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Notting Hill

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Julia Roberts & Hugh GrantNotting Hill

©Universal Studios

Image credit: Notting Hill, 1999

It’s been twenty years since Julia Roberts walked into Hugh Grant’s travel bookshop in Notting Hill (Disc/Download), but to me it feels like yesterday.  Everything seems to be right where I left it—the house with the blue door, the inedible guinea fowl, the “fruitarian”— and it’s all still as endearing as it once was.  Hugh may have lost the stutter and floppy hair IRL, but thankfully, William Thacker is immortal.

In this script written by the master of rom-coms Richard Curtis, average guy Will meets-cute with movie star Anna on the colorful streets of London’s Notting Hill.  He plays it cool while selling books, then gets adorably flummoxed after spilling orange juice on her.  Hugh Grant is the perfect blend of respectful and starstruck, with a dash of charm he just can’t turn off, and Julia Roberts is at her best, making us believe she really is just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.  She makes us understand that to her,  fame doesn’t matter, and if she had it her way, she’d get to hang out at quirky dinner parties with normal folks and act, without having to choose between the two.  Given her gradual real-life retreat from the big screen, I have to think maybe Julia took some lessons from Anna Scott.

My favorite way to spend an afternoon is watching Hugh Grant stutter his way through a love scene. Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Sense and Sensibility are the trifecta of Grant awkwardness, and in Notting Hill, this results in the famous Apricot & Honey scene. Personally, I don’t need apricots soaked in honey, but I wouldn’t say no to some apricots soaked in brandy! While watching Notting Hill, I recommend drinking this Low Point cocktail.

Low Point

1 1/2 oz Apricot Brandy

3/4 oz Orange Juice

4 dashes Orange Bitters

Apricot Sparkling Water

Champagne

Dried apricot for garnish

Combine Apricot brandy, orange juice, and bitters in a shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, then top with sparkling water.  Stir gently to combine, then strain into a coupe glass.  Top with champagne, and garnish with a dried apricot.

Low Point

You certainly don’t need a fizzy cocktail to enjoy this film, but it doesn’t hurt.  And if you spill some orange juice on your t-shirt, take a cue from Anna and put your couture on instead.  Notting Hill—I’ve missed you. I promise I won’t stay away so long next time.  Cheers!

Eat Pray Love

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eat pray love

Image credit: Eat Pray Love, 2010

I’ve written about several travel-centric movies this month, even gone to Spain and back.  And now it’s time to ask the question-  what does it all mean?  What’s the point of sitting in a cramped airline seat, fighting off jet lag, trying desperately to translate languages you only partly understand, and spending far too much money on shoes?  Why do we do this to ourselves?  To help me answer these questions, I’m watching the cinematic adaptation of a book that caused a generation of women to start saving up their frequent flier miles, Eat Pray Love (Disc/Download).

When I first saw this film almost ten years ago, I was underwhelmed.  It felt too long, too full of bumper sticker philosophy, too privileged. But now that I’ve grown up a bit, had some successes and setbacks of my own, I see it through a new lens.  What was once a story about an unsympathetic, deeply flawed woman traveling to Italy, India, and Bali to “find herself” (which in this case means eating carbs, wearing colorful scarves, and sweating beautifully) is now a permission slip.  It’s permission to chase happiness, to make mistakes, and to take care of yourself.  It’s permission to have that second glass of wine, to have the courage to extricate yourself from a relationship that’s gone south, and to do something wildly irresponsible (in my case, taking a trip to Menorca while I’m still paying off my new kitchen). If Elizabeth Gilbert’s book and this film have taught us anything, it’s that we only have this one life.  What we do with it is entirely up to us—a fact that’s equal parts scary, exciting, and empowering.  I may not have all the answers yet, but I believe balance might eventually be within grasp.

There’s a lot of beautiful scenery in this film, but I most connect with the scenes shot in Rome and Naples.  The pizza! The pasta!  The delightful small cars!  To celebrate this search for pleasure, I’ll be making a cocktail I found on my own travels, which uses my favorite summertime Italian aperitif. While watching Eat Pray Love, I recommend drinking an Aperol Sour.

Aperol Sour

2 oz Aperol

½ oz Gin

¾ oz lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup

1 egg white

Orange peel for garnish

Add Aperol, gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white to a cocktail shaker.  Do a dry shake to combine, then add ice.  Shake vigorously until chilled and frothy (about a minute).  Strain into a coupe glass, and garnish with an orange peel.

Aperol Sour

On my recent vacation, I spent a lot of time on the beach reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s other bestselling book, Big Magic.  In the way that Eat Pray Love encourages us to find balance in our lives, Big Magic encourages us to find the creative energy within and let it out into the world.  This may all be a lot of self-help mumbo jumbo, but I can’t deny that both of these books, and this film, have brought new energy into my writing.  And I give special thanks to Eat Pray Love for introducing me to my favorite mantra: Smile with your liver.  Cheers!

Mystic Pizza

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Image Credit Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1988, Mystic Pizza

Image Credit Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1988, Mystic Pizza

 

Recently I was so excited to see that actress Annabeth Gish had joined the cast of TV’s Sons of Anarchy. Where has she been all these years? Aside from a small part in Beautiful Girls, I really hadn’t seen much of her since her star-making role in this week’s film Mystic Pizza (DVD/Download). That appearance got me excited to re-watch one of my favorite movies, which is an absolutely perfect pick for autumn. It makes me long for fall in New England, filled with crisp leaves, cold nights, and chunky sweaters.

Mystic Pizza follows three female friends on the cusp of adulthood as they navigate tricky romances and their future dreams while living in the small town of Mystic, Connecticut. Kat (played by Annabeth Gish) enters into a torrid affair with the married father of the little girl she babysits, Daisy (played by a very young, big-haired Julia Roberts) gets involved with a wealthy playboy, and Jo Jo (played by Lili Taylor) is debating whether or not to marry her long-time boyfriend. They work at a pizza parlor together, and I swear the pizza in this movie looks so good that I always crave it mid-way through. Just do yourself a favor and order one about half an hour before the movie starts. You’ll thank me later. What I love about this film is that these women manage to find themselves and figure out what they want out of love and life, without sacrificing their friendship. That’s the central key to why this movie works so well. Men may come and go, but the friendship among these women is forever.

As for my beverage choice this week, nothing says fall to me like apple cider. I do a little happy dance every time I see it appear in grocery stores next to the bushels of fresh apples. Over the years I’ve paired it with everything under the sun- spiced rum, whiskey, brandy, even an ill-fated night with Bailey’s Irish Cream (I do NOT recommend this if you value your stomach lining), but this week I’ve decided to go girly and make an apple cider sangria. While watching Mystic Pizza, I recommend drinking a Mystic Sparkler.

Mystic Sparkler

2 cups apple cider

½ cup cognac

750ml bottle of cava (or other dry sparkling wine), chilled

2 apples peeled, cored, and thinly sliced

Add the apples to a large pitcher 1/4 filled with ice, reserving ½ cup of the apples for garnishing. Add the cognac, apple cider, and chilled cava.   Stir. Add more ice if necessary. Serve in wine glasses and top with more apple slices.

apple-cider-sangria

I like to think these ladies would have mixed up a big pitcher of this and sat around dishing about their trysts in abandoned houses. Seriously, haven’t any of their boyfriends heard of electricity? The characters say at the end of the film that they wonder where they’ll all be in ten years, and frankly I wonder that too. Who’s divorced, who has kids, and who still lives in Mystic, CT? I’m just putting it out there to the cinema gods that there NEEDS to be a sequel to this movie. This can’t be the end of it for these ladies. How will we ever know what Leona puts in that pizza??  Cheers!