Monthly Archives: October 2019

So, I Wrote A Cookbook

List Item: Write a bookStatus: Completed

Okay, so when I set this as a goal when starting this blog I never quite banked on me writing my own recipe. Then again, I never thought I would end up learning to cook so many different dishes as the result of different challenges and my own general amusement.

It was about a year ago that I thought about finally collecting all the different recipes that I have been making and making up over the years. I mean, one of my best friends was finally getting their own place and, as they’ve always complimented me on my cooking, I thought this was make for a nice housewarming present.

This project ended up consuming so much of my freetime for the last 6-7 months that I began to want to expand this book further and further to the point that I’ve now had my own version printed and my husband got two as presents for his family back in the Netherlands.

I’ve only had this in the house for little over a week, but I’m already finding myself using it very often. After all, it’s better to get part of a cookbook wet than your mobile phone… man I’ve really been asking for trouble for years on that count.

So yes, months of effort and learning how to do page layout have really paid off. I’ll probably continue to make more of these as I accumulate more recipes down the line… like the Beninese massa and Korean matdongsan that I made for world cookery challenge.

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Good Eatin’ – Italian Pea Risotto

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood items: Lumignano Peas
Progress: 779/1001

To celebrate both my continuation in the job I love and the first May bank holiday weekend, we went to Borough Market for the first time in months. At this point I’m just happy to get nice food and am no longer really expecting to find list items unless I am extremely lucky.

Well, I guess I’ve never gone in late April-early May because I bought a bag of food list peas and I am so excited to be using them. There was, annoyingly, no price on them so I was a bit conservative on how many I bought – still these were more than enough to make a risotto with them as a major feature.

So this is a pea and chestnut mushroom risotto that I really love to make. Usually I use regular frozen peas that tend to really blend into the background, but these fresh Italian peas demanded that their presence be known. Firstly, look at just how big they are! It’s been a long time since I last saw individual peas that were not only this massive, but also not a single one was wrinkled.

In terms of taste, these are the best peas that I have had. They were fresh, sweet and had just the right amount of bite to them. These actually worked better in the risotto than the regular frozen peas as they provided a nice counter-point to the mushrooms softness and umami taste. I feel I need to buy more of these before they go out of season…

XL Popcorn – Doctor Zhivago

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 746/1007Title: Doctor Zhivago
Director: David Lean
Year: 1965
Country: UK

It’s currently the May bank holiday, which means that there is more than enough time to watch the longest remaining film on the 1001 list. It has briefly held the record since I watched A Touch of Zen little over a month ago, which will now belong to Children of Paradise and who knows when I’ll get around to seeing that.

Doctor Zhivago is the fourth of the six David Lean films that I have seen for the 1001 list and, as of the moment, this might be either my absolute favourite or my joint favourite alongside Great Expectations. It is a romantic epic, based on the novel of the same name by Boris Pasternak, telling the story of a Russian doctor and poet that lives through the events of the Russian Revolution and the lead up to World War Two.

Due to it’s less than glowing depiction of the revolution and that characters die as the result of the Stalinist purges, you can see why this book was initially refused publication in the Soviet Union. You still have the criticism of these political movements in the film, but  a lot of the political nuance from the book has been removed in order to focus on the central romance. Honestly, I don’t take too much issue with this as, otherwise, this adaptation is meant to be mostly faithful. If anything, it actually makes me more interested in actually picking up the novel at some point in the future in order to see what had to be excised for the sake of runtime.

When you watch a David Lean film post-1940s you are basically guaranteed a long film with astonishingly beautiful cinematography. Doctor Zhivago does not disappoint on that front at all with it going between gorgeous snow scenes and more visceral scenes of battles and a massacre. It’s a film that takes it’s time but, unlike Lawrence of Arabia which is nearly an hour longer, I didn’t feel that here. It felt instead like I was watching a snowy Russian Gone with the Wind but with Bolsheviks instead of slavery.

These visuals are further enhanced by the score, including the incredibly famous ‘Lara’s Theme’ which recurs throughout. Also there are brilliant performances by Omar Sheriff as the titular Doctor Zhivago (who also looks so stunning in this) and by Tom Courtenay whose character of Pasha probably undergoes the greatest transformation over the course of the 3+ hours. Is it slightly distracting that all these Russian characters speak with very English accents? In the beginning, yes, but you get used to it after a while.

So, what David Lean’s does this leave me with? Firstly there is the 1940s classic Brief Encounter which, due to my current embargo on that decade, I won’t be seeing for a while. It’s therefore more likely that I’ll see his other film (A Passage to India) first given how I recently read the book.

📽️ Disney Time – The Little Mermaid

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 28/57Title: The Little Mermaid
Year: 1989

Right, so before I start talking about this film… in real time it’s been nearly a week since I watched Oliver & Company, have had the interview and AMAZINGLY got the job. The level of relief over the tension that has been accumulating for the last six months is extraordinary, which might go a long way to explain the amount of happy tears I shed whilst watching this film. That, and this is just a legitimately amazing film.

When you consider that this film was released a year after Oliver & Company, the leap in the scope and quality of film-making is beyond belief. Makes a bit more sense when you look at a lot of The Little Mermaid’s key personnel and see that they are shared with The Great Mouse Detectivebut there is still a noticeable increase in quality that signposts this as the beginning of the Disney Renaissance.

Firstly, there’s the songs. Whilst music has nearly always been important to the Disney films, this is their first major musical since The Jungle BookHowever, unlike The Jungle Book, there are no filler songs in The Little Mermaid. Not only that, but they went all out when creating the cinematic sequences. The level of detail that you see in all the fish in ‘Under The Sea’ is unlike anything that’s been done before in Disney.

It’s also worth noting that, unlike the songs in films like Oliver & Company and Robin Hoodthe songs in The Little Mermaid are near universally used for character development, moving the plot on or a mixture of both. I mean look how much we learn about Ursula’s past and her current motivations from ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’, then compare it to ‘Why Should I Worry?’ where all we get is that Dodger is meant to be cool… and that’s about it.

I can already see just how long this blog post is becoming and I need to edit some of the things I wanted to say otherwise I’ll be writing this until 2 am. In the end, The Little Mermaid sees Disney returning to their fairy tale roots that hadn’t been re-visited for 30 years (the last fairy tale film being Sleeping Beauty), just updated for a more modern audience.

Not only has the animation received yet another upgrade, but so have the characterisations. Eric is the first Disney prince who feels like they tried to create an actual human male rather than an archetype, King Triton is incredibly relatable as the father trying to protect his 16-year-old daughter from very real danger and then there is Ariel. She is an incredibly active participant in realizing her own aspirations (even more so than Cinderella) and is the closest we have so far gotten to a more feminist heroine – something that won’t be completely realized until Belle in Beauty & The Beast.

On the whole this is just a magical film that still holds up between childhood and adult viewings. It was so great to see it again and soon I’ll be getting to the ridiculously acclaimed run of Beauty & The Beast, The Lion King and Aladdin. First, however, will be The Rescuers Down Under – one of the very few sequels in the canon. I enjoyed the original far more than I remembered, so I hope this continues with their trip to Australia.

📽️ Disney Time – Oliver & Company

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 27/57Title: Oliver & Company
Year: 1988

So here I am standing on the threshold of the Disney Renaissance but, in order to get there, I first need to watch Oliver & Company. This is one of those rare films that I was acutely aware of as a child, due to my old VHS tapes containing an advert for it at the beginning; however, I don’t actually remember having any real interest in seeing it. My first watch will have been 8-10 years ago when I was actively trying to fill in some of the gaps in my Disney viewing… tonight’s watch will probably be the second and final time that I see this.

Let’s cut straight to the heart of the matter: Oliver & Company is an incredibly flawed film; something even more obvious when watched closely after The Great Mouse Detective. Despite touting in the credits that this film has been inspired by Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, the link is tenuous at best. Other than some shared names and a bit of light thievery, this is utterly unrelated. I mean, Oliver & Company actually takes one of the book’s main villains and tries to turn them into a lovable character – it’s just wrong.

Lovable Fagin aside (a phrase that no one should have to write) one of the things that really doesn’t work is that it feels like a bunch of cliches connected by some rather sub-par songs. By 12 minutes in I was already checking the clock because I was getting bored by just how paint-by-the-numbers it was. I think this might actually turn into a test for Disney films going forward because, by that point in better entries in the canon Disney films, we’ll have been introduced to most of the key players and had some really iconic moments.

Given my rather negative opinion of this film, and the mixed opinions of the contemporary critics, you can imagine my surprise when I found out that Oliver & Company was so successful that it led to Disney planning to eventually increase their output to one feature a year. It probably helped that this was their second big success in a row… but man I still find it hard to believe that this mess of a movie inspired that much confidence.

Next time in the Disney canon I will be watching The Little Mermaid. Finally. I actually cannot wait. This is one of my favourite films of all time and will be the perfect film to watch when I’ve had to go through the roughness that is interviewing to keep my current job. Fingers crossed that it could be a celebration watch!

World Cooking – Benin

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Benin
Progress: 41/193

Originally I was going to make something from the Americas, but as I have not been able to source the ingredients yet it fell to the big bookmark folder to help me find something to act as a replacement. Since I am nearly always behind on my African nations, it felt right that I tried to get ahead when given the chance.

Like Togo and São Tomé and Príncipe, Benin is West African country that whose coastline forms part of the Gulf of Guinea. The cuisine falls into a broadly similar category as neighbouring Togo in that you have African food that has been influenced by the French that colonized the area at the end of the 19th century.

As this is a long and thin nation, there are some key differences between the cuisine of the north (where yams and grazing animals are more featured) and the south (where you see a lot more fish). You also have some interesting history between the Benin and Portugal which revolved around the slave trade, which will undoubtedly have brought some Iberian influences to some of the local dishes.

Main/Dessert: Massa

By choosing Benin I’ve broken a bit of an unspoken rule of the world cooking challenge by doing neighbouring countries within a continent back-to-back (seeing how the last African country that I crossed off was Togo). However, this was a recipe that finally gave me a second and final use for the millet flour that I bought for Chad. Also, it means having a dinner made of dessert food, something that I wholeheartedly endorse as a grown man who is turning 30 when this post gets published.

Today’s recipe comes from 196 Flavors who are, as always, a font of knowledge and idea for what to cook if I am absolutely stuck. These pancakes are made using a mix of millet flour, rice porridge, bananas and sugar. I wasn’t too sure how thick they were meant to be, but I like my pancakes with a bit of bite to them, so I made them in that place between where a crepe becomes a pancake.

When frying them up, I loved watching as the massa gained a mass of air holes to the point that they almost look like grey-brown pikelets. This meant that when I eventually settled on a topping of cream and come chocolate syrup, they were able to soak everything right up. On their own, the massa were slightly sweet with the nuttiness of the millet flour mixed in with some distinct banana flavour. If it was not for the difficulty of finding millet flour I would probably make these again – maybe I can find a version that just uses rice if I want to have another go in the future.

Hopefully I can source my ingredients for next time as I really want to make a version of pepperpot in order to cross of Guyana. I just need to find a place that sells feet and bones, then I’ll be laughing. Maybe I just need to get over my awkwardness and get friendly with my local butcher – I’m sure it’ll pay off in the future.

1001 Songs – 1975: Part Three

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

Time of the Preacher – Willie Nelson

As I have yet to watch Edge of Darkness or read the Preacher comic series, this is not a song that I have yet to acquire as a cultural touchstone.

This song was the opener for his concept album about a preacher that kills his wife and her lover, which is interesting but that doesn’t mean that this song can quite stand on its own when listened completely out of context. Does make me want to give the album a whirl though.

Rimmel – Francesco De Gregori

It feels like way too long since this list last turned up something in a foreign language that is on here because of the success in their own country rather than something the broke through to the English-speaking world.

‘Rimmel’ feels so much like Bob Dylan filtered through the lens of Italian folk and I am loving it. The delicate piano line, the subtle backdrop of the Hammond organ and a voice that’s actually nice to listen to makes this such a pleasant listen.

Born to Be With You – Dion

Okay, so I had no idea who Dion was and I somehow expected this to be some sort of epic rock song when going by the track length. This was incredibly wrong.

In place of epic rock is this languorous baroque pop song that really takes a long time to go around the block a few times and end up back in the same place. Phil Spector’s fingerprints are all over this to the point that it really drowns out Dion himself in favour of the many repeated musical elements.

Musica ribelle – Eugenio Finardi

Like buses, the list delivers a second foreign-language song in quick succession. It’s another Italian number, but this time it is a rockier number whose title translates to ‘Rebel Music’.

This is a fusion of Italian folk and one of the more uplifting tracks by The Rolling Stones. When listening to it I could not help but sit and smile despite not knowing what on Earth he was saying. The 1001 book talks about it being a generational anthem in Italy, which is good enough reason for it to be on the list.

Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen

Finally, a song that I know and absolutely love. Thanks to the album list I’ve started to gain more and more respect for Bruce Springsteen’s music. However, no song has yet to top the juggernaut that is ‘Born to Run’.

If you are one of those people who can get goosebumps from music and enjoy big songs that would work well in a stadium, then ‘Born to Run’ is perfect for you. It took Phil Spector’s whole ‘Wall of Sound’ idea and smashed it on the table. Such a contrast to that Dion song.

Leb’ Wohl – NEU!

I do not know anything about NEU! or this album, but from what I’ve gathered – ‘Leb’ Wohl’ has a similar function on Neu! 75 to ‘All Is Full of Love’ has on Bjork’s Homogenic. After the harsher music beforehand, ‘Leb’ Wohl’ (meaning ‘Farewell’ in German’) is an ambient palate cleanser.

The nearly nine minutes contains a simple piano line, ticking clocks, waves crashing on a shore and breathy vocals. It weirdly performs a similar function on this listen through given that I listened to it straight after ‘Born to Run’.

As I listen to this, I am getting so much of what acts like Air and Sigur Ros would later use in their music. This may not be indicative of the rest of the album, but I really enjoyed this chillout time.

Legalize It – Peter Tosh

After three great songs in a row, this was not the best to end on. I mean, if it wasn’t obvious enough that this reggae song was going to be about legalizing weed, then his singing the many names of it during an opening verse made it abundantly clear.

Just not the song for me and a bit of a damp note to finish 1975 on.

Progress: 424/1021

XL Popcorn – Shock Corridor

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 745/1007Title: Shock Corridor
Director: Samuel Fuller
Year: 1963
Country: USA

It’s been nearly a month since I last watched a film for the 1001 list, which is probably the longest break I have had for nearly 5 years. In the interim, I’ve been re-watching some films with the hub that he had never seen before, but since those weren’t written up it feels like I am slightly out of practice. Given that I watched Shock Corridor, this may not be the time to be getting used to blog writing again.

Just before I get started: I completely understand that, due to greater understanding of and sensitivity around mental health, we don’t see films like Shock Corridor being made anymore. By having a partially melodramatic film set in a mental hospital there are a number of things that just feel a bit wrong through today’s lens. The depiction of ECT and the women in the ‘nymphomaniac ward’ being the most obvious examples that come to mind.

Those things taken aside, because this film is 56 years old, Shock Corridor is a very well-made psychological thriller. In it we see Johnny, a journalist, infiltrate a mental hospital as a patient so that he can write a Pulitzer Prize-winning article where he uncovers the identity of the man that recently murdered an patient. With the help of a psychiatrist and his girlfriend (who poses as his sister) he is able to convince people that he is mentally unstable and has incestuous urges. However, his newfound environment starts taking a toll on his own mental health, thus making his hunt for the killer all the more difficult.

Whilst a substantial proportion of the line-readings in Shock Corridor are delivered through the medium of shouting, there is a great amount of character development here. We really get to know and understand the three patients that were witness to the murder. All three of them are heartbreaking, but it was the first one (a soldier that was brainwashed during the Korean war and then, upon return, was shunned by his community to the point that he now imagines himself to be a Civil War general) that actually made me tear up. The way that James Best portrays this patient as he goes in and out of his delusion was so sensitively done.

Another interesting thing to note was the use of colour. Shock Corridor is predominantly a black and white movie, but the moments when the patients are remembering things that are true (and so are in conflict with their delusions) are rendered in colour. It makes for such an interesting contrast to the rest of the film and actually helps to highlight the point that these are truths we are seeing… which is subverted in one of the final scenes of the film.

With this I am now 10 films away from the 75% mark. I will soon (health willing) be crossing off a bunch of these soon when the hub goes to the Netherlands for a family visit, so hopefully that landmark will come sooner rather than later.

📽️ Disney Time – The Great Mouse Detective

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 26/57Title: The Great Mouse Detective
Year: 1986

Growing up, there were few things that I saw in TV or cinema that actually scared me. In fact, I think this only happened twice. There’s the 1999 version of The Mummy which my mum dragged me to see in the cinema… when I was 9. The other is The Great Mouse Detective, or more specifically the falling doll scene where the face cracks and spills on the floor. So, now that I’m watching this as an adult, is this film as dark as I remember?

Well, let’s start off with something that may be a bit controversial: with the exception of FantasiaThe Great Mouse Detective might well be the best Disney film I’ve seen so far. It’s a close run thing between this, Sleeping Beauty and One Hundred and One Dalmatiansbut I had forgotten just how brilliant it was and (more importantly) how dark it was.

The Great Mouse Detective is an original story based on the Basil of Baker Street book series that saw mice engage in Sherlock Holmes style adventures. It would appear to be set in the same universe as The Rescuers given how intelligent mice live alongside humans, but this is set in Victorian London rather than (then present day) New York and American South.

Due to the universe similarities between these two mouse-centric films you can probably understand the initial reluctance to make this film. However, without The Great Mouse Detective it is quite possible that films like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin would not have come afterwards. I mean, not only did this film prove how good Ron Clements and John Musker were at directing animated movies (considering that this was their debut in the director’s chair), but it proved that the animation department could still be critically and commercially successful.

Given the films what followed soon after, it would appear that many forget how important and just how great The Great Mouse Detective was. It’s overshadowed by the bad/mediocre films that flank it, but this paved the way for the Disney Renaissance and allowed for The Little Mermaid to be green-lit for production.

Before closing out this film, I think it is really worth having a quick word about the hero and villain. Basil is very unusual for a Disney hero of this era because he is basically Sherlock Holmes. He is super intelligent, arrogant, hates children and quick-tempered. He is also very attractive for a cartoon mouse, but I think that’s my own psychological baggage there. On the other side of the morality spectrum is Rattigan – the Moriarty to Basil’s Holmes – who is so fantastically played by Vincent Price.

There’s so much more I could talk about, like the use of computers to plot the intricate gears in the Big Ben fight, but it’s getting late in the evening. As of now I’m so close to the Disney Renaissance that I can almost taste it. I just need to get past Oliver & Company first… which never quite ranked as one of my favourite Disney films. I’d like to think that seeing it in the wider context of the Disney animated canon will give me a better appreciation of it, but that didn’t work out with The Black Cauldron so the hopes aren’t exactly sky high.

📽️ Disney Time – The Black Cauldron

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 25/57Title: The Black Cauldron
Year: 1985

Time for another Disney post. Even though I was taking a bit of a post break to clear my head and allow me to cope a bit better with the job insecurity, there are few things better than a Disney animated movie to help with getting out of a funk. Well, maybe not this one.

For anyone who knows a bit about animated movies, The Black Cauldron is fairly infamous. In a period where Disney had a streak of okay to mediocre films, this almost made them consider closing down their animated features department. Not only was it critically maligned at the time (with no real retrospective love coming its way), but it was also a massive commercial loss.

Here’s the thing though. Despite the poor execution, it’s incredibly clear to see what Disney was trying to do. Their current tactics were no longer working, so they decided to change it up. The Black Cauldron was the first Disney animated feature to receive a PG rating, something that came about as they were trying to make a film that would appeal to a slightly older demographic whilst still remaining broadly family friendly.

Also, The Black Cauldron was their first feature to use CGI effects. This would go a long way to explain how this was the most expensive film the Disney animation department ever produced, and how deeply it was felt that they didn’t even made half of their $44 million budget back on initial release.

The overall question is, however, does The Black Cauldron actually deserve it’s reputation? Yes. Yes it does. It’s to Disney what Tales from Earthsea is for Studio Ghibli. It’s dull, somehow overlong at 80 minutes and the voice-acting of the lead just is not up to scratch. It’s almost as bad as the multiple Warts in The Sword in the Stonebut at least then that film has the flimsy excuse of having to swap out voice actors.

Storywise it’s a mess, but it also shows the continued improvement that was being made to the art style – something that will continue with the next film in the canon. Really not too much more to say about this – I’m just looking forward to The Great Mouse Detective as a bit of a palate cleanser.