XL Popcorn – Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 684/1007Title: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge
Director: Aditya Chopra
Year: 1995
Country: India

Whilst this is far from being my first Indian film, it is my first proper Bollywood musical. At three hours long with many breaks for large lip-syncing numbers (because, of course, no one in the film actually sings the songs – as is the style) this is a film I have been putting off watching for years in the vain hope that it would be bumped off the 1001 list in a future update. But that hasn’t happened in the last 10 years, so let’s just watch it.

As far as I can see, there are two main reasons for Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’s placement on the list. Firstly it is one of the most successful films in Hindi and Indian cinema, which includes the record for the longest continuous cinema run (which, I guess, makes it the Hindi Titanic). Also, I have seen it said in a number of places online that Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge may be the perfect film to introduce a Westerner to Bollywood. On that second one, I might have to agree with them.

I think a film like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge works as a good Western crossover for one big reason – the romantic lead characters are third culture kids (in this instance: born and raised in Britain by parents who moved over from India). This means that the leads are able to appeal to both Indian and Western viewers that are able to see bits of themselves in the leads. Similarly, the first half is set in Europe which helps to phase in the more culturally alien ideas (to Western viewers) before we spend the second half in Punjab.

Another thing that probably helps is that this is a storyline that many will have seen and read a number of times before. It starts off with the standard Pride & Prejudice style courtship of both characters disliking each other before falling in love a few songs later – then, when we get to India, we get the twist of trying to stop an arranged marriage.

Despite knowing nearly every beat of the storyline (aside from some random set pieces, including a rope trap and some impressive tiger mimicry) this was one of those films where it was fun to be along for the ride. Once you get used to the more Bollywood elements and view this more as a mini-series than a film to be watched in one go, I had a really good time.

Hands up, I misjudged this film. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I loved it or that this is a fantastically original film, but I will say that I really enjoyed it. Going forward, I think I really should be giving Bollywood films more of a chance and not be as dismissive of them as I have been previously. After all, what’s wrong with a film that can take a dance break every now and then, as long as the story around it is engaging enough and you can forget that the guy playing a teenager is clearly in his early thirties.

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World Cooking – Maldives

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Maldives
Progress: 8/193

 So here I am making food from the smallest country in Asia: the Maldives. If it’s starting to look like I am trying to cross off a bunch of the smaller countries early, that would be fairly accurate – especially as I am saving some of the more major countries for landmark posts. It’s also worth crossing off the Maldives somewhat early seeing how the country itself is in peril from rising sea levels, and so may not exist in it’s current state by the time I finish off this country list.

Being an island nation with close ties to India and Sri Lanka, a lot of the foods combine the natural resources (namely fresh fish and coconuts), curry spices, rice and flatbread.

Now, I know that I’m probably doing to be making a few curries on my journey around the world, especially when looking at countries in South East Asia and in the Indian subcontinent. I am not sure, however, how many of them will be listing a creamy coconut fish curry as among their national dishes? Probably a few, but I’m still happy that I made mas riha.

Main: Mas Riha

So there are quite a few different recipes out there for mas riha, but the one that I followed the closed was this one on Food and Wine. It’s marked the first time in a while that I’ve made my own curry paste, and this was a delicious one (and that’s not just because of the decent amount of ground fennel seed). It’s also marked the death of my beloved Kenwood Mini Chopper – it was on it’s last legs for a while, but it was sad.

Now, usually I’m not one to have a fish curry because the sauce usually takes on a lot of the fish taste. However, the mas riha remained fresh and fragrant whilst the fish actually tasted a lot meatier (and less fishy) than I expected. I guess that’s the benefit of choosing the correct fish for a curry like this – it might have helped that I didn’t let the fish stew in the curry for too long. In any event, this might be something worth having again.

It’s going to be off to the Americas for the next dish – since I want to save the U.S. and Canada for a while, I guess I’ll be aiming for something from the Caribbean or South America next time.

XL Popcorn – Top Gun

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 683/1007Title: Top Gun
Director: Tony Scott
Year: 1986
Country: USA

There are films where, as you watch it, you feel like you’ve seen it all before because of how it has been assimilated into pop culture. I mean who hasn’t seen pastiches of the beach volleyball scene, gotten the feels after listening to ‘Take My Breath Away’ or used many of the one-liners without knowing the origins.

All this is a prelude to say that Top Gun is a film that completely underwhelmed me. Then again, what was I really expecting from a marginally homoerotic blockbuster about hot shot pilots? Maybe something more along the lines of The Right Stuff rather than something  a bit more puffy.

I guess that my real issue was just how 1980s this was with it’s ultra-glossy production and similarly glossy torsos. Everything was just so steeped in cliché that it became hard to take the characters seriously to the point where I was left unaffected by, what was meant to be, the gut wrenching moment about half way through.

As a whole it was some intelligence and a knowing wink away from being a Rockstar video game about hot shot pilots. In fact, if there had been a Top Gun-style expansion to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City I bet it could have been a huge success.

I guess my biggest problem was Tom Cruise’s Maverick. This may be a personal thing about being one to follow rules (especially when lives are on the line), but it got a bit much with everyone fawning over him all the time. Honestly, I think this film might have been better for me if more time was given to Val Kilmer’s Iceman (and not just because he was smoking hot at the time). It would have been interesting to witness more of the contrast between Iceman and Maverick, rather than it just be the Tom Cruise lovefest.

Like Field of Dreams, Top Gun is another one of those big crowd pleasing films from the 1980s that just did not do anything for me. Honestly, when I think of how many people complain about modern day blockbusters versus the likes of Top Gun it’s really going to be difficult to take their point seriously. Sure the plane stunts looked cool, but tha

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Parasyte -the maxim-

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 41/100Title: Parasyte -the maxim-
Episodes Aired: 24
Year(s): 2014-15

When I read Parasyte nine months I wondered how well this story of alien invasion and body horror would translate to the small screen. Especially since there was a 19 year gap between the end of the manga and the beginning of the anime series. Honestly, it’s hard to think how this could have been done better as – other than the update in technology – the spirit of the story translated incredibly well.

The key difference between the manga and the anime is a common one with all adaptations – censorship. I’m not asking for something completely disgusting, but there were times where key wounds were artificially cast in shadow that it became silly. Then again, there were other times where they showed dismemberments left, right and centre so I can’t complain too much.

Despite knowing exactly what was going to happen every step of the way, it didn’t make the battles less interesting or the the story any less powerful. In fact, there were some benefits to watching this after reading the manga. Firstly I was able to watch it knowing just how the central character was going to change, which meant I could pay proper attention at those key scenes. Also, I could enjoy the voice of hand-parasite Migi – which was exactly how I hoped it would sound.

So that’s it for another anime whose manga I’ve previously read. There are plenty more to come but, for now, I’m going to be making my way back to a show that I haven’t watched for an awfully long time: Natsume’s Book of Friends. I figured that it would be a nice change to go for something more spiritual after something so bloody.

Acclaimed Albums – Fun House by The Stooges

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 159/250Title: Fun House
Artist: The Stooges
Year: 1970
Position: #98

This evening I had the bright idea of ticking off another album whilst exploring the world of Horizon: Zero Dawn. Initially it was a bit of a mismatch, but since I was hacking down machines left, right and centre I began to get into the groove of it. Then, on the second play through, I got to a pretty difficult enemy… and suddenly my desperation in the game and the thrashing hard rock made everything just that bit stressful.

Anyway, that’s a lesson learned. Next time I’ll try out The Specials’ album or do the final Bob Marley album whilst I’m playing or I’ll only play albums like Fun House if I know I’m just going to explore and not engage in a boss level, maybe.

In any event, it has been an awfully long time since I did the first of the Stooges’ albums . I think I was somewhat underwhelmed by their debut and was expecting something a bit heavier. Well, they certainly delivered that on Fun House. They also delivered a hard rock album that, as we’re chronologically still early in the genre’s history, somewhat experimental and taking some ideas the world of Frank Zappa and jazz.

It’s always interesting to listen to an album like this that takes proper advantage of flipping the vinyl part way through. The first half, is more powerful and aggressive whilst the second half acts as a contrast with a comparatively slower and looser pace. We’re still not quite at pure punk yet with either side, but it’s getting there.

The progression made between  Fun House and The Stooges is quite remarkable; it makes me wonder if there will be a similar shift between this and the third Stooges album on the list: Raw Power. I guess I’ll find out in, if going by the current pace, another year.

What’s On TV – Twin Peaks

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 211/501
Title: Twin Peaks
Episodes Aired: 30 (+18 in the revival)
Year(s): 1990-91 (2017 revival)
Country: USA

A book containing 1001 TV shows is likely to contain shows that have been on the ‘to watch’ list for many years. For me, there are fewer shows that have been on this list longer than Twin Peaks (Buffy the Vampire Slayer predates it by a few years). I cannot count how many people have recommended this show to me over the years, especially since my screen name comes from Dynch’s later film Mulholland Drive – so here goes.

Twin Peaks is one of those shows where it felt like I would really do it a disservice if I did my write up at episode 20, like I do with other shows. Thanks to other people helping to manage my expectations, I was aware of the dip in quality part way through season two. So I watched the entire original run of Twin Peaks and was left with so many questions and a newfound respect who  can learn how to speak backwards.

So many books and articles have been written about Twin Peaks, more than the average TV show. For a show that only had an original run of 30 episodes it really has been a constant source of inspiration and interpretations.

At its peak Twin Peaks is some of the best TV I have ever seen. There are many stand outs, but there really was something truly magical Episode 14 (also known as ‘Lonely Souls’) where we find out the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer and the reveal is far more satisfying than I could ever have hoped for

Anyway, let’s back up a bit. For the uninitiated, Twin Peaks is a mystery series from the early 1990s that has a incredibly strong supernatural presence. It all begins when the body of Twin Peaks resident Laura Palmer is found murder… but this is not a procedural. In fact, this is as far away from a murder procedural that you can get, whilst also being a show that solves the mystery of someone’s murder.

Like it’s contemporary Northern ExposureTwin Peaks is set in a remote town in the northern U.S. that contains a large number of eccentrics (including the weird and wonderful Log Lady). Usually in shows like this there is an audience surrogate who arrives into town in order to remark on the weirdness (like Joel in Northern Exposure) we get Agent Cooper. This is someone who not only delights in the weirdness of the town, but brings his own relentless optimism and his leanings towards Eastern mysticism.

It’s hard to overstate just how exceptionally good Kyle MacLachlan is as Agent Cooper. To think that he came into this off of Blue Velvet and Dune and was able to give such a different role must have been a huge surprise to Lynchian fans of the time. You can see shades of Agent Cooper in MacLachlan’s later recurring role as the Mayor of Portland in Portlandia, but it’s nothing compared to this excellent performance.

In fact, with a few notable exceptions, there are so many outstanding people in Twin Peaks in both major and minor roles. Like the seeming majority of the internet, I absolutely adored Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey Horne – the complex daughter of local business magnate Ben Horne. Truly, every scene was made better with her inclusion. I also want to highlight deputy Andy Brennan, whose character could have been exhausting but ending up being an utter delight.

The storylines and settings too, one the whole, are well executed and a source of surprise and many a satisfying twist. Sure one or two of these around the middle of season two didn’t quite live up to what came before (which was nearly any plotline involving the increasingly wet James) but I never felt the urge to stop watching. Now that I have finished season two, I wish I had paced myself a bit more.

So, that’s another one of the big series crossed off – plus there’s still the revived third season, a movie and a whole bunch of other assorted extras to keep me occupied for a while. I was going to say that they’d help me get some answers after that complete mindscrew of a second season finale… but this is David Lynch and he’s never been one for offering closure.

Acclaimed Albums – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory by Oasis

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 158/250Title: (What’s The Story) Morning Glory
Artist: Oasis
Year: 1995
Position: #77

After listening to Definitely Maybe a year ago, it would be fair to say that my opinion of Oasis drastically improved. I still don’t listen to them that often (because it’s not my typical everyday kind of music) but I am far more open to trying more of their back catalogue.

That being said, I’ve left some time before listening to (What’s The Story) Morning Glory. You see in our first year of secondary school it was the idea of our music teacher to teach us how to sing ‘Wonderwall’. I think it was his idea of being down with the kids or something (with a song that, by then, was 6 years old). However, he insisted that we sing the chorus in received pronunciation rather than mimic the accent, which ruined the song for me.

Listening to this album 17 years after those lessons, I am happy to say that I am now able to find the joy in listening to ‘Wonderwall’. In fact, thanks to a lot of exposure back in the day, this album feels like hit after hit after hit. I mean where I liked Definitely Maybe, I really liked (What’s The Story) Morning Glory – which I guess proves me wrong for that claim I made a year ago.

The peak of this album, at least for me, is ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’. It’s not just because it’s one of the rare songs where Noel Gallagher sings lead vocals, rather than his brother Liam. Nor is it because this song has become emblematic since the Manchester bombings. No, ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ is just a extremely well crafted and emotionally mature pop-rock song.

Then there is ‘Champagne Supernova’ which becomes weirder and cooler every time I listen to it. Still not sure what it all means, but I don’t think it’s meant to have any sort of underlying meaning other than being a good song. It’s one of those songs where their Beatles influence really rears it’s head, but in a positive way unlike some of their later songs which started to border on pastiche.

I need to speed up on these albums because I really want to expand this list to encompass a larger selection. Should I do Top 500 or maybe even Top 1000? I’d love to hear from you!

Good Eatin’ – Nettle and Nyon Olive Pizza

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 738/751Food item: Nyon Olives and Nettles

At some point I need to learn how to go forth and forage, but until then I’ll rely on people selling me bags of foraegable goods – like these nettle tips. Of course I bought a bag of these without a moment’s thought of what I was going to make, all I knew is that I had to secure these now in case I didn’t see them again… which is a silly thought as stinging nettles are available in abundance.

The archetypal thing to do with nettles is to make soup but, since I only picked up one 70g bag, this wasn’t a viable option. Same goes for recipes that I saw for nettle pesto and fritters. So it fell to a bit of improvisation to create something to showcase these nettle leaves (based on a number of different recipes from around the web).

I figured that since spinach is supposed to taste like spinach, I should adapt a recipe I use for Fiorentina pizza (minus the egg because I didn’t have any). Also, by doing this sort of pizza, this allowed me to use the jar of Nyons olives that I’ve had in the cupboard since I got my French food delivery.

Since I had a lot of nettle leaves I decided that I would not only have whole nettle leaves on this pizza, which had the opportunity to become crispy in the oven, but also saute some leaves in garlic to add an extra punch of flavour to the pizza. Like the book said, nettles taste similar to spinach as well as a hint of broccoli – whilst having an interesting, almost fuzzy, mouthfeel. They worked so well on pizza that, once nettles are back in season again, I may be making some nettle pizza again soon.

Then there’s the Nyon olives – the final olives from the 1001 food list. Being black olives, they were more on the bitter side, but they also had a real fruitiness to them. When I think of the other black olives on this list (Kalamata olives) these are sweeter and not as bitter, but I do miss the meatiness that can be found in both Kalamata and Bella Di Cerignola olives. However, this all means that Nyons olives are the perfect choice to put on a pizza.

World Cooking – The Gambia

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: The Gambia
Progress: 7/193

When you look at a map of Africa, it’s hard to not think of The Gambia as being a bit of a geographical oddity. Not only is it the smallest country on the main African landmass, but it also bordered on three sides by Senegal and is solely made up of the land bordering the Gambia river. It is also a small area of English in an area of Africa that is predominantly French – a hangover of colonial times.

The food of The Gambia shares a lot in common with its West African neighbours, which made choosing a representative dish slightly difficult. At some point I will need to make Jolof rice, as multiple countries in this region list these as amongst their national dishes, but today I will be making another of these big West African dishes: peanut soup. Well, peanut soup – Gambian style.

Main: Domoda 

Domoda is the Gambian regional version of West African peanut stew – with the use of tomato and chunks of starchy vegetables (in my version, sweet potato) differentiating this from the other recipes. For today’s dish I followed the domoda recipe from The Daring Gourmet with the only difference being that I used Kallo tomato stock cubes instead of Maggi ones (as I could not find those anywhere).

Honestly, I have made peanut soup before and I really did not like it. This was years ago, but the thought stayed with me as I was making this dish. Then again, this was a long time ago and I have learned a lot about cooking since then – also I used proper all natural non-sweetened peanut butter to make this, which makes the world of difference.

I guess this is all a preface to my saying that I absolutely loved this dish. Everything just works in this soup and it’s all down to variation in texture. If all the incredients had been blended together, like with a lot of other soups, it would have still tasted good but it would have been a bit boring to eat. However, the chunks of beef and sweet potato, as well as the grains of rice and the small fragments of peanut, kept things interesting.

It is also remarkable to see how much the flavour of this soup deepened before and after it was simmered for around an hour. The savouriness of the tomato really came through as a good base for the peanut butter and helped to make this a very moreish soup. I can only imagine how much better this is going to be when I heat it up again tomorrow, not only will this become more concentrated but the ingredients will have also had a further 24 hours to get to know each other.

I know that I am only seven countries in, but already this is fast becoming one of my favourite challenges on this blog. Next time I am going to be heading back to Asia – still not sure where, but it’s likely to be Central or South Asian. I guess I’ll just see what recipes take my fancy as I research.

Good Eatin’ – Black Perigord Truffle

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 736/751Food item: Black Perigord Truffle

Thinking back on it, I should have waited on this and eaten this as number 750. I mean, there are a number of these really pricey things that I need to eat for this and, at £25 for a small jar, this Perigord Truffle pate is in a league of its own.

Since this was labelled as a ‘pate’ I figured that the best thing to do would be to spread this on some bread and enjoy what black truffle has to offer. The thing is… this wasn’t ‘pate’ as you’d know it – it turned out to be finely diced Perigord truffle in water. So whilst this still had the unique aromatics of being a ‘truffle’, it felt comparatively weak for how much I paid for it.

Understandably I felt deflated…

…then it suddenly dawned on me – who in their right mind eats raw black truffles. Whenever I see them fish out the black truffles on Iron Chef it’s always cooked or shaved on top of hot food. So, I used the rest of my jar on this recipe for pasta with black truffles. Sure, I didn’t have truffle to shave, but I had more than enough to make the sauce.

Compared to eating this raw, the truffles really came alive when cooked. I mean, the moment I mixed the minced truffle into the hot olive oil, well, the kitchen just filled with the smell of garlic and truffle.

Whilst I was able to appreciate more of the nuances in the incredible range of aromatics when cooked… this isn’t necessarily something I would spend megabucks on. This is a real pity for my wallet as the other truffle on this (the white Alba truffle) is more expensive. So it might be a good while until I try that one.

Since I am still writing more than 6 months ahead I am going to be posting every day this December (and beyond… at least until I can get rid of some of this posting lag) which will culminate in my yearly countdown for best album of the year. Hope you enjoy the content!