All posts by mulholland

World Cooking – Pakistan

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Pakistan
Progress: 45/193

Well, I did say in my last world cooking post that the next country on the list would be Pakistan. It’s just incredibly unusual for these plans to work out so well, especially when picking the correct dish for a country was actually more difficult than expected.

My starting point, usually, when doing a country for the world cooking list is to find what the national dish is. By most metrics, Pakistan doesn’t really have a national dish. After all, it’s a highly populous country with a number of different ethnic groups and areas – which makes finding one uniting dish all the more difficult. Also, pretty much all the major dishes are shared with their neighbours to the east, India.

An interesting article in The Express Tribune about the topic of Pakistan’s national dish really helped me along the way, as did the comments section. It helped me realize that there were arguments for any number of dishes and it helped to remind me how a large and diverse nation may have a large number of foods that were important nationally – so I really should get too hung up on it as long as I found something they would eat in Pakistan.

Main: Sindhi Biryani

The article really ended up steering me in the direction of biryani and I ended up with this recipe for Sindhi biryani. Thanks to my spice cupboard being the stuff of younger me’s culinary dreams, I actually had everything in stock (even saffron) with the exception of A second type of cardamom.

I don’t recall making a big rice-based dish for this list, at least not for a while anyway, so I was more than happy to be making this. The fact that the portion size for this was so generous didn’t hurt either. Seriously though, I’m doing intermittent fasting right now and after one serving of this as a late lunch, I’m not sure when I’m going to have the stomach to finish the leftovers. Must mean that this dish is borderline magical.

Magic aside, because I’m not entirely convinced this is really magical, this biryani made with lamb and the entire contents of my spice cupboard is extremely delicious. I also loved the addition of prunes, although I do wish I had chopped them up rather than included them whole. This might be the nicest main dish I’ve made for this challenge for 3-4 months and there’s plenty of it left over. Yay.

Dessert: Kaju Katli

As you can probably tell from the photo, this didn’t go completely according to plan. I didn’t simmer the mixture for long enough, which meant that it didn’t dry out properly. It was getting late and my fingers were greasy from using ghee… so I just took this as it came in the end. Which is delicious. I can only imagine how much better this would be if it has the right texture.

I also know that, whilst kaju katli is eaten in Pakistan, this is actually Indian in origin. I just really wanted to make some kind of barfi and this was the most appealing to me as I love cashew nuts. Even though this recipe didn’t turn out perfect because of my own impatience, this was so delicious that I want to make it again and perfect it. Maybe I’ll also try making some different barfi too, like those made using condensed milk.

After this delicious trip to the world of Pakistani cuisine, it’s back to Africa for the first time in a while.

Acclaimed Albums – Different Class by Pulp

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 193/250Title: Different Class
Artist: Pulp
Year: 1995
Position: #119

It really is a relief to have crossed off so many albums from the 1970s that, statistically, the 1990s are available for listening once again. Since I’ve already done albums by Blur and Oasis, it made sense for me to finish off the list’s Britpop trinity. It would be a big 4 normally, but none of Suede’s albums are in the Top 250.

Like all Brits born in the late 1980s, I remember Pulp’s ‘Common People’ being absolutely everywhere in the mid-1990s. Hell, I remember dancing at this when I went to university a decade ago and I tried to fit in by going to the local clubs. It’s one of those songs that has just endured and still sounds anthemic some 24 years later.

So here I am actually listening to a Pulp album for the first time and I absolutely love it. It might actually be the best of the Britpop albums that I have ever heard. For one thing, the songs on this album don’t feel the need to impress or be cool. They are poppy, they are arty, they are good to dance to and the topics are surprisingly subversive at times.

It’s difficult to go against the conventional wisdom that ‘Common People’ is the highlight of the album. This song about a rich person wanting to act like a tourist and see how the majority live is full of Cocker’s acerbic wit whilst also being incredible to dance to. It’s also really worth singling out ‘Disco 2000’, which is one of those great dancing with tears in your eyes kind of song that Cocker wrote about his best friend. I also really appreciate the voyeurism of ‘I Spy’ and however you would describe ‘F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E’.

Different Class is one of those rare albums that has managed to age extremely well and yet remains the pinnacle of now extinct genre of music. I’m going to be sticking around in the 1990s for my next album, but I cannot help but think it’ll have a hard time living up to this one.

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – The Rose of Versailles

List Item:  Watch the 100 Anime to See Before You Die
Progress: 40/100Title: The Rose of Versailles
Episodes Aired: 40
Year(s): 1979-1980

It’s been three years since I read the manga version of The Rose of Versailles, so I think that enough time has passed for me to forget sections of the story and to allow me to enjoy this anime adaptation.

Since I’ve talked about this before in my previous post on The Rose of Versailles, I won’t delve too much into the story. In a nutshell, this series takes part in France and spans the time between Marie Antoinette’s arrival marriage into the French royal family and her eventual execution during the French revolution. It starts out as her story, but the closer we get to the revolution the more it turns into a story about Oscar de Jarjayes – a commander of the Royal Guard who ends up joining the revolution forces when they have their eyes opened to the poverty of the French people.

As an anime, The Rose of Versailles really takes off once the switch in main characters happens. It becomes less a story of class and intrigue within the French court (although those parts are still fun) into a more swashbuckling look into the causes of the revolution. It does a lot more justice to the character of Oscar who, thanks to the movement and voice-acting, really becomes the iconic androgynous woman of action and principle that the manga couldn’t convey as fully.

For the time, the animation in The Rose of Versailles is quite well done and shows how much things have moved from the rather abysmal looking Tomorrow’s JoeThere are times when it does descend into the full roses in bloom and glitter of the manga, but this is a shojo anime and that’s just what has the tendency to happen when there’s romantic scenes.

In terms of historical accuracy, like with the manga there are liberties being taken here. I have no doubt that the royals will have been manipulated into certain actions by the nobility. I also have no doubt that they may not have been as vice-riddled as the press at the time painted them, so there’s always going to be so interpretation going on here. Still though, as an introduction into the French Revolution for someone who doesn’t like history, it’s not half bad.

It’s taken me just over three months to watch this, so I think that I’ll want to finish off some of my currently airing series before I pick my next show to cross off. I’m leaning towards Nana because I’ve already read the manga – but I’ll just have to see what’s around first.

XL Popcorn – Orpheus

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 756/1007Title: Orphée (Orpheus)
Director: Jean Cocteau
Year: 1950
Country: France

Today is a landmark for this list. Due to the inclusion of trilogies on the 1001 list making it a bit more than 1001 entries, Orpheus marks the point where I have actually surpassed the 75% mark. Given that I was on film 418 when I started following the list as part of the blog, this really is an amazing piece of progress.

Orpheus was a really cool pick for this landmark and I have my husband to thank for that one. As much as I enjoyed the other Jean Cocteau film on the 1001 list (La Belle et la bête) for the dreamlike visuals, I think he really surpassed himself here. Maybe it’s because I grew up as a fan of Greek mythology or maybe it’s because I like watching films where you’re rewarded for noticing subtle detail, but I really loved Orpheus.

As the title shows, Orpheus is a modern retelling of the Greek myth when put through Cocteau’s lens. Everything from the original myth is still there, but given a greater degree of complexity with story threads of agents of death falling for humans and Orpheus becoming obsessed with lines of poetry being played through the radio of the car belonging to Death.

This all turns the character of Orpheus from being a talented poet who misses his dead wife into a man obsessed with his new creative inspiration and a love for the agent of death that claimed his rival and (through an act of jealousy) his wife. It also introduces the character of Heurtebise, who is a cross between an agent of death and a guardian angel. What’s interesting about this character is that recurs in other works by Cocteau, which might explain why I found him so likeable.

Story aside, where Orpheus really shines is in the special effects. Keeping in mind that this in 1950, the practical effects in this film are impressive. So good are they, that those that feel a bit clunky still help with the otherworldy aspect. There’s an incredible impressive bit towards the end where a dead Orpheus descends into the underworld with Heurtebise and they move against invisible winds and tumble along walls. There are also a lot of cool effects using windows and mirrors – which makes sense in world seeing how mirrors are portals to the world of the dead.

So here we are with just a quarter of the list to go. At this rate I’ll probably be finishing this off around the time that I turn 35, but there’s no need to rush things. With Orpheus being such a spellbinding was to christen the beginning of the march to the finish line, I’m excited to think of how many new favourites there are waiting for me on the remainder of the list.

What’s On TV – Kommissar Rex

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 226/501
Title: Kommissar Rex
Episodes Aired: 119
Year(s): 1994-2004
Country: Austria

Growing up in the Netherlands, Kommissar Rex is a show that the Hub remembers airing on TV – which goes some way to explain why he chose this as the next show to watch. Also, we still need to play catch up on crime shows, so why not watch one where a police dog is the central character? Well, exactly.

Apparently Kommissar Rex aired in the UK at some point on Channel 5 with English subtitles. It never really seemed to take off over here, but given the central premise I’m a bit surprised that there wasn’t talk of an English language remake. After all, this was a crime drama that was successful across Europe… and did I mention the main character was a dog? Hell, we’ll make a series about a crime-solving monk, but not a dog? What are things coming to?

Anyway, on the whole Kommissar Rex is pretty much your standard crime-of-the-week show – it’s just that a key character is a dog called Rex and the key relationship is between the dog and his partner. I guess it’s a bit like Turner & Hooch, just without Tom Hanks.

For the purposes of this watch, we focused entirely on the initial Austrian run of the show set in Vienna (post-cancellation, Kommissar Rex was resurrected as an Italian-Austrian co-production set in Rome) with most of the episodes being with Moser, who was Rex’s first partner. We watched a few episodes with the rather dishy second partner played by Gedeon Burkard, but it seems like the best rated episodes were mostly from the Moser era so we stuck around there.

On the whole it’s fair to say that I enjoyed watching this show, but that was mostly because of the more novelty aspects of having a police dog in such a prominent role. The canine actor playing Rex is absolutely extraordinary. I know that as humans we tend to put human characteristics onto animals, but the Rex scenes were done so well with his half-moon eyes and whimpers that, in the first episode where he seemingly mourns the loss of his dead partner, he actually made me cry.

The Rex-lite episodes of the show don’t work quite as well because the whole point of watching this show is for those special moments with Rex and his partner (or other people on the force). With him removed, it just becomes a regular police show… and an okay one at that. Luckily the Rex-lite episodes are few and far between because the writers aren’t fools. They struck something good with Rex and so they make good use of him whenever possible.

The next show that we’ve pulled out of the 1001 bucket is the 1980s UK drama series Widows. I have literally no idea what this is about, so it’ll be good to start on a new show with no preconceptions. Hopefully it won’t take me a month to finish all 12 episodes, but you never know with these things.

📽️ Disney Time – The Hunchback of Notre Dame

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 34/58Title: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Year: 1996

I’m going to paraphrase the tagline of Lolita when I say: How did they make a children’s movie out of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I mean, this is a French Gothic novel that is incredibly bleak and where most of the main characters either die or live the rest of their days in misery. With this as their source material, it sure makes a lot of sense when I say that The Hunchback of Notre Dame is the darkest film in the Disney Animated Canon.

Looking back on when I saw this as a 6-year-old, I cannot have realised just how dark The Hunchback of Notre Dame actually is. After all, this is the second time that a murder is committed in a Disney animated film (the killing of Quasimodo’s mother by Frollo) and we are also treated to wholesome topics like genocide, attempted infanticide, homicidal lust and child abuse. None of these are topics that Disney films have attempted to cover before or really since… and I have to say that it’s a wonderful colour on them.

Not as wonderful though as that opening sequence. It’s probably second only to The Lion King’s ‘Circle of Life’ opener, but that didn’t mix it’s goosebump inducing music with extremely well done exposition work. The entire ‘The Bells of Notre Dame’ tells you a lot of what you need to know about the film and the motivations behind the key protagonist and antagonist, whilst also giving you amazing music and showing off a beautifully drawn Paris.

The rest of the music, with the exception of ‘A Guy Like You’ which is the ultimate in tonal inconsistency, is fantastic and matched by beautifully executed visuals… which is best exemplified by ‘Hellfire’. This is one of the best songs sung by a Disney villain, a true highlight of the film and shows just how much they tried to stretch the film rating with the censors. You have a song about a lust fuelled psychological torment which resolves in Frollo’s plan to execute the object of his desire for rejecting him… this is then paired with atmospheric chanting and animation featuring ominous shadows and Esmeralda rendered in fire and incense smoke. It’s just wonderful.

Going back to ‘A Guy Like You’ before wrapping up completely – let’s talk about the gargoyles. These are the only major characters injected into the film by Disney, which are done so in order to give us some comic relief. However, when I was watching it tonight, I realised something: these gargoyles are his imaginary friends. Other than a brief interaction between the pig gargoyle and Esmarelda’s goat, the only person who has even a hint of them being ambulatory is Quasimodo himself. If you watch this film with that in mind, it turns them from being weird sidekicks to symptoms of his psychological trauma at the hands of Frollo. Again, this is a very dark film.

Like with so many other Disney films, I really could write a few thousand words on this film. I haven’t touched on characterisation, the animation (which, whilst a bit angular, is stunning – especially the sequences where they infused the traditional animation with some CGI trickery) or the complaints that both fans of the book and the descendants of Victor Hugo himself had. However, I have another post to write and it’s gone midnight.

So, the next film in the chronology is Hercules, which has the weird distinction of being the final film that I saw in the cinema as a child, and the beginning of a 10 year period where I didn’t see any Disney films at the time of release. Also, the first time I remember seeing a film and having any concept of what makes a faithful adaptation… but I guess that’s a story for next time.

XL Popcorn – Hud

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 755/1007Title: Hud
Director: Martin Ritt
Year: 1963
Country: USA

I don’t know how many times I need to have this revelation before it sinks in properly: I appear to love a good western. Granted, the westerns that appear on the 1001 are pre-vetted and may not be completely representative of the highs and lows of the genre, but I really have been pleasantly surprised at the versatility at a genre. Especially when, on the surface, it would appear to be a rather constrained genre.

That leads me to Hud. It’s a drama within the trappings of a western – meaning we have cows, ranches and rural Texas as the setting of a story that could easily be adapted to another setting. At the heart of it, Hud is a story of inter-generational conflict between the titular Hud and his father Homer – with the grandson Lonnie and their housekeeper Alma being caught in the crossfire.

As films go, Hud is pretty bleak. We watch as the ranch loses all their cattle to foot-and-mouth disease due to a poor investment, Alma nearly being raped by a drunken Hud and the complete collapse of a family. All this, and this and it is still lighter than the source material.

It’s interesting to note that despite his actions as being a self-centred, violent, womanizing and attempted rapist, the public actually saw Paul Newman’s Hud as more of an anti-hero than an antagonist. This speaks to both Newman’s likeability as an actor shining through and to the rejection of the older generation’s by the book rule by the younger members of the audience.

Viewed through a lens nearly 60 years after the fact, Hud is a great example of the charming antagonist and Homer as a man who lived through the Great Depression and World War Two that just wants to keep his life as it is. It’s such an interesting dynamic between the two of them and how Lonnie (who is 17 in the film) ultimately rejects the self-centred capitalist way of his uncle in favour of the warm stability of his grandfather.

So yes, this is an interesting look into the changing views of the American populace who saw this film as depicting a capitalist anti-hero rather than the evils of capitalism winning over older community values. It’s anchored by four great performances (two Oscar winning and a further nomination) and beautiful black and white cinematography; and it further establishes, in my mind, all the great things that can be done with a western.

Acclaimed Albums – Raising Hell by Run-D.M.C.

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 192/250Title: Raising Hell
Artist: Run-D.M.C.
Year: 1986
Position: #229

For the last 3-4 months, all of my non-classical music posts have involved me to listening to albums and songs from the 1970s. To shake things up a little bit, I figured I would look at the lower reaches of the Top 250 to find something a little bit different. So here I am, listening to an album for two key reasons: it isn’t from the 1970s and it features the theme song from one of my favourite video games of all time.

It sounds a bit sad, I know, but there really was a rush the moment ‘It’s Tricky’ came on. In total, I must have played SSX Tricky for days when I was a young teen; so to hear the song in it’s original form was really cool. It also helped that the remainder of this album’s first half was really good. ‘Peter Piper’ was a great opener showcasing a more rocky side to early hip-hop and then there’s the ‘Walk This Way’ duet with Aerosmith which helped to produce one of rap’s first crossover hits.

Things started to deteriorate, for me, in the latter half of the album where the rock began to subside and it became more focused on the rap and hip-hop aspects. I hit a bit of a wall when ‘You Be Illin’ and ‘Dumb Girl’ were playing, but it recovered with the closer. So where do I stand with Raising Hell? There are some really good songs on here (more than I expected to enjoy given my history on this list with rap and hip-hop) and in the light of what is to come in a few years with Public Enemy, I really enjoyed having a more rock sound to it. Something that I think I am going to miss when I start covering rap albums from the 1990s.

Still though, it was nice to come up for air from the 1970s and see just how much I have been neglecting more recently released albums. I think I finally have some license to mix up the eras a bit more, which is going to make is a lot easier to grab things to listen to on the fly.

Let’s Get Literal – Emma by Jane Austen

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 56/100Title: Emma
Author: Jane Austen
Year: 1815
Country: UK

Emma is my third Jane Austen novel, having read Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice previously. Going into this I already knew the story because of Clueless and the adaptation featuring Gwyneth Paltrow and Alan Cumming, but reading the book was a profoundly different experience to seeing it on screen. Mainly because there were a number of times in the book where I actually got a bit bored.

Now anyone who knows a bit about Jane Austen plot machinations will know the basic beats of this story. Heroine with a overcomable flaw falls in love with a man who was right under her nose (and has been loving her from afar) and it ends with a kiss. It’s one of those cosy predictable plots that gives me the warm fuzzies when watching an adaptation and when reading Pride & Prejudice many years ago.

By the end of it I have to say that I did enjoy this book and how Austen tied up all the plot points at the end. Villains are avoided, heroes are rewarded and everything is right with the world. My main issue was the narrowness of the scope. Where other of her novels involve trips around England or major pieces of intrigue, everything in Emma happens within a radius of a few miles and nothing big happens other than the reveal of a secret engagement.

I guess my issue was how most of the chapters were the conversations that happened as people called on one another and organised activities. You also have some incredibly long train of thought passages from Miss Bates that turns a page into a real wall of words. However, through all this the novel finds ways to really shine as long as we stick to the world inside of Emma’s head and the major characters surrounding her; namely Harriet and Mr Knightley.

The interplay between Emma and Mr Knightley are real highlights within this book, to the point where I could feel myself falling for him just a little bit (helps that he’s been portrayed by both Paul Rudd and Jonny Lee Miller in the past). Again, this is the strength of Austen – the creation of characters who you really want to see get together. It just would have helped if there was either a proper excursion or a bit less sitting around being social.

Still though, this was a good book and I feel more prepared for the Austentacious show. Next on the reading list is… I have no idea yet. I have an all day training event tomorrow, which means there is no chance I’m going to be in the mood to read. 44 more books to go!

Good Eatin’ – Fancy White Bassano del Grappa Asparagus

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood items: Bassano White Asparagus
Progress: 782/1001

Yesterday, I wrote about the green asparagus from Provence that I got for the food list. Today, I will be writing about the white asparagus I bought that originates from the northern Italian city of Bassano del Grappa. It was this asparagus that first led me to the Andreas website and, I guess, directly caused an £80 asparagus bill.

This white asparagus was half the price of the green and, again, whilst this might be a lot to spend on these thick white grass spears – it is still cheaper than a round trip to the Vicenza region in order to take part in the asparagus festivities. Although, to be honest, that would have probably been a whole lot of fun.

When it came to eating the Bassano asparagus, I saw that tradition dictates that I boil/steam it and served it with a sauce very similar to Hollandaise. So, since I was making this at the same time as the tart and paste for the green asparagus, I just got some nice jarred Hollandaise from Tesco in order to spare me some trouble. As you might notice from the height of my pan, there was trouble enough trying to cook these properly… but it was nothing that a makeshift cloche made from a metal mixing bowl couldn’t solve.

Now, I cannot quite believe just how succulent these chubby asparagus spears were. After being peeled and lightly dipped in some sauce, the flavour appeared to reveal itself in stages and dance across the tongue. It was really weird and not something I’ve ever really experienced with a vegetable, let alone with asparagus.

As with the Vaucluse Green Asparagus, I’m not entirely convinced that the £20 price tag for a 1.3 kilo of this Bassano Asparagus is completely justifiable (oh how the other half live), but I definitely think I got a unique experience from eating it that I won’t soon forget.