For Food ‘n Flix this month, Deb from Kahakai Kitchen chose Pieces of April, a 2003 independent film staring a pre-Tom Cruise Katie Holmes. (You can see Deb’s announcement post here.) The plot is appropriate for November because it involves the preparation for a Thanksgiving family meal.
As is often the case with family holiday meals, dysfunctionality runs rampant. The free spirit April is a twenty-something who has been estranged from her family for some time, especially her mother.
April’s mother, ironically named Joy, is in the final stages of fighting breast cancer and this might be her last holiday. Because of this, April invites her family to her tenement apartment in New York City. Most of the movie deals with the family’s trek to the city from somewhere in suburbia. Besides stopping for sustenance along the way (because they have no faith in April’s cooking skills), they must also make frequent stops for Joy’s nausea (and for her to toke up to alleviate it). On the way, Joy recollects no happy childhood memories of April. Beth, April’s younger sister, is against the trip and finds every excuse to derail the trip. (One can easily see why April is estranged.)
While the family is traveling to NYC in the stereotypical wood-paneled station wagon, April is frantically trying to make the perfect, traditional, Thanksgiving meal. She and her boyfriend, Bobby, start working early in the morning on a menu of turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and cranberries.
After Bobby helps her get started, he excuses himself to run an errand (and a very sweet and loving errand it is). As soon as Bobby leaves, April finds out that her oven is on the fritz. This dilemma leads her to start knocking on apartment doors to meet her stranger-neighbors in hopes of finding a good Samaritan with oven space to lend. Her search leads her to find culinary help from some experienced cooks, a denial from a vegan (once she realizes it is an animal with a face that will be plopped in her oven), a hipster-doofus loner with some attachment issues (played by a young Sean Hayes), and finally a non-English speaking Asian family who saves the day.
April is the family screw-up and knows it. She has put all her hopes of reconciliation with her mother in this Thanksgiving meal, a meal she hopes will heal.
Personally, I was impressed with April that she even thought about pulling off this kind of a meal, but without the help of Bobby and her neighbors, she would have failed miserably.
After she gets the turkey parked in a hot oven (at least for the first leg of its journey), April begins on the sides. Her first dish comes out beautifully as she just opens a can of the pre-formed, jellied-mass of prepared cranberry sauce and plops it on a platter. Then she starts on the mashed potatoes. She cuts herself peeling and then attempts to mash them raw. I believe she was dispersing a bit of pent-up hostilities and nerves on these poor raw potato chunks.
In honor of April’s quest to make the perfect Thanksgiving dinner, I present smashed potatoes.
Roasted Garlic Skinny Smashed Potatoes
1 large head (not cloves) of garlic, peeled
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place peeled garlic cloves in a small baking dish. Add enough olive oil to cover. Sprinkle with sea salt. Cover loosely with foil and roast in oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil and roast an additional 15 minutes.
Prepare smashed potatoes:
1 1/2 lbs. small red potatoes
roasted garlic (See below.)
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Place potatoes in a medium sauces pan and cover with chicken stock. Simmer, covered for 30 minutes. Remove lid and continue to cook until stock is reduced by half and potatoes are tender.
Add garlic and smash potatoes with a potato masher. Season with salt and lots of pepper.
Optional: You may add a pat or two of butter or even half-and-half if you like, but it’s really not needed.
I have always been a big starch proponent at Thanksgiving. Starches are royalty on this day. On what other day, I ask you, can you eat your fill of stuffing, hot rolls, mashed potatoes and overloaded-with-more-sugary-goodness sweet potatoes?
Not to give away the ending, but April does pull of the perfect Thanksgiving for her family and her new extended family of neighbors. Besides feeding her own family, we see the Asian family, her culinary life-saving neighbors, and some bikers around her table. And Bobby arrives back home, a little worse-for-wear. (Intrigued? You will have to watch the film to fill in the blanks here.)
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with little family drama……
Aside: We served our potatoes at a pre-Thanksgiving meal with Ed Lee’s Adobo-Fried Chicken. You must check this out. This will be the only way I will prepare fried chicken from now on. Yes, it’s that delicious!
New to Food ‘n Flix? This club is open to anyone that wants to participate. Just watch the featured film and get inspired. For December, Heather at girlichef is hosting a true holiday classic, A Christmas Story. We absolutely love this film and I think The Hubs can quote complete scenes from it. (Click here to see the Food ‘n Flix participation guidelines.)