Monthly Archives: December 2014

15 in 15: Albums

At the beginning of the year my mum had the idea for us to come up with Top 15 lists of songs, albums and movies over the last 15 years (aka since the beginning of the millennium). As a change of pace to this blog I thought I would share these three lists seeing how we are at the in-between stage of the years. Today: Albums.

Treats#15 – Treats by Sleigh Bells (2010)
Body_Talk#14 – Body Talk by  Robyn (2010)
PipettesWeAreThePipettes#13 – We Are The Pipettes by The Pipettes (2006)
TheKnifeSilentShout#12 – Silent Shout by The Knife (2006)
St_Vincent_artwork#11 – St. Vincent by St. Vincent (2014)
july-flame#10 – July Flame by Laura Veirs (2010)
Stories_From_The_City,_Stories_From_The_Sea#9 – Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea by PJ Harvey (2000)
Funeral#8 – Funeral by Arcade Fire (2004)
Janelle_Monáe_-_The_ArchAndroid_album_cover#7 – The ArchAndroid by Janelle Monáe (2010)
Florrie_-_Late#6 – EPs by Florrie (2010-2014)

(I know this is a bit of a cheat, but she has never released a full length album… and these four EPs are some of the best pop music out there so I consider them as a combined double album)

Ys_cover#5 – Ys by Joanna Newsom (2006)
Grimes_-_Visions_album_cover#4 – Visions by Grimes (2012)
41E7jdntfGL#3 – Strange Mercy by St. Vincent (2011)
Sufjan_Stevens_-_Illinois#2 – Illinois by Sufjan Stevens (2005)
BjorkVespertine#1 – Vespertine by Bjork (2001)

This post has had the extra benefit that allows me to cross off two albums from the Top 250 list.  Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea by PJ Harvey and Ys by Joanna Newsom are now considered crossed off.

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 40/250


15 in 15: Movies

At the beginning of the year my mum had the idea for us to come up with Top 15 lists of songs, albums and movies over the last 15 years (aka since the beginning of the millennium). As a change of pace to this blog I thought I would share these three lists seeing how we are at the in-between stage of the years. Today: Movies.

#15 The Secrets in their Eyes (2009)
LordOfTheRingsFrodo2#14 The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Crouching-Tiger-Hidden-Dragon-2147#13 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
#12 Finding Nemo (2003)
#11 The Dark Knight (2008)
#10 Kill Bill: Volume One (2003)
volver_penelope_cruz#9 Volver (2006)
Juno-screencap-michael-cera-1692934-1200-692#8 Juno (2007)
aseriousman1#7 A Serious Man (2009)
1710492-meet-the-man-who-gave-black-swan-wings-rotator#6 Black Swan (2010)
#5 Planet Terror (2007)
littlemisssunshine123#4 Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
028#3 Moulin Rouge (2001)
amelie2#2 Amélie (2001)
spirited-away#1 Spirited Away (2001)


Music Monday: Astral Weeks by Van Morrison

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 38/250VanMorrisonAstralWeeksTitle: Astral Weeks
Artist: Van Morrison
Year: 1968
Position: #15

As I am doing this write-up my engagement partner is trying out an online Japanese course which means that my current playthrough of Astral Weeks has the faint sounds of a Dutchman speaking broken Japanese in the background. Slightly bizarre.

Anyway, I am sticking with the high numbers by looking at the album rated the 15th best… it is the highest album on the list I have not heard of. I knew of Van Morrison because the song ‘Moondance’ was featured in my Year 6 play with some an awkwardly choreographed group dance routine. Everything on Astral Weeks was brand new to me which hasn’t happened to me for a while.

On the first listen to Astral Weeks I didn’t really see much in it. I mean it was nice enough but that was about it. It was standard folk fare and nothing much else. However, it planted a seed in my head since I found myself letting my iPod repeat it for a second play. It was then one of the first albums that I found myself switching on after a recent holiday to Sicily (write up coming soon).

The fact is that Astral Weeks is a bit like Illinois in that the first listen just skims the surface but it truly rewards multiple listens. The fact is that I was so keen to shoehorn this album into a genre upon my first listen which meant that I was pretty much missed the point, there is no real genre that this falls into.

As albums go it is a pleasant enough listen with the lush Celtic-style production but the more I listen to it the more I like it and the more I am beginning to realise why some people rate it highly. Okay, it is not completely my cup of tea but it’ll do for a spin every now and then.

Good Eatin’: The Best Pate I Ever Had… And Other Foods

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

So on the day of writing this I took a day off from work… on a Thursday… which is a little odd since it means that when you are back there is only one day left and then it’s the weekend. On this day off, which coincided with my mum having a week off, we went up to London to get some nice food; list foods ensued.

Food item: Lavender

Okay so the lavender in question here is baked into this cake alongside the taste of orange. Every now and then I got this big whoosh of an aromatic taste which reminded me a bit of rosemary combined with something floral. This didn’t hit me at first but only as I was chewing and allowed some air to run over the surface (you know you are taking food too seriously when you are eating cake like it was a glass of expensive wine).

Food item: Cep

The second on a list of fourteen fungi that I will need to try out if I choose to actually complete this list rather than reach halfway. Looking at the cep mushrooms (also known porchino (pl. porchini) mushrooms they look pretty gnarled and, if I am being honest, a little bit phallic.

What I did with these was to slice them, give them a light coating of flour and then fry them in some butter (okay it was Clover Light but there wasn’t any butter on hand). I have to say that I preferred these over the chanterelle mushrooms that I had a little while ago. They were tender, nutty and woody with a slightly meaty texture. I only wish I had bought more than two of them…

Food item: Carambola and Tamarillo

Starting off with the carambola (which I think we all know better by their pretty name starfruit) I have to say that this was a bit of a disappointing fruit. It was crunchy and juicy (both good qualities in a fruit), but there was a lack of taste. It was a bit like slightly immature green grapes if that makes any sense. In the end, it is the best of all fruits that can be used as a garnish.

Then we get to the tamarillo. First things first, do NOT eat the skin because it is bitter and absolutely revolting. The interior of the fruit itself was tangy and had a tartness and slight sweetness which was reminiscent of a tomato. What turned this from something that was nice into something I actually will be having again was a New Zealander trick of sprinkling a little bit of sugar on top. This really made the flavour of the tamarillo pop.

Food item: Pate de Campagne

Last, and by no means least, we come to the pate de campagne. I have been on a little bit of a pate kick lately with my orders from Tesco allowing me to sample all the pates they have to offer (the chicken and chorizo is nice).

All pates that I have ever tasted pale in comparison to this one. Okay so I paid £5 for this, but it was worth every solitary penny. It was even worth the guy who sold it making fun of my shitty pronunciation. This pate was not actually spreadable since it was made of chopped pork cheek and liver rather than it being minced. It was like a sliceable garlic sausage that only had the slightest after taste of liver. It was rich but did not feel too fatty despite the obvious tell-tale signs of fat when you look at it.

Truly this is one of the best things that I have tasted for this list and I can only hope to find this again so my engagement partner gets to try this before I ate the last slice (true story, I regret nothing

Progress: 199/500

Good Eatin’: Dairy Time!

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

Food item: Harissa

A quick one to begin with. A group of us from work went to Homeslice Pizza in Neal’s Yard and half of our 20 inch pizza (which I would have happily rolled up and tried to smoke like a cigar) had a cauliflower cheese base topped with aubergine, spinach and harissa. The harissa really spicing things up a few notches.

Food item: Stilton, Goat’s Butter and Ossau-Iraty

Alongside fish and meats it is the dairy products that I am pretty behind of in terms of percentages. The point of this visit to Tesco was to get some cheese to bolster up the numbers a little bit. Whilst I would have liked to buy all the available list cheeses I would have probably ended up with a fortnight of nightmares.

Starting off with the Stilton; now I have come to realise in the last few months that whilst I am a big lover of blue cheese it is really an acquired taste… not acquired by the engagement partner. This was fine with me, more tangy blue cheese to have on my bread.

Whilst I am on the topic of having things on my bread I was surprised by the goat’s butter. I know it’s weird to use ‘goaty’ as an adjective but I was surprised that this didn’t taste more goaty. In fact it was very light and milky, when compared to cow’s butter, with a fresh after-taste. When I read up on the fat content of goat’s milk (higher than typical in cows) it made sense that this makes really good butter that takes a while at room temperature to become easily spreadable.

This then leaves the Basque cheese Ossau-Iraty. The taste was buttery/creamy and nutty, it actually feels like a cross between Parmigiano-Reggiano and Manchego. It is easily one of the best cheeses that I have tried for this list… but I just wish that it didn’t feel so fatty. I am under no illusion about the amount of fat in cheese, but just let me dream.

Food item: Truffle

Finally, a little treat from Lidl. Thing is, there nothing to say about truffles except that they are chocolatey and delicious. The best truffles that I ever had were from when I went to Belgium and despite this box having a Belgian flag on it they were not as good as the real thing.

Progress: 194/500

Something Kirby This Way Comes

List item: Carve a cool pumpkin
Status: Completed

Okay, so I know publishing a post on Christmas Eve about carving a Halloween pumpkin is a little unorthadox but that is just what comes from taking a month’s break for NaNoWriMo and generally just working a little bit ahead.

Complete honesty: I am writing this about a month after the fact and this pumpkin has long since rotted, in fact I only had three days of Kirby goodness until it collapsed in on itself and I had to throw it out.

So firstly I got a reasonably sized pumpkin and created a template of Kirby to be carved into it. I know we could have gone for something more traditional (especially since it has been around 15 years since I last carved a pumpkin) but, in the words of Cate Blanchett, “if you know you are going to fail, then fail gloriously”. I figured this would not turn out well but at least I tried.

I got my partner to hollow out the pumpkin whilst I made sure dinner was on, in retrospect I should have saved the seeds for a snack or something. In fact, the whole pumpkin going to waste (other than providing 3 days of decoration) feels just a little bit decadent.

We took it in turns to do the whole carving out of pieces and at this point it was already starting to look like Kirby, the thing is that with the light behind it… it was a bit hard to make out some bits, so I did something I had never done before: partial carving.

I may have wrestled the knife from my partner’s hands, (I felt bad about this since this was his first pumpkin carve),but I couldn’t get two and I really wanted this one to work… and if it didn’t it would be my fault. So I did the shaving/partial carving. I went a bit over the top and accidentally did the waving arm at the top when I wasn’t meant to, but actually I think it made it look a lot more recognisably Kirby than just an amorphous pumpkin blob.

I know he’s a little rough around the edges but we were only armed with a £3 pumpkin carving set from Morrison’s so I am so very happy with how this turned out. I would never have thought of doing the partial carving to get shade differences, but think that made all the difference in capturing Kirby’s arm, feet and cheeks.

Music Monday: The Velvet Underground & Nico by The Velvet Underground & Nico

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 37/250

Velvet_Underground_and_NicoTitle: The Velvet Underground & Nico
Artist: The Velvet Underground & Nico
Year: 1967
Position: #4

I am a firm believer that, when it comes to music, there are some albums that you need to work your way up to understanding. Some things (like ‘Pluto‘ by Bjork) are different enough and can be understood and enjoyed almost immediately. Then there are albums that are equally outside the radar but it can take years before you are musically ready to understand it. The Velvet Underground & Nico falls completely in the latter camp.

In 2005, when the book 1001 Albums You Must Listen To Before You Die, I went on a bit of a listening spree. I saw so many albums by artists that I had heard of and not heard of, and I sought to devour them. Through this book I was able to uncover some of my favourite artists of all time. Bjork, Beck, PJ Harvey, Nina Simone, M.I.A. and Fiona Apple. All in my life because this book provided a good introduction. However, for every breakthrough were a number of moments falling flat; The Velvet Underground & Nico being one of those moments (others including Nico’s solo album Chelsea Girls, The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady by Charles Mingus and OK by Talvin Singh).
Here’s the thing; The Velvet Underground & Nico is a very grown up album. Songs about addiction and sado-masochism really don’t say much to a fairly sheltered 14 year old. Granted I don’t have experience in either of those things (and as such am still fairly sheltered) but now that I have listened to a larger variety of music I am able to appreciate the atmosphere in songs like ‘Heroin’ and ‘Venus in Furs’. ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ is by far the stand-out for me… with ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song’ being a song that, nine years later, I still don’t get.
To summarise: I get it now.

Good Eatin’: The Devil’s Food

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

Food item: Wild Green Hazelnuts

I don’t know if we are getting more food items on the shelves or that, thanks to this book, I am noticing a lot more but I have never seen Kentish cobnuts before (a type of Wild Green Hazelnut). Now, they were just sitting there next to the papayas so I just had to buy them before they disappeared forever.

I had a lot fun peeling them and then cracking them (using a nutcracker that I got from my mum in exchange for a large slice of chocolate cake) and the nuts inside were creamy and, unsurprisingly, a lot like hazelnuts except for the fact that were in no way dry. In fact they tasted good with the next item.

Food item: Devil’s Food Cake

Baking this cake may have been one of the gayest things I have done. Making a chocolate cake, licking frosting off my fingers and with an iPod on shuffle that was on shuffle and playing (and no this is not a joke) Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Scissor Sisters and Alphabeat.

Okay, so sometimes you want to make a cake from scratch. Then there are other times where you want to use a pre-made mix since it is delicious every time and is on offer when you buy the chocolate fudge frosting. It was massive and after a smallish slice I could not have any more because it was so so rich. And chocolatey. And moist. And delicious.

I love you Betty Crocker… person who I am not sure ever really existed.

Food item: Mozzarella Di Bufala Campana

Mozzarella is one of the best cheeses ever made. Buffalo mozzarella is the best version of this with this particular cheese from the Campania region of Italy (which is the tongue of Italy’s boot). Think of a regular ball of mozzarella. Now make is extra creamy and a bit melty in the middle with a slightly grassy after-taste. It also made for a delicious topping on a home-made pizza.

Progress: 189/500

Good Eatin’: Butternut Squash and Aubergine

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

After last week’s major nine food item post this is going to feel a little bit short but if every week allowed me to try that much food it would mean the 1001 food book could be completed in a couple of years. So, here are two vegetables I managed to get crossed off during the week.

Food Item: Butternut Squash

One of those foods which, like the other in this post. I am surprised that it took this long to actually have them again. My favourite recipe for butternut squash is one where I soften it in chicken stock and use it to make a sauce with goat’s cheese to serve over linguine. However, I was feeling the need to be a little bit quick when it came to dinner so I decided to just cut it into quarters and roast it with the skins on. As always, it took double the length of time in the oven to roast properly but when it was (finally) done it went really well with the garlic and herb pork chops I made with a little help from Maggi.

Food Item: Aubergine

This is an aubergine. I know some people call it an eggplant but this is an aubergine. That name makes sense when you have the smaller white ones but not when you have a full grown purple rubber one (which looks and feels like a fake vegetable if I am being honest).

There is a lot that can be done with aubergine, so I decided that since it is an oil sponge that I would use it in a stir-fry. It soaked up all the flavours in the sesame oil, meat juices and the spice paste which made it flavourful (and still a little bit rubbery). I think that over in the UK the aubergine is a little bit underestimated in its ability to enhance a dish through sheer sponge-like abilities. It also forms the base of alinazik, my favourite Turkish dish.

Progress: 186/500

Ebert’s Greats: Banshun & The Scarlet Empress

List Item: Watch Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies”
Progress: 182/409

latespringTitle: Banshun (Late Spring)
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Year: 1949
Country: Japan

Earlier this year I finally sat down to watch Tokyo Story. Considering that the two leads in Late Spring also appear in that movie (one of them even has the same name) it is hard not to draw parallels. Then again, why wouldn’t you? Ozu’s style of producing deeply moving slice-of-life style movies about the Japanese working-to-middle class makes this a rather simple task, at least between the films in the so-called ‘Noriko Trilogy’.

As the titular character of this related film trilogy Noriko, played by Setsuko Hara, truly anchors Late Spring. She plays a 27 year old woman who looks after her father (presumably since her mother passed away) who is happy in her life as it is. As a young unmarried woman this makes her stand out since she is not conforming to the norms in having a husband and moving out. The thing is, she does not want to but everyone is insistent on her getting married, even if it is an arranged one to a man she has only met once.

Like with Tokyo Story this film is, at its heart, a fascinating character study. So many film scholars have written about the two central figures of Noriko and her father in an attempt to completely work out what they represent in terms of points of view. The thing is that they are both complex people. Noriko stands at many a crossroad of daughter and wife, traditional values and modern life, selflessness and selfishness. She has been described as enigma by some and others as transparent… which itself is a big contradiction. Then there is her father wants his daughter to be happy first and foremost and is willing to use subterfuge. The way he acts does not always scream father, but more of friend… until the final scene that is.

In the end the fact that these characters are still being written about years later just shows how realistically they were written and it is a true testament to the source material and the two screenwriters.

Title: The Scarlet Empress
Director: Josef Von Sternberg
Year: 1934
Country: USA

When you watch this it helps to know this following fact: this was one of the last mainstream films released by Hollywood before the Hays Code came into effect. A good thing since you can’t exactly tell the (slightly embellished) story of the rise of Catherine the Great without being a bit risque… although Von Sternberg went for a very sexual version of Catherine here.

I am not going to go into the story since a lot of it is, as I said before, claptrap but there is one thing I am going to highlight and that is the set design. It is so amazingly over the top with the random gargoyles adorning the palace, doors so heavy that a dozen women struggle to open them and (my personal favourite) a skeleton at the wedding banquet. I mean it is absolutely nuts and just serves to make this somehow realistic and yet surreal.