Monthly Archives: November 2015

Making My Own Ice Cream

It started as part of a Facebook conversation about a future meet-up. Someone mentioned ice cream and I decided to go onto Amazon and buy an ice cream machine.

Three months later…

List item: Make your own ice cream
Progress: Completed

To be honest, I was starting to wonder whether I would ever use this – then Lottie and Luke came round to stay in early July and we decided to make ice cream. More specifically (after a bit of a flick through the recipe book that came with the machine) Cranberry and Orange.

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We chose this for two reasons. Firstly, it just sounded like it would taste delicious (I mean what isn’t great about marmalade, custard and cranberry sauce?) and it was just super easy to make.

Well I say easy, we had the initial hurdle of having to defrost the freezer so that I could fit the inner bowl of the machine inside. A twenty minute session with my steam cleaner (followed by an hour of watching the lightning storm outside) we were able to get the bowl in the freezer so we could get it ready for the next day (it was about 1 am at this point).

We had a bit more luck the next day – and by then the inside bowl of the machine was good and cold so we were ready to make some ice cream!

It wasn’t as hard as regular ice cream when it came out of the machine after an hour of stirring. Once it was turned off, however, it really began to firm up. So much that I was able to scoop it into my gorgeous cosmopolitan glasses. The sprig of mint? I just wanted it to look pretty!

The ice cream itself was really good. It was sweet and not too tart, but I was disappointed that it didn’t taste more of custard. I am already planning my next flavour – apple and mint. It’s gonna be great.

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XL Popcorn – Nanook of the North

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 444/1007Title: Nanook of the North
Director: Robert J. Flaherty
Year: 1922
Country: USA

As far as films go, Nanook of the North is snake oil. The beginning describes a narrative of an intrepid film maker who, despite the odds, makes a documentary about an fearless Inuit hunter called Nanook and his family.

But it’s bullshit. Pretty much all of it is staged. I know that when you go to film a group like this there is no chance of being candid, especially with the filming equipment that was available back in 1922.

However, the group Flaherty was filming was already coming under the ‘white influence’. They were already starting to wear clothing and use weapons that were not traditional before the camera was pointed at them. Instead of going with this, and making a documentary what could show how the world’s have collided and this is how the Inuk people have started to adapt, we get something which is basically a tableau of stereotyped ‘Eskimo’ behaviour.

 One such sequence that did not sit well with me was a scene where the ‘white man’ tries to explain a gramophone. This felt so staged, something made worse when ‘Nanook’ (not his real name) sticks the record in his mouth.

Thing is, I know I am looking at this through the eyes of a walrus-loving man living in 2015. This was a ground-breaking piece of cinema… but couldn’t it have been as ground-breaking without having to create such a narrative that is, in the end, insulting to the filmed subjects. Just a thought.

XL Popcorn – Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 443/1007Title: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Director: John McNaughton
Year: 1986
Country: USA

One big benefit of doing a film list as part of my bucket list (other than seeing a wide variety of films) is that I have to watch the whole thing. In some cases I know this will end up being a negative (Satantango I am looking at you) but for some films this can be a real plus point.

Today’s film, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, really exemplifies this. The first 40 minutes did absolutely nothing for me. I was aware of how censored this film was and it really didn’t do much to me in terms of shock value. It’s fair to say that once I got passed the hour mark things really began to ramp up a bit more.

Home invasions, sawing off limbs, a beheading, attempted incest. I’m not saying these are things I particularly WANT to see, but for a film telling the fictionalised tale of a real serial killer… well I can say I was no longer disappointed.

One thing that this film has in its negative pile is how cheap it looks. In many ways it looks like a lot of those made-for-TV movies that depict a criminal figure. The fact that some of the corpses are played by the same actress takes away a bit from the brutality of things.

I guess, when I was watching this I was expected a gory and more shocking film in the vein of In Cold Blood. The fact that In Cold Blood now finds itself amongst my favourite films probably didn’t help things.

It’s another one of those films that makes for a really interesting character study. The leads do really well considering the short shooting time and the low budget. Although I would have liked it if they had kept to the real story where the two criminals were actually lovers – still it was the eightes.

The last half hour really acts as a big payoff so if you start it and get bored, my advice is to make sure that you see it through to the end.

Acclaimed Albums – 1999 by Prince

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 83/250Title: 1999
Artist: Prince
Year: 1982
Position: #209

As of writing this (as in prior to this year’s update to the list) 1999 sits at #199 on the albums list (boo! It moved down!). One of those strange coincidences that I love, but know that it will probably no longer exist by the time I get to publishing this. C’est la vie eh?

Anyway, I am now landed square at the feet of my first Prince album. Up until now I have had very little exposure to him outside of his appearance on New Girl and the rather infamous reference to fingerprints on Animaniacs. I am not a complete troglodyte, however. Going into this I have heard ‘1999’ and ‘The Most Beautiful Girl In The World’. I guess I would include’Fallinlove2nite’ too, but that appears to have been a song only used in New Girl.

The main thing that strikes me is – man, there are an awful lot of synths in here. The opening of the first track (‘1999’) really does pave the way for the rest of the album. Then you have ‘Automatic’ and ‘Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)’ opening up the second half the album as a way to completely cement the synth-pop agenda.

Then he zags with ‘Free’, a piano and guitar driven ballad of patriotism. He shifts again, this time into funk on ‘Lady Cab Driver’.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that 1999 is not an album where you want to try and pigeon-hole Prince. I mean, it is Prince after all. Pigeon-holing him is a rather fruitless exercise. Still, despite the fact that this album veers around the block touching synths, rock and funk as it passes there is no mistaking that this is a pop album at the core.

What I am the most surprised in, however, is the sheer sexuality on this album. I mean, the ‘orgasm noises’ on ‘Lady Cab Driver’, the album is dripping with it at points. The whole point of ‘Little Red Corvette’ is that it is about a one-night stand. Comparing this to the Prince that came into my consciousness, aka Jehovah’s Witness Price, it feels weird.

On the whole, 1999 feels so incredibly eighties. Not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it is really nice to have this as a contrast to all the albums I have been doing recently. However, when it comes to timelessness, it is no Ramones.

XL Popcorn – The Wedding Banquet

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 442/1007Title: Xi Yan (The Wedding Banquet)
Director: Ang Lee
Year: 1993
Country: Taiwan/USA

The Wedding Banquet marks the fifth Ang Lee film that I have seen. All I can say is, that man has one hell of a range. From the period drama of Sense & Sensibility to the wuxia outing of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I have yet to see a bad film by him. Then again, I have purposely avoided Hulk and Taking Woodstock for precisely this reason.

The Wedding Banquet is yet another side of Ang Lee – an LGBT centric comedy-drama. Now, there are not many gay interest movies that I have gotten on with in the past. Mainly because a lot of them feel a bit stereotypical and predictable. Film’s like Milk, All About My Mother and Lee’s own Brokeback Mountain are exceptions to this rule.

So, why did I like this film? The first thing was that the two main gay characters were not camp. This is a big thing  for me to get into a movie like this. The main reason, however, was how organic the situations, the writing, the humour and the characters felt. To be honest, it would be so easy to have created caricatures instead of people you can imagine meeting in real life.

The crux of the film is this – Wai-Tung, a gay Chinese man with American citizenship, takes part in a marriage of convenience so he can get his parents off his back and so the woman (his tenant) is able to get a green card. However, his parents make the trip from Taiwan to the USA and things get progressively more awkward from there – especially for Simon, Wei-Tung’s boyfriend of 5+ years.

The strange thing about this film is how it starts off as a heavily comedic East-meets-West film and then, around the time of the titular wedding banquet, it begins to descend into the drama. There’s a trip to the hospital, confessions, reconciliations and (now this is where the film lost me) rape.

What lose me is this, after the wedding Wai-Tung is left alone in the honeymoon suite with his new bride Wei-Wei. They are naked in bed because of some BIZARRE Chinese newlywed invasion thing (don’t ask, I have no idea if this is an actual thing). They are both drunk and exhausted, but she forces herself on him whilst he protests. There is no violence, but there doesn’t have to be – it is pretty clear.

The thing is, there is no real comeuppance for her other than the resulting pregnancy and this rang REALLY false with me. I mean, she was apologetic and all (and he doesn’t seem to think of it as such – so maybe I am reading too much into it) but there’s no real excuse here. The fact that one of the final scenes has her hugging Wai-Tung and Simon as they agree to raise the baby together was, well, just plain weird. Feels like a very unnecessary double-standard to have plonked into an otherwise good film.

Despite that lingering in the back of my head I was still able to enjoy the rest of the film – which included the begrudging acceptance of Wai-Tung’s orientation by his parents. The scene where he lets on that he knew all along and thanks Simon for looking after his son was very touching, but also troubling. The father seems to have played them all, not caring what happened, so that he could get a grandchild. Fun fact: if you want a son have a small boy jump on your consummating bed.

So yes, apart from the double standard I pointed out – really good film.

Olympics 2012!

How many people can say that they have had an Olympic games in their home town/city? Millions of people. Okay, not the best way to start this… but it is still something that is a great privilege to have come over.

I was lucky enough to be able to go to the London 2012 Olympics twice, which means I am able to do this:

List item: Go to the Olympic Games
Progress: Completed

List item: Attend a world sporting event
Progress: Completed

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The first time we went was to see the tennis at Wimbledon. We got these tickets through the ballot and (to be honest) I was really annoyed. The thing is, I grew up in a tennis household and I had already been to Wimbledon on the so-called ‘People’s Sunday’ back in 2004.

Still, we got something. I could say that I had been to the Olympics games. I also managed to end up ridiculously close to my favourite player (both for watching and to drool over) Novak Djokovic. I later got to see him beat Lleyton Hewitt, which was it’s own type of amazing.

Whilst I bellyached a bit at the time, I was so incredibly glad that I could have a day at the Olympics.

olympics 1Brilliantly,  I was able to go again. Due to the stupidity of running a ballot there were a number of events that would later allow you to actually buy tickets. So, I ended up going to see the volleyball.

The crowd felt a bit different here. Not just because there was less of them, but also because we had a group of fairly rowdy people directly in front of us. I cannot remember if they were Bulgarian or Italian – but they sure had a lot of things in the colours or green, red and white.

You could really tell that this was getting less attention than the tennis, but I didn’t care. It was a new sport for me to watch and it meant that I could say that I had been to the Olympics twice. Now, there is probably a smaller number of people who can say THAT.

Good Eatin’: A Secret Scotch Egg

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

Here is a disadvantage of being able to write these posts so far in advance – the title of this post ‘the secret Scotch egg’ was a bit of a joke between myself and a colleague at work because of my cravings for a Scotch egg and my partner not liking eggs… you just had to be there alright?

Something of note here is that this is one of the few posts where all the foods I am covering is from the new book only. I guess this is going to become more and more common when all I have left from the original list is a bunch of tropical fruit and endangered molluscs.

Food item: Scotch egg

I’ll grant you, a Scotch egg is a weird thing to have a craving for. My nan used to regularly buy a pack of party eggs (as in miniature scotch eggs with egg mayonnaise inside) and we would eat them when I got home from primary school. So, I guess I have a lot of fond memories for this very English snack item.

Food item: Jamaican Patty

From a traditional English to one that is definitely not –  and yet it has more than a passing resemblance to a Cornish pasty. The pasty of this patty was just gorgeous. It was buttery, flaky and melted slightly in the mouth. I can easily see myself going for something like this again soon as it was a really satisying snack. Those Jamaicans have been holding out on us in the snack food world!


Food item: Doner Kebab

Okay, since I opened with one of my weird cravings – here is one of my mum’s. I never object to when she gives in to having the once-a-year kebab. In fact, I more than happy to indulge. It’s still like looking at a deliciously greasy heart attack in a pitta bread – but hell I skipped lunch because I knew this was coming. That has to count for something right?


Food item: Udon Noodles

Udon noodles are easily one of my favourite variety of noodles (second only to ho fun noodles). When you spend most of your life with either spaghetti or Sharwoods egg noodles, the initial find of udon noodles is a major revelation.

Now then, there is a specific type of udon noodles left for me to try. By the time this post goes up I will hopefully have been able to secure some whilst in Japan. I can imagine that being an easy check off somehow.

Food item: Paella

Oh Startisans. You are a truly my wildcard when it comes to finding good food. Previously it introduced me to some wonderful Ethiopian food. On offer today was a really nice chicken and chorizo paella (heavy on the chorizo).

I usually make my own paella (not for a while mind you) so it was nice to have it made for me. Plus I could reuse the lemon wedge for my work Pepsi. Bonus!


Food item: Beef Wellington

Okay, so here is the final one of the post. I know this was probably not the BEST example of a beef wellington, but it was still really nice. To be honest, I am a real sucker of meat in puff pastry so this was right up my street. Since this was a ready made I know it was not the best quality – for example in my one the mushroom pate was not exactly wrapped around the beef. Still good though.

Progress: 614/933

Let’s Get Literal: In Search Of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 22/100in_search_of_lost_timeTitle: À la recherche du temps perdu  (In Search Of Lost Time)
Author: Marcel Proust
Year: 1913-1927
Country: France

I am a bit of a philistine when it comes to literature. I mean, before starting on this list I had barely scratched the surface of what is considered substantial literature. Part of my job involves interacting with some very literate people since they, you know, write papers to assess people’s English skills. They speak of how every child should have read books like To Kill A Mockingbird and I just slink back a little bit and make sure that I have it loaded onto my Kindle for later.

Still, how awesome is it to say: fine I have not read To Kill A Mockingbird, but I managed to polish off the longest novel of all time (in terms of the numbers of character as recognised by the Guiness Book of World Records). 1.27  million words. 4000+ pages. Thousands of characters. And yet, I was able to finish reading it in two and a half months.

Know that I would not have read this book if it was not for my Kindle or because it was placed on this list. It’s incredibly hefty to carry around (depending on the edition it is printed in six or seven volumes) and I had never actually heard of this book before I started this blog.

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Going into reading this book the only time I had heard of Marcel Proust because of the Steve Carell character in LIttle Miss Sunshine. So the only real hint that I had about this book when going into it was that the two leading (fictional) Proust scholars were gay men. One of whom was emotionally fragile. Dear God, it’s amazing how well that actually prepared me.

Anyway, enough preliminary – let’s just get down to it.

Marcel Proust

In Search of Lost Time is a semi-biographical novel centred around Proust as he grew up in France in the late 1800s and finishes around the conclusion of the First World War. It’s hard to know where to really start – so why not at the beginning where he spent about 15-20 minutes of reading time tossing and turning in his bed longing for a goodbye kiss from his mother. Weird thing is, I am not joking.

In many ways, this is a novel that I would be surprised if it ever met an editor. It languishes and takes its time over the most minute of details whether it be the description of a church window or his pangs of jealousy (which is a constant theme in most of the book). I saw it said somewhere that where any other writer using one word Proust would use four. There is a real ring of truth to this, which is equally to the book’s advantage and to its detriment.

There are times where you can be swept up in his descriptions of the social classes and his surroundings. I mean, this book is #25 on this list for a reason. He has an amazing way with words (as does the translator, massive respect for C.K. Scott-Moncrieff for doing this so effectively) and really gives your thesaurus a good work out.

However, there are other times where you are spending what seems like 2-3 hours reading about the same train trip, the same party, the same rant about lesbianism (more on that later). The result is that you can feel the temptation to skip pages to get back to the juicy bits. I am a quick reader so I am happy that I was able to get out of these sections faster than normal.

Then again, this is how addiction works isn’t it? The fact that a significant amount of time you are able to get that hit. It’s the reason that you keep returning it even though you spent an entire train journey reading French aristocrats debating the etymology of place names. You know at some point Albertine, Saint-Loup, Françoise or the Baron de Charlus will show up and steal the show. So you keep reading and devouring this massive tome until you find yourself pulling into your station and cursing the fact that you can not get that much further.

Since I have now mentioned some names, let’s have a look at some of the characters.

The main one is the nameless narrator (he is referred to as Marcel a few times, but other that the name is absent). He is not exactly the most sympathetic character for most of the book, which makes you wonder what Proust himself was like. He is foppish, he is manipulative and, at many times, he is downright pathetic. You can just imagine him gesticulating with the back of his hand to his forehead and proclaiming what a chore it was for him to get out of bed.

He is written as a sickly and somewhat feminine man. There is a section where the doctor (right quack that he is) prescribes an all-milk diet, and at another time prescribes Champagne for his nerves. This probably starts to paint a picture of his background, because he is from rich stock. It also doesn’t help much that he is coddled to the point that there is never any real mention of his parents wanting him to do something more constructive with his life.

The only person who actively disapproves of him is Françoise, the maid. She is a brilliant character. Someone who always finds a way to eavesdrop and makes sure that you know that she knows exactly what you are up to. The way that the Narrator treats Françoise makes for a lot of the comedy in the novel – in reality he is a real shit with her. True, she does sometimes get a little bit ‘above her station’, but her loyalty is unquestionable. She wants the best for the Narrator and for the family. When he loses his grandmother, Françoise reaches out to him, as she herself is hurting, and he rebuffs her coldly. This is the story of their interaction, and it makes you really cheer her on whenever she gets one up on him – although she can be cruel at times.

Which leads me (nicely) onto the women in this book. For the most part they fall into two archetypes – those he venerates and actively seeks out and those who he abhors and is unable to trust because of their ‘whorish’ ways. Essentially, the book is permeated with the Madonna-Whore complex. This goes a long way to explain his behaviour towards the key romantic figure – Albertine.

Now, I like Albertine. She is a bisexual girl living in the 1880s-1900s which makes things a bit hard for her to express herself. The key thing is, however, that she clearly adores the narrator. Adores him to the point that in Volume 5 (The Prisoner) she allows him to take her away from everything she knows to live with him. Due to his absolute disgust with her previous relations with women there is no trust there and he keeps her under constant surveillance and starts some pretty distasteful psychological mindgames.

In many ways this relationship brings out the worst in the character, but says volumes about the homosexual Proust. The Narrator spends most of Volume 3 and 4 trying to get this girl, and then immediately gets bored with her once she has completely fallen. She, like everyone in a relationship, keeps things from him. Things that are of no concern to him since they occurred at a time since she made no promises to him. However, there is a feeling that because she has made such transgressions she must be punished.

The ultimate punishment comes about when Albertine finally gets up the courage to call the whole thing off and go back to her aunt. Such a woman can not be allowed to get off free in his world like that – so she has a riding accident and the Narrator spends most of Volume 6 pining over this. I had very little time for Volume 6 because it felt that this ‘exit pursued by a bear’ style writing just cheapened their relationship instead of grounding it in the real life that I had come to expect.

A lot of this all seems to come down to one thing – the characters distaste of lesbianism. There is a hint of this very early in the book, but it really doesn’t come into full force until Volume  4 (Sodom & Gomorrah). This is when he starts to be more explicit with the ideas of homosexuality with main character starting to gain traits. His two lovers, his best friend and some men he socialises with at aristocratic salons (as in a gathering of artistic types, not a barbers).

There is an interesting split in how the book deals with gay men. Proust is clearly knowledgeable on the subject, but his character is straight. As such, there is a lot of interesting (non-explicit) detail about how gay men operated in the society as told by the narrator. It’s strange as the narrator never delves into the world himself and yet it shown to be very knowledgeable. He is, rather forward-thinkingly, understanding of it and doesn’t mind it until one of the character starts to prefer the company of 10 year old boys (this reveal irritated me as I hoped that a gay writer would not stoop to this stereotype).Still, there is some positivity to a number of these gay characters.

Lesbians, on the other hand are pretty much vilified. Pretty much all of them are described, on some levels, as predatory. There is a rather hyperbolic example of one dressing up as a man so they could pick up and do god knows what to young girls.  Even the more everyday life lesbians are vilified by the Narrator. At no point does he really talk of love between two women and that is just damned wrong. Is this his way of justifying the way he was a bastard to Albertine and caused her death? By turning her and all WSWs into something dirty is he able to absolve himself of guilt? I don’t know the answer, it just really bugged me.

Look, this book is incredibly long and there is a lot I have not even got close to scratching the surface on. I just see that the word count on this post has passed 1700 and for me that means I need to make a close. In Search Of Lost Time is not a book I would not recommend for everyone. I would suggest the first volume, maybe even the second and then see how you go. But to go out specifically to read the entire thing… well you need to be crazy like me for that.

Acclaimed Albums – Beggars Banquet & Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 80/250

Title: Beggars Banquet
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Year: 
1968
Position:
#33
Title: Let It Bleed
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Year: 1969
Position: #36

At this point I think I might as well concede that my understanding of rock music is paltry at best. To be honest, as I was listening to Beggars Banquet my main thoughts were “wow this sounds like The Rolling Stones are trying to be Bob Dylan” and “I want to listen to that new Florence + The Machine track with all the horns”.

It really is the old chestnut that music appreciation, as well as these rankings, is subjective. Yes, the Acclaimed Albums list is a meta-list that makes a consensus out of subjectivity, but in the end that is all this is. I think that between this and the ups-and-downs of Bob Dylan I need to go into albums with low expectations so I can be surprised. Hey, it worked for Jimmy Hendrix after all!

One thing of note is that whilst Beggars Banquet left me completely cold (even ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ which is a track whose title I instantly recognised) I warmed to Let It Bleed from the word go.

When it comes to the music that I actually listen to leans more towards Let It Bleed than Beggars Banquet. When I was listening to the title track ‘Let It Bleed’ I could hear Beck. With other tracks there were shades of Ryan Adams and The White Stripes. Of course, I could still hear the influence of Bob Dylan (actually impressive how much this man was able to exert an influence over his contemporaries).

I listened to both of these albums in succession and talk about leaving the best track for last. ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ is an absolute classic. I know there are other tracks on these albums with higher esteem (‘Street Fighting Man’ and ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ to name only two) but this just felt like the complete stand-out track.

And so continues the listening experiment. The fact that I am writing this in June and I am having to play guesswork at what the new updated list is going to keep in is really ruling out a lot of albums for the minute…

 

My Lego Centrepieces

Hello! It’s been a long month and a lot has happened! Well, I am writing this in the summer and can only now properly post these pictures since my (now) husband wanted me to keep these under wraps for the day of the wedding.

Well, I can post these pictures now.

List item: Build something truly awesome out of Lego
Status: Completed

Okay, so awesome is a pretty subjective. However, in my eyes these are pretty damned awesome so I consider this all ticked off. Especially since I designed all of them.

Totoro was the first that I designed. We figured that each table should have a Lego design that reflecting our interests. Since My Neighbour Totoro is one of my favourite films, and since I have a large plushie version sat opposite me a lot of the time I am on my laptop, it made sense to make one featuring him.

This penguin (based on Gunter from Adventure Time) was probably the easiest one to build of the designs. It used to be a bit more complex, but issues regarding the available shades of Lego bricks made me simplify this one a bit. Others were far more effected though. Despite being the easiest it still took the better part of an hour to build.

In order to make all of these we had to order 1300+ pieces of Lego. 400+ of these were just the black 1×1 pieces since they made up the outside of most of the outsides. The story is the same with this Lego Lego Batman. A lot of black being used here, but also the only use of the pale yellow.

Whilst all of the others had an original image that I pretty much copied from, this cat (and the below dragon) were ones that I designed using an amalgamation of different ones. Mainly because my original attempt at a cat design was pretty damned pitiful.

The issue with this cat is the tail; it snaps off rather easily when you carry the design around. We managed to avoid this when we put it on a resting board, but (like all of these) they were an absolute devil to get to the venue.

This dragon is, if you ask me, the best of the centrepieces. It was the last one that I designed and was the first one that was actually built. The dragon is an exception since it was not done after a shared interest in the way that the others were. This dragon was made in honour of our newborn niece – previously known as ‘draakje’ or ‘little dragon’ before the gender was known.

It was one of the more difficult to design and build, but it was definitely worth it. Well, all of them were worth it – but this is definitely my favourite.