Monthly Archives: April 2015

Let’s Get Literal: Julius Caesar

List Item: Read the complete works of Shakespeare
Progress: 7/37

After reading two leviathans of novels (one amazing and one soporific) I thought it would be good to take a week off from reading to listen to some podcasts and then get back into the whole reading thing. The thing is… a week later I still could not stomach a novel so I think I will be doing a few Shakespeare plays on the way into work.

julius-caesar

Despite my previous assertion that I was going to read a lesser known play along the lines of Timon of Athens or Comedy of Errors I, instead, thought I would just read the first play in the collection that I had not read before. Thus, I was lead to the door of Julius Caesar.

One thing I never quite realised about this play is just how little he is actually in it because (spoiler alert) he dies in the beginning of the third act. The central characters in this play are Brutus and Mark Antony, rather than Caesar himself. Instead, Caesar becomes more of the idea of patriotism and honour and whether there was ever any honour in killing a man who people believed could become despotic.

‘Could’ being the operative word. There is no real hint, as presented by Shakespeare, that this would have been the natural cause of things. A pivotal scene actually has Caesar refusing the crown presented to him on multiple occasions. As such you question the motives of all the conspirators… accept for Brutus, for he appears to be the only one who is backed by ideals rather than personal gain.

In a way, Mark Antony would have to be the antagonist due to his role as being against Brutus, who could be argued as the protagonist. Then again, despite being at war with each other these men are both essentially honourable; they just found themselves at different ends of the plot. The way that Mark Antony addresses the corpse of Brutus at the end of the play cements this idea.

Of course, a big thing to mention is the sheer number of quotable lines. Phrases like ‘et tu, Brute’, ‘Greek to me’ and ‘friends, Romans, countrymen’ are so well known that to read them here it feels like cliché only to be reminded that this is their origin. I also enjoyed the use of prophecy and forshadowing in the dreams of Caesar’s wife Calpurnia, a sign that people going to this play probably knew what was going to happen since this is really obvious stuff.

There is more to say, such as a discussion on whether Cassius was a manipulative arsehole or actually worried about the state of affairs and used really backhanded methods to solve things, but I’ll leave it here since I have written nearly 500 words in about 20 minutes and my knuckles are getting sore. Good play, may start the British histories soon.

Mixing It Up

List item: Make a mix tape for someone you care about
Progress: Completed

So, I was up on a Saturday morning doing the write-up for Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips and I suddenly remembered that somewhere in amongst the storage boxes were the two mix CDs that I made for my partner in the summer of 2009.

I thought as a way to share these I would make Spotify playlists that could actually be played. Luckily, I was not a Taylor Swift fan so that all the songs were readily available.

The first one I made was called Marshmallow Head. The name came from a comment he made about how it felt when he was ill. The name also links to this being a bit of a mushy mix CD filled with love songs… that were also all sung by women apparently. Fun fact: this contains the song we plan to dance to during our wedding reception.

The name (and cover) came from the name of the two cats that his mum had; Sunny and Shadow. The time it took for me to get my drawings of the cats correct was… longer than I expected.

The make up of this CD was meant to showcase a cross-section of my musical taste… with me editing it out some of more embarrasing things I listened to. It was also an attempt by me to create a mix that actually flowed into each other a bit more than a random assortment. This is why I finish it off with a bit of piano from St. Vincent’s first album rather than a song of hers I liked more.

 

 

Music Monday: Off The Wall by Michael Jackson

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 55/250Off_the_wallTitle: Off The Wall
Artist: Michael Jackson
Year: 1979
Position: #105

Happy Easter everyone. Let’s celebrate a day off of work by trying to side-step a discussion whether you can like an album because of who is singing it. I know this is something I will be delving into when I reach an album by Oasis, but for Michael Jackson I’m just going to try and get to know the music.

Off The Wall marked Michael Jackson’s first album off of the Motown label and his fifth solo album overall, at the age of 21. It is very well known how much of a child star he was, but five solo albums and 15 as part of The Jackson Five… well that’s just ridiculous.

In many ways Off The Wall feels like a debut album. There is that rush of the album trying to be as instant as possible  whilst showcasing a large range of vocal ability. It was a new label, a new relationship with a producer, a new direction and a greater degree of confidence in his voice.

It also feels like two EPs put together. The second half of the album feels weaker as that’s when he starts to go into the territory of balladry. ‘She’s Out Of My Life’ still delivers with Jackson providing a good injection honesty, but the rest of the half feels a little lacklustre coming after the initial five tracks. He does get a bit of his mojo back with the closer ‘Burn The Disco Out’ if I am being kind.

Then again, it is hard to follow up an album when you begin with ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’. It is a classic and shows Michael Jackson at his best. It leads into a first half where you can feel the disco dripping off of the songs, and it is awesome. I never thought I would appreciate music with the disco in is, mainly because the video for ‘D.I.S.C.O.’ by Ottawan is so ridiculous, but Off The Wall does make a good case for it.

In the end, Off The Wall ticks some boxes for me on the first half but when it slows down the interest does begin to wane… around the time he covers a song by Wings. Still, it’s a far cry from the parody he became to be known as.

Good Eatin’: After The Netherlands

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

Food items: Knackebrod, Roggenvolkornbrot, Tete de Moine and Aged Gouda

Okay, so we didn’t get round to eating all the list food we bought in The Netherlands. This made for a nice dinner on the evening after we got back.

One thing I found out about knackebrod is that Ryvita is a type of it. I mean, I could have done this at any time but the book made it sound like it was something exclusively Germanic but I could have just bought it at the Co-Op whenever I wanted. Ah well, it basically just a crispbread. Nothing too special to be honest.

Then there is the roggenvolkornbrot. A type of dark and dense rye bread which I grew up with… ish. I say I grew up with it since it was something we would have every now and then. To this day the smell of it reminds me of my nan and the German-Polish heritage that I have. This is one of those things that works well with a little butter or with cheeses.

Luckily, I had two cheeses here. Firstly, there is the Swiss cheese Tête de Moine which was nothing really that special. As the book said, the cheese did have a mushroomy taste with a long finish, but it wasn’t something really worth writing home about. This was not to be said of the Aged Gouda which was lovely if not a little hard to cut. The nuttiness and maturity of the cheese means that a little goes a long way. I look forward to using it for a cheese toastie in the near future.

Food item: Confit

One thing about my job is that I have to organize meetings for us to get test papers ready for publishing. In the case of finding the confit this was a meeting I went to in order to see how other parts of the process were run. We got a three course meal at the venue and I was lucky to find duck confit terrine. It was gorgeous and I wish I could have just had more of this as a main course instead of the small amount I had as a starter. Then again, it was awfully rich so I would have probably felt sick afterwards.

Food item: Treacle Tart

Another work one here, but I actually paid for this in the work canteen. It was awfully sweet with the overwhelming taste being of golden syrup with parts of it being partially caramelized. It worked well with the small amount of cream though. A bit too sweet for me as it was hard to finish.

Progress: 343/500

The Great EU Quest – The Netherlands

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 12/28
nllargeCountry: The Netherlands
Year first visited: 2009

At the very moment that I have started to write this post I am sat underneath my partner as he sorts through his childhood things in the loft of his home back in the Netherlands with his mother. I am sat on his brothers office chair at the foot of the ladder as I have no head for heights (a phobia that emerged when I was 10 as I screamed for a solid 15 minutes when I first tried out abseiling on the Isle of Wight)

Hmmm that reminds me…

List Item: Abseil something
Progress: Completed

I can not begin to count how many times I have been to the Netherlands, but I do know that the first time I made this journey was in May of 2009 when I went to visit him in his home country and had the heart-stopping moment of meeting a large proportion of his family at a BBQ. To this day I still remember the nerves I felt, being a family of two the idea of being introduced to ~20 members of someone else’s family felt… surreal.

We are over here in January (where it is rather cold) since it was my partner’s 30th birthday (and as a extra treat the family reveal that I am to become an uncle which is rather exciting). Already we have had the obligatory (and fun) catch-up with a few members of his family, watched a movie or two and dined on some Dutch food (drop, frikendellan, bitterballen etc.), now is the final day before heading back to the UK.

This trip in January 2015 is the first since I started this blog and the various challenges linked to it. As such, my partner and his mother have been really accommodating to my food list which leads me to the rest of this post.

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

Here was me slowing down a bit on the food acquisitions only to gain a few more on this trip to the Netherlands.

Food item: Labneh

Okay, so it doesn’t feel like this one should count as much since I had this in the airport on the way to the Netherlands, but it did form part of the trip. Being aware of the sort of food you have in the Netherlands we went for a pre-flight meal in Comptoir Libernais (see previous post for more food findings). Since my partner ordered something that would take a while to cook we ordered ourselves some Labneh as a starter. This sour strained goat’s yoghurt was acidic yet refreshing. It was basically a thick and sour creme fraiche which went well with the warmed flatbread.

Food item: Fenugreek

Okay, so now we are in the Netherlands proper and, having been told about the book, we visited a local cheese farm for a bit of a perusal. Oh how many flavours of local cheeses there were! If I could have I would have liked to sample each and every one of them. Still, we bought two wedges which included one flavoured with fenugreek. I sampled some there, the fenugreek giving the cheese an earthy and curry-like hint, but I will be looking forward to a lot of toasties with them on.

After this we went to Nijkerk, the local big town. The main reason was to get supplies for the get together that night but also to help me cross of some Dutch things from the list.

Food item: Reine de Reinettes

The first thing I saw was the other listed apple. In the book it is under the name Reine de Reinettes, but it is sold in the Netherlands under the name Goudrenettes. I could not believe my good fortune so had to buy two of these to sample, despite being better used as a cooking apple. It’s IS on the sour side of apples but that’s why I liked it. The only thing that I have against this apple is that it was rather hard, so by the time you reached the core it was getting pretty dense. Still, a real turn up for the blog.

Food items: Maatjes Herring and Smoked Eel

We then paid a visit to the fishmonger (apparently a fairly well renowned one in the area) where we got two more fish for my list as well as a pack of kibbeling for lunch (think chunky battered white fish pieces, cod cheek in this instance, with a gorgeously sweet garlic dipping sauce).

The first of these I tried was the maatjesharring. This is something so Dutch that it was mentioned in the book The Undutchables and even has an associated ‘Dutch way’ of eating them by eating the whole thing in one go (minus the tail) by dipping it into your mouth from above. Personally, I just used a knife and fork. This fish falls into a similar category to rollmops and the Cantabrian baqarones. It is a type of ‘soused herring’ that has been preserved and spiced in a special way. They are very slippery and oily, but with s flavour that is milder and meatier compared to their cousin the roll mop. Yes, there are bones but there are small enough to be easily crunched and swallowed. I have to say that I did enjoy this Dutch fish treat.

Then… there came the smoked eel. This is something I have not been able to get in Britain unless I paid a pretty penny for it. I don’t know why it cost less here but I am happy that is did because it was easily one of the best fish that I have ever tasted. I have been a fan of eel since I first tasted it back in 2008 as a sushi topping. Here, on it’s smoked own, I could have easily eaten a whole fillet to myself. You can tell this is a fatty fish as you eat it. The way it melts in your mouth and is so easy to cut with the side of the fork… Yum. I almost felt guilty eating this… but not too much.

Food items: Leidsekaas and Horsemeat

We finished this outing with a trip to the supermarket (there are three in the town, and I asked if we could do a second one later). Six more things were found, and then eaten at different times. The first two (pictured above) formed part of breakfast the next day.

Firstly, there is the horsemeat. The book doesn’t specify how the horse should be eaten so we got some smoked horse meat that could be used on sandwiches, or eaten as it is. Ignoring the smokiness of the meat it is easy to see that this is a meat that is low in fat and is rather tender and delicate. It was nice, but I think I still prefer smoked pork over smoked horse. However, I think I would prefer a horse steak over lamb if this is anything to go by.

Then there is the Leidsekaas, a cumin cheese from the Leyden region. The cumin flavour really gave the cheese an earthy warmth which felt odd compared to the springing nature of the rest of the cheese. It was really nice on a warmed roll and, oddly, was a good accompaniment to the smoked horse. Pity we can’t get a cheese like this so easily in the UK.

Food item: Honeycomb Toffee

This was a slightly weird one to get since I had already planned to tick this off with a Crunchie bar once I got home. Instead, here as part of a chocolate selection from my partner’s sister I was able to check off the honeycomb toffee. Not so good by itself, but made really good when covered in milk chocolate (as are so many other things if we are being honest).

Progress: 337/500

In the end it was a really nice three days away from the stresses of work.
And, since I am to become an uncle, it only makes sense that I should be able to talk to them… guess I should start learning Dutch then.