Week 29: In which our hero learns to thrive

Very late with my entry this week. Excuses are for fools, so I won’t bother. I’m just damned disorganised at the moment.


My new thing this week is something called Thrive in 30, by a chap called Brendan Brazier. He’s a vegan triathlete, and Thrive in 30 is the culmination of his research into exercise, training, plant based nutrition, and everything that entails. You sign up, and then every few days (for 30 days, hence the name) you get an e-mail. Each one is about something different. Could be advice on the best foods to eat, and why. Could be busting a myth about being vegan. Could be about stress and diet, and their connections to weight loss. The important thing is each one is easy to understand, quick to learn, and beautifully presented in little bite sized chunks (along with a short video). You can’t help but take it in.

day 28 - field of beans

Now I’ve only been doing it for about a week, so am only on lesson 3, but already I’m on the green stuff, I’m getting a blender tomorrow, and I’ve ordered his Thrive Diet off Amazon, that’s how impressed I’ve been with what this guy has to say. My friends, I heartily recommend you give it a go. All it is is a dozen or so e-mails, and by the end of it you’ll be a little better informed if nothing else. πŸ™‚

souper douper

I have to admit, no great changes for me physically yet. But it’s only been a week and, as well as all the good stuff, I’ve still been eating a lot of crap too. The joys of work and not being organised enough to get to the shop. But after tomorrow watch out! Veggies, here I come! ..hahaha..

Expect a more detailed analysis in 23 days time.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

“This means something. This is important.”

You got that right Dick. After his surprise hit withΒ Sugarland Express, and the enormous Jaws (a movie that literally created the Summer Blockbuster!), Close Encounters of the Third Kind pretty much cemented Steven Spielberg’s reputation as the daddy of mainstream cinema. Good job too, because he followed it up with the dire 1941, a movie so bad it would have ended most careers (and famously caused John Wayne to give Spielberg a dressing down for treating war in such a casual, light weight manner – an incident that had great effect on him when making films such as Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan); a career which he pulled out of the bag right afterwards with the outstanding Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Usually alien movies are in either one of two camps – the lone, alien-out-of-water, “Show me more of this earth thing called ‘kissing'”, visiter type; or the suck your brains out, give us your planet, “My God, it’s an invasion!” type. Thankfully, CEOTTK avoids all that, mostly by not showing us the aliens for most of the movie. Oh they’re there, and they make their presence known (in oh so many cool and interesting ways), but we don’t get to see them until the final scene, which of course makes them much more interesting, and scary, than they otherwise would be (a little trick he picked up during the making of Jaws).

Richard Dreyfus turns in an excellent ‘everyman’ performance as Roy Neary, the power company employee who encounters the aliens and can’t stop thinking about them, with Teri Garr as his poor, beleaguered wife who doesn’t know what to make of all this. What would you do if your other half kept going on about aliens and doing weird things with mashed potato? They’ve also got a couple of kids who, as in all Speilberg films, are annoying little brats, but I’ll look the other way for now as they’re not in it very much.

Francois Truffaut is in it too, doing an excellent turn as the French alien ‘expert’, with a nerdy interpeter side-kick played by Bob Balaban (who couldn’t speak a lick of French by the way, but got the part by conning Spielberg into thinking he could – Spielberg wanted a French speaker to play the part – by memorising some lines to do in the audition) – for more info check out his book on the making of Close Encounters, Spielberg, Truffaut & Me.

But for me the real star of this movie is the music by John Williams. He’s a scoring genius, of that there can be no doubt, and his orchestration at the end of the movie is just brilliant. You have to see this film for the final scene alone, it’s just so good! How good? I was in HMV on Oxford Street once, and they were showing Close Encounters on the big screen. When that scene came on, and the music played, I swear the whole top floor of the shop just stopped to watch. Seriously, everyone put their shopping on hold for 2 minutes just to watch, and listen, to the ending on Close Encounters. Now you can’t say fairer than that, can you?

As always, I’ve done my best not to give too much away (note how in the previous paragraph I don’t say exactly why or how it’s a brilliant scene exactly – which kind of undersells it a bit, but I don’t want to spoil anything). I did find a clip of the final scene in fact, which I was dying to put here, but it’s just gives the whole game away. So instead let’s check out Roy meeting some aliens (pardon the spanish subtitles). πŸ™‚

Now if that hasn’t whetted your appetite, I dunno what will!

Saag Aloo

A surprisingly quick and simple recipe that I think you’ll enjoy.

saag aloo - ingredients

4 potatoes, chopped
2-3 handfuls of spinach, washed
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated/chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red chillies, chopped
2 cardamom pods, crushed
1/4 tsp salt
olive oil

saag aloo 1

Par-boil the potatoes in some salty water for 8-10 minutes or so. While you’re doing that fry the onions, garlic and ginger in a large saucepan on a medium heat until soft (approx 5 minutes).

saag aloo 2

Add all the remaining spices to the onion mixture and stir in. Drain the potatoes and add them too. Mix thoroughly, add a couple of tablespoons of water to prevent it from sticking, then cover and allow to simmer for 10-12 minutes (still stirring to keep it from burning to bottom of pan).

saag aloo 3

Once potatoes have gone edibly soft add the spinach and cook for another couple of minutes. Spinach will wilt and reduce in size a great deal.

saag aloo

Serve hot over a bed of rice.

A few notes on the recipe vs the pictures. I made mine with raw potatoes soaked in water rather than par-boiled ones, but this just meant I had to add more water to the pan and it took longer to cook, and I don’t think it added anything to the flavour, so I’d recommend doing it this way instead. Also, chop your spuds smaller than I did mine, again, to save time. As always I left the skin on, coz that’s where all the nutrients are, but cut the eyes out.

Also, I added more spinach than is pictured. After I threw in my 2 handfuls and it cooked down to size I saw the ratio was way off and more was needed. Really this is up to you. The recipe could probably handle more spinach even, if that’s what you’re into, I just didn’t have a whole lot more left so I stopped at 3 handfuls.

Week 28: In which our hero finds religion

Ok, did a couple of new things this week. First up was to go see Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

kellie and priscilla

It was a good show, and obviously it was very very camp, but it did have one or two problems. We were sat near the back of the dress circle, and whoever worked out the stage direction for the show did so without these seats in mind. Because of the slant of the circle above we couldn’t see the top third of the stage (above the bus, if you will) so any time there was stuff going on up high – singers on wires mostly, or people on top of the bus – we couldn’t enjoy it as much as we’d have liked. Thankfully the seats in front of us was empty so we slid down to get a better view, but I feel sorry for the rows behind us who were stuck and probably a bit pissed off.

Also at times the show went from camp to just plain loud. You couldn’t make out what they were saying, or singing, and it was just a little painful. Not as painful as some of the outfits worn by the audience though, yikes! Not so much mutton dressed as lamb as mutton dressed as an old kebab that’s been under the sofa for 2 weeks.

But enough with the bitchiness. It was a good show, and I enjoyed it, but if you’re tempted get decent seats in the stalls (or near the front of the balconies), or go see Legally Blonde instead, it’s a much better show.

New thing number 2 was I found religion. Not under the sofa where things usually end up, but at the Universal Life Church, Hallelujah, praise Jebus, can I get an Amen!

Ok, so it’s not very original, getting yourself ordained online. I mean what am I, a character in an American sit-com? But it was late, I was bored, and it seemed like a laugh, so I did it. If you don’t believe me here’s my certificate or ordination:

I can now legally perform weddings in some parts of the United States, though here in the UK it’s practically worthless, hahaha. I can officiate at civil ceremonies though, you don’t need any special permission to do that, but you’d still have to go and sign the papers with a registrar to make it all legal.

It did however give me the idea of starting my own religion! The Church of the Brand New. There’s no God(s) involved, acolytes would simply swear to uphold the universal belief in the Joy of the New, to never say no before considering saying yes, and to always seek out the new and embrace it as much and as often as possible.

If anyone’s interested in joining up simply place your hand on the computer and repeat after me:

“I swear to do that which is new,
to stay true to the new in everything I do,
to pursue it through and through,
wheree’er it doth lead to
doobie doobie do

Now go forth, and enjoy yourself. Amen. πŸ˜‰

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

The absolutely coolest thing I’ve ever done is, for my 30th birthday, I hired out a screening room in Soho, got all my friends together, and had a surprise screening of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It was great. No one knew what was coming except for me and my twin brother, and when I stood up, gave my little speech, then did that whirly ‘Roll VT’ hand gesture at the projectionist at the back (for which I got much derision) I have to admit, it felt pretty damn cool. But anyway…

This film is just brilliant. To my mind, the best film John Hughes ever did. “But what about The Breakfast Club?” I hear you ask, “And Pretty In Pink? And Weird Science?!” Ok, ok, all great films, but Ferris Bueller just has so many great scenes, and moments, and characters, that the rest just can’t compete.

I love Ferris. He’s just so damn cheeky; and cocky. If I could have been him when I was younger, I would have been (well, him or Dave Addison (Bruce Willis) from Moonlighting, he had all the best lines… but I digress). He just does whatever he wants, and gets away with it. Everybody loves him (except Mr Rooney, the Headmaster, played superbly by Jeffrey Jones), he’s got a gorgeous girlfriend (Mia Sara), and he gets to drive such a cool f*cking car, man!

And let’s not forget Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck), his neurotic mate. Back up and best friend, he provides a lot of the grounding for the film, always there to remind Ferris of what he can and can’t do, of ‘reality’ if you like (and then Ferris goes and does it anyway). An important connection that keeps us ‘in’ the movie, whilst at the same time allowing us to realise the potential for real life to be just like it is in the movies.

Plus his journey, from basket case to hero, is a beautiful thing; I get all choked up every time I see it. “I will not stand idly by while events unfold to determine the course of my life! I’m gonna take a stand. Right or wrong, I’m gonna defend it!” Go on my son!!! πŸ˜‰

I had a tough time finding a clip for this one. One that didn’t give too much away that is. Here’s a bit from the opening. It gives you a flavour of what I’m talking about.

So, if you want to know cool, if you want to know fun, if you want to know what to do on your day off, go watch Ferris Bueller right now! You won’t regret it.

Cottage Pie

This is a tasty little winter warmer (I know, it’s the middle of summer!) that’s great served up with some greens. Also damn good for you, what with all the veggies and lentils. An all round treat.

cottage pie

1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
3 mushrooms, sliced
50g peas (approx 2 tbsp)
1/2 cup puy lentils (green speckled lentils)
1 tsp cumin seeds
a splash of olive oil
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
300ml of vegetable stock
1/3 of a red chilli, finely chopped
5-7 potatoes, peeled and diced (enough for about an inch of mash)
a knob of margarine
salt to taste

Fry onion and cumin in a medium sized sauce pan on a medium heat until onions become translucent (a few minutes). Add the mushrooms, carrots, garlic and chilli, and cook on a low heat until vegetables start to sweat.

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in lots of salty water until soft (approx 15-20 minutes).

Add lentils to vegetables and stir to coat with juices. Add vegetable stock and bring to boil. Simmer on a low heat for 25-30 minutes until lentils are cooked but still firm. Let it rest for a moment while you finish off the mash.

Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees. Drain the potatoes and mash thoroughly with a knob of margarine until smooth(ish). You can also add olive oil, salt, or soy milk (to taste).

Put the lentils in a casserole dish and cover with mashed potato. Ruffle top of mash so that it’ll brown nicely. Put in oven for 20-25 minutes.

cottage pie whole

Serve hot, and enjoy. πŸ™‚

As I said, this is especially nice with some green veg, maybe spinach and garlic, green beans or brussel sprouts. Or you can just have it on it’s own, as the mash balances the lentils quite nicely.

You can also make it with a bottle of beer instead of the vegetable stock. If you do just add it at the appropriate time, then simmer for 5 minutes until it has reduced a bit. Add a stock cube and more water if needed, then cook as before.

Week 27: In which our hero really loses track of time

I had this really cool start to this entry all worked out. It went like this:

52 x 7 = 364.
Half of 52 is 26.
Week 26 = Half of 2010.

Then I was going to do a summation of where I was at the half way point of 2010. Only thing is, half way was last week! I totally missed it!!!

As I said then, I’m having a bit of trouble keeping track of time at the moment, but losing an entire week! Man, that’s bad.

Still, no reason I can’t do the summation now. A week late, but still relevant. So, done one or two new things so far this year – had a go in a floatation tank, saw my first musical as well as a few other shows, got into tiltshifting, I gave up booze, did a few other experiments in going without, was featured in Ask A Vegan, had lots of fun with new tunes, and won the lotto – but not an amazing amount considering how much time I’ve had.

Still, it’s all good practice, and you can’t moon over what has gone before. Onwards and upwards my valiant friends. Hence forth, I shall re-double my efforts to do new things. I shall do more cooking (34 recipes produced so far), I shall do more writing (some progress made on a number of ideas but not enough really), and I shall endeavour to remember why I started this thing in the first place (a house, a family, an interesting job, and a dog).

So, the plan is, one proper new thing a week, at least one new recipe each week, a movie recommendation each week, and hopefully some writing or something each week. Could be a bit of a tall order, but if I plan it properly I reckon I can do it. I’ve had my ‘holiday’ as it were, these last few weeks doing not much but reading and lazing about, so now it’s time to go to work.

Sweet Sweet Potato Wedges

So nice they named ’em twice, these sweet potato wedges are pretty yummy, and go great with a veggie burger.

sweet sweet potato wedges

1 sweet potato, skin on
1 tsp crushed garlic (approx 2-3 cloves)
1 tsp hot English mustard (the kind with seeds in)
1 tsp honey
3 tbsp olive oil
salt, to season

Heat oven to 230C. Cut the sweet potato into wedges. Mix the garlic, mustard, honey and olive oil in a large bowl. Add wedges and toss until coated completely.

Lightly grease an oven proof dish with olive oil to stop wedges sticking. Add coated sweet potato, sprinkle with salt, then cook in hot oven for 8 minutes. Remove and toss wedges to prevent burning, then cook for a further 8 minutes.

Remove when brown and soft and eat whilst hot.

NB: One sweet potato makes enough for one person. To cook for more simply adjust the amounts accordingly.

Popcorn Cashews

These came out chewier than I expected, hence the ‘popcorn’ moniker, but I ain’t complaining; they’re still pretty damn tasty (though in this hot weather damn sticky too!).

popcorn cashews

250g plain cashews (approx 2 cups)
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp unrefined brown sugar

Heat oven to 180C. Line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Warm honey, maple syrup, cinnamon and salt for a few minutes in a medium-large sauce pan (big enough to mix in all the cashews) until it’s easy to stir (ie. not as viscous as before). Remove from heat. Add the cashews and stir thoroughly, coating each one in the sweet liquid. Spread coated cashews evenly on baking tray.

Bake in oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. If nuts at edge begin to cook too much can mix them up a bit so that they cook evenly.

Remove and place in a large bowl, being careful not to burn yourself on the bubbling liquid. Sprinkle cashews with brown sugar and mix. Be quick, as they start to cool quickly and become a big sticky lump!

Pour out onto another sheet of greaseproof paper and allow to cool completely.

Nut Roast

More one for Christmas, but deserves to be more than just once a year I reckon.

(un)thanksgiving dinner

1 tbsp olive oil (plus extra for greasing)
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, chopped
225g mushrooms, chopped
400g red lentils of lentils, rinsed and drained
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 cup of mixed nuts (such as hazelnuts, almonds and cashews), finely chopped
50g (1/2 cup) of flour
50g of (faux) cheddar cheese (I used Life Free From Cheddareese by MH Foods)
Egg replacer to equal 1 egg (I used Orgran)
3-4 tbsp chopped fresh mixed herbs
(I used just 4 tsp of dried herbs – got that wrong, eh – but it worked fine)
salt and pepper to season

Preheat oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5. Lightly grease a 900g/2lb loaf tin and line with greaseproof paper.

Put red lentils in a pan and cover with boiling water. Bring to boil and simmer for 15-20 until soft, adding more water if needed. Drain and put aside.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion, leek, celery, mushrooms and garlic. Cook gently for 10 mins until vegetables have softened, stirring occasionally.

Add the lentils, mixed nuts, flour, ‘cheese’, ‘egg’ and mixed herbs. Season, then mix thoroughly.

Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin, ensuring it is pressed into the corners, and level the surface. Bake uncovered for 50-60 mins or until the loaf is browned on top and firm to the touch.

Cool the loaf slightly then turn out onto a serving plate. Serve hot or cold, cut into slices.