Monthly Archives: September 2010

It’s Better Than Cats!

Stupid September with its lousy thirty days!  I like to try and get four blog posts in per month.  Unfortunately, due to the powerful combination of hectic workdays tempered with unabating laziness I’m skating pretty close to my deadline on this one.  Luckily, there’s always something to write about.  Mother London, a London (duh) based ad agency came up with this wonderful Ikea ad.  I’m loving it so much that it’s today’s great thing.  (They are also behind the fab Wicked Witch of the West commercial that I covered a few months ago.)

149.  “Happy Inside” Ikea Advert

It’s a fantastic spot.  Enjoy:

Even if you’re not a cat-person, per se, I think the ad does a great job of conveying the comfort of home. Happy cats just have those contented expressions that are so easy to relate to.  In fact, in easy to see most human emotions in cats.  You can always when they’re either comfortable, peeved, antsy, or high on the nip.  Cue the success of LOLcats and much Internet adoration.

Happy!

Pissed off!

Totally high!

The music choice is also solid.  It’s Mara Carlyle’s “Pianni”.  By the way, in addition to playing the piano, Carlyle also plays the saw.  So, that’s cool.

Here’s a bit of behind the scenes footage. from the commercial shoot:

Ikea has some particularly memorable ads.  I remember an especially nerve-striking commercial from a few years ago.  Spike Jonze directed this little spot.

That commercial really gets me…thanks to Toy Story.  That movie agitates my pre-existing tendency to anthropomorphize inanimate objects.  You know what I mean…I feel bad if a stuffed animal falls off the bed.  I have to give it a little pat to make it feel better.  I’m thankful to Spike Jonze for pointing out what a twit I am.

YouTube actually has a whole treasure trove of fantastic but banned Ikea ads.  Mostly, it’s their spots that are a bit racier that people get tied in to knots about.  We can’t have nice things.

Now, I’m off to Ikea to buy some byurgs and flirgens, and a billion tea lights.  See you in October!

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Filed under Nature, TV

That’s Mint.

When I choose a food-related topic for a blog post, I often use it as an opportunity to harp on about comfort foods that I miss from The States–pizza, Cheetos, Stove Top Stuffing…you know, all that healthful stuff.  Well, I’ll make this a rare post today and give it up to something that The UK does very well.  Crisps.  (Or potato chips to us Yanks).  Not only is the standard of quality high over here, but  Great Britain has a staggering assortment of flavors.  Or flavours.

They range from the bog-standard salt and vinegar to the exciting roast chicken dinner flavor to the American-influenced Texas barbecue to disgusting (yet popular) prawn cocktail.  The varieties are almost endless and the gourmet-brands of crisps offer even more unusual and interesting flavor combos.  The whole fervor for crisps over here almost mirrors  the mania that Japan has for Kit Kats.  (In case you didn’t know, Japan goes nuts for Kit Kats).  One of my co-workers had a brother living in Japan and he’d send her care-packages full of the weirdest ones.  Some were hugely successful and others were spit-out-in-the-garbage terrible.  Green tea and Kit Kats, for instance, don’t mix well–but I didn’t know that until the coupling had poisoned my mouth.  Here’s a blog dedicated to the madness:   wikipedia

Anyway, as I was saying, the flavors of potato chips get even more gastronomically impressive when you look at the smaller and more gourmet oriented crisp companies.  Just today when purchasing a sandwich at lunch I was tempted by a bag of spare rib flavor.  I resisted.  (Well, I didn’t have enough change on me.)

I'll have 'blue' flavor, please.

Did you know that potato crisps were actually invented by an American?  And a real American at that, a native American, not some boring-ass white person!  More on that contained here:

Bubblegun

Tyrrell’s is one of my favorite gourmet brands–especially because they really really really taste like the flavor that is written on the bag…like in a scary Willy Wonka sort of way.  If it says ‘thyme’ on the bag…you better expect to taste some thyme.  Their sixteen varieties include:  Chicken with Tarragon and Ludlow Sausage with Wholegrain Mustard alongside more standard bags like Sea Salt.  They also have dynamite seasonal flavors like Beef with Horseradish and Turkey with Chestnut Stuffing.  Yum.  By the way, lots of these meaty types are actually veggie friendly.  It’s all about the seasoning.  Today’s great thing is a varietal that I believe is one of the top three crisps I have ever eaten in my life and sadly have not been able to locate again.  I’m hoping it comes back next summer:

148.  Tyrrell’s Chips Nouveau Potato Crisps (Chips if I’m Keeping it Real).

The ‘new potato’ season is a bit of a foodie occasion over here.  I don’t know if it’s that big in The States.  Anyone clue me in?  I don’t think we celebrate our potato varietals with quite the same enthusiasm.  They sure know one potato from another over here.  Anyway, the ultimate way to eat new potatoes is with butter and a bit of mint.  And that’s precisely what these crisps taste like.  Deliciously buttery but with a bit of the pick-me-up freshness of the mint.  They truly are a thing of beauty.  The taste was absolutely astonishing.

All that and a bag of...well...chips.

The thing is, I’ve only had them once and the bag wasn’t even mine.  I was performing in Keighley (Yorkshire-way) at Chris Brooker’s fantastic comedy room.  Chris is not only the booker, promoter, and MC for the night but he also happened to be my lift home.  So, after the gig, Chris stuck around for one innocent pint and a packet of crisps.  Mostly, it was an opportunity for him to unwind in the room that he built.  I was glad to enjoy a beer and a bag of chips myself.  After all, they stocked Tyrrell’s.  I selected the Ludlow Sausage and Wholegrain Mustard varietal.  I scoffed the whole thing before I was even three sips into my lager.  Chris, on the other hand, had purchased the Chips Nouveau.  He offered me a sampling.  Whoah.  Big mistake, on his part.  I’m pretty sure I wound up eating 3/4 of the bag.  I was in love.

Now, of course, I can’t find them anywhere…and it’s not like I’m around the corner from Keighley…if memory serves right, that was an hour and a half in the car.  So, I can’t just mosey over to that pub again–although not a day passes where I don’t consider it.  I’ve convinced myself that they must be seasonal and am eagerly awaiting their return.  But, if anyone sees any stockpiled anywhere, let me know.  I’ll even lower my grocery standards to shopping at Asda if I must (Wal-Mart owns Asda and I ususally try to avoid it…in my typically self-righteous way).  It’s worth bending my principles for this snack of all snacks, however.

Though this blog post is specifically about the Chips Nouveau flavor, there are many more reasons to love Tyrell’s: Tyrrells

1.  They stood up to the biggest grocery chain in Britain.  You have to love a company that sticks it to the man:

Telegraph

2.  They donate to such charitable causes as community gardens, programs which teach children about agriculture, and the fight against breast cancer.

3.  They make vodka with the potatoes that not suitable for chips (the misshapen ones, in other words).  This pleases me because I’m a vodka purist and as such, I like potato vodka.  So many brands are made from either rye or other grains nowadays…I like Polish brand Chopin, but I’m eager to give Tyrrell’s a try…even if it seems a bit odd purchasing a British-made bottle of the typically Eastern European spirit.

4.  And finally…and somewhat unbelievably, they side with the Americans when it comes to branding!  They call them chips too!  Makes me feel right at home when I’m eating them.  Here, lifted straight from their website, is their explanation as to why they call them chips instead of crisps.

“Why Potato Chips? How are they
different to Crisps?
Potato chips are thick slices of potato that are cooked without removing the starch. This greatly improves the taste of the potato, and reduces the fat content of the chip. The result is a tasty chip full of goodness and flavour. In contrast, crisps are thin slices of potato that have had all the starch, goodness and flavour removed by washing and processing. As a result, when they are cooked they absorb much more oil than chips.”

Now, if they pronounce it as ‘aluminum’ instead of ‘aluminium’…well, I’m in love.  Getting fat on snack foods has never felt quite this rewarding.

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Filed under Vittles

The Concert That Got Away

There’s a fair number of people who may be instantly turned off when they hear a musician described as ‘girl with a guitar’.  Lilith Fair, for all its supportive female-progressive intentions, also dragged a certain stereotype into the spotlight.  There was much suffering throughout the nineties and early noughts caused by ‘girls with guitars’–women with poetry on their minds who thought just strumming out a few chords in progression amounted to a song/musical career.  Well, it just ain’t so.  But for every feeble haiku-spouting white girl with dreadlocks, there are ladies with actual song-writing abilities who just happen to play guitar as well.  See Feist, Martha Wainwright, and today’s great thing:

147. Brandi Carlile

If that name doesn’t ring any bells (no it’s not BELINDA Carlisle), you’ll thank me for introducing you to her tunes.  Born in the early eighties in Seattle, Carlile was signed to Columbia Records in 2004, Rolling Stone magazine named her one of 10 to watch in 2005.  Her style is difficult to categorize.  A bit folk, indie, country, alt-rock.  Let’s just say that she fits comfortably in the ‘songwriter’ genre–along with some of my other faves…Rufus Wainwright, Neko Case, and Arcade Fire.

Only one of her singles has even made it to the top 100 in The States.  That was “The Story”, and that only reached #75.  It probably received a bit of a bump after a contestant on American Idol covered it.  (Though I find that program grows more loathsome with every passing year, I AM suitably impressed when a contestant chooses something unusual–so, props to season nine contestant Lacey Brown for choosing this ace tune).

So, considering how under-appreciated she is by the world at large,  how excited was I to see that this person was coming over here?  To Britain!  To Manchester! Where I live!  A concert!  Of course, I bought tickets immediately.

Joining the cast of Young Guns III

I also purchased one for my friend Kathryn and gave her a copy of Carlile’s CD’s…creating a new fan (you’re welcome, Brandi Carlile). I was curious, actually, about what the turnout would be for the show. at The Manchester Academy (a University venue).  It’s often the case that The US and the UK have different musical tastes.  For instance, they like both Scissor Sisters and The Gossip more than Yanks do…even though both groups are American.  Likewise, they don’t recognize the strains of “Workingf or The Weekend” by Loverboy when I sing it at the top of my lungs on Fridays at work.

Additionally, I’ve been proven wrong with a few niche-type acts that I thought wouldn’t have massive foreign followings.  My girlfriend loves The Indigo Girls–they had a huge swelling of support at their gig here in Manchester–as did Tegan & Sara.  I guess lesbians over the world are just supportive in general of other lesbians.  Sisterhood and all that.  I’m supportive of the endeavours of women.  Except for Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell.  I can’t get behind that shit.

So…the show was supposed to be earlier this year.  I’d been anticipating it greatly.  I had my best checked-shirt pressed and ready to go.  Then, thanks to a certain volcano that shall remain nameless, it was cancelled.  I shake my fist at YOU Iceland.  A bit of a bummer, but the gig was rescheduled for October.  Again, I’ve been waiting eagerly for the show…and now I just found out that it’s off.  Full stop.  Period.  The high numbers of cancelled/volcano gigs sort of wiped them out financially and it’s not viable for them to reschedule travel at this point.  I don’t know where to cast my rage.  Brandi Carlile, you can totally sleep in my spare bedroom in Manchester if you want to reconsider and if it helps you save money.  We can play Guitar Hero if you want.

Here’s a bit from an interview she did with the website AfterEllen.com  (entire interview here–AfterEllen):

AE: You just announced your U.K./Ireland and European tour dates which takes you from mid-April to mid-May. Any plans to tour solo beyond this leg?
BC: We’re going to tour all throughout the summer. We’re doing the Newport Folk Festival, Telluride, Bonnaroo; and in the fall, we’re putting together a compilation of symphony shows. We’re going to go to Denver, Cedar Rapids; we’re going to play symphonies. We’ll get like seven, eight, nine towns going with their local symphony. It’s going to be a real charge to play with a symphony. If you think “The Story” is epic, just imagine it with a 40-piece orchestra behind it.

Gutted.  I want to hear “The Story” with a symphony.

Anyway, enough typing, let me know share a few tracks with you so you too can get the gist and perhaps become a fan.  These are a few of my favorite Brandi Carlile songs.

Here’s “Josephine”.  My friend Michelle, who I work with, swears that Carla Bruni does a cover of this.  I’ve been unable to locate it.  Anyone know more about that?  I think she’s wrong.

Brandi has travelled with a couple of guys that she just calles “The Twins” for a little while now.  They are actually the Hanseroth twins–Tim and Phil–rounding out her touring band are cellist Josh Neumann, and drummer Matt Chamberlain.  The Twins freak my girlfriend out a little bit as they are very tall and bald.  It helps Karey relax a bit about it when they wear hats.  Here they are performing “Dreams” live at a Borders Bookstore.  Luckily, hats are present.  (Short interview at the start of the clip, btw).

Pretty good so far, yes?  Would you like to know more?  Of course you would.  Borders (I swear this is not a commercial for their store) also has a series of cool interviews on YouTube where they interview celebrity guests about their favorite books/CDs/and films.  Here’s Carlile’s:

At this point, I would also like to say that I have not one copy but TWO copies of The Neverending Story on DVD…just to sweeten that offer of housing if Brandi Carlile makes good on that UK tour promise…I also have The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth of course.  We could pop popcorn and have a marathon!

BC (that’s what I’m calling her now), makes comment on how important a singer’s vocal quality is to her.  I don’t think she’s referring to the fact that someone might be pitch perfect.  Or maybe she is, I don’t know.  But, what listening to Brandi Carlile makes me appreciate is the delivery of the song…the focus of the singer on telling the story and singing the truth out of it.  I know that sounds so fruitily intangible, but I think you DO hear what I mean in artists like Freddie Mercury, and KD Lang, Rufus Wainwright and Brandi Carlile.

Anyway, back to the music.  I only just became aware that Elton John sings the male vocals on this track–“Caroline”:

Whilst reading another charming interview at medleyville (see here: :  medleyville), I also discovered that in 2006 she played my hometown!  Erie!  Pennsylvania!  She was there!  At the Civic Center!  Oh Brandi, why must we always be ships passing in the night?  So many missed connections.

The Atreyu years?

Oh well, best not to leave on coulda shoulda wouldas…here’s the song that you probably know IF you know any of Brandi Carlile’s songs.  “The Story”.

Warning!  The Twins don’t have hats on.  So, if you’re afraid of tall balds…well…look away now.

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What Lisa Simpson Would Subscribe to

I’m addicted to magazines.  Sure, my love for reading goes beyond periodicals– I love reading anything and everything–comics, fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, websites, the backs of shampoo bottles… but there’s something special about magazines.  Maybe it’s the glossy pictures, maybe it’s the perfect for a short-attention span articles, or maybe it’s just how easily they travel.  Nothing like unfurling a new magazine to read on a long journey.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that one of the hardest parts of moving over to the UK was acknowledging that my precious weekly Friday ritual of coming home from work to a new Entertainment Weekly in my mailbox was at an end.  It’s pathetic but true.  Don’t judge me too harshly.  I’m a creature of comfort and they don’t have anything similar over here.  Sure, they have gossip rags and a couple of film monthlies–it’s not The Moon…but there’s nothing like EW with its easy to digest pop culture news and insightful commentary.  Sometimes I go to the website just to see what the cover is for the week.

It hurts that much more if it's either a comic book focus OR a Tina Fey cover.

I’ve been this way as long as I can remember.  My Mom helped fuel my lifelong addiction by not only letting me purchase The Muppet Magazine whenever I saw it in the store, but by signing me up for no fewer than four subscriptions BEFORE I hit the age of ten.  Every month, an issue of Penny Power, Highlights for Children, Zoobooks, and today’s great thing:

146.  Cricket Magazine

Technically, I didn’t get Cricket every month as it’s only published nine times a year.  But, close enough.  Now, I don’t want to assume that everyone out there is familiar with Cricket.  Not everyone had a first grade teacher for a Mom.  You may not have been privy to the wide selection of periodicals available for the under 13 set, so let me tell you all about Cricket. It’s a literature magazine for kids.  It was started up in 1973 by a woman (Marianne Carus) who wanted to market something like The New Yorker but for the swingset-set.

They’d usually come up with a theme for the issue and then fill it with the best short stories, poems, art, and non-fiction that they could.  They’d draw some pretty big names too:  Eric Carle, Ursula K.  Le Guin, Tomie dePaola, William Saroyan…

She pretty much hit the bullseye…especially when it comes to the cover style.  Just as The New Yorker is revered for its cutting edge and highly inspired cover-art, check out some previous Cricket covers.  They too, would reflect the theme of the issue:

Not gonna lie…lots of the sophistication was wasted on me.  I didn’t read Cricket cover to cover like I did with some magazines.  Even with Penny Power, I’d read most of it.  Penny Power was like Consumer Reports but for kids.  I used to love reading the letters from other readers that explained how they successfully complained to companies about melted popsicles and action figures that broke when you threw them too hard against the wall.  It really instilled a ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease” mentality in me that impresses so many of my stiff upper lip non-complaining type British friends.  But with Cricket, I’d flip and only stop on stories and artwork that caught my eye.  If it didn’t hook me, I wouldn’t bother.  But to be fair, the magazine was pretty dense with options.  They really tried to get something for everyone in each issue.  It’s only now that I truly appreciate the richness of this publication.  And like how wooden blocks and ‘learning’ toys, were foisted on me in the sunny days of my childhood, I’m going to foist this magazine onto my nieces when the time comes.  What goes around comes around, girls.  You’ll thank me later.

Also, it should be noted that as an adult, I don’t exactly read The New Yorker cover to cover either.  So, I may never learn the true joy of expanding my knowledge–or paying attention to items that I’m not interested in already.  However, one thing I never ignored was the delightful comic-strip continuity of the bug-world.  You know me, I love me my comic strips.

The following quote is from a highly useful article I found when researching today’s topic.  It explains the history of The Caruses–Marianne and her husband Blouke Carus first ventured into the world of publishing by attempting to one-up the boring” Dick and Jane” style reading primers by producing what they deemed as  more interesting texts.  They created the Open Court textbook line, that they hoped would keep children interested in reading.

CaltechNews

“Perhaps Cricket‘s greatest appeal rests with the band of irrepressible insect cartoon characters—the result of absent-minded doodling by illustrator Trina Schart Hyman during planning meetings for the prospective magazine—who crop up in the margins to define exotic vocabulary or merely perpetrate good-natured mayhem among themselves. One of the characters is an ant named “Aunt Marianne.”

1939-2004

Caldecott Award winner Trina Schart Hyman gets an A+ from me not only for her awesome creations but for surviving childhood with not only the name Schart attached to her, but also the name Hyman.  The interaction between serious-minded good-guy Cricket and chocolate chip cookie-scoffing goofball Ladybug is to die for.  She’s the Ernie to Cricket’s Bert…the Homer to his Marge…the Goofus to his Gallant.  I think, even as a youngster, I really appreciated the comical character being a female for once instead of being the straightman…as it were.  Anyway, here’s the gang:

Everybuggy

Another feature that I like about Cricket is that there’s no advertising.  This makes it less likely that you come away from the experience wanting crappy toys or anything.  Although it DID ruin the lives of several insects in my backyard.  So many caterpillars caught and accidentally destroyed.  Soz to all of those almost-butterflys that I played with until they died.  I didn’t mean it.

Cricket has mags for just about every age group:  Babybug is for up to the age of three, Ladybug is for up to the age of six, Spider for 6-9, then Cricket, and finally for the teenage set–Cicada.

Of course, after your teen years, you need a steady diet of Newsweek, The New Yorker, and EW. An old copy of The Muppet Magazine never hurts either…


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Filed under Comics, Literature