Monthly Archives: October 2014

One Day Until NaNoWriMo

List item: Complete a work of fiction (novel, novella, play etc.)
Status: In Progress102210_nanowrimo2

List item: Complete NaNoWriMo
Status: 0/50,000

Today may be Halloween but tomorrow comes the start of something even more scary; NaNoWriMo. Whilst I have completed scripts in the past, which were all deleted due to them being bloody awful, I don’t count them towards this list item.

I have been wanting to write my current idea for a book over the last year and, since this is a place of honesty, I only got around to writing ~1000 words of the thing. Considering how NaNoWriMo (aka the insane challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel within the month of November) imposes certain time and word restrictions I figured that this would be the best way to actually get me to write the damned thing.

I know that this means that any attempt at a social life in November will be in the toilet since you need to complete ~1667 words a day to stay on track! This also means that during this month I will not be posting much on this blog minus some updates on how this book is going.

Any support would be greatly appreciated throughout this insane month of writing, especially since I am going to save any editing until after the month so I might end up with 50,000 words of absolute tripe. Wish me luck!!!

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Level One: The Legend of Zelda (2D) & XCOM

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 65/100

laegg Title: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Platform: Gameboy
Year: 1993
Position: #9

Okay, so Link’s Awakening is not the most acclaimed of the two-dimensional The Legend of Zelda games but this was one of the first games that I ever completed when I owned the DX version on the Gameboy Colour. I even had a Gameboy Printer and used it to print out some of the screenshots.

Now that I have dated myself since I completed the DX version in my final years of primary I am going to be honest that I do not remember too much about playing it apart from a section in a dungeon level where you needed to shoot a statue in the eye with an arrow… this was something that continually perplexed me for a while until a friend at school (who had already completed it) helped me out.

I have yet to play A Link to the Past. I know this is meant to be the jewel in the crown of the two-dimensional The Legend of Zelda series… so it’s bad that I haven’t played it… but I will get there soon.

UFO1-enemy-Unknown-screen3Title: UFO: Enemy Unknown
Developer: Mythos Games and MicroProse Software
Platform: PC and Amiga
Year: 1994
Position: #45

Holy moly, that was a hard game. It is yet another example of how video games back in the day. The idea of this game is a really intriguing one; build a base to monitor alien invaders, capture their technology and generally save the Earth. Needless to say we never go around to the saving the Earth part since neither of us were able to get too far before we lost all our resources and had to resign… good thing neither of us are in charge of such an organisation. Yikes.

Music Monday: Tommy by The Who

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 34/250TommyalbumcoverTitle: Tommy
Artist: The Who
Year: 1969
Position: #121

Whilst Hounds of Love was the first album from this 250 that touched upon being a concept album (The Nineth Wave truly is a work of genius) this is the first proper full concept album to be done for this bucket list. Another one of these (Illinois) is set to come up soon, since it is my favourite album of all time, but for now Tommy will be the album for this week.

I went into this album completely cold. I have never seen the film musical of Tommy nor have I ever heard any of the songs (even ‘Pinball Wizard’ if you are asking). I am not even sure I have heard much music by The Who outside of their guest appearance in The Simpsons. It is for reasons such as this that I am trying to listen to these albums and why I tend to not talk music in public (it’s hard to explain the abundance of JPop on my iPod).

 Unlike most concept albums I have listened to (such as the Metropolis albums by Janelle Monáe) the story in Tommy is very obvious. In fact, it was one I found really compelling… maybe in part due to the rather dark songs ‘Fiddle About’ and ‘Cousin Kevin’ which deal in the sexual abuse and bullying of a disabled boy.

Okay, backtrack time, if you do not know what Tommy it is, in a nutshell, the story of a blind deaf-mute man’s abusive childhood, love of pinball, treatment, development into a cult leader and then his eventual downfall. This is meant to be ‘hard rock’ or a ‘rock opera’ but really this is just a concept album. A good concept album don’t get me wrong but enough of the airs and graces.

It has its flaws, however, as interesting as the album feels a little bit padded in places. This is, however, the problem with creating a concept album; sometimes in order to advance the plot you end up having a number of slightly weaker songs. Maybe if this was made nowadays they would include spoken word elements/skits instead of trying to make the storyline go along in rhyme but Tommy still works on most levels. I may go through it again and un-tick a few of the songs that feel superfluous before going in again for another listen.

Good Eatin’: Lemon Curd and Plantains

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

Our friends Luke and Lottie came over to stay on a Saturday. We had a lot of fun watching The Lego Movie, eating and generally catching up since it had literally been a year since we all saw each other.

Since both myself and Lottie are majorly into our food, and they were staying at our apartment, I figured it would make sense to do some cooking.

Food Item: Lemon Curd

Now I had never had lemon curd until this day. I was put off of it since it never really looked too appetising to me… like custard that had gone off slightly. I was wrong all of these years never to try it since it was tangy, creamy and rather delicious when eaten with a spoon.

Remember when I made a brioche pudding with Seville orange marmalade for a dinner party? I decided I would make it again with half of the brioches being filled with marmalade and the other half containing lemon curd. I also added some left over chopped candied pomelo peel. It was delicious and rich and I wish I could make this more often.

Food Item: Plantain

There is a saying that if something looks like a duck and quacks like a duck then you have a duck. But here we have something that looks like a banana, smells like a banana but is actually a plantain. I bought these from Tesco for the sake of getting something new for the food list and I did not know what to do with them. So me and Lottie put our heads together and we decided I should make plantain chips.

I sliced them finely, coated them in spray oil and salt then airfryed them for 15-20 minutes at 180°C.  The result was something that tasted very much like potato crisps but (like the whole duck things) these were not made of potato. Being so high in starches and low in fat (and not needing much oil to make them crispy) I may have found a nice, healthy and easy to make snack food. I just need to maintain a source of plantains.

Progress: 168/500

Good Eatin’: Proper Carbonara

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

It has been a while since I visited Borough Market (aka one of my favourite places to go on a Saturday morning) so I arranged to go with my mum on a rather sunny morning. After a bit of a false start with me sleeping past 10 and missing the agreed 10:01 train (oops) we managed to get there for around 11am. Which meant it wasn’t too busy yet but it was starting to get there.

Food Item: Ostrich

First order of business was breakfast (which became brunch) and I feasted on a rather delicious ostrich burger. I would have sprung for cheese if it wasn’t for the ability to ask for ‘all the sauces’ which included cranberry relish and mustard. I was told by the very nice burger woman that this would be slightly gamey (a word people use that I still don’t quite know what it means in terms of taste). To me is tasted of a very rich and flavourful beef burger. If this is what it means to be gamey then I am sold.

Food Item: Feijoa

As I browsed the beautiful selection of fruit and vegetables at Turnips I was faced with the classic dilemma. What new fruit or vegetable am I going to buy. Today I was torn between buying a tamarillo and getting a feijoa. I only went for the feijoa since this was the first time I had seen one and it had that novelty factor.

In terms of taste it was rather unusual and it reminds me of some wintergreen chewing gum that I once had during a visit to the States. It had the same slightly granular texture of guava (hence its other name of pineapple guava) but I was not able to see the similarities to pineapples when it came to flavour.

Food Items: Chanterelle Mushrooms and Guanciale

Guanciale is something that I have been trying to find for years. One of the dishes that I make the most often is my version of carbonara and I have always been aware that by using smoked bacon or pancetta instead of the traditional cut of guanciale I would not really have an authentic tasting carbonara.

For the uninitiated, guanciale is a cut of pork made solely of the cheek or the jowl. It originates from Central Italy (with Umbria being a major manufacturer) and is actually really hard to find in the UK unless you go somewhere specialist. At £2 per 100g I was not going to pass this chance up and mentally altered my dinner plans to make carbonara instead.

I also picked up some Scottish chanterelles from a nearby stall figuring that it was about time that I tried to cook with mushrooms that were more unusual looking.

I ate some guanciale fried by itself and it was very VERY salty. It was also a chewier cut than I was used to, but thinking about the origin of the meat on the pig it makes sense. The flavour was stronger than bacon or pancetta and in the carbonara it was perfect… and might have ruined my regular non-guanciale carbonara for me forever.

As for the chanterelles I sautéed them in butter and finished them with some white wine and lemon juice. They were utterly gorgeous and really picked up the flavours from the cooking. They also had a slight sweetness to them and were remarkably tender. For only £1.05 for 80g I will probably try and get some more before the season is over.

Progress: 166/500

Ebert’s Greats: Body Heat & Barry Lyndon

List Item: Watch Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies”
Progress: 180/409

Title: Body Heat
Director: Lawrence Kasden
Year: 1981
Country: USA

Body Heat is a curious film since it borrows so much from another film I really like, Double Indemnity, that it is really hard to watch this without drawing comparisons in my head between the two.  Instead of getting bogged down in all that, since there enough original spins to make it a good film in its own right, I have one comparison: Kathleen Turner is far more believable as the head-turning woman than Barbara Stanwyck ever was.

In fact, I’m going to dwell a bit on Kathleen Turner (known to most people as either the voice of Jessica Rabbit or as Chandler’s father in Friends) since this was her début in a feature film and by God does she own the film. She is a highly sexual and powerful tour de force in a pretty much male-only film. The character of Matty is a strange one since Turner needs to use a strange mix of raw sexuality and subtle expressions to allude to her motives. I mean I can only think of one actress at the moment who could take on this role; Scarlett Johansson.

As for the rest of the film it takes its time to establish the relationship between the two main characters, so when you reach the eventual point of them plotting to kill Matty’s husband… it actually feels organic (this is in stark contrast to Double Indemnity where it feels a little bit forced). The issue that this film has is that for all the atmosphere it creates (which is a lot) it get a little bit sleepy in terms of the pacing. Now I am not sure if this is the conscious choice to mirror the soporific effect had during a heat wave or just that it was a little bit slow… but it has a bit of an issue in the second act. A pity since the opening and closing acts are really good.

Title: Barry Lyndon
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Year: 1975
Country: UK/USA

You can never accuse Kubrick of only creating one sort of film. With a back catalogue including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dr Strangelove, Lolita, The Shining and Paths of Glory I guess a period drama based on a fictional Irishman who is an absolute wanker.

Where the book would tell the story from the point of view of the main character (as a unreliable, but witty narrator) Kubrick tells the story straight and uses a more conventional narrator to set the scene. The result of this? There is no question as to what sort of man Barry Lyndon is, he is just a horrible human being who gets a just ending in the book but not in the film. It begs the question why Kubrick doesn’t follow that part of the book since Lyndon gets the comeuppance due to him…

I’m not going to dwell on the story or the actions of Barry Lyndon himself since (and this blog is a place of honesty) I actually got very bored in the final hour of this three film. I am all for films taking their time but when you are filling three hours with a thoroughly unlikeable rogue it does pay to quicken the pace at times. To think that when he gets robbed 30 minutes into the film I felt bad for him… they should have just shot him and had done with this odious man.

What you can NOT fault this film is the cinematography and use of music (mostly the cinematography though). This film is beautiful to look at, akin to staring at a painting from the 1700s even. What is even more remarkable is the techniques that were implemented to make sure that only natural light would be used; something that makes all the gambling scenes by candlelight all the richer and more natural. Similar to this is the extensive exterior shots of the Irish countryside (masquerading sometimes as Germany or England) which are beautiful and actually made me wonder if I had already seen these being used during Game of Thrones.

I know that this is a film that is widely loved by many cinephiles but… I’ll just add this to the list of films including Singin In The Rain and Lawrence of Arabia where it pains me to say “I just don’t get it”.

Music Monday: Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 33/250bridgeTitle: Bridge Over Troubled Water
Artist: Simon & Garfunkel
Year: 1970
Position: #122

The way that an artist develops over the years is fascinating. Previously I have looked at Paul Simon’s solo magnum opus Graceland which, whilst it still contain much of his original folk roots was heavily painted with African beats. When compared to Bridge Over Troubled Water which is, by far, the most acclaimed album whilst he was teamed up with Art Garfunkel you can see the beginnings of his turn to world music but here folk is the primary focus.

The thing is, you can not talk about this album without talking about the opening song ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’. It is an all time classic with Art, reluctantly, taking the lead vocals over Simon, something he apparently regrets. It’s hard to talk about a song everyone views as a classic since everything has been said by those far more eloquent than I; it’s a beautiful song that leads into a big ending, let’s leave it there.

Then you have ‘The Boxer’ opening up the second side of the record which is easily the most interesting song on the album. Yes, ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ is a beautiful song viewed by many as one of the best songs ever made…  but ‘The Boxer’ does it more for me. 100 hours of recording and a placeholder chorus that was meant to be replaced and never was (for the best since it is really what makes the song) leads to five tender minutes where it is just best to stop and listen. Then again, you can say that about the title track too… two truly great side openers.

One song that feels slightly out of place is the penultimate track ‘Bye Bye Love’. On an album of studio recordings is does feel slightly odd to have one live recording that is not a bonus track. There is nothing wrong with their singing or the backing track supplied by the in-time clapping of the audience (in fact it is one of my favourite songs on the album) but it does stick-out somewhat.

An interesting fact is that this is one of those rare classic albums that was recognised as such by the awards of the time. Looking at the list of albums in this Top 250 against the list of Grammy Award winners for Best Album (not the best list in the world but it’s the only one you really have for a long-running contemporary Best Album of the year) you can count the cross-references on two hands. Yes, albums like this, Graceland, Rumours and The Suburbs got an award but then you see albums like The Bodyguard OST and River: The Joni Letters which do make you wonder about who they have voting on this award nowadays.

Good Eatin’: Zoo Lates

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

Food Item: Emmentaler

So this was a day that started like any other. I made my sandwiches for work (today featuring the sweet and nutty cheese Emmental with pair well with pastrami). Deadlines to be met, stickers to be stuck on the computer since I am moving desks etc. However, this was not a regular evening since my partner and I headed to London Zoo for a Zoo Late.

I love zoos. So going to a zoo on a warm August evening where there are no kids around is pretty much the perfect evening for me. Without kids everything just felt a lot more relaxed and civilized. True, there were people wearing animal onesies roaming around the zoo. True, there was many a pint of beer being consumed in front of the penguins. True,there was a silent disco. But still, no screaming or crying to be seen.

Food Item: Candy Floss

After a very weird (yet delicious) dinner of a pulled pork and mac n’ cheese toastie (don’t knock it until you try it) I noticed that there was someone selling candy floss. I have always enjoyed candy floss; especially watching it being made in the vat since it reminds me of a timelapse video of whispy mould growing on rotting melon (okay that’s kinda gross). Still, we needed to get some for the sake of dessert and to keep us company on the walk through the tunnel to the other side of the zoo.

We lucked out twice when it came the feeding times of the coatis and the otters (pictured). There are really fewer things cuter than the otters at feeding time, the way that they squeak and scamper around just makes me want to jump on in and take one home. Thing is… other than the bath tub I don’t really have an otter. There really needs to be more reasons to stop me from committing grand theft otter.

Before making our leave from the zoo we paid a visit to the giraffes and the okapis (pictured). At 9pm it was still light and I was feeling a bit dopey after a long week at work. Needless to say I fell asleep as my head hit the pillow that night.

Progress: 162/500

Good Eatin’: Pasta With My Mum

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

So mum invited myself and my partner around for lunch on a Sunday. Always good to have a meal made by the person who got me into cooking since I am pretty much always assured a great meal (there was that one time when I was 6 where I was adamant that she was poisoning me because she put leek in the macaroni cheese… but I got over that).

 Food Item: Elderflower

Since I don’t drink (and my mum doesn’t want me to feel left out) she got me some elderflower fizz. It helps that it matched with the Prosecco.

As list items go this is a great one to get ticked off since it is the first one in the entire list. I love elderflower cordials and presses because they are so very sweet and a little of it really goes a long way. I don’t usually like to go for drinks for the food items (pure juice is an excepiton) but this is a use specifically mentioned in the book so I figured that it would count.

Food Item: Hass Avocado

For these I may have just seen them on mum’s windowsill and asked if we could have them included in the salad. To be honest for book that is usually very specific when it comes to the varieties of fruit and vegetables I don’t think I have ever seen a non-Hass avocado in the UK (which makes sense since it accounts for 80% of avocado production). Having been stood out for a while these were perfectly ripe and would have made for great guacamole.

Food Item: Pancetta  Food Item: Aceto Balsamico Traditionale

In the pasta dish there were both of the above food items included as well as some basil, cherry tomatoes and a lot of parmesan cheese. I have asked for the recipe to this… but I don’t have it yet which makes me sad as I really do love this dish.

The balsamic vinegar really brings out the flavours in the tomatoes and makes a delicious sauce. Maybe one day I’ll get the recipe and be able to make this myself. Anyway, dessert time!

Food Item: Ganache Chocolate

This was so incredibly rich. If you have never had ganache before think of fudge… now make it almost entirely out of chocolate; that’s ganache. This dessert is meant to serve six people but the three of us managed to polish it off no question. There are times when I go wonder if people put these serving suggestions on desserts as some form of challenge.

Progress: 160/500

Level One: Prince of Persia

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 63/100prince-of-persia-ss1Title: Prince of Persia
Developer: Brøderbund
Platform: Apple II
Year: 1989
Position: #67

In the endless line of discussion of whether or not video games have become over the years one of the many games held up as an example is the original Prince of Persia where the biggest constraint is not the time limit of an hour but just how cruel the levels can be.

The story in Prince of Persia is pretty much your standard fare; princess is kidnapped by the big bad so you go off to rescue her. The 60 minute time limit comes from how long you have before your princess is married off against her will and… nuptials commence. However, before you get to her you have to pass through a number of rickety levels (the number of sharp edges and ledges that collapse the moment you step on them makes you wonder who the Grand Vizier used as a contractor), fight numerous enemies and even combat an evil mirror-version of yourself.

Like all addictive games the joy lies in the fact that this is by no means an impossible game. A lot of the level completion relies on rote learning where the traps are and just when you need to stop pressing the ‘run button’ before you skid off of the edge onto some random spikes (it’s that contractor again). There is also quite a bit of level mapping that needs to be done so you need to know which switch opens which door and which potion left on the floor will kill you.

The thing that is really impressive in this game is the animation. If you ever played The Last Express you will know just how much rotoscoped animation can add to the game. In 1989 this was the most human-like animation you would have been able to find in a platformer… which is thanks to the developer’s brother who acted as a model for all the movements of the main character. It just makes the actions feel a little bit more believable and engaging since the, at some times clumsy, movements are ones you are able to relate to.

On the whole it is an addictive platform game that is very much possible to complete… just take a long time.