A domestic problem
3 & ½ popcorns
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
It’s about time I got to review something like Tate Taylor’s “The Help,” a vital work with a beginning, middle, end and something important to say. Inundated by the summer of FX, where every moment of almost every movie has attempted to emulate the last two minutes of a July 4 fireworks extravaganza, I was trapped inside a pinball machine.
But ah, relief has sprung. It’s like finally being in the company of adults after far too much time among the whims and vagaries of adolescence. This fine film adapted from Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel of the same title, about race relations in the South, circa the early 1960s, proves they can still make ‘em liked they used to, on occasion.
Astute car casting sets the sociology and time as pretty Skeeter (Emma Stone), just graduated from Ole Miss, drives her blue Cadillac convertible to the Jackson Journal in search of a career. No future mint julep drinking matron here…no ma’am. She unfurls a letter of possible employment at a publishing house in New York City, if she can “gain experience.”
A pixyish sort, the editor is swayed by her moxie. And as it just so happens, he needs a new household hints columnist. While Skeeter doesn’t know a thing about keeping house, they both agree that one has to start a life of belles-lettres somewhere. The irony is that, in a manner of speaking, she is about to become an expert on domestic affairs.
Domestic as in maid, that is…specifically, the African-American women who have cooked, cleaned and essentially raised the children of white families in Jackson, Miss., uninterruptedly, since the slave days. It starts off rather naively. Skeeter just had a few questions.
But domestic problem is soon defined in its national sense when, in hoping that Viola Davis’s superbly played maid, Aibileen, might help her with tips about getting stains out of garments and the such, it opens a can of worms which leads to shocking insights. Filmmaker Taylor astutely weaves a superbly tangled web of black and white stories.
It also gets personal. When she learns that Constantine (Cicely Tyson), the housekeeper who raised her, has unexplainably left the family’s employment, Skeeter takes note of a syndrome. The black help showers its affection on the white kids who, with few exceptions, grow up to be just as prejudiced as their parents. Well, by gum, not Skeeter.
Further inspired by the cosmopolitan editor, Miss Stein (Mary Steenburgen), in the Big Apple, Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, smartly exacted by Emma Stone, asks Aibileen to help her really clean house, to tell what it’s like to be on her end of Jim Crowism. And just in case that’s not risky enough, could she get her fellow maids to contribute their stories?
Diametrically opposed to the epiphany Skeeter secretly makes her cause celebre is Bryce Dallas Howard’s Hilly Holbrook, self-appointed leader of those former debs who now embraces the status quo. Hilly won’t be happy until every lily white home has separate toilet facilities for its black servants. Besides, she justifies, it’ll add value to your house.
Supplying tension and heart-rending emotion, the script tells a parallel tale from the help’s perspective. While devoted to the little charges who too rarely receive nurturing from their parents, Aibileen knows what punishment awaits if it’s found she’s sharing confidences. Colleague Minny Jackson’s (Octavia Spencer) plight is just as trenchant.
There was a time Minny’s legendary fried chicken protected her from the more severe wiles of the system. But when she suffers the brunt of scapegoatism employers routinely used to deflect blame from their own ghastly behavior, she also joins the underground confederacy supplying Skeeter info for a tell-all book. She has plenty to tell, too.
Offering a seriocomic angle from which to view the desperate manner employed by the landed gentry to preserve its socioeconomic primacy, Jessica Chastain’s Celia Foote is the only gal unafraid to hire the ostracized Minny.
Of lesser importance, meant to underline how the crusading Skeeter diverges from her rigidly indoctrinated contemporaries, is the subplot about her hapless social life. She’d like to pick and choose…opt only for the folkways and mores of her culture she still holds dear. Whether she can find a local beau sympathetic to that path remains to be seen.
Moving, intelligent and told via stellar performances, novelist Kathryn Stockett’s uniquely personal look at the civil rights struggle reminds that the humanitarian work that gained momentum in the ‘60s remains unfinished. Combined with a profoundly ennobling paean to sisterhood, this eyeopener just might be “The Help” the cause needs.
“The Help,” rated PG-13, is a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release directed by Tate Taylor and stars Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard and Octavia Spencer. Running time: 137 minutes
By Ginger Isham
Back in the colonial days, a dessert was made with layers of bread and sweetened fruit called a “betty.” It was primarily made with apples but other fruits or combinations of fruits also work very well, such as:
PEACH BERRY BETTY
3/4 cup brown sugar (try using 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup orange juice
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon almond flavoring
5 cups sliced pealed peaches
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 cup fresh blueberries
4 cups day-old whole wheat bread, cubed
Stir sugar, orange juice, cinnamon and almond flavoring in a large bowl. Add peach slices and bread cubes, and toss until well mixed. Gently stir in berries.
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 tablespoon chilled butter, in small chunks
Combine sugar and flour. Sprinkle oil and butter on top and blend well.
Sprinkle 1/4 cup of topping in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish that has been sprayed with oil. Spread the fruit mix evenly on top. Sprinkle remaining topping over fruit mixture. Bake in oven on 375 degrees oven for about 40 minutes.
Serve warm with scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Do you want some new corn recipes? Try the following southern sauce:
SWEET MUSTARD BBQ SAUCE
—use with chicken, pork or beef recipes
1 cup fine chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup ketchup
1 cup yellow mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2-3 dashes hot sauce
1/4 cup water
6 ounces Coca-Cola
1 large ear of corn, shucked and kernels removed
Put onion, garlic and vinegar in a saucepan. Cook until mixture is reduced and syrupy, about 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
GRILLED CHILI CORN
—recipe from an old Bon Appetite cooking magazine
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
12 ears of corn
Combine first four ingredients and add salt to taste. Place ears of corn in large baking dish and rub oil mixture all over the ears of corn. Grill until tender, basting with any oil mixture left in dish (takes about 10 minutes).
Suggestion for leftover corn-on-the-cob: cut off the kernels, freeze and add later to soups, stews, chili, pancakes, muffins, salads, or mix with other veggies. They can also be put in a blender with milk and added to a cornmeal muffin mixture.
Ginger Isham lives with her husband on a fifth generation family farm on Oak Hill Road.
All fall sports working out (puff-pant) at CVU
Aug. 25, 2011
By Mal Boright
The sun broke through Monday along with cooler 70-degree temperatures to make for a pleasant day weather-wise, as hundreds of fall sports hopefuls went through their first day of tryouts on Champlain Valley Union High’s fields. An exception was coach Jim Provost’s football team which opened pre-season practice for more than 100 candidates last week and held the annual Red-White scrimmage Saturday.
First up Monday was coach T. J. Mead’s boys soccer team of 35 varsity candidates which was on the field (and on the run) at 6 a.m. for the annual gauntlet.
In a test to determine team members’ physical condition, Mead has players run a full mile with a goal of under six minutes. They take a one-minute break and then run a half-mile with a two-minute 50-second goal. Then, after another minute break, it’s a quarter mile run in under 1:25.
The coach was pleased with the overall results.
“Guys did well in the fitness tests,” Mead said noting that half the candidates equaled or exceeded all time goals.
A game test comes up Saturday when the biggest British invasion to hit these parts since the Beatles bopped over the big puddle in the 60s takes place. At 1 p.m., there will be a scrimmage game against a touring private school team from Newcastle, England, where soccer is the national sport and passion.
“This should be very interesting,” said Mead, adding that Newcastle has boys between 14 and 18, the same ages as his CVU team. Newcastle goes on to play at Essex High Sunday.
Late morning Monday, after Mead and his team left a second session, found Kate McDonald working out more than 50 field hockey aspirants.
McDonald said she lost six seniors from last year’s playoff team and has a group of at least 10 returning veterans around whom to build. The Redhawks will be off to Bennington Saturday for an annual jamboree. A scrimmage at Essex is slated for Aug. 30.
One change this year that will require some getting used to by the athletes is mandatory eye protection for players, due to a ruling from the National Federation of State High School Associations.
McDonald said the girls will be required to have the eye protection by the first game (Sept. 7). She said the eye protection devices cost $65 each, for which players will be responsible.
Monday evening brought out girls soccer coach Brad Parker and some 35 varsity candidates who were spending time building their individual relationships with the spotted spheres.
Parker lost a solid group of seniors from last season’s playoff team, but is hopeful that a strong junior varsity squad will bring in significant replacement talent.
“We are going to be young,” the veteran coach said.
An unanticipated loss is veteran Talon Tomasi, who injured a knee recently and is likely gone for the season.
Provost and the football team will be on the move Saturday to Barre, where the varsity and one of the junior varsity teams will scrimmage Spaulding High.
The gridirion Redhawks are one of two teams to open the season prior to Labor Day. They will have a nocturnal lidlifter under the lights Sept. 2 (Friday) at Burlington High.
Coach Scott Bliss’ cross country runners get their season underway Sept. 3 with relays at the CVU facility.
Aug. 25, 2011
Driving under the influence
Richard Zizza, 43, of Williston was cited on a charge of driving under the influence-second offense on Aug. 18, according to police reports. His blood alcohol concentration was .096, the report notes. The legal limit for driving in Vermont is .08. Zizza was cited to appear in court.
Carly E. Svetlik, 21, of Hinesburg was cited on a charge of suspicion of driving under the influence on Aug. 12, according to police reports. Svetlik’s blood alcohol concentration was .102, the report notes. Svetlik’s was also issued traffic violation citations, according to the report.
Two male juveniles were referred to the Williston Reparative Board on Aug. 15 after they were found to be in possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, according to police reports. No other information was released.
Scott Webster, 31, of Milton was cited on a charge of retail theft from Wal-Mart on Aug. 15 after allegedly stealing $425 worth of merchandise, according to police reports.
The Williston Police Department has received numerous reports of thefts from cars since Aug. 1. The thefts are mainly from vehicles left unlocked in driveways and neighborhoods including Old Stage Road, Maple Road, Ledgewood Drive, Brookside Drive, Windridge Road and Paddock Lane. Items stolen included laptop computers, IPods, IPhones, wallets/purses, a handgun, jewelry, cash, CDs and GPS units.
The thief or thieves have also stolen items by smashing the windows out of parked cars. In one case, an IPod Touch and sunglasses valued at $550 were taken from a car parked at Majestic 10. Another incident involved the theft of a bag from a car parked at Chili’s. More than $150 worth of personal belongings was stolen from a vehicle parked at Jiffy Mart, including an IPod and headphones. A similar incident occurred in Marshall’s parking lot. Numerous items, including a laptop computer, were stolen from a car parked at Wal-Mart.
A St. George Road resident reported that four aluminum rims were stolen from the front of his garage. Neighboring towns including Richmond are experiencing a similar rash of thefts.
The Williston Police Department reminds residents and visitors to lock their car doors at night and remember to bring expensive items indoors. If you park your vehicle at a store parking lot, bring expensive items with you or secure them out of sight in the trunk.
Anyone who has information regarding these thefts is asked to call the Williston Police Department at 878-6611 or you can provide anonymous information by calling the Crimestoppers Tip Line at 864-6666. Information leading to the arrest of suspects or recovery of stolen property are eligible for cash rewards up to $1,000, paid anonymously.
Evan Deslauriers, 23, of Bolton was cited for careless and negligent driving and excessive speed on Aug. 17 after police observed his motorcycle traveling at speeds of 105 mph in a 65 mph zone and 80 mph in a 40 mph zone, according to police reports. He was cited to appear in court on Oct. 3.