Post Break!

Four years ago, when I went to Japan on my honeymoon, I took a bit of a post break so that I didn’t have a mountain of page links to update after returning from 2+ weeks of holiday.

This year I am so happy to say that I will be going to South Korea for a magical fortnight in Jeju, Busan and Seoul. It’ll basically be Easter by the time the posts of this holiday go up, but that’s not the only reason for this post break.

As of writing this, I am having a bit of a rough time at work and I’m so mentally exhausted that this blog is becoming harder to muster the energy for. I’m hoping to have some more stability by the time my six month lead starts to be eaten away… but that’s pretty much out of my control for now.

Still though. I cannot wait to see what adventures await me in South Korea. It’s truly one of those big bucket list places to cross off.

Note – Now I am here many months later and very excited to be Korea, I am happy to report that I got offered a permanent contract in my job. This posting gap came at the perfect time for both my trip and for my past self. 🙂


World Cooking – Timor-Leste

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Timor-Leste
Progress: 40/193

For once I actually ended up cooking a dish from a nation that I referenced in the previous world cooking post. It’s becoming a little side-quest of mine to try and discover/tick-off some of the nations that might be small in size, but still have some really flavourful dishes.

Timor-Leste is one of those countries that stands out to me as it was the first country that I remember actually being created that has unanimous acceptance. I think that has only happened three times since with the formations of South Sudan, Serbia and Montenegro. Also, it has a name that literally means ‘East East’ due it being a mash-up of Indonesian and Portuguese – something that I find oddly pleasing.

So, what have we got in terms of food. Being a former Portuguese colony, Timor-Leste sees South East Asian food mixed with Portuguese influences. This is a pretty unique mix, but does mean it shares a lot with nearby Filipino cuisine that has seen much influence from Spain. This means there’s some overlap, which is why I consulted some specialised blogs before choosing today’s dish.

Main: Tamarind Pork

Right so the journey to making tamarind pork was a bit of a long-winded one. It started with me seeing comments on the Timor-Leste tourism website that led me down a rabbit hole of various recipes that combined pork and tamarind. I was so captivated by this idea because it has been years since I last cooked with tamarind and I’ve always enjoyed the sourness that it brings to dishes.

I ended up combining the ideas from a translated version of a very old Timor-Leste blogspot and then used a recipe from Ethnic Spoon to really fill in the gaps. Neither gave too much of an idea on things to serve it with, but I figured that you can’t really go wrong with some jasmine rice and a nice pile of stir-fried beansprouts. I’m so glad I followed that hunch because I needed something to mop up all that extra sauce with.

The tamarind sauce that you make for this pork is unlike nothing else you get outside of South East Asia because of the mix of sour and umami flavours. It also penetrates the pork really well and forms a nice crunchy crust on top once you pop it under the grill. Since I have so much tamarind concentrate left in the fridge I will probably be putting this in a lot of dishes for a while. Might actually make the pork again next week as, apart from the turning in the oven, it really was super simple to make.

For the next time I’m cooking for this challenge, I’ll be venturing to South America in order to make a dish for one of the two small nations sat on the northern coast. This means it’ll either be a dish from Guyana or Suriname, both of which have quite different cuisines despite being almost neighbours.

Graphic Content – Metro

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
62/501Title: Metro
Creator: Magdy El Shafee
Year: 2008
Country: Egypt

I’m continuing the comic streak with Metro – the first graphic novel in Arabic. Obviously I read an English-language translation for the purposes of the blog, but I really thought it was worth mentioning what an interesting landmark this is for graphic novels as an art form.

Related to this, it is worth noting that it took years before Metro was published in the authors native Egypt. This is due to the work’s anti-Egyptian government stance that served as an interested precursor to the Arab Spring that took place a few years later in 2011. Since then he has found himself harassed and imprisoned because of his political views; something that is worth keeping in mind when reading this graphic novel.

Overall, Metro is not the best graphic novel that I have read. The gimmick of using stations on the Cairo metro to denote the chapters doesn’t exactly work, although it is a nice idea in theory. Similarly, there are areas where more explanation would have been useful as to why the central character is in such a position that he ends up robbing a bank. I think, being that it would have been written for an Egyptian (and maybe even a wider Levantine) audience, a lot of knowledge is assumed, but it might have helped to linger every now and not have an ending that feels like a bit of a cop-out.

Then there is the art style, which feels like they wanted to go full Hotel Dusk in how characters were drawn… but didn’t quite get there. I mean, it’s serviceable but it isn’t the best that I have seen – which would have been a nice way to make up for a bit of a mediocre storyline.

I may not have really gotten on board with Metro but it’s always interesting to read works from other cultures and it is especially interesting when it is a first in any way. I’m going to take a bit of a break for a while in order to read some more Dragon Ball, which works perfectly with my upcoming post break.

📽️ Disney Time – The Rescuers

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 23/57Title: The Rescuers
Year: 1977

The Disney Renaissance may still be a number of films away but, having watched The Rescuers, it’s interesting to see that some of the signs of its arrival could already be found here. After all, this is a film where many of Disney’s young animation talent cut their teeth making this – Ron Clements (the director of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin) being a key figure working in the character animation department.

This is only the second time that I’ve seen The Rescuers and it went so much better than my first one. I don’t know how, but I think I was a bit underwhelmed the first time… not so much this time as I legitimately loved it. Sure it’s another Disney film that centres around a kidnapping, but it feels a whole lot darker than the ones that came before. Yes, even darker than One Hundred and One Dalmatians with ever present threat of danger.

The book series of The Rescuers, where there is a worldwide group of mice that go on rescue missions, feels like the perfect source material for a Disney film. I mean it’s worth noting that this story of them rescuing a girl who has been kidnapped in order to fetch a diamond from a narrow cave was not the first choice (they had to change tact due to Louis Prima’s health issues). Knowing their original story idea makes me glad they made the switch as this one is better.

I mentioned earlier about the threat of danger, it’s a weird thing to say about a Disney film right? However, this film is so successful in generating tension that despite you knowing our heroes will be fine… you do wonder how they can rescue this girl from the villain and, later on, how they will escape from the cave as it rapidly fills with water.

That brings me onto Madame Medusa, who is truly the most underrated Disney villain out there. She’s smart, she’s ruthless and a fantastic example of how evil a regular person can be. She doesn’t have the resources of Cruella DeVil, she isn’t magical like Maleficent and she isn’t a queen like Snow White‘s Evil Queen or The Queen of Hearts. No, she’s pretty ordinary and that makes her all the more interesting as a villain… but also means she probably isn’t as marketable.

One thing that’s worth noting as a final thought on The Rescuers is how the sketchy Xeroxed art style has made a leap forward. You can still see it in places for the humans, but in the animals it is a lot smoother and profoundly more cartoony. It’s great to finally see this improvement finally come into play, especially after Robin Hood with all its re-used animations.

Next on the Disney list is The Fox and the Hound, a film that I had on American VHS tape as a present from my dad. I also had a plush version of the lead character Copper – so I’m looking forward to see how my first rewatch in well over a decade pans out. I hope it’s as sweet as I remember.

World Cooking – Liechtenstein

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Liechtenstein
Progress: 39/193

Last time I mentioned that it was probably time that I covered one of the big food nations, well today is not that time. A friend of mine was sending me random WhatsApp messages containing facts about Liechtenstein, so I have to say that I felt a bit inspired. Also I enjoy a few random facts, for example, Liechtenstein is one of two double-landlocked countries – which means it is a country that has no coast and is only bordered by countries that have no coasts. Another random fact – Liechtenstein is one of a few countries named after the current ruling royal house.

So what about the food? Well, seeing how it is sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland – the food sits very much between these two nations. This is why I decided to do Liechtenstein now, just in case I cooked something for the bordering countries that would severely limit my options for this micro-nation. I’ll probably end up doing the same for other micro-nations at some point.

Luckily, however, the Liechtenstein tourist board lists two dishes that they would describe as distinctly Liechtensteiner… so this is what I made today.

Main: Käseknöpfle

For the main we have something rather lovely looking called Käseknöpfle. To make this I moreorless followed the recipe from the tourist website, but with one key difference: I already had pre-made spaetzle back from when the local Lidl was having an alpine week. I’ve been waiting for a reason to cook these up, and what better reason than to smother it in Gruyere cheese and caramelized onions.

Think of this dish as being little fat egg noodles that have been covered in melted cheese and onions… done? Right, so you can see how Liechtenstein jumped up a few places on the list. For me, I think I would like to have mixed in a carrier cream cheese to help spread the flavour around (or I could have used some pasta water), but apart from that – this is something I’ll definitely be ordering should I ever find myself in Vaduz.

Dessert: Ribel

This is a bit of a strange looking dessert, but with the right accompaniment ribel was quite enjoyable. I’m not entirely sure where this Scribd recipe came from, but it worked out in the end, despite taking 3-4 hours to make.

The ribel itself is made from fine cornmeal that has been soaked in water and milk for a few hours and is then fried in butter for 20 minutes until it develops a crumbly texture. It ends up being like being a halfway house between cakey and the topping of an apple crumble. When you top this, as you are meant to, with some compote (I used a bramble jam) it almost tastes like a deconstructed jam roly-poly pudding, which I was not unhappy about.

Right, so it’s high time for me to make something from Asia next time around. I want to stick with the small nation theme for now, so I’m thinking something in the world of Singapore, Brunei, Qatar or Timor-Leste. What I do will just depend on strikes my fancy. I know which one I’m looking forward to researching.

XL Popcorn – Chronicle of a Summer

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 744/1007Title: Chronique d’un Ă©tĂ© (Chronicle of a Summer)
Director: Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin
Year: 1961
Country: France

It’s only been a few days since coming home from Paris and I’m already finding myself looking back fondly at the time I spent there. You know the drill, “oh just a few days ago…” sort of things. Anyway, when I saw that Chronique d’un Ă©té had the subtitle ‘Paris 1960’ well the choice of what film to watch this afternoon was obvious. I mean this sounded like a documentary about life in Paris, right?

Well not quite. Chronique d’un Ă©té is an experiment in documentary as an art form. It’s the film that coined the term ‘cinema vĂ©ritĂ©’ and dabbles in the big question that we continue to ask when watching reality television – can you capture reality when people know the cameras are rolling. For this legacy alone, Chronique d’un Ă©tĂ© deserves it’s place in history and on the list. However, for me, this no longer plays as an interesting film to fill 90 minutes.

Since this is an experiment in a new cinema varient, there are going to be some areas that have since been ironed out. For example, there’s no real structure until the final 5-10 minutes which has the films subjects (who have watched the film up to this point) critique on whether the displayed film has depicted truth or not. It’s an interesting way to bring the film back to the original question… since by this point they meandered so much that you’ve probably forgotten.

So yes, whilst I am glad to have seen this as a part of cinema history – Chronique d’un Ă©té wasn’t really the film for me. Probably didn’t help that they appeared to have roped in some random black friends for when they shot the scene where they were talking about war in the Congo… or that they had to sit and smile as one of the white subjects (who, to be fair, was previously interned in a concentration camp) went on about how she wouldn’t be able to all in love with someone who was black. Kinda felt too set up for it to be truly naturalistic.

Good Eatin’ – Brocciu and Walnut Salad

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood items: Brocciu and Grenoble Walnuts
Progress: 778/1001

One of the things I have really loved about some of my more recent holidays is how I can extend them by bringing back some food items. I would have left this longer, but since I brought back a fresh cheese it was prudent to eat things sooner rather than later. Also, it’s a new cheese – who would want to wait for that?

So the first of these is brocciu, which I bought from a posh supermarket after descending Montparnasse Tower. This is a fresh sheep’s milk cheese from the French island of Corsica and is the final French cheese that I have left to eat from the list. A weirdly big moment there when you consider how big a cheese nation they are. In terms of look and taste it is very close to ricotta, but is actually lactose free – which makes it an intolerance friendly cheese. It’s one of those cheeses that can be used for a bunch of things; lucky as I bought such a big tub of it.

The other ingredient is walnuts from Grenoble. I bought these at the Bastille Market, which means that I was clacking my way through the Cimetière Du Père Lachaise and as I walked past the Eiffel Tower. It’s highly possible that I had Grenoble walnuts elsewhere during my holiday, but this way I can at least be sure. Now, personally I’m not the fondest of walnuts because they tend to dry my mouth out – however that did not happen with these ones. I guess that’s because of the growing conditions in Grenoble leading to a higher oil content… or something like that.

Rather than just eat the brocciu and walnuts by themselves, I wanted to actually make something with the, After all, this list is posited as being a selection of the best ingredients out there. I found a French recipe for a brocciu, walnut and apple salad which turned out to be incredibly delicious. The natural milky sweetness of the brocciu worked well with the vinaigrette (which I made using the Corinthian vinegar) to make a dressing that felt very luxuriant. This will definitely be worth repeating with some ricotta subbed in for the brocciu.

📽️ Disney Time – The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 22/57Title: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Year: 1977

There is nothing better for dealing with a post-holiday slump than a Disney movie, especially one with as lovable a main character as Winnie the Pooh. On the Eurostar back from Paris, I was so looking forward to putting this Blu Ray into the Playstation 4 and just laying on the couch with my angry shiba cushion. This may not be the best of the Disney movies in the canon, but it sure is one of the most comforting.

Given that The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is actually a package film of three previous shorts with some added footage, this is the final film in the canon that Walt Disney had a hand in making. The first of the shorts, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, was released 11 years before the feature length whilst Disney was still alive – which would make for a nice pub quiz question.

The legacy of this film is unquestionable. Prior to the film, A. A. Milne’s characters were already household names, but the Disney versions (both the look and the voices) have become the default in the public consciousness – unlike the Russian Winnie the Pooh shorts, which are really worth a watch. There were a number of spin-off television series as well as a massive collection of plushies, accessories and other merchandise.

Due to the package nature of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh has no definite through-line, which makes it feel disjointed. Incredibly charming, but disjointed. However, one clever way they found to combat some of this was to go extremely meta. There was a bit of experimentation of this in Robin Hood with the Alan O’Dale rooster, but it goes full tilt here with deus ex machina solutions to problems such as the book being rotated in order to help Tigger get down from the top of a tree.

Whilst it will be a while until I get to the second of the two Winnie the Pooh films (released in 2011, with Zooey Deschanel singing on the soundtrack) at least there are episodes of the animated show streaming online. Next on the list, however, is The Rescuers, the second of three films in the Disney animation canon featuring Eva Gabor voicing one of the main characters. It’s another one of those early films that I only saw for the first time when I was in university, well that was (somehow) 9 years ago now and I’m interested to see what a second watch will bring.

Paris Je T’Aime: Day 6 – Exit Via MusĂ©e d’Orsay

We woke this morning to a worrying message from Eurostar, the strikes were still ongoing and there was likely to be huge customs queues and delays for our journey home this evening… which due to cancellations was now the final train back to London this evening. Not a pleasant way to start the day.

But we are nothing if not adaptable, so we checked out of our great hotel in Les Halles and started walking along the Seine towards the MusĂ©e D’Orsay… after picking up some breakfast to go. After all, we didn’t exactly have time to waste if we wanted to do the museum justice and I don’t think either of us really fancied the coffee and croissant schtick this morning. A rustic looking sandwich of speck and Comte cheese on levant bread was just the ticket, even if it was a bit challenging to the teeth.

For the most part, the Musee D’Orsay is an art museum that picks up where the Louvre leaves off. The pieces are mostly paintings and sculpture, but there is also a significant collection of art nouveau furniture and fittings. All of it is set inside a renovated railway station, that was built back in the days where all the big train companies tried setting up their own.

By being set in a former railway terminus, the Musee D’Orsay has plenty of space to display the works. It also has the chance to do some cool things with the existing fixtures. For example, they have kept the grand room of the formerly attached hotel – which is as gilded and beautiful as anything in Versailles. They’ve also made great use of the station clocks which make some great photographs.

We started our trip off by heading straight to the top floor with their collection of Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist works. I pretty much fell in love with the first painting I saw when entering the floor (Le Cirque by Georges Seurat) so I knew that this would be a promising group of paintings. I also think I might be becoming a bit of a fan of Monet and Renoir after seeing more great works of theirs on this top floor.

The next few floors down after this group were full of furniture, which isn’t exactly my thing, but I did manage to find some cool pieces. I mean furniture that doubles as art is not my typical taste but there were some lovely pieces of stained class work and some really beautiful fixtures that I can appreciate an aesthetic level.

After this it really is a case of diving in and out of different rooms dedicated to different artists and/or movements to see what you can see. This is a gallery that has some incredibly famous pieces, so you are likely to come across something either interesting or recognisable no matter where you venture. There’s a famous paintings by hugely famous painters by Van Gogh, Degas, Gaugin and Manet – but then there are also some really great paintings by artists not quite on that level, such as Dante and Virgil by William Bougereau and The Gleaners by Jean-Francois Millet.

There is also this huge sculpture of a very happy looking polar bear. I know nothing of the backstory, but it’s one of those art pieces that you remember just because it really made you smile. They had little statues of him at the gift shop, but I don’t think I could justify the cost given that my home is so full of animals by now.

We finished our visit by going through the temporary exhibition that looks at paintings of the last two centuries that featured models who were black. It was interesting to read up on the history of the more famous models, the stories behind some of the paintings and to see some early video taped performances by the likes of Josephine Baker. Also, the fact that one of the final pieces in this special exhibition depicts a black woman performing aerial acrobatics made for a nice bookend with the first circus-themed painting that I saw in this gallery.

So that’s it for Paris. We went to Gare du Nord super early to make sure we wouldn’t miss our train and were able to exchange our tickets for a train that left three hours earlier, so we’re home at around the time we would have left. It’s a bit of a shame to cut the visit short by a few hours, but it will be nice to have a regular evening at home before work tomorrow.

I think most people who watch QI or browse Reddit will have heard of “Paris Syndrome” – a type of depression unique to Japanese tourists who feel like they have been let down by their Paris experience. There’s a part of me that wonders that, with this at the back of my mind, I came into this trip with expectations that have just been drastically exceeded.

From this trip, Paris went from a holiday that I did out of an almost obligation (I mean with the Eurostar on my doorstep, it’s stupid to not go) to a destination where I know I’ll be revisiting in order to mop up anything I missed. Whilst I still don’t understand the whole thing about Paris being the city of love, it is definitely a city to fall in love with. Au revoir Paris, I’ll be back again soon.

Paris Je T’Aime: Day 5 – The Palace and Park of Versailles

So today is the last full day that I have in Paris and it really is time to cross off the final big ticket item from this wonderful city. It’s a bit far out from where I am staying at Les Halles, so before getting in queue it was time for breakfast.

I have eaten so much bread on this trip, and for good reason. France knows what they are doing with all things bread and, by extension, they know what to put in a great sandwich. This morning’s breakfast was a goat cheese, walnut, rocket, mustard mayonnaise and bacon baguette – I made a special note of this because I will be making this once I get home. Anyway, time to get into the insanely long queue so we can get to…

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 88/100Sight: Chateau De Versailles
Location: Paris, France
Position: #29

So many tour groups. I mean it’s to be expected as this is one of the big hints to do in Paris, but wow I cannot begin to fathom how many people I saw at Versailles today just in the line for the security check. Good thing we didn’t have a time window for our ticket, otherwise we would have been incredibly late.

Like most people we started on the main house before exploring the rest of the area. Probably meant we had to deal with more crowding that way, but it was standing right there looking so huge and impressive – how could we not go inside.

By this point I have been to a lot of royal palaces, including Herrenchiemsee which was King Ludwig II of Bavaria’s copy of Versailles, so a lot of these rooms and antechambers are really beginning to blend together. There is no doubt that the rooms at Versailles are incredibly lavish and contain some amazing pieces of furniture, but there is one main reason to go into the Palace of Versailles.

The Hall of Mirrors. Often imitated and easily one of the most famous rooms in the world. The whole thing feels like something out of a role playing game. The room is huge, and the placement of all the mirrors being opposite windows makes everything feel even larger. One thing that I didn’t expect was that the mirrors are not single sheets of glass, but a collection of smaller mirrors all put together, must have been a technology or a cost thing at the time.

We toured the rest of the palace and learned a bunch of history about the French royal family. I do wish that we could see the attached opera house as part of the tour, but I guess that would be difficult to do when there are events on and they suddenly have to divert tour groups away from there. However I really cannot complain, as the tour around the available house was really interesting.

By the time we finished with the main house it was lunch time. Rather than eat in the (probably) expensive restaurant we grabbed a hot dog from the takeaway kiosk and began our exploration of the gardens. One thing to note, as it was March during our visit they hadn’t switched on any of the water features. This obviously takes away a substantial element of what makes these gardens so grand, but it allows you to see the fountains as pieces of art without the distraction of water jets. So swings and roundabouts.

After taking way too many photos at the stairs to the palace (which I saw years ago as a panoramic painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art) we wandered along the grand canal and made a turn towards the Trainon section of the Versailles Domain. Originally Trainon was a village that bordered the palace gardens, but the land was purchased by the royal family so they could have a summer getaway from life at Versailles. I guess that would be the fancier version of spending your summers by decamping to a house two streets away.

The first place you go there is the Grand Trainon, the bigger of the two main buildings. It has been set up as how Napoleon had it kept, but after all the rooms at Versailles proper I was beginning to have a bit of palatial fatigue. Also, this doesn’t really have as much of the wow factor of what I saw earlier in the day. The same was true of the Petit Trainon, that I saw at the end of the day – although that pretty much stands bare.

In between these main buildings we came across what might be my favourite oar tif the day – the replica of a British hamlet that Marie Antoinette had built at this end of the gardens. Truly this is such a batshit crazy idea because she had a number of buildings constructed to look like an idealised version of a rustic British hamlet so she would have somewhere else to get away too.

Even more nuts is that, as part of her hamlet fantasy, this had a fully working farm which is maintained to this day. You turn a corner and, boom, there are cows, sheep, pigs and a ridiculous number of goats. It would also appear that lambing season has occurred as there were some cute fur puddles on the lawn that were hiding kids and a lamb. Not what I expected to find in the grounds at Versailles, but a lamb and a chicken with an afro are always appreciated.

We wandered a bit more around the gardens, taking in the various gazebos and the water features that were now just art pieces in their own right. However time marches on and it was time to leave to ensure we got to our next destination on time.

There was, of course, time for a quick snack of a saucisson and cornichon sandwich – especially as I have been hunting for one of these for days and this is the first time I’ve actually been able to purchase one. It was worth the wait.

Anyway, our final destination of the day was Montparnasse Tower. It’s the only high rise building in Paris (because it was so hated that they out rules in to prevent more form being built) which means it has unequaled views from its 56th and 59th floors. It’s also one of the few buildings that I’ve been in that offers actual 360 degree views from their top-most open air floor. It’s a real must visit and I don’t think many visitors to Paris even know it exists.

Looking out of these windows was like a clip show of everywhere I’ve been in the last few days. With the exception of Versailles and the catacombs, you can literally see every landmark I’ve visited – even the minaret of Grand Mosque. Despite not being as high as other observation towers, the fact they landmarks are so recognisable makes this one of the best.

We took up a place in the 59th floor so that we could watch the sun set over Paris. Sure the wind was cold, but watching the area of Paris surrounding the Eiffel Tower fall into nighttime just felt like the perfect way to end our final full day in this wonderful city. We stuck around on the 56th floor for a while to see Paris at night form up high, but it was getting late and we hadn’t had any dinner.

Luckily for us, not too far away from Montparnasse Tower is a street that seems to just be full of creperies. We ended up visiting one that was themed around Brittany and had such an amazing meal with excellent service. I ended up having a buckwheat crepe with blue cheese, ham and walnuts for my main then, for desert, a regular crepe with apples, calvados (which was flambéed in front of me) and a scoop of apple sorbet. I wish I had another one of these crepes right now I must say.

And that is the end of the final fully day. Tomorrow is a late departure, so there’s time for more Paris before I head back to the real world. Again I’ve gone on writing until well past midnight, so it’s time for me to say goodnight and get ready for the last day.