Good Eatin’ – Calçots and Other Spanish Things

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

Right so I am really excited about us having booked a short break to Barcelona in a few month’s time. It really got me thinking about what food I would be able to tick off during our visit (hint: I will be on the hunt for Cadi butter).

I had this in mind during a recent visit to Borough Market, so much so that I made a beeline to Brindisa – a rather excellent Spanish import store that also sells cabrales and morcilla de burgos.

img_4747Food item: Calçot

This was an unexpected find, mainly because I had no idea about the Catalan tradition of Calçotada, whereby many calçots are grilled over flames to celebrate their harvest. Now, I don’t have access to a flame grill, but I do have a regular grill and a jar of Romesco sauce… so I figured that would be good enough.

img_4748 Food items: Idiazabal and Mosciame Del Tonno

So here are the calçots after being grilled in the over for 5-6 minutes per side and then left to steam in a paper bag for 15 minutes.

This is one of the few times where I have not been too nervous about over-grilling something as some of the pictures of grilled calçots online show them to be nearly totally black. Since you done eat the other charred layer of the calçot it doesn’t really matter if you slightly overdo them.

When you look at a calçot it basically look like a little spring onion made a successful wish on a star to become a leek. The taste is a lot milder than a regular spring onion, which probably explains how so many people can actually eat these with just a bit of sauce. If anything the incredibly tender insides of the calçot were sweet and somewhat creamy.

I am someone who cannot abide the taste of raw onion and I thought these gorgeous. I hope these are still in season when we visit Barcelona.

So, what about the other foods?

First there was the Idiazabal cheese. I think I am actually eating too much cheese at the moment. One bite of this and it was obvious to me that this was made from sheep’s milk (this is not something I could differentiate between before starting the list).

I got the smoked version of this cheese (from the taste I think this was smoked using beechwood, but I have no way of proving that. There was a slight tingle in my mouth from the lactic acid content, which might also explain the oily feel of the overall cheese. The smokiness wasn’t too strong either, especially compared to the smell.

Finally there was a slab of mosciame del tonno (mojama in Spanish). This isn’t exactly cheap at over £100 per kg. Even the small bit that I got was nearly £7, which felt a bit much for what I got, which is basically a dried tuna loin.

The saltiness of this dried fish is pretty intense on it’s own. This needs to be sliced as thin as possibly in order to best enjoy it. It was also nice on some bread if sliced just a bit thicker (think: the thickness of a match). Nice, but maybe not worth seeking out again.

Progress: 622/751

Level One – Portal 2

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 65/100Title: Portal 2
Developer: Valve Corporation
Original Platform: PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Year: 2011

So Peter, what did you spend your last Sunday doing? Oh, I spent pretty much the entire day playing the single-player campaign of Portal 2 to completion. How very nice of you to ask.

I have to say that there is a lot to be said for a good game that can be completed in 8-10 hours. As we as a gaming community have become more used to the Skyrims of the world we tend to dismiss games of Portal 2’s length. I remember when Bayonetta came out there was always the caveat in the reviews that it was a bit brief at 10 hours to completion. Sometimes a game can pack a whole lot of ideas and progression into a shorter package.

Enter Portal 2. When the original game came out it was just an add on that captured the hearts of the gaming community thanks to the portal gun concept and highly memeable storyline (I mean, even some non-gamers react with a smile when someone announces that the cake is a lie… which I know as I once did this during a work birthday presentation… that was not my own).

Honestly, when I saw that this sequel was coming out I had sincere doubts that Valve would be able to pull this off seeing how pure and neatly packaged the original was. Obviously with this being in the Top 40 of my list these doubts were misplaced. Especially since I think Portal 2 is better than the original in pretty much every way.

As with the original you have the immortal portal guns, the liberal use of physics puzzles and some stellar pieces of black comedy (I don’t think there is a gamer who has played either Portal game and not found themselves chuckling at some of the lines delivered by big, bad GLaDOS).

portal2gel

Now for the add-ons. You have Steven Merchant doing some fantastic voice-work as Wheatley, whose work as a comedic side-kick in the first chapters of the game are a real highlight. Also, you finally get some background into who GLaDOS is and how she came to be the ruler of this utterly macabre testing site.

Then there are a bunch of new puzzle elements. A lot of attention went to the gels when the game first came out; for good reason as they really helped to add some longevity to the proceedings. They also allowed for the larger puzzle environments that are created in the latter two-thirds of the game and meant new twists could be added as the game entered its final moments.

One improvement to the puzzles, at least for me, was the addition of lasers in the place of whatever those blobby energy balls were meant to be. It just made a lot of things clearer when solving puzzles.

Speaking of which, I really appreciated the difficulty curve on this game. There are so many elements to think about in this game when it comes to the latter puzzles, but a lot of the time things feel pretty second nature. The way that the game actually teaches the player reminds me a lot of The Witness. I mean sure, there are times where it ramps up or you miss the solution completely, but every puzzle feels conquerable and that is what’s needed in a game like this.

Seriously, this is one of the best games I have had the fortune to play. It’s smartly written, beautifully put together and makes you feel like you are doing extraordinary things. Would I like a Portal 3? No, I think they should leave it with this.

Good Eatin’ – Blackstrap Molasses and Navarra Piquillo Peppers

So continues my continued efforts to clear the cupboards of all remaining list foods so that they don’t end up spoiling on me. In today’s post we have a jar that I bought with the Zampone and a bottle that I bought with the other Caribbean food.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Dieimg_4724Food items: Navarra Piquillo Peppers and Blackstrap Molasses

Most of the uses that I have found for blackstrap molasses are sweet, which makes sense seeing how it is made by boiling sugarcane. To be considered blackstrap this needs to be the product of a third boil which makes it more bitter and less sweet than regular molasses. The small taste I got of it from the bottle was exactly as expected: rich, dark, bitter and a small amount of sweetness.

The recipe I ended up using the molasses in was a South Carolina mustard barbecue sauce. It’s called a barbecue sauce on the recipe, but it didn’t taste like any I had ever tasted before. I like it, but the fumes of cooking mustard and cider vinegar was enough to make my eyes water.

Now what to do with barbecue sauce… how about a burger? And how about I use some of these special jarred red peppers to top the burger? Sounds like a good idea for lunch.

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I have a constant problem when it comes to cooking burgers; I make them too thick which means they end up overcooked as I try to ensure the middle is no longer raw. Today is one of the few times where I have actually managed to make a good moist burger with a good flavour (thank you bacon and celery salt).

Honestly, I didn’t taste much of the peppers because the barbecue was was pretty overpowering. On their own the peppers are a tad bitter from where they have been roasted. There is an undercurrent of moist sweetness and a bit of heat. Something that needs to be eaten with something rather than on their own.

Progress: 619/751

XL Popcorn – Reds

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 590/1007
Title: Reds
Director: Warren Beatty
Year: 1981
Country: USA

So Peter, what did you watch when you had your first night at home alone for months? Well mystery person, I ordered a buttload of Chinese food and watched one of the longest films left on the 1001 list.

Reds is one of those films that feels like it hasn’t quite stayed in the public consciousness. It’s not like it’s completely faded from history, but I don’t know anyone who has actually sat through is all.

Although I am still unsure how this film could even have been made if not for the driving force of Warren Beatty’s celebrity, I am awful glad it exists. By telling the story of social activist, writer and communist supporter John Reed and fellow radical and lover Louise Bryant.

Keep in mind this film was made after the end of the détente era of the Cold War. It took stones to make something like Reds which depicted anti-capitalism and pro-communism in a moderate-to-positive light. As writer and director Beatty manages to show both sides of the movements that came out of the Bolshevik Revolution.

For me a large part of the film’s politics is epitomised by a conversation between John Reed and Emma Goldman (Maureen Stapleton in an Oscar winning turn) in the final act of the film. Goldman, who has long been a supporter of the Bolshevik politics, has become disillusioned and disgusted by the turnout of the revolution. Millions starved to death. Firing squads executing people at the slightest sign of dissent. This was not the revolution she wanted.

Reed, however, is in so deep that he hasn’t realised that he has become part of a machine that he sought to destroy all those years ago. Where he once marched against deaths in war, he is now not able to condemn the deaths in the name of communism. He actively defends some of these and chastises Goldman for her naivety. It’s a powerful scene, and it’s one of those that still feels important considering the recent rise of populism. No major ideological revolution can occur without blood (be it real or metaphorical) being spilt.

Whilst I have yet to see On Golden Pond (and I have no real desire to) I have to question what level of performance was required that year to beat Warren Beatty to the Best Actor Oscar. I mean, these were some powerhouse performances from him and Dianne Keaton (although I would never begrudge Katherine Hepburn a win) to go unrewarded.

So yes, at over 3 hours long it is a lengthy film. However, thanks to the interesting choice of interweaving the story with real-life accounts from talking heads it plays more like a docudrama than a epic film. For me, that was a good thing and allowed me to stay invested through the entire film. There was also the undeniable chemistry between Beatty and Keaton which drives the entire film.

Good Eatin’ – Food From Friends

I am in a very privileged position with today’s post. Within the space of two days I received some new food items as gifts. The first I received from my work bestie on the day that I headed to Cardiff for two days of meetings, the second from a fantastically warm-hearted colleague of mine on the first of the two days of meetings.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

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Food item: Cloudberry

So my work bestie got me a jar of cloudberry jam from the same place I bought the lussekatter. Since you don’t really find cloudberries in the UK this is a something that periodically goes in and out of stock.

There is no doubting that this is a different sort of taste than I have ever come across. It is sweet? Yes. Is it tart? Yes. Does that adequately describe the flavour? Not at all.

There is something else here. I am not sure how to describe it. It’s incredibly strong whatever it is (I think it’s somewhere between floral and umami… which is a wide gulf of flavour).

I’ve come to find that one is only meant to have a little bit of this jam on a dessert and not just eat a spoon from the jar. This might go a long way to explain why a spoonful of it was not as palatable as I had hoped.

I found with later experimentation that a spoonful cloudberry jam goes well in a glass of Pepsi Max. The sweetness and tartness of the jam went well with my favourite beverage.

img_4712Food item: Bara Brith

For one of the national foods of Wales this was pretty damned hard to track down. I have been searching around Cardiff  for the better part of a year and not been able to find it. It’s only because a colleague of mine mentioned it in passing that I thought to ask.

Then, lo and behold there was a brick of bara brith being given to me with instructions of how best to consume it: sliced thinly with butter. I did this when I got home from Cardiff and these instructions served me very well.

For the uninitiated, bara brith (which means ‘speckled bread’ in Welsh) is a type of tea loaf i.e. a sweet bread that contains dried fruit that has been soaked overnight in tea. The fruit within the loaf feel bloated with moisture and yet still contain the concentrated flavour you would associate with dried fruit.

When compared to the fruitcake I had last week, this baked good is far more in my wheelhouse. Makes me think I should try my hand at making some of my own.

Progress: 617/751

Graphic Content – Lady Snowblood

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
28/501Title: Lady Snowblood
Writer: Kazuo Koike
Illustrator: Kazuo Kamimura
Year: 1972-1973
Country: Japan

Right, so the first thing I had to remind myself of whilst reading Lady Snowblood is that it was originally published in the Japanese edition of Playboy. I bring this up because there is a whole lot of nudity; something that I had to deal with as I was reading this on a crowded train.

Does the nudity make a lot of sense in the narrative? Sometimes, yes. Most the of time it is gratuitous, as is a lot of the sex (both hetro- and homosexual), but you can kinda take it as artistic license. Like how you would feel a lot of the swearing in a Quentin Tarantino film is down to his choice as a director.

I bring up Tarantino becuase Lady Snowblood and the films based on this manga were a source of inspiration for Kill Bill. Once you’ve read this you can see where he got a lot of inspiration for a bunch of the scenes.

ladysnowblood2

In essence, Lady Snowblood is a story about retribution. The main character, Oyuki, was born to a woman in prison (who seduced prison guards in order to get pregnant) and has become an assassin to take revenge on the four people that wronged her mother.

Over the course of the four volumes we watch as Oyuki takes on a number of contracts, prepares for them with different pieces of training and then goes about executing her plan. As you would expect she always succeeds, but it plays well with the expectations since there were times where I thought she might be in some legitimate danger (such as the time when she was tied to a tombstone and was about to be assaulted by a man with a gargantuan penis… )

The central thread of revenge, although deviated from, is never forgotten though. By following it you cannot help but feel awful for Oyuki. Her life is dedicated to avenging the mother she never got a chance to meet. We never really see her have fun or, aside from a short chapter, do anything that could be described as familial. It’s all work to satisfy the end goal and she’s never truly happy.

By the end of the manga she completes her mother’s retribution and we see her weapon (a sword concealed in an umbrella) floating away on the tide. I saw this and had the hope that this means she was able to carve out her own identity and live a quasi-normal life.

🎻♫♪ – Symphony No. 5 by Anton Bruckner

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 18/501Title: Symphony No. 5
Composer: Anton Bruckner
Nationality: Austrian
Year:
 1775-1778

As I sat in the box seats that I bought my husband as a birthday present and awaited the concert to start I was struck by one thought: if I hadn’t read Nodame Cantabile we would not be here right now.

I have mentioned it before as to how my reading of this manga series inspired both my husband and myself to start on the 1001 Classical Works list. It’s just cool that because of a manga we ended up watching the Philharmonia Orchestra perform live in a box at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

This is the first time that either of us had been to see a classical piece live (not counting ballet or opera because of the extra theatrical component) so I did wonder how I would end up doing with 80+ minutes of just watching an orchestra play. Honestly, I didn’t expect to be so transfixed, the time just flew by.

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 marks the first symphony that I have listened to for the list, as well as the first symphony that I made a conscious effort to listen to. Therefore this has been a real learning experience. I now know that a symphony is usually split into a number of movements (usually four) and features pretty much a whole orchestra. I know it’s silly, but I got a real kick of seeing someone actually playing a bassoon and developed a minor crush on the timpani player whilst watching him pay such loving attention to his massive drums.

I know it’s a cliche to say this about a piece of classical music, but I was genuinely moved whilst watching and listening to this. I listened to this the next day on Spotify and it really wasn’t the same. It did, however, help me to notice just how often the same motif is played in the whole symphony.

Now that I have seen a live orchestra play a symphony it feels like something has split open in my brain. Like, I am already looking for what I could be watching next. Maybe I won’t spring for box seats again right away, but it feels like a waste living in London and not really making proper use of affordable culture.

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Gintama’: Enchousen

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 20/100Title: Gintama’: Enchousen
Episodes Aired: 13
Episodes Watched:
13
Year(s): 2008-2009

After watching the previous iteration of Gintama I was beginning to get a bit tired of how hit and miss this series could be. I think that with Gintama’ Enchousen I might have seen the best and most consistent series to date.

I managed to watch all 13 episodes of this on a recent work trip to Wales where I spent two nights in a hotel with weirdly limited wi-fi. By limited I mean that I had to lay in front of the door to the hotel room in order to get a strong enough signal for Crunchyroll to work. So, this was watched in a makeshift nest of pillows and extra blankets. On the floor. Because I am an adult.

Within Gintama’ Enchousen there are three arcs and one standalone episode. The second arc, known as the Courtesan of a Nation arc, was one of the best that I have seen from the franchise so far. Is it because it heavily features Tsukuyo (my favourite side-character) in a serious story about promises and toppling the patriarchy that ended up making me cry? Yes, yes it is.

The thing is, there is no way that you can watch Gintama’ Enchousen without seeing any of the previous seasons. The first arc is extremely meta and only works if you know the characters really well. However, this is a show that’s big enough and far enough in that it doesn’t really need to use a season opener to introduce new viewers.

I say this, but Gintama’ Enchousen actually included some remastered episodes from the previous that could have provided some sort of introduction… but I didn’t see the point of watching repeats when I have so many great animes calling my name.

1001 Songs – 1967: Part Two

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane

Necessity is the mother of invention and Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane is one of those mothers. ‘White Rabbit’ is one of the first songs that managed to sneak drug references onto mainstream radio.

How? The entire thing is disguised by references to Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland which, to be honest, feels like it was one long drug fuelled piece of prose anyway.

The way that this song is just one big build up to the conclusion reminds me of how ‘Heroin’ tried to do a similar thing with how they paced their music.

Also, a female lead singer on a rock song. About bloody time!

Purple Haze – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

It’s been a while since I did my Jimi Hendrix album posts. It sounds like another drugs song, even though Hendrix describes this as a love song. You can write a love song about cars so why not about drugs right?

‘Purple Haze’ is a song where a lot of the impact has been lost to normalisation. We are used to a more metal sounding guitar and the chords that made Hendrix famous. This doesn’t sound like much that came before it so there is a lot to appreciate there.

I’m a Man – The Spencer Davis Group

Ah the Hammond organ, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard one of these for the songs list. Began to think that we had moved through this weird period of music. Nope, but soon!

I think that this is the first time in this list where I am completely colourblind with a song. The assimilation of blues and RnB into white music is now complete with songs like ‘I’m a Man’.

Venus in Furs – The Velvet Underground

It feels like a lot has happened in my musical development since I did The Velvet Underground & Nico for the albums list. The more I listen to tracks from this album, the more I see how exceptional they are.

‘Venus in Furs’ feels like a sexy song (I mean it does contain references to bondage, so it’s meant to be fairly sensual). Like you are walking into one of those sex parties from The Great Gatsby or Eyes Wide Shut.

Interesting blend of instruments in this too. You have that viola constantly screeching and then Lou Reed on a guitar where all the strings have been tuned to the same note. Weird.

Fire – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Speaking of interesting blends, here is a song that is just a mishmash of all the big musical trends at the same time. You have rock, psychedelia, some soul and a whole lotta funk.

I guess that’s what Hendrix was good at. A song that sounds like a lot of fun to perform, even if it started out over a comment of an actual dog wanting to be warm by the fire.

Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks

Okay this is actually a beautiful song. I’ve heard this song a few times before, but this is the first time I have properly listened to it.

It’s hard to get romance right in lyrics. You can be too schmaltzy, too overt or just get things wrong. This gets the balance perfect with its wistful lyrics.

What I love most is how this wasn’t about him in love, it’s about someone looking out of a window and seeing the same couple walking around Waterloo and romanticising them to the point of giving them names.

It’s the song that encapsulates the joys of people watching.

Ode to Billie Joe – Bobbie Gentry

Well this song took a turn. I had to pause the moment she sang the lyrics “Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”.

Yes, this is a country song that tells of a family who are sat around the dinner table discussing the suicide of Billie Joe. Well most of it anyway. We end the song a year later where the narrator (Billie Joe’s sister) recaps the events after the suicide.

This is not the song I was expecting; a Southern Gothic tale of a family dealing with suicide. The throaty by Gentry is ideal for this yarn of a song. Wow.

The Dark End of the Street – James Carr

A song about a couple who are having to hide their love. Maybe they’re cheating on their spouses. Maybe they’re from families that wouldn’t approve of the match. The song is never explicit about this, but I would go for the former (I’d like to throw in a gay romantic interpretation of this… but I think that’s stretching it a bit).

You feel sorry for this couple who are clearly in love but are not allowed to be together. They may be cheaters or they may not be. In any case there is a lot of pain in this song and that’s what makes it good.

Suzanne – Leonard Cohen

I mentioned with ‘Waterloo Sunset’ about how hard it is to do a romantic song right. ‘Suzanne’ is another example, but this case it’s an unrequited love.

Suzanne was a real person that Cohen had a platonic relationship with. You listen to the lyrics and it sounds so much that he was in love with her, but could never act upon those feelings.

Something about her really touched him. Beautiful and sad.

Respect – Aretha Franklin

Ending on one of the most recognisable songs from the 1960s here. This has seriously been one of the best sets of songs that I have so far done from the 1001 list.

The fact that this song of female empowerment started out as a song about a desperate man wanting some respect from his wife just floors me.

Aretha Franklin truly made this song her own and the rest, as they say, is history.

Progress: 238/1021

Good Eatin’ – Fruitcake and Gliko

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Dieimg_4705Food item: British Fruitcake

Okay, seeing that Christmas has just been and gone it only seemed fit to have Christmas cake as an example of British Fruitcake.

When you compare it to some of the other fruitcakes out there (of which I have only had a few) you can really count on the Brits to make a fruitcake that is dense, chock full of dried fruit and surprisingly moist (and slightly cloying).

It really is not something that you can eat a lot of. I think I speak for a lot of Brits when I say that if you eat more than a serving your stomach essentially becomes a brick.

img_4708Food item: Green Walnut Gliko

So this is my first try of a Greek spoon sweet, so-called because you would get one of these on a spoon with a cup of coffee or tea.

You can probably only have one spoon of this sweet because it’s very sweet. The syrup that the green walnuts (walnuts that are picked whilst they are immature) are preserved in is incredibly sweet and spiced with, I’m guessing, cloves and cinnamon.

Honestly, this the contents of this jar smelt like Christmas. When it comes to texture the walnuts were a bit weird. The give from the outer shell gave way to a chewy and somewhat mushy. This is something that I can imagine going well with a plain cake or as part of a cheeseboard.

Was it worth the £8 that I spent for it online? Not really. Still, at least I was able to give this a go.

Progress: 615/751