipulation that he and Petersen shake hands on the ‘deal’ in Copenhagen. While the owner of the orphanage sees this as a reasonable request, Jacob is reluctant to bow to the wishes of what he believes to be a fat cat dangling a bit of cheese in front of a hungry mouse. But desperate for funds, he acquiesces.

When the children learn that he will be leaving, they worry that he won’t return. Most distraught is a seven-year-old boy named Pramod, whom Jacob has cared for since the child was a baby.  They share a special bond, and understanding his distress, Jacob promises to call frequently, and be home in time to celebrate the boy’s upcoming birthday. In Jacob’s mind, it will be a quick trip, just long enough to shake hands, secure the donation, and return to Bombaycash in hand.

Arriving in Copenhagen, he is whisked away to one of CEO’s five star hotels, where a no nonsense concierge walks him through his penthouse suite, pointing out amenities as she goes. The spacious air-conditioned suite is oozing with opulence, from its large bedrooms, common areas and baths, sauna, Jacuzzi, flat screen TV, cable, frig and bar area, to its private rooftop terrace overlooking the city.

Rather than pleased or impressed, Jacob is disgusted by what he views as a wasteful extravagance.  As he notes in a deleted scene, the charge for one night’s lodging in this “ridiculous hotel room” could feed three hundred people in India for a week.

When Jacob finally meets the man who holds the purse strings, he finds that things aren’t quite a settled as he had been led to believe. According to Hansson, the orphanage is but one of three charities vying for the same endowment, and he has yet to make up his mind which will be the lucky benefactor.

Jacob tries to plead his case with an amateur video he has made of the orphanage, but Hansson has other things on his mind, and waves it off only moments after it has begun. “It is a big weekend for me” he says, “and I cannot make a decision now,” explaining that his head is filled with thoughts of his daughter’s impending nuptials. He invites Jacob to the wedding, both at the church and the reception that follows. Realizing that this is more of a demand than a request—not to mention a potential deal-breaker, Jacob attends, only to find that once again, there is far more involved than heor we suspected.

Jorgen it seems, has an agenda based on a series of secrets. Over the course of the film we, along with Jacob, Jorgen’s wife Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and daughter Anna (Stine Fischer Christensen) learn what they are, and the reasons behind what appeared to be a last-minute, while-you-are-here and-have-nothing-else-to-do, invitation.

The twists and turns of this film are, for the most part, totally unexpected. During the first few moments, I thought the plot centered around the orphanage, later, around the bride, still later, around the mother-of-the-bride, then the father-of-the-bride, and so on and so on and so on. The truth is, After the Wedding is about all of the above: a tale of good intentions, questionable decisions, manipulation and love in all its many forms. Parental, marital, young and old, selfish and selfless, this small Danish drama touches on them all. 

As in life, the people in this film are as complex as the challenges they face. So often novels and films, plays and programs wrap their story around a single  problem and simple solution. Find the glass slipper live happily ever after. Do this, and you get that. But, as co-writers Anders Thompson Jensen and director Susanne Bier tell us, it is seldom if ever as simple as that. Happy endings, or some semblance thereof, are far more likely to come about after a litany of trade-offs. And so it is in this piece, where giving and taking, forgoing and forgiving are all part of the mix.  

When all is said and done, you may find yourself wondering if Jacob, Jorgen, Helene and Anna made the right decisions for the right reasons, sacrificing a bit of their ideals, hopes and/or dreams for what they believed to be the greater good. You may, like me, also wonder what the future holds for these fictional but very real characters, and if there will be a happily ever after, after the wedding.  

While the story is, in itself, enough to draw you in, a great deal of what’s good about this film has to do with the casting. I was particularly impressed with Stine Fischer Christensen, the young actress who plays the naively happy bride-to-be.  She is, as one interviewer put it, ‘delicate’, and Bier treats one of her most poignant scenes just as delicately, making for one of the most effective moments in the film. 

Mikkelsen’s Jacob is a quietly, introverted: a soulful soul whose muted exterior hides a wide range of emotions, preconceptions and reservations. He is a man who has experienced failure more often than not, despite his good intentions.

Jorgen Hansson, both on the page and as played by Rolf Lassgard, is perhaps the most complex of the characters, his secrets, intentions, motives and make-up revealed slowly and carefully, frame by frame. Startled by one of his revelations, we find that his wife Helene has a secret of her own. And the hits just keep on coming.

Over the course of the film you will find yourself asking if their actions were triggered by jealousy, love, fear, curiosity, generosity, retribution, or all or none of the above – a tribute to the script, actors and unencumbered direction. And while it is impossible to show every side of a character, be it in a documentary, novel, film or other treatment, this modest motion picture delivers on that score more than many films with far larger names and budgets.

After the Wedding along with the accompanying interview in the Special Features section of the DVD, made me want to see more of Susanne Bier’s work. She has a knack for saying more with the twist of a bottle cap than a page full of dialoguean admirable talent.

There have been many filmsboth dramatic and comedic that have danced around the issues presented in this film: movies that have explored romantic entanglements, the great divide between wealth and poverty, and the use and abuse of power, be it in government, religion, education, geography, business or within the confines a family.  Despite its size and limited resources, this little film holds its own.

A 2006 Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film, After the Wedding is  imperfect in some ways, and sheer perfection in others, which, come to think of it, is much like its characters, and people in general.




Saturday, July 12, 2014


I had just finished watching 12-count‘m 12 episodes of Showtime's Ray Donovan (the entire first season) the night before. I don’t know how I got started watching itit’s definitely not my kind of show. But somehow it hooked and reeled me in, and I just couldn’t stop. I wantedneeded to watch the entire season before season two debuted. And some of the characters were just mesmerizing; among them, Jon Voight’s portrayal of ex-con and family patriarch, Mickey (Mick) Donovan.

When Saturday came around, and I had my usual weekend chores to do, I turned on the TV looking for something to watch while the wash was washing, the crock pot was crocking, and I was making my way through a large box of books and papers I hadn’t opened since I had packed it up in preparation for an upcoming move to my new home in 1991.

Surfing through the endless On-Demand options my cable service offers, I happened upon the 1978 film, Coming Home. Directed by Hal Ashby it was a three-star vehicle for Jane Fonda, Bruce Dern and Donovan’s Jon Voight.

I hadn’t seen the film since it was in theaters, but with Voight’s current work fresh in my mind, I was anxious to give it a second look, especially since enough time had gone by to sort out the underlying anti-war theme that would define Fonda’s life for decades. Both Fonda and Voight took home Oscars for their performances, and rightly so.

Voight is mesmerizing as Vietnam Vet and paraplegic Luke Martin, whom we meet in a VA hospital where he is frustrated by the limitations of his disability, the level of care given to him and his fellow veterans, the memories that haunt him, and a feeling of angst as he watches others signing up to fight a war he no longer believes in. Fonda is also excellent as Sally Hyde; a young wife, whose husband Bob (Bruce Dern) goes off to war, unprepared for the reality that awaits him.

The plot is as simple as it is complex: A husband is called to war. His wife finds comfort and purpose in volunteering at the base hospital. Stuff happens. The husband returns home. More stuff happens, and life, in one way or another, goes on.

Coming Home is hard to define, perhaps because it is, at its core, several things. It is, most certainly, a love story, though the depth of love within the film’s various relationships is more implied than spoken. It is also a story of how we, as human beings, often choose to look the other way when someone is in pain or in need, as long as it is not our someone. And it is, without question, an anti-war platform; set in 1968: a time when our young men were being drafted and recruited to fight in a war that had been raging since the early 1950s in a place many of us had never heard of until we joined the fight in earnest in 1961.

What Coming Home does, more than any motion picture I have seen about soldiers returning home from warincluding the much lauded 1946 film, The Best Years of Our Lives is put a face on the thousands of men and women who return home from the battlefield in varying physical and emotional states, often left to their own devices, to figure out and patch together a future fraught with challenges. Vietnam vets, more than any other veterans I can think of, had an extra burden to bear, in that many people did not welcome them home with ticker tape parades, applaud their efforts, offer them jobs or help them regain some sort of normalcy in their lives.

The love scenes between Fonda and Voight in this movie are among the most tender and moving on film. And while it is, by anyone's description, an anti-war piece, one would hope that all these years later, those of you who will take the time to revisit it, will be better for it, with a renewed awareness and sense of compassion towards those who, by war, accident, birth, violence or quirk of fate, have to deal with more problems and challenges than any human being should have to deal with.

Bruce Dern’s character is perhaps the least appealing of the group, and one can only guess if the part was written that way, or if he was directed that way, or put his own spin on it. Dern tends to play less than sympathetic characters, so, who knows. He is, for me at least, the weakest link in the chain: good, but not up to Fonda and Voight’s work. His character’s outcome (which I realize he had no say in) was the only thing in this movie that didn’t ring true, although those who know far more about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than I would be better qualified to comment on that.

I know that the film's subject matter might lead you to believe that it is a downer, and to be avoided at all costs. Admittedly, it’s not a light-hearted piece or musical, although it does boast a killer soundtrack featuring some of the era’s major tunes and artists, among them, the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, the Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, and Steppenwolf. But there are some truly lovely moments between Fonda and Voight, and when you look at it as a reflection of our recent history, it is so worth seeing; being just as relevant today as it was when it first came out some thirty-three years ago.

At the time, Voight had already come into his own, having starred in the 1969 career-making, award-winning film   Midnight Cowboy, and 1972’s Deliverance. But according to several sources, he was not director Ashby’s first choice, joining the cast only after Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino and Sylvester Stallone had passed on the project-most likely because of its political nature.

Lucky for us that Voight took on the role. Whether you are unfamiliar with his work, remember him from his early movies or more recent fare, you owe it to yourself to see him in this film, as well as the afore-mentioned Ray Donovan. Having won an Emmy last year for his work in the series, he was just nominated again this past week for this year’s work. Watch the two pieces back-to-back will give you a good idea of his range and talent.

Produced by Fonda’s production company, and inspired by her friendship with a Vietnam vet who, like Voight’s character, was a paraplegic, Coming Home, unlike most of the films I feature here, was not a so-called "small" movie, garnering generally positive reviews, as well as a host of nominations and awards for its cast and crew. Knowing this, I suspect that many of you saw it when it was first released. But if, like me, you haven’t seen it since, it may be time for a second look.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Welcome to the fourth annual Food Find Edition! This year I’ve done my best to gather photographs of as many of the finds as possible.
Thanks to those of you who took the time to share the names of your favorites! 
This a Kroger brand. Admittedly, I don’t eat it as regular bread. I make shards out of it, baking it the night before I use it, and making the shards the following day. This “take and bake” bread bakes in just eight minutes, and makes one great shard. For those of you who would like to try your hand at making these easy and delightful bites I’m including my go-to recipe at the end of this post. Below – a batch of shards, fresh out of the oven and topped with Provolone and hard Italian salami.


I am a major butter fan. Supermarket butter is, for the most part, a dim version of the butter I remember from my childhood. But there are exceptions. Last year, I told you about a couple of lightly salted butters from Mennonite country and France. This year, I want to introduce you to Ferrarini, an Italian sweet butter that, unless you are feeling particularly decadent, should be saved for spreading rather than cooking. It’s also wonderful on top of steamed vegetables, but it is a major splurge.

Andi and Clay of Memphis are major fans of this Mississippi-based company’s marinade and barbeque sauce. Created over 150 years ago by Lucinda Macklin, head cook at a Holly Springs, plantation, the recipe has been handed down through the family, from Lucinda to daughter Aussaeibelle, then on to her daughter, Thelma, who passed it on to her son, LaMont Burns.  Burns didn’t just make the sauce, he bottled it. According to the company’s website, this four-generation sauce is good for grilling, dipping, and baking, and great on just about everything. Available regionally at select stores, or by mail. For more information call 662-838-3431, or visit their website at  
I try to find and sample as many of your finds as possible before I write about them.  When I went looking for Andi and Clay’s sauce, I was amazed at how many different sauces, marinades and sopping sauces there were. Rufus Teague's sauce caught my attention. It has a great looking label, interesting copy, and a flavor combination unlike anything I had seen before. There were, of course, a few of the basics: tomato paste, sugar, brown sugar, honey, vinegar, molasses, salt, water, followed by an imaginative list of ingredients, including twists. The list included raisin paste, soy sauce, soy beans, natural smoke flavor, mustard with mustard seed and turmeric, dried onion, concentrated orange juice, Worcestershire sauce, anchovy paste, chili pepper powder, dried garlic, ground celery seed, and (this is on the wrapper) “other spices you can’t  know about.” They say this ‘all natural, gluten-free’ sauce is “best on beef, chicken pork and fish, and also goes well with everything else.” I tried it on oven baked baby back ribs this last Memorial Day weekend. Oh my oh my oh my.
True Confession time. I can’t find that email (and therefore the name of the person who recommended BISTOGravy granulates, but after a quick search on the Internet I learned that they are a British product, available in the International section of your supermarket. From the website’s description, these granules appear to be gravy extracts―add boiling water and you’ve got (depending upon your choice of products) beef, turkey, and vegetarian gravy. The name Bisto, as it turns out, is an acronym for” Brown, Season and Thcken.”  Apologies to the reader who sent in the find for not being able to credit it to you

Donna and Mike B wrote to say they found a wonderful Cambria blue cheese at Sam’s. As they supplied no brand name, I had to do a bit of sleuthing. It turns out that Cambria is in Wisconsin, a tiny rural hamlet of some 767 people living within 1.4 square miles (according to the last census). Given the size of their village,it’s amazing that so many noteworthy people called it home, including (among others) actress Gena Rowlands, musician Owan Mays, and baseball’s Davy Jones. Within the 307 households is a thriving Amish community of cheese makers. While I can’t be sure that Donna and Mike were talking about Salemville’s Cambria bleu cheese, the company’s products can be found at Sam’s, Kroger’s and Target. According to their website, they make their cheese by hand, using no machinery or electricity for that matter, and deliver it to the factory in ‘traditional 10-gallon milk cans.” A note at the bottom of their home page states that their cheeses are rich in calcium, contain no preservatives or chemical additives and are “farmer certified rGBH-free (A genetically engineered, artificial hormone).  
One day while at my Kroger, supermarket cheese counter, I spied a small piece of cheese whose name was unfamiliar to me. The lady behind the counter said that it was Agour Ossau sheep milk cheese from the Pyrenees Mountains of France. She said that she was introduced to the cheese by a family from the Basque region that forms the border between France and Spain. A pricey cheese, they love it so much, they buy half a wheel at a time. As this remnant was in the ‘$5 or less” basket that contains small bits of this and that, I was able to sample it without breaking the bank. It took a few bites to take in the flavor, as it was a bit different than other cheeses I’d tried. Buttery, but not like a brie. And firmer than a brie, but not as firm as say, a Swiss cheese or Gouda. The cheese lady suggested it be eaten wish summer fruits and a glass of red wine. I thought it was tasty all by its lonesome. When I looked it up on line, one company suggested pairing it with Les Folies Fromage Black Cherry or Licorice fruit spreads. Available at Costco and your local cheese counter. 

And three Dutch "Finds"...


This award-winning cheese took home the “Best European Cheese” award this year at the Global Cheese awards, having won a   bronze medal (kind of like the Cheese Olympics) last year in the World Cheese awards sponsored by the guild of fine foods in Birmingham, England. Pretty good any way you slice it, when you consider that nearly 3,000 cheeses were competing. I first tasted this nutty, slightly crumbly cheese during a sampling at Kroger, and have been a fan ever since. What does it taste like? Hmmm. Well, If you married Gouda and Parmesan (more Gouda, less Parm) you’d have some idea. But it’s like describing vanilla. You have to see for yourself. Oh by the way, it’s lactose and gluten-free.


This is another Gouda – and one of my all-time favorites. It’s a cow-milk Gouda that has been aged at least five months. Named after the famous Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gough, it is, ear-resistible (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)
I have only seen Robusto at Whole Foods. Knowing what a fan I am of Dutch cheeses, my all-knowing cheese guru sliced off a bit of this wonderful Gouda for me to try. It was delicious. I’ve never seen it anywhere else, but if you have a Whole Foods in your area, and enjoy a good Gouda, I recommend it highly. I’ve seen it described as having hints of both Parmesan and Cheddar. Add it to your cheese board.
And just for fun...


I kid you not. Though this faux fudge looks and tastes like the real thing, it’s actually made of cheddar cheese and such seemingly incompatible ingredients are paprika and turmeric extract. A seasonal item, I found it at Kroger about a month before Easter, where it was available through the first weeks of May. I bought a few packages and had fun giving to friends to try before telling them what it really was, and then giving them a package to take home to the delight of their children and grandchildren. A fun conversation-starter at parties and such, it may not be the best fudge you’ve ever eaten, but it is far from the worst. Everyone I know said it was good to the last bite. A fellow shopper said she was planning on serving it to friends along with fresh strawberries at a baby shower – a berry good idea, indeed!
An east coast reader loves this ooey gooey butter, and she’s not alone.  Apparently a lot of Trader Joe’s customers are spreading it on their pancakes and waffles, favorite bread and using it as an ice cream topping. When I looked it up on the Internet I found that it is the supermarket’s second most popular product! If you, like me, don’t have a Trader Joe’s in your area, you’ll find it on, where it described as a spreadable treat as ‘reminiscent of gingerbread and made with crushed biscuits’.    

Lean Cuisine products have made our list before, with a Chicago reader giving their Chicken Pecan entree shout out. I’d like to add their Artichoke Ravioli to my list of ‘Faves’. 

I’m also impressed with Lean Cuisine’s Honestly Good entrees, which cost a little more, but are generous in size, low in calories, and high on flavor and imagination. This one is my personal favorite.    
Watch any of the various TV chef’s shows, or read a food magazine or two, and you will soon realize that San Marzano canned tomatoes are their tomato of choice, and with good reason. Stacked up against other brands you’ll find these Italian plum tomatoes to be far more flavorful, and has far fewer seeds. Domestic brands are fine for everyday cooking, but when I invest in all sorts of ingredients for special dishes, it just makes sense to grab a can or two of San Marzanos. They’re available in most supermarkets. This particular brand can be found at Fresh Market.


I discovered this wonderful and inexpensive antipasto salad at Aldi’s last Thanksgiving.  Beautiful to look at, extremely flavorful, it’s chilled and straight out of the jar, as an accent in a fresh salad, or set on top of a shard (see  “Breads”) or cracker (my favorite combination). I generally pour the chilled contents into a clear bowl for a pretty presentation, and set it beside the shards, with a pint-sized fork, and allow party-goers to pick and choose the combinations that please them. Aldi’s also sells Tuscan Garden artichoke hearts, same thing, minus the rest of the medley.   
I’m a big fan of Tuscan Garden All Natural Artichoke salad and quartered artichoke hearts. I use various bits of the salad on my shards (see “bread”), and both to punch up a salad. So good, and inexpensive. Both are available at Aldi’s.


You’ve probably had, tried and enjoyed regular Yukon gold potatoes, but if you haven’t tried the pint-sized version, you’re in for a treat. Great roasted along with your favorite oven-roasted cut of beef or chicken, they’re insanely good sliced in half, laid out in a single layer (sliced side up) on a cookie sheet, brushed with or better yet dipped in a shallow bowl of extra virgin olive oil, lightly dusted with kosher salt and a bit of pepper, and baked in a 400-degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour, turning once, until crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and, what else but, golden.

It was one of those happy mistakes. I thought I was buying Pompeian’s regular red wine vinegar, (which sat next to it on the shelf).  Rather than take it back to the store, I decided to give this newfangled vinegar a try. It’s been my vinegar of choice for most of my dinner salads ever since. It’s not that you can taste the pomegranate – it’s just that it adds that something extra that makes everything taste better. I add a splash of it to some version of the following mix (Lettuce, tomato, cucumber, celery, carrots, olives, radishes, red onion, marinated artichokes, baby red, yellow or orange peppers, pepperoncini or sweet  piquanté peppadew marinated peppers, hearts of palm, green or  red onions, drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive oil over the whole thing,  mix lightly, sprinkle with a shake each of garlic powder, celery salt, salt, pepper, basil, oregano and dill, and toss again. Soooo good.



I know, I know, freshly ground pepper is the pepper of choice. All of the chefs swear by it, and when have you ever been a restaurant, where the waiter comes to the table and asks if you’d like a little pepper on your whatever, and then sprinkles it on? So you have to trust me on this. Morton & Bassett’s bottled course ground black pepper is the phenomenal. I came across it, as I do so many of my favorite things, on my supermarket’s “Bent and Dent” shelf, where overstocked, almost out of date, bent, dented, torn or discontinued items are laid to rest. I’ve been buying it ever since – which is a splurge. It recently went on sale, and I bought two jars as well as two other of the company’s line of seasonings and spices. I haven’t tried them yet, so I’ll have to report back next year, but when it comes to pepper that zings – this fragrant pepper far exceeds McCormick’s, Spice Island’s, and other brands’ course ground black pepper that I’ve tried over the years.


Some years ago the Cooking Channel ran a Canadian-produced series called French Food at Home. It's star, a pert young woman by the name of Laura Colder, was a big fan of this sea salt, much as California chef Michael Chiarello uses Gray salt to season just about everything. Over the years I looked for Fleur de Sel, but it never turned up in my local market or at Penzey’s spice emporium. Then, one magical day, I came across it in a Philadelphia co-op, its charming packaging called to me. Back home, I took it out for a test drive, and quickly found that it was not designed to be table salt. Hand-raked and harvested in France, it is far more complex; which is to say that you only need a bit of this sea salt to get your point across. But oh, what a lovely point!


I never heard of Platinum yeast until someone raved about it on her baking blog.  It was easy enough to find at my local market, and produced the most delicious cinnamon buns!




Prior to finding these two salamis at Aldi’s, I was buying a far pricier Italian salami at my local supermarket. It was wrapped in paper, and preserved in a cloth wrap of sorts, but the actual salami was only slightly better than the Aldi’s brand. Great sliced as a noon-day snack or before-dinner hors dourvres, both the pinot grigio and chianti red wine versions are wonderful on the shards I mentioned in the bread section, topped with a bit of cheese and a marinated artichoke heart it is to die for. It also makes for a great sandwich when partnered with a bit of good mustard and fresh bread.

Wright Bacon is a household word in many Southern households. Thickly sliced, it is the perfect accompaniment to fresh eggs and strong coffee, tucked into a sandwich or baked with a bit of real maple syrup and served as an hors d’oeurvre. It’ll cost you, but every now and again it goes on sale, and freezes well. So stock up, and enjoy!


Corky’s Barbecue Restaurants are known throughout the mid-south for their succulent barbecue.  Their frozen products (and mail-order packs) have been gracing the area’s markets for years. But recently they ventured into the fresh pork category.  I happened to be in the market the morning they marked down packages of near due-date, pre-seasoned pork tenderloin (complete with packets of Corky’s famous barbecue sauce). The markdown price was so reasonable I bought three packages, gave one to a friend, put one in the freezer and slow-cooked the third that very day. Both methods produced equally tasty results. With enough leftovers for at least three meals, I looked for a recipe that would use the leftovers in a tasty and freezer-friendly way.  I will share the resulting recipe, which I found on the Internet and tweaked, at the end of this post.

Thanks to Mike in Memphis for this find. At just 120 calories per serving (2 patties), these sizable patties make for ‘a quick, satisfying treat,” with a ‘good smoky flavor.”  And the price? “…about $5.49 for a package of 8.” Also available in Maple and Brown Sugar.   


Growing up in Philadelphia, I took my lox for granted. Every Jewish-style deli sliced the salmon from the fish to order. No frozen slices lined up on wax paper, and certainly no pre-packaged stuff. Today there are still stores that cut-to-order (certain Fareway and Whole Foods markets), but packaging techniques have changed, and Ducktrap’s Kendall Brook smoked salmon as as close (or better)than its hand-sliced cousin. Made from fresh salmon, trimmed by hand with the brown meat and fat removed, it comes in traditional (my favorite), or with fresh black pepper and garlic.Serve it on a fresh bagel with real cream cheese (none of that whipped stuff), a bit of red onion, and maybe a slice of cucumber or tomato, and you are instantly transported to a far better place., or go gourmet, with a lemon wedge and capers, incorporated into a dip, spread, or bilinis, frittatas, scrambled or deviled eggs, An added plus: This salmon freezes well, so if you catch a sale, buy one for now, and a second, for later. 


I love Ginger Ale, but over the years I had yet to find a diet version that tasted like the real thing. Enter Canada Dry 10 – ten little calories, big ginger ale taste. They say that sales of carbonated beverages in general are going down, which  may have been the impetus for Canada Dry to work harder at perfecting a diet version. I’ve tried a few of their other ‘10’ drinks, but this one is far and away the winner in my frig.

I found this "Find" on a shelf in the Bent and Dent section. I’m not much of an espresso drinker, but the price was right, and I’m up for trying just about anything in the coffee family (although I have to say that a similar find in the same section – one of my favorite brand’s seasonal blends, was cough cough, awful). Café Goya turned out to be, as expected, a bit too dark for my pallet. I decided to mix it with an equal scoop of Duncan Donuts Decaf, which I’d been drinking at night. The resulting combo produced a near-perfect cup of rich, smooth and deep-bodied cup of coffee. I’ve been blending the two ever since.

An Oklahoma reader sent along two totally different beverage “Finds”. With them, this note: “I have been having tummy trouble for a long time and recently gave up milk to see if that helped .The problem is, I have a bowl of cereal almost every morning and I don't enjoy it without milk. My doctor last week mentioned that I should try Almond milk. I recently attempted Coconut milk and that was an epic fail, (big yuck) so I hesitated. But Hiland's original almond milk is very good. In fact, after a week, I can't tell the difference between it, and my skim I had been drinking. I am not buying the one that is low calorie because if I give up milk, I'm not ready to give up taste. So mine has 60 calories per 8 oz. (I don't use that much over the cereal.)”

Her second sip tip came in the form of this Argentinian wine. “They have a good Cab and a Merlot that we like. Very inexpensive, particularly if you go ahead and buy a case and get a 10% discount. We served it to friends and when they heard how affordable, they are buying it as well.” Their website notes that Wine Spectator and Wine & Spirits magazines are also quite fond of their Malbec, which comes in at somewhere between eighteen and twenty dollars.

I had seen the Seagram’s pouches, along with other brands, for a while, and finally let my curiosity get the best of me. I don’t drink much alcohol, not sure why, I just don’t. But the whole idea of it intrigued me, There were flavors ranging from frozen strawberry daiquiri to Frozen Margarita, Piña colada, I chose Sangria, because I have enjoyed the fruity wine coolers over the years, and at just under two dollars, it was an affordable taste test. The drinks have 5% alcohol, and so for the first time in 3,000 years I was carded at the checkout counter!  All you do is put the pouch in the freezer for six-to-eight hours, take out, tear it open and drink straight from the pouch, or pour into a glass with a straw (my option). It was very tasty – sweet, but not too sweet, (the flavors of red wine, apple and peach mixing and mingling) and all 5% of that alcohol (beer) got to me (or was it brain freeze?). Pop a few in the freezer, and when friends come calling, and you’ve got a ready-made cool way to beat the heat.    


Back in LA, Howard longs for Entenmann’s cakes―with no exception: No cheese, please. That leaves a full line of baked goods: buns and puffs, donuts and crumb cakes, Danish, Twists, Lite Bites and loafs, muffins and cookies, chocolate, banana, carrot and lemon cakes, the list goes on and on. Chances are at least some of them are available at a supermarket near you.


While I ask for "Finds" that are available on at least a regional level, Andi and Clay were so enthusiastic about these preservative-free, melt-in-your-mouth made-with-100% real butter-butter cookies that their Find begged to be an exception to the rule. This mom and pop bakery bakes their cookies in small batches with real butter, “No Crisco allowed” says owner Maurice Hill.  The bakery is named after his seven year old niece, who lost her life to Leukemia in 1997. Maurice and with Pamela say it’s their way of keeping the little girl’s memory alive. Live in Memphis? Stop by their bakery, where they bake more than a dozen different types of cookies, including their prize butter cookies, which are available at area Kroger stores. For more information, head for their

Never if my wildest dreams would I have thought that ginger snaps would be the Number One grocery chain’s number one best seller – but it’s true. A Florida reader raved about their gingery goodness, but it wasn’t until I went on their website that I found out how many people agree with her.  
NUTS and other SNACKS

The price of nuts went nuts this past year; bad news for those of us who love them. Aldi’s is known for having a great selection of moderately priced, high quality unsalted nuts, but they also sell an eight-ounce tin of salted mixed nuts that comes in at the bargain-basement price of just $2.29 a tin. Unlike other bargain brands, these nuts are a good size, crunchy, salty and absolutely habit forming.

Walgreen’s Nice line covers the gamut, from soup to nuts and beyond. Their Hiker’s mix is a tasty blend of raisins and a variety of nuts, without the extra sweetness of those delicious but calorie-laden chocolate-coated candies.
Jackie K says she found these multi grain, all natural chips at Wal-Mart on the popcorn aisle. While the company recommends pairing them with red pepper hummus, guacamole and bruschetta, Jackie says they’re delicious by themselves. “They have some interesting ingredients” she says, among them “blue corn, brown rice, flax, sesame and sunflower seeds, and quinoa. They’re also certified kosher, vegan and gluten-free. No artificial anything. “They have 140 calories per serving, so you can’t go crazy, but they’re very tasty!” The company


Love grapefruit? You’ll get hooked on these gummy-like grapefruit slices. Lightly dusted in sugar, they’re not too sweet. not too chewy, and much too delicious to resist. Available at Fresh Market.
Last Christmas my friend Missy gifted me with a generous assortment of chocolate covered almonds and caramels highlighted by an enviable supply of large, salty cashew nuts from Krema Nut Company. She said that while she’s not generally a sweet eater, she found herself drawn to them at a family dinner. She’s been a fan ever since; and thanks to her generosity, I am as well.

Last year I introduced you to Choceur’s Milk and Cream chocolate bars. This year, two more outstanding varieties from this outstanding chocolatier. The first, Choceur’s raisin and nut bar, where hazelnuts and raisins abound. I broke off a bit to show you how densely populated they really are. You won’t find a better chocolate at any price, let alone $1.99 for 7.05 ounces.

Also on my ‘You've gotta try’ this list – Choceur’s white chocolate. Break off a ‘brick’ or two or three and you have a creamy, intensely rich experience. Again, at $1.99, It’s both affordable and indulgent.
And that’s it for this year. Thanks again to those who sent in your favorites. And a special thanks to all of you who are so faithful to this this blog. Now, as promised, is my recipe for those shards (See “BREAD”.) Inspired by a flat bread recipe from the More From Ace Bakery cookbook, these crispy bites look beautiful in a breadbasket, popping out of a tall-glass, or laid across a serving tray, and topped with everything from cheese to prosciutto, the Tuscan Garden salad mentioned earlier, or a your favorite spread. Replace the salt with freshly grated Parmesan, and you’ve got another great bunch of crunch.

Now here's that recipe I promised you - Enjoy!


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Slice off both sides of the crust, leaving only the top and bottom crust.

Carefully slice 1/8-to ¼ inch thick slices, lengthwise through a down the side of the bread.

Brush with olive oil and lightly sprinkle with either salt or Parmesan cheese.

Bake just below the broiling position (second rack) in the oven for between ten and fifteen minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.

Top with antipasto-type marinated vegetables (see TUSCAN GARDEN ARTICHOKE SALAD under “VEGETABLES”), thin slices Italian cold cuts, a favorite cheese, or eat them all by their lonesome. When I take them to a party I generally bring along the Artichoke Salad in a pretty see-through serving bowl and place it, along with a fork, next to the shards. People can then assemble them as they wish.

Once made, stored in a Ziploc bag, these tasty treats will stay nice and crispy for days. – if they hang around that long.