Good Eatin’ – Muhammara at Halloween

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieFood item: Muhammara

Here we are at the second of the three food items that my husband got me for my birthday. It isn’t as cool as the miracle berry, but there aren’t many things left on the food list that are.

As has become a miniature tradition, we watched one of the few remaining horror films from the 1001 movie list – this time A Nightmare on Elm Street – and with it we had the muhammara with some pitta bread, hummus and whatever Tesco recommended in terms of olives and meat.

Before the list I had never heard of muhammara and my husband had to resort to getting this off of Amazon. Having tasted this it feels a bit like the ajvar I got from Slovenia, the key difference that this was earthier and spicier. You can tell that this was made with roasted red peppers, cumin and chili pepper from the first flush of heat that you get. Underneath it, however, there is some nutiness, sweetness and a bit of sour. It’s not really something I could eat a lot of in one sitting, but it’s nice just the same.

Now, I know that this book lists this mainly as a dip or as something to have with fish, but I cannot help buy wonder what this would be like thinly spread on some flatbread and eaten as some sort of fake pizza. Like lahmacun, but with a different sauce.

Progress: 681/751

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XL Popcorn – A Nightmare on Elm Street

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 644/1007
Title: A Nightmare On Elm Street
Director: Wes Craven
Year: 1984
Country: USA

It’s that time again: Halloween in May! Oh the perils of writing a blog with a ridiculously long lead in time. As I write this I am chomping on a fun pack of Haribo Scaremix and snuggling under a blanket because winter has started to make itself known.

I think the fact that it took me so long to reach A Nightmare On Elm Street shows how horror movies really were not a part of my cinematic diet when growing up. However, thanks to cultural osmosis, it feels like I have seen this film already. It speaks for the place of A Nightmare On Elm Street within the horror movie canon that it has been so frequently borrowed from or pastiched.

However, despite this film’s presence within pop culture making a lot of the main plot beats ultimately predictable, I really found myself enjoying it. Compared to a lot of the slasher films that this produced, A Nightmare on Elm Street feels oddly tame. Sure there’s a lot of blood, but this isn’t torture porn (like Saw) or full of unusual deaths (like The Evil Dead). In fact, the number of deaths is minimal – and that is something that I did not expect.

Speaking of not expecting things, that’s the strength of this film: playing with expectations. Even with me skirting over the ambiguity of the final scene, this film toys with the idea of dreams and reality. It’s subtle to begin with, but by the time you reach the final 15-20 minutes of the film it becomes increasingly hard to work out whether the characters are wide awake or within a dreamscape. It makes for interesting post-film discussions.

Despite enjoying this film, I have no desire to see any other film within the franchise. Especially the direct sequel, which sounds weirdly homophobic.

Good Eatin’ – Miracle Berry Tasting Session

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieFood item: Miracle Berry

They say that food is the best way to a man’s heart, well happy birthday to me because my husband bought me one of the coolest. I’ve wanted to give miracle berries a go since I first saw them in an episode of United States of Tara some eight years.

The idea behind trying out these berries (which originally come from West Africa) is that they trick your taste-buds into perceiving sour flavours as sweet. So the best way to experience them is to amass a selection of sour food and drink and get ready for things to taste weird. The berry itself… tastes a bit sour, but there’s nothing special about that.

As you can see from the picture, I got a lot of different things based on the many recommendations that can be found online. Since there is too much here to go really in depth (also, the berry only lasted around 20 minutes, so there was a lot of trying different things before the berry wore off). But here’s a summary:

Guinness – Many people likened this to a chocolate milkshake, but I didn’t get anything like that. Instead it became creamier and less bitter.

Cream cheese – Sweeter and a bit like a cheesecake filling without the vanilla.

Lemon juice – Like a very sweet and concentrated lemonade. Delicious and it became the way I could work out if the berry was still working.

Grapefruit juice – One of the sweetest things I tried. Usually I can’t drink this because of how bitter it is, but with the berry it was great.

Distilled malt vinegar – This became just like a balsamic vinegar that you could drink.

Pineapple – You could still feel your mouth pucker because of the acidity, but instead it tasted like artificial pineapple flavour from sweets.

Hot sauce – The Tabasco ended up tasting like sweet chilli sauce. I couldn’t even feel the heat.

Sour candy – As expected, super super sweet.

Lemon – Like you had dipped the lemon in sugar, really delicious.

Lime – A disappointment, without the sourness a lot of the flavour was gone.

Fanta Orange – No change. Makes sense as it’s acidic, but it doesn’t taste sour.

English mustard – A lot of the heat was gone and this became like a mild sweet mustard.

Salt and vinegar crisps – Without the vinegar these became somewhat bland and mildly sweet… which isn’t what you want in a crisp.

Tomato ketchup – Heinz brand tomato ketchup ended up tasting like a really cheap generic brand.

Pickles – Very sweet and the pickle juice became a weirdly delicious beverage.

Progress: 680/751

XL Popcorn – The Tin Drum

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 643/1007
Title: Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum)
Director: Volker Schlöndorff
Year: 1979
Country: Germany

I did say that it wouldn’t be too long between finishing the book and watching the cinematic adaptation. Reading the book was one thing, but there’s a lot of things that I figured would make more sense on the screen. Turns out I was right and, unusually, I enjoyed the film much more than the book.

Let’s begin with the two main differences. Whilst the film version is narrated by drum-toting little person Oskar it is done in the general sense rather than as him writing his memoirs in the asylum. Also, the film only takes on the first two thirds of the book rather than trying to adapt the smorgasbord of weirdness that was the final sections – an extremely good move.

So yes, the adaptation made two really good moves and eradicated parts of the book that had turned me off. We no longer have the meandering narrator or have to see Oskar grow a hunchback. It also found a really good 11 year old boy to take on the role, although this did mean that it was a bit off-putting when Oskar (16 in the film) loses his virginity. It’s an important part of the story, but the young age of the actor just makes this sequence a lightning rod for criticism.

The thing that really made The Tin Drum was the direction and cinematography. There are times where some of the chosen shots look like something Wes Anderson would have concocted if he were a member of the New German Cinema movement. A lot of this is done to heighten the comedic moments, which are a lot more successful onscreen than off.

It’s weird to say that the film version of The Tin Drum succeeded by creating more of a distance between the audience and the central character, but it’s true. By turning this into an objective rather than subjective story Volker Schlöndorff is able to create something that keeps most of the strangeness of the book, but makes it more enjoyable and relatable. I’m glad I know the book that inspired this film, I am also glad to now be done with Oskar as a character.

1001 Songs – 1970: Part Three

This is it, the final batch of songs from 1970. This year has taken a weirdly long time to make my way through, but at least we’re here now.

Into the Mystic – Van Morrison

It’s been two and a half years since I listened to Moondance for the first time, and it’s a downright shame that I haven’t played it anytime since. With ‘Into the Mystic’ I felt myself being immediately being transported back to that sunny day when I listened to this album on my commute.

It’s a great example of folk done right. It tells of a mystical journey and uses the guitar and the horns to unfurl the feeling. It’s weirdly soothing and helps remind me why I liked the parent album so mucn.

Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine – James Brown

“You just don’t like him, do you?” That’s what my husband said to me as I was losing patience with this song as we reached the three minute mark. He’s right.

Whilst I can appreciate that in person James Brown had charisma, on a recording I find a 5 minute song that is just so repetitive to be pretty much unforgiveable. If this song was released now I would wager it would be seen as not even worthy of radioplay.

I know, I know, historical context. James Brown was a big influence and a pusher of his genre. However, when I think back to the work done by Sly and the Family Stone done back in 1969 on their album Stand!… well there’s no comparison.

Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

“Four dead in Ohio” is the refrain at the end of this powerful song about the Kent State shootings; where four students were gunned down by police during a protest against the Vietnam War.

This song was on the radio within a few weeks of the shooting, the lyrics really demonstrating the sense of anger and loss over what happened. At the end you can hear David Crosby breaking.

There are a number of protest and counter-culture songs on the 1001 list, but none so far have felt as raw as this one.

The Only Living Boy in New York – Simon & Garfunkel

It’s interesting that of all the songs on the iconic Bridge over Troubled Water album it is ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ that appears on the 1001 songs list. I mean, there’s the obvious choice from that album… maybe even two. Then again, this is one of the great classic albums so you are spoilt for choice.

One thing that this list does well is find the songs that act as bridges between eras. You have ‘The Boxer’ and ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ which are very much Simon & Garfunkel songs; then there’s ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ which is where Simon & Garfunkel becomes Paul Simon.

It’s a beautiful song to end such an iconic duo on. Looking back is nice to see this bridge, but at the time the idea of going solo must have been terrifying for both of them. At least it worked out for both of them.

In a Broken Dream – Python Lee Jackson

Why is this on the list? Well, it’s an example of an early song with the vocals of Rod Stewart in a song that is a soft metal. Interesting to note that despite being first released in 1970, ‘In a Broken Dream’ didn’t chart until a re-release in 1972 due to the success of Rod Stewart’s later singles like ‘Maggie May’.

Rock at this time was in an awkward phase. It was still trying to cling on to the organs of the 1960s whilst bring in the guitar solos that would become a staple in the years to come. Makes for an interesting listen when doing this chronologically.

Oh Lonesome Me – Neil Young

After the Gold Rush is such a well received album that it perplexes me that they pick the only cover to appear in this list. The book itself says that this is the standout track from the album. They’re wrong. That song is ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ and that’s all there is to it.

54-46 Was My Number – Toots & The Maytals

The moment I heard the ska beat starting I was ready to pack in any attempt to write about this song. But something weird happened, I actually started to like this song.

It’s about the wrongful imprisonment of the lead singer, who was framed by a promoter who didn’t want the tour to go ahead. The song tells this in a traditional call-and-response with the ska beats playing underneath. I don’t know why, but this song actually did this for me.

Working Class Hero – John Lennon

When I first heard ‘Working Class Hero’ last year, it struck me that he’s not a man who I could imagine swearing. Now I listen to this again… it’s fairly dull.

The emotions don’t work because he’s so far removed from who he is trying to connect with. He’s a man of priveledge who, whilst growing up in a working class family, has not been part of that demographic for most of his life. It’s like a Christian writing a song about the Holocaust – it all just rings false.

Box of Rain – The Grateful Dead

Here I am at the end of 1970. It’s a song that I would not have expected from a band whose name feels like it would make for an amazing metal band. Book, cover and all that jazz.

For such a well known band it is interesting to note that this album track is their only entry on the list. A song that is sung by their regular bassist Phil Lesh rather than lead singer Jerry Garcia.

‘Box of Rain’ is a touching folk song that feels like where Neil Young meets Simon & Garfunkel. It’s about Lesh’s father who was dying of terminal cancer and contains lyrics intrpreted from Lesh’s scat singing.

I wish I could say that this song had some profound effect on me… but it didn’t. Nice enough and it does make the connection, but that’s pretty much where this ends.

Progress: 319/1021

Graphic Content – Mushishi

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
40/501Title: Mushishi
Creator: Yuki Urushibara
Years: 1999-2008
Country: Japan

Well, this may be one of the most magical/mysterious manga that I have ever read. It’s described on Wikipedia as being a supernatural detective story which, whilst true, doesn’t really get to the heart of it.

Mushishi is set a few centuries ago in rural Japan where otherwordly creatures, known as ‘mushi’, exist. The series described mushi as being life in it’s purest form, so pure that few people can actually see them and the mushi themselves take on magical properties. The titular character (a mushishi named Ginko) is a specialist in mushi that travels around solving mushi-related problems.

The whole manga plays like a supernatural procedural with Ginko coming into a village and solving their mushi related problems. This can encompass everything from helping with joint pain to helping people deal with the psychological consequences of their loved one being resurrected.

Whilst there are common themes of light/dark, nature and blindness throughout the 10 volumes, it doesn’t feel that there was any real repetition in the cases found in Mushishi. Whilst it’s not true that every case is unique, there is enough in the variation, development and outcomes to keep it feeling fresh. It also helps that every story has a different type of mushi at the centre.

8 years ago I asked some friends at university about anime that I just had to see. Thanks to this I fell in love with Genshiken and started watching films by Satoshi Kon. Mushishi is the final recommendation from this list I have yet to see and now, since I have read the manga, I will be able to cross this off. Soon. I know I just finished reading this, but I have to see how they dramatised these stories.

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Monogatari: Second Season

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 31/100Title: Monogatari: Second Season
Episodes Aired: 26
Year(s): 2013

Aside from the volatility, my major bugbear of using MyAnimeList is that seasons of different anime are listed separately. This is fine for the likes of Gintama and Haikyu as everything from the get go appears within the list. However, for Monogatari: Second Season I needed to make my way through three previous iterations first. So, as I am writing this I am not only talking about Monogatari: Second Season, but also Bakemonogatari, Nisemonogatari and Nekomonogatari (Black).

The key concept of the Monogatari, whereby a half-vampire high schooler troubleshoots the spirit-based problems of the girls in his social circle, is ultimately an interesting one. Going into this I was expecting a harem anime along the lines of The World God Only Knows, but with a more varied mythology. Needless to say I went into this with high expectations.

For the most part, these expectations were not met.

Of the four iterations that I saw I can honestly say that I found myself really enjoying two of them (Bakemonogatari and Nekomonogatari (Black)) with the other two turning be off because of inconsistency (Nisemonogatari) or the extreme level of under-aged fan service (Monogatari: Second Season).

You see the main character, Koyomi Araragi, is a pervert. Now, there are many enjoyable characters in comedy anime are perverted because there are otherwise socially inept (Daru from Steins;Gate and Kazuma from KonoSuba immediately spring to mind), but with Koyomi the perversion takes a more paedophilic and, sometimes, incestuous quality.

Now, this wasn’t so bad in the first season (Bakemonogatari) or in the Nekomonogatari (Black) side story. In fact, Koyomi was mostly able to act as a proper (anti-)hero and try to save the day to the best of his abilities. There were actual human stories that made real connections… even if the connections were slightly goofy. This was a series I could actually enjoy.

So imagine my joy when the first story arc of Monogatari: Second Season was more along these lines. Then it quickly descended into him being sexually aroused by a 11-year old girl pressing her breasts into his back and I just had had enough.

This is a series with such complex ideas when it comes to philosophy and mythology only to have it be drowned out by an extreme level of fan service. You also have the issue of every conversation taking way too long, which gets tiresome after a while.

The thing is, there is a really great anime here beneath the fan service. Visually this is one of the most striking and original animes I have seen since Paprika. The style takes a while to get used to, but after a while it is truly arresting. Similarly, the Monogatari franchise has some fantastic OPs.

When it does characters and backstories well (like with Hanakawa and Senjōgahara) then this is a really great one to watch. Otherwise, it veers between tedious and off-putting. Such a shame really.

Level One – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 74/100Title: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Developer: Naughty Dog
Original Platform: PS3
Year: 2009

A while ago I tried my hand at the first Uncharted game. I never finished it because whilst I loved the story and puzzle elements it was the combat that got the better of me. The seemingly endless stream of enemies meant that I was left without ammo and without the will to carry on. If the series could improve upon this whilst keeping up the interesting puzzles and world building then Uncharted 2 would be exactly what I am looking for in a game.

Turns out, yes, Uncharted 2 was able to do exactly that whilst also delivering some of the most beautiful landscapes that I have ever seen on a seventh generation console. It’s one of those games where you sometimes have to take time out of killing enemies or jumping between train cars in order to admire the work that’s gone into creating the in-game versions of Nepal and Tibet.

In terms of gameplay, I have to say that this is a clear improvement on the first Uncharted and is a lot more accurate and responsive than any of the Assassin’s Creed games that I’ve played. Sure there are times that you find Drake hiding behind a pillar the wrong way or plummeting to his death by accident, but when you think how far we’ve come from the original Tomb Raider game then it feels rather miraculous.

The big draw of Uncharted for me was that it feels like are playing your way through a fantastic adventure film. I mean this is essentially an Indiana Jones video game, just with a far better looking lead (as Pam Poovey from Archer would say: sploosh) and a much longer run time. It’s a game that I found hard to put down and ended up playing in two long sittings.

So yes, with the exception of the annoyingly arbitrary final boss battle, I can really see how this is ranked as the best game from 2009. The whole game just feels completely cinematic in scope where it takes breaks to engage in shoot outs. Having played this I think I should give the original Uncharted a second look, but just have the difficulty turned way down.

XL Popcorn – Full Metal Jacket

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 642/1007
Title: Full Metal Jacket
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Year: 1987
Country: UK/USA

Full Metal Jacket. I’m not entirely sure why it took me this long to watch this film, other than wanting to space out the nine Stanley Kubrick entries on the 1001 list, but it is pretty embarrassing. Having now watched it not only have I removed a source of embarrassment, but have also put another director to bed.

Where most cinema-loving people seem to have a hard on for Stanley Kubrick I really have had to look at his films on a case-by-case basis. On the one hand I get why people laud Dr Strangelove, Paths of Glory and The Shining; I am left perplexed by Barry Lyndon and 2001: A Space Odyssey.  So where does Full Metal Jacket fall on this scale?

Well, I think that’s a two part question. As in this is a film that really needs to be rated in two sections: the first 45 minutes and then everything that comes afterwards. The first section, where we watch the marines being trained for war, is exceptional. R. Lee Ermey is amazing as the drill sergeant (even more so when you read that he improvised most of the insults) and I am amazed that there wasn’t an Oscar nomination there. It’s also worth mentioning Vincent D’Onofrio whose transformation over the first 45 minutes is deeply unsettling.

Then there’s the rest of the film which just pales in comparison to what preceded it. Don’t get me wrong it’s still compelling, but it feels more like a series of loosely related Vietnam war stories than a tight piece of film-making. I guess that there is a point to be made about showing how expendable the marines are once they leave the comparative safety of their training camp, but these points have probably been better made in Apocalypse Now or even Platoon.

So what do you think? Is there a film from the 1001 list where it is shameful that I haven’t seen it yet? Let me know in the comments and it’ll be greatly prioritised.

Good Eatin’ – Devilled Lamb Kidneys

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieFood item: Lamb Kidney

There really is no excuse for me to have not covered lamb kidneys yet. I’ve repeatedly seen them being sold at my local supermarket, but I never felt in the mood to properly prepare them for cooking purposes. I’ve happily taught children how to dissect them back when I was a science teacher, but the idea of cleaning them and removing the pelvis never appealed to me.

Until now! With it being a nearly a month since my last food item it really is time to step it up and get out of that comfort zone (or just start paying weird amounts of money for cheese).

The question arose about the best way to prepare kidneys. Or it should have, but I went for the first method that came to mind: devilled kidneys. So here we go with a recipe from The Hairy Bikers.

I did not enjoy cutting the pelvis out of these little lamb kidneys. Thankfully they were pre-skinned, but that pelvis is tough to remove. I probably should have proper kitchen scissors instead of using the scissors that I use to help cut wrapping paper. But I don’t tell people these things when I give them Christmas presents.

The smell of the kidneys cooking in the tomato-mustard sauce reminded me a lot of when my mum would make lamb liver and bacon. Lo and behold, lamb kidneys taste a lot like lamb’s liver. It’s just that the kidney’s don’t have that issue of getting tough when overcooking them, they just go through a weird phase of toughness as they cook before getting softer again. No idea why that is… but it’s a strange kidney fact.

If you haven’t tried lamb’s liver or kidneys before, I would say that the taste is rich, meaty and (for the lack of a better word) mature. I can really see why sauces containing mustard or Worcestershire sauce would be needed to cut through some of the taste of the kidneys.

As with all things offal, the taste of kidneys is not for everyone. Even with the sauce, which was great, I felt that the kidneys were a bit too rich for me to eat more than one. I didn’t mind the taste too much, but it was hard to finish the first one without feeling like I had eaten too much already. Maybe lamb kidneys are a bit too… strong/mature for my tastes, but there for go.

Would I have this again? If it was professionally prepared and there was nothing better on the menu, sure. Else, I may not have lamb kidneys again.

Progress: 679/751