Category Archives: Completed

My First Christmas Turkey!!!

I love to cook. However, there is one big thing that I have yet to do successfully – cook a Christmas turkey. It feels like one of those adulting landmarks, even though I don’t have plans to have a ‘proper’ family of my own.

Thing is, I hadn’t planned on actually crossing off this item. Not this year anyway. However, there was something almost serendipitous this year:

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Bourbon Red Turkey
Progress: 772/1001

Bourbon Red is a heritage breed of turkey in the USA. This is one of those meats from the 1001 list that I thought might be out of reach, unless I went to America in order to cook my own Thanksgiving meal. Then came Peele’s – a Norfolk-based turkey breeder that sells an array of heritage turkey breeds – including the elusive Bourbon Red.

Since I’ve been bitten a number of times by the ‘I’ll buy it later’ bug, to only not be able to find it again, I was determined to buy it and cook it for Christmas. I mean hey, that’s one less thing for my mum to worry about for Christmas dinner, right?

List Item: Cook a Christmas TurkeyProgress: Completed

Doesn’t this look like a glorious roasted hunk of turkey crown. A beautiful golden brown skin and so much fat still underneath the skin, despite being in the oven for nearly two hours. To roast this I rubbed the turkey with olive oil before liberally covering with bacon and sprigs of rosemary. The whole time this was in the oven I was understandably worried about this turkey drying out, but that was all for nought.

When I first cut into the turkey was there was a nice amount of warm melted clear fat still trapped underneath the skin, which meant a nice moist turkey. This is clearly all down to the breed rather than anything I did.

As for taste…. now this is what I call a turkey. The best way I can describe it is how I would expect the turkey in a cartoon to taste. Being a heritage breed, as well as one of the breeds that regular domestic turkeys are descended from, this is what turkeys used to be like. This taste is almost like if you take a really good chicken and add a bit of a gamy and a bit of a nutty taste. When you eat it, this is undeniably turkey and the best tasting meat I found was on the wing (if this had not been a turkey crown, I can only imagine how good the drumsticks would have tasted).

Not content with this being the first Christmas turkey I’ve ever made, I also did some other firsts by making my own stuffing and gravy for Christmas. The whole thing was a massive success in no small part due to this recipe from Good Food. Maybe, at some point, I’ll end up making the whole Christmas dinner – but since I’m in charge of Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, I’m fine with only being partially responsible for the big meal of the year.

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Taipei Time!: Day 5 – Exploring Taipei

Despite this being my fifth post about my time in Taipei, I think this is the first time that I had a proper time exploring different parts of the city. Probably should have had this a bit earlier in the itinerary, but that’s just how it happens sometimes.

Breakfast was a quick grab on the way to the MRT station. For them past few days I’ve seen someone selling some great selling fried meat buns and, finally, got the courage to go and buy a beef one for breakfast. Nice, hot and peppery – exactly what I needed to start off the day.

We headed north on the red line to Yuanshan Station to get some proper temple time in. There are two big ones in the area that area handily next to each other. Since one of them opened at 10, the choice was made for us to first go for the Baoan Temple. Before that, however, was a visit to the temple’s gardens with its dragon fountain and other sweet models mixed in with the well maintained plants.

After a turn about the garden, we entered the Baoan Temple itself. There was clearly something going on today as there were a lot of food offerings being prepared, but I have to hold my hands up about my ignorance of Taiwanese folk religions. In terms of look, this has to be the first time that I have seen an East Asian temple featuring so many paintings. This was in addition to the dragons and other wonderful carvings that I have come to expect from these kinds of temples.

From here it was a quick walk down the road to the Confucius Temple complex, which is part temple and part museum explaining Confucianism (something I appreciated as I only really about it from my games of Civilisation. Since this had more of a museum feel to it, there was more freedom to have a proper wander around, point things out to each other and take a few photographs of the Pan Pond, gates and the central Dacheng Hall. We also learned a bit about the changes in form of Chinese characters, which was interesting.

It isn’t just the temple where Confucianism is found in this area. Outside of the complex there are a lot of cute bear statues. There’s a set with the classical see/hear/speak no evil post, but my favourites were the six depicting the six main tenets of Confucianism. I kinda wish a smaller version of these were sold in the gift shop as some of them would have been perfect for my desk at work.

We then ventured back to the station and, on the other side, entered the Taipei Expo Park – set up in 2010 when Taipei held an international gardening and horticulture exhibition. Now, when we entered from the Yuanshan Station side we had no idea just how huge is park was.

By the time we left the first part, which we thought was the whole park, it was a little disappointing – not least because the flower landscapes were either out of season or no longer in operation. Although it is worth mentioning the number and variety of bird species that live in these parks. I swear I haven’t heard such a cacophony of bird calls in any city that I’ve visited before.

However, before we had a explore of the coolest section of the park (sadly not the pavilion on the indigenous peoples of Taiwan as that was closed), we paid a visit to the Lin An Tai Historic House. This is an actual private house and garden built based on the concept of Fung Shui – that was relocated and rebuilt in its current spot.

Keeping in mind that this faces a large road and is in the middle of the city, the sense of calm and peace you get here is otherworldly. They’ve also done this thing with there being 9 stamps around the house and gardens and, when you enter, you can collect them as you explore every nook and cranny. Made for an interesting impetus to not leave any corner of the house and gardens unexplored – oh and the whole thing was free.

We then got back to exploring Taipei Expo Park with a visit to the only open pavilion that we could find: the Future Pavilion. This, again free, area was a series off indoor gardens containing plants from different climates – which meant some much desired air conditioning.

List Item: Successfully navigate a mazeProgress: Completed

Right so this was a welcome surprise and makes for an interesting thing to cross off of the bucket list. I’ve done a hedge maze once or twice in the past, but I wouldn’t be able to tell where and when. Thus, when I saw that there was a hedge maze in this section of the park, it felt like destiny. It took less then 10 minutes to do and we both had a lot of fun completing it – the touch about having to cross set open areas with mosaics kept it interesting. As you can probably tell from the photo, I beat my husband.

Time was marching on and we were getting hungry. I’d read a lot on the web and in a few guides about a really good place next to the Taipei Fish Market called Addiction Aquatic Development and thought this would be the perfect time. It’s more than just a restaurant, but also a place where you can buy gourmet ingredients and some live seafood of your own if you felt so inclined. Me, I had my eye on the prize.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Hairy Crab
Progress: 761/1001

Just to get this out of the way – this crab cost the equivalent of £50. I hadn’t been quite expecting that we’d need to buy a whole crab, but we’d reached a point of no return and this isn’t something you can really get in the UK. My poor husband didn’t know what to do with the implements we received, so I got my hands dirty with a lot of cutting and crushing – which was more than fine by me. It also gave me a first hand chance to understand the crab’s name – it actually feels like it is covered by soft hairs! Not going to lie, I stroked my dead crabs limbs for a bit too long.

As someone who has historically liked crab, I was really concerned about kissing away. £50 like this. Shouldn’t have worried, this crab tasted exquisite and there sure was a lot of meat to find. I finally get the idea of crab tasting sweet, especially in those claws. The leg meat was firm, not too stringy and had such a subtle flavour that I’m glad that we only had this with a squeeze of (green) lemon. We also enjoyed some of the tomalley, but it really was too rich to eat too much of. This might inspire me to give crab more of a go in the future, but maybe at a cheaper price tag.

It took us about 40 minutes to finish off the crab so we had to shift some stuff in the itinerary in order to beat the setting sun. We made our way south on the red line to Xiangshan to something rather ill advised for when you’ve been on your feet all day – climb a whole bunch of stairs.

The stairs themselves belonged to the Xiangshan hiking trail, which takes you up Elephant mountain so you can get a spectacular view of the iconic Taipei 101. I’m not exactly the fittest person, but I felt gratified that I was beating a lot of thinner people up these steps; even if I was absolutely dripping by the end of the climb. Keep in mind that it was humid and nearly 30 degrees.

Sadly it was hazy, as it had been all day, but it sure was gratifying to get a super view of those stacked noodle boxes. Seriously though, this might be my favourite looking building in world and is the reason that a visit to Taipei entered my mind in the first place. Time to go up it don’t you think?

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 84/100Sight: Taipei 101
Location: Taipei, Taiwan
Position: #448

For a few years this was the tallest building in the world and for a few years after that it had the fastest elevators – the journey up to floor 88 taking just over 30 seconds. Pat the time we got up there the sun was just finishing setting, which meant that we got to see the view at dusk and at night. Sadly the haze limited the view somewhat (just like with Tokyo Skytree) but I still got a real buzz of actually being inside and looking out over the city.

To be honest I didn’t want to leave, but all we’d really eaten today was crab and it was time for dinner. So we paid a visit to the big wind damper as we made our way down and out of Taipei 101. Even a few hours later as I write this, I can’t quite believe I’ve been inside that building.

A bus ride took us to our final destination of the day: Roahe night market. Whilst this is not as big as the night market at Shilin, this might have had the best mix of food and other stalls (although there was still a lot of stinky tofu around polluting the air space).

Upon entering we immediately got in line to have some of the famous baked pork buns. The wait was truly worth it, those were some flavourful and juicy pork and green onion buns. In a way, these made me think that these are like the Chinese cuisine version of Cornish pasties – just with less vegetables and a lot juicier.

This was followed up with some Taiwanese fried chicken steak (which was delicious) and a Chinese sausage on a stick (the hub misunderstood the vendor and tried to take his off then grill before they were ready). As the hub doesn’t eat chicken (apart from the bites I offered him) he had two of those sausages and a peanut ice cream roll. We ended the visit with some souvenir shopping and a juice before getting on the MRT back to the hotel.

A lot in a day right? This will likely be the busiest day of the holiday and, boy, are there a lot of good memories. This trip to Taipei is shaping up to be one of my big top tier holidays. Let’s see what a rainy Friday can bring.

A Post About Being A Friend

When making the first (and subsequent) drafts of the ‘to do’ list there was something I hadn’t quite thought of: evidence. Sure, for a number of them I can take a photo of a place I’ve been or write a short thing about a piece of music that I have listened to – but what about some things that can’t quite be forced or quantified?

Today I’m crossing off something that I had kinda forgotten was on my list and, thanks to have an ultra thoughtful friend, I actually have something concrete I can cross it off with (and also said was okay with my using in this blog).

List item: Be there for a friend in a time of need
Status: Completed

So imagine coming home from holiday to find this postcard in an envelope. Pretty much all the feelings right? I won’t give back story on this, as I don’t want to really say too much, but I was so incredibly touched to receive this – and has actually made me resolved to send more thank you notes as it really is a lovely feeling to get one.

My apologies is this was a bit of a cringe read, but honestly it was a bit hard to write this without thinking of a certain song from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend…

I need to make more of an effort with some of the other items on the main list – so hopefully I will be able to pepper more posts like this amongst the longer term projects.

Freiburg & Forests: Day 3 – Seeing Freiburg

It rained all day today. Okay that’s an exaggeration. It stopped raining at about 5:30 in the afternoon after precipitating near constantly since we left the hotel. Annoying? Yes, but I managed to escape rain for the most part during my trip to Singapore so I can’t exactly complain here. Still, got to make the most of our time here.

We woke to the sight of a big market in the square surrounding the Minster – the smell of which truly made us hungry despite having already eaten breakfast. The smell of cooking sausages, olives and cheese followed us into the Minster, which was currently undergoing some restoration works which rendered the tower inaccessible and made the interior darker (and more atmospheric).

It’s a pity that we didn’t get a chance to see all those stained glass windows shining in their regular glory (due to both the scaffolding and an overcast sky), but you get a flavour of them whilst you’re in there. The distinctive thing about this cathedral would appear to be the integrated sculptures (of which we’ll see more at a later point in the day) and some of the metal railings that had been painted to resemble vines, leaves and berries.

From here we walked down what appears to be one of the main shopping street to see two of the old city gates that are still standing. I saw one of these on a YouTube video about a photographer in Freiburg so it was a bit weird to see them in the flesh. These two are far more prominent than the ones I saw in Munich. It is a shame, however, that the city walls that these once found a place in are no more. Still, they are great to see with the backdrop of the more modern city, their old clocks and murals still being preserved.

From the second gate we went to the Augustinermuseum where we bought a day ticket, which also gives you entry to four other museums around Freiburg. The museum gets its name from the monastery that it occupies, which has been repurposed and updated in recent(ish) years. The focus is mainly on church art, but the attic contains some 18th century paintings that serve as an interesting contrast.

Among the collection I really did enjoy some of the gargoyles that were on display (especially the screaming lion man that represented the sin of wrath) and some sculptures of patron saints of the guilds within Freiburg. There was also a pretty creepy painting of a crying Christ surrounded by lots of crying cherubs (including one who appears to have gotten his leg stuck in the wound on Christ’s side) that still haunts me as I write this.

Lunch was a return to the Minster Square and we indulged in a hot dog made using a local Freiburg sausage. It made for a nice change from the regular bratwurst, and the Freiburg sausage is so long that it needs to be bent in half to fit in the roll.

Next was the second museum of the day: the Archäologisches Museum Colombischlösse. It’s small museum housed in an old villa (which appears to be a theme for the museums in Freiburg) that contains locally excavated Stone Age, Bronze Age and Roman artefacts. What this museum lacks in big ticket items, it really makes up with excellent display work.

There are three things in particular that they did well. Firstly, all the tools were shown alongside the modern equivalents, which helped given context. There were also videos showing some of the techniques used to create a toll within the room. Finally, for fragments, most things were shown in the context of what they once were. All of these things are small touches, but it makes a big difference in a museum like this.

After this we went to the final museum of the day: the Museum Für Neue Kunst. Another fairly small museum, as one where your experience lives and dies depending on the temporary exhibition. The permanent exhibition is still interesting, with one room making a rather powerful statement about the censorship of art under the Nazi regime. There was also a room set up with new acquisitions to the gallery, each with an accompanying essay written by a local art student – which is a novel way to encourage art appreciation.

The temporary exhibition was excellent. It was centred around the idea of interconnectivity and featured audio, video and virtual reality exhibits. There was also gigantic versions of the board game Risk, where the method of world domination had been changed to more modern means such as economic block chaining. I got to use a virtual reality headset twice, the first allowing me to watch and listen to some interviews with immigrant students on topics like LGBT issues and religion. The second one… I took off pretty quickly because it gave me a hint at what it might be like to be schizophrenic and it wasn’t exactly pleasant.

The rain had let up slightly (only to return later in full force) and we decided to make our way up to the top of Schlossberg, the nearby hill that looks over Freiburg. We took the funicular half way up the hill and then hiked our way to the top, where there is a metal observational tower which can give you a birds-eye view of the surrounding areas. The main platform is 251 stairs up, but there is also a single person platform that is even higher up… which shakes in the wind like nobody’s business, so I got down form that quickly.

As we descended the tower the heavens truly opened, but we still wanted to take our time exploring the Freiburg-facing side of Schlossberg. We walked around the forest until we made our way down to the Kanonenplatz which, despite being lower down, allows for better views of the city.

List item: Kiss in the rain
Status: Completed

Honestly, the whole thing was kinda romantic. We’ve probably done this before, but this might be the first time that the rain, the view and the situation properly lined up. Maybe it would have been nicer on the Kanonenplatz if it had been sunnier and less misty, but it would not have been as quiet or as atmospheric.

We gradually made our way back down off the hill and it was getting towards dinner time. For the first time in God knows how long, I thought it would be a good idea to have dinner at our hotel. After all the restaurant where we were staying, Hotel Oberkirch, is fairly high on TripAdvisor and the food always smells great as we get back in the evenings.

After our hike I really wanted a particular type of soup you find in Germany – and they had it at the restaurant. I don’t know what it so comforting about beef broth with cut up pancakes in it, but when done well it is hard to beat… which is great when this hotel made one of the best versions of this that I have ever had.

For my main I had something from the seasonal menu, which was themed after chanterelle mushrooms. Honestly I couldn’t see the meat escalope for all the mushrooms, spätzle and sauce – never a bad thing. The chanterelles were so so good and gave a wonderful flavour to everything on the plate. I need to find a recipe for something like this as I could see myself copying this meal for when I eventually cover Germany for my food challenge.

So, with my trip up the Schlossberg I had a preview of the Black Forest today, but tomorrow marks our trip out to see it properly. Lots of walking through the hills and forests tomorrow… so a good sleep and breakfast seems like the best way to prepare for now.

Freiburg & Forests: Day 2 – Europa Park

So yesterday I made a bit of a point around setting foot in four countries in one day. Today I visited a place that has themed areas from all over Europe – the amazing Europa Park. It was a happy coincidence that this trip to Freiburg would allow for this visit – we originally booked this trip as it was on the edge of the Black Forest. I guess things happen for a reason sometimes.

The trip from Freiburg to Europa Park takes less than an hour (depending on your connections), but we still got up before seven so we could get breakfast in the hotel and still be at the park for when it opens at nine. The bus section of the trip was jam-packed with teenage boys, which brought to mind the scene in Pinocchio where they make the trip to Pleasure Island. Thankfully I did not come back as a donkey.

One thing that I want to properly draw notice to is just how lucky I was today with the number of people in the park. I see people on TripAdvisor talking about how they often had to wait at least an hour to get on a bunch of the rides (similar to my time in Tokyo Disneyland). However, in the 9 hours that we spent in the the park, we managed to fit in about 25 rides – the longest wait being just over half an hour with many others being almost immediate.

I won’t go over every ride I went on (otherwise I would be here for hours) but there are a number of highlights that I want to get down for some sort of posterity. The first cluster of highlights happened in the Austrian section of the park, which is where I actually managed to tick off something for my main bucket list.

List item: Ride a record breaking roller coaster
Status: Completed

I think it’s fair to count a first as a record, and in that case the Alpine Express helps me to check this off as it was the first coaster to use virtual reality. It’s set us you would expect, you get in a physical roller coaster with a headset on that plays a 360 video which is synced up to the twists and turns. We picked a video that had you flying around on some sort of glider and, surprisingly, it was incredibly immersive to the point where I thought I’d actually gone upside down. We re-rode the ride straight afterwards without the VR and got a completely different experience with the original runaway train through a goblin mine setting.

The next big highlight was two rides in the Iceland section. Both of them were some of the parks bigger coasters and yet,between them, we only waited for 45 minutes. I also made the potentially stupid move of riding these even though I had pulled my lower back 3 weeks ago and still had residual soreness. Weirdly, this soreness has disappeared after riding Wodan (a gigantic wooden coaster) which was like some sort of miracle.

Blue Fire, the other coaster in the Iceland section, is probably the best coaster that I rode whilst in the park. It doesn’t reach the heights of Silver Star (which was previously the tallest coaster in Europe), but it has more interesting twists and loops that help you have those thrilling extended moments of weightlessness.

We did a lot of the smoother rides in the park too. There are so many well themed rides that are fun for the family, but the runaway winner for best theme and experience was the Madame Freudenrich’s Curiosities. It’s an indoor track ride where you see lots of cute dinosaurs wearing kitted items and making cakes. Sounds weird but it is adorable and makes me marvel that Europa Park is able to make these mini-worlds without having the intellectual properties that Disney have to fall back on.

Of course we visited the England zone. There weren’t really many rides here but it was funny to see what stereotypes were used here. Mostly it was London based with the black cabs, double-decker buses and Paddington station, but there were also arcades like you’d find at the seaside.

In terms of best whole world (for rides, decor and available food) the winner for me has to be Greece. It had the best water ride, a cool coaster and a really fun laser shooting game. The place was done up as a mash-up of Ancient Greece and present day Santorini and you could smell that they were cooking gyros.

Speaking of food – we didn’t really have any meals today but just had snacks every now and then. This included a hot dog in England, burger and Olivier salad in Russia and a visit to the Foodloop restaurant in Luxembourg. Food Loop has a bit of a queue to get in, but the gimmick of having your food delivered to your table by mini-roller coaster is worth the wait. We had Mezzo Mix and Black Forest gateau, with the cake being a pleasant surprise.

We finished the day by going on the panorama train for one final look around the park before getting onto the last: Voletarium. We weren’t event going to go on this originally, but our interest was piqued as I bought myself a keychain in the ride’s gift shop. To think I almost missed out on the best experience of the day just goes to show how an amazing day can unexpectedly get even better!

To describe Voletarium is to make it sound a little bit twee. It’s essentially a large indoor cinema were it feels like you are flying through the air and the landscapes that you see. For this ride it is a number of different places in Europe (sadly none in the UK) and you are soaring through the sky between different scenes. Now, I don’t know if it was the music, my love of Europe or some other factor… but it made me cry (in a similar way to the water show in Singapore). I was just so moved and it really was the perfect way to end the day.

As you can gather from this entry, not only am I considering this trip to Europa Park as my best ever day in a theme park – but also in the top ranked of holiday days that I’ve had with my husband. We still have two more days here in Germany, both of which are set to be incredibly different to today. Tomorrow I’ll be seeing more or Freiburg itself – and will also be getting a well earned lie in.

Just as an FYI I’m finishing this post with a list of the rides we managed to fit into our day with a few notes if not already mentioned before. I’m trying to do this in order, but it’s already getting a bit fuzzy:

1) Jungle Rafts – gentle boat ride around some (possibly insensitive) depictions of African culture (Adventure Land)
2) Alpine Coaster with Sky Riders VR Experience (Austria)
3) Alpine Coaster as originally built (Austria)
4) Tirol Log Flume – which goes through the same goblin mining scene as the coaster (Austria)
5) Feria Swing – an inside spinning ride where the controller yelled Spanish exclamations in an extremely strong German accent… which made the whole experience hilarious (Spain)
6) Fjord Rafting – River Rapids ride where I stayed dry… but the man opposite got absolutely soaked (Scandinavia)
7) Blue Fire – best coaster of the park (Iceland)
8) Whale Adventures – water shooting ride (Iceland)
9) Wodin – a huge wooden coaster, possibly the largest I’ve ever been in (Iceland)


10) Euro-Mir – a spinning coaster themed around space station Mir, but is also unapologetically nineties with its blacklights and techno music. Really fun, even if going backwards down a coaster is moderately terrifying. (Russia)
11) Snowflake Sleigh Ride – gentle indoors ride where you’re sat in really cute sleighs (Russia)
12) Cassandra’s Curse – my first revolving room ride. Cool and trippy (Greece)
13) Poseidon – a water coaster where I got absolutely soaked. Totally worth it (Greece)
14) Pegasus – a coaster that I hoped would help to dry me off. It didn’t. (Greece)
15) Atlantis Adventure – laser shooting ride with a lot of cool sea creatures. Absolutely thrashed my husband with my score (Greece)
16) Monorail (between Luxembourg and Iceland)
17) Puppet Boat Ride – gentle cruise around a bunch of puppets depicting folk tales (Germany)
18) Elf Ride – another cruise ride where my main memory is signs of crying flowers saying “Let Us Live” as a way to stop people picking them (Germany)
19) Ghost Castle – similar idea to the Disney haunted mansion, but actually pretty gruesome in places (Italy)
20) Picollo Mondo – cute gondolier ride where animatronic animals take on different Italian stereotypes (Italy)


21) Swiss Bob Run – bobsleigh coaster where you do the whole thing when lying down (Switzerland)
22) Silver Star – previously tallest coaster in Europe, had one hell of an initial drop (France)
23) Madame Freudenrich Curiosities – super cute indoor ride with dinosaurs, cake and laundry (France)
24 Panorama Train – for a final look around the park via a train with not a lot of leg room for someone who is 6 foot 3 (Germany-England-Spain-Russia)
25) Voletarium – breathtaking indoor cinema flight ride (Germany)

It Just Needs More Duct Tape…

Okay so this feels like a silly thing from my list, but as a man it really feels like a right of passage to fix something with duct tape.

List item: Fix something using duct tape
Status: Completed

Right so a bit of backstory here – for the last year or so this light fixture was hanging a bit from the ceiling from the kitchen, to the point where I couldn’t pass underneath it without the bottom of the shade touching the top of my head. It got knocked by my husband when something frustrated him… and it had been getting lower and lower ever since.

I know that this is a temporary solution, but this can wait until we have the chance to give the kitchen a bit of a face-lift. I’m just happy (and a bit surprised) that you can get duct tape in white – if it wasn’t for some of my clumsy folds then you wouldn’t notice the fix. I guess I can count that as a victory. A manly victory. With duct tape!

World Cooking – Venezuela

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Venezuela
Progress: 19/193

It is my hope on this rainy evening in August that, when this post is published next year, that there has been some sort of resolution to the current problems and food shortages facing the country of Venezuela. Like with my previous post making food from Yemen, it feels a bit off making food from a country that is currently experiencing so many problems. Hopefully things will be sorted soon.

As I previously mentioned in my post making food from Chad, the reason behind Venezuela being today’s country is my very lovely neighbour and her daughter. Since I gave them a slice of cake that I made for Uruguay, I have received special maize flour and a recipe to make arepas for when I get around to Venezuela – so I had to expedite things so that I would be able to thank them… and then share some more dessert as further thanks.

Just looking at the list of foods seen as Venezuelan reveals just how much the native pre-European food has survived and, in some cases, co-mingled with the cuisines of the Old World. My main course is an example of such a mixing… whereas the dessert is something that it very much influenced by the Spanish settlers.

Main: Arepa Reina Pepiada

As a food stuff, arepas are nearly as old as you can get. They have been made for centuries by the original residents of Venezuela and are still incredibly popular to this day. In this recipe, which translates to Curvy Queen arepas, we see this New World food filled with  chicken mayonnaise and avocado. Not hard to believe that this combination is incredibly popular – I mean, why wouldn’t it… it’s delicious.

Arepa are, in essence, a small round fried bread made from pre-cooked maize flour. They are similar to pupusa,  but instead of filling them and frying them arepas are fried and then split to be filled with whatever filling you desire. I cannot argue with the use of shredded chicken, mayonnaise, avocado, lime juice and mustard  when filling these arepas.

Tastewise it’s a slam dunk, but it’s the texture difference between the thin crispy layer of the outside of the arepa and the cool and squishy chicken and avocado salad. I still have half a bag of this special flour left, so I feel like I have license to try and make more arepas with different fillings.

Dessert: Bienmesabe

Right so it’s been a month since I last made an insane cake – so why not make one that was even more insane? That’s what happened with this cake (whose name means ‘it tastes good to me’) where I had to make sponge, a coconut custard, a rum-infused sugar syrup and a topping of Italian meringue. Note: I have never made Italian meringue before.

The name of this cake (recipe from The Spruce Eats) is pretty apt. It’s delicious and it looked so amazing when I first removed the protective cuff of my springform tin. The Italian meringue topping in particular looked glossy and gorgeous perched on top of the cake.

Given the amount of coconut custard, I was so nervous that it would collapse, luckily it did not. In fact, it appears to be structurally sound and has lasted in the fridge for a few days without toppling over. It took a very long time to make this, but with a result like this… it was time well spent.

Next time in my world cooking journey, I will be in Europe and sampling a dish that I first heard about from an episode of Archer. Any guesses of what I might be making?


Right, so time for an important addition to this post. Thanks to the lovage that I found yesterday this world cooking post has a very special significance:

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Food item: Arepa De Choclo
Progress: 751/751 – COMPLETE

I wasn’t planning to hit the next landmark of my 1001 food quest in such a way, but it’s pretty cool that this completion happens as part of my  world cooking challenge.

Now, I’ve posted previously that I know will probably never complete this list. Some of the things are no longer being made and others are either threatened or endangered… which means it would be incredibly irresponsible for me to go after them.

With 751 of these eaten, I am still going to try and eat as many of them as I can. So I think that will be the phrasing of the final phase of this challenge:

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possible
Progress: 751/1001

It will be interesting to see how far I get before, you know, the end of me. To mop up some of these final ones I will need to make special trips abroad and make some interesting substitutes along the way, but that’s half the fun of it.

Oscar Bait – Vice / Green Book

Title: Vice
Director: Adam McKay
Year: 2018
Country: USA

Right, there’s no point mincing words here: Vice is one of the worst films that I’ve seen in years. In YEARS. I mean, I had trouble watching Fences but at least it had material for the cast to work with and the tour de force performance from Viola Davis to get me through. Not with Vice though, where I got an hour in and I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t even halfway towards the finish line.

Honestly, I thought that Bohemian Rhapsody was a shoo in for being my least favourite film in this batch of nominees. But no, Vice manages to eclipse that and it is all down to the choices that Adam McKay made. Here’s the thing, Dick Cheney’s life should have made for an engaging movie in the vein of House of Cards, but instead he goes for something far more flippant in an attempt to mimic the great The Big Short

In the end, this film just ends up being a boring mess which is a complete waste of Christian Bale and Amy Adams’ talents. As much as I hope Amy Adams one day wins an Oscar, please for the love of God do not let it be for this role in Vice. She should have won for Arrival over Emma Stone in La La Land – but that’s something for another time. Vice is such a drag to watch – I’m just glad to never have to see it again.

Title: Green Book
Director: Peter Farrelly
Year: 2018
Country: USA

And this is it, the final Best Picture nominee from this year’s Academy Awards. It’s one where I have probably heard the most conflicting opinions with a co-worker (whose taste I trust) seeing it in the cinema twice to hearing a film reviewer say that Viggo Mortensen’s acting is so broad that it has made them re-evaluate him as a performer. Quite a contrast.

The benefit of hearing such differing thoughts is that you really can go into a film and just take the film as it comes… which for the first half an hour was the fear that this was going to be another Vice. During this first section I got the criticism of Mortensen’s acting and I began to question how this film could ever be considered a comedy. Then Mahershala Ali came on screen and suddenly I began to enjoy the film.

There is no doubt that, at times, there are some issues with the film. The score tries to hard to highlight emotional moments that it can become overly sentimental. Some scenes and lines feel like they are reaching too hard to be Oscar worthy that it can be off-putting… as well as making you feel that they have been heavily fictionalised. In the end though, despite these problems, this is a good film that really flies as long as Mortensen and Ali’s characters are together. As much as I loved Adam Driver in BlacKkKlansman – the supporting actor Oscar deserves to, once again, rest in Ali’s hands.

So, where does this leave me with the final rankings. Honestly, this is not as strong a group as last year but that’s on the Academy for failing to nominate better films. These films were out there and eligible to be nominated, but that’s just how it goes. In the end, unless you are paid to do so, it’s difficult to think of people out there who can watch every single films in a given year that might be good enough for the award.

Anyway here are my ranking, for what it’s worth:

1) The Favourite
2) Roma
3) BlacKkKlansman
4) A Star Is Born
5) Green Book
6) Black Panther

7) Bohemian Rhapsody
8) Vice

Oscar Bait – Bohemian Rhapsody / BlacKkKlansman

Title: Bohemian Rhapsody
Director: Bryan Singer
Year: 2018
Country: USA

The Academy are a mysterious beast. Scratch that, awards season is a mysterious beast. Acclaimed films like First Man, If Beale Street Could Talk and Can You Ever Forgive Me? get scraps and then there’s Bohemian Rhapsody with it’s middling-to-negative reviews and a more-than-problematic director… that somehow gets a nomination.

I’ve mentioned before about my complicated feelings about Queen, which means that I am most definitely not their target demographic. However, it does have the benefit of my being able to watch this purely as a movie and not be won over by the frequent clips of the Queen discography. Stripped of that, this movie is very much a paint-by-numbers biopic that takes timeline liberties and sanitizes a subject for mass appeal.

In the end, this gets by on Rami Malik acting his socks off (although, at times, it feels like something more out of Saturday Night Live than an award-winning film). Divorced of this performance and a liking for the music of Queen, then Bohemian Rhapsody is a bad film plain and simple. However, so many people love Queen which would go a long way to explain the massive divide in critical and public opinion. Will it win? No, but Malik might pick up Best Actor if Singer’s recent child sex allegations don’t damage his chances.

Title: BlacKkKlansman
Director: Spike Lee
Year: 2018
Country: USA

It’s unusual for there to be multiple films in the running for Best Picture that are already playing on the movie channels or have already been released on DVD. This year’s nominees have been a treasure trove for this and have allowed me to watch three of the films from the comfort of my own sofa in the company of a stuffed walrus.

BlacKkKlansman is one of those films that I was so happy to see nominated for the Oscar. Not only did it give me a proper excuse to prioritise it over watching movies on the 1001 list, but it gave Spike Lee an overdue nomination for Best Director. Also, it’s one of the few nominees that I was actually interested to watch – especially because it’s based on a ridiculous, but true, story about an African-American cop who infiltrated the KKK.

Despite being set in 1972 (although the events of the film actually happened 7 years later), Lee ensures that we as viewers understand the timelessness of the messages of his film. He makes a lot of effort to hammer home the atmosphere of racism that was (and still is) prevalent in areas of America. He does this not just with the members of the KKK, but also members of the police. This is also tied into misogyny, antisemitism and homophobia – but racism is the main issue of the film.

Some of the messages are very on the nose, especially when you think of the pre-selection that will occur of people who would want to see this film, but these are the times we live in. The ending sequence where he plays real footage of neo-Nazi marches and how Trump apologizes for them is remarkably chilling; the final footage depicting the death of protester Heather Heyer being particularly harrowing.

It’s weird to think that a film like BlacKkKlansman, which depicts so much darkness, has so many comedic moments. Then again, it would be hard to watch if it wasn’t for those moments. Sometimes the switching between tones gives a bit of whiplash, but for the most part it’s done well. It’s also worth heaping praise on both John David Washington and Adam Driver for their roles – just a pity that the former couldn’t achieve a nomination at the Oscars.

So, will this win? Probably not. It may snag a screenplay award, but I would be surprised if it would achieve much else. Still, it’s a very interesting and worthy nomination – and I am so glad to have seen it.

Current Rankings:

1) The Favourite
2) Roma
3) BlacKkKlansman
4) A Star Is Born
5) Black Panther

6) Bohemian Rhapsody

Oscar Bait – A Star Is Born / Roma

Title: A Star Is Born
Director: Bradley Cooper
Year: 2018
Country: USA

One of the interesting things about keeping a watchful eye on awards season is seeing how films rise, fall, peak too soon or never quite gain momentum. Obviously, you have to take things like the Oscars with a substantial pinch of salt because if a film or any part of a film really is the best of the year, then there shouldn’t be this whole momentum thing to consider.

I mention this because A Star Is Born looks as if it could be the latest victim of losing momentum in the month before the Academy Awards ceremony. It picked up a bunch of early awards, but despite being nominated nearly everywhere it’s starting to lose out. Means that whilst there is a consensus that it is one of the best of the year for a number of fields – it’s not quite the best. Having seen it (finally), I would have to agree with that sentiment.

Coming into this version of A Star Is Born having already seen the original 1937 version and the 1954 Judy Garland version, it feels like I am at a bit of a disadvantage. After all, this is a remake and it very much follows the same story, except that it is transplanted to the modern day with it being set in the music industry rather than in film-making. So, as someone who sees the finale coming, it’s interesting to see how they tease things as an act of foreshadowing.

Now, considering that this is Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut – A Star is Born is actually quite impressive and I hope this means he does some more work behind the camera in the future. Similarly, Lady Gaga gives an exceptional performance in her first leading role and I hope she goes down the Cher route and continues along this cinema path whilst still releasing music. She may not get another role as meaty as Ally Maine, but I’m sure there will be scripts out there to help her shine.

Here’s the question though – is this the best of the nominated films? The answer is no. This is one of the three films I was looking forward most to seeing (the others being The Favourite and Roma) and it started off with a real bang, only to whimper a bit at the end once the power dynamic shifts in her direction. It’s definitely earned it’s nomination this year, as well as a bunch of the others it’s got. For now though, my fingers are crossed for The Favourite.

Title: Roma
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Year: 2018
Country: Mexico

Before getting into the film itself, I just have to say that I hope that as time goes on we see more and more of these releases being available streaming or on demand in and around Oscar season. I’m not being lazy or stingy here, but you need to be really on it if you want to catch things in the cinema that may just be nominated a few months later. So thank you Netflix and I hope you keep on distributing Oscar nominees.

Now back to the film, which made me realise something: I may have been sleeping on Alfonso Cuarón as a candidate for one of my favourite directors working today. If you look at his body of work there is an insane amount of variation in genre and it would be difficult to not consider Roma and three of the four more recent films of his as modern classics. Hell, he helped make the Harry Potter films grow up.

Then we get to Roma, which in any other Oscar year would have been my automatic front runner (as of now, that distinction still belongs to The Favourite). Not only is it a sensitive yet compelling slice-of-life film that manages to teach you a lot about a world and history that you may not be aware of, but it’s got two great roles for women and challenges your preconceptions about how a film like this will proceed.

Roma may also be one of the most beautifully shot films that I have seen for a long time, which means that if Cuarón doesn’t walk away from the ceremony with his second Best Director nod, he should at least be given the prize for Best Cinematography (hell, why not both). I’m also so heartened to see a nomination for Yalitza Aparicio whose naturalistic performance as Cleo the native Mexican maid makes you feel everything.

Given the climate at the moment it would be truly delicious if the Academy ended up giving this year’s Best Picture award to Roma. Not only would it be the first foreign language film to win the gong, but it’s a Mexican one that features dialogue in an indigenous language. It would thoroughly deserve the nod as well, it’s just that the politics would make for an interesting night – especially as it stands to possibly clean up 10 awards!

With half of the films now watched, this is where my rankings are:

1) The Favourite
2) Roma
3) A Star Is Born
4) Black Panther