Somm (Jason Wise – 2012) B+

It’s a documentary that follows four guys hoping to pass their exam to become Master Sommelier, aka Somm. Of course, everyone knows about a sommelier in a fine dining restaurant but I had not heard of the “levels” in the profession that go up to Master Sommelier. A Somm is very tough to achieve and there are only a few hundred in the world! The amount of work, very high expectation, stress and effort these guys have to go through is insane. The doc portrays that very well and gets us interested in these guys’ pursuit along with their various motivations to become a Somm. The film does not use any flashy techniques or recreations, just a camera following the hopefuls and some interviews with their family and other Somm officials and judges. The topic is very interesting to me and that coupled with the characters made for an engaging documentary.

Gravity (2013 – Alfonso Cuaron) A

A truly beautiful movie with pitch perfect performance by Sandra Bullock and confident direction.  Cuaron utilizes music to great effect here since the film is set in space where there is no sound. It’s intense and has no minute of waste. That does not mean that it’s non-stop action, but that even when the Bullock character is taking a short nap it’s still a superb shot of her in a fetal position in zero gravity as the camera zooms out. My only regret is that I did not get to see this on the big screen. Just like his Children of Men or Y Tu Mama Tambien, this is a film I will be watching often.

The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch – 2009) D-

Oh man..this one really tested my limits! After seeing the wonderful Jarmusch film Broken Flowers I noticed this one on Netflix as well. I remember the name but knew nothing about it. I had to restart this movie twice and then took me maybe 4 starts to finish it…I kept nodding off. I hated it really. I hated its pointlessness. I hated how pretentious it felt. I hated the main character and felt like punching him after ordering his two espressos in “two separate cups” for the 10th time or after sitting there staring at some other ramblig character without saying anything. I’m all for movies that do not pander for the audience, the ones that expect you to think and figure out who’s who and what’s what. For a movie that might be about a loner criminal and set in Madrid and Andalusia it really has no “what” or anything else for me to care about. We’ll see how the next Jarmusch film I see fairs…

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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