Monthly Archives: January 2018

Good Eatin’ – Bomba Paella

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieFood item: Calasparra Bomba Rice

Why is this rice out of the bag and in a Tupperware container? Well, the hub might have dropped this cloth bag in a pool of water so I had to quickly save the rice not touched by Fairy liquid. The bag itself was kept for purely photographic reasons.

Obviously I had to make some form of paella with this rice. It’s what they would have done in Spain after all. It’s highly possible that I had some of this when I was in Barcelona and didn’t even know it. Probably not though. I guess that’s something that would have been highlighted on the menus.

I am going to get this out there right now – I know this isn’t proper paella. For one thing it’s made in a wok so the heat distribution is off, I stirred this way too much (otherwise the hub would complain about the washing up) and I made this with a paprika chicken sausage. I guess with things like this it’s more appropriate to call this a Spanish risotto? I would say Spanish fried rice, but there wasn’t a lot of frying of rice going on here.

Now the killer question: did I notice any difference in the taste or texture with this special rice? No. Sadly I did not. It’s fine though because unlike some of the food items I’ve gotten this didn’t cost too much more than the more common brands. It’s just that I didn’t notice too much of a difference between this and Arborio or Carnaroli.

Progress: 672/751


Level One – Ico

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 70/100Title: Ico
Developer: Team Ico
Original Platform: PlayStation 2
Year: 2001

Every now and again an article gets published asking the age old question: Are video games art? It’s something I have talked about before when I played Journey and  I find myself coming to this question yet again with Ico. 

For the record, I am very much on the side ‘video games being art’ in the same way as music and cinema. Games like Ico just make the argument a lot easier to make than something like Naughty Bear or anything Barbie.

There is so much good in this game that makes this an exemplar of games as art. The way that Team Ico used a ‘subtractive design’ method to make this game just helps it to stand out. The villains are just shadows, the dialogue is at a minimum and the lighting is between soft and darkness (it’s a bitch to play if your television has even a slight glare on it). This method was done to help with the immersion and it really works.

At its core Ico is a game about ‘boy-meets-girl’. The way that they call out to each other, rescue each other and run through this old castle holding hands helps to build this relationship between you as a gamer and them as your avatars. Sure, there are times you want to scream at the girl (the pathfinding in Ico is far from perfect), but ultimately you need her and you want to protect her. So mission accomplished.   

However, being an ‘art game’ doesn’t allow you to escape from some criticism. Ico ends up playing as an incredibly long escort mission… and I don’t think there is anybody that enjoys those too much. Also there’s the combat.

On some level I appreciate that the focus is on the puzzles and how to navigate this beautiful castle in a one-person co-op game, but the combat (and the lack of variety in the combat) just added unneeded pieces of frustration in an otherwise atmospheric and mysterious world. The worst part of this were the times the enemies would spawn to kidnap your companion whilst you are separated – it just felt cheap to get a game over because you didn’t memorise the route.

Still, there is no denying the importance of Ico. There’s a reviewer that said (and I am paraphrasing here) that whilst Ico is by no means a perfect game, it is a game of perfect moments. It’s hard to disagree with that as you find your characters running hand in hand in the grass towards the iconic windmill.

Acclaimed Albums – The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 137/250Title: The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
Artist: The Kinks
Year: 1968
Position: #174

Can we take a moment to moment to appreciate, what might be, the most English album title ever. It’s one of those references that I don’t think many would necessarily understand outside of the UK. Then again we are listening to an album from a time where music still received separate UK and US releases. Also, I doubt the Kinks would have given too much of a damn if this reference was lost on people.

For whatever reason I have always somewhat discounted the Kinks. Maybe I thought of them being just another old band. Maybe young me just confused them with the Kooks. Who knows at this point. What I do know is that having listened to the Kinks as part of the 1001 songs list I should walk into this album with an open mind.

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society may be one of the best albums that I have heard for the Acclaimed Albums list in a long time. I think that the last time that I had such an immediate positive reaction would have been to another album with a similarly long name: Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m NotInterestingly, these albums have a fair bit in common.

Both albums contain a fairly lengthy track-list made up of short songs and both are written fairly tongue in cheek. There is a wit in Ray Davies’ songwriting that make these short, pithy songs a lot of fun to listen to. Sure this is an album dripping in Beatles influence, but when that’s done well that isn’t a bad thing. I mean that didn’t hurt Oasis, now did it?

At the time The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society barely made a dent. It had some critical appeal, but with the public had moved on from this safer rock sound. 1968 was the time where harder and bluesier rock was starting to take control of the charts. The year of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and ‘Born to be Wild’ so it’s possible that a gentler sound like this was going out of fashion. Sure, the Beatles still got a number one album that year… but they’re the Beatles and, by that point, were exempt from things like fashion.

However, this is what is great about critics and with many of them having the last word on this. The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society has outlasted a lot of the other albums from the same year. For a reason – it’s just good music, if only 18 months too late.


XL Popcorn – Persona

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 625/1007
Title: Persona
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Year: 1966
Country: Sweden

With Persona I am now halfway through the ten Ingmar Bergan flicks. The only one I watched for this blog was The Hour of the Wolf… which I don’t think I really got. I still liked it, but it wasn’t the horror movie that I would have expected for a Halloween viewing.

Speaking of horror, Persona is another of Bergman’s films where I’ve seen horror listed as a sub-genre. This time I did not take that too seriously and I think it helped. What I didn’t quite expect was for this to be such an art film. I know that The Seventh Seal has the chess game with Death and that Fanny and Alexander has elements of magic… but this takes artiness to the next level. Not just because of that crucifixion clip, but in how Persona keeps breaking the fourth wall and playing with the idea of this being a film.

It’s really hard to describe Persona. It’s one of those films where I have seen a large number of interpretations that all have their own merits. On the surface of it you have a film about a nurse (Bebe Andersson) looking after an actress (Liv Ullman) who has had some sort of breakdown. For most of the film they are isolated in a remote cottage on the coast where the void left by actress’s silence leads to the nurse filling it with her own secrets.

As a description that is completely pants, mainly because such a surface description for a film like Persona is utterly pointless. The great fun with watching a film like this is to see where Bergman and his imagery takes you. He creates such an atmosphere of uncertainty in that everything you see feels like it is part of some grand deception and in the end that is what Persona is. Well, to me it is.

Having seen this I subscribe to the interpretation that Alma (the nurse) and Elisabet (the actress) are one and the same person. Bergman frames so many of the shots so that their faces overlap and when we are introduced to Elisabet’s husband he mistakes Alma to be his wife… despite the fact that they are standing with each other.

The question, therefore, becomes who is the real person and who is the persona? Or are there two people with one projecting on the other? For me, it being just Elisabet in that cabin with a nurse makes sense. The character of Alma comes from Elisabet’s subconscious and her regrets. If the beginning and ending is to be interpreted a certain way – I think that Elisabet hurt this son she never wanted and had some sort of breakdown.

Through Alma’s monologues Elisabet is coming to terms with the fact that, unlike the roles she plays on stage, being a mother is a role and a truth that she can’t excise from her life. It’s like she has been trying to reject the gender norms of female parenthood and this experience is the whiplash of it all coming crashing down on her.

Then again those are my thoughts. Persona doesn’t have a single interpretation and that’s what makes it a great film. It stays with you and makes for a great talking point.

What’s On TV – Northern Exposure

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 196/501
Title: Northern Exposure
Episodes Aired: 110
Year(s): 1990-1995
Country: USA

When the creators of Northern Exposure won the Emmy award for Best Drama Series back in 1992 they said, amongst their thank yous and their dedications, “but it’s a comedy”. As things stand right now Northern Exposure is one of two comedy-dramas to win a big award at the Emmys – the other being Ally McBeal which won for Best Comedy in 1999.

It’s weird to think that, when Northern Exposure first came onto the air in the summer of 1990 that, the dramedy had only been popular for 5 years. It’s one of the reasons that I am keen to see Moonlighting as it was the show that helped pioneer the genre. Without that, we might be without other award-winning shows like Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, Orange Is The New Black, Pushing Daisies and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Aside from the dramedy side, there is nothing too unique to Northern Exposure when it starts out. It’s a fish out of water story of Joel, a Jewish doctor from New York who is made to work in the small town of Cicely, Alaska as a way to pay off his medical school bills. He comes across colourful small town characters and you can complete it from there.

As pilot’s and first seasons go Northern Exposure is fun enough, but it doesn’t quite seem like a show that would go on to be both award-winning and influential (although I would happily watch John Corbett as small town DJ Chris anytime). It’s only in the final episode of Season 1 that you start to see what this show is heading for… and it’s something they take and run with from the beginning of Season 2.

In effect, this show decides to embrace the madness and increase the involvement of the ensemble. Don’t get me wrong I think Rob Morrow does excellent work as Joel, but the first season felt like it was just forcing him to conflict and that was turning me off. With character like Chris and Shelley (a former beauty pageant winner who now lives with a bar owner many decades her senior) given more screen time and by allowing Janine Turner (who plays Joel’s will-they-won’t-they Maggie O’Connell) to embrace her comedic side Northern Exposure soars.

Also the fantasy sequences. This was something also done in Moonlighting and it works again here. Some of the funniest and most poignant parts of the series happen in dreams or in flashbacks. In Season 3 episode ‘Jules et Joel’ they take it to the extreme by staging the entire episode in the mind of Joel after he is whacked on the head. Similarly, the most famous episode, Season 3 closer ‘Cicely’, takes place in the past with the regular cast playing new roles.

It’s probably a show where it’s worth starting on Season 2 because that’s when it starts properly getting good. Then again, this is just a show that’s really worth watching and, eventually, I will finish this.

XL Popcorn – The Adventures of Prince Achmed

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 624/1007
Title: The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed)
Director: Lotte Reiniger
Year: 1926
Country: Germany

Animated movies don’t always get a lot of love from ‘best film’ lists. For someone who ranks animation as their favourite type of film and TV show… this is  a bit of a problem. By the time I started this blog there were only two animated entries left for the 1001 movies list: Heaven and Earth Magic and The Adventures of Prince Achmed. I have been sitting on these final two animated entries for almost four years – and it’s time to cross off the first one.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed is special. On the surface it would appear that this film earns its place on the 1001 list because it is the oldest surviving feature length animated movie. The two older feature length animations have been lost, which is a sad yet common issue with older movies.

However, I would contend that The Adventures of Prince Achmed earns it’s place through sheer innovation, hard work and merit. The work that Lotte Reiniger had to put into this film is mind-boggling. Due to the need to photograph 24 frames of animation per second, this movie took 3+ years to make.

Each frame of The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a work of shadow-puppetry art. You could probably print each one and put them on a wall. Despite telling one of the stories from The Arabian Nights, the style of the stop-motion shadowpuppetry comes from South-East Asia. This means that everything has a tinge of the exotic, which is the ideal aesthetic for a story of genies, sorcerers and flying horses.

Depending on the copy you have The Adventures of Prince Achmed varies between 1 hour and 1 hour 20 minutes in length. I watched the shorter/quicker version, which adds an extra frenzy to the battle scenes. What can I say, it worked well this way… especially for the best set piece of the film.

If you have seen The Sword in the Stone you will probably remember the shape-shifting fight. Well, that came from this and done through morphing shadow puppets no less. I can not even imagine the level of planning that went through the execution of that short scene. Then again I cannot begin to imagine how you would make one of these articulated puppets, let alone produce a simple sequence.

The place where The Adventures of Prince Achmed falls down is the story. It’s not even that it’s incredibly dated and rapey, but it’s cliched and simple. Then again, does that matter? Well no, it doesn’t because we’re here to watch something unique in the history of cinema an, ultimately, that’s where it wins out. It’s a hoot to watch and, as an animated film lover, it is an essential part of cinematic history.

1001 Songs – 1969: Part Three

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

Is It Because I’m Black? – Syl Johnson

It’s weird to think that if I’d split the songs a different way we could have had this following straight after after ‘Je t’aime…moi non plus’. From a song banned for its explosion of sexuality to this slow funk lamenting the injustice of racism.

The thing is, at least for me, this isn’t a song, it’s a poem put to music. It’s a powerful poem about civil rights (and there are powerful lines in this) put to a slow funk backing. This music is on a loop, which means that there is little to no variation in the seven and a half minute run of the song.

It sounds harsh to say this, but this song is dull and would have been better with an impassioned reading and no music.

I Want to Take You Higher – Sly & The Family Stone

I have yet to listen to the Sly & The Family Stone album that this song came from, but I am going to venture that this song is a bit of a joyful explosion in an otherwise political album. It’s more than likely that I am going to be proven wrong on this one.

As with the previous song, there is that repetition in the backing music. I mean this is what I have come to expect from funk, that backing that doesn’t change too much between song parts (even modern songs with funk roots, such as Janelle Monae’s ‘Tightrope’ does this). However, there is enough riffing and energy in the music to keep this song moving forward.

The band themselves are an interesting part of music history since it contained a mix of race and gender – something that I don’t think I’ve seen so far on the song list. Did it really take until 1969 before we had such an integrated band? That, in itself, is shocking.

The Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson

Oh hi progressive rock, how good it is to see you again. I signalled in a previous post that we were seeing the morphing of psychedelic rock into progressive rock and I think ‘The Court of the Crimson King’ helps to provide a look at that jumping off point.

This is a song that could not have existed without The Beatles having previously experimented with songs like ‘A Day in the Life’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’. Similarly you have the trailblazing done by Brian Wilson and Frank Zappa which lead to bands being able to have that much more creative control in the studio. I cannot imagine King Crimson even dreaming of putting together this grandiose piece without those three artists coming before them.

As with a lot of the jazz and classical music that prog rock likes to emulate, ‘The Court of the Crimson King’ has parts/movements. It never stays too long on one section and yet everything is tied together by that Mellotron. Hearing this in proper context, this song is groundbreaking. I need to listen to this album again.

Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin

It’s says a lot about Led Zeppelin II where two songs off the album appear in the 1001 songs list. It speaks for the album’s variation and importance as even the Beatles didn’t manage that feat.

I find it hard to get past the fact that the main riff of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ was the theme music to Top of the Pops… especially since this song is on the list because of that guitar riff and not the stolen lyrics.

As a song on Led Zeppelin II it stands out, but after ‘The Court of the Crimson King’ it starts to pale.

I Wanna Be Your Dog – The Stooges

When I listened to The Stooges’ eponymous album I thought of ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ as being one of the standout tracks. Now that I listen to it again I marvel at my missing the sleigh bells that are constantly being played in the background.

It’s nice to be back to a shorter rock song again and get back to the world of proto-punk. ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ feels so different to the music around it and, when you look at the massive list of cover versions on Wikipedia, really appears to have been a song that grabbed people. That distortion throughout also signposts the start of noise rock/pop… and considering that means the eventual path to Loveless it’s pretty exciting.

Kick Out the Jams – The MC5

The ‘motherfucker’ in the songs opening line might be the first swear word I have heard on the song list. It’s fairly normal to swear in songs now, but wow this instance must have courted controversy at the time. Then again this is from one of the most influential proto-punk albums of all time… so it was always going to be controversial.

One thing that’s interesting to note is that with this and ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ we are moving away from bands just trying to make loud music. We’ve had a lot of that loud music as garage rock, but that was loud for the sake of loudness. These tracks are now moving towards loud and with power. We’re not quite at Panthera level, but it won’t be soon before long.

I Want You Back – The Jackson 5

In the words of my husband, “are you ready for mood whiplash”. A 11-year old Michael Jackson and already he has all that charisma. Knowing what we know now about the goings on with the Jackson 5… well it just makes you wonder.

On the more pleasant side of things, ‘I Want You Back’ is an unusual example of soul crossing over into pop. With later releases by the Jacksons this line isn’t just crossed repeatedly, but is erased entirely.

Also worth noting is that, at least on the recording, none of the instruments were played by the Jacksons. The label would only allow session musicians on the recordings – so the only thing Jackson about this song are the vocals. So this song is pretty much a Michael Jackson song…

The Thrill Is Gone – B.B. King

And here we are, the final song of the 1960s. It has been a long time coming (and means we are nearly a third into this list) and we end with B.B. King whose last song on the list was from 1953. Talk about a long career.

As a song ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ feels like a throwback to some of the earlier blues songs, which has made me feel nostalgic for two years ago. Why? Because that’s when I started with the very first songs of 1960. It’ll probably end up taking me as long to get through the seventies… so I probably should get on that.

It’s a bit of an anti-climax to end on as it’s not too dissimilar to blues songs that went before it. At least that’s how I feel… I probably don’t know enough about the blues to comment.

Progress: 293/1021

Good Eatin’ – The Tasty Pigeon

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

This was a real impulse buy. I was walking through Borough Market with a bag full of cheese only to catch a display of squabs in the corner of my eye. It was a bit like when I saw the Speciale Gillardeau oyster… but I don’t think squabs are available all the time (ready to be proven wrong).

So what exactly is squab? Well it’s a young pigeon. Like, a really young pigeon in the same vein of suckling pig for pork what poussin is to chicken.

I don’t think you see squab a lot in the UK because people find it a little bit weird to eat “flying vermin”. That doesn’t bother me though, so let’s cook us some lil pigeon.

So I followed this guide to roasting a squab substituting in ras-el-hanout and avocado oil (much like I did for the guinea fowl). I think that it helped having the earthy spices here because squab is pure dark meat.

The book talks about squab as being a cross between chicken and duck – but I think that underestimates the gaminess of the meat. Instead I think it would be more like duck and partridge, but with the same amount of meat as a quail. That’s kinda the problem with squab, not a lot of meat on those bones. However, the meat that you can find is flavourful; plus it is a lot of fun to be eating the meat right off the bone like a medieval nobleman.

Progress: 671/751

Good Eatin’ – Chervil and Cheeses

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

I swear that these list cheeses are like busses – you hope for one and then three come along at the same time. It’s not that I am complaining, but it has made a few days of high fat meals.

Food item: Chervil

What’s this? This isn’t a cheese. Well, no, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to try fresh chervil for the first time. I have had a jar of dried chervil in the cupboard for ages, but the taste is nothing compared to fresh.

It’s one of the milder herbs that I have had for the list, but there in-lies some of the charm. The herb itself looks like a variety of parsley, just with smaller leaves. However, the taste is more between fennel bulb and aniseed. Because of this chervil is closely linked to dishes containing eggs and fish.

For my own tasting I tried this in two ways: I firstly used it to make a chervil mayonnaise to pair with some crocodile burgers that we just bought. Yup, I had crocodile burgers and they were delicious with the chervil mayonaisse. Maybe because crocodile burgers taste a bit like shrimp burgers? Still, I’d recommend this combination.

As for the second use let’s have a look at cheese number one:

Food item: Camembert Fermier

I love a good wheel of Camembert, and this Camembert Fermier is no exception. The book said that this would be a more mild Camembert experience… but it could still be smelt through Tupperware and a plastic bag. Nothing to do but eat it quickly.


This is only the second time that I’ve baked a Camembert, and I have to say that it really turned out well. The chervil sprigs that I added helped to add a mild aniseed taste to the upper third of the cheese. Considering how incredibly creamy this cheese was (I’m guessing the difference between regular Camembert and Camembert Fermier is to do with the cream content in some way?) it was good to have that extra subtle flavour.

The hub chose some lovely caramelized walnut bread to eat with this… and I cannot fault him for this truly inspired choice.

Food items: Ricotta Romana and Fiore Sardo

The other two cheeses that we found today are some very specific varieties of Italian cheese.

Ricotta Romana is different from regular ricotta because it is made from the by-products of pecorino cheese. This is meant to give it a different flavour from regular ricotta, which of course is true and I’ll find it hard to go back to plastic tub ricotta again.

This is creamier and fresher than regular ricotta with a slight grassiness that I was not expecting. There is also a real difference in texture with the Romana not being completely smooth, but actually slightly grainy. It actually made for a nice surprise to not have this ricotta as a pure paste.

I also saw on the web that I should try the ricotta with honey… so instead I tried it with some syrup from the green walnut gliko jar. Oh wow that was delicious and I am doing that again.

Finally there is a the Fiore Sardo. It’s a type of pecorino cheese that comes from Sardinia and, if my reading was correct, is the cheese that is used to make the infamous and illegal Sardinian maggot cheese. Obviously mine didn’t have any maggots in it. I hope.

Even though the Fiore Sardo is a hard cheese it is deceptively easy to slice. Since I got the young version instead of the mature version (which I do now regret) I probably missed out on some of the more overt flavours. However, what I did find that despite having a slightly sharp nose it turned out to be very buttery and mild.

A big surprise with the Fiore Sardo was the complete lack of a lactic acid. Considering the way that this cheese sweated when I took it out of the fridge I really expected more of a lactic kick. This is a cheese that would form part of an excellent cheeseboard.

Progress: 670/751

So, if you’re counting, I am now left with 24 cheeses on this list. It sounds like a lot, but we are talking about a lot of very specific (and getting rather expensive) types of cheese. One of them is technically illegal… so we’ll see how that ends up.

XL Popcorn – Forbidden Planet

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 623/1007
Title: Forbidden Planet
Director: Fred M. Wilcox
Year: 1956
Country: USA

I was about to say how it feels like a long time since I last watched a science fiction film for the 1001 film list – then I remembered that Stalker would fall into this category. Other than that, the last sci-fi film I saw for the list was Arrival and that’s just a co-incidence.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that science fiction is a fairly under-represented genre on lists like this. Easy to see how it happens. Many of these films are cheap, bad, beyond cheesy or some combination of the three. Then again you get films like The Fly, Alien and The Thing which are both science-fiction and exceptional.

Forbidden Planet makes it onto the list as one of the big science-fiction progenitors. We have a robot as a fully formed character instead of just a tool, we are on a planet many millions of miles away from Earth and humans have perfected a faster-than-light ship. All these are things that hadn’t really been done before… and it feels so obvious now.

Watching Forbidden Planet did, at times, feel like I was watching a lost episode for Star Trek. I’ve seen the Kirk-less Star Trek pilot and it felt more on the level of seriousness of Forbidden Planet than what the show ended up becoming.

Similarly, the visual effects Forbidden Planet felt very much like those in Star Trek some 10 years later. They were very impressive for a film coming from 1956 hell some of the model work is better than some of the effects we see in films from 20 years ago.

Then there is the soundtrack, the first completely electronic soundtrack in cinema history. I know right! It’s one of those soundtracks that helps to make things feel alien and (for the 1950s) futuristic. Hearing this must have felt like a revelation at the time, or at least made this feel even more alien.

Whilst it is great that there is all these steps forward in film making, there are a few things in this film that bugged me. The tour of the alien facility, for example, had way too much exposition for little gain. A pity because some of the sets that they built for this sequence were fantastic.

Also a lot of the tension that could have been generated with this unknown creature just never materialised. Everything was solved way too easily… which makes me wonder if that’s due to editing or because of science-fiction storytelling at the time.

This would also be an opportunity to go into the sexism in this film… but after recently watching Pillow Talk my eyes have really been re-opened to the sexism of the times. It would be worrying if this were made now considering how there is a remark about it serving the woman right if she got raped.

So yes. Forbidden Planet really is an interesting film to see in terms of film history and it is worth seeing just for Robby the Robot and (hunky) Leslie Nielsen. It takes itself a bit too seriously at times, but I guess that’s the price you pay for a non-camp 1950s science-fiction film.