In the spirit of the season…

…here is a list of 2012’s best movies (IMHO). It’s the end of another year and it wouldn’t be New Year’s Eve without umpteen lists everywhere you look, reviewing and recapping the year’s news, politics, mindless gaffes by D-list celebrities etc. So here is my list of my top 5 movies of 2012! Happy New Year’s Eve.

#5 – Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – a thematic choice, considering the world was supposed to end in 2012 (but I wasn’t surprised when it didn’t end after all).

#4 – Anna Karenina – I didn’t like Keira Knightley’s portrayal of Anna but this movie deserves to win awards for its beautiful costume design and spectacular jewels.

#3 – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – humorous and ultimately very moving. And the cast of actors is fantastic: talent personified.

#2 – Silver Linings Playbook – Talking of talent, this movie isn’t running low on it either. I went to see it a week ago (you can read my review of it here) and it is one of the best movies I have seen all year. It is so much better than the trailer makes it look. In fact, if you haven’t seen the trailer yet, don’t! Just go see the movie. Silver Linings Playbook is a beautifully directed piece of cinema and it deserves to win all four of its Golden Globe nominations.

#1 – The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games official theatrical poster - all rights remain with original owner(s).

The Hunger Games official theatrical poster – all rights remain with original owner(s).


I am a fan of the books and, for the most part, the movie did not disappoint. For a detailed critique, see my review of it here.

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Silver Linings Playbook: a movie review

Silver Linings Playbook movie poster -- all rights remain with the originator(s)

Silver Linings Playbook movie poster — all intellectual property rights remain with the originator(s)

A few nights ago, I headed off to see Silver Linings Playbook (2012), based on the début novel (2008) by Matthew Quick. For the IMDb page for the movie, click here. I watched the trailer and a few publicity clips on YouTube a few weeks ago and it caught my interest, specifically because of the cast. Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a former teacher who lost his job after problems caused by undiagnosed bipolar disorder. At the beginning of the movie, we see him move back in with his parents after leaving a psychiatric hospital in Baltimore. The move back home does not come without its problems as Pat attempts to rebuild his life and return to his wife, who has cut off their relationship. The complications increase when he meets young widow, Tiffany Maxwell, played by Jennifer Lawrence, at a friend’s dinner party.

Silver Linings Playbook is punctuated with sharp outbursts and flare-ups between characters; the sudden ups and downs of the drama reflect Pat’s bipolar swings. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence proficiently portray their characters with performances that keep viewers gripped. I had a few doubts about whether Lawrence would be too young to succeed in a competent performance opposite the much older Cooper (she was twenty-one when the movie was filmed and he was more than a decade older) but my doubt dissolved when I watched it. Both actors deliver performances which are believable and emotional to watch.

The IMDb keywords for the genre of the film are “comedy”, “drama” and “romance”. Although it is true that it contains all of these to a certain extent, I am very hesitant to label it as a rom-com, as I have seen many other reviews describe. It is a drama containing many complexities and “rom-com” is too sappy a word to describe it. There are a few laughs in between the bittersweet moments but if you are looking for a movie which is a 100% fluffy feel-good film (as I would personally expect a rom-com to be), this is not it.

It is sensitively directed by David O. Russell and does not exploit the subject matter of bipolar disorder and mental health issues. Although the ending was perhaps not as realistic as I would have liked, that did not detract one bit from my opinion or enjoyment. If you get a chance to see it, I highly recommend it.

October

So, it is October already and nearly a month has gone by since my last blog post! How did that happen?

Despite my busy life, I am planning a few book and movie reviews. On my pile of books to read is the magnificently lengthy Museum of Abandoned Secrets by Oksana Zabuzkho. A review of the aforementioned book will appear in time but the novel is over 600 pages and is quite weighty stuff! I am enjoying it though but need to read it in small chunks.

Also coming soon is my review of Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. Some of you may have seen the 2010-released movie, as it won awards at Sundance in 2010 and Jennifer Lawrence’s performance was Oscar-nominated. I have not seen the movie, however, but it is on my to-watch list. I wanted to read the book before I saw the the screen adaptation of it but I will watch the movie soon and write a review of both book and film.

Finally, I recently joined Twitter! My Twitter handle is @cultureblogger Follow me!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend! Until next time, goodbye.

‘Tis the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

There are many poems which capture the atmosphere of this time of year but none better, in my opinion, than Ode to Autumn by John Keats. A lot of the poetry about this season is filled with laments, sadness and descriptions of harsh October winds but Keats’s poem is rich with the comforting imagery of a bountiful autumn, ripening the fruits and filling the air with the lingering fragrance of summer.

Autumn, season of mists…

English Autumn by Jiri Hodan

…and mellow fruitfulness


Public domain image source: Yellow Grain by Petr Kratochvil

ODE TO AUTUMN

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cell.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir, the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Fall In Laurel Highlands by Jim Lillicotch

Blog on Fire award

Thank you to Lisa at La vie éclectique for nominating my blog for the Blog on Fire award. Knowing that people read and appreciate my blog makes me happy and very flattered. Thank you, Lisa! 🙂

As with all blogging awards there are a few requirements to follow for the Blog on Fire award:

1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link to them in your acceptance post.

2. List a number of things about yourself.

3. Link to the same amount of blogs as the number of things you divulge in step 2.

I’ve chosen to pass the award to three of my favorite blogs and so I’ll divulge three things about myself.

1. I’ve recently become interested in dystopian fiction. I blame The Hunger Games for getting me started on that one! But I don’t like dystopia which is very fantasy-like: I like my novels to have plenty of human drama in them too.

2. I sometimes dream about opening a café with an indie bookstore attached to it in a little town in Maine.

3. I miss riding horses a lot. I used to own a horse and one of my ambitions is to own one again, when the time is right.

Two Horses by Charles Rondeau

I’ve nominated:

Lulu’s Musings — I found Lulu’s blog when I was surfing different blogs for stories of life in Maine (my spiritual home). And it’s full of lovely stories and photos.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… — when I’m not dreaming about living in Maine, I’m riding horses, chasing stray cows and exploring the North Dakota prairies (also in my dreams!) Jessie Veeder’s blog is brimming with wonderful, atmospheric photos and prose. Take a look!

Finger, Fork & Knife — I enjoy browsing food blogs for inspiration and recipes and I was delighted to discover Kate’s wonderful blog. Scrumptious recipes and photos….check it out!

A culinary weekend

I spent a lot of time in the kitchen this weekend, making Italian-style pasta sauce for my eighth blog challenge recipe and traditional English barley and berry pudding for my nineth.

As well as these two scrumptious recipes, I made falafel using this recipe from Nade in the Kitchen. Nadine (aka Nade) has a fabulous food blog which I highly recommend.

And on Sunday, while the pudding was baking in the oven, I popped a loaf of bread in to bake too. For the results, see the photo below!

Tasty, golden, delicious bread — mmm!

What did you cook or bake this past weekend?

Blog challenge recipe #7: Valencia orange cake

It has been way too long since my last Blog Challenge post. Here is numéro siete. This time, I chose a recipe from Spain.

National flag of Spain

Spanish food is amazing and I love tapas dishes but I don’t have much experience with Spanish desserts. So, this past weekend, I did a little research and discovered that orange cake is a popular Spanish treat. And because orange cake sounds so delicious, I baked one using the recipe below. The cake is delicious, full of flavor, with a very rich taste. Here it is!

A slice of Valencia orange cake

Thank you very much to Erica at Comfy Belly for giving me permission to reproduce the recipe text here. I recommend checking out her site (linked above)! I found it when I was searching for an orange cake recipe and will definitely be returning frequently for culinary inspiration and healthy new recipes.

Valencia Orange Cake
(recipe source here)

Ingredients

2 organic Valencia oranges
4 eggs
1 cup of honey
2 cups of blanched almond flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt

Method

1. Place two whole organic Valencia oranges in a pot with enough water to cover them. Add a tightly sealed lid. The oranges will float, but they should be mostly covered. Simmer them in the pot for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. When you can easily glide a toothpick or fork through them, they are ready. You can add water to them while they are cooking, if necessary.
2. Cool the oranges for a few minutes, slice them into wedges and remove any pits or inedible parts (like the nub where the stem was).
3. Process the oranges until you have a smooth, orange paste without lumps.
4. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. (I bake using a convection oven setting, so I place the temperature at 300 degrees F).
5. To get a slightly lighter cake, separate the egg yolks and egg whites, and then whip the egg whites separately until stiff peaks form.
6. In a bowl, beat eggs (or egg yolks if separated) until well blended, and then beat in the honey and dry ingredients (baking soda, salt, and almond flour).
7. Fold in the almond flour and orange paste into the egg and honey mixture and blend well.
8. If you whipped the egg whites separately, here is where you want to fold the egg whites into the rest of the batter.
9. Use a spring form pan or a well buttered baking pan. Butter or oil the
bottom of the spring form pan. No need to butter the sides of the
spring form pan.
10. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Make sure to bake it thoroughly, especially in the center, or it may settle when it cools. Even if it settles, it still tastes wonderful.
11. Enjoy!

One year ago today…

…I started blogging! I’ve had a lot of fun sharing all kinds of things with you over the past year — book reviews, movie reviews, recipes, photos and more. My blog traffic stats, although modest compared to a lot of other blogs, are continually growing. I also have an increasing amount of followers (60 in total); thank you all very much for reading. Thank you to all my readers and followers.

I have plans to make a cake to celebrate but unfortunately I don’t have time today. In the meantime, however, I made lemonade! I used the recipe from Mama’s Gotta Bake blog:

Thyme Lemonade

I highly recommend her lemonade recipe as it’s really simple and very refreshing. After tasting this, you’ll never want to drink store-bought lemonade again!

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!
Public domain photo: Lemon by Petr Kratochvil

Beetroot and walnut hummus

Beetroot hummus — what an amazing pink hue!


I introduced Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s style of cooking to you in my post last December, A cook book recipe and a recipe too, when I was given a copy of his latest cook book for Christmas. I recommend it and if you’d like your own copy, it’s available at Amazon: River Cottage Veg Everyday at Amazon.com. I promise I am not being paid to promote it! I am merely a fan of tasty, simple food.

River Cottage Veg Everyday has become my go-to recipe book and today I made Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s beetroot and walnut hummus. You’ll need to use a measurement converter as Fearnley-Whittingstall is English and therefore uses British cooking measures. But don’t worry about it too much; in a recipe like this one it doesn’t matter if quantities aren’t exact. The recipe (see below) is from the Mezze & Tapas section of the cookbook, which is filled with all kinds of delicious dips and snacks. Hummus doesn’t just have to be all about garbanzo beans (chickpeas). The cookbook includes recipes for cannellini bean hummus, carrot hummus and of course, beetroot hummus.

I hope you enjoy the recipe and as always, please feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section. Have you tried making an unusual variation of hummus? I’m always on the alert for new recipes to try!

Beetroot and walnut hummus

Serves 4
• 50g walnuts
• 1 tbsp cumin seeds
• 25g stale bread, crusts removed
• 200g cooked beetroot (not pickled), cut into cubes
• 1 tbsp tahini
• 1 large garlic clove, crushed
• Juice of 1 lemon
• Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• A little rapeseed oil (optional)

1 Put the walnuts on a baking tray and toast in a preheated oven at 180ºC for 5-7 mins, until fragrant. Leave to cool.

2 Warm a small frying pan over a medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and dry-fry them, shaking the pan almost constantly, until they start to darken and release their aroma – this should take less than a minute so be careful not to burn them. Crush with a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder.

3 Break the bread into small chunks, put in a food processor or a blender with the walnuts and blitz until fine. Add the beetroot, tahini, most of the garlic, a good pinch of the cumin, half the lemon juice, a little salt and a good grind of pepper, then blend to a thick paste.

4 Taste the mixture and adjust it by adding a little more cumin, garlic, lemon, salt and pepper, blending again until you are happy with the result. Loosen with a dash of oil if you think it needs it. Refrigerate until required but bring back to room temperature to serve.

Recipe © Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, 2011, River Cottage Veg Everyday, Bloomsbury. No copyright infringement intended.

My to-list for 2012 has decreased…..by one item

There are a number of things that I want to achieve in 2012, such as visiting the beautiful state of Maine. Whether I will do all of them this year remains to be seen. But last Friday night, I checked off one of the items from the list: I went salsa dancing for the first time.

Salsa dancing — image source Salsa dancing tumblr. No copyright infringement intended and all rights remain with their owners.

Salsa is amazing. 3+ hours of almost non-stop dancing to fast Latino music is a fantastic workout. My hips and the muscles in my legs were still slightly achy two days after the class! The teacher is from Colombia and has a wonderful sense of rhythm. She told me salsa dancing is easier for girls because if the girl makes a mistake, it’s the guy’s fault! A good dancer will know how to lead so that his partner can follow without errors.

I already knew the origins of salsa dancing were in South America but I was motivated to find out more details about how the dance originated and which South American country it comes from. According to the Wikipedia page for salsa dance, there are now many different styles of salsa dance, including Cuban style, New York style and LA style. The primary origin is the Cuban Son dancing of the 1940s. When I read this on Wikipedia, I went in search (via the ever-helpful Google) to find out about Cuban Son dancing. This is what I found: www.justsalsa.com – the webpage explains the history of the dance and that many African elements are present. It’s interesting to realize salsa dancing and music has so many diverse influences, even though I think it’s often considered a solely Latin American dance.

One of the salsa songs I danced to:

Have you ever danced salsa? Are you a current salsa dancer? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. 🙂