The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich – 1971) A

There are towns like that, like the West Texas town in Bogdanovich’s film. I might think what the hell is everyone living there, but I’m betting for those who lived there at least some of them liked it or even loved it. It’s 1951, shortly after the war with another war going on in Korea. It’s nothing but one dirt street, a diner/pool hall, movie theater and gas station. There is nothing to do but football, watching movies at the picture show and make out. What there is in this film is a slew of characters that we get to spend some time with over a year period. We learn a lot about how shitty the high school football team is, we have a classic love triangle, bored housewives and lots of adultery. Even though most of the characters here are senior high schoolers (early roles for Jeff Bridges and a first role I think for Cybill Shepherd) the heart and soul of the film is in the character of Sam the Lion played by the late Ben Johnson. He owns the pool hall, the movie theater and cafe and he is almost the father figure for the town and especially for Sonny (Timothy Bottoms). The Last Picture Show is a classic and I can see why. It’s a well-made ode to bygone eras be them tiny towns, big cities or whole generations.

Burning (Chang-Dong Lee – 2018) B+

It’s an odd one this one. The slow burn of this threesome of friends is very engaging but ultimately I am not sure it was worth the wait. On the other hand I was fascinated by the slow unfolding of events that happen after Jong-su bumps into a girl, Hae-mei, who used to be his neighbor in the country and now she is working for a department store in Seoul. She asks him to take care of her cat and she leaves for Africa. She comes back with a new guy she met there. That new guy (nicely surprised to see Steven Yeun here) is odd, rich, he likes starting fires too. Hae-mei might be into him too and when she disappears, Jong-su suspects foul play. It’s like a Haruki Murakami plot in its subtly weirdness and stilted conversations. So, maybe I liked it much more than I thought I did. It sure stuck with me for a long time after seeing it.

I lost My Body (Jeremy Calpin – 2019) A

so strange to describe what this film is about yet it is so seriously good. Beautifully animated, scored and with an engaging sweet story the film takes us on a journey where a severed hand is “walking” all around Paris looking for its owner! Along the way we get flashbacks of said owner, Hakim, from his childhood in Morocco to his move to Paris. He falls in love with Gabrielle as he is delivering her pizza and is propelled to work for her uncle to stay close to her…I rarely watch animation but I am so glad I gave this a shot.

Beans and Beef with Chile and Panela

It’s the season for deeply flavored stews, braises, roasts and rich bean dishes. This one is not based on any specific recipe but like most cooking I do is more based on a flavor profile, in this case American Southwestern/Mexican. The starting point was the beef shoulder roast. I wanted it more substantial, enter the beans and I wanted some spice and a chile profile. It came out very good and worth documenting for future repeats. Here’s what I did.

I seasoned the beef with a combination of freshly ground Ancho and chipotle (the dried not canned chipotle) chilies, salt, black pepper, ground allspice and dried oregano and panela (more on that panela part a little later). I let that sit for several hour, doing this overnight is not a bad idea but I did not have the time.

Like most any classic braise or stew I first seared the meat in fat, pork fat in this case. Similar to what I did with the Sugo and Polenta dish I posted about recently, I wanted to cook this low and slow in my clay pot. So, once browned the meat would go there until all pieces where browned.

I sauteed a mixture of onions, garlic, peppers and more of the spice mixture in the fat left in the pan, then I deglazed it with beer to get all the good browned bits off. I added that to the pot with the meat, put in some pinto beans that I had soaked in water overnight. I topped it with tomatoes and water. For balance I wanted a very small hint of sweetness so I added a couple of spoons of Panela.

Panela is a type of unrefined sugar used a lot in Latin American cooking. It’s used to make sweet treats, drinks, or in stews. It usually comes in the shape of large disks or pyramid shaped blocks. I use a knife to shave off as much as I need.

It’s a very tasty stew that can be adapted to whatever you might have in the pantry, freezer or fridge. Depending on what part of the world you are in now too it is a lovely comfort food perfect for the cold weather. We enjoyed it just like a bowl of chili with jalapenos, sour cream, cilantro and cheese.

Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi – 2019) B+

It’s a great success that Waititi achieves with Jojo. He manages to make a funny, tragic, serious film about the dangers of fanaticism. Johaness (aka Jojo) is 10, lives in Berlin towards the end of the second world war. He is in the Hitler youth and he is thoroughly brainwashed. Adolf Hitler is his imaginary friend! This is initially uncomfortable, yet it is from the perspective of a 10 year old, it is funny but also it tackles the serious topics head on. The tone strikes the right balance and that makes the movie work. Jojo’s world comes crashing when he discovers his mom (played so well by Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl in their home. The performances by the young actors are key here and they do a great job. Roman Griffin Davies as Jojo is excellent as is Thomasin McKenzie who plays Elsa and I really loved Jojoj’s friend, Yorki, played by Archie Yates.

Beets with Tahini

I had dinner at Zahav in Philadelphia recently. It’s a very popular Israeli restaurant with tons of acclaim and awards. It was a fantastic meal with lots of small vegetable appetizers, some delicious hummus tahini, and very good lamb shoulder and chicken (the dessert on the other hand was not exactly my cup of tea). What really stood out for me, way more than the meat courses, where all the awesome vegetable dishes. These included spicy roasted eggplant, tart napa cabbage salad, pickled persimmon salad, roasted cauliflower and this excellent beet dish (I am sure I am forgetting a few too).

Since I already had the Zahav cookbook on my shelve I took a look in it to see if the beet dish is there and sure enough it was. Beets are definitely a dividing line dish. So many people hate them. Others love them. I’m certainly in the second camp of people. I’ll eat them almost any which way. I even like those canned ones in salads. Back to this simple recipe. I learned the value of salt roasting the beets here.

Usually I would wrap the beets in foil and just roast them. This works great but the shredded beets in this dish had a totally different texture. They were perfectly cooked, a bit dry but also had a nice mild crunch. Salt roasting is the answer. Solomonov (the chef/owner of Zahav) buries the beets in kosher salt and roasts them. This wicks away moisture, concentrates the flavor and of course cooks the beets. They can be then peeled and grated to shreds without getting mushy or losing their texture.

Sure it takes some time to get the beets cooked, but after that the rest is very quick. The shredded beets are tossed with tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic, mint, cumin and dill. I served it initially with some more dishes from the Zahav book including the onion marinated chicken skewers and the kale apple salad. The best part is that this stuff keeps pretty well and tastes amazing for days with crispy pita chips.