"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Dinner & a DVD: Freedom Writers

This rich tasting casserole features pork chops, hash browns, and a topping of cheese and french-fried onions.

Pork Chop Casserole

Pork chops
Seasoned salt
Vegetable oil
1 can cream of celery soup
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
Salt & pepper
Frozen shredded hash brown potatoes
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 can (2.8 oz) french-fried onions

Sprinkle pork chops with seasoned salt. In a skillet, brown chops on both sides in oil. In a large bowl, combine the soup, milk, sour cream, salt & pepper; stir in hash browns, 3/4 cup cheese and half of the onions. Spread into a greased baking dish. Arrange pork chops on top. Cover and bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with the remaining cheese and onions. Bake, uncovered, 5-10 minutes longer.

Featured Attraction: Freedom Writers

Life is context. Hilary Swank's Erin Gruwell tells young gangster Marcus (Jason Fin), "… You know what happens when you're dead? People are going to go on living and forget all about you!" 15 year-old Marcus wishes to "die a warrior" protecting his own. No, as Swank's Gruwell pleads, his young death would accomplish nothing. For students in this Long Beach high school this is the gang and race war, where everyone loses, void of possibility, all about survival. For many, surviving to their 18th birthday is a milestone.

"Freedom Writers" based on the "The Freedom Writers Diary" by real-life teacher Erin Gruwell splintered racial gangs become a family, because Ms. G (Gruwell) really "sees" her students and dismisses their uninspired excuses. She is undyingly committed to their greatness. As Erin, Swank really walks the walk. She is absolutely powerful. In giving a toast to her class Erin requests, "The person you were. That person is over."

"Freedom Writers" is the most inspiring and touching movie I have seen in a long time. Tears were streaming down my face through a good half of the movie. "Freedom Writers" is about seeing and inspiring greatness in the presence of no possibility, and walking the walk.

In 1994 Erin (Swank) is a new teacher at a Long Beach high school teaching freshman English. Reviewing young Erin's reading list, the principal notes to Erin that Homer is entirely inappropriate for her student's elementary reading levels. The principal instructs idealist Erin to baby-sit her class, because she will not be able to teach them anything of value.

Scott Glenn as Erin's father Steve, advises Erin to do her time and "do your job". Erin's students know that they have been written off in this racial charged and divisive classroom. Maintaining order, much less teaching English is a threatening nightmare. With her father's pearl necklace and proper dresses, Erin seems an easy victim. However, Swank gives Erin spirit and tenacity.

The Blacks, Latinos, and Cambodians stake their territory in her classroom and are unyielding in retreat. Eva silences the room and breaks Erin's heart when she proclaims, "I hate white people!", and proceeds to justify. Where Erin draws her line in the sand is when she sees a racist cartoon of her student Jamal. She schools her wannabe gangsters that their game is not even in the same league—as the Nazis.

The tipping point occurs when Erin, along with her dad, escort her class to the Museum of Tolerance as they learn about the Holocaust. Her class even reads "The Diary of Anne Frank". Her dad begins to see Erin's great gift and acknowledges her, "I admire you…"

Erin is dedicated to her students carrying two other jobs so she can buy books and provide aids for her students. However, this comes at a cost. Her husband Scott (Patrick Dempsey of "Grey's Anatomy") supports her passion, but with Erin giving her all to her students there is little else left.

There is an electrifying scene where Marcus tells Erin, "That don't fly, Ma!" Erin reminds her class that she is not their mother. Then Eva and Andre tell her that "Ma" is a sign of respect.

And much like for Miep Gies ("The Diary of Anne Frank") these students that endure and move forward are the heroes, along with the woman who inspired and recaptured their innate greatness, Erin Gruwell. "Freedom Writers" is a very special movie.

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