Monthly Archives: January 2015

Good Eatin’: Mexican at Mestizo

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

I have been trying to get someone to go to Mestizo for Mexican food since I  saw that they had a number of list items… this was months ago and I only managed to get a visit in because of it was my birthday. It was lucky that we were able to eat there since they had a booking for 25 people due… so we said we would be able to order and eat within an hour (and what do you know, we managed to).

Food items: Tamale and Mole

I have been hoping to eat some of these steamed packets of deliciousness for a very long time. They are something that I have only ever seen on one menu and they will be the reason that I shall be returning to Mestizo very soon. The corn-based dough meant that it tasted like it was fluffy steamed polenta and inside there was chicken in mole sauce. To be honest I could have just eaten a plate of these and not had anything else.

Food items: Empanadas and Huitlacoche

Huitlacoche (also known as Mexican truffles or corn smut) is one of the weirder things that is on the food list. I mean, trust humans to find a way to take a  pestilence and turn it into a delicacy. Only one of these four empanadas contained the mushroom and it was very clear which one since the filling was jet black. In terms of flavour it was mushroomy with a hint of corn and something I could not put my finger on (maybe aniseed) and had a mushy consistency.

Food item: Tomatillo

Okay, I am the first to admit that these enchiladas look like they have been covered in something that comes out of one end of a baby but it certainly did not taste that way (thank god). The part of the sauce formed by the tomatillo was fairly easy to tell since it had a taste similar to that of a tomato but with a delightfully sour edge. The more interesting part of the sauce was that the tomatillo was able to blend so easily with the taste of the garlic and the chilli. It made for a mild and fresh sauce for the chicken enchiladas.

Progress: 257/500


Good Eatin’: Hitting The Half Way Point

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

So, I started doing this (as time of writing) just under six months ago with mooncake being the first one. I have to say that I am amazed at how easy it has been to find a number of the items (like guanciale and cantabrian boquerone), but I guess that is one of the major benefits of living in such an international city like London.

So, here it goes with the 250th food item ticked off being:

Food item: Manuka Honey

That’s right, Manuka honey . This is the only honey I have ever seen inside of one of those plastic boxes that bleep if you shoplift it because, and this is true, middle class white people were stealing it because it’s pretty damned pricey. Thanks be to Morrison’s for having this expensive honey in the form of a tester pot.

So what is there to say about this expensive honey that is food item #250? It’s darker and more orange than regular honey. It has a herbal flavour with a slight hint of menthol and is not as sweet as regular honey. I mean it’s an interesting taste but I am guessing it is worth it for the supposed health benefits rather than the taste… then again I would never eat honey on toast so who am I to judge.

Food item: Cottage Cheese

Despite mentioning almost a year ago that it was time to get my arse into gear and lose some weight I only started doing something about it properly in October after a realisation at a friend’s wedding that I could probably be rolled down a hill like some sort of cheese wheel.

Speaking of cheese it’s time to get back into my favourite dieting food: cottage cheese. I don’t care whether it has pineapple in it or whether it is plain I just love the fresh taste and the texture. I could happily eat a pot of eat in one go… and considering you can get 0% fat versions I might start doing so…

Food item: Citron

Korean food is something of a more recent introduction to my life and now I have a pretty full loyalty card to Kimchee. Recently I tasted their citron tea which was pretty much like having a bitter lemon tea which was really refreshing. Another thing that I would have again.

Progress: 252/500

Level One: Silent Hill

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 74/100Title: Silent Hill
Developer: Konami
Platform: Playstation
Year: 1999
Position: #88

I am a chickenshit when it comes to survival horror video games. There has been known to be an incident when I screamed out loud when a ghoul jumped out on my character whilst playing Fallout 3 and I had to take time to calm down after killing it. This is why I have yet to play The Last of Us, because I have a zombie phobia… it ranks as one of two main phobias along with drag queens.

One reason I mention this, other than the fact that Silent Hill is probably the best known survival horror series after Resident Evil, is because this was a game that got the balance right for me in that it creeped me but it did not have me running for the off button. The website that I am using lists the Silent Hill series so I am using my experience with the first iteration in the series in order to cross it off. I know that Silent Hill 2 is regarded as the better game (and I will be getting to that) but for now I am sticking with the first one.

An issue that my partner and myself had with this game was the control system, it was a bit fiddly as the fixed camera angles changed since the direction on the analog stick for left in one instance did not always work as you went to the next scene. The rest however, was pretty impressive. I, being slightly weird and very much my mother’s son, love it when something strange and occult can be incorporated well. There are many examples of media when it is not done well but Silent Hill is able to pull it off by playing on a truly primeval fear: child possession.

The other main thing I thought was really useful, in terms of gameplay and in setting the mood, was the radio static. It worked as a way to give you some notice of when you were near enemies… but sometimes it would be the only sound you hear. This, coupled, with the lack of light other than (at times) your torch meant it could be creepy without being overly crap-your-pants scary.

Oscar Bait: Out of Africa

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: 73/87Title: Out of Africa
Director: Sydney Pollack
Year: 1985
Haul: 7 awards in total

If this film is to be described in a few words it would be, “Meryl Streep does Colonialism”.  If I was to describe this in more words it would be, “despite Meryl Streep and Robert Redford doing exemplary jobs this film could probably have been 45 minutes shorter.”

Saying that Streep puts in a brilliant performance is, to be honest, like saying penguins eat fish. It’s a given. However, there is only so much she could do with her Danish accent and acting skills. Similarly, there is only so long you can look at beautiful cinematography of Africa. The glacial pacing of the story depicting a Danish aristocrat moving to Africa with all her worldly possessions, catch an STD, suffer loss and lose everything by the end removes from some of the impact.

You feel for this woman so deeply at times. It gets a little hard watching her being fate’s plaything. Getting something good in her life only to have it cruelly taken from her, and yet they removed a lot of the crap she had to deal with in order to make this film. She’s an incredibly admirable woman. More so because she tried, in her early 20th century way, to help out the people whose lands were taken away by the British.

That leads me to the final thing I am going to address about this film (as enough has been said about the hair-washing scene with Streep and Redford). Here we are thirty years after Out of Africa was made and it is painful to watch just how silent the non-White members of the cast are. Only one, a tribal chief, says anything about the situation and he is pretty much dismissed. On the positive side, there is only one racial epithet from the white side… and that’s the only positive I can think of in that department.

With 14 films to go I know that I haven’t got one left that has a lower rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So, I guess, the only way is up.

Music Monday: Talking Book by Stevie Wonder

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 43/250Talking_BookTitle: Talking Book
Artist: Stevie Wonder
Year: 1972
Position: #129

After listening to Talking Book for the first time the only thing I wanted to do was listen to ‘Ghetto Woman’ by Janelle Monae on her recent album The Electric Lady. In fact, so great is the funk influence that I could feel from Stevie Wonder on Talking Book that I did listen to her for the next hour before circling back to this album.

It’s one of those weird musical things where a name (and a look) becomes so recognisable but you may have never listened to a song by that person. I know I have heard covers of Stevie Wonder songs. I know I have heard that awful duet he did with Blue back in 2003 (holy crap, 12 years ago).

Anyway, Talking Book is chronologically the first of three albums to appear in this list of 250. An album that is marked by musical historians as the start of his ‘classic’ period and as a crossover landmark record for funk and soul. It boasts a large number of songs that are well known to most people. I remember my mum singing ‘You Are The Sunshine Of My Life’ to me when I was really young, so no matter how sweet the song is (which walks the tightrope of being really good without toppling over into being saccharin) it was able to bring a smile to my face…even when I was lodging complaints with Royal Mail over an undelivered Christmas present.

The with this album is that is pretty much all about love (even if the synths on ‘You and I get a little bit distracting). He spends the whole album veering between being besotted and being heartbroken without breaking a sweat. Most people will know the lead single ‘Superstition’, it is one of his best known songs. It illustrates, in a nutshell, that how the quality of his songs that deal with the darker side of love is higher that the fluffier ones… or am I just a cynic?

My main issue with the album is with a song that many people on the internet seem to love: the closer I Believe ‘(When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)’. I have had that moment when I have fallen in love and everything is sunshine and puppies. In fact Nellie McKay’s cover of ‘Wonderful Guy‘ served as the theme music to that. However, it feels to me like a fairly middling Eurovision-style song. Which is a pity, especially since the whole album leading up to that point is so good.

Good Eatin’: A Dinner of Scallops

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

One of the better things to come out of a online grocery shop substitution is that I am able to make a visit to a supermarket in person to see if there are any fresh meat or fish that I can use. I was in luck today.

Food item: Cox’s Orange Pippin

Before I get to that I had a bit of an afternoon snack in the form of a list apple.I remember being younger and these apples being very easy to find alongside Red & Golden Delicious apples. Now the supermarket is so saturated with Pink Lady apples (I still do not see the popularity here) that I have not seen Cox apples for a long time. These are sweet, crisp and refreshing… not too sweet like Pink Lady apples are.

Food item: Pumpkin, Celeriac, Grains of Paradise, Oyster Mushrooms, Diver King Scallops, Lemon Myrtle

Okay so six list items in one meal is a bit much but… I don’t actually mind spending an hour in the kitchen. Anyway, two of these are flavourings so it doesn’t add that much in terms of preparation.

Firstly, there was the pumpkin. I roasted this with some oil and some cumin which took longer than the 40 minutes that was on the recipe page. I like roast pumpkin, so it annoys me how it is hard to find in supermarkets as many just refuse to sell it after Halloween, in many ways it resembles a slightly sweet butternut squash when roasted.

The celeriac was chopped and roasted with some ground up grains of paradise mixed with butter. This gave the celeriac (which tasted like parsnip mixed with celery) an earthy, peppery kick which worked remarkably well.

Oyster mushrooms are not exactly a good side dish by themselves to be honest. They are far too delicate with their faint woody flavouring. If anything they are good to eat because of their texture and because of their flavour absorbing abilities.

Finally, we have the king scallops that I paired with the lemon myrtle I bought from Seasoned Pioneers when I got the filé powder. The scallops came with the roe which I tasted after their 3 minute searing and… I can not say that I was a fan of the intense fishy flavour. I did, however enjoy the meaty texture of these rather thick scallops which were lovely with the intense citrus notes from the lemon myrtle.

The meal may not be too much to look at (minus the pack of Grains of Paradise I included as proof of use) but there was a large variety of flavour that made for an interesting meal. The best of the plate? The grains of paradise coated celeriac.

I am very much aware that I am one away from hitting the half-way point. It really needs to be something special.

Progress: 249/500

Good Eatin’: Missing Sicily

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

So, I had not been back from Sicily for long and I was missing the availability of antipasto style foods. Due to this we decided on two things. Firstly, we were going to crack open the only jar of foodstuffs I had bought in Italy. Secondly, we would go to Waitrose and pick up some list items.

Food items: Sun-Dried Tomato, Pate Di Carciofi, Bella di Cerignola Olives, Fennel Seed

Okay, so sun-dried tomatoes are another of those things where I am a bit surprised that I had not eaten any of since starting on this list. There isn’t much to say about them, they are sweet, intensely tomatoey and great on a toastie.

The pate di carciofi (an artichoke paste that is heavy on the olive oil) was the only food thing I brought back from Sicily apart from some biscuits for work. Sadly, the only remarkable thing about it was that it has an expiration date of 70 years in the future. The taste of olive oil really overpowers the delicate artichoke flavour. It is, however, a delicious substitute for butter on a sandwich.

The Bella de Cerignola olives were perfect table olives. They were plump and juicy with a meaty texture. The pack that this came with was abundant with fennel seeds which leant their aniseed-like flavouring to the olives. Reminded me of the delicious fennel salami from a few months ago.

Food items: Soppressata di Calabria, Rillette, Reblochon, Pain Au Levain Naturel

When I first tried the Pain au Levain it was pretty unremarkable, like a dense and chewy ciabatta loaf but without the olive oil aftertaste. A few bites later I managed to get a good whiff of bread as I was eating it and it suddenly tasted really good. As a base bread it worked really well with all the competing flavours.

Talking of competing flavours that really worked: the Calabrian soppressata and the Reblochon cheese. These really complemented each other because they were vitally different. The soppressata sizzled on the tongue upon first being eaten before disappearing to leave a warm melty texture and a taste like the nduja. The Reblochon cheese had a rich smell like a slightly milder Rachlette with a a springy texture. The interesting thing was how the flavour changed with the rind; on the whole it was not too dissimilar to Cambozola.

Then there was the rillette which was a mix between pate and the ragout filling of a Dutch kroket in that it was smooth and spreadable but also contained something akin to pulled pork.  This made for an interesting texture difference when eaten and, somehow, did not taste as fatty as I would expected.

Progress: 242/500

Ebert’s Greats: Werckmeister Harmóniák

List Item: Watch Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies”
Progress: 184/409werckmeister_005Title: Werckmeister Harmóniák (Werckmeister Harmonies)
Director: Béla Tarr
Year: 2000
Country: Hungary

This was not the first time that I have watched a film by Béla Tarr. Last year I tried out is 2011 film The Turin Horse which was, without mincing words, a bit of a chore to watch. I mean… how often can you watch an impoverished old man peel a boiled potato with his hands.

It is because of this previous exposure that I figured two things. Firstly, I wanted this to be watched sooner rather than later so I would have films less glacially paced to watch. Secondly, this was a rare night on my own and I knew this was a film that my partner would have absolutely no interest in watching because of the aforementioned pacing.

To start looking at Werckmeister Harmonies I do need to look back at The Turin Horse and remark how much more watch-able this film was. Yes, the pacing in Werckmeister Harmonies is slow. Yes, it also features the small number of long takes. However, what ties this film together is a story thread far more engaging than The Turin Horse and one that  is able to tie things together far more effectively.

The story takes place in a Hungarian town in the wake of the Second World War. The people are impoverished and aggravated about the status quo where a small number of the higher ups are living comparatively well. The central character in all this is János (played by a man who resembles a regular sized Peter Dinklage) with nearly every shot in the film featuring his role in the town’s upset.

The spark that ignites the townsfolk into rioting is the arrival of a travelling circus. Carried with them is the stuffed remains of a large whale and the Prince, a disfigured man that we never see. Through the speeches of ‘The Prince’ the riot spreads through the town with looting, arson and (as revealed through a found diary) the bloody rape of two innocent girls.

One thing that the slow pacing of the film serves well is the ultimate climax of the rioting as they storm a hospital. The reason behind this is pure visceral anger. They had already burned and looted their way through the town and the hospital appeared to just be in their way. Not content with the smashing of medical instruments the rioters also beat and murder the patients that they come across. People so weak that you don’t even hear them cry or see them fight back with any meaningful resistance. The symbolic end to their riot just works to show how pathetic and powerless the rioters are… causing the eventual end to the riots.

Werckmeister Harmonies is far from an easy watch due to both the subject matter and the languid pacing of a film which would be quickly paced under the hands of an editor. Then again, a lot would have been lost if things were edited together with the ultimate climactic siege of the hospital being less affecting.

Music Monday: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 42/250Elton_John_-_Goodbye_Yellow_Brick_RoadTitle: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Artist: Elton John
Year: 1973
Position: #144

I had real trouble with this album. After listening to Blue Lines heavily in the previous week (which was then supplemented by Air’s Virgin Suicides soundtrack) I had a real reluctance to go back in time again to something unknown. I even had an album in mind for this week’s entry… but I’m going to sit on that for a little longer since it is precariously perched at the end of this list.

Something that did not help with getting into Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was the sprawling opening track that just bored me silly. By the time it was over and the familiar piano of ‘Candle In The Wind’ started to play I was done with this and was ready to bring in Joanna Newsom to tide me over for another week.

A few days later I decided it was time to give Goodbye Yellow Brick Road another go and started at track two so I would not be coloured again by ‘Funeral For A Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)’. Instinctively I have given the original version of ‘Candle In The Wind’ a wide berth due to the mass hysteria that the re-tooling was able to tap into. The fact is, that this song was never really about Diana, or even about Marilyn Monroe, but about how we have a tendency to revere those who die young. There’s a barb to it… which actually makes it interesting that this became the song of mass mourning. With the barb intact it’s actually a good song.

The rest of the album follows on well there, but it does peak two tracks later with the title track ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’. The falsetto chorus is just so amazing that it is a shame he can’t perform it properly anymore. I struggled for a while to remember where I had heard this recently, and then it hit me… American Hustle. It’s one of those songs that hits you immediately with it’s production and how generally great it is. I had that moment when listening to ‘The Boxer’ not too long ago. This is a song that has just stuck with me.

In terms of highlights you really just need to look at the singles. ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ and ‘Bennie and the Jets’ are songs that most people will know from life… even if it is from places like Futurama or The Vicar of Dibley. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was the real launch of Elton John’s career and where the sphere of his influence started. I mean listening to this I kept being reminded of people like the Scissor Sisters who came later. I wonder where this Elton John went…

Good Eatin’: Happy Birthday Mum

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

Okay, so this is going up months later than the event (as per usual) but today’s post covers how during the course of my mum’s [EDITED] birthday I was able to get a number of easy food list items in… full disclosure: three were by surprise, two were planned.

Food items: Cheesecake and Eclair

So, as part of my mum’s birthday celebrations (after a visit to John Lewis to pick up her birthday present) we went to The Wolsely for a spot of afternoon tea. This not the first time I have done this in 2014, that was when I had some amazing looking fancies, but it is something she loves… and I love the never-ending parade of sandwiches.

I am not really going to write about cheesecake and eclairs since they are commonplace and I could probably right a sonnet about my love of cheesecake. That rich, vanilla cheesecake with it’s biscuit base and creaminess and… *drools*. I am still hoping for a cheesecake wedding cake… so if that works we’ll probably see more about that then.

Food items: Okra and Filé

 As part of my mum’s birthday (we are now a few days later since we were so stuffed after sandwiches, scones and cakes that we had to postpone this) I made her favourite meal that I make: gumbo. This is how I was able to plan to eat okra (since it is one of the main ingredients) and filé powder.

Now, I had never used filé powder before this batch of gumbo but I knew that this was a traditional ingredient and was something I substituted out for a traditional roux since I was never able to get my hands on it before. Now, thanks to this list, I actually took it upon myself to find it to make the gumbo complete. It gave the gumbo an earthiness that it never had before, actually gave it a new angle.

List Item: Have a signature dish
Progress: Completed

So yes, this is the base recipe that I use for gumbo, but the great thing about having a signature dish is that you start to know it so well (if not by heart) that you are able to play around with it. With the filé powder I just chose to omit the oil and flour in favour of 2 teaspoons of the spice. One of the benefits, other than the taste, is that this makes it lower in calories. Always a plus.

  Food items: Kugelhopf

Now for the big surprise of the evening… my mum went for another afternoon tea the day after I went with her. She went for a Viennese tea at The Delaunay and had some random cakes left over. It just happened that one of them was a kugelhopf, a miniature version to be sure but still delicious. It will tide me over before I am in a German speaking country again.

Progress: 234/500