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Les Blank Celebrated the Greatness of American Food

Les Blank Celebrated the Greatness of American Food

Les Blank, who passed away April 7 at the age of 77, didn’t talk much, but he told us a lot. In a time when American food didn’t get much respect, he showed us what we were missing.

Blank — recently hailed on this site as one of The 60 (Plus) Coolest People in Food and Drink — was probably best known for his film Burden of Dreams, a mad, crazy documentary about the making of another movie, Fitzcarraldo. In one memorable moment, Fitzcarraldo's director, Werner Herzog, looks up at the sky above the Amazon, throws his arms wide, and says, "Even the stars down here look like a mess."

But to food lovers Les Blank was not just a documentarian; he was our documentarian, the man who showed us how great American food could be. In 1971, when he made Spend It All, few people were aware that a vibrant food-first culture was hidden away in the bayous of Louisiana. He made it all seem so appealing that you couldn’t watch the film without wanting to hurry off to Louisiana to get a taste of hot food and spicy zydeco music.

His Always for Pleasure, an ode to New Orleans made in 1978, should be required viewing for everyone who loves Treme; it’s New Orleans before the flood. And every novice cook needs to see what happens when Werner Herzog makes an imprudent bet with Errol Morris. When it’s time to pay up, Alice Waters gets out her pots, Blank turns on the camera, and Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

I met Les in the late '70s when he was shooting Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers. I went with him when he visited a famous garlic restaurant in the little mountain town of Truckee, Calif. Bruce Aidells came along, too (before he was the sausage king). This is what I remember: midnight garlic massages, great food, vast amounts of wine, and an absolutely indefatigable Blank who kept rolling film into the wee hours of the morning, afraid he might miss something good.

Les had a quirky eye and a passion for the unusual (he did an entire film on gap-toothed women). He loved music, and he loved to eat. He was also astute enough to understand that American food was quickly changing. One of his earliest films, Chicken Real, is about an industrial chicken processing plant, made in 1970 when most people still thought that chickens scratched around in the dirt of small farms. He knew that what we eat says a lot about us, and we’re extremely lucky that he went out and captured these cultures before it was too late.


Robert Frank appreciation: Why his greatness went beyond ‘The Americans’

When Robert Frank arrived in Los Angeles in late 1955, he was at an emotional low point. He’d started in New York City, where he’d lived since coming to the United States at age 23 in 1947. He had chucked an award-winning stint as a fashion photographer because, in essence, it bored him.

He had been driving for weeks, and the trip had not been easy. While passing through the Arkansas taking photographs, he’d been stopped by the state police. When officers saw his New York plates and his identification showing he was born in Switzerland, they asked if he were Jewish. He was. They jailed him overnight and intimated he was a Communist spy.

Today, we know the photographer and filmmaker as a unique American artist, a 94-year-old icon when he died in Nova Scotia on Monday. But back then, he was an unknown driving a used black Ford coupe, heading for Los Angeles after picking up his family in Texas. They stayed in a Hollywood Hills apartment. They had one car, two young children, no money and they were markedly unhappy.

“To live for two months in L.A. is like being hospitalized in a Paris hospital,” he wrote his mentor, photographer Walker Evans. “If you have to stay longer one gets worse quickly.” They were here three months.

Frank took memorable photographs of movie premieres, Bunker Hill mansions, a television studio he photographed stock car races and the Rose Bowl. When he shot a premiere, his eye was on the fans, and the starlet they watched was out of focus. Several of his Los Angeles images ended up in the photo book that was the purpose of his cross-country drive, “The Americans.” It was published in 1959, and it changed his life.

“The Americans” gave his adopted country the respect of being taken seriously, scrutinizing race and poverty and the spaces between people without preconceptions or sentimentality. At the time, lots of folks hated these photographs since then, the work came to be seen as the cornerstone of Frank’s career. He saw the praise coming while he was still on the road shaping the book, and he hated the fame it gave him.

Frank never wanted to repeat himself even before “The Americans” came out, he had more or less given up still photography and turned to filmmaking, creating a whole new career. Who does that? His first movie, 1959’s “Pull My Daisy,” is a loopy Beat memoir that launched him as a serious filmmaker. For the next decade or so, he ran screaming from “The Americans,” made poetic and little-seen (for the most part) movies that also tended not to repeat themselves.

And then he arrived in Los Angeles, again. He was scraping by when an offer of commercial work came in from an unlikely source. The Rolling Stones were in town early in 1972, putting finishing touches on a masterpiece of their own, the double album “Exile on Main St.” Some of them — Charlie Watts one version goes, Keith Richards goes another — were fans of “The Americans,” and Frank was invited to the band’s Bel-Air villa. He arrived, shooting Super 8 film as he was introduced to one and all, and the older, cranky hipster with a marked Swiss German accent made an instant impression on band members. They asked him to shoot pictures for their album cover.

Frank wanted to photograph them in a Main Street flophouse, the band storming downtown in a convoy of Cadillacs, but he didn’t have the $15 to pay the hotel clerk for a room. Just then, Mick Jagger swept in, asking how many rooms were available and whipping out cash. “Rent them all,” he said. Everybody got what they wanted.

The vibes poured freely, and Jagger, who was deeply interested in movies, invited Frank to accompany the band on its North American tour that summer. The Stones gave him carte blanche to shoot what he wanted, few questions asked. The work that resulted, a notorious debauchery with a lewd title (". Blues”) , became a fresh sensation even before almost anybody had seen it.

The film features drug use and nakedness on private jets and TVs flying out windows. Those were the headlines, but what made it a lasting, haunting work was the understanding Frank had for the Stones’ experience of traveling across a country you were speaking to but never really seeing. The film is a document of visually beautiful, numb boredom. America was fascinated by the band’s celebrity, and the Stones were present from a great distance. “It’s really crazy,” Frank told a writer. “You go to a big effort to get everybody up for you, and then you use all the force you have to keep them away from you. It’s like being untouchable. Going through America in a Lucite spaceship.”

”. Blues” appears sporadically on the internet in sometimes edited, vastly inferior bootlegs few have seen the original. That’s because after viewing it, Jagger told Frank that the movie was great but that it could never be released. Footage of the drug use could affect the band’s ability to tour across national borders, lawyers said besides, there was little music in the footage, largely because Frank didn’t care about that — he was interested in celebrity, and detachment, and America.

He wasn’t going to take out the objectionable scenes, and at one point, he hid his print under the floorboards of his Canadian summer home when the Mounties came to impound it. Eventually, Frank won the right to screen the film a few times a year if he were present to take questions from the crowd. Frank was never one to enjoy the spotlight, and it was an agreement crafted brilliantly by Jagger to all but ensure that few would ever see the film to its best advantage.

Maybe that will change now. It became perhaps the most famous, certainly the most notorious, film of Frank’s career. It lives as a masterpiece and a symbol of not backing down, not cashing in.

Around the time he met the Stones, Frank was revising his feelings about his most famous work. He wove a few images from “The Americans’” road trip into the album cover of “Exile.” Photographs from “The Americans” would show up later in exhibitions wrapped in barbed wire, stacks of now-revered pictures on display with holes drilled through. They’d show up in his films, as mementos of his past, a past he seemed alternately at peace with and ready to bury.

Frank made “The Americans” in the 1950s, and he unmade it the rest of his life. When we celebrate him today, we should think of him as somebody restless and dissatisfied with his country and himself, someone always asking questions. The work is one fine thing to celebrate. The stubbornness is another thing worth remembering this week.

Smith is an L.A.-based writer and author of “American Witness: The Art and Life of Robert Frank (Da Capo Press, 2017). He is currently working on a biography of Chuck Berry in the age of #MeToo.

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Review: Les Blank’s 1974 ‘A Poem’ documentary focuses on soulful, eccentric Leon Russell

Never released before in theaters, the late, great documentarian Les Blank’s 1974 “A Poem Is a Naked Person” is a tuneful peculiarity, capturing singer-songwriter Leon Russell and his bandmates, his friends, guest musicians and Oklahoma eccentrics.

Blank loved being a cultural omnivore with his camera, so a country-meets-blues-meets-rock showman like Russell — who initiated the project and produced it — seemed a natural fit. The result is a mix of rehearsal footage, lively gigs and rural happenings (a building demolition, a goose grab) that hews less to conventional music documentary portraiture than to a loose, atmospheric brush stroke of a world that created Russell and that grows out of him.

July 10, 12:30 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said that Les Blank died in 2011. He died in 2013.

To suggest that continuum, at one point Blank cuts from a rousing gospel church to a virtuosic fiddle player at an outdoor festival, then to Russell’s studio, where a harmonica player kicks off a gorgeous rendition of “Goodnight Irene.”

The film is also a picture of art and culture as day-to-day identity, to be picked and strummed, talked out between sessions, warbled into a mic or, in the case of a parachute festival organizer with his empty beer glass, bitten into and chewed over. (We think “ouch,” he looks happy.)

Russell, in fact, is hardly the star of “A Poem” despite plenty of rollicking performances filmed in Austin, Texas, and Anaheim, as well as his then-new studio by a lake outside of Tulsa. (Singing visitors include George Jones and Eric Anderson.) By turns ornery and philosophical, Russell is sideman to his director’s carnival ethos, which might be what kept the long-haired Rock and Roll Hall of Famer from allowing the film’s release until Blank’s son, Harrod, brokered a detente recently.

Blank, who died in 2013, despaired that his jangly ode to the strange and the soulful, the funky and the faithful, was his unseen masterpiece. “Burden of Dreams,” Blank’s documentary about the making of Werner Herzog’s 1982 film “Fitzcarraldo,” forgoes that assessment. But now that “A Poem” is out, its oddball colors and willful wanderings betray a sweet, savory, uncompromising air that showcases Russell’s uniquely fused brand of American harmony with rascally ebullience.


‘People Were Running Out Screaming’: Chaos at Gilroy Festival Shooting

At least three people were killed and 12 were injured at a garlic festival in Gilroy, Calif.

Witness: “What’s going on? What’s going on? Is there a fire? Oh, they shooting — oh, [expletive].” “My son was the first one to get notified where they were. And I went from hospital to hospital looking for him, but my son told me that he was over there and we came over. But when I got here, he was already dead.” “It appears as if though they had come into the festival via the creek, which borders a parking area. And they used some sort of a tool to cut through the fence to be able to gain access through the secure fence line.” “People were running out screaming and yelling. And I just told the family, ‘Let’s get in the car and go. We got to get out of here.’”

“Garlic is a unifying ingredient,” said Bill Esparza, a Los Angeles-based food writer and an expert on Mexican cooking. “All cuisines that have strong flavors are garlic lovers.”

The crop has been established in California since the mid-20th century. Among the immigrants who worked in the garlic industry in and around Gilroy were those from Italy, Japan, Mexico and Portugal, said Pauline Adema, the author of a book on the Gilroy festival.

Garlic is now so ubiquitous that it is easy to forget that the ingredient was once stigmatized, seen as stinky, ethnic, working-class and old-world.

Garlic smelled like tenements, not white tablecloths.

The Gilroy festival, founded in 1979 by a local community college president, played a role in changing the crop’s image, and rode a wave of Northern California foodie-ism. Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley had recently begun cooking garlic-themed dinners. The appeal of local, organic produce was on the rise.

In a charming 1980 documentary, “Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers,” the filmmaker Les Blank celebrated the ingredient and the festival as symbols of American zest and multiculturalism.

“People became more curious about and willing to try the food of other people,” said Professor Adema, who leads the food studies program at the University of the Pacific. Among Bay Area trendsetters, she said, the festival was seen as “this wacky thing happening in this stinky little place called Gilroy.”

By the time the festival started, much of the actual garlic growing had begun to move inland, east of Gilroy, where land is cheaper. The town’s odor comes from facilities that dehydrate and process garlic bulbs, turning them into supermarket products like garlic powder and prechopped garlic in glass jars.

The festival, with its mix of celebrity chef appearances, musical performances and kitsch — there is garlic ice cream — draws an estimated 100,000 food lovers each year. It attracts Silicon Valley executives and farm workers alike, who watch cook-offs and kitchen tutorials, and amble down Gourmet Alley, where they can sample pasta with pesto, shrimp scampi and garlic bread.

This year’s festival came at a good time for the California garlic industry: In part because of President Trump’s trade standoff with China, American garlic sales are increasing while Chinese growers — long dominant — are suffering in the American market.

Mr. Esparza, the California food writer, grew up in the Central Valley in a family of agricultural workers. The garlic festival, he said, offered many working-class families a chance to unwind close to home and celebrate the fruits of their labor. He noted that it is largely immigrant workers who pick garlic, package it and cook it in restaurants.


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Les Blank Celebrated the Greatness of American Food - Recipes

Head to the month you like, and discover 30+ food holidays!

Overview

Remember when you were a kid, and your mom brought home supermarket magazines that had meal plans for every day of the month? Well, we could print up meal plans just like&mdashbased on the day&rsquos national food holiday. There&rsquos a food honored just about every day of the year.

The real bonanza here is of course, not meal plans&mdashbut that you never again have to throw &ldquojust another party&rdquo or have friends over for an ordinary dinner. Just organize your evening or event around the official food that is being feted per order of the president of the United States (more about that below). Even on something as seemingly uninteresting as National Zucchini Day (August 8th), that means fun zucchini accents everywhere: zucchini crudités, a zucchini spear in the Bloody Mary instead of celery, julienned zucchini in the salad, zucchini lasagna, fried zucchini. even zucchini cake (like carrot cake) for dessert.

So pick a month from the list above, and start planning.

How Special Observance Days Are Determined

The President of the United States has the authority to declare a commemorative event or day by proclamation. Fewer than 150 are granted in an average year across all categories. While you may think the president has more important things to do, you may have noticed that while President Jed Bartlet was solving world crises on &ldquoThe West Wing,&rdquo he was also being asked to sign proclamations to authorize National Pomegranate Month and such.

Petitions are introduced by constituents, trade associations or public relations firms to honor industries, events, professions, hobbies, etc. The Senate issue commemorative resolutions which do not have the force of law.

Some state legislatures and governors proclaim special observance days, as do mayors of cities, which is why there can be a National Chocolate Day and a National Chocolate Month, as well as two National Guacamole Days&mdashauthorized at different levels of government.

After any observance day has been authorized, it is up to the petitioner to promote it to the public.

Why limit a turkey feast to November and December? June is National Turkey Month (photo courtesy iGourmet). Check out the history of turkey.

Chase&rsquos Calendar Of Events, published by McGraw Hill, is an official compendium of holidays worldwide. You can also apply to Chase&rsquos for an official &ldquoevent day,&rdquo and if they accept your holiday, they will publish it in their calendar.

Question: Why Are Some Holidays Listed With More Than One Date?


The answer is that every government body—local, state, national—has the right to declare holidays.

As a result, before the Internet there could be, theoretically, a Brownie Day declared by the City of Chicago, the State of Massachusetts, and the federal government—all petitioned by trade associations, companies, their PR firms, or individuals in the brownie business—without necessarily being aware of the other brownie days.

In the case of March 25th, for example, Pecan Day is a Virginia-declared holiday that commemorates George Washington's planting of a pecan tree at Mount Vernon on that day in 1775.

However, the Internet has muddled the distinctions. The rules for everything, including truth and accuracy, have gone out the window. People can say whatever they wish.

Thus, in 2011, two bloggers declared February 5th to be Worldwide Nutella Day, the first instance we know of individuals using the Internet to declare holidays.

The floodgates were opened: Anyone can now declare anything online. Regulations can’t be maintained.

Other times, holidays make perfect sense. October 31st, Halloween, is National Candy Apple Day (photo Fotolia).

In fact, one individual has turned holiday declarations into a money maker. For a fee, he will declare any holiday you like, send out a mass press release, list it on their website of holidays, and give you a certificate stating that that date is National Fill In The Blank Day.

Is this good or bad? Well, it is what it is, with all attendant pluses and minuses.

In 2011, two bloggers declared February 5th to be World Nutella Day

Read more at: http://blog.thenibble.com/2017/03/24/tip-of-the-day-fried-oysters/

In 2011, two bloggers declared February 5th to be World Nutella Day

Read more at: http://blog.thenibble.com/2017/03/24/tip-of-the-day-fried-oysters/

While THE NIBBLE’s holiday calendar used to have only the government-declared holidays, we had to buckle into pressure to give space to the unofficial ones.

© Copyright 2005-2021 Lifestyle Direct, Inc. All rights reserved. All images are copyrighted to their respective owners.


Enjoy Foods from Many Cultures with MyPlate

The summer months often present more leisure time for families and friends to gather together. These celebrations, like celebrations throughout the year, usually involve food. The USDA wants to make sure that your festive meals are healthy and that’s why the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) has released a new resource offering 10 tips to wisely celebrate healthier foods and customs. The new tip sheet, which is part of the 10 tips Nutrition Education Series, shows you how to embrace the favorite foods of your culture, as well as foods from other cultures, in a healthier way.

Enjoy Foods from Many Cultures, available for free download at ChooseMyPlate.gov, highlights ways to maintain a healthy diet while preparing and enjoying the food we love. I recently talked about this with Taylor Durkin, a summer intern at CNPP, who reflected that “One of my favorite tips from this resource is to add a touch of spice. I always use herbs and spices like basil, cilantro, and ginger when I cook. It adds freshness and flavor to my meals!”

10 Tips to Wisely Celebrate Healthier Foods and Customs. Click to enlarge image.

Another great resource for inspired healthful cooking is this video featuring White House Chef Cris Comerford that I had the pleasure of developing. Released in May 2013 in recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage month, Chef Comerford demonstrates how she celebrates her culture in a healthy way. She draws inspiration from the familiar MyPlate food icon and follows suggestions from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, creating well-balanced dishes with variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein foods. The tip sheet and the video also offer strategies to reduce the intake of saturated fat and sodium when eating out or when cooking at home- another recommendation from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Find ways to make your favorite cultural dishes healthier and don’t be afraid to get creative or try something new. Remember, all types of foods can fit on MyPlate!


The steak bake recipe

Posting on their social media, the team said:"Hands up who’s missing our Steak Bakes? ✋✋✋✋✋Well here’s the next best thing – an easy way to #GreggsItYourself. (If you prefer a Vegan Steak Bake, just swap out the ingredients for vegan friendly options.)

"Don’t forget to share your GIY creations with us using #GreggsItYourself. We’ve even created a selection of personalised stickers – just go to Giphy and search ‘Greggs’ + your name."

Steak bake ingredients

Cornflour mixed with water

Sizzle the beef in a pan until browned, then pour on the beef stock and add the cornflour.

Mix until thick then leave to cool.

Cut two pieces of pastry to 108mm x 94mm each.

Egg wash the sides of the pastry.

Spoon in the beef filling onto one of the pieces of pastry.

Place the other on top and press the edges down with a fork.

Score six line on the top, then egg wash.

Pop in the over for 20 minutes or until piping hot and golden.


Nutrition.gov Helps America Celebrate National Nutrition Month

March is National Nutrition Month, an annual observance that encourages Americans to adopt a healthy eating pattern that includes nutritious and flavorful foods. What started as a week-long event in 1973 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics became a month-long celebration in 1980, thanks to growing public interest in nutrition. Food and nutrition professionals often celebrate this special month by providing educational and fun resources and treats—such as information booths, posters, games, recipes, and healthy snacks—to promote healthy eating in the workplace and at home. This year’s theme, “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right,” encourages food traditions and the appreciation of eating flavorful foods with friends and family.

The National Agricultural Library’s (NAL) Nutrition.gov website offers many excellent tools and resources for cooking and consuming healthy and delicious foods. Do you want to learn how to cook great-tasting food without adding too much salt or saturated fat? With sodium intakes that are high across the U.S. population according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you may be looking for new ideas on how to cook flavorful food while keeping sodium levels to a minimum.

The Nutrition.gov Shopping, Cooking & Meal Planning page has a “Recipes” section that provides hundreds of heart-healthy recipes that feature fruits and vegetables, fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese. You’ll also find an “Ethnic Cooking” section, where you can explore cultural and ethnic resources, including Latino, Native-American, and African-American recipes.

Nutrition.gov also offers a number of videos to help spark National Nutrition Month excitement. For school nutrition professionals, the video “What’s Shaking? Creative Ways to Boost Flavor with Less Sodium” featuring First Lady Michelle Obama is part of a national sodium reduction initiative to boost flavor and lower the sodium content of school meals. The video “Kids Rock Nutrition in the Kitchen” teaches kids how to practice food safely using colorful fruits, vegetables and other healthy ingredients. The video “Top 10 Reasons to Shop at a Farmers Market” reviews the benefits of buying fresh, locally grown foods.

In honor of National Nutrition Month, NAL and the team at Nutrition.gov invite you to check out the resources available whether you are planning your next dinner party with friends or just a healthy midweek meal with family. Together we can celebrate eating right for good health. Happy National Nutrition Month!

March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.


Set off the historic town square, a picturesque one-acre plaza with majestic Canary Island date palms and Redwood trees, the relaxing haven of Hotel Healdsburg is the perfect way to experience Sonoma wine country&rsquos true hospitality and charm.

Committed to gracious conviviality, Dry Creek Kitchen&rsquos mix of vibrant American cooking and world class bottlings is wine country living at its best: a warmly modern atmosphere in a naturally beautiful setting.

Executive Chef: Michael Lewis

Menu Superstars: Seared Roasted Garlic Octopus and BBQ Spiced Niman Ranch Pork Loin


Watch the video: Lightnin Hopkins plays the Blues (November 2021).