Monthly Archives: June 2021

Acclaimed Albums – Exile in Guyville by Liz Phair

So, over Christmas 2020 the COVID-19 entered my household. These posts are those that had to be written up later because being at the computer for more than 15 minutes made me feel beyond tired. I can cook, but I can’t type – it’s very strange. Still, these posts were done well after the fact so apologies in advance.

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 243/250Title: Exile in Guyville
Artist: Liz Phair
Year: 1993
Position: #200

Here it is, the penultimate album on this cut of the acclaimed music list that is helmed by a woman and the final where she is a solo artist. I have been saving this for so long because I had managed to blitz my way through the – admittedly too few – albums that featured a woman as the lead. This has always been around the bottom of the 250, so I left it until near the end. Then Exile in Guyville got a bit of a boost in the recent update after it featured highly on the last Rolling Stone list for the best albums ever.

In the early 1990s, there were a lot of female soloists rising to prominence – like Bjork, PJ Harvey, Tori Amos before this album and then Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morissette coming afterwards. I mention the other five as it feels like whilst they have been able to stay around in one form or another whereas Liz Phair, to me at least, has been frozen in time with this debut release.

This is the kind of album that really should hit home for me. Admittedly, it hit harder on the third listen than it did on the initial one. I guess, for me, I don’t always respond immediately to this sort of lo-fi confessional music – even though there are times where it truly rocks. Being more stripped away, there are less things for me to hang onto and I am a creature that does tend to enjoy a bigger production.

The lyrics are something that I would want to dive more into as the snippets I got hold of were very raw and confessional. This one of those albums that will have laid the groundwork for many artists, probably including the likes of Alanis Morissette, to follow – with Liz Phair never being able to hit the heights of her debut. Not an unusual story, but sad considering just how she was able to capture the critical world’s attention with this debut work.

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World Cooking – Austria

So, over Christmas 2020 the COVID-19 entered my household. These posts are those that had to be written up later because being at the computer for more than 15 minutes made me feel beyond tired. I can cook, but I can’t type – it’s very strange. Still, these posts were done well after the fact so apologies in advance.

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Austria
Progress: 98/193

Right, I am officially at the halfway point for all the continents. It’s a bit of a weird one that Europe, arguably the easiest to find recipes for, is the final one that went across this landmark. Thing is, thanks to health issues I have been pushing this one back to where I can actually be on my feet for more than 10 minutes without my back wanting to give way or my post-Covid fatigue getting to me. I am not quite there yet, but for delicious food I am the idiot that pushes themselves.

Austria, whilst not a massively well known nation for food outside some of their signature cakes, holds a special place in my heart when it comes to food. The southern regions are where my first taste of Germanic food came from and I got more in touch with my own heritage. Cauldrons of leberknodel soup, amazing central European sausages, the birth of my love of Spezi and the world famous Wiener schnitzel. Genetically I may be predominantly British, but my tongue belongs to Central Europe.

Unlike most countries on this list, I went into this post knowing exactly what I wanted to make. I wanted to recreate food that I had on my previous trips to Kitzbühel and Vienna. To see if I would be able to actually make proper Austrian tasting food whilst sat in lockdown Britain and having to take multiple naps a day to deal with fatigue. Now that I have done this, I can unequivocally say that I succeeded. A big thanks to my mum for importing some Mezzo Mix for me so this could be my own authentic experience.

Main: Tiroler Gröstl

Tiroler Gröstl is by no means a national dish. Even when you look at the Wikipedia entry for the region of Tyrol, they don’t mention this dish. However, this is something that I have had both times I have been in Austria and it is the first thing that I thought of making when it came to ticking off this country. I mean, this is a fried hash made using bacon, onion and potato with caraway and hot-sweet paprika as spices. What isn’t there to love?

Using this recipe from the Austrian tourist portal I made something that transported me. I think it also helped that, for Christmas, I have ordered in a bunch of meats – including speck from the Tyrolean region. Not enough for the whole dish, so it was half speck and half smoked streaky bacon. I have to say, this mix of meats was perfect in giving it that proper feel. Although, if I am to make this again, I’ll have to do it with just regular bacon as I won’t be able to find Tyrolean speck at a cheap enough price to justify it.

This is one of those dishes that I remember being warming and, now I have made my own, I can definitely confirm those magical properties. I just wish that there had been enough for seconds. Oh well though, there was always dessert.

Dessert: Kaiserschmarrn

Austria is well known for their patisserie and their cakes. However, I had no real interest in trying to make a sachertorte or Viennoiseries. Even before the fatigue hit, I knew that trying to make my own flaky pastry would be a fools errand – so I wanted to make something that would go well with the gröstl. My mum suggested Kaiserschmarrn – an Austrian dessert that is made of shreds of fluffy pancakes that have been caramelized with butter and sugar. She was so right to suggest this.

I had a bit of a misadventure when making this (which is not at all down to the excellent recipe by Plated Cravings) because this is such a thick pancake and my pan probably was a bit small. Meant that the bottom caught a little, but that sure didn’t affect the taste. The raisins I left to macerate in rum for 4 hours, those will have affected the taste. This was a beautiful dessert and, again, I just wish I had more of it.

At this point, I can really go many places with the next country. Being that I am still very wobbly, it will need to be something that I can make without being on my feet too long. Still though, that will leave me with more than enough options.

XL Popcorn – Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould

So, over Christmas 2020 the COVID-19 entered my household. These posts are those that had to be written up later because being at the computer for more than 15 minutes made me feel beyond tired. I can cook, but I can’t type – it’s very strange. Still, these posts were done well after the fact so apologies in advance.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 887/1009Title: Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould
Director: François Girard
Year: 1993
Country: Canada

How do you tell a story about a person? So many biographical films are made about impressive subjects but, unless it is a documentary, you tend to just get a small window of their life with a fair bit of artistic license (or, in the case of Darkest Hourjust lies) and you leave knowing a fraction of the person. Even then, you tend to take away more about the actual story than the person themselves.

With Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (which is more 31 films plus the music played over the credits) I cannot think of a film that has, in a short time, helps us to know so many facets of one person. Some of these are dramatizations of important parts of his life, others are interviews with friends and acquaintances and then there are some segments which are different visual representations of the music Glenn Gould is famous for.

Do all the shorts work as well as each other? Not always. For me, the film did lull a bit when we had some of the more extended interview segments. However, as a collective piece of work, Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould is incredibly interesting and finds a way to tell the story summarizing a man from his first taking up the piano, becoming a renown virtuoso and then his fear of illness and death before his early demise at the age of 50.

Like, this is not a method that would work on every famous person that is worthy of a documentary – but for someone who lived his life through playing music and was eccentric as he was, this was a really innovative way to represent his life. Given this, there is no reason that I could ever expect this film to leave the 1001 list. I mean, where else can you see someone’s life being so represented in so many different fragments?

 

World Cooking – Dominica

So, over Christmas 2020 the COVID-19 entered my household. These posts are those that had to be written up later because being at the computer for more than 15 minutes made me feel beyond tired. I can cook, but I can’t type – it’s very strange. Still, these posts were done well after the fact so apologies in advance.

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Dominica
Progress: 97/193

Originally, I was meant to be doing my halfway European country. However, I managed throw my back out – so have delayed this for a little bit whilst I rest up. There has been a fairly large actual gap between making the food for this post and the previous post (thanks again lower back), which is already making me slightly regret getting back to this post-a-day blog pattern.

Anyway, I am icing my back now and still finding myself getting confused between looking up things for Dominica and the Dominican Republic because they share a demonym. Having all things for both of these countries being referred to as ‘Dominican’ really has made researching dishes fairly difficult. Thankfully there are so many wonderful people online who have made Caribbean recipe databases that I can peruse and cook from.

Like many nations in the Caribbean, Dominica has callaloo as part of their cuisine – for this country in particular callaloo soup is their national dish. However, callaloo can also be used as a side dish for other nations – so I wanted to make something that wouldn’t necessarily be a side dish, but also sounded delicious. I’ve had some good times cooking for the Caribbean nations that are part of the British Commonwealth and I knew today would continue that streak.

Main: Pork Chops with Banana and Bacon

Like I said above, finding a website that is essentially a Caribbean recipe database with country tags has the potential to be a real game changer for this latter half of the cooking challenge. So a big thanks to all the contributors to Caribbean Choice for this recipe to make pork chops with bacon-wrapped bananas. I think this may be a recipe that could also be found on other nearby nations, but I’m not going to argue.

The star of the plate was, obviously, the bacon-wrapped bananas. The pork chops were nice enough – although would probably be even better inside a crusty roll – but nothing could compare to the joy that was this side dish. I mean, when I think about it, this was always going to be a home run. So many things taste better with bacon – so why not bananas? Well exactly. I was to find myself in a time warp and having to bring a dish to an Ice Storm era potluck – I think I know what I would be bringing.

Okay, so I am now in the second half of this world cooking challenge and it’s pretty exciting to see the countries I have left to cook for. I mean there’s China, Spain, Ethiopia, India and many other major food nations left. It gives me a lot to look forward to – and I will continue to do so as, for my next country, I’ll be hitting the halfway point for the European countries. My back may not be recovered, but hopefully it’ll be delicious enough to distract.

World Cooking – Guinea-Bissau

So, over Christmas 2020 the COVID-19 entered my household. These posts are those that had to be written up later because being at the computer for more than 15 minutes made me feel beyond tired. I can cook, but I can’t type – it’s very strange. Still, these posts were done well after the fact so apologies in advance.

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Guinea-Bissau
Progress: 96/193

Okay so I didn’t quite expect to be doing two African recipes in a row, but when a recipe comes your way that looks quick, tasty and not like something you’ve seen before – well then it’s time to just do it. Especially good for me as this didn’t take a lot out of me to make, which meant that it was ideal for me to make in my covid recovery.

Guinea-Bissau is one of four countries in the world with Guinea in their name, thus making it not so easy to find recipes that are unique (although Papua New Guinea, not being African, is easier in that respect). As such I really wanted to make sure I started crossing these off so that I didn’t have a difficult time later on.

Like Mozambique and São Tomé, Guinea-Bissau’s not-quite-recent history comes as part of Portugal’s colonial ambitions in Africa. This makes it one of the few countries in the world where Portuguese is the national language and explains why a lot of the recipes you end up seeing here – such as caldo verde – can also be found in other Lusophone nations. The recipe I ended up going for, whilst simple, isn’t like something I have seen when researching other countries.

Main: Abacate Com Atum

I am not sure I could have made anything more millennial sounding if I tried. I just needed to have smeared this on toast rather than serving it in the avocado skins and I could have been some sort of meme. As the name would suggest, this dish (recipe from Travel by Stove) is stuffed avocado where the main ingredient in the stuffing is tuna. You also have some dairy, coconut and tomato – but tuna is the real bulk of it.

Having a whole avocado’s worth of this dish is a bit rich – although the squirt of lemon on the top really does help to take the edge off of it. I don’t usually go for the full recipes where there’s a sprinkle of herbs on top or a splash of citrus, but this really showcases the reason why these are put into recipes. Although, at least with a lemon, I have other uses for it – unlike parsley which ends up wilting sadly in the fridge.

Next time on this challenge, fatigue willing, I will be not only cooking my next American country but also will be crossing over the overall halfway mark. Feels like a lot has happened since I first sat down on an Easter Sunday a few years ago with my first country dinner. Sure, this challenge is taking longer than I expected but at least this way it stays fun.

XL Popcorn – Trouble in Paradise

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 886/1009Title: Trouble in Paradise
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Year: 1932
Country: USA

Trouble in Paradise is the movie that was needed for a light afternoon, not The Rapture. Hey ho, that’s what happens when you just look at a basic description. Since it was my pick today, and I am finally not over-indulging in 1930s movies, I am finally getting a chance to see this Pre-Code classic. I have been wanting to see this film for years, but I am so aware of not completely using up a decade I kept putting it off until a better time. I’m feeling sick, so the time is most definitely now.

I mention explicitly that this is a Pre-Code film, a romantic comedy even, because Trouble in Paradise is a film that could not have been made two years later after the introduction of the Hays Code. Just to think, twenty years of cinema history where a great film like this could not be made without any one who has committed any sin not receiving any comeuppance. Sure, there are ways around it but the sins of Trouble in Paradise are what make it fun.

In the end, how on earth are you meant to film a comedy with a couple of romantically entangled and loveable thieves as the main characters without there being any chance of then getting away with it? Like, it isn’t a given that they will, but at least without the Code in place you have a bit of tension. Also, this way you also get the chance of this film being properly sexy outside of wedlock – which makes sense for these characters.

It also helps that the script is excellent, as is the chemistry Herbert Marshall has with both Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis. One of the first scenes, where both the thieves find each other out and fall in love, is a masterclass in how to do a really different yet funny cinematic meet-cute – especially as they reveal how much they have lifted from each other’s pockets over the course of their dinner date.

Honestly, if more romantic comedies were like Trouble in Paradise then this would have a chance at being one of my favourite genres. It’s smart, it makes you laugh, it has great characters you enjoy watching and it can actually surprise you. There’s one more Ernst Lubitsch film on this list and considering what I have seen of him so far (also including The Shop Around The Corner and To Be or Not to Be) I am so eager to see what Ninotchka ends up being like.

XL Popcorn – The Rapture

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 885/1009Title: The Rapture
Director: Michael Tolkin
Year: 1991
Country: USA

I was really hoping to further increase my lead this Christmas break but, like I mentioned before, Covid-19 hit the bubble and it hit me. I am counting myself lucky that, until now, I have had mild symptoms. However, I have had really bad fatigue and headaches – so I am finding my lucid moments few and far between. My lovely husband is surrendering the time today for a 1001 movie… which he thought would be light.

The Rapture is not a light movie. I am not entirely sure where that came from – but this is a film about a woman who suddenly finds God to the point of joining a cult where they are certain about the upcoming rapture as told to them by their child prophet. She has visions of a pearl spinning in a black void and that she must take her young child to the desert in order to meet God and ascend to heaven as part of the rapture.

This is one of those movies that could have been overly preachy for or against religion. However, The Rapture never goes there and instead works well as being fairly detached from that sort of judgment and instead presents the world through the eyes of Sharon as she comes to and acts upon her beliefs.

The final sequence, where the rapture actually occurs, leaves a lot to be desired – but that’s more a budget issue than anything. Like, with a concept like this I can imagine how this film would have had a hard time getting investors to improve that sequence. There are parts of it that work exceedingly well, but then there are some where Tolkin did the best he could, but it just didn’t look great.

Maybe if those investors knew in advance just what a brilliant performance Mimi Rogers would give in the main role – could have loosened some purse strings. She is brilliant as the born-again doomsday-believing woman who we see at the various stages of her belief and love of God. The sheer desperation later in the film that she shows as a contrast to her being moon-eyed about discovering a love of God is extraordinary. How she didn’t become a massive star after this is beyond me.

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Land of the Lustrous

List Item:  Watch the 100 Anime to See Before You Die
Progress: 56/100Title: Land of the Lustrous
Episodes Aired: 12
Year(s): 2017

After it took a few months to watch Revolutionary Girl Utena – I was done with the series within a week. Being off for Christmas helps here as I typically get up before my husband, but the bigger help is that Land of the Lustrous could very well be the most beautifully animated anime series I have ever seen. Also, more importantly, the most consistently beautiful series I have ever seen.

What made it so beautiful was the 3D animation. I don’t think that I have ever seen an anime series where they used 3D character models within a 2D world – especially one where the backgrounds are gorgeous and the characters are never static. Like in a regular anime, you are used to some time savings where the characters only move when they have to – but in Land of the Lustrous they feel close to alive. This style of animation also did the job of bringing to life the coloured translucent hair for the jewel race of characters.

After all, this is a world many millennia in the future where Earth – after six separate bombardments from celestial bodies – has seen mass extinction to the point where now the only creatures that roam the earth are simple ones and a small number of humanoids who are sentient gemstones.

Gemstones that, thankfully, once smashed can be put together and be brought back to life. However, they are also in constant conflict with beings from the Moon (who look a lot like Buddist figures) who wish to smash them to pieces and use them for jewelry. Makes for some stunning fight sequences, with both lethal and non-lethal casualties.

As well as great visuals and a unique storyline, the music is amazing. The OP is great, but the real magic is the incidental music. This is one of the very few anime series where I have found myself actually listening to the whole soundtrack on Spotify. Really, this all does make me wonder why more people haven’t seen this.

The series, sadly, ended on a cliffhanger with more questions left than answers. I adored these 12 episodes and the time that I spent in their world, but man knowing there are no concrete plans for further adaptations of the manga is just sad. So, I’ve added them to my wish list so I can just get them whenever I have a tenner to spare.

Around The World In 100 Films – Chile

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 51/100

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 884/1009Title: Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light)
Director: Patricio Guzmán
Year: 2010
Country: Chile

I do not remember if I have ever watched a film from the 2010s after it has been put on the 1001 list. Sure, I’ve seen plenty before their inclusion, but once they are on there I tend to give them a wide berth as their position on the list is precarious and it is time I could spend crossing off another film with a more sturdy foothold.

However, for a decade now, Nostalgia for the Light has remained in place. Given this, and that I’ve been putting off watching this for so long thanks to list insecurity, I figured it was about time I just put it on. After all, it would remain relevant for my Around The World In 100 Films challenge and this is a great film to see in order to cross off Chile.

Astronomy, archaeology and history unite in this brilliant documentary directed by  Patricio Guzmán, whose The Battle of Chile trilogy has been on my watchlist for ages. All three fields are tied together by Chile’s Atacama Desert. Astronomers are drawn there by the lack of humidity in order to gaze into the origins of the universe, archaeologists come here to look at the lives of Chile’s indigenous peoples and historians of more recent history will be interested in how it became the staging of concentration camps and mass burials under the rule of dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Nostalgia for the Light finds a way to weave these different fields of study that look into the past – at varying degrees of distance. It also makes a point of how it is the most recent history that is the hardest to study because of cover-ups and information lost by the dead. It’s one of those documentaries that is fascinating, beautiful and then harrowing. Stories of woman spending decades scouring the desert for the bones of their loved ones feature in between stunning shots of galaxies and nebulae.

All these are topics that interest me greatly and to have them all put together in such a brilliant way leaves me with high hopes that despite being a recent entry on the list, there are not many films out there like Nostalgia for the Light. Especially one that tells the story of a nation that lays out of the mostly US-European centric view of the 1001 list.

What’s On TV – Marchlands

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 244/501
Title: Marchlands
Episodes Aired: 5
Year(s): 2011
Country: UK

So, it is Christmas Day and things haven’t worked out the way I’d hoped. Covid-19 hit the support bubble, I’ve probably been exposed and (as we had none of the Christmas food here in the flat) lunch was dim sum that I’ve had in the freezer since March in case of food shortages. Since I wanted to try and keep some Christmas alive, I thought it was the perfect time to find a miniseries to consume that was either period or spooky. We ended up with spooky.

Marchlands was a five-part miniseries from nearly a decade ago that follows three families that live in the same house in different times (1968, 1987 and 2010) – a house that features the spirit of a young girl called Alice. Over the course of four hours, we follow the three families as they experience the spirit of Alice in different ways. In the sixties, the girl just died and we follow the immediate family as they deal with her under-explained death; a family in the eighties are her first haunting and threaten to tear them apart; the most recent sees the elements come together and finally answer the questions.

This is one of those stories that was built for a mini-series. The fact that this was originally pitched as a full season drama on American TV boggles my mind, as I am not sure how many ridiculous twists and turns you would need to pile in to make it work for a 24 episode order. Just 5 episodes with just enough mystery to make you guess and some great character work to keep you watching.

With Jodie Whittaker, Alex Kingston, Denis Lawson and Anne Reid occupying major roles – you know that would are going to settle in and watch some good British television. Jodie Whittaker and Anne Reid – playing the same role in the 1968 and 2010 respectively – are especially brilliant as the mother of Alice trying to find out the truth behind their daughter’s death.

If you go into this and expect a full-on supernatural thriller, you are going to be really disappointed. However, if you are happier for a slower burn where it gets creepy and you are happy to enjoy a mystery, this may be the show for you. It certainly was the perfect show to keep spirits alive this Christmas.

It’s been nice to cross off something off of the television list for the first time in months. I’m still in the middle of my watch of another show, but I am being a lot less strict with my TV watching at the moment and making time for things like Schitt’s Creek and the many versions of Taskmaster. Maybe I’ll speed up again at some point, but that time isn’t now.