Monthly Archives: June 2017

XL Popcorn – Sergeant York

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 589/1007
Title: Sergeant York
Director: Howard Hawks
Year: 1941
Country: USA

Sergeant York is a weird landmark film when it comes to my crossing films off of the 1001 list. Not only is this the final film from 1941 that I had left to watch, but also this is the final Howard Hawks film. Hawks has 10 films on this list (including Red River, His Girl Friday and Only Angels Have Wings) and I have watched 7 of these in the last two years. Just one of those happy accidents I guess.

Some historical facts before I start. Sergeant York is a biographical film based on the life of Tennessee native Alvin York, a religious and pacifistic man who finds himself being drafted into the First World War. York only agreed to have this film be made so he could use his money to build the bible school of his dreams.

Oh, and this was a film with a profoundly anti-war feel that ended up becoming incredibly popular after the Pearl Harbour. This final bit feels incredibly salient. Whilst this film isn’t exactly frank about the horrors of war, there isn’t a single person that you come across that is completely settle with war.

Considering that this was coming out when they would need manpower for the Second World War I am surprised they didn’t actually go whole hog on the patriotism angle. I’m glad they didn’t as that’s ended up spoiling Mrs Miniver. Instead it’s the extreme religious angle that rankled me, but that’s who York was and I bet in real life he was far more overt than in this.

As a story of an individual Sergeant York feels utterly remarkable. By remarkable I mean I take a lot of his feats with a sizeable grain of salt. So much is made of his ability as a sharpshooter that actually seeing what he is meant to have been able to do feels like someone found a way to play Skyrim with the most forgiving auto-aim in gaming history. Then again, I know nothing about marksmanship so maybe he was just this fantastic.

Speaking of fantastic – full praise has to be given to Gary Cooper as Sergeant York himself. I know that, retroactively, some people think that Orsen Welles deserved the Best Actor award over Cooper… but I would wholeheartedly disagree. This is one of the few times where I have really gotten behind a Gary Cooper performance (I said performance, as I have always found him dashing). Yes, the other is his turn in High Noon

I came in expecting something schmaltzy and instead I got something that felt earnest, even if it had a slight propaganda tinge in the beginning of the third act. It’s worth a watch on a grey winter morning.

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XL Popcorn – Marnie

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 588/1007
Title: Marnie
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Year: 1964
Country: USA

It’s been a bit of a weird day for pop culture. Started the day with a few episodes of ice-skating anime series Yuri!!! On Iceplayed some Overwatch and then settled in to see the second of the two films that Tippi Hedren made with Alfred Hitchcock. So yes, I’ve been a bit all over the place.

Speaking of all over the place, let’s look at Marnie. What a fantastically meaty lead role for an actress this was. I can imagine that there were many women in Hollywood in the early 1960s who would have wanted a complex role like this psychologically mixed-up thief. I can see how Princess Grace of Monaco might have been advised against taking this role, which is a pity as I can only imagine how great she could have been.

This is not me disparaging Tippi Hedren at all, it’s just one of those great ‘what if’ scenarios. The fact of the matter is that Hedren is fantastic in this rather melodramatic Hitchcock character. Not only is she a thief that cannot stand being touched by men, but also has a severe phobia of thunderstorms and the colour red. That latter one must be rather debilitating if you are ever standing at a road crossing.

There are times where this film does feel over the top. The use of scarlet filters whenever Marnie feels afraid is overdone. It’s cool when it happens the first three times, but then you just start anticipating it whenever a red item appears onscreen.

Also, there’s the rape scene. When I saw a young and handsome Sean Connery come in as the male lead of this film I did not expect him to rape Marnie. It isn’t violent. It isn’t graphic. However, the way Marnie just goes catatonic in order to deal with what is about to happen to her is equally as disturbing.

Sean Connery’s character of Mark is… not as complex as Marnie, but not exactly straightforward. Throughout the film you cannot quite confirm whether he actually loves her or if, much like his South American cat, just wants to housebreak her as if she were some wild curiosity. 2 hours later and I still wasn’t sure.

In the end, whilst this is a good film there are too many niggles that prevent this from becoming a great movie. When you have a back catalogue as high quality as Hitchcock then this movie isn’t good enough to crack the Top 10 of his that I have seen. Still, a fun romp though.

Good Eatin’ – Caribbean Food Box

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Who doesn’t enjoy a big parcel in the mail? Especially when it is a big parcel full of food! I can only imagine it’s what it feels like when you get a hamper for Christmas. The thing is, this is a parcel that I got for myself and it is full of list food from an online Jamaican grocery store.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
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Now there is no way that I would be able to use all of this in one meal to cross all seven things off the list. I mean, what dish would need both cassareep and sheto? Someone is bound to prove me wrong there, but it feels to me that would leave a dish over-seasoned.

In the end I managed to use four of them in one meal, which isn’t too shabby if I say so myself.

img_4626Food item: Ambarella

Crisp and sour. Very much like a green mango. The smell as you peel is musty. Knowing what this is, you can tell that this is isn’t what we would consider ripe. But this is how it’s eaten so can respect that.

There are a number of spiny tendril like things going up through the fruit… which makes me feel like this doesn’t want to be eaten. It’s a weird fruit that may or may not want to attack you. Not entirely sure why you’d sit down and eat something like this in the first place.

img_4637Food item: Hardough

On the surface of it this looks like a pretty bog-standard loaf of white bread. When you taste it you come up with something that’s surprisingly dense. Also it’s a bit sweet. I wouldn’t have expected that either. So imagine my surprise when I made a cheese sandwich using this bread and I got something smokey and sweet.

I can imagine this being a good bread to use when making French toast, if it wasn’t for the fact that it might not be the best absorber of liquid. i have a kilo of this bread left, so why not experiment, eh?

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Food items: Red Palm Oil and Bammy

Firstly let’s talk about this oil, because it’s solid. Like, really solid. Similar to how coconut oil is solid I guess, but in this instance it looks like quite lumpy viscera.

The oil on its own has a unique nutty taste, but when it is melted in the pan it takes on another odour that the hub likened to animal feed. The moment he said that something clicked in my head. It looked like I was cooking with blood and, thanks to hub, I was feeling mildly unhappy about the smell.

Then there are the bammy. I agree with the books assessment that these are fairly bland. Any taste that you get from it is what was picked up from both the red palm oil it was fried in and the coconut milk it was soaked in.

They looked attractive enough on the plate. Just didn’t think they added much to dinner. The texture is dense like a rusk. Like a dry, flakey, cloying thick rusk. Not too impressed, then again I am not too impressed with anything so far. I hope the remaining three items do better than these ones did.

Progress: 607/751

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 18/100Title: Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
Episodes Aired: 25
Episodes Watched:
25
Year(s): 2006-2007

“You can’t leave it there!” screamed anime fans when the first season of Code Geass ended in July 2007. They’d already had to wait for months to see the two part conclusion to this amazing series for it only to end in this extreme stalemate. Did the ruddy job though, I just want to get on with watching Round 2.

Starting off, Code Geass is one of those anime set in a world somewhat parallel to our own. It’s a world where, much like in 1984, there are three large empires of the world: China, the European Union and Britannia. It is 2017 and Japan has been a subject of the Britannian Empire for 6-7 years.

This is a world where Japan (now called Area 11) is downtrodden, Mt Fuji is being mined for rare materials and the tools of oppression are mecha suits known as Knightmares. Oh and there is a witch that can grant supernatural abilities known as Geass.

code_geass_ep10_the-guren-dances_720pblurayx264_-_gg-thora03035706-18-34Seriously, the world that has been created for Code Geass is remarkable and this is only scratching the surface of a highly political series. Given the conflicts happening around the world, where the terms ‘terrorists’ and ‘freedom fighters’ appear even more interchangeable, a lot of what happens in Code Geass feels very relevant.

At the centre of it is Lelouch, an exiled Britannian prince out for revenge against the empire for killing his mother and using him as a bargaining chip in the take over of Japan. The first series is very much us seeing the annihilation of Lelouch’s moral compass as he finds himself wading in too deep into the world of rebel groups.

Thanks to his superior intellect, tactical genius and a gift of Geass that allows him to order any person to do his bidding (although this only works once per person) Lelouch finds himself as the charismatic figurehead of the Black Knight movement. To protect his identity he adopts the guise of Zero – an equivalent of V in V For Vendetta.

He only has one care in this world: his blind, wheelchair-bound sister Nannally. Whilst he does care about others around him many are pretty much dispensable for as long as he is able to achieve his act of vengeance against his father the Emperor and those who killed his mother.

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We are introduced to a wide range of strong characters during the run of the show; Kallen being the ultimate example. She truly is a badass and the ultimate soldier of justice. As a member of the Black Knights, whose actions under Zero can be questionable, she is able to remain both just and true to her principles.

However, one character who needs to be mentioned is Euphemia. She is the epitome of kind-heartedness and seeks peace. Despite being a royal princess of the Empire of Britannia, what she really wants is to bring peace to Japan and end all the needless bloodshed. It is because of her undeniable goodness that makes the final episodes of this first season all the more devastating. This, after all, is not a world built on good intentions.

So yes, despite how amazing this series was I will not be heading straight for the second season.

1001 Songs – 1966: Part Three

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

Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys

This is it, the homestretch of 1966. We start off with one of those keystone tracks in the evolution of rock and pop music.

When you listen to this in the context of what else was around in 1966 (including ‘God Only Knows’) the complexity of the production becomes all the more spellbinding. There is just so much going on in this song. It’s only 3.5 minutes long and people have analysed it to the point where there are 6 identified unique sections.

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ eat your heart out. Seriously. Eat it. ‘Good Vibrations’ is so much better.

Dead End Street – The Kinks

After the musical melange of ‘Good Vibrations’, this song feels so simple in comparison.

It’s a bit of a maudlin pop-rock song about how life can be a bit crap (see: 2016 and how things never really change). It’s a song I can see The Beatles having come up with back in 1964. Apart from the salloon style piano in the background, which gives this song it’s own character.

The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore) – The Walker Brothers

Oooh and the production values are back up again. There is a nice use of reverb and echo in this song that feels like a slightly pared down version of the Phil Spector “Wall of Sound”.

What really seems to be happening in 1966 is the rise of the studio and the producer as instruments in their own right. The production work of George Martin, Brian Wilson, Phil Spector and the two producers on this song became far more integral in the making of songs.

The Kinks from the previous song are on the other side where you may polish and arrange, but you don’t completely intrude on what the raw sound it. It’s a split we have to this day (even moreso thanks to Autotune), but it’s interesting to see that it is around 1966 where this split began to feel distinct.

Season of the Witch – Donovan

Most people my age probably know about Donovan from that episode of Futurama where Fry falls in love with a mermaid from the lost city of Atlanta.

In actuality, Donovan was one of the earliest proponents of psychedelic rock. It feels that he did this to get away from the earlier pre-conceptions that he was the British Bob Dylan.

He sounds a bit like Dylan, but that’s about it. Honestly, this song thoroughly bored me. It runs for 5 minutes and would have been so much better if it had been edited down closer to 3 minutes as there are 3 minutes worth of ideas. Meh.

Friday on My Mind – The Easybeats

Oh thank God we have a song with a bit of life in it. Our first garage rock song of this section of 1966 and one of the first Australian acts to feature on this list.

It feels like a weird garage rock mash up of ‘Help’ by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones’ ‘Paint It Black’. Not an insult at all, it’s a fun rock song about a longing and excitement for the weekend during the drudgery of the week.

I think this is a song we can all relate to.

I’m a Believer – The Monkees

The Monkees are a weird one. A band created for a TV comedy series that were later able to become a successful band in their own right. Like S Club 7, but without the accusations of racism.

It’s another happy song, but this time one that has been manufactured based on the zeitgeist. It feels like the ultimate stereotype of what a late-1960’s pop rock song would sound like.

I am a bit sad that ‘Daydream Believer’ isn’t on this list though.

Dirty Water – The Standells

Another bit of garage rock/proto-punk here… just nowhere near as much fun as ‘Friday On My Mind’ by the Easybeats.

The dirty water in question is the polluted Charles River in Boston, a city that is namechecked many times during this song. We also have references made the women’s curfew in Boston at the time.

Weirdly, this song was written by the manager and not the LA-based band. So basically they are sneering about a harbour that they’ve never been to. Rock n Roll!

I Feel Free – Cream

Cream are one of the first examples of a supergroup (a term that is probably banded about a bit too much). The most famous member of this psychadelic rock band made up of blues musicians is Eric Clapton.

There is something otherworldly about the harmonies in this song. Like how a group of mind-control aliens might try to run a band (see: the Daft Punk animated film for more on that).

I love the idea that Cream was formed by blues musicians who wanted to rock. With this band it really worked with having their more relaxed blues sensibilites being sped up by the adrenaline of rock. Possibly why the vocals sound just that bit off (in a good way).

You Keep Me Hangin’ On – The Supremes

The only non-white, non-rock, non-male song in this section. I missed all of those things. Thank you The Supremes and Holland–Dozier–Holland for giving me this bit of respite.

Okay it has that rock guitar in the background, but this is very much it’s own animal. Rock was getting bigger and bigger so you can see how this was being incorporated into the Motown sound.

Not that this was the first time The Supremes had ventured into this territory – two years previously they had released a cover album titled ‘A Bit of Liverpool’ where they did a surprisingly good cover of ‘A Hard Days Night’.

Happenings Ten Years Time Ago – The Yardbirds

Okay so this kept making me think of the catatafish song from the Lemmiwinks episode of South Park. Hope that is not just me.

It did not suprise me to see that ‘The Yardbirds’ would eventually feed into Led Zeppelin. The guitar in this song sounded so much like what I would hear in their stuff.

Whilst this is psychedelic rock it feels like that leap forward into harder rock that would start to properly form in the next few years. Still… it sounds like the catatafish.

Tomorrow Never Knows – The Beatles

Okay so this feels like nothing else we have heard so far. The more I do this songs list the more and more respect I am having for the Beatles.

When I listened to Revolver song time ago I hadn’t even picked up on this song with the weird bird noises, dirge-like sitar and whatever some of those other loops are.

I am not sure if I have heard many songs quite like this. I think the Athens, Georgia band Of Montreal have attempted similar things (their song ‘The Past is a Grotesque Animal’ comes to mind), but at least they had this song as a context.

How would a person living in 1966 react to this? It’s astonishing that the Beatles were as recognised in their own time when you consider how unique their songs could be.

‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ is remarkable. I wouldn’t rank it as a favourite song by any means, but I can really appreciate the scale of it.

Progress: 218/1021

Right, that’s it for 1966. It’s been an interesting year for music and, by the look of it, 1967 will be similarly varied with 3 more posts coming.

Good Eatin’ – Tajarin with Sage and Butter

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieFood item: Tajarin

Much like with the fregola and the pane carasau, I was able to find this box of tajarin in the imports section of Marks and Spencer. Now, I could have always chosen to make my own… apart from the fact that I don’t own a pasta maker.

Also,  the sheer number of egg yolks required to make a batch of tajarin boggles the mind. I have seen recipes that ask for around 30 egg yolks to make a kilo of pasta. Consider food prices these days when trying to buy decent free range eggs and you’ll see why I waited to find this ready made.

Really that’s what tajarin is. A type of pasta made from flour and egg yolks. It also happens to be the yellowest pasta that I have ever seen: both in its dried form and in its cooked form.

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Excuse the rather Dutch bowl in the photo, but it’s the only bowl of this type that I own which shows off just how yellow this pasta is.

In order to make this I followed a recipe for tajarin with sage and butter. I may have had the butter on too high when I added the grated parmesan as it began to (what I can only describe as) caramelise. Luckily the cooked pasta water managed to help salvage the sauce and make for a tasty tea.

To properly cross off the tajarin I took some straight from the pot and ate it as is. In pasta terms it is very rich. I want to say that it even tasted buttery, which feels like it should be impossible considering dairy wasn’t involved in the making of the pasta.

Also of note was the tajarin’s texture. It was velvety smooth as it entered the mouth and still had a good bit of give to it when I bit in. This is one of those pastas that I bet is gorgeous with a carbonara sauce, especially when made with guanciale. I need to find some of THAT again, it’s been way too long.

Progress: 603/751

Good Eatin’ – Cocido de Garbanzos Pedrosillanos

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Dieimg_4618Food item: Garbanzos Pedrosillano

So I have had these little chick peas sitting in my cupboard for months. I never touched them because of the whole having to soak them for 8+ hours before cooking. That and the fact that all the recipes I could find for this particular type of chick peas were in Spanish. So I did what I had to do: used copious amounts of Google Translate to find out what on earth was happening in this recipe.

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Do you know how gratifying it is when the food you made looks very much like the picture on the website.

Since I’ve actually managed to make this, I figured I would post the translation I worked on:


Ingredients (serves 4)

500g garbanzo pedrosillano (pre-soaked for 8+ hours)
300g stewing beef, cut into chunks
100g bacon, cut into squares
1 leek, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves (chopped)
1 large carrot, diced
1 large potato, diced
1 splash of brandy (we don’t have brandy so I used Southern Comfort…)
1 cup white wine
A pinch of dried thyme (I know it’s meant to be rosemary, but I don’t have rosemary)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sugar

In a saucepan add the three tablespoons of oil. Fry the bacon until brown before removing and setting aside.

Saute the beef over a high heat so it browns on the outside. Pour in the brandy (ok, fine, Southern Comfort) and cook until the the alcohol evaporates. Remove, then set aside.

In the remaining fat fry the garlic, leek and carrot. Add a splash of water and the sugar and cook until the carrots are soft enough to break in half with the end of a spatula. Add the thyme and wine until it begins to simmer.

Re-add the beef and bacon, cover with water and bring to a boil. Add the the chickpeas and leave to simmer for 90 minutes, stirring  every now and then. Add the potatoes when there are still 30 minutes left to cook, and serve when very hungry whilst watchingSilent Witness.


So what’s the overall verdict of these little chick peas? Well, I am surprised that they maintained their shape and their firmness despite 10 hours of soaking and 90 minutes of cooking. Apart from that these were like slightly nuttier and firmer chick peas.

Probably not worth the extra money compared to regular chick peas… then again I am not the biggest fan of a large amount of chick peas in a stew.

Progress: 602/751

Good Eatin’ – Fregola with Peas, Mint & Ricotta

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

So begins a short series of themed food posts where I clear the kitchen cupboards of all the list items I have building up and try to cook delicious things with them.

img_4616Food item: Fregola Pasta

The first to be looked at is this packet of fregola that I found in a nearby Marks and Spencer. Not in the regular pasta section mind you, but the ever changing section of international/speciality ingredients.

If you haven’t heard of fregola then that means you are not from the island of Sardinia. It’s listed in the book and on Wikipedia as a type of pasta made from semolina flour where the dough is made into small balls before being toasted. Sounds just like giant couscous right?

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To sample this pasta I found a super recipe on Bon Appétit where you cooked the fregola with peas, freshly chopped mint and bacon before finishing it with great dollops of ricotta cheese.

If the description of fregola didn’t sound enough like giant couscous then eating it sure did. Unlike couscous, each grain of fregola has a good bite to it. This might be more a side-effect of fregola’s size when cooked, which is about the same as a garden pea.

Other than the bite thing I would say that the comparison to couscous is rather apt. Like it’s smaller cousin, the fregola swelled up as it was being boiled. So much was the swelling that I had to top up the water a little bit to ensure even cooking.

This plumping, for me, makes fregola preferable to couscous. It is nowhere as dense when eating a plate of it, and you can make risotto like dishes as long as you add a little bit of pasta water to the sauce to help things up. So, it’s pretty much what you get if you tried to make a hybrid of orzo and couscous.

It all adds up to a tasty dinner where I am happy to have half a bag left in the cupboard for future usage.

Progress: 601/751

Acclaimed Albums – Music From Big Pink by The Band

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 125/250Title: Music From Big Pink
Artist: The Band
Year: 1968
Position: #85

It may have taken me blogging for three years, but (as of writing this) I have finally reached the halfway point of the albums list. It’s not like I don’t listen to a lot of music (in 2016 I managed to listen to at least 40 albums from that year) but I guess I just put more recent albums first.

Still that’s the point of doing this and the songs list – to gain a better and more well rounded knowledge. Things like how this band’s name of ‘The Band’ comes from the fact that this group were always the backing band to some more famous frontman – such as Bob Dylan, who lent a helping hand to the making of this album. As much a helping hand as you can when a lot of this was improvised.

It must have been The Band’s experience with many different frontmen that helped to shape the sound for Music From Big Pink since this seems to straddle many genres. On the surface this is another offshoot of rock waiting to happen (we would later call part of this Americana), but it also has elements of blue-eyed soul, country and folk. I would say that this feels like one of those albums that fed into the making of Grievous Angel, but I think the balance of country and rock is different in both cases.

Since I am also doing the 1001 Songs list, I will partially coming back to this album. However, I do want to highlight some songs I enjoyed. The top of that list is ‘Chest Fever’ – I don’t normally like Hammond organ songs, but there was something about this song that really struck me.

A more familiar song that came out of this album was ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’, the theme song from Absolutely Fabulous. This may not be the first recording, but it is the first one that was actually released. It was slightly odd hearing this version having become so used to the one played in the TV show, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

So yes, this was a positive listen and actually the lower of the two The Band albums on the list. I wonder if I’ll enjoy their eponymous release significantly more…

Good Eatin’ – I’ve Hit 600!

So here we are again at an awesome landmark. Sadly I missed what the proper halfway point was due to some spreadsheet, but reaching 600 on a list of 1001 is still pretty damned cool.

Sure I might never complete this list with things like yellow oil crab and moleche requiring trips abroad at very specific times, but doesn’t mean I can’t get as far as possible.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Dieimg_4610Food items: Ratte Potatoes and Crosnes

Originally there was going to be a third item since I saw parsley root on sale… but it turns out that I grabbed some sort of heirloom carrot. Tasted nice when roasted with a heather honey-soy sauce glaze, but not really what I wanted. Sidenote: I was so happy to finally find a use for that jar of heather honey.

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The ratte potatoes were boiled in their skins for 25 minutes and served with a light dusting of salt. I know that you can puree them for their nutty taste or include them in casseroles, but I wanted my first taste of these to be pure. They were firm and creamy in a way that I didn’t quite expect from a potato. Really, a little bit of salt was all that was needed here.

As for the crosnes (also known as Chinese or Japanese artichokes) I decided to blanch them for two minutes before frying with some smoked German sausage for about eight minutes; taking care for the crosnes to get an even coat of the fat that was oozing from the sausages.

The result of cooking the crosnes in this fashion made for a lovely smokey taste permeating the smooth nuttiness of the crosnes. The smaller ones were easily mashable with a fork and the slightly larger ones still had the hint of a bite to them. Honestly, I wish I could have melted some raclette cheese over the top of this and eaten is as some form of hybrid gröstl.

img_4612Food item: Pala Manis

So, this little pot of nutmeg jam is what gets to my landmark. Pala Manis sounds so much better than nutmeg pericarp, but I guess this more scientific sounding name is more botanically correct.

Just to break it down.

Nutmeg is an amazing plant where we eat the seed (as regular nutmeg), the aril (known as mace) as well as the surrounding fruit itself. The pala manis in this jar is this pale apricot-like fruit.

Being a jam this was always going to be sweet, but what’s of real interest is the hint of sourness and the warmth. It certainly has the warmth of the nutmeg, but there’s more to it than that. I want to just call it Christmas, but I think that it’s more like ginger or galangal. I wish that little jar wasn’t £2 or I’d buy the nutmeg syrup for future acts of ice cream.

Progress: 600/751