Good Eatin’ – Moroccan Mint Tea

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 708/751Food item: Moroccan Mint

This may feel like a bit of a cheat because I have no guarantee that this is mint sourced from Morocco, but having Moroccan Mint Tea is really in keeping with the spirit of its place on the list and in food history. You see, this type of tea is one of the earliest examples of fusion cuisine and it’s something you can, obviously, still try.

The tea itself is a mix of spearmint (traditionally mint from Morocco) and gunpowder green tea (originally from China) and it makes for a really great morning beverage to start the working day. One downside of having this as a drink at the office is that the spearmint smells incredibly strong. I’m having to get through these tea bags as quickly as possible because a waft of minty freshness emerges whenever I open my work pedestal.

Still, this is a different way to try out a list food (like I did with the yuzu and calamansi) and it would be cool if I could continue drinking my way through the list…. apart from the meat and fish. I don’t want to drink bee larvae.


Good Eatin’ – Guatemalan Cardamom Rice Pudding

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 707/751Food item: Guatemalan Cardamom

I didn’t quite expect to find Cardamom from the Central American country of Guatemala in an Asian speciality store. In fact, it probably would have been more likely to find Indian cardamom but I’m not complaining. Might have helped if they had both… I mean if they did I would have been able to do a direct comparison to discern why this is the superior type of cardamom. C’est la vie.

So, what do you make with cardamom? Something sweet, obviously, which is why I revisited an old recipe of mine for Thai-style rice pudding.

Right… so I didn’t heat the milk enough in the 40-45 minutes to make this rice pudding thicken up to the consistency that I had hoped. This was still pretty damned delicious where half a teaspoon of ground cardamom within 6 cups of milk went an awfully long way.

Cardamom really is one of those spices that has the tendency to dominate the room. Despite being well-sealed within my spice grinder, the sweet and spicy aroma of the freshly ground spice completely flooded the kitchen to the point where I couldn’t smell the simmering milk despite standing directly over it.

In terms of recipes, this rice pudding is a fantastic way to showcase cardamom. I can imagine that there are a multitude of other sweets out there containing ground cardamom. Hopefully I’ll be able to taste more of these at some point in the near future.

🎻♫♪ – Music for the Royal Fireworks by George Frideric Handel (Post #1000!)

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
 31/501Title: Music for the Royal Fireworks
Composer: George Frideric Handel
Nationality: German/British

Yet another piece of music that, once it started playing, I easily recognised. It really speaks to the power of music that memories of primary school came flooding back to me once the Overture got into full swing. You see, whenever we had school assembly there would be classical music playing on a portable stereo at the front of the room. I bet that I’ll be getting a few more flashes from the past as I go through this list – it’ll be interesting to see what the next piece will be.

The name Music for the Royal Fireworks doesn’t leave much up to interpretation as to the purpose of Handel’s composition. Similarly, the title immediately flags up who send forth the commission. So, when listening to this piece, I tried to imagine how this would pair with fireworks – which means that this would have been more a good piece of background music than something that emulated the fireworks. This makes sense as that would have been a nightmare to sync up.

What makes this very different from the other pieces I have done so far is the amount of brass and woodwind. The version I listened to was the orchestral one that Handel created after the original stringless piece had served its purpose. It doesn’t take away from the strength of the blown instruments by having some of them replaced with strings; the brass and woodwind are still very much the centrepiece.

I know that I’m probably going to have to do a longer piece again soon… maybe an opera? That could be fun if I found a way to listen to one with a crib sheet.

This was a complete coincidence, but music for fireworks does feel rather apt for this landmark. When starting this blog back in March 2014 I, to be completely honest, did not fully expect to have kept it up for a whole year – let alone reach the 1000th post as I have done today.

Compared to the original idea of the blog, where I would be going through a more specific list of things, the scope really has exploded into a huge number of lists that I can only hope will be completable in my life. Still that’s kinda the fun isn’t it.

Thinking back on my headspace when I started this blog, things were incredibly different. It was a few months after my depression diagnosis and I was looking for some sort of meaning (having been in effective life hibernation for 3 years). Boy, am I in a better place now. Sure, I could still afford to physically healthier – but I have a a great marriage, a mortgage, a job I adore and money to follow my travel passion. For the moment life is good, and I’m going to make the best of it that I can.

Let’s Get Literal – Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 44/100Title: Gulliver’s Travels
Author: Jonathan Swift
Year: 1726
Country: Ireland

It’s a bit bad that it’s been over two months since I last read an actual book. I guess that a mixture of post-Middlemarch fatigue and a lot of manga reading helped to fill in this gap… but it just shows how quickly time passes.

Like most people going into Gulliver’s Travels, I have seen pictures of the lead character being trapped by the little people of Lilliput. Honestly I thought that the entire book would be him shipwrecked Robinson Crusoe style, but on an island of little people. Turns out that this was just a quarter of the book and, in fact, Gulliver’s Travels is about his encountering of four very different societies as he finds increasingly violent ways to find himself abandoned on remote islands.

In order, he visits Lilliput (full of little people), Brobdingnag (full of giants), the various islands overseen by the floating castle of Laputa and, finally, an island full of talking horses that have enslaved primitive humans. All this makes for a really varied series of tales, all told through the somewhat gullible and subservient eyes of Gulliver.

The whole point of this novel is to act as social commentary and satire. Some of it is pretty obvious (like the horses and humans in the final section being a critique on the British Empire enslaving humans) whilst others have become less obvious seeing how this book is nearly 300 years old.

What is still evident, however, is how cutting he could be towards the leaders of the day. Also, it shows a lot of what prevailing opinion was at the time in terms of philosophy and social attitudes. There’s a whole wealth of literature out there about the misogyny of Gulliver’s Travels which pretty much boils down to this book being an example of how men treated women at the time.

The social criticism aside, Gulliver’s Travels is interesting because it is both a time capsule of the early 1700s and a very imaginative piece of literature. I mean, in this book we find one of the earliest descriptions of a machine that we would later identify as a computer. Similarly, he is able to really paint a picture of the scale of these places (the best of these being in the first Lilliput section), which is no mean feat seeing just how alien these far flung islands are.

Whilst a lot of the bit has been lost to time, the weirdness hasn’t. In fact I think the final chapter with the talking horses has probably become more bizarre over time. Just goes to show that books needn’t be discounted just because they’re very old.

What’s On TV – The Price Is Right

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 208/501
Title: The Price Is Right
Episodes Aired: 8000+
Year(s): 1956 onwards
Country: USA

Well, this is a world away from the cranial exertions of Only Connect (the last game show I did for this list). It’s always interesting to have to tackle such a long running show with so many versions around the world. In this case I stuck mainly with Bob Barker episodes, but I also watched one by Drew Carey and one episode of the UK version (compered by Bruce Forsyth).

If you have never seen an episode of The Price Is Right, just go on YouTube and watch an episode now. Preferably the US Version as it is, by far, more fun than the UK version. Not only are the people whipped up into far more of a frenzy, but the prices are a lot more varied (then again, the episode of the UK version I saw had a suit of armour as a prize).

The concept of The Price Is Right is remarkably simple: people win prizes by playing various price-based mini-games and everything is very loud. What really makes it is the host, and for a show like this you couldn’t find someone better than Bob Barker. He’s able to help keep things structured whilst also bouncing off the energy of the guests.

If I was American and was at home in the day I could see myself becoming a regular viewer of this show. There is enough variation in the games and enough joy to be mined from people winning (which is rare for me, because I’m a sour git) to keep this fresh for a long time. Don’t think I could watch this every day though…

Acclaimed Albums – The Velvet Underground by The Velvet Underground

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 152/250Title: The Velvet Underground
Artist: The Velvet Underground
Year: 1969
Position: #186

It feels like a weird milestone to be at the last album by The Velvet Underground. I know there are many other bands on here that I have completed (like The Beatles) or are yet complete (like The Rolling Stones), but The Velvet Underground did something that the others didn’t – completely subvert my expectations.

I’ve spoken previously about how growing up helped me like The Velvet Underground & Nico and I can say that, with a re-listen, I came to like White Light/White HeatIt actually feels like everything has come full circle with The Velvet Underground as it is the first of their albums where I have enjoyed it on the first listen.

Then again, The Velvet Underground is very different from their other albums on this list. For one thing it is more ballad-driven, which was a welcome development seeing how I started listening to this at 11 o’clock at night. This doesn’t make this album any less interesting – the penultimate track ‘The Murder Mystery’ attests to that – it just means that this feels like an album where the band had started to become comfortable.

I would pick out some favourite tracks but, being the unoriginal person that I am, I actually liked the singles (plus ‘The Murder Mystery’) most. One of them that particularly struck me was the closing song, which just did not feel like a Velvet Underground song. Maybe it’s because of the clean female lead vocals of Maureen Tucker instead of it being another Lou Reed song, but I liked that they chose to end on a song that had a different feel to the rest of the album.

In two albums time I will be done with the 1960s. Cheap Thrills is in a precarious position at the bottom of the list, but it’ll still be worth hearing. Right?

Good Eatin’ – Rowan Jelly On Toasts

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 706/751Food item: Rowan Jelly

Aside from near misses in speciality stores, the future of this food list will be relying on trips abroad and internet orders. Today’s list food comes from a place called Uncle Roy’s and is a jar of speciality jelly made from rowan berries. I would have spread this on something a bit more interesting than these little melba toasts, but I’m back on the weight loss kick. Hopefully this time

Whilst this is, by all definitions, a jelly rather than a jam – the first taste really made me think of a smooth marmalade. There is a bitterness to this, which is tempered by the use of apple, that makes this very different to other sweet spreads derived from berries. The likeness to marmalade also comes through from the bright orange colour, which shines like a beacon when next to the light in the fridge.

There is an almost savoury sweetness to this sticky spread that also helps to set this rowan jelly apart and, probably, led to its inclusion on the food list. It’s definitely better on a cracker than the cloudberry jam I had a year ago… may not need to resort to mixing this with Pepsi Max in order to get rid of it.

🎻♫♪ – The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
 30/501Title: The Carnival of the Animals
Composer: Camille Saint-Saëns
Nationality: French

I needed this album. All the music that I have listened to for this classical list is so serious or pious that it is easy to forget that there were composers out there who were having a bit of fun with the art form. This is why I was so keen on listening to The Carnival of the Animals – a series of short pieces that take cues from different animals. Seriously, this is the antidote to yet another choral piece.

When listening to The Carnival of the Animals it helps to have the track list to hand to find out which animal you are meant to be listening to. Some of the pieces, such as the ‘Kangaroos’ and the ‘Aviary’, are pretty obvious whilst others, like the ‘Elephant’ and the ‘Fossils’, need a bit of helpful clarification.

Speaking of ‘Fossils’, it’s criminal that Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre doesn’t feature on the list. Therefore the small rendition of this piece within ‘Fossils’, which happens just before a short rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, is as close as I’ll get to that on this list.

Getting slightly back on track, it always makes me happy when, for this list, I am able to find a context to classical pieces I know from osmosis. Within The Carnival of the Animals there are two of these which now have homes in my internal Rolodex. The first is ‘Swan’, which I am not sure how I know it but there was a glimmer of recognition when I heard it; the other is ‘Aquarium’ whose beautiful cascades have brought me joy on many occasions and I am thrilled to know its origins.

I know that I am going to have to go back to something a bit more serious for the next classical piece (and probably all the others to follow), but it was nice to take a bit of a sojourn amongst the animals of the carnival.


XL Popcorn – Tampopo

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 672/1007
Title: Tampopo
Directors: Juzo Itami
Year: 1985
Country: Japan

When I concluded my post for Manhunter I thought I would be leaving the 1980s after three consecutive eighties films. Then came Tampopo, a film that I only picked because it had a fun sounding name, which continues my streak. It’s always a bit of a toss up to go for a film based just on an interesting name… but I had never expected to be watching food porn.

From it’s very meta beginning, which depicts a lavish dinner in the front row of a movie theatre, Tampopo does not let up on how much gorgeous food it displays on the screen. As a public service announcement, I would recommend that you need to be either eating dinner or have just finished eating dinner – otherwise you will be climbing the walls with hunger.

So aside from it’s graphic depiction of food (and sometimes I mean really graphic), what does this film have to offer? Well, it’s very much a comedy in the style of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie with there being a main story thread – around the renovation of a ramen restaurant – which is broken up with a number of smaller comedic (some very darkly comedic) asides which all revolve around food in some way.

There are times where the asides are a bit too dark (the dying wife cooking her family one last meal comes to mind), but as a whole I really enjoyed what Juzo Itami was doing to mix things up with Tampopo. It’s hard to say that I have seen a comedic film like this before which can be so culturally specific to Japan in some places and yet, in others, be incredibly universal. It also shows just how much care and attention goes into ramen making, which may explain the near religious experience I had in Kyoto… man I want to go back to Japan so much.

I have to say that Tampopo was such an amazing surprise that I am eager to see some of the other comedies that Juzo Itami ended up producing – especially The Funeral and A Taxing Woman which both won a number of awards in Japan.

🎻♫♪ – Lamentations of Jeremiah by Thomas Tallis

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
 29/501Title: Lamentations of Jeremiah
Composer: Thomas Tallis
Nationality: English

It’s been a while since the last classical piece. With the exception of the songs list, this may be the list with the longest gaps between posts. Most of this is because the sheer breadth of classical music in the book (and my lack of accompanying knowledge) makes choosing the next piece incredibly hard. The other part is because the default position of going chronologically which, for the moment, means more choral music.

With Lamentations of Jeremiah I think that I have finally found something a bit different in this early choral music. Linguistically this is a very interesting piece as the lines come from the original Hebrew, which makes for a nice change from the Latin pieces that I have heard so hard.

Also, the tone of the piece is completely different. Where the other early choral pieces pretty much had their tonal dial set to ‘praise God’, Tallis’ Lamentations of Jeremiah is religious music that’s actually melancholic. Similarly, this piece is done with a single singer taking on the line while the others act as back up – this works remarkably well with the melancholic tone as it helps to give that degree of isolation.

This was one of the shorter pieces that I have so far done for the classical list, which probably helped with my actually enjoying this. After all how Lamentations of Jeremiah outstay its welcome when it’s over in less than 15 minutes?