Let’s Get Literal – Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 58/100Title: Song of Solomon
Author: Toni Morrison
Year: 1977
Country: USA

 It’s sad that it can take the death of an director, musician or writer to give you the impetus to actually give some of their work a go. It prevents you from feeling the weight of that person’s death and instead makes them and their work feel less contemporary and more historical. At least through it means that you finally pay attention and now, having read Song of Solomon, it feels like I am finally beginning to understand the importance of Toni Morrison.

I know that this is not her magnum opus, which I will get to eventually, but I just wanted to read the earliest of her books that appeared on my list. When I first started in it, I did wonder what on Earth I was letting myself in for. It was dense, I found it difficult to understand what was going on and, honestly, I had this pit of dread that I was going to end up being bored the entire way through.

Then, I don’t know, it felt like the book finally started with the birth of the main character and I got so engrossed in the story of his growing up that I forgot how impenetrable the beginning was. Suddenly I was able to see the poetry in Morrison’s slightly dense way of wording and was able to greatly appreciate the rich family histories that she began and continued to describe for the bulk of the book.

It was towards the end of reading it, where Milkman (the main character) had travelled across America to find out about his grandmother, that I realised that I never studied a book at school that wasn’t by a white man. Meant I missed out on reading something so brutal and yet oddly mythical (I mean, how else do you describe the characters of Hagar and Pilate) as this.

After quite an intense book, I think it might be time to read one of the less intense books that I have saving. Either that, or get an easy win with one of the shorter ones. I’ll get to Beloved soon enough, but I can already tell from the synopsis that I’m going to need time in between Toni Morrison books before I’m ready to start in on another.

📽️ Disney Time – Home On The Range

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 45/58Title: Home on the Range
Year: 2004

By most metrics, Home on the Range is one of the worst films in the Disney Animated Canon. It has a ridiculously low Metacritic score and an abysmal score on Rotten Tomatoes. Going into this I had very low expectations and thankfully that helped me out in the end – the kicking in the attention span that was Brother Bear really helped there.

Still though, I’m not entirely sure why Disney even made this film. Hell, this was given an extra year in favour of Brother Bear and this still ended up being a bit of a mess (then again, this is the same story with The Emperor’s New Groove and we all know how that turned out). They didn’t even manage to make a film that was over 80 minutes long and without any obvious theatre.

So, what’s this about? Well, in a nutshell, it’s about three cows who chase the bounty for a cattle rustler in order to stop their farm from being auctioned off. It’s a weird idea for a film, but weirder ideas have made for great animated films. This is not one of those great films. On the whole, it’s just a bit bland with the occasional trippy yodelling sequence that never reaches the heights of Dumbo‘s ‘Elephants on Parade’.

In terms of humour, this is very much one of those spaghetti thrown against the wall kind of films . Some of the lines are genuinely quite funny with Jennifer Tilly and Judi Dench doing the absolute best job that they can. Roseanne Barr, on the other hand, clearly had it in her contract that she got to improvise a bunch of her lines and… it doesn’t quite work. Not great given that she’s the lead cow.

Two more films now stand between me and Bolt. It’s a bit of a strange film to hang a landmark on, but it’s the film that signals the uptick in Disney quality. Still got Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons to go though. Who knows they may surprise me… or then again maybe not.

Good Eatin’ – Kala Namak

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Kala Namak
Progress: 783/1001

Holy crap, years ago I made posts about how the food list was slowing down and that was because I was only doing a food item every week or so. How silly that feels now given that it has been well over two months since I made my last 1001 food post and I spent a ridiculous amount on asparagus. In comparison this jar of sulphurous black salt was a steal.

This is one of those entries on the food list that, whilst completely new to me, appears to be well known to a bunch of other people I know. More than that, they each had different ideas of what I could do with it. I had a recommendation on using it for some Indian food (which I might end up doing at some point down the line) and another to use it to make some vegan dishes as part of an egg replacement.

Given that I really am missing egg mayonnaise sandwiches, and that the world food challenge has a long time to go, I figured why not make something I really want to. Or at least an approximation of it.

Right, so I could have cut the tofu into smaller chunks and I could have been a bit more generous with the turmeric in order to give it the proper colouring. Other than that, I was shocked just how much the ‘egg mayonnaise dressing’ reminding me of egg. Part of that will have been the savouriness of the nutritional yeast, but the biggest contributor was the sulphurous punch of the kala namak.

On its own, the kala namak really is… well not something I want to put solo into my mouth again. However, I am really excited to find ways to give myself the illusion of egg dishes whilst also making something that my egg-hating husband is okay eating. Kala namak might end up being a very important food discovery.

World Cooking – Nauru

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Nauru
Progress: 57/193

Oceania is always really fun to return to because they tend to require a lot of extra research and they have such cool flags. Nauru is no exception with their lovely minimalist design for a flag and some interesting statistics. Not only is Nauru the third smallest in the world by area, but it is also the third smallest by population. To put it in some sort of context, this is an island nation that is about a third the size of the island of Manhattan and has a population so small that it would only be able to fill half a major sports venue.

I swear that, on most world maps, they exaggerate the size of Nauru in order to have something to look at. Just find Australia in a map and go north east, you’ll find it eventually. As a country, Nauru recently celebrated 50 years of independence from the UK, Australia and New Zealand (it’s a long story involving phosphate mining and a rejected plan by Australia to relocate the citizens whilst they mined the island dry). Seriously, their Wikipedia page is worth your time. The Naurans appear to be a people that are incredibly savvy and know exactly how to get a good deal for their nation. I think I might be in love.

Main: Coconut Crusted Fish

Finding a recipe for Nauru was hard enough. Finding one with ingredients that I can get in the UK without a massive postage bill was even harder. Thankfully International Cuisine had this recipe for coconut crusted fish. Whilst I am under no illusions that this is anything remotely close to a national dish, these are at least flavours that I can imagine being combined on this island nation. So let’s go with some coconut crusted fish.

First things first, this is the first time that I have had to crack open a coconut in order to use the meat inside. Usually I just get it pre-packaged, but I figured that I am on this culinary journey to try new things, so why not make one of things the art of cracking open a very tufty coconut. Went surprisingly well I must say and it gave me a lot of delicious grated coconut for my fish fillets.

Aside from the mutilation of a coconut, this is one of the easiest things that I have made for this food list. It is also one where I have had two separate requests to make it again, so I guess that means this recipe is a keeper. The coconut works so well with the lime juice and as a coating. I mean, I knew that from having coconut shrimp in the past, but hadn’t made the connection that this could work with other types of seafood. Definitely a recipe it keep around, although I might try doing this with desiccated coconut in order to reduce the chance of my oven. having an exploded coconut inside it.

Sticking with the island theme, next time on the world cooking challenge I want to flex my Caribbean muscles once again and make something deliciously Cuban. I already have a number of recipes in mind, one of which requires me to bake some specialist bread. So that’s going to be really exciting and possibly disastrous. Guess we’ll have to wait and see how it ends up going.

🎻♫♪ – Magnificat by Johann Sebastian Bach

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
70/501Title: Magnificat
Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
Nationality: German

Right, so I know that my typical method is to try and start with the first piece by a particular composer or with a piece I’ve heard from an anime or another source. Today’s post strays from that a bit as this is the first Bach piece that I am crossing off for the classical list and my husband picked it because it has a runtime of about half an hour.

As with many piece from the earlier reaches of the classical list, Magnificat is not a wholly original piece as it is keeping the original Latin lyrics. Instead, what is of interest is the setting and arrangement that Bach has provided. The text itself is from the Gospel of Luke, making it one of the oldest hymns out there, and it also goes by the name of ‘The Gospel of Mary’.

This version of the Magnificat was Bach’s first foray into this style of religious music and just goes to show the level of his musical genius and just how far religious classical music has changed since the last century. The text may be from the Bible, but the way he has tackled this piece makes it feel brand new and like something that you wouldn’t necessarily discount from being played as part of a wider recital.

It’s one of those pieces of music that shows such variation over the course of the twelve movements that the 25-30 minutes go by in a flash. If this is a sign of the other Bach pieces that I have got in my future, this is going to be a great composer to binge on.

XL Popcorn – Days of Heaven

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 767/1007Title: Days of Heaven
Director: Terrence Malick
Year: 1978
Country: USA

I have been watching a copious number of films for well over a decade, which makes the fact that this is my first Terrence Malick film all the more surprising. Granted, he took a 20-year hiatus between this film and The Thin Red Line, but he is one of those directors that anyone who loves film should have encountered. Good thing I managed to fit this in before I turned 30.

Given how respected he is, the first watching of any Terence Malick was always going to suffer from the weight of expectation. So, was it worth the wait and was Days of Heaven the film to make me into a fan? Well, the answer to that is a lot more nuanced than I would have expected. For, whilst I wouldn’t say that this will end up in my top films of all time list, I cannot deny that I am thankful for the experience (and no I am not just referring to the sex pot that was 1970s Richard Gere).

The storyline (whereby temporary farm workers conspire to array the rich land owner to eventually end up with his fortune once he dies) never really goes beyond the original sketch plan. However, that doesn’t really feel much of the point with this film. Instead you have arguably one of the best shot films or have been nominated for an Oscar – to the point where you could blow up most of the frames (apart from the locusts) and turn them into some pretty stunning wall art. Little wonder, therefore, that this walked away with awards for the cinematography.

It also has a beautiful soundtrack that makes great use of the ‘Aquarium’ piece of Camille Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals as well as original music by Ennio Morricone. The whole thing plays like Malick’s own wistful daydream of a time gone by, and that’s such a hard thing to pull of well. Thing is, I missed there being some decent character development here and, instead, it felt like watching a beautiful puppet show rather than a cinematic masterpiece. Make of that what you will.

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Record of Lodoss War

List Item:  Watch the 100 Anime to See Before You Die
Progress: 44/100Title: Record of Lodoss War
Episodes Aired: 13
Year(s): 1990-1991

An issue that I have repeatedly been finding with the anime list (and, to be fair, with parts of the TV list) is disappointments with how some of the older shows compare to present day. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, for example I am really enjoying the original Dragonball anime to the now, but Record of Lodoss War really takes the cake. This was a show that I was super jazzed about seeing after the first episode, only for it to never really hit those heights again.

When it started I thought that I would be getting this cool anime that watched like a well run game of Dungeons and Dragons with quests, boss battles and cool dungeons. Instead, this is the Japanese take on the 1980s trend of high fantasy that was released episodically on VHS rather than as a week on week series. I can see from watching this that this is one of those highly influential series within Japan that would have been able to count early Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy as contemporaries.

Problem is, aside from that first episode and some smattering so here and there, it always felt like a copy of something else that had been done better elsewhere. The protagonist really should have been a mute Link type for all the personality he has and the character that has left the biggest impact on pop culture (the female elf Deedlit) is the progenitor of much of what we would now recognise as a fan service character thanks to the animation framing her as being a buxom warrior who instantly falls in love with the dull protagonist.

The animation itself is pretty good for the early 1990s with the dragons having some pretty interesting forms to them. There is also a lot to be admired for the world building that they manage to do. However, it never reaches the heights that I know it could and that a downright shame.

📽️ Disney Time – Brother Bear

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 44/58Title: Brother Bear
Year: 2003

Looks like the Disney downward spiral is continuing with today’s film. I mean, just when I thought I couldn’t be less engaged with a Disney film of this millennium, here comes a rewatch of the 2003 film Brother Bear. A film that may end up ranked near the bottom of the entire canon.

Let’s just get down to it – Brother Bear midst just fail to engage me, but it might have just taken things that I disliked about other Disney films and just smashed them together. For example, what was one thing I really disliked about Tarzan? The music as written and sung by Phil Collins that came in more often than required. Who write and sang the music to Brother Bear that played too frequently, that’s right Phil Collins and the songs were not as good as the ones in Tarzan.

There were also some very distinct choices with the animation, specifically how it changed a third of the way in so that it became more cartoony. Also, this change coincided with a change in aspect ratio, which would have been a neat idea if you didn’t have to spend half an hour with a crappy aspect ratio. By the time the film went to proper widescreen I was already so disengaged that the impact was lost.

Then came the biggest issue for me – I never liked the main character and all his actions are extremely predictable to the point where I paused the film and my husband pretty much guessed the remaining 50 minutes of his journey. Similarly, Koda the baby bear deuteragonist just had one speed: annoying. The only genuine laugh that this film served me was an elderly female bear claiming her husband was dead when, as he yelled from afar, he was very much alive. So yes, this film just was not for me.

Now, if online review are to be believed, Brother Bear is not the worst Disney film of the last 20 years. No, that title belongs to the next film on the list and, honestly, I really hope to blow past these as quickly as possible so I can watch the quality go back up again. One month’s worth of Disney to go, I guess.

World Cooking – Democratic Republic of Congo

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Democratic Republic of Congo
Progress: 56/193

In my previous country post, I mentioned that I was having to make a decision between two nations that appeared to charge the national dish. Well, the situation kinda rectified itself when, in the dishes Wikipedia page, it only mentioned one of the two nations. So here we are crossing off one of the larger countries in Africa: the Democratic Republic of Congo (not to be confused with its neighbour to the west, the Republic of Congo).

Following the splitting of Sudan into two nations, the Democratic Republic of Congo (which went by the name Zaire until 1997) became the second largest country in Africa. It is also, somewhat remarkably, the largest French-speaking nation in the world in terms of both land area and population size. On the sadder side, this nation has been embroiled in an internal conflict for over 15 years that is part of the aftermath of two civil wars that dragged in a number of neighbouring nations.

With such a sad and bloody recent history, I went down quite a long wiki rabbit hole which didn’t exactly end up at the history of their cuisine. In essence though, the Democratic Republic of Congo is not a highly farmed nation, but that probably doesn’t matter too much when you’re the 11th largest nation in the world. The things that come up time and time again when looking at the local food tend to be cassava, palm oil and fish. Only the middle thing comes up as part of their national dish of Moambe chicken (although that’s more palm butter than oil), but you wouldn’t know that from all the recipes online.

Main: Moambe Chicken

That’s right, today’s meal was the national dish of Moambe Chicken which is traditionally made with palm butter. However, I have yet to find that ingredient – which is apparently fine as pretty much every available recipe for this instead directs you to use natural peanut butter. Out of the wealth of available recipes. I opted for the one from Afrotourism, because I figured that a website trying to promote African tourism With a well stocked recipe section has got to be doing something right.

This is not the first time that I have made some form of peanut (or groundnut) stew for an African nation. It will probably not be the last either as as I am only a quarter of the way through my challenge. The thing that made this different from the others is twofold. Firstly this is a chicken-based dish specifically whereas the others didn’t feel as prescriptive when it came to meat. Also, this did not rely on a predominantly tomato base, instead it had a long list of vegetables and made good use of the fat from the rendered chicken.

Paired with fufu, this Moambe chicken made for a very delicious and filling lunch, that had a good kick thanks to the prescience of chillies. With a bit more sweetness, this is getting really close to satay sauce. Something that I am bound to make at some point given how much the hub loves it.

I am now, once again, at the interesting mathematical point where I have three continents to choose from for my next meal. Will it be Asia, the Americas or something from further afield in Oceania? Hopefully the recipe gods will provide me with the answer to that before I am next in front of my weekly food shopping list.

Acclaimed Albums – Low by David Bowie

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 202/250Title: Low
Artist: David Bowie
Year: 1977
Position: #101

I’ve been ignoring doing Low for a while now because of a strange idea that it was in the lower flings of the albums list and so was due to leave at a moment’s notice. Obviously I was thinking of another David Bowie album that has since left the list as Low is an incredibly safe bet at number 101. With this I have, for now, crossed off my final David Bowie album and am really seeing that final album in this list crawl nearer and nearer.

Of the Bowie albums that I have listened to so far, Low might strangely be the most immediate. It’s not like it has a lot of recognisable songs in it either, with only ‘Sound and Vision’ being known to me prior. Instead, this is one of those albums where, thanks to retrospect, you can see just how insanely ahead of his time this album actually was. Sure, it takes a lead from the likes of Kraftwerk who were similarly ahead of their time when they released Trans-Europe Express and The Man-Machine, but this does some really interesting things with electronics that very prescient of 1980s music.

‘Art Decade’ plays like the soundtrack to a synth-noir film whereas, earlier in the album, you have ‘What in the World’ that sounds like it’s being played on a glitches-out Ms Pac-Man machine. The album structure too feels experimental in how it is split (very much to what Kate Bush did with Hounds of Love). On the first half you have the more radio-friendly songs and then the flip-side contains all these melancholic Brian Eno inspired soundscapes.

So far today I have already played Low about five times,and I can see it being the soundtrack to my commute tomorrow as I try to make a start on my next book. This is the album of his that I wish I had heard first, because this is somehow the album that has appealed the most to me. Sure, I liked Blackstar, but Low really is in a whole different plane.