Annihilation (Alex Garland – 2018) A

I want more movies like this. It is not perfect but it’s a movie that gets under the skin. It is wrapped in a Sci-fi shell but it is more about loss, grief and self destruction. When the “shimmer” shows up next to the beach somewhere seemingly after a comet crash, the area starts changing and expanding. Several expeditions of military personnel are sent in to investigate the phenomena and none come out. Enter Lena played by Natalie Portman who is a scientist whose husband (Oscar Isaac) was on one of those lost expeditions. Then he shows up at home, then he is horribly sick. When he is taken to a secret military station right outside the shimmer, Lena meets the next group who will be going in lead by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). She joins up. This time the expedition is all women. Each one of them has some sort of tragedy in the background…why else would anyone volunteer to go on mission like this? This is all in the first maybe 20 minutes. Then they enter the area and Garland creates a world of amazing beauty, horror and haunting images and sounds. It’s  a film that surely pays to re-watch and I will be doing that soon.

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A Cure for Wellness (Gore Verbinsky – 2017) B+

It has it’s flaws. Our protagonist wanders into too many hallways of the creepy sanitarium in Switzerland, late at night, finding things out, not getting caught…way too many times. The plot is a bit silly I suppose. Maybe it is a bit too long. Yet, yet this is a glorious film to watch. It sucked me in with amazingly beautiful cinematography, set designs, surreal settings and a mesmerizing mix of horror and beauty. I cannot stop thinking about it and for that it wins in my book. So many water shots here I did not even know water can look so interesting, crystal clear, black mirror, mirror like, sloshing, calm, murky and steamy…weird thing to highlight but it really is beautifully done.

I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie – 2017) B+

I love it when a movie about a story I really would never have thought I wanted to see pleasantly surprises me. As the title suggests the focus here is on Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), her perspective, her upbringing, the family and cultural background that led to the infamous “incident”. The performances here are really good. A personal favorite is the character of Shawn played by Paul Walter Hauser and is just so damn funny and sad at the same time.

The Florida Project (Sean Baker – 2017) B+

Right next to Walt Disney World, right next door, close enough to see and hear helicopters fly in and out of there shuttling the more fortunate people, there is a stretch of low-end motels. Single moms, single dads, single grandparents,…you get the idea, occupy the rooms in those motels. We meet Moonee, living with her mom Halley in one of those places. It is shaped and painted to look like a castle with turrets and everything. The film basically follows her as she spends time with her friends. They play, get in trouble, harass tourists and beg for free ice cream. The realistic acting that Baker manages to get from these kids is really amazing. They dominate a good 50% of the movie and they never feel like they are forcing a performance. The other 50% is the life of the adults, Moonee’s mom is clearly not the mom of the year but we have no idea how she ended up in this situation. She tries to get money by dancing, selling cheap perfume to tourists next door and worse. Willem DaFoe plays Bobby, the motel manager. He is a good guy, feels responsible for people like Moonee and her mom but is really helpless to do that much to take them out of this situation. When the final act rolls around, still in the shadow of the “Happiest Place on Earth”, it is inevitable but very depressing none the less.

Kafta – Ground Meat with Onions and Spices

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Kafta is a Lebanese kitchen cornerstone. Like Kibbeh it’s a dish, a recipe and a staple that can be made into various preparations. For minced meat to be Kafta it has to be spiced and flavored with onions and plenty of parsley. I am sure this is not written in stone anywhere and someone else’s Lebanese mom probably makes it a bit differently but this is the version I know and love.

Ideally, I like to grind my own meat. It makes for a better product but of course store-ground meat works fine as well. What type of meat? Beef, lamb, goat or a mix of these is all good. I really like a 50/50 mixture of beef and lamb. I suppose you can use a percentage of chicken in there too but I do not do that.

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Texture is an important factor here especially if you want to form them around a skewer to grill them. The onions and herbs need to be very fine. I usually grate the onions on the coarse side of a grater and mince the parsley very finely. If I was grinding my own meat I would pass the vegetables along with the meat and kill 2 birds with one stone.

Spices is where the recipes for Kafta mix can start to vary a lot. Some are heavily spiced with lots of allspice, cumin, paprika (hot or not), cinnamon, black pepper….Well again, I like what I am used to and what my family has always made. It leans towards a lighter hand with the spices and letting the main flavors be the meat and the onions. That being said, if I am not cooking for a crowd who is averse to spicy food, I do like a pinch of cayenne in the mix.

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Once the mix is done we have several methods to cook it and dishes to use it in. The first thing to try though, is the grilled Kafta. That is probably by far the most popular method to cook it even in Lebanon. Usually they are formed into long sausage shapes on skewers and grilled over charcoal. This could be just a touch tricky to get the meat evenly on skewers so don’t sweat it. Just make rough sausage shapes about 5 inches long and about 1 inch in diameter. Get a charcoal grill (or if you are in a pinch you can use the oven’s broiler) very hot and grill the Kafta to you preferred doneness. I like to cook them to about medium. That is another reason to grind your own meat. The perfect and traditional companion to Kafta? Hummus bil Tahini. The recipe for awesome Hummus is right here and you really must have it if you make grilled Kafta kebabs. They are a great match. I also like sliced onions tossed in sumac and parsley, grill-roasted (or just raw) tomatoes, various sour pickles, shredded lettuce and soft pita bread. Ideally you smear hummus on the bread, top it with meat and veggies, wrap and tuck in.

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Another favorite is to make baked Kafta casserole. This is the definition of comfort food for me. To make it form the meat mixture into small oblong shapes, maybe 2 inches in length and pan fry them in olive oil for about a minute or two per side. You do not want to cook them all the way through, just get them browned and adding flavor. In a casserole baking dish, lay thickly sliced tomatoes in the bottom and add the browned Kafta. Next add a layer of thinly sliced onions, potatoes and bell peppers. Season with salt and pepper as you go along.

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There are no real measurement or rules here and you might need to repeat the layering depending on the size of the dish and how much filling you have or how much you like onions versus peppers,….I try to at least finish the dish with a layer of tomatoes because I like how they dry up and concentrate their flavor. Mix a cup or two of water with a tablespoon of tomato paste per cup and pour all over the dish. Again, depending on size you might need less or more. You want the liquid to barely come up about 3/4 of the way up the filling and not cover it. Bake in a 375 F oven for about an hour until it is bubbly and brown. This is delicious with a side of white rice.

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Kafta Mix

  • 1000 gr ground beef, lamb or a combination
  • Parsley, 1 bunch, minced
  • 1 onion, about 250 gr, grated
  • 1 tsp Allspice, 3 gr
  • 1 tsp Pepper, 3 gr
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 10 gr Salt

Mix everything very well. For the grilled Kafta, form them into sausage shapes about 5 inches long and no more than an inch in diameter. As you form each one, lay it in an oiled pan. Grill over medium high heat to the desired doneness. Alternatively, these can be broiled.

Serving options:

  • With Hummus, pita bread, pickles and veggies
  • In a tomato, pepper and tomato casserole
  • Form into small meatballs and cook in a rice pilaf
  • Spread thin raw mix on pizza dough with thinly sliced tomatoes and onions and bake for an awesome pie

Logan Lucky (Steven Soderbergh – 2017) B

A fun and well made heist movie set in West Virginia and North Carolina. The characters are all mostly interesting, it moves at a fast clip and stays ahead of us most of the time. That’s a good thing. It is a perfect lazy Saturday movie from Amazon Prime.

Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony and Joe Russo – 2018) B+

This is a sprawling non-stop action movie that starts the conclusion of the Marvel 10-year -20-movie saga. Needless to say it would be useless to review this as a stand alone movie. It would, especially this one, absolutely make no sense to watch it without the context of the rest of the films. It starts in the middle (or maybe the end) of a battle where Thanos (Josh Brolin doing a great job under all the CGI) and his goons are destroying Thor’s ship (see Thor: Ragnarok) and people. Thanos is trying to get all 6 infinity stones so that he can snap his fingers and destroy half the universe to bring balance to it….well if you do not know what the deal is by now it does not matter. It’s amazing that Marvel got to this point with so many characters that we care about in so many movies. This one moves at a fast pace and ends with quiet a twist that I did not see coming. It was pretty shocking. In a superhero summer blockbuster flick this is a pretty amazing feat.