Wind River (Taylor Sheridan – 2017) A-

Cold and dreary Wyoming, lots of snow and a dead teenager open up this one from Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan seems to have a knack for framing human stories that deal with social issues in the guise of thrilling well-made plots. In the excellent Hell or High Water it was the economic problems and market crashes that hit some more than others. In this one it’s about native Americans and especially women who seem to go missing and unreported.  Jeremy Renner and Elisabeth Olson play a game and wildlife agent and an FBI agent respectively who end up teaming up to figure out what happened on that Arapaho Indian reservation called Wind River. The film is a tight and brutal thriller with excellent performances and well composed scenes in the cold cold Wyoming mountains. It is not a conventional who-done-it mystery, but a story of loss, pain, violence and a hell of a harsh life.

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Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas – 2014) A

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart deliver really excellent performances in this beautiful film. They play Maria Enders, a very popular actress, and her assistant Valentine respectively. They are heading to a Swiss town so that Maria can accept an award by her old mentor, a well-respected theater director called Wilhelm. Unfortunately the old guy commits suicide before they arrive because he was terminally ill. Maria is obviously heart-broken when she is approached by another director who wants to remake a play she starred in 20 years ago when she was 18 that was written by Wilhelm. The play, called The Maloja Snake, revolves around the relationship between two women, the older Helena and the much younger Sigrid. Now, though, she needs to play the flip side of the role, the older woman in that play.

Most of the film takes place in the beautiful Swiss hometown of Wilhelm as Maria rehearses her lines with Valentine, discusses Hollywood, acting, aging, having second thoughts about playing the older person in the play against the wild and young Jo-Ann (Chloe Grace Moretz)…Valentine might be the assistant but she also seems more than that. She is Maria’s confidant, her sounding board and is surprisingly honest and terse a lot of the time. We begin to realize that the play themes are maybe a little too close to home when we compare them to the real-life relationship between Maria and Valentine.

The film is deliberate with really interesting conversations and a lot of subtext. Assayas’ really makes use of the amazing location and we got awesome scenes between the two actresses in and around Sils-Maria. The film has an epilogue in London but really the climax is the last scene with them two as they hike to see the famous “snake” of clouds that give the play its name. Assayas and Binoche seem to work great together and I am looking forward to checking out their earlier collaboration.

Toast (S. J. Clarkson – 2010) C-

Not having read the source material I have no idea if this film is just a part of the book or the whole thing. In any case, I wish I liked this a bit more. I certainly love cooking, food and movies about the topic and I really like Nigel Slater’s books and his writing. This movie focuses only on Slater’s childhood and late teenage years. Some of that is interesting but there is just too much filler and repetition that left me wondering…what happened to all there interesting stuff? Were there any?

Through a Glass Darkly (Ingmar Bergman – 1961) B+

Three men and one woman who at first glimpse seem content as they spend a few days together on a remote Swedish island. A father and son and daughter plus her husband. What we slowly learn is that she (Karin played by Harriet Andersson) is not well. We learn this through conversations and episodic scenes between the characters. The family has dinner together, put on an impromptu play, the siblings talk, the father and his son in law go on a boat trip… The situation with Karin starts to devolve slowly as her delusions take over impacting everyone around her. Karin seems to think God is visiting her and the way Bergman treats her is not just sympathetically but with a question that is the subtext for the whole film. Maybe she does?

Plum Tart with an Almond Crumble

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Summer is winding down supposedly, even though it is still close to 100 F out there. I do not much like summer in Houston. It’s too hot, too humid too…sunny. Autumn is by far my favorite season and I look forward to its -hopefully- lower temperatures and cooking. Summer does have some things going for it though, like the awesome fruit and sweet corn.

Fruit is what we are talking about when I bring up one of my all-time favorite desserts; the fruit tart (or pie, or gallette,…). This version, created by David Lebovitz is right up there in the Pantheon of amazing tarts. The original recipe, from his book My Paris Kitchen (great book by the way, buy yourself a copy), can also be found on Leite’s Culinaria. The original uses apricots and it is fantastic. The crumble works so well with the tart juicy fruit to add much needed texture and also helps support the fruit and all its juices. It also looks great giving the tart a rustic elegance that is a bit American and a bit French.

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I love the original apricot version but when I wanted to make this recently, no apricots could be found. So, I picked up some really delicious juicy pink plums instead (Plumcots or Pluots specifically). That is really all you need, some delicious fruit and this tart can be made with them.

The dough is pretty classic pate sucrè made with flour, sugar, butter, egg yolks and mahlab. Well, wait a minute. What the hell is mahlab?? That is not traditional French. It is my addition to this dough and to many other things to give them a unique flavor and fragrance. Mahlab is the ground up seed of a specific cherry and is used in tons of Middle Eastern and Turkish pastries and breads. I buy the stuff whole because it keeps better from a local Lebanese grocery and grind it with sugar before adding to the dough. About a half teaspoon went into this dough. You can read a bit more about it here. Since it is made from a stone fruit I like to include it in some breads and desserts that have stone fruits, but really it works in all kinds of stuff. Try it as an alternative to nutmeg in some things and it will give your dish an exotic can’t-quiet-put-my-finger-on-it flavor.

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Mahlab

When the dough is cooled, I pat it down into a spring-form pan. No rolling or anything, just evenly pat it into the pan with the sides of the dough about halfway up the side of the pan. I have tried rolling it and laying it in there. That works too but I’ve come around to using the hand patting method more. I like the process and speed by which I can get it done. It does not have to be perfect, just as even as possible and the sides close to 2 inches tall or so. This gets blind baked with a piece of aluminum and a bunch of beans for weight and then it is ready to fill and bake.

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This filling is fruit, starch, sugar and some vanilla and almond extracts. After the filling goes in the blind baked shell, it gets topped with a generous helping of crumble made from butter, flour, sugar, ground almonds and cinnamon. The pie bakes for a good 45 minutes or so and the edges of the crust get a lovely dark color. It seems too dark almost but it is not, it tastes great and the texture is excellent.

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After it cools a bit, it is ready to go. It is delicious with ice cream or whipped cream of course but it is also delicious on its own at room temperature. The only downside to this lovely dessert are those juicy fruits. It does not keep very well. So, try and polish it off with some friends with in 12 – 24 hours of baking which really should not be much of a problem.

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