Monday, July 24, 2006
Tag, I'm it! Compliments of Susan in Italy
Five Things in my Freezer
1. A jar of freshly frozen basil
2. Half a baguette
3. Soft scoop ice-cream
4. Frozen peas
5. Ice cubes of course
Five Things in my Closet
1. 5 pairs of flip flops
2. Tiger - my scraggy old toy that I've had since I was 4
3. A photo album of Australia
4. My massive winter parka that takes up half of the wardrobe
5. Football shirts - Italy/Arsenal
Five Things in my Car
I don't have one, hurrah!
Five Things in my Purse (I think this means handbag - if a purse is a handbag in the US, then what's a purse?)
1. Foldable hairbrush
2. Lip gloss
4. Random bits of useless paper/receipts
5. My purse (Susan has a purse within a purse)
And the Lucky Five .........
1. * (Asterisk) at A Blog about Nowt
2. Hang the DJ at oohisay
3. Martha at Notions on Being
4. Red at Red-Letter Day
5. Spangly Princess at er, Spangly Princess
Friday, July 21, 2006
....and it was the best party I've been to in some time. If you've never heard of Dave Chappelle (as I hadn't) he's one of the funniest and apparently, richest comedians in the US. Dave Chappelle's Bloc Party, directed by Michel Gondry of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, follows the comedian around his home town of Ohio and New York as he organises a free concert in Brooklyn. He invites just about everyone he sees managing to persuade a black college marching band, white people, old people and middle aged women who all find it very difficult to resist his charm. The concert was free and all concert goers were told to meet at a secret location in Chinatown, where they were taken by bus to the concert location in Brooklyn, which was also a secret.
The music is amazing and I think it's a winner even if you don't like hip hop, with performances from Kanye West, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Common, The Roots and Jill Scott amongst others. Hip Hop somehow sounds ten times better when it's live and accompanied by live instruments. The aggressiveness is somehow toned down by the live music.
One of the best moments for me was during a performance by Erykah Badu when her huge afro threatens to blow off in the wind and she rips it off leaving her looking vulnerable and almost a different person in her short cropped hair. It contradicted the image of her as a (sometimes too) serious performer. The highlight however was when The Roots performed 'You Got Me' accompanied by Jill Scott and Erykah Badu, two of the best female voices around.
The film would have done well to finish at that point, as the disappointment for me came with an appearance from a reunion of The Fugees singing together for the first time in seven years. Lauren Hill singing 'Killing me Softly' was indeed heart-rendering, but I just felt that the concert was slightly tarnished by ending with a hugely commercial band.
Overall, it's a perfect mix of visual delight, great music, backstage interviews and brilliant humour. It reminded me of Spike Lee's 'Do the Right Thing' whilst making me want to go to New York there and then. Jamie Bernard from New York Daily News sums it up perfectly: "Once in a great while there's a movie that's so funny, infectious and welcoming - a movie that makes you feel so good about America and the people in it - you just want to climb inside the screen and live there."
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
We arrived back late on Sunday night hungry and tired after visiting my parents in Leicester. The coach was delayed so by the time we got back it was too late to cook anything elaborate so this was the obvious choice; spaghetti, chili and olive oil is something we always have in the house. It's the quickest pasta dish to make, rarely found on a restaurant menu for its simplicity and one of my favourites as pasta is the main ingredient. It's great comfort food, great after a night out, wel,l great anytime really.
The sauce is delicate and complements the spaghetti - I hate it when pasta is served drowned in a sauce. I think this is something that people often don't understand.
Although it's not part of the traditional recipe, I use an onion which works really well and gives extra flavour. The use of Parmesan cheese has sometimes been a bone of contention in our family as I like it, whereas my Italian family say it doesn't go. I can't see why it doesn't, it's not fish is it?
Despite this dishes simplicity, it can be quite easy to get wrong. The pasta should be good quality, preferably De Cecco or Barilla which is my personal favourite as it's the pasta my Nonna always used. It should be served al dente and the garlic shouldn't be burnt or it will give it a bitter taste. The final result is pasta heaven; every spaghetti strand will be coated with delicious flavoured oil. Here's my version:
What you need:
1 x finely sliced onion
1 x finely chopped fresh red chilli (you can also use dried)
2 x finely sliced cloves garlic
Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water. Meanwhile fry the onion and garlic until slightly browned along with the chili in about half a cup of olive oil (I don't know the exact measurement but the oil should be enough to generously coat the spaghetti). Drain the pasta and mix with the sauce. The more you cook this, you'll probably come up with your own modifications depending on your taste.
Friday, July 14, 2006
Today marks the 30th anniversary re-release of director Martin Scorsese's cult classic Taxi Driver. It explores the mentally unstable, lonely, Vietnam war Veteran cab driver Travis Bickle (De Niro) as he becomes obsessed with office worker (Cybill Shepherd) and tries to rescue 12-year old prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster) from her pimp (Harvey Keitel). Foster who had previously worked for Scorsese on Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974), underwent psychological tests to see if she could cope with being in the film. The film is accompanied by a memorable sleazy saxophone score by Bernard Herrmann who also provided the music for Kill Bill Vol 1, Psycho and Vertigo which stays in my mind for days after I've watched it.
Paul Schrader the scriptwriter was interviewed in London recently and talked about how he was 26 and penniless when he wrote the script. "At the time I wrote it, I was in a rather low and bad place," Schrader says. "I had broken with Pauline [Kael], I had broken with my wife, I had broken with the woman I left my wife for, I had broken with the American Film Institute and I was in debt." Amazing how out of such a depressed mind, came something so brilliant, so genius.
The film caused controversy when on March 30 1981, John Hinckley Jr, who had become obsessed with the film and had been stalking Foster, attempted to assassinate US president Ronald Reagan in a bid to impress her. The day Reagan was actually shot, Schrader, Scorsese and De Niro were questioned by the FBI. Schrader admits to lying to them as he had asked his secretary to throw away a letter he had previously received from Hinkley asking if he could meet Foster.
Although the film was nominated for four Academy Awards nominations (without recognition for director Scorsese, screenwriter Paul Schrader, or cinematographer Michael Chapman), Best Picture, Best Actor (Robert De Niro), Best Supporting Actress (Jodie Foster), and Best Original Score (Bernard Herrmann) - all were unrewarded. Even if it didn't impress the judges, it will always be an Oscar winner in my mind.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
As I've mentioned before, we've been having a lot of fish recently as the fishmonger is only a few steps away. Everytime I walk past, I stare through the window and watch the glassy eyes staring back at me as I contemplate which fish to try next. Fish is so summery, it reminds me of Italian holidays where we'd watch my Uncle's brother from the beach as he'd catch grey mullet from the pier and eat his catches that same day, and Thailand where delicious big red snappers were grilled on an open barbecue.
This recipe by Giorgio Locatelli is one of the best fish dishes I've ever had. It's so fragrant with the amazing flavours of bay leaf and lemon accompanied by capers.
I couldn't stand the site of capers until recently, but now I love them. I didn't mind them in salsa tonnata (tuna sauce usually an accompaniment to veal) where they're whizzed up into a sauce and you can't see them, but these little green things on their own made me feel rather queasy. I tried them again recently in a Puttanesca Sauce and now I love them.
I was dying to try sea bass after seeing Gordon Ramsey hold one aloft on The F-Word, declaring it a delicacy, extraordinary, robust and delicate. I wasn't disappointed, it really was all of those things.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
Will Self must have been on drugs when he wrote this brilliantly bizarre collection of short stories. I spent the whole time trying to read this book on the tube with it on my lap or with my hand over the cover so as not to invite strange looks from my fellow commuters.
The cover is taken from a piece of art called Little Death (Castrated) currently at the Tate Modern where a pink dildo, connected to a brain by a white tube, balances precariously on a piece of wood. The book cover has since changed to a more disappointing sober design with a car and a beach. I definitely prefer this one, despite it making for uncomfortable reading.
"Story for Europe", about a two year old toddler from London who speaks only business German, and "Flytopia" about a man that rejects his wife for a group of insects are just a couple of examples of the absurdly hilarious stories in this book.
He goes against all the rules of contemporary writing; his stories are splattered with adverbs, and repetiton. His use of metaphors and imagery are sometimes over the top, but it doesn't matter because it works. He also seems to have a penchant for certain words like 'myriad' and uses different characters called Dave throughout. Absurdly , several of the characters also seem to enjoy lounging around in 'terry-toweling' .
My favourite story is "caring, sharing", set in future New York where adults' emotional needs are met by placid, childlike giants called 'Emotos', although there are not what they seem. The final story "The Nonce Prize", a follow on from the opening story, is a chilling tale about a black crack dealer framed for the murder of a child, the victim of pederasts. The scene where the child is found dismembered, dressed only in a Toy Story T-shirt is both brutal and shocking. If you still have the stomach to carry on reading, the main character's struggle to win a short story prize is moving and at times very funny. The final twist is totally unexpected and will leave you wanting to read more.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
I'm not exaggerating when I say that these burgers are ten times better than the disgusting ones get in a supermarket. Unhealthy and stuffed full of every ingredient other than meat, when you cook them it leaves you and your kitchen stinking like a roadside cafe`. If everyone knew how simple they were to make, I'm sure they would never buy another value burger again.
How to make them:
500 g beef mince
a handful of breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt & Pepper to taste
Mix all the ingredients together with your hands in a bowl and make into flat burger shapes. If the consistency is too wet, add a few more breadcrumbs. The mixture should stick together easily without falling apart. If you don't have a George Foreman grill already, you should definitely get one as they take literally 5 minutes. If you haven't, then grill them under a normal grill. That's all there is to it.
Saturday, July 01, 2006
The Blue-Eyed Salaryman, an engaging account of an Irish man's experiences in a Japanese company has only fuelled my fascination with this strange and intriguing country. Subservise films such as Visitor Q and Ichi The Killer portray the Japanese as a violent, weird and subversive race, but these films only sctratch the surface.
Niall Murtagh spent years travelling around the world, sleeping in parks and travelling from Casablanca to Martinique for four months on a cement yacht. When he got the opportunity to study on a foreign student programme, he went back to Japan and then studied for a phD at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. After that, he went to work for Mistubishi, one of the oldest and most traditional corporations in Japan.
Salaryman is a Japanese term for white-collar worker and is associated with long working hours, low prestige in the corporate hierachy and sometimes even death from overwork. It has obvious negative connotations; one of my Japanese students who is a lawyer recently sneered at the idea of being a salaryman. The female equivalent is an OL (Office Lady).
When Murtagh started work, he was amazed by the huge rule book that he, and every new Mistubishi employee had to read. He learnt amongst other things, that good employees do not walk around with their hands in their pockets and each employee, man or woman, has a 'man-number' which should be worn at all times.
Murtagh who is called 'Murata' by his Japanese colleagues, struggled at first to get used to the bizarre rules when he was told he couldn't cycle to work unless he had a permit and then was reprimanded when he was spotted by a security guard leaving it round the corner of the building. Music marks the end of the working day, with another song marking the beginning of overtime. He was once even told off for sitting in the wrong place on a business lunch as the youngest or lowest in command should always sit nearest to the door.
When a colleague invited him for dinner, it was planned 10 weeks in advance with the following note:
Schedule for Murata-san's visit to my house
Date: 25 April
Meeting Place:Okurayama Station. Please wait at the central exit
If it is fine, we will walk for ten minutes to my house.
If it is raining, I will pick you up in my car.
Visiting time: 5.10 to 8.50
Return to station by 9.00
Catch 9.04 train.
However, they do enjoy themselves once in a while with an afterwork konpa where they apparently get absolutely sloshed, let off steam and talk about things they wouldn't normally dream of talking about at work. "You can say almost anything at a konpa because all will be forgotten the next morning".
My Japanese student always greets me with a stern "Hello (insert name here)" and a 'let's get down to business' attitude, but halfway through the lesson when he feels more relaxed, he opens up and starts talking animatedly about other things, usually football. I'm fascinated by this behaviour and find it endearing. It's almost English in a way, but a bit more exaggerated in the way that we can't seem to be honest without a few drinks down our necks.
Murtagh had only intended to work for Mistubishi for a short period but eventually he married a Japanese girl and ended up staying and working as a salaryman for 14 years. I'd love to visit Japan one day and spend months travelling around, although it'd be a real culture shock and would take me a while to get used to their ways. Bowing to people and not being able to blow my nose in public might be a bit strange, but I could certainly get used to slurping my noodles very loudly.