Coraline: Sautéed Swiss Chard

Year Released: 2009
Directed by: Henry Selick
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Ian McShane, John Hodgman
(PG, 100 min.)

"Hyt is not al golde that glareth." Geoffrey Chaucer

Ghoulish charm and creepy playfulness permeate this sparkling animation about a lonely girl who learns the real meaning of “too good to be true.” It also measures out a healthy dose of domestic common sense, though it is neither preachy nor direct, as well as a good bit of dark-humored irony more tuned to the adults than the young people in the audience.

Coraline (Dakota Fanning) is no latch key kid, but she might as well be. Yes, both her parents are right there at home, but they’re not really with her, if you know what I mean. Instead they are both hunched over their respective computers, devoted to their gardening website, even though neither of the two would ever think of actually, you know, digging in the dirt. Her mother (Teri Hatcher), in particular, loathes mud, sort of like a certain Agatha Christie character who thinks a garden would be nice, “that is, if you hadn’t got to dig or to get your hands messed up.”

Mostly out of boredom and in an effort to keep out their hair, Coraline explores the crumbling Victorian relic they have just moved into and discovers a papered over door. In daylight hours it discloses only a bricked wall, but at night it becomes a portal to another world, one with doting parents, her “other mother” cooking luscious meals, her “other father” entertaining her with raucous tunes on the piano. And yes, there is one other slight difference – both of her new parents have sewed on buttons for eyes.

The next morning Coraline wakes up in her own regular room, faded wallpaper and all, with the sumptuous feast and the doting parents dismissed as nothing but a dream, or that is at least what she thinks at the time. She will have to look for some excitement in her neighbors, an assortment of eccentrics happily doddering in their own delusional worlds.

The animation shines here, as they are depicted with outlandish excess that probably captures how an eleven-year-old might view a discordant adult world. Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane) is a Russian acrobat trying to create a flying mouse circus if he can just motivate his crew with the right cheese, several exceedingly smelly versions of which have mistakenly been delivered to Coraline’s flat. His body is an aging trapeze artist caricature, muscular torso now going to fat atop a spindly pair of bird legs.

Even more unconventional are the two fossilized “actresses” who live below in the basement flat, Miss Spink (Jennifer Saunders) and Miss Forcible (Dawn French). Though they are anxious to see the Shakespeare play in town, the faded poster on their wall featuring much younger versions of themselves is labeled “King Leer,” suggesting a particular offshoot of the bard’s work that is probably not unrelated to the Miss Spink's still bulging bustline, although now at the mercy of years of gravitational pull and not nearly so attractive as it once might have been. In fact, the two old girls are in much the same shape as their bowls of pull taffy dating back to the turn of the century, hard and crusty, but not without a certain residual sweetness nonetheless.

Rounding out the neighborhood are Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.) and his semi-domesticated feral cat, which in spite of Wybie’s ministrations still retains the skeletal silhouette, scraggly coat, and arched back we associate with October 31st. Wybie mostly annoys Coraline, but she still accepts his gift, a nearly identical rag doll version of herself, sewn on smile and button eyes, which he has found in his grandma’s basement. The saddest point of the film is his explanation for his name. It is short for Why Be Born.

For all its surreal polish, however, Coraline doesn’t quite make its case in terms of logic; the actual causal link between the two worlds seems somewhat random and without purpose, the disparate crossings numbering only three or four over several generations. However, the young adult audience at which it is aimed will be drawn to its authentic emotional pull and probably bowled over by the mastery of it animation, especially in the 3D version. 

For the rest of us, enjoy the eye candy and relish some delicious irony.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

At home, Coraline suffers through another family meal, he father taking on the meal preparation her mother rejects. Not that he has any innate talent for it, as is aptly demonstrated by the pile of mush he cheerfully heaps on Coraline’s plate.

It seems she would rather go to bed hungry that eat his soggy casserole or the slimy Swiss chard. Perhaps it is her unsated hunger that propels her first visit to the parallel world where a veritable feast awaits her. Roast chicken, golden ears of corn, sweet garden peas, and warm buttery rolls are the prelude to a perfect cake iced with her name on it.

You might want to recreate some of these delicacies from earlier postings:

Rosemary Roasted Chicken

Roasted Corn with Cilantro Butter

Sourdough Biscuits

Scrumptious Strawberry Cake

I will satisfy myself with finding a Swiss chard dish that even Coraline could not resist. This one features fresh chard, garlic, and crushed red pepper sautéed in olive oil.

Sautéed Swiss Chard 

Here is the what makes the difference between yuck and yummy:

I never liked Swiss chard, until several years ago I had some that had been freshly picked. It was so sweet and yummy and buttery I could not believe it was actually Swiss chard. It was then I learned that freshness was the key determinant to whether chard was delectable or detestable. Last night we had Swiss chard that we had picked up from Whole Foods. It was good, quite good. But not nearly as fantastic as the chard we had a week ago that we had bought from the farmers market. So here is a hint. If the thought of Swiss chard leaves you uninspired, get some from a farmers market that has been freshly picked. It is sort of like the difference between white corn picked that day, or the same corn two days later. The tastes does not even compare.

Ingredients

  • 1 large bunch of fresh Swiss chard
  • 1 small clove garlic, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • Pinch of dried crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • salt

Method

  1. Rinse out the Swiss chard leaves thoroughly. Remove the toughest third of the stalk, discard or save for another recipe (such as this Swiss chard ribs with cream and pasta). Roughly chop the leaves into inch-wide strips.
  2. Heat a saucepan on a medium heat setting, add olive oil, a few small slices of garlic and the crushed red pepper. Sauté for about a minute. Add the chopped Swiss chard leaves. Cover. Check after about 5 minutes. If it looks dry, add a couple tablespoons of water. Flip the leaves over in the pan, so that what was on the bottom, is now on the top. Cover again. Check for doneness after another 5 minutes (remove a piece and taste it). Add salt to taste, and a small amount of butter. Remove the Swiss chard to a serving dish.

Recipe Source: Simply Recipes