Monthly Archives: September 2021

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – A Place Further Than The Universe

List Item:  Watch the 100 Anime to See Before You Die
Progress: 59/100Title: A Place Further Than The Universe
Episodes Aired: 13
Year(s): 2018

Coming of age anime are really ten a penny, especially in the last decade or so as there have been more and more series being produced per year. Some of them have a really fond place in my heart (Hanasaku Iroha) others end up leaving me cold because they take too long (Aria) or just retreat so much of the same ground. It was a bit of fatigue with these kinds of shows that postponed me watching A Place Further Than The Universe for a good while. I honestly only picked this as I wanted an antidote to the mecha anime I have been consuming recently.

A Place Further Than The Universe is one of those gems of a small coming of age series that, whilst it treads over a lot of familiar ground, frames a lot of the tropes in a different way. I mean, it isn’t every decade that you come across a series where a group of high school girls find themselves whilst on a quest to visit the Antarctic. Having this barren undiscovered country of a place with it’s very real delights (penguins) and dangers (it being the place where the mother of a major character died) helps add a different perspective on their own problems.

At the beginning, it is about a girl fearing about wasting her youth whilst having to conform to the very regimented life that is expected of being a high schooler in Japan. After a chance encounter with someone at school obsessed to get to Antarctica to find her dead mother, this series builds them up until they have either come to terms with themselves or found peace in having finally found an outlet for their young dreams.

The series, once they get to Antarctica, could have easily trailed off a bit and become a confection of the beauty of the snow and the joy of penguins – kinda interesting therefore that penguins rarely appear and most of the time we see them in the research station is actually helping out by being in the kitchen, taking part in science expeditions or lifting boxes. Like, a lot of how they get there is thanks to the magic of it being a story but you also cannot deny that they work for their place.

A Place Further Than The Universe is one of those shows whose presence in my mind I didn’t really get until I finished the final episode and thought back on the journey the four girls had made. On a storytelling level this was a great show, but that was really bolstered up by some stunning art of the Antarctic, raging seas and some lovely scenes of Singapore that made me incredibly nostalgic.

Advertisement

World Cooking – Estonia

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Estonia
Progress: 107/193

Just under four years ago, I visited Estonia for an all too brief amount of time. Whilst I was there, I had some medieval style fare, sampled elk meat and tried some pretty squeaky cheese. It is one of those countries that I would like to return to and see more of it outside the capital, possibly seeing some of the many islands or to just spend some more time in their bountiful forests. It does help that whilst I was there, I did have some pretty good food.

The issue with a lot of the food that you see being associated with Estonia is seasonality and that it is hard to necessarily get in the UK when it is (as I am writing this post in early March) still under lockdown. We are talking specialty meats like elk and wild boar or getting the hold of proper mushrooms, dark bread or specific berries. Still though there is plenty to be made as long as I can get the good recipes.

One amazing thing that I was able to find for Estonia is that, whilst a small nation, there are a number of very prolific cookery blogs out there which are just begging for you to get lost in. The food of Estonia is heavily influenced by being a former member of the Soviet Union and by having Finland just a short boat ride away. This is a country where pork and rye are staples, whilst also having an interesting variety of locally grown produce.

In choosing the dishes for today, I really wanted to think of things that are on the lists of proper Estonian foods that are of the everyday. So often I end up making things that feel very much like a special occasion food – so instead I looked through the lists of recipes and thought: if I was an Estonian, what might I actually make that is both traditional and can be done for a weeknight meal. This definitely didn’t disappoint.

Main: Mulgipuder

It was only once I had started making this, with the potatoes on the boil, that it really twigged for me that mulgipuder (meaning barley porridge) is more of a side dish than a main meal. If I had thought about it earlier, I might have gotten some sausages to have with it as I can imagine that being an incredible match. Hey ho, I made more than enough dessert to make up for it.

Using the recipe from Tiramisust ja Fata Morganast I made a nice big batch of this porridge which is essentially a pearl barley and potato mash with additional pork and onion. This really reminds me of some of the one-pot Dutch meals I have had like hutspot – so rather than have the onion and pork on top, like in the picture, I just mixed it right in. This is such a comfort food that I can imagine making again, but as a twist on the more English bangers and mash.

Tomorrow, when I get the remains out of the fridge, I am going to see how this works with some flour mixed in and turned into potato cakes. I can just imagine this being a stunner for some lunchtime leftovers.

Dessert: Roosamanna

Roosamanna, literally meaning pink moose, is probably something that I had on my final night in Tallinn. When I had it, the pink in the pink moose was rose – including rose petals.  In this version, I followed the recipe from Nami-Nami and went for something closer to hand: jam. In this instance, it was strawberry jam and the picture doesn’t quite do justice to the near baby pink that this pudding went once I whisked into a frenzy.

The cool thing about this recipe is just how flexible it is and how easy it is to make. Like, I have also bought a litre of Ocean Spray cranberry-raspberry juice to see how it would go if I went down the juice route rather than basically diluting a jar of jam. This was delicious, comforting and something I ended eating a whole lot of. If I was a kid growing up in Estonia, I can imagine this being something I would have eaten a fair bit – like how I grew up with Angel Delight.

Next time it is time to return to the cooking of the Americas. I still need to make up for neglecting the South American portion of this region, so be returning to this area to make something delicious that hopefully won’t give me the anxiety that Chile did when rolling the dessert.

XL Popcorn – The Lighthouse

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 906/1009Title: The Lighthouse
Director: Robert Eggers
Year: 2019
Country: USA

Well, if you love Twin Peaks then do I have the film for you. Wow I knew that The Lighthouse was meant to be strange and incredibly atmospheric, but I do not think I was quite expecting anything quite like this. This is one of those films that feels like someone who grew up watching David Lynch and Ingmar Bergman would end up coming up with. Like the dark imagination and other-worldliness of Through A Glass Darklybut with less incest and more mermaid sex.

I have seen much online about how Robert Pattinson is this great actor who, thanks to Twilight is finally starting to get kudos for his abilities. Well, this is the first of his films that I have seen since I was dragged to the cinema to see New Moon some 12 years ago and I think I am on the hype train. It takes a lot to go toe-to-toe with Willem Defoe when he is in full obscure character mode, but boy did he meet blow for blow in this claustrophobic seaside nightmare.

As I am not the biggest fan of horror films (because I am incredibly jumpy) there was no way that I was going to see The VVitch. Hell, I am really not looking forward to the eventual watches of Hereditary and Paranormal Activity, but I find myself convinced that Robert Eggers is one of those directors that I need to see more of. Like this was a horror film that held its cards tight as to whether we were watching a psychological breakdown or actual supernatural goings on.

Overall, this watch of The Lighthouse was unsettling in a really good way. The ultimate barbarism and the ridiculous amount of pent-up sexual frustration are deeply uncomfortable to see. Yet, thanks to the amazing cinematography and the great performances, you cannot help but find yourself yearning to find out hos this horror is going to end. Not that I expected to ever see a film where one the final scenes has a seagull actually taking a dump on Robert Pattinson’s chest. That’s a new one.

XL Popcorn – Sorry To Bother You

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 905/1009Title: Sorry To Bother You
Director: Boots Riley
Year: 2018
Country: USA

Well. That was a weird one. When I read the synopsis of this film, I was expecting the interesting and slightly surrealist take on capitalism. I expected to hear David Cross’s voice coming out of LaKeith Stanfield’s mouth as part of the take of a black person using a white voice in order to get far in business. What I did not expect was… well the more fantastical and horrific elements that appear in the last half hour. I also didn’t expect that really shocking sequence of white people rapping… but not the other stuff.

Let’s start with one thing – whilst Sorry To Bother You may not have stuck the landing for me as it tried to do too much and mash too many genres together in the final act, watching this made me so glad to be watching the more recent films. I cannot imagine a film like this being made at any other time than recent decades – and the sooner I get to finishing off the 1001 list, the sooner I can get to my backlog of recent films that have been building up for the last decade.

Sorry To Bother You works well as an absurd black comedy – the general absurdity of hearing the voices of David Cross, Lily James and Patton Oswalt coming out of black mouths not withstanding. It has a lot of great touches that make it really rewards people who enjoy detail when it comes to fashion (like Tessa Thompson’s amazing earrings) or goings on in the background, on newspapers or on television.

The performances from LaKeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson and Stephen Yeun are all excellent and Kate Berlant is great in her supporting role. I love the interesting take on capitalism, collective bargaining and… I’m just gonna say forced evolution. However, there is enough here to distract that prevents Sorry To Bother You from being truly great. Doesn’t mean that I most definitely am not interested in seeing what Boots Riley does next – there’s a huge chance that it could be spectacular.

Acclaimed Albums – Paid in Full by Eric B. & Rakim

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 322/1000
Title: Paid in Full
Artist: Eric B. & Rakim
Year: 1987

Okay, so it was really cool to hear where the sample for ‘Pump Up The Volume’ came from. Like, the phrase only occurs once in ‘I Know You Got Soul’, but it is so iconic that it sticks out so much. On the second listen of that same song, I clocked the phrase that was used in the intro to Aaliyah’s ‘Try Again’. Two pretty major samples from the same single on what is seen as one of the big influential hip-hop albums of this era.

What’s interesting about Paid in Full though is the differences between the highs and the rest of the album. Now, this might just be me being a novice, but it feels like in this album of 10 songs there are 4-5 incredibly strong songs and then the rest are okay. Maybe on other albums the remaining songs wouldn’t feel like such a dip, but against ‘I Ain’t No Joke’, ‘Paid in Full’, ‘Eric B. Is President’ and ‘I Know You Got Soul’, they just pale.

The thing that kept me listening to Paid in Full was Rakim’s words. I guess that Rakim is where a number of artists on the East Coast will have gotten inspiration for when it would come to their rhymes. Unlike Boogie Down Productions, there is no bravado and posturing, all the power is in the well spun words. Eric B’s beats are a great accompaniment and make this a really cool hip-hop album to listen to 34 years later.

Graphic Content – The Adventures of Luther Arkwright

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
99/501Title: The Adventures of Luther Arkwright
Creator(s):
Bryan Talbot
Year: 1978-1989
Country: UK

You know those works where, for a long time, you are just going through the motions by engaging with it and then, suddenly, it just gets good. I think I have had a lot of them doing the various parts of these blog challenges and The Adventures of Luther Arkwright is just the latest one. As this was a nine-part miniseries, there was no way I wasn’t going to make it to the end – but wow until everything flips on its head in issue six, it was pretty rough going for me.

Taking place over multiple parallel universes, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, tells the story of an agent, the titular Luther Arkwright, who traverses universes in order to find some sort of tech that is adversely affecting everything in the multiverse. He is unique in that he can control his own phasing between universes and we mostly see him in one particular universe – an alternate London where the royal family never took back the throne and the Civil War never ended.

I enjoy alternate universe fiction, especially when it is so far extrapolated from events that I know about i.e. The English Civil War. One of the things that I probably liked the most in this publication were the sporadic updates about the disasters being wrought in other dimensions – such as it suddenly raining frogs or that Mexico was under control of the Prussian Empire.

The thing that kinda got me was just how dense it was in places in order to make all the exposition. I get that, with this being a predominantly one man operation, there is a desire to keep the issues down – but so much small text world-building happens regularly that so often I was taken out of the story and the visuals in order for it to be an suddenly be more flavour text than something of real consequence. 

By the ending, I really had gotten into the story and everything was just accelerating towards some sort of ridiculous fever pitch and I was starting to really groove along with the character design. I just wish it hadn’t taken me to song to get there that, as soon as I was enjoying it, it was basically over. Still though, it’s nice to get another of these miniseries crossed off.

🎻♫♪ – Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
108/501Title: Nabucco
Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Nationality: Italian
Year:
1842

It is opera time again where, once again, I am reminded just how stymied I am by not having the visuals. My husband had a YouTube recording open as he listened along, which I would catch glimpses of when I came downstairs to make a cup of tea, but I stuck with Spotify. In the end, this is about the music – so it shouldn’t matter too much how beautiful the set dressing can be for the opera. Even if the sets he were seeing were glitzy Babylonian palaces and therefore a darn sight better than what we saw for Salome.

Nabucco is the third Verdi opera that I have heard, after La Traviata and Don Carlos, but it has the distinction of being his earliest piece on the list as well as the work that propelled him to classical stardom back in his day. Set in the times of King Nebuchadnezzar, Nabucco tells the story of the Jews whose lands have been conquered by the Babylonian king and their subsequent. Like most operas, Nebuchadnezzar isn’t completely accurate and, instead, a number of Babylonian kings combined. 

This is probably most famous for ‘Va, pensiero’, a stirring song at the end of the third act that is sung by the Hebrew slaves as they long for home and for the time that they were not enslaved. It is stunning and, having read the libretto, I can see how a song like this would have become popular in a conquered Italy and how it lingers still as a call for people or institutions that are longing for the better days of old.

Acclaimed Albums – Ys by Joanna Newsom

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 321/1000
Title: Ys
Artist: Joanna Newsom
Year: 2006

I don’t know how often I have mentioned on this blog that Joanna Newsom’s Ys was an incredibly formative album for me. Feels like it has been an awful lot, but it is hard to really get across how big an album this was for me in 2007. I listened to it mainly because it was ranked by the Metro as their album of the year in 2006. 

The following months meant a lot of repeat listens to the point that it pretty much drove my mum mad. It was also an album that I ripped onto my Xbox 360 so I could listen to it in the background whilst playing games of Viva Pinata as well as having a track that I completely transcribed onto the back of one of my chemistry exercise books. That’s how important an album this was to me.

Ys was like nothing I had really heard before – and this is from the era that I had become a Bjork obsessive. The lyrics were so multi-layered and dense to the point that I am still listening to it some 14 years later and having different phrases catch my ear. Granted, there are still some things, like the entirety of ‘Monkey & Bear’ and the astrophysics line of ‘Emily’ that are forever etched into my soul.

Joanna Newsom’s voice is not everyone’s cup of tea. I really understand that and felt broadly the same about Anohni’s voice until a few years ago. Hell, I find her album The Milk-Eyed Mender to have a few moments that just cut through me like a knife. But with Ys she exudes charm and an extreme ability on the harp. How often is a hard the primary instrument on an album, especially played with the polyrhythms that I don’t think I have heard outside of her music.

Ys is an album of beauty that delights and challenges. It has so many moments in these absurdly long songs – ranging from 7 to 17 minutes – that stick out. The opening harp of ‘Cosmia’ and the section in ‘Only Skin’ that begins with the lines ‘All my bones they are gone, gone, gone’ are some of my favourites and are both incredibly different from one another. I listen to her work on ‘Sawdust & Diamonds’ and am in just complete awe of her dexterity – let alone being able to play and sing at the same time.

Truly this is one of the most important albums in my life. I can imagine, if I had any talent or real need to be a singer, this would be an album I would talk about in interviews. It is the album that probably helped send me on the path to Illinois and eventually a short obsession with Florence + The Machine.

World Cooking – Egypt

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Egypt
Progress: 106/193

Following Qatar with Egypt is probably the shortest distance between consecutive countries that I have done so far whilst also changing continents. I was thinking, originally, of making something from Sudan so that I could have done both north and South. However, so many of the dishes that I liked the look of turned out to be mostly of Egyptian origins – which begged the question as to why I wasn’t just making food from Egypt.

Looking at a map of the countries that I have already cooked for, it looks like Egypt is really helping me almost complete the coastline of the Eastern Mediterranean. Interestingly Egypt is almost the breakwater between the very strong Levantine cuisine (e.g. Lebanon and Israel) in the East and the similarly strong Magrebi (e.g. Algeria and Libya) to the West. Instead, Egyptian cuisine is its own brand of Mediterranean whose history can be traced along the Nile and into ancient times.

Given where Egypt lays, you are of course going to see a lot of Mediterranean staples. This was the place where, as a nine year old, I first tried falafel and hummus. Had I been a more adventurous child, I may have ended up trying shakshouka or ful medames… but that wasn’t me. I distinctly remember having a pitta stuffed with french fries when were near one of the bazaars. Well I sure am making up for it now and am making something whose name I used to see every day on the commute to work.

Main: Koshari

Way back when, before moving offices and changing up my commuting route, I always used to pass a place called Koshari Street. I know that, before lockdown, it was still there serving up Egyptian cuisine – but for some reason I never went there. Maybe because it was £7 for an unknown dish when I could get a pork bun and a noodle pot from nearby Chinatown for less than £3. Passing this every day left the name koshari in my head, so when I settled on Egypt for today’s country it felt like the obvious choice.

Koshari is a street food which is an overload of carbohydrates. The main ingredients you have are rice, lentils and pasta – with a tangy tomato sauce, crispy onions and chickpeas going on top. Following the recipe from The Mediterranean Dish, it is easy to see how this would be something that could be simply served as street food. One you have all the carbs cooked, it is simply a matter of keeping it warm before serving it up in layers.

It is a lot of carbs to have on one plate, but it is all really held together by the tangy sauce and the difference in textures between the lentils, pasta and rice. Typically you are meant to have something closer to macaroni, but they ran out of that so I ended up going for spirali. May not be authentic, but I felt like it brought a bit of whimsy to the dish.

Dessert: Umm Ali

So often with foods, the tradition of a recipe isn’t that much older than the 1800s. I mean take a dish like pad thai where it is reportedly less than a century old and has become emblematic of Thai cuisine. Contrast this with Umm Ali which, by all accounts, has a history going back to the 13th century where some form of this dessert was prepared as a celebration in the royal household after a successful assassination.

Revenge, much like this dish, was super sweet and this decadent dessert must have made for a more than adequate way to celebrate. Granted the version I made, from My Big Fat Halal Blog, uses croissants which is not quite an Egyptian pastry from the 1200s – but the result is an absolute stunner that I have already been asked to make again as the ‘perfect dessert for when we have friends over’. Whenever that is. I hope that by the time this blog post is out I will have had the opportunity to do so.

This Um Ali follows a lot of the similar ideas as a bread and butter pudding, or any dessert that bakes a custard into some baked good. However, the cardamom in the milk base and the use of pistachios and coconut really set this apart. It is incredibly rich though, so it is hard to eat too much of it.

There was a reason I was holding out on Egypt for so long – I just knew it would be a brilliant country to cook for. Next week I am back in Europe with one of those countries I have wanted to do for a while, but had difficulties in finding recipes that didn’t rely on specialist meat or berries. But I got there eventually and hope it can hold a candle to this Egyptian feast.

XL Popcorn – Tangerine

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 904/1009Title: Tangerine
Director: Sean Baker
Year: 2015
Country: USA

A technical achievement? A first for transgender representation? It makes sense that Tangerine managed to last multiple reshuffles of the list and will likely stick around until the finish publishing. I mean, not only was this shot completely using iPhones, but this also marked the first time that transgender actresses were submitted to the Oscars for consideration.

If you didn’t know that Tangerine was completely shot on iPhones with special filters from Kickstarter, then you would not be able to tell. The colours are beautifully washed out at times and the way they have had to adapt to using phones helps to give it a really kinetic energy.

This energy is matched completely by actresses Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, the latter of whom I would love to see in as her character in a sequel film. They are both prostitutes working the streets of Los Angeles, with Rodriguez’s character having just left prison for drug possession and is now on a mission to find the cis-woman that her fiancee slept with whilst she did time for him.

The beats in Tangerine are very much a classic comedy-drama film where the more usual setting is swapped out for prostitutes, johns and drugs. The conclusion in the donut shop where all the characters are confronted with their secrets, as the poor clerk looks on just hoping for the drama to end soon, really cements how much you have started to care for these characters. Be they a prostitute who has just beaten a woman up before smoking meth with her or an Armenian taxi driver who is having his fetish aired out to his wife by his mother in law.

Films like Tangerine are so important and I am so glad that it made it onto the 1001 list. Watching this so close to The Crying Game shows how representation has changed for transgender characters – in that we now have films where these characters are actually being played by transgender actresses. Sure we’re not there yet considering The Danish Girl was released in the same year as Tangerine… but we are getting there. Slowly.