Monday, June 29, 2015

Life Snapshots

I love a nice round-up. The internet (and culture generally) is increasingly difficult to keep up with and I have more or less given up on trying. The majority of my internet consumption is directed by a handful of people that I trust. I stumble across miscellaneous bits and pieces on Twitter and Tumblr but I fall back on recognisable humans.

On email: Jessica Stanley's Read. Look. Think; Ann Friedman's Newsletter; Margaret & Sophie's Two Bossy Dames; Jia's tinybitchtapes.

On blog: Stevie's Weekend Lists; Ana's Week in Clicks; Mallory's Gems of the Week.  

These women are all pretty thorough and I'm not but I thought I'd take a personally inflected shot at the format. If only to preserve my influences in (short-lived) perpetuity.

The Greenwich Rose Garden

  • Revenge of the Nerds - Taffy Brodesser-Akner: The always-excellent TBA on Taylor Swift's passive-aggression, plausible deniability and vicious words. Don't fuck with writers. Or, at least, don't fuck with beautiful, talented, best-selling, fearless writers who can mobilise an army of teenage girls against you.
  • Immaculate Self-Conception: Kim Gordon, Annie Clark and Carrie Brownstein on Instagram - Molly Beauchemin: The public expectation of 'authenticity' on Instagram; representations of women; how to display yourself as a woman within a rock, as opposed to pop, context.
  • Switch - Ceres_Libera: Seeking comfort and re-reading one of my favourite fics. I'm not a part of this fandom and am not familiar with the source material but the characterisation is good enough that it really doesn't matter. *warm glow*

  • I have fallen a little bit in love with Kacey Musgraves over the last few months and her new album Pageant Material is excellent. Looking at my general musical tastes you might not guess how much country music I was exposed to as a child but occasionally that upbringing will make itself felt.
  • A new episode of Shipping & Handling podcast dropped last week and that's always a treat.
  • I have a broad, often scatological sense of humour, love bad-ass female heroes and will watch every McCarthy-Feig collab until I die. Amy Schumer might be the future of rom-coms but I can only hope that McCarthy-Feig are the future of mainstream com-coms. Spy was deeply silly and I enjoyed it a lot. 
  • Lots of people on the internet love it but it took an IRL recommendation to get me to finally check out Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. The Australian 1920s flapper-detective is delightful and it's on UK Netflix right now. I'm sure that Agatha Christie fans will love this but I enjoy it as a Jeeves & Wooster fan and a general fan of the era. There's drugs and sex and murder but really this is good, clean fun.
  • The roses are in bloom in the Greenwich Park Rose Garden. They smell amazing and even on a rare, sunny weekend the eastern side of Greenwich Park isn't too busy (by London standards). I still haven't managed to visit the Ranger's House because the opening hours are very limited but one day I will get there.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What I Read: May 2015


So I'm just going to have to do a really rubbish round-up because I do not have the energy to do it again properly. *Sigh*
  • Foxglove Summer - Ben Aaronovitch: I have written about him and the Rivers of London series before and I'm sure I will continue to do so because they are fun and I like them. This is #5 and, like #4, I found it rather slight (due to the books' popularity, it seems, they are now being published too fast to match the content of the first three novels) but I will read #6 (The Hanging Tree, due Nov 2015) nonetheless once it hits the library circuit.
  • The Third Wife - Lisa Jewell: A tightly written and well executed novel. I don't dabble much in the commercial/family life-drama/thriller world but if that sounds like your cup of tea then I would easily recommend it.
  • The Hawley Book of the Dead - Chrysler Szarlan: This did not work for me. I have read both of the comp titles, The Night Circus and A Discovery of Witches, and I didn't really care for either so perhaps this is a question of taste but I don't think this book lived up to either the (dubious) lyricism of the former or the (dubious) romance of the latter. It felt confused and over-long and, although there were some nice ideas, it just didn't follow through.
  • All My Puny Sorrows - Miriam Toews: Now this I loved. I read Miriam Toews’ beautiful, semi-autobiographical novel in almost a single sitting. Although the story is grim, the narrator’s sister tries repeatedly to kill herself as her family struggles to keep her alive, the voice of Yolanda, the narrator, is so compelling. The way that Yoli thinks and speaks, the contradictory jumble of her emotions, feels intimately familiar even if you have never endured this kind of trauma. She loves her sister and is afraid for her; she both resents and understands her inability to live; her own life is falling apart and she is sleeping with the wrong men but she holds herself together for her mother and her children. All of this should be horribly depressing but the book is light-footed and slyly comic throughout. I would never have expected to laugh so much at a slow, painful suicide narrative but Toews reveals the humour embedded in life’s most agonising moments. The empathy the characters offer each other is deeply moving and the book has, undoubtedly, expanded my emotional understanding of suicide. I finished the book in tears but feeling uplifted; I am a better person because of it. I will be reading A Complicated Kindness next on LJ's heartfelt recommendation. (Isn't Toews great with titles?)
  • A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful - Gideon Lewis-Kraus: I do not care at all about the angst of young, white men and Gideon Lewis-Kraus is a young, white man with doubts and worries but he is also an excellent writer, observant and very self-critical, so his account of late-twenties ennui and the three walking pilgrimages he undertook in response to said ennui is surprisingly gripping. Surprising to me anyway. I found myself fascinated by his chronicling of these endless, pointless, painful walks and I thought a lot about life and survival and whathaveyou. We all have ennui after all or, at least, I assume we do.
  • City of Stairs - Robert Jackson Bennett: Both of the hosts on two of my favourite book podcasts, Shipping & Handling and Portable Magic, have raved about this fantasy novel and I was looking forward to giving it a shot. In a world where the colonised rose up and killed the gods of the rich and powerful, the tables have turned and a once beautiful capital is in tatters. There are spies and bureaucrats and religious fanatics and murderous pirates and monsters. The world building is excellent and there are two very interesting and sympathetic female leads and I liked this a lot even if I didn't love it. It is clever and interesting and I'll definitely try another RJB.
  • Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened - Allie Brosh: I love Hyperbole and a Half, everyone loves Hyperbole and a Half, but I hadn't got around to reading Allie's 2013 book. [Exciting news, her next book, Solutions and Other Problems is due out in Oct 2015.] If you are familiar with the blog then the book won't contain any great surprises but there is new material and it is funny and sad and wonderful and all in one place. Allie gives great dogs and small children and even as she excoriates herself she reminds me to try and forgive myself. I love her and consider her as something of a patron saint which I'm sure she would hate but there you go.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Food Recently: Weekday Dinners

Because I am endlessly interested by how people manage to feed themselves. My default for this time of year (and, bloody hell, British weather has been all over the place - June is not doing itself any favours) is a pulse + a vegetable + cheese and a big pile of leaves. Easy, delicious and moderately healthy. Or, at least, as healthy as will ever interest me. My idea of good health involves a generous helping of carbs, quite a lot of cheese and the odd bit of cured meat. Nothing has been deep fried so I'm feeling like a freakin' paragon of virtue right now.

Chickpeas with chorizo, roasted red pepper, spinach and goats' cheese : You know what I found interesting on our recent America trip? No chorizo. Not on the West Coast anyway. There were a lot of mildly spiced sausages masquerading as chorizo but no proper cooking chorizo with that delicious fatty, cured kick. Strange. This recipes contains so many of my favourite things. Re the recipe, you can play pretty fast and loose with quantities. I inevitably skip the chives and roast my own pepper (one is fine) because jarred peppers are a level of fancy that I have not yet attained.

Green lentils with feta and roasted red pepper : Basically everything can be made good with the addition of roasted red peppers and a salty cheese. Also, I love green lentils and they are legit healthy. Fellow anemics, for when you don't fancy a steak or a Guinness (often) lentils are high in iron. Eat with some raw spinach and feel a little perkier. Also, also, hummus is  the greatest condiment.

Roasted butternut squash with chickpeas and tahini : I suppose the red peppers and butternut squash are appealing to my sweet tooth? They certainly add delight to a warm salad. No cheese here but tahini is magnificent and savoury. And I could probably eat chickpeas every day for the rest of my life. They're just so versatile and delicious.

Bonus, all of these recipes make for excellent lunch the next day. You will win at tupperware.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Amy Schumer + Trainwreck

I mourn the death of the classic chick flick. Yes, plenty of them were garbage but I have pretty low-brow cinematic taste. I enjoy a quiet, beautiful indie film now and again but sometimes I just want to be entertained and a decent script with a female lead and a happy ending is my idea of a good time.

I resent Hollywood's current disinclination to cater for mass female audiences. Obviously women can enjoy Mad Max and superhero films and big, dumb action franchises but we are not the primary audience. It's probably true that women are more likely to accompany their (heterosexual) partners to BOY films than men are to tolerate GIRL films but I still think Hollywood should be trying to woo my dollar. I mean, I'm fickle and if Sleepless in Seattle came out tomorrow I would probably turn my nose up at such sentimental pandering but I still want them to at least pretend to value my preferences.

The closest thing you really get to a rom-com these days is a female-lead slash-com. It's a clumsy construction but I would roughly categorise Bridesmaids as a dram-com, The Heat as a cop-com and Pitch Perfect as a glee-com? I don't know, that doesn't really work. They're all comedies targeted at women, let's leave it there. And I like those films. I celebrate the fact that women are being funny in mid-budget films and that we are embracing gross-out humour and that all of the aforementioned films prioritise female friendships. I love female friendships! They're the best! But sometimes I yearn for the easy endorphin hit of romantic fulfilment and that is hard to find on film these days.

I caught a pre-screening of Amy Schumer's upcoming film Trainwreck last week and although it isn't at all schlocky it did satisfy a lot of my rom-com urges. I'm probably being overly optimistic but it felt like it could be a successful new model for contemporary romantic comedies if we accept that the "chick flick" as it existed into the mid '00s is dead forever. There is comedy and there is romance and it feels very modern.

Amy, the film's protagonist, is a fully conceived character. She has a career and a family and a very active social/sexual life. She isn't looking for a relationship but she meets Bill Hader's character (LOVE do not doubt Hader's potential as a romantic lead - he is charming and delightful and he has the biggest, brownest eyes) and they like each other and that is important. I love Chris O'Dowd and I have a soft spot for Sklyar Astin but they are the least important aspects of their respective films. Which is fine. But the relationship is not a sub-plot in Trainwreck and that is really nice too.

Also, it was kind of relaxing to take a break from body horror jokes for a while. Bridesmaids was on TV over the weekend and while the food poisoning scene is masterful you only really need to see it once and I never needed the vomiting in Pitch Perfect at all. Also, also, Amy Schumer is a perfectly attractive, slim-normal, human-looking person and I loved that there were no jokes at the expense of her body or appearance. She is neither very beautiful nor very thin but her sexuality isn't ridiculed.

Also, also, also, TILDA SWINTON. Spot her in the trailer. She is a perfect human being and I love her.

Prior to this film, I hadn't really bonded with Amy Schumer. I appreciated the political drive of her most recent season of Inside Amy Schumer but I don't like sketch comedy. I will defend to the death a woman's right to be lewd and sexually aggressive and drunk, as often per her public persona, but it isn't a mode of being/comedy that interests me. However, I am now fully on board. She wrote and, perhaps, produced Trainwreck and it is funny while maintaining an emotional depth, romantic while maintaining a tough, independent heroine and generally a pleasure.

I liked it. So there you go.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Food Reviewed: Ristorante Rosella

I have written before about my problems with Italian restaurants. I cook a lot of Italian food and I have eaten too much excellent Italian food in situ to tolerate crappy imitations. Particularly at London prices. A carbonara with a weird bechamel sauce and soggy pasta for £12.50 makes me want to scream with frustration. (I am a drama queen.)

So it is unlikely that I would have ever wandered into Ristorante Rosella without a personal recommendation. It is a remarkably unprepossessing joint in Kentish Town and I'm now a bit in love with it. From the outside it looks like a sketchy caff and the majority of the menu is priced appropriately for a sketchy caff. Inside it looks like every glorious cliché of a cheap, family run Italian restaurant and there are a handful of specials each day. Pastas and pizzas on the menu are in the £5-7 range and specials around £8-12. I enthusiastically forked out for a special but I'm willing to believe (and I have been told) that the standards meet similar levels of quality.

I ordered the lamb pappardelle and it was excellent. It wasn't fancied up or fiddled with and there were no bells and whistles; it was a good, rich but not overwhelming, lamb ragu and good, fresh pasta. Great fresh pasta actually. I would go as far as to say that this is the best pasta I have eaten in London. Big claim! It was everything that anyone ordering a lamb pappardelle could have wished for. It made me feel like my basic demands for UK Italian restaurants were reasonable and achievable.

I know that it is not the done thing to out an unobtrusive local favourite but low-key, affordable, delicious food is hard to find and I feel obliged to acknowledge that I had a lovely time at Rosella and will certainly be going back for more.