Monthly Archives: May 2016

Good Eatin: Post-Boxing Day Food Splurge

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

It’s the end of 2015, and I am rather happy to say that I have been able to make so much progress on my lists that I have been able to build up a 6 month posting buffer. Looks like I might be sticking with four posts a week for now. Also, I have started to make my way through a bit of a backlog of food items that have been piling up in the cupboards during a rather busy time at work.

Food item: Pate au Foie de Canard

Okay, so in the book it says ‘duck liver pate’ in French, so I am going to count this duck and clementine pate that I found in Morrisons. Is it odd for me to prefer pork and chicken-based pates over duck and game pates?

Pate is meant to be rich, but from my experience with different pates I just think that pork and chicken liver work better as flavour bases. Duck and game meats just dominate too much. Is this just me? Also, how decadent is it to be able to compare pates!

Food item: Oysters Rockerfeller

Speaking of decadent – how about some oysters rockerfeller for lunch? How about, no thank you. It’s another one of those cases where (like with the Coquilles St. Jacques) the coating is good, but the moment I get to the shellfish underneath… not as keen. The mix of parsley, spring onion and other herbs that I could not work out made for a delicious coating. The oyster underneath… not as much.

Food item: Tangerine

I guess I am a simple man of simple pleasures since I would prefer to eat a tangerine than either of the above foods. Also, just putting this out there, tangerines are easily better than satsumas, clementines and mandarins. Not even a bad tangerine can have the sourness that other small citrus fruit can have if they aren’t ripe enough or just of poor quality.

Food items: Sea Bass with Fennel and Florence Fennel

As our December 27th meal I decided to go heavy on the list stuff and start cooking some of the fish in the freezer. Tonight’s contestant – sea bass fillets from Lidl. A big thanks to Waitrose for their recipe which was a resounding success. I think maybe next time I would opt for some slice green olives rather than Kalamata. As much as I love Kalamata, they have a tendency towards the bitter and I think a meatier olive might work better.

The fish itself… well I have to say I was sceptical with it being fish from Lidl. When will I learn that the Lidl of today is different from the Lidl from 15 years ago, whose dog food burned a permanent stain into the kitchen floor.

Also a revelation was the fennel (Florence fennel is pretty much any bulb fennel you can get). I expected something a bit more concentrated than the mild aniseed taste that I got. It also wilted rather nicely in a similar way to leek.

Now, this meal was meant to be accompanied by more vegetables, but seeing how my oven doesn’t correlate with roasting times (and only roasting times) we had to have this 5 minutes later.
Food items: Turnips and Tarragon Vinegar

For this I followed a recipe from Food and Wine, except I replaced the mustard and white wine vinegar with the tarragon vinegar that hub bought me for Christmas.

I have to say that I was very pleased with the results. I have never eaten turnip before, but after sampling these sweet roasted baby turnips I might be turned around on the idea. The Tarragon vinaigrette was a very nice touch too.

Progress: 819/933

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Let’s Get Literal: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 29/100Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God
Author: Zora Neale Hurston
Year: 1937
Country: USA

Honesty time here, I had never heard of The Eyes Were Watching God before taking on this book list. It also has one of those titles that I would normally stay clear from since I don’t get on that well with books that are overly religious. With no real preconceptions I was able to go into this book completely cold.

I wish I had known one thing. That the speech patterns were written nearly phonetically,  like Joseph in Wuthering Heights. It came as a bit of a shock to start the book off on such unsure footing. It didn’t take too long for me to get used to it though, in fact it’s one of those rare books that almost made me cry on a crowded train.

Now here is the thing, when Margaret Mitchell did a similar thing, in Gone With The Wind to mimic the voice patterns of black Southern character it felt racist. Then again, as much as I love the book it definitely had a pronounced racist streak to it.

Anyway, back to THIS book which is the only black feminist book I have ever read other than The Colour Purple. At some point I will get to some Toni Morrison books.

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a book of three parts – all told as a prolonged flashback by Janie, the central character, to her friend Pheoby. Each part of her story is centred around each of her three husbands (I say ‘husbands’ but I swear she never got divorced from her first one…) and how she is able to develop her own sense of self and independence.

With this book taking place in the 1910s and 1920s, Janie does not live in a world that affords her many options. It is a world where there are men who are jealous of her husband as he is the one who gets to beat her. A world where her men do not allow her to speak her mind. This is the life she has with her first two husbands (again, Janie is probably a bigamist). Marriages marred with crushed dreams and unrealistic expectations.

To be honest, a lot of these early chapters are hard to read as you are watching a woman who has been denied her intellect and her dreams. It all changes at the appearance of husband number three – Tea Cake (the name is stupid).

These chapters with Janie and Tea Cake are an incredible contrast to the ones that preceded them. He does not afford her EVERY liberty, but there is actual love between the two of them. He allows her to do things that neither of her previous husbands allowed her to do. Tea Cake is nowhere near perfect – he does hit her at one point and you can never defend that. He is still, however, the only person that has not only allowed Janie to be herself, but loved her on those terms.

I am not going to go much further into this book, other than to finish on this note. Despite the fact that this book is now ranked as one of the essential books to read, the author Zora Neale Hurston ended her life working part-time jobs and was put to rest in an unmarked grave.

When Their Eyes Were Watching God was released her contemporary African-American writers derided it. Since she wanted to tell a story not laced with social commentary she was not taken seriously. The fact that an African-American character dies in a hurricane because he would rather go to sleep than run away from the coming storm… well that probably didn’t sit too well.

I feel that I have learnt a lot from reading this book. I probably won’t be leaving it too long before delving back into the world of African American literature.

Good Eatin: Christmas 2015

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

Like I said before, there has been a bit of a slowdown when it comes to the food lists. Things have started to become a bit less available and a bit more expensive. Since it is Christmas (okay, it is currently May) I am feeling a bit more free to get some of these foods.

However, these will not  be as expensive as a £90 Bourbon Red turkey from Fortnum & Mason.

Food item: Lardo Di Colonnata

I love it when a delicatessen has an offcuts bin. I managed to find this chunk of Lardo di Colonnata in the same offcuts section that I previously found the Culatello Di Zibello. Maybe one day I will find some Coppa Piacentina – for now I have this seasoned lump of fat.

In the end, that is what lardo is. It’s a seasoned lump of fat that Italians apparently serve on bruschetta in thin slices. In the case of Lardo Di Colonnata the dominant flavours are salt and rosemary. Also fat. It is pretty obvious you are eating fat when you are handling, cutting and eating this.

Since it is just, you know, fat I was not able to eat too much of this. It was not particularly nice to eat to be honest. I thinly sliced is onto bread as stipulated in the book, but this was not worth the calories – or the incredibly greasy mouthfeel.


Food item: Mulled Wine and Star Anise

I love the smell of mulled wine, especially if is being cooked by a stall in a Christmas market. This is where my love of mulled wine stops though. In many ways I do wonder if trying the alcoholic drinks is waste of time. Since I don’t otherwise drink it is hard for me to get past the actual alcoholic taste.

But that smell. That’s Christmas right there.

Food item: Christmas Pudding and (not pictured) Roast Turkey

Hands up time. I forgot to take a picture of my mum’s delicious roast turkey. Since it is not beyond the realms of possibility that I had roast turkey as part of a Christmas dinner I thought I would still count it despite the lack of a photo. It also made for a good Boxing Day nasi goreng. It’s weird what traditions you unknowingly start, isn’t it?

Speaking of tradition, Christmas pudding! We didn’t have brandy to light it on fire, so we doused it with amaretto and hoped for the best. It wasn’t world class pyrotechnics, but the flame was a nice blue. Christmas pudding is, for me, one of those weird acquired taste things. Never liked it much as a child, would not actively seek it out as an adult and yet it wouldn’t be Christmas without it.

There will be more food in the run up to New Year, but we’ll visit that in a future post.

Progress: 812/933

Graphic Content: V For Vendetta

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress: 9/501
Title: V For Vendetta
Author: Alan Moore
Illustrator:
 David Lloyd
Year: 1988-1989
Country: UK

Another comic down! I am still getting my husband through Gilmore Girls (for those in the know, we are at the episode where we first meet Jess <3), so looks like there will be no movement on that list for a while… good thing that I don’t exactly have a dearth of things to read/watch/listen to/eat.

Like most people reading V For Vendetta, I watched the movie first and have been meaning to read the source materials for a very long time. I mean, I even bought the graphic novel for my husband a few years ago and haven’t read it despite his recommendation.

Since I now know both the film and the book it is interesting to note some of the major changes. The most start being the central character of V. Hugo Weaving’s version in the film is relatable, fighting for the side of good and is strangely attractive. In the graphic novel… not as much. In fact, he’s pretty much a sociopath. I mean, when you think about what he does to Evey in that prison. Who does that!?

Don’t get me wrong. The government in the graphic novel are abhorrent. In fact, they are most definitely worse than the government in the film. However, V isn’t exactly a hero. He is more like the lesser of two evils so you DO support him. Then again, what have his actions left the English people with? In the film there is a definite conclusion and it is slightly uplifting, in the graphic novel it’s left completely open.

Depressing and intellectually stimulating – so basically the opposite of Winnie The Pooh.

Acclaimed Albums – Forever Changes by Love

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 101/250Title: Forever Changes
Artist: Love
Year: 1967
Position: #50

Wow, I am really beginning to pick up the pace on these albums. Granted, if it wasn’t for the fact that I had to create 2-300 word posts for each album I would probably be a lot further to finishing off the 250 than where I am now. Also, 2015 was a RIDICULOUSLY good year for music. How can I listen to old music when there are new releases by Joanna Newsom, Grimes, Bjork and Sufjan Stevens? Well, exactly.

I’ve begun to find that during my making improvements to my games list (which is still a long way from me actually finalizing and using it – as it stands there are now 1100+ lists involved in the calculations) is a good time to listen to some of these albums.

One thing that doing this acclaimed albums list has taught me, is that I have no idea about what makes a genre. When reading up about what to expect of Forever Changes I came across the terms ‘baroque pop’ and ‘psychedelic rock’. So, I was expecting some Jimi Hendrix/Beach Boys/Captain Beefheart mash up. It isn’t exactly what I got.

The roots of Forever Changes is very much in folk rock. Now THAT I can understand. I am guessing that some of the guitar playing that I heard (which I would just label ‘sixties’) would be more along the lines of psychedelia. Possibly. I don’t know.

In any case. In spite of not being able to find a genre to successfully pigeon-hole this album I have to say that I really enjoyed Forever Changes. It is a rare example of an acclaimed album from the 1960s that I really got. Maybe it is because Love is one of those bands that you never really hear about so there were no expectations (although, album opener ‘Alone Again Or’ sounded oddly familiar).

Expectations of albums or artists have been toxic when trying albums on this list for the first time. Makes me wonder how I’ll feel about the remaining albums in the Top 10.

Good Eatin’: Snert Is A Funny Word

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

My, how the food has slowed down since Japan. I have a bunch of things dotted around the house (like frozen red snapper and dried red dates) with no idea what to do with them. So maybe once work calms down and I can have a two day weekend  I will be able to clear out a lot of the backlog.

Food item: Snert

Ah snert. It sure is a fun word to say. I always think of Chandler saying “MERGE” when I say the word snert. This isn’t where the joy ends for me, since this is one of my favourite foods to come out of the Netherlands.

A big thanks to hubby’s family for the hamper of Dutch things that this tin of soup (and my new favourite slippers) came in. I may have insisted that we opened this tin up on a particularly cold day. Nothing suits a cold day like thick soup, and by god this soup is thick.

If you don’t know what snert is, it is basically a thick pea soup. It usually contains bits of meat and other vegetables in it, but the split pea is the key ingredient. It could be able to support a spoon for a short time although we watered it down a little bit to accommodate a generous serving of sliced rookworst (another hamper goody).

Food item: Satsuma

Now for something that is readily available in the UK. There has been quite a lot of citrus fruit on these lists (still some more to go, including Meyer lemons and finger limes). I guess I have never thought of satsumas as anything special since it is always there. It’s one of those things you pick up at a Tesco on the way home if you worry that a vegetableless day will leave you with a touch of the scurvy. Begs the question why I go for a satsuma over something that is easier to eat when walking to the station, like a banana.

Food item: Heather Honey

I finally bit the bullet and bought a jar of heather honey. Now I have a jar sitting in the cupboard never to be opened again. It was vile.

I like honey in food such as stir-fries, marinades and glazes. I will even put it in my green tea. Thing is, I have never been the sort of person to just eat honey from the jar (as I am not a bear) or spread it onto toast though. Too sweet. I would never do it with heather honey because of the extreme floral aromatics at play. It is aggressively floral to the point of pungent.

I think something like this could work in a cake, but never by itself.

Progress: 807/933

Over 1300 Best Games Lists – A Definitive Best Games Ever List!

Over a year ago I made a post with what I thought was a pretty cool and definitive list of the best ever video games. Enter a rather amazing collaborator who furnished me with 1000+ extra lists!

That’s right, over 1300 lists have been amalgamated to create a new list of the best video games. With titles like Assassin’s Creed IV falling out to be replaced by the likes of UFO: Enemy Unknown the credibility of this list is feeling a little bit more… professional.

The great thing about having so many lists is stability. Yes, a new list always brings movement, but it is no longer as foundation shaking as before. This means that I am happily able to expand this to a Top 1000 – which can now be viewable at Play That Game

For the purposes of this blog, however, I am going to stick with the Top 100. Also, now that the list is in a FAR more complete state than it was last year, I will now be starting on these games for blog purposes. A lot of time has been taken up by making this as conclusive as possible. I feel I am pretty much there now.

Please enjoy, share and send any comments about this new list.

If you missed the link:

www.playthatgame.co.uk

 

1001 Songs – 1952 – 1953

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

They Can’t Take That Away From Me – Fred Astaire (1952)

I always forget that Fred Astaire also sang, when I think of him it is always dancing, usually with Ginger Rogers. It’s a bittersweet song about the ending of a relationship. Astaire never had the strongest of voices, but in his lightness there is also a great deal of grace and sincerity. Of note is the first minute of a three minute song with no singing. It made me think we got the wrong file to be honest since it is a lot of instrumental for a three minute song.

Dust My Broom – Elmore James (1952)

Wow, possibly the first song we have heard that makes such heavy use of an electric (although somewhat tinny) guitar. I don’t know the song, but I really recognise THAT guitar riff. Must be one of those things that has become sampled by later artists or at least become a staple in the electric blues genre. I fact… I think it’s a Loretta Lynn (as produced by Jack White) song that I recognise it from.

Foi Deus – Amalia Rodrigues (1952)

Meanwhile in Portugal, there’s fado singing. A type of folk music that is probably more closely aligned to music I would listen to instead of the last two songs. I only have limited French, so I have no idea what she is singing about. It sounds mournful. Like the sort of music someone would sing on a street corner with a band and (in my head) a lot of roses.

Le gorille – Georges Brassens (1952)

Okay, so I looked in the 1001 Songs book for this one. It’s not everyday you come across a song called ‘The Gorilla’. I then had to find a translation of the song that talks of an authority figure (aka the gorilla) that sodomises a judge thinking that he is an old woman… and it’s pretty graphic. It was obviously controversial and was banned from French radio for 3-4 years. The song is playful in tone and, apparently, reflects Brassens views against the death penalty. The central image, is hard to shake though.

Singin’ in the Rain – Gene Kelly (1952)

I never liked the film Singin’ in the Rain. Just need to get that out of the way. I did, like everyone, love the sequence that featured the titular song. It doesn’t work as well as a song if you know the dance sequence. This recorded version by Gene Kelly leaves some rather obvious dance breaks and sweeping strings which would have been impeccibly timed to his choreography. It’s also an interesting co-incidence that in the same blog post we have a Fred Astaire and a Gene Kelly song – I’m Team Astaire all the way.

Just Walkin’ in the Rain – The Prisonaires (1953)

Well done Mr/Ms. Editor for putting these songs back to back. The song itself is fairly standard, but it has an interesting story. The song list two writers when in fact you had the singer, Johnny Bragg, come up with the lyrics, but since he was illiterate had to have someone else physically write it down. It’s a sensitive song written by someone who had been put into prison with 6 99-year sentences for rape’s that he did not commit. His sentence was commuted, but a harrowing story just the same.

Please Love Me – B.B. King (1953)

We’re back again to a blues song that makes heavy use of an electric guitar. It’s a crossroads between rock and roll and blues with some interesting guitar picking during the vocals.

Crying in the Chapel – The Orioles (1953)

With the exception of some really Christmassy bells floating between the verses (seriously thought it would start on some ‘Jingle Bells’) this song is almost completely acapella. Personal preference here, but God and acapella don’t quite do it for me when mixed together.

Progress: 52/1021

Let’s Get Literal: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 28/100Title: Lolita
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Year: 1955
Country: France

I am really conflicted about this novel. I have no doubt about the fact that I am really happy to be able to say that I have read Lolita. I am also glad that I did NOT read this when I was a teen, because I might have missed the point entirely.

Humbert Humbert (the narrator and central paedophile of the novel) is a sociopath and a monster. He is not necessarily a monster just because he wants to have sex with 12-14 year old girls. There are enough people out there who suffer from this predilection without acting on it. People who hate themselves and end up taking their own lives because they can never be rid of their urge.  Humbert, however, does act on it and he doesn’t care as long as he is able to get off. No doubt about it, he ruins the life of the titular Lolita (name: Dolores Haze) as he never really makes the connection that she is a person and not his dream made flesh.

AND YET

Humbert is charming. He is a smart man, who enjoys word play and is able to generate sympathy. At no point in this book did I forget that it was Humbert who was meant to be writing this book. He tries to generate pathos early on by explaining the reason he fancies young girls (due to a childhood girlfriend dying). Here’s the thing though, he’s probably lying.

In fact, there is very little in the book that could be considered 100% truthful apart from his feelings of infatuation with this young girl. It is clear that, in his own way, Humbert truly loved Dolores (I am reluctant to call her ‘Lolita’ since that is the name he uses). He is obsessively in love with her to the point that he murders one man and is culpable of manslaughter of someone else.

He shows little emotional awareness of others until towards the end of the book, where he talks about moments when he realizes that Dolores was scared or afraid. As she grows, he becomes aware more and more of how he has effected her. It’s more than a case of too little, too late. However, it goes a long way to explain why, as he sits in jail, he is admitting to these crimes.

To Humbert, maybe this confession is his attempt at atonement. Most likely, it’s an act of ego-stroking. It’s a fascinating and thought-provoking book.

Oscar Bait – All Quiet on the Western Front

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: 85/89

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 458/1007Title: All Quiet on the Western Front
Director: Lewis Milestone
Year: 1930
Country: USA

Well, like I said in my post on The Red and the White – I prefer a war film to be more on the grim than on the gung-ho. All Quiet on the Western Front just continues to reinforce this view with it’s frank depiction of German soldiers engaging in World War 1 trench warfare.

So picture the scene. It is 1930. An American film studio decides to make a film from a German book about how German soldiers dealt with life as a soldier in the trenches. It won the Best Picture award at the 3rd Academy Awards ceremony.

When you add all those pieces together the fact that this occurred is extraordinary. Especially since it’s not a feat that has been achieved since. Sure, we have had hugely successful war films and anti-war films since that depict World Wars One and Two. How many of these have been told from the perspective of the ‘opposition’, been produced by Hollywood studios and released into cinemas? Honestly, after Letters from Iwo Jima I draw a complete blank.

That’s why All Quiet on the Western Front is such an important film. It’s also a film that I really wish that my school would have shown when they taught us about World War One. Then again, the reason schools tend to not do that comes back to quote from Jerusalem by Guy Delisle:

It’ll always be easier to fight others if you reduce them to a single word or look at them just one way.

It’s so true about so many things both past and present. I guess it’s a hard concept to get across to children and, sadly, a lot of adults.

Rant aside – this is a brilliantly bleak and honest film about World War One. A film that we should possibly put on the television in early November to remind everyone that enemy soldiers are just the same as ours. Humans who were just born on a different patch of soil.