The Film: Mostly Martha [Bella Martha] – Germany
A film about food which is really about life . Completely my kind of film. I had seen the English language remake, No Reservations, before I knew it was based on a foreign film. The cynic in me should have assumed it was a remake, the optimist was just thrilled to find the original.
On the surface these films look very similar. But if you want a masterclass in the difference between American and foreign, between low budget and big budget films look no further. It almost never happens that I enjoy watching the original film after the remake, but this was the unicorn of experiences. I was so utterly intrigued and impressed by the original, having seen the remake first actually helped me appreciate it even more!
The make-under of the original is astounding. It’s not just the performances, it’s the whole tone of the film. The unexpected romance that sweeps into Martha’s life isn’t unexpected to us, maybe, but it is to her. Because in Mostly Martha, she’s treated like a real person. Not a character in an overproduced, heavy on the schmalz, romantic comedy.
The setup for No Reservations is telegraphed immediately and the only reason Kate, played by Catherine Zeta Jones, is so perfectly neurotic and quirky so a man can fix her. But that isn’t even a particle of writer and director Sandra Nettelbeck’s original film.
Martina Gedeck as Martha and Sergio Castellitto as Mario, have a chemistry that clearly makes a huge impact on screen. The entire point of Mario being Italian, hence the title Bella Martha, is vital to the film as is the sensitivity of the directing. The timing and pacing is impeccable, played not as beats of a script but moments of life. Martha changes as a direct result of genuine circumstances. The way the story deals with death is as brilliant as it is real and the scenes with her niece aren’t played for that sort of “aww” inducing emotional manipulation of a Lifetime movie.
Mostly Martha isn’t a snack, a bite-sized portion which leaves you hungry for more — it’s the film equivalent of a perfect meal.
Holiday Spirit: +4
The Food: Maple Peanut Butter Sambal Carmel Popcorn
I have been making gourmet flavours of popcorn for two years, including last year’s excellent Frenchified Popcorn. Sambal came into my fridge starting two years ago as an ingredient I used in my celebration of Japan at Christmas. And this fall I discovered the pleasure of making caramel.
The interesting thing about caramel is how many different textures there are of it. There’s a candy version which is served alone, topped with a little sea salt. The dipping version, for apples or pretzels, is a thinner variety.
The recipe I created tonight is a thick version. I think if I was looking for less of a dessert, more of a snack, I would have gone with a thinner glaze style of caramel, used less butter and cream. But do I have any regrets? None.
This hot and creamy popcorn melts in your mouth. It would be really good mixed with other popcorn, something plain to balance out the sweetness, tossed with some smoked almonds, baked on top of a brownie, or in the Bombay Chex mix.
- 6 cups of popped popcorn
Put the hot popcorn on a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper. Make sure to filter out all stray unpopped kernals or loose husks.
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons of maple syrup
- 3 tablespoons of honey
- 3 tablespoons of butter
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 teaspoons of peanut butter
- 1/2 teaspoon of sambal or sriracha
- Sea salt
Put the sugar, syrup, honey and 2 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan. Watch it dissolve and stir it to make sure the sugar incorporates.
Wait for the mixture to bubble and deepen it’s caramel color without stirring, about 5-7 minutes. Take it from the heat. When the bubbles fall, stir in the milk. Heat again, letting it bubble. Stir it to incorporate the textures. Add the last bit of butter and let it bubble again. Add the peanut butter and sambal, stir to dissolve completely and let it bubble again. Remove it from the heat. Give it one last good stir.
Pour the hot caramel over the popcorn, turning the pieces to coat. It’s very possible to badly burn yourself with hot sugar so be careful!
Let it cool a little, sprinkle with sea salt. Store in an airtight container when it’s relatively solid.
Bake the popcorn if you want it crunchier. If you’re not looking for something very sweet, prior to pouring the caramel add more dry ingredients such as nuts, Chex mix, or pretzels.
Holiday Spirit: +5