Monthly Archives: November 2020

World Cooking – Algeria

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Algeria
Progress: 79/193

There has been a sizeable gap on my cooking map in the region of North West Africa. For a while I have been thinking that Morocco would be right around the corner, so have just been plugging other geographic holes – but now that I am coming back this challenge, I figured why not plug it with Algeria. After all, this is the largest country in Africa by land area and is right on the Mediterranean so should have some interesting food.

Much luck neighbouring countries Tunisia, Morocco and Libya, Algeria’s history with food has a long and storied history from Ancient Carthage to the present day via the Romans, Islamic traders and the encroachment of European colonialism. This is the area of the Arab world where couscous is the side dish of choice and comes under the general name of Maghreb, or Barbary as I have seen it more often in me (admittedly white) text books.

There is such a wide choice available here that I was fearing treading on the toes of future foods for Morocco and Tunisia. However, I also wanted to steer clear of anything that had a hint of French influence, because I am going to have to rely on that for other African nations where the choice isn’t as expansive. In the end, I settled on two recipes that were united by an ingredient that I had never used before: orange blossom water. By the end of the afternoon my kitchen smelt like a perfume counter, but at least the food tasted good.

Main: Lahm Lhalou

I liked the idea of making a dish recommended by a group of local Algerian expats living in London. Just having that cross over made me really leap for this recipe by the British Algerian Association which was my first foray into cooking with orange blossom water. Man, that stuff is strong. I expected it to have a strong orange smell, but then I had to properly think of the name – like rosewater, this stuff smells like the flowers and it is that floral essence that you are adding to the dish.

This stew boasts tender and well-spiced lamb with a gravy where the prunes have disintegrated just enough to thicken it and to give a fruity taste. Despite all the fruit and the additional sugar, I was surprised that this was not overly sweet. I guess it is the orange blossom water’s floral notes and the earthiness from the turmeric and cinnamon that help to keep it in check. With some couscous on the side, this is something that I definitely would want to make again.

Dessert: Griouech

Okay, so I didn’t make the extremely complex looking knots that were demonstrated in the recipe by 196 Flavors, but I still wanted to make something that was a bit beyond simple squares or using a cookie cutter. This is how I ended up with these little bows, and with half of them falling apart after cooking because I made the middle of the knot a bit too narrow. Still though, not bad for a first try.

Both the dough and the syrup contain some of the orange blossom water but, unlike my fears, it really doesn’t reign supreme. Instead it’s a great complement to the honey and sesame. These really are the types of biscuit where you need to wait for the syrup to sink in as they cool down in order to properly enjoy them. When I first tried them fresh I was a bit underwhelmed, but after a few hours they became really good. Also allowed me to find an excuse to buy and use a pasta machine, which made me very happy.

Whilst it does take up a fair bit of time to find recipes and the actually cook them – I sure am glad to be getting back into the swing of this particular list. Next time I am going to be making something from Europe that was inspired by a tone deaf food review that a friend of mine sent me a month ago. Imagine talking about a restaurant’s food as being good enough to have prevented a genocide within many of our living memories.

XL Popcorn – Paris, Texas

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 832/1007Title: Paris, Texas
Director: Wim Wenders
Year: 1984
Country: Germany/France

In the last three months, I haven’t exactly been able to deal with much emotionally. I haven’t really been watching films other than those I already had a relationship with and figured would be safe… and yet I still managed to have a very bad anxiety attack in the middle of Cars. 

However, I know back from my post-teaching breakdown that movies were the way I carved out a path to emotional stability once again. A week after I hit emotional rock bottom, I did a double bill of Tokyo Story and Autumn Sonata and they helped me to feel again. Paris, Texas is the beginning of this journey for me as the first new film that I have seen as part of my own emotional recovery – and it was a such an exquisite choice.

As much as I love movies (and given just how many of them I have seen) I am not always too sharp at remarking on how shots are constructed because I go into a movie to feel rather than to view. With Paris, Texas it was next to impossible to not notice how stunning this film looks. The pastel palate of the desert landscapes, the beautifully lit late night motels and the vibrant reds of our first introduction to the pivotal character of Jane. The cinematography is some of the best that I have ever seen.

The film also found a way to make palatable one of my most hated story tropes – the absent father making good. It’s worth noting that the ‘making good’ at the end is different than I have ever seen it, which helps, but the real difference was that the reunited father-son relationship isn’t forced. They feel each other out on almost their own terms, which makes their scenes in the second half of the film feel properly earned… even if it is a shade away from kidnapping.

As much as I was liking this film, it was the final two scenes that really made me realize just how special this was and how glad I was to have this as my return to the 1001. The way that they filmed the isolated reunion in the peep show was masterful. Both performances were exceptional with the framing of the shot being more like visiting day at the prison rather than long lost lovers.

Don’t know where I am going from here on the film list, but at least for now I am feeling ready to start back up on it again. Hopefully the update hasn’t shaved too many films off o my total.

🎻♫♪ – Metastasis by Iannis Xenakis

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
88/501Title: Metastasis
Composer: Iannis Xenakis
Nationality: Greek

I guess it only made sense that if math rock was a thing that there would be such a thing as math classical music. The fact that you get classical music like this in the early fifties before rock and roll began to take the world by storm, however, is astonishing to me. It feels like, when I listen among the earliest entries in the list, the experimentation and innovation is within certain limits. I wonder what Hildegard of Bingen would make of Metastasis.

The moment that this piece started, I really wish I had actually read a bit about it first. That initial onslaught of sound is pretty intense and yet incredibly well organised. Never have I heard of a classical piece where the initial composition was made using graphs and parabolas which were then translated into the more traditional notation. Sure this isn’t the most soothing of listens, but boy Metastasis makes you pay attention.

It’s a short and powerful piece which, like Different Trains, shows the extreme breadth in the world of classical music and actually makes you question about having one umbrella term for such variation in styles. I guess it’s just a way to draw a distinction between pieces like this which are made for the art of it rather than other music which it far more universal.

I would love to find a list that was wider than the classical list that showcased something outside of the European classical sphere – so I would appreciate any suggestions on that.