Music: “Holocene” by Bon Iver

For this weekend’s tune, I decided to share a beautiful song and a beautiful music video with you.

This music video was filmed in Iceland and the peacefulness of the scenery really blends with the song. Bon Iver (derived from bon hiver, which is French for “have a good winter”, according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bon_Iver) is an indie folk band and although not all of their tracks are my kind of music, I heard this song playing on the radio and love it.

(video embedded from the official Bon Iver YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/boniver)

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“I’m just a summer girl”: Country Strong movie review

I just watched the movie, Country Strong, and I feel let-down by it. Some movies I watch leave me with varying emotions but the only lingering trace of Country Strong is the extremely catchy tune, Summer Girl, which Leighton Meester’s character sings in the movie.

I am a fan of country music and so I settled down to watch Country Strong, expecting a plot-driven movie with some pleasant interludes of country tunes. I got the catchy music scenes; in fact, these took up a large part of the movie. But the plot was sorely lacking.

Country Strong focuses on a country music star, Kelly Canter (Gywneth Paltrow), who has just gotten out of rehab, as well as an up-and-coming country music singer, Chiles Stanton (played by Leighton Meester of Gossip Girl fame).  A few romantic entanglements are thrown into the mix by the arrival of ambitious song-writer, Beau ( Garrett Hedlund). Kelly’s husband/career manager, James (Tim McGraw), completes the character line-up.

However, the characters failed to successfully hook me into the story. I can’t fault the acting; Paltrow, Meester, Hedlund and McGraw all performed well and the movie looks and sounds excellent. But I wasn’t left feeling satisfied at the end and my verdict is simply “meh”. Country Strong is not a bad movie but it is not a great one either because, in my opinion, it needs something extra. Maybe it was the lack of suspense  which meant that my attention wandered at times. Overall, I think the screenplay was too muddled and it would have been better if we had more focus on character tensions and less of the syrupy clichés. It just didn’t convince me.

My verdict: 5.5/10.

Videos sourced from YouTube.

Recipe: damson plum crumble cake

DAMSON PLUM CRUMBLE CAKE RECIPE

I wasn’t sure what to make with damson plums (apart from jam) but I improvised and made up a recipe for damson plum crumble cake this weekend.

This was the first time I made up my own recipe for a cake so I was slightly apprehensive about how it would turn out but it resulted in an absolutely delicious, moist, sweet cake.

INGREDIENTS:

500 grams damson plums (if you can’t source damsons, use a different type of plum, preferably purple-skinned plums)

100 grams butter

100 grams sugar (brown unrefined)

3 eggs

200 grams flour (I used white spelt flour but standard all-purpose flour would be fine)

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

2-3 tbsp milk

CRUMBLE TOPPING INGREDIENTS:

30 grams sugar

30 grams butter

56 grams flour

METHOD:

1: Wash the plums thoroughly and cut them in half, carefully removing all the stones.

Chopped damsons

2: Cream the butter and sugar together until they are thoroughly mixed and are light and fluffy. It helps if you remove the butter from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you intend to use it as otherwise you’ll find that mixing it with the sugar is an arduous chore (good for the arm muscles though!)

Starting to mix the butter and sugar

3: Beat the eggs and gradually add them to the butter and sugar mix a little at a time, stirring thoroughly until they are mixed well.

4: In a separate bowl, stir the flour, cinnamon and baking powder together. Make a well in the center of the flour and gradually fold in the cake batter you have ready.

5: Add a splash of milk and stir (just a small amount; I didn’t bother measuring but it’s probably approx. 2-3 tablespoons)

6: Add approx. half of the plums into the cake batter and mix thoroughly. Pour into the prepared cake tin and level the top of the cake with a spoon.

7: Press the remaining damsons into the top of the cake.

8: Make the crumble topping by mixing together the flour and sugar. Add the butter and use your fingers to rub it into the flour.

9: Sprinkle the crumble topping over the cake and bake in a pre-heated oven for approx. 60 minutes. I baked it at 160 C/320 F but your oven may differ as convection oven temperatures have to be slightly reduced. There are varying schools of thought in terms of how much temperatures should be reduced but I have always been told to reduce the temperature by about 20 degrees. so if you are baking this in a standard oven, you should bake it at 180 C/340 F as you will need to raise the temperature by 20 degrees. As every oven varies, make sure you check the cake from time to time while it is cooking and reduce or increase the cooking time if necessary. You can tell when the cake is cooked by inserting a knife into the middle. If it comes out relatively clean, the cake is ready.

10: Enjoy your cake! It is delicious served with fresh strawberries, raspberries and crème fraîche. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment on this post.

My damson plum crumble cake!

“The more I see of man, the more I like dogs”

Public domain image source: Unbearably Cute Puppy by Douglas Gray

“The more I see of man, the more I like dogs”, said Madame de Staël (1766 – 1817) and although she lived 200 years ago, I think most of us will still agree that man has a special relationship with the canine species. A dog is a (wo)man’s best friend.

This is reflected in popular culture; there are so many books about dogs out there. Marley and Me by John Grogan is one of the modern bestsellers but this trend extends back to the past, with John Steinbeck’s classic Travels with Charley and My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley.

Most of these books take a look at life as well as living with a four-legged creature: Steinbeck travels round the States with his dog and Grogan’s book charts his marriage, career and family life as well as providing an amusing picture of “the world’s worst dog”, to quote the book’s cover tagline. The “worst dog” in  question is a Labrador Retriever and judging by their position in the most popular dogs league table (http://www.dailypuppy.com/articles/top-10-most-popular-dog-breeds/253b2d86-c112-9854-d5b4-233120ca0ff9), they are our most-loved breed of dog.

I can see why. I grew up with Labradors and my current Lab is an adorable, amiable and abiding dog. I’m not the first to say that the enduring appeal of Labradors, and dogs in general, lies in their capacity for unconditional love. Dogs don’t care what you look like, whether you’re wearing makeup today, or whether you’ve brushed your teeth. They are not bothered by social etiquette and have no concept whatsoever of personal space: my dog still tries to sit on my lap and barges past me when it’s time for her dinner. She bears little resemblance to Marley, however. Her only flaw is her tendency to run away with anything she can find on the floor, usually shoes, and invite you to have a game of chase which will usually end in her outrunning you!

My yellow Labrador

I recently saw the movie adaptation of Marley and Me; it’s a three-star movie in my opinion because although all those shots of Marley playfully and cutely being “the world’s worst dog” are entertaining, the movie is slightly over-long. Also, I didn’t find the two lead actors (Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson) particularly engaging. But it is a great, entertaining Sunday afternoon type of movie and if you like Labs, it’s worth a watch sometime.

I can see why dogs have a prominent place in literature, stories and in many of our lives;   “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole” (Roger Caras)