Quote

Good writing can make even the most boring information a delight to read.

Perhaps Joseph Conrad could have taken some tips from this when writing, however important Heart of Darkness is….

Good writing ca…

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Food Adventures – Pigs in a Blanket

This name gives my stomach a hard time – it makes me shudder and want to cry and become hungry all at the same time.

I wonder if there is a vegetarian version….

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But it wouldn’t taste the same, no doubt.

I had no idea how to make this recipe before today, but I was craving it continuously, so I got sausages from the store and opened up five tabs with different recipes for “crescent hot dogs”. Some of them requried puff pastry, which I did not have, and all of them were different, so I ended up combining elements from several to make this recipe. The results are rather magnificent.

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The dough

  • 2 1/4 cups flour (I am off gluten, so I used quinoa flour – this worked fine)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3-4 tbsp oil (melted butter should work too)

The sauce/dip

  • 3/4 cup mustard
  • 1 heaped tsp of honey

Other

  • mini sausages, cooked (I bought two packs of six long ones, which I each cut into half. I had 6 halves left over in the end)
  • sesame seeds (or other seeds, to your liking)
  • 1 egg + 1 tbsp water, for glaze

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Briefly beat the milk, oil, and egg together in a separate bowl, then mix into the flour mixture. Combine until the dough sticks together, then turn over onto a floured surface, and mould until it forms one ball.

Notes: don’t be afraid to work the dough! Unlike delicate puff or pastry dough, this scone-type dough can be worked as much as it needs to be without fear or ruining it. You may need to add extra milk or flour if it is too floury or too sticky.

Roll the dough out into a rectangle. Turn it so that the long side is horizontal to your vision, and cut the dough vertically into three segments. Cut each of those columns into three pieces horizontally, so you have nine sort-of rectangles (squares would work fine too, so the shape isn’t that important!) Cut each of the squares diagonally so you have 18 triangles.

At this point, I would start preheating the oven. Most of the recipes said 400 degrees F, but I think it may have worked a little better if the temperature was a little lower (around 350-375 degrees) and the rolls baked a little longer. The edges started looking almost burnt quite soon, so maybe baking for longer would have let it brown more evenly. (All of the dough was still well baked, though!)

Now it’s time to put the sauce on! Spread it only on one side of the triangle – you need one of the vertexes to be clean so that the dough can stick to itself when you wrap up the sausage. After you smeared some sauce on the dough, put a sausage along one of the sides of the triangle, and wrap it up, pressing the vertex into the dough once it’s wrapped, so it doesn’t unroll in the oven. Once all the sausages are wrapped, put them on a baking tray laid with parchment paper, beat the egg with 1 tbsp of water for the glaze, and brush on the tops of the rolls. Sprinkle some sesame seeds (or ones to your taste) overtop, and into the oven they go for 12-15 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown on the edges!

I found the dough a little dry in the end, so perhaps the remaining sauce could be used as a dip for extra moisture and flavour  Or perhaps I missed something with the dough – if any readers have ideas for improvement, please leave a comment! 🙂

Time Keeping

Yesterday was another fun evening spent at Chapters – I went there to finish reading a very fascinating book, Mitch Albom’s The Time Keeper. This is a fictional tale, of course, but it so perfectly captures our lives that it may have, to a certain realistic extent, have really happened.

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It made me realize how much of our day we spend in the present. Is there even any time that is fully devoted to the present moment? We, or at least the new generation, have gotten so used to multitasking- working while checking our calendars and sending a text message and planning what we will have for dinner and where our next destination is on our to-do list- that we are mentally, at any given moment, in practically every possible time period except for the present. People don’t need to invent time-machines; their brains already remove them from the present far too often! By getting “wired” into the world, we are detaching ourselves from it. We look at screens, not what is around us. We get obsessed with counting time, and forget to savour it and put it to some good use.

“When you are measuring life, you are not living it. I know.” – Dor, The Time Keeper, page 208

The above is one of the most memorable lines from the book, as far as I remember. Why did we start measuring life in the first place? I suppose it is to try to fit more into it. More what? Can anyone tell me? I know people who try to divide their day into segments and allott a productive task to each segment so that they don’t have any slot that cannot be considered helpful or time-efficient. They seem miserable. They are terrified of letting life pass them by, but they remove any sense of spontaneity from it. They decline get-togethers with friends where they could have some fun, because they are too frightened of letting a day go by where they can’t study or try to wring more and more out of their day’s work. It is apparent that letting go of this obsession, or at least subduing it for the most part, would be beneficial. If nature had intended us to be so time-stricken, we would have been born with watches nailed to our wrists, and with the time projected across the sky!

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I’m not saying we should throw all our goals out the window and resort to a vagabond life with a conscious obliviousness. It is very well to want to make good use of time, and to try to organise it for that purpose. Yet still, most of us who do use that technique find ourselves wailing over time lost rather than celebrating how much we have accomplished. We count time, and we count it from the couch, or whatever other place suits your procrastination best. Maybe it is so draining that we know longer feel much energy to put it to good use. I think that the answer to making our lives productive, yet not obsessed with running about and squeezing more into each minute, is not to count time and try to divide it all among our activities  but to remove things that make it quietly slip away with nothing valuable added to our day. Let’s be honest, how long do we really spend on Facebook  when half an hour ago, we had sat down with the intention to study, or finally crack open that foreign language book? Once those are out of the way, perhaps we may finally be free to be at peace with time yet employ it usefully still – we will be focused on our true goals, and at liberty to pursue them, we will get things done without fretting over “how long“, “how much“, and “what time“. Is playing on our phones, watching TV commercials, listening to this and that celebrity scandal on the radio, is it all really worth that much to us? Because something tells me that there would be less remorse hanging around if it were.

I am tying this a little too much into (what is in my opinion) the redundant use of technology,  compared to how much this topic actually weighs into the book. In truth, there is very little mention of technology being the cause for the main characters’ misconceptions of time, and it is not. My motivation for expanding on this subject comes from other literary sources: I still have Alan Lightman’s Prisoners Of A Wired World essay fresh in my head (I’ve read it just last week), and strangely enough, I feel as if the two ought to be tied together. Certainly, time keeping became common much before modern technology did, although the latter definitely advanced the former. I think that it is not infrequently discussed how living in the moment is important, and that we should all put our electronic gadgets away once in a while, but many of us don’t realize when we are under their spell in the first place. I really admire my friends who forget their cell phones at home more often than not, as if they didn’t matter much- and they don’t. I have taken to carrying mine everywhere with me. If I leave it at home, I feel like I will find myself in some situation where I will desperately need it’s use and find myself short of it, and fret so much over these slippery-slope possibilities that I can barely get myself to stop clutching it. This is the sort of burden that comes with technology, and one that humanity has once had the benefit of living without. Jane Eyre, in Charlotte Brönte’s novel, only hears that her uncle wants to meet her three years after he solicits her presence. Surely, this is not really a fortunate incident, but comparably to how fast we seem to want to do everything, it really seems like we have tilted to a bit of an extreme.

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Once we get too used to sending texts rather than speaking, it even starts to feel odd to receive a warm smile in greeting instead of an emoticon, and we no longer know how to react when we are met with authentic tone and expressions rather than the ones that we ourselves attribute to the texts we receive. Alan Lightman said in his essay that emails (and I extend this quote to texts also) are very impersonal, and in fact, they tell us more about our own mood and tone at the moment of reading than the writer’s, because we are the ones that have to attribute the tones and expressions that form 91% of communication in real life.

 

When I got my phone, I was happy to know that I can text my friends unlimitedly. Now I think that I would be better off without that concession. It would force me to seek their actual company. We think technology will help us get further, get things done faster, but really, it is just a big distraction. It begins to replace things that are real and authentic and out-there in the world, and sooner than later, we will begin to forget about the world as it exists. It’s kind of ironic that I’m typing this on a computer, but at least I am focusing entirely on my task and aware of what I am doing, instead of talking to five different people on five different gadgets. If we cannot eliminate technology from our lives (and I think that the effects of that would be far worse than the benefits) I think we should at least turn it off when it comes to our friends. After all, your friend is not the phone – and I think he/she would value a face-to-face meeting much more than digital “hello”.

A rant on Step Up Revolution

Step Up Revolution; the fourth sequel to Step Up, so long awaited by dance fanatics, finally aired over the summer. I was so excited for this movie that I was ready to write a review so gushy that happiness would just ooze right out of the page, but now that the initial spasm of joy has dissipated, I’m left sitting here not really knowing what to say. Step Up 3 was pretty amazing (1 and 2 were decent as well, but not as eye-popping) and we know that as a movie series goes on, directors have to try harder and harder to keep the audience interested. Well, the fourth movie to this series certainly is a novelty with numerous fresh ideas, but perhaps the directors could have used a little more time to plan.

Allow me to elaborate: The plot revolves around Emily (Kathryn McCormick), a young woman who comes to Miami with her father in hopes to join a dance company and pursue her dream of becoming a professional performer. She meets Sean (Ryan Guzman), a member of a street dance crew that appears in random public places to put on amazing dance performances then disappear, leaving behind just their name, “The Mob”. Wanting to learn to dance with more spirit and feeling, Emily convinces Sean to let her join the crew while practicing to audition for a prestigious dance company. Meanwhile, her father, who is a developer, makes plans to tear down dozens of homes of an old tight-knit community of people in order to construct a modern park. Among the rather poor but very caring families living in the designated area are members of The Mob. The dance crew wants to change this ill fate of their community and the members decide they had “enough of performance art; time for protest art!” With their dances, they start sending out messages to the public, speaking out against the city’s plans. During all this, they are trying hard to win a $10,000 online-dance-video award, which they presumably desperately need. However….  In the dances, they use expensive cars and suits and costumes, and in one there are even bills being tossed all over the place. So yeah, on one hand, you’re really poor and scraping and scratching to make ends, but, on the other hand… It seems like the few thousand dollars shouldn’t even make a difference to you.

I was looking forward to this movie so much that I don’t really want to criticize it too much for this. However, I do recognize that the real good movies are the ones that don’t have ridiculous plot holes like this, and having to turn a blind eye isn’t really good criteria for being able to say that a movie is good. They shouldn’t leave it to you to try to find a way to wrap your head around what the heck is going on, and it just makes the story seem like a poorly glued together collage of ideas that don’t really tie into each other at all. So, sadly, I cannot muster up much defense for this film. Maybe the crew had some really lucky connections and was able to borrow the cars and suits, or they “borrowed” with no intention of returning? Either way, the logic of the film is not very impressive.

Another aspect that’s a bit of a damper is the acting. It really wasn’t the best: many people complained about Emily and Sean’s acting performances, much like the ones of many other members of “The Mob”. The best actor was truthfully probably Emily’s dad, and he was barely even there. That’s just what happens when you have a movie that focuses on dance; actors are chosen for their dance performance, and acting takes a back seat. Only the characters who are there just to fill in non-dancing roles are chosen for their actual role-playing talent. This is pretty understandable but it doesn’t make the movie any better. If we turned a blind eye again, we could say this could potentially be beneficial by taking some attention off the main characters, who, good acting or not, are the central focus of the entire story. The main characters would thusly be the stars of the dance scenes while the non-dancing parts are dominated by the minor characters. Objectively speaking, this provides a good balance of attention coverage and focus, bringing out all the components. That being said, poor acting isn’t ever really a positive thing.

I was hoping I could say that the dance parts are the saving grace of the movie, but I’d have to be lying. The dances can make a pretty cool impression on a 3D screen, when you’re just seeing them for the first time, but with a closer look you’d see that they are just made of quite simple and repetitive movements. The only really impressive thing about them would be the costumes and effects used to complement them. I thought the artistic ideas and concepts of this movie were pretty original and creative but they lack a good foundation to build on. It’s as if you have beautiful decorations and frosting but on a dry and crumbly cake.

Well, I think that basically sums up my general impression; the movie had some great ideas that could have made it really amazing, but it lacks forethought and fails to tie up the loose ends. I tried as I could to find some praise to say, but I run up short. The only good thing I can sincerely say about Step up Revolution is it incorporates some ideas that would have been amazing if organized well (and almost make it worth watching), but sadly that amazingness was not attained. To tell the truth, this is the movie I’d say the phrase “a disappointment worth seeing” describes best; There are several very inspiring concepts weaved in the story, but they’re not developed very well, so the whole thing seems a little frayed, and well, “unfinished”. Streetdance, which on its own has its own handful of debatable components, was a much better-crafted dance movie in comparison.

Rather like Jim Carrey’s Yes Man, Step Up Revolution has all the potential to be amazing groundbreaking masterpiece, but is a let down from that expectation. People who turn a blind eye to the shoulder-shrugging components could really enjoy this movie, but for the skeptical critics, the most enjoyable part may turn out to be the popcorn.

Piano performances

My grade 10 exam is coming up :S This really has me questioning my abilities. I feel like I am learning more in this final year than I have learned in all the other years learning piano combined. Of course that’s not true, but just now I am learning how to practice to become a real professional, which is basically the pinnacle of piano playing.

As for my experiences, I’ve found a few things that would benefit any piano player trying to improve his/her level:

1. Play for others

Playing at senior centres, for instance, is a wonderful opportunity to do this. It not only lets you share the joy of playing music, but you will also try that much harder to practice well and play perfect every time (the more you succeed, the more this becomes good muscle memory! :0)  ), which can make your practicing so much more effective.

2. Video tape yourself

This can be almost as useful as the first one – in fact, if you don’t get feedback from your audience, this is even better, because you can then watch the tape and notice a lot more things for yourself. Weird curling of fingers, too fast/too slow, not enough flow of melody… these all become apparent on video. The trick is to pretend that you are taping as if you wanted to put the video on youtube – making you try to play as well as possible.

3. Practice slowly

LivingPianosVideos on youtube has a lot of great advice as far as memorization and good practice goes (see this video for how to memorize: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeDEI0dGW_w) and I totally agree with his advice, that you should practice the exact dynamics and rests and rhythm that the piece is supposed to have when fully learned. If you think “oh I’ll add that in later”, then you are actually practicing the wrong dynamics and rhythm – and this is getting in your muscle memory, which will be insanely hard to get rid of after.

I suggest something further; practicing with the metronome, every piece. Even rubato, even jazz, even waltzes. You have to be able to play plainly and precisely before you can learn how to stretch and bend the music. If you get too used to playing just the “bent”-way then you may start losing control of playing it “plainly”, without all those dressed up rhythmics and sostenutos.

Another thing I suggest is playing pieces that normally use the pedal, without the pedal. so often, I gradually forget to hold notes for their full value because the pedal holds them all for me. The pedal should be used when you have an impossible legato stretch, or a note that you can’t keep holding, or to connect the base in waltzes. But it should not be relied on just to make it sound like your finger is still on the key when it’s not – this just makes bad control of form and messes up your technique.

4. Memorization in random places

As for memorization, I do think that LivingPianosVideos has the best possible method one could ask for – I however did not learn that when young, so I basically grew up on muscle memory. I could be playing a piece for months and still have barely any clue of what I’m really playing – my mind wanders off, lost in the melody, while my hands do their routine on the keys. This worked okay, except that I would often lose focus, and when I had to perform in front of someone or in a new place, I would get nervous and try to start remembering the notes and then realize I can’t, and start internally freaking out.

I’ve tried going back and relearning some pieces with the LivingPianos method – this works pretty well. But another method I find equally good (if you are like me and learned songs by muscle memory because no one taught you a better way), then take the notes somewhere away from the piano and try to learn them there. The kitchen works best in my opinion, as it has absolutely nothing to do with the piano, so if you can correctly remember the notes there, then you pretty much can anywhere. First, try to imagine you are at the piano, and imagine your fingers hitting the keys of the song. If you cannot remember, check the notes, then try to visualize it again, without looking at the notes. Since your hands instinctively know where to go, this method I find is quite easy. Subconsciously, you probably already know the notes – by learning them in your conscious memory too, this bond becomes strengthened and connected to the finger memory.

5. Feeling over perfection

One last thing – when you are playing for people, it is more important to be able to play with feeling than to hit 100% of the right notes. Yes, the right notes are important – hitting too many bad ones would break the melody’s flow – but if you do not have feeling, then there cannot be any flow at all. One of my best performances at the senior centre was when I did have some errors, but I was feeling the music so deeply, it reached my audience, and they were moved as well.

If you are new to performing, I would recommend watching your pedal use – don’t overdo it – and don’t try to play too loudly, even if the piano sounds weaker or a lot quieter than the one you normally play on. The sound carries throughout the rest of the room – you wouldn’t want to make your audience deaf. 😛

Well that’s pretty much everything. 🙂

And remember – be open to honest critique from your listeners! It will broaden your experience and you will be able to improve on things that a wide range of listeners points out to you. Not everyone is right, of course, but everyone deserves some consideration of their opinion. Most people will just give compliments – but really listen for the critique, because it is what can help you move forward. Don’t let it get you down. It is just one person’s opinion, and there may be some truth to their words.

Perhaps to be really able to accept compliments, we must first be able to smile in the face of a negative comment and say “thank you for your feedback”.

Dream house

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what kind of house I’d like once I get one…. not because it’s time for me to worry about such things, but well, one can dream 🙂 and maybe if I have a good idea early on it’ll be easier.

Big houses are amazing. They feel like palaces. But I don’t think I could live in one. It would feel too empty. As long as there’s substantial place to move and walk, I really wouldn’t mind having a small house… one that feels like it’s right out of a fairytale, perhaps it used to be a goblin’s cottage or something. (Would have to be a very tidy goblin by my standards :S)

There are, however, a few things that I would remain insistent about…

1. A cat. 

A lovely, fluffy cat. Any house is suddenly that much cozier with a furry feline prowling all over the place, annexing the couch and any comfortable surface as its own. Cats are the acme of happy, and “just in time” – sitting on your homework just when you feel like your head will burst, sashaying in front of the TV just when you’re becoming a zombie from it, demanding your attention… I think people should pay more attention to their cats. If we keep pushing them away saying “no I’m busy I have to finish it, I don’t have time to play around and pet you” then well, what will we do when one day the cat is gone? Won’t we miss its soft fur and wish we had savored a few quiet evenings with the warm body on our laps, listening to its purr and stroking it? There are moments when you just have to drop everything and cuddle.

Once, my family stayed in a little bed and breakfast a few hours from Ottawa. Actually we stayed in many, but I remember this specific one because we were greeted by an utmost adorable cat waiting at the door, just begging to be petted. This is the kind of welcome-experience I think everyone should have 🙂

Our own cat is a little strange… If cats have nine lives, then I maintain that ours was in her past ones; an opera singer, a bird, and a dog. If you ever hear her miaow you won’t need to ask me about the opera singer. I added the second one to the list when I found her sitting nonchalantly on the top shelf of our dresser, where even I can barely reach… does that cat own a tiny unfodable ladder or something? 😛 My best guess was that she secretly learned to fly.

I’m pretty sure many cats used to be dogs in their past lives… does anyone else have a cat that runs to you as soon as you signal, or if you call its name? One that chases little objects you throw around the room and brings them back to you? (mind you that last one was mostly when she was more kitten-like) … No?… Anyone?…. :O

2. A piano

This picture is perfect, because my first thing on this liste goes with pianos perfectly 🙂 A purring audience that lies lazily on the couch and absorbs the sweet sounds of Chopin’s Valse, or Rachmaninoff’s prelude… Maybe it is just sleeping, but the atmosphere is just so much “warmer”.

A harp could work too. But I think I prefer pianos. I may be biased since I play the piano myself. But anyways, these majestic instruments give a home a really classical and sophisticated air.. visions of steaming hot cups of tea, ballroom dance balls, handcrafted curtains, and exquisite paintings come to mind. Well that’s just what pianos make me think of, at least when they’re in good shapes. It makes the house feel like if it had a voice, the walls would talk in british accents.

I thought about adding soundproof walls, because if it’s a small house then the piano might bother people who want to sleep, or watch tv, or focus on work… but then who would be there to listen? Soundproof walls could be a possibility for anyone who wants them. Me, I would want the piano on the top, or second highest (depending on how many stories the house is) floor, perhaps in a spacious room that has elegant couches and beanbag chairs and perhaps a rocking chair – the sitting room, I suppose. There could be bookshelves around, or a coffee-table with magazines, or a chest of board games. Or perhaps a working desk. I had always found listening to classical music beneficial when I work – there are no distracting lyrics, and the sound is very soothing (as much as I love pop and electronica style music, there is no comparing to classical). There have even been studies done that show that classical music increases mind clarity, ability to focus, and brain activity. (I’ll try to dig them up from my bookmarks and post the link here).

On second thought, I think I’d want the desk in my room, or in an office. Maybe a circular room, like a witch’s tower? ;D (oh yeah – my imagination is having the time of its life).

3. A balcony

Ahh yes, a balcony… Any piano players reading this, have you ever dreamed of playing on a little island surrounded by small, lapping waves, feeling the soft breeze? (assuming you are not stranded there). If I had a balcony, and I had nice neighbours, I don’t think I could resist one day opening the doors and pushing it out so it’s just outside, on a warm autumn or spring day, and playing the Romeo and Juliet theme, or Tchaikowsky’s Concerto in Bflat Major, or perhaps Oscar Peterson’s Land of the Misty Giants. I would, of course, be terrified of the balcony falling with the piano’s weight, and worrying about bothering others in the neighbourhood, but this is one of my most dreamed of fantasies. It’s the next best thing, at least, to being on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean.

4. An old wooden (carved) chest.

Every once in a while, I walk into Ten Thousand Villages to see what new merchandise they have, and every time I’m there, I see this one beautiful, intricately carved wooden box. It has curled flowers and leaves all over it, with a few gold-colored metal decorations along the edges. This box is amazing. I imagine opening it and finding century old secrets, or forgotten jewellery, or lost love letters. It is empty every time I actually open it, of course, but it’s just the aura it gives off (I do hope boxes can have auras). It would be the kind of box that I’d put random knicknacks in- things that I pick up from under the couch while vaccuming, or small souvenirs, or old letters from friends, or simply memories from the old days.

I’ve thought of a new sort of journaling, using a box – each day, put something small in itto remember this day by. It could be a letter, a small drawing, a note from a friend, a photo, or a scribble about a funny thing that happened, or a rock you might have picked up on your evening walk. The goal would be for each object to be special somehow- this would not only give you a great delight in digging through the box ten years later, but also make you try to make each day the best it possibly can, and “carpe” each “diem”.

5. An (air-popping) popcorn maker.

          

This really shouldn’t be important enough to be on the list. But wow, do parties come alive when you pull out the popcorn maker xD. (I actually have no idea, I’m just rambling).

That is actually all I could think of. Certainly, my list will grow over the years.

What would you want in your dream home? 🙂

Aside

I made a Happy! :3

It’s this cat’s name from the anime Fairy Tail….

 

Here’s the original:

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And voila my creation!

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Minus the wings, haha.. I duno how I’d pull that off xD

This was for a friend’s birthday! I think the name is quite fitted the cat, or even just cats in general, since they always look like they’re grinning 😀

Happy cat!

Movie review: The Words

So far in the movie industry, we have seen movies made about dance mobs, figure skaters, hockey players, football players (the list of sport teams goes on), pianists, magicians, even hobby-less people… I was delighted to see a new one come out about a writer: The Words, by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal.

I was amazed at how inspiring this movie was- I walked out of the theatre with a crazy urge to go dig through antique shops and buy a typewriter and click away at it all night. The pacing of the plot, the narration, mood, setting and use of soundtrack music; it all pulled you in and soaked you up. I don’t think I was this impressed with a movie’s directing and narration since I saw The Illusionist. 

My biggest surprise was that the movie was not quite what the trailer suggested;  it was about a book that was about what the trailer suggested. Granted, 90% of the movie was dedicated to this book’s plot-line (within which there was also a book with a sub-story, pulling you even deeper into the plot), but there would be the occasional and perfectly timed withdrawal to the “real world” in which the fictional story teller is reading the tale. I thought this push-and-pull aspect, much like the various levels of dreams we saw in Inception, was marvellously done and subtly enchanting. It can be quite challenging to arrange such a complex and multi-stranded plot- so that the audience does not get confused, or you don’t jump too many levels at once and disrupt the story’s fictional dream- but The Words pulled it off perfectly. It was able to give the audience more insight with discrete insertion of thought-provoking dialogue and details at each depth. 

As far as the acting of this movie goes, it was pretty impressive. Every emotion seemed authentic, the characters displayed great feeling that made them believable and played the role they needed to in order to move the audience. The old man, played by Jeremy Irons, was an especially great character in my opinion, and also the principal reason why the whole movie can make a person ponder on how these things happen in real life and what the implications would be.

The only set-back I can see regarding this movie might be the occasionally slow pace. Others that watched this movie told me that they were compelled to check the time during a few instances, suggesting that the plot was boring them. I do agree that it’s rather slow – but the alternative, it being rushed, would be much worse. In my opinion, even if the pacing is slow, it is near optimal, because it adds to the thoughtfulness of the story. It allows the audience to go through the emotions that the characters portray, and it allows the meaning of everything to sink in. If the subject (writing) and style of the movie is appealing enough to the audience, then they will still be entranced. 

If this movie was a book, it would be just as mellifluously written as the novel that the protagonist, Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), pretends is his. The ending is a bit of an ambiguous one, but this movie is a drama meant to transmit emotion and meaning, not a comedy just seeking to provoke laughter and entertain. I think the key objective of this film is to make people wonder about what such circumstances as the ones that are in it would cause. But, of course, each person has their own favourite part.

Joint movie review: The Lorax and Brave

Amongst the thrilling science fiction movies, primarily The Hunger Games and The Amazing Spiderman, playing on the screens this summer, were two cheerful animations; The Lorax and Brave. With the rush to go see the other two incredibly hyped action films, these two colorful Universal Pictures and Walt Disney films, respectively, were almost forgotten. However, their popularity was still high enough on the ladder for me and a couple friends to go see it. The Lorax worked as a cute story somewhat following the storyline that Dr. Seuss wrote, but Brave had more mixed reviews. Nevertheless, both left me feeling a little surprised but not disappointed.

The Lorax doesn’t include much to satisfy the action/adventure fanatics, unless you count the main character Ted’s tedious motorcycle-driving maneuvers. The story is perky, disputably loyal to the original book version, interesting, funny, and capturing. It doesn’t lack anything for the people who enjoy this type of movie – laid back, light humor, and a vibrant “fairytale”-like story with a subtle moral.

That being said, the “cutesy” animation style of this film causes a considerable loss of the original story’s moral, that is: the environmental damage that follows poor decisions and forethought. My praise for this movie was said regarding the entertainment value, especially for kids, however, I’m a little doubtful if this is the best story to present in such a style. The romance and childlike comedy that was added to the narration certainly did provoke laughs, but at the same time it removed most of the deep significance that was supposed to accompany the tale.

Brave gives me a harder time searching for words to express my thoughts on it. One online review called it “A disappointment worth seeing” – I’m not sure if I would use quite those words to describe it, but I agree that it was overall an entertaining watch however not without a few frown-provoking details.

The whole style of the storytelling and tools it uses seems to be targeted to children; the lively narrative tone, the wide palate of quirky and emphatically expressed characters (particularly in the different suitors and leaders from the clans), the presentation tools of the plot – it appears to be made to be as interesting and captivating as possible, specifically to capture a young child’s attention.

Yet, fights break out numerous times over the movie and there is an act of violence, big or small, in practically every scene, and the movie makes it seem like the violence isn’t even a big deal. I heard many small children in the theatre whimpering in fear more than once at the brawling. I understand that this is a part of the barbaric background and setting of the story, but I don’t like how the movie is essentially sending out the message that such violence is normal, a part of everyday life, and totally okay.

Another thing is the immaturity of some moments in the movie; boogers, mooning, and armpit hair pulling are just a few examples. Is this how the media wants to raise kids to be? The message they send out with these movies gets repeated, and repeated, and repeated, and becomes a habit for real people.

But if you can look past those downsides, then the plot line is well paced, twists and challenges occur at comfortable intervals, the storytelling is captivating enough, frequent jokes provide comic relief without derailing the chain of events, and many storytelling devices are used to keep the movie interesting- not to forget the realistic presentation of the characters and the ever present scottish music and culture. The only thing I found wrong in the storyline were the plot holes; for example, how naive Merida was when visiting the witch. Oh yeah, just take the flask and let a loved one drink it without even bothering to wonder what’s in it. That’ll solve all your problems! Why does she even ask for that kind of potion in the first place? It doesn’t seem neither logical nor well thought out. The father’s ignorance when Merida is trying to stop him from going out with his huntsmen near the end is more believable, as he is of course filled with rage and desperation. But this wasn’t expressed as distinctly as it could have for optimal audience sentiment … like I said, the movie was made for a younger, less critical audience who is just looking for a fun movie to entertain.

Nonetheless, the approximate 1.5 hours spent at the theatre for each movie was not regretted. I do recommend watching these movies, perhaps as an uplifting weekend study break or just as a fun night out with friends.

A colorful dinner (and dessert)

Last night, I had a creativity spazz while thinking about what to make for dinner – I decided to make the fanned ratatouille dish from the movie Ratatouille!

I imagined it would be a complicated recipe, but there was practically nothing so simple and so colorful as this vibrant vegetable dish.

  

I used the recipe from smitten kitchen but adjusted it a little because I forgot to buy the yellow squash so I used cucumber instead, and I served it with quinoa as we didn’t have any couscous.

I ended up with a little much vegetable slices, so I really crammed them in there xD I had a bit of trouble with the huge pepper being much bigger than the slices but that just adds more texture and uniqueness to the dish – it’s a work of art.

One thing I do suggest is being not too generous with the spices – they taste good with the tomato sauce, but if you add too much onto the vegetables then the whole dish tastes too spicy and you can’t distinguish the softened vegetable flavours that well anymore. Also, next time I would use more tomato sauce – instead of just one cup, then the whole +/- 350ml can of tomato puree for example. I just loved the way the veggies tasted with it and with so many veggies in the ratatouille I made, the ratio just didn’t taste balanced enough.

The second recipe (dessert!) is one of my own creations. I’ve perfected the perfect plain muffin recipe already, so I wanted to try adding more flavours to it. So tonight, I made blue berry muffins!

I didn’t really plan the dinner to be such a colorful mix – it just so happens the blue is one of the only colors missing from the ratatouille xD. It looked well on the table. Too bad we were so hungry I forgot to take a picture of it xP

  

With the normal muffin recipe I usually end up with eight muffins. Since I added a bunch of berries and extra ingredients to this one, I ended up with almost a full batch. Maybe with one more beaten egg yolk in the batter, it would be just right for a full dozen.

They didn’t puff up as much as the plain ones do, but that’s probably just because the berries weigh the dough down some. (Again an extra egg yolk may fix this, or a bit more of baking powder).

Anyways, these tasted delicious 🙂

– 2 cups flour

– 1/4 tsp salt

– 1 flat tsp baking soda

– 1 (more generous) tsp baking powder

– 1 tsp lemon rind

– 1 (or 2) eggs, separated

– 1/4 – 1/2 cup sugar (depending how sweet you like your muffins)

– 1 cup milk (I always use goat)

– 1/4 cup oil (I used omega-3 oil)

– 1/4 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

– juice from 1/2 lemon

– 1 cup frozen wild berries (or to your taste)

– broken bits of half an 85% Lindt chocolate bar

Mix the dry (first five) ingredients in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, beat the egg white(s) until stiff peaks begin to form, then beat in the sugar one tablespoon at a time until the mixture is creamy and stiff-ish. Beat in the egg yolks and then mix in the milk, vanilla extract, lemon juice and oil. Add the dry mix to this wet mix and combine until smooth. Run warm water over the berries to melt the ice, let drain, and add into the mixture. Add the  chocolate bits and spoon the batter into prepared paper muffin cups until they are full.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes. (I start preheating the oven once the egg whites are beaten so it heats up just in time and saves electricity.)

Some people may not like the dark chocolate, but I find it taste exquisite with the berries and lemon juice, adding a balance of sweet, bitter, and sour flavors for the ultimate taste experience, and something like a piece of art for the eyes as well ;D