“Sunday Gravy”

5 Mar

 

A bowl of Sunday Gravy

A bowl of Sunday Gravy

Occasionally in life you meet someone who truly changes your life. This happened to me in 1998 when I decided the time was right to buy a house. On the advice of a friend, I met with a realtor, Phyllis Harb, who took me on as a client. Two and a half dizzying weeks later I found myself in escrow on a beat up but amazing old fixer-upper that is probably the house in which I will die.

Finding the house and fixing it up is a story for another day.  And if that were my only interaction with Phyllis, I would be blessed because not only has the house changed my life, she is an amazing person who guides you through a very stressful time.  Thankfully that was not my only interaction with her.  Over the years she has become a dear and trusted friend.  Phyllis is one of the more thoughtful and generous persons I’ve ever met.

Phyllis herself has a wonderful home and once a year or so she will have a few ‘former clients’ over for cocktails and dinner.  Last year about ten of us showed up for her version of what East Coast Italians call ‘Sunday Gravy’, a meat laden tomato sauce Esquire described as “A sacred meal for a sacred day born in the kitchen of an Italian-American family.”

Phyllis's kitchen during the process

Phyllis’ kitchen during the process

As any follower of this blog knows, I love tomatoes and love me a great tomato sauce. I’ve already done posts on tomato sauce here and here and here. When Phyllis served us this deep rich sauce over pasta, however,  I knew I was going to do another post because when I took my first bite, I thought I was going to die. It was so @#%#$ good!! Once again, Phyllis changed my life. I told her that night she had to teach me how to make it and she readily agreed.

Just a few of the ingredients

Just a few of the ingredients

pots

Two pots toward the end of the process.

This is an amazing sauce. It’s incredibly thick, marvelously so. Packed with meat, it has a rich, divine flavor. I served a batch on Oscar night and everyone at my house declared it the best red sauce they had ever eaten. It truly is that good.

Pork Roast for the sauce

Pork Roast for the sauce

Some of the meat from the sauce, and blueberry cobblers ready for the oven.

Some of the pork from the near finished sauce, and blueberry cobblers ready for the oven.

As for learning how to make it, Phyllis and I both stay pretty busy so it took a while but a few Sundays ago I showed up at her house at 8:30 AM for a day long lesson on “Sunday Gravy.” Phyllis learned this from her grandmother, who in turn learned it from her husband’s family in Palermo, Italy. This gravy has credentials, people!

It is not hard to make, but it is time consuming: we started at 8:30 AM and the sauce was ready around 6 PM. Trust me, it’s worth the effort. Make it alone on a day you can be in the kitchen most of the time. Or have some friends over and get them to join in the fun. I love scheduling a day where I am in the kitchen all day, cooking a variety of things, usually doubling recipes to have food to freeze (this ‘gravy’ freezes beautifully), listening to music, working on the computer as food simmers and, of course, drinking wine. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere. You will have a wonderful day and the payoff will be incredible. 

A bowl of Sunday Gravy

A bowl of Sunday Gravy

Note: for those who need very specific recipes in order to cook, this will be a little scary! But don’t let the unspecificity deter you. Follow the general guidelines of the recipe, throwing things in the pot at the specific times and you will end up with a dream sauce that will please anyone to whom you serve it. There’s a reason this “gravy” is made on Sunday. It’s heavenly.

Click here for the recipe and many more photos: Phyllis Harb’s Sunday Gravy.

One final important note! Phyllis’ daughter, Krissy, who helped us with the sauce and made the day even that much more enjoyable, works for an amazing Olive Oil company, Kiler Ridge. We used this olive oil with the sauce and it made it even that much better. Link below:

www.kilerridge.com

 

 

Shameless Self-Promotion ’15

25 Feb

Apologies in advance, I do this once a year.

But I do have something original to post! 

Cinema Language Logo

As readers of the blog know, I teach a filmmaking seminar once or twice a year in Los Angeles: Cinema Language: The Art Of Storytelling. This year Cinema Language is the weekend of March 7-8. We present it in the gorgeous Charlie Chaplin Theatre on the Raleigh Studios backlot. While I teach individual seminars all over the country as well as Graduate Screenwriting at Pepperdine University, this is a fun, intensive weekend for film professionals and film buffs alike, an encapsulation of what I teach all year long. The class is always filled with interesting people with whom you can network and discourse. (This is all in relation to my “sister blog” CinemaLanguage.org.)

*** If any readers of the blog are interested in coming, comment below and I will give you a great deal! We have people coming this March from as far as London! It should be another great weekend, we would love to have you.

npr

One fun recent occurrence that happened because of Cinema Language: I was asked to do an interview for NPR. I am a big fan of the great editor Chuck Workman. His Oscar-winning tribute to movies, Precious Images, literally changed my life when I saw it on the big screen in college. In part as a tribute to him, I cut a 3 minute movie-montage, which you can see below. One of my favorite NPR reporters, Neda Ulaby, found it online and called me in to NPR West to talk about Workman. Her piece ended up on Weekend Edition Saturday with Scott Simon. You can hear the piece here:

NPR Interview

And if you have not yet seen it, here is my Workman-style montage which I use to start the class each time I teach.

Thanks as always for reading. My next post is going to be one of the best, a fun and delicious post about a mind-blowing recipe a very good friend taught me last weekend. Stay tuned!

Your “Go To” Dip for 2015

23 Jan


I am blessed with three wonderful sisters, Diane, Jeanye and Ruth. They came into my life in my 20’s, when my mother remarried after my father died. I’ve had many wonderful and hilarious times with all three ever since. They are the best.

Jeanye and I are addicted to cards and will play for hours at a stretch. Which means, of course, we need some ‘nibbles’, as she likes to call them, while we play. Sustenance is important, right? (It also keeps the mind sharp for kicking ass at cards… We are a little competitive.) The last time we played at her house, she combined the remains of two left over store-bought items on a whim: pimento cheese and a corn salad.

We inhaled it.

It was so good I was determined to create a homemade version. After a few rounds of experimenting, I present you a dip you will make for the rest of your life. This stuff is good. Because of the ingredients, it also lasts a while in the fridge. I always double it, in fact. So make a big batch, serve with vegetables and/or crackers, and enjoy.

This is perfect for the Super Bowl, btw.

Oh and importantly, for the Southerners anyway, this is the best pimento cheese recipe ever, one I’ve come up with by combining a few recipes over the years. Make just the pimento cheese for the best pimento cheese sandwich on the planet.

 

Pim Cheese corn dip

Pimento Cheese Jalapeño Corn Dip

 

For the recipe, click here —>  Continue reading

Favorite Films of 14

9 Jan

It’s been a different year for movies. A good friend of mine noted there didn’t seem to be any big ‘Oscar movies’, nothing that screamed Must see! or that has a lock on Best Picture… and that is true. But for me, this has been a good thing. In an age where so many movies are huge depressing blockbusters: sequels ad nauseam with the same old, same old tired CGI action that makes me numb, my personal favorites of the year were movies that were small, indie and often very weird. Some of these even blew me away.

In no specific order:

EDGE OF TOMORROW / LIVE. DIE. REPEAT

unnamed-87

 

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Isn’t this the type of big budget blockbuster you were slamming above?

Actually… no. This terrific, very smart, very suspenseful movie is what every big budget action movie should be. It’s the most sheer fun I had at the movies all year. A blast of a picture, Edge Of Tomorrow (or Live. Die. Repeat.) is extremely clever and, along with terrific supporting performances, has two kick-ass lead performances by Tom Cruise and the heavenly Emily Blunt. Wretchedly marketed by Warner Bros, (the movie’s name has even changed!) the ads looked like same old same old and revealed none of the humor (it is very funny), none of the romance (it has a heartbreaking romantic subplot) and hid just how good Tom Cruise was as he played one of the great cowards ever to be portrayed onscreen. That’s right, a total, yellow bellied coward. I confess, I love the guy, he is a superb actor (watch Magnolia if you disagree) and he clearly had a ball playing very against type. You probably missed it on the big screen, which is a bummer, but see it anyway. It’s a @%#$ blast.

 

SNOWPIERCER

a_560x0

This is a wild, weird, phenomenal twist on the action thriller by one of the most inventive directors alive, Joon-Ho Bong. Very hard to describe, the entire movie takes place on a futuristic speeding train containing all that is left of humanity. With splendid action scenes and extremely inventive set pieces (wait until you get to the ‘classroom scene’ with a deliriously upbeat Allison Pill) Snowpiercer has a wild, weird sensibility that is all Bong, who also directed the equally wild and wonderful movies The Host and Mother. Chris Evans does his best work yet on screen. He’s terrific. As are all the supporting players. And then there’s Oscar Winner Tilda Swinton. Her part, Mason, was written for a man. When she was cast, they changed not a word, she transformed her appearance and this remarkable, fearless actress gives a hilarious, biting performance unlike anything you’ve ever seen. While the movie is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, it has a classic revenge suspense plot holding it together that will keep you leaning forward. Experience something wonderful and trippy. See this movie.

Snowpiercer-wallpapers-1680x1050-1

**For the rest of my “Best of”, click here —>  Continue reading

A Perfect Christmas Cocktail

15 Dec

From Thanksgiving stuffing to Christmas Cocktails, ’tis the season! I have a number of blog posts lined up but have been so busy I cannot find time to finish any of them. Sounds like a good New Years Resolution… “Finish Blog Posts!” Of course the effect any resolution has on me is less than nil. We will see what happens in January.

In the meantime, here is a cocktail for your holiday celebrating that is just about perfect. My twist on the great Gramercy Tavern‘s Cranberry Daiquiri.

Cranberry Daiquiri

Cranberry Daiquiri

 

Understand, I am not a fan of sweet drinks. The fact I love this cocktail and will happily drink it in lieu of a martini says a lot about how wonderful it tastes.

The daiquiri takes a little prep, both getting the right rum and making Cranberry Syrup. Make a big batch of the syrup, however, and you are ready anytime between now and Epiphany to make the cocktail.

People go crazy over this, trust me.

Since we are talking cocktails, I’ve also included another drink I will humbly admit I have become famous for, my version of a classic Manhattan. So invite some people over, make some goat cheese spread (A Near Perfect Food, my first post) and have a blessed Christmas season. Gourmet magazine’s Baked Cheddar Olives are another sublime appetizer to serve.

For two amazing cocktail recipes, click here —>  Continue reading

Stuffing!

20 Nov

Stuffing! 

There are few things I love more than Thanksgiving. And there are few things I love more on Thanksgiving than stuffing. Just in time for the big day, then, a stuffing post. 

Or do you call it dressing??

We grew up calling it stuffing. Even though we never stuffed a bird. My mom thought it was a bit gross to stuff a bird. Subsequently I never stuff the bird either. I hear from my dear and trusted friend Phyllis that stuffing the bird creates incredibly moist, tasty stuffing. I will have to try it sometime!

Thanksgiving Table 2013

Thanksgiving Table 2013

One thing I love about stuffing is how versatile it can be. Mom, for instance, made an incredible shrimp and crabmeat stuffing I can still taste to this day. During the year she would also make a southwestern stuffing, with green chilis, black olives and cheese. A good basic stuffing recipe is incredibly adaptable to almost any flavor. 

There is also the question as to white bread or corn bread. I say, why choose? Each year I have one of each at the table. So whether you call it dressing or stuffing or, um, Stove Top (Never, Ever, Ever), below are two terrific stuffing recipes, from two very good friends. Both these recipes are so good, I make them not only at Thanksgiving but throughout the year when I have that craving for stuffing. 

Remember first a few general stuffing notes:

* Stuffing tastes better over time so you can ease your Thanksgiving by making the stuffing the day before or even days ahead. Bake it, then it can sit in the fridge a day or two, getting more flavorful, or you can make it even a week before, freeze it, then reheat it (my trick.)

* You can make fresh vegetable stock in 30 minutes or fresh chicken stock in less than an hour. Fresh stock makes a world of difference. Just do it. Click here.

* Stuffing is not an exact science. I never ever follow these recipes to the exact amount and the stuffing is always is wonderful. Just taste as you go!

For the recipes, click here —>  Continue reading

A Great Movie You’ve Probably Never Seen, Vol. III

26 Oct

One of the most famous literary mysteries of all time revolves around the unspeakable secrets swirling through Henry James’ classic ghost story, The Turn Of The Screw. Published in 1898, the novella is told mostly in the form of a remembrance by a governess hired to oversee two young children at a remote country estate. Numerous ambiguities in the story have frustrated and delighted both readers and critics ever since, particularly the main question, one James refused to answer: is our narrator, the governess, reliable or insane, i.e. are the ghosts in her account real or the figment of a twisted imagination?

It’s a mind bending debate made even more maddening by James’ prose. My graduate students last year wanted to have me lynched for making them read it, so difficult can it be to understand his sentences. For instance:

“I can’t express what followed it save by saying that the silence itself–which was indeed in a manner an attestation of my strength–became the element into which I saw the figure disappear; in which I definitely saw it turn as I might have seen the low wretch to which it had once belonged turn on receipt of an order, and pass, with my eyes on the villainous back that no hunch could have more disfigured, straight down the staircase and into the darkness in which the next bend was lost.”

That’s not even one of the really difficult sentences!

Suffice, then, to say that, even though a ghost story–still as popular a genre as it was in 1896–a novella of even this critical magnitude and renown might make difficult an adaptation into the cinematic form, particularly given the immutable truth this masterwork, at least according to some, is most famous for ambiguities, literary mysteries and twisting sentences, three elements one must agree modern audiences don’t rush to embrace, elements that also would make it seem, even to the greatest, most brilliant talent, un-filmable.

Take that, Henry James!

Yet towering over every other cinematic ghost story, perfect for this Halloween week, stands The Innocents.

Innocents Title Card

It is difficult to discuss this remarkable movie without giving away its malevolent pleasures. As such, I will avoid my usual lengthy diatribe. Yet along with encouraging you to find the movie and give it a watch, let me note only a couple of things that make the film so amazing, the first being the cinematography. Quite simply, The Innocents is one of the greatest achievements in cinematography. Filmed in Cinemascope (ultra, ultra wide screen) director Jack Clayton and DP Freddie Francis use both the frame and the lighting in remarkable ways.

Even the simplest of images, in the bright of day, have an unsettling quality:

wide2

wide

 Or take the introduction of Flora, the little girl in the story. The first shot of her, a reflection in the water, not only gives her a ghostly appearance but calls into question from the start her motivations and honesty.

water

Many scenes are shot in very long takes, maximizing the tension. And there are numerous layers to every shot. See below the creepy statue way in the background through the door? Clayton and Francis stick these statues everywhere to very unsettling effect. These statues become a character unto themselves, always seeming to peer into the house. Rather than standing guard, their effect is to create a trapped, claustrophobic feeling. Someone or something is always watching.

Living room

 Here we see their use of layers of reflection:

reflection-overlay - Version 2

 Of course, given the movie is a ghost story, there is masterful use of pitch black including a lengthy, very scary sequence of the governess exploring the house late at night, a sequence that also has some of the best sound I’ve ever heard in a film.

candles

I can’t even show you some of the greatest examples of why the movie is so brilliant, as they would give away some of the best moments. Besides being gorgeous, the movie is edgy and very ahead of its time in terms of content. For just a hint at many WTF moments from the movie, check out this still from a scene that sent executives at Fox into a tailspin when they saw the final cut:

kiss

It must also be noted that Deborah Kerr’s performance is stunning, the best in career dominated by wonderful performances. A six time Academy Award nominee, I’ve never seen Kerr give anything less than a stellar performance. She is one of the most reliable, capable performers in film (and stage) history. Yet even with such a pedigree, her work here is phenomenal, navigating the mystery of the narrator’s mental state brilliantly. The great mystery of the novella remains just as debatable in the movie due to her subtle, complex turn. 

Another reason to screen this movie? After years of there only being a crappy DVD to watch, Criterion has released a stunning transfer with incredible visuals and sound. It’s gorgeous.

Find this version, make some popcorn and settle in. You’ll be happy you did — though you might not sleep.

As a reminder, “A Great Movie You’ve Probably Never Seen Vol. I and II can be found here and here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,305 other followers