Posts Tagged ‘success’

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extraordinary day.

September 23, 2012

Yesterday was a fantastically eventful day. We woke up early (on a Saturday!) to head to Gunnersbury for our first flat viewing – a 2-bed in Chiswick.

We met with the lettings agent and saw the flat, which was beautiful and apparently wouldn’t be on the market for long. After some budgeting, some pressurised promises from the agent (the possibility of cheaper rent, the possibility of a flexible moving date – who knows whether any of these will come true!) and some falling in love with a wonderful space, we decided to take the plunge and put down a holding deposit. So in 2 or 3 weeks’ time, Toby and I will be moving into our own flat in Chiswick!  All being well – there’s the process of agreeing the move with the landlord, positive references etc. – but I don’t see why there should be any problem. Until it’s all confirmed, I don’t think we’ll be able to relax, but it’s very exciting!

So that was the morning.  At lunchtime we headed back to Fulham to share our good news with family and for Toby to get his hair cut, while I attempted and failed to concentrate on reading some Italian (my nerves and adrenaline were still all over the place after the flat viewing). Then before we knew it, it was time to head out for Toby’s colleague Kate’s 30th birthday party at Tower Millennium Pier, which was ON A BOAT (or actually, a ship).

The theme was Hollywood Glamour, and so Toby and I were dressed up to the nines as we weaved our way through the crowds of Chelsea fans surging towards West Brompton tube station. Once we got on the boat, we were greeted by Kate’s friends and family, and Toby’s other colleagues, and we had a fantastic time. There was a French singer and accordion player providing some background ambience while we ate a delicious 4-course dinner, and when we were standing on deck we were able to see the city lights surrounding us as we sailed down the river. Incredibly, Tower Bridge was opened for us not once but twice, and we felt like royalty as we waved to spectators on either side of Tower Bridge. It was a magical, unforgettable night – including unlimited drinks (though I was fairly sensible and have not even been hungover this morning).

As I sit here typing on my laptop having done such mundane tasks as laundry and washing up, contemplating the ironing while watching the rain incessantly pouring outside, it feels like yesterday was a taste of the exciting life I hope to lead more often as Toby and I become stronger and more successful. We have grown so much over the past two and a half years, and on days like yesterday we reap the rewards. I am so happy that even on ‘afterglow’ days like today, I feel lucky and appreciative of that luck. I just hope that we continue to be lucky with the flat that we want, and I look forward to posting more good news over the few weeks as we move in – fingers crossed!

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Cooking in 2012 – April: Cordon Bleu Burgers.

April 12, 2012

See, I caught up! I spent today’s day off relaxing at home, preparing for a possible telephone interview that never happened (onto the next!), watching movies and doing lots of cleaning. Suffice to say, my attention span is too short to be content with being a housewife – I still found myself getting bored. It was nice to have a rest though, and feeling boosted by my omelette cooking experience (quick! largely stress-free! yummy!), I was ready to cook Toby a meal after his day at work. So I scoured the internet (i.e. googled “30 minute meals”) to find something suitable – and thanks to Rachael Ray, I did! Chicken cordon bleu burgers.

The recipe and the ingredients are all there, so you know what I did. I did have to make a couple of adjustments, however:

  • We weren’t able to find chicken mince in the supermarket, so I used pork instead. I am not sure what makes the burgers “cordon bleu”, but I have retained that in the title – otherwise they’re just burgers, right?
  • I used 1 pound of pork, rather than 2 – because there was two of us rather than 4. We still made 4 burgers out of 1 pound of meat, and I thus presume that the measurements suggested in the recipe are intended for giants. Rachael Ray is clearly a feeder.
  • I used British bacon, because we are in the UK and not Canada.
  • I used a paprika and red pepper mix, which gave the burgers a really nice kick, so I didn’t feel the need for all of the other seasoning that the recipe suggests.
  • I chopped half an onion instead of a shallot, and I used cheddar that I already had in the fridge, rather than buying Swiss cheese.
  • Instead of mixing mustard with regular mayonnaise, I bought a squeezy bottle of garlic mayo which complimented the burgers perfectly!
  • I didn’t bother with tarragon, and I try and avoid tomatoes where possible so I didn’t use that either.

But other than that, more or less the same! And very easy. This is how they turned out:

Nom nom nom. (Yes, I have finally joined the Instagram craze – just in time for that pesky Facebook takeover!)  I am scared to get ahead of myself, but I must confess that I didn’t curse or lose my patience or do anything blindingly stupid during the cooking of this meal – perhaps I am starting to improve at cooking? I rather enjoyed the experience this time. Toby taught me how to chop an onion sensibly, and how to fry burger patties without splashing oil everywhere, so I have learned those skills too. Apparently he is similarly buoyed by my recent successes, because he has asked me if I want to try baking something on Sunday. I have tentatively said yes… what is happening to me? Could I finally be embracing the art of cuisine?!?!?!?! Surely not! Watch this space…

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Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (album review.)

April 6, 2012

It’s time to accept that the Nicki Minaj that we heard on her mixtape (and best album to date) Beam Me Up Scotty is gone. The Nicki Minaj that we heard stealing the show on Kanye West’s “Monster” is a distant memory. Now, the Nicki Minaj who pleasantly surprised us with her bubblegum rap confection “Super Bass” is asserting herself throughout Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. Nicki Minaj may not have concretely realised her Roman Zolanski alter-ego (who shows up at the start of the album, but his fangs have been sanded down after his explosive showing on “Roman’s Revenge”), but throughout her career we have seen her evolve and shift through persona after persona. The hard female rapper we heard on Playtime Is Over gave way to the exciting cyberspace femme fatale with the ridiculous flow and heart of gold on Beam Me Up Scotty, who tarted herself up with colourful outfits, wigs and softened edges for Pink Friday. Although her rap credentials have become less indisputable, mainstream success has opened Minaj to a new audience: pop. Teenagers, little girls dancing and rapping along to her songs on youtube, people across the world now want to hear what Nicki Minaj has to say. Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded finds Minaj trying to please everyone whom she has courted throughout her career. Does she succeed?

Well, the album is certainly diverse and there is something for everybody. After the insane and yet exciting “Roman Holiday”, the album is stacked with urban tracks designed to prove that Nicki is still in touch with her musical roots. “Come On A Cone” is a fascinating listen, and the genuinely unexpected “dick in your face” interlude about two thirds of the way through the song is a refreshing thrill – but Minaj can no longer get through an entire rap song without resorting to her trademark ridiculous vocal tics. This is a gimmick that initially served to set Minaj apart from other female rappers, but now it sounds like a party piece that is trotted out to fulfil the listener’s expectations. The song succeeds, but it could have been more. The tracks which follow are chock full of features, which is nothing unusual for a rap album, but here they serve to mute Nicki’s own impact on the material. “Beez In The Trap” is catchy but incredibly basic while “HOV Lane” is single-entendre bragging that may pay tribute to Jay-Z and to Minaj’s potential to be a supernova rather than just a star, but compared to the more insightful work Minaj has done on the past (for example on Beam Me Up Scotty‘s “Can Anybody Hear Me” or Pink Friday‘s “Moment 4 Life”) it rings a little hollow. “Stupid Hoe” is an ill-advised tirade against Lil’ Kim that is so ridiculously silly that the bite in Minaj’s lyrics is muzzled by the repetitive hook and uninteresting beat. The buzz single for this project, “Roman In Moscow”, was so much more than all of the rap tracks that actually made it onto the album because the production was exciting and the flow and rhymes were unbridled and interesting. It showed that the ‘old Nicki’ is still alive, but there is no longer a place for her among any of Minaj’s current, more successful incarnations, which is a shame. As oddly structured and jarring as they may be, “Roman Holiday”, “Come On A Cone” and “Roman Reloaded” are the most successful songs in the first half of the album because although they are not amazing, they grab the listener’s ear and don’t let go.

After some tepid R&B slow jams which are so rote that they barely deserve mentioning, let alone a place on this album (“Right Thru Me” and “Your Love” from Pink Friday were miles better than these), we get to ‘pop Nicki’. This abrupt about-face in the album really should have been split into two discs on the physical version, but it’s not the disaster that other reviews have reported. “Starships” is at once derivative of LMFAO’s and Rihanna’s latest smashes, and yet also entirely the mutant spawn of “Super Bass” (without which ‘pop Nicki’ would never have come to triumph over ‘old Nicki’ or ‘Roman Zolanski’ or ‘Harajuku Barbie’ etc.), but my god is it fun. This song absolutely deserved to be a single and to be successful – I feel conflicted because Nicki Minaj shouldn’t have had to so deliberately manufacture such a hit, but its hit status is undeniable. “Pound The Alarm” goes one better and is an absolute gem that Britney Spears probably wishes she had recorded. “Whip It”, “Automatic” and “Beautiful Sinner” repeat this formula ad infinitum (or ad the next 15 minutes), and although the songs are great fun, they expose Minaj’s crossover aims as so calculated that a little bit of this fun is taken out of them.

The album winds down with some mid-tempo, more thoughtful songs such as “Marilyn Monroe” and “Young Forever”. Strong hooks and mainstream production make these songs perfectly enjoyable, and although the lyrics show more insight from Minaj than the preceding half hour or so, they’re still calculated. “Fire Burns” and “Gun Shot” close the album (before the jarring “Stupid Hoe”) and they are the most genuine tracks of the second half. “Fire Burns” is this album’s “Save Me” (one of the highlights from Pink Friday), and the regret and sadness in Minaj’s delivery rings true. “Gun Shot” features Beenie Man and brings a little Caribbean flavour that Minaj hasn’t explored since Pink Friday‘s bonus tracks, or Beam Me Up Scotty‘s “Keys Under Palm Trees” or title track (her shout-out to Trinidad at the beginning of “Beautiful Sinner” certainly doesn’t count). While so many of the second half’s tracks are deliberately and irresistibly exhilarating to a head-spinning extent, “Gun Shot” is a less manufactured but, if anything, more uplifting ray of sunshine.

Do I like this album? Absolutely. Do I feel that it squanders Minaj’s potential? Yes, and no. This has been a hard review to write, because there’s so much here to deal with. The mainstream-aimed songs are good, but many of them are so deliberately manufactured to be hits that the genuine feeling is often ironed out. The rap songs are acceptable to good (barring the mediocre slow-jam section in the middle), but the featured artists rarely measure up to Minaj’s own potential, while simultaneously limiting her own space to shine. The weird songs are absolutely interesting, but Minaj doesn’t need to rely on inconsistent alter-egos and silly voices to be compelling. Beam Me Up Scotty proved this, and I find it sad that Minaj isn’t encouraged to exhibit her rap skills and singing in a more genuine way. “Roman In Moscow” and “Fire Burns” are remnants of the Minaj we have previously experienced. And while I genuinely am happy for the existence of songs like “Starships” and “Pound The Alarm”, their aggressively insane exuberance is something that Minaj may risk exhausting herself trying to outdo on Pink Friday: Roman’s Resurrection (or whatever comes next).

I believe that Minaj genuinely enjoys catering to a range of audiences, but as Beam Me Up Scotty and even Pink Friday demonstrated amply, she can do this in a more integrated and less scattershot way. Everyone was wowed by Minaj’s feature on “Monster”, but there’s nothing approaching that venom or spark here; her album-closing declaration that “I am the female Weezy” is reductive. Minaj is not a female Lil Wayne, female Jay-Z, new Lil’ Kim or resurrected Lauryn Hill. Nor is she Roman Zolanski, a cockney grandmother, a Harajuku Barbie or anything else – she is more than the ‘mere’ summation of these characters or costumes. She’s a savvy businesswoman and a genuine talent who is producing good music but coming dangerously close to losing the edge that set her apart so definitively in the first place. I fear that the more mainstream success that Minaj garners (and it will likely be deserved), the less heartfelt and genuine her music will become. There’s a difference between creating art that is deliberate in its purpose and achieves its goals, and art that is so focus-group tested and aiming to please that the quality is filtered down to a semblance of what it originally could have been. And while we can respect and admire an artist’s potential, we can’t praise them for what they have the talent to create if they don’t actually create it, or realise their potential consistently. And so Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded is a blast to listen to, but it also warns that unless Minaj takes stock and finds away to hone all of her personalities, she may ultimately spread herself too thinly and become nothing to anyone, rather than something to everyone.

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Cooking in 2012 – March: Omelette.

April 2, 2012

I know, I know, so technically it is April. But after the traumatic making of the lasagne in February, I needed a great deal of recovery time! And I will attempt to catch up and do another dish this month to bring me back on track.

I must first and foremost give thanks to Starbucks (mi amor cafeinado!) for providing me with the app that made the omelette possible: How to Cook Everything. Since I cannot cook anything (by this point you should be well aware that I am not exaggerating), when I saw this app available as the free download of the week instore, I had to get it. You search for what you want to make, it comes up with a list of ingredients you need, a step-by-step recipe, and away you go!

Also, after the first couple of meals that I made, I felt that I wanted to do something simpler and more essential (read: quicker). An omelette is a very basic thing – you don’t need many ingredients (eggs, milk, a bit of cooking oil – and then I added chopped ham and pieces of mozzarella), and it takes about 10 minutes. Essentially, what you do is:

  • Break 3 eggs into a bowl,
  • add a tablespoon or so of milk,
  • beat them together with a fork until the mixture looks of a uniform colour and texture (i.e. not blobby),
  • put in a hot frying pan,
  • fry until the side of the omelette facing up at you is no longer wet,
  • throw in your ham and mozzarella,
  • use a fish slice to fold the omelette in half and over the filling you’ve just added,
  • smoosh it down and fry it a bit longer so the ham is warm and the cheese gets melty

– et voilà! Omelette ready. This is what it looked like:

Om nom nom. Add some salad or some bread on the side, and away you go!  Although it wasn’t up to the standard of Balan’s (but then, little is), it was pretty tasty, quick and easy. Just how I like my cooking to be! Plus, it wasn’t too expensive, and I didn’t end up left over with loads of ingredients that would ultimately end up in the bin. Although part of me feels I should learn to make scrambled eggs with the remaining eggs. Seriously, they should sell eggs in packs of 2 or 4 (if not singly). But after February’s severe erosion of my confidence and patience, I am feeling a bit stronger and more satisfied with myself – this was a good success under my belt. Toby helped me, as usual, but this time I did not lose my temper and I don’t think I made him bang his head against the wall!  Progress!

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Tube update: Parsons Green, Putney Bridge and East Putney

January 7, 2012

The first London tube photo post of 2012! Today I had an epic lie-in and was watching the Channel 4 Sarah Palin documentary until 12:30pm, when I decided I really should get up and do something with my day. As I have been feeling a bit podgy post-Christmas, and Toby was planning on baking bread, I decided to go for a walk to give myself some exercise and rid myself of cabin fever. I walked to Parsons Green (and the green itself is lovely and small):

Emboldened by my success (and the fact that Parsons Green really isn’t that far away from Toby’s flat), I walked on to Putney. When I got to Putney Bridge station, I found out that Fulham were playing Chelsea in the football today (I am generally oblivious to footballing events and mainly find out about them from the amount of Chelsea or Fulham fans amassed in my vicinity) and was surrounded by lairy individuals wearing football kits and drinking cans of beer. Police were on horseback and guarding the tube stations, but that didn’t stop me from getting my picture!

Again, since I’d come this far, I decided to walk to Putney and have a look at the shops on the High Street. Eventually I got to East Putney station…

…realised I hadn’t brought my house keys with me (so I couldn’t go back to my flat and have lunch, which was my bright idea at the time), so walked back to Putney High Street, picked up some sandwiches for me and Toby to eat for lunch, and then got the bus back to Fulham! A good day with healthy walking and a new-found appreciation for Putney.

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Learning to cook – the journey begins…

January 4, 2012

In my New Year resolutions for 2012, my first resolution was to learn to cook a new dish every month. Now, I haven’t decided what the month of January will hold yet, but just to give you an idea of what starting point I’m at… it’s basic. Things that I can cook include lasagne, mushroom risotto, pasta, a range of ready meals, sandwiches and toast, and combinations of microwaveable foods. I’ve never been very inspired to cook anything more complicated than this because a) I find the process of creating a meal frequently tries my patience, and b) why should I cook a meal for one which takes longer to make than it does to eat?

I am in the very lucky position of being in a relationship with a fantastic cook. He is in the equally lucky position of being in a relationship with someone who enjoys cleaning and household chores. So why should I even bother learning to cook? Well, I’m an adult now – no longer a student, or living at home; Toby comes round my place nearly as often as I stay at his, and I want to be able to make meals that are tasty, interesting and also occasionally healthy. Eating out is expensive, and eating takeaways can get unhealthy and uninspiring. Perhaps I’ll lose some weight and get healthier along the way? I also want to add to my skill set, and I kind of feel that cooking is something I really ought to learn, as a worthwhile (and sociable) human being.

I’m not a natural chef (see: lack of patience; lack of understanding what foods go together; issues around eating and weight), but I did have some cookery lessons at school. I made things like pasta carbonara, quiche, bread, triple chocolate upside-down cake, and they always turned out well – however, I might attribute some of this to my desire to succeed in a classroom setting, rather than any potential I had as a cook. The only thing I ever did mess up was crème caramel, because I burned the caramel in the oven. (I later found out that I didn’t really like crème caramel anyway.) But for the most part, I had a recipe which I always followed to the letter, and things always turned out fine. However, Toby has discovered that there are some basic things that I didn’t know. For example, don’t lick your fingers when you have been handling raw chicken or raw egg – this is bad for you. He asked me, “didn’t you have food technology lessons at school?!?” To which my reply was “No, we studied Latin instead.” I think I was due to have 6 weeks of cookery lessons in 6th form, but instead I was chosen to be a peer mentor and had 30 hours of training in mentoring and listening skills from a psychologist.

Moving on… Last month, I made a lovely meal of honey and mustard roast chicken breast (courtesy of Waitrose), with chips, salad and croutons with caesar dressing. I was pleased with this meal because I picked the ingredients in the supermarket myself and created the dish in my head as I walked through the aisles. It was delicious. Tonight (and this is not counting towards my dish per month resolution), I had a go at making steak pie (courtesy of Sainsburys) with steamed baby corn, beans and boiled potatoes. This presented some challenges to me as I have never steamed vegetables, and I have never boiled potatoes.

The easy part – I shoved the steak pie in the oven for 35 minutes. This gave me 35 minutes to:

  • discover that one of the hob rings on my mini oven doesn’t work when the oven is on;
  • boil the potatoes on the other hob;
  • realise that supermarket estimates for cooking are not always to be trusted;
  • learn how to steam vegetables in the microwave (thank you Google);
  • find out that it’s not worth using tablespoons to measure out water.

After accumulating all of this knowledge, dinner was served:

steak pie, potatoes and steamed vegetables

It was yummy! The pie and potatoes (after the initial panic that they weren’t cooking on the hob) turned out very well. If I could do it again, I would have steamed the vegetables for longer in the microwave, as the beans were quite crisp and fresh-tasting; but the vegetables were still perfectly edible. The whole point of this, and my cookery journey, is that I am going to learn skills I didn’t know (however basic they might be) and improve my culinary capabilities. I am not ashamed of being such a novice cook, because I am doing something about it. And if you are reading this and thinking that you can’t cook either, then let’s take this journey together. I will be completely honest about my failures and lack of knowledge, and hopefully the fact that I will be able to make successful dishes in spite of these will be proof that even though we aren’t all born chefs, we can all learn to cook something simple, yet tasty and interesting.

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Rihanna – Talk That Talk (album review)

November 19, 2011

Rihanna’s new album Talk That Talk sits somewhere between Rated R – her creative and musical zenith, and Loud – her hit-laden album that couldn’t stop releasing catchy, radio-friendly #1 singles. This is very much a good thing – although the album is not quite as emotionally deep or jagged as Rated R, it has more edge to it than Loud did – think of it as Loud² with the lights turned down.

Lead singles “We Found Love” and “You Da One” are excellent examples of this. The former is a hands-up-in-the-air bittersweet love anthem that incorporates basic 4-to-the-floor dance just as previous lead single “Only Girl (In The World)” did. However, “We Found Love” is lyrically much more sparse and perhaps more potent as a result – the simple refrain of “We found love in a hopeless place” carries more weight. The excellent, vibrant and startling video further brought this song to life, emphasising the exhilarating highs (the high-energy production courtesy of Calvin Harris) and destructive lows (the simple, spare lyrics) of being in an all-consuming love. The album’s opening song “You Da One” is a sticky-sweet treat in the vein of mega-hit “What’s My Name”; it’s a shame that this didn’t come out in the summer, as it is a song to play in the car when you are riding with your boyfriend or girlfriend.

The first half of Talk That Talk is relentless; after “You Da One”, “Where Have You Been” turns the BPM up to ‘insane’, adds an irresistible call to arms in “Wheeeeeeere have you beeeeeeeeeen all my liiiiiiiiiiiiife”, and quickly becomes Rihanna’s best dance single since “Don’t Stop The Music”.  The album’s title track boasts a predatory rap from Jay-Z just like “Umbrella”, and Rihanna adopts a swagger which suggests that she is at once nonchalant and aggressively icy. It’s a curious dichotomy that defines Rihanna’s appeal – sometimes she is effortlessly stylish and seems to throw out hits that succeed in spite of their singer’s lackadaisical approach; and yet, there is some fierce and determined artistry in Rihanna’s heart to make her records work consistently, and to imbue them with heart and a range of emotions that has come through in her best material. At this point in her career, she commands respect.

According to “Cockiness” and its subsequent interlude “Birthday Cake”, Rihanna also commands the bedroom. “Suck my cockiness, lick my persuasion” / “I love it, I love it, I love it when you eat it” are lyrics so aggressively sexual and yet so explicitly chosen for their shock factor that you can’t help but admire Rihanna’s chutzpah. The cherry on top is that she delivers all of these lines as if she couldn’t care less. “Cockiness” is aided by some top-notch production from Bangladesh, while “Birthday Cake” gets dark and dirty thanks to The-Dream. (This song would have been the album highlight did it not inexplicably fade out after 1:18 – possibly the album’s most glaring fault! But fear not – Rihanna is apparently recording a full version, perhaps for a repackage? I am a cynic.)

Of course, in case you were in doubt, Rihanna has a heart too – ballad “We All Want Love” attempts and fails to recreate the epicness of Rated R‘s closer “The Last Song”, and is possibly an album low-point, although Rihanna sings earnestly. “Drunk On Love” is more successful – with a chunkier beat behind her, Rihanna sings about being intoxicated to the point that “nothing can sober me up”, and the desperation in her vocal is palpable.  After this, we’re back to the template of previous Rihanna songs, and “Roc Me Out” is a retread of “Rude Boy” that is perfectly acceptable, if hardly groundbreaking. The song is fine, but it would sound a lot better if “Rude Boy” hadn’t existed. “Watch n’ Learn” incorporates reggae flavour (which was one of the best and most welcome aspects of Loud) and improves upon Loud‘s “It’s Raining Men”. “Watch n’ Learn” is raunchy, as is much of the album, but it’s also laid-back, chilled and bouncy all at once. The closing ballad “Farewell” is somewhat overwrought, but Rihanna’s vocals are impressive and the lyrics speak about wishing a close friend / lover well, and selflessly not holding them back despite wanting to – which is a unique song topic. “Somebody’s gonna miss you / Somebody’s gonna wish that you were here” is a tender lyric that succeeds where “We All Want Love” fell a little bit flat.

Talk That Talk‘s bonus tracks are all decent. “Red Lipstick” reunites Rihanna with Chase & Status for some grimy dubstep; “Do Ya Thing” is another upbeat urban pop song; “Fool In Love” is a muted, electro-ballad that would have fit nicely in the main body of the album. In summary, Talk That Talk does not take the title of Rihanna’s best album; but given the circumstances under which Rated R was produced, that album is pretty special and unique and I wouldn’t wish her to go through that again. Talk That Talk perhaps ties with Good Girl Gone Bad for second place. It’s an album of contradictions – relentlessly sexual and yet unwittingly heartfelt in places; startlingly aggressive and yet disarmingly laissez-faire; there’s a bunch of hit songs on this record that nobody else could have delivered quite as well as Rihanna, and yet a lot of these songs are clearly inspired by earlier Rihanna hits. I believe that Talk That Talk is a calculated album designed for maximum chart success, but at the same time it sounds exactly like who Rihanna is and precisely what kind of music she personally wants to release. It’s a win-win situation for all concerned, including the listener – Talk That Talk is an irresistible ride.