Albert Finney

At first glance you might have thought the gentleman pictured above was Jeff Bezos. The gentleman, in fact, is Albert Finney, pictured with Aileen Quinn and her dog Sandy in a promotional photo for the 1982 movie musical, “Annie.” Albert played “Daddy” Warbucks, Ms. Quinn played Annie, and I regret to say I have only Sandy’s stage name, which is Sandy.
Albert Finney, sadly, passed away at age 82, on February 7 of this year. He was truly an acting icon, prominent on the stage, in television, and in film. What I find fascinating about Albert (and I am pretty sure he would want to be referred to as “Albert”) was his distain for the limelight. He shrugged off the idea that he should become a Hollywood leading man, preferring to take on character roles (what better evidence than his willingness to go bald as “Daddy” Warbucks). Albert led his personal life much the same way, enjoying his wealth; traveling widely, with a penchant for lovely ladies, good cigars and fine wines – not necessarily in that order. Ladies first, always.

It would have been easy for Albert to fall into the Hollywood trap; to become the target for gossips and paparazzi. Here he is below, in the title role of 1963’s “Tom Jones.” His portrayal of Tom led to his first of five Oscar nominations. While never a winner (and clearly he should have been), Albert decided against attending awards events, and it is worth noting, again shunning convention, that he turned down a knighthood, saying, “the Sir thing slightly perpetuates one of our diseases in England, which is snobbery.” Conrad Black, please note.

I have made a list of my 10 favourite movies of all time, and “Tom Jones” is quite near the top of the list. And Albert Finney would be one of 10 favourite actors.

Here are some of his roles – the “character” roles that he so loved. Below, as Hercule Poirot, in “Murder on the Orient Express.” Agatha Christie dubbed Albert the best of all the “Poirots.” Nominated for an Oscar, Albert decided against attending the Academy Awards, saying the he would be up and down having to take so many smoke breaks.

In the following, as Winston Churchill in the television movie, “The Gathering Storm.” He won the Emmy for Actor in a Leading Role. I can find no evidence that he attended the ceremony. In the opinions of legions of critics, Albert’s portrayal of Churchill was the best of all; impressive considering that Rod Taylor, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Burton, Bob Hoskins and Gary Oldman, among others, had the honour. And yes, Mr. Goldman won an Oscar for his version of Mr. Churchill.

One more thought about Albert and Churchill. In a previous post (January 14) I wrote about “Heaven” and having Sir Winston come to dinner. Now that Albert is firmly ensconced in Heaven, why not invite him to join in? He could do his Churchill impression for Sir Winston, share some wine, and smoke cigars. Albert is just the type of guy you would want to have for dinner. Cigars at the dinner table? Not to worry. Again, no harm can come to those smoking in Heaven.

Here he is again, starring with Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovich.” Albert looks quite pleased with himself. Gentlemen, try to keep your eyes on Albert. Another Oscar nomination for our friend, by the way.

In his final movie role, Albert appeared as a gamekeeper in the James Bond epic, “Skyfall.” Daniel Craig, our current James Bond, said of Albert, “I’m deeply saddened by the news of Albert Finney’s passing,” he said. “The world has lost a giant.”

“Wherever Albert is now, I hope there are horses and good company.”

I wasn’t aware that Albert was a horse guy, but at least on earth he had good company. He was married three times; one of his wives being Anouk Aimee. Lovely. According to my sources (basically media gossips) he also had “relationships” (the Hollywood word for “nooky”) with “the likes of singers Joan Baez and Carly Simon, actresses Samantha Eggar, Jacqueline Bisset, Jane Asher, Jill Bennett and model Erica Creer.” Apparently he was “irresistible.”

Above is Albert as I would like to remember him. Young, but totally happy with his life to that point. And it only got better.

Oh, and what of Jeff Bezos? Very much in the news lately, as his wife has filed for divorce. Jeff, as the CEO of Amazon, is worth about $70 billion; half of which he may have to pass along to his soon to be ex-wife Mackenzie. Jeff, for all his smarts, apparently sent compromising texts and photos to his mistress, the TV anchor, Lauren Sanchez. Somehow the messages ended up in the hands of the National Enquirer. And no, Jeff is not exactly “irresistible.”

Chili

It is that time of year. Winter is here, and with winter comes a chill in the air, not to mention the rain (at least here in Lotus Land). But what better time for comfort food, and the comfort that comes from a bowl, or two, of chili con carne.

Everyone has a favourite recipe for chili, and there are endless numbers of recipes to be had on-line. The www.allrecipes.com website appears to have almost a thousand chili recipes (I looked at just the first dozen or so). The recipe that follows is the result of contributions from friends, plus a twist or two of my own.

I like a lot of beans in my chili (ignore the consequences!); and I like a lot of “carne” as well. I start with a mix of dry beans – black beans and pinto beans work well – about 8 ounces of each in a slow cooker set to low. Make sure you have enough water to cover the beans, as they will expand into the space as they soften. The beans should be cooked to the point of firmness. Once done, strain and refrigerate the beans. I generally do the beans the day before.

Next the meat. Brown about a pound or more of ground lean beef in a cast iron pan. Remove and pour off any fat. Italian sausage is next. We have a great market close by that makes sausage with a mix of lamb, spinach and feta. I like about a pound of sausage, removed from its casings, chopped roughly and browned in the cast iron. Once done, remove the sausage, but this time leave the fat (the feta gives off an amazing aroma). Over low heat and with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, add a medium size onion (chopped), 3 tablespoons of minced garlic, a minced jalapeño pepper, a tablespoon each of red pepper flakes, cumin, and turmeric. Plus lots of crushed black pepper.

Sauté, then transfer this mixture to a slow cooker. Add a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes together with the beef and sausage. Top that off with a 12 ounce can of Guinness and let simmer for several hours. About two hours before serving return the beans to the slow cooker. And think about adding a cup of frozen corn kernels when the beans go in. They add colour and some crunch. Serve the chili with a dollop of sour cream and shredded cheddar.

Barbari Bread

You can always serve your chili with tortilla chips, but why not bread? Barbari bread is a staple in Iran. There it is called nan-e barbari; here in North America it is known as Persian flatbread. Barbari will have a crisp crust and be soft and airy inside. While it is often served with feta cheese in Iran, it occurred to me it would be a perfect match with chili. In the following photo you get an idea of what barbari looks like,
fresh from the oven.

Making barbari does not have to be complicated,. Start with a cup of lukewarm water and in it mix a little more that a teaspoon of active dry yeast and a half teaspoon of sugar.

Let it proof for 15 minutes. In a large bowl or food processor mix 2 cups all-purpose flour and 2 teaspoons sea salt. Add the yeast mixture and process (or knead) until the dough separates from the side of the bowl. Knead by hand for a few minutes to form a nice elastic ball. Place the dough ball in a large bowl greased with canola or olive oil, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise until it doubles in size (about an hour).

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. If you have a pizza stone, place the stone on the lower rack while the oven heats up. (In the absence of a pizza stone, use a non-stick baking pan, without preheating the pan). Place parchment paper on a baking pan and work with your dough on the parchment paper and punch it down on the paper to a thickness of about a half inch. The dough will form a rough rectangle. Once the dough is ready for the oven, I brush the surface with a thin film of olive oil mixed with a teaspoon of baking powder and a teaspoon of garlic powder. Then sprinkle the surface with sesame seeds. If using the pizza stone, slide the dough and paper off the baking pan onto the stone and bake the bread for 15 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown on the top with a crisp bottom crust. If you are using a baking pan, place some corn meal on the pan before placing the dough. You may need to bake the bread just a little longer.