Monthly Archives: June 2016

Good Eatin’: Soup and Stuff

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

IMG_3186Food items: Broccoli and Stilton Soup, Lobster Bisque and Royal Game Soup

Yes I know. I am having these soups in their tinned incarnations rather than going for something more freshly made. Considering the price that would entail… I am more than happy about that. I only liked one of these.

Broccoli and Stilton – Two very strong flavours in this soup. They work well together and come in different waves. For me the broccoli is the more dominant with the creaminess provided by the blue cheese being more an undertone. Interestingly hub found the opposite. So I wonder if this comes back to that whole brussel sprouts genetics thing. Or because he doesn’t like blue cheese.

Lobster Bisque – I was taken aback at the sweetness of this soup. People tend to go on about the sweetness of certain seafoods and I usually just shrug my shoulders. This, however, is an odd varient on sweet. Creamy too and with a strong seafood aroma and taste. Just going to say it, I did not like this soup. I think I am starting to come to terms with the fact that I am just not a shellfish person.

Royal Game Easily my favourite of the trio. Possibly the most complex of the three too. It reminds me a bit of a liver soup. It’s rich and peppery. Not sure what makes this soup ‘royal’, but it’s nice to be able to have something so fulfilling after trying the other two.

IMG_3185Food item: Oeufs Florentine

So what makes an egg florentine? Basically think of a eggs benedict and substitute spinach in the place of ham. The version of eggs florentine that I had also made the change of replacing the traditional toasted muffin with toasted slices of brioche.

The benefit of having eggs florentine over benedict is how you can kid yourself into thinking that you are having a healthier breakfast. It is so convenient to forget the eggs and hollandaise sauce that you are shoving into your gob because of the greens on the plate. I still prefer it with ham rather than spinach.

IMG_3188Food items: Black-Eyed Peas and Borlotti Beans

After the previous success of my chilli I wanted to try some different beans. Enter an offer in Tescos where I decided to stock up on tins of pulses.

Now I don’t know if I burnt the chilli or something, but the black-eyed peas had a bit of a smokey taste to them. Nothing else did, just the black-eyed peas. The borlotti beans just tasted like generic beans. Like how refried beans would taste before the process that leads to refried beans.

In fact, as chilli beans, neither of these worked as well as the butter beans and cannellini beans. Good to know.

Progress: 839/933

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Graphic Content: The Sandman

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress: 
10/501the sandmanTitle: The Sandman
Author: Neil Gaiman 
Illustrator:
 Numerous
Year: 1989-1996
Country: USA

Originally, when setting the ground rules for how many issues I would read before considering it crossed off, I would only need to read 36 of the 75 issues of The Sandman. I read until the very end. In fact, since I was reading this in two rather stressful  weeks in January, the train trips to and from work became a real highlight of my day.

What starts out in the first few issues as a horror comic quickly becomes rather intellectual and philosophical. The main character, Dream, evolves so much over the course of the issues. This is mainly due his 70-80 years of confinement in the beginning, but once you start to see the transformation there is no way to not finish this series of comics. He is a rather emo, but you grow to support him really quickly.

death

Whilst there are many times in the series where the character of Dream can sometimes be a bit brooding and unrelatable, the character of Death has found herself in my personal list of favourite characters. In a number of ways she is very much like Death in the Terry Pratchett books. She is very responsible and appears to care deeply about her job and for the humans that she ferries over into the afterlife. Also, being an anthropomorphic personification that has existed since life’s beginning she is incredibly insightful.

Mix these similariries with a slightly Egyptian-gothic look, a warm sense of humour and expert level abilities to call people on their shit… well you’ve got Death. When I get around to it, I will be seeking out the limited run comics where she is a central character.

endless

That brings be to the rest of Dream’s family aka the Endless. Other than Dream and Death, the only other sibling we really get to know is Delirium. Where Dream is a tragic hero, Delerium is plain tragic. She takes near-centre stage in the Brief Lives arc, my favourite arc of the entire comic series. Why? Because it the only arc that focuses mainly on the Endless family. That and The Wake.

I think that whatever comic/manga/graphic novel is going to have an uphill battle to my affections now that I have finished The Sandman. As such, I will be putting off getting the spin-offs and sequels and maybe move back to regular literature for a while.

The thing that truly astounds me is that each character and every seemingly throwaway storyline has a long-term purpose. I mean, how well planned can you get where all these strands come together and then flow apart over the course of 75 issues. Even a number of crazy homeless people end up being rather important in this universe.

Acclaimed Albums – Channel Orange by Frank Ocean

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 107/250Title: Channel Orange
Artist: Frank Ocean
Year: 2012
Position: #135

A while ago I made a post about my favourite albums of 2015 where I ranked Wildheart by Miguel at number 19. I have listened to this a lot in the beginning of 2016 and now think it probably should have been higher after falling for it in a big way. During one of the listenings I figured that I would look up similar albums to move onto so I don’t just keep having ‘face the sun’ on repeat.

This is how I arrived at Channel Orange as my next album. I had previously dismissed it as being another rap album that I won’t understand. It didn’t help that Wikipedia described Frank Ocean as a rapper, which put me off. More fool me. It’s more Janelle Monae than Kenrick Lamar.

The moment that Channel Orange started off by sampling the loading music from the PS1 I began to warm to this album. By the time I reached ‘Pyramids’ in the middle, well I knew that I had prejudged this album poorly.

Yes, there are still moments of rap. However, they seemed to work within the contexts of the song and were not the exclusive way that Ocean used to deliver his lyrics. His rather… interesting lyrics that deal with topics as diverse as drugs, aliens and candy floss. It keeps you on your toes and warrant multiple listens just to try and get all you can out of it.

It’s when he veers more on the side of neo-soul and you get to hear the range that he has in his singing voice that Channel Orange soars. This is an album that, for me, is clearly better than anything that Kanye West has done.

Having listened at the beginning of 2016 my mission is to be more open minded about R&B in the coming year. Who knows, maybe one will make it into my top rankings like Janelle Monae did in 2010 (The ArchAndroid was #1) and 2013 (The Electric Lady was #5).

Oscar Bait – Terms of Endearment

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: 87/89

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 460/1007Title: Terms of Endearment
Director: James L. Brooks
Year: 1983
Country: USA

Before I go into Terms of Endearment there is one thing I want to say. I don’t get the appeal of Jack Nicholson. I might be re-treading on a post I have made earlier, but I swear he mainly plays shades of the same character. By the way the characters react to him his character, the ex-astronaut Garrett, you would think he was this alluring sexpot. I just see him as creepy. He doesn’t exactly treat Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) well and she is giddy about him in her own way.

Right, now that’s out of the way.

I have been leaving this film to nearly the end as I was under the impression that this was ‘the cancer movie’. A lot of the stereotypes of what makes for an Oscar film really seem to have peaked in the 1980s if you believe the hype.

Due to this reputation I have been really put off of seeing Terms of Endearment. Now that I have seen it, I don’t think it should have won that year. Going purely from the Best Picture nominees I would give it to The Right Stuff. Going by the 1983 films I have actually seen I would give it to Zelig.

I think this was a film that hub got into a lot more than I did. I was too distracted by Jack Nicholson’s creepiness whenever he appeared, as did the storyline of Aurora’s fascination with him.

Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger, however were both fantastic as the mother and daughter. It’s a pity that they had to go up against each other for the Oscar, but in all fairness it was MacLaine who deserved the award more. There is a key scene in a hospital where MacLaine’s character freaks out at the nursing staff who are late with her daughter’s pain medication. It’s one of those moments where you can almost see the Academy ticking the box with glee.

The main thing that makes this movie good are their performances. They are both able to deliver the slightly offbeat humour and the feelings of tragedy that this film requires. You also have good supporting performances by John Lithgow and Jeff Daniels to back them up in this dramedy about the relationships we form as adults.

The labelling of this as the ‘cancer film’ whilst being somewhat correct is not completely accurate. In fact, you are pretty deep in the second half before it even comes up. It is even handled with a great deal of matter-of-factness. I was expecting this sweeping ‘woe is me’ melodrama when what I got was people just trying to deal with it the best they can. Not exactly warts and all, as the character doesn’t visibly suffer much before death, but it works with the emotional toll it can take.

Two Best Pictures to go!

Level One – The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 53/100Title: The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past
Developer: Nintendo
Platform: SNES
Year: 1991
Position: #15

So, I have not done a video game for this list since Super Mario Kart since I have been revamping this list. How much of a revamp? Well, the number of lists I have used has more than tripled thanks to a lot of help from one amazing person who contacted me on the blog. I mean, wow so many thanks for that.

I figured that I might as well start off with this new list (that has been SO LONG in the making) with one of the higher entrants that I own: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Whilst I don’t have a SNES or have ever played the SNES version, I do have the WiiWare version so was able to play it on the Wii U controller whilst the current husband played Jak & Daxter for his gaming blog.

This is one of the big games. In fact, early on in the formation of this list A Link to the Past occupied the top of the list for a good while. Why? Because it’s one of those games that truly inspired a generation of game makers. It’s also interesting because SO many things that have happened in later Zelda games such as the Master Sword, the device that can transport you between worlds and, the ever irritating, pieces of heart containers.

One thing that amazed me about this game is just how long it is. I know that people can do proper speedruns of this game in ~4 hours, but for a new person who has no idea which door to go through of that you actually need to set fire to that creepy tree that looks like an ant it’s a long game.

Like the original Legend of Zelda game (and pretty much all that followed) the game takes place in between dungeons and the outside world. It’s a bit more linear than the first Zelda game, but not by that much. For example, I was able to find the coin (?) that gave you the earthquake ability AGES before you needed it, but it took me ages to find the Magic Cloak. I know that if I could have found that earlier I would have been less angry at those stupid rotating sticks made of fireballs. Still, that’s what walkthroughs/replays would be for.

Now, I am going to be honest here. As much as I enjoyed A Link to the Past, I was beginning to get pretty sick of things around about the Ice Dungeon part. I don’t think it helped that multiple times I died because it wouldn’t allow me to go up or down the stairs. Ugh! Also, after a number of dungeons I did end up feeling a bit of fatigue at the sheer amount of repetition.

Still, I kept going. The number of items that actually meant you could form numerous tactics to defeat the same boss kept things interesting. Although, if you are agile enough there are a number of bosses that are rather easy. The first boss? Yea okay that makes sense. But then there is Blind who was just ridiculously easy as all you need to do is hack the head and avoid laser beam eyes.

Ganon though? Wow, that took a long time. Also, since when did he have a pig face? Or did I greatly misinterpret the pixels? Also, since when did Link have pink hair. The game just continues to blow my mind!

Now, I have no idea which of these I will be playing next. Maybe I’ll see what comes up on my partners blog.

Crossing Off Crosswords

List Item: Finish a crossword
Progress: Completed

Okay, so not all of the items on this bucket list are things that should take ages or are completely life changing. I know that completing a crossword isn’t high on the list of priorities for most people, but it’s something that I have never done before – at least not a crossword from a newspaper.

So for months I have been trying to do crosswords from the London Evening Standard on the way home from work. I then started getting frustrated and, like some crazy hoarder, started piling up old newspapers on our dining table. After being annoyed by the sheer volume of accumulating newspapers I made a vow (about a month later) to rip out all the crosswords and just tick off this item once and for all.

Luckily for me, it was the first one I found. Yes, it was from a newspaper that was OVER a month old. Yes, it was a crossword I had mostly completed on the train. And yes, I am absurdly surprised that not only did I know the word ‘lurid’, but I could also use it in a sentence.

Huzzah!

Acclaimed Albums – Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 106/250Title: Modern Vampires of the City
Artist: Vampire Weekend
Year: 2013
Position: #218

So it appears that I’m just ignoring my earlier rule of trying to cross off albums from the upper echelons of the list. Then again, Vampire Weekend just ended up being this year’s ‘taking the Christmas decorations down’ theme music… so my hand was forced.

Not forced by too much. Vampire Weekend usually ends up in my January music rotation anyway. That’s why I was slightly thrown off when Modern Vampires of the City ended up being released in the middle of 2013. I still ended up listening to it a lot that year thanks to standout tracks like ‘Worship You’, ‘Hanna Hunt’ and ‘Diane Young’.

Then again, if you ask me, Modern Vampires of the City is not Vampire Weekend’s best album. I would give that accolade to Contra. I know that this puts me in the minority if the rankings on Acclaimed Albums is to be believed, but I feel it is just a far more consistent album. Also, it contains ‘White Sky’, ‘Giving Up The Gun’ and ‘Cousins’ –  the first two ranking as my two favourite Vampire Weekend tracks.

Still, Modern Vampires of the City is a really good album. Maybe not my favourite of 2013. Maybe not my favourite Vampire Weekend album. Still, it’s a good album.

Acclaimed Albums – Neil Young Has A Lot Of Albums: Part One

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 105/250

EverybodyKnowsThisIsNowhere After_the_Gold_Rush
Title: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Artist: Neil Young with Crazy Horse
Year: 1969
Position:
#238
Title: After The Gold Rush
Artist: Neil Young
Year: 1970
Position: #53

Of all the artists I have left in the Acclaimed Albums list there are five Neil Young albums left and one by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It’s an impressive haul for any one musician to have so many albums that have been so well thought of. In terms of solo albums it puts him joint first with Bob Dylan. No mean feat.

The initial temptation was, therefore to try and just listen to all five of them in one fell swoop. Realising that this would mean five hours of an singer I had no idea about put an end to that plan immediately. I therefore decided to just go for the chronologically first two, which means I will end up comparing his highest positioned with his lowest positioned. Weird how these things work out.

One thing I am immediately going to knock on the head is the assigning of hard rock to Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere by WikipediaAside from a guitar solo or two on the final track this is very much a folk/blues rock album. If I had to find an album of my own listening that I could link this to it would probably the Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan albums.

Not that he sings in the lower Mark Lanegan register on both albums. On After The Gold Rush he starts to singer in a far higher pitch. The delivery feels more confident and, on a personal level, makes for a more enjoyable listen.

Now, I am going to be breaking with the tradition of disagreeing with list placement here. I completely see how After The God Rush is placed higher than Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. This isn’t just because of it having the original version of ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’, even though that was a pretty pleasant surprise after only knowing of the Saint Etienne cover.

Where Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere makes sense as a debut album since it tries to expand in a number of different directions; After The Gold Rush has a far more focused sound. Sometimes a scattershot interweaving of sounds works better than focus, don’t get me wrong, but with these albums it is After The Gold Rush really wins the day.

1001 Songs – 1956: Part One

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Blue Monday – Fats Domino

Rhythm and blues with some rock and roll influences here. The music showing how these genres can mash up to produce something that was, for the time, new and exciting. The first of two Fats Domino tracks of 1956 and this is not the star of the show; that honour goes to Blueberry Hill.

Burundanga – Celia Cruz

A deliciously festive salsa track that ended up lending its name to a drug used by rapists. Clearly this knowledge clouds a lot of the positive feeling I have towards this song. Not the songs fault… but wow.

Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love) – Ella Fitzgerald

Oh hello Ella. She really was the voice you wanted when translating the Great American Songbook to vinyl. One of the true greats of this era. The fact that such a normal and unassuming woman is on here singing about sex with an audible gleam in her eye… well it’s a delight.

I’ve Got You Under My Skin – Frank Sinatra

 

Sintra’s warm tones and a rather intrusive saxophone make for one of the classic recordings. It takes a lot for someone to take a 20 year old Oscar nominated song and make it their standard. This song is forever linked with Frank Sinatra and don’t you just know it as the big band explodes into view.

Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye – Ella Fitzgerald

Third song in a row penned by Cole Porter. I don’t think we’ll see something like that again in this song list. Elegant is the only word that really springs to mind. The woodwind and string sections get a good workout in this more positive rendition of a song about saying goodbye to a loved one.

Be-Bop-A-Lula – Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps

Ah rockabilly. It didn’t take long for rock and roll for it to receive it’s first offbranching genre. Be-Bop-A-Lula makes heavy use of steel guitars in this early marriage of rock and roll, rhythym and blues and, most importantly, country music. It’s one of those tracks that screams Elvis Presley… and talk of the devil.

Heartbreak Hotel – Elvis Presley

Another song making heavy use of those steel guitars. Listening to Elvis in the context of Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra really helps to understand how Elvis stood out so much. In this more bluesy take on rockabilly Elvis is really slurring his words to the point where you find yourself leaning in… in a good way. Dark subject content too.

Blueberry Hill – Fats Domino

I have always loved this song. I even had this album for a while. It’s a smooth track that was apparently spliced together after they lost the sheet music and Fats couldn’t remember the song well enough to sing one clean take. Thumbs up to the editors there.

Hound Dog – Elvis Presley

A song about a woman throwing out her no good man as sung by Elvis Presley? I love it! This is one of those songs that twirling poodle skirts was made for. It’s one of those where both his cover and the original (an electric and attitude filled turn by Big Mama Thornton) satisify different needs. In her hands it’s a fuck you and get lost, in his hands it’s a fuck this and let’s dance.

Progress: 74/1021

Good Eatin’: Tagine & Beans

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

Okay, so apparently this is speeding up again. Not that I am complaining as it means that I can continue this somewhat insane schedule where I am posting 4 times a week and yet are still over 6 months ahead. Not bad eh?

Food item: Breaded Scampi

See? Some of these are still ridiculously easy. A bag of frozen scampi from Tesco and somehow this is still a list item. Not that I am complaining. It’s just that I would have been able to cross this off a few weeks ago if I had remembered this. I like these best with salt and vinegar.
Food item: Lamb Tagine, Tabbouleh and Apricots

It’s been a while since I have been able to snag a list food from the work canteen. This time I managed to get two because the tagine contained dried apricots. Whilst I can not imagine this tagine being made in a proper tagine pot it tastes enough like tagines I have had before so I’ll take this as a check off.

It was, however, slightly more oily than usual. Luckily the accompanying tabbouleh made a valiant effort to absorb everything it could.

Food item: Butter Beans and Cannellini Beans

I have had these tins in my cupboard for a few months now. I am not a bean person (cue strange mental image of Mr Peanut with a ginger wig) so I had to force a situation to get them into a meal.

Making enough pork chilli to last 2-3 days appeared to be my option. I also included a random jar of salsa and a half full jar of kalamata olives to complete the chilli.

Now I immediately thought that a bean was a bean when it came to flavour. The fact that the cannellini beans are pretty much the same as the beans in baked beans did not even occur to me. Of the two I preferred the butter beans because they had a bit more bite to them. Definitely things to be included in future chillis.

Progress: 832/933