Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Weasel Returns to the Wood

I've had a bit of a shock this morning. I turned on my computer and as usual, looked through my favourite blogs. It's always the first thing I do. To my surprise, Wrinkled Weasel has decided that due to lack of comments he has finished blogging for good. As his entry was written at 11.44pm, I'm hoping he'd had a few too many whiskys and will change his mind.

I am really disappointed. I enjoyed reading his posts which are funny, witty, on occasions even serious, but they always made me smile. And that's the whole point surely? I know that there are only a few of us that read it and comment but we certainly were not doing it out of charity, we were doing it because we liked his posts.
On the other hand, I do understand his point about comments making us feel wanted. Wrinkled Weasel was one of the first people to comment on my blog when I first started out and it gave me encouragement and made me feel that someone out there was reading me.

Serious stuff aside, the real reason why I'm so disappointed is that I still haven't received the album 'Cheesy Continental Hits' as I was the winner of the crisp competition back in April. However, due to WW making inappropriate comments about my undergarments, I declined the prize and so it went to somebody else. After it all blew over and we made friends again, WW promised me I could still have it. I'm still waiting.

Blogging isn't always necessarily about gaining readership however, it's about expressing yourself, your opinions, your thoughts. Weasel, if you're reading this, I urge you to come back. You will be missed.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Good Karma?

I wore my Italy shirt for the first time in the tournament yesterday and I was scared I'd brought them bad luck. As the end of the game neared, I really thought I'd jinxed them until Grosso won a penalty and I breathed a sigh of relief.

I love this shirt. It's by far the classiest design and it's the one the Azzurri wore in the world cup in 2002 when they lost unfairly to South Korea, then coached by Guus Hiddink.

Guus Hiddink is now the coach of Australia and according to him, "If you see the replay, there is no doubt (Grosso's fall) wasn't a penalty." Really?

Remember this?

What goes around, comes around.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Recipe of the Week # 5
Asparagus and Courgette Frittata

That's asparagus and zucchini to our American friends.
I've decided that we should eat vegetarian at least once a week as we eat far too much meat. It's not that I think meat is bad in any way, I just don't think it's necessary to have it every day. There are loads of delicious vegetarian things, once of my favourites being parmiggiana which I'll probably write about soon. We've also been eating a lot more fish recently as we can get great fresh squid amongst other fish from our local fishmonger. Mike beat me to the recipe of the week with a Brazilian Moqueca - a delicious fish stew, so this recipe of the week limps in at second place.

This frittata is great as it's so versatile. Sometimes I put mushrooms in, red peppers or spinach and if you fancy a bit of meat, bacon is great too.

Serves 2
What you need:

5 Eggs
1 Onion
1 Medium potato cut into small cubes
7 Asparagus
1 Courgette
Olive oil

Cook the asparagus in boiling water and set aside to cool. In the meantime, gently fry the onions in olive oil then add the potato and courgette and fry until soft. In a bowl, whisk the eggs, salt and pepper and add a good handful of parmesan. Chop the asparagus into small pieces and add to the pan. Add the egg mixture and cook on a medium heat for a about 10 minutes. Add some more parmesan to the top and put the pan under the grill until slightly browned on top. Serve with a green salad.
"Just call me Dylan. Mister Dog sounds pretty stupid."

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat and peered sheepishly over the pages to find what seemed like hundreds of pairs of eyes staring in my direction. A grown woman reading a comic? Had I have been in Italy of course, nobody would've batted an eyelid as I was reading Dylan Dog, one of the most popular comics in Italy.

Created by author and journalist
Tiziano Sclavi, the comic made its debut in October 1986 with ' L'alba dei morti viventi' (Dawn of the Living Dead). The stories are intelligent and funny, appealing to both adults and children. A cross between Magnum P.I. and the X-files, Dylan Dog is an 'investigator of nightmares' taking on cases of the inexplicable and paranormal, often having to deal with serial killers, werewolves, vampires, zombies and even pink killer bunnies. The first artist to work on him was Claudio Villa basing his looks on actor Rupert Everett and his name comes from Sclavi's passion for Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

Dylan is a teetotal ex-cop and ladies man who always makes time for a romance during an investigation. He drives a Beetle, plays the clarinet and makes model ships at 7 Craven Road, London (homage to director Wes Craven) where he lives with his assistant Groucho. Dylan suffers from Claustrophobia, and vertigo and is afraid of flying. In every series, he wears the same red shirt, black jacket and blue jeans which he bought several sets of after his wife died.

Groucho was once a Groucho Marx impersonator and his character became his own personality. He makes the tea, reminds his boss when their finances are bad and always annoys Dylan (and his clients) with his bad jokes.

Another character who makes a regular appearance is Inspector Bloch, Dylan's boss when he worked for Scotland Yard. Bloch is like a Father figure to Dylan. They often work together on cases but Bloch being more rational than Dylan, often disregards his supernatural explanations.

Free Image Hosting

My favourite issue is called Johnny Freak about a boy found abandoned with his limbs and organs missing. Dylan befriends the boy who is mute and can only communicate through drawings to try and solve the mystery. A story of absolute horror unfolds as Dylan discovers the truth. It's a really sad story, touching in many ways and I can read it over and over again.

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In 1999, Dark Horse comics gave North Americans a rare treat by teaming up with Italian publisher Sergio Bonelli to translate and publish six issues of Dylan Dog (along with other titles Martin Mystere and Nathan Never, also popular in Italy.

"Dawn of the Living Dead" (No. 1, March 1999)
"Johnny Freak" (No. 2, April 1999)
"Memories From the Invisible World" (No. 3, May 1999)
"The Return of the Monster" (No. 4, June 1999)
"Morgana" (No. 5, July 1999)
"After Midnight" (No. 6, August 1999)

They're not the best as Groucho became 'Felix' and lost his moustache - they did this to make him look less like Groucho Marx; a shame, as that was part of his appeal. But it does give English speakers the opportunity to get lost in Dylan Dog's surreal world where policeman are still called bobbies. They're apparently really hard to get hold of, but if you can, give them a try. You won't regret it.

Free Image Hosting Thanks to The Thrilling Detective for info on UK issues.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Recipe of the Week # 4

Tandoori-style chicken with vegetable pullao rice

This dish is traditionally cooked in a tandoor (clay oven) popular in northern India and Pakistan. In case you haven't got around to installing one yet, the oven will do. I used this recipe from Madhur Jaffrey, the Delia Smith of Indian cooking. I really like her and find her comforting - she reminds me of my Mum. Sometimes you'll find tandoori chicken has a bright red colour which often comes from artificial food colouring. The chicken is marinated in yogurt and various spices. This recipe tells you to marinate it for 8 - 24 hours but a couple of hours is fine if you haven't got the time. It's so simple to make and perfect if you've got some chicken in the fridge and fancy something a bit different.
We've been cooking a lot more Indian food lately and it's surprisingly not as complicated as people think. Once you have all the spices in stock, it's fairly straight forward.

The pullao rice I made to accompany it is traditionally from Northern India and can also be spelt pulao, pilaf or pillaf. The great thing about this rice is you can use any vegetables you want.

Potato and Mushroom Pullao

One cup of basmati rice
Groundnut oil
1/2 tsp brown mustard seed
1 medium finely chopped potato
7 medium finely chopped mushrooms
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp very finely grated fresh root ginger
1/2 pint water

Heat the oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. As soon as they begin to pop add the onion and fry until translucent, then add the potato, mushrooms, turmeric, garam masala and ginger and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the rice and the salt. Cook the rice, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the water and bring to the boil. Cover the pan with a lid then turn the heat to very low and cook for 25 minutes.

Serve with the tandoori chicken and naan bread.

Monday, June 12, 2006

An Impossible Dream

I've come across this Visited Countries Map on various blogs, a great idea and amazing to see how little I've travelled (when I thought I'd travelled a lot). Ask most people what they would do if they won the lottery, the typical answer would usually be: buy a big house with a gym and pool, buy a new car etc. How boring is that? I can't think of anything better than leaving it all behind to travel the world. I'd love to be able to visit every country in the world before I die but, alas, I guess that's an impossibility unless I win the lottery tomorrow. I love visiting new countries. I can't think of anything more exciting than seeing new places, sampling new food and discovering new cultures.

Here are the countries I've visited:

Italy, France, Monaco, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Croatia, Slovenia, Poland,Thailand, Australia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Oman, The Vatican (the smallest independent state) and San Marino (the world's second smallest republic). Sixteen countries sounds pretty impressive I must admit, but it amounts to a mere tiny 6% of the world. I won't bore you with the details of every country so I'm going to outline a few trips which really stand out for me:

First trip abroad - Lyon, France
My first trip abroad was actually Italy but at 6 months old I was too young to remember so we'll turn to France's capital of gastronomy where I spent two weeks whilst studying for my A-Level. It was my first time away from my family for a long period and was a fantastic experience (apart from the distinct lack of hygiene from my host family). I worked as a waitress in a Pizzeria for a week which was superb and I'll never forget the chef's Creme Caramel which was to die for. I also experienced my first taste of Kronenbourg - I drank a mini keg on the ferry on the way home and remember feeling distinctly queasy.
By the time I came back I was fluent. Now I've forgotten most of it but can still remember the odd useful phrase like 'Quel pu!' and 'Ou est le sapone?'.

My favourite city - Siena, Italy
I was here on my ERASMUS year abroad for a year with my mate Toni. Two British students with a big appetite for drinking and socialising in the most beautiful city in the world - perfect! I think we attended about two lectures while we were there - most of the time the classrooms were spilling out into the corridors so we couldn't even get in - and all we had to do was a dissitation at the end about our experiences. We made loads of friends - Italians and English, and sampled all the bars, pizzerias and generally anywhere you could socialise. We went back in August for the famous Palio di Siena, the bareback horse race around the piazza which is probably one of the most amazing spectacles in Europe. Siena is even more special to me as my boyfriend Mike was also at the Palio at the same time, and this was before we even knew each other.

Country I most want to return to - Thailand
Maybe it was the culture shock with it being my first visit to a country outside of Europe, but the impact of the heat and humidity when I first went out of the air conditioned airport and the smell of Bangkok is something I'll never forget. I visited the temples of Bangkok, travelled north on the train and saw the bridge on the river Kwai, took a boat to a couple of the islands where I got my divers license. The sea was the most inviting blue I've ever seen, the vegetation luscious and green and in every city, the food was amazing.

Most special holiday - Poland
We went to Krakow and Warsaw for five days and was our first holiday together. Both cities are lovely in different ways. We spent our days walking around, exploring, visiting places including the Salt Mines of Krakow and always began our evenings the same way with a shot of Zubrowka before heading out for dinner to sample some hearty Polish food. Our trip is also memorable as we were there when the Pope died and witnessed a whole nation in mourning.

By the beginning of next year I'll be able to add Portugal to the list (as we are going in September) and hopefully Germany (with a trip to Berlin around Christmas time). Other countries I really want to visit are Japan and Brazil so I'd better start saving.

create your own visited countries map

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Recipe of the Week # 3

Lamb Koftas with tabbouleh and tzatziki dip

The first time we had these koftas they were so good, we've had them almost every week since. They are a kind of meatball mixed with various spices, popular in Turkey and the middle east.
The word 'kofta' is derived from the Persian "koffteh", which means 'pounded meat' and can be found in various shapes and forms depending on the country. This combination of
middle eastern and mediterranean flavours makes for a perfect summer dinner.

Lamb koftas
500 g lamb mince
4 x wooden skewers
1/2 white onion
1 x tablespoon curry powder
1 x tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon chili powder

Soak the skewers in cold water to prevent them from burning under the grill. Finely chop the onion and mix with the mince and spices. Shape them into cylinders and put the skewers through the centre. Grill them for about 15 minutes turning frequently.

1/4 packet bulgar wheat
1/4 red onion
1/4 cucumber
4 x cherry tomatoes
4 x sun dried tomatoes
1/2 lemon
Fresh mint
Fresh coriander
Olive oil

Soak the tabbouleh in boiling water for about 10 minutes or until soft and wait until cool. Chop the red onion, cucumber, tomatoes and sundried tomatoes and add to the bulgar wheat. Add the chopped herbs, olive oil and some oil from the sun dried tomatoes, salt and then mix it all together. Put it in the fridge to cool.

200g tub greek/natural yogurt
1/4 cucumber
1 x clove garlic
1/4 lemon
Fresh mint

Peel and grate the cucumber, finely chop the garlic and the mint
and mix with the yogurt. Finally add the lemon juice and a bit of salt.

Serve it all with warm pitta or Turkish bread, a green salad and
or course, a glass of red wine.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A.C.T has just finished reading.....

My first crack at a Haruki Murakami novel was the precursor to this one called A wild sheep chase. I'd barely finished reading it when I felt totally compelled to read the next one. I don't think I've ever thought about a book so much after I've finished reading one.
The story is about a nameless character who goes in search of an ex-girlfriend 'Kiki' who vanishes without a trace. Along the way he is drawn to the mysterious Dolphin Hotel and encounters various strange and interesting characters; the sheep man, a one armed poet, a depressed 13 year old girl with psychic powers and a prostitute who is murdered. Set in Japan, it's got all the elements of a perfect novel. It's funny, touching and imaginative. The images are so vivid you want to touch them and the characters are so likeable you want to know them.

I was almost tempted to pick up another of his novels after reading this one but I loved the story so much I didn't want it to be tainted by something too similar. I don't think there's any chance of that happening with Chuck Palahniuk's Choke about a sex addict who pretends to choke on food in restaurants to get money. It certainly won't be pleasant, but those vivid images of Tokyo won't go away that easily.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Recipe of the week # 2 - An offally good ragu bolognese sauce

Sorry for the terrible pun, but I just couldn't resist. This gem of a recipe from Delia Smith is one of my favourite things to cook. It is time consuming as it takes quite a while to prepare and it needs to be cooked for about 3 hours but it's worth every minute. The secret of this recipe is chicken livers which gives it a perfect velvety texture and cooking it for a long time intensifies the flavours. I always add extra vegetables such as carrot and celery, and sometimes I add mushrooms or red peppers. Once I've added all the ingredients, just before putting it in the oven, I give it a quick whizz in the food processor to make it a smoother consistency. Serve it with spaghetti al dente, some crusty bread, lots of parmesan and of course, a glass of red wine. I made extra and saved some of the sauce to make a lasagne the following day.

Friday, June 02, 2006

My Favourite Most Embarrassing /Crap Films

Here is a list of my ten favourite crap/embarrassing films. Some of them have been slated by reviewers, at times the acting is so bad it makes you cringe and in some cases the dialogue so cheesy you need a cracker to go with it, but I love 'em all the same. I'm really proud of our film collection at home which is full of stylish films, art-house films, Japanese horror films, gangster classics and war epics but everybody secretly loves and needs an embarrassing crap film or two in their collection. These films all mean something to me, mainly because I first saw them when I was young and watching them now makes me smile. Sharon Stone appears in three of them funnily enough. I think she's so underrated and we need to see a lot more of her, especially after her superb performance in Casino. Here they are in no particular order:

* The Specialist (1994) - Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone star in this silly film with a dumb plot. A high action thriller with lots of explosions and over the top 'baddie' performances from the like of James Woods.
Most memorable scene - The Stone and Stallone nude shower scene with Stallone's ridiculously pumped up biceps has got to be the most un-sexy scene of all time, but very amusing.

* Point Break (1991) - Littered with mistakes and factual errors with a cheesy dialogue to boot. I love this film - I used to watch it over and over again whilst fantasising about Keanu Reeves in a wetsuit and wanting to be a surfer chick.
Cheesiest lines - Johhny Utah: Surfin's the source man...swear to God Ben Harp: You're a real blue flame special, aren't you, son? Young, dumb and full of come, I know. What I don't know is how you got assigned here. Guess we must just have ourselves an asshole shortage, huh?

* Breakin' a.k.a Breakdance (1984) This is one of my favourite films of all time. Jazz dancer Kelly meets street dancers Turbo and Ozone and together they enter a dance competition to show the world that breakdancing is just as groundbreaking as anything else . Along the way they impressive the street crowds with their amazing breakdancing moves accompanied by an amazing 80's hip hop soundtrack. The acting is at times wooden as the cast were all dancers and not actors, but as a result the dance scenes are fantastic. It even featured on this site
Useless Trivia - In the first dance scene, Jean-Claude Van Damme makes his first ever on-screen appearance as a man in the crowd clapping to the music.
Most memorable scene - Dance scene where a kid on crutches busts some amazing moves surrounded by a cheering and clapping street crowd.

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* Dirty Dancing (1987) - This is a film which I could watch over and over again, and I did when I was a teenager. Set in a family camp in the summer of 1963, Baby falls in love with dance teacher Johnny Castle played by Patrick Swayze and he teaches her how to dance.
Cheesiest line - Nobody puts baby in a corner.
Useless Trivia - A few of the scenes were improvised - in the scene where Johnny and Baby are practicing dancing and she keeps laughing when he runs his arm down hers, it was not part of the scene, she was actually laughing and his frustration was genuine.

* Basic Instinct (1992) It's been described as sleazy, amoral and worryingly entertaining which is probably what it is. Cop Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) becomes involved with suspect Catherine Trammell (Sharon Stone) which later to obsession with a bit of murder, bondage-style sex and drugs along the way.
Most memorable scene - Probably one of the most famous scenes in cinema history where Sharon Stone reveals all by uncrossing her legs seductively to a room full of police officers.

* Footloose (1984) - Kevin Bacon plays rebellious city boy Ren in a Protestant backwater town where rock music and dancing is banned. Sarah Jessica Parker also makes one of her first appearances. It's a totally absurd storyline but the choreography and music are great.
Most memorable scene - Ren has a game of "Chicken" with the tough guy boyfriend of his love interest Ariel (Lori Singer). They drive tractors at each other and Ren wins.

* Sliver (1993) - Voyeurism is the order of the day in this glossy sex-thriller starting Sharon Stone and William Baldwin. Based on the novel by Ira Levin (the author of Rosemary's baby), the acting is ordinary and I can't put my finger on why I like it. The last time I saw it was about 7 years ago and I liked it but I may have been drunk.
Useless trivia - The producer of the film initially wanted Roman Polanski to direct the film. Since Polanski can't return to the United States, they planned on having a second unit director shoot some footage of New York, whilst Polanski would direct the film in Paris.

* K-9 (1989) - Detective Tom Dooley (James Belushi) enlists the help of a police dog to catch a criminal. It's a typical 80s cop v drug baron movie aimed at kids with loads of dog disobedience jokes (good if you're a kid and you like dogs). The scene where Jerry Lee (the dog) nearly dies had me in floods of tears whenever I watched it.
Most memorable scene - Jerry Lee pretends to be dead whilst Dooley sits by his bedside talking about how much he'll miss him etc. Whenever he looks away, Jerry Lee opens one eye and closes it again when he looks backs. Er I was a kid remember.

* Carry On Behind (1975) No film list is complete without a Carry On film. It scored 3.4 out of 10 on the IMDB site - I've never seen a film score so low. But who cares, I love it. It's jam packed with the usual smutty jokes for which the Carry On series is famous. It was a tough decision to make as I love most of the Carry On series but Professors Vrooshka and Crump just tipped the scale.
Most memorable scene - The film comes to a climax with a sinking caravan site, a striptease accidentally booked instead of a cabaret with freshly painted chairs that cause mayhem - all this accompanied by constant innuendos - an absolute classic.