Monthly Archives: June 2014

Music Monday: Mr. Tambourine Man by The Byrds

 List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 17/250album-mr-tambourine-manTitle: Mr. Tambourine Man
Artist: The Byrds
Year: 1965
Position: #270 (Previously: #231)

The Byrds. I don’t understand the reason for the misspelling of this name. I can only guess it is a reference to the similar occurrence in The Beatles. Either way this has always annoyed me and I don’t entirely know why. Annoying name or not their influence has already been felt on this list despite Mr. Tambourine Man actually being their debut release. Hurrah! Who did they influence I hear you/no one ask? None other than the original Tambourine Man himself, Mr. Bob Dylan. So needless to say this band are a bit of a big deal.

When it comes to what The Byrds sounds like you can easily see that they are heavily influenced by The Beatles, and not in the annoying over the top way like Oasis are. Also there are the close harmonies that dominate most of the songs, which are more of a resemblance to The Beach Boys. So here we have an album that draws itself from two of the great acts of the sixties and feature covers from Bob Dylan, aside from the incredible alliterative possibilities this shapes up to be a good album.

On the whole it stands up as a pretty decent album, if a bit too heavy on the covers for my taste. Although, with the majority of covers, they actually manage to twist everything round so that it sounds like they are the original writers. To do this demonstrate greatness in a band to be creative and make the best of it and as such should be applauded. This tactic, however, doesn‘t really work on the . This, however, doesn’t work on the first and last tracks, ‘Mr. Tambourine Man and ‘We’ll Meet Again’ respectively, since the original versions resonate so much in the public consciousness that you can not help but think on the original versions. It may sound controversial but I actually prefer the Bob Dylan version of Mr. Tambourine Man, this isn’t detracting from The Byrds who do an amazing album highlight-version but I found myself missing the quirky vocals of Dylan.

The rest of the album just makes you feel as if you are floating on some puffy sixties Technicolor cloud. The electric guitars and harmonies on songs like ‘The Bells of Rhymney’ and ‘I Knew I’d Want You’ makes me wish that they had made a brief jaunt into lullabies as it’s so loose and relaxing that I found myself sitting in some lucid dreamlike state where I knew I was typing at a laptop but somehow every action seemed to be coloured different. Before you ask, no I don’t do drugs. I don’t even drink coffee. But when you have earphones in and all you can here is are these songs you can so easily lose yourself in it.

This can not be said of my least favourite track ‘Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe’ which I personally just found annoying and out of place here. There is one thing creating these dreamlike songs that allow them to transport the listener but this is way too hippy for my tastes. The lyrics and sentiment are something you would expect a 16 year old to concoct in his bedroom addressing a depressive girl he knows in his year, I know as I was that 16 year old boy. You would hope that The Byrds or the record company would have had the wherewithal to leave it out. The same applies to ‘We’ll Meet Again’. So all in all a very disappointingly trite ending to an otherwise great and original album.

Despite the final two tracks this is actually an amazing album, that deserves this high rating. As you listen to it you can here the beginnings of songs that’ll later be sung by R.E.M., Beck and The White Stripes. That, in my opinion, is never a bad thing.

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Good Eatin’: Lamb with Sweet Potatoes

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

One thing I love about having my own place is the ability to have friends round to stay and cook for them. The fact that I made this dish with about 36 hours notice is all the better to be honest. That afternoon, however, I found myself a food list item in Pret-A-Manger (thanks to a tip from a co-worker).Food Item: Florentine

I knew this would be easy to find since a few years ago I managed to snag a florentine in a Starbucks in York. The great thing about florentines (aside from the mix of dark chocolate, fruit and almonds which is gorgeous) is how many variations on this. It’s a bit of a fancy rocky road biscuit in that way. This version has raisins but my previous one had (if I recall correctly) glacé cherries as part of the mix. Still, nice to get something from the bakery section eaten.

Anyway, so I decided to make a nice dinner for our very good friend who was coming down at short notice for an interview. So I thought I would make something a bit more homey than my usual pastas and Asian food so opted for a recipe for lamb with sweet potatoes which turned out rather nicely.

Food Items: Rosemary and Sweet Potato

Ingredients (serves 3):

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 lamb leg steaks
  • 3 sweet potatoes, finely sliced
  • 1 red onion, halved & sliced
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 2 tbsp wholegrain mustard

Heat oven to 220°C. Heat half the oil in a dish that can handle direct heat from the hob and still go into the over. Brown the lamb steaks on both sides and set aside (making sure to leave behind any of the fat). Toss the potato, onion, remaining oil and half the rosemary into the dish and mix it with any of the left over fat and lay the lamb steaks on top.

Spread the mustard evenly with the mustard and then crush and sprinkle over the remaining rosemary. Cook until the potatoes have softened… so 20+ minutes but a lot will depend upon your oven.

The recipe is very simple but benefits from VERY thinly sliced sweet potato since that way they crisp up better.

So what was there for pudding? Well I managed to get an awesome deal in the local Tescos and got two list fruit out of it.

Food Items: Clementines and Jaffa Orange

Now the clementines were a bit out of season which you could tell from the taste since they just were not as sweet as normal and had a tartness more akin to a mandarin. The oranges, on the other hand, were quite possibly the best oranges I have ever had… so maybe the book was right that if you want to have an orange it is a good idea to shell out for a Jaffa. If you need more convincing these are the oranges that inspired Jaffa Cakes.

Progress: 36/500

That Time When I Was On University Challenge

Okay so this happened a few years ago when, shockingly, I was at university. We taped this during my second year and it aired in my third year so…  I guess that would be a bucket list item.

unichallengeList Item: Appear on the television
Progress: Completed

Hard to believe that this was recorded five years ago but at the time (it MAY have changed since) we were amongst the youngest (if not the youngest) team to make it through to the television portion of University Challenge since three of us were 19 and our captain was 18 (she was, and still is, the youngest captain they’ve had)

This was actually the second time I had tried to make it onto the team for the University of York having made it to the final eight in the previous year which would have had an 18 year old me on television which would have been especially interesting. The selection process itself was a few stages with us having to beat out a lot of other teams to get those coveted places on television (which would be less coveted if the archaic practice of Oxford and Cambridge sending multiple teams ended). This included two sets of questions (one as a team and one done individually) and then a group interview.

I remember the day of the taping, I was so nervous. Well we all were. Having a dressing room opposite that of the guests for the Jeremy Kyle Show, whilst interesting, didn’t do anything to alleviate this. When it came to the actual show we were outclassed by St George’s, University of London and were, for the lack of a better word, crushed. I would mention how the average age of that team was over a decade more than ours but hey, it’s the luck of the draw.

At least I got the first question of our show correct; the answer was zombie.

Music Monday: Dare by The Human League

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 17/250

Dare-coverTitle: Dare
Artist: The Human League
Year: 1981
Position: #248 (Previously: #235)

The Human League are an oddity for me. I have previously mentioned how they were one of the first bands I took notice of thanks to both of my parents and the release of the single ‘Tell Me When’ around the time I began to take notice of music but not quite begun to make my own distinct musical choices. Looking at how many artists I listen to are derived from the sound of Dare it is easy to see how early exposure to this shaped my listening habits.

Unlike many artists on this list with only one entry (like Kate Bush and Ray CharlesDare is an example of an album where everything seemed to slot together for a group (with this being their third album) and then afterwards releasing albums that, to be honest, are inconsistent at best. Post-Dare there are still great singles like ‘Stay With Me Tonight’, ‘Human’, ‘Keep Feeling (Fascination)’ and ‘Tell Me When’ but the ability to create a good album dissolved.

Maybe it was the fact that the band was in such a state of flux that this album ended up working as well as it does. The fact that this became such a defining moment of synth-pop (and was one of the first albums to really do this sort of music and be successful at it)  is probably why it has remained as big as it is. As much as I like Dare I still have tracks I skip over (‘Get Carter’ and ‘I Am The Law’) which ends with this being a rather short 8-track listen… with ‘Don’t You Want Me’ acting as a finale. Which is still amazing to this day and I have rather fond memories singing along to it in the car.

An Elegant Dinner Party: Part Two

Okay, so today, I’m continuing the theme of my  ‘elegant dinner party‘ with a few more recipes and ticking off a number of items from the food list.

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

~~MAIN COURSE~~

Gnocchi in a Gorgonzola SauceFood Items: Chives and Gorgonzola

I have never been able to make gnocchi and on an evening where I am making five different things I really did not want to risk it. So I used about a kilo of ready-made gnocchi and topped it with a lot of fresh chives I chopped with my mezzaluna. I love blue cheese and my best friend has a real thing for cheese so this went down a treat. The sauce was a little bit watery… at first but then as it cooled down it just got thicker and thicker and thicker.


Palm Heart and Lemon Salad

Food Items: Palm Heart, Celery Heart, Lambs Lettuce and Wild Rocket

I took a few liberties with this recipe. I used a large celery heart in the place of celery sticks, I used spring onions instead of red onion (I don’t like raw red onion) and I used equal parts lambs lettuce and wild rocket. With this salad I was able to find an amazing new ingredient that I would never have tried if it wasn’t for the book; palm heart.

Now this both tasted and had the consistency of something somewhere between white asparagus and artichoke. The five of us ended up scouring the bowl looking for extra pieces of palm heart. I think I might have to try making a palm heart fritatta. I have a feeling that might work.

~~DESSERT~~

Seville Orange Marmalade and Brioche Pudding

Food Items: Seville Orange Marmalade and Brioche

By the end of the evening we were all stuffed so after out initial portion enough of this was left over for brunch the next day. At this time conversation turned to those who were unable to make it (since they were in Spain) and the many animals that certain gay cliques identify with. The topic of ‘chickenhawks’ (the gay version of a cougar) was something we meditated a little too long on.

So after another round of Girths and a Virgin Girth for the driver it was time to finish the dinner part and start on the washing up. I look forward to seeing what the next person has in store for me.

Progress: 31/500

An Elegant Dinner Party: Part One

List Item: Hold a dinner party
Progress: Completed

It’s a common thing to happen after university ends. You and your friends no longer life within walking distance, you all get jobs and suddenly you don’t see each other all the time. It sucks. This is why me and some of my university friends have decided we would go down the Come Dine With Me route and do a cycle of cooking for each other. Of course, I was the first to host which meant I had to try and set the standard.

To make it more interesting all, bar one, of these recipes were things I had never actually cooked before. They also formed a nice link to me quest to get halfway on the 1001 food list (this obsession will die down soon… I expect). So in the next two posts I’ll share the food that made this evening great.

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

~~STARTERS~~

Courgette Blossoms stuffed with Ricotta and Breadcrumbs
Home-made Garlic Bread

Foods:  Ciabatta and Aioli

Okay so I may have forgotten to take pictures for this course… which doesn’t matter for one since I already took pictures when I made it a little while ago. The home-made garlic bread is a little unfortunate since it was delicious, easy and covers two additional food items:

Ingredients (serves 4-5 as a starter):

  • 2 half-baked ciabatta loaves (the type you warm in the oven for 10 minutes)
  • 1 pack Chovi Allioli dip
  • Dried oregano
  • Dried basil

I’m not even going to make this scientific. Spread aioli on the halved ciabatta, sprinkle generously with the dried basil and oregano. Cut the ciabatta into smaller pieces, put on a baking tray and bake in an oven pre-heated to 200°C for about 10 minutes so it’s nice and crispy.

Progress: 23/500

~~OFFICIAL DRINK~~

Okay, so I made up a cocktail in honour of one of my friends who was there… but it got awkward when people wanted a non-alcoholic version and called it the Virgin [Friend’s Name] and it got a little bit awkward. So I let her rename it… and we have the drink henceforth known as The Girth.

Ingredients:

  • 2 parts guava juice (because she’s exotic)
  • 2 parts ginger ale (because he’s part redhead)
  • 1 part vodka (because it needed alcohol)
  • 2 dashes of lime juice (because… you know… flavour)
  • ice

Apparently it was nice, I don’t drink alcohol. But you don’t need to shake this drink, just give it a quick stir with the straw and serve.

List Item: Invent a cocktail
Progress: Completed

Music Monday: Hounds of Love by Kate Bush

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 16/250

Hounds_of_loveTitle: Hounds of Love
Artist: Kate Bush
Year: 1985
Position: #162 (Previously: #197)

I need to ration my coverage of female singers. As someone who listens to women almost exclusively this is something of an annoyance. Thing is on this consensus list of albums there are not a lot of women who feature within the Top 250. I have already used up both of the PJ Harvey albums and now is time for me to use up the only Kate Bush entry. The great thing about Hounds of Love being that in essence you are looking at two mini-albums with the vinyl A-side being titled Hounds of Love and the B-side being a concept album called The Ninth Wave.

The first five tracks aka Hounds of Love plays like a miniature greatest hits with ‘Running Up That Hill’ and ‘Hounds of Love’ acting as the ultimate one-two punch. I don’t care what people say about The Futureheads cover of ‘Hounds of Love’ being better than the original, you are wrong and that is all I have to say on the matter. ‘The Big Sky’ is a big song celebrating the joie de vivre that children get from things like spending all day staring at the clouds and then you get ‘Mother Stands For Comfort’ which is Kate Bush starting to toe the line a bit more between experimental and radio-friendly.

Now, whilst people will turn to the first two tracks of the album to pick a favourite I have to say that I am torn between two rather different ones. The first is ‘Cloudbusting’ which tells a story of the relationship between psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and his son Peter. The ‘cloudbuster’ was a rather odd machine invented by Reich in order to make rain and in the rather brilliant video (featuring Bush as a young boy and Donald Sutherland as her father) they even recreate a simplified cloudbuster. The reason that this song works so well is because of both the strong undercurrent of cello that drives the melody (somewhat ferociously at times) and the bittersweet lyrics. The son begins to realize, possibly for the first time, that his father may be in the wrong about something as the government come to cart him away. The moment that she sings the lines “cloudbusting daddy” breaks you heart just a little bit since it does mark the loss of some sort of innocence.

So what is the other favourite song candidate? Well it is a bit of a cheat since it is actually a combination of two songs on the B-Side… but I’ll get to that in a second. Where Hounds of Love is a collection of radio-friendly songs with no real connection The Ninth Wave tells the story of a girl (or woman) having to survive a night after falling through the ice and her survival.

This brings me to ‘Under Ice’ and ‘Waking the Witch’ which together tell the story of the girl skating down a river only to have the ice crack beneath her, her realisation that she’s drowning and then her beginning to succumb to the darkness before being rescued (signalled by the helicopter sounds at the end). This journey is disturbing with demons putting her on trial and condemning her to hell whilst she screams for her life. It’s macabre and it is utterly riveting stuff which is nothing like she has done before or since.

The rest of The Ninth Wave features the girl coming back to life and her eventual waking up. Bush uses her Irish roots as a way to signal this fight for live and within a few tracks manages to do something that Dante took nearly a hundred cantos to do. A journey of a soul travelling (and surviving) through damnation and ascends back to Earth and gets a chance to live again. Without knowing the story behind the tracks The Ninth Wave can be an awkward listen, but some attention paid to the narrative make it incredibly engaging.

As a whole Hounds of Love is one of the most influential albums to come out of the 1980s. The ripples of both this album and The Dreaming (the preceding album which was just a whole heap of amazing experimentation) can be felt to this day since it really helped women to be more accepted as slightly darker pop artists. I know that I probably would not be as into music had this album not influenced every female artist that came afterwards; I therefore owe a lot to this album and the force behind it.

Good Eatin’: Jersey Royal’s Ain’t What They Used To Be

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

Someone like me should not be allowed anywhere lists, I get too obsessed. Today on my way home from work I was looking around for a place to get kimchi since the office is apparently near a bunch of Korean restaurants.

Anyway, today’s food list items were all consumed on the same day. Part of some blog-related meal planning that doing a weekly ASDA shop allows for.

Food Items: Jersey Royal Potatoes and French Beans

The title of my post was a not so subtle link to a realisation I had when eating Jersey Royals. They don’t taste as good as when I was a child. True they still had that nuttiness I remembered with the paper-thin skin that would be sacrilege to peel off… but they didn’t taste as good. I looked around online to see if I just didn’t cook them properly but this appears to be a common thought.

Apparently long gone are the days of the brief season of delicious Jersey Royals in the mid-late Spring in favour of a bi-annual crop that doesn’t receive the same care and attention. Probably goes a long way to explain why they don’t taste as good. At least the French beans tasted good, for once I cooked them within the Goldilocks zone so they weren’t too squeaky.

Food: Bagel

Bagels are a common Sunday-night dinner for myself and the partner. My personal preference is for onion bagels since not only do they taste good but the kitchen smells great after they’ve come out of the sandwich press. However, when eating them with garlic and herb Philidephia and smoked salmon an onion bagel is a tad overkill. So yes, I prefer my bagel the traditional way, with ‘lox’ (just let me have this one) and ‘schmear’.

Food: Milk Chocolate

What can one say about milk chocolate? It’s delicious, it releases a lot of endorphins and when you have a Lindt Easter egg in your cupboard sometimes it just makes sense to dive in head-first.

Progress: 21/500

Good Eatin’: Korean Beef

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

I call this Korean Beef because that is what the BBC refers to it as. I know that this probably has no connection to Korean food apart from maybe a few shared flavours but this is something I seem to make at least once a month and it accidentally got me a few items closer to achieving my bucket list goal.

Food Items: Sesame Oil and Spring Onions

 A benefit of living away from home is that I can use sesame oil whenever I want. It’s an ingredient that can make plain noodles feel like an exotic treat when added with some soy sauce. However, it is a bit strong and if you don’t like a strong taste of sesame seeds this is not for you. The book likens the taste of dark sesame oil (which I used) to a nuttiness with hints of burnt chocolate. I get the nuttiness but not the chocolate.

Spring onions (or salad onions or scallions) are one of those things that I use in a lot of food with the whites being used more than the greens. As someone who does not like the taste of raw onion in salads or even onion on pizza I love the sharp taste that the last minute addition of spring onions delivers to a dish.

Ingredients (serves 3):

  • 450g steak, trimmed of fat and thinly sliced
  • 3 tsp brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 heaped tsp of minced garlic
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 6 spring onions, sliced

Add the beef to a bowl with the sugar, soy sauce, mirin, garlic and sesame oil. Mix everything together and pour into wok that has been sprayed with oil and heated over a medium flame.

Sear the meat for a few minutes on each side and then add the spring onions. Stir-fry for an extra minute then serve with rice. If you serve with noodles a teaspoon of cornflour in cold water can be added to thicken up the sauce.

Progress: 17/500

The Great E.U. Quest – Belgium

 List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 12/28

Belgium_Flag_bigCountry: Belgium
Year first visited: 1999

Sad fact to get me started off here. I was unsure when I first visited Belgium but then remembered that whilst I was there I purchased the Belgian entry for Eurovision that year; it’s comforting how some things never change. So I know that I first went to Belgium in 1999. Thank you Vanessa Chinitor.

As of now I have been to both Brussels and Bruges which are, with the addition of Antwerp, the main places you get told to visit when you go over to Belgium. Since I have no idea where the photographs of my trip to Brussels are I will focus mainly on my first visit which was to the chocolate-loving, lace-producing, beer-brewing city of Bruges (apologies if this causes offense but my main memories involve these three things, and of course, how beautiful it was.)

belgium2The trip to Bruges was made as a celebration for my grandparents (pictured below with a triple-chinned me) who were celebrating a major wedding anniversary. Seeing how this was some time ago I am going to make an educated guess that this would have been 40 years of marriage.belgium1Being that this was a trip made 15 years ago there are some gaps in my memory banks but there are some things I remember clearly. Like the argument my parents had trying to find the hotel as we drove in circles and I pretended to be asleep in the back seat. This amazing coffee shop that had a roaring fire and free chocolates. Singing ‘C’est La Vie’ by B*Witched with my mum as we walked through the streets in the evening.

Then there is one of the more vivid memories; the trip back from Bruges. We got there and back by SeaCat which was a high speed catamaran service. On the return trip the waters in the Channel were particularly choppy…and I had a particularly greasy lunch of chicken and chips (it’s amazing what things stick in your memory). So I was sick violently sick projectile vomited… over my father. My aim was impressive since my stuffed dog Patch, who was lying on the table in front of me, escaped and remained vomit-free. I spent the rest of the trip outside in the freezing cold with my mum in an effort to make me feel less sick (and presumably my dad went to clean himself up).

Memories.