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Q&A: Filmmaker Bess O’Brien

Written by Sky Barsch on . Posted in Entrepreneurs, Q&A, The Arts

Bess O'Brien. Photo by Richard W. Brown.

Bess O’Brien. Photo by Richard W. Brown.

Documentary filmmaker Bess O’Brien gives voice to Vermonters not often heard, such as foster families in “Ask 
Us Who We Are,” or recovering drug addicts in “The Hungry Heart.” She lives in Peacham with filmmaker-husband 
Jay Craven. Here’s her take on teenagers, Vermont’s drug issues, and drawing the 
line between work and home.

VL: What did you think of Gov. Shumlin making opiate addiction the center of his State of the State address?
BO: I thought it was amazing. I got 
a call a couple of days before the new year saying that he had watched [“The Hungry Heart”] with his staff and that he was very moved by the movie, and that he had decided to focus his entire State of the State on prescription drug addiction. I thought it was a huge step forward in dealing with this issue. It was a brave and bold move.

VL: There was some pushback on his speech that it was going 
to hurt tourism. Do you think 
there’s any validity to that complaint?
BO: That’s like saying people are never going to go to 
New York City because the crime 
rate is so high. I would be astounded to think that it would affect 
tourism in any significant way. I think what it probably does is make people think, “Huh, perfect, idyllic Vermont is struggling with an issue … ” Well, there is no perfect, idyllic anything. People should be saying, “Wow, I’m really proud of Vermont for standing up and being the first state to admit that they have this issue and are trying to tackle it in a big way.” That is healthy. That’s positive.

I think the most important thing 
that the governor said was that we needed to move the conversation away from criminal activity to a health issue. People need to realize that people who are struggling with this are our families, our neighbors, our brothers, our uncles. It can happen to anybody.

VL: What’s it like working with your husband?
BO: (Laughs) Well, it can be great, and it can also be really difficult. And in fact, we don’t really work together anymore. We both are the owners and run Kingdom County Productions, but he does his feature films and I do my documentaries. Frankly, it works out better that way. We’re both strong-minded people, and when we were working on top of each other, it was thrilling, but it also got difficult because we butted heads on a number of things.

VL: What are you doing when the tape isn’t rolling?
BO: I love to go to the movies with [Jay]. We are total film buffs. One 
would think that you’d be sick of looking at films

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Sweet Potato Curry With Coddled Eggs

Written by Melissa Pasanen on . Posted in Recipes, Taste of the Landscape

Sweet Potato Curry With Coddled Eggs
Your kitchen will smell divine when you make this deeply flavored sweet potato curry, which sings 
with spice and heat. At Kismet, it’s most often served as a brunch dish in little individual cast-iron skillets, but it makes a great vegetarian supper too. Or if you like, stir in chickpeas and serve over rice or couscous for a standout vegan meal 
any time of day.
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  1. 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  2. 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  3. 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  4. 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  5. 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  6. 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
  7. 1 jalapeño
  8. 2 medium-sized mild chili peppers, such as Anaheim 
or poblano
  9. About 4 tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped 
(to yield about 4 cups chopped tomatoes and juices)
  10. 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  11. 2 shallots, roughly chopped
  12. 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  13. 2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger, 
firmly packed
  14. 1 to 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
  15. ¼ cup olive oil
  16. 1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more 
to taste
  17. 3 tablespoons neutral cooking oil
  18. 2 medium sweet potatoes 
(about 1½ pounds total), peeled 
and diced
  19. 8 eggs
  20. Sliced scallions, thick plain yogurt 
and crusty bread, to serve
  1. Preheat oven to broil with rack set in top slot. Set a small sauté pan over medium heat and add cumin, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, cayenne and powdered ginger. Toast spices, stirring occasionally, until aromatic, about 3 to 4 minutes. Set spice mixture aside to cool. Lightly oil a small rimmed baking sheet and place jalapeño and mild chili peppers on it. Broil, watching closely, turning once, until peppers are soft and blistered dark brown or black in spots, about 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine tomatoes, tomato paste, shallots, garlic, ginger, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Add toasted spice mixture. Slice each pepper down the middle and remove stem and seeds (be careful when handling; wash hands very well before touching face). Coarsely chop and add to food processor. Purée mixture until smooth. Set aside.
  3. In a large heavy-bottomed skillet, heat cooking oil over medium-high heat and add diced sweet potatoes, preferably in one layer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until sweet potatoes are lightly browned. Add tomato mixture along with 1½ cups water to sweet potatoes and stir to combine. Reduce heat, cover and simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes, until sweet potatoes are tender. Taste and add salt and more lemon juice as desired. (Can be prepared up to this point and refrigerated after coming to room temperature, but make sure to bring curry up to simmer before adding eggs.)
  4. Increase heat to medium. When curry is actively simmering, use a large spoon to make four indentations evenly distributed in pan. Crack two eggs into each depression. Season eggs with salt and pepper. Cover pan again and cook just until whites are no longer translucent and yolks are cooked to your liking, about 5 minutes. 
Serve garnished with sliced scallions, dollops of thick plain yogurt and crusty bread. Serves 4 as a main course.
  1. Photo by Andrew Wellman.
Adapted from Chef-owner Crystal Maderia, Kismet, Montpelier
Adapted from Chef-owner Crystal Maderia, Kismet, Montpelier
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