Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch – 2005) A

Really fantastic film and probably one of Bill Murray’s best performances. He plays an aging single well-off playboy aptly named Don Johnston who receives an anonymous letter from an old flame that he has a son who is possibly looking for him. After much prodding from his amateur detective neighbor he goes on a cross-country tour to identify who sent the letter. It’s a simple plot but Jarmusch has a unique style that works very well here. We have recurring shots that occur over and over (Johnston putting the same CD in the car’s stereo for example), the screen fades to black repeatedly on seemingly random times, the color pink plays an important role (or maybe not), and so on. The music also with the same note plays over and over. It should be annoying I would think but it is not. I found myself waiting for it to start again.

I loved the film and the journey that Johnston goes on. I loved all the other characters as well from his likable detective neighbor to the various women he visits and their various reactions. Murray plays Johnston stoically with long little outward emotion. Some might say he does not change much but I think that is not the case. The character we leave at the end of the film is a different man that the one who opened it while being dumped by his girlfriend. It’s a movie that balances perfectly being an artsy drama while at the same time capturing my attention and getting me invested in what is going on.

Smoked Salmon and White Asparagus, Sour Cream and Vattlingon

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There is so much fantastic looking salmon in the market this time of year. Asparagus is also all over the place. Recipes combining these two lovely spring ingredients can be found in many books, sites and on restaurant menus. This recipe based on one from the book Neue Cuisine: the Elegant Tastes of Vienna by chef Kurt Gutenbrunner uses salmon that gets lightly smoked and serves it with the classy white asparagus and a sour cream sauce. It hits all the right buttons. The flavors are harmonious and robust and the plated dish looks refined even though it is very straightforward to prepare.

Salmon Curing

The fish is cured lightly and then smoked. You really do not need a major rig to hot smoke a few pieces of fish at home. I use an old wok following a method that I learned years ago from Barbara Tropp’s book China Moon Cookbook. To smoke the fish (or Chinese-style steamed duck or chicken) put a rack that fits in the wok but remains several inches above the bottom. Oil the rack a bit so the meat does not stick and then put the meat on the rack. Put in some wood chips in the bottom of the wok and any other aromatics you like and allow them to start smoking over high heat. Close the wok with a tight lid and smoke the food as long as needed over medium heat. That’s pretty much the exact process chef Gutenbrunner uses in this recipe. The salmon takes maybe 20 minutes or so.

Salmon-White Asparagus

 

Salmon Smoked

Before smoking the salmon I wanted to make sure it comes out well seasoned and juicy so I cured it lightly. All that means is that I sprinkled the fillets with a mixture of salt and sugar, about a third sugar and two-thirds salt. These then sat for about 30 minutes as I prepared the rest of the meal. I then rinsed the fish and patted it dry. It’s amazing that in only thirty minutes the difference can be both felt and seen. The fish is firmer and has a nice gloss on it.

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I cooked the asparagus simply in a pot of water with salt and butter and kept them warm until dinner. I really should’ve peeled the bottom of the stalks a bit since the bottoms were a bit woody on the outside.  The red orbs in the picture are the Vattlingon. I read about these in the book Faviken by chef Magnus Nilsson from Sweden. He puts up lingonberries in a jar with water and puts them away for a few months. Following Hank Shaw’s idea to use cranberries instead (he serves them with salmon as well) I put some up back in the fridge  around December so they are ready about now.

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The sauce is sour cream, dill, chives and some lemon juice. Some more of those cranberries would’ve been good on each plate, but other than that the flavors were spot on and the plates looked lovely.

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Spinning Plates (Joseph Levy – 2012) A

This falls in my perfect sweet spot. A well-done documentary about three restaurants including Alinea in Chicago. The other two restaurants are a struggling Mexican restaurant in Phoenix and an old (as in over a 100 years old) establishment in a small town in Iowa that literally anchors the town of 100 or so residents. The film’s focus is not at all the “inner workings” of restaurants though. It’s about overcoming adversity and keeping your family and those you love together. Spinning Plates gives us a very good idea of who those who are running these restaurants are and then goes into their individual struggles. From the 3 Michelin star Alinea to the struggling Cocina de Gaby in Pheonix there is a world of difference but also a lot of similarities. All of these places involve very hard work and an attempt to hold on to the traditions, the places and the work they love.