Monday, October 28, 2013

The Ghosts in Our Machine: An Interview with Film Maker Liz Marshall

There are a few films I recommend to people looking to learn about how animals are exploited in our society.  The truth is, they are very hard to watch.  And with good reason.  It is a horrible subject and the footage can be very graphic and disturbing.  Films like Meet Your Meat and Earthlings are some of the most heartwrenching films I have ever seen.

Over the last few years there has been a somewhat different approach to bringing the subject of animal abuse to the forefront, and I think it is working.  Films like Vegucated, Blackfish, and The Cove are talking about exploitation in a whole new way.  These films are beautifully made and tell a compelling story that is hard not to watch.

Most recently, I was honored to have had the chance to watch an advance screening of The Ghosts in Our Machine.  And while the subject matter was indeed dark, and difficult, the film was exceedingly adept at making the viewer aware of how animals are being abused, exploited, and used for human pleasure, food, and fur in a way that is non threatening and nonaccusatory.  A skill I have yet to perfect in my personal proselytizing.  The film is, for lack of a better word...beautiful. It follows animal rights photographer Jo-Anne McArthur as she takes haunting images of animals.

I was super excited at the opportunity to interview film maker Liz Marshall about her important film The Ghosts in Our Machine, scheduled for release in the US in November.

What inspired you to make this film? My partner in life Lorena Elke, she challenged me to tackle the animal issue, and it's been very rewarding; this project has widened my worldview. Prior to making THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE I was focused on films about human and environmental issues, and this film is still very grounded in the human condition. So, Lorena inspired me initially and then Jo-Anne McArthur inspired the approach I wanted to take. Her photographs invite the viewer to consider nonhuman animals as individuals; I wanted the film to do that as well.  
How did you come to meet Jo-Anne McArthur? Through Lorena, and then we developed our own connection as fellow documentarians. We both live in Toronto.
Were you (are you) vegan prior to making the film? How long have you been? And what inspired you to be vegan? Back in the early 90s I decided to become vegetarian after reading Diet For a New America. Over the years I generally maintained a veg diet, was always sympathetic to the animal issue and to suffering in general, whether it be injustice towards humans or the planet or to animals. But I was quite resistant to veganism because I assumed it was limiting - I love food and I am a free spirit and was resistant to making the switch. Fast forward to 2010 when I started developing and researching the issues for this film in a much deeper way, specifically the dairy industry, my eyes were opened to realities that I had previously ignored. My blinders were removed, and I started 'seeing' the ghosts everywhere within our pervasive consumer world. This horrified me. From there I was one step closer to making the decision, but still afraid of making the commitment. In the summer of 2011 we followed the story (filmed) of Fanny and Sonny, the two cows in the film who are rescued from the dairy industry by Farm Sanctuary, that was when it became quite emotional and undeniable for me, I became crystal clear in my head and in my heart that I didn't want to support animal industries any longer. I made the decision to be vegan and it felt like I was suddenly seeing the world with new glasses, it was a very big deal for me; a leap not a step. My personal journey with this helps me to understand the resistance to it, and the misconceptions. I brought that lens and perspective to the filmmaking process, because I wanted to make a film that would lessen the gap (chasm) between the vegan world and the non-vegan world, to have that larger audience. 
What do you hope viewers take away from this film? Awareness and empathy and self-reflection. 
What was the biggest obstacle you encountered when making the film? There was (and is) a polarized response from the film/documentary industry, and from people in general. Either people are very intrigued and THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE piques their curiosity or there is the extreme opposite. There is no middle ground. This is an advantage and a disadvantage. It is a reflection of what is happening in society at large. The animal issue is gaining momentum is some circles, and is still disregarded and marginalized in other circles. We released the film at the Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival (the film was voted a Top Ten Audience Favorite), and it was then booked in 11 cities across Canada, and we are now releasing the film theatrically in NYC and LA in November. For details: It has been a lot of work, we don't have a big studio behind us, but people are noticing the film, it's getting out there and generating a lot of discussion and buzz. 
As an animal rights activist myself, I often find people to be cruel and judgmental, often accusing me of caring for the animals more than human animals. Have you encountered any of this in the making of this film? For example, "Why are you spending so much time and effort making a film about the suffering of animals, when you should be making a film about human suffering?"  A little bit but mostly I think people, colleagues, associates have been quite respectful of my choice to make this film, and they appreciate that the tone and approach is not condemning. 
What is the one thing you could change in the world...right and reality is not a concern...if you could?  I love questions like this! I would order a massive infusion of love and empathy into the souls of all humans, and then see what would happen ...

Please join me in spreading the word about this important piece of cinema.  Visit the website and download images to share on all of your social media pages.  Spread the word about the US release in November and help raise awareness in your community.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Late Night Stop on the Blog Tour: Bake and Destroy by Natalie Slater

Bake and Destroy: Good Food for Bad Vegans by Natalie Slater is next on my list of books to review for y'all.  (I know I have been doing a lot of reviews lately, and I promise to get back to posting my own stuff soon, but there are so many awesome books out right now!) I was super excited to be a part of her Blog Tour, and the publishers were kind enough to send me a review copy, but guess what?  I already bought my own copy, because, duh, why wouldn't I? So, I now have an extra copy to give away to one of you lucky readers!  Simply follow the prompts in the widget below to enter. Sorry, this one is open to US and Canada residents only.

Bake and Destroy by Natalie Slater

Okay, seriously?  Can we please just stop now and talk about how damn cute this book is?  Just look at the cover!  Those adorbs little drawings are all over this book.  And the photos?  Most are taken by the ever amazing Celine Steen, so you know those are super fantastic.  There is a full color photo for almost every recipe, and the chapter openers have not only a photo, but more of the adorable drawings superimposed on top of them.  The fonts are cute, the cover is cute, the drawings are cute, the recipe titles are cute, even the flippin' author is cute.  So, yeah, this book is really fun to look at.

But looks aren't everything, even though we do eat first with our eyes,  the food has to taste good once it enters our mouths.  And Natalie delivers the goods.  The recipes are stellar with "comfort food" just barely scratching the surface when it comes to describing the style of food she presents in the book.  Recipes for Chick-o-Cheesecake (page 37), French Fry Tacos (page 95), Pretzel Dogs of The Dead (soft pretzel wrapped hot dogs, page 131) and Deep Fried Cream Corn (page 165), this lady really knows how to woo me with recipes.  There are so many sticky notes in this book, I may as well just make the ones I haven't bookmarked yet, as that would be much easier.

The layout of this book cracks me up.  Foreword, one page by pro wrestler CM Punk.  Intro, one page.  Then BAM!  Straight to dessert.  No fussy chapters about what ingredients you should stock in a vegan pantry, or what the difference between soy sauce and tamari is.  Nope.  Straight to desserts.  Though, there is a handy chapter in the back of the book, Chapter 6: Tips, Tools and Magic Tricks, that does address these very important issues. And I will tell you when I first opened this book (Remember, I take them into the bathtub to read like romance novels.) I had no idea there was anything but desserts in the book...I mean it is titled "Bake" and Destroy, and Natalie is known for her cupcakes, so imagine my surprise when I found all of the savory stuff!  This book is so fun to read, and easy to use.  Buy one for yourself, and then buy at least two to give away as gifts to non-vegans, because if this book doesn't make the most skeptical of carnivores at least seem tempted to try out some vegan food, then we are doomed.

Natalie was kind enough to share one of her favorite Halloween recipes with you, and it is now one of my favorites too.  I mean, who wouldn't love dessert all dressed up in a salad costume?

(C) 2013 Natalie Slater, reprinted with permission

Candy Apple Salad
(C) 2013 Natalie Slater, reprinted with permission

Candy apples and razor blades
Little dead are soon in graves
I remember Halloween
- The Misfits

The non-vegan version of this sweet and salty salad is a staple at my family’s get-togethers. Feel free to substitute red apples if you prefer, and to use salted peanuts in place of the candied walnuts! I was fortunate enough to get my hands on some Dandies mini vegan marshmallows for my batch, but you could chop up your favorite full-sized ‘mallows to get the same effect.

Whipped Coconut Cream:
● 2 (13.3 oz) cans full-fat coconut milk
● 2 Tbs confectioner’s sugar
● ½ tsp xanthan gum (or another vegan stabilizer)
● ½ tsp vanilla extract

Candied walnuts:
● ½ cup sugar
● 1 & ½ cups raw walnut halves
● ½ tsp salt

Additional ingredients:
● 4 cups chopped vegan marshmallow
● 3 cups diced green apples, unpeeled
● 1 (20 oz) can crushed pineapple, drained

The day before serving, place the cans of coconut milk in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, carefully turn them over and open the bottom. Pour out the water, and place the thick cream that’s leftover into a mixing bowl along with the confectioner’s sugar and xanthan gum. Use a handheld electric mixer to beat the cream until it’s thickened. Gently fold in the vanilla extract and refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the candied walnuts, preheat the oven to 350 F and lay the walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes, stirring them after about 3 minutes. If they smell nutty and toasted, remove them from the oven and transfer them to a plate to cool down. If they aren’t toasted yet, keep baking them for 1 minute intervals, taking care not to burn them.

Pour the sugar into a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar begins to melt. Make sure the toasted walnuts are close by. Keep stirring until the sugar has melted and is amber in color. Then turn the heat off, and quickly stir the walnuts into the melted sugar. Immediately transfer the coated walnuts to a baking sheet covered with wax paper or a silicone baking mat. Spread them out, working quickly, so they can cool. Use two forks to separate them, if necessary. Sprinkle with salt and allow to cool completely. Serve immediately, or chill for a few hours and serve the same day. Because the marshmallows do not contain gelatin, the moisture from the other ingredients will break them down and make them fairly sticky after about 2 days in the fridge.

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me! I'm Gonna Celebrate with Pie! (Blog Tour: Pies and Tarts with Heart by Dynise Balcavage)

Pies and Tarts with Heart by Dynise Balcavage

There are two types of people in the world, cake people and pie people.  I used to be one of those wishy-washy-straddling-the-fence people who tried to claim both, but the truth is, when really pressed, the pie wins out in almost every category.

I mean there aren't that many flaky buttery crusts on cakes. You can't fill a cake with anything from fruit to mushrooms and know it's going to be be amazing.  And cakes do not respond nearly as well to the amazing whipped toppings specially reserved for pies.  Besides, cakes are so strict and fussy.  Pies let you have a little more wiggle room, and freedom without having to worry so much about whether or not you used the exact right amount of baking powder, you know?

So, yeah, I am officially claiming to be a pie person.  Pie rules.  Especially the pies that Dynise is serving up in her new book, Pies and Tarts with Heart.

I was super excited when Dynise asked me to be a part of her blog tour for the book because #1, I am now an official pie person, and #2, it's my birthday, and since I am now an official pie person (see #1) who needs a stinking birthday cake when I can have a Frozen Grasshopper Pie on my birthday? (Recipe posted below)

Pies and Tarts with Heart is Dynise's third book, and it is beautiful. From cover to cover this book is smartly laid out with amazing full color photos, adorable fonts, a very user friendly index, a table of contents that lists every single recipe (I love this!) and recipes that are laid out so there is no annoying page flipping in the middle of a recipe.  The recipes are also designated as being gluten free, fast, low-fat, kid-friendly, raw, or no-bake with little icons right next to the recipe title making it really easy to pick a recipe that fits just about any need.

The chapters are laid out in an organized manner which makes perfect sense.  She starts out with an intro on pie baking ingredients and equipment, then she moves into making the perfect crust.  For most, this is the most intimidating part of making a pie, and Dynise will quell any fears with easy to follow recipes that include step by step instructions and photos.  There's even a handy little chart that lists off common questions about crusts, like why use ice cold water...

Frozen Grasshopper Pie from Pies and Tarts with Heart by Dynise Balcavage
(C) 2013 Quarry Books, photo by Paul Runyon
Reprinted with Permission.
Then come the pies.  A lot of pies.  Traditional Pies (apple, pumpkin), Creamy Pies (banana, butterscotch), Citrus Pies (key lime, lemon fluff), Raw Pies (blueberry cream, raspberry chia), Nutty Pies (pecan, rocky road), Arty Tarts (plum, cranberry), Savory Pies (tomato, cheeseburger!!!), and even Imposter Pies (whoopie and shepherd's).  Just to name a few!  She finishes the book off with a chapter on pie toppers...whipped toppings and sauces to take your pie to the next level.

One of my favorite things about this book is how fun it is to read.  Dynise's writing style is smart and a tad sassy.  Her personality certainly shines through in her writing and I particularly enjoyed a mini rant in the beginning of the book about use of the word "vegan."  She definitely got me thinking about more than just pie!

Another wonderful feature in this book is Dynise's obvious love for experimentation in the kitchen.  She will give a base recipe and often offer up 10 different variations.  I love that.  Personally, I don't love (ore really even like) to follow recipes, so when I see a cookbook author make a point to let the reader know that it's okay to vary from the written word, it makes me a very happy camper.

Overall this book is a must have for any pie lover, vegan or otherwise.  The recipes are so solid, and as I stated before, the book is just gorgeous.  With some fairly pie friendly holidays, just right around the corner, it would be a good idea to pick this book up soon so you are armed and ready.

The fine folks over at Quarry Books have offered to give a copy of this awesome book to one lucky blog reader.  Simply follow the prompts in the widget below to enter.  Open to US residents only.

Now, for some pie!  Dynise was kind enough to allow me to share her recipe for Frozen Grasshopper Pie (page 67.)  I chose this dessert for several reasons.  Because I love the drink; A typical grasshopper cocktail consists of equal parts green Crème de menthe, white Crème de cacao and fresh cream (nondairy of course!), shaken with ice and strained into a chilled cocktail glass. Because a while back I created my own version of this pie, (which appears in Home Cooked Vegan Comfort Food), so I really wanted to try Dynise's frozen version. And because it's really, really easy to make!  No baking that's my kinda birthday pie.  So how was it?  Fantastic!  Super minty and cool.  Super perfect interpretation of the cocktail with a perfectly crumbly chocolate cookie crust.

(C) 2013 by Quarry Books and Dynise Balcavage.
Reprinted with permission.

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2012 Copyright/Permissions/Disclaimers

All recipes written by me, Joni Marie Newman, unless otherwise noted. Please feel free to refer to or link back to any of my recipes, but please ask for permission, or remember to give credit when reprinting recipes in their entirety. I do provide links to affiliate programs (such as Amazon) in which I receive a small commission for items purchased. I do not provide paid reviews. All reviews done on products or books are of my own unsolicited opinion. On occasion I may receive a book or product to review. I will note when this is the case, but rest assured, it will not affect the authenticity of my review. Thanks!--Joni