Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée – 2103) A-

The strength of this movie is really the awesome performances by Jared Leto (so unrecognizable) and Mathew McConaughey. They do a great job as a transvestite, Rayon, and homophobic cowboy, Ron, who are diagnosed with AIDS in the mid-eighties. With lots still misunderstood about the disease and no viable FDA-approved drugs to treat the symptoms they start a “business” to bring in drugs from Mexico, Europe or even Japan. Ron played by McConaughey, is the driving force of the film. The movie does a good job in capturing the chaos of that time and place that was known as the AIDS epidemic and how slow the wheels of government were turning in getting people the help they needed. It’s also a very sweet film with moments of triumph, joy and pain.

Flight (Robert Zemeckis – 2012) C+

A movie that starts off with a bang and then labors through over two hours of the portrait of an alcoholic. That is not too bad if it did not get terribly boring throughout most of that span. Despite a very good performance by Denzel Washington as Captain Whip Whitaker I just mostly did not care. The most interesting segment was involving the conversation with a cancer patient we meet in the hospital stairwell where captain Whitaker was recovering after the plane crash.

The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom – 2010) C-

I really did not like this movie much. It’s violence is sickening and the story is not very compelling. Something though makes this not total junk. It’s main character is played perfectly and stoically by Casey Affleck. He is a sick individual who has no redeeming qualities. He seems like a nice down home Texas boy in the 1950s when the movie opens up. That makes it all the more jarring when he explodes. This cycle gets a bit tiring though and by the time we get to the inevitable conclusion  I was really ready for it to be over.

Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier – 2013) B+

I liked this indie. It’s about the cycle of revenge and vendetta. It’s a horrible messy business that seems to have no winners. The performances, especially by the lead character, are a bit stiff and rough but I really did not get too distracted by that. The movie works, is well directed, takes its time and flows great.

Sockeye Salmon and Mixed Grains Rice with Citrus Miso

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Japanese cuisine is still a bit of a mystery to me. In my imagining of what Japanese food I always think of few ingredients, simple presentation, clean flavors and of course seafood. This is, I am sure, an oversimplification of a diverse cuisine. Recently I found myself at home with a free night. The kids and wife were away with the in-laws and I was free to try something that might or might not be up their alley. It also needed to be quick because I had a lot of chores to get through. That’s how I ended up playing around with some Japanese inspired flavors using pristine salmon, miso and sushi rice.

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Elizabeth Andoh’s book Washoku is one of a few Japanese cookbooks I own but is one I reach for often for inspiration or a quick recipe. I love her approach and the recipe usually deliver wonderful dishes. I knew that I will be making rice for my meal of course and her recipe for “Rice with Mixed Grains” is a terrific method for preparing it. I washed the sushi rice until the water ran clear and then mixed it with a few tablespoons of the grains (I used buckwheat, sesame and some flax seeds). Andoh’s method for cooking the rice is very detailed and relies a lot on the sounds of the covered pot more than anything. That strikes me as very romantic and…Japanese. The end result is a perfectly cooked bowl of rice. I kept some of it warm and slightly cooled some of it for my sushi plate. The slightly cooled rice was mixed with a little Mirin and rice wine vinegar.

I love the flavor of miso and have used it in marinades and sauces. The sharp savory salty flavor works so well with all foods, from meats to vegetables. I borrowed another recipe from Andoh’s book for a citrus miso. This is just white miso flavored with citrus zest and juice (lime and lemon) and cooked with sake to a delicious thick sauce.

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Slicing the fish for sushi is where practice -or lack of it- really shows. Sushi masters practice years to be considered proper sushi chefs worthy of slicing fish properly. If you have not seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi, stop reading right now and go check it out and you’ll see what I mean by perfection in making sushi. My fish slices were fine but lacked that proper angle and finesse that good sushi has. The flavor of those bites was fantastic though.  I formed the rice into small mounds and dotted it with a bit of the miso sauce. The salmon went on top and got a garnish of grated daikon radish, finely sliced pickled ginger, sesame seeds and  a pinch of hot pepper powder. I plated the sushi on top of thin cucumber slices to add another texture. This dish was excellent with the perfect textures and lovely fresh balanced flavors ranging from nutty to salty and savory with a hint of sweetness.

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Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa of the Nobu restaurant empire is probably one of the best known modern Japanese chefs. He does “fusion” well where the flavors of Japan mix with those of South America in a combination of classical and modern preparations. He was the first person I’ve seen pouring boiling hot oil over pieces of fish in order to barely cook them. He calls the oil “New Oil” in his book Nobu Now. It’s something he said he came up with to appeal to those squeamish about eating raw sashimi. So, I gave that a shot. I placed the sliced salmon on a plate and topped it with grated ginger and shopped scallions. Then I heated a few tablespoons of oil till smoking and drizzled that all over the fish.

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I plated the fish on top of the rice in a bowl and served it with a few small spoons of the citrus miso sauce. The barely cooked fish had a nice texture and was gently warmed. It worked  perfectly with the nutty rice and sharp sauce. It’s definitely a technique and dish that is easy to prepare and I will be exploring some more in different variations.

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Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen – 2013) A-

We first meet Llewyn Davis performing a nice folk song. We hear the whole thing in the dimly lit club and maybe assume that he has it made. He gets applause and pats on the back as he walks to the back of the club and promptly gets punched in the stomach! Davis does not have it made, he is basically homeless and lives with a series of friends and acquaintances.  He gets no royalties from his record and his singing partner committed suicide. The film is not a feel good flick as we accompany Llewyn for a week or so of his life as he tries to make it. Like most  Coen films, they manage to get the most out of their actors and characters. Oscar Isaac as Llewyn delivers a great performance as he stumbles through his life garnering pity, annoyance, revulsion and at times appreciation of his talent. This one is not a  big bang in the Coen brothers canon but is a lovely movie none the less.

The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson – 2007) C

It’s possibly my least favorite of Anderson’s movies. It tells the story of three brothers on a train trip through India attempting to rekindle their relationship with each other and possibly their mother. It’s got some of the typical Anderson tropes and style but the thing is the film is a bit boring, lacks the humor and joy and with characters that are not very interesting.