MAMA: LUXARDO MARASCHINO CHERRIES
What is it with movies and cherries? Either they stand for a flirtation with innocence lost (see the wonderful pastry eating scene in Once Upon A Time in America), veer towards the pornographic (see 2012’s About Cherry and 20 million other films actually pornographic and not), or bode unspeakable horrors (see the cherry-pit projectile vomiting scene in The Witches Of Eastwick). It is this final category that we explore with Andrés Muschietti’s 2013 ghost story Mama, wherein two young girls, having survived the initial abandonment in the freezing woods by their suicidal father, stumble into a dilapidated hovel, only to be fed fresh cherries by a ghostly maternal presence for the following two years. Creepy to be sure, but at least the cherries are not the neon-red orbs of corn syrup plasm collecting dust above the sad liquid-plastic chocolate sauces on the shelves to the right of the ice-cream aisle (click here to learn all about the ghastly transformation from cherry to dyed food product). That said, although finding good maraschino cherries is as likely as (spoiler alert) being lovingly cared for by the deformed spirit of a long dead mental patient, they’re out there. You just have to order them. From Italy. Or, more likely, from a fine purveyor like Williams Sonoma who carry true Italian Luxardo Maraschino Cherries, and describe them thusly: “dense and chewy with a sweet-tart flavor, these maraschino cherries are made with prized sour marasca cherries preserved in the fruit’s famed liqueur.” Sure, making your own would be an excellent option as well, a process described lovingly here, but these Luxardo cherries are frighteningly good. Just don’t tell Mama they’re better than her’s.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN: BEEF JERKY
In the Coen Brothers’ terrific adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, one of the most suspenseful scenes features killer-for-hire Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, giving a psychopath performance for the ages), harassing the elderly clerk at a mom and pop gas station, by telling him to call heads or tails on a 1958 quarter that’s travelled twenty-two years to the film’s present, 1980. Interestingly, the coin is not the only time-traveler in the scene, as the Jack Link’s beef jerky display, featured prominently behind Chigurh, is from 2007, not 1980 when the film takes place. Now if Chigurh put a proverbial cattle gun to our foreheads, and demanded that we choose our favorite jerky, we’d have to go with the hand-crafted South African delights produced by Sausage Kitchen in Los Angeles, where the biltong, a delicious air-dried beef, (especially the moist, fatty bits), and the dried boerewors, a sausage with an unctuous herbaceous kick, have been produced with love for over thirty years. But don’t take our word for how incredible they are. The LA Times dedicated an article to the meaty wonders of Sausage Kitchen here, and just in case you still find yourself dithering over how to choose the finest jerky, the Best Beef Jerky site has got your back, with in-depth reviews and frequent updates. So call it, friend-o.
ROUNDERS: OREO COOKIES
Although the tension in the penultimate poker game in John Dahl’s 1998 thriller Rounders is not quite as thick as John Malkovich’s malevolent Russian accent as Teddy KGB, the manner in which he savors his Oreo cookie by first sadistically pulling it apart (we get the sense he’d like to do this to Matt Damon’s crafty gambler character sitting across from him), then imperiously deciding which side to attack first, provides its own entertaining little story complete with an arc: when he realizes he’s losing the game, he throws his Oreos against the wall, which in the real poker world would qualify as a rather extreme ‘tell.’
Nevertheless, the moment captures the timeless fascination generations of cookie fans have with deciding how to approach their Oreos — bargaining, toying, procrastinating, hoarding, dunking — the choices are basically endless. Although we’re partial to the classic, we firmly believe there is a time and a place for the Double Stuf (which the world now knows does not truly include double the stuff), and the various fudge covered permutations. And yes, we’re aware that as of January 2014, cookie dough Oreos (with the traditional creme replaced by cookie dough creme), and marshmallow crispy Oreos (vanilla cookie with puffed rice in the creme), exist. As do watermelon flavored Oreos. But we’re sort of Oreo purists — except that we like to roll all the creme into a giant ball and eat the cookies later.
CHOCOLAT: HOT CHOCOLATE
What better way to usher in Valentine’s Day then with a rich, luxurious, hot sipping chocolate like the intoxicating concoction featured in Lasse Hallstrom’s romantic bon-bon, Chocolat (2000), starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. After searching high and low for the most sultry, velvety, deeply chocolaty version, our dedicated tasters alighted on the magnificent hot chocolate served at Demitasse in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo, where the decadence of the extraordinary cocoa merges with hints of Tahitian vanilla, and a touch of lavender. On top rests a large square marshmallow, toasted to bubbling, and lending a burnt-sugar warmth that acts as a sweet counterpoint to the darkness of the chocolate. While we think it’s perfect, the city is teeming with contenders, and this list, from CBS Los Angeles, could be the beginning of a long lasting hot chocolate love affair.
VATEL: PLATEAUX DE FRUITS DE MER
In Roland Joffe’s sumptuous tragedy, Vatel (2000), Gerard Depardieu, touchingly understated, plays something of a miracle worker: Francois Vatel, the master steward to the gout-stricken and financially imperiled Prince de Condé. Vatel runs the household and stages feasts and festivities of such magnificence that he is charged with entertaining the most demanding (and debauched) of guests: King Louis XIV (played by a slithery Julian Sands), and his court. Through the most strenuous production of his life (including the accidental death of one of ‘his people’), Vatel retains his dignity in the belief that the prince for whom he works is honorable.
However, when he finds out that the prince “lost him” to Louis XIV in a card game, and that he was a “slave to the festivities” as opposed to the master of them, he decides to end his life. But what would a man whose culinary mastery delights the Sun King choose for his own last dinner? Fruits de mer: a platter of chilled lobsters and crabs. We wouldn’t argue. Then again, who could argue with cold briny oysters (kumamotos perhaps, with their deep cups and notes of copper and cucumber), sweet clams bursting with salinity, plump shrimp, creamy urchin roe, redolent of ocean-minerals, and of course crabs — whatever’s fresh and local — steamed until just tender and succulent. A lobster or two wouldn’t hurt either, especially if it’s spiny lobster season in California, as the tails are sweeter and more tender than their Maine counterparts. For the price to value ratio, we suggest enjoying this last-meal caliber feast at The Hungry Cat in Santa Barbara.
Founded by Chef David Lentz in 2005 (there are also Hollywood and Santa Monica locations, but hey it’s Santa Barbara!), The Hungry Cat serves up extraordinarily appetizing and generous seafood platters, featuring pristine local delicacies bracingly fresh from the water. While the 1 and 2 tier platters are sure to delight and are ample enough to share amongst 3-4, we recommend going all in for The Hungry Cat Platter ($147.50) to indulge in their finest offerings: local urchin, oysters, shrimp, clams, lobsters, crabs, and whatever else is tops that day. We suspect that after sampling a few kumamotos, Vatel might even approve.
The Hungry Cat/1134 Chapala (@ Anapamu)/Santa Barbara, CA 805.884.4701
UDON: ZARU UDON AT MARUGAME MONZO
While Juzo Itami’s 1985 classic Tampopo often gets the top spot in the pantheon of sensuous Japanese noodle cinema with its lusty depictions of excellent ramen, (which, incidentally, you should definitely try at Tsujita LA, where we’re partial to the tsukemen style with a concentrated dipping broth on the side), there is another wonderful noodle-centric film that also deserves love.
The film is Udon (2006), a comedic drama directed by Katsuyaki Motohiro, that in following the relationship between a struggling comic and his father, a noodle-maker, offers digressions into the sourcing of the best ingredients for udon (sufficed to say, only the finest flour and water), and the deceptively simple steps to making it. You can watch these steps live through a glorious window into the kitchen at Los Angeles’s best udon restaurant, Marugame Monzo, where the dense, chewy noodles are floured, pounded, rolled and cut into being. While the menu contains many Japanese-Italian fusion-y dishes that are tasty (particularly the squid butter udon), we recommend the purist route: either cold zaru udon which is served with grated radish and a soy-based dipping sauce, or the shiso mentaiko udon (cold noodles topped with a pristine shiso leaf on which reclines a cherry-blossom pink dollop of briny cured cod roe). Savor your meal with an ice-cold Asahi on draft and you might find yourself pondering the nature of perfection.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY: PECAN PIE
In the explosive dinner scene at the heart of John Well’s skillful adaptation of Tracy Lett’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play, aging matriarch Violet Weston, (played to the hilt by Meryl Streep) goads her family into an epic confrontation that distracts them from the lovely southern spread they came to eat. Lucky for us, we get to focus on the food, and we feel it would not be a stretch to imagine that there is very likely a homemade pecan pie on that table, and a great one at that. To make a classic rendition of this beloved dessert, we turn to The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-be Southerners, a James Beard Award winner, and all around excellent primer on the fine culinary traditions of the South. And if it’s southern delicacies you seek, from genuine moon pies to country hams as nuanced as the finest prosciutto, the Lee Brothers (Matt and Ted), have a lovely catalogue of goodies at their charming online store Boiled Peanuts. Bon Appetite, y’all!
AMADEUS: CAPEZZOLI DI VENERE
In Milos Foreman’s stellar Amadeus (1984), jealous court composer Antonio Salieri, played by the superb F. Murray Abraham, attempts to charm Mozart’s wife, Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge), into leaving with him a folio of Mozart’s original compositions by plying her with Capezzoli di Venere (Nipples of Venus), decadent chocolate truffles containing chestnuts soaked in brandy. These hard to find confections can be purchased from the fine British chocolatier Rococo here, or you can make them yourself from My French Kitchen: A Book of 120 Treasured Recipes, Joanne Harris’s marvelous collection of Gallic classics. And if you’re up for channeling your inner Mozart, but wish to do so at your own pace, Click Here for Violin Lessons!
HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE: BERTIE BOTT’S EVERY FLAVOUR BEANS
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), the first, and arguably most light-hearted movie in the Harry Potter Franchise, Dumbledore (played by the late, great Richard Harris) has the misfortune of sampling an ear-wax flavored Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Bean. Now we can’t guarantee you won’t suffer a similar fate, but that’s part of the fun when sampling the myriad types of jelly beans (many of them quite tasty) found here in the real-life Harry Potter Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans ~ 6 Pack. For flavor reference, we also find the charmingly illustrated list on the bottom of this Harry Potter wiki page handy. Good luck!
HEDVIG AND THE ANGRY INCH: HARIBO GOLD-BEARS GUMMI CANDY
In Hedvig and the Angry Inch (2001), John Cameron Mitchell’s and Stephen Trask’s tragicomic musical odyssey about a transexual punk rocker’s heart-breaking journey from East Berlin to America, the titular character (while still a boy known as Hansel) meets a sugar-daddy, Sergeant Luther Robinson, who plies him with Gummi Bears. We maintain that the pure, sweet, fruity flavors of the original German Haribo Gummi Candy Gold-Bears, 5-Pound Bag are the best.
THE IRON GIANT: TWINKIES
In Brad Bird’s touching animated retro charmer The Iron Giant (1999), young Hogarth Hughes, who befriends a giant robot that crash lands from space, devours sci-fi b-movies while doing the same to Twinkies he overstuffs with whipped cream from an aerosol can. Although when the mood strikes, the revived Hostess original is hard to beat, we recommend making your own from Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats, Casey Barber’s delightful ode to nostalgic treats. Fortunately, these recipes are not healthy so much as made with better ingredients (and obviously minus the stabilizers), so you get improved flavor, without losing the decadence, plus the pride of making them yourself – and if it’s Twinkies’ unique canoe shape you’re after, this Norpro 3964 Cream Canoe Pan With Bonus 9 Piece Decorating Set comes in handy. Happy stuffing!