Good Eatin’ – Bael Fruit Tea

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 725/751Food item: Bael

After a unsuccessful Little India fruit search I was wondering how I’d be able get my hands on a fruit like bael without having to fly to the other side of the world. Leave it to Amazon Marketplace to surprise you with random products from (I’m assuming) a Thai food company.

There are many ways to eat bael, which is fruit from a tree sacred to Hinduism. Since I couldn’t get my hands on fresh bael (which is fine with me as I don’t have a machete to peel it with) this pack chock full of dried slices really was the perfect compromise.

I followed a guide I found online that said to use 2 cups of water for every slice of dried bael fruit, then boil for 5 minutes before serving. Personally I think I could have done with some more fruit in the pan to get a proper idea of the taste… but that’s something for the future. Also, I read on the same page about how bael leaves can be used to induce an abortion, so I figured I might as well play it safe on my first tasting.

The tea itself was a bit weak, but I could get a real idea of the taste of the bael fruit. There is a refreshing sourness to the bael tea that was really quite pleasant. Apparently it’s used as a herbal treatment for colds due to the high levels of vitamin C, so it’ll be worth keeping this around for the winter.

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Graphic Content – The Gumps

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
43/501Title: The Gumps
Creator: Sidney Smith
Years: 1917-1959
Country: USA

With a starting date of 1917, it’s going to be difficult to find an older comic that is as easily findable online. Back in its day, The Gumps was a very popular syndicated comic about a middle-class family and their friction. It’s said to straddle the world of the comedic and melodramatic, so it should be perfect for me. Right?

Well, no. I don’t know if it’s the comic not ageing well or my not enjoying the somewhat longwinded way The Gumps goes about storytelling, but this comic really didn’t do much for me. It’s an interesting idea to have a comic with protracted storylines that spin out common/mundane topics. The problem that I had is just how long these comics take to reach a punchline and, even then, those punchlines don’t always work.

Still, this is an interesting part of comic history as The Gumps was one of the comics that helped to spearhead the idea of the syndicated comic rather than exclusives. It’s something that would have likely happened eventually, but credit where credit is due.

If you want to have a go at The Gumps yourself, here is a link to an online archive featuring a bunch of strips: http://www.barnaclepress.com/comic/Gumps/

 

World Cooking – Mexico

List Item:  Cook something from every countryCountry: Mexico
Progress:
2/193

Ah yes, Mexican cuisine. Much like Chinese and Indian food, the food of Mexico has been adapted very heavily by the rest of the world. Much like the rest of this list, my aim is to try and make something actually reminiscent of a dish made in Mexico. Not Tex-Mex (like in the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song ‘Group Hang’).

With a population of 127.5 million and about 7 recognised regional cuisines, there really is plenty of dishes to choose from when trying to cook something Mexican. The least I could do was try to find a dishes from two different regions – so I chose an Oaxacan main and a dessert with from Guadalajara.

For the main, I decided to make the first food that came to mind: mole. But which type of mole? There are so many different types of mole out there (mole poblano, mole negro, mole amarillo etc.) that it was hard to make a choice – so I just went for one where I would be able to source the proper chiles for the job (thank you Wholefoods).

Main: Mole Coloradito

There are so many mole recipes out there for mole coloradito, all of them with conflicting ingredients. Some have plantains, some use pork instead of chicken, some have different proportions of ancho chiles to guajillo chilles. I just opted for a recipe that seemed like a happy medium (which was this one from Genius Kitchen) and adapted it from there.

The main changes I made was to condense some of the frying steps and to boil a whole chicken for 100 minutes. Even with that, I was cooking for over three hours (where my weird blender didn’t help things) and needed a good sit down at the end of it. It also meant that I did not wait the full 15 minutes of cooling and just started eating it right away.

Never did I think just how important that cooling would be to the flavour. Before cooling it was nice enough, but a bit bitter. After the cooling process the flavours became more complex, the richness of the chocolate came through and most of the bitterness disappeared. It went from nice to incredibly morish – so I cannot wait to see what it’s like when I have the leftovers for dinner tomorrow.

Would I make this again? Yes, I know it took a while but since I better know what I am doing this should be easier next time. Also, I would like to try and make some of the other mole sauces to have with some flour tortillas.

Dessert: Bionico

Considering how long it takes to make mole sauce, I figured it would be a good idea to have a simpler dessert that would compliment the heat from the chiles. So when I found a recipe for Bionico on Mexico in My Kitchen it felt like the perfect match – especially since this is a dish that started life as Mexican street food whose name literally means ‘bionic’.

Being from the UK, I am very much used to the idea of fruit and cream as a dessert (I mean, what else are you meant to do when you watch the tennis at Wimbledon), but I was not quite prepared for the creme mixture here and how it would work with 4 different types of fruit and all those toppings.

Honestly I think the creme (a mixture of condensed milk, sour cream, natural yogurt and vanilla) really made this dish. I could probably just drink that until I got sick. I also like how this recipe can be so easily adapted depending on what fruit is available; today I used the four from the recipe, but I can see how banana, mango or peach would also work.

So that’s it from Mexico, I have decided that to start this list off I want to do one country per continent before just roaming around cuisines. Next time I will be cooking from an Asian country, not sure which yet but probably an East Asian one.

Until then, ¡Buen apetito!

XL Popcorn – Rome, Open City

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 677/1007Title: Roma città aperta (Rome, Open City)
Director: Roberto Rossellini
Year: 1945
Country: Italy

Considering that Rome, Open City is a film depicting the Nazi occupation of Rome – it is astounding to me that they made this before World War Two had even ended. I can really understand how this film flopped on its initial release; here’s a country that’s devastated by war and so the last thing you’ll want to see is a neorealistic look at their occupation.

Of course, as with many things,  Rome, Open City is a film where opinion improved over time (although it did win a prize at the inaugural Cannes Film Festival, so opinion wasn’t exactly negative upon release) and is now viewed as a classic. I mean, this is a film that Pope Francis ranks as one of his favourites so make of that what you will.

In terms of story, Rome, Open City  takes a somewhat pessimistic (and therefore realistic) look at a number of Italian citizens who are either part of the resistance movement or close enough to these people to be affected. I think it goes back to what I’ve said previously about how it takes an occupied country to provide a realistic film that is neither overly sentimental or gung ho.

Without giving too much away, but the ending here isn’t a happy one. We end with the city on the verge of being liberated from the Nazis and pretty much everyone who is close to heroic is either emotionally or physically destroyed. There are moments that come so abruptly and out of the left field that even I was caught off guard and, at times, felt a bit winded.

It’s been nearly three years (and over 200 films) since I saw my last Roberto Rossellini films – the very excellent Journey to Italy – and watching Rome, Open City has really made me wonder why I waited so long. I can say without question that it won’t be that long before I start on one of the two remaining films from his oeuvre.

Acclaimed Albums – Entroducing….. by DJ Shadow

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 154/250Title: Entroducing…..
Artist: DJ Shadow
Year: 1996
Position: #76

Yes, yes, I know I should be listening to the older albums on this list in order to keep up with my progress (or lack there of) in the 1001 songs list. However, I have really been in the need of instrumental music at my job – so this album sounded like the perfect thing to listen to.

Entroducing….. has the distinction of being the first album to be created entirely out of samples. It’s an album that has been undeniably influential in how sampling is done and how beats can be constructed on a small scale. Yet this is one of the few albums (and artists) that, upon starting this list, I had never heard off.

Extensive sampling is so commonplace now that it’s really cool to know that a flash point, like Entroducing….., actually exists. So often you had albums, like Blue Lines, where sampling was interposed with original content, but this really is a singular vision.

The most impressive thing about Entroducing….., however, is the variety. This is describes as an instrumental hip-hop album; yet there are elements of ambient, trip-hop, electronica, glitch, shoegaze and noise pop. Rather than this being a series of tracks mixed into each other, you find yourself standing on constantly shifting ground.

You have tracks that are moody (Mutual Slump) and chilled (Changeling and Midnight In A Perfect World) but then there are those which betray the hip hop roots really well (The Number Song). Yet everything here does feel united by some degree of signature commonality that is incredibly engaging.

In some ways the samplings used earmark this as an album that comes from the 1990s. However, there are also times where I would have believed that this had been released this year and was influenced by the works of Panda Bear and Jamie xx. It’s albums like this that make me happy to be doing the lists; something completely unknown that I have truly enjoyed.

🎻♫♪ – The Firebird by Igor Stravinsky

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 34/501Title: The Firebird
Composer: Igor Stravinsky
Nationality: Russian
Year:
 1910

As I was cooking my Russian Easter food we decided to go a bit further. We had a side table with a disassembled Russian doll and, as I was prepping the Kulebiaka for the oven, we put on some Russian music – which meant listening to The Rite of Spring and The Firebird. Of course a lot of this was covered by kitchen noises, so I listened to a different rendition of it from YouTube where you see the conductor get more and more dishevelled at the piece progresses.

When first listening to The Firebird I didn’t know it was by Stravinsky (just as a note, I wasn’t the one who put it on, I was just told this was Russian classical music), so I am very proud of myself for recognising that this piece has a frenetic kinship with The Rite of Spring. I know it’s a small thing, but me being able to link these pieces together by the sound of them really shows that this 1001 list is starting to educate me.

This is another piece of music that I have listened to for the list that originated as a ballet. As a piece, it tells the Russian folk tale of The Firebird (for a good re-telling of this, I would recommend the Myths and Legends podcast episode); something that is lost when just listening to it.

Still, The Firebird is notable for being the piece that brought Stravinsky to wider attention and helped him to become viewed as one of the (then) new generation of Russian composers. It will be interesting to see how he will develop from here and after The Rite of Spring whereupon he became more independent and delved into Neoclassicism… but I probably won’t get there for a long time.

What’s On TV – The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 209/501
Title: The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show
Episodes Aired: 291
Year(s): 1950-58
Country: USA

You really can’t get that much older than the progenitor of the television sitcom. Without The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show we wouldn’t have had I Love Lucy (which was pitched as Lucille Ball doing her own version of The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show) and the snowball of influence just carries on from there.

I’m not overstating it when I call this the mother of sitcoms, The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show was one of the first comedy shows on television that had a running narrative rather than being a collection of skits or sketches. It’s also interesting to see a sitcom from this time period that interweaves the main narrative with meta pieces of stand-up – much like in the early seasons of Seinfeld and in the one season wonder Mulaney. 

When watching this, it is worth remembering that this was written in the 1950s with all the civil rights issues that might entail. I mean, I haven’t seen anything in this that is even remotely racist but it’s very much: man goes to work, wife maintains the home. However, even with this handicap (when it comes to modern viewings) I still found it laugh out loud funny thanks to Gracie Allen.

It should be enough to make you cringe a little bit, having Gracie Allen play a ditzy housewife, but she is excellent. She is able to play someone who is logically challenged and yet you never leave the show thinking that she’s stupid. Her portrayal of the fictional version of Gracie is incredibly knowing and the logical leaps that the character makes are usually quite intelligent, just not always intelligible.

Most of the episodes of The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show are currently on YouTube and it’s worth giving this a go if you’re at all interested in seeing where a lot of modern day sitcoms are rooted. It’s slightly dated, but it’s still funny and that’s all you can ask for in a sitcom.

 

World Cooking – Russia

Here we are christening this new list and, despite being a Brit, I thought it would be cool to start off with Russia. There are two Russian things in the 1001 foods list that I have wanted to make for a while and I thought that this would provide me with the perfect opportunity.

List Item:  Cook something from every countryCountry: Russia
Progress:
1/193

Russian cuisine, like the country, is vast. If it was not for the 1001 foods list providing me some focus I would have had a lot of trouble narrowing it down to one or two dishes. I might have made some of things in GentleWhispering’s ASMR video on traditional Russian cuisine, although there is no way I could have made as pretty a block of gingerbread as Maria did.

This huge variation in dishes does bleed into a lot of the surrounding countries, which means I have somewhere to start from when I plan my meals for the likes of Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. For example, I know I am going to make plov at some point – it’s just that I need to assign a country.

So… what did I make?

Main Dish: Kulebiaka

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 723/751Food item: Kulebiaka

Kulebiaka (or coulibiac) is one of those things that I have wanted to make ever since I first saw the recipe for it in my copy of the Samarkand cookbook. On the surface of it, kulebiaka looks like it would be a difficult thing to make. However, once you decide to get premade puff pastry instead of making your own, it is deceptively easy to make.

What we essentially have here is two layers of a rice mix (containing mushrooms, rice, onion and various herbs and spices), one layer of sliced hard-boiled eggs and a layer of flaked salmon. All this is wrapped in puff pastry and then baked in the oven after giving it a good eggwash.

I cannot begin to describe how proud I am of this and it tasted so good. I did wonder about the inclusion of three hard-boiled eggs, but they really took on the flavours (and colours) of the turmeric, cardamom and cumin – so I shouldn’t have worried. The smell as we cut this open was something else as well.

This will not be the only thing I end up making from the Samarkand cookbook and it probably won’t be the last time I make a Kulebiaka. Now that I have the confidence to make it, I think I might start experimenting with flavours to see how I can pull it in different cultural directions.

Dessert: Pashka

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 724/751Food item: Pashka

As we were eating this for lunch on Easter Sunday (yup, I’m more than 6 months ahead now) I thought that this would be the perfect time to try and make pashka. This is a creation traditionally made for Easter to be served with kulich (a pannetone-style Russian loaf) and is made from curd cheese, dried fruit and cream.

Technically, this dessert is meant to be turned out of the dish and decorated with dried fruit, but I didn’t trust this enough to not completely collapse over the table. So, I took this picture and just went to town on it with a spoon and spread it on chunks of kulich that I had bought from a Russian bakery in Borough Market.

I got the recipe for this from Great British Chefs and, aside from my blender breaking halfway through, this was really simple to make and taste delicious. It’s incredibly rich and, the version I made, really reminded me of the filling of a rum-raisin cheesecake. Again, this is something that I would want to make again and, maybe, have the nerve to turn it out and decorate it in the traditional style before eating it.

Extras

Being the first country (and as we did this for Easter), we thought it would be cool to also have a Russian style appetiser and what’s more Russian than caviar and blini. This is my first time eating something labelled as caviar (please note that this is lumpfish caviar because I am not made of money) and I really liked it. Especially with the blini and creme fraiche.

List Item: Try caviar
Progress: Completed

The next country will probably not be as extravagant as this, but I had to start this list off with a bang. At the moment I have no plans for what the next country will be, so I guess I need to see where the recipe searches take me.

So, until next time, prijatnogo appetita!

New List Appeared: Cooking Around The World!

It’s been nearly two years since I added the last new project to this blog, so why not add another one? Well that’s pretty much what my husband must have been thinking when he suggested that I do this as we watched an old episode of The Great British Bake Off.

Sure, I laughed him off at first… and then I spent the next week thinking about it and getting excited at the prospect of finding recipes from every nations from China to Comoros. I started making spreadsheets and, as you can see, I have adopted this as one of my many long running goals.

So here we are at the start:

List Item:  Cook something from every countryProgress: 0/193

Now, I am nowhere near the first blogger to start on this idea. Just a simple Google search for some recipe ideas of the more far flung countries (like Vanuatu) unearthed a whole heap of them, most of them seemingly unfinished but there are a few who have already succeeded. That really gives me hope!

So, why 193 countries? Well, there’s no real comprehensive list out there so I made a choice to go with the members of the United Nations. It means that I won’t be doing Kosovo or Taiwan, but maybe they’ll join the U.N. by the time I finish off this list. Who knows, weirder things have happened since I started this blog (i.e. Brexit).

As an additional thing, I am going to be trying to make either a main dish or a dessert for each country. If the country has a vast amount of foods to choose from (e.g. France, Japan and U.S.A.), I am going to try and make a main and a dessert.

I will be starting this challenge tomorrow where I’m going to be marrying this new list with the other food list. So see you then.

1001 Songs – 1971: Part Three

Tired of Being Alone – Al Green

Having spent the last few months listening to modern music or classical music, it’s weird to be back in the songs list where this type of soul music is on the menu. This is very much not Kacey Musgraves or tune-yards.

I know we have some Marvin Gaye coming up to finish 1971 out and that is going to be a more edged soul that I would expect from the 1970s. This feels like a song that belongs in the 1960s and is very much something I can imagine on one of those bargain bin Valentine’s Day compilations.

Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who

Right, so THIS is what I am expecting from a song from 1971. This is a year where we haven’t quite reached metal, punk or the hard rock that we know nowadays, but this is a light on the path towards it.

The old psychedelic are still there with the organ in the background, but this isn’t just any organ – it’s a sythesised organ. So here we have an 8 and a half minute long song with thrashing guitars, a synthesiser and a heavy metal scream.

It’s songs like these that make me happy to be back doing the songs list.

Vincent – Don McLean

‘Vincent’ is on this list, but ‘American Pie’ is not. Let’s let that sink in for a little bit and move on. I mean, I have always preferred ‘Vincent’ as a song but that isn’t the popular opinion.

As the title suggests, ‘Vincent’ is a folk song about the end of Vincent Van Gogh’s live. It manages to be a beautiful tribute to a troubled man whilst not delving into being overly sentimental. It does this with a sparse arrangement, which makes an interesting use of the marimba.

It’s clear that, in writing this, Don McLean is influenced by Nick Drake and Simon & Garfunkel. However, we have a bit of world music seeping in through that marimba, which moves it forward.

City of New Orleans – Steve Goodman

In Ireland you have Don McLean creating a thing of folk-beauty in ‘Vincent’, on the other side of the Atlantic you have ‘City of New Orleans’ for folk music.

To call this traditional would be an understatement, but it’s meant to be. This song was made to harken back as it highlights the disappearing rail services across America, which was starting to affect people living in rural areas.

An interesting history, but not really a song for me.

Peace Train – Cat Stevens

Talkin’ of trains and songs that we inspired by a train journey. We have the images of trains being evoked for an anti-war song. It’s worth remembering that, in 1971, we are still 4 years away from the Vietnam War from ending.

It’s a nice message, but it feels a bit limp. Maybe, because of how it sounds compared to the likes of ‘Ohio’ and ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, it just feels a bit complacent and lacking in urgency. I mean it’s nice to know about the Peace Train, but I’m not convinced by this song to buy a ticket.

Superstar – The Carpenters

Okay, now here’s a song I absolutely adore. The Carpenters have always had a reputation for being a bit twee at times, but there is no denying how fantastic the production and instrumental arrangements are on this song. Same goes for the always faultless and crystal-like vocals of Karen Carpenter, which are all from the first take.

There is an underlying darkess to this song that her vocals pierce through, which makes this a dark pop song unlike anything we have yet heard on this list. It’s a song that you can see being in the back of ABBA’s minds as they later created their darker tracks like ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’.

A Nickel and a Nail – O.V. Wright

O.V. Wright really had a fantastic set of pipes. We’re in a blues-style soul song, where his gospel roots are showing. It’s just a pity that the recording equipment is having trouble capturing the full range of his vocals as he really starts belting.

I could probably do without all the funk-style horns and, instead, up the ante on the bass guitar and the backing vocals. I know this isn’t in the style of Southern soul to do so, but I would have been interested to hear this sung as a straight blues recording.

Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) – Marvin Gaye

We’re finally finishing 1971! Man, it’s taken months and we’re ending with one of the greats and with a song that still feels relevant to this day.

This is a song about black pain, anger and protest that chooses to speak through it’s lyrics and a low hum of a then-modern take on blues backing. Later on, songs like this would become grouped under the name of ‘quiet storm’, but because of the politcal nature of this song – ‘Inner City Blues’ would just about be inelegible for this classification.

Listening to this, I do wonder about how much more music we would have gotten out of Marvin Gaye if he had not been murder by his father. How would he react to the politics of his country right now. Guess we’ll never know.

Progress: 344/1021