Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra – 2015) B+

A unique film set in the Amazon jungle of Colombia in two time periods, early and mid 20th century. It’s a film someone like Werner Herzog might make and that is high praise. Through the journey of a shaman in both timelines, as a young man and a wiser older one, whose tribe is going extinct the film shines a light at cultures few have ever heard of. It’s a tragedy that so many of those have existed and got decimated -by progress, disease, rubber barons or Christianity- without anyone noticing. Filmed in black and white the film really looks and feels timeless. It could have been filmed in the 30’s or 60’s instead of the 21st century.

Naturally Leavened Panettone

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This is another recipe from this past holiday season and it is worth recording for reference (and I got it posted before the end of January!). It worked very good but I will need to change a few things next time around, so a quick record of it is a good idea. Usually I make a Panettone or Stollen for Christmas but never with a 100% natural leaven. The idea to make a Panettone with natural levain is something that I wanted to do as soon as I saw the loaves made by Roy.

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I used my regular 100% rye starter to make the levain as always using 50-50 mix of white and whole wheat flours. For the recipe, I used Peter Reinhart’s from Artisan Breads Everyday as a reference. Seeing pictures of Roy’s bread I decided on chocolate and cherry as my flavors.

I soaked the cherries in dark rum while I worked on the starter and dough. To make the levain I mixed roughly 40 gr of the rye starter with 170 gr of 50-50 white and whole wheat flours. After about 6 hours it was bubbly and good to go. The dough in Reinhart’s recipe uses commercial yeast in addition to the levain, I opted to stick only with the natural starter and skip the yeast.

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Since the dough is enriched with soft butter and egg yolks it is a good idea to make it in a KitchenAid mixer to get everything well incorporated and the gluten developed. I decided to bake it in one large loaf using a bundt pan that I sprayed with non-stick oil. The dough, like most Panettone is too slack to really shape it so I just transferred it from the bowl of the mixer into the bundt pan and evened it out as much as possible.

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The dough rises slowly for about 12 hours and develops a lot of flavor. After baking and cooling it is ready to slice. The shape, look and texture of the finished loaf are all excellent. Due to the levain and the long fermentation time, the bread had a great robust flavor. This however did not really work as much as I would’ve liked with the tart cherries and dark chocolate chips.  There was almost too much flavor in there and the bread needed more sweetness and mellow flavors. Next time I’ll go with some almonds and some sweeter fruit like currents, apricots, prunes and maybe just a few cherries.

The Witch (Robert Eggers – 2016) A-

This is an unconventional creepy horror film that is genuinely scary at times. It is not out for the jump scares and over-the-top violence (both of which I do not like much). Instead it immerses us in a world of religion, witchcraft and just the type of moody horror that makes your skin crawl because it is not fully understood or explained. It is so well shot and even better performed by the small cast. It is set in the 1600s and has a cast of 2 adults and their 4 children living alone in the woods of New England. They were more like banished to the woods by their community because the father believes he is more pure and more God-fearing than his neighbors. It goes downhill in the woods and slowly the family starts losing members literally and maybe figuratively. We start getting the sense of dread, chaos and evil. We are really not sure of what we are witnessing as the pious father tries to keep his family together. We know this will not end well even before we see it happen. This all works incredibly well with amazing performances by those kids and period-specific olde English dialogue.

Shadows and Fog (Woody Allen – 1991) B-

Black and white and foggy. Set in what seems like the 1920s maybe. It’s like a cross between a Jack the Ripper story, a travelling circus and whatever character Allen is supposed to be…well as usual he is playing himself. Doesn’t matter I guess. I enjoyed it as a minor Woody Allen film that is entertaining and has some cool style and a few well-executed shots.

Deadpool (Tim Miller – 2016) B

If we are tired of super hero films that take themselves far too seriously then Deadpool is the cure for that. It’s violent,  profane, pretty funny and really knows it’s just a movie. Deadpool, played by Ryan Reynolds, who narrates and breaks that 4th wall frequently, is not in it to save the world.  He just wants to get his messed up face fixed up again so he can get back to making love to his fiance. Oh yeah it’s a love story too I guess.

The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum – 2014) B

Good film focusing on Alan Turing’s war time accomplishments and breaking the Nazi Enigma machine code. It does not much delve into his personal life beyond the known high level facts. It is in the end a sad story with him basically murdered by the British government in his 40s because he was gay. It’s even more sad knowing that he might’ve accomplished so much more had he lived another 30 or 40 years.

Lowcountry Hoppin’ John and Cotechino

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Cotechino with lentils is the classic, but in the American south eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is the tradition. So, here the Hoppin’ John stands in for the lentils and a mighty fine stand-in it is too.

Making Hoppin’ John is not difficult but it does pay to have a solid recipe to follow and a good set of ingredients, namely the peas and rice. Ever since seeing chef Sean Brock on the excellent PBS show “The Mind of A Chef” and then reading through his book, Heritage, I have been ordering various grains and legumes from Anson Mills. The Sea Island Red Peas from them are as delicious as they are beautiful and they are great in Brock’s recipe for Lowcountry  Hoppin’ John.

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I soaked the peas overnight in water before cooking them in homemade ham stock along with chopped carrots, onions, celery, a jalapeno, thyme and bay leaves. They simmer until tender and really hold on to their shape. A cup or so is removed and blended with butter to make a red pea gravy. This gravy stays separate and gets seasoned with red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. At service time the Hoppin’ John is dolled out into bowls with rice and the gravy gets added to each bowl as needed. It’s a very comforting and delicious bowl of food and just feels very nutritious. Yeah, I know, “feels nutritious” is a pretty silly term…but well, not sure how else to describe it. It just does….and I can describe it any damn way I want on my little blog anyways.

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Now, onto the rice. It’s Carolina Gold rice also from Anson Mills. It has a lovely nutty flavor and good texture. I followed Brock’s instructions to cook it as well. First I boiled it in plenty of water like pasta until barely cooked. I drained it, spread it in a small baking sheet and put it in the oven at 300 F. I dried it for about 10 minutes, dotted it with butter and gave it a stir. After another 5 minutes or so the excess moisture was gone and the rice was perfectly cooked. The grains were cooked through with a slight toothsome texture and separate.

cotechino

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I made the sausages the day before. I rarely make them the exact same way every year. This time I based them on a recipe from the Napa butcher shop called The Fatted Calf and their book, In the Charcuterie. I’ve been cooking them sous vide for a while as well. I did a side by side this year though just to see if anything is gained by cooking the sausage in a pot of water in the oven at a low temp. Well, sous vide wins. The one that went in the oven lost a whole lot more volume and was not as evenly cooked as the sous vide ones. It was not bad by any means but I will be sticking with using my precision cooker for upcoming Cotechino cooks. 

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