Burnt Eggplant Salad

We avoid burning things in most of cooking. It produces acrid, bitter and unpleasant textures. Yet, for some things, under certain circumstances “burnt” is good, very good. Heating sugar to just the point of smoking makes for amazing caramel. Those leopard dark spots on Neapolitan pizza give it a wonderful taste and texture. I do think though in this preparation I am posting about now we are taking burnt to the extreme. It is not something I would’ve done had I not tasted this delicious dip at restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia and then found the recipe in chef Michael Solomonov’s book.

Step one, burn the hell out of the eggplant. Well, actually that is step two. Step one would be to season the skin-on eggplant slices with salt, let them sit for an hour or so then rinse and pat them dry very well. Now burn the eggplant. In a cast iron skillet I poured enough oil to have a 1/4 inch depth or so and cooked the eggplant in batches until it is -not golden brown and delicious- burnt. Deep dark black on both sides. This is the most time consuming part of the recipe. Due to the high water content of the vegetable (or I guess the fruit) it takes longer than you’d expect to burn.

The rest is very easy. In the same pan I used to fry the eggplant, I sauteed chopped onions and bell peppers in plenty of olive oil and seasoned with ground coriander. The eggplant gets mashed with the onion and pepper mixture and seasoned with a good dose of sherry vinegar. The flavor is bitter, sweet, tart (it needs the tartness). The texture is creamy, rough and crispy in places. I served it with warm flat bread and extra chopped parsley.

Derek DelGaudio’s In and Of Itself (Frank Oz – 2020) A

So hard to quantify why and how this is so good. It’s a one man show. A magic show. An emotional performance. A biography and story of sorts. A whole audience’s journey to find out what makes them (us) unique and who we are. Seems like a lot of mumbo jumbo but it really works and us like nothing else I recall seeing. I wish I could’ve attended this in person.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson – 2009) A-

I wonder how close Anderson sticks to the original Roald Dahl book? Does not matter to me. This is a wonderful beautifully made animated film. It’s a Fox (voiced by George Clooney) who promises his wife to live an honest life, raise their kid in the den at the roots of a large tree and stop pilfering chickens from the farmer. After all, the farmer could shoot him or trap him. Yet, he is a fox and writing for the local paper is not as exciting. Things escalate as farmers start waging a war against him and all his other animal friends. Funny, sweet and I’ll say it one more time beautiful to watch this works on various levels from straight-up entertainment to a tale about belonging and appreciating everyone as they are.

The Painter and The Thief (Benjamin Ree – 2020) A

Barbora is the painter and Karl is the thief (well, one of two) who stole two of her most precious paintings. From the first 5 minutes of this excellent documentary we know that the thieves are caught and who they are. Thing is Karl cannot remember what the hell he did with the painting. She wants to know what happened to the painting of course but that is certainly not what this extraordinary film is about. It’s about an unlikely friendship between these two different people, about second or third chances and forgiveness.

A Sunday in the Country ( Bertrand Tavernier – 1984) A-

This is in the category of those movies that revolve around a family spending a day or weekend together, a few meals and things start coming up; family secrets, resentments and unsaid words. I can think of at least two other movies like that (Still Walking, A Christmas Tale) on this blog but I’m sure there a lot more. I love this style of movies. Not a lot happens yet we learn so much about the characters and their lives. Set in the early 20th century, we have the old man, Monsieur Ladmiral, a successful painter living in the country in a beautiful home with his astute long-time housekeeper, Mercédès. He is expecting his son and his family for a visit. We walk with him to the train station to greet them. He is a bit late (he thinks because the train is early, his housekeeper knows it is because he is getting old and walking slower) and runs into his son, wife and two boys as they are heading his way. The wife (he is not crazy about his daughter in law yet he is polite and nice) stops for yet another mass (“oh, she is still very devout”). They enjoy lunch, the son clearly think he is a disappointment to his dad and maybe to himself. They take aperitifs in the garden. He is not as “cool” or free-spirited as his sister, Iréne, who never visits and yet dad loves her. Of course today she does stop by, like a whirlwind of energy and chaos as everyone was taking their afternoon nap. She drives a car, works in the city, and also deeply privately sad in her own way. Ladmiral himself, on a long walk and stop at a café with Irene is not without regrets. He is a successful artist and seems to have built a nice life from his painting but he also is no new-modernist or impressionists that are all the rage now. None of those people are terribly bad or really unhappy with major issues. A Sunday in The Country shines a light at a set of complex an interesting human beings with their ups, downs and complex emotions both said and unsaid.

Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick – 1978) A

Set in the early 20th century and tells the story of a trio, Bill (Richard Gere), Abby (Brook Adams) and Linda (Linda Manz), who leave Chicago to make more money as farmhands during the wheat harvest in the Texas pan handle. Bill and Abby pretend to be brother and sister because that was considered safer in their environment. We know that from Linda who narrates off and on throughout the film in her throaty voice and curious dialect. That narration feels like the spirit of this movie, I loved it. Soon, the wealthy farmer whose land they are working falls in love with Abby. Bill convinces Abby to marry the farmer since he heard that said farmer (we never learn his name…I wonder if Linda ever knew his name) is dying. This way within a year they will literally inherit the farm. Things however get a bit more complicated when the farmer seems to be doing well a year after they marry. It’s an excellent movie that has some spectacular haunting imagery, excellent performances and interesting characters.

My Octopus Teacher (Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed – 2020) B+

You would not think a human being can actually form a bond with a cephalopod. In this sweet and beautiful documentary, Craig Foster a film maker from South Africa, during a tough part of his life starts free diving (without an oxygen tank) and happens to find an octopus that grabs his interest. For about a year he dives every day and at first observes, then interacts then becomes sort of a friend to this fascinating amazing creature. We are along for the ride (or dive) and we see really beautiful imagery and touching story.

Nomadland (Chloe Zhao – 2021) B+

It’s quiet a coincidence that I had only seen Into the Wild less than a month ago. I could not help but draw some comparisons between the two films. In this one, Fern played by Francis McDormand is not driven to the nomad life -at least initially- by choice as McCandless did. She was living in a company town called Empire in Nevada. The whole town was wiped out when the only employer goes out of business and Fern also loses her husband to cancer. We do not see any of that. What we see is the movie starting after all that, Fern hits the road in her van. She works in various places and meets other nomads and interesting people. Like Sound of Metal this is a film about a community that we never or barely knew existed. Fern does seem to have options to “settle” yet she does not. This is not a movie with a plot, and it blends documentary with fiction as well as awesome cinematography and an excellent performance by McDormand to make a unique portrait about grief, finding one’s place in life, what is important and moving on.

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