Monthly Archives: April 2017

Good Eatin’ – Pantelleria Capers

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Dieimg_3820Food item: Pantelleria Caper

I can’t expressed how weirdly thrilled I was with my husband when he found these in Marks and Spencer. It sounds like I have a specifically low bar to clear in order to make me happy… I just think myself weird.

So what makes the Pantelleria caper different? Well these are specifically grown on an island off the coast of Sicily (meaning I could have had these a few years ago when I was in Catania and not even known it). Apparently the black volcanic soil helps to add to the flavour and, having tasted these out of the jar, I have to say that these are the most capery capers that I have ever had.

Now, you can’t just eat capers by themselves (well you can, but go with me) so I decided to make one of my signature dinners.

img_3821

Spaghetti Puttanesca is one of the quickest and easiest recipes that I have in my arsenal (my recipe here). This is so quick and easy that I ended up making this as a ‘please like me’ meal when I first met my in-laws. The fact that I made something that translates as “spaghetti in the style of prostitutes” didn’t even occur to me. It came up when they were eating though, luckily it wasn’t too awkward.

I know it’s a cliche to say this, but I can really taste the difference with these special capers. They just taste a lot stronger than your bog-standard caper. Definitely something to remember for the future should I ever find them again.

Progress: 575/751

Advertisements

What’s On TV – Rejseholdet

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 184/501
Title: Rejseholdet (Unit One)
Episodes Aired: 20
Episodes Watched: 32
Year(s): 2000-04
Country: Denmark

Since I now have the TV podcast these particular write-ups are going to be brief as I just need to these to officially cross these off of my list.

This is the first time I have ever watched a Scandinavian procedural drama and, thankfully, this will not be the last. Rejseholdet really is cop drama as I like it. Gritty in places, funny in places and a fantastic variation in crimes.

Having just spent 1-2 hours recording and editing a podcast episode about this show I feel a little bit talked out about this show. So if you want some interesting insight (and odd tangents) please tune in to the Just Watch It podcast and let me know what you think!

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/hmu3v-64131c?from=yiiadmin

Good Eatin’ – Cubeb Pepper Shortbread

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

img_3817Food item: Cubeb Pepper

This is is the latest in a series of me trying to cross off the remaining spices that can be easily bought in UK supermarkets (ok I got this from Waitrose, but that still counts as a UK supermarket).

There were a number of recipes to use the cubeb pepper with, but I saw one for cubeb shortbread and figured that it would be a good way to show off the flavour rather than have it just be dominated by other things.

img_3819

So here are the cubeb pepper shortbreads (recipe here) when they came out of the oven. Once again, I managed to make something that tasted nice, but looked malformed.

This was the first time that I have actually managed to make shortbread that actually smelt, felt and tasted like shortbread! You gotta love the little victories in life.

Now, this did not taste like normal shortbread because of all the cubeb pepper. In fact the cubeb pepper gave it a warm woody taste which was like a mixture of black pepper and allspice. I would happily make these again, but I might reduce the amount of pepper so it tastes that bit sweeter.

img_3814Food item: Soft Caramel

Okay so I randomly had a piece of soft caramel and didn’t feel that it warranted a post of its own. It’s just a standard piece of chewy caramel, which probably should have been crossed off a little bit earlier. Still, I’ve crossed it off now and that’s what matters.

Progress: 574/751

XL Popcorn – Touch of Evil

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 585/1007
Title: Touch of Evil
Director: Orson Welles
Year: 1958
Country: USA

Here we are. The fourth Orson Welles film from the 1001 film list that I have seen. Prior to this I have seen Citizen Kane, F for Fake and The Magnificent AmbersonsBased on my previous experience to Orson Welles films I don’t think it is too much of a surprise to say that this was, by far, the best Orson Welles film that I have seen (and am likely to see).

Knowing my own taste I think I can make a wild stab in the dark as to why Touch of Evil really worked for me: it’s a noir film. Not just that either, it is one of the final noir films from the classic noir period. This lateness helps with the film since it means that you have a classic noir featuring the most modern filming techniques available at the time.

If you want an example of how the filming/direction just makes this film – just look at the first long take of the film. It runs at about 3 minutes 20 seconds and you only realise that this is one long take at about the time they cut away to a car exploding. You also have some beautifully framed shots in a murder scene about half-way into the film.

As with pretty much all noir films there is a crime being investigated and the lines of enquiry are, to begin with, complicated. Honestly, there were points within the first 15-20 minutes where I needed to really think about the complicated web that the plot was weaving, that and there were a lot of names being used at once. After the 30 minute mark everything clears up though and I could just settle in.

I really don’t want to say too much because, you know, spoilers, but this film is a fantastic look at police corruption, American-Mexican relationships and the almost uncontrollable bloating that Orson Welles was going through. Seriously, having seen him in Citizen Kane this was an extreme in weight-gain that I was not expecting.

One final thing – we have an example of a white-actor (Charlton Heston) in brownface since he is meant to be playing a policeman of ethnic extraction. The only reason it really stuck out to me is because I know Charlton Heston from a lot of other films. Still, it was a strange thing to see. Didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the film, but it was one of those things that just made me go, “oh”.

Let’s Get Literal – Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 36/100Title: The Grapes of Wrath
Author: John Steinbeck
Year: 1939
Country: USA

Well that was depressing. Not depressing in the same way The Diary of a Young Girl was (since that was an actual first-hand account) but depressing nonetheless.

Like most people in the UK of a certain age I studied John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men for my GCSE English Literature exam. Unlike most people of my age I actually read and enjoyed Of Mice and Men to the point of it being one of the few books that actually made me cry at the end. So I do know, firsthand, how dark Steinbeck can go.

Similarly I watched the excellent cinematic adaptation many a year ago so I pretty much knew the basic storyline. I say basic because the latter half of the book and film differ rather substantially. I cannot think of another time where the film adaptation of a novel came out within a year of the novel being released. Talk about band wagon.

The thing is The Grapes of Wrath in the novel does not end on a hopeful note. Rather, it ends in a stillbirth and an act of Roman Charity. I can imagine that not playing well when World War II started and, also, the Hays Code would probably have not looked kindly on a finale where a grown man is breast-fed by a teenage girl.

So how do we end up reaching the point where this act makes sense narratively? We start off when the Joad family lose their farm due to the dual effects of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Like many people in their situation this family decide to make their way to California in the hopes of being able to scrape out a living as migrant workers.

The tragic thing is how true this was for so many people. I know that since the recession of 2008 people have had it bad in the USA, but it cannot have been on this scale. This widespread movement of Americans in the hope of 25 cents an hour… only to be faced with discrimination, police brutality and corruption. It’s horrendous. And timely, when you think about the current mass migrations still occurring.

When you read this it is very clear to see where Steinbeck’s political leanings are. He paints the antagonistic groups of this novel as utterly unsympathetic and, in many ways, the ultimate corrupt capitalists. This book is, in some ways, an arguement for socialism over capitalism. The people are forced to move not because of their own mistakes, but because of the world around them changing the goal posts and causing their crops to fail.

There was no safety net, no clemancy and no way for them to ever survive this with a shred of their original pride intact.  This is what makes the character of Tom and Ma Joad so interesting.

The central character, Tom Joad, is recently out of prison and he fights for what he believes in – to the point where he ends up killing someone who is threatening the “Okies”. He takes on de facto leadership of the family, despite the fact that his father is still alive, mainly because he seems to be the most socially aware and intelligent. His big flaw, however, is his temper. Something that has lead him to kill more than one person.

Compare Tom to his mother Ma Joad. She is, by far, the strongest person in the family as you would expect in most units such as this. She makes a comment that stuck with me and, I think, shows her character:

“Woman can change better’n a man,” Ma tells Pa.“Woman got all her life in her arms. Man got it all in his head”

Without both Tom and Ma the family would have sunk a long time ago. Possibly even died on the road to California. They are both able to provide the strength and heart that carries them through deaths, stillbirths, starvation and their near constant flight.

Thinking about it again as I write this The Grapes of Wrath is actually a remarkable novel. It still has lessons to teach us since, if you believe Buddhaas long as their are humans there is suffering and injustice. As long as either of those exist, The Grapes of Wrath will remain relevant.

🎻♫♪ – Violin Sonata No. 9 by Ludwig Van Beethoven

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 13/501Title: Violin Sonata in A major, op. 47, “Kreutzer”
Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Nationality: German
Year:
 1803

So here we are again, a classical piece that has been played because of its inclusion in Your Lie In AprilIn the context of the show this is a rather important piece because it’s the first piece that we see Kaori and Kousei playing together. Well, we see the first movement being played. Still, it’s a good way to demonstrate the skill of both the pianist and violinist.

Speaking of skill, how can someone be playing this sonata for ~40 minutes. The skill required to master the complexity of this piece is astonishing. I think that with this being the first violin I listen to for this list I am setting the standard rather unfairly.

Not only is this piece complex, but it is also incredibly varied. The first movement is energetic, the second meditiative and the third quick-pace and appears to be almost gleeful. I don’t know if this is because of my exposure to Your Lie In April talking, but I do prefer the first movement. The quickness and the plucking as well as the (in my opinion) closer interplay between the violin and piano just sparkles.

So, there is a reason that this is named the Kreutzer sonata. Originally this was dedicated to a violinist called Bridgetower (which would make this the Bridgetower sonata). However, Beethoven and Bridgetower got into a fighter over alcohol and a woman so Beethoven re-dedicated it to another prominent violinist: Kreutzer. I love little stories like that. Helps to make this piece feel so alive.

I think I’m going to go back to an older piece now. Now that I’ve felt something like this sonata, it might help give more context to the origins of classical music.

Good Eatin’ – Juniper Berries and Pearl Barley

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

Food items: Pearl Barley and Juniper

55p. You can get a bag of pearl barley for 55p and it has taken me this long to actually cook with it. My only excuse for not doing this earlier is that with a list that is so long you cannot possibly remember every single thing on it. I mean, look at how I recently went to America and didn’t even think of getting any Dry Jack cheese. Inexcusable!

Still, I’m doing it now whilst also crossing off a rather easy to find spice: juniper.  If I drank at all I could have been cheeky and crossed off juniper whilst sipping on a gin & tonic, but no I need to do this the proper way.

So what can you make using pearl barley and juniper berries?

img_3806

The only time I have ever had juniper before was as a flavouring for sauerkraut. So why mess with a good thing? Personally I am not a big fan of eating the juniper berries as they are too piney for my taste. They do, however, impart a nice resinous aromatic flavour to the sauerkraut. Although, if you want to add juniper berries to your sauerkraut you may want to add a few teaspoon of brown sugar to balance them out a bit.

As for the pearl barley – I am genuinely shocked at how nice it was. Okay so on it’s own the pearl barley is pretty tasteless. However, it is easily able to take on flavour and is gloriously chewy when it plumps up. A big thanks to this recipe and a generous addition of grated grana padano cheese for helping me me make the most of this ingredient.

Progress: 572/751

Level One – Resident Evil 4

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 62/100Title: Resident Evil 4
Developer: Capcom
Original Platform: Gamecube
Year: 2005

If I found it hard to play BioShock then what chance did I have with this one? Pretty much none to be honest.

The video games list is, emotionally, one of the hardest for me to complete because of the survival horrors. I have tried twice in my life to play this and both times ended with me dropping the controllers and turning the TV off. One of these times I was at a friend’s house and I just started shaking… to someone who just plays these on repeat I think my behaviour looked like that dog in the pound who has chunks of fur missing.

So, knowing that I would not be able to play it long enough (I tried, I really did) I figured the next best thing would be to watch my husband play for his blog. No dice. It made me feel sick with worry and the shaking started once again. The only way I was able to watch it without an extreme reaction was to find a sarcastic Let’s Play on YouTube.

I don’t think I have been so affected by a game before. I mean, my husband actually enjoyed it and said that he could see how Resident Evil 4 would end up on such a list. As an observer and a player I was extremely tense. The music cues, the limited ammunition and the crazed enemies are all part of the Resident Evil DNA. What changes things is the POV.

From playing and observing Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2 it is easy to see how the most annoying thing are the fixed camera angles. In Resident Evil 4 they changed things by having the camera behind the characters shoulder and allowing you to more easily aim and maim.

Movable camera angles had been a while with games like Super Mario 64 acting as a trailblazer and you had other shooters like Tomb Raider having the shooter in the middle of the screen. Resident Evil 4 and it’s over-the-shoulder view was fairly revolutionary to the point where most shooters tend to offer this sort of view, or at least have this as a view alongside a first-person option.

I wonder know that this is an odd way to cross off, but I can’t play this otherwise. I am probably going to need to resort to this when the pyramid-heads of Silent Hill 2 rear their pointy heads. I also wonder… will I be able to play The Last of Us without freaking out?

1001 Songs – 1965: Part Two

And now the thrilling conclusion to 1965. If you think this is a lot of songs just wait until 1966 – that’s going to end up being split in 3.

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

Like a Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan

Our first track sung by Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan. This song would have had more effect on our listening if it hadn’t ended up being the first of the second half. This is so unbelievably different to whatever had come before (in terms of the 1001 songs list and music in general).

The big shock, at least for me, is just how successful this was. It isn’t like Bob Dylan was this artist that was appreciated by music-lovers only and not as much the mainstream. This song managed to get to the top reaches of the singles charts. That’s incredibly when you actually think about this cynical, biting poem set to music was able to reach the same notice as girl groups and the Beatles.

People Get Ready – The Impressions

I’m missing something with this one. I get that the imagery in this track is making reference to the Underground Railroad movement that helped to free slaves in the Southern states. I get that this was written at a time where the Civil Rights Movement was making tracks and that this was a good rallying cry that could be used in the churches. However, this is ranked so highly in so many best of lists… and I just hear a fairly generic gospel song from the 1960s.

Looks like this might just be me.

Who Do You Love – The Preachers

Well. That was different.

This is described as being a ‘high energy’ version of a Bo Diddley song. Not sure if that’s an adequate description. This is not on the list because it’s one of the best songs, but because of what it represents: proto-punk.

What we have here is a band trying to take the rock and roll sound and play it harder, faster, rawer and screamier (okay not a word). It’s not punk as we know it, but in the context of what was around at the time this is something very different.

Now to rescue my eardrums before moving on. Ouch.

The Carnival Is Over – The Seekers

This is more of what I expect from a 1960s song. A hugely successful pop-folk hybrid that sold over 1.4 million copies in the UK alone.

With this level of nostalgic melancholy it is unsurprising that this track originates from an old folk song – specifically a Russian folk song. It’s melody has been adapted by the brother of Dusty Springfield who also composed lyrics that were vastly different to the original Russian ones (which were about a peasant uprising… cheery).

This is just one of those nice inoffensive songs that just sounds good. Middle of the road, but good.

Psycho – The Sonics

This is another one of those songs where we are starting to see rock and roll morph into something harder and a bit punkier. It doesn’t hit the screamy heights of ‘Who Do You Love’, but this is most definitely part of the evolution.

The genre at this stage is garage rock (a bit of a Ronseal name there for a type of rock and roll kids would play in the garage) and we are not yet at the stage of punk.

It’s interesting to think that it would take 10-15 years before the definitive punk albums start to be made (Ramones, Never Mind the Bollocks etc) and yet we are starting that evolution in 1965. Makes you wonder what music is brewing right now only to explode in a decades time.

I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (to Stop Now) – Otis Redding

Otis Redding is another one of those talents from the 1960s where there is a great sense of a ‘what if’ about them. Dead at 26 in a plane crash.

This song is most definitely soul, but it just feels that tiny bit more nuanced. There’s something in the vocals here and the light arrangement that leave you wanting just that little bit more.

Stop! In The Name of Love – The Supremes

This is very much the other side of soul. More upbeat and intertwined with pop sensibilities.

As much as this song is incredibly famous you can not hear that chorus without seeing the simple (yet legendary) choreography of the girl group simultaneously raising their hand as they say ‘Stop’ with their hand squarely placed on their hips. Classic.

Subterranean Homesick Blues – Bob Dylan

Back again to the Nobel Laureate. Where you can’t think of ‘Stop! In The Name of Love’ without the dance move, you can’t hear ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ without the mental image of the music video where Dylan is dropping cards with the lyrics on them.

It’s annoying that this song is later on the list than ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ as this was the earlier song. You can tell this song is earlier as, for Dylan, this song feels just that bit more mainstream. It’s a protest song with a vein of blues rock running through.

Seriously, why wouldn’t you make this list completely chronological rather than chronological just by year. Honestly.

The Sound of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel

Damn it ‘Arrested Development’ I had to restart this song because I started laughing at the image of a depressed Will Arnett.

This is one of the great Simon & Garfunkel songs (although ‘The Boxer’ remains my favourite) and is one of those incredibly recognised pieces of folk rock. In part this is probably due to it’s use in ‘The Graduate’.

It’s a weird song as it is about isolation and yet it feels strangely uplifting. To think, Simon and Garfunkel had already disbanded before this had become successful!

My Generation – The Who

Easily one of the most famous rock songs from this era. Like the Rolling Stones from earlier in the year this is very much the pulling away of the harder rock from the rest of the genre.

It’s an interesting structure of the ‘call and response’ that we would have seen more in the RnB songs from earlier years. Also interesting to listen to is the implied swearing – which works remarkably well and helps to make this song radio friendly.

Between this, the Stones and the Kinks it is very clear that Britain was leading the way in this new sub-genre of music.

Unchained Melody – The Righteous Brothers

Now to end on something remarkably vanilla that simultaneously makes you think of Demi Moore having sex on a potter’s wheel.

Whenever you listen to this song, remember that this was a throwaway B-side. This was not the song that DJs were meant to be playing. This was not meant to be the hit. This timeless and powerful recording was just an afterthought.

I know I called this vanilla, but it is a spectacular song in its own right. Bobby Hatfield delivers the best vocals of any song in this batch and, aside from Nina Simone, possibly even this year.

Sure it is incredibly easy to dismiss this song as being easy listening… there’s nothing wrong with easy listening done this well.

Progress: 186/1021

Good Eatin’ – Ras El Hanout-Rubbed Guinea Fowl

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieFood items: Ras El Hanout, Guinea Fowl, Avocado Oil

It has been over a year since I got married and we have still to completely use up the John Lewis/Waitrose gift cards that we got as presents. That means, in effect, that this meal was a wedding present (no pressure there then) since we were able to get all the ingredients for free.

I have held out on buying guinea fowl and avocado oil because, compared to chicken and olive oil, these ingredients are that tad more expensive. Still if I’m not the one paying then all’s fair in love and food wars, right?

Since I deal with a husband that is usually anti-chicken (other than that one time in Japan) I knew that I would have to flavour it sufficiently – which is where the ras el hanout came in. I combined a bit too much ras el hanout with butter and then rubbed this over the entire guinea fowl (about two thumbs worth of this spice butter were stuck into the cavity.

As for the avocado oil? Well that was combined with some dried rosemary and used as a fat to roast potatoes. I also ended up making a gravy using the ras el hanout and some chicken gravy granules. Needless to say this dinner was very food list friendly.

img_3794

I think I might be a fan of guinea fowl now. It’s somewhere between a chicken and something more gamy (like pheasant). It was so much nicer than the grouse (which was either too gamy for my taste or was just not a good grouse to try. The meat was so much juicier than I expected too. Definitely something to be eating should I have the chance.

The ras el hanout worked supremely well both as a gravy and as a rub. The waft I got of it as I opened the box was surprising. Like many of the spice blends on this food list there is no definitive mix. You have a mix of things like allspice, cloves, rose, cumin, cardamom, chili etc. This makes for a well balanced aromatic spice blend with a good kick at the end.

As for the avocado oil… well I didn’t notice too much of an added flavour to the potatoes when cooked. It did, however, mean I have an oil to make roast potatoes that feel just that bit more guilt-free. On it’s own the oil is green ( VERY green) with a flavour that feels light and somewhat fruity. Might need to experiment with this one a bit more.

Progress: 570/751