Leaving Las Vegas

P1110131

She wanted to take a picture of everything because she said she didn’t want to forget anything.

P1110135

When we wrapped late last night, Audrey took a very long time saying good-bye to people.  She hugged everyone multiple times and snapped as many selfies as she could with many of them.  How different she is from me, who always quietly sneaks away at the end of every shoot.  As soon as we got back to the hotel, she said to me, “I’m sad.  I will probably never see them again…  I wish it would never end, but I’m also happy that it’s finished…”  Then she added, “I miss Tiffanie.  I miss Ross.  I miss JQ.  I miss Houston.  I miss Pin.  I miss Kyle.  I miss Julian…” She named everyone that had had any contact with her during the filming.  Her melancholy reminded me of my younger days when I, too, felt forlorn the night after a film was completed, as I knew I would probably never again see many of the people with whom I had grown close to during the intense filming.  

P1110093

Yesterday, we filmed in Inspire Theater, the loveliest little place in the entire Las Vegas. It is a specialty theater with a cafe and a bar and lounges. Audrey was having lunch and doing SAT words on the balcony.

P1110114

Just across the street from the loveliest place in Las Vegas is this restaurant called the Heart Attack Grill, where people over 350 pounds eat free meals in a hospital gown on stage. I had to take a picture for my cardiologist husband Peter.

P1110118

Audrey’s character Adeline volunteers to be “disappeared” by the magician on the stage of Inspire Theater.

Audrey has grown by leaps and bounds in this whirlwind of a spring break. She was kept on her toes and learning something new every moment.  Before this film, she hadn’t even expressed any desire to act, but by the end of the shoot, she was practically a pro.  Her ease in front of the camera surprised me.  Her innocent instinct to trust the things and people around her was a quality that I wish I had more of.  I have no idea if Audrey will be an actor in the future, but playing mother and daughter in this little project was the most wonderful adventure that the two of us shared, better than any vacation anywhere in the world. 

Who would have guessed that Las Vegas, of all places, would become so special for us?

P1110143

P1110146

Using her per diem to buy gifts for daddy and Angela in the airport

P1110152

No more looking out the car window on the way from SFO to home. During the filming, she hardly ever looked at her phone.

The first thing I did after I got home was, of course, to cook dinner.  Peter had suggested for us to go out, but Audrey and I missed simple, healthy, home cooked Chinese food.  These are dishes that I have made hundreds of times in my life.  They make me feel that I’m home.

P1060610

Quick braised tofu with vegetables in Ponzu sauce

P1060537

Bok Choi shiitake stir fry with oyster sauce

I will try to remember what I used in these stir fries and share the recipes in the next couple of days.  So happy to be home!

Sin City Day 8 – The Petit Lady Next Door

P1110063

Audrey in the monitor – in the scene, Adeline has been left alone in the hotel room by her mother, who is gambling into the wee hours.

P1110061

Audrey wanted her hair down, but the director want her hair braided to make her look younger.

Today, we shot in the hotel where Audrey and I are staying.  The production rented three rooms near each other — one for filming, one for craft service and holding and one for equipment and prop storage.  The crew went in and out of the three rooms, carrying heavy equipments and talking to each other.  A petit young blond lady came out of the room next to craft service and asked if we could be quieter.  The producer apologized to her and promised to be more considerate. 

My scene was finished by 5pm and I waited in the craft service room in case Audrey needed me for anything.  That was when I first heard the eruption of the fight — extremely vicious, machine gun style shouting from the petit lady next door.  Her passionate high voice went on with so much intensity and velocity that it sounded like a wonderfully delivered stage monologue. Once in a while, I heard a low male voice protesting or placating, but he was inevitably drowned out by her shouting.  A few of the crew and I began to wonder what they were fighting about.  The fact that it was in a foreign language only intensified our curiosity.  We couldn’t believe that such a voice could have come from that petit woman (by now we no longer referred to her as a “lady.”)

Our DP Julian, who is from Peru, came in to get water and said, “Oh, they are from Argentina.”  Then our make-up artist JQ, who is Mexican, began to translate what she could understand for us.  It sounded like that the man lost a lot of money — thousands and thousands of dollars.  By now there was the sound of body shoveling and falling mixed in with the shouting.  We were all holding our breath for the gun shot sound that might come next.

argentine-tango

Then, as suddenly as it began, the fight stopped.  I wondered if one of them was dead.  After an interval of about 30 minutes, I heard the man and the woman talking again and felt somehow relieved that they were alive.  The talking quickly escalated into a second round of ferocious yelling from the petit woman.  Long paragraphs, long sentences.  How did she find so many words when she was this mad? 

After two intervals and three rounds of screaming, there came noises of struggle.  Just when I was imagining slow strangulation, someone from the crew came into the craft service room and whispered in excitement, “He is outside!”  A few of us went out to the corridor pretending to go to the set and saw a docile man in a dress shirt and vest trying to pry the door open while the petit woman gave the door one last shove.  And he was locked out.  The man waited there for about half a minute with all of us feigning nonchalance around him.  Then he gave up and walked away.

I am guilty of being heartless, but that was our Friday evening entertainment in the craft service room.  As the song goes – that’s what you get for waking up in Vegas.

P1110060  P1110057

Sin City Day 7 & Vegetable Soup

P1110035

We filmed on the famous Fremont Street in Las Vegas last night.  There were plenty of cheap food and drinks, half nude street performers, raucous tourists and deafening music.  On the vaulted ceiling that covers the entire street, there was a spectacular light show. People around me were all laughing and having a great time while I suffered from the audio-visual assaults bombarding me from every angle.  Perhaps one needs to be inebriated to truly appreciate the scene.

As we walked by a few topless “nuns” and a nude “Cupid,” Audrey said with dramatic exaggeration, “I’m scarred for life.”  But clearly she was also amused by what she saw, because she was constantly taking snapchat photos to share with her friends and Angela.

Here is care package #3: Spiced Vegetable Soup.  Both Peter and Angela love this soup.  We make some version of it at least once a month.  It can stay in the fridge for a few days and still taste good when you re-heat it.

P1060614

Ingredients:

1 1/2 onions, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minsed

1/2 cabbage, chopped

1 cup chopped celery

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 large potato

1/2 cup Bertolli Organic Olive Oil, Basil & Garlic tomato sauce

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp coriander

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp oregano

2 to 3 tbsp olive oil

2 cartons chicken stock, 32oz each (use vegetable broth or water for vegetarian)

Salt and pepper to taste

Parsley for garnish

P1060602  P1060600

Preparation:

Using a wok or pan, heat up 2 tbsp oil on medium, sauté garlic, onion until aromatic and onion is translucent, add tomatoes and continue to stir until tomatoes are soft.  Transfer to soup pot.  Add chicken stock or vegetable broth, carrots, potato, celery, tomato sauce and spices. Bring to broil and simmer for 45 minutes.

Sauté cabbage with the remaining oil until tender.  Add cabbage to the soup pot and cook for 20 to 30 minutes.

P1060613

Sin City Day 6 & Quinoa Beet Pilaf

P1110012  

Audrey and I have been working very long hours in the past couple of days and I did not have time to post until now.  She has been so exhausted and stressed that she went back to eating meat, with a vengeance – barbecued spareribs, roast beef, you name it, siting, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  It seems that everyone has come here for some sort of transgression. 

The film crew is certainly not the exception to the rule here.  We shot Adeline (Audrey) inside the casino looking for her wayward mother (me) when we’d been told that children were not allowed in there.  One great thing about shooting digital instead of film is that we could shoot in almost any existing light.  That makes the filming less obtrusive.  We managed to finish shooting the scene without being thrown out.  Getting the shot was of course important for the film, but it was the transgression that was the most thrilling for everyone. 

P1110009

P1110011

Audrey, who is usually private, discreet and self conscious, is learning to express emotions in public as a character.  There have been times that she has to do a take 10, 15 times, but she seems to be undaunted.  From what I can tell, she actually enjoys the caravan life style of the film crew. 

P1110016

With her set teacher during a break

P1110003

Listening to the director during hair and make-up

We are both missing home cooked the food.  Here is another dish that I made before I left as care package for Angela and Peter.

P1060455   P1060454

Quinoa and Beet Pilaf

Ingredients:

1 bunch of beets 3 large, 4 medium or 5 small, roasted

¾ to 1 pound beet greens (or chards)

Salt to taste

1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (to taste)

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons caraway seeds, lightly crushed

3 cups cooked regular quinoa

2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled or diced 1/2 cup (optional)

 P1060456   P1060450

Preparation:

Scrub and roast the beets. Once they are cooled, remove the skins and cut into 1/4-inch dice. Set aside.  Or you can use already cooked beets for convenience.

Blanch the greens in a large pot of generously salted water or steam them above an inch of boiling water until wilted, one to two minutes. Refresh with cold water, squeeze dry and chop.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet. Add the garlic. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute. Add the caraway, beet greens or chards, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir over medium heat for 30 seconds to a minute until the greens are nicely infused with the garlic and oil. Add the beets and quinoa. Toss together until the ingredients are well combined and the quinoa is heated through and colored with beet juice. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

Transfer to a wide serving bowl or platter, and sprinkle the goat cheese over the top. Serve hot.

 P1060453

Adapted from: cooking.nytimes.com

Aromatic Beef Curry

P1060336

When I knocked on Audrey’s door this morning, I heard a strangely low and gravelly voice, “Who is it?” “It’s mommy,” I was taken aback for a moment, thinking I lost her to the evil spirit of the hellish hotel.  She opened the door and whispered, “I had to do this.  Last night two different drunken guys knocked on my door.  Or maybe it was the same drunken guy who came twice.  I couldn’t sleep after that.”

So, we both needed some caffeine before the rehearsal.  I tried to order an Uber to go to Starbucks, but was surprised to find out that there was no Uber service in Las Vegas.  After our morning coffee, Audrey and I rehearsed one of the most important scenes in the film, where Adeline finds out that her father is leaving her and her mother. In the script, Adeline goes through a wide range of emotions in the scene— from desperation to anger to sadness to hopelessness.  Audrey did a really good job, especially considering how inexperienced she is at acting.  We both felt more confident about doing this job together after the rehearsal.

mystere5  Mystere_Planche_Matt Beard

The highlight of the day was when Audrey got her per diem and treated us to cirque du soleil’s Mystére in Treasure Island. The buoyant energy of the show was exactly what we needed after a restless night in that dreadful place.  I enjoyed the occasional gasps let out by Audrey almost as much as I did the incredible feats executed by the performers, who often seemed to defy gravity.

As promised yesterday, here is the recipe for the beef curry.  This is part of the care package for Peter when I’m here.

P1060339

Aromatic Beef Curry

Ingredients:

1 pound beef shank, cut into 1 inch cubes

1 pound beef tendon, cut into 1 inch sections (You can use all beef shank if tendon is not your thing.)

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon yellow curry paste

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 green bell pepper, cut into 1 inch squares

4 carrots, cut into 1 inch sections

3 stocks lemongrass, tender middle part only, sliced diagonally

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon minced ginger

4 slices of peeled ginger

1 large potato, cubed

1 onion, chopped

1/2 can coconut milk (or the whole can if you don’t worry about the fat content in the coconut milk)

1/4 cup cooking wine

4 boiled eggs, peeled (optional)

Salt to taste

P1060337

Preparation:

Wash and cut meat and tendon.  Boil a large pot of water and poach the beef and tendon for about 3 to 4 minutes.  Pour out and water and rinse the beef and the tendon.

Using the same pot, boil the beef and tendon with the 4 slices of ginger, the 1/4 cooking wine and enough water to submerge the meet for 2 hours. 

Heat up a wok with 2 tablespoons coconut oil. Sauté onion, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and 1 tablespoon curry paste until aromatic. Add carrots, potato, coconut milk and broth.  Cook for 3 minutes.

Pour the content from wok to the pot of beef and tendon.  Add the boiled eggs.  Cover the lid and cook for another hour.  Add green bell pepper and cook for 5 minutes.  Serve with rice.

Report from Sin City

P1100968

Audrey was driven a little crazy by the weird hotel atmosphere and was drawing on the paper table cloth like a mad artist.

P1100964

Happy Easter!

P1100984

Artisan Hotel Lobby. It looks better in the picture because you don’t feel the grimy texture. It is dark day or night and people look like zombies in there.

Audrey and I took an afternoon flight to Las Vegas.  When we got off the plane, she asked me, “Why is it called sin city?”  “You will see,” I said.  By 8:30pm, when we left the hotel to have dinner, she said, “Yeah, I see why it is called sin city.”  We are working with a group of very talented young artists on this wonderful little film, but it is definitely a low budget film.  The production put us up in an “adult hotel” called Artisan Hotel, where the swimming pool was actually off limits to children.  The black walls and the black ceiling are full of frames of faded imitation masterpieces and mirrors.  Apparently each room features a different master and I am staying at the John Singer Sargent room.  I understand it was supposed to be so garish that it is kitsch, but it is just dreary.  Audrey commented, “It makes me feel like I’m in some really depressing and cheap horror movie.”  It may be an interesting set for the film, but how can one rest at all in a place like this?  Promptly at midnight, the pool party started with thundering music.  Needless to say, we are moving tomorrow.

P1060340

Aromatic Beef Curry

Well, on to more pleasant things: home cooked food!  Before I left home today, I made food that can keep well in the fridge for Peter and Angela.  Here is a preview of one of them.  I will post the recipe when I have time in the next couple of days.