Playing Film Critic Again

A film critic is not something I’ve ever aspired to be.
However, I have played the part before, and when you stumble upon such gems as the two movies which my eyeballs have recently digested, it’s practically criminal to not share your experience and to not urge others to view them for their own interpretation.
Last night, I was visually spoiled by The Great Beauty, and today, I was witness to the workings of Citizenfour.
Rather than in the order of social significance, I’ll address them in chronological order, by which I viewed them.

The Great Beauty, in essence, is a sumptuous film.Read More »

Weekend Tunes, March 28th 2015

God bless shuffle and the rediscovery of forgotten corners of your music library.

Welcome to another installment of Weekend Tunes.

Back in September of 2008, I went to a concert at the Somerville Theater with a group of family friends to see Zucchero Fornaciari live on his own birthday. I had a great time, and I am certain Zucchero (pronounced: tsukkero) had a great time as well. He was clearly already well into his birthday celebrations when he first walked on stage, I distinctly remember a slight stumbling quality to his gait.

Other than understanding that he is a rather famous Italian artist, who lives in the genres of blues, rock, and pop, I am not particularly familiar with Zucchero, his discography or his career. Instead, I would like to present to you the one album of his that I am very familiar with.

Zu & Co. is the perfect accompaniment to entertaining:

On Zu & Co. you will find an assemblage of collaborations with such well regarded artists as Miles Davis, Eric Clapton, Sting, Pavarotti, Andrea Botticelli, and B.B. King… yes, it’s amazing, I know!

zu & co

Just as Zucchero’s name suggests, the music on this album is very sweet. It is simple, easygoing, toe-tapping, hum-along type of music. There’s a bit of optimistic and bouncy pop, a few touching or heartwrenching ballads, some slick, movement-inspiring rock, and just a touch of stirring, modern blues.

But most importantly, there is excellent trumpeting by the one and only Miles Davis. Dune Mosse is my favorite track.

Followed closely by Zucchero’s collaboration on Sting’s early 90’s track [Mad About You], Muoio Per Te.

I can just imagine a steamy evening here in New England; sun setting, drinks flowing, the grill smoking, and Zu & Co. providing the essential groovy ambiance.

Video preview of album, as provided by the ever brilliant Google search engine.

iTunes & Amazon (physical copy)

Very important post in this corner of the internet.

I am going to shamelessly plug a song in here, with a quote, to set a tone: “I’ve had a question that’s been preying on my mind for some time.” Basically, I think about these kind of issues plenty:

Evil is an awfully strong word, but is it a fair description [one so perfectly accurate]? Well here’s a video that details Monsanto’s history and what role it plays in current affairs. Watch this, and you don’t even have to read the text I’ve written below, I expand upon the issues brought to quickly mentioned throughout the video.

And it was a 51% landslide vote! Followed by the Federal Reserve at 20%… what kind of gold and silver medals are fashioned for such a contest?

This is why “organic”, a concept of sustainable practice with conscience of its effects on surrounding environments and the people involved throughout the process, is essential. Forget about the petty arguments of “but there’s no proof that organic is more nutritious than GMOs, and one method is more affordable than the other. Shopping organic is a refusal to fuel the destructive beast that is Monsanto, the company with the largest global share of their industry and with the greatest influence over policy making.

Monsanto: “American multinational chemical, and agricultural biotechnology corporation headquartered in Creve Coeur, Missouri. It is a leading producer of genetically engineered (GE) seed and of the herbicide glyphosate, which it markets under the Roundup brand.

The question of the safety of Genetically Modified Organisms is still unresolved in my mind, I don’t have the means to analyze the studies and determine their validity and objectivity of every single one.

The one thing I ask is for the knowledge to make an informed decision. Since the early 1990’s, GM labeling has been mandatory in the European Union, why is that not in place in the U.S.? It’s such a simple reform… that would affect the profits of these agricultural biotechnology companies, I suppose.

Which is when we reach the concept of “revolving doors”: the observation that Monsanto employees move between corporate employment and government positions so effortlessly. From Monsanto Vice President of Public Policy → Senior Advisor to the Commissioner of the U.S. FDA (Michael Taylor), Supervisor of clinical studies of bovine somatotropin (rBST) → Deputy Director of Human Food Safety and Consultative Services, New Animal Drug Evaluation Office, Center for Veterinary Medicine in the FDA (Margaret Miller), and the list goes on. C’mon! It’s not hard to connect their hand in creation and then their effect of putting into practice. The influence they have in barreling their products into market is frightening, and the amount of money they syphon into affecting policy is absurd.

And then the bees! The cause(s) of Colony Collapse Disorder is not confirmed, and I have no intentions of definitively attributing it to the abundant use of pesticides. I mention it because it’s not an issue that can be ignored. Without bees (and apparently wild insects as well) to pollinate crops that bud, the agricultural system would be decimated; we would be without the seed protecting substances that we consume, also known as fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Click on the photo to find out what would disappear. No way this New Englander will readily give up apple picking in the fall. *Fun fact: WFM University Heights was my Whole Foods of choice for two years while residing in Providence.

Whole Foods Market University Heights' produce department with and without items dependent on pollinator populations.  (PRNewsFoto/Whole Foods Market)
Whole Foods Market University Heights’ produce department with and without items dependent on pollinator populations. (PRNewsFoto/Whole Foods Market)

Here’s the thing about Monsanto. They are the quick fix. That is their Modus Operandi. The scariest example is Agent Orange. Manufactured by Monsanto Corp. and Dow Chemical, this toxic mix of 2 herbicides was used to reduce brush in order to easily see the targets of the U.S. Military, and to kill their crops during the Vietnam War. Cue quick fix. The lasting effects Agent Orange has had on U.S. veterans and the resident populations exposed 50+ years later is unbelievably horrific. I cannot describe it with my words, look at the pictures and you’ll understand and never forget. While Monsanto’s agricultural work essentially results in the increased efficiency of food production, providing food for our ever increasing populations (cue quick fix), that is all only attainable by the dumping of pesticides and herbicides, disrupting surrounding ecosystems. The consequences we will have to deal with from developing herbicide resistance, degradation of the soil microorganisms, surrounding land and water habitats are steadily presenting themselves. Though this is true for much of agribusiness in general, not exclusively Monsanto.

image

It all sounds like a ridiculous Hollywood movie. The amount of corruption and ill-intentions running through the veins of this company echoes fiction, bouncing between the genres of sci-fi and horror. Unfortunately Hollywood is such a successfully distracting machine that the juicier and actually damaging dramas occurring every day are constantly missed. Maybe we’ll soon see a Scorsese directed “Wolf of AgriBusiness”!

p.s. In light of all the NSA issues hitting the news these days, I would like to send a shout out to the very special NSA agent who was undoubtedly alerted by all the red flags of my search history for writing this blog… I hope you enjoy the post! 😉

1/8/13 edit:
Stumbled on this excellent essay (Michael Pollan tweeted it). Addresses the incredibly manipulated reporting and scientific consensus on GMOs.

Happy People and a Couple of Dreams

I had a uniquely thought provoking afternoon this Thursday. It resulted from watching 3 Werner Herzog films in succession. Well, technically 2, but all 3 suffering his influence in one way or another. Do not judge my pastimes too harshly, I am on Thanksgiving break.

The first, Happy People. Essentially about trappers in the Taiga, and their existence so [knowingly] removed from the modern world. The Second, Burden of Dreams. An odd documentary cataloging Herzog’s experience filming Fitzcarraldo in the Amazon. Though more like: a documentary cataloging Herzog’s odd experience filming Fitzcarraldo in the Amazon. The third, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. A dreamy depiction of the collections of cave paintings at Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc dating back as far as 32,000 years ago, with pronounced lingering effections (I know that’s not a real word, deal with it).

Happy People, to me, seemed to be the distillation of human behaviors and attitudes in our existing society. Suddenly more powerful because of the very alive connection to nature, and that overwhelming awareness. You are challenged to consider what you personally desire for a satisfactory existence, and what meaning any of it possesses. But must importantly, our philosopher friend ,Gennady Soloviev, treats us to sweet nuggets of wisdom, regarding greed, companionship, dominance, craftsmanship, solitude, and industry. Must watch.

Burden of Dreams was like an outrageous mokumentary, but it’s not. I swear, those struggle and pursuits are all real, and I could hardly believe any of it. I have not seen the film which the documentary is records. but I have never witnessed such genuine irony in any film, writing, etc. as this movie shows. Fitzcarraldo is based on a historic figure, but Herzog’s film turns him into an Irishman dead set on bringing an opera house to the Amazon basin. Here is the story of a foreign man engrossed by his own culture fighting to impose it onto a completely different realm neither aware of nor much concerned with it. And the documentary shows: a German director struggling to film a movie in a wild land of tribal people. It’s excellent, and you get to witness Herzog’s gradual realization of the fact. Must watch.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is not a movie I will soon forget. Must watch.

I am left with an enduring, vibrant image of these early humans, hands dirtied by charcoal, sketching on the cave walls, guided by firelight… but I have always had a potent imagination.

These are astonishingly striking compositions. They are not crude, they depict habits of animals, illustrate movement, it’s all art. More deserving of attention than much of what is on display in any museum, because they are yet absent of the human pretenses of “making art”, and instead are the deep physical activity of processing external environments. The most important thing actually said in the film, versus shown, is the concept of art (in its various forms) being a means to communicate with the future. It’s hardly a complex idea, but it is fantastically true. Why bother to record anything? It must be captured, to be viewed again, 5 years down the road,

150,

monet

600,

da vinci

2,200,

Nike of Samothrace

32,000.

chauvet

I do not know how Herzog does it, but he is brilliant. Did you think you would find cave paintings so fascinating, or the lives of trappers living in the Russian Taiga so compelling? I certainly did not expect to, but here I am, writing about it all, hoping to share the profound experience with you. Must Watch.

Inequality for All

Everyone must see this.

I am almost tempted to leave it at that. But I wont. Robert Reich has created this sort of detailed powerpoint presentation to clarify the current status of the U.S.’s income economy (there is certainly a proper term that can be used here, but I do not know it). It is approachable, easily understood, even a bit funny sometimes, and surprisingly optimistic. Reich might be a short guy, but he has high hopes, the likes of which I have not seen recently.

I do not understand all of the aspects of our government’s functions and current workings. I can see, however, that there is a great injustice being served to most of us (yes, the 99%). Can you feel it to? No matter how much you work, how much time and physical energy you exert, there still isn’t enough. No matter how absolutely I believe I deserve a “higher education”, there are always the questions of how will I afford it? How will I pay it back? Why is Education a privilege? There are cracks and fissures in my daily operations that I cannot make sense of, that I cannot find the logic behind.

Inequality for All serves to illuminate some of those issues. It seems like more of an informational video, exposing the statistics behind it all that you can clearly understand and decide how to respond, how to act.

Is anyone else fed up yet? With the nonsense on TV, the excuses and blatant lies our politicians shamelessly give us. All of it filling our ears and confusing the rationale and coherent reasoning that is supposed to lie there. I think I’m almost at my tipping point, I can hear the roar of the waterfall ahead, and things are not going to be pretty once I get there.

New York City

“New York City, center of the universe.”

This city, peoples, c’est vraiment phénoménal. I find it dirty and offensive, it’s inhabitants typically rude, and the extreme levels of quality of living, on full display, heartbreaking. But I can’t stay away! There’s a concentration and abundance of brilliant people doing incredible things, like writers Mark Bittman and Eric Asimov at the New York Times, incredible chefs like Amanda Cohen @ Dirt Candy Marcus Samuelsson @ Red Rooster Harlem (lots of hype around this guy within the past year or so), and revolutionary food capitalists like Mario Batali (those damn crocs!) and Daniel Boulud. What these people do is what attracts me to the city so strongly. I do try to visit often. It’s hard to afford and schedule, but when the stars align, I have the best time. My next few posts will touch on where I went and what I ate/drank.

Thursday night dinner, Candle 79.

The best vegetarian dining experience I ever had was at Dirt Candy, in the East Village of Manhattan. Definitely a place I’d recommend, but be aware that it gets a lot of attention and it might be a good idea to book ahead. I’m dying to see more vegetarian restaurants open, or at least have restaurants take the challenge of vegetarian cuisine seriously. A few weeks ago, I visited Walnut Grille, a veggie place that just opened in Newton, MA. While I admired the concept of “a vegetarian dining experience”, their execution resulted in numerous contradictions. For example; a vegetarian restaurant with faux snake skin textured booths? what I assumed was some kind of vegan hollandaise…on a poached egg…? The sandwiches my parents ordered were delicious though. The way I see it, vegetarian cooking is a serious test of skill, how creative are you really? For palates accustomed to meat, it’s understandably a very difficult task. The reason vegetarian cuisine deserves attention, rather than dismissal, “damn hippies”, is because it forces a more acute attention to the subtle flavors of fruits, vegetables, and grains, and the nuances of spices and herbs. Believe me, it’s not easy. Even after ~10 years of vegetarian cooking, I haven’t gotten even close to unlocking all the incredible variations possible.

Back to Candle 79.

The food was awesome, so delicious and savory and satisfying. The drinks were great too. We tried the Belle Madame (Catoctin Creek Rye, goji liqueur, orange liqueur, lemon, pineapple, up) which was very tasty, typically sweet and fruity but not offensively so with a cool twist from the rye, and The Reforestation (VeeV Açai spirit, wheatgrass vodka, muddled mint ginger-agave, lime, soda, ice) which was great, like a more herbal/earthy mojito. The best part – for each Reforestation ordered, they plant a tree… somewhere.

The appetizers we ordered were Seitan Dumplings (fried), Black Bean Soup (a special), and Nori Rolls. We could have done without the rolls, just not very exciting. The soup was similar to a chili, which I always love, and had some crunchy tortilla(?) strips in it, which added another textural element. The dumplings were great as well, just so good, as dumplings usually are.

Dumplings

Nori Rolls

Our entrees were varying forms of plant based proteins paired with either a vegetable puree, asparagus (in season veggies, 1 point) and mushrooms vs caramelized onions, or a side of ratatouille. The main items were tempeh (a special), seitan (a special), and cornmeal crusted tofu. They were great, a really unique treat, I have nothing else to say about it!

Tofu
grilled asparagus & portobello mushrooms, sautéed shallots & pumpkin seeds, truffled celeriac purée

Tempeh

Seitan

(Apologies for the poor quality pictures, I was using an unfamiliar camera)

This was seriously a great dining experience. Dirt Candy provided a more visually interesting meal, while I think Candle 79 provided a more satisfying experience, flavor-wise. [(SHABBAT SHALOM) roommate interruptions]

p.s. For about a month & half longer, I will be fulfilling my Culinary Arts internship requirement at Easy Entertaining RI, a Providence based catering company & café that has a strong focus on sourcing local ingredients and products. This weekend, we’ll be involved with the Eat Drink RI Festival, it’s exciting stuff!

Booze, Beans, & Biscuits

As I began to write this post, I was in a severe food comma. We had just got home from brunch at Nick’s on Broadway. If you’ve never been, drop what you’re doing grab a flight/train/cab/get in your car, and go right now. This place is really fantastic, and the people in Providence definitely know it. Although there’s almost always a wait,  it is well worth it, it ought to be considered a kind of event anyways!

Alexis, my roommate, and I went for lunch on Saturday to celebrate my 21st birthday that was on Friday. There was food, of  course, but because we were celebrating my 21st, I think it’s best that I mention the booze first. How can people drink bloody mary’s? And enjoy them?! I felt compelled to order the classic brunch cocktail that morning, but it did not fly. Whether it’s this specific recipe or my perception of bloody mary’s in general, ick, never again, not for me. We definitely recuperated from that offense when we tried Alexis’ white sangria and my Cocchi Americano. Cocchi Americano is an aperitif, meaning a low alcohol drink meant to “stimulate the appetite”. And Cocchi Americano is a “fortified [meaning added alcohol] Moscato d’Asti wine steeped with bitter, quinine-rich cinchona bark, citrus peel, and other botanicals.” Basically, you got some wine, you make it a little stronger, add some other flavoring elements, and serve it on it’s own or in other drinks. In this particular instance, it was served with a few lemon sections and a bit of soda water. It certainly did it’s job to whet the apetite and and was particularly delicious. Bought myself a bottle at work a few hours later!

Mess
Conglomerate of liquids with varying and contrasting effects

After the long wait, between waiting for a table and for our orders to arrive, we enjoyed a DELICIOUS meal of Fried Eggs over Black Beans (with a biscuit on the side) and Fried Eggs over Pork and Bean Cassoulet. The biscuit was so yummy, they clearly pay some attention to these tasty, crunchy, buttered goodies. Not to sound too cliché, but it is the little things. If even the humble biscuits are a prime product, you can be assured of the quality of everything else that comes from that kitchen. The black beans were so flavorful, they really took the dish to a whole ‘nother level from brunch food. I was incredibly satisfied, body, mind, and soul-wise after that meal. We finished with a caramel bread pudding, which was just fine. A bite started great but finished with a raw whole wheat flavor.

Black BeansCassoulet

Biscuit

Bread Pudding

I noticed something worth mentioning that day. When I go out to eat, I like to take my time. I like to linger over my food, enjoy extended conversation with my friends, really make an event of the experience. I need the 2 hours, if I’m allowed it, to pay some attention to my food and comfortably value the time I have dedicated.

I strongly recommend this restaurant for any meal, although I’ve only experienced the breakfast/brunch menu. It is a wonderful place because the chef, Derek Wagner, is committed to incorporating local farmers and producers in his dishes. I realize the whole “local food movement” seems like some trend, but it needs to become the way we do things in order to support a sustainable agricultural system.

p.s. Here’s a great little website I stumbled on, The Perennial Plate. These short episodes they post are a great way to feed the travel bug in you. I don’t know much about the site, or filmmakers, but I like what they’re doing.

http://www.theperennialplate.com/episodes/2012/11/episode-106-for-udon-and-country/

Sam’s at Louis

While I was home this weekend, I went out to brunch on Sunday. After a bit of research we settled on Area Four (multi-concept food establishment), which I’ve had on my list for a while now, but after we were told that the wait would be 40 minutes we opted for Sam’s instead. Sam’s basic concept is an “American Diner”, as the website describes, but believe me it’s far from what you’d expect when you think “diner”. There are just a few tables, 15 or so, simple seating, the chairs were quite comfortable though, and a black and white color scheme. We didn’t order anything from the modest bar, but you could see that small selection was well considered. Along the short hall opening into the restaurant, the walls were painted with chalkboard paint to allow for customer doodles and the notice of ever changing specials. To generalize, the place is comfortable, but aesthetically appealing and engaging.

Sam's @ Louis 2
Courtesy of their Facebook page
Sam's @ Louis
Courtesy of their Facebook page

I really liked the atmosphere of Sam’s. The wall facing the harbor was all windows, so you’re audience to a great view and natural light gracefully illuminates the whole room. There’s a deck as well, closed I presume until the summer season begins, and I can only imagine what a pleasure it is to enjoy the meal out there in warmer weather. It became quite loud as every table was gradually filled, but not offensively so. Our server was attentive and friendly, and Esti, one of the owners, was constantly engaging with her guests.

And now to the part that everyone cares about most, the menu. Everything that we ordered, that I tried, was great. First, a server brought out a sample of house-smoked salmon, compliments of the chef. The plate looked great, giving a great first impression. I ordered a frittata (spinach, caramelized onion, feta, and tomato) which came with homefries and a small salad. Even the homefries were delicious, not because they were coated with fat (as most homefries are) but because they had flavor. I sincerely wish that every place that serves homefries would give the simple side a little more thought. The homefries at Sam’s were a bit spicy and well seasoned. I actually felt compelled to eat them rather than just push them off to the side. The salad was just a salad, no fancy vinaigrette, but I could see pea greens which is neat – this unique addition shows, yet again, that they care about the food they put out. And then the frittata, cooked perfectly and super tasty! We also had the mushroom tofu burger. The texture was a bit tough, as I expect an over done beef burger would be like, but it packed some seriously rich mushroom flavor. Each dish looked great, and tasted even better:

Smoked Salmon
“Hot smoked salmon, cornmeal blinis, caviar, and herbed creme fraiche”
Hash
“Corned Beef Hash with poached eggs”
Mushroom Tofu Burger
“Mushroom-tofu burger with Vermont cheddar and fries”
These fries were awesome, not oily but super crispy!
Frittata
“Spinach, feta, caramelized onion & tomato frittata with mixed greens and homefries”

My personal opinion of Sam’s: cool place, simple and engaging atmosphere, unique bar, unpretentious but high quality menu, and superb views. It’s a simple concept, executed exceptionally.

p.s. The mediterranean diet, just another word for proper eating habits, as told by Mark Bittman.