Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan – 2014) A

I really do not recommend watching this Turkish long film if you are tired or close to your bed time. This does not mean it is not good or I did not like it. On the contrary it is an effective beautiful moody play of sorts set in a remote cold Turkish village and centers around a wealthy hotel owner. It’s just mainly a series of long conversations with little plot in between and that gives it the feeling of a play. It does need focus and attention to keep up with the dialogue and get the most out of it. The man is Aydin who sees himself as an actor and writer. He has a controlling in a passive aggressive way relationship with his young wife Nihal. His sister also lives with them, she had a recent divorce and is generally resentful of Nihal and Aydin. We also meet some of Aydin’s tenants and those who owe him money or apologies. As the weather turns colder and the snow comes in people stay indoors, animosities come to the surface and conversations get more heated, more philosophical and fueled with alcohol… It sounds odd but it is tough to describe.

I am not sure if the script came first or this amazing location and architecture came first. Either way one really cannot be separated from the other. Ceylan does a great job filming this beautiful location and it’s various buildings and cave-like rooms. I saw this film in 3 “chunks” late in the evening and every time I could not wait to get back into this very real place, to see it again and listen in on what these people are talking about. In the end, we are left with a very deep understanding of who these people are and kept wondering what are they up to now.

Pork Chops with Sage Salt, Purple Potatoes and Cracklings

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Recently I needed to cook some pork chops for dinner. These are delicious thick ones from free-range pigs courtesy of the local Yonder Way Farm. It was mid-week on a school night and I needed them to be cooked pretty quickly for dinner along with some fried rice. No time for sous vide-ing for an hour and searing and such. I seasoned them, heated up my wok outdoors with an inch or so of oil and shallow fried them for a few minutes on each side until perfectly cooked at 140 F in the center. Boy were they delicious! I’ve been cooking them with this method that ever since whenever I can.

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This particular dish and combination is from a Jamie Oliver recipe, a simple meat and potato dish. What makes it a bit more special is the sage salt rub, the cool potatoes and -if I may toot my own horn a bit- my method of wok cooking the chops. Oliver uses fresh bay leaves for the rub, but I had none and dried ones work very well. I ground up the bay leaves along with fennel seeds and salt in my spice grinder and rubbed that all over the chops.

As the chops sat getting all seasoned up, I prepared the purple potatoes. These are really cool looking tubers. They honestly do not taste much different than your average Russet potato, maybe a tad sweeter. They do have a great color and pattern when raw and make for a purplish blue mash.

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I first boiled them until soft along with some garlic. Judging by the color of the water at the end,  I’m thinking next time I will steam them and see if I can retain more of the color. In the meantime, I rendered several pieces of pork fat taken from the edges of the chops. I used a cast iron skillet in the oven to do that. There was a good 3 tablespoons or so of rendered pork fat at the end along with crispy pork cracklings. When the potatoes where done, I tossed them in the hot pan with the fat along with a pinch of salt and roasted them until browned and crispy. Towards the end I gently smashed them up to get soft potato mixed in with the crispy surfaces.

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Cooking the chops in the wok takes maybe 10 minutes or so. I heat up the wok over a medium-high heat. I use my outdoor propane burner (turkey fryer kit) for all frying, deep frying and stir frying. I add about an inch of oil in the wok bottom and add the chops with one in the center and the remaining around it and up the wok “wall”. After a couple minutes I move them around so that another chop is in the middle and so on. I flip them over and do the same thing. After resting for a few minutes, the chops are good to go.

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For the sauce, I sauteed a little chopped shallots and added hard apple cider. After the mixture reduced I added a spoon of grainy mustard and chicken stock. I allowed that to reduce and stirred in chunks of butter. I plated the chops over the potatoes, added a few pieces of the crispy cracklings and a dollop of creme fraiche.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Gareth Edwards – 2016) A-

This is a really solid movie. Not knowing what to expect for this non-numbered SW flick I went in with middling expectations. It managed to totally win me over with solid writing, exceptional CGI, well-choreographed and setup battle scenes and some very good performances by the likes of Ben Mendelsohn and Mads Mikkelsen. This takes place in the timeline leading up to Episode IV and focuses on how the resistance managed to get hold of the Death Star plans. This was not an easy feat and the film really spends time showing how difficult and costly that was. We even get a solid explanation for that much made fun of (by me at least) “weak spot in the Death Star”. This is overall a war movie and to that end it is one of the more brutal in the series. I wonder how much younger viewers will like how expendable and morally-ambiguous many of these characters are. It introduces a lot of new characters and handles them -mostly- well. The droid K-2SO is great as is the blind temple guard and his buddy. A bit more character development for Jyn Erso  and Saw Gerrera would have made this better. Very few familiar characters here but the few scenes that Darth Vader is in are just great, from his introduction to the terrifying final few minutes of the film with him.

Keanu (Peter Atencio – 2016) C+

It’s a long extended Key and Peele skit that takes the two buddies on the trail of Keanu, the cat. They impersonate drug dealers in a case of mistaken identity and run into gangsters, murderers, strippers, celebrities…Sounds stupid but it works mostly. It kept me entertained and chuckling throughout.

Ravioli Genovese, Tomato Sauce and Olives

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More stuffed pasta. Delicious, elegant stuffed pasta. These Ligurian-inspired babies are ravioli filled with a mixture of sauteed Swiss chard, ground veal and homemade ricotta.

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I used to rarely cook with veal because of how it is produced and the horrible conditions the calves are kept in before they are slaughtered and sent to market. Recently though I’ve been seeing more and more naturally raised, grass-fed (not crated) veal at my local store. Frequently they have it on sale as well and I pick up a couple of packages. Ground veal in meatballs is excellent and gives a great texture to meatloaf as well.

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When my youngest son requested ravioli with tomato sauce for dinner I scanned what i had in the fridge and freezer. Ground veal, Swiss chard…there it is. Ravioli Genovese. I browned the veal a little onions and garlic. Meanwhile I blanched the chard and chopped it up. I mixed that with the veal, egg, Parmesan and homemade ricotta cheese.

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For sauce, I made a simple marinara with San Marzano tomatoes, a little garlic, herbs and olive oil. I did want something extra for the finished plate. So, I pitted some oil cured olives and scattered on top. Rich filling, tender pasta and sharp sauce made for a great dinner.

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The Big Blue (Luc Besson – 1988) C

There is a good movie here somewhere. I saw a very long Director’s Cut and it really should be edited down. It’s one of Besson’s first films and i do see the outlines of a sweet sweeping story about love, friendship and obsession. The execution unfortunately falls short and feels very amateurish in most respects. The performances and dialogue are just off and often seem to hit the wrong note. The tone is also all over the place with drama, tragedy, surrealism and slapstick comedy dispersed throughout. The cinematography is the main positive here. It is shot mostly in Sicily, Greece, France around and in the Mediterranean so it looks great. The underwater sequences are excellent and well choreographed. Another plus is the score. It’s lovely and works great with the awesome images on the screen.

Note: I think the version I saw is the USA one in English and I do wonder if the French/original version plays much better.

Arrival (Denis Villeneuve – 2016) A

I was looking forward to the next Villeneuve film after his spectacular Sicario. He did not disappoint. We got a fresh, intelligent and deliberate take on what and how first contact might be like. How “alien” aliens might seem to us. How they might think, feel, behave, communicate,… It’s a spectacularly well-shot film. this one is one of those beautiful movies that is really worth experiencing on the big screen. The story centers on a linguistics professor who is hired to communicate with the visitors. So, instead of coming out guns blazing and fireworks all over the place, the first step is to try and talk to them. Makes sense. She is played perfectly by Amy Adams who delivers a tender, smart and tough performance. The film is perfectly plotted and slowly unwinds to reveal the mystery of the aliens as well as the bigger picture of what is going on. It cuts back and forth with images and timelines. It reminds me both of Terrence Malick’s films and other smart “science fiction” movies like Solaris (both versions are excellent, the original and the Clooney remake). I loved this picture and will not delve into any more detail. Suffice it to say that at every turn this is not a typical aliens-come-to-earth film. It’s a life affirming fable about humanity, the importance of communication, love and family.