World Cooking – Saint Lucia

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Saint Lucia
Progress: 24/193

Well here we are with the first Caribbean country, and I ended up going for one with a pretty flag. There are many other flags in this area that I really like, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados both come to mind, but I ended up settling on Saint Lucia because of the striking light blue colour and because it has a bona fide national dish.

Whilst the cuisine of Saint Lucia does share a lot in common with other nations in the Caribbean, there are particular quirks. For example, since this was previously a colony of France and Britain, the colonial influences can be felt in their food – as well as their being some touches from India (because, you know, empire).

Having a national dish that is specifically Saint Lucian really helped to make this the first pick for this region. There are a number of dishes that I want to cook, like macaroni pie and bouyon, which can be found elsewhere – so will be saving those until later.

Main: Green Fig and Saltfish

The national dish of Saint Lucia is a confusing one, at least to a non-native. Why? Well, when they talk of green figs they actually mean green unripe bananas. Believe me, this was a relief as I have not eaten a fig since learning the whole thing about fig wasps – also it is incredibly easy to source green bananas in the UK. Similarly, since I live in London, my local Tesco superstore actually sells saltfish – meaning that this recipe was easy to buy for and cook.

For my recipe I went to 196 Flavours and made the addition of some sweet chilli sauce at the end as it really felt like this recipe could use the kick. Not to say that it’s bland at all, but a recipe containing reconstituted salt fish, 1 kilo of green bananas and shredded cabbage doesn’t sound the most appetising – which was completely wrong of me. If you are able to get your hands on some saltfish, I would really recommend this if you are in the market for something a bit different.

The recipe made enough for four, but myself and the husband ate this in one sitting whilst binge-watching The Middle. So easy was this recipe (and with the right spice level, this will be truly delicious) that it feels like a cool one to roll out if someone ever did an ‘Around the World Pot Luck’. Sadly I don’t live in the world of Desperate Housewives so it’s unlikely to happen – but hope springs eternal!

For the next post I will be at country number 25, which just goes to show how seriously I took my husbands challenge six months ago. Since this is a landmark number, I really want to choose a country that could be considered a substantial cuisine. Not decided what it will be yet, but I guess you’ll find out in a few weeks when I have the time to get back in the kitchen.

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XL Popcorn – The World of Apu

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 712/1007Title: Apur Sansar (The World of Apu)
Director: Satyajit Ray
Year: 1959
Country: India

Four years ago I watched the second film in the Apu Trilogy and I am finally finishing it off.  It didn’t take me so long because I disliked the films, far from it, but I just never got around them in the face of all the other movies on this list.

Last time I left Apu in his eponymous trilogy, he returned to Kolkata having lost his mother and rejected his uncle’s offer to train him up as a priest. We pick up with him in semi-poverty as a struggling writer and about to be kicked out of the room he lives in due to unpaid rent. It’s a bit of a step-down from the education that he was meant to be having when we left him at the end of Aparajito.

The journey that Apu takes from the beginning of the film as an aspiring writer to a nomad is incredibly emotional. I mean, this is a man who was emotionally blackmailed into a marriage, loses the person he loves and spends the final act of the film in a deep depression as he roams around India throwing away the book he’s spent years writing.

The World of Apu is not a particularly easy watch, especially as the concluding part of the Apu trilogy. I mean, you start off with him as a small sensitive boy with dream and we end up seeing him broken by life. Sure he makes some bad decisions along the way, but don’t we all. It’s a sad, but hopeful, ending to a film series that has kept dealing him a real mixed deck of cards.

As far as I am aware, this is the only film series in the 1001 list that I was in the middle of. There are one or two I am left to start, like the Ivan the Terrible films, but as I am heading into the final throngs of this list – it really is time for me to take stock and tie up some loose ends.

XL Popcorn – The Seventh Victim

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 711/1007Title: The Seventh Victim
Director: Mark Robson
Year: 1943
Country: USA

Where do I begin with a film like The Seventh Victim? Had I watched this film not knowing that it had to be on the 1001 list, I would have probably taken it at face value. However, because I watched this looking for reasons why this was listed and have listened to a podcast episode about producer Val Lewton a few years ago – I really did get a lot out of watching this film.

On the surface, The Seventh Victim is a slightly off-kilter horror-noir about a girl looking for her missing sister and coming across a devil worshipping cult. However, considering the Hollywood Code that was in effect at the time, The Seventh Victim is incredibly smart at depicting a number of issues that just weren’t seen on the silver screen in the early 1940s. I’m talking depression, suicide and LGBT issues – all of which were beyond taboo.

Now do I think it’s a bit much that a devil worshipping cult (albeit a non-violent one) could be allowed on screen whereas gayness could not be? Obviously, but those were the times that this film was made. Thing is, if you watch how certain characters interact it becomes fairly obvious that is being hidden isn’t devil worship. Once you put pay to that, it makes the depression and nihilism of the film all the more sadder… and explains why the lead is more than happy to hear that her brother-in-law (likely in a lavender marriage) has fallen in love with her.

This is not a flawless film though. As much as I enjoy the off-kilter quality that a film produced by Val Lewton gives you, there are some weird continuity issues. At 70 minutes long you would not think that The Seventh Victim needed scenes editing out, but that’s the issue of studios demanding double features. It means there are a few plot holes, but it also means that the action moves at a breakneck pace.

Now that I have read up more on this film and had my earlier suspicions of the whole thing being a cloaked way of tackling mental illness and the LGBT community of New York City, I want to see this film again. Even if it is just for the weird nihlistic moments.

🎻♫♪ – Symphonies nos. 6-8 by Joseph Haydn

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 48/501Title: Symphonies nos. 6-8
Composer: Joseph Haydn
Nationality: Austrian
Year:
1761

On the commute to work today I finally got around to listening to an episode of the Classic FM podcast Case Notes. It’s a limited run series where the worlds of classical music and true crime combine – with the first episode being about the missing head of Joseph Haydn. During the episode they played excerpts from a number of his pieces and, therefore, it only made sense to listen to something of his in full for my next classical piece.

Symphonies nos. 6-8 are the first piece on the list when going chronologically and were all composed in 1761. They were given the nicknames of Le matin, le midi and le soir because of the beginning of Symphony No. 6 having a slow sunrise feel… and since these three pieces belong together the remaining nicknames followed suit.

The interesting thing about these three pieces is the number of solos for a variety of instruments that pepper the piece, apparently a way for him to showcase the talents of the original members of the orchestra and curry favour with them.

It’s interesting historically but, at least for me, these weren’t the most engaging pieces that I have listened to for the list. I think more for me will come in later pieces, such as the Surprise symphony but that’ll just have to be something for a later date.

XL Popcorn – My Brilliant Career

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 710/1007Title: My Brilliant Career
Director: Gillian Armstrong
Year: 1979
Country: Australia

It might have been over three years since I last saw an Australian film for the purpose of the 1001 list (not including Mad Max: Fury Road which, whilst on this list, was watched in preparation for that year’s Oscars). Weirdly enough both of them are from the 1970s, but that is pretty much all they have in common.

My Brilliant Career is a feminist Australian period drama based on the 1901 by Miles Franklin. A book that, although not strictly autobiographical, was based enough on people she knew… well she had it pulled from the shelves until close to her death. You would also be excused for thinking that this is autobiographical because of the caption they put at the end of the film.

To be honest, this film was a bit slow to start – but once it did My Brilliant Career started to take on an interesting spin on an Austin-type story set in rural Australia. Many of the characters are substantially poorer than their Austin counter-parts and the feminist message has has a few centuries of evolution from Lizzie Bennett finding a way to marry for love and money to a guy who enjoys her independent streak.

Seeing how this film is now 40 years old, it was a bit weird to see Judy Davis and Sam Neill look so young in one of their earlier film roles. Speaking of Judy Davis, she is so good as the lead character Sybylla. Sybylla has such an arc over the course of the film and even when you may not agree with a number of her decisions or her actions, Davis helps you to understand them (even if, to be honest, I am not sure how Sybylla couldn’t be a married women and a writer – like Margaret Mitchell or Zora Neale Hurston)

In any event, My Brilliant Career  was a good watch although there were so bits where it could have used expansion (like her relationship with Frank). There were times were the shots could have been based on paintings and there were times where it looks quite low budget. Still, it probably won’t be another 3 years until I see an Australian film for the list, mainly because I am hoping that I’ll be nearly finished with the list by then but also because Romper Stomper looks interesting.

Efteling!

As of writing this, I have been with my husband for well over nine and a half years. This has meant more trips to the Netherlands than I can count. First to see him and then to see the in-laws. I mention this because it has taken him this long to take me here:

Efteling, the largest and most popular theme park in the Netherlands is only about an hour away from his family! I have been hearing about this place from him for AGES. How it was one of the big influences on Disney Parks. How well they do the fairytale settings. How much I would enjoy it. So here we are finally.

As you can see from the pictures, it was a bit of a grey day when we visited. However, the clouds and the eventual rain cannot takeaway from what is a fantastically themed park. Everything in the park is done in the style of a fairy tale, folk tale or legend. The highest concentration of this can be found in the park’s famed Fairy-tale Forest.

Through animatronics, sculpture work and proper re-tellings, the Fairy-tale Forest brings a huge and varied number of fairy tales to life. Some of these pieces, like the character of Long Neck from the Six Servants tale, have become hugely famed across the Netherlands. You could easily spend at least an hour going through and seeing all the different stories being brought to life… but then there’s rides.

Whilst I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an adrenaline junkie – I really enjoyed the roller-coasters in Efteling. The vertical plummet of Baron 1898 roller-coaster really sticks out at the major wow moment for me, but I also really had fun on the duelling Joris en de Draak roller-coaster and the water-coaster themed around the legend of the Flying Dutchman (how apt, right?).

It really was a fun day out. Aside from the coasters there was a great rapids ride called Piraña (the first such ride outside of the US when it was built in 1983) as well as a substantial number of dark rides. Our first and final rides of the day were on two of these rides and really helped to bookend the day.

The first was Carnival Festival, the Dutch take on Disney’s ‘It’s A Small World’ and had music that still gets caught in my husband’s head to this day. The final ride,  Droomvlucht (meaning Dream Flight in English), was one that he was really itching to show me. It’s a suspended dark ride through the fairy and troll worlds, which is really cute and quite creepy at times.

Between Efteling and Europa Park I have remembered fully just how much I love amusement parks. The fact that we did not have enough time in Singapore to check out Universal Studios just means that a return visit is not out of the question (as if it ever was). Taking this into account, I feel that this would the perfect opportunity to start yet another list on here. Nothing too serious, but something that could be fun to see fill out over the next few decades.

List Item: Visit 25 Amusement Parks
Progress: 13/25

Technically there should be an additional park on this list (Busch Gardens Tampa Bay), but as I don’t remember going it isn’t being counted.

Acclaimed Albums – Cosmo’s Factory by Creedence Clearwater Revival

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 171/250Title: Cosmo’s Factory
Artist: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Year: 1970
Position: #191

With this album not only have I crossed off the last one from 1970, but also listened to the band that Lily Allen makes reference to as being God’s favourite. I guess I’m going to have to disagree on that one as, to be honest, there was nothing in this album that made a lasting impression on me.

It’s incredibly impressive that CCR were able to release five albums in the space of two years and have their fifth be the most critically beloved. It’s equally impressive that on this album they serve a taste of a number of genres. Just to give the first three that come to the top of my head:

  1. There’s an obvious soul inspiration with their cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ which really should not have been over 11 minutes long.
  2. There’s country rock in tracks like ‘Lookin’ Out My Back Door’
  3. Closing track ‘Long As I See The Light’ really makes me think of the psychedelic rock of Procal Harum.

So what this album actually feels like is an interesting catalogue of the different musical styles that had hit the white mainstream at the end of the 1960s and would still be felt into the early 1970s. However, I heard better versions of all these things as I have been traversing the albums and songs lists.

There is no question that, in making Cosmo’s Factory, Creedence Clearwater Revival really showed their competency in a bunch of genres. However, at least for me, that’s pretty much where it ends. It’s an interesting and varied album, but there isn’t enough to keep me interested enough to go in for multiple listens.

XL Popcorn – Targets

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 709/1007Title: Targets
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Year: 1968
Country: USA

Rules are made to have exceptions. Cleo from 5 to 7 is an exception to the many French New Wave films that I managed to not get and Targets gives me a New Hollywood film that I can say I really enjoyed. It might have helped that I got a bit of background from an episode of You Must Remember This – but it was still a legitimately well-crafted and tension-filled thriller.

Imagine being back in a world where mass shootings in the USA were new, or at least an extreme rarity. This is what it was like back in the 1968, when Targets made the bold step to show the story of a man who – for no discernible reason – takes it upon himself to execute two mass shootings having already shot his wife and mother to death. We have so many films and news stories that depict events like this that such depictions have started to lose their bite, so it’s good to try and see Targets through the more contemporary lens.

Here’s the thing though, despite being 50 years old and dealing with a type of crime that has been done to death, Targets remains utterly compelling and incredibly tense. The first mass shooting is something like I have done in a game of Grand Theft Auto, but the second one (that takes place in a drive-in movie theatre) is horrific. Bogdanovich doesn’t show anything too graphic, which is good as the menace, aftermath and mass panic of the movie patrons is more than enough.

This story of a mass shooter, however, is one of the two narrative threads that are tied up at the drive-in at the end. The other is a story of Byron Orlock (played by, and obviously named after, horror legend Boris Karloff), a veteran actor who has tired of the business and decided to retire – much to the chagrin of the movie studio, his assistant and other people he is close to in the movies. It’s an interesting look at an issue that still plagues Hollywood today: what the industry does with actors who have reached old age.

In comparison to the serial killer narrative, Karloff’s part is lighter in tone and gives a good insight into a movie industry about to be taken over by the young bucks of the New Hollywood movement (of which Peter Bogdanovich is a member). What’s also interesting is how Karloff’s sections help to provide a contrast in terms of movie-making – with his section feeling more old Hollywood compared to the New Hollywood style of the serial killer.

Targets isn’t found on a lot of best of lists, unlike Bogdanovich’s next effort The Last Picture Show, but it’s a brilliant film that deserves a lot more attention. It’s not just an interesting history lesson, but a well made and tension-filled film that is one of the first to depict a serial killer who is killing for the sake of killing.

World Cooking – Lithuania

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Lithuania
Progress: 23/193

When it comes to picking countries to cook from I have tried to pick places that I haven’t visited before (other than Belgium, which was prioritised because of the endives). There’s no real reason for this aside from wanting to try new things and to avoid front-loading this project with foods that I already know and love. I’ll tick them all off eventually, but for now why not space them out?

So today’s pick is Lithuania for the reasoning that I really wanted to fill in the gap on my map in the general Baltic Sea area. Also, I had a real urge to learn how to make cepelinai (giant filled potato dumplings in the shape of zeppelins). After all, with the colder months coming up, what better technique to learn than the art of making potato dumplings. More on those later, Lithuanian food is more than just cepilinai – although these are the national dish.

The cuisine of Lithuania bears the mark of the many nations that once ruled over it and Lithuania itself once ruled – which means Polish, Russian and German influences. Many guides are less than complimentary of the food of Lithuania (and it’s neighbour to the north Latvia), but it suits me right down to the ground. This is a cuisine that heavily features seasons ingredients (including a lot of mushrooms), dark rye bread, meat, potatoes and a bunch of soups. You also find pastries and freshwater fish on many menus.

Considering all this, there really was a lot of interesting things that I could have made… but my heart really was set on making some massive dumplings.

Main: Cepilinai

Look at these monsters! To be honest I was white-knuckling as these bad boys were boiling as I had the awful feeling that I hadn’t sealed them properly or that they would just end up dissolving. Lo and behold that not only did they maintain the distinctive zeppelin shape during the cooking, but they actually tasted really close to those that I had in Vilnius.

The recipe for these came from Lithuanian Home Cooking and I opted to make these just pork filled seeing how I was only making half of the recipe. Now, the big thing that I was not looking forward to was the endless grating of potatoes – but luckily the Kenwood I bought after the Russian incident (where my stand-mixer broke before being thrown out the kitchen and me then proceeding to cry in a heap on the floor) had a potato grating attachment for just this purpose.

These zeppelins were absolutely fantastic, although in the future I would brown the bacon more the gravy. This gives me hope that, for a future Christmas meal, I will be able to make homemade potato dumplings. Maybe I’ll even make some for when I eventually cover Germany?

Dessert: Tinginys

One rule I have set for myself when covering an already visited country is that one dish has to be something that I haven’t already tried. This is how I ended up with this recipe for tinginys (which translates into English as ‘lazy’), which is a really delicious cake-biscuit thing with very few ingredients and no baking needed whatsoever.

I have a feeling that there are a huge number of recipes for this out there, but I ended up following this one from Ethnic Spoon. It’s fairly similar to recipes for chocolate salami or rocky road, but there’s no actual chocolate in this – just cocoa powder. Whilst this tasted great and, for some unknown reason, malty – I had real trouble getting it to set in the fridge even after leaving it overnight. A brief stint in the freezer more than made up for this shortcoming and I have been chomping on frozen slices of tinginys for the last two days.

So, given that I’m going to busy over the weekends for the next month and a half, this will be the last food country that I will be posting for a while. Whilst the time taken to make the foods for Lithuania clocked in as one of the shortest – at 2 and a half hours – I won’t have the time to research, purchase and cook these entries for a while.

When I return to this challenge, it will be off to the Americas once more where I will be looking to make my first foray into Caribbean cuisine. Will I go for an easy pick or just for the nation with the prettiest flag… at this point your guess is as good as mine.

What’s On TV – Garrow’s Law

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 218/501
Title: Garrow’s Law
Episodes Aired: 12
Year(s): 2009-2011
Country: UK

I think our most recent period drama procedural (Cadfael) may not helped the case of period dramas for my husband. For me, a historical drama with an interesting premise is always a welcome diversion – so I was pretty pleased to see Garrow’s Law come out of the random choice bucket.

In a nutshell, Garrow’s Law is a legal drama set in Georgian England with a central character based on lawyer William Garrow. It is worth noting that there is quite a bit of creative license taken when bringing the cases to life (a lot of them based on real trials) as Garrow was not the defender on all of them. In fact, there is one where he was actually the prosecutor – but I get why they did this. In the end, Garrow is a worthy avatar for the pioneering works of English law being depicted in the show.

Through the three series of Garrow’s Law we follow two main story threads. Firstly there is the education and rise of William Garrow from young upstart to a respected and influential lawyer. Alongside that is the turbulent (and initially chaste) romance between Garrow and Lady Sarah Hill (which is, again, done with some creative freedom although they did marry in real life).

Being only 12 episodes long, there is no opportunity for the legal stories to become repetitive or stale. This is thanks in part to the real life cases (such as the failed assassination on the king) being mixed in with fictional cases that were inspired by cases of the period. Whilst the story of Garrow and Sarah is compelling, especially in the third series, it is these legal cases that really make this show brilliant.

It also helps that there is pitch-perfect casting for all six of the main roles. Andrew Buchan is brilliant as Garrow and has to do quite a bit to keep us supporting his headstrong hero even as he veers a bit too close to being sanctimonious. Aidan McArdle works brilliantly as the opposing lawyer Silvester and really helps to bring that extra bit to the court proceedings.  I also cannot understate how good Lyndsay Marshall is as Sarah. Her journey through the show is pretty staggering and boy does she bring it.

The cancellation of Garrow’s Law after series three was sad as they were setting up some interesting new dynamics should the show have returned for another year. In some ways though, it was good to end on a bit of a high and have a lot of the main story threads sown up.

Now, it might be a while before I cross off the next TV show as, thanks to this list, I have a lot of shows that are partially watched. It’s time to clear out some of this backlog before venturing forth – shouldn’t complain though as this list really has given me the impetus to watch shows that I have been putting off for years.