Tag Archives: completed

Good Eatin’ – Wattleseed Bread

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

Once again I am trying to lose weight. I say once again because I usually end up a third of the way there, get frustrated and then start all over 9 months later. It’s one of those vicious cycles that I really want to break this time around.

I mention this because it nicely ties into today’s food.

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Food item: Wattleseed

I got this tub of wattleseed from my favourite spice shop at Borough and have been wracking my brain trying to find a decent use for it. The label says that it can be used in ice cream or baked goods, so I decided to take the lid on its word and make a loaf of bread.

On it’s own the wattleseed has a taste in the region of cocoa-coffee-nut, but you would never just have it like this. Therefore I used a recipe I found online for a quick wattleseed soda bread to give this ingredient a real test.

Progress: 623/751

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List item: Bake a loaf of bread
Status: Completed

I’ve made bread a few times before, but usually quick breads instead a fully yeasted affair. This was, however my first attempt at making a soda bread. It was also the first time I tried to take a bread recipe and reduce the fat content by using 0% yogurt.

The dough was wet and hard to knead which probably didn’t help with the rise. Still, the taste of the bread made up for it being a little bit close-textured. The wattleseed really added a taste in the region of hazelnut-coffee as well as some crunch.

As you can see from the recipe – this was dead easy to make and I probably will make more of this while I still have some wattleseed knocking about the cupboards.

Adventures With Flat-Pack Furniture

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To quote Sufjan Stevens, “it’s Christmas in July”. Man I love Christmas, and I miss the Christmas season whenever I see a set of twinkly lights and it is not December.

As a couple we really made out like bandits this Christmas, but the big ticket item was a brand new TV from my mum that we got as a joint present. I also got a Nintendo 64 from the hub and have found solace in a bit of Pokémon Snap.

Still, with this new TV and the ever expanding collection of Lego Dimensions figurines and Amiibos it was time for a new TV stand and an actual bookshelf in the living room.

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It was only a few hours after deciding on new furniture before we had two flat-packs from Argos delivered to our flat. Same day delivery between Christmas and New Year? Man I love Argos.

Now I am a master of the flat-pack. Most of the bedroom furniture that I had growing up were flat-packs from Ikea or Argos. Sometimes I end up building it upside down and then having to rebuild it, but the screws are just that easier to put back in once you’ve widened the holes.

This was one of the first times I made some flat-pack with the hub apart from some white Ikea bookshelves of little consequence. Because hammers and screwdrivers come out (and because we’re competitivr with each other) these builds weren’t always the most chilled.

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List Item: Put up a bookshelf
Progress: Completed

Still though, it was fun and we ended up with a nice new bit of storage. Also my Porygon Lego sculpture now has a place to perch. Probably a lot more that we could do with the place, but there’s no rush.

London at New Year’s 2016

List Item: Attend a New Year’s Celebration
Progress: Completed

Many people know this about me, but I am not the biggest fan of New Year’s Eve. So many people put way too much importance to something that just leaves me cold… so I tend to prefer spending New Year’s at home watching a movie.

I never did things for New Year’s before meeting the hub since it’s actually a big deal for his family. After a few times of being over in the Netherlands we are finally doing New Year’s in London to try it out in the big city.

Right so I was not too happy about doing this. I actually contemplated feigning illness instead of going up to London and dealing with all the ‘merriment’ and waiting in the cold. Still, I couldn’t be that selfish now could I.

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We actually booked tickets to see the fireworks from the balcony of Somerset House. Sure, it’s a bit more expensive than the tickets to see it in the street, but it was sure done up pretty. Apparently we were meant to get a quarter bottle of champagne with every ticket… but that never materialised.

Still, we were there having gorged ourselves on Korean food at Asadal near Holborn Tube Station and waited for the fireworks to begin. We had to be subjected to a lot of music that sounded the same (at 27 I am already feeling that old apparently) and bore witness to a trio of guys sneaking onto the balcony by jumping from the roof of a neighbouring building. There was good will all around and I did a bit of chair dancing when the DJ started playing ‘When Doves Cry’.

Then the fireworks started…

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I know these wouldn’t have been as big as those in Sydney. I still stood there with goosebumps and my eyes wide at the bright and smokey spectacle. There was a bit where, in the music mix, the mayor of London saying ‘London is open’ and I teared up. I may not be proud to be a Brit or an Englishman at the moment, but hot damn am I proud to be a Londoner.

Despite my protestation and my feelings of the contrary, I had a great time. It’s one of those things that people should try to experience even if they are big ol’ cynics about New Year’s Eve. Wouldn’t quite say that I am a convert to this odd ritual, bu I feel as if I understand the sentiment that little bit more.

I🖤NY – Day 5: High Line and Michelin Stars

One thing that everyone should do when they come to New York is explore some of the neighbourhoods on foot. It’s really great to visit all the museums (and honestly I wish I could have fitted in the Cloisters museum… maybe next time), but sometimes you want to spend a day completely outdoors.

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It was a light breakfast of an everything bagel with cream cheese and peach Snapple before we made for the High Line. Now, this attraction was not open when I was last in New York. I missed it by a few months, but would have likely not heard of it anyway. Still, I was keen to visit this since this has become increasingly popular.

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This is something I cannot see happening in London. What you have on the High Line is a disused raised railway line that has been re-purposed into a nearly 2 mile long garden/walkway over the streets of Manhattan. At times it felt almost peaceful (not always since the High Line was spurred on a lot of property redevelopment), but this is a place where wildflowers can grow and you can actually hear birds singing above 26th Street.

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It also functions as a space for art. Some of them are a bit odd (think a concrete ball shaped like a watermelon hidden in the grass) and others were weird in a fun way (like this realistic sculpture of a sleepwalker in his underwear.

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When we descended back onto solid ground we walked through our first neighbourhood of the day: Greenwich Village aka the home of TV’s Friends. When you go through the village it becomes incredibly obvious that this is very much a lived in city. I made sure we walked down Bleecker because, you know, it’s one of those well known streets.

img_3761List Item: Eat in a Michelin starred restaurant
Progress: Completed

A bit of a diverted walking route later and we arrived at our destination for lunch. The idea of eating at Michelin starred restaurant was a very early thing to be included on my bucket list. It has taken a few years for me to get around to crossing this off because these restaurants are on the pricier side. Enter 15 East.

I am not going to say this was a cheap meal. Heavens no. We ended up having 9 pieces of sushi each (so 18 in total) and the bill came to almost exactly $100 for two people. For the experience and the sheer “hell yea I can be fancy” it was worth it. Also for the forced and restrained politeness from the server. She was very much looking down on us… and I don’t think it helped when I asked for a replacement ice water because the one she poured had a fly in it.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
img_3762Food item: Seki Aji

We started out with a sushi omakase (1 piece not pictured as it was eaten) and this chefs choice plate was absolutely gorgeous. Both the sweet prawn (whose tail cut my lip) and the citrus scallop were especially delicious. It was only after finishing these, and checking out the a la carte menu, that I realised that there was a list fish on this plate. Just a shame that I didn’t know until it was too late and was not able to note down anything.

Progress: 567/751img_3763Food item: Kanpachi and Arctic Char

Since the omakase didn’t fill us we ordered some more off of the a la carte menu. This meant we were able to cross two more fish off the list. The first we tried (the white one) was the kanpachi – a type of amberjack. It had a very subtle flavour and reminded me a bit of the kingfish that I had back in Hiroshima. The texture and freshness of the fish felt like the most important thing here.

The second one here was the Arctic char. It is a fatty salmon (fattiness makes sense seeing how it swims in arctic waters) that looked beautifully striped when sat on the plate. The fatty nature of the salmon gave this fish a richer taste than I am used to with salmon.

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The remaining daylight hours were spent wandering through Little Italy and Chinatown before being chased into the subway and lack to the hotel by a bout of rain that the Weather Channel didn’t predict. Honestly, There isn’t too much to write about this aside from my glee when hearing Italian Americans talking just like they do on TV.

The evening was, once again, spent at the UCB Theatre in Chelsea. This time it was a double bill of shows (about 20-30 minutes each I think) put on by members of the Upright Citizens Brigade. The first wasn’t all that, but the second half (a weird adult mash-up of Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues) had me in stitches.

I… actually cannot believe that this is my final evening in New York. After spending six months looking forward to being back here and it is over already. I guess I just need to plan my next New York trip.

And So I Started A Podcast

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List item: Start a podcast
Status: Completed

So for a long time my hub and I have been wanting to try out making a podcast. By a long time I mean YEARS. The virtue of writing these posts about 5 months in advance (see how my lead is being eroded) is that by the time this is published not only will there be a number of episodes, but also we will have gotten better used to it.

That is until we cancelled it at the end of December. We ended up making 19 episodes and had minimal listeners. I mean if you struggle with getting your friends to give your podcast a go then clearly you are doing something wrong.

As you will get from the graphic – the idea was that we would podcast our way through the 1001 TV Shows list. We started off with Breaking Bad and now that I listen to it months later and knowing how much easier this became… it’s not a good episode.

But I have to say that later episodes have been really fun and we actually work well being more loosey goosey and less rigid like we started. Something that I think we started doing better a few episodes in, which culminated in my not being able to stop laughing whilst making an episode centred on The Prisoner.

We are still available on iTunes if you search for Just Watch It. Or you can go to the website www.justwatchit.uk if you want to give it a go.

Good Eatin’: A £30 Chicken!?

Before I start this write-up there is a small adjustment that is going to be made for my blog lists.

A while ago I added a second 1001 food list which brought up the grand total of  foods to 1866. Despite this I have still mainly been focused on the original list and, to be honest, the list I added was nowhere near as much fun as I had hoped.

I’ve been toying with doing this ever since that time I had carp in Lithuania – but now I have eaten this expensive piece of poultry I will be reverting back to the original 1001 food list only!

Which means….

List Item: Try half of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 556/501 – COMPLETEIMG_3434Food item: Volaille De Bresse

This lovely piece of chicken was bought in Borough Market on the same day that I purchased the vatrushka and peaches. I have known for a long time that the good people at The Ginger Pig sold Bressé chickens, but I have never had the luck to find one of these beauties at their stall on a Saturday.

Lo and behold that at 9:30am on July 23rd 2016 (told you I was posting in advance) that they had not one, but three of these birds sat in wait for food-lovers with a bit too much money to burn (I mean hell, payday was on Monday so why not right?). I bring up money as this pictured chicken set me back nearly £30 (at around £17.50 a kilo). Still,  I just HAD to have it… after the head and feet had been removed by the butcher.

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The next question was – how do I cook the damned thing. The internet provided me with a sizeable amount of conflicting advice, but I ended up settling on this recipe from Chez Pim. I did not want to fuck up this expensive beauty and, unlike suggestions in other recipes, I had not intention on steaming in the oven.

Before preparing this with my mum I decided to smell the chicken. Usually a chicken from the local supermarket doesn’t smell nice at all… and yet this did. Actually it smelt more like corn than chicken (which makes sense seeing how they are fed on a corn rich diet) and you could see rich and beautiful veins of yellow fat just by casually looking at it.

Anyway, we followed this recipe to the letter and we ended up with this:

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The smell of this chicken as it cooked was astonishing (the bulb of garlic stuffed into the crevice and the soy sauce glaze will have helped with that). This was not your archetypal roasting chicken, something that was apparent the moment you try and carve this.

When I say that there was a reservoir of liquid fat between the main body and the drumsticks I do not think I would be understating it. I have never seen anything quite like it when carving into a bird. Needless to say as long as you don’t overcook it you are going to have one moist piece of chicken.

To quote my mum on this (thanks again for helping me with the chicken): it’s chicken like it used to be. Having tried both this and the Jidori chicken my eyes have been opened to what chicken can actually be like. This beautiful piece of roasted chicken.

It’s not just about taste, as the texture is different. It’s firmer which actually makes it feel more like a game bird than something raised on a farm. Whilst I did not like the grouse that decided to bleed all over my kitchen they had a similar toughness (not the right word, but the right word is eluding me right now).

The musculature on this chicken was just interesting to look at. Just the fact that a clear dividing line between white meat and dark meat was visible was completely new to me. This chicken just felt exceptionally raised and looked after and it’s given me pause for future chicken purchases.

Now that I am WAY over the halfway mark… I guess that means I should decide on the next landmark.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 556/751

Yes, this feels right.

The Great EU Quest: Lithuania – Vilnius Old Town

Since this is just how things work out when booking time off, today was the first of two full days that we spent in Vilnius itself. It has to be noted that if you mainly wish to explore the old town (which is rather large for an old town) and the immediate surroundings there is no need for public transport. I was very close to buying a Vilnius Card to try and remove the hassle from public transport… but there really is no need to do so.

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Despite the classical surroundings of churches and beautifully stuccoed buildings it is hard to escape the feeling that Vilnius is a very young city. When you are in the fringes you will see a lot of murals, some of which take up the whole wall of a building. Of course when I saw this picture of Putin and Trump sharing a disgustingly wet kiss I knew that I would have to post this online.

It is also difficult to deny that there is still an underlying cultural scuffle between the Vilnusians who have completely rejected anything Russian (minus religion) and those who are able to accept it, albeit in smaller doses.

Then again, this is a city that recently celebrated 1000 years since being founded and has been invaded and occupied on numerous occasions. Russians, Poles, Napoleon, Germans and Swedes have all taken turns in making this city their own. It is therefore completely understandable that this country has a tremendous sense of national pride for their, still newly found, independence.

Also, the volume of EU flags that you see being displayed the town centre is almost akin to what I saw in Luxembourg. Their inclusion in the European Union and NATO within early 2004 (after just over adecade of independence) must have been the ultimate act of of recognition for this small Baltic nation, something that looks like is still deeply felt.

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We started our day of exploration at Vilnius Cathedral – one of those places that has borne the brunt of Soviet ire. Stalin had this Catholic cathedral turned into a garage for army vehicles. The three statues on top were torn down and destroyed (replaced by replicas in 1996). It is mainly thanks to the number of paintings inside and the unique neoclassical building style that this building was turned into an art gallery before being fully reinstated as a cathedral.

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When we first arrived there was a mass on (it was Sunday after all) so we had to make a return visit later in the day. It really did feel like an art gallery inside of a church with wealth of paintings on the walls. The real highlight was the baroque chapel of St Casimir. At the time it cost 0.5 millions gold pieces to produce! There are elaborate frescoes and marble work all over the chapel… to this Saint who devoted his (25 years of) life to charity work.

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In the cathedral square itself (which is huge) there is a slab known as a miracle stone. Here you turn 360 degrees and make a wish… but it won’t come true if you tell people the exact location (so hard cheese readers, I want my wish). The stone marks the end of a chain of people 2 million long that stretched from Vilnius to Tallinn via Riga in the late 1980s as an act of Baltic solidarity. Yet another poignant reminder of the recent past.

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After the cathedral we moseyed on up to the Gendimo Tower. It stands on a hill looking overlooking all of the old town and is a great place to snag some pictures. It is also one of those places that you can see from most locations in the Old Town, the Lithuanian flag proudly flying in the cold June breeze. The walk up isn’t too steep, but very cobbly. This is why we opted to pay the 1€ for the funicular railway down. Also, that was fun.

It was lunchtime and instead of opting for something too heavy we sought out some coffee and cake. Unfortunately a lot of people had the same idea, so a lot of places were full. We managed to get a table in Soprano and, yes, I had ice cream for lunch. It was basically a deconstructed banana split and it was gorgeous.

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A brief rainstorm later and we did some more church hopping. The first was the gothic St Anne’s church. The outside is a feels compact and yet imposing with its deep red brickwork. The arrangement of the bricks really make this church stand out – to the point that when I first saw this from the tower I really wanted to find out what this structure was.

The inside of St Anne’s was equally beautiful, just in a very different way. Ornate carvings depicting the stations of the cross and the incredibly detailed altar called to mind the Neumunster church in Luxembourg.

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The final Catholic Church we visited on the day was St Casimir’s, a church dedicated to Lithuania’s patron saint (conveniently located opposite our hotel). It’s massive on the outside with a large crown donning one of the spires. Inside it is a masterpiece of marble. I know I have been to visit enough churches that I should no longer be stunned, but the variety of marbles and the quantity of it that must have been used to construct the columns… well it boggles the mind.

On our old town walk I was able to get my first glimpse at the inside of some Russian Orthodox churches. In all three of them I was presented with the same question: where do worshippers go during a service? As far as I could see there were no seats, meaning that it’s either a standing or a sit on the floor affair.

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Also, the sheer number of pictures (or should I say icons) felt incredibly oppressive; something that is the complete opposite of the lovely outsides. The weirdest thing I saw on this day came in the Russian Orthodox St Nicholas church. For whatever reason they had placed colour changing LED crosses above three of the more prominent icons. It was like visiting that one person on the street who goes a bit too far with their Christmas decorations,

With opera tickets for 7 o’clock we needed to get in an early dinner. I had already clocked the TripAdvisor recommended restaurant Forto Dvaras during our earlier walk so that’s where we headed. Now, seeing how Lithuanians tend not to be clock watchers when it comes to food, but eat when they are hungry (oh wise people of Lithuania) we were presented with a restaurant that had massive fluctuations between 5 and 6:30. It weren’t from packed to nearly empty to people having to be turned away.

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Once at the Forto Dvaras it was actually hard to pick what to have, so I went for another variation of the Zeppelin dumplings. This time they were fried and presented with a sour cream and crackling sauce. I was in heaven. I had a try of the Gypsy Steak meal too, which was a pork steak baked in the oven with pickles and sauces. Have I found my culinary homeland? Only a family tree will prove otherwise!

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksIMG_3361Food item: Baumkuchen

I came to Lithuania with one piece of food to find: and here it is in all its glory. The waitress was kind enough to let us know that one portion was big enough for two… and by gum she was right. It was a lot harder than I expected, having the consistency of a harder and less buttery shortbread. Having watched videos of how this was made (because in the week leading up to this trip to Lithuania I became mildly obsessed with the concept of tree cake) I was definitely not disappointed. Maybe one day I’ll learn how to make this.

Oh and the whole meal came to less than 20€. What is this pricing here!

Progress: 900/933

It was opera time. So we made a flying visit to the famous statues of the three muses outside the national drama theatre before heading straight to the opera house.

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress: 4/501Title: Manon
Composer: Jules Massenet
Nationality: French
Year:
 1884

Manon is actually my second opera, but when I went to see La Traviata it was with school and in English. Therefore, I think it is fair to say that, 10 years later, this was my first real trip to the opera.

For 18€ apiece we had seats in the fourth row of the stalls, slightly left from centre. As in, nearly perfect seats with a complete view. The staggering of the rows helps with this, but we also only had older women in front of us so there was nothing we couldn’t see.

Whilst this opera was in the original French there were subtitles above the stage in both Lithuanian and English. Not Russian, not Polish, but English. Thank you again Vilnius for being so accommodating.

As for the opera itself, well it was 4 hours that just flew by. We were prepared to duck out at an intermission and just head back to the hotel. Nope. Utterly transfixed.

Everything in this production felt world class and like something that would have £100 of shown in the UK. The slightly modern stage production, which at one stage had Manon being lowered whilst clasping a bunch of balloons, worked brilliantly. Some of the more modern costume choices for the background women felt a little jarring at first, but in the world of opera you can get away with a lot before it feels out of place.

Despite being a famous opera of its genre all of the music was new to me. It was a fantastic score though and brought to life by two stunning leads as Manon and Chevalier. The woman playing Manon was particularly fantastic having to go from manic pixie dream girl to desperation in a heartbeat.

Where I liked Swan Lake I loved Manon. I honestly wonder if this trip to the  Vilnius Opera House has started something.

List item: See an opera
Status: Completed

Oscar Bait – Ordinary People

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: COMPLETE

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 463/1007Title: Ordinary People
Director: Robert Redford
Year: 1980
Country: USA

Well won’t you look at that. The final Best Picture winner in the bunch. I probably could have finished this off properly a long time ago… then again this is never really over. It will become a perpetual game of catch-up for the rest of my life. I don’t mind that though as, to paraphrase Anton Ego from Ratatouille, I don’t just like films I LOVE them.

Now, saving Ordinary People for last was not a conscious decision. However, the fact that all I really knew about this film’s reputation was that this is ‘the film that beat Raging Bull’ did not make me want to watch it. The fact of the matter is that I really do not understand the buzz of Raging Bull outside the performance of Robert DeNiro.

Going straight for the Cliff Notes for Ordinary People: this is a film about how a family of three cope after the death of their eldest son and the failed suicide attempt of the younger son. How do they cope in the aftermath of both of these incredibly tragic moments? This description undersells the movie, but that’s the basics of it.

The heart of the film is Conrad, the younger son played by Timothy Hutton in his movie debut. Now, I have to say that Hutton’s performance is easily one of the best I have seen in an Oscar movie. It’s little wonder that he went on to win the Oscar… for supporting actor… which is bullshit as he has more lines than Mary Tyler Moore (who was nominated for leading actress). Then again, he would have probably had NO chance against DeNiro, so that was clever of the studios.

Now, I have never been through something so traumatic as losing a family member in an accident that I survived (thankfully), but I have been to dark places. It might be because of this that I found Ordinary People particularly affecting. Similarly, it was probably the reason that I found myself getting incredibly angry at his cold mother.

Mary Tyler Moore and Donald Sutherland are both exceptional as the parents. It’s criminal that Sutherland did not get the Oscar nomination. It’s interesting to have a film where it is the father who is desperate to connect and the mother who has completely shut out any grief.

Moore gives a more nuanced performance, because that’s what the character requires. Here is a woman who is all artifice and selfishness. She loved her eldest son more as he was the proper all American boy, not the cautious and sensitive son that she decided to turn her back on. The only times where you see her begin to lose herself is when something happens that would affect how she would be perceived by other people e.g. telling a friend that their son is in therapy and what shirt to wear to a funeral.

The interactions between Conrad and his mother are heartbreaking. There are two scenes in particular that got to me:

  1. When taking a family photograph she insists that she takes a photo of Conrad and his father in order to get out of having a photo taken of her with her son.
  2. When Conrad hugs her after her return from a long trip. She is unable to even touch him.

It is the second scene that probably leads to one of the saddest moments in the entire film – a simple and powerful moment where the father realises that the woman he married is not the woman he thought he married. When he asks if she still loves him she says something along the lines of “I feel the same way now as I always have” rather than bringing herself to say “of course I love you” or similar.

In many ways this was a film that was able to do family distress better than Kramer vs. Kramer as it never drifts into sentimentality. Then again, such a court case is what is bound to happen after the conclusion. I would just hope that the father would win.

In the end I think Ordinary People was a film that needed to win after One Flew Over Cuckoo’s Nest tarnished the world of psychiatric medicine. Okay, it isn’t the fix all that it needs to be, but it isn’t all electric shock therapy. Thank you Judd Hirsch for what your empathetic performance has done for removing some stigma of seeking help.

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!

Lost in Japan: Day 12 – Pandas and Sunshine City

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Identity. It’s one of those really interesting things in Japan. Being out in rush hour means you see a sea of black-suited men (with the very occasional dark grey or navy blue) on their way to work. Then you have the cosplayers and members of groups such as the gothic lolitas who strive to look as different from the crowd as possible (within rules).

I got to thinking about this because of a trip to Shibuya.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 53/100 Sight: Shibuya Crossing
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Position: #157

At this huge sprawl-style crossing it becomes easy to see the homogeny in clothing and hair styles versus the lesser number who choose not to. I can imagine at the peak of rush hour that this crossing would be utterly hypnotic to watch. However, neither of us wish to play sardines on the Tokyo subway.Today was also the first time that I saw a mascot. The mascot for Shibuya, in fact, standing with a group advocating child abuse awareness as they posed for a picture with a famous statue of Hachiko.

Also, on the subject of identity, each subway station has its theme music (which explains a lot about a feature of Animal Crossing). They are all over-elaborate too. Some sound quite sweet/magical/welcoming, others (like our nearest stop sounds like it was composed by a baroque musician who has just been lobotomised.

Anyway, more about today.

One of the big things we planned for today was a trip to Ueno Zoo. Why? Not only because I love zoos (and wanted to scrub the memory of Himeji City Zoo from my brain), but because they have pandas. We got into the spirit of things by having panda bread for breakfast!

When we entered the zoo (600¥ each! What a bargain) at about 11 we went straight for the panda enclosure. I may have been so excited at the thought of seeing a panda that I found it hard to nod off last night.

List item: See a panda
Status: Completed

Of course, when we got to see the panda, he was doing what all pandas do best – napping. Impressive actually considering all the noisy children who were standing outside his enclosure.

About this time my friend Rhiannon joined us for time at the zoo. One of those cool coincidences where a friend is on a short term contract where you have chosen to go on honeymoon. We just went around looking at the animals whilst chatting and catching up. It was really nice.

Lunch time at the zoo apparently meant hot dogs with luminous melon soda (a huge gust of wind almost sweeping everything off the table at one point). Strange how the snack food in the zoo resorted to hot dogs, burgers and fried chicken. It was only in the more formal looking restaurants that you found more ‘traditional’ looking food.

Penguins, the reptile house and a repeat visit to the pandas later (where we saw one of them eating bamboo, but by the time we got within photo-taking distance they had already fallen back asleep) and it was the end of our time at the zoo.

Truly, it was a good time at the zoo.


We bid my friend farewell at the subway station and made our way to our final destination of the day: Sunshine City. This is one of the more famous shopping malls in Japan, mostly because it has it’s own aquarium, 60th floor observation tower and a number of theme areas with rides.Now, obviously the Pokémon Center was our first major stop. Hubby would not have had it any other way.

If you are a Pokemon fan, this is an impressive place to be. Cool life-size displays of Pokemon can be found in the store and of course…

… a whole lot of Pokemon merchandise. Plushies, chopsticks, glasses cases, file dividers, instant noodles – there was a who lot of Pikachu to be found. Sadly, there was nothing with either my favourite (Wiggytuff) or hubby’s favourite (Porygon) Pokemon on it. We got ourselves some merchandise, but I do wish that we could have got something with our favourites on.With a bag of Pokemon merchandise in hand, we went into Namjatown – a themed area created by Namco with a number of attraction inside. All of it in Japanese, so for the most part we were completely lost.

Some of the attractions were very accessible to us. There was a cool one where you fire targets by using a ball gun that you operate with a crank. I got so into it that by the end of it my right arm was pretty much a limp noodle and I now have a blister on the inside of my thumb.

Aside from the funfair-style attractions and the gorgeous way that they have decked out the place there is one Huge reason to visit Namjatown.

Ice Cream World. This stall contains 51 flavours from all over Japan form the more normal vanilla to the more unusual such as beef tongue, eel and coal. This was a place that we heard quite a bit about, so we bought 2 trays of 6 20cc tasters. So between us we tried 12 different flavours:

In order (clockwise from top left): Indian curry, Double mango, Tulip, Vanilla and honey, Basil, Benihoppe (Japanese strawberry)

IMG_2822In order (clockwise from top left): Salt, Hyuganatsu (a Japanese citrus fruit), Haskap (a Japanese berry) with white chocolate, Whisky, Grilled aubergine and Rum-Raisin

Aside from the grilled aubergine (which tasted a bit like charcoal) they were all really delicious. I can just imagine serving the basil ice cream on top of some freshly chopped tomatoes or having the curry ice cream whilst sat on a beach somewhere. Being the boring/traditional person I am my favourite flavour was the Imperial vanilla with honey. I do wonder what the beef tongue flavour would have been like though…

Before heading out of Sunshine City we swung by one of the many restaurants to grab dinner. Hubby had been wanting a second round of okonomiyaki after having it in Hiroshima over a week ago, so we found a place that did them. What we didn’t know, is that we would have to cook it ourselves.

Luckily for us the waitress got us started, but I let hubby do the flipping and timing (it’s a pancake and he’s Dutch… do the math) whilst I made it pretty with sauces etc. Together we made a good okonomiyaki team.