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The last of the credits have rolled at Sundance 2016, the awards have been handed out, and I am shattered. In ten days I saw 13 films, which is nothing compared to some of my friends and colleagues (who saw upwards of 20+). But somewhere along the way, between Morris from America and The Birth of a Nation, emotional exhaustion crept in. I believe it started with Mammal.

Mammal is the second film from Irish writer-director Rebecca Daly and her screenwriting partner Glenn Montgomery. Set in Dublin, it stars Australian actress Rachel Griffiths (‘Six Feet Under’, Muriel’s Wedding’), rising Irish star Barry Keoghan (‘Love/Hate, ’71’), and Irish actor Michael McElhatton (‘Game of Thrones’). Vaguely reminiscent of Gerard Barrett’s Glassland, which premiered at Sundance last year, Mammal is a dark tale: not at all for the faint of heart. It is also a thoughtful exploration of separation, grief, and love.

Rachel Griffiths plays the role of Margaret, a 40+ woman, living alone, except for the occasional lodger she takes in to supplement her income. When the husband she’s separated from (Michael McElhatton) calls to say that their son, whom she abandoned years before, has gone missing, something in Margaret cracks open.

As she unconsciously attempts to process her deep buried emotions, Margaret takes in a troubled young man (Barry Keoghan). At first, their relationship is akin to mother and son, but then it shifts to that of lovers and we (the audience) get sucked down the emotional rabbit hole Margaret is trying to climb out of.

Daly and Montgomery navigate the story of ‘mother abandoning child’ incredibly well. From beginning to end, Margaret never has more emotions then she needs and, for me, this character-casting works well. It would have been too cliché to pellet Griffith’s character with misplaced motherly love and grief.

Every character, Margaret’s ex, the son she never mothered, the lad she takes in, even Margaret herself, is broken, vulnerable, and looking for something/someone to help them move forward. And, just as you would expect from a Greek-tragedy-type-tale, grief morphs into some pretty risqué territory…which is why Mammal is a difficult film to see.

I’m glad I saw it, however. I can’t say I loved watching Mammal but, all in all, it is a very good film.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

* Sundance Channel Global secured broadcast rights for Mammal in multiple territories while at the festival.

** Mammal was produced by Macdara Kelleher and Conor Barry for Fastnet Films (‘Strangerland’, ‘Kisses’, ‘What If’) and was co- funded by the Irish Film Board, Luxembourg Film Fund, BAI, TV3 and the Netherlands Film Fund.

*** You can read an interview with Rachel Griffiths and Barry Keoghan over at Seventh Row.

**** To read another interesting article about Mammal’s subject matter, visit here.

 

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Sundance can be hard on the heart. With film topics covering things like war and cancer and physical assault, it’s not uncommon to leave a screening feeling exhausted and shell shocked.

So, when a movie comes to Sundance that has you tapping your toes and dancing in your seat, it’s wonderfully refreshing. And that is exactly what John Carney’s Sing Street is…wonderfully refreshing!

Oh sure, begrudgers have said that Carney “borrowed heavily from his own film Once to make Sing Street” but so what?…who cares!? If something ain’t broke…don’t mess with it!

At the Monday morning showing in The Eccles Theatre, audience members (myself included) were laughing out loud and thoroughly enjoying themselves for a change.

Sing Street is uplifting, funny, and infectious.

While the credits were rolling at the end of the film, people were clapping to the music and dancing in the aisles. When Carney and his cast walked up on stage, they received a standing ovation. Which says it all…doesn’t it?

Sundance audiences love Sing Street.

I don’t want to give anything away in this review, but I will say this…Irish newcomers Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (who plays Conor) and Mark McKenna (playing Eamon) are rising stars. Remember that you heard it first here!

Go see Sing Street. Take the kids. This is a film that’s good for the heart.

 

 

Sundance 2016 started yesterday and I’m back in snowy Park City, Utah for the sixth year in a row reporting on what the Irish are bringing to North America’s most prestigious film festival.

There are a record seven Irish Film Board funded entries this year ranging from musical comedy to short animation. They include:

Sing Street – With 1980s Dublin mired in recession, Conor’s parents move him from a comfortable private school to a rough inner-city public school where the scrappy 14-year-old forms a band. Mentored by his older brother, a dropout who’s hip to cool tunes, Conor starts to compose lyrics and the glam-ish band finds its “no covers” groove. Renaming himself Cosmo, he convinces the mysterious, über-cool Raphina to star in their music videos (and tries to win her heart in the process).

John Carney, whose musical passion and DIY vibe refreshed a genre with Once and Begin Again, spins a loosely autobiographical story in which music again offers a refuge–from school and family strife. He spent over a year collaborating on original music (a throwback to ‘80s vibrancy) that’s catchy but plausible for a youth band, and his talented cast plays it like they mean it. Carney’s nostalgia isn’t only for a bygone Dublin and its soundtrack, but for that moment when you pour your heart into something, and it can mean everything to you. When songs can save your life.

Starring Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aidan Gillen and Mark McKenna. The film will screen in the Premieres section at Sundance. It was directed by John Carney and produced by Anthony Bregman, John Carney, and Martina Niland. It was filmed in Ireland. It will be released in the UK and Ireland on March 18th.

 

 

 

Viva – Jesus has spent most of his young adult life styling wigs at a drag club in Havana, longing for a purpose other than the pennies he scrapes together in the shadows of his surroundings. When Jesus is offered the chance to perform amongst the other queens, the cruel winds of fate bring his estranged, abusive father back into his life after 15 years. What unfolds is a bittersweet story of pain, regret, and reconciliation. As the two men’s lives violently collide, they are forced to grapple with their conflicting views.

Laced with the raw passion and drama of drag, director Paddy Breathnach and writer Mark O’Halloran bring Viva to life with exquisite tenderness. Actors Jorge Perugoría and Héctor Medina fill this wrenching love story with a raw humanity that runs beyond the confines of the screen. With a resounding case for compassion, Viva illuminates the oft-devastating path of family, neglect, and resolution.

Starring Héctor Medina, Jorge Perugorría, and Luis Alberto García. The film will screen in the Spotlight section at Sundance. It was directed by Paddy Breathnach and produced by Rob Walpole, Rebecca O’Flanagan, Nelson Navarro Navarro, and Cathleen Dore. It was filmed in Cuba and Ireland. It is the Irish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars.

 

The Lobster – Recently dumped by his wife, David (Colin Farrell) goes to a countryside hotel where guests (John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw amongst them) must find a suitable mate within 45 days or be turned into the animal of their choice. They attend group meetings and mixers designed by staff (a wryly Nurse Ratched-esque Olivia Colman) to foster compatible pairings. But David’s search ultimately leads to the “loners,” militant outcasts (led by Léa Seydoux) who live in the woods and are routinely hunted by hotel guests. Although the loners forbid intimacy, he befriends a short-sighted woman (Rachel Weisz).

With deadpan conviction and perfect comedic alchemy, The Lobster thrusts us into a darkly satirical world that posits love as a social construct, skewering ritualized coupledom and our base impulses toward romance (loneliness, insecurity, desperation, cruelty) before adopting a more emotional complexion. The Lobster’s debatably ironic conclusion is one of many engaging ambiguities that give it a philosophical allure.

Starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, Léa Seydoux, John C. Reilly, and Olivia Colman.  The film will screen in the Spotlight section at Sundance. It was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and produced by Ed Guiney, Lee Magiday, Ceci Dempsey and Yorgos Lanthimos. It was filmed in Ireland/United Kingdom/Greece/France. It won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year.

 

Mammal – After Margaret learns that her 18-year-old son, who she abandoned as a baby, has been found dead, her simple, solitary routine is tragically disrupted. But when Joe, a homeless teen from her neighborhood, enters her life, Margaret offers him a room, and she soon embodies the mother she never was. As Margaret copes with the volatile grief of her ex-husband, her own lonely trauma seeps into her relationship with Joe and begins to blur the line between motherly affection and a far more carnal nature of intimacy.

With a firm grasp on the devastating layers of grief, Rebecca Daly’s Mammalexpertly guides us through the isolating depth into which Margaret is thrust. Rachel Griffiths, Barry Keoghan, and Michael McElhatton infuse the film with raw vulnerability that pulsates with the animalistic nature of trauma. This quiet portrait of anguish further establishes Daly’s position as a director with astonishing command.

Starring Rachel Griffiths, Barry Keoghan, and Michael McElhatton. The film will screen in the World Cinema Drama section at Sundance. It was directed by Rebecca Daly and produced by Macdara Kelleher and Conor Barry. It was filmed in Ireland/Luxembourg/Netherlands. 

 

The Land of the Enlightened – In this seamless blend of fictional and documentary form, we experience a stunning cinematic journey into the beauty of war-tormented Afghanistan. Shot over five years on evocative 16mm footage, first-time director Pieter-Jan De Pue paints a whimsical yet haunting look at the condition of Afghanistan left for the next generation. As American soldiers prepare to leave, we follow De Pue deep into this hidden land where young boys form wild gangs to control trade routes, sell explosives from mines left over from war, and climb rusting tanks as playgrounds—making the new rules of war based on the harsh landscape left to them.

De Pue’s transportative and wonderfully crafted film confronts the visceral beauty and roughness of survival, serving as a testament to the spirited innovation of childhood and the extreme resilience of a people and country.

The film will screen in the World Cinema Documentary section at Sundance. It was directed by Pieter-Jan De Pue and produced by Bart Van Langendonck. It was co-produced by Fastnet Films, Submarine, Eyeworks and gebrueder beet film produktion. It was filmed in Belgium.

 

Love & Friendship – Set in the opulent drawing rooms of eighteenth-century English society, Love & Friendship focuses on the machinations of a beautiful widow, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), who, while waiting for social chatter about a personal indiscretion to pass, takes up temporary residence at her in-laws’ estate. While there, the intelligent, flirtatious, and amusingly egotistical Lady Vernon is determined to be a matchmaker for her daughter Frederica—and herself too, naturally. She enlists the assistance of her old friend Alicia (Chloë Sevigny), but two particularly handsome suitors (Xavier Samuel and Tom Bennett) complicate her orchestrations.

Adapting Jane Austen’s unpublished early novella Lady Susan, Whit Stillman returns to the Sundance Film Festival (where his Metropolitan premiered in 1990) in top form with his latest comedy of manners. Kate Beckinsale excels in her role as the deliciously devious Lady Vernon and delivers each line with relish. With exquisite period detail and a script teeming with bon mots and witty dialogue, Love & Friendship is a rare—and rarified—treat.

Starring Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Tom Bennett, and Stephen Fry. The film will screen in the Premieres section at Sundance. It was directed by Whit Stillman and produced by Katie Holly, Whit Stillman, and Lauranne Bourrachot. It was filmed in Ireland/France/Netherlands. 

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

 

A Coat Made Dark – Two burglars strike it rich after stealing a mysterious coat. So begins this darkly comic tale, in which Midnight, an anthropomorphized dog, and his human servant Peter struggle for power, courtesy of the coat. The film will screen in the Shorts Program 3 at Sundance. It was directed by Jack O’Shea produced by Damien Byrne and the music was composed by Neil O’Connor. The short features the voices of Hugh O’Conor, Declan Conlon, and Antonia Campbell-Hughes.

 

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

* Viva nominated for an Oscar in 2016.

** The complete Sundance 2016 Film Guide may be seen here.

*** Love & Friendship secures distribution deals ahead of Sundance 2016. More here.

 

 

 

S'mores Cake

 

Kids in the Kitchen…what’s your take on the matter?

My sweet girls have been handy-helpers in our kitchen since they were old enough to stand on a chair without wobbling off…stirring and mixing and measuring.

When they were in primary school (elementary school), I pushed them into the kitchen with their friends whenever we’d host a playdate. My reasoning was purely selfish: it was far easier than heading to the park in the rain and healthier than hanging out in some poorly lit, germ infested, indoor play centre.

Now in secondary school (middle/high school), my girls spend time in the kitchen…on their own, with me, and with friends…because they want to. It has become one of their go-to activities when they need a break from studying or when they’re feeling overwhelmed by school “drama”. They’ve even started to collect recipes and buy cookbooks.

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I never gave much thought to the time our kids have spent in the kitchen, until we were in California over Christmas break. While there, my older daughter and her cousin had great fun in the kitchen one evening making a S’Mores cake. It was really lovely watching them giggle, talk, sing, and take selfies as they measured and mixed and stirred. The time they spent together in the kitchen was relationship building/memory making…and you can’t put a price on that!

So…kids in the kitchen? I’m all for it…but what’s your take? Do you let your kids and their friends mix it up in your kitchen? If not, why not? If you do, feel free to share your fondest memories.

S’Mores Cake

Serves 12-14 

Ingredients

1 box white cake mix

1 container dark chocolate frosting

3/4 cup crushed graham crackers (Digestive Biscuits), plus a little extra for decorating

3 egg whites, room temperature

2 cups light corn syrup (Golden Syrup)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups sifted powdered (icing) sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Directions

1. Make up white cake mix as per instructions for two layers.

2. Add 3/4 cup crushed graham crackers and stir.

3. Follow directions on box for baking. Allow to cool completely.***

4. To make the marshmallow fluff: beat the egg whites, corn syrup and salt on the High speed of an electric mixer for approximately 5 minutes, until the mixture is thick and the volume has nearly doubled. Slow speed of mixer and add powdered sugar. When fully incorporated, add vanilla extract and beat again to mix well. Set aside until it’s time to assemble the cake

5. To assemble cake, place the first layer of white cake on a plate and cover with chocolate icing. Next, add a layer of marshmallow fluff. Sprinkle a thin layer of crushed graham crackers over the marshmallow fluff. Add the second layer of white cake. Using the chocolate icing, ice the sides of the entire cake. Do not ice the top of the cake with chocolate icing. Pour the remaining marshmallow fluff on top of the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. Dust with crushed graham crackers.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

* The girls’ version of this cake was made with a store bought cake mix and store bought icing. They had absolutely no interest in making anything from scratch! As both are readily available in Ireland these days, I didn’t even try to convert this recipe into a homemade version.
** In Ireland, corn syrup is sometimes available at places like Cavistons, Avoca Handweavers, or Fallon & Bryne.
***The girls put their cake into the freezer for about an hour to make it easier when spreading the chocolate icing.
****Saw this on Pinterest.

 

 

 

Happy New Year

Oh my…where has the time gone?!

It’s already 2016 in Ireland, but in sunny California, where we are visiting my husband’s extended family, there is still another hour to go.

It’s “all hands on deck” in the kitchen. Nearly everyone is cooking or baking or mixing. While I sit here typing and photographing my last post for 2015, I’m being handed small plates filled with Tomato-Jam Burrata Bruschetta, Brie with Candied Fig and Chopped Pistachio Bruschetta, and various antipasto salads to test. Each one is as good as the next. Oh joy!

On the cooker (stove) a S’mores Cake is cooling, tempting everyone with its heady scent of burnt vanilla sugar.

There is great excitement in the air.

New Year's Eve

It’s wonderful to be part of a family who love spending time together.

As the clock ticks down on the last few minutes of the “old year”, I am astounded at our many blessings: family, food, love, laughter, shelter, health, the ability to travel. All of these blessings have trumped the occasions of sadness, loss, and uncertainty we have felt.

I hope the same will be true again in 2016….for us…and for you.

From our Irish home to yours, wherever you may be, we wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2016.

God bless and Happy New Year!

 

 

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I am always on the lookout for Master Recipes. And when I say,  “Master Recipes”, I do not mean “Fundamental Recipes”.

Fundamental Recipes are good building block recipes: think grilled cheese sambos (sandwiches), American-style pancakes, thick-n-hearty Irish soup. You learn to make them by following a series of step-by-step detailed instructions. And, then, once you’ve perfected the basic recipe, you create endless versions of the original recipe. Cookbooks and the internet are chock-full of these dishes.

Master Recipes, on the other hand, are rare and wonderful. Once you find one, you realise it stands out from all the rest. It is exemplar and you wouldn’t dream of changing a thing about it. A Master Recipe becomes a dish you cook for the rest of your life. And, if you are lucky, you hand a collection of Master Recipes down from one generation to the next. They are what Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, the founders of Food52, call “Genius Recipes”.

My whole life (and I have been cooking since the age of twelve!), I have been collecting Master Recipes. For me they are the recipes that tick the following boxes:

1) They are easy to make.

2) They taste great.

3) They look impressive and can be served to family, friends, and dinner party guests or taken to a special event.

4) Once tasted they almost always elicit a response like “Oh…my…that is delicious! Can I have the recipe?”

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A few weeks ago, I found and made my first chocolate cake Master Recipe. I think I may have danced a little jig across the kitchen after taking the first bite of this delicious cake.

The ingredients include pepper, whiskey and cloves…these really play up the chocolate flavour of this cake. It is incredibly decadent but, surprisingly, not heavy. I like that. And, oh is it moist! (That word cracks my kids up…”moist”.) So many homemade cakes are dry and need cream, ice cream, or icing to make them palatable…not so with this cake. Truly, a dusting of powdered sugar is all that is needed: though, if you really wanted to go all out, some Irish Whiskey caramel sauce might be nice or some sugared red berries.

In the weeks that have passed since I found this recipe, I have made the cake for family, friends, and even taken it to a board meeting. Everyone has loved it. So…get out your springform pan and your Magimix (food processor)…and get baking! I’m sure after trying it, you’ll add this recipe to your collection of Master Recipes too.

Chocolate Whiskey Cake

Serves Eight to Ten

Ingredients

174g/12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, more for pan

85 grams/about 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

12oz/1 ½ cups brewed strong coffee

4 oz/½ cup Irish whiskey

200 grams/about 1 cup granulated sugar

156 grams/about 1 cup light brown sugar

240 grams/about 2 cups all-purpose flour

8 grams/2 level teaspoons baking soda

3 grams/about 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

⅛ teaspoon ground cloves

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

172g/1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Powdered sugar, for serving (optional)

Directions

1. Pre-heat oven to 180°C/325°F. Butter a 10-inch spring form pan. Dust with 2 tablespoons cocoa powder.

2. In a medium saucepan over low heat, warm coffee, Irish Whiskey, 12 tablespoons butter and remaining cocoa powder, whiskey occasionally, until butter is melted. Whisk in sugars until dissolved. Remove from heat and cool completely.

3. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, pepper and cloves. In another bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla. Slowly whisk egg mixture into chocolate mixture. Add dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Fold in chocolate chips.

4. Pour batter into prepared pan. Transfer to oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack, then remove sides of pan. Dust with powdered sugar before serving, if you like. 

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

* The New York Times is my go-to place when I’m looking for really great recipes to try. Here is a list of 30 Fundamental recipes, courtesy of The New York Times, everyone should have in their recipe folder.

** I found today’s recipe (where else?) over at the New York Times. They got it from Marti Buckley Kilpatrick, who adapted it from Dol Miles, the pastry chef at Frank Stitt’s Bottega restaurant in Birmingham, Ala.

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In our Irish home there are three of us who love frittatas and quiches…and one who does not.

The one who “does not” is the one we’ve always called “littlest”…even though she is now as tall as myself!. She is also the one in our family who is known as the “pickiest”! So…as long as she doesn’t like frittatas and quiches…I don’t make them and we don’t eat them.

Tired of waiting for my baby girl to change her mind, I decided last week to take a new approach: instead of a frittata or quiche…I baked a savoury tart!

I found a recipe for Yotam Ottolenghi’s Tomato and Almond Tart this summer over at theguardian.com. It looked so yummy that I knew it would eventually appear on our Irish dinner table. I was just hoping we wouldn’t have to wait until “littlest” went to college and her tastebuds grew up.

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As it turned out…my sweet girl LOVED it! And, how could she not? The almond paste soaks up the juice of the tomato and creates the most luscious layer of rich, nutty sweetness…ohhh, so good! It’s the ideal savoury take on “the classic French fruit and frangipane tart”.

The best part, aside from the fact that I can now serve a frittata/quiche/tart-like main with a huge side salad for dinner, is this recipe is easy to make. Healthy, tasty, and easy-to-make (and looks good enough to serve at a dinner party)…this recipe ticks all the right boxes in our Irish home. Give it a try! I think even your “pickiest” child (or adult) will love it too.

Tomato & Almond Tart

Serves 8

Ingredients

140g unsalted butter*, at room temperature

2 large eggs (each 60g net weight), beaten

65g fresh breadcrumbs

80g ground almonds

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

15g picked thyme leaves

100g ricotta

20g parmesan, finely grated

Malden sea salt* and black pepper

320g puff pastry*

sunflower oil*, for greasing

1kg medium tomatoes, cut into 1cm-tick slices (about 10 tomatoes)

12 anchovies in oil, roughly torn (optional)

2 tbsp olive oil

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/gas mark 7.

2. With an electric mixer, beat the butter until light and aerated. With the machine running on medium speed, slowly incorporate the eggs. If the mix splits, add some breadcrumbs to bring it back together, then carry on adding the remaining eggs.

3. Stop the machine, and work in the breadcrumbs, almonds, and garlic just until everything is combined. Remove from the mixer and, using your hands, gently fold in half the thyme, the ricotta, parmesan and half a teaspoon of sea salt. Set aside.

4. Roll the pastry into two 20cm x 30cm rectangular sheets about 2mm thick. Grease two baking trays with a little sunflower oil and lay the pastry rectangles on top. Spread the almond mixture evenly over the pastries with a palette knife, leaving a 2cm boarder around the edge.

5. Lay the tomato slices on top of each sheet in three long rows, with a fair amount of overlap between the rows (tomatoes shrink a fair bit when exposed to heat).

6. Sprinkle over the anchovies, if using, and remaining thyme. Drizzle the tomatoes with half the olive oil and season with some sea salt and a generous grind of black pepper.

7. Bake the tarts for 15 minutes, reduce the temperature to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4 and carry on cooking for another 10 minutes, until the base is nice and brown. Remove from the oven, leave to cool slightly, then dribble over the remaining olive oil and serve.

Additional Notes & Credits:

* This recipe appeared in The Guardian online on 10 August 2012.

** I used salted butter for this recipe, only one roll of puff pastry, and olive oil because that’s what was in my larder. This recipe still worked beautifully.

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