World Cooking – Central African Republic

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Central African Republic
Progress: 85/193

Any guesses where on the map you’d be able to find the Central African Republic? Seriously though, I love a name that is descriptive enough that anyone can find it – like South Africa or… okay I think that’s actually about it.

This is one of those nations where I got excited about making something that, whilst it has similarities with dishes I know how to make, still uses a bit of an unusual ingredient. It is also a recipe that a lot of other people doing similar cooking around the world tours seem to do – mainly because it sounds good and the ingredients are still accessible outside of the Central African Republic.

In terms of a cuisine, this shares a lot with other Central African countries as well as those in Western Africa. This means that fufu/ugali is regularly served as a main part of a meal with the protein coming from fish, chicken, goat, wild game or insects. Since a lot of things tend to bleed borders, I am glad to have found something that seems specific to the country.

Main: Kanda

First things first, I mentioned back in Eswatini, that I was going to use pumpkin seeds that I toasted myself from the carving pumpkin I previously used. This did not end up working because I didn’t have enough and because of the pumpkin cultivar, they were a bit bitter. So, off to the local health food store to buy edible pumpkin seeds it was.

For this recipe, from Tara’s Multicultural Table, you have a gluten-free beef meatball where pumpkin seeds are used as filler and to add flavour. The raw meatball mix smelt absolutely amazing and reminded me of some mushroom pate that I used to get from Borough Market before the end times.

The recipe I used has you boil the meatballs rather than fry them, but I think in retrospect that I should have done so. It also says to serve this over rice – however I went another way  and turned these into meatball subs. Tasty ones they were, but I think they could have used some more spice in the sauce.

With so many African countries done in quick succession, it’ll be a while before I have to look up a recipe for this continent or have the conversation of whether this is the time that I need to make jollof rice. Not sure where I will be throwing my recipe dart for the next country, but it’ll be fun to see what happens.

XL Popcorn – Les Diaboliques

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 845/1007Title: Les Diaboliques
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Year: 1955
Country: France

So often on the 1001 list, I have found myself in a losing streak when it comes to French films. On a previous streak, director Henri-Georges Clouzot was there to life my spirits with the excellent The Wages of FearThanks to Last Year At Marienbad there has been no such streak, but instead we came to this film in search of a creepy late night experience.

Now whilst this is billed as a horror, it’s more an unsettling kind of film than out and out scares. The basic premise sees a man being killed by his wife and mistress working together, only to have his body go missing. What unfolds is unsettling stuff made of unlikely coincidences and strange sightings. Les Diaboliques ends with a card asking for, much like Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, to not share too much of what went on in the film – so I will respect those wishes some 65 years later.

Les Diaboliques has all the hallmarks of a great Hitchcock film – no wonder considering he lost out on a chance to make a film from the original book. There is real tension in here, spearheaded by great performances by Véra Clouzot and Simone Signoret, as well as so many things to keep you guessing as to what is happening to them and what happened to the body of the man they drugged and drowned.

It’s ridiculous that I am so far into the list and I still such great films to watch. Sure there are going to be some clunkers along the way, but it’s going to be a treat to discover what other classics still await me.

World Cooking – Eswatini

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Eswatini
Progress: 84/193

Eswatini is interesting for this list seeing as this is one of two countries that changed their official name since I started cooking my way around the world (the other being North Macedonia). This also means that, along with South Africa and Lesotho, I have now made dishes for the three southernmost countries in Africa. Once I have made something for Namibia, then I will be able to claim even more coverage with the recipes.

There is not a lot of information online about the cuisine of Eswatini, but other than biltong (which is eaten a lot in this area, and I am NOT going to be making myself) the main things are porridges of different types and ingredients which are then served with a meat stew. Like a goat stew or something like that.  I need to find a source of goat seeing how often this comes up in the different cuisines and, thanks to an Ethiopian food stall I used to frequent, is a meat I developed a taste for.

Main: Sidvudvu

Okay, so before I go any further – one thing I hadn’t quite banked on when making this recipe was how different the pumpkin cultivars are between what I get in my local supermarket compared to what would be used to properly make this dish.

Sidvudvu (recipe from this blog) is a porridge made using pumpkin and cornmeal. In the UK, it’s not common to find pumpkins in regular supermarkets at any point other than October. Of course, these aren’t necessarily pumpkins for making porridge or (as I found later, cheesecake). No, in the UK they’re basically bred and sold in supermarkets for the sake of carving. This means that they’re structurally fine, but the flesh is more watery and less flavourful.

This is my way of saying that this porridge wasn’t as flavourful as I was hoping and that this will be down to not having the right kind of pumpkin. In retrospect, I should have made this with the butternut squash as recommended as an alternative. It’s just that I got so excited at the prospect of actually using seasonal pumpkins in my cooking.

Such a misadventure doesn’t necessarily bode well for my next food nation which uses pumpkin seeds as a binding agent. I mean if the pumpkins have been bred to be more watery and less flavourful… then these seeds may not be quite right. Oh well, you learn more from mistakes – and today I learned a lot about pumpkin cultivars.

XL Popcorn – Last Year At Marienbad

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 844/1007Title: L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year At Marienbad)
Director: Alain Resnais
Year: 1961
Country: France/Italy

I am not sure if I’ve seen another film quite like this one. This is one of those things where many have watched it and been unable to make head nor tails from it. That’s what avant-garde gives you I guess. There are some times where I have watched an avant-garde film and been completely bored and perplexed by it -not so with Last Year At Marienbad, which kept me engaged the entire time.

What I enjoyed about this film was that, whilst being dreamy and non-linear and having background characters stop in place for no reason, you had so much to talk about and unravel once ‘Fin’ appears on the screen. Between the two of us, my husband and I ended up with three different narrative explanations of what happened – but of course everything we thought might be wrong, not the filmmakers intention or not matter in the slightest.

Taking place at a very upper class attended hotel, we see an unnamed man and woman interacting. He talks of a past liaison and for her to come with him, she rebuffs his advances and claims no knowledge of who he is. There is a second unnamed man, who may or may not be her husband, who we repeatedly see playing a mathematical game at various points in the timeline – each time using different objects (cards, dominoes, matchsticks or poker chips depending on the time).

All this adds up to many questions of the nature of the woman’s past relationships between these two men. Everything is so confused at times that it can be like watching a world as if through the eyes of someone going through a mental disorder where everything is all mixed up and reality is questionable. The whole thing, to me, felt like the world as seen by the woman – which is what influenced my own take on the narrative that she is being gaslit by a man who previously sexually assaulted her.

Of course, like I said, my interpretation could be far off – but that’s the interesting thing about films like Last Year At Marienbad, there’s always many people out there with different ideas than yours.

What’s On TV – Man V. Food

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 243/501
Title: Man V. Food
Episodes Aired: 85
Year(s): 2008-2012
Country: USA

It’s been a few years since we started watching Iron Chef, but we have finally finished all the episodes that we could find on YouTube. This left a hole in our (okay, my) lives where a food show needs to reside. Sure they are still making The Great British Bake Offbut sometimes you want to watch something that isn’t baked.

Man V. Food not only scratches that itch, but it also made me think something I thought inconceivable – I’m actually wondering if I could complete an eating challenge. As in, COVID-19 is probably the only thing stopping me from trying to get my husband to try a London-based challenge with me.

Okay backpedalling a bit. Man V. Food is a show taking you to restaurants around the USA that offer good food in extremely large portions, always ending in host Adam Richman trying one of the local ridiculous food challenge. In the episodes that I’ve seen so far, these challenges have included burgers, milkshakes, ridiculously hot wings, nuclear hot curry and a metre long bratwurst. I was a bit jealous of that last one.

In these times, Man V. Food is not only helping to scratch a food itch but also a travel itch. Sure, this show could be even better if I knew there were episodes coming where they travelled outside of the US – even if it was just over the border to Canada, Mexico or (dare I say) one of the dependencies like Guam or American Samoa. That aside, this is exactly the sort of show I needed at this time and I still have many episodes to go.

XL Popcorn – Dear Diary

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 843/1007Title: Caro Diario (Dear Diary)
Director: Nanni Moretti
Year: 1993
Country: Italy

About 40% of the films that I have left to see for the 1001 list (at the time of writing) do not have English language dialogue. Given the recent surge in film watching, this is something I need to keep in check as I do not want my last 15-20 films to all be in a foreign language, or to all be in English.

So, for just that reason, I picked out Dear Diary as a film to watch – only to be pleasantly surprised with a satirical semi-autobiographical film with director Nanni Moretti at the centre. This is the first of his films that I have seen (The Son’s Room and Habemus Papem also being on my extensive watch list) and after this, I know I’ll be safe with his more comedic output. Moments of this had me laughing out loud.

Dear Diary is a film spanning three episodes, each of which are a satire about different parts of Italian life. In the first, there’s a more general satire about different thoughts in his head – where he goes between various trains of thought via his Vespa. The second has two strands, the many stereotypes of the Aeolian Islands and then the corruption of an intellectual by American soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. Finally, his story about his cancer diagnosis via a year of dermatology visits.

That last section is, obviously, not a laugh a minute. However, it’s still a very interesting look in his experiences and an interesting end point for a film where you really grow to love this director. The bit in the first episode where he fantasizes about being a night terror to a verbose film critic was especially good.

What I also loved about it was the breezy way that Moretti narrated and directed the whole picture. It’s like the chilled out fun road movie (sans cancer) that you sometimes need. It also serves to say that, sometimes, you need to get a second opinion about a medical thing that people are treating as just a dry skin condition. Also – I am never going to get electrical acupuncture. It sounds horrific.

1001 Songs – 1980: Part One

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

The Winner Takes It All – ABBA

‘The Winner Takes It All’ is one of the greatest pop songs made – one of the greatest pop acts of all time. It’s difficult to take the band members at their word that this song about the destruction of a marriage is not about them. If not about them directly, it was clearly shaded – their own experiences and was a massively cathartic song to both be written and sung.

The lyrics brilliantly mix the metaphor of life as a game versus the stark reality of having judges and lawyers decide the outcomes of a divorce. Then there is is Agnetha’s solo vocals from the point of view of a woman who apologizes to her ex-husband for having won everything in the divorce settlement. It’s such a different perspective, the guilt of a winner, compared to a normal break-up song about someone who has ostensibly lost everything. She’s still lost so much, but in the eyes of others she has won. It’s here on the list because of this wonderful song production and who else has made a song that breaks your heart from the point of view of someone who just won their divorce settlement. It’s genius that makes me cry.

Rapture – Blondie

‘Rapture’ is in all the quiz trivia books to be the first song to top the US Billboard Charts with a rap element. Listening to it now, this fusion of disco and hip-hop – a new wave group, is like nothing else that I’ve heard on the list. It’s not really like anything else that I’ve really heard released since. Debbie Harry’s rap skills aren’t great, as she has said since, but let’s also appreciate that the first song with rap elements to top the charts was fronted – a woman.

At this point in musical history, rap had yet to become as big as it was – let alone have a whole song constructed around a rap rather than using an existing backing track. It helped raise awareness of a then more underground genre as well as contribute to paths later pursued – hip hop artists. So yes, an interesting part of music history right here.

While You See A Chance – Steve Winwood

Something has clearly changed in 1980. This is a song that I can’t imagine really existing in 1979 – a rock song with synths and an ABBA-inspired piano line. There’s also part of this song that screams Paul Simon and Randy Newman to me about elements of it too. This… this is early electro-pop. Not the kind of moodiness you get in Gary Numan, but a lighter mood to it. Like this is the sort of song where I can see the beginnings of a branch of pop music that would eventually lead to the work that Xenomania did in the 2000s and 2010s.

With the rise of the New Romantics and more electronic instruments coming in, this is going to be such a cool decade to be listening to. Especially since punk has exploded and we’re left with the remnants fighting it out for innovation.

Heartattack and Vine – Tom Waits

Compared to his last song of his on the list, ‘Heartattack and Vine’ is closer to the Tom Waits that I was enjoying in swordfishtrombones. That voice is the song equivalent of a whisky on the rocks. Literal rocks. Driveway gravel kind of rocks. This is still not as experimental as I have later seen him, but it’s very much him setting up his own cabaret stage and waiting for us to settle in to whatever he is going to deliver.

Kings of the Wild Frontier – Adam and the Ants

So, rather than ‘Prince Charming’ or ‘Stand and Deliver’, the book has decided to go for this earlier single. Now that I’ve heard it, yes the book made the right choice. After all, this isn’t meant to be the 1001 best songs, but down to other factors including their influence.

All the elements that I know from other Adam and the Ants songs are here. The powerful Burundi drum line. The flamboyance of the vocal delivery. The cheers and response vocals from the rest of the group. Sure, it is not as catchy as the later singles that have become staples on Best of 1980s collections – but it’s weirdly powerful. This has yet to veer off into the new wave and pop direction, instead this is one of the many routes that post-punk chose to go down. It makes for a very interesting song.

Redemption Song – Bob Marley & The Wailers

This is not like any Bob Marley song I have ever heard. This isn’t even reggae at this point. It’s an acoustic ballad where the only thing that is remotely reggae is Marley’s delivery. Other than that, this is a folk song. A type of folk song whose background I have heard in folk artists like Bob Dylan and in some country music (the one that immediately came to mind being the title track of ‘All American Made’ by Margo Price, who name checks Tom Petty).

It’s a song of quiet power which is given more power – how close to death he was when writing and recording it. Makes me a bit glad that I still have one Bob Marley album to listen to for the albums list – now I can have this in mind when giving it a go.

Dead Souls – Joy Division

‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is coming up in a future 1001 songs post, but before that it’s a song that got right under my skin.

‘Dead Souls’ as a piece of goth rock is unsettling. Hearing Ian Curtis sing this song about past lives and being ripped apart as they call you is even more unsettling when you know that he will have killed himself within a few months of recording this. There is an intense eeriness when you mix these odd lyrics with his tortured delivery and the dark drive of the guitars and bass. It’s a weird one to end the section of songs on, but I think I need a break after this.

Progress: 533/1021

World Cooking – Malta

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Malta
Progress: 83/193

This completes a little two-parter of mine to make the foods of the countries where COVID-19 made my travel plans fall though. My trip to Malta was due to happen just before Easter 2020, a week after they announced mandatory 2 week quarantine to anyone entering the country. Really didn’t make a 5 day visit feel worth it.

I’ll make it to Malta eventually, but for now it was actually quite nice to look into some of the foods that I might have been able to find when I was there. Also helped further cement into my head how interesting the Maltese language looks and how, if I had been there, I was clearly going to bank on people speaking English since it is one of those nations that used to be part of the British Empire.

There are some British influences on the cuisine, but the strongest influences are mercifully the local trading nations. That makes for an interesting mix of Italian with a influence of France and North Africa. Despite being the tenth smallest country in the world, and officially under the same microstate umbrella as Monaco, San Marino and Nauru,  the wealth of cuisine to pick from was somewhat dizzying. Especially the wide array of desserts. Wow the desserts I could make for Malta. This is really an underrated cuisine.

Main: Imqarrun

The national dish of Malta is rabbit pie. I like rabbit, but as I couldn’t find a decent way to source rabbit meat, I had to go to plan b – which would also appear to be the runner up national dish. This baked pasta dish consists of a variation of a bolognese sauce mixed with cheese, egg and a large tube shaped pasta.

As you may notice from the picture, this recipe (courtesy of A Maltese Mouthful) made a bit too much to fit into my regular pasta dish. I had to give it a proper press down and a bit of rearranging in order to get everything in – and even then I had rigatoni and peas trying to claim asylum underneath my freezer. When this recipe says serves six, they were not kidding. Usually my husband and myself can share a three person portion between us as a meal – for this we ended up having to really spread this out over multiple days.

This really is the sort of hearty meal that makes for a great meal for a cold and rainy autumn or winter day. Not sure where this would fit into the Maltese climate and their average temperature.

Dessert: Kwareżimal

Kwareżimal. I still have no idea how to pronounce this because of the ‘ż’, but as the name comes from the Italian word “quaresima” – meaning the forty days of Lent – I can make an educated guess. There are so many of these Lenten cakes and biscuits that can be found around different European cuisines – including one I made for Finland – and they share similar flavour palettes of spice and citrus.

In this instance, following the recipe from Apron & Whisk, it also meant that I was able to get use of the orange blossom water that I used in all my Algerian food. The smell of cookies baking, which seem to contain every vegan baking ingredient under the sun (plus honey), was ultimately that of the orange blossom. They smelt amazing in the oven and they came out absolutely massive. Delicious, but massive.

Since it is autumn (as I write this), there are a lot of pumpkins available – which means it is time to go through my saved recipes to find those where pumpkins are needed. I had a lovely conversation with a supermarket employee about ways to cook them. Should make for some fun posts.

XL Popcorn – Murder, My Sweet

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 842/1007Title: Murder, My Sweet
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Year: 1944
Country: USA

Ah yes film noir. The genre of film where you get cracking lines like “she had a face like a bucket of mud” and “I tried to imagine him in love… it didn’t work” delivered with snark and sincerity. It’s one of those genres where I wouldn’t exactly rank it as one of my favourite and yet I am drawn back to its complex traps and style time and again. Sometimes it is the itch that needs scratching, which goes a long way to explain why the 1940s have so few films left for me to watch.

Whilst Murder, My Sweet was not the originator of the genre, it was a major player in shaping how we know the genre, alongside classics like The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity. This means that a lot of the tropes we later see in works such as The Postman Only Rings Twice and The Killers can be traced back here. Like with Citizen Kane you have to remind yourself that things you are seeing are not cliched, rather copied by many later films.

This is the third film that I have seen depicting the Philip Marlowe character, the others being The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleepand I think that Dick Powell might have actually been the best one. Rather than just being the hard-boiled detective that later incarnations have him be, there is a playfulness to him (see: him playfully hopscotching in a marble hallway) which actually works to humanize him.

The plot is pretty typical film noir faire. Complex web of lies, many traps our hero manages to dodge and fall victim too and a woman of loose morals holding a bunch of the strings. One of these traps makes for a very interesting drugging scene which, whilst very noir, brings to mind similar sequences that would go psychedelic in the 1960s.

Whilst the number of 1940s films left on the list are dwindling, there are still a fair few noir classics left to discover in the 1950s. I may still be a few years away from finishing the 1001, but it’s beginning to feel rather close.

XL Popcorn – The War Game

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 841/1007Title: The War Game
Director: Peter Watkins
Year: 1965
Country: UK

Little did I know that one of the most affecting films that I have seen for a long time would be a made-for-tv sci-fi docudrama produced by the BBC about what would happen should a nuclear attack happen. A self-imposed ban by the BBC meant that this wasn’t shown on UK TV until the mid-1980s for the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Everything that happens this film is based on fact. Based on the horrific things that the Allies did by fire bombing German cities and in the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II as well as the after effect. This is then married up with the then-current government strategies and used to show just what would happen if a bomb was dropped in the Kent town of Rochester.

It’s beyond sobering. The make-up job is horrific and if it wasn’t for the regular reminders that this is what would happen, you could well believe this is a documentary about a historical event in the UK. Again, the actions are based on how the Germans and Japanese populations reacted after they were devastated by Allied tactics. Interviews with members of the British public and some actual quotations from bishops and theologians practically supporting nuclear arms… well it makes for interesting viewing.

You could War of the Worlds someone with this easily and convince them this is legitimate. It helps too that so many attitudes, whilst improved now, haven’t changed too much. A woman complains about not wanting any non-white refugees sheltering in her house. A man confronts police about not wanting to help others and does under the threat of eviction. A man threatens to kill those who would try and get into his nuclear shelter should the time come.

At 45 minutes, The War Game does a perfect job in painting a picture of just how little can really be done to help with a nuclear war. How government efforts are nothing compared the devastation that would rage and the wide-ranging mental illness (yes, amazingly it touches on the yet un-named PTSD) that would take hold. Easy to see why it wasn’t aired in the UK for 20 years.