Feasting With Oscar

From canapes to catfish, celebrate Hollywood's big night with a spread that honors the nominated films


Because "Crash" takes place in Los Angeles, where cultures are ever colliding and fusing, it conjures a panoply of possibilities.

In sweeping cinematic fashion, four of this year's five Oscar hopefuls for best motion picture tackle McCarthyism, homosexuality, multiculturalism, literary genius and ruthless ambition -- all perennial American themes.

In sweeping culinary fashion, the same Academy Award nominees also summon visions of an Oscar-night party that would add substance -- and sustenance -- to the four films' various settings.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of a production error, an article in yesterday's Taste section about foods for Oscar night had the wrong initial paragraph. It should have begun: "In sweeping cinematic fashion, four of this year's five Oscar hopefuls for best motion picture tackle McCarthyism, homosexuality, multiculturalism, literary genius and ruthless ambition -- all perennial American themes."
The Sun regrets the errors.

While the televised ceremony promises pure Hollywood glitz, these honored films take viewers on a cross-country, time-traveling tour of the national experience. Why not provide a tantalizing spread worthy of the land's geographic, cultural and economic diversity?

Good Night, and Good Luck, a journey to New York in the black-and-white 1950s, begs for canapes last seen in faded period cookbooks -- and a well-stirred martini.

In Capote, the action primarily takes place in New York and Kansas, channeling urban chic (another martini, please) and heartland generosity. The film also demands a tip of the hat to Truman Capote's childhood in Monroeville, Ala. In a memoir, he rhapsodized about "cockcrow repasts" that included catfish, hominy grits and gravy, black-eyed peas, biscuits and homemade jams and jellies.

Brokeback Mountain hollers for some campfire-inspired grub and perhaps a slice of apple pie, thank you, ma'am.

Crash, a parable of interdependence, cries out for a polyglot feast that folds flavors inspired by Persian, African-American, Mexican, Korean and "other" cuisines into a harmonious whole.

While it didn't get a "best" nomination, the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, a recipient of five other Academy Award nominations, deserves an edible shout-out for its "only in America" narrative.

Considering its coast-to-coast thematic scope, such a fete is best planned as a finger-food banquet. With each nibble or scoop, guests will get a taste of a disparate nation with affecting fodder aplenty, where even adversaries Edward R. Murrow and Joseph McCarthy might have agreed on the glory of that well-stirred martini.

The color illustrations in old cookbooks have faded to unappetizing hues of brown and bilious green. But that shouldn't stop you from searching through vintage volumes such as the Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook (circa 1953) for recipes that recall some of the American housewife's finest achievements having to do with toothpicks, olives and frankfurters.

In a section on "hors d'oeuvre suggestions," the cookbook contains dozens of appetizers that make ideal tributes to the era when Murrow, the hero of Good Night, and Good Luck, was using his television broadcast to do battle with McCarthy.

A recipe as simple as "cut stuffed olives in half and place on cocktail picks with a tiny cube of cheese in center," may not do justice to Murrow's bravery, but it does call to mind a time when suburban frontiers, sustained by crab-meat-bacon rolls, celery pinwheels, deviled eggs and tuna canapes, became veritable fortresses against the Red Scare.

Meanwhile, husbands, filled with apocalyptic dread, were probably knocking back martinis in the bar car on the commute home. This may be complete myth, hewn from too many John Cheever stories, but it's as good an excuse as any for offering martinis at your Oscar party.

Capote inspires a cornucopia of Oscar party fare. Back in Monroeville, where the author lived as a young boy with a beloved aunt, fried catfish remains a popular delicacy. In New York, where he fraternized with the literati, Capote likely supped on more sophisticated seafood -- perhaps something in a crab ball or clams casino.

In Kansas, where he and Harper Lee conducted research for In Cold Blood, the rich fare served in Capote's social circle naturally gave way to humbler, heartier meals that fortified farm families. So why not something humble and hearty for Oscar night, like Tater Tots? If that's a little too humble, think of all the possibilities offered by baby potatoes, scooped out and filled with yummy mixtures involving sour cream, herbs and olives.

From Kansas, turn north to the fictional Brokeback Mountain, where beans were a dreary staple for cowboys Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, who found other ways to enliven their days in the Wyoming mountains. Honoring Ang Lee's film calls for a bean-dip extravaganza, enlivened -- chastely -- with a layer of picante sauce.

You also might serve some pie in honor of the slice the grieving Ennis (Heath Ledger) nibbled so desultorily in the local cafe.

Because Crash takes place in Los Angeles where cultures are ever colliding and fusing, it conjures a panoply of possibilities: Persian hummus, fried chicken and sweet potato pie, Mexican appetizers, Korean fired beef ribs.

And about that martini: Why not mix it with pomegranate juice as another way of noting the way Middle Eastern flavors have seeped into our national palate?

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