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Making Concessions

A movie-food drama starring midnight croissants, a pie with heart, and dinner in a field.

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I wish my life could be more like the movies. Everything in a film is there for a reason, and it all makes sense by the end. I'll admit that, occasionally, I envy the lives I see depicted onscreen, but usually I just envy the food the characters enjoy. Recently, I attempted to recreate some food scenes from three movies. Far from the cinematic ideal I pictured, the results could only be classified as a bit ... inconsistent.

In It's Complicated, the characters played by Steve Martin and Meryl Streep make croissants in the middle of the night after a date. Streep's Jane owns a bakery, and she offers to make anything on the menu. Her paramour Adam chooses a chocolate croissant. In the kitchen, set to the tune of happy French music, flirting, horseplay, and messiness ensue.

Now in It's Complicated, all of the croissant-making happens very swiftly, and then Adam and Jane are discussing her cooking scars and the fate of their burgeoning relationship over their perfect pastry and espresso. When I brought up the idea of making chocolate croissants too, my husband, the practical one in the kitchen, looked up some recipes and said, "The title of that movie perfectly describes this process."

Apparently, I had been duped by Hollywood, because croissants are not something that can be whipped up late at night and eaten an hour later. Still, I was determined. I set a stick of butter on the counter and waited for it to soften. I smashed some flour into it as directed and put it in the fridge to set. Later, intimidated by what seemed like a three-day recipe, I balked.

Next, I began thinking about making a pie like Jenna, Keri Russell's character, does in Waitress. Unfortunately, I was in a pie-making slump after spending an entire morning following arcane instructions for what was touted as the Most Perfect Apple Pie Ever in the Whole Wide World. (It wasn't.) I decided to be inspired by Jenna's pie-making process in Waitress. She makes her pies from scratch, and the quirky flavors reflect her problems as well as her victories.

I was moved to dream up my own pie. I would get across the feeling and flavors of fall with a pumpkin-bourbon pie with thyme and roasted pumpkin seeds in the crust. I'll call it the Fall Is Finally Here and It's About Time Pie, I decided. All of my work digging out the seeds, carving up the pumpkin and peeling and roasting the flesh amounted to a sad pile of plain-tasting pulp.

And so I tried again with sweet potatoes plus toasted Chinese five-spice powder along with a pecan crust. This I deemed my Second Try at Success Pie (The One That Proves I Am Not an Absolute Failure at This Evoking-Emotions-Via-Pie Business).

Now that I felt somewhat satisfied with a movie-inspired dish, my mind wandered to another film with a great food scene in it. In Lying, the characters are so odd, the plot so intense and unexpected, that I almost forgot the dinner scene, the nicest moment before everything gets creepy.

Four women on a weekend trip to a country house belonging to Chloë Sevigny's character have a rustic dinner outside in a field of wildflowers and tall grass. Streaming sun makes the characters look lit from within, and the setting is so ideal that their meal (a simple salad, nondescript pasta, a little wine) is secondary.

But I have no field. I also never realized how tough it is to coordinate this scene until I waited for the rare Memphis day with movie-perfect weather.

So that plan fizzled.

Humbled, I came to terms with the idea that food featured on the movie screen often seems effortless but is the result of much planning and many busy offscreen hands. I suppose the final result of my pie-making experience counts as a small success; at least it tasted like it when I went outside, sat on the grass in the sun, and devoured the very first piece.

For the Second Try pie recipe, go to the Flyer's food blog, Hungry Memphis.

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