Sunday, 27 January 2013

Glee recap/review: Sadie Hawkins

Glee, Actually recap/review

I always dread Glee coming back on screen after a break but this time I really enjoyed its return. Sadie Hawkins was a fun, and funny, episode - it made me smile a lot, even through the ridiculous parts. And surely having fun while watching television is the sign of a successful episode?

There were a lot of crushes in this episode, and I thought they all fit perfectly. Yes, there are couples on Glee who are endgame, but that doesn't mean that if those couples aren't together, the individuals can't be crushing on other people. It's normal, it's healthy, and in the case of Glee, not surprising, since these people spend so much time with each other.

Tina, partially back to her season one feminist self, proposed the school hold a Sadie Hawkins dance, thereby giving the girls the power in McKinley's relationships. Unfortunately for her, her crush rejected her, then accepted her offer, then ran off with a boy, then came back, then spent the rest of the night making moon eyes at the boy he previously ran off with. If this was anyone else, womenkind would be crucifying him, but Tina's crush is Blaine, and we all love him, and we can see why Tina would be crushing on him - he's kind, clever, yes, he has a great arse. Aside from Blaine being gay, Tina should have realised it would never work when their ship name was Blatina, which sort of sounds like a sound people might make when throwing up.

Blaine rejecting Tina's proposal in the locker room in front of New Directions was incredibly awkward, and I watched part of it from behind my hands. But the apology from Tina was lovely, and reminded everyone of Blaine's previous bad experience at a Sadie Hawkins dance. Still, I would have liked Glee to have delved into the impact of the gay bashing on Blaine, rather than gloss over it with Blaine saying he expected to be traumatised by going to another Sadie Hawkins dance, but wasn't. Still, Glee did exactly the same thing with Kurt and prom, so it shouldn't surprise me.

I've been missing Tina this season. She's got a great voice, as demonstrated when she sang I Don't Know How to Love Him, and she's an interesting character. Her relationships with her fellow glee clubbers are always good to watch, whether it's friendship, crushes or love. I wish we saw more of her beyond as a background player. Perhaps then some of her motivations or reactions would seem a little less out there, since we'd know her better.

Tina's apology led to the revelation of Blaine's own unrequited crush - on Sam. Having spent so much time with Sam, Blaine was finding his feelings sort of developing. I say sort of, because a crush doesn't mean a great love affair, and it's clear from the way that Blaine looks at Sam that it's a crush - it's different to the heart eyes he gives Kurt, which are all love. Blaine realised his crush was hopeless for a number of reasons, which doesn't stop him crushing, but also makes it pretty much harmless. And having a crush on Sam isn't unrealistic. Sam and Blaine are best friends, they have similar interests, they spend a lot of time together, Sam makes Blaine laugh - this hasn't come out of nowhere. But I think Blaine's crush is partially down to his feelings of loneliness, and to missing Kurt. He's projecting a little bit on to Sam, since Sam displays so many of the things that Blaine loved about Kurt (humour, easy to talk to, and yes, good looking).

In New York, Kurt was developing a crush on an older NYADA student - Adam. I'm going to just come out and say it: I like Adam, I like that he makes Kurt laugh, I'm happy that Kurt's crushing on him, I think Adam will be a good friend to Kurt, I still think Kurt and Blaine are forever. Bear in mind Kurt is in a new school in a new city, his best friend Rachel is too busy volumising her hair and putting on stacks of eyeliner and mascara, he's broken up with his long-term boyfriend who cheated on him and who he's trying to be friends with again, and his dad has cancer. Why shouldn't Kurt have a crush, and someone have a crush on him, to make him feel good? Why shouldn't Kurt and Adam go on a few dates and become friends? Asking Adam out made Kurt happy, and it made him more confident. How is that a bad thing? Disagree? Come at me fandom, I can take you.

Kurt is trying to find himself, and discovering that college is much like school. He's trying to find a place to be himself, and finds that in Adam and the Apples, an utterly ridiculous college version of a glee club who introduce themselves with a hilarious version of Baby Got Back. Like Kurt, I laughed throughout, and that made me feel good, and laughing also made Kurt feel good. They are funny, and while they may not be in Kurt's life forever, for now they're good for him.

Meanwhile Rachel is running around New York constantly meeting up with Brody. Rachel and Brody used to have an interesting dynamic, with Rachel trying to work out her love life post-Finn, and Brody being a grown up. Now, they've become completely dull. Their ridiculous fight, Rachel's cliched ignored wife routine, the make-up dance, and then Brody saying he would move across town for Rachel - seriously? And then Rachel asking Brody to move in - seriously? Aside from being way too fast, did Rachel not want to ask her housemate if he minded her very new boyfriend moving in? There was a moment earlier in the episode when Rachel was crossing the road, on a no walking sign, where I thought maybe her getting not-so-seriously injured and having her out of Glee for a few episodes would be a good thing. I'm a bitch, I know.

Back at McKinley, the Sadie Hawkins dance was in full swing. The musical highlight this week was Artie, Blaine, Sam, Joe and Ryder singing No Scrubs. This rocked, from the vocals to the dance moves to the attitude they displayed.

I loved seeing Lauren Zizes back. Her mojo was gone for most of the episode, but when it came back, it really came back. I really feel she and Joe could be the new power couple of McKinley if they tried. And it was good to see Coach Bieste back, encouraging the girls to be confident in themselves and to go after what they wanted. And the Too Young to be Bitter club? While I'm glad it's disbanded, I can't help but wanting to be a part of it.

What didn't rock so much was Jake and Marley - they're so dull. And Ryder's crush on Marley is dull as well. I feel like we're just rehashing Rachel-Finn-Quinn ground, but not even half as compelling, and that love triangle was boring at times. It was refreshing, however, to see a nicer side of Kitty during her final scene with Puck, and she became much more interesting because of that. I don't see it lasting long though.

As a final observation, Glee's directing was a bit different this week. There were lots of sequences cutting between scenes of characters in the present and remembering, and scenes cutting between New York and McKinley. It was all a bit dream-like at times, and the episode felt very different to me.

Best moments
So, you'll have noticed I didn't mention Sam's theory about the Warblers cheating at Sectionals, but that's because I was saving it for this bit. I love that Sam is the one who's determined to get New Directions back in the game - surely Finn should be doing this? I loved that he managed to convince Blaine so much (and obviously this is partially to do with Blaine's crush) that it caused Blaine to shout out the cutest "Blam" ever, I loved that Trent was back, and was ready to turn in the Warblers because they'd betrayed all their old values. Go Team Blam!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Recipe: Roasted butternut squash soup

A few days ago I acquired a copy of Mary McCartney's Food, and a combination of the cold weather we've been having and the fact that butternut squash was on offer in my local supermarket made me decide to make her roasted butternut squash and rosemary soup. I knew I didn't have rosemary at home, but I thought what the heck, I'll try it anyway. Only when I got back armed with the butternut squash, I also discovered I didn't have three other key ingredients - celery, carrots and creme fraiche/sour cream. Still, I decided to plow on, and my adaptation turned out to be pretty flipping delicious. Here's my recipe, with notes about McCartney's below.

1. Cut the butternut squash in half, take out the seeds, drizzle with olive oil and put in an oven at 170 degrees C for around 45 minutes. Once done, leave to cool slightly, then scoop out the insides.

2. Finely dice two medium onions and crush a clove of garlic and saute for about five minutes in olive oil. Add the butternut squash you've scooped out, half a tsp of chilli flakes and 800ml of vegetable stock. Simmer for 15 minutes.

3. Add salt and black pepper to taste and take off the heat. Leave to cool, then add two tbsps of Greek yoghurt and blend the mixture until smooth. Reheat to piping and serve.

McCartney's recipe involved laying rosemary sprigs in the hollow part of each squash before roasting, which could be discarded after. She also advised on peeling the skin off the squash and cutting it into pieces after taking it out of the oven, but I found this too fiddly so just went with the scooping method. Her recipe called for sauteing a carrot and two sticks of celery with the onion, and she didn't use garlic. And McCartney's recipe uses two tablespoons of creme fraiche or soured cream where I used Greek yoghurt.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Reading challenge 2013: Into Danger by Kate Adie

First up in my challenge to read 12 non-fiction books in 2013 is Kate Adie's Into Danger.

Adie is a journalist I really admire, and I've previously read The Kindness of Strangers, which is her autobiography.

Into Danger is a little different, in that while it's about things she may have seen during her career, or people she met, it's not about her.

The book could be described as 17 non-fiction short stories, each focusing on a different "dangerous" career, from snake venom collector to armed robber to bodyguard to prostitute.

In some cases Adie provides a lot of narration, using her own experiences and research to help flesh out the careers she is talking about. These are the stronger chapters. Other times, Adie lets those she is interviewing just talk, and their words are printed for pages without any interruption. While compelling, I found these stories slightly less believeable, although, of course, they're all true.

There were a few chapters that really stood out for me. One of Adie's chosen dangerous careers is the diver, and for this chapter she interviewed two people, one of whom - Gie Couwenbergh - helped rescue people from the Herald of Free Enterprise when she capsized off the coast of Zeebrugge in 1987. The story of the Herald is one I know quite well (the first paper I worked for had a sister paper which covered every aspect of the tragedy, as many of those who died were from that area), but Adie's approach showed me a new angle. The chapter was well crafted, with details about the work of divers from the eyes of two people, an exploration of the mental toughness of someone who chooses a career spent underwater, and of course the telling of how a diver can help save lives.

Another story that really stood out for me was that of Brian McCargo, whose career as an Ulster Policeman started on Bloody Sunday. McCargo's story was compelling, but very matter of fact - yes, there were threats on his life and that of his family, but he also felt a sense of service towards the community, and that was why he stayed in policing.

In every interview, printed at the end of each chapter, Adie asked her subjects one last question about their career: "In the name of what?" The answers given for chosen careers vary, and encompass everything from adventure to duty to enjoyment. It's these answers that I find the most interesting parts of the book - after reading about the danger people put themselves in, intentionally and unintentionally, for their work, I was really curious to get to the why.

Adie herself has encountered danger in her career, but she brushes this off right at the beginning, assuring us that while journalists may encounter danger, they "don't necessarily have to face it, deal with it or rid the world of it".

"But who are the people who do?" Adie asks. Adie's mission with Into Danger to find those who do was successful.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Film review: Les Miserables

From its acting to the way it was filmed, from the music to the sets, there was pretty much nothing about Les Miserables that didn't impress me in some way or another.

Any review of Les Miserables could probably go on for thousands of words, as there's so much to say about so many different things, but I'll try not to go on for that long.

I confess, I've never seen the stage musical and I only had a vague inkling of the story of Les Miserables - there was a lot less Cosette and Fantine that I expected, and a lot more going on elsewhere. I think the film was a great introduction, and I'll be trying to get to see the stage version as soon as I can (and have four hours spare).

Of everything, it's the acting that really stands out. There are a lot of talented actors in this film, from the young children to the adults, from the unknowns to the famous names.

Everyone talks about Anne Hathaway, and it's true, she is amazing. I've always been a fan (from way back in her Princess Diaries days), and I think she's proved she can act, and act convincingly.

But I already knew how good she was going to be, from the many, many reviews. What I was surprised by was how good film was Samantha Barks, who plays the adult Eponine, was. Her longing looks towards Marius and her conflict over whether to tell him about Cosette leaving were almost painful to watch, and when she sang On My Own the tears started to gather. And in her final scene with Marius, I felt those tears threaten to spill over. It might not be the main story in the film, but that was what was great - every aspect, every plot, was treated with respect and acted as strongly as the central story.

Also amazing was Daniel Huttlestone, who played Gavroche. If he carries on like this, he'll be a huge name by the time he's an adult.

The strongest of the men, of course, is Hugh Jackman, who is likeable and draws our sympathy and admiration from the moment we meet him, and he never loses it.

But also good was Aaron Tveit, who I only previously know from his role as Trip Van Der Bilt in Gossip Girl (what a different role!), who is brilliant as Enjolras. He could probably have convinced Javert to follow him to the barricades if given the chance.

Apart from On My Own and the wonderful I Dreamed a Dream, most of my favourite songs were the large group numbers (although it's hard to say any of the songs are weak). Red and Black was stirring and really served its purpose as a song to fire up the revolutionaries. Do You Hear the People Sing? was great, and particularly at the end, when I found myself again with tears in my eyes. Master of the House was a fun number and a great contrast to the gloomier aspects of the film. Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen's characters might have been disgusting, but the only tears to be shed while watching them were tears of laughter.

The rebellion, gosh, the rebellion. How could you fail to be on the side of these men, and women, and children? I was on the edge of my seat during every scene featuring the students, and others, and their battle. Director Tom Hooper's decision to show bird's eye views on occasion really worked - seeing Marius and Enjolras and their band of men as the only barricade in the French streets as soldiers closed in on them from all sides sent chills of fear down my spine.

The only down side to the film was that it was a tad long, but still a lot shorter than the stage musical. I don't really know what I would have cut out, since everything shown was a firm part of the story, but I did find myself getting a little restless from time to time.

One of the friends I went to see the film with hated the constant close ups of people's faces, but I actually liked that, and thought the high level of acting was shown through the fact that you could see every twitch, every line. Lesser actors wouldn't have been able to be so convincing with cameras in their faces, but this group were outstanding. Every time the camera honed in on Hathaway's tormented, hollowed face, I felt her pain and believed her Fantine was suffering.

And the live singing was impressive. Sure, it wasn't always perfect, but it was as close as anyone could probably get, and the odd non-perfect note added to the experience.

I loved that the smaller human stories of love and greed were set against the backdrop of a revenge tale lasting decades and aspects of the June Rebellion. The story has so many layers and they all fit in well.

As one last point, and a confession, I kind of found Cosette boring. I understand that she was the trigger for a number of events in the film in one way or another, but as a character she's much less interesting than Eponine say, or Fantine. Marius could also have fallen into the lovesick and boring trap, but luckily is redeemed by his revolutionary status and his interactions with other characters. Poor Amanda Seyfried just doesn't get to do much as Cosette, although she is wonderful in her final scene with Jean Valjean.

Overall, Les Miserables was a great film, evidenced by the way I was still thinking about it and humming the songs the next day. As said earlier, I'll be trying to get to the stage version, and I may even tackle Victor Hugo's original book - although I'll have to put any complaints about time to one side if I do.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Recipe: Spicy prawn and tomato curry

I've never made a prawn curry before, and my first attempt turned out pretty well, thanks to the great recipe I used by Meena Pathak - who with her husband set up the Patak's brand of curry sauces. I used a recipe from Pathak's book Flavours of India, which was published in 2002, but it's got some great recipes in it so well worth buying even though it's more than a decade old. I made a few tiny changes to the recipe, outlined below, but have given Pathak's instructions as well, so you can choose what you want to do.

1. Heat three tbsp of oil in a wok, and add a tsp of cumin seeds. When they start crackling add 200g of chopped onions (roughly three small onions). Cook for 10 minutes, lid off, stirring occasionally.

2. Add a tsp each of fresh crushed garlic and fresh crushed ginger (Pathak recommends using pastes), and fry for a minute.

3. Add 250g of fresh, chopped tomatoes (roughly four good sized tomatoes), and half a tsp each of red chilli powder and turmeric. Cook for 10 minutes, lid on, stirring occasionally.

4. When the oil starts separating from the sauce add 250g of king prawns (Pathak's recipe uses 400g of large prawns, which will make the recipe a little less spicy), and a little salt to taste. I used frozen prawns. Pathak also uses a pinch of sugar, but I don't like using sugar in savoury recipes. Cook for 10 minutes, lid off, stirring occasionally, until the prawns turn pink.

5. Add half a tsp each of crushed red chillis, crushed black peppercorns, crushed fennel seeds and crushed coriander seeds. Pathak uses fennel powder, but I only had seeds handy, so just crushed everything bar the chillis together in a pestle and mortar myself.

6. Cook for about two minutes, and it's ready. If you have it handy, Pathak recommends stirring in some fresh coriander just before taking it off the heat, and sprinkling some on top as well. I served the dish with chapattis and Greek yoghurt.


Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Reading challenge 2013

In 2012 I set myself a challenge of reading and blogging about one book every two weeks.

I managed to read and blog about 24 books instead of the required 26 - although the reviews didn't come every two weeks and there was a flurry of them at the end. Surprisingly, the reading wasn't the hard part, the blogging was. 

It's now time to set myself a challenge for 2013.

I don't read much non-fiction, yet my bookshelf contains many, many non-fiction books I've bought with the intention of immersing myself in them.

So this year, I will try and read 12 non-fiction books. It's a tall order, since among those on my shelf waiting to be read are autobiographies by Bill Clinton and Hilary Clinton - the former's book clocks in at a whopping 957 pages, plus picture pages, acknowledgements and an index. By comparison, Hilary's is JUST 539 pages.

Bill Clinton's autobiography taking up masses up of room on my bookshelf.
So yes, that's my reading challenge for the year. And if you've got any non-fiction books you think I should read, let me know.


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