January 2015 archive

Snow Day Inspiration

Have you seen “all of this snow” we are about to get, yet? If you have, I hope you are warm, dry, and have something incredibly yummy baking in your oven. For the rest of us, here’s to keeping our fingers crossed that something might happen overnight! In the midst of all of this getting snowed in talk, my darling SIL (you know, whose baby takes up half of my Instagram feed), asked me what are some good go-to’s when plans of snow are coming our way. That inspired me to write a blogpost because I know we are not the only ones who like to pig out when those clouds get heavier and heavier with yummy snow! So here are some recipes I’ve gotten from around the web that I have made, want to make, or I want YOU to make. Enjoy and please stay safe! (more…)

1. I have been asked about my Brie and Beef Puff Pastry with Mango BBQ a lot recently. It’s such a cinch to make and perfect for using leftover pot roast.

2. Don’t forget about my light, great for dipping, Peanut Butter Cheesecake Dip!

3. Pepperoni Pizza Monkey Bread because who doesn’t love monkey bread, let alone pizza monkey bread?

4. I made these Honey Mustard Fried Chicken Sliders last night and they were perfection!

5. Beer Battered Onion Rings make everything better!

6. Want something sweet without the commitment of turning on your oven? These 1-Minutes Chocolate Mug Cakes fit the bill! And they are gluten-free!

8. I love her and this Easy Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Croutons are all you need to stay cozy!

9. Paleo? No problem! Paleo Bananas Foster needs to get into my dessert rotation now!

10. Cookies make any snow day extra special. My Clementine Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies are chewy, soft, and the perfect ratio of chocolate and citrus. Don’t have clementines? Try whatever citrus you have on hand! Except lime, definitely not lime!

Fancy Sprouts

I need to get something off of my chest. I’m not a huge brussel sprout fan. Yes, I have tried cooking them smothered in bacon. Yes, I have tried braising them in a yummy mustard and white wine sauce. It doesn’t matter what yummy concoction brussel sprouts are a part of for me because I can always taste that bitter brussel sprout flavor. So I decided to amp up my sprout game, mainly because I need easy, pretty, yummy side dishes to serve in the winter time. Brussel sprouts are green so they trick me into thinking it’s Summer. Well played, brussels, well played… (more…)

At first, I wanted to call this dish Christmas Sprouts because they remind me of the perfect side dish to go with that Christmas beef tenderloin or honey-glazed ham. They also have green and red hues going on, making me feel extra Christmasy inside. Alas, I decided to keep it neutral. Not everyone is as obsessed with Christmas as me and I need to accept it’s only 11 short months away. So let me tell you about these sprouts. They are crispy, tangy, salty (in a very good way), briney, with a little bit of sweet. So much flavor going on but the sprouts aren’t being hidden, they are being elevated. Even if you aren’t a fan like me, try these! They won’t last long on your table! Onward!

We start with simple, yet stunning ingredients! Red bell pepper, minced garlic, capers, brussel sprouts, salami, and crumbled gorgonzola cheese. I think we are ready to start the easiest yet most beautiful side dish ever. Don’t you think?

Our sprouts are tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. We roast them to bring out their natural sweetness. A little sweetness never hurt nobody! I like to cut off the bottom stems altogether when I quarter them. Some leaves will fall but I like it that way!

As our brussels are cooking, we can move on to the other ingredients for a bit. We sauté the red pepper until soft then add our fragrant garlic and briney capers. You could totally pile this on a steak and call it a night but I promised you a side dish so a side dish you shall receive. Let’s keep moving!

Beautiful! These sprouts are ready to be spruced up another notch! You could collect the leaves and eat them as chips but I like the flavor and crunch they add to this dish! Rule number 1 of the kitchen: DO WHAT YOU WANT!

The salami strips are lightly fried in olive oil to make them crunchy! Also, pan frying them makes their flavor deepen past the saltiness we all know and love. These make a great snack, FYI! Set these aside to be used as the topping. Oh and don’t burn yourself!

And always serve your brussels on a pretty plate. Pretty plates make the world go round. You can quote me on that. Make these! Enjoy these! Happy sprouts making!

Best of 2014 in Films: Part Two

And here are my (Chris) top film picks of 2014. Enjoy my friends! (more…)

Honorable Mentions: Only Lovers Left Alive, Ida, Blue Ruin, Frank, Neighbors, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Dear White People, The Lego Movie, Life Itself and The Trip to Italy.

10. Under The Skin

The best homage this year to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey wasn’t an actual space film (sorry Interstellar) but instead it was a picture centered on gaining and learning about humanity back here on earth. Jonathan Glazer’s eerie (occasionally beautiful) film on what it means to be human is uniquely displayed in the point of view of a foreigner, played by Scarlett Johansson. Sexuality is a major part of this film, in questioning how we see each other as sometimes nothing more than an object of desire.

9. Nightcrawler

We aren’t naïve to the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles anymore, yet Dan Gilroy (director of Nightcrawler) manages to show something new here. Mostly through his sociopath character, Lou Bloom (played wonderfully by Jake Gyllenhaal), an opportunist who’s willingness to be the best crime journalism videographer goes past observer to willing participant. Bloom is a great salesman (Can you imagine the hell Bloom and Jordan Belfort would raise?), who truly doesn’t take no for an answer. The great cinematography by Robert Elswit (who also shot another very L.A. film the same year, Inherent Vice) gives the feel of constant dread around every corner as most of the film takes place at night.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy

Let’s just enjoy this. Let us remember the collective pleasure in knowing that for a of couple weeks in early August we had fun watching Chris Pratt do his best Han Solo impression. The chance to see a female lead in a comic book movie not run from the battle but instead get right in the thick of it. The joy brought to us by the dynamic duo of a foul mouth Brooklyn accented raccoon and the lovable childlike somewhat talking tree. The surprise comedy timing (or perfect lack of) by Drax the “muscle” of the movie. Revel in the fact that the galaxy was saved not by a fight scene but instead by Pratt’s dance moves. Just enjoy this moment, because we’ll grow tired and cynical of this band of misfits after 10 sequels.

7. The Babadook

In the simplest of terms, what The Shining was for alcoholic fathers is what The Babadook is for widowed single mothers. That is not to say this film isn’t unique, but fair warning this horror film is doing much more in its storytelling than most of the recent that share its genre. The real horror of the film isn’t the creature/ghost/demon but that of the difficulties of raising a young boy alone. At times the mother (played by Essie Davis) seems sleep deprived, stressed and downright terrified by her son’s constant need for attention, as most young imaginative boys are required. Jennifer Kent camera picks up those shadows and sounds that terrified us when we were young children in our bed alone using are own imagination to insight our fears.

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel

I feel like I’m on an island alone on this one but this is Wes Anderson best live action film since The Royal Tenenbaums. This is mostly due to Ralph Fiennes performance but also do to the madcap energy of the film that we rarely see from Anderson pictures. Anderson films have often been criticized for the inhibited nostalgia displayed by him, but in Budapest Hotel, he shows the beauty in what has been forgotten or thrown away by the changing times.

5. Inherent Vice

Having just walked out of theater no more than 12 hours ago, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this detective story that’s…not…really…a detective story? Yes, in this familiar rendition of a counter-culture The Big Sleep, the “whodunit” aspect isn’t so much important to the film but what as become of the world around the many cases. Our hero, the pot smoking “hippie” Doc Spotello (played by Joaquin Phoenix) doesn’t know what to make of his jigsaw puzzle of a case nor the post Manson Family murders (Vice takes place six months after the Sharon Tate murder) world he now lives in, where paranoia and conspiracies run rapid. After making arguably two masterpieces, There Will Be Blood and The Master, back-to-back P.T. Anderson can appear to be treading lightly here, yet don’t mistake the comedic fair for a recess time. Anderson’s direction is fully equipped as the director who is still at the top of his game and not at a decline at all. Give me six months and this could be in my top 3 films of 2014.

4. Snowpiercer

Director Bong Jong-Ho apocalyptic look at the future was easily the most imaginative high concept film of the year. Jong-Ho continues to bring his originality and humor in familiar genre pictures such as Mother (the Hitchokian who dun it), The Host (monster movie) and now Snowpiercer (post-apocalyptic). It could’ve been easy for this foreign filmmaker to scum to the clichés of action films in his first English speaking film but Jong-Ho takes what is expected and flips it on its head (as explain in my Best Film Scene)

3. Gone Girl

We’ve been told the “adult centered film” is dead and perhaps it is but as with most things David Fincher directs (The Social Network and Fight Club), the material is risen beyond what would be in lesser hands. The strength of the film is hinged on our buying into the tonal shift the film takes half way through. Fincher manages to gracefully take a right turn where we thought we were going left and never slows down for us to catch up with him. He goes and if we can’t keep up with what he is doing, to bad for us. Despite the dark subject matter few films have been as fun to watch as this throwback to late 80’s/early 90’s sexual suspense thrillers.

2. Boyhood

Richard Linklater’s wonderful film is not a love letter to childhood (as much as people would hope) but a series of captured forgotten moments. With spanning over 12 years of a life, Linklater doesn’t have time to go down vast plot rabbit holes but instead give snippets of a life that we don’t realize matter to us until after the fact. What makes Boyhood great is the little details, those details that we hadn’t even realized had an effect but unknowingly or unspokely matter to us until years later. It would’ve been easy for Linklater to sum up the growth of human being to one speech or highly substantial moment yet he was smart enough to realize that life is way more complicated than that. Boyhood may not look like much but it’s subtly saying a hell of a lot more about life than most pictures that try to be more obvious with there statements.

1. Whiplash

In the last fifteen minutes of Whiplash, something amazing happens while we our in a daze watching the last sequence unfold. Director Damien Chazelle is in sink with his actors Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons for maybe the most sexual non-sex scene captured on film. The battle between the two principals comes to a head in amazing drum solo that ends the film. Simmons and Teller “unite” as teacher/student to give each other what they always wanted in life. But unlike other movies where are “hero” seems to have a triumphant moment, we don’t feel as if everything is happier ever after for Andrew (Miles Teller). No instead we feel something dark, something sad is on the horizon for Andrew. Pain gets him to this great point and perhaps pain is the only thing that will sustain the art. Pain is part of the game here, maybe the same pain that Charlie “Bird” Parker was touched by.

Best of 2014 in Films: Part One


Ashley here! As I have stated in the past, my husband, Chris, is a movie buff and really enjoys reviewing films. This list is his favorite films from the past year. Although our tastes can differ, I fully agree with this list and even encourage you to check some of these out if you haven’t already! Take it away, honey!

Before getting to my Best of’s, a disclaimer for several films I unfortunately missed of 2014 that you won’t see me talk about here. Selma, Land Ho!, Nymphomaniac, Love Is Strange, Top Five, Mr. Turner, The Raid 2, Force Majeure, A Most Violent Year, Two Days One Night, Listen Up Phillip and probably many, many others. (more…)

 

Best Sequel

Dawn of The Planet of The Apes

After the surprise hit of Rise of The Planet of The Apes the assumption only would be going down from there with the sequel. Yet Dawn not only succeeds from avoiding the sophomore jinx but surpasses it’s predecessor. This summer blockbuster is smarter than it has to be, with doing the wonderful job of fleshing out of its CGI and living characters. With a script that draws from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Richard III the film masterfully builds a case for none of it’s characters being the good or bad guy but instead sympathies with the reason they do things they do.

 

Best Doppelganger Film of 2014

Coherence

(Spoiler alert, some films mentioned below, you may not realize they deal with doppelgangers until you see them)

Yes what a weird category, but how many films dealt with doppelganger scenarios this year would surprise you. Enemy starring Jake Gyllenhaal in duel roles, The Double, which explains it’s self with in its title, and the relationship dark comedy The One I Love as well. Yet the best doppelganger film was perhaps the lease known of the year. Coherence is a little film that takes place during the night of a dinner party of eight friends. While they chat and drink wine, strange goings on begin to happen causing miss trust between the group of friends, who begin to divulge they’re “real selves” as possible other versions of themselves begin to enter or exit the dinner party. It’s a fun watch in which I have to catch up again with to figure out what who was who.

 

Best Film Scene, That’s Not In Whiplash

Snowpiercer- A Short Pause At Yekaterina Bridge

It can be hard to find yourself surprised by much in actions films lately. The thematic beats are usually going to similar rhythm that we have come accustom to. In director Bong Joon-Ho film Snowpiercer, you never know what to expect in the next train car coming up. This is what makes it terrifying and the most alive action film of the year. There is no better moment in Snowpiercer than that of the Yekaterina Bridge fight/celebration scene. Things play out in familiar manner as most fight scenes involving several people would, until both sides of the battle take a 1 minute pause to acknowledge the New Year which is celebrated every time they cross the dangerous Yekaternina Bridge. The brake in the battle scene just shows Joon-Ho ability for humorous moments in the darkest of times. Pointing out how ridiculous this whole situation is for his characters and us the audience.

 

The Most Overrated Film That Will Get 10 Oscar Nominations

Foxcatcher and Birdman

A friend recently mention to me how much he enjoyed reading my reviews but was waiting for me to write a negative review on a movie. It was a fair point, everything I’ve written about either loved it or at lease thought was worth recommending you checking out. As I’ve said before I don’t get paid, especially to watch movies that are most likely not good. With that said I do still see occasionally bad or too highly praised movies that I wouldn’t mind talking about but with work and school work, I’d rather write about the movies that are worth your time. With that said I have to give a few words regarding Foxcatcher and Birdman, two movies that surely are going to be discussed in length on their “excellence”.
Bennett Miller (director of Foxcatcher) has no interest in the reason or possibilities in his characters motivations but just the end results of their decisions. Which just leaves you empty walking out of theatre. I’m not asking for Dr. Fred Richman to come at the end of the movie to explain to me why du Pont did what he did but I believe as audience we deserve some room for interpretation or speculation of events. Miller doesn’t allow for that, instead we are giving the “facts” of the situation and follow along in uninterested manner. With that said Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo successfully push passed Miller’s need to void the film of emotion by giving two terrific performances. While the performance (surely everyone will be in high praise of) by Steve Carell as John du Pont is perhaps the most over praised part of the film. Miller and Carell would have you believe that du Pont is a terrifying and creepy character, instead Carell’s performance is silly, in a way that makes the performance distracting not in a good way. I think most of the praise given to his performance should be given to the make up people. This is just another case of people giving to much credit to the “transformation” of the actor.
While Birdman is one of the more visually alive films of the year, the script couldn’t be more unimaginative. The heavy handiness of the story and finger wagging of the story never felt series enough nor satirical but instead shaming of everyone who doesn’t have the intelligence for art like co-writer and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel, 21 Grams) makes. His need to constantly be telling and not showing, in speeches that point out everything that is wrong in popular art just drags the movie down from something that could’ve been beautiful to a tiresome soapbox film. Inarritu as been a director whose never interested me, with his no holds bar dramas where he seems to seek to emotionally torture his characters than by torturing us. Birdman seems to be his way of telling us, the audience “hey my art house movies matter and you dummies out there who only want to see comic book movies should take notice cause I’m actually say something.” But at the end of this film (and all of Inarritu films), nothing seems emptier than something with wonderful body but no real soul to make it really matter.
The Film I’m Most Surprised I Enjoyed

Edge of Tomorrow

It’s fair to say I’ve grown a little tired of the Tom Cruise action star career the past few years. At a certain point it’s just starts to get sad to see fifty-year old man trying to pretend he’s a twenty-something bad ass. But with so few potential “movie star” male leads to pass the torch to who else is more right to save the world over and over again than TC? With Edge of Tomorrow there’s a certain pleasure in seeing Cruise playing someone who doesn’t exactly have the stomach (for the first half of the movie at lease) to be an action hero. Cruise hasn’t been this fun to watch in years because no film as let him play less than TOM CRUISE. And yes there is a sick joy that comes from seeing the many ways the “hero” dies in this Groundhog Day from hell.

 

Best Performances

Honorable Mentions: Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher), Agata Kulesza (Ida), Tessa Thompson (Dear White People), Kang-ho Song (Snowpiercer), Scarlett Johansson (Under The Skin), Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice), Hong Chau (Inherent Vice) and David Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy)

10. Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher

Ruffalo is often overshadowed by is counterparts in most of the films he’s in. He’s given underestimated performances with heavier hitters who are competing for screen times with him, Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Alright) Robert Downey Jr. and Hulk (The Avengers). Foxcatcher is no different, Ruffalo manages to hold is own and out shine the more showy (and not good) performance of Steve Carrel by doing what is asked of him in the part, simply being the character not a caricature.

9. Tilda Swinton – Snowpiercer

You kind of get the since that Swinton lives for weird roles like Mason in Snowpiercer. Rarely does a female get a chance to be the villain in such a playful way as she does in this post-apocalyptic picture. Swinton takes every opportunity in the Snowpiercer to have fun with her rendition of Martha Thatcher.

8. Miles Teller – Whiplash

Understandably Teller’s performance as young jazz drummer Andrew as been overshadowed by his co-star J.K. Simmons showcase but Teller holds his own in every scene. Although he may seem like drab or uninteresting character (intentionally done by Teller) while outside of music school, he fully comes alive behind his drum set. His passion is real and the desire to be the best is shown every time he starts drumming. I have no idea how talented of a drummer Teller is (outside of the film) but he had me convinced he was the real deal. With out Teller’s terrific performance Simmons great performance would mean very little.

7. Joaquin Phoenix – Inherent Vice

Phoenix is having one the great runs these past few years that most actors have to wait a lifetime for. Post I’m Still Here he has knocked it out of the park with three completely different performances The Master, Her and now Inherent Vice. Here as the pot smoking detective Doc Sportello he gets the chance to play with an interesting tone of comedy. As his character is constantly high it lends itself for comedic moments when it is necessary for Doc to play “straight” in the presents of the LAPD and clients who depend on answers from him. Many times he is asked to be a listener and observer of other characters, which allows Phoenix to perform with his eyes, something in which he has grown so well at doing this past few years. Even with an abundant of scene stealing characters (played by Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short and several others) Phoenix always stays at the center of our attention, we want to never leave his character.

6. Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler

I can honestly say I’ve never enjoyed a Gyllenhaal performance because he seems to never fit the part to me. He is unable at times to convince me that he cares about what he’s saying or the part he plays. That’s what makes his terrific turn as Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler so surprising to me. In the film he is constantly convincing other people to believe in what he is doing. He pretty much is playing a ruthless sales man whose product is himself. Gyllenhaal understands his character, not playing him as a villain at all, but the hero in his own story. It’s a freighting and funny performance of a sociopath that makes me excited to see what Gyllenhaal does next.

5. Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

It would be easy to call Redmayne role as Stephen Hawking an Oscar baiting performance in the physicality of acting, of course it naturally is going to be a nominated one. Yet Redmayne refuses or perhaps is incapable (due mostly because of Hawking who was incapable in real life) of giving the Oscar Clip Moment that you would expect from such dramatic situation. Instead with really only the use of his eyes he expresses the joy, sadness and love that this genius man feels locked in his failing body

4. Rosemund Pike – Gone Girl

(Excerpt from review of Gone Girl) I really don’t want to give much away on what her character does but just imagined Catherine Tramell and Keyser Soze had a kid, it would probably turn out be just like Amy Dunne. Pike’s performance as Amy is a sprawling one that asks her to be convincible victim terrified, darkly funny and a horrifying psychopath, at any given time. Not sure it’s the kind of performance that would get her an Oscar nomination but one that she should be getting praise for executing such a joggling act.

3. Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel

For some actors, Wes Anderson’s dialogue comes naturally for them (Bill Murray and Edward Norton) and for others not so much (Bruce Willis and Danny Glover). It can be a freighting thing to jump in his unusual characters and idiosyncratic filmmaking in Anderson universe. With Fiennes first collaboration with Anderson it would almost appear as if the duo had been working together for several films. Comedy wasn’t foreign to this “series actor” prior to this film, although he is known for is villainous roles (Schindler’s List and Harry Potter series) Fiennes has held is own in small comedic parts (In Bruges). This role of M. Gustave redefines this already great actor, whose willingness to use the “serious British thespian” attributes for a wild and void of ego comedic performance.

2. Patricia Arquette – Boyhood

(Excerpt from my review of Boyhood in which I talk about Arquette’s performance of the often-single mother in the film) Never being the wet blanket, no nonsense tough mother, or free spirit guardian angel that often these types of films give us. Instead, she displays the flaws that come with having to run the parenthood gauntlet on your own sometimes. She makes her fair share of mistakes, with the unfortunate bad luck with men setting her back along the way. With Arquette’s heart breaking speech at the end of the film, she steals the movie for me (it made me want to call my mother immediately after getting out of theater just to tell her I love her).

1. J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

Simmons has been one of those actors I’ve always rooted for to get an opportunity like this (I have a soft spot for character actors). At an early age (perhaps too early) I encountered Simmons on the HBO television show Oz in which he played the despicable neo-Nazi and rapist Vernon Schillinger. Every since then I’ve been subconsciously afraid of him in every role his played in, even as the dad in Juno he was scary to me. So at last he gets the chance to use his ability to be terrifying in what is easily his best performance as the music instructor Fletcher who pushes his students often times to the limit. Simmons portrayal of Fletcher is not at all a romantic look at the teacher/student relationship but instead gives insight on the tightrope that great artist must play in order for the sack of great art. Fletcher believes he must push his students to the edge for them to reach there full potential, how fitting for an actor such as Simmons to finally reach is own full potential in such a great performance.

Clementine Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

Disclaimer: I made these cookies for Christmas and even had a Christmasy blog post ready for you. BUT, I didn’t get the chance to post so can we just act like it’s 2 weeks ago? Thanks in advance! (more…)

When we were kids, my siblings and I saved the stockings on Christmas morning for last. Although the items inside of them were much smaller than our gifts under the tree, I looked forward to “opening” my stocking the most. When the depression of all the gifts have been opened sets in, it was great to have another something to look forward to. There was never anything of too much value except for some candy and random little gadgets and knick knacks but one thing I always looked forward to was the chocolate orange. You know what I’m talking about. It was an orange, made completely out of chocolate with a hint of orange flavoring. Being a kid with too much adrenaline on Christmas morning, the best part about the orange was that you had to keep it in its orange foil and wack it against something hard. What happened after that was magic. When you tenderly peeled back the foil to reveal the chocolate orange, the orange literally split into clean, perfect slices, like a real orange! Pure, blissful, chocolatey magic!

Maybe that wonderful orange is why I naturally feel inclined to combine refreshing citrus with creamy chocolate at Christmas time. Like citrus, these clementine dark chocolate chip cookies are delicious all year round and you can change which citrus you use! But for me and this holiday season, it’s all about the heavenly combo of clementines and dark chocolate. These cookies are best enjoyed at any party or by a cozy fire.

Our ingredients are gathered. Our basic chocolate chip cookie recipe but with dark chocolate chips and clementine zest. We can hang with this!

Eggs,vanilla, flour, sugar, baking soda, clementine zest (you could use orange here, too!), dark chocolate chips, brown sugar (my nickname for my husband), salt, and butter.

The zest is combined with the granulated sugar first. We really want the oils from the zest to infuse the sugar. This reminds me of a sunset on a snowy winter day. Too much?

The butter is creamed with the sugars. My favorite part!

We add our eggs and vanilla. Keep mixing!

I mean….

Now, our flour! It’s ok if we make a mess; it’s the way of the cookie.

Chocolate chips are added and stirred in manually. This also allows for you to incorporate any left out flour from the edge of the bowl.

Instant gratification.

These cookies are so good! I can’t believe I didn’t make these many Christmas moons ago! They are crisp but chewy. They have some body but are completely soft. Everything you want in a cookie! Try the clementine dark chocolate chip cookies! There are plenty of snow days ahead to enjoy them! Happy cookie making!