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The TV Week That Was #4

19 Sep

It’s been a week of gorging. Gorging. Hmm, that’s not really a nice word is it? I have to say that I don’t watch a great deal of food programmes (er, other than my secret shame of Come Dine With Me (C4), which thankfully is frequently watched by a whole wealth of other people I know) so I was surprised when I actually sat down to watch three, yes, three whole foodie programmes this week. By choice. You heard me.

First on the menu was Jamie’s American Food Revolution (C4) which, I’m told, won an Emmy. I think this may be because Jamie Oliver cried real tears at the end of this first episode.

He comes across mountains of food in Huntington, West Virginia, officially America’s unhealthiest town – he proudly announces live on radio that it was mesured by the government using a death scale, not a fat scale. Actually, you feel a bit sorry for Jamie. He meets a lot of people who don’t care about his message of healthy eating (this isn’t celery sticks either, this is proper spaghetti bolognese made from fresh) and are downright rude to the poor guy. The local radio presenter says he shouldn’t go around telling people what to do, the dinnerladies at the biggest elementary school are unsympathetic and don’t care that they’re feeding the kids crap and he’s swimming against a barrage of fast food that could clog even the fittest person’s arteries.

It’s all a bit grim actually. Having never tuned in willing to any of Oliver’s programmes before this I didn’t know what to expect but he’s actually a likable chap on a worthwhile mission. He’s even got time to slip in the odd witticism here and there too (“I thought we only had miserable b******s like that in Britain”) so even though it has the distinct air of a semi-cheap US documentary, it’s well worth having a peek at. Next Monday: the kids think a tomato is a potato. Oh dear.

Time for a bleedin’ massive portion of beef wellington and a heck-load of veg. It’s only Ramsay’s Best Restaurant (C4). The premise is simple, take Gordon Ramsay and get him to judge what he thinks is the best restaurant out of a series of categories, analysing both the food and the service.

This week, it’s the turn of the Italian restaurants. Ramsay cruelly buses in thirty guests to each of the two competing restaurants and expects them to able to cope with such a barrage of customers all at once. This was actually a battle of tried-and-tested cuisine (where the service was pretty rubbish) and an avante-garde take on Italian food (where the service was in the “don’t you pick on my boys” style – the chefs were brothers, the waiter and waitress the mum and dad – and the trout was undercooked in a water bath). Ramsay then did the whole thing again with secret diners, then put the chefs to the test with venison. Because Ramsay didn’t feature much at all, I luckily didn’t have to cope too much with his foul mouth and over-active way of talking (he goes on his toes a lot, waves his hands around and raises his eyebrows too much. Notice that?). What was worse was when the final decision came. Watching the previous fifty minutes was pointless, since Ramsay didn’t just summarise the events, he went over them in great detail again. It was worse than those “dramatic” pauses. I think my beef weelington’s a bit dodgy.

Finally, a sickly sweet addition to proceedings. Thank god it’s not a pavlova. Instead it’s a very airy chocolate mousse…

FOOD (C4, again) is a magazine show dedicated to everything you ever wanted to know about your favourite foods, and the parts you didn’t want to know at all. So in this first episode, we witnessed meat rotting, the content of fruit juices (some were more than a small pastry!), if anyone can tell the difference between butter and marg, the reason why we should eat more langoustines and we tracked the journey of green beans from Africa to the supermarket. Oh, and we learned the difference between premium and basic potatoes (other than a bit of easily washed off dirt, there is none) and saw that pigs’ cheeks can be turned into a nice ragu. Phew! That’s a lot for just 40 mintes worth of programming! But it’s all very lovely stuff, and the quickfire nature of the show means that it doesn’t feel preachy/heavy/tedious. It’s all fluffy with quick camera shots and neon title sequences. If you don’t like one thing, there’s something more interesting round the corner. But is it just me or did Anna Richardson not do anything, despite being listed as a presenter? Curious….

Two last things of note (the cheese-board, if you will). First, The Inbetweeners (E4) returned for a third series, and it’s just as hilariously cheeky as ever. The geeky, forever unpopular foursome were embroiled in the sexual politics of the school fashion show, where it turned out the boy they were raising money for turned out to be a complete jerk, even if he was in wheelchair. Simon ended up in an incredibly embarassing scenario while Neil narrowly avoided being molested by the perviest teacher in the school. Jay caught an ear infection from an earring, which he’d got because he thought it’d give him a good chance of being in the show and Will becomes a hypocrite after an old flame asks him to model with her. It was all silly fun, simply because the four lads remind you exactly of boys you knew at school. If they don’t, then you were either lucky or went to private school.

Grand Designs (C4) returned for a new series too, and Kevin McCloud continues to be initially baffled by the “scale of the project” before being bowled over by the end result. His usual, predictable statements are all there, but that’s not why we watch it, really. It’s just an excuse to gawp at what people want to live in, and then feel weirdly sad that we don’t have houses like that. Curse those people!

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Eat. Pray. Love. Buy. Now!

26 Aug

Okay so people must remember a time when movie merchanidising was squarely aimed at kids: when I was younger it seemed that the film-related merch was all tacky little dolls, t-shirts with strange slogans and catchphrases on them and a whole load of other twiddly, cheap crap that they’d sell in the cinema (because at the time my local cinema had a merch section. It’s now a pick’n’mix section).

Now it’s not so simple. It’s also covering a whole range of the financial spectrum. You must know what this is a still from:

If you don’t then you’ve clearly been living under a rock for the past few months. It’s Javier Bardem and Julia Roberts in the adaptation of “Eat Pray Love” which was released in the US just recently. Basically, a woman leaves her husband and goes on a journey of self-discovery, doing those three things that the title would suggest. But aside from that all-important ticket to get in to actually see the movie, there’s a whole load of merchandising that’s been tacked on alongside it.

I was first exposed to this merch while waching “The Daily Show”, where, on it’s “Back In Black” section we were given a whole load of products from those home-buying networks to look at and, yes, maybe even laugh at. Some of this crazy crap includes: prayer beads, necklaces, t-shirts, make-a-wish bracelets, fragrances, special travel packages, more t-shirts, more jewellery aaaaand special tea. So there’s no denying that these products perhaps have some kind of tie-in with the movie but do we really need to be going around wearing bracelets and necklaces that have the words “Eat. Pray. Love” stamped on them?

Of course, this is actually a bit of an epidemic in terms of merch. When “Sex In The City 2” came out we were bombarded by promotions, not least from Muller and other yoghurt companies who plastered the branding all over their 8-packs. Then there was “Alice In Wonderland” which resulted in many kids in my town carrying bags and other such obvious merch around with them (although my suspicion about this surrounds “The Nightmare Before Christmas” which hasn’t stoped producing tween-goths since it tooks its first steps in the merch world. “Alice” has taken eerily similar steps).

I suppose it means that Hollywood could be taking their older female audiences a little more seriously: market research shows that the biggest cinema-goers are between the ages of 16-25 yet we’re given merch for a film that’s clearly aimed at a much more specific audience, perhas indicating that people think promoters think they’re a market that needs to be catered for. On the other hand, I don’t think we need all of this stuff on sale. It would be better to buy something without the labelling on it so it would last longer and not fade into obscurity a few months later when the film finishes its run.

Birmingham: The Booty

25 Aug

Those of you who follow my Twitter will know, or maybe have guessed, that I’ve been away for a few days meaning that I’ve had to just set away my posts on timer rather than actually giving my blog some proper TLC. One trip to Birmingham, UK, and £68 later, this is what I ended up bringing home:

  1. Peacock-embroidered purse from Urban Outfitters: I really badly needed a new purse to hold all of my stuff in so when I saw this in UB I was incredibly pleased. This was the single most expensive item I bought on the trip. But it was worth it
  2. “Head First” by Goldfrapp and Them Crooked Vultures: As a lifelong fan of Goldfrapp I jumped at the oportunity to get this at a marked-down price, and seeing Them Crooked Vultures on the same offer sealed the deal. Expect reviews soon!
  3. Miniature Japanese dolls: These are so kitsch, but I’ve loved these little dollies for a long time. The store was having a 20% off moving sale as well, so it must have been fate. I’ve called the larger, green one Shinto and the smaller, yellow one Kabuki. I know, I’m sad. But who cares? These are so much better than Russian dolls
  4. “In The Miso Soup” by Ryu Murakami: Well I first saw this book for cheaper than I paid for it a few weeks ago and was attracted by the mix of manga and photography on the cover. So I judged a book by it’s cover. Who cares? It’s a dark neo-noir tale of suspense, murder and claustrophobia in the seediest areas of Tokyo. And it’s great.
  5. Verbena hand-cream from L’Occitane: L’Occitane are soooo expensive but this was a relative bargain. I love anything lemon-zesty and it gave me an excuse to buy from one of the poshest beauty stores around. Joy!
  6. Ruffled polka-dot shirt and long cream jumper, both H&M: Actually the jumper wasn’t the one I really wanted, but that one was far too large. But I still love this warming jumper that’s got me set for the autumn. Oh and I loved the shirt. I’ve thrown all my other shirts out, so I guess this fills the void.

Well that’s it. I could have bought an awful lot more if I’d wanted to but… I’m just not that much of a spendaholic. Besides, it gives me more money to spend on CDs and DVDs back home. Yay!

Simon’s Cat Redux

4 Aug

Simon’s Cat was a topic I featured on my old blog a couple of years ago because I loved it so much. I have no idea why, but the other day I wondered if any more of the lovingly crafted, warm and funny animations had been added to YouTube and there were more, to my delight. The idea behind them is really straightforward: it’s about a mischievous cat who terrorises his owner by making increasingly zany attempts to get his attention and, ultimately, get fed.

This one is my favourite from the older animations, “Let Me In”. This should show anyone why you should always have a catflap:

This is one of the less-watched animations, called “Fly Guy”. It’s also one of the longer films, but is very fun. I like it when Simon’s Cat hides under the newspaper. And I had no idea that cats really did tear curtains up. I thought that was an urban legend:

Well hope you enjoyed those. Again, this isn’t a very new idea at all but it always brings a smile to my face!

Familiar Diet Tips…

15 Jul

I think everyone must go through a fat phase, and at that precise moment everyone will want to lose their fair share of the flab. But then you can get bombarded with messages about what is the best and most effective way to shed the pounds and keep them off.

Well the US Department of Agriculture has developed a plan to help us lose weight and profit from our sugar addictions at the same time. How, you ask? With five simple steps:

  1. Substitute tea and water for sweetened drinks
  2. Eat breakfast and include protein
  3. Read nutritional values on packaging
  4. Eat out less and plan ahead
  5. Stay physically active

Woo! Er, no, actually there’s only one of these diet tips that I’ve never heard before anywhere else… that’s the first one, which happens to be the one that helps the US profit from our sweet tooth. But then in a way this is also kind of obvious. You’ll get more energy from a smaller amount of sugary drink than you will from water, which has barely anything in there anyway (er, apart from H2 and O).

Isn’t it about time someone came up with a plan that wasn’t the extreme of “eat nothing but broccoli milkshakes” and the monotony of the usual government campaigns? Come on people, we need to focus and put some energy into thinking of a new fat-busting plan!

What’s Wrong With Shopping There?

1 Jun

I shop at Aldi and Netto. I don’t shop there exclusively, I shop in a larger variety of places than that but it seems that if I admitted to shopping at Aldi and Netto, I could well be looked down on.


That dog with the shopping basket isn’t fooling anyone – or so it thinks. People just have this stigma against shopping at Aldi and Netto. I’m not sure if it’s because one’s German and the other is Swedish, but what’s wrong with that? Both are very efficient countries so surely their approach to supermarket shopping should be better than elsewhere?

Oh and there’s the food which is the whole point of why we go there. You can get some great things: I’ve discovered delicious vanilla whirls at Netto recently which taste just as good as the homemade version (ahem, well, maybe not as good as mine… but still lovely) and there’s a whole variety of under-the-radar but scrumptious brands at Aldi: their sweet chili and red pepper crisps are amazing and what exactly is the difference between a Rocky and a Wacko? Er, none, other than the name. They’re both chocolate covered biscuits, so who really cares if one sounds a bit daft and comes from a “cheap” store?

I think I’ve nailed the problem, and as with everything this can be proved with a carefully assembled chart:

Okay, okay, the chart only actually took me about two minutes to make but the message is clear: we think some places are posher than others. Of course, if you go to a completely independent butcher or grocery store where the animal was butchered in the back room and the cows milked just next door then you’re at the top of the foodie pile. And then there’s a series of grades involving different supermarkets with the poshest of the posh, in my opinion, being Waitrose (it’s so posh that there isn’t one within a hundred miles of one. Seriously, I’ve never seen a Waitrose). I’ve seen the rest of them on the list and shopped there: but why should I pay for Sainsbury’s prices when I can get the same thing under a different name in Netto or Aldi?

If I’m honest, even I prefer Aldi to Netto: sometimes Netto is a little depressing whereas Aldi is full of jolly German brands. I’m not sure why that is. It might be something to do with the clinical lighting – it’s like walking into a very brightly lit hospital. Of course, both stores have an overall image problem that has been caused by naff adverts and a million playground taunts – Netto weren’t doing themselves any favours when they had an advert featuring a young Swedish girl in a Viking hat looking for bargains. That kind of stereotyping just doesn’t give out a good image. And of course, Netto and Aldi are only really positioned in places where there’s higher unemployment and a lower disposable income.

Not that it makes any difference from the misunderstood quality of their products. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s no shame in shopping there and more people should get over it and just go inside. I used to mock them too but then my eyes were opened – and it’s great!

Chocolate Cake Recipe Added

22 May

I’ve just added my recipe for chocolate streusel cake to the recipes section.

I must warn you that if you happen to have a very sweet tooth, then this might not be the cake for you – it’s what might be descibed as a very European cake, in that the sponge is not very sweet at all (although I think it is, on the the other hand, quite flavoursome).

Enjoy it anyway though – it is very yummy!

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