Wed 23 Feb 2011
Back in my early college days, my friend Cat and I were recruited to be extras in a movie while having coffee at a neighborhood café in Santa Cruz, California. We were told to be at the beach boardwalk at 5 a.m. the next day and to wear casual attire. We’d be paid $50 for a full day’s work and be fed breakfast and lunch, which we could eat with the cast. To us starving college students, it sounded like a fun way to spend the day.
Being on set with all the cameras and lights and rigs was a thrill and when the actors came out we giggled with excitement. The biggest star of the film was ‘80s child actress Alyssa Milano, who at the time was trying to break her good-girl image. I remember she wore a skimpy outfit and smoked cigarettes and made out with one her male costars in between takes. That male costar was a very wet-behind-the-ears Ben Affleck, sporting a bitchin’ Vanilla Ice hairdo. (It should be noted that many years later, we realized the cast was actually quite impressive: Matt Damon, Matthew McConaughey, Brendan Fraser – all of whom were complete unknowns back then – as well as the late, great Spalding Gray were all in the movie). We soaked in the atmosphere and did everything we could to get an understanding of the storyline, but because we were just extras no one told us anything. We had no idea what the movie was about but we didn’t care. We were just happy to be there.
For this scene, Cat and I walked behind the cast holding stuffed animals that we’d supposedly won at a carnival game. It took over a dozen takes for the cast to get their lines right!
Because the scenes being filmed that day were at the boardwalk (a beachside amusement park), Cat and I were placed on a Ferris wheel along with a dozen other extras. We were given fake boxes of popcorn to hold. The instructions were to pretend like we were eating popcorn and to NOT look at the camera. Going around and around on the wheel, we had a great view of Alyssa and Ben doing their big romantic scene a few feet away from the ride. At first it was enjoyable; we had the wind in our hair and a fantastic view of the ocean. But after the 20th take, which was about the 1000th turn on the Ferris wheel, our initial excitement started to dissipate. We felt confused and pointless…without an understanding of the big picture we lost interest. The view was starting to blur and my head hurt. Finally another extra in the seat above ours yelled out, “I’m gonna f*cking HURL!” which prompted the director to stop the ride and replace us with a new set of extras. Green in the face and disillusioned, we filmed one more scene and then ditched the set and went home before the day was even over.
Sometimes life in Ireland, as a foreigner, can feel a bit like being an extra in a film. At first there’s all this excitement at the newness and strangeness of it all, followed by a long learning process that presents a new challenge every other day. There are so many things I’m still clueless about, like the current election candidates and their political parties and what they represent and how the whole process even works. Trying to wrap my brain around all of it has been a struggle. Even something as seemingly insignificant as Irish and British celebrities can be frustrating at times; I peruse the magazine stands and have no idea who these people are (more often than not, I will not know any of the five contenders on “Celebrity Come Dine with Me”). It’s just weird living in a place where so many things are still unfamiliar to me. At times it feels like I’m back on that Ferris wheel, squinting and struggling to get a Big Picture grasp on things.
But I’m not going to ditch Ireland and go home. The ride can make me a bit green in the face at times, but I’m nowhere near disillusioned. Like that movie with Alyssa Milano – called Glory Daze – the cast here in Ireland (MM, my friends, fellow bloggers, etc.) is pretty amazing and despite the frustrations I’m not going anywhere – you’re stuck with me. Maybe soon I’ll move up from being an extra to a supporting player…we’ll just have to wait and see!
“You’re a Star!” Apple Tart Tatin (adapted from the Barefoot Contessa)
This cake requires confidence and gusto; because it requires you to turn it out onto a plate 15 minutes after removing from the oven, there’s no room for hesitation or fear. And if some of the apple or caramel gets stuck to the baking dish, you have to figure it out quickly. It’s difficult but when you turn it over and it comes out cleanly, you’ll feel like a star! When I made this for MM’s parents, I had to do a little patch-work job on the few bits that were left stuck to the dish but it all worked out in the end!
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the dish
1 1/4 apples, peeled and sliced into 12 pieces
350 grams granulated sugar, divided
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
82 grams non-fat natural yogurt
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
120 grams plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Generously butter a 9-inch glass pie dish and arrange the apples in the dish, cut side down.
Combine 200 grams of the granulated sugar and 80 ml water in a small saucepan and cook over high heat until it turns a warm amber color, about 185 degrees C on a candy thermometer. Swirl the pan but don’t stir. Pour evenly over the apple slices.
Meanwhile, cream the 6 tablespoons of butter and the remaining granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy. Lower the speed and beat in the eggs 1 at a time. Add the yogurt, zest, and vanilla and mix until combined. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and, with the mixer on low speed, add it to the butter mixture. Mix only until combined.
Pour the cake batter evenly over the apple slices and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes, then invert the cake onto a flat plate. If an apple slice sticks, ease it out and replace it in the design on top of the cake. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar.